Thursday, September 27, 2007

Photos from 1972

Uttamasloka Das just sent me 27 photos taken in Toronto 1972, at the installation of Radha Kshirachor Gopinath in the Gerrard Street temple.

The first one has Jagadish, Rochan and Vishwambhar in it. That's me knocking heads with Jagadish over the fire vedi. We were still wearing synthetic yellow broadcloth for dhotis.

What a surprise to see Subal Swami in this photo, wearing genuine Indian duds. India-returned was a big deal in those days. I would never have remembered that he was there on that day. How'd you like that, Subal?

A picture of the newly installed deities.

Japa meditation and asana

Hatha-yoga names several sitting postures for meditation purposes. There is a hierarchy in these posture, and there are definite advantages for the person chanting japa to make use of these techniques to improve concentration on Harinam and smarana.

There are probably more, but the main sitting postures are: sukhāsana, siddhāsana, svastikāsana, ardha-padmāsana, vīrāsana, gomukhāsana and padmāsana.

The main point of the sitting posture is that it should be comfortable enough to sit in for a long stretch of time. Changing postures can be helpful when the legs or back get tired, and occasionally getting up to walk around or to stretch the legs and back may be necessary.

For most people, some kind of back support is beneficial in all the sitting postures. You should place a pillow or something else (a rock, a piece of wood, a book (!) ... anything) under the sacrum (the tailbone). This will help keep the back straight.

The straighter the back, the deeper one can breathe, since the stomach and chest are not encumbered by a curved back. One should definitely use deep breathing as a part of one's japa technique. This does not mean that Pranayam replaces chanting japa as a meditation, but that one uses simple deep breathing techniques as an aid to regulating the bodily and mental functions while chanting japa.

Sukhāsana is often called the tailor pose. It means the legs are crossed, placing the feet underneath the thighs.

Sukhāsana is the least desirable of the sitting postures, because the natural tendency in this asana is to lean forward. It is harder to keep the back erect and so the lower back gets tired faster. The result is more bobbing, shaking of the head, and agitated movement. Leaning forward means that if you are tired, you may fall asleep. Bobbing back and forth is a technique for aiding concentration that is used by Orthodox Jews and Muslims, usually when memorizing or reciting their scriptures. In meditation, however, it is inferior to the use of breathing as a technique for mind control; more generally it is both a sign and further cause of distraction and should be avoided. Bobbing means that the mind is out of control and the concentration on the Holy Names is probably long gone.

Most people who are not in good physical shape or who have not cultivated any kind of yoga practice are obliged by default to use the sukhāsana. People using this posture should be especially sure to use the cushion as back support.

Siddhāsana (which is almost the same as svastikāsana) is already much better than sukhāsana. It gives much better back support and is easier to sustain for long periods. In siddhāsana, the heel of the left foot is tucked into the crotch and the right foot rests wherever most comfortable, generally either over the left calf or (better) the left ankle, or a little higher, over the pubic crest.

The ardha-padmāsana is like the siddhāsana, but the right foot is placed higher, upon the left thigh.

Virāsana is for many people harder to do. In this posture, the right leg is stretched even further so that the right calf is resting on the left thigh. This means the left foot is either coming out on the right side, or somewhat preferably, heel tucked between the buttocks. By placing the right foot all the way to the ground on the left side, the knee will be upraised. This is then called gomukhāsana. (This position is completed by holding the hands behind the back; they should meet in the small of the back, with one elbow directly behind the head.)

These virāsana postures are not very useful for japa meditation, but are particularly good when forced to sit for a long time and wanting to stretch or change position without getting up.

Padmāsana is one of the most famous yoga postures, though it is hard for most people to do. By practicing the above, one may eventually be capable of doing it, though excessive fat and stiffness will make it impossible. In padmāsana, one crosses the legs in such a way that the soles of the feet are facing upwards, the right foot on the left thigh, and the left foot on the right thigh. For righthanded people, the right foot generally goes on the left thigh first. One should try to alternate (as with the other āsanAs above), but one of the two alternatives will generally be more natural and easier to sustain for long periods.

The padmāsana is the best of the sitting postures because it locks in the back better than any of the others, pushing one into an erect position, opening the chest and thorax and thus making deep breathing natural and sustained.

Yoga-mudrā and Bandha-traya are useful procedures when in sustained meditation for long periods, as they give renewed energy when one is tired or one's concentration flags. Both are best practiced in padmāsana, but can be done to greater or lesser extent in ardha-padmāsana or siddhāsana.

Yoga-mudrā consists of locking the arms behind the back while in padmasana, then while exhaling to lean slowly forward as far as one can go--hopefully reaching the forehead to the floor. If you haven't got the flexibility or the thin stomach needed to go all the way, you still get a lot of benefit from the breathing, slow full exhalation when down, slow full inhalation when up.

This exercise is better accompanied by the 18-syllable mantra rather than Mahamantra. In general, I would recommend that if one has difficulty sustaining padmasana for long periods, then one should at least chant his dīkṣā-mantras in the pose. The Mahamantra is less demanding in the sense that one should chant any way possible. Sitting in a yogic posture is simply the more desirable way to maximize concentration.

Bandha-traya is similarly recommended primarily for meditation on aṣṭadaśākṣara mantra. It is a very powerful procedure, done in three steps while exhaling. The first part consists of locking the chin into the cavity between the clavicles. This is called jalandhara-bandha. The second part, uḍḍīyana-bandha, requires raising and tightening the intestines as the lungs empty, pushing the entire thorax back against the spine. Finally, mūla-bandha requires that one contract the anus and pull the kundalini upward. Siddhāsana is usually recommended for this because the heel pushes on the pubic bone, which is helpful in this posture.

In bandha-traya, one sustains the position during recaka (sustained exhalation). This means that on the pūraka (inhalation), there is a powerful effect. It should be followed by kumbhaka or sustained holding of the breath. The meditative effects are evidently felt mostly on the kumbhaka, but since control of the breathing is important, one should try to coordinate the concentration on the mantra with the breathing. One uses the regular rhythm of the mantra as a timing mechanism on the breath, and this has the reverse effect of increasing concentration on the mantra itself.

Usually one counts mantras in a way that is most comfortable in coordination with the particular exercise, either yoga-mudra or bandha-traya. However, even in regular asana, when meditation or the activitiy of the mind, i.e., smaranam, is more important than pranayam or asana or anything else, coordination of mantra to breathing is helpful as a springboard to concentration.

The Gita says,

yato yato niścalati manaś cañcalam asthiram
tatas tato niyamyaitad ātmany eva vaśaṁ nayet

From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, bring it back and under the control of the self.

The idea is to be calm and not furtive in these proceedings. Devotees often associate japa with a state of anxiety, which they somehow feel is conducive to a more deeply felt prayerfulness, or devotion. This may have a certain usefulness in the early stages of bhakti, but for sustained, continuous, long-term practice, it is not the most effective approach. Keep the body still and relaxed, use the breath as a springboard to bringing the mind back into concentration, progressively on Nama, Guna, Rupa and Lila.

When one is doing Nama meditation, one is engaged in a more deliberate attempt to control the mind by returning it to an easily identifiable point, namely the Maha Mantra. Guna, Rupa and Lila are progressively freer and tending towards svārasikī smaraṇa. The meditation of the dīkṣā-mantras, which should be a more formal "set piece" of meditation activity (and given priority for the time challenged over even the Maha Mantra) requires that one make a deliberate attempt, within the limited time period that it takes to chant (i.e., less time than chanting Maha Mantra) to meditate on the Yoga Pith and Yoga Pith sevā. This is a very important process for one's psychic organization and one should use as many of the techniques of prāṇāyāma and āsana to maximize the benefits.

On the whole, if one wishes to maximize the benefits of japa, one will also find the utility of doing other hatha yoga exercises, which were developed for the sole purpose of making meditation in the seated position more sustainable.

This does not, by the way, mean that walking japa is not a powerful or legitimate practice. Furthermore, there is something to be said for chanting while letting the mind wander freely. I would nevertheless recommend disciplining oneself to chant a certain percentage of one's japa in the seated position. One should also attempt to do a certain percentage of one's japa mentally (mānasa), rather than whispered (upāṁśu) or aloud (vācika).

Jai Sri Radhe!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Three Kinds of Bhakta and Symbolic Understanding

A lot of the recent posts, along with their responses, having been dealing with the questions related to the place of Krishna consciousness in the modern world. Subal, Anuradha and Krishnadas, amongst others, have all said something in relation to this matter.

Since this is an ongoing and open-ended dialogue, I am not going to try to answer everything all at once. And, unfortunately, since much of my livelihood comes from contract work, I am suddenly constrained by the arrival of a fairly hefty contract with a short deadline.

I really wanted to respond to Anuradha's last comment, most of which I could agree with. As far as the question of initial conversion to GV, this is one of the things that I have been tossing around, as you may have noticed. I have placed a question mark on whether my own path of getting to where I am is "the only way" of getting here (as if that were a worthwhile goal!). But, obviously, I would not really know anything about this until I myself make converts.

I recently cited Dayananda Dasji, who said that people who write or translate for other devotees are appealing to the “low hanging fruit,” i.e., by addressing the devotee community rather than taking up the more difficult task of attracting new recruits. And by new recruits, he did not mean committed brahmacharis, but community members. He has reverted to what he feels is the real inspiration of the yuga dharma, i.e., the saṅkīrtana-yajṣa, the sacrifice of going out and sharing the good news. Certainly those who do this are to be recognized and honored.

But I think that this period of reflection in the movement is good and necessary; it is all a part of what Prabhupada called "thickening the milk." Nevertheless, it is true that while engaged in such reflection, it may not be quite as easy to evangelize those more distant fruit. In ISKCON we used to hear that the uttama bhakta "comes down" to the madhyam level to preach. But it may well be that uttamas and madhyamas come down to the kaniṣṭha level to preach. For a kaniṣṭha bhakta, thickening the milk basically means becoming a bigger and better kaniṣṭha.

There is a kind of qualitative break between kaniṣṭha and madhyama, just as there is between madhyama and uttama, as much as there is between vaidhī and rāgānugā bhakti. One does not just grow automatically into the other. Consciously or unconsciously, there has to be a break with the previous state to go on to the next.

Generally, kaniṣṭhas will try to convince others to join their group of kaniṣṭhas. Madhyamas will try to convince kaniṣṭhas to join their madhyama mindset. Uttamas are the only ones who will really be able to speak to them all from the point of view of Truth. Though inside their particular tradition, they are not advocates of specifically that tradition to anyone but the person who wants to learn from them. The effect of a kanistha adhikari's preaching can be powerful, despite its limitations; the effects of a madhyama bhakta's preaching to kaniṣṭhas is troubling and to non-devotees pretty ineffective. At least until they get to the more advanced stage of madhyama bhakta.

One way of understanding it is to understand the three adhikaras as points on the dialectical triangle. The kanistha represents the unadorned thesis, the madhyama antithesis, and the uttama synthesis. This is why the following verse also applies to the three adhikāras--

yaś ca mūḍhatamo loke yaś ca jñānāt paraṁ gataḥ
tau ubhau sukham edhete, kliśyaty antarito janaḥ

The biggest fool and the one who has gone beyond knowledge both experience happiness. The one in between suffers.

It might seem strong to associate the kanishtha with foolishness, but it is in the character of the kanishtha to avoid potential sources of doubt, since he or she is characterized by komala sraddha. Thus they tend to avoid madhyama bhakta association, because it is disruptive to the simple faith they are trying to protect. The dilemma of the madhyama bhakta is whether or not to disrupt them, since foolish kaniṣṭhas can, in their ignorance, cause a lot of trouble.

Each level has its own gurus (indeed they must). For kaniṣṭhas, it is often the biggest kanishtha who is guru. This can be disastrous. The madhyamas also have their big madhyamas for gurus. Only the uttama is guru to all, sometimes recognized, but not necessarily understood by all.

The other day I heard a spiritual teacher on the radio saying that he was living in an ashram when a friend came to visit him. This friend was simple and not highly educated, but a straightforward man. The ashram dweller started trying to explain to this old friend about what he and his wife were doing and the purpose of their lives in the ashram. When it was over, the old friend stared at him with a bewildered look and said, "If you can't make your ideas simple enough for an idiot like me to understand them, then either you don't understand them yourselves, or you are bullshitting."

This was, in a sense, a recognition that synthesis is a process going on at every level. There has to be a level of truth, i.e., of genuineness, realization or conviction, for any statement to have effect, i.e., to have an infectious quality.

So, the long and complex process of asking questions about the purpose of life has to ultimately come down to simple answers. This is called Ockham's Razor, which crudely defined is that the simplest answer is most likely the correct one. In KC, the simple answers are (1) jīver svarūpa hoy kṛṣṇa nitya dās, (2) bhaktir eva bhūyasī; (3) premān pumartho mahān. (And of course those answers are given in Sanskrit, which in itself is a complicating procedure.)

To translate: (1) We are eternal servants of God. (2) Devotion to God is the most powerful means of knowing God directly. (3) Love of God is the ultimate goal.

Anuradha states that he could probably get as far as selling the above message, but he has trouble making it to God = Krishna. And that is true. It is a bit of a hard sell to the so-called educated. Most of the creative people in the world, such as Blake and Tolstoy, recognized that education is a problem as often as it is a solution. The very three points stated above are all essentially intuitive and not rational. Nevertheless, the point Anuradha is making is about symbolism. And this is indeed one of the core problems that Bhaktivinoda Thakur addressed. And it is one that we also need to address coherently.

A symbol generally means something simple that stands in the place of something else, something more complex. Language is itself a set of symbols, as words stand for things, and new vocabulary enters a language to express more and more complex ideas, or to represent entire sets of arguments. The word bhakti itself, for example, has a long history beginning with an etymology and then taking on a life of its own as discourses in India surrounding the word adhere to it and give it further depth and complexity. A sudden change in the episteme may kill a word as it becomes associated with politically incorrect meanings, etc.

Now the question is the extent to which religious symbols, which are meant to evoke a devotional response, are universal or are limited in their usefulness. For example, an argument often heard in India is something like "A rose by any name would smell as sweet." Water is always water whether you call it jala, pani or agua. īçvara allāh tere nām sab ko san-mati de bhagavān. Now theists in general have been taught to hate these kinds of statements because of the specificity of their own symbol systems. A Christian may theoretically agree with a Muslim or a Vaishnava that their God is the same God, but they all believe in the specific qualities of their particular symbol system surrounding the Deity, and usually believe in the superiority of that specific symbolism.

Now, even in the Bhagavatam, we have an indication that the uttama bhakta somehow transcends the symbol system. He transcends it in the sense that he has direct experience of the incarnate meaning of the symbols; it does not mean, however, that he or she gives it up.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Updated and backdated posts

I cleared up a backlog of posts that had been started and left half finished over the past month or so. They are the following, as far as I can remember:

I think that's it. Some of them are still a little half-baked, but, this is a blog, after all, where any trivial nonsense is still worthy of apotheosis.

Friends of Vrindavan

A Sampradaya Sun article about the Friends of Vrindavan prompted me to write a letter to the author, Jagannath Poddar, in which I congratulated him on the progress that FOV has made and offered him my moral support. I also expressed the hope that the methods they had developed and the achievements they had made would be taken up elsewhere, such as in Govardhan.

Jagannath wrote back the following:

Dear Jagat ji,

Radhe Radhe! We at Friends of Vrindavan, wish you a Happy Radha Ashtami. Thanks for your commitment for supporting us morally. I have forwarded this message to Michael. We are also concerned about the situation in Goverdhan. But to set up the infrastructure in a new place in Goverdhan costs a huge amount and we have yet to achieve our goal in Vrindavan. Secondly, we have made our foundation strong in last one decade and we really didn't try to raise fund for the organisation.

We appreciate you for giving value to Braj seva. As you don't reside here, thus you can't help us physically. Still you can make a commitment which will help us to make a difference. You may convince your friends to support our mission financially. Any amount of money, from a dollar to infinite will be helpful. In return we can only promise you that every single penny will transparently be spent for the seva. We have proved it over years and people involved with are very dedicated in conserving the holy land of the lord.

Please do visit us whenever you come to Vrindavan next time. Seeing you email ID, it seems that you are based in U.S. We have our trust registered there and we are reviving it. We have income tax exemption both in US and in India. Please get in touch if you need to contact our people there in the States.

Make a commitment for the Dham Seva on Radha Ashtami.

Yours in service,

Jagannath Poddar
Friends of Vrindavan

Last time I was in Vrindavan, I met Michael Duffy, one of the inspiring forces of FOV, who stays at Jai Singh Ghera. From what I have seen, this is a very worthwhile project and deserves to be emulated. One of the nice things about FOV is that it transcends all sectarian boundaries. So do not hesitate to send a donation, or to visit the offices in Vrindavan when you are there to see how you can help serve the Dham.

(Picture from Sepia India, Flickr)

Friday, September 21, 2007

We Need a New Sexual Revolution

On the Guardian's "Comment is Free" page today, there is a short article by Theo Hobson, We need a new sexual revolution, which echoes something that I have been thinking for a long time.

It has been my feeling that sex is underdiscussed in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and that whatever discourse there is lacks subtlety. Thus, anyone who even mentions the possibility that sexuality has a more complex human function than procreation on the one hand or is of an unambiguous materialistic darkness on the other, is immediately accused of immorality, as indeed has happened to me. The discourse surrounding Sahajiyaism is thus so clouded by reactionary thinking that all rational discussion is clamped down on before anything really meaningful can be accomplished.

Hobson's article does not say much, I admit, but at least he points out that the so-called "sexual revolution" has trivialized sexuality to a level of complete irresponsiblity, seemingly confounding sexual freedom with spiritual liberation:

Discussion of sex that thinks itself serious and responsible tends to be complicit in the basic myth of liberation: we just need to get over our hang-ups and relax into the innocent fun of sex. It is wrong to present sex as harmless, healthy fun. In truth sex is no more harmless, healthy or fun than human life itself. It's as serious as life, and as morally mixed.

Hobson's point not just that "sex is as important as life itself," but that it is morally mixed. We may all agree that this so-called innocent sexuality has serious limits in terms of its comprehension of human nature, but a discourse that simply negates sexuality and says that it is something that, in all its forms, has harmful effects on one's spirituality is equally ignorant about human nature. And, in my feeling, completely ignorant about the meaning of Radha Krishna tattva. So, Hobson's comment that the our modern culture of sexuality is "deeply dishonest" also applies to the orthodox Krishna conscious culture as well, as it does to all absolutist puritanisms.

Therefore, I have to reiterate that it is necessary to first of all recognize the all-pervading nature of sexuality, and indeed the intimate connection of sexuality to life itself.

Management of the sexual instinct is the key not just to spiritual life, but to human progress itself: that is seemingly agreed upon by both psychologists and theologians. Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents discusses the payoffs and costs of repression. Clearly, not even the most libertine of human beings can indulge unlimitedly in sexual pleasures. The human body itself will not permit it. But societies and their religious manifestations have always considered it necessary to regulate sexual behavior in certain ways in order to maintain social order and to sublimate and redirect psychic energies to socially productive activities.

Freud's contribution to the sexual revolution was in his descriptions of the psychological price of repression. This sent the pendulum swinging in the other direction and, when coupled with technological advances in birth control, resulted in the sexual revolution Hobson talks about. But, he is right in saying that it has gone too far in its reduction of sexuality to mere sensual pleasure and the glorification of sensuality. The negotiation between the two extremes of libertarianism and repression can only be achieved in spiritualization.

I have tried to introduce a little subtlety into the discourse about sexuality by beginning with what has unfortunately been omitted from the Bhagavad-Gita and the Uddhava-gita: namely the application of the three-gunas taxonomy to sexuality. There is a huge difference between the sexuality of someone in the mode of ignorance and one in the mode of goodness. But the mode of goodness does not necessarily mean celibacy, though self-control is certainly an essential part of sattvika culture.

Nevertheless, to say that abolute separation of the sexes is the only option for those seeking the higher realms of spirituality is something that can only be attributed to a misunderstanding of God's variegated creation. Celibacy is NOT an aṅga of bhakti.

What is needed is a method of comprehending and transforming the sexual energy that does not have the negative consequences of either repression or open-ended sensuality. Here is a hint from the Bhagavatam:

āmayo yaś ca bhūtānām jāyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy āmayaṁ dravyaṁ na punāti cikitsitam

"O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?" (1.5.33)

An expert physician treats his patient with a therapeutic diet. For example, milk preparations sometimes cause disorder of the bowels, but the very same milk converted into curd and mixed with some other remedial ingredients cures such disorders. Similarly, the threefold miseries of material existence cannot be mitigated simply by material activities. Such activities have to be spiritualized, just as by fire iron is made red-hot, and thereby the action of fire begins.

Similarly, the material conception of a thing is at once changed as soon as it is put into the service of the Lord. That is the secret of spiritual success. We should not try to lord it over the material nature, nor should we reject material things. The best way to make the best use of a bad bargain is to use everything in relation with the supreme spiritual being.

Everything is an emanation from the Supreme Spirit, and by His inconceivable power He can convert spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Therefore a material thing (so-called) is at once turned into a spiritual force by the great will of the Lord. The necessary condition for such a change is to employ so-called matter in the service of the spirit. That is the way to treat our material diseases and elevate ourselves to the spiritual plane where there is no misery, no lamentation and no fear. When everything is thus employed in the service of the Lord, we can experience that there is nothing except the Supreme Brahman. The Vedic mantra that “everything is Brahman” is thus realized by us. [A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and purport]

By excluding sexuality from this principle, and by failing to see the relationship of Radha and Krishna's madhura rasa to this principle of transformation or therapeutic treatment, we leave a huge hole in the rationality of our doctrines.

The devotee's psychic hierarchy

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Radhasthami and the day after

I took Philippe, my friend from work, to the Montreal temple yesterday to introduce him to Radharani.

There is an irresistible force leading all followers of Lord Chaitanya to Radha. They can't avoid it. Even so, Vishwambhar, who has been a devotee since 1968, began his lecture by reading a statement from Srila Prabhupada warning against Prakrita Sahajiyaism. But then he went on to explain Radha-tattva from the Chaitanya-caritāmṛta and tell some stories from Camatkāra-candrikā and so on. He more or less made it through alright and it was nice to listen to, even though he hadn't gotten to the yugala-milana when time started running out. He said, "Well, looks like time is almost up. I don't think I'll have time to finish." I couldn't help bursting out, "Get to the yugala-milana, man. You can’t stop now." But it was completed in haste.

The kirtan was a noisy rail-gari affair ("Rail Gari" is a nickname I once got in India for my kirtans, which rushed headlong like a steam train). After a while I had to find refuge with Philippe in the prasad hall where we waited for prasad, which was excellent. Montreal temple has some very good cooks. And I had a guest to talk to and show around. The devotees were all extremely cordial to me, though I mostly talked to Philippe.

In the car on the way back, we talked about the kirtan. has a musical background and did many years of voice training in opera. Through a yoga teacher friend he was introduced to Patrick Bernard (Prahlada Das)'s music, which is when he met me. Prahlada sings mantras from a variety of sources, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and other Hindu traditions besides Vaishnavism. Most of his records do contain a preponderance of Vaishnava material--as a matter of fact, in the car, Philippe had a CD playing which has paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saìkīrtanam on it. So Prahlada is introducing some pretty Vaishnava material to his public.

On Saturday last, we went to Patrick's concert in a village called St-Césaire about 50 kilometres east of Montreal. The site was pretty extraordinary—an old convent chapel. There were about 100 people there, many of whom are his devoted fans and followers. His program has become more professional since he was joined by his partner, Anuradha Dasi. She is a disciple of Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj and they work closely with his successor, Bhakti Bibudh Bodhayan Maharaj. Anuradha is a pretty good organizer and I think that she has had a positive influence on Prahlad. She also puts together trips for their fans to go to India and stay at Puri Maharaj’s math in Mayapur and Jagannath Puri. Many of them come back with neckbeads and japa malas.

Anyway, Patrick’s concerts, accompanied by Anuradha’s dancing, are very meditative in nature. His thing is mantra meditation and his music has as its goal to create an atmosphere conducive to interiorization. Thus there are periods during the concert where he repeats a mantra over and over for ten minutes or so, with certain harmonizations and musical accompaniment that keep it from becoming too monotonous.

With the only light coming from candles and in a building that already had a strong spiritual aura, the effect was quite powerful. It was more or less the opposite extreme of the Iskcon kirtan. I may be getting too old, but the testosterone soaked kirtans of the 70’s just don’t do it for me any more. But I want more than undifferentiated mantras. Patrick said to Philippe on the night of his concert, “It is not the words that matter, but the movement of the heart.”

I could not agree with this, as I think both matter, but at the time I said nothing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We Are Radha's Dasis

For the occasion, and oldy but goldy from Gaudiya Discussions, July 22, 2004:

olo ! āmarā rāiera dāsī !
āmarā rāiera dāsī ! āmarā rāiera sevā bhālovāsi

Listen everyone! We are Radha's dasis !
We are Radha's dasis, and we love to serve Radharani.

rāi jokhon je bhāve thāke, āmarā ghire basi
rāi kāndile āmarā kāndi, hāsile āmarā hāsi

Wherever Radha is, in whatever mood she is,
we gather all around her.
If she cries, we cry; and if she laughs, we laugh.

rāi śyāmake bhālovāse, tāi āmarā-o bhālovāsi
rāi ānugatye śyāma sevā kori, dekhe rāi boṛo ullāsī

Radha loves Shyam, so we love Shyam, too.
When she sees that we serve him
according to her directions,
she becomes ebullient.

rāi śyāma-nāma bhālovāse, tāi āmarā nāme piyāsī
rāi sukhe nāma kori bale, sei bhālovāse kālośaśī

Rai loves Shyam's name,
so that makes us thirst for it.
And because we sing his name for her pleasure,
she loves him even more.

rāiera mukhe kṛṣṇa-kathā śuni, mora soba divāniśi
rāiera kathā kṛṣṇa-mukhe śuni, āmarā hoi ullāsī

Day and night, we all listen
to Radha speak about Krishna.
And when we hear Krishna speak about Radha,
that gives us great joy.

rāiera nāma-ṭī sāra kore śyāma, bājāya mohana vaṁśī
rāiera nāme vāṁśī rava śuni, āmarā hoi udāsī

Shyam plays Radha's name, the essence of life,
as the enchanting tune on his flute.
When we hear Radha's name in the flute song,
we forget everything else in our lives.

rāiera prati apūrva pirīti koren go kālo-śaśī
rāiera prīti dekhe poṛechi śyāmera premera phāṁsi

The black moon Krishna has
incomparable love for Radha.
And seeing the love she has for him,
we have fallen into the net of Shyam prema.

rāiera nāme āmarā mānī, kṛṣṇete hoi udāsī
rāi milile śyāmera sane, morā kori miśāmiśi

We swell with pride at hearing Radha's name,
but we are indifferent to Krishna.
The only time we will mix with Shyam
is when she meets with him.

morā rāiera dāsī bole kṛṣṇa kato-i vā hoy ullāsī
rāiera kṛṣṇa bole hoi morā sadā-i śyāma pratyāśī

Krishna becomes so joyful
when he learns that we are devoted to Radha.
We always think of Krishna
because we know he belongs to her.

rāiera sane kṛṣṇa milana boṛo-i bhālovāsi
yugala premera sevā niye sadā modera bhālovāsā-vāsi

We really love to see
Krishna meet with Radha.
Our only joy, our happiness, comes from serving
the Divine Couple in ecstatic love.


Narottam Das Thakur, whose Prema-bhakti-candrikā is probably the most important book in Gaudiya Vaishnavism after the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (maybe even more important, because it's so condensed and thus shorter and more widespread), writes:

sādhane bhāvibe jāhā -- siddha dehe pāibe tāhā
pakvāpakva mātra ei vicāra
What you meditate on in your spiritual practices is what you will attain in your spiritual body. The only difference is that one is an unripe state, the other is ripe.
Rāgānuga-bhakti is about visualizing what you want: about picking the eternal Vrajavasis you want to follow and following them by meditating on the way you want to serve. The beginning point is identity. That is why Gopinath Basak's song is so wonderful, so powerful. It is unshakable commitment to Rādhā-dāsya.

Manjaris are those who recognize that nobody can really please Krishna except Radha. They are the ones who have read Radha's glories in the fourth chapter of Chaitanya Charitamrita Adi-lila and seen why Krishna himself had to become Gaura in order to appreciate fully her greatness. The Manjaris are the ones who have concluded that they don't need God when Bhakti is greater than Him.

bhaktir evainaṁ nayati
bhaktir evainaṁ darśayati
bhakti-vaśaḥ puruṣaḥ
bhaktir eva bhūyasī
Bhakti alone will bring Krishna to you. Bhakti alone will show you Krishna. The Lord is under the empire of devotion. So verily bhakti is the greatest thing of all.
But its not OUR bhakti. The great ashraya, or reservoir, of loving devotion is Radha.

Those who recognize Radha's glories have basically two options. We are minute, tiny sparks of spiritual energy. So we can either merge into Radha's being, or we can become simultaneously one and different from her by being her dasis and serving her intimately, retaining our separate individuality. Those of us who follow Rupa Goswami consider the latter to be the superior option.


Here it is, Radhe, your birthday. And here am I--infinity + 10,000 miles away from you and your kund. Since last night, I have been looking around in different books, trying to find something to say, something that took me out of theory and into the real world of your devotion and love. But my heart is so dry that none of the things I read, nectar though they were, seemed able to quench its thirst.

Finally, this morning I turned to Ananta Das's Vilapa-kusumanjali, which opened spontaneously on verse 96--

तवैवास्मि तवैवास्मि न जीवामि त्वया विना ।
इति विज्ञाय राधे त्वं नय मां चरणान्तिके ॥

tavaivaasmi tavaivaasmi na jiivaami tvayaa vinaa ।
iti vijnaaya raadhe tvam naya maam charanaantike ॥

Oh Radhe ! I am yours alone. I am yours alone.
I cannot live without you.
You know this full well, Oh Radhe,
so give me a place at your lotus feet.

This verse is the heart and soul of the Vilapa-kusumanjali. It is as if all the meditations on Radha's lila and the heartfelt prayers for service that Das Goswami has made in his Stotram all boil down to this--the repeated dedication of self in those words "I am yours alone. I am yours alone."

Radhe! I have nobody else. I am exclusively yours. This world is empty without you, without the sanga of those who love you, without your service. How can I claim to be alive when I am deprived of the sounds, sights, smells and sanga of your Kund? And why have I allowed this to happen?

You know this well enough, Radhe! Can I be angry with you for not giving me a place at your lotus feet? You have opened the door wide enough for me to see your effulgence on the other side, but I have not been able to walk through it. Can I call this a life when I live for everything else but you?

Ananta Dasji writes in his purport--"Sharanagati is the soul of bhajan. Bhajan and sadhan begin and end with sharanagati."

I am yours. I am yours. I belong to you. I have no other shelter. I have no other shelter. I hang myself out to dry. Either you save me or you don't. Either you give me a place at your feet or you don't. I am not mine to debate the matter.

Ramachandra says, "If someone takes shelter of me and says just once, I am yours, I give myself to him for all eternity."

There, if Ramachandra can say that, then, now that I have said I am yours twice, how can you, who are Krishna's mercy incarnate, refuse to do everything in your power to destroy my illusions, my doubts, my ignorance, my faithlessness, my misunderstandings, my weaknesses, my attachments, my misguidedness, and drag me to your kunja where I can participate in glorifying you, in becoming an extension of your loving and transformative power?

I will have no other gods before me, Radhe! Kanai is just a marionnette who dances at your behest. He exists to serve you. The power of your love is the creative force in all things. The illusory power of Maya is just your way of saying, "Don't love. But you will never be able to do exactly what you want. Love me and my prananath and you will be free. Mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te."

Sharanagati means knowing that you have no choice but to go to the root. You cannot water the branches, the leaves and twigs and expect your plant to flourish. You cannot feed the fingers and feet; food has to go to the stomach to reach all parts of the body. This is the meaning of love. Here am I, Radhe, ignoring this truth, thinking that I have some other duty, some other way of expressing the totality of my loving being in a way that does not make you the exclusive center.

The strands of illusion's veils still drape my eyes and make me think that there can be any meaning to an existence that is not totally dedicated to you, your servants and your service.

Oh Radhe! Here on this day, this day dedicated to you, I promise to dedicate every day to you. I have give myself to you so many times before, but somehow it has always been an act mixed with some deeper layer of insincerity. I have no recourse but to come back to essentials and offer myself to you again, with renewed attempts to find the purest motivations at the very base of my soul, of my existence. You are the only meaning to my being.

I ask my darlings, Lata Manjari, Kamala Manjari, Mana Manjari, Rati, Rupa and Rasa Manjaris, I ask them all to take this forlorn dasi and offer her to you and your service. You are my one Truth.

Jaya Sri Radhe! Jaya Sri Radhe! Jaya Sri Radhe!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Implications of Our Gurus' Moral Failings

Now that I have done the easy part—explaining why, from an impartial examination of the evidence, I have doubts about the authenticity of three texts published by Bhaktivinode Thakur—I am left with the more difficult task of responding to the fallout that has come from making such a statement.

Once again, I must begin by apologizing for entering such a delicate subject matter as the apparent failings of a guru, but I think that it is something that merits honest discussion. I would ask that those who have reservations about me personally first read my “personal preamble”, even though I realize the prejudices that certain quarters hold against me are unshakeable. As one devotee wrote to me some time ago,
[Our disagreement] is neither a matter of argument or narrowmindedness, but one of love and trust. We simply love and trust our guru varga and have distrust and not much love for you since you have rejected them. Krishna chose to reside with Vidura rather than stay in Sisupala's palace. He would not even eat the meal offered to him by Duryodhan. He could not accept the grand feast of the envious Kaurava, however opulent, because in his heart he harbored ill will toward the Pandavas, who Krishna said "were his heart."

What can I say to this in response to this, except that I understand it, regrettable though I find it to be?

Nevertheless, I must thank all the devotees who have responded to my article. Nearly everyone has been dignified and gentlemanly in their response. In view of the emotional nature of the subject matter, I would like to express my appreciation for the tone of the debate.

My manner of presentation

Those who do read my “personal preamble” and other articles I have written may find it odd that I should speak so strongly against Vaishnava aparadha. After all, in their eyes I am the one on trial for making offensive suggestions about their gurus. Indeed, some of my best friends and well-wishers have gently suggested to me that in my original statements about Bhaktivinode Thakur, I could have been more diplomatic in my language. For example, one such dear friend wrote,
You have good intentions, but I think you would become a better force for change if your comments were couched in a more reverential tone, one that I believe is appropriate when discussing the activities of great personalities and the doctrines espoused by them. This is especially so when dealing with the vast majority of Gaudiyas who are followers of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Bhaktivinode Thakur in discussions involving their insights. They are the object of love and affection for these people, including myself. And in my estimation they should be to some extent for you as well. It seems to me that you could have easily brought up the question of Bhaktivinode Thakur's possible authorship of those books in a manner that no one would have objected to.

I also understand this principle very clearly, and have indeed said the same thing many times to others. Anyone who looks at my original article will see that I did make an attempt to avoid irreverent language, but, as another friend reminded me, one cannot disguise an accusation as overt as mine, no matter how diplomatically expressed. When reduced to its crudest form, I have called Bhaktivinode (as paraphrased by others) “a liar and a cheat.” Out of reverence for Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, I would never use such vulgar language; I tried hard to contextualize my contention in the broader picture of what was certainly an model life. I consider Bhaktivinode Thakur an exemplar of the ideal householder life and my guru varga, and this is precisely why the subject is one that is of vital importance to me and, I believe, others in whose lives the Thakur has played such an important role.

Another friend similarly wrote,
The manner that you have [made these accusations] is not acceptable scholarship and reeks of personal opinion. Where a scholar might ask carefully worded questions within a circle of educated and faithful equals, you draw conclusions, state them as facts, and publish them on public forums where they can be read by beginners without sufficient faith to see past them, or to even have informed discretionary intelligence. To me, this is not scholarship, but an attack on our sampradaya and its acharyas. Obviously, I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion. I have to simply ask, what kind of service to Mahaprabhu is that?

To be honest, I suspect that the writer of this letter has not read my articles, but only the excerpts taken out of context by Narasingha Maharaj and a few exchanges on public forums like Istagosthi, for he also writes, “I expected these to be very scholarly, impartial and objective questioning of dates, authorship, etc., without judgment and with an interest in positive resolution and conclusion.”

This comment also shows some unfamiliarity with academic discourse. After investigating certain matters and studying the facts, one comes to conclusions and forms an opinion on them. Once one has come to such a conclusion, one will not necessarily repeat the reasoning that led to it every single time. This may give the misimpression that someone is speaking off the top of his head, but after jumping through the hoops of academic life to attain a doctorate, one is rewarded with a sort of license to be opinionated. Not to be right, mind you, but at least to say what one thinks and have it taken seriously. If someone does not agree with what I say, he or she is perfectly welcome to challenge it and oblige me to defend my position by showing opposing evidence. This is the nature of debate. If I cannot defend myself, then I am prepared to admit the error of my ways in good grace. I think this is also a Vaishnava-like way of doing things and I try to hold myself to it. In the particular case of the “three books,” I believe I have met the requirements of impartial and objective questioning, without prejudgment. As far as an interest in coming to a postive resolution, that is the purpose of this article.

Nevertheless, if anyone finds my tone offensive, I beg forgiveness and ask such persons to see my questioning not as a hostile challenge meant to tear down the edifice of their faith, but as a positive challenge to deepen their spiritual understanding through the dialectic of faith. (See ”Service to Krishna is our ultimate concern.”)

The faith of neophytes

As to the objection that I endanger the “faith of neophytes,” I agree that entering into such discussions may cause problems for some. Though I stated my doubts publicly, I am not deliberately aiming my questions at the weak, but to the strong. Perhaps I underestimate my reach, but was under the impression that until certain parties decided to widen the audience for these issues, they were being discussed within a relatively small circle.

This and the many other controversial issues that I have raised do not have their origin with me. My feeling is that they are already “out there”; whether I write about them or not will not make them go away. Those who have come to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s path of devotion will come across them sooner or later, just as they will come into contact with various other challenges to their faith. Indeed, they are likely to meet with far more virulent detractors of the Gaudiya Math, Vaishnavism, or even God and religion itself than this relatively benign questioner.

As I have said before, my ultimate goal is to find some kind of synthesis by which all Vaishnavas can live with the truth and still get along with each other. I also hope to build “a tolerance for controversy," whereby disagreement on certain issues does not become a matter of life and death. I thus do not agree with Sudhir Maharaj's domino theory whereby if one article of faith goes, everything falls apart. Even if in some cases I have only presented the "antithesis," it makes it possible for Gaudiya Math intellectuals to formulate a response. I hold that facile responses, i.e., simple restatements of the "thesis" (“This is what you must believe.”) are inadequate (as the quote from Bhaktivinode Thakur below clearly shows). We must remember that we are being watched.

There are different kinds of neophytes. Some, less inclined to the intellectual search, will accept the words of authority without question. Others, who are possessed of a more inquisitive spirit, will try to resolve apparent contradictions. It is the duty of those who have gone ahead to face these questions and answer them honestly for their benefit. Just because someone is a “neophyte” does not mean he is a fool. Even a neophyte may recognize a bluff when he sees it.

Scholarship and Divine Revelation

In his article, Scholarship vs Divine Revelation, His Grace Narasingha Maharaj suggests that scholarship itself is futile and that scholars, by definition, have no spiritual insights and are only “licking the outside of the bottle.” Their only motivation is personal aggrandizement and the desire to be recognized as authorities on things about which they have no true understanding. Narasingha Maharaj repeats this argument in various ways, “Divine Revelation is a subjective experience and unless one is steadfast under the shelter (asraya) of guru, Divine Revelation does not descend.”

This standard argument is often encountered by persons like myself, regardless of the religious school, who make an investigation of cherished religious dogmas. I take it as nothing more than an excuse for circumventing the issues in question and, sadly, as a thinly disguised argumentum ad hominem.

Though I personally make no claims to great spiritual insight, we should remember that it is not always easy to recognize the spiritual achievements of another. There are thus ample warnings in the scriptures and the oral traditions against making judgments of this kind. We need look no further than the example of Bhaktivinode Thakur himself, who gave discourses on the Bhagavatam in Jagannath Puri before he was initiated. He was not wearing the external “uniform” of a devotee and so was criticized by some Vaishnavas in the renounced order, who later begged forgiveness for their error. Siddhanta Saraswati also warned that Vamsi Das Babaji was a highly advanced Vaishnava, but that even his own disciples would not necessarily recognize it. Indeed, Saraswati Thakur himself acted in ways that broke with the Vaishnava traditions of his time and he was not “recognized” by all.

Though one may think I say this purely in my own personal defence, perhaps to insinuate that my own spiritual qualifications are being underestimated, my argument in fact is more general than this: Since we are warned about not being hasty in judging another’s spiritual qualifications, we must respond to challenges coming from rational argument on their own merit. If you encounter someone who challenges your beliefs, is the only response in your intellectual arsenal to call his spiritual merit into question? If so, you are likely bluffing, revealing not only that you are unable to answer the questions to his satisfaction, but probably not even your own.

It is furthermore very important to note that we must not cheapen revelation by insisting that even matters easily accessible to direct experience (pratyaksha) and rational inference (anumana) can only be understood through divine intervention. Revelation is defined as “the disclosure of knowledge by divine or supernatural agency.” Though on one level, it is no overstatement to say it is a divine gift to be able to see a pen on the table, we should avoid trivializing the term revelation by overuse.

Lately I have seen the following quote from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur being used to defend the kind of sectarian attitude that pretends “revelation” can be used to stifle frank and open discussion:
Those who are unwilling to show any duplicity, who wish to be frank and straightforward, or in other words to exercise unambiguously the function of the soul, such really sincere persons are called sectarian and orthodox by those who practice duplicity. We will cultivate the society only of those who are straightforward. We will not keep company with any person who is not so. We must by all means avoid bad company. We are advised to keep at a distance of a hundred cubits from animals of the horned species. We should observe the same caution in regard to all insincere persons.

Far from being a defense of sectarianism, however, this is a challenge to the duplicitous. It is clear that Saraswati Thakur demanded honesty above all. Responding to difficult challenges with mere bluster is not a sign of sincerity.

In the case at hand, it is not outside the purview of reason to investigate whether the three books in question were or not written by someone other than those in whose name they were published. There is no need for a recourse to revelation on the basic question, nor in responding to the challenge to faith that may result from such an inquiry.

Reason is not opposed to devotion

It must be made clear that the use of reason is not opposed to the goals of devotion. I will readily admit that reason alone, without grace, is barren. However, the many citations from the Bhagavatam and elsewhere that state this are not meant to stifle rational discourse. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami himself clearly said, “Blind following is condemned.” Jiva Goswami states in his commentary to the words jnana-karmady-anavritam that this does not refer to the search for knowledge in the furtherance of devotion. Why then is there such a strong contingent of devotees who are ready to rain opprobrium on anyone who makes use of his God-given powers of reason?

I will not belabor the point here, but only cite the following passage from Bhaktivinode Thakur’s own The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics, and Its Theology. I have highlighted statements that I think we should all reflect upon.
…most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study. The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students, like satellites, should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the Magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail.

Thought is progressive. The author’s thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature.

"Begin anew," says the critic, "because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone." These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher.

Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race another critic of his stamp will cry out: "Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!" In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them.

The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and to adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labor. He will direct the adjustment of the angle of the race at the point where we are. This is also the characteristic of the useful student. He will read an old author and will find out his exact position in the progress of thought. He will never propose to burn a book on the ground that it contains thoughts which are useless.

No thought is useless. Thoughts are means by which we attain our objects. The reader who denounces a bad thought does not know that a bad road is even capable of improvement and conversion into a good one. One thought is a road leading to another. Thus a reader will find that one thought which is the object today will be the means of a further object tomorrow. Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the progress of humanity.

The Bhagavata, like all religious works and philosophical performances and writings of great men, has suffered from the imprudent conduct of useless readers and stupid critics. The former have done so much injury to the work that they have surpassed the latter in their evil consequence.

Men of brilliant thoughts have passed by the work in quest for truth and philosophy, but the prejudice which they imbibed from its useless readers and their conduct prevented them from making a candid investigation.

Two more principles characterize the Bhagavata—liberty and progress of the soul throughout eternity. The Bhagavata teaches us that God gives us truth as He gave it to Vyasa: when we earnestly seek for it.

Truth is eternal and unexhausted. The soul receives a revelation when it is anxious for it. The souls of the great thinkers of the bygone ages, who now live spiritually, often approach our enquiring spirit and assist it in its development. Thus Vyasa was assisted by Narada and Brahma. Our Shastras, or in other words, books of thought, do not contain all we could get from the infinite Father.

No book is without its errors.
God’s revelation is absolute truth, but it is scarcely received and preserved in its natural purity. We have been advised in the 14th Chapter of the 11th Skandha of the Bhagavata to believe that truth when revealed is absolute, but it gets the tincture of the nature of the receiver in course of time and is converted into error by continual exchange of hands from age to age. New revelations, therefore, are continually necessary in order to keep truth in its original purity. We are thus warned to be careful in our studies of old authors, however wise they are reputed to be.

Here we have full liberty to reject the wrong idea, which is not sanctioned by the peace of conscience.
Vyasa was not satisfied with what he collected in the Vedas, arranged in the Puranas, and composed in the Mahabharata. The peace of his conscience did not sanction his labors. It told him from within, "No, Vyasa! You cannot rest contented with the erroneous picture of truth which was necessarily presented to you by the sages of bygone days. You must yourself knock at the door of the inexhaustible store of truth from which the former sages drew their wealth. Go, go up to the fountainhead of truth, where no pilgrim meets with disappointment of any kind."

Vyasa did it and obtained what he wanted. We have all been advised to do so. Liberty then is the principle which we must consider as the most valuable gift of God. We must not allow ourselves to be led by those who lived and thought before us. We must think for ourselves and try to get further truths which are still undiscovered. In the Bhagavata we have been advised to take the spirit of the Shastras and not the words. The Bhagavata is therefore a religion of liberty, unmixed truth, and absolute love.

The other characteristic is progress. Liberty certainly is the father of all progress. Holy liberty is the cause of progress upwards and upwards in eternity and endless activity of love. Liberty abused causes degradation, and the Vaishnava must always carefully use this high and beautiful gift of God.

This illuminating passage by Bhaktivinode Thakur should be borne in mind by all those who claim to be his followers. I shall refrain from commenting on it, as Kundali Das has done so with éclat in the preface to the fourth volume of his Our Mission series. I furthermore heartily recommend Kundali Das’s work, in which he gives a penetrating critique of fundamentalism as it has manifested in Iskcon specifically, but which is by extension applicable to anti-rational religiosity wherever it appears.

Suffice it to say that nowhere in the above passage does Bhaktivinode Thakur place sectarian limitations on the use of reason, but rather insists on its liberty, even from the constraints of previous thinkers, no matter how wise. Since thought is progressive, it behooves every one of us who has accepted the basic principles of devotional life—service to the Supreme Truth—to face the difficult questions and answer them in ways that are satisfying to our own conscience. Stifling questions because of attachment to what are often irrational beliefs is not a solution that will win the most converts, nor the most desirable ones. Furthermore, such an attitude will be as alienating to the neophyte as the questions themselves.

The guru is not omniscient

If we are to use our own reason, then what is the meaning of statements in scripture that tell us to seek the guidance of a spiritual master or place absolute faith in his words? As I have been reminded by Narasingha Maharaj, to see our spiritual master as an ordinary man results in all our learning becoming in vain, like the bath of an elephant. These are very serious scriptural instructions. If someone puffed up with education contravenes the words of the spiritual master, will he not meet with destruction? Is it not better then to remain ignorant?

Yet, in the above passage, we see that this is not the path Bhaktivinode Thakur prescribes. He does not exonerate us of the duty to use our reason, even though “the souls of the great thinkers of the bygone ages, who now live spiritually, often approach our enquiring spirit and assist it in its development.”

I am not denying the centrality of the guru to spiritual life. As even Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Even so, if thought is to be progressive, it may sometimes appear that as we climb onto our gurus’ shoulders to see further, we are stepping on them. This is not in fact the case.

The divine status of the guru is a subjective perception that comes because he opens our eyes to our constitutional position as a servant of Krishna, because he instructs us in the overarching process that is to make up his spiritual life, and because he points us to the ultimate goal of our life. In other words, the spiritual master reveals to us the sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana-tattvas. This does not mean that he is omniscient, omnipotent or infallible. Any ascription of infallibility is in fact an exhortation to remain true to the spiritual principles he has given us, which should guide us in our own progress towards God.

When the scriptures say the spiritual master is God, it does not mean that he is God in the same sense that Krishna is God. This is why Vishwanath sings kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva—“The scriptures tell us he is God and this is confirmed by the saints, but he is [in fact a finite soul who is] very dear to God.” His God-ness comes from being a window to God, not from being God in every sense of the word. We have been clearly warned that such an idea is as much a heresy as thinking of the guru as an ordinary man.

The attainment of personal wisdom means being able to discriminate between the human and divine aspects of the spiritual master. In his expose on fundamentalism in Iskcon, Hari Krishna Das has also discussed the fundamental fallacy of guru omniscience. He writes,
What then is the role and position of a guru? In many respects the role of the guru corresponds, in my opinion, to the role of revealed knowledge--providing the basic philosophical paradigms to human society. The guru is to provide insight into the existential truths of life, including such topics as the origin of life, the existence of God, the meaning of good and evil, the meaning of life and death according to the principles of reincarnation and karma, the ultimate meaning and destiny of life, and the position of the living entity as eternal servant of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Furthermore he must provide practical tools, or a way of life including certain basic directions, by which practical goals can be accomplished.

On the other hand, the guru is not omniscient, and as such he is not required to be expert in all spheres of knowledge related to the material world. Although he should be well-versed in philosophy and should have a general understanding of scientific knowledge, he does not have to be an authority in science, nor does he have to be an expert in organising and managing human society from a social, economic or political standpoint. Most importantly, the affairs of the world should be run by those who are trained and expert in doing so--not in contradiction to spiritual principles, however, but in harmony with them.

In other words, the guru is not the source of all knowledge as such, but the source of all meaning.

There is an important psychological truth revealed in the person of the guru. In the psychological language of Jung, the guru personifies the archetype of wisdom in the subconscious. Whatever terms we use to express the idea, the external manifestation of an archetype is a significant event in one’s spiritual life -- a revelation. This is why Siddhanta Saraswati was perfectly right when he said that the encounter with the spiritual master cannot generally be had through mere formality or even conscious intellectual endeavor. It must be an epiphany in order to be a true and meaningful archetypal experience.

The early stages of relation to the spiritual master are often akin to a kind of possession. This is sometimes called “archetypal possession” and is similar in many ways to falling in love. The disciple may feel his own individuality practically washing away as he becomes totally absorbed in the person of the guru. Though such an experience is an extremely meaningful event on the path to self-realization, one must also grow beyond it. The goal of self-realization is not to become a clone of the guru, but to become a thinking, feeling individual in full realization of his own potential. In order to attain this stage, one must see the symbiosis of man and God that is the guru. Because he is God, he remains eternally the reminder of that moment of epiphany—the symbol of the moment we realized our destiny was to know and find God.

And yet, in order to realize our true selfness, we must in a sense become free of the guru, just as we become free of our parents. This freedom from the guru is, as Bhaktivinode states above, not the shallow critic’s rejection, but the liberty and progress inherent in the Bhagavata religion. One truly serves the guru by building on what he has given, by putting the old wine he gives in our own new bottles. The guru wants us to become ourselves, to fully realize our potential as individuated servants of God.

In Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s language, this is seeing the guru everywhere. In order to become guru, one must come to see the guru everywhere. The spiritual master, locked up in his human form (vyasti guru), is only the starting point for this process. To see the guru everywhere (samasti guru), we must be able to see past the limitations placed on him by his humanity. This is why we are told not to be distracted by apparent bodily defects, diseases—nor by his mistakes or even his moral failings.

This means the internalization of the guru, who as caittya guru is also present in our conscience and in our reason—for it is he who grants intelligence. When Krishna says dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ yena mām upayanti te he is refering to this. When we recite the Gayatri mantra, dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt, it is a prayer for divine guidance -- to be given the intelligence that will deepen our faith.

Proposed solutions to the “three books” problem

With this lengthy preamble, let us now turn to the actual purpose of this article. How are we to deal with the challenge to our faith caused by this matter of the three dubious books?

In the several responses I have received to my article, I have seen three basic arguments. The first of these is outright denial. Since I have not as yet seen anything that effectively answers the points I raised in “An analysis of three suspicious texts”, I shall not return to that issue here. The other two approaches are to justify or defend such actions as legitimate, either from the point of view of means or motivation.

The first of these defenses is to suggest that Jagadananda Pandit and Prabodhananda Saraswati wrote the books through Bhaktivinode Thakur, which was possible as a result of his mystical power and pure devotion. One respected devotee expressed this position in the following words:
The world of spiritual realizations is full of mysteries. In other words, sometimes some transcendentally mystical subjective experience can overshadow the usual objective side. Even if, for the sake of argument, it is supposed that Bhaktivinode Thakur did write these two books, it might well be that he strongly felt they were not his own, but actually written by Jagadananda Pandit and Prabodhananda Saraswati respectively through him, in order to fulfil a divine purpose. So, he naturally wanted to give exceptional credibility to them. Though from the objective historical ground it is to be defined as an act of counterfeiting, yet, from the exceptional ground of subjective realization through revelation, it cannot be called counterfeiting, but rather a fact realized through revelation.

In principle, I would have no objection to this argument. At the same time, I answered this objection in my original article, where I contrasted these works with Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya, Harināma-cintāmaṇi, Jaiva-dharma and other books by the Thakur. There I said,
Had Navadvīpa-dhāma-māhātmya been written in Puranic Sanskrit two or three hundred years earlier, it may have been insinuated into the Skanda Purana or Padma Purana and achieved canonical status. As it is, the Thakur decided to publish it in Bengali and in his own name. This could only mean that he was either sufficiently confident of his own position as a “realized Vaishnava” who could claim to have mystic visions of this sort and be believed, or that he never intended for it to be taken literally as history, but as a fanciful work in glorification of Mahaprabhu.

The Vaishnavas no doubt believe that in some dimension or alternate reality these events were not only possible, but are historically true, even if they were not necessarily so in our universe. In this sense, we can compare it to his other works like Harināma-cintāmaṇi, which Bhaktivinode Thakur wrote as a conversation between Haridas Thakur and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Jagannath Puri, or Jaiva Dharma, which includes characters like Gopal Guru Goswami and Dhyana Chandra – a kind of historical fiction, as it were. There is a certain literary license that has been taken here and is not problematic as long as we recognize the genre.

So, my objection is not with the “inspiration,” which the Thakur may well have felt he received from Jagadananda or Prabodhananda, but in that he made no such clarification. He deliberately stated (in at least two of the three cases) that these publications were based on genuine manuscripts that had recently been discovered, thus dissimulating his own involvement in their composition.

A further problem arises from the deliberate purpose found in these works to promote doctrines that were dear to the Thakur. It seems clear that his intention was indeed to enlist the names of these reliable authorities in their support. How can we be sure that these were indeed the opinions of these authors? Clearly, if a disciple of Sai Baba were to “discover” an ancient upanishad that not only predicts Sai Baba’s advent, but depicts him in terms that are remarkably similar to the discoverer’s personal perception of him, it would not be accepted by any devotee. The situation here cannot be seen any differently.

The end justifies the means

This brings us to the second proposed solution, which exonerates Bhaktivinode Thakur through a consideration of his motives.
If anybody calls Bhaktivinode Thakur’s motives into question, then he should know that even if he had a motive, it was a good one which he sincerely and respectfully believed to be spiritually beneficial for all who want to serve Sriman Mahaprabhu. So rather than receiving disgraceful blame or being accused of cheating or lying, a pure devotee like Thakur Bhaktivinode deserves spiritual respect. Let it be known that all the acts of a spiritual personality cannot be fully understood from a worldly historical viewpoint. The above explanation is not just to intellectually justify, but to point out towards some truth in the light of proper analysis and assessment of Thakur Bhaktivinode.

Another, rather more emotional, expression of the same idea came from another devotee —
Bhaktivinode was lily white. Even Krishna performs what would be considered devious or crooked behavior. Whatever Bhaktivinode has done that might appear to be a blemish was done in the service of the ultimate good. I think that qualifies as "lily white.” That is what pada-padma means. It means that his feet are transcendental like a lotus that sits above the water. To ascribe devious, dark and sinister qualities to Bhaktivinode and say that he was not lily white is sacrilege to Vaishnava siddhanta. Bhaktivinode was lily white. Only cripple-minded persons who think they understand the mind and motives of Bhaktivinode describe his as "not lily white".

Once again, I am not entirely averse to this line of thought, but I cannot accept it in its entirety. What we have here is antinomianism, the heretical doctrine that one justified by faith in Christ (or some other spiritual qualification) is exempt from the obligations of the moral law. In view of the Gaudiya Math’s spirited condemnation of immoral practices in the Vaishnava world, one would think that it would be the first to resist this kind of thinking.

It is true that there are strands of antinomianism present in both Hindu and Christian philosophy. In Hinduism, the idea that the perfected soul stands above the moral law is the very definition of liberation. Krishna says, “Give up your attachment to all moral laws (sarva-dharmAn parityajya) and surrender unto Me.” In other words, God is the fountainhead of all morality. By surrendering to Him, one sees the purpose of the moral law, which exists ultimately to serve Him. The Christian version, as expressed by St. Augustine, is particularly beautiful: “Love, and do as you will.” One who incarnates God’s love cannot act against the underlying purpose of the moral law.

Srila Prabhupada (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami) used the expression favorably several times, especially in connection with book distribution.
The end justifies the means. The means are not very important. We have to judge by what is the end. (Letter to Sri Govinda, 74-12-06)

When a businessman goes to please somebody, he wants the money for himself. That is the difference. But when we go to please somebody, to get some money, our ultimate aim is to please Krishna, the Absolute Truth. Therefore, even if the means adopted is a relative truth, it becomes Absolute Truth. The end justifies the means… Just like Krishna advised Arjuna, "Go and tell Dronacharya that his son is dead," even though his son was not dead. This was not the truth, but because Krishna was pleased by that action -- Krishna is the Absolute Truth -- even that lying was also absolute. (JAMES.SYA)

We want that book selling must be increased as much as possible. This we want. It is the same principle as when a child must be made to take his medicine. It does not matter if the father has to lie to him to get him to do it, because as soon as the child takes the medicine he will be benefitted. The end justifies the means. The end is that everyone should have a book about Krishna. It does not matter how that is achieved. If someone takes a book about Krishna, that justifies everything. This is the principle. (Room conversation, Honolulu, 75-05-05)

There are furthermore concrete instances in Vaishnava history of persons who stole to serve the deity. Tirumangai Alvar plundered people with a gang of robbers to raise funds to build the Sri Rangam temple. He and his companions even stole a golden image of Buddha from Nagapatnam, melted the idol and used the proceeds to this end. The Sri Vaishnavas take this to be an instance where the end justified the means.

This is all fine in theory. However, it is clear that there is an inherent danger in any doctrine that absolutely subjugates the means to the end. The most fundamental opposition to such a doctrine is that no evil can truly lead to good. Just as one cannot build a good house out of bad materials, you ultimately defeat your own purpose when using bad means, even if the end is good. When a person claiming saintliness takes refuge in dishonesty in order to further what are objectively seen as sectarian ends, does he not undermine his own moral authority? The Catholic catechism says: “No lie can be lawful or innocent, and no motive, however good, can excuse a lie, for a lie is always evil and sinful in itself.”

We have seen the consequences of Iskcon’s no holds barred book distribution and money collection activities. Did the building of a “golden temple” justify the loss of reputation that the Hare Krishna movement has undergone as a result of the means taken to build it? Was the banning of the Hare Krishna movement from Japan for years and years a just tradeoff for the building of the Krishna Balaram temple?

Sadly, I do not doubt that there are some who will answer yes to these questions. Some businessmen use temples as dumping grounds for “black” money, to purify ill-gotten gains, assuage their own conscience and avoid bad karma. This is one reason that many renunciates traditionally kept clear of temple prasad, even in Vrindavan.

Another strong objection against the antinomian theory is the great possibility of its abuse. Illusion is very strong and it is easy for those in positions of authority to think themselves beyond the moral law, even though they are clearly motivated by selfish interests. The roots of the expression “the end justifies the means” are found in Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he argues in favor of political expedience. In the game of power politics or war, the only criterion is success and anything that contributes to success is thought to be justified, but in the realms of religion or moral philosophy, it is vital to discriminate between expediency and moral justification. It is altogether too easy to point again to the history of Iskcon, where those who took the title of acharya felt that they could flaunt basic moral principles as if they had become gods.

The conclusion, then, is a familiar one: even if one is beyond the moral law, one should act morally, if only to set example—yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas. This is the meaning of the oft-heard statement that an uttama adhikari (who is beyond the moral law) “comes down” to the madhyama stage (where the moral law must be followed) in order to preach. In other words, though the liberated soul is beyond good and evil, the preacher must be solidly identified with good.

This is why, if anything, a preacher must be doubly vigilant to follow more strictly than others. This was true in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s time, so why not in this skeptical age when religion is already associated in many minds more with evil than good?

śukla-vastre masi-bindu yaiche nā lukāya
sannyāsīra alpa-chidra sarva loke gāya

A spot of ink on a white cloth cannot be concealed; and everyone loves to gossip about a monk’s tiniest flaws.
It is true that life is complex and that one may be faced with choices that are less than clear cut and have to weigh the lesser of two evils in order to attain an end that is not altogether satisfactory. In fact, as the Gita says, no action is entirely free from some negative consequences. The footsteps of a saintly man walking towards a holy purpose may still destroy an anthill or crush an insect. But the unintentional consequences of a benign act gone wrong are not what is at issue. The end can only justify the means if it can be shown that there is absolute necessity; in other words, where one is constrained to make a choice between two evils—e.g., allowing the baby to die so the mother can live (or vice versa). In the particular case under discussion, it do not believe it can be shown that the three books served an absolutely necessary purpose—i.e., that Bhaktivinode Thakur’s preaching work would have been aversely affected had he acknowledged his own authorship.

Furthermore, if it ever is necessary to break the moral law for a higher purpose, then one is morally obliged to not only justify one’s decision, but to ask forgiveness for the relative harm caused by making it.

On the whole, in this case, the "end justifies the means" line of argument is self-defeating. It is for this reason that my little article has caused such a furor. It is not because I am a scholar only viewing things from the exterior, but because I am asking whether Bhaktivinode Thakur, in this case, lived up to his own standards or to our expectations of him. If we admit that Bhaktivinode wrote these books and ascribed them to ancient authors with even the best of motives, it still invalidates their authority, and thus ultimately undermines whatever purpose they were meant to serve.

In my original article, I considered this point:
…in his enthusiasm to see Mahaprabhu’s birthplace be glorified and become a center of pilgrimage – as it has indeed become – the Thakur took a chance with his personal reputation and that of his religion. He succeeded in making Mayapur a magnet for pilgrims from around the world. His disciples, grand-disciples and great-grand-disciples have succeeded in creating an environment that is quite extraordinary. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder at the masi-bindu that stains his otherwise sparkling white cloth. Can we not expect people to ask the question that naturally arises: How can a religion that needs lies to spread its message make any claims to be the truth?

Some have found this statement the most objectionable of all that I wrote, and yet I must stand by it.

Resolving the quandary

So, does this mean that we are to condemn Bhaktivinode Thakur and to reject him entirely? Absolutely not! The first offense to the Holy Name is perfectly clear on this point—one should not blaspheme the one through whom the glories of the Holy Name have come. Can any one deny that through Bhaktivinode Thakur’s mercy we have received the Holy Name?

Krishna clearly states that we are not to condemn a pure devotee for defects of character:

api cet sudurācāro
bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
samyag vyavasito hi saḥ

Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he has the proper resolution.

I furthermore agree with the two objections cited above insomuch as I believe that Bhaktivinode Thakur acted out of sincere motivations, to see Chaitanya Mahaprabhu glorified and not for personal aggrandizement or profit. He may also have felt his inspiration was genuine.

Even so, I do not think that it is proper for us to condone this act through some sophistry. A great and powerful Vaishnava may also make mistakes, as all endeavor is covered by flaws like fire is covered by smoke. Nevertheless, it is a great mistake to think that a disciple is obliged to accept the smoke with the fire. A great and powerful Vaishnava may even consciously dissimulate ignorance and do things that are morally wrong. This is also smoke that covers the fire. In such cases, we must learn to forgive the sinner, if not condoning the sin.

As such I am essentially in agreement with Narasingha Maharaj, who says the following:
There are indeed many defects in this material world. Certainly the material bodies of all living beings are defective. Even the pure devotee has to pass stool. However, because the pure devotee is fully surrendered to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord all his apparent defects are ignored and the Supreme Lord accepts him as His very own. Indeed, the Supreme Lord even embraces the so-called material body (even diseased body) of his pure devotee. Such was the case with Sanatana Gosvami who was embraced by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

I personally do not make an absolute distinction between bodily defects and mental, intellectual or even moral ones--within reason.

Where a guru's mistakes are inadvertent, unintentional or exceptional, they are forgivable. Where they are intentional, arise out of selfish motives and are persistent, we must call into question the authority of such a guru.

It is proper to make demands of Vaishnavas to live up to the very high ideals that are ours intuitively, or that they themselves claim to adhere to from their scriptures; but our intercourse with devotees is meaningless unless we are able to see beyond any lapses that may arise.

While writing this article, another issue connected to Bhaktivinode Thakur arose on an internet forum. One devotee was astonished to hear that the Thakur confessed in his Sva-likhita-jīvanī that he had had trouble giving up eating meat and fish until quite late in his career. Believing the Thakur to be a nitya siddha, this devotee felt troubled. Most devotees had no difficulty defending Bhaktivinode, as they rightly recognized that it was a mere spot on the moon of his devotional life. In other words, the principle of forgiveness is at work there: we forgive our predecessor acharya, even though we know that he may have acted at one time in ways that were not acceptable to the high standards we expect of him.

In fact, we should be extremely indebted to Bhaktivinode Thakur for having pierced the hagiographical balloon in his autobiography so that we can surmount the superficial understanding of guru tattva and nitya siddha and all the rest of the terms that we bandy about in order to blind ourselves to possible flaws in our guru varga. How much more inspiring and glorious it is to have a human guru who has shown the way by struggling with the negative aspects of material entanglement and succeeding!

Another ethical quandary

Before finishing, I am obliged to return to an issue that is very much at the crux of the problem. My readers must remember the context of my original remarks. I was discussing the relationship between Bhaktivinode Thakur and his spiritual master, Bipin Bihari Goswami. There are several paradoxes that need fathoming in this little bit of history.

Narasingha Maharaj and others have made much of the guru-disciple relationship as the guarantor of divine revelation. In my original article, I pointed out many examples to show the fidelity of Bhaktivinode to his spiritual master Bipin Bihari Goswami. At the end of the Bhāgavatārka-marīci-mālā, the Thakur even acknowledges exactly such a debt to his spiritual master:
How I got the inspiration to compile this book is a divine mystery. At first I felt it improper on my part to disclose this, as it might lead to spiritual conceit. But subsequently, I realized that it would slight my spiritual master, which might be an obstacle on the path of my spiritual progress. Therefore, without any shame I record the following: While under the benediction of my Guru, Sri Bipin Bihari Goswami, who belons to the great heritage of Thakur Vamsivadananda, a faithful follower of my Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I would read Srimad Bhagavatam. One day, while I was deeply penetrating Srimad Bhagavatam, I had a vision of Sri Swarup Damodar, the right-hand personal adherent of Mahaprabhu. He instructed me to compile the slokas of Srimad Bhagavatam in accordance with the principles of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojan, as laid down by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In this way, that book would be easily understood, extremely interesting, and absolutely delightful to the loving devotees of the Lord. Sri Swarup Damodar Prabhu further guided me by giving a wonderful explanation of the first sloka of Srimad Bhagavatam, and also showed me how to explain the slokas in light of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. Therefore, under the direction of Swarup Damodar Prabhu I, Bhaktivinode, humbly compiled this book. With the utmost humility and sincerity, I crave the blessings of the readers, as well as the listeners, of this holiest of holy books.

I bring this matter up again because of Narasingha Maharaja’s contention that one can only attain divine revelation by remaining under the guidance of the spiritual master. Yet he fails to appreciate this clear acknowledgement of debt by Bhaktivinode Thakur, and instead openly calls Bipin Bihari Goswami a Sahajiya and attempts in other ways to diminish him.

My request to such people is only that they grant the same kind of respect to Bipin Bihari Goswami as they would to any other guru-varga. Even if they believe he has committed errors of siddhanta or sad-achara, he still merits our veneration and forgiveness.

Bipin Bihari worked together with Bhaktivinode and the two had a mutually fruitful relationship throughout more than thirty years of preaching, etc. We have also seen from the Bhaktivinode quotation above that he was not one to reject the past, but to build on it: “He is the best critic who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature.” Their relationship is no doubt going on beyond this world and whatever imperfections existed in it are being purified there. The fact remains that the spirit of devotion, the knowledge of sambandha, etc., have come to us as a result of Bhaktivinode’s living relationship with his guru. If we appreciate Bhaktivinode Thakur, we must, if we are honest, bow down before Bipin Bihari Goswami. To not accept him is like accepting only half a hen.

ekete viśvāsa anye nā kara sammāna
ardha kukkuṭī nyāya tomāra pramāṇa
kiṁ vā doṅhā nā māniñā hao ta pāṣaṇḍa
eke māni āre nā māni ei mata bhaṇḍa

To have faith in one while disrespecting the other is as logical as only taking the half of a hen that lays the eggs. Better you should be an atheist and deny the divinity of both rather than a hypocrite who believes in one and not the other.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.5.175-7)

Therefore, distasteful as it may seem to us, if Bipin Bihari Goswami chose to chastize his disciple—and even reject him—on account of what he felt to be acts of dishonesty, we must take this into serious consideration when discussing this particular matter.

Nevertheless, this leaves those who accept Bipin Bihari Goswami as the guru of Bhaktivinode with another problem—what is the meaning of their disciplic connection if this relationship was disrupted by such a rejection? How should one coming in Bhaktivinode's line feel as a result of the apparent break in the lineage coming from Bipin Bihari's displeasure with the Thakur's actions?

In answer to this, I can only say that if there are unresolved issues between them, then surely they are being resolved in some other universe. It is not our place to resolve them on their behalf. In the meantime, we are confident that Bhaktivinode Thakur has given us so much that despite this blemish we do not despise him for it. Nor do we believe that his guru truly despised him, but rather posthumously warned him and his followers that falsehood has no place in the spiritual endeavor. Militancy in religion is bad enough in itself; when bolstered by falsehood, it becomes doubly bad. Let us be forewarned.

Finally, I believe it is wrong for those coming later in a disciplic line to perpetuate the grudges that their gurus may have held. This is very much my point. A good example of this is given by Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj himself, who spoke generously and forgivingly of his godbrother Ananta Vasudeva. Let us not fall into the trap of judging who is "bigger" or "better" amongst our gurus, as though we could weigh and measure those who have inspired us to serve Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Let us simply ask to humbly carry their torch, as best we can, and even better, if need be.

In conclusion, I would ask my readers to recall Bhaktivinode Thakur's words. “The reader who denounces a bad thought does not know that a bad road is even capable of improvement and conversion into a good one.” If I have said anything that is bad or wrong, may they please improve it and convert it into something good.