History of Gaudiya Vaishnavism – II (Post Chaitanya phase)

by Chaitanya CharanMarch 15, 2012

Recap of first session

In the first session we discussed about four different aspects of studying a tradition, i.e., studying the personalities, studying philosophy, studying the history and studying the literature.  Our focus is studying of history, in that we looked at pre Chaitanya Vaishnavism as it is known to us from the historical records as well as from the Vedic literature. We discussed there is mention of Vishnu in the Upanishads, even though it is not emphasised, because they are primarily karma kanda scriptures. Also we discussed whether Krishna worship is product of Christianity or does it precede Christianity.

The Gupta dynasty call themselves as parama Vaishnavas, they were the first kings who consolidated India into single empire. That dynasty promoted lot of building of temples, in the epigraphs of those temples they refered themselves as parama bhagavatas, devotees.

Caste system and Spread of Buddhism

After Gupta dynasty fell in North India, Vaishnavism is not so visible in North. In south India it took resurgence with the Alwars , the Alwars are mostly poets, Andal Alwar was woman, Tondali padhya Alwar was criminal before etc. But they all went on to become great saints. From the starting of Kaliyuga the Brahmans started degraded with the misuse of Brahminical power by Srngi. The caste system started becoming more stratified and rigid. Buddhism and Jainism are basically reactions to oppressive caste system, they started around 500BC. The oppression of caste system was that the lower castes were neglected and subordinated, but it did not happen by the proportion that it was made out by theBritish reports about India, and the communist historians of India. They say that caste system was greatest curse of Indian society. Yes it did become harmful, but the very fact that Indian civilization stayed on for 5000 years indicates that there was some amount of internal strength and stability in it, without which such a long term survival would have been impossible. Whereever there is  severe exploitation and abuse of group of people, they rebel about the existing order, and then there is revolution, but that never happened in Vedic culture. The red Indians who stayed in America before Europeans went there, there were practically several millions, now they are just few thousands, they were first kept in reserved parks like animals and eventually they were slaughtered. Through out the world there is exploitation of weak by powerful, and in many places it is worse than India. The Spanish missionaries wiped out Aztecz, Mayan civilizations. It is a systematic slaughter, either you convert to Christianity or you yet killed. Powerful exploiting weak is something that always happens. In India eventhough the lower castes were treated inferiorly still they have their own place in society, and they have continued to have that for thousands of years. The religions which did not accept system that is Buddhism and Jainism became popular. From 5th century BC to 7th century AD large parts of India was ruled by Buddhists and Jains. Ashoka used his state infrastructure to spread Buddhism. His son went to Srilanka that is how Busshism spread there. When the head of state takes particular religion that spreads very powerfully. Any religion that has spread has to have the combination of Intellectuals, and administrators. Christianity was persecuted religion till the 4th century, when an emperor took it up it became official religion, and it was propagated. Sankaracharya preached diluted version of Vedic teachings, and attracted people back to Vedic culture. Only in post independence when Bhim Rao ambedkar, who was fed up with the exploitation of caste system, accepted Buddhism. Then several lacs  of people became Buddhists. Ambedkar’s idea of Buddhism is non religious, non theistic Buddhism, it is simply a moral religion. He did not accept reincarnation, and Karma, the Lama of Kolkata said that Ambedkar did not accept Buddhiam, but he accepted some Ambedkarism.

Contribution of Vaishnava acharyas to spread Vaishnavism

Sankaracharya brought the people back to Vedic culture, but not to the vedic conclusion of vedic culture. One of the reasons for the popularity of Vaishnavism was its going beyond the caste distinctions. After the Alwars and before Ramanujacharya there were Acharyas, they are Nada muni, Yamunacarya etc. Alwars wrote in vernacular languages, the Acharyas started writing in Sanskrit, these are called Ubayavedantis. All the four sampradayas are founded by the Lord through a particular agent like Lakshmidevi for Sri sampradaya, Ramanujacharya is the systematiser of those teachings. Sri sampradaya spread widely in south india, Madhva sampradaya in west India around Udipi. In north India Nimbarkacharya spreaded Dwaita adwaita philosophy. Ramanujacharya allowed the lower castes to study the Divya prabandas of Alwars. In North India Nimbarkacharya and Ramananda allowed the lower caste people to declare as saints, the teachers of others, that led to very rapid spread of Vaishnavism. Vallabhacharya spreaded Suddha advaita philosophy, there is no distinction between soul and the Supreme Lord, but the difference is there for the sake of Lila. When Mahaprabhu appeared at that in Bengal Shaktism was wide spread and some demigod worship, even Sachi mata worshipped Shasti to get protection for her children.

Five land marks in Chitanya mahaprabhu’s preaching

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu started Harinaam sankirtan and it became immensely popular, in his propagation of sankirtan there are five land mark events from the propagation point of view.

  1. Confrontation of Khazi, Harinaam sankirtan became public from that time
  2. Transforming Sarvabowma bhattacharya from impersonal logician to devotee, this was major victory, through Sarvabowma bhattacharya eventually Prataparudra transformed.
  3. Active propagation of Krishna Bhakti during south India tour. But there was no systematic leadership or organization set up was not there to carry on what Mahaprabhu did in south India.
  4. In North Indian tour defeat of Prakasananda saraswati in Varanasi. The fact that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went into the heart land of Mayavadis and transformed the people over there is of extraordinary significance.
  5. Chaitanya mahaprabhu’s meeting and initiating Rupa and Sanatan. They were the first to go to Vrindavan and set up the plan for the plan for intellectual, philosophical and scriptural foundation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism sort of became  distributed in Orissa, Bengal and Vrindavan. Vrindavan was wilderness at that time, prior to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu there were despotic Muslim rulers. Babar was known to be barbaric, and he desecrated Vrindavan. Moghuls were not the first muslim invaders. Vrindavan was practically lost. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu saw Radhakund and Shyam kund as two puddles. From historical point of view Rupa Goswami, Sanatan Goswami, Jiva Goswami , Lokanath Goswami and others they have done remarkable job transforming Vrindavan from a desolate state to a flourishing devotional centre. Around Chaitanya Mahaprabhu time was Akbar, it is said that Akbar was inspired hearing about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.Akbar might have met Jiva Goswami. Akbar allowed the Rajput commanders  under him to assist Goswamis in building beautiful temples, that is why Gaudiya Vaishnavism both philosophically and culturally strong in Vrindavan.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism after Lord Chaitanya

Sri Chaitanya mahaprabhu’s departure is unexpected and mysterious. Like Tukaram maharaj, for whom vaikunta viman came and took him, no physical body left. Similarly Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also departed by entering the Thota Gopinath diety and no material body left, in traditional Hinduism it is considered as most extraordinary departure. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu departure devastated Vaishnavas, soon after the kingdom of Orissa was ravaged by muislim invaders, then Gaudiya Vaishnavism became less public. He did not instruct Advaita acharya or Nityananda prabhu to construct temples in Bengal because the kings like Nawab Hussain shaw are not at all tolerant about any public form of worship. All the Vaishnavas they have their own deities and do kirtans. Jahnava mataji took up the leadership after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nitayananda prabhu’s departure. In Chaitanya Bhagavat it is written that there were playful quarrels between Nityananda prabhu and Advaita acharya, both of them were prominent spiritual leaders. Some of the followers of Nityananda prabhu and Advaita acharya could not understand the playful nature of the differences. Because of that there were some frictions between Gaudiya followers. Nityananda prabhu was Avadhut, there are considered to be equivalent of sanyasi. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu instructed him to get married so that he can reach out to larger number of people, but when he got married at that time, there were some people who criticised him for getting married at advanced age, that also led to some sort of conflicts.

Setback to Gaudiya Vaishnavism on  departure of leaders: Whenever leader departs there will be traumas.  In VRINDAVAN DAS THAKUR’s book repeated references to point that one should not take sides when two Vaishnavas are fighting. These are eternal principles and also responses. Remarkable thing is that without any organization still GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM continued. LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU had not written books, appointed successors and established organization. Srila Prabhupad did these three still there was tough period in 1990s. ISKCON has survived that serious period and started expanding from 108 centres to 400-600 centres.

Goswami’s contribution:

How come GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM survived? LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU appointed Goswamis as intellectual flag bearers of sampradaya. RUPA GOSWAMI understood emotions as important part of GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM. Ramanujacharya acharya and Madhwa acharya are presented philosophy but in intellectual way. BG is also intellectual book rather than emotional. BG is to save one from material emotions rather than emphasising spiritual emotions. But in SB , Uddhava gita we find some references but there was no scriptural emphasis.

Rasa and Vedanta:

RUPA GOSWAMI was first Vaishnava acharya to synthesize Vedanta with rasa. Vedanta is independent from religion.  Natyasastra came from brahma. Dramatology is both art and science. Why dramas? To give rasa to audience.  Abhinav gupta wrote mayavadi commentary and highest emotion is santi, peace. One experiences total peace. Bhoja explained that santi is absence of any experience. He introduced sringara ras. RUPA GOSWAMI used this and integrated with Vedanta. Purpose of hearing Krishna lila is to experience rasa and one has to enter pastimes. People discussed about emotions but do not know difference of material and spiritual rasa. Both Vallabhacharya and Nimbarkacharya discussed abour Radha Krishna. But they emphasized vatsalya ras. But glory of Radhara bhav revealed by LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU is given intellectual structure by RUPA GOSWAMI through BRS and ujjvala nila mani.

JIVA GOSWAMI, RUPA GOSWAMI by writing sandharbhas, integrated GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM with Vedanta. Vedanta represents head, aesthetics represents heart. GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM addressed both. Eventhough there are political upheavals and quarrels, still GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM continued because JIVA GOSWAMI send his siksha disciples to Orissa and Bengal and take all these books. They followed instruction and left. This rejuvenated GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM. Gradually broad understanding depth and philosophical breadth of GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM was known. GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM is so much spread that in Bengal (even during British rule), every home has LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU’s deity.

Two types of setbacks  to GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM: One happened in Vrindavan and other in Bengal. There is always threat to spiritual movements from ungodly forces.

In Vrindavan: Extremely horrendous period because of Aurangajeb. Vaishnavas had to go underground. Century later VCT , got direct call from Lord Krishna. He took lonely and dangerous journey and pioneered reclamation in Vrindavan. Then Baladev vidyabhushan, VCT’s siksha disciple wrote Govinda bhashya.

In Bengal: In Bengal something else happened. Many apa-sampradayas came up. Almost 27 biographies of LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU came up. Most of books written in Bengal are pastimes. No much philosophy. Krishna das kaviraj GOSWAMI got extraordinary synthesis. He heard pastimes in Bengal and philosophy in Vrindavan and thus integrated both. Thus he wrote this book in Bengali so that Bengali people will be used. Viswanath chakravarti thakur  wrote sanskrit commentary  on CC. Locandas thakur  wrote book called Chaitanya mangal. This book is exaggerated and construed to get apasampradaya called Gauranganagar. CC states that LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU was very strict in dealing with women.

Some asked this question. If LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU did not claim Himself to be God, why His followers claim so.  Answer was that when Lord was in mood of devotee, they assisted Him in that mood. When He was in aishwarya mood, (Mahaprakash lila) , they assisted Him in that way. LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU states that as long as I am in planet do not reveal My divinity. Devotees respected that mood. To get respectability to His teachings He took sannyas in Mayavada sampradaya.  He is yugavatara and we have to assist and fulfil in His mission. Divinity about Him is established by quoting from 24 scripture.

LORD CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU never dealt with women as Krishna. Infact He dealt very strictly. He rarely joked with His wife also. Some people distorted philosophy and brought apasampradayas. BVT has to deal with these.

In next class we will discuss about how BVT dealt and eliminated these apasampradayas.

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Chaitanya Charan

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