Bhaktivinoda Thakura


Today we are observing the disappearance day of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Sri Gadadhara Pandita. I first came to know of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura when I came to the Boston temple. At that time there were only two published books in ISKCON. One was the abridged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, published by Macmillan, and the other was Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, published by ISKCON. At the front of Teachings of Lord Chaitanya was a series of very dignified black-and-white photographs of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Under the photograph of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a caption: “The pioneer of the program for benedicting the entire world with Krishna consciousness by the instructions of Lord Chaitanya.” I understood from the caption that Srila Prabhupada was continuing the work of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and that actually we were able to come in touch with Krsna consciousness in part because of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

As the years passed and I came to learn more about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, I began to see more and more how the Krsna consciousness movement brought by Srila Prabhupada to the West and expanded throughout the world was actually a continuation of the work of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and the result of his desire. So we are all indebted to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and we are intimately connected with him through parampara.

Lord Caitanya predicted, prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama, sarvatra pacara haibe mora nama: “In every town and village of every country of the world, My name [Krsna’s name] will be preached.” Although Lord Caitanya made this prediction more than five hundred years ago, even followers of Lord Caitanya were bewildered about how it would be fulfilled. Some of them even thought the prediction was metaphoric or abstract. But Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had faith in the order and the desire of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and through his books he actually began the work of spreading Krsna consciousness and the holy name of Krsna throughout the world. In particular, he wrote a book called Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts, and Srila Prabhupada used to comment that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sent a copy of that book to the library of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1896, which was the year of Srila Prabhupada’s birth. But later, after Srila Prabhupada left us, devotees did more research and found that copies of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s book were in libraries all over the world. For example, they found a copy in a library in Sydney, Australia; so it appears that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sent copies all over the world.

Of course, he passed on his desire, which is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s desire, to his son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, although he too never personally left India, passed on the same desire to his disciples. In particular, he gave the order to Srila Prabhupada to preach Krsna consciousness in the English language, which was even then the universal language in the Western world, and in the whole world.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura predicted, “Very soon the unparalleled path of hari-nama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the world.” He foresaw the day when Vaisnavas from all over the world would come to Mayapur and chant Jaya Sacinandana together with the Bengali Vaisnavas, Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Srila Prabhupada is actually the one who acted to fulfill the desire and prediction of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura:

“Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mrdangas and karatalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘jaya sacinandana, jaya sacinandana ki jaya’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be?” (Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in Sajjana-tosani)

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had a house in Godrumadvipa, across the Jalangi River from Mayapur, and he used to chant on his balcony there. One day he looked across the river toward Mayapur and had a vision of an effulgent city with a wonderful temple at its center. He also desired that this wonderful temple, or adbhuta mandira, and the splendorous city surrounding it should actually come into existence in Mayapur. And here too, Srila Prabhupada has engaged his followers to fulfill the prediction and desire of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Sri Nityananda Prabhu:

eka adbhuta mandira ei haibe prakasa
gaurangera nitya-seva haibe vikasa

“An astounding temple will appear and will engage the entire world in the eternal service of Lord Caitanya.” (Sri Navadvipa-Mahatmya, Parikrama Khanda, Chapter 4)

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is also the one who discovered the actual birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Mayapur. Over the centuries, with the flooding of the Ganges and the river’s changing course, the actual location of Mayapur, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, was lost. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura studied old maps and consulted different local people, and ultimately he determined where the actual birthplace of Lord Caitanya was.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura carried forward the idea of the Vedic city in Mayapur, and he had some of his householder disciples build small houses there. But again, it was really Srila Prabhupada who took forward the desire of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura to the point where there is a budding metropolis in Mayapur. Srila Prabhupada himself laid the cornerstone for the wonderful temple, and now his disciples are working to make this magnificent vision a physical reality.

Srila Prabhupada had to struggle to get some land in Mayapur. Eventually it was Tamal Krishna Goswami who was able to go to Mayapur and actually secure the purchase of the land. Then Srila Prabhupada personally designed, or gave the basic idea for, the first building to be constructed there. After this, Srila Prabhupada came from London to Calcutta, and he was very enthusiastic about the Mayapur project.

But there had been flooding in Mayapur, and as many of you know, sometimes the flooding there is very severe. Therefore—although Srila Prabhupada was so enthusiastic about the Mayapur project, and had struggled so hard to get the land there, and had personally brought the plans for the first building there—still, right when we were at the peak of our enthusiasm and support for the Mayapur project, he raised the question: “What will happen if the Ganges floods? What will happen to the temple? What will happen to the project?”

He then suggested that maybe we shouldn’t even try to build the temple in Mayapur, and he discussed different arguments for and against his suggestion. Then he presented the idea that we should actually build the temple at Birnagar, the birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. We were completely bewildered, and when Srila Prabhupada argued so strongly that we should just build the temple at Birnagar because it would be safe from the floods there, we were swayed by His Divine Grace’s argument. But then again, in the end he brought us back to the conclusion that we should go ahead with the project in Mayapur and build the wonderful temple there. And he declared, “If you all build this temple, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura will personally come and take you all back to Godhead.”

Devotees: Haribol!

Giriraj Swami: Jaya! So that is Srila Prabhupada’s and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s desire—both of their desires—that we build a wonderful temple and go back to Godhead.

We are really, by following in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps, following in the footsteps of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

Another important program of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was nama-hatta. In fact, before Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura built his house in Godrumadvipa, he built a bhajana-kutira near the site of the house, in Surabhi-kunja, which is the original place where the nama-hatta was started by Nityananda Prabhu. There Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura got his inspiration for the nama-hatta.

The basic idea of the nama-hatta is that grhastha-vaisnavas (householder devotees) preach. By definition, householders will have spouses, children, work, and homes. But still they should preach; they should use all of their spare time to preach. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself was a householder for many years, and he would lead his householder devotees through the streets, performing sankirtana, and then they would hold festivals, large gatherings where Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would preach bhagavata-dharma and the glories of the holy name. He published a journal or newsletter about his nama-hatta programs; the harinama sankirtana and bhagavata-dharma discourses were very ecstatic and the nama-hatta was really spreading very nicely. During Srila Prabhupada’s presence His Holiness Jayapataka Swami and other ISKCON devotees revived the nama-hatta in Bengal and Orissa, and now it has spread all over the world.

Now I would like to request one of our accomplished Vaisnavas to sing a song for Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and then we shall continue our discussion.

[Devotees sing Narottama dasa Thakura’s song of separation, ye anilo prema-dhana.]

So, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has set a great example for us all. Although he had so many responsibilities—as a magistrate, as superintendent of the Jagannatha Temple, as a husband, as father of ten children—still he did so much service. He was expert at utilizing his time so that he could serve Krsna more. He would generally take rest at eight o’clock at night and get up at midnight to write books. He wrote about one hundred books. Even in his duties as magistrate he was expert. He would dispose of his cases very quickly. Judges are also judged—by how quickly they dispose of their cases and by how many of their judgments are overturned and appealed. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura disposed of his cases quickly and expertly. Now even if we can’t sleep four hours a night, if we have to sleep six or seven, still, how much other time is left? Somehow, with so many duties and responsibilities and so many children, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was able to write so many books and spread Krsna consciousness so widely. Therefore, we can be inspired by him and keep in our minds and hearts his glorious example: that even in our various and demanding positions, we can do more and more for Krsna and for the disciplic succession, for Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and for our spiritual master.

One of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s books is Sri Harinama-cintamani. Its subject, as the title suggests, is the touchstone of the holy name. As we have been discussing the holy names during the week and again yesterday, I thought I would give a brief overview of the book and discuss one point that is especially important.

The book is a dialogue between Lord Caitanya and Haridasa Thakura. They begin by discussing the holy name in general. Then they consider the ten offenses against the holy name, because the efficacy of the name depends on the quality of the chanting. In her prayers to Lord Krsna, Queen Kunti says:

edhamana-madah puman
naivarhaty abhidhatum vai
tvam akincana-gocaram

“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.” (SB 1.8.26) In the purport, Srila Prabhupada remarks that the scriptures state that “by once uttering the holy name of the Lord, the sinner gets rid of a quantity of sins that he is unable to commit. Such is the power of uttering the holy name of the Lord. There is not the least exaggeration in this statement. . . . But there is a quality to such utterances also. It depends on the quality of feeling. A helpless man can feelingly utter the holy name of the Lord.”

Ordinary devotees like ourselves have to practice to come to the stage of such chanting, and in particular we must be aware of the ten offenses and try to avoid them. So, in Harinama-cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura discusses each of the ten offenses, one by one, in depth and in detail. First he defines and then describes what constitutes the offense; then, once we know what the offense is, he explains how to avoid it; and then, if somehow we have fallen into the offense, he discusses how to become free from it, and from its damaging effects.

The first offense is sadhu-ninda: blaspheming the devotees who have dedicated their lives to the propagation of the holy name. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura deals with the offense of sadhu-ninda in the same way as he deals with all of the offenses, describing the offense and then explaining how to avoid it or become free from it. So, ninda, of course, means to criticize or to blaspheme. But what is the meaning of sadhu? How do we recognize a sadhu? Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that in essence a sadhu is one who has taken shelter of Krsna—or the holy name of Krsna, which is non-different from Krsna. He lists about twenty-six qualities of a sadhu, as stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Then he says that of all the qualities, one is the primary characteristic (svarupa-laksana) and the others are marginal (tatastha). The essential quality of the devotee is that he or she has taken shelter of Krsna (mat-sarana), or the holy name of Krsna. Even if one is lacking in the other qualifications, if one has the single qualification of having taken exclusive shelter of Krsna, he or she is considered a sadhu. On the other hand, if one has the other qualifications but lacks the one qualification of complete surrender to Krsna, then the other qualities have no particular value.

Now that we know who a sadhu is, we can avoid criticizing or blaspheming them. Still, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura discusses different grounds that people may think are justification for criticizing a sadhu. One is the sadhu’s caste or low birth. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that this is not ground for criticizing a sadhu. If one criticizes a sadhu because of his or her low birth or caste, then that critic is involved in sadhu-ninda. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura also mentions past sinful activities. If one criticizes a sadhu for past sinful activities, one is involved in sadhu-ninda. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura also mentions present traces of sinful activities. In other words, a sadhu may have engaged in sinful activities before he or she got the association of devotees, but even after coming to the association of devotees may maintain some last traces of previous bad habits, or by accident may fall down. Even then we do not have grounds to criticize. If we criticize a sadhu for an accidental falldown or for traces of past sinful activities, we are involved in sadhu-ninda.

Then he discusses different categories of asadhus, or nondevotees, so we can clearly identify them too. In other words, as preachers, do we hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil? Do we not speak the truth if we see something is wrong and we want to correct it or protect others from it? No, as preachers we must be able to recognize nondevotees, especially if they are posing as devotees, and help neophyte devotees avoid them. Thus, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura lists three categories of persons who are not sadhus but who may be mistaken for sadhus. One is the Mayavadi impersonalist, who thinks that Krsna’s eternal form and holy name are illusory, or maya. Another is the pretender, or dharma-dhvaji, who waves the flag of religion; he is not actually a devotee, but he makes a show of being a sadhu for materialistic ends. And one is the atheist. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that when one preaches one has to criticize nondevotees and advise innocent devotees to avoid their association and influence. Such criticism does not constitute sadhu-ninda. If ignorant or envious people argue that such criticism is sadhu-ninda, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says we should avoid their association. Because they are wrongly accusing or criticizing the preacher, they themselves are implicated in sadhu-ninda.

I will give one example from Madras. When I went there on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf, I preached more or less the way I had heard him preach, and he did criticize demigod worshipers and impersonalists. In Madras there were a lot of impersonalists and, I suppose, demigod worshippers too, so some people began to criticize me for criticizing others. And some said, “You shouldn’t criticize others; you should just state positively what you want to say about your philosophy or your activities, but you shouldn’t criticize others.” The criticism of my criticism reached such a point that I actually began to have doubts. I thought, “So many people are saying the same thing, maybe I am doing something wrong.” They even gave the example of the Gaudiya Matha: “They don’t criticize others like you do, but they have a nice temple, and every year they have a big celebration of Janmastami and thousands of people come. Why can’t you be like them?”

So I thought about what they said. I wasn’t really convinced that Srila Prabhupada would want us to be like the Gaudiya Matha, but then again, even people who were our friends, who were sympathetic to us, were saying the same thing: “Don’t criticize others. Just say what you want in a positive way about your own philosophy and activities.” So I wrote to Srila Prabhupada, and His Divine Grace wrote back, “The fact is that I am the only one in India who is openly criticizing, not only demigod worship and impersonalism, but everything that falls short of complete surrender to Krishna.” And he continued, “My Guru Maharaja never compromised in his preaching, nor will I, nor should any of my students. We are firmly convinced that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all others are His part and parcel servants. This we must declare boldly to the whole world, that they should not foolishly dream of world peace unless they are prepared to surrender fully to Krishna as Supreme Lord.”

So that is the mood of the preacher: he or she has to criticize the nondevotees. In the course of criticizing the nondevotees, a preacher may offend people who have sentiments for such nondevotees because they think that such nondevotees are devotees. But what else can we do? This, as Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura discusses, is not sadhu-ninda; it is in the category of those things that might appear to be offenses but really are not.

There was a vivid example of this once when Srila Prabhupada was walking one morning with Dr. Patel on Juhu Beach. Dr. Patel was praising someone who was definitely not a devotee but who was revered in India as a spiritual leader and teacher. Basically, Srila Prabhupada began to criticize him and point out the defects in his philosophy and his procedures. Dr Patel became very excited—very offended and agitated. He began to argue with Srila Prabhupada and was practically shouting at him. And Srila Prabhupada was shouting at Dr. Patel. Srila Prabhupada roared, “I am not saying; Krsna is saying, na mam duskrtino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah: anyone who does not surrender to Krsna is a mudha [fool], naradhama [lowest of mankind].” It became a fierce argument, and Dr. Patel’s friends tried to restrain him. They said, “Swamiji is an old man; he has a heart condition. You shouldn’t excite him.” It was like an explosion. Finally Dr. Patel’s friends pulled him away, and we reached the spot where we would leave the beach for the temple, and the argument ended. After that, Srila Prabhupada said, “All right. No more discussion. We will just read from the Krsna book on the morning walks.” So we started to read from the Krsna book. Before this, Dr. Patel would come faithfully every morning and walk with Srila Prabhupada. Often, he would drive Srila Prabhupada to the beach in his car, and then they would walk and talk on the beach, or they would walk from the temple to the beach and talk. Now, however, for the first time, Dr. Patel avoided the morning walk with Srila Prabhupada—because of that big argument. But some days later he was drawn back to Srila Prabhupada. He said to Srila Prabhupada, “We are trained to respect all the accredited saints of India.” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “Our business is to point out who is not a saint.”

So that is the mood of the preacher. If the preacher criticizes nondevotees who may be revered as saints by many people, he or she is not involved in sadhu-ninda. But if people criticize the preacher for criticizing such nondevotees, those critics may be involved in sadhu-ninda and we should avoid their association—unless we can change them or engage them, like Srila Prabhupada did with Dr. Patel.

Then Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, “All right, if one has committed the offense, then what does one do? What is the remedy?” The specific way to counteract the offense of sadhu-ninda, or vaisnava-aparadha, is to go to the person we have offended and beg the person to forgive us. Generally, the Vaisnava is softhearted and will forgive the offender if he has realized his mistake and is sincerely repenting and earnestly trying to improve.

One may also commit an offense that is not directly against another person. To counteract such an offense, one may confess to other Vaisnavas. There is value to opening one’s heart to other Vaisnavas and admitting one’s offenses.

What Srila Prabhupada criticized about the Christians’ practice of confession was that after they had sinned and confessed, they would often go and then commit the same sin again. In other words, the process of confession alone was not sufficient to remove the heart’s desire to sin. But here, if a devotee sincerely repents her or his mistake, and confesses and begs for the mercy of the Vaisnavas, and then really tries his or her best not to commit the offense again—and continues with the real process of purification, hearing and chanting the holy name—then such confession or admission becomes a part of the process of purification and rectification.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura instructs us that actually the best way to avoid offense, which is negative, is to go to the other side and be positive. The best way to protect ourselves from sadhu-ninda, for example—from blaspheming or criticizing devotees—is to glorify the devotees, to appreciate and praise them.

So, we can benefit greatly from reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s books. Once, a disciple asked Srila Prabhupada about reading books of the previous acaryas: “Srila Prabhupada, I remember once I heard a tape where you told us that we should not try to read . . . Bhaktivinoda’s books or earlier books of other, all acaryas.” Srila Prabhupada clarified, “No, you should read. . . . We are following previous acaryas.”

Of course, for ISKCON devotees Srila Prabhupada’s books are the basis. And if we are well versed in Srila Prabhupada’s books and faithful to Srila Prabhupada, then when we reads the previous acaryas we will see how Srila Prabhupada is actually representing them, as we do with the Brhad-bhagavatamrta. So much of what the Brhad-bhagavatamrta says about the holy name is exactly what Srila Prabhupada taught us. Thus, reading the book actually strengthens our faith in Srila Prabhupada. It also clarifies for us the philosophy and principles of devotional service so that we can practice better in the line of Srila Prabhupada. At the same time, the reading makes us more knowledgeable in the scriptures so that we are better equipped to preach.

So, we’re gathered here at the feet of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. I believe he is pleased with our efforts to serve him through his representatives, and we can pray to him to bless us with a drop of faith in the holy name and with a fraction of a drop of his enthusiasm for preaching, so that even amidst our heavy duties and responsibilities we can also find time, as he did, to chant the holy name in the association of other devotees and to spread the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura ki jaya! Srila Prabhupada ki jaya! Nitai-gaura premanandi hari-haribol!

So, I have only touched a few drops of the nectarean ocean of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, so would any other devotee like to speak something in his glorification?

Kesava Bharati Prabhu: One of the prominent characteristics of Bhaktivinoda Thakura was that throughout his life he had reoccurring diseases. He actually suffered from rheumatic fever, and he was born in a town that was wiped out by a plague—his whole family. He went through a lot of what we would call traumas in his life, and so one of the important aspects of his life was how he dealt with difficulties. It wasn’t that his life was laid out on a silver platter. He was born in a very exalted family—descendants of kings, devotional kings—but at the same time, he had to face so many obstacles and difficulties, and in an exemplary way he showed how to take shelter in devotional service, in the holy name, in the way of his attraction to the lotus feet of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Gaura-Gadadhara, and guru. He confronted and overcame many obstacles. For instance, there was that yogi in Jagannatha Puri who was doing all kinds of nonsense and had the power to make people sick and cause problems for their family members—so many things. Bhaktivinoda Thakura confronted him and put him in jail. He himself actually went and physically arrested the yogi. Then the yogi cursed him, and in fact Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his family members did become sick. In jail the yogi was saying all sorts of blasphemous things, such as “Everyone’s going to die; you’re going to die; your family is going to die!” At one point, as he was fighting the yogi within the court, the Thakura realized that the yogi was carrying his power in his hair—he had all these matted locks. As the judge, Bhaktivinoda Thakura instructed the constables to cut the yogi’s hair, so they cut his hair and the yogi lost his power, and he died in jail. And Bhaktivinoda Thakura, along with everyone in his family, got well.

Also, at that time there was a very big dacoit movement in Vrndavana—there is always a dacoit movement there—but Bhaktivinoda Thakura went there, and just by his tremendous spiritual power and strength, he cleaned up those dacoits. Anybody who has ever been in Vrndavana knows what that means. Cleaning up the dacoits there is practically impossible. His spiritual strength was just, you know, off the charts.

Another interesting point is that Bhaktivinoda Thakura attained such a responsible position under the British rule when the British were systematically and powerfully convincing people in India that their culture and philosophy were inferior to the Western culture and philosophies. So they didn’t appoint Indians to key positions very often, but Bhaktivinoda Thakura was so good—so pious and so popular wherever he went—that they wouldn’t dare pass him over for a position. And they actually trusted him. He was so honest, so forthright, and such a wonderful servant that they put him in important positions of authority, and wherever he was posted they wanted him to stay. Throughout, he kept wanting to go to Navadvipa, but his administrative authorities always tried to get him to stay. So that is the thing—he was given such an exalted material position at that time in history when the ruling government did not favor people like him. Actually, he was placed in very responsible positions.

Giriraj Swami: True.

Kesava Bharati dasa: So we can be in any asrama—even as a householder—we can be in any position in life and still develop devotional qualities if we follow the instructions that he gave in Harinama-cintamani—to stop criticizing one another, playing politics with one another, and backbiting one another, and instead to glorify one another, even if the other person is not present before us. Then we will get the power to actually serve the cause of Krsna consciousness to our full capacity.

So, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave us all these different standards and all these priceless examples. Hare Krsna.

Giriraj Swami: Jaya! Srila Bhativinoda Thakura ki jaya! Any other questions or comments?

Sikhi Mahiti dasa: I wanted to ask about Sri Krsna-samhita. Srila Prabhupada taught us to accept the Bhagavatam as we accept the previous acaryas, in a very literal way, but I heard that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in Sri Krsna-samhita gives some idea of an allegorical interpretation, or a less literal interpretation, in that book. I am not sure how to understand this all.

Giriraj Swami: What I get from the translation of Sri Krsna-samhita—your point comes from the introduction—is as follows: Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wanted to preach to the intelligent class in Bengal, who were being influenced by ideas of Western science and rational thought. He basically said that there are different categories of seekers. Some are neophytes, or komala-sraddhis: their faith is weak and they just need to hear things that will strengthen their faith. Some who are in-between (madhyamas) are more thoughtful and inquisitive: they want answers to their questions, and they don’t want to just hear things that presuppose a certain faith. They want to hear things that will answer their rational doubts and questions. Then there are the saragrahis, the ones who just go to the essence. They are not concerned with differences in religious symbolism, different things that could distract one from the essence, which is love of God.

So, in the introduction Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura presents the academic’s point of view towards the scriptures. There, he expresses his fear that the inquisitive intellectuals will turn away from the work because the body of book consists of krsna-lila, which they may consider to be just stories. At the same time, he expresses his fear that komala-sraddhis will turn away from the book because in the introduction he discusses modern rational ideas to explain the scriptures, which put the scriptures in a more relative light.

But what I get from the translation of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s introduction is that he never really says that he believes the point of view of the rational scholars or intellectuals, but that he just presents it. There are one or two places in other books where he says things that made me think, “Maybe he actually does believe that,” but what I get from the introduction to Sri Krsna-samhita is that he is very noncommittal, because if he had endorsed the rational ideas, then the faithful would have been discouraged, but if he had openly endorsed the faithful idea, than the rationalists would have been discouraged from reading the book. But I only read the translation, and I don’t know even how accurate the translation is.

Kesava Bharati dasa: Very important point. We are working closely with Gopiparanadhana Prabhu, editing BBT translations of the previous acaryas. He makes the point that the translator and editor are very, very important in order to get the ideas transparently. In ISKCON now we are reading so many books, so many translations, by persons who are qualified neither to translate into nor to edit English. I didn’t discuss this very scripture with Gopiparanadhana Prabhu, but there are quite a few translations that are now accepted wholesale by ISKCON devotees in which he has found as many as twenty or twenty-five mistakes in one purport, and he has sampled only a few. So I would be very, very careful in what I accept as an English translation nowadays, and I would hold fast to the books translated by Gopiparanadhana Prabhu and persons whom he has trained to translate and edit.

Another point (I checked this with Gopiparanadhana) is that Bhaktivinoda Thakura not only did not commit to accepting the so-called rational or allegorical interpretation, but in two or three places he actually said that he had faith in the Bhagavatam. But that fact is not highlighted in certain persons’ commentaries.

Giriraj Swami: Yes, because they may have their personal agendas.

Kesava Bharati dasa: And even when Bhaktivinoda Thakura does allow for discussion with scholars on certain points—to give them scope to use their intelligence in such a way that they can keep their faith in siddhanta—he does so only with passages that relate to the material creation, which they can look at in a different way. The pastimes of Krsna are in another category and are not to be touched by the empiric or speculative method at all. Also, we must combine that with Srila Prabhupada’s approach to the speculative method—that the doubting that comes in intelligent people’s minds can be used constructively only up to a point, and that beyond that point, when they begin hearing from an actual authority, that same delicate approach can become destructive. The tangible, or most important point is that when doubt actually begins to affect our faith, eventually, then it becomes destructive rather than constructive. At that point doubt should be rejected. Therefore the Bhagavad-gita says, asamsayam samagram mam yatha jnasyasi tac chrnu: one actually has to be free from doubt.

Bhaktivinoda’s purpose was to remove doubts from the heart, not to increase them. And if a neophyte reads a questionable translation, he may become more doubtful, which is bad for him. One must reject anything that weakens one’s faith. That is what we discussed with Gopiparanadhana Prabhu.

Nitai-canda dasa: When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote his introduction to Sri Krsna-samhita, there were two great scholars in Bengal. One was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was the one who gave the order of the works of Sanskrit grammar and is known as a learned scholar in Bengal. The other was Dr. Rishi Bankim Chandra Roy. He was another writer of different epics of krsna-lila and Mahaprabhu’s lila. He wrote many books. So, just to balance all these literary persons, Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave that instruction very strongly. In this literary introduction he had to present certain new ideas meant specifically to deal with these Bengali intellectuals; that is the whole idea.

Kesava Bharati dasa: Giriraj Maharaja already addressed that point, namely that Bhaktivinoda Thakura felt the need to introduce a novel approach. Maharaja already touched on the answer to this question, because Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura considered kanistha, madhyama, and uttama—those categories of devotees—to be adequate. That was one of the controversial points in some people’s minds. He considered there to be kanistha-adhikaris, madhyama-adhikaris, and uttama-adhikaris in mentality in every religion of the world. Therefore, there are saints—he accepted that there are saints in every movement, all over the world. Whether they had come to the Bhagavatam conclusion or to the conclusion of their scriptures (which also contain religious principles that will take them toward the lotus feet of Krsna) is another issue. And Maharaja made the point very well that those who are kanistha would get bewildered and miss the essence, and that therefore sometimes the acaryas would speak in such a way that would allow them their faith in siddhantic conclusions.

June 29, 2003

 Posted by at 6:07 am