The History of Gaudiya Vaishnavism III – Transcendence Amidst Independence

by Chaitanya CharanMarch 29, 2012

 Struggle for Transcendence amidst struggle for Independence (BST)

India was heightening the struggle for independence. Socio political environment was interacting with the spiritual mission of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.  We discuss in ISKCON classes acharyas as normative, transcendental figures who exhibit ideal behaviour and we learn from their behaviour about vaishnava dealings, how Lord reciprocated and how we should not seek service from the Lord etc. It is important for us as practicing devotees to gain inspiration from their examples. For the academic scholars consider the spiritual element is non-existent.


Most of the scholars start with a belief of secular humanism, that we are nothing more than secular creatures- we don’t have any essential spiritual element and what are the factors that affect human being are the factors what they consider which effect even spiritual teachers.  They try to analyze even the spiritual teachers from that perspective, which is reductionistic. We don’t accept that but not totally deny it. Acharyas are not influenced by the circumstances, they are transcendental, but still they observe the circumstances and present Gaudiya Vaishnavism accordingly. In the  Shukavak Prabhus book – Hindu’s encounter with modernity, he says about how Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave non literal understanding of the descriptions about cosmology, chronology in the Bhagavatam in which he tried to adopt the approach of academic scholars. He tried to find our Bhaktivinoda Thakur around the few acharyas wrote his own biography called  ‘Swa Likhita jivani’. From that he found what all books Bhaktivinoda Thakura was reading.


How Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born in Shakta family, explored Christianity , western philosophy and gradually he accepted Gaudiya vaishnavism. He tried to observe what all book Bhaktivinoda Thakur read during pre gaudiya years or formative gaudiya years and tried to find out what is the philosophy is there in those books. Then he tried to see if Bhaktivinoda Thakura has incorporated any of those elements in his books. There was a christian philosophy in partilage and he had an idea that every religion has core and periphery. Core stays unchanging but the periphery keeps changing, which Srila Prabhupada talks about it as Principle and details.  He talks about it in two places, ‘Desa kala vibhagavit’  that comes in when Bhishma pitamah lying in the arrow bed and was not able to pay obeisances physically to the sages. Then he just offers obeisances in mind to them. Similarly Dhruva Maharaj is in the jungle and he was told to by Narada muni to worship the Lord, so at that time in jungle in doesn’t have all the paraphernalia properly in the jungle to worship, but then according to time place and circumstance it can be adjusted.  Many of the temples should have the deities facing towards the east, they should have a particular structure, a tower on top etc but many of the ISKCON temples doesn’t have that. Srila Prabhupada considered the things such as structure, paraphernalia etc as details and he didn’t consider them to be very important. If we see the way Srila Prabhupada presented the Vaishnava culture, he considered  Sambandha gyan as a part of the core but in the case of abhidheya, he said that can be adjusted. Abhidheya means how do we practice devotional service. The basic truths, he was quite uncompromising about them. We are the servants of Krishna and there is no question of accepting mayavada. He considered sambandha to be the core concept and abhidheya, he said that is not that important. He said if something is peripheral it doesn’t meant that it is unimportant but it means it is flexible it is adoptable. Many devotees says that Srila Prabhupada said that, ‘I never compromised’. That is true but we also see that SPP did adjustments. He gave initiation to women, which is generally not done in vedic culture in which women marry and follow their husbands. But he saw the western culture is different and women had their own lives and had their own individualities. Western culture was largely different and to large extent women has to chart their own spiritual path. So he gave them initiation.  The principle is not that women were neglected or suppressed in the past in the varnashrama system or vedic system, but  that women were allowed make advancement within their husbands being their spiritual guides. The point which we are making here is that the point of there being core and periphery is acceptable. Srila Prabhupada also adjusted the thing. A tradition can only live when there are two thing, there should be flexibility and fidelity. Fidelity means faithfulness with the core and flexibility with periphery. This particular christian theology went further and said ultimately in the scriptures in which he is referring, that everything that is spiritual is the core and everything that is material is periphery. Sukahvak prabhu concluded that Bhaktivinoda Thakur adopted the same thing in his book called Krishna Samhita. His idea is that Bhaktivinoda Thakur was influenced by what he read. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was not influenced by these book, but he read these books to see the way contemporary people are thinking. It gives us the way in which we can present Krishna Consciousness to the people. Being influenced means we bring something in our own tradition and being adaptive and  flexible. We see within our own tradition whether there is a opportunity or facility for adjustment. There indeed is. Tradition is not something static or frozen. Tradition for it to be living has to be flexible and has to be changing. For example Baladev Vidyabhushan wrote a commentary on vedanta sutra although there is no precedent for that because that was required. Although he did that, but within the gaudiya vaishnava tradition there is no commentary. So he did something new which is not there in the tradition, but in doing something new he continued the old. He enable the tradition of gaudiya vaishnavism that was going on to gain the further respectability in the eyes of persons who were questioning its authenticity at that time. So what is new in the tradition is actually enables the old to continue. So similarly Bhaktivinoda Thakur, he saw in his differentiation between core and paraphernalia to present ultimately what is the heart of Krishna consciousness. The cosmology in Bhagavatam is important but it is not all important. The most important thing in Bhagavatam is that ultimately we have to develop a relationship with Krishna.


The mundane analysis sees the religion from a very reductionist perspective, which reduces the religion to just a material phenomenon  and says that the spiritual element is something which don’t exist  or even if it exists it is something which we can not study. The modern science operates by a premise called naturalism.  Naturalism means that which we can see in nature which is material and of course we can not see full material realm also. Modern scientist talk about dark matter and dark energy which can not be seen. There idea is that Material realm the natural realm is all that science can operate with. Science cannot deal with supernatural realm. Which is fine to some extent. Scientist believe that as soon as we bring something supernatural element, it stops the progress. Because they say that in the past they believe that the diseases happen because people are haunted by ghosts and spirits. In the past people used the think that the diseases are caused by ghosts and spirits. Scientist say that if we would have believed  that we would never have found the germs and vaccines and we would have never cured the diseases. Material phenomenon is the only phenomenon which science can control and manipulate, therefore  rather than admitting material phenomenon is the scope of their study they often claim that material phenomenon is the totality of reality. With respect to the disease that example is valid, but they try to generalize it  and try to say that there is nothing spiritual. If Krishna lifted the Govardhan Hill, reductionist scientist would find is, how did Krishna find out the center of gravity to lift the Govardhan Hill. Krishna doesn’t have to find the center of gravity, because He is the source of gravity, He can make the gravity operate and He can make the gravity stop whenever he wants, but the science doesn’t accept this principle. They think that even if God exist he does not interfere with nature. Nature operates according to naturalistic or material factors.


Naturalism has two branches,one is methodological naturalism and other is metaphysical naturalism. Methodological naturalism means that this scientists accept that there might be some spiritual realm, but as a methodology science should not bring anything nonmaterial or spiritual into its arena of discussion. Most of the world scientist are methodological naturalists. But there are some hardline atheists who are metaphysical naturalists and they say that there is nothing in exist beyond the material realm. Metaphysics talks about what actually exists.


The academic study of religion is methodologists and actualistic. It is not necessarily metaphysical naturalistic. It is not necessary that all the scholars who study the religion are atheists. But they try to find out material factors and material influences for everything that happens within a religious tradition. They may try to reduce religion to a sociological, historical, psychological or pseudo scientific phenomenon. Religion is a sociological phenomenon, which means the people in a particular society with this particular kind of culture it’s natural that they believe something like this. For example, Jagannath manifests himself as Daru Brahma, as wood, sociological scientists will think, may in tribal orissa they might have tradition of worshipping totem poles. Totem poles are the wood which is consider to be sacred. The poles are made and native american used to worship them. They will try to look in the history of orissa whether people used to worship totem poles and they further got some imagination and they thought and gave a particular shape and they spun a mythology about it and then they came up with a whole story of Jagannath. To some extent it may all see absurd and ridiculous to us, but this is the way this people think. The sociological explanation try to find out the reason for everything interns of sociology.  Sociology does play a factor that people in particular places dress in particular way and eat in a particular way. For example, people in India may offer Indian food to Krishna, people in China may offer Chinese food to Krishna. Somebody looking at the rituals may think it as a sociological detriment, there they are offering Chinese food but here they are offering Indian food.  But beyond what it is offered the principle is why it is offered. It is offered because beyond our being Chinese, Indian, Italian or whatever we are soul and soul have an eternal relationship  with Krishna. Sociology can generally affect the periphery of the religion but it does not determine the core of religion. Similarly there is a historical explanation of religion which try to study what historical factors led religion to spread and what cause the religion to die. Many of God brothers of Srila Prabhupada tried to preach in Europe largely and to some extent after Bhakti Siddhanta saraswati Thakur’s departure in 1937 they couldn’t continue preaching because they are obtund.  From the historical point of view that was the time when the second world war stated and all of europe is plunged into chaos, violence, and bloodshed. That was really not a time for a new spiritual mission to start because probably the war ruptured everything.  War surely played a role in it, but there was another factor that the preachers who were preaching were potent enough, whether they had sufficient faith, sufficient blessings, expertise in terms of presenting and weather they had enough spiritual potency  that’s also factor. The historical and sociological factors may seem the same, but historical factors study religion over a period of time.


There is psychological study of time. Sigmund Freud has an idea that people in general are very insecure and just as a small baby craves for father’s figure, they always need a father figure to protect them. He came up with an idea that God is the projected imaginary father figure for  humans who were insecure. Many people will say religion is the torch for the weak minded. Now does the religion provide the strength for the weak minded and God does act like a father figure? What psychological approach to the religion says is that ultimately there is no reality to God beyond the psychological longing. But it is also equally possible that the psychological longing is present because there is actual reality to fulfil that longing. Our tongue secrets saliva and our stomach secretes the digestive enzymes because there is something real called food. We feel thirsty because there is something real called water. Because there is a correlation between the two. Our thirst would not have any meaning if there was no water to quench it.  Just because there is psychological longing for the existence of God, doesn’t in itself prove that God itself is a longing. There is a reality to God and because there is reality there is corresponding longing in Humanbeings. Infact here is a complete anti-thesis of Gaudiya vaishnava philosophy.  What these people say that is, why are you so weak minded? Grow up and stop longing for imaginary comfort blanket and realize that there is no God. But Gaudiya understanding is that, my dear Lord, I have too big false ego that I am too independent. Let me become more surrendered and dependent on you. This is psychological understanding. Krishna also says that “ärto jijïäsur arthärthé” (BG 7.16) the distressed are the one category of people who come to Krishna. That is not wrong, but then there are janis also who come to Krishna and ultimately Krishna has independent reality. The spiritual realm has reality independent of the material realm and we do get relived from the material realms ( sufferings) by going towards reality. But psychological explanation of legends just try to see if there is anything wrong with the person’s physcology who wants to become a serious devotee but not because he has developed attraction towards the God and he is taking the shelter of God. These are all psychological approach.


Then there is the scientific or pseudo scientific approach where people wants answers to life’s questions. Thier idea is science provides the real answers but people thinks that religion will provide this answer and that’s why they turn towards the religion. Such people focus only on all the information that is there in the religious tradition that is against science or that is contradicted by science and therefore they try to prove that this is pseudo science.  For example in the christian tradition when the Catholic church tried to hold on the idea of Geo-centricity (earth as a center), Copernicus  demonstrated, proposed and postulated that it’s not so. That was the time religion suffered a very bad defeat and it became disgrace in the public eye. It seemed that science got the upper hand. People use this to say that actually religion is pseudo scientific and therefore those people those who seek answers in religion are foolish. Here the idea is that the scriptures may give some idea about the material world also, but that is not the essence of the scriptures. We are not going to scriptures to gain material knowledge. They are seeking something higher over there. This is a little drift in our discussion on the history of Gaudiya vaishnavism, but our drift has a purpose. We are studying in a particular different way of our history. We are trying to see how and why academic scholars consider  a religion in a particular way. And how and why that having some elements of correctness in it, but the reductionism in it is they say that the religion is nothing but sociological, historical and pseudo scientific aspects. That is wrong.


We are going to today discuss the Sociological and Historical aspects of settings of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati thakur’s preaching. That time Indian independence movement has gained momentum and how did he present at that time. Surely acharyas may see the sociological circumstances and present accordingly. Why did Srila Prabhupada write his books in English language, not in sanskrit , bengali or in any other language. Because the sociological and the scape of the world is that the english has become the most popular language. The choice of language is determined by sociology but that doesn’t mean that his message was determined by sociology. The message was determined by tradition, by the scriptures. Again, these four factors, sociological, Historical, psychological and scientific determine the periphery and therefore they determine the presentation style. Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati thakur and Bhaktivinoda Thakur may not have critiqued the process of evolution strongly because during that time evolution  was not such a great threat to religion. But when Srila Prabhupada found out how much it has affected the western mindset and western  way of thinking, he felt that it is important to counter it. Therefore the scientific understanding of the people whom are going to present determines our way of presentation to some extent. But that is all periphery. Srila Prabhupada did not come to the world to refute the theory of evolution. He came to the world to inspire them to develop love for Krishna, but as a part of that broad plan to develop love for Krishna which begins  with developing faith in Krishna. For that the theory of evolution may have to be refuted. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura (SBST) time Bhaktivinoda Thakur in 1896 established the temple in Navadvipa, where he discovered the holy place of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance, Yogapit after that he continued preaching vigorously. That was the year in which he preached the most and continued preaching around 1905. Then he retired and focused on right thing.  From that time onwards BSST took over the mantle of preaching.


If we look at Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s life, whole approach unlike his father born in Shakta family eventually choose Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur was directly born in a Vaishnava family and right from the childhood he had a very intense devotional upbringing. He appeared in this world in 1874. We can broadly divide his life into three phases –

1874 to 1900 was  the period when he was mostly mentored by Bhakti vinod thakur.

1900 to 1918 he was preparing for his preaching. 1918 was the year in which he took sanyas.

1918 to 1937 was time preaching actually exploded. He passed away in 1937.


We shall focus on the second and third aspects of his life. Historically speaking Bhaktivinoda Thakur can be called as a reformer whereas Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur is a revolutionary. What is the difference between reformer and revolutionary? If we come to a house which is little dilapidated, little rundown reformer will come and say “oh maybe we will have to repaint this part, may be we have to put new column over here and may be we have to change this a little bit. Reformer is a person who changes the things slowly. Revolutionary  will say “ just blow up this house and build a new house”.  Reformer will propose gradual  changes in the existing structure. Revolutionary purposes  major shakeups. Bhakti siddhanta Saraswati thakur was in that sense was more confrontationalist. This is also affected by Historical situations.


Bhaktivinoda Thakur worked very hard and brought respectability to Gaudiya vaishnavism by his preaching. After he brought respectability to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, as he was not born in a vaishnava family  he also has to gain the authority to his own preaching within Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He was initiated by Bipin Bihari Goswami, one of the respectable goswami teachers within gaudiya vaishnavism at that time. Through his initiation with him, Bhaktivinoda Thakur also gained the respectability. He had respectability in a larger community, but if he is to preach Gaudiya vaishnavism he has to have respectability as a representative of Gaudiya vaishnavism within the Gaudiya vaishnava community also.  So his initiation with Bipin bihari goswami gained him that respectability.  Bipin bihari Goswami gave all due respect to him was not an exemplary Gaudiya vaishnav. He had some behavioural traits like eating pan like that some not major thing but many things like that would not be expected in a ideal vaishnava. Bhaktivinoda Thakur got legitimation for his preaching through his initiation from Bipin Bihari Goswami, but Bipin Bihari Goswami need not necessarily had the highest standards of practice.  Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was born in a vaishnava family, he was also well educated very intelligent and he was also a brahmachari. So did not necessarily need to have that sort of affiliation or connection. So what he did was Bhaktivinoda Thakur did take initiation from Bipin bihari Goswami but  he got some inspiration from him. He writes in his diary that how he got inspired and transformed through him. But later on he got much more inspiration when he got initiation from Jagannatha das babaji. Most of us know the famous debate between the Brahmanas and vaishnavas, who can be a initiating teacher, whether that person has to be a Brahmana or a vaishnava from lower caste also can be a like that. Bhakti vinod thakur was supposed to represent vaishnava side. The brahmana’s side was represented by Bipin Bihari Goswami, who had an idea that only brahmanas has the right to initiate. For Bhakti Vinod thakur, it would have been improper to debate with his initiating guru, of course Bhaktivinoda Thakur fell sick at that time and he couldn’t go for the debate. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur went to that debate and he quite conclusively sets the debate on the side of Vaishnavas. Naturally because of this the conservative Brahmin community that was there they were quite illuded. Then we should demonize them. They were also vaishnavas but they had a narrow understanding of Gaudiya Vaishnavas and how it could be preached.  Now Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur felt that for Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be preached effectively it needed substantial internal revamping. These topics  we discussed are some of the ongoing controversial topics even today. All the issues are not cut and dry. We will give a broad conclude of what has happened.


Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur started preaching rigorously as he was revolutionary preacher. In Jagannatha puri there was Radharaman Charan Babaji, who introduced ‘Nitai gaur Radhe shyam mantra’, we as devotees some time hear ‘Nitai gaur Radhe shyam mantra’ we start laughing (what a fully Mantra). But actually there are followers of that and this person who introduced this, he was also a serious practitioner. He did not have any moral weaknesses but somehow he claimed to have a mystical vision through which he got that mantra and he considered that mantra to be strong and more powerful than Hare Krishna mantra. He said Hare Krishna Maha mantra is for personal meditation but for Kirtan we should use ‘Nitai gaur Radhe shyam mantra’.  This has no precedence with our tradition. Bhaktivinoda Thakur strongly criticized it. But because of Bhaktivinoda Thakur strong criticism that person has a lot of followers in Puri.  Bhaktivinoda Thakur felt strong hostility, he told Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur to Mayapur and stay there and look after yogapit. That was the time from which Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur started his own preaching individually, not independent from Bhaktivinoda Thakur but he was at a different place started laying the foundations for organized preaching.  In 1910, 1940 and 1960 both rapidly Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Gaur Kishore Das babaji departed. After that if he has to preach vigorously there need to be respectability for gaudiya vaishnavism.


Prior to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur not many Gaudiya Vaishnavas has taken sanyas.  The only person who took sanyas was Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but before that there were many Brahmananda Bharati, Eshwar puri, Madhavendra puri, Paramananda Puri, Sriranga Puri etc. all of them are Sanyasis. Is sannyasa is authorized in Kaliyuga was on my (Chaitanya Charan prabhu’s) website. The goswamis except for Gopala Bhatta Gosvami there were others who were not considered to be Brahmans, although Rupa and Sanatana were brahmins earlier but because they have been converted to Islam, many traditional circles do not consider them to be Brahmins.  Out of deference for tradition only Brahmins can take sanyas. The Goswamis did not take sanyas they accepted what is called ‘babaji vesh’. Except Gopala Bhatta Goswami, none of them were directly initiated disciples. Jiva goswami was the only exception who initiated by Rupa goswami because he was directly their nephew, their relative so they initiated him. The point it that during Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s time MP and his immediate followers to some extent showed difference to the caste system. Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepted Haridas Thakur as His follower as not ordinary follower but as Namacharya. Still Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not insist he be allowed into the Jagannath temple. Similarly Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis also did not enter into the Jagannath temple. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had the influence but he did not do that. His mood was Bhakti is beyond these conventions and the people has certain conventions and Srila Prabhupada also says that we need not to disturb them. The generation after that Viswanath Chakravarti Thakur, Narottam das thakur although they were not brahmins they felt that for the propagation of Krishna consciousness  non brahmins can also initiate. In Narottam das thakur’s life we will see many dramatic incidents of how when he initiated brahmin disciples it created furious in the community, Learned Brahmins came and debated with him and what to speak of he defeating them his disciple defeated those brahmins.  There were precedence that non brahmins were also initiating but there was no precedence for with in the tradition that anybody of taking sanyas after Caitanya Mahaprabhu in general. But Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur according to time place and circumstances he saw that. If we look at the history of Bengal or history of India we can see that in 1880s and 1890s the advaitism took on a new life because they felt that the way to unite India is to do away that all the vedic deities and all the gods of forms of worship  and the focus on the impersonal Brahman is the only truth or the higher truth that everything else becomes a lower truth. Rama Krishna Mission had a faith that  Chaitanya path and Shankar math, following the path of chaitanya is dancing and singing is a sentimental path and many people can do that but the goal is not singing and dancing but ultimately you should merge in the Brahman. Basically the impersonal path had got a lot of appese at that time and Swami vivekananda had gone to America and has created a sensation over there. Swami Vivekananda had given himself sanyas after Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has passed away. Someone outside may see that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur has imitated Swami Vivekananda and may say that he was influenced by that. But that is not the case. If we look at our tradition  our precedents in our own tradition also within the Vaishnava tradition Ramanujacharya in one sense gave initiation to himself when he found out his Grihastha life is not very suitable for his preaching. Then he almost gave himself sanyas, if we look at the history. It is not that there was no precedence for himself and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was imitating from outside our sampradaya influenced by it.  So our understanding is that acharyas see that if something is to be done it will be done effectively. If that is done effectively then is there any precedence or is there any scope for something similar to be done to our tradition. If it is then why not do it? So this is not influenced by external tradition it like taking ideas from other traditions and doing what is best for our tradition.


If we actually see the institutionalization of  religion that took place in Bengal whether it be Ramakrishna Mission, Brahma Samaj or Gaudiya Math to some extent it was some imitation of Christianity. If Christians are very organized religion they need it to be organized because the individuals are not so much focussed on. Christianity and islam are most institutionalized traditions, whereas the dharmic traditions in the vedic traditions are more individual based traditions. In Christianity and Islam they don’t have a spiritual master to whom you can surrendered to. They accept Muhammad of Jesus as the saviour  and it’s not necessary that you should have a life long relation with the feathery or mullah  through whom you get converted and connected. Connection is more institution than to a person. That was how it was traditionally in Gaudiya vaishnavism religion at large. But in the past also there were the examples of Shankaracharya setting up Akhada maths, even Madhvacharya and Ramanujacharya also did that.   Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did institutionalization of religion by setting up gaudiya math. That has precedence in the Indian tradition, but he saw from the sociological point of view that this is the way Krishna consciousness and Gaudiya vaishnavism can effectively preached. Prabhupada would say that a devotee is an opportunitist, whatever the way opportunity is present the devotee uses it. Now he’s giving sannyas to himself was naturally questioned by some of the orthodox gaudiya vaishnavas. Now at this particular time Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur realized that the orthodox gaudiya vaishnavas even if they may be following properly, some of were and some of them were not, their vision of Gaudiya vaishnavism is very narrow.  Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s prophecy could not be fulfilled with this narrow vision. So he decided sort of break free from this by talking something called as Siksha Parampara, which says that  the essence of guru disciple relation is not something ritualistic thing but it is the passage of Shiksha. Bhaktivinoda Thakur received primary siksha from Jagannath Das Babaji not form Bipin Bihari Goswami. If we see the song ‘krishna hote chaturmukh..’ that gives the siksha parampara. In that siksha parampara Bhaktivinoda Thakur is preceded not by Bipin Bihari Goswami but by jagannath Das babaji. By talking about siksha parampara Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur cuts through the  stranglehold that the orthodox gaudiya vaishnavas had on the propagation and the practice of Garudiya vaishnavism. We say that the essential thing is shiksha. At that time he was strongly criticized by asking where is the precedence for shiksha parampara. He gave may precedences, We say when Krishna gave knowledge to Brahmaji, what he gave was there is no reference in Bhagavatam of actual happening of Diksha ceremony when Krishna initiated Brahma. Nor there is a ceremony for Brahma initiating Narada muni. What is passed down is knowledge and diksha ceremony is the formalization of passing down of knowledge. The essence is not the ritual.  This was essential and quite successful and we see that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur also preached vigorously to some extent we may have the tendency to focus on the fact that after mission broke apart, but the fact was as long as he was there from 1874 to 1937 he preached quite vigorously, 64 centers came up all over India and Governor general of India came to visit mayapur and huge things happened during that time at least in terms of what was happening before. So he was very successful. But after Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati thakur departed  the gaudiya math split.


The splitting of Gaudiya math into many fragments happened because of multiple reasons, we  shall come to it little later.  One of the things that those orthodox gaudiya vaishnavas which is coming in line with Bipin Bihari Goswami and linage, they consider the Bhaktivinoda Thakur to be bonafide but those people considered Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur  has talking about the shiksha parampara  he has actually deviated and there is a whole group of people who were quite strong like Radha Kund Babajis who have this idea that from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur onwards everybody who follows his is a deviant. There unfortunately some devotees who got influenced by that propaganda. Some ISKCON devotees have even left ISKCON and gone to that current leader of Radha Kund Babajis. Thier argument is two folds, they say that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur came up with something called Siksha parampara and second thing was Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur has downplayed which is called as siddha pranali. In Siddha pranali,  Siddha means and pranali means sequence. Traditionally Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur explains about Jaiva dharma that when guru gives initiation to his disciples at that time guru tells the disciples his own manjari bhava and guru tells his disciple also what his manjari bhava is. This not what Bhaktivinoda Thakur says all the time. Bhaktivinoda Thakur says that this is one way in which initiation is given. He give initiation in multiple ways depending on the level of the disciple and social circumstance the manjari bhava may or may not be told and then at that time if the manjari sadhana is to be done then the disciple starts cultivating the internal mood of the manjari who that disciple is in the spiritual world and starts trying to live like that. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur resolved that this sort of giving manjari sadhana to people who were very immature. It made GV a laughing stock in society. The people not even following basic morality and are claiming to be manjaris in the spiritual world and doing all sorts of crazy things. So he did not reject the manjari bhava, but he said that this is for very advanced people and the essence of manjari bhava is dasya bhava, we all have to be servants of Krishna. Unless we cultivate the mood of service everything we try to do in manjri sadha is likely to be hallucinatory. So he downplayed that and he along with Srila Prabhupada later focussed mainly on the missionary aspect of Krishna consciousness. They did not minimize the sadhana but they standardized the sadhana in terms of chanting of Hare Krishna Mahamantra not some imagination of some manjari bhava in the spiritual world, but focussing on purifying the heart through rigorous sadhana and working hard to share Krishna’s message with the world. Unfortunately there were some Radhakund babajis who were learned and who were renounced, but there are many others who are not. We can get an idea of how unfortunately degraded gaudiya vaishnavism has been at that time that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur after Gaur Kishore das babaji departed there was a debate about  who was going to take his body. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur said anybody who had not contacted  a woman last six months, last three months, last one month and he came to last three days. None of the people who were there at that time could stand up to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s challenge. It does mean that the rot was quite deep and when the rot was quite deep the reformatory measures were also were quite radical. So these two things that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did the talking about the siksha sampradaya or siksha parampara rather than diksha parampara, and downplaying of manjari bhava made some of the orthodox gaudiya vaishnavas (actually we are using orthodox not because they are more traditional but because there was no other word to express them. It does not mean that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did something new) or Smartha Gaudiya vaishnavas considered that our succession from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur onwards got deviated. They tried to catch many ISKCON people and tried to grab them and say to them that “actually if you really want to experience the Krishna Bhakti or want to experience the taste of prema you come to ours. Many ISKCON devotees unfortunately got lured and they go away and they found that actually at the end of the day what I am trying to imagine that I am some manjari, what do I do for the rest of my life I just  have to live like that? They found it a very sentimentally appealing initially but after some time it’s not at all sustainable . What SPP gave us is a sustainable way of practice and authentic way of purification,genuine purification that happens. That’s what Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur also gave. Because of these factors Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur preaching was quite controversial but it was also successful and as of now ISKCON is the largest branch of gaudiya vaishnavism by many many times farther. Gaudiya math was many times bigger than many of the Radha Kund Babajis and others who claim to be gaudiya vaishnavas. ISKCON is bigger than all the other gaudiya vaishnavas. Now we are not only talking about the Historical controversies, we are also talking about the controversies which has some bearing in the relevance to our current day also. The other  thing is the rupture of the gaudiya vaishnavism after Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.  In this class we are talking more about the controversies surrounding him, rather than glorifying him. But the point is that the acharya does revolutionary things and one way to seek inspiration is to understand how wonderfully he was preaching, but the another way to understand is if we want to orient ourselves a theological intellectual is to see what all the challenges that person faced in terms of controversies within itself and how he deal with that.


Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur wanted his disciple to form a GBC, a governing body commission. Historically speaking the word GBC is used at that time for Indian Railways. During the pre independence India the Indian railways was one of the most dramatic demonstrations of organization. Because the Indian roadways were quite chaotic, but the idea that there will be two tracks and hundreds of trains used to go on those two tracks and everything is timed in such a way that the trains doesn’t collide. Everything was scheduled nicely, that was quite impressive. The Indian railways functioned by having the Indian railways divided into different zones and every zone had one particular leader. The combined body of all the zones was called GBC, the governing body commission.  After Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur departed his disciple formed GBC. But then they faced a practical problem, in general the spiritual path is followed because of inspiration not because of legislation. Generally speaking if a disciple or a speaker believe his teacher to be a very advanced soul, then the disciple is inspired to follow him. If the spiritual master is the pure devotee of Krishna or the seeker believes that he is a very advanced devotee very close to pure devotee, then what the spiritual master speaks is for the disciple the will of Krishna. The disciple feels that by following this words of spiritual master, I am following the will of Krishna and I will make spiritual advancement by that. In general the spiritual master has the absolute authority. His word is equivalent to the word of God.  Infact the idea is that God Himself is speaking through the spiritual master. This absolute position of the spiritual master is very difficult to reconcile with the idea of the institutional body containing many members. The idea of a governing body where there are ten members. Then now if the Governing body is going to have a discussion, sometime when there is a debate there may be arguments and then there may be voting and then some resolution may be passed after voting. Now,  for spiritual seekers to think that the resolution passed after debating  and voting is the will of God is really very difficult to believe. So because of that the disciple just couldn’t conceive  how will the institution will move on. We need one authority, without that how will the institution goon. That’s why they felt that the GBC experiment will not work and so they disbanded the GBC and they select a person as an acharya. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur has two prominent disciples. One of them, we will not go into the names here so much,  was very brahmanical and very satirically learned and other was an expert manager. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur considered both of them very important, so they made the person who was very Brahmanically learned as the next acharya, but he didn’t have much managerial competence and the other person who had lot of managerial competence  he felt that it is because of me that all the funds have come and he started saying that, “No, I should be the head” and he followers stated competing. Then the whole thing split apart and the second person who was organizationally competent eventually got some part of property but he was not seem to be so spiritually advanced and even the person who was very scripturally learned it seemed that he had a falldown something like that. The history is debatable what exactly happened. But because of this the whole thing split up. SPP was very cautious, he formed the GBC right in 1970s and he personally oversaw the functioning and guided the GBC. Now if you see even today for the devotee practically speaking, many of us are in ISKCON for few years, how many of us really know what GBC has passed the resolutions every year. But the if spiritual master speaks one word, all the disciples keep discussing about it and what he did. The primary inspiration comes from spiritual master only. But how can the will of God manifest through an institutional forum? We have to understand that the will of God can manifest from anywhere and essentially following the will of God means following the will of Spiritual master. SPP has told us that we should form a GBC. When we form a GBC, we are following the instruction of Srila Prabhupada. It’s not necessary to claim that whatever the resolution the GBC has made is absolutely the will of God. Some resolutions may be based on experience but they may turn out to be not the best ones and they may be revised. The idea is that the Srila Prabhupada felt that ISKCON is too big for one person to manage and there should be many people and they can all act as mutual counter balances for each other and they can all together advance very nicely. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur actually did this innovation but because his disciples did not have the experience to actually continue it, it all happened so fast and there were no precedents of doing such thing, they were not able to do it. But SPP ensured that he started the system of democracy within a autocratic setup. GBC model was democracy but the spiritual master and disciple relationship was autocracy. He did this and was successful to a large extent. He showed by his example and guided whenever there are difficulties about how to solve the difficulties. SPP carried on the Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur legacy and may be we shall discuss more about SPP and ISKCON in our future class.


To summarize we discussed about:

  • The different ways in which secular humanism sees religion – the sociological , psychological, historical and the pseudo scientific way.
  • How all of them address the periphery not the core of the religion. The core of the religion comes from the relationship between the God and the soul.
  • Life of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and how he was a revolutionary and for being a revolutionary he had to do some radical things so that before we could reach out the world in a massive way our own house has to be set right.
  • Among many things Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did was, he gave sanyas to himself, he talked about siksha sampradaya, Siksha parampara and he downplayed the Siddha Pranali. All these has some sort of significant basis in the essence and the purpose of gaudiya vaishnavism.
  • Setting up of institutional framework for propagation of Gaudiya vaishnavism.
  • How what Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur stated SPP implemented in ISKCON


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Chaitanya Charan

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