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.