History of Gaudiya Vaishnavism III – The Beginnings of Modernity

by Chaitanya Charan dasMarch 22, 2012

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Phase around Bhaktivinoda Thakur

 

Today we will continue our discussion on the History of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and we will discuss the phase around Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Last time we discussed about how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers reestablished Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Vrindaban especially all that is destroyed by Amalthes atrocities Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakur reestablished it.  We discussed briefly about Baladev Vidyabhushan defending gaudiya vaishnava truth at the galta meeting, I will briefly talk about that and we will go to Bhaktivinoda Thakur. When the deities from vrindaban were taken to Jaipur, Radha Govind and many other Deities were taken. Radha Govind attracted the hearts of the Rajput Kings over there. As their heats were attracted, they started more respecting the devotees who were worshipping  the deities of Radha Govinda, ie Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Previously the Ramanadies were having a lot of influence on the King. Ramanandies were a deviant offshoot of Sri vaishnavas.  They of course accepted Vaishnavism, but then their founder Ramanandi was considered to be God to some extent, at least some of them. There was a long time debate between followers of Ramanandi about Ramanandi is Ram or a devotee of Ram. Around 1920s  they passed a resolution that Ram is God and anybody who doesn’t accept Ram as God is not a follower Ramanandi.  Although throughout the tradition there were Genuine followers of Ram, they did not accept Ram to be God but as a devotee of God. They had some differences, significant differences from Sri Vaishnavas. Although Ramanand claimed to be following Srivaishnavism, he had his differences. So anyway when they saw their influence to be lost on the Rajput King at that time, they started questioning the authenticity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.  When they started questioning the authenticity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, they raised some questions, which Gaudiya Vaishnavas found difficult to answer. The leader at that time was Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur . It was he who arranged the deities to be taken from Vrindavan to Jaipur. Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur was very old and he sent BVB. When Baladev Vidyabhushan came to the assembly at Jaipur, he was asked before we can discuss what is your parampara. He said Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself is God and when God speaks a message we don’t have to ask about parampara. He says that there are only four paramparas there is not fifth parampara. Then he explained that He Himself got initiated in Madava Parampara earlier and therefore based on that initiation in Madhva Sampradaya he spoke. They they asked if you are in Madhva Sampradaya then, Madhvacharya didn’t worshiped Radha Krishna, so in that sampradaya they didn’t worship Radharani, why are you worshipping.  He said because Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught it. Then they asked that you say that it is according to the scriptures, then where is your commentary on vedanta sutra. He explained that Srimad Bhagavatam is the natural commentary, because it is not verse to verse commentary, it is not a literal commentary like this verse explains that verse. This verse be explained by that verse of Srimad Bhagavatam. So they didn’t accept that argument.  So Baladev Vidyabhushan wrote his own commentary called Govinda Bhashya. When he wrote that commentary that was a stunning performance because he wrote in a very short time. Some people says within two months but some people takes years and years  to write a vedanta sutra commentary.  That is considered to be a greatest accomplishment of a scholar if he writes a commentary on vedanta sutra. But Baladeva vidya bhushan wrote it by the mercy of Sri Govindaji. Then when he wrote the commentary he called it as Govinda Bhasya, because before he started it he took the blessings of Shri Govindji and a garland of Govindji fell down at that time and he considered it as the will of Govindji.  Now I wouldn’t go into full details of Govinda Bhashya. Essentially what does Baladev Vidyabhushan  do over here, Baladev Vidyabhushan also wrote a book called Krameya Ratnavali. In that he essentially accepts the basic sutras, the basic essential points of the philosophy that of Madhvacharya but then he makes rule for Gaudiya philosophy over there in those points. Basically what Baladev Vidyabhushan  did was he accepted the point that Gaudiya parampara is affiliated with Madhava Sampradaya, but at the same time he also emphasized and validated based on scriptures the uniqueness the distinctiveness of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.  He essentially talked about the verses from Brahma Purana, Brahma Vaivarta purana especially he talked about Padma purana about Radharani and her glory.  So in this way basically  he showed that  nominally or officially we are affiliated with Madhava Sampradaya, but theologically and philosophically we have our distinctive identity. So the acharyas throughout the history whenever they face different challenges  and difficult situations, they inspire the Lord to come up with the solutions which establish the credentials of the message that we have received in our sampradaya.  They establish the credentials at the same time they maintain the fidelity of the message from the tradition from which they are coming.   Now we are connected with Madhava Sampradaya, but we have significant differences and at the same time we have significant similarities also. The most important similarity is that we both accept God is a person and pure devotional service to the Lord is the ultimate goal of life.  Srila Prabhupada explains that on three issues these sampradayas will never conflict. That is the supremacy of Absolute truth as person, the eternality of subordinate position of jiva and the eternality of process of Bhakti. It means the position of Jiva, position of Eashwara and the position of bhakti, on these three core issues all sampradayas always agree. Now as I mentioned in the earlier classes when the Goswamis went to Vrindaban and they were establishing Gaudiya Vaishnavism at that time the Vrindaban was practically isolate and the wave of Bhakti has started sweeping over all of India and even North India at that time. So the Goswamis channelized that Bhakti over there to direct people over there towards Krishna. At that time because there was not doctrinal challenge directly to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, so therefore they did not emphasize the madava connection at that time. Whereas BVB, because he was challenged and because he as to establish the authority of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, so he emphasized the madava connection. Of course Goswamis recognized the Madhvacharya as an acharya and Jiva Goswami offers obeisances to Madhvacharya also, at few places he seek his blessings before starting, but they considered Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as their Aradhya dev. They are writing everything on the blessings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu not on the blessing of Madhvacharya. Jiva Goswami also quotes Madhvacharya on several occasions – Madhvacharya quoted this verse from say Brihadsamhita and then he quotes it like that and then in some places he writes that Madhvacharya quoted this verse from this book but in the current editions of this book we don’t find this verse. But since Madhvacharya quoted it it is valid. He does give Madhvacharya authority but not the defining or primary authority as sampraday Acharya. He says that position is reserved for CMP.  So in that sense we are not Madhava sampradaya, we are Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya. So the Broad overarching principles that are common to the  vaishnava sampradayas, we accept them but still the gaudiya vaishnavism has taken the essence of various sampradayas and integrated them together to reveal the highest conclusion of vedic literature and of-course the similarities and differences  between the four sampradayas are matter of elaborate and intrical philosophical discussion which we may take-up later. But this is the general principle so in this way Baladev Vidyabhushan  secured a very significant victory for Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He also wrote a lot of books, he is a prolific writer. Both he and his spiritual master Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur wrote a lot of books. Now it is interesting that SPP did write a commentary on Brahma Samhita because he said his spiritual master has already commented and he(SPP) should not comment. But Baladev Vidyabhushan  wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita although Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur has already written. If we look at the two commentaries Baladev Vidyabhushan  quotes Chakravarti Pad in few times but on many occasions  he doesn’t and he gives his own distinctive analysis of the flow of Bhagavad Gita by dividing the Bhagavad Gita into three sections and talking about three kinds of devotees who were referred to in these sections. He brings a very distinctive kind of coherence to the Bhagavad Gita which is philosophically  entirely in agreement with Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur ‘s but in the detailed analysis there are significant differences. So why does he have to do that? why does he had to write a separate commentary? In the vedantic tradition the Spiritual teacher of a sampradaya is considered bonafide when they have commentaries on the prasthana traya. Prasthana Traya is the Vedanta sutra, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Madhvacharya has commented on all these three, Sankaracharya commented on all these three, Ramanujacharya commented on vedanta sutra as well as the Bhagavad Gita – Sri Bhasya and Mita Bhasya. He spoke extensively on the Upanishads and one of his followers subsequently commented on Upanishads. So like that in our sampradaya because the rasa was more emphasized and nobody commented on Prasthana Traya, Baladev Vidyabhushan  recognized that it was his responsibility now to establish the authenticity and validity of our sampradaya. So he carried on his cementation on Vedanta sutra and went on to comment also on the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. So that’s why his commentaries are more based on tatva, Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur is going more into rasa. After Baladev Vidyabhushan  for about hundred years are so there was lull in the preaching  – “sa kalena mahata yogo nastah parantapa”  Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita in the fourth chapter second verse by the power of time that message which I have given it gets lost, and then just as Krishna spoke to Arjuna to revive the message, Krishna makes some arrangement or the other, he sends acharyas to revive that message. When we say the message is lost it means not that the message is destroyed, it is that the general mass of humanity their access to that message is destroyed. There were still some Gaudiya Vaishnavas who were participating. Some people says that there are breaks in the parampara lineage. No there are no breaks, the parampara lineage is continuous but only prominent acharyas are mentioned in parampara lineage. So the Parampara that we have in Bhagavad-Gita as it is given by Srila Prabhupada is based on the Siksha parampara understanding given by Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  ” Krishna hoyte chaturmukh” that is the verse, that is the poem from which, there he explained  Bhaktivinoda Thakur received his inspiration from Baladev Vidyabhushan  and Baladev Vidyabhushan  received from Vishwanath Chakravarthi Thakur . Now of course they are very intelligent teachers, but because he was talking about the Siksha Sampradaya he did not emphasize that. So the important point is that when we talk about Parampara, not every single acharya for example if Chakravarti pad had many disciples doesn’t than the other’s disciples, then they will have their own disciplic lines, but they may not all of them may be prominent acharyas. That’s why Baladev Vidyabhushan  was a prominent siksha disciple. He was mentioned but others may not have been mentioned.

Now at the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakur Gaudiya Vaishnavism in sense was in a disastrous situation. Because Chaitanya Mahaprabhu exemplified the purest and the highest levels of Sanyas, the renunciation and utter devotion to the Lord. But there were others who at a premature level tried to imitate the pastimes of Radha Krishna and they are  kind of apasampradaya like ativaris, avalas, bowls and all of them. They instead of accepting the strict principles of renunciation which  Caitanya Mahaprabhu has taught and exemplified and especially Goswamis were exemplified. They started engaging in immoral activities, because of that the overall perception of people towards Gaudiya Vaishnavism became negative. People started thinking that to be a Gaudiya Vaishnava means that a person uses one’s religion as a license for immorality. Now significantly since the time of Baladev Vidyabhushan  to Bhaktivinoda Thakur from the 18th to the 19th century, Baladev Vidyabhushan  wrote his Govinda Bhasya sometime between 1747 to 1757 in that area in that time. After that what has happened was the political and the intellectual landscape of India changed dramatically because of westernization. Prior to that Islamic rule was in India. Islam was never considered as an intellectual or philosophical competitor for Hinduism. Islam was surely a political threat  and many temples, deities, scriptures and devotees had to make arrangements for their own protection or for the protection of the sacred relics. But Islam was never considered intellectual contender or competitor because of the very behavior of Muslims.  In terms of eating meat, alienated eating cow flesh especially alienated Hindus and so. Yes some Hindus became converted in fact the most of the Muslims today in India were Hindus those who were converted into Islam a few hundred years ago. But they were converted mostly by force or they got converted because they thought that if they convert in to Islam will free them from the repressive caste system. But unfortunately the caste had continued with the Islam also and the lower caste Hindus  were treated as lower classes not caste but lower classes in Islam also. So their conversion did not really help much. But the conversion that took place between the Hinduism to Islam was either because of force or because of repressive caste system, the social reasons or political reasons. But practically Islam never posed intellectual challenges to Hinduism. But when western civilization came to India, especially when it came to Bengal, then that posed a dual intellectual challenge. One was scientific rationality  that was sweeping across Europe rapidly at that time that also came to India and from that rational perspective much of the beliefs of Hindus at that time seemed to be irrational and another force that came along with the rational force was the Christian moral idea. From the Christian morality  point of view the acted Radha Krishna was considered to be immoral. The Krishna’s rasalila was sung and recited for a long time the Gita govinda is celebrating Krishna’s rasalila. Gita Govind had become like superstar song at that time, very popular. It was recited by people and people understood that it was transcendental because this is about the worship of the Lord and his consorts are transcendental and nobody considered it to be a objectionable, but when the Christians came to India, they did not considered Krishna to be sacred and when they saw that these Hindus were glorifying  the immoral acts of this God Krishna, form that outraged their moral sensibility when they further saw that many Hindus were imitating the activities of this so called God Krishna, then they said that the rot of Hinduism is thorough. Their God is immoral and His devotees were immoral. So as we know from our history, the Britishers came to India primarily through the conquest of Bengal. Aurangzeb gave some Britishers who have came there some rights for doing some trade dealings in Bengal. He soon realized that it was the biggest mistake he made, because in a short time the Britishers took complete control of Bengal. There were few fights but the Britishers strategically won those fights and gradually Marathas were become powerful. Aurangzeb became weaker because of his repeated fights with Maratas. He and his subsequent Muslim rulers had no strength left to fight the Britishers. Britishers relatively got a free hold in Bengal. Maratha Kingdom was primarily in south India and in North India, but not so much in East India. Because it started from the west, it moved upwards and moved downwards but not entirely across in India. It extended up to Katak at one time in East and up to Akak, which is now in Pakistan in the west. But it never came to Bengal. So the Britishers took hold of Bengal and gradually they expanded their rule. There were three battles between the Britishers and Maratas in which were the Marathas were defeated and the Britishers took hold of the whole country practically. It all started from Bengal. In Bengal there were two Primary kind of worships, one was Krishna worship and other was Kali worship. Krishna worship seem to be immoral to Britishers and Kali worship seem to be barbaric. The idea of God is who is His tongue out and who is thirsty for blood. Christians has no moral scope for eating meat, but the idea that an animal should be killed in a temple and the idea that God loves blood, that was something that they considered barbaric. The Christians started criticizing the Hindu religion very much. Especially Vaishnavism and especially Gaudiya Vaishnavism became a target for them. So it was at this time in this intellectual setting that Bhaktivinoda Thakur appeared in this world.  Bhakti Vinod Thakur manifested his Krishna consciousness in a very distinctive way. Lord arranged his Krishna Conscious to be covered. That was done so that the Local Bengali bhadralok could identify with him and be attracted with his choice. What does that mean?  The Lord arranged Bhakti Vinod Thakur to be born in a Shakta family. Shaka family means a worshipper of Shakti or Kali. Shakti has many forms, Kali is there, Durga is there. The worshippers of any of these shakti forms are called Shaktas. The modern day Hinduism has three basic divisions now. We have Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. Of course these three are the Bhakti divisions and there is also advaitism, hard-line mayavadi who does not accept any form of God. Bhakti Vinod Thakur’s great grandfather was a vaishnava, but his father was a Shakta so he was born as a Shakta and then as he grew up he came to Calcutta and he was exposed to  European thought at that time and he read lot about Christianity and he says at one time I was very close to accepting Christianity but then he read Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj literature which also he found interesting. In which he tried to bring synthesis between Upanishadic Hinduism and  Unitarian Christianity. Christianity has three aspects Unitarian and Trinitarian. Trinitarian is one which accepts God has three manifestations, that is God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, all three are considered to be God in some way called Trinitarian Christianity. There is Unitarian Christianity, which says that there is only one God. Trinitarian Christianity is what is wide spread today, especially Catholic Church is Trinitarian. But at that time the Unitarian Christianity was influential in Bengal and Bhakti Vinod Thakur found interesting the synthesis between Unitarian Christianity and Upanishadic Hinduism that which Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj has brought. Ram Mohan Roy was the first among Hindus to put a sustained critique against Deity worship. He said that Upanishadic Hinduism does not talk about worship of any form, it does not talk about worship of any deities. So hindus will be divided if they keep thinking in terms of their own deities. There are different deities and we have to go beyond all these deities which is the cause of divisiveness and the cause of conflict between Hinduism and deity worship.  So he wrote a tract against deity worship. That is all because he was influenced by Abrahamic religions a lot, but then Bhaktivinoda Thakur started reading the writing of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, It was Chaitanya Bhagavat and Chaitanya Mangal were widely available but Chaitanya Charitamrita was not available at that time because it was a philosophical book. So basically at this time Gaudiya Vaishnavism got divided into three categories, one was popular Gaudiya Vaishnavism that people would dance and sing happily, chat the holy name and experience ecstasy in that and the Kirtans of Gaura Nithai and Hare Krishna mantra were unicorn. When the Britishers came to India they said Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was like a folk God. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu deity, Chanting of Hare Krishna,Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a how fold phenomenon in Bengal.  But this popular Gaudiya Vaishnavism has become divorced from intellectual Gaudiya Vaishnavism or Philosophical Gaudiya Vaishnavism. These people who would chat sing and dance had no deep understanding of philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Then there were caste Goswamis who were claimed themselves to be monopolizing the right to initiate different Gaudiya Vaishnavism. They considered themselves to be official authorities of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.  But many of them were engaging in immoral activities which could range from eating meat, fish and other thing like that dietary habits, some cases even the sexual distortions. There were a few pure hearted Gaudiya Vaishnavas, but they did not had much official powers and they just went about chatting the holy name going here and there and practice their own thing. Because the common people did not have any understanding of philosophy, they were not following the moral principle. They used to eat meat, they  used to chant the Hare Krishna Maha mantra also. So, now we are going to talk about Bhadralok, Badra means good, those people who were educated in English had learned western education not only teaching but also values and they looked down scornfully up on the common masses. Oh they are superstitious, they are polytheistic , they are primitive. Actually India was ruled by Britishers primarily through these Bhadralok. This Bhadralok they identified not with the common Indians, although they called themselves Indian they identified themselves much more with the intellectual and cultural values of Europe and Britain then with India. Among the Bhadralok there was huge amount of skepticism and criticism of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. So the Lord arranged Bhakti Vinod Thakur to be a member of Bhadralok. When he was member of Bhadralok he was well educated and he was working in the British Government and he had a respectable position there. But then at that time for such people to get access to the Philosophical side of Gaudiya Vaishnavism was practically impossible. Because what was the source of Knowledge they have access to was only the British education and other bhadralok whatever they would write. Nobody was a Gaudiya Vaishnava practically speaking at that time except for a very few. Bhaktivinoda Thakura appeared at that time and after six years he found Chaitanya Charitamrita and he saw that basically Gaudiya Vaishnavism has such a profound philosophical basis.  It is not just chanting,  dancing and doing immorial activities in the name of God. It is a profound philosophical basis then he gradually manifested his Krishna consciousness. He is eternal associate of the Lord, but from the historical perspective he manifested his Krishna consciousness quite late not so early in his life. Because he had so many experiences, he had experience of Shakta, Brahim, study of Christianity and western rationality he had the experience of living with and understanding the mentality of bhadralok. So he had all these experiences, he know how different people thought and how to preach to these people and then he started preaching. The preaching he did was extraordinary. Today India has more or less has established its identity in the world, although India has become westernized there is reasonable amount of respect for India’s culture and tradition. Those people who are following it, they may not necessarily justify to the world but still they followed it anyway. But at the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakur much of Indian tradition was strongly under criticism and so at that time Bengali renaissance took place. Bengali renaissance started with Ram Mohan Roy and continued down with Swami Vivekananda  and others, who thought of reinventing the Hinduism for modern times. Reinvented means how does Hinduism interact with modernity. That’s what they arrived at some important positions and they defined contours what went on to the Hinduism. So in this situation Bhaktivinoda Thakura appeared, Ram Mohan Roy had already appeared and he had already passed away and the Brahma Samaj has got split after that. The alliance that had come criticized many things especially the deity worship with the Hinduism and the arya samaj continues to do that today. So what happened was these people were intelligent  in their own ways. Swami Vivekananda they were all intelligent and to some extent we can say that they sincerely wanted to protect India’s tradition, but they had no idea what that tradition actually was. None of them had got to meet any of our acharyas or their successor to understand about what really the Vedic literature is all about. Swami Vivekananda was a distant cousin of BVT. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was Kedarnath Datta and Swami Vivekananda before initiation was Narendranath Datta. But unfortunately Swami Vivekananda never got much opportunity to associate with Bhaktivinoda Thakur and later on he met Ramakrishna Prarama hamsa and through that he felt that advaitvad which all voids the idea of having many deities and having only one impersonal Brahman is the only way to unite India. So for many of these leaders who are considered spiritual often they were very much involved with sociological and political things. So to what extent they were spiritual teachers is a debatable issue.  Actually they studied Vedic literature and they had some understanding about spirituality, but whether they were out in search of the truth is something a debate. At least if  we look at Ram Mohan Roy he was a wealthy person, he was quite materialistic in many ways and he saw himself as a social reformer than a spiritualist and through his influence that the sati was stopped. Swami Vivekananda was in renounced order but he seemed more concerned with the social reforms and nationalistic revival than with spiritual uplift. That’s how he made many statements that are quite scandalous like watering a brinjal tree is better than watering tulasi, because watering brinjal tree will give you something to eat watering tulasi will give nothing. Statements like for a growing child one football ground is better than hundred Bhagavad Gitas. These all statements indicate that spirituality and spiritual advancement and appreciation and attainment of God are not primary focus for these people. As per Gaudiya Acharyas or Vaishnava acharyas the Spiritual advancement was the primary focus. Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya both of them lived at times when Islam was on the accented, but when neither of them tried to organize the political force to counter Islam. They focused on transcendental pursuits. This doesn’t mean that the political issues are unimportant, but that is the role of Kshatriyas, that is not the work of Brahmanas. So what happened was the spiritual leaders in the hope of reviving the Indian spirituality, they first of misunderstood what spirituality was and secondly they mixed up the spirituality with mundane philanthropy and other mundane welfare work. That’s what became mayavada. In one sense by the time Baladev Vidyabhushan  have come he sort of fired the last salvo against mayavada. His is the last commentary against the mayavada that was written by the Vaishnava Traditions. By that time Shankaracharyas Advaitvad had become significantly weakened and curtailed (38.25), but when the Christians and Europeans came to India, then many of the Indian thinkers revived advaitvad because they felt that it is the best way to unite India and to protect India from foreign rule and foreign cultural take over. That’s have if you see from Ram Mohan Roy down to Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radha Krishnan later they were all advaita vadis, of course they all their own brand of advaita ved. Sankaracharya’s advaitvad never recommended Social service, swami Vivekananda’s advaitvad has lot of social service in it. That was because many of them considered sociological upliftment more important than  spiritual. Basically by mixing the role of Brahmana and Kshatriya they effectively subordinated and subverted  the devotional essence and purpose of Vedic literature and they started using the impersonality ideology as a political troll for national integration. National integration is not bad  and protecting Indian culture is not bad, but subverting the philosophy to do that. One of Srila Prabhupada’s Strongest critique was ‘Manava seva is Madhava Seva’. No, this is not the truth. It doesn’t meant that manavas should not be cared for, Human being should be left for starve and die, but the idea that the human being are God is mistaken and just by serving human being one can serve God. We will discuss about manava seva and Madhava seva in more detail. We will discuss about the Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur , right now we are discussing about the intellectual willow of BVT. So at his time basically the whole intellectual ethos of his times was very skeptical and Bhaktivinoda Thakur has very distinctive challenge to face at that time and he did a remarkable number of bold innovations. When he gave that famous lecture on the Bhagavata, that was the turning point in his intellectual career. At that time he proclaimed the world he was a Vaishnava and he explained the world how and why he had become a Vaishnava and not only he intend to remain a vaishnava in one sense he propagated vaishnava and invited others also to take up the path he had taken. So as a starting again a entry in the minds of bhadralok he made some adjustments. For example in his lecture ‘the Bhagavata’, which also later on become  small booklet, he says that for people to understand Bhagavatam in bhadralok, he recognized there are three difficulties and he decided how to tackle those difficulties. One is the cosmological part, where there is discussion of Bhu Mandala and description of so many Naraka Lokas, that seems mythological to people. Then he says philosophy is very difficult for people to understand and the Krishna’s pastimes seem to be immoral and they also have supernatural elements in them. So in this Bhagavatam Lecture he dealt with all of them. He also said that apart from the principle that we are accountable to our actions all other references to heaven and hell  are just symbolic. So now did Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself accept it? No, because in the other literatures he denies this. Taking this approach further he wrote a full book called Krishna samhita. I will come to Krishna samhita later, but the second part is philosophy, yes, the Bhagavatam philosophy is difficult but isn’t what he something expect something he loftily involved, just as if we want to study the work of western philosophers we have to put in some amount of effort to do that. Similarly we have to put in effort to understand the Vedic literature. In this way he encouraged his followers, his audience to actually take the Bhavatam seriously and as far as Krishna’s immoral activities are concerned he explained how they are transcendental, not all people accepted, but he started the point that they are transcendental. As far as Krishna’s supernatural activities are concerned, where His killing of all sort of demons in miraculous way it all seems to be very irrational. Then in the Chaitanya Shiksha Amrut he explained he explained how these represent different thing. Not only they represent different things but those but those anarthas in the heart will be killed when we hear those particular pastimes. So then by this way he made how the people who considered to be intellectual to understand not just fantastic fairytales for children these are actually having a purificatory potency and profound symbolic depth. Now of course does this mean that these demons were not there, Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t say that. He says that they represent these things. Now so he in his Bhagavata book, Caitanya Siksamrta book and his most path breaking controversial book was Krishna Samhita. In Krishna Samhita he more or less accepts the dating of Vedic literature that is given at that time by indologists. So for example instead of Kali yuga being 4,32,000 years some of the people there was at that time Guru of Paramahansa Yogananda was Sri Yukteswar. Yukteshwar basically cutout one or two zeros from the Yugas so that they do not appear to be so outrageously long, outrageous from the physic of the western mind set and he tried to rationalize the vast time spans given in the Vedic literature. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes in the introduction of Krishna Samhita that ‘different people of different natures and the message of the truth is to be presented in different ways and if the traditional people feel offended by the way I am citing things over here, I seek forgiveness‘, something like that he says and basically he doesn’t say that I believe this but this is also one way you can look at it. He gives approximate dates for Vedic literature and he says that it is not final. If in the future scholars find out further evidences  which give more accurate time frame of what time which book was written and that should be accepted. He called this the adhunika vada. Adunikavad means modern thought, but then he said Ok this adhunika veda is fine but beyond that there is philosophy of Bhagavatam and there is the message of the Love of Bhagavatam, this is actually the essence of Bhagavatam and one doesn’t have to get caught up in the other things just move forward, and approach this essence and assimilate this essence and you will be profoundly spiritually enriched. When he spoke like this and when he wrote like this it created a furor among the traditional hindus at that time. Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes his autobiography Swa Likitha Jivani practically nobody understood ‘Krishna Samhita’ properly and later on around 1906 Bhaktivinoda Thakur republished the Krishna Samhita and gave an extensive footnotes, in those footnotes he showed very clearly that he was giving this time line for puranic literature and downsizing of the celestial kings and things like that. Not because he accepted it but as a provisional way for people to start understanding the Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada also did presentations something like this not so radical. For example, When Srila Prabhupada asked how is Vaikunta? He said it is like a ocean of LSD. So now one of the offence against the Holy name is to give mundane interpretations against the Holy name. Is Srila Prabhupada doing that? No, to give interpretation to holy name is to say that there is nothing to the holy name except material. Srila Prabhupada is comparing the holy name to LSD, but not saying that the holy name is like LSD. Srila Prabhupada at other place clearly said that LSD should not be taken, it has to be given up. He is not comparing the two in one sense all he is saying is that this is the frame work you have. So use this framework to understand how great the happiness of Krishna consciousness will be. Basically Prabhupada was navigating the way for making the Krishna consciousness enter into their heart within the framework of  their existing preconceptions and misconceptions. Bhaktivinoda Thakur did the same thing, and that’s why he says that if you find it supernatural dimensions in terms of time and size  to be discomfort and unacceptable, then put them aside and focus on   the essence, ie. Krishna’s message of love. After that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur later if we see his writing like Jaiva Dharma, which is one of his primary books and he wrote Bhajana Rahasya, Harinama Chintamani and other books like that, there he makes things very clear that he is focusing on that essence of path of pure devotional service. In this way he worked around the misconceptions of the people at that time so that they could start gaining the depth of the  Srimad Bhagavatam. There was one disciple of Srila Prabhupada Shukavak Prabhu who wrote a book about Bhaktivinoda Thakur called the Hindu encounter with modernity, this was his PhD thesis. This thesis became very controversial. What he wrote in this book is Bhaktivinoda Thakur did not accept that Bhagavatam was written 5000 years before. He did not accept that Vedic Cosmology written in fifth Canto has to be taken seriously. Bhaktivinoda Thakur in order to appeal to the intellectuals of his time devised his own nomenclature. He said that there are Komali Sradda, Madhyama  Sradda and Uttama Sradda. This is using the same terminology like Adhikari – Kanistha Adhikari, Madhyama Adhikari and Uttama Adhikari. He said Kanista Adhikari are those people who just stick with the externals and they always fight because the externals are always different.  The madhyama Adhikari always goes beyond the externals to the essence. They go beyond the externals to see what is more in there, what is the philosophy, but then uttama adhikari go even beyond the philosophy to the essence of law. Basically what Bhaktivinoda Thakur was doing was he was clattering his intellectual audience by saying “Oh, you look down up on the common Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnavas who chant and dance are not educated? Don’t try to understand the philosophy and they don’t have any intellect let them be at that level, they are Komali Sraddhas, they are Kanista Adhikaris. But you are a madhyama Adhikari so go beyond that sentimental externality. You see immorality happening, you see externally wrong, but go beyond the externals to the internal. Understand the philosophy and after you understand the philosophy then there is one more stage to go further, that is actually the level of love. In this way he got people to appreciate the Srimad Bhagavatam.  But did he himself indicate that the fifth canto cosmology is wrong or something like that? No, not at all but he makes his stand quite clear. Shukavak Prabhu quotes Bhaktivinoda Thakur in a selective way and he tries to portray Bhaktivinoda Thakur as saying that there is a material side of Srimad Bhagavatam and there is a spiritual side and the essence of Srimad Bhagavatam is spiritual side, material side doesn’t matter. The description of Naraka, the description of Svarga, the description of the date, the description of the Geography all these are material side and we don’t have to bother about that because that is not eternal, that is not absolute and that not necessarily true also. Bhaktivinoda Thakur doesn’t say that, not it has further problems, differences between material and spiritual side. Bhaktivinoda Thakur says that hell and all are symbolic, but if hell is symbolic then is haven symbolic? If heaven is also symbolic, then Indra real or symbolic? If Indra symbolic then the Govardhan lila is real or symbolic? If Govardhan lila is symbolic then Goverdhan is real or symbolic? If Goverdhan is symbolic, then what is left of is Krishna’s pastimes. Basically this idea of separating the material and spiritual is something which seem appealing intellectually but it has disastrous consequences in the long run. Basically we end up reducing Krishna’s pastimes also symbolic. Therefore BVT,  Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  and Srila Prabhupada did not take that stand  and Bhaktivinoda Thakur took that stand in one of his books, that too he did not repeat that later in any of his books, nor did he emphasized sized it later. That is actually the standard of Bhaktivinoda Thakur actually is misleading. This book was later on declared that is not fit for devotees to read because it misrepresent Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Shukavak Prabhu eventually left ISKCON, but the important point for us to understand is that Bhaktivinoda Thakur did bold and innovative things. Just as Srila Prabhupada started Bhaktivedanta Institute to present Krishna Consciousness scientifically, that was a bold thing but while presenting scientifically he did not compromise in any of his teachings.  Bhaktivinoda Thakur also did not compromise but he is ready to be intellectually innovative. In fact Bhaktivinoda Thakur was the first person to bring Gaudiya Vaishnavism in dialog with western intellectual traditions and western religions. In this way he laid the foundation for Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be accepted and propagated in modern times which are highly influenced by the west. Bhaktivinoda Thakur in his own way was phenomenally successful but due to his preaching that which is considered disreputable became respectable. The Gaudiya Vaishnavism which was despised and looked down up on, that became respected and he laid the foundation for Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur  to spread the Gaudiya Vaishnavism all over India. Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself revived Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Bengal and Orissa, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  spread all over the country and he sent some representatives abroad and SPP took it all over the world. In this way the acharyas has worked systematically in succession to offer us Gaudiya Vaishnava heritage. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote about hundred books prolific writer and although he was not a sanyasi, he was tied down to his job and he couldn’t travel extensively for preaching although he would travel nearby places he created a virtual community of followers who were basically his readers. He wrote so much, he wrote Magazines, he wrote books and he circulated them in a innovative way at that time. This people who were in different parts of Bengal and Orissa, although Bhaktivinoda Thakur is in one place basically he created a virtual network of readers for himself and through those readers he transmitted Gaudiya Vaishnava values. Many intelligent and influential people were attracted to Gaudiya Vaishnavism through him. Then to them especially his books like Jaiva Dharma and he also innovated novels like Prema  Pradipa, which beautifully describes the concepts of rasa and shows how a Yogi and Brahmo Samaj follower’s misconceptions were removed when they actually interact with Gaudiya Vaishnavas and they get purified, transformed and they become devotees. He is like the standard for intellectual innovativeness within our sampradaya in modern times for how a devotee can present and represent Krishna consciousness in the ways that are appealing for people with our compromising the essence and without alleviating the audience.

We will continue in our next class and we will discuss about the Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  at that time.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das

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