Today we have gathered for the most auspicious celebration of the appearance day of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was one of the most prominent acharyas in the disciplic succession after Lord Chaitanya, and his contribution to Gaudiya Vaishnavism and to the world is so great that one devotee called him the Seventh Gosvami. Much of the present Krishna consciousness movement founded by Srila Prabhupada is being conducted under the guidance of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and today I will focus on some of the areas in which the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is continuing his work and mission.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born in an aristocratic, devotional family, but throughout his life he was afflicted by various illnesses. So we shouldn’t think that he had an easy life or that everything just came to him; the tremendous contribution he made was in the face of physically trying conditions. Of course, in a way it did all come naturally, but he really had to face many obstacles, even in terms of his physical health. In this year’s Vyasa-puja book His Grace Kalakantha dasa wrote an offering in which he listed different trials that Srila Prabhupada had faced, and he suggested that Prabhupada had actually suffered. It wasn’t just an appearance of difficulties; he actually suffered. But in spite of the difficulties, he continued. And that is a lesson for all of us. We shouldn’t expect that things will always come easily or go smoothly, and in spite of the difficulties and miseries we should persevere in our efforts in Krishna consciousness.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was appointed to a government position—assistant magistrate—that was practically the highest position that any Indian held during the British rule. The British had the idea to inculcate in the Indians the idea that Indian culture was inferior to the British or Western or Christian culture. So in general they kept the Indians down, but Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was so qualified and so popular that they were obliged to appoint him to a high position.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a grihastha with ten children. But even with all his heavy responsibilities in his government service and as a family man, he still did so much direct service to the cause of Krishna consciousness. He utilized his time expertly. After coming home from work, he would have a light meal and take rest at about eight o’clock, and then he would get up at midnight and write books. He wrote over one hundred books and songs. He made so many contributions. From this we can learn how we can also engage in direct service to the cause of Krishna consciousness even with our many responsibilities of family and work, by efficiently and enthusiastically using our time—every moment possible—for devotional service.
As a magistrate, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was very efficient and would dispose of many cases in short order. Judges are also judged—by how many cases they dispose of and how many of their cases are appealed and how many of their cases are overturned. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had the most outstanding record of any judge or magistrate. He disposed of so many cases so quickly, and people were satisfied with his judgments, and so his decisions were not appealed or overturned.
One famous case involved a yogi who falsely claimed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, or Krishna. He would have an imitation rasa-lila every night, and foolish people were sending their wives and daughters to dance with him. But some more intelligent or sober persons complained to the British government, and the administration, knowing Kedarnath Datta, as Bhaktivinoda Thakura was known then, to be a religious man and also the deputy magistrate, assigned the case to him.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in plain dress and accompanied by some police constables, went to the village where the yogi was engaging in his nefarious activities. “You are a great yogi,” he told the man. “Why are you in this remote rural area? Why don’t you go to Jagannatha Puri and see Lord Jagannatha and be happy?” Upon hearing these words, the yogi’s offensive mentality came out and he said, “Oh, Jagannatha? That is just wood. I myself am the Supreme Lord, Vishnu!”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura could conclude beyond any doubt that the yogi was a pretender, and so he had him arrested and brought to trial. Srila Prabhupada remarked, not specifically in relation to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura but in a more general sense, that the government should oversee the activities of sadhus and people who take the position of guru—that the government should license them. Just like nowadays you can’t just call yourself a doctor and begin to practice medicine; you have to take a course of study and be licensed to practice. If you are going to entrust your body, your medical care, to a doctor, you want to go to a doctor who is licensed. And the body is not as important as the soul. So Srila Prabhupada said that if people entrust their whole lives, their spiritual lives, to some spiritual teacher, the teacher should be tested according to certain standards, which are given in scripture. And if he doesn’t meet the qualifications, he should be declared disqualified.