Vanity thought #1715. Family matters 10

I think I’m largely done with tattvavādīs position paper on ISKCON though there are a few points that should be mentioned in general. And then there are links in the “postscript” that explain their position far better than the paper itself.

We call ourselves Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas and everybody addresses us the same (when not talking about ISKCON in particular). As such we say that our movement has been founded five hundred years ago by Lord Caitanya and so it’s younger that tattvavāda or advaita. That’s not how Lord Caitanya Himself saw it, however, and we should remember that even when we use “Gauḍiyā” label for convenience.

In advaita and tattvavāda framework a philosophy is laid out by their founders. Before Śaṅkarācārya and Madhvācārya respectively both of these systems did not exist, especially with tattvavāda. The birth of a philosophical system or a “tradition” therefore starts with writing a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā, and a set of major Upaniṣads.

In support of this view they cite the conflict with Rāmānandīs who did not allow us to worship Govindajī deity in Jaipur because we were not a “real” vaiṣṇava school. Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana had to quickly compile our Govinda Bhāṣya, a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, and only after he completed it the conflict was resolved and we proved our worth. No books, no philosophy, no recognition. That’s their view.

Our view should be that we don’t need a commentary on Brahma Sūtras because we accept Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as a natural explanation of Vedānta. Therefore “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism” did not start five hundred years ago in Bengal but it is practiced by every sincere student of Bhāgavatam. We did not start a new school or create a new philosophy, we just follow the Bhāgavatam. Our movement did not start with Govinda Bhāṣya the way advaita started with Śārīraka Bhāṣya, it started with Bhāgavatam. Anyone who accepts Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as the ultimate friuit of Vedic knowledge is a “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇava” regardless of his origins. Of course nowadays geographical designation is a must. To be accepted as Gauḍiyā one must come in line of Lord Caitanya but for Lord Caitanya Himself that wasn’t a requirement at all. One just needed to accept Śrīmad Bhāgatam.

One could say that Bhāgavatam existed for possibly thousands of years, depending on who is counting, but there was never a school or a movement based on it until Lord Caitanya came along. It’s a fair argument, but, again, to be a Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava one must accept Bhāgavatam. Whether he becomes a part of a movement or starts a new one is irrelevant. There might have been very few people in history who understood Śrīmad Bhāgavatam before Lord Caitanya came along and they did not form a movement or a school of thought but that does not disqualify them from being Gauḍiyās.

Another matter is that until Lord Caitanya the meaning of Bhāgavatam remained largely hidden. I mean everybody read it and was familiar with the pastimes described there but no one accepted Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord or love of gopīs for Him as supreme manifestation of bhakti. No one that we know of – to be correct. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t devotees who appreciated Bhāgavatam at all. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura lived a few hundred years earlier and he knew the value of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in full, for example. From Lord Caitanya’s point of view he was a true Guaḍiyā regardless of anything else. Typically we say that the science of rasa was brought to us by Mādhavednra Purī but that means it was brought into our Brahma-Madhva-Gauḍiyā sampradāya. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura wasn’t a part of it but he was still a Gauḍiyā.

Funny thing about Mādhavendra Purī and Īśvara Purī, too – they were apparently māyāvādī sannyāsīs initiated into the order of Śaṅkarācārya. That’s the only place they could have gotten their “Purī” titles. We count them as gurus in the line of Madhvācārya but sannyāsī in that order get the title “Tīrtha” and no others. The explanation, don’t know how true, is that they WERE initially advaitins but later were converted to vaiṣṇavism after meeting someone in Madvha’s line. Well, Mādhavendra Purī converted Īśvara Purī himself, but his guru is listed as one Lakṣmīpati. At this point our official paramparā talks about śīkṣā gurus rather than dīkṣā. Vyāsa Tīrtha, who is listed a couple of steps above, was practically a contemporary of Lord Caitanya. In dīkṣā chain it would have been impossible but in śikṣā he could have easily been a friend of a friend of a friend who first told us about Kṛṣṇa.

Some also say that our connection to Madhva was invented by Baladeva Vidyābhūsana himself who was originally from Madhva’s line but the same paramparā was also given by Kavi Karṇapūra who lived hundreds of years earlier and was born and offered to Lord Caitanya as a baby. Lord Caitanya gave him the Hare Kṛṣna mantra to chant, too. I don’t know what our detractors say to that, except possibly argue that someone edited his works later on.

Anyway, on to the postscripts. The first item there is a letter from a head of a Pejavara Matha to members of ISKCON. It’s short and to the point – he advises us to withdraw any statements that, in his view, appear as disgraceful to Madhvācārya. He doesn’t specify which statements but our devotees understood this to mean the story of Lord Caitanya appearing to Madhvācārya in a dream I mentioned the other day.

We think that it’s actually cements Madvhācārya’s position rather than disgraces him but for this sannyāsī any mention that Lord Caitanya was Kṛṣṇa Himself is apparently blasphemous and so is any association between Mahāprabhu and Madhvācārya. Well, maybe if Madhva appeared to Lord Caitanya in a dream and blessed Him it would be okay but who knows.

The story comes from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Navadvīpa Dhāma Mahātmya and, needless to say, we are not going to stop reading it and preaching from it. It’s just not going to happen. What was tattvavādī sannyāsī thinking? His letter is nicely worded, we can give him that, but did he not foresee that we have no other choice but to ignore it? He could have requested not to cite this story when talking with Madhva’s followers but no, he issued a blank demand to cease and desist. Did he write a similar letter to Śaṇkarācārya’s Maṭhas, too, so that they stopped propagating a false philosophy? Did he sent a letter to the Pope? Or was he thinking that, due to his position in Madhva’s line, he was some sort of an authority to us to order us around?

With all due respect, he didn’t think it through, made a kind of fool of himself, and we have no choice but to ignore him. Another advantage of ignoring him is that we would not talk about this faux pa and would not make unnecessary offenses. I probably just did but only for elucidation of the principle – old people cannot be blamed for anything but listening to them all the time is not very wise either. Sometimes it’s better to pretend we did not hear them at all.

Vanity thought #1692. Troublemakers

Again and again I ran into people accusing us of this or that because they read some arguments from, invariably, ex-ISKCON devotees. I’m not talking about cults and brainwashing here but issues of siddhānta. There’s this idea that these people know what’s right but we, in ISKCON, are pretty much still in ignorance.

The fall of jīva is a never dying argument that is picked up even by so called advaitins. What have they got to do with this, one might ask, but they exploit this issue when we challenge them to explain how it is that Brahman falls into māyā.

According to advaitins there’s absolutely no difference between us, jīvas, and God, and it’s all called Brahman. They would argue with this wording, too – there are no jīvas, they’d say, there’s only Brahman and everything else is “mithya”, whatever that means to them. At this point conversation should become pointless because it’s mithya, too, and so are books like Bhagavad Gītā with Śankarācārya commentaries because they are clearly not eternal. The debate never stops, however. For some reason they can’t let it go and need to engage in “mithya” arguments until cows come home.

Anyway, we say that Brahman should never come under the influence of māyā and so we are either not in māyā or not Brahman, and this is where they bring the issue of fall down – it never happened, we are not in māyā, the concept of “we” or “I” is mithya, a false identity, and so our ISKCON’s theory of fall from the spiritual world is wrong and it’s not accepted in Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism.

Sadly, by Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism they mean people who claim to speak on its behalf while professing loyalty to no one but their own brains. It’s mostly done by ex-ISKCON devotees and their only source is works by one Satyanarayan, the author of that book about leaves not falling from Vaikuṇṭha. Satyanarayan’s guru has already departed and left no writings delineating his philosophical views. We have no idea what his opinion on “going back to Godhead” was or what he thought about the origin of the jīva. Satyanarayan now answers to no one but himself. I’m sure he is a great devotee in many respects but making up his own theories by cherry picking quotes is hopefully not his greatest accomplishment.

I should also say that origin of the jīva is a murky subject that will always remain inconceivable to conditioned souls. Consequently, our ācāryas did not spend much time speculating about it. Only a fully liberated being can, theoretically, know all that happened before being snatched by māya, if concepts of “before” and “after” even exist outside the influence of material time.

We also can’t expect liberated souls to tell us all the stories about each one of us. Say Nārada Muni has the ability to tell us how exactly we ended up in this world but we can’t expect him to inform each one of us about it. There is a story, told by Maitreya, about falldown of Jaya and Vijaya, for example. It’s certainly a notable example and it clearly deserves a place in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but we can’t expect similar narrations for lesser personalities who ended up with no connection to the Lord whatsoever. Why would liberated sages talk about them at all? And why would that be recorded in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam?

The point is that origin of jīva is unknown, the “fall from Vaikuṇṭha” is unknown, it’s all very speculative and we don’t spend time discussing our personal fates. We only know that we need to go back to Godhead and none of our ācāryas had any problems with that concept. Just scroll to page 6 of this paper where there are quotes from previous ācāryas on this subject. They are further elaborated in the body of the text as well. I can’t count how many times they said “forget” in various ways. There are four quotes using the word “back” from Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī as well.

None of it matters to followers of Satyanarayan as they focus on quotes that talk about jīvas emerging from the body of Viṣṇu or some such. There’s no attempt at reconciliation, nothing. It’s as if our ācāryas never ever even thought about going back to Godhead at all.

What they do not forget to mention is that they know Gauḍiyā siddhānta. Repeat this plenty of times and our atheist/advaitin opponents would start to believe them.

Another confusion that ex-ISKCON devotees plant in people’s minds is that Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism has no connection to Madhva sampradāya. To be fair, some members of Madhva sampradāya hold this view, too, even though we have plenty of support and denunciations from their senior members. The argument goes that there was no connection between Mādhavendra Purī and actual Madhvas and the line cited in our literature does not match the one kept by Madhvas themselves.

First of all, it’s unthinkable to say that Mādhavendra Purī made false claims about his own lineage. It’s unthinkable to say that Lord Caitanya did not know what line Mādhavendra Purī came from. It’s unthinkable to say that Mādhavendra Purī’s direct disciples like Advaita Ācārya did not know what sampradāya they were initiated into. We can argue about records from centuries ago all we want but we should immediately reject the conclusions that make above mentioned personalities into liars. If they said they Mādhavendra Purī belonged to the line coming from Madhvācārya then it was so, as simple as that.

Secondly, who are we taking these arguments from? Afaik, on our side it’s the infamous Jagat. His devotion to Śrīla Prabhupāda will always remain unshakable but as far as his actions go they are downright disgusting. He left Prabhupāda’s shelter first for Lalita Prasad, then for some other ostensibly “traditional” Gauḍiyā, then he experimented with drugs, then with sex – joining real life prakṛta sahajiyās full time, then he became an academic, and recently he dropped kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ and took a vow of silence. What kind of authority on spiritual matters is this? He is bound to get it wrong no matter what he tries. Why do we have to listen to his opinions who represents the paramparā and who doesn’t?

It’s not the first time that I complained about bogus “gurus” and “academics” hijacking our siddhānta and making annoying claims but it’s the gift that keeps giving and they get cited again and again, hence continuous reactions.

Vanity thought #787. Frog power

One obvious disadvantage of a frog in a well is that it has no clue how big the outside world is. It’s silly to try and judge it by the very little sample of what is available to frog vision.

Another part is frog’s own ability to understand anything, even in its own little well. Do frogs have qualifications to pontificate on the world outside even in case they got a glimpse of it?

Turning to ISCKON critics again, their qualifications are sadly lacking. They know a bit of Sanskrit and that’s it, but everybody forgets one important dictum – shudras are prohibited from studying Vedas as a principle. Not because they don’t have enough intelligence but because they don’t have enough purity and so will inevitably pervert the meaning and import of Vedic scriptures. Western equivalent would be that little knowledge is more dangerous that complete ignorance. There are plenty of quotes centered around this idea, talking about false knowledge or illusion of knowledge and so on. It’s dangerous, that’s the verdict.

But is it fair to compare our detractors to shudras? Well, obviously many of them are normal devotees living lives no different from many of our ISKCON members, but their leadership, the trend setters who establish the agenda and then get quoted and referred to, are. objectively speaking.

One of the very first devotees who left Srila Prabhupada and joined the babaji club sometimes is so mean even his followers are ashamed. They don’t call the themselves his followers for that very reason, but they expound the same philosophy and same ideas in criticizing us. If one day you find yourself looking for Gaudiya version of kama sutra (!), you’d find it on his website.

Speaking of illicit sex – one the most prolific thinkers and the pillar of ex-ISKCON community whose knowledge of Gaudiya vaishnavism is encyclopedic is also an official, initiated member of sahajiya sect who spent years trying to approach God through sex. And somehow people assume that he knows the “real” story of our sampradaya, not the “embellished” one that is passed down the parampara.

There was another very bright devotee who argued against our position on many issues, who eventually gave up on Krishna altogether and turned to Buddhism.

And the problem with ganja use among some of the most respected members of ex-ISKCON, “real” Gaudiya vaishnavas is not a problem, it’s a “feature”.

Perhaps the only influential devotee exemplary in his behavior is Satyanarayan Prabhu, who is now a babaji, I think. He is also an example of someone who behaves as if he’s got the right to speak for our sampradaya and if necessary correct Srila Prabhupada or Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and he is also the one who might turn into the founder of new apasampradaya that doesn’t believe we were once with Krishna and so we don’t necessarily possess an original spiritual identity or innate but covered spiritual bliss.

Actually, in our history there already is an example of apasampradaya that was started by devotees who thought themselves to be more advanced than the rest of the Gaudiya vaishnava community – ativadis. Jagannatha Dasa, the original ativadi, thought himself to know Bhagavatam better than Lord Chaitanya himself.

Now, the important part is that none of us should ever consider ourselves to be in any way superior to the above mentioned devotees. It would be suicidal to think of them as shudras and ourselves as real vaishnavas. We can objectify them like that only when we compare them to our acharyas, not to ourselves. It should matter only when we choose whose opinion and whose interpretation to follow, not when we judge others relative to our own position, which we should never do anyway.

As far as we are concerned – we are the same kind of frogs, only maybe less pretentious, and, by the mercy of guru and Krishna, frogs that are kept on a good leash. We shouldn’t exercise our frog power and we should give up attempts to understand spiritual truths thought self-study and intellectual process.

Our job is to serve guru and Krishna and wait until the knowledge would automatically reveal itself in our hearts and minds as necessary for our advancement. We should have faith that we will never lack any kind of knowledge just as we won’t experience scarcity of material resources needed for our service. Everything that guru and Krishna needs will be provided, be it food, temples, or knowledge of shastra.

Scarcity exists only when we divert those resources for our own pleasure. Krishna, on the other hand, has thousands and thousands of goddesses of fortune eager to satisfy Him in every way, and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, is also one of His most devoted servants.

As Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita – ma suchah – don’t worry about it.

Vanity thought #283. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Vipina Vihari Goswami.

Recently Vipina Vihari Goswami, or Vipina Bihari Goswami, or any combination of the first letters, was subjected to some criticism from various quarters and this needs to be addressed, in my opinion.

His name was dragged into bigger battles for the glory of being the most faithful branch of Lord Chaitanya’s tree. Some groups of devotees wanted to see themselves as being better than others, closer to the Six Goswamis and Chaitanya Mahprabhu and so on. Some of them thought that they could prove themselves by finding faults in their “opponents”. They are all very exalted and dear to the Lord but the presence of material nature means that some contamination has crept in and names of vaishnavas like Vipina Vihari Goswami had suffered.

In general it went like this – members of traditional vaishnava gotras, family descendants of Lord Chaitanya’s associates, felt that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati usurped their position as the sole guardians of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and they looked for excuses to declare Srila Bhaktisiddhanta a bogus guru disconnected from the parampara.

So far I have come across several arguments they use. First, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. They have some grounds for this because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati took sannyasa in front of the picture of his guru after his disappearance. To counter this argument Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers talk about taking actual vows vs receiving the dress. I’m pretty sure this is not enough for their opponents but for us the proof is in the pudding – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been a life-long brahmachari, an example of a perfect renunciate and a very very potent preacher who must have been fully blessed by the Lord Himself.

Second argument is insistence on diksha parampara rather than shiksha or “bhagavat” parampara. In this argument they refer to other vaishnava sampradayas where devotees trace their sampradaya through diksha initiation all the way up to the founders. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers point out some inconsistencies here and there while Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself stressed the importance of transferring the knowledge and shakti, not the formalities of pancharatra system. This has brought some new arguments regarding various practices in Gaudiya Math, like the color or sannyasi cloth etc.

This is also the line of arguing that drew a split between Vipina Vihari Goswami and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. They argue that correct parampara must come through Vipina Vihari Goswami to Bhaktivinoda Thakur and then to someone like Lalita Prasad, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s younger brother who they believe is the actual recipient of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s mercy, his favorite son etc etc. Since Srila Bhaktisidhhanta Saraswati didn’t include Vipina Vihari Goswami in his version of parampara he had to be excluded himself.

Some of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati followers seized on this argument and responded that Vipina Vihari Goswami wasn’t qualified to be included in our guru parampara due to his personal failings and that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had all the valid reasons to reject his association. Basically they say that followers of Vipina Vihari Goswami were in the apa-sampradaya themselves.

This is where it could get very ugly because the accusations start to become pretty serious, down to tobacco smoking and associating with mayavadis. At this point I should say that none of these allegations have ever been committed to paper and remain only a hearsay. They first made their appearance in print in a book by one ex-ISKCON sannyasi who started his own preaching mission and heard this stuff from his Gaudiya Math guru. That happened roughly a hundred years after no one spoke of these things publicly and the guru itself has left this world so there are no sources left.

What we should remember is that Vipina Vihari Goswami was sent to initiate Bhaktivinoda Thakur by Lord Chaitanya Himself appearing in his dream. Equally, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur saw a dream where Lord Chaitanya had promised to send him a guru, too. Who wants to criticize Lord Chaitanya’s personal messenger? Why? If Lord Chaitanya thought that Vipina Vihari Goswami was good enough to become Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s guru why would anyone try and find faults with him?

Even if there are some aspects of Vipina Viharir’s behavior or personal relationships with both Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that might raise a few eyebrows we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions here. Like the disagreement over the location of Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace. Some say Vipina Vihari Goswami rejected the site found by Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Jagannatha Dasa Babaji and that he rejected Bhaktivinoda Thakur as his disciple, too, but there’s precious little evidence of the conflict itself let alone its ghastly conclusions. That is to say there’s no evidence that Vipina Vihari Goswami had ever rejected Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in any shape or form. Personally I would only concede the possibility of a disagreement over Yoga Pith but not the possibility of either of the vaishnavas becoming vindictive and rejecting each other.

Later Vipina Vihari Goswami was appointed as one of the directors on the committee overseeing the development of Yoga Pith in Mayapur and that should bring the dispute to conclusion.

Another alleged point is that Vipina Vihari Goswami took the side of the brahmanas in brahmana vs vaishnava debate and for that reason Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t go himself to argue against his guru but sent Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. The book from which this peace of information is gleamed also states that Vipina Vihari defeated the brahmanas and established the supremacy of vaishnavas and that, of course, destroys the whole argument.

I don’t think it’s possible to go through the rest of the arguments in this way, there might be some truth in the allegations against Vipina Vihari but given the failure of these two samples I think we can reject the conclusions with a great degree of confidence.

There are things that happen between vaishnavas that defy our common logic or appear contradictory to what we have learned but we should always be very careful with the conclusions we reach. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been initiating people left and right, some were re-initiated and normally that would throw a red flag for us but previous gurus appeared to be supportive and probably gave their full blessings. Now, hundred years later, we can’t ascertain it one way or another, I think it’s rather wise to assume the best in the devotees even when our minds tell us to suspect the worst.

There’s also a point of living in the material world – we all make mistakes here, even more so when we pass along unconfirmed rumors and gossip, like the alleged statement that Vipina Vihari called Raghunatha Dasa Goswami a member of a lower caste. That actually may have been so, but what if Vipina Vihari’s point was that Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was Lord’s dearest devotee DESPITE being from a lower caste? One can see an offence here, another can see proof that devotees of the Lord are above all caste considerations.

I admit at first I was attracted to Vipina Vihari stories because of these controversies but now I wish I would always look only for the best in Krishna’s devotees and do not indulge myself in rumor mongering.

All glories to Srila Vipina Vihari Goswami, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and all the devotes of the Lord.