by Vishakha Devi Dasi
How may Krishna conscious women serve the Lord?
“These women are not ordinary women. They are preachers. They are Vaishnavas. By their association one becomes a Vaishnava.” (Srila Prabhupada, morning walk, March 27, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada, India’s greatest emissary to the Western world, set up in the West not only ashramas and temples, but an entire spiritual society. To do this he inspired women as well as men to become devotees of Lord Krishna. He authorized women to live in ashramas and serve the Lord in a wide variety of ways, some of them unconventional, although exactly in line with Lord Krishna’s teachings.
What is the position of women in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the society Srila Prabhupada founded? To answer, let’s first look at the purposes of ISKCON. In its founder’s vision, the members of ISKCON dedicate themselves to practicing spiritual life and distributing spiritual knowledge and techniques to others. Srila Prabhupada taught that real spiritual life means to render transcendental devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. Devotional service entails engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the master of the senses. That service purifies our senses and frees us from all material designations. So by teaching devotional service, Srila Prabhupada showed that he wanted all his followers—men, women, and children—to become free from all material designations and regain their original pure identity.
Another way to understand Srila Prabhupada’s message and mission is to reflect on the Sanskrit word dharma. Dharma is the essential function or nature of a thing. One can say that the “dharma” of fire is heat, the “dharma” of water, liquidity, and the “dharma” of sugar, sweetness.
What is the dharma of the living being? To render service. Srila Prabhupada writes,
We can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being serves other living beings in various capacities. By doing so, the living entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants serve their master. … One friend serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the husband, the husband serves the wife, and so on. If we go on searching in this spirit, it will be seen that there is no exception in the society of living beings to the activity of service … and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service is the eternal religion [dharma] of the living being.”
—(Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction)
In the material world every living being dwells within a body made of material elements. Each of us is a living being (soul), now covered with a gross and subtle material body. Because of our original nature, which is spiritual, and our covering, which is material, each of us has two types of dharma: eternal (sanatana) dharma, our spiritual service to the Supreme spirit, Lord Sri Krishna; and our own (sva) dharma, the appropriate service for our particular mind, intelligence, and senses.
Lord Krishna says (Bhagavad-gita 4.13) that one’s qualities and activities, not one’s birth, determine one’s sva-dharma. According to the qualities and activities of human beings, the Lord created four general types of occupation for the smooth functioning of human society: brahmanas (learned priests, teachers, and advisors), kshatriyas (government leaders and military men), vaishyas (farmers, businessmen, and cow- protectors), and shudras (laborers and artisans). (In our present confused age, many people don’t fit neatly into any one occupation but express their talents in several areas.)
The Husband-Wife Team
Whatever one’s position in this societal system, those who fill the various roles generally do not do so alone, but together, as a husband-wife team. Men and women of compatible natures and propensities marry, and the wife assists her husband and takes primary charge of the home and children. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A wife should not only be equal to her husband in age, character, and qualities, but must be helpful to him in his household duties.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.22.11, Purport) And the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.60.15) declares, “Marriage and friendship are proper between two people who are equal in terms of their wealth, birth, influence, physical appearance, and capacity for good progeny, but never between a superior and an inferior.” So a brahmana’s wife is like a mother for her husband’s students, the queen is considered a mother by the citizens, the agricultural women are expert in using milk and other products of the cows and land, and so forth. In this way husband and wife are fully engaged, and in a society composed of such families, peace, happiness, fulfillment, and a cooperative spirit prevail.
Yet our sva-dharma is not complete unless also bonded with sanatana-dharma. “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.8) In explaining this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes,
The self [soul] is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with emolument of the body and mind. The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself.
The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON to this end: to enable people to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and meet the Supreme Lord. Although in the renounced order of life (sannyasa), Srila Prabhupada arranged and sometimes conducted the marriages of his disciples. And he engaged these young people in myriad services according to both their propensities (sva-dharma) and their service to the Lord (sanatana-dharma). Under Srila Prabhupada’s direction, devotee men and women served as artists, writers, typists, speakers, singers, managers, Deity caretakers, book distributors, and so on. For example, my husband, Yaduvara Dasa, and I, both trained photographers, served in ISKCON together, my husband as a cinematographer, and I as the photographer and sound technician. We sometimes filmed and photographed Srila Prabhupada, who more than once commented, “Husband and wife working together in Krishna consciousness—this is very nice.”
Another example: When three married couples successfully started a Krishna conscious center in London, Srila Prabhupada praised their efforts. He noted that his spiritual master had wanted a center in London many years before, but his spiritual master’s sannyasi disciples had been unsuccessful in starting one. Srila Prabhupada’s young, Western Krishna conscious householders had succeeded where mature Indian renunciants had not.
Srila Prabhupada’s vision was for his disciples to marry and serve the Lord together in harmony. He writes, “A wife is necessary to assist in spiritual and material advancement. It is said that a wife yields the fulfillment of all desires in religion, economic development, and sense gratification. If one has a nice wife, he is to be considered a most fortunate man.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.21.15, Purport) Srila Prabhupada wanted to see happy Krishna conscious couples of like dispositions and proclivities offering their services to the Lord, making their home conducive for spiritual life, raising their children to be godly, and making gradual, solid spiritual advancement.
Service with Protection
While this ideal is quite attractive for most people, it also raises questions. What, if anything, can a woman do beyond assisting her husband, beyond her housework, and beyond her sacred duties as a mother? And what of women who are unmarried, widowed, married but childless, or married with grown children? Their services to their children are nonexistent or minimal, and their services in the home also minimal.
In answer, the first point is that women must always be protected. Srila Prabhupada criticized the so-called woman’s liberation movement, which encourages women to become unprotected and thus available to be exploited by unscrupulous men. Srila Prabhupada noted how the unwanted progeny from such unfortunate combinations are an embarrassment for the government, which is obliged to provide for many husbandless mothers and fatherless children. In the culture Srila Prabhupada introduced, a young man is trained to be a responsible, first-class person. He then marries a compatible, faithful young woman. In such a culture women are protected and children grow up in a peaceful, stable, two- parent home.
Yet it is certainly possible for a woman to be protected and at the same time to serve the Lord according to her unique ability. Srila Prabhupada encouraged and occasionally insisted that his women disciples lead kirtanas, speak in public, and distribute his books. And while Srila Prabhupada disapproved of women leading a country, he found no fault with women being leaders within his spiritual society. For example, in the late 1960s, when his movement was still quite young, he put one of his first women disciples, Yadurani Devi Dasi, in charge of all the men and women artists creating paintings to illustrate his books.
A little later, in the spring of 1970, when Srila Prabhupada was forming the Governing Body Commission (GBC) as the management arm of ISKCON, he included women on the list of disciples he was considering for the position.
When asked if a woman could become a temple president (Chicago, July 5, 1975), Srila Prabhupada replied, “Yes, why not?” and then explained that a woman should remain dependent on either her first-class father, first-class husband, or first-class son. (In the final analysis, only the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, is independent, but Vedic culture specifically enjoins that women should remain dependent on their intimate male relation.)
Here Srila Prabhupada states that a woman may be a temple president, but he also says that she also must be dependent. Is this contradictory? To gain some insight, we can turn to a conversation between Vallabha Bhatta, Advaita Acarya, and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
One day Vallabha Bhatta said to Advaita Acarya, “Every living entity is female [prakriti] and considers Krishna her husband [pati]. It is the duty of a chaste wife, devoted to her husband, not to utter her husband’s name, but all of you chant the name of Krishna. How can this be called a religious principle?”
Advaita Acarya responded, “In front of you is Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the personification of religious principles. You should ask Him, for He will give you the proper answer.”
Hearing this, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “My dear Vallabha Bhatta, you do not know religious principles. Actually, the first duty of a chaste woman is to carry out the order of her husband. The order of Krishna is to chant His name incessantly. Therefore one who is chaste and adherent to the husband Krishna must chant the Lord’s name, for she cannot deny the husband’s order.” (Caitanya- caritamrita, Antya-lila 7.103-7)
Similarly, under the guidance of her spiritual master, a chaste, Krishna conscious woman encouraged by her Krishna conscious father, husband, or son may render whatever service she’s qualified to do, whether as a mother, a cook, a temple president, a GBC, or a spiritual master.
In a letter to Silavati Devi (June 14, 1969), Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Now if you can induce all the women of Los Angeles to place an altar in their homes and help their husbands have peaceful, happy home life in Krishna consciousness, that will be very great service for you. The actual system is that the husband is the spiritual master to his wife, but if the wife can bring her husband into practicing this process, then it is all right that the husband accepts the wife as the spiritual master. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna should be accepted as spiritual master, regardless of any material so- called qualifications, such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or shudra.”
This same point was confirmed again, years later (June 18, 1976), when Professor O’Connell of the University of Toronto asked Prabhupada, “Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “Yes. Jahnava Devi was Nityananda’s wife. She became. [Jahnava Devi was an initiating spiritual master who had male disciples.] If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become a guru? But not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become a guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection … Yei krishna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya. The qualification of the guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krishna. Then he or she can become a guru. Yei krishna-tattva- vetta, sei guru haya. In the material world, is there any prohibition that a woman cannot become a professor? If she is qualified, she can become a professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krishna consciousness perfectly, she can become a guru.”
In spiritual circles one’s sex is not a disqualification.
As being dependent and being a leader are not necessarily contradictory, so being protected and being a leader are also not contradictory. A woman can be protected (as all women must be throughout their lives) and yet be a leader also. In Srila Prabhupada words, “The child must be taken care of. That is good. Similarly, woman also. And an old man like myself—I am always taken care of … That is civilization.” Although a topmost Vaishnava, Srila Prabhupada here humbly identifies himself as an “old man.” And since old men are one of the five groups society must protect (the other four being cows, women, children, and brahmanas), Srila Prabhupada sees himself as protected. Yet at the same time he was an unparalleled leader.
In the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada trained men to see all women except their own wife respectfully as “mother,” and women to see all men except their husbands respectfully as their “sons.” As the son’s duty is to protect his mother, so one of the duties of Srila Prabhupada’s men is to protect Srila Prabhupada’s women. A devotee-woman leader is protected by her husband and her “sons.”
The Platform of Equality
Therefore in the Lord’s spiritual society and for His pleasure, a woman may do whatever service is suited to her. While this principle may seem straightforward and clear, to some it is a point of great controversy. They believe that a woman’s birth precludes her from doing certain services for the Lord, even though she may be qualified for them. Sometimes such thinking is culturally based. For example, traditionally in India women don’t perform certain Deity services in the temple—a standard Srila Prabhupada respected there. But often the thinking comes from the male ego, which Srila Prabhupada identified as “the temperament of always wanting to be in a superior position.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.3.10, Purport).
To function successfully in such a difficult milieu, a woman spiritual leader must be astute, guileless, sensitive, soft-hearted, clear-headed, and fixed in Krishna consciousness, seeing herself as a servant of all. Her saving grace is her natural, humble service attitude, as well as her gracious and urgently needed contribution to Srila Prabhupada’s society.
Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON so that devotees could please the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, by serving Him with devotion. The Lord is pleased by all service sincerely rendered to Him; in one sense there are no superior and inferior services. And from the perspective of the Lord and His pure devotees, all the Lord’s servants are equal. Grila Prabhupada explains, “Therefore in the bhakti platform, Krishna consciousness, there is no such distinction: ‘Here is an American, here is an Indian, here is an African, here is this and that.’ No. Everyone is Krishna conscious. So actually if we want equality, fraternity, then we must come to Krishna consciousness. This is the purpose of the Krishna consciousness movement. And actually it is becoming a fact. These boys and girls are no longer thinking they are American or European or Canadian or Australian or Indian. They are equal. So if you want equality, fraternity, friendship, love and perfection, the solution to all problems—economic, political, social, religious—then come to Krishna consciousness. Come to this platform. Then all your ambitions will be fulfilled, and you will be perfect.” (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 13.4)
Let us be enlightened by the perspective Srila Prabhupada reveals in this conversation:
Srila Prabhupada: In the spiritual platform there is no such distinction—man, woman, or black, white, or big or small. No. Everyone is spirit soul. Panditah sama-darshinah. Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini shuni caiva shva-pake ca panditah. One who is actually learned is sama- darshinah. He does not make any distinction. But as far as our material body is concerned, there must be some distinction for keeping the society in order.
Woman: The women could become panditas, then?
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Te ’pi yanti param gatim. Not only become—she can also attain perfection. There is no such restriction. Krishna said.
Woman: Do you have any panditas in the Western movement?
Prabhupada: There are so many Western women, girls, in our society. They are chanting, dancing, taking to Krishna consciousness. Of course, because superficially, bodily, there is some distinction, we keep women separate from men, that’s all. Otherwise, the rights are the same.” (June 18, 1976, Toronto)
To help them stay fixed on the goal of life—rendering pure, uninterrupted devotional service to Krishna—men and women should not mix (except if they are married), but they have the same rights. What is the most important right? The right—the privilege—to serve the Lord according to their propensity, according to their heart’s desire. Ultimately the real occupational duty, dharma, of women is the dharma of all living beings: to eternally serve Krishna. A woman sincerely and seriously serving the Lord in whatever capacity she chooses should be honored and encouraged. In his Purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.12, Prabhupada writes, “Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha [the spiritual world]. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability.”
from Back To Godhead Magazine #27-04, 1993
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Srila Prabhupada often instructed us on the importance of cultivating eagerness, or the strong desire to attain Krishna. He said we should desire and hanker after the supreme kingdom if we really want to achieve it. Once, a young man asked him what it was like to desire Krishna, and Srila Prabhupada replied, “What do you feel when you see a pretty girl walking down the street?” The boy was surprised. “You mean it’s like that?” As aspiring transcendentalists, we are not interested in pretty girls or any material thing, but that quality of spontaneous desire, that eagerness—that is what we want to feel, but in relation to Krishna.
I have recently been reading some verses in Srimad- Bhagavatam about eagerness for becoming Krishna conscious and how Krishna works with us to try to increase our eagerness. In the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam the great sage Narada tells his disciple Vyasadeva how in his (Narada’s) previous life he got the association of some Vaishnavas, pure devotees of the Lord, who stayed for several months at the inn where his mother was engaged as a maidservant. Narada tells how as a young boy of only five years, he brought those devotees prasadam, sanctified food which had been offered first to the Supreme Lord. With the permission of those devotees he took the remnants of the food, and he also heard from them about the attractive activities of Lord Krishna. He relates how, as he did these things, all his sinful activities went away and his real spiritual self was revealed to him.
Vyasadeva was interested to hear about this and wanted to hear more. When the spiritual master talks about his life, the disciple is always interested to hear. I remember how Srila Prabhupada sometimes told us things about his own life, and even if we had heard them before, we were always eager to hear Prabhupada tell these stories again. So it was in that mood that Vyasadeva, hearing about Sri Narada’s birth and activities, wanted to hear more.
In the association of pure devotees, Narada went on, his eagerness for Krishna consciousness developed, but after they departed, leaving him in the care of his affectionate mother, this eagerness diminished. So when his mother suddenly died, bitten by a snake, he took this as special mercy of the Lord. Prabhupada writes, “Confidential devotees of the Lord see in every step a benedictory direction of the Lord. What is considered to be an odd or difficult moment in the mundane sense is accepted as special mercy of the Lord.” Now Narada, although still a boy of only five years, could depend fully on all the hearing and chanting he had done with the sages.
Narada took up the life of a traveling mendicant, and soon he had an amazing experience. He tells Vyasa, “As soon as I began to meditate upon the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead with my mind transformed in transcendental love, tears rolled down my eyes, and without delay the Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna appeared on the lotus of my heart. The transcendental form of the Lord, as it is, satisfies the mind’s desire and at once erases all mental incongruities. Upon losing that form, I suddenly got up, being perturbed, as is usual when one loses something which is desirable.”
So it seems that Narada Muni glimpsed the Lord, but then the Lord went away and it was a great shock for him. Srila Prabhupada describes this in such an appealing way. “For the whole duration of our lives we go see different forms in the material world, but none of them is just apt to satisfy the mind, nor can any one of them vanish all perturbance of the mind. These are the special features of the transcendental form of the Lord, and one who has once seen that form is not satisfied with anything else; no form in the material world can any longer satisfy the seer.”
Krishna Himself explained to Narada the reason for His sudden disappearance. “O virtuous one, you have only once seen My person, and this is just to increase your desire for Me, because the more you hanker for Me, the more you will be freed from all material desires.” Elsewhere in the scriptures it is stated that eagerness is the price one has to pay to achieve success in Krishna consciousness. We shouldn’t think that Krishna is playing a cruel trick on His devotee, some sort of hide-and-seek game: “You saw Me, but I am not going to let you see me again, for no reason.” He wants to increase the devotee’s eagerness to see Him again, as it is this eagerness that will bring the devotee to the perfectional stage, where he will be qualified to go back to Godhead.
I am not Narada, but I am trying to think how this has some relevance for me. In commenting on this verse, Prabhupada says we should go on serving Krishna and this will increase our hankering. “The more a person is engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, the more he acquires a hankering for it. That is the nature of godly service. Material service has satiation, whereas spiritual service of the Lord has neither satiation nor end.… By intense service to the Lord, one can experience the presence of the Lord transcendentally. Therefore, seeing the Lord means being engaged in His service because His service and His person are identical.”
If we are performing devotional service but not feeling an increase in eagerness, that means we are doing something wrong. We should inquire from the spiritual master, from the scriptures, from other devotees, and from within our own hearts, “Why isn’t my hankering for Krishna increasing?” If instead we are feeling, “This is enough, I have found a good niche in Krishna consciousness,” that is not a good sign. That is complacency. To actually attain the audience of Krishna, to get His association, we must go on increasing our desire and eagerness to see and serve Him.
As natural as it is for a young man to be attracted to a pretty girl, as eager as a young girl is to be with that young man, that is how natural it is for the pure soul to be attracted to Krishna. We should aspire to have such eagerness to attain Krishna consciousness. If Krishna sees we are sincere and eager to serve Him and our spiritual master, then He will direct us how and whereto do it. Krishna can deal with us in so many ways, perhaps by first giving us the mercy of this eagerness, or by first seeing our sincere activities in devotional service and then giving us mercy. There is no set law, but if we do feel this increased hankering, we should mostly think that we haven’t really done anything, that it is simply due to the mercy of the Lord.
If we want the story of our devotional service to be a success story, we should deliberate individually on our own lives and see what we can do to increase our eagerness to attain Krishna. Seeing our efforts, the Lord will certainly help us, just as He helped Sri Narada. And as followers of Prabhupada, if we especially want to experience the special atmosphere of eternal Vrindavana, where Krishna constantly enacts His enchanting pastimes, we must simply, we must simply become eager for that transcendental goal.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #36-01, 2002
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.29.11-12) states, “The manifestation of unadulterated devotional service is exhibited when one’s mind is at once attracted to hearing the transcendental name and qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is residing in everyone’s heart. Just as the water of the Ganges flows naturally down towards the ocean, such devotional ecstasy, uninterrupted by any material condition, flows towards the Supreme Lord.” In his purport, Srila Prabhupada writes, “No material condition can stop the flow of the devotional service of a pure devotee.”
Srila Prabhupada is describing the perfect stage, one in which a devotee has no distractions from Krishna’s service, no material desires, no failure to remember the beloved Lord. It is easy for us to admit that we are not at this level, but we should never lose sight that, as impossible as this sounds, it is what we want to become. We want to live with no interest separate from Krishna’s interest.
At the same time, I believe for myself (and I advocate to others) that we should engage our personal natures in Krishna’s service. There is no need to censor or forbid them. Our natures include our psycho-physical tendencies, our cultural orientation, and our various drives. The scriptures assure us that it is impossible to kill desire and inadvisable to try. Rather, we are to engage ourselves and everything we have in Krishna’s service. When we reject matter in the name of renunciation, our renunciation is incomplete.
But how to practically engage ourselves and everything else in Krishna’s service? It has been a phenomenon in ISKCON that devotees join the movement and are told to surrender completely, to submerge their personal interests and engage fully in temple service. Many devotees put aside careers, propensities, sometimes even families and the many things they loved and thought part of themselves, to engage in devotional service. Then years later they begin to think differently. Sometimes they feel they were misled into surrendering something that did not need to be abandoned. Sometimes they feel they were manipulated by those who spoke of complete surrender but who were not themselves completely surrendered. Sometimes they simply feel that whatever propensity or interest they gave up was actually meaningful to them. Such devotees often turn back to those same activities and take them up again, not for personal enjoyment, but as a way to serve Krishna.
We call this varnashrama-dharma, the gradual process of renunciation and surrender. In Bhagavad- gita Krishna recognizes that those who are not on the path of spontaneous and total surrender may need to offer what they like to do to Krishna. Therefore, the scriptures prescribe rules and regulations by which such activities can be performed. Krishna’s highest request is that we give up everything (sarva-dharman parityajya), but if that is not possible immediately, there is a process by which we can gradually approach that highest goal. A devotee should always be careful not to misidentify the gradual stepping stones with the ultimate goal.
Remember The Goal
We should remember the goal and we should never resent it. “Those persons who execute their duties according to My injunctions and who follow this teaching faithfully, without envy, become free from the bondage of fruitive actions.” (Bhagavad-gita 3.31) The goal is to turn our will completely to Krishna’s will and to have no separate interests; if at any point along the way this seems too difficult, we should not feel that Krishna is therefore asking too much from us. Rather, Krishna is trying to bring us to the standard of the residents of Vrindavana. In his purport to Bhagavad-gita 3.31, Srila Prabhupada writes:
But an ordinary man with firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even though unable to execute such orders, becomes liberated from the bondage of the law of karma. In the beginning of Krishna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krishna consciousness.
In the meantime, there is still disparity between the ideal and our personal reality. It seems we cannot actually surrender to Krishna by giving up, throwing away, burning, shushing down the toilet all of what we thought we were. We must learn to render it, and in so doing, purify it, until it becomes an offering for Krishna. The philosophy of Bhagavad- gita assures us that dovetailing our propensities is a lower standard than being fully surrendered, as is evidenced in the verse describing the process of karma-yoga: yat karoshi yad ashnasi …Yat karoshi (“whatever you do”) is not at the same standard as sarva-dharman parityajya. Existentially, however, if we must apply the yat karoshi verse to reach the platform of giving everything, Krishna has encouraged it.
Even if we don’t resent the intensity of Krishna’s instruction, we may wonder what it can mean not to have any desire other than to do whatever Krishna wants done. I spoke about this with a Godbrother. In the discussion, he represented the superiority of complete surrender over dovetailing, and to reconcile the two sides he said, “What we must do is to approach the spiritual master unconditionally. The spiritual master, in his wisdom and knowing our nature, will engage us according to our propensity.” Surrender means to first accept the position of an unconditional servant.
To be unconditional, we have to be sincere. Sincerity requires humility; it requires that we admit that we have not completed or perfected our Krishna consciousness. When we understand our actual position, we will be willing to try in whatever ways are possible for us to find a personal surrender and we will naturally give up selfishness.
I tend to encourage devotees to perform whatever service they would like to do, even if it’s not what has been assigned, especially when they no longer feel able to carry out that other duty. Then, when they are engaged in whatever service they have chosen, I encourage them to remain faithful to it regardless of the austerities. Serving another, including serving the Supreme Person, is always filled with austerity. One of the greatest austerities a devotee experiences is coming face-to-face with his or her own weak- heartedness. Staying fixed in that particular service helps the devotee steady the mind and to find the inner consciousness of rendering the activity as service.
Ultimately, whatever we choose to do, we must purify it to the point that we are not only offering the fruits of an activity that is personally pleasing to us, but we are actually offering the activity itself for Krishna’s pleasure. When we present our offering, we will have to do it with fear and trembling, with the hope that Krishna will accept our tiny offering amid the millions of more wonderful offerings He is receiving.
Such devotional consciousness is within our reach. We are capable of becoming enthusiastic about our activities, and we are capable of working toward the goal of pure devotional service.
In ISKCON more and more devotees are reevaluating how we have separated ourselves from the world. Perhaps we do have something to do with family, society, country, and humanity, and perhaps we can become more whole and realistic. Perhaps we should address such issues and not speak always from the platform of the fanatical preacher. This is a sign of our movement’s maturing. At the same time, the devotees should never forget that ultimately we must disconnect ourselves from everything but service to Krishna. How we achieve that goal does not necessarily mean kicking off everything else, but learning how to use everything for Krishna. “According to the opinion of devotees, constant remembrance of the Supreme Lord is called samadhi, or trance. If one is constantly in trance there is no possibility of his being attacked or even touched by the modes of material nature. As soon as one is free from the contamination of the three material modes, he no longer has to take birth to transmigrate from one form to another in this material world.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.27, Purport)
Srila Prabhupada never emphasized that pure Krishna consciousness was beyond our reach. Rather, he encouraged us that it was attainable.
The Price Of Purity
Of course, there is a price. In a lecture Srila Prabhupada gave on March 13, 1974, in Vrindavana, he discussed Rupa Gosvami’s statement that if pure love of Godhead is available in the market, we should purchase it without delay:
Tatra laulyam ekalam mulyam. Rupa Gosvami advised, krishna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita matim kriyatam yadi kuto ‘pi labhyate. He advises that “Krishna consciousness, if it is available, you purchase. You purchase anywhere it is available.” That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s advice, that one should be eager to purchase this Krishna consciousness at any price. Generally, we think price means some, in terms of money, monetary transaction, say, hundred pounds or two hundred pounds or millions of pounds, billions of pounds, like that. The price is different. Here Rupa Gosvami says, “You purchase at any price.” But what is that price? … Laulyam, eagerness. That is the price. That is the only qualification. You must be very, very eager to see the lotus feet of Krishna in this very life. You must be very eager to talk with Krishna in this very life. But not to become sahajiya [sentimentalist]. By service. Krishna talks with the devotee, but not with the nondevotee. He says in the Bhagavad-gita, tesham satata yuktanam bhajatam [priti- purvakam]. Only persons who are always engaged in Krishna’s service, who have no other business. Satata. Satata means twenty-four hours. He has no other business… . And bhajatam. Bhajatam means in service. You must find out always some opportunity how to render service to Krishna. That is the qualification. It doesn’t matter what you are. You may be this or that. It doesn’t matter. But this eagerness for service can be acquired by anyone simply by sincerity. That is the price.
Prabhupada’s words are practical. If he had said we should think of Krishna at every second and never cease serving Him, never have separate interest, it would have sounded impossible for us. Rather, Prabhupada emphasizes practical service. By absorbing ourselves in the details of our activities, and remembering for whom we are performing them, we can become fixed in Krishna consciousness throughout the day. Prabhupada was expert at teaching an active form of self- realization.
I remember when I was younger and serving as the temple president in Boston. Although we may not have been inwardly meditating on Krishna or even free of material desires, we worked to the point of exhaustion to serve Prabhupada’s mission. Our lives were so demanding that there was no time to think of ourselves. We could barely keep up with the workload. If later, however, we found ourselves unable to maintain that pace, we had to find other ways to be Krishna conscious.
Another point Prabhupada emphasizes is expressed in the purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.21.33:
The question may be raised that since the Lord is supposed to be worshiped by great demigods like Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, and others, how can an ordinary human being on this planet serve Him? This is clearly explained by Prithu Maharaja by the use of the word yathadhi-kara, “according to one’s ability.” If one sincerely executes his occupational duty, that will be sufficient. One does not need to become like Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, Indra, Lord Caitanya, or Ramanujacarya, whose capabilities are certainly above ours. Even a shudra [laborer], who is in the lowest stage of life according to the material qualities, can achieve the same success. Anyone can become successful in devotional service provided he displays no duplicity. It is explained here that one must be very frank and open-minded, amayinah. To be situated in a lower status of life is not a disqualification for success in devotional service.
Being frank means admitting to Krishna that we cannot do what He is asking of us; we are simply not pure enough, not surrendered enough, to do only what He wants without any self- interest attached. Being open-minded means expressing distress at our own condition. We want to be Krishna’s devotee, but we cannot become devotees without His help.
Srila Prabhupada continues: “The only qualification is that whether one is a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra, he must be open, frank, and free from reservations. Then, by performing his particular occupational duty under the guidance of a proper spiritual master, he can achieve the highest success in life.”
After admitting to Krishna that we cannot be perfect devotees, we don’t say, “Therefore I won’t do anything.” Rather, we say, “This is what I can do. I can offer my occupational duty and beg You to accept it.”
Finding The Balance
The first question ISKCON devotees often ask on this topic is how to find the balance between being guided by authority and self-determination. We have to follow a process of trial and error. One model is to surrender to a temple authority and to trust that he will guide us. Of course, a temple authority will naturally guide us according to the needs of the mission, some-times at the expense of our own needs. Sometimes, also, such leaders disappoint us in real ways and we may find ourselves becoming bitter and moving toward another extreme: complete self-reliance.
By trial and error we will find the right formula for ourselves. We may try to follow someone’s advice and see whether it works for us. If it doesn’t work, or works only partially to increase our Krishna consciousness, then we may need to find some adjustment. It is important, therefore, to develop a strong sense of conscience, and to be able to hear that voice within ourselves that tells us whether or not what we are doing is healthy for our devotional development. To acquire that conscience takes time and maturity.
Often our uncertainty about what we are doing stems from a misconception of what Krishna consciousness is about. In earlier years, I felt consistently dissatisfied regardless of what I was doing. If I was out preaching, I thought I should be doing more management. If I was managing, I felt I should be out preaching. At one point, a Godbrother pointed out to me how I never seemed to be satisfied, and he was right. Such restlessness is a sign of immature understanding. Perhaps we imagine that in the perfect state we will always feel completely elated—moment-to-moment ecstasy—about what we want to do. But the reality is that even when we choose the best situation we can imagine for ourselves, there are still difficulties. Even Prabhupada faced obstacles in his preaching, although he never doubted his mission. At such times, we have to continue in our service and wait out the dissatisfaction.
Ultimately, as we grow up in Krishna consciousness we will begin to be convinced that what we are doing is our best offering at the moment, and we will not be so dependent on outside validation. It’s so wonderful to see devotees who feel this conviction in their services and in their Krishna consciousness. Such devotees are very fortunate, and we see that they have struck their balance by the fact that they lose interest in developing a wide variety of skills, they are no longer restless, and they are fixed in their activities. Despite financial or other worries, they tend to understand that they are dependent on Krishna and to let go of those concerns.
There is no one way for all devotees to find such balance, but each of us must strive for it. It is not necessarily unhealthy to churn up our own histories in order to understand where we have been and where we would like to go in our attempt to surrender to Krishna. And in the meantime, we should be careful not to change the philosophy or resent the principles just because we may not be able to follow them. We should feel ourselves fallen and pray to Krishna for His support.
One problem is that young devotees, especially, are not always sure just what their own propensities are. In such cases, it is healthy for a devotee to try to become a blank slate and to receive training in the temples in what the institution describes as complete surrender. That will form the foundation for later personal development. Those early days in the temple are a time of intense study and practice. Just as a college student studies more during his college years than at any other time in his life, so a devotee moving into the temple can take good advantage of the intense training. At the least, this will give a devotee the opportunity to theoretically understand Krishna’s instructions, and doing the needful according to the mission’s demands may even reveal his own nature to him. Personal service propensities are revealed more as a person matures.
Ultimately, we have to find out how to care for our own souls and offer them to Krishna. Because trusting ourselves completely is a risky proposal, we submit ourselves to the spiritual master and the Vaishnavas. We should have friends who will sympathize with our level of advancement and who can both listen to us and advise us in ways that preclude judgment. It is a delicate matter to decide what it is Krishna is asking of us, and it takes both prayer and support. Sometimes the signs are clear and sometimes they are not. Whatever we decide, however, it should carry the charge of spiritual reality and be free of stereotyped conceptions of what devotional service is.
As we are going through this process, we should check our spiritual vital signs. Just as a doctor will check our vital signs regardless of our complaint, to ascertain the general state of health, so we should check our spiritual vital signs: Are we feeling enthusiastic to serve Krishna? Do we have a taste for krishna-katha, topics about Krishna? Do we want to associate with devotees? Are we aspiring for pure chanting? By checking these symptoms we will know whether we are proceeding on the right path.
As we progress, we should work as much with the realistic as with the idealistic. That is, we may not always know exactly what Krishna wants us to do, and even if we knew, we may not always be able to do it. Therefore, we can simply go on using our God-given intelligence to give everything we can to Krishna.
Prabhupada assures us that it doesn’t matter what we are as long as we are serving Krishna. Devotional service is not a hobby but a full-time engagement. We can see it as a mysterious, esoteric process, or we can follow Prabhupada’s down-to-earth instruction to engage always in service while thinking of the person to whom it is being offered.
With Prabhupada’s emphasis on service, it behooves us to discover our personal vocation—that thing we can really do for Krishna—and dedicate ourselves to it.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #30-01, 1996
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Devotees know that their bodies are temples of Vishnu, or Krishna. Krishna, the Absolute Truth, appears in three features: as the impersonal Brahman, as the Supersoul, and as Bhagavan, the personal feature, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As the Supersoul, the Lord resides in every body, in the heart, along with the individual soul. Therefore, devotees respect their own bodies by keeping them clean and following good practices for health. Devotees don’t perform needless austerities, and they especially avoid austerities harmful to the body or not prescribed in the scriptures. Krishna tells us that such austerities are in the mode of ignorance. Similarly, devotees avoid ignorant foods such as meat, fish, and eggs. Devotees follow the injunction of Bhagavad-gita that one should not eat too much or too little, sleep too much or not sleep enough. They don’t want to torture either the individual soul or the Supersoul residing in the body. A devotee recognizes that he does not own his body; the body is only rented from Krishna. Like any rental, it should be treated responsibly.
Devotees know that other people’s bodies are temples of Vishnu also. Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 9.11, “A devotee should see that because Krishna is present in everyone’s heart as Paramatma [the Supersoul], every body is the embodiment of the temple of the Supreme Lord; so as one offers respect to the temple of the Lord, he should similarly properly respect each and every body in which the Paramatma dwells. Everyone should therefore be given proper respect and should not be neglected.” A devotee therefore extends respect not only to other human beings but to living beings in all species of life. When we recognize the Lord’s presence in everyone’s heart, we are more inclined to respect every living being. The Bhagavad-gita tells us that a learned person sees with equal vision a brahmana, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater (outcaste). One can see all living beings equally when one perceives the same Supersoul within the heart of all.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.3.22) Lord Siva explains this to his wife, Sati: “My dear young wife, certainly friends and relatives offer mutual greetings by standing up, welcoming one another, and offering obeisances. But those who are elevated to the transcendental platform, being intelligent, offer such respects to the Supersoul sitting within the body, not to the person who identifies with the body.”
Lord Siva said this after he was insulted by Daksha, his father-in-law, early in the world’s creation. Daksha was performing a great sacrifice, to which he had invited the demigods. He was a prajapati, one of the universal progenitors, and was therefore powerful. His body emanated a beautiful aura, and when people saw it they naturally offered him respect. When he entered the sacrificial arena, however, although all the others present stood up to receive him, Lord Siva was lost in meditation on Krishna and did not notice Daksha’s arrival. Daksha was offended and in turn insulted Lord Siva.
Srila Prabhupada comments, “It may be argued that since Daksha was the father-in-law of Lord Siva, it was certainly the duty of Lord Siva to offer him respect. In answer to that argument, it is explained here that when a learned person stands up and offers obeisances in welcome, he offers respect to the Supersoul, who is seated in everyone’s heart.”
Lord Siva was not neglecting Daksha; since Lord Siva was already offering respects to the Supersoul of the universe, those respects naturally included respects to the Supersoul in Daksha’s heart.
Still, devotees offer respects not only to the Supersoul but also to the individual soul. Therefore a devotee may offer obeisances differently according to the soul’s development. Although there is no such thing as “better” souls or “lesser,” different living entities have different degrees of advancement. One living entity may identify with his or her bodily existence whereas another may be liberated from bodily identification. If we were offering respects only to Lord Vishnu, we would offer the same respect to every living entity, but because we respect the individuality of the soul, we offer respect according to the living entity’s nature.
Those in the gross mode of ignorance cannot see the soul. Those in the mode of passion, preoccupied with bodily forms, cannot see the underlying equality and unity of all beings. But Krishna defines knowledge in the mode of goodness as follows: “That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all living entities, though they are divided into innumerable forms, you should understand to be in the mode of goodness.” Srila Prabhupada writes, “A person who sees one spirit soul in every living being, whether a demigod, human being, animal, bird, beast, aquatic, or plant, possesses knowledge in the mode of goodness. In all living entities, one spirit soul is there, although they have different bodies in terms of their previous work.”
“Oneness” in this sense does not mean that there is one soul in myriad bodies, as the impersonalists teach, but that an individual soul of equal quality is present in the heart of each living being. A plant has a soul, and we offer the respects appropriate for a soul in a plant’s body. For obvious reasons, although we respect the presence of the soul and Supersoul in the body of a tiger, we do so from a distance.
Of course, we show the most respect to other human beings, but a devotee does not base that respect on a person’s material position. Devotees shouldn’t look at other living entities as objects to gratify their senses. Therefore, men should respect women as mothers and no one should try to exploit other living beings for sense gratification. To exploit others is to exploit the resources of the Lord’s temple and thus defile it.
A devotee offers the most respect to pure devotees. The Nectar of Instruction advises that one respect devotees in terms of their relationship with Krishna: “One should mentally honor the devotee who chants the holy name of Krishna, one should offer humble obeisances to the devotee who has undergone spiritual initiation and is engaged in worshiping the Deity, and one should associate with and faithfully serve that pure devotee who is advanced in undeviated devotional service and whose heart is completely devoid of the propensity to criticize others.”
The highest repository of respect for a devotee is someone advanced in pure devotional service and free from envy. Freedom from envy means freedom from the bodily concept. The nonenvious devotee has the ability to see the “one” soul in all living beings. Such a humble devotee has nothing to gain from anyone but everything to give, because he possesses Krishna.
by Rohininandana Dasa
Anyone who wishes to acknowledge the simple truth that “I am Lord Krishna’s servant” can wear tilaka, the clay mark devotees wear on the forehead and other places on their body. You may not feel you have much devotion to Krishna, but you’re not prohibited from wearing tilaka, because it’s a sign that you’re trying to be His devotee. What’s more, the qualifications for being Krishna’s devotee soon develop in a person who learns the art of wearing tilaka.
Why Decorate the Body?
A devotee of Krishna decorates the body because it’s a temple of God. Instead of decorating our body as if it were the self, or destroying it, or despising it for its filthy emissions, we can respect and care for it as a residence of the Supreme Lord. The soul lives within the body, and so too does the Supersoul, the Lord. As a house is built and maintained for the pleasure of its owner, so “our” body is meant for the pleasure of its real owner, Lord Krishna. Decorating the body with tilaka pleases Him.
Putting on tilaka helps remind us we belong to Krishna. And when others see a person wearing tilaka they are not only reminded of Krishna but relieved of sinful reactions.
When we wear tilaka on our bodies, the Lord protects us from all sides. When Srila Prabhupada gave a disciple the name Tilaka Dasi, he told her that Tilaka meant “victory personified.”
When to Wear Tilaka
Although you can put on tilaka anytime, the best time to apply it is after bathing or showering. Wearing tilaka is especially appropriate during your puja, or worship, at home. When you’re worshiping as a family, everyone can wear it, or at least the person offering arati (the pujari). You can also wear tilaka when you visit the temple or attend festivals like Rathayatra.
An important time to wear it is at death. Either before someone dies or just afterwards, if you apply tilaka at least to the person’s forehead, he or she will obtain eternal benefit. Of course, death can come anytime, and so it’s wise to wear tilaka always.
You may feel shy about wearing tilaka publicly, but don’t jump to conclusions about what others may think. They may be intrigued. Srila Prabhupada told a story about a factory in India where most of the Hindu workers were accustomed to wearing tilaka. When their new boss, a Muslim, told them that whoever kept wearing tilaka would lose his job, the next day everyone except one man came to work with forehead blank. So then the owner called a meeting and announced that from then on this one brave man would be the only person allowed to keep wearing tilaka.
Different Types of Tilaka
If you travel in India you’ll see a variety of marks adorning people’s foreheads and bodies. Such marks indicate their affiliation with a particular group and their devotion to a certain form of God or demigod. Broadly speaking, you will see two types of tilaka: the vertical mark of the Vaishnavas, or devotees of Krishna and His incarnations, and the three horizontal lines of the Saivites, followers of Shiva and adherents to the impersonal conception of God.
Among the Vaishnavas are many sub-groups, identifiable by their styles of tilaka—it’s shape and color and the type of material used to make it. The tilaka worn by devotees in the Hare Krishna movement indicates that we are in the disciplic line from Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The upper part of this tilaka, shaped like the prongs of a tuning-fork, represents Lord Krishna’s footprint, and the leaf-shaped part on the nose represents a leaf of the tulasi, Krishna’s favorite plant. The two lines also represent the walls of a Radha-Krishna temple, and so the space between the lines is Radha and Krishna’s abode. For other Vaishnavas the two lines may indicate Brahma and Siva, and the space between the abode of Vishnu. A red line in the center may represent Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s eternal consort. The two lines may also indicate the banks of the Yamuna. Or they may represent Lord Rama and Lakshmana standing on either side of Sita. The stroke at the base of the tilaka represents the devotee Hanuman knealing at Their feet. Tilaka styles are as varied as the understandings behind them.
How to Make Tilaka
ISKCON devotees generally make their tilaka from a cream-colored clay called gopi-candana, obtained from a sacred lake near Dvaraka, Lord Krishna’s ancient city on the west coast of Gujarat. Krishna’s greatest devotees, the gopis, once visited this lake. You can most likely obtain some from your local temple or supplier of devotional items. If not, clay from Vrindavana or any other holy place is fine. You can even use potters’ clay. According to the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, a book by Srila Sanatana Gosvami on Vaishnava practices, any kind of earth may be used for tilaka, especially earth from a riverbank or from beneath a tulasi bush.
Put a little water in the palm of your left hand and move your block or ball of tilaka clay briskly until you get a smooth paste. As you do this, chant Hare Krishna, or if you like you can recite a mantra from the Padma Purana. You can find this mantra in a purport in the Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya 20.202).
How to Apply Tilaka
Apply tilaka with the ring finger of your right hand. Make a mark—about as wide as the space between your eyebrows—from the root of your nose to your hairline. Now use another finger, perhaps the little one, to make a clear space in the middle to form two vertical lines. If these lines come out crooked, you can straighten them with a third finger. If your forehead is bumpy, like mine, you can develop your own way of applying the clay. Now make the leaf- shaped mark, which should extend from the base of the lines to about three quarters of the way down the nose.
After marking your forehead, apply tilaka to eleven other places on your body, as shown on the facing page.
As you apply the tilaka, recite the appropriate names of Vishnu listed here. Om keshavaya namah means “O my Lord Keshava, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.” So as we mark our bodies, we chant twelve of His holy names.
If you can’t find the clay to make tilaka (or if your wearing tilaka wouldn’t sit well with your boss), you can go through the same procedure using only water. Use water that has bathed the Deity or pure water you’ve sanctified by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By chanting the names of the Lord and applying the invisible representation of His temple, you’ll be protected and spiritually inspired for a Krishna conscious day.
The Embodiment of Lord Chaitanya’s Love
by Satyaraja Dasa
Thieves working for the king of Vishnupura stole priceless manuscripts Srinivasa and his friends were bringing to Bengal. Srinivasa therefore sent his companions ahead while he stayed in Vishnupura. He recovered the manuscripts, made the king his disciple, and inspired him to spread Krishna consciousness throughout the kingdom.
Now Srinivasa needed to see his dear friends Narottama and Syamananda again. He had written them of the developments in Vishnupura, but he knew little of what his friends were doing. He had heard that his teacher Narahari Sarakara Thakura was ill and getting ready to die, so he wanted to go to Srikhanda to see him and to nearby Jajigram to see his own aging mother.
Srinivasa Returns to Jajigram
Bidding farewell to King Virhamvir, Srinivasa took the chest of books to Jajigram. Upon arriving there, he told the devotees what had happened. All the holy town’s people, especially his mother, rejoiced in his company. But they had heart-breaking news for him as well: Srimati Vishnupriya had left this world. Srimati Vishnupriya was Sri Chaitanya’s widow, an important person in the preaching mission of Bengal. On hearing of her passing, Srinivasa fainted, and the devotees had to revive and console him.
A few days later, a message came from Narahari Sarakara and Raghunandana Thakura asking Srinivasa to come to Srikhanda. Srinivasa left at once to see these two well-wishers who had guided him in his youth. During this meeting, Narahari suggested that Srinivasa get married.
“Your mother is a great devotee,” Sri Narahari said. “She has been rendering valuable service in Jajigram for many years. You should fulfill whatever small desire she might have. I know she would be happy to see you married. Since she is a great devotee, you should comply.”
Hearing this, Srinivasa resolved to marry and raise a family.
After a few more days in Srikhanda, Srinivasa left for Kanthak Nagara to visit the great Gadadhara Dasa, one of the personal associates of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. When Srinivasa arrived, Gadadhara Dasa embraced him with affection. He asked Srinivasa about the devotees of Vrindavana, especially the Gosvamis: How were they able to live in separation from the Lord and His confidential devotees? Where were they living and under what conditions? Gadadhara Dasa and Srinivasa talked about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the plight of His devotees in His absence.
After several days, Srinivasa was to return to Jajigram. Before he left, Gadadhara Dasa blessed him: “One day you will taste the nectar of congregational chanting in the company of the Lord Himself, and in the company of His intimate associates. For now, you have my blessings to marry. May it bring you all good fortune.”
Srinivasa Gets Married
The words of Gadadhara Dasa touched Srinivasa. Meditating on their import, he returned to Jajigram, where he met Gopala Chakravarti, an elderly brahmana with a beautiful and devoted daughter named Draupadi. Observing that Srinivasa and Draupadi were attracted to each other, Sri Raghunandana Thakura arranged the wedding.
After the marriage, Draupadi was called Ishvari (some say it was her initiated name), honoring her devotion to God and acknowledging her marriage to a great saint. Her father, Gopala Cakravarti, soon accepted Srinivasa as his spiritual master, as did her two brothers, Syama Dasa and Ramacandra. Srinivasa quickly became one of the most prominent gurus in all of Bengal.
After some time, Ishvari bore a son, and when Srinivasa wrote about the event to Jiva Goswami in Vrindavana, Jiva sent back an exuberant reply and named the boy Vrindavana Vallabha. Some time after, Srinivasa married again (polygamy was common then). His second wife, Padmavati, was also a great devotee, and after initiation she was known as Gauranga Priya.
One may wonder why Srinivasa took a second wife. Most of the standard biographies do not elaborate, stating merely that the second marriage followed the first by a few years. But the Anuragavali informs us that his most intimate disciples asked that he remarry upon the death of his two sons from Ishvari. They are said to have died young.
Ishvari had three daughters—Hemlata, Krishna-priya, and Kancana, also known as Yamuna. Gauranga Priya had a son, Gati Govinda. Both Ishvari and her daughters later had many disciples, and Srinivasa’s bloodline is still said to continue in Vrindavana from Gati Govinda.
The Passing of Narahari Sarakara
Some time after Srinivasa’s marriage, Narahari Sarakara Thakura left the world, having seen Srinivasa one last time. Srinivasa organized a massive festival to honor Narahari’s memory. Everyone from Srikhanda and neighboring villages attended, and Vaishnava festivals soon spread throughout the region. Ceremonies to install Deities of Krishna took place with elaborate festivities, including singing, dancing, and sharing of sacred food (prasadam). By such festivals the Hare Krishna movement spread throughout Bengal.
In due course, Srinivasa decided to return to Vrindavana. Ramachandra Kaviraja, one of his most renowned followers, went with him on this trip. Ramachandra was considered Srinivasa’s “other eye and other arm.” Ramachandra and his brother, Govinda, who was also Srinivasa’s disciple, were the sons of an intimate associate of Lord Chaitanya. Both Ramachandra and Govinda were celebrated scholars, artists, and poets, but Ramachandra came to be widely accepted as Srinivasa’s most noteworthy disciple. This was in some measure due to Narottama Dasa Thakura, who at Srinivasa’s request took charge of Ramachandra and forged an intimate friendship with him while schooling him in all the details of Vaishnava philosophy.
With the help of King Virhamvir of Vishnupura, Srinivasa spread his preaching in Bengal to the districts of Birbhum, Bankura, Burdwan, and as far as Tripura in the East. He taught all over Bengal and made hundreds of disciples.
To the list of his prominent disciples, Hemlata Thakurani, his daughter, is often added. Although as a blood relation she is not properly counted a disciple, she was one of his most notable followers. A highly educated and vigorous preacher, she has been compared to the revered Jahnava Devi in spreading the movement throughout Bengal. She was a gifted and devoted leader, initiating both men and women into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. One of her disciples, Yadunandana Thakura, became a famous scholar and poet. He composed simple Bengali versifications of Gaudiya literature, some at her personal request.
In time she married a great devotee and had several children. Today her descendants live in the villages of Maliati and Budhaipad, in the Murshidabad district of Bengal, where she revolutionized the preaching of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
Srinivasa Returns to Vrindavana
Srinivasa had not been to Vrindavana since recovering the stolen books. The Gosvamis were eager to show their appreciation, and when Srinivasa arrived they did so gloriously. And now Srinivasa had come to Vrindavana with Ramachandra Kaviraja. Such a worthy disciple showed Srinivasa’s merit as a preacher. So Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, who had wanted Srinivasa to take over the worship of the Radha-Ramana Deity in Vrindavana, gave the duty to his other disciple, Gopinatha Pujari, and insisted that Srinivasa keep preaching in Bengal. The descendants of Gopinatha’s brothers are still in charge of the Radha-Ramana temple.
Syamananda Pandita returned to Vrindavana about the same time as Srinivasa, so they were able to deepen their friendship. Together they resumed their studies. Gradually, Srinivasa began to reveal his mystic potency, and it became apparent he was fully absorbed in the most intimate love of God.
Back to Vishnupura
But the missionary work was incomplete, and after several months Srinivasa and others returned to Bengal, encouraged by the Vrindavana Goswamis. On the way, they stopped in Vana Vishnupura to see King Virhamvir, who was delighted by the presence of his guru and the other devotees.
The king’s devotion showed throughout the kingdom. In the words of D.C. Sen:
Raja Vira Hamvira would not do anything without the advice of his guru [Srinivasa Acarya], even in political matters. His [Srinivasa’s] voice prevailed alike in the court and in the domestic circles of Vishnupura. We find that repeating the name of God a fixed number of times was made compulsory by penal law in the State. Sacrifice of animals at the altar of the gods was also discountenanced, though not actually prohibited by law. Worldly dignity attended the guru who had brought spiritual glory to the country. We find that on every occasion of Vaishnava festivities of any importance, valuable presents were given to Srinivasa, while Raja Vira Hamvira was ever ready to minister to his physical comforts in every possible manner. But true to the traditions of a brahmin scholar and saint, Srinivasa contented himself with living in a strawroofed hut, though he might have built palaces with the help of the Raja and other influential disciples. The money he received was mainly spent in feeding his disciples, of whom there was always a large number residing at his house.
The Glories of Vishnupura
The pervasiveness of Krishna consciousness in Bengal, especially in Vishnupura, lasted well after the time of Srinivasa and into the following centuries. King Virhamvir’s successor, Raghunatha Singh I, built Vaishnava temples in many distant villages to make Krishna consciousness popular with the tribal people. In fact, the kings of Vishnupura from the time of Virhamvir onward assumed great responsibility for the material and spiritual wellbeing of their subjects.
According to Dr. Sambidananda Das:
In short, the Vaishnava kings, from Vira Hamvira downwards, developed Vaishnava culture in all its branches. The practical religious lives of the kings … made the people of Vishnupura God-fearing, virtuous, humble, and courteous in manner and pure in heart. It is not an easy matter to make the whole population happy and pious. [But] the people regarded their kings as their gurus. To this day it is their custom to offer edibles to Sri Chaitanya’s altar in the name of the king, on the occasion of public worship. Thus did Srinivasa, through Raja Vira Hamvira, start a new epoch in the religious life of the country.2
Srinivasa’s Daily Activities
The activities of Srinivasa Acharya can fill volumes, and they have. Several books offer details of his daily life in Vishnupura and Jajigram.
In the early morning he would read from scriptural books, explaining and interpreting them for his disciples. The study of these books would occupy him until ten o’clock in the morning. Then, till two in the afternoon, he would chant on beads in solitude, occasionally worshiping Krshna according to his inner meditation. From four o’clock to six in the evening he would perform congregational chanting with his disciples. The form of kirtana for which he became famous is called Manohar Shoy. Some say it is the only authentic classical style that has survived. At night he used to instruct his disciples and talk with them of Krishna’s pastimes.
His Literary Work
It is said that Srinivasa composed only five songs. He also wrote a commentary—studied and respected to this day—on the four essential verses of the Srimad- Bhagavatam. His other works include the famous Gosvamy-ashtakam (“Eight Prayers to the Six Gosvamis”). Though his literary work is spare, its content and style are nectarean. It has left a unique mark on the Gaudiya tradition.
Just as the authorized biographers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu leave aside the details of His passing from this world, Srinivasa’s followers are silent about Srinivasa’s disappearance. But although his divine ascension remains a mystery, his life remains an inspiration.
An appreciation of the gifts of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
by Srila Gour Govinda Swami
This is a translation of part of a speech delivered on September 2, 1993, the 155th anniversary of the birth of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. On that day a public meeting was held at the Dinabandhu Sahoo Law College, Kendrapara, Orissa, to glorify Thakura Bhaktivinoda, whose portrait was installed in honor of his being the first law graduate of Orissa.
“I bow down to Sri Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who is the embodiment of the energy of Sri Gaurasundara [Caitanya Mahaprabhu] and a great sadhu in the line of the followers of Sri Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada.”
Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born with the name Sri Kedarnath Dutta on September 2, 1838. He appeared in the village of Ula, in the district of Nadia, West Bengal, which was his maternal uncle’s home. But the house of his forefathers is in the village of Choti in the Kendrapara District of Orissa. Choti is the shripat, the native place of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and he resided here.
Having been decorated with the dust of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s lotus feet, this is a very sacred place. But most people have not known about it. This place is now coming to everyone’s notice because of the blessings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Getting the strength of that blessing, the research scholar Dr. Fakir Mohan Das has been working to reveal this place to the world. Without such blessings, no one can do this work. Sripada Fakir Mohan Das may face much opposition, but after resisting this opposition strongly, he will surely establish the real truth.
Best Welfare Work
What is the best welfare work for the world? Thakura Bhaktivinoda has expressed the following in his monthly journal Sajjana-toshani:
Showing kindness, daya, to living entities can be divided into three categories:
Deha-sambandhini-daya means showing kindness to the material body of the living entity through sat- karma, auspicious deeds. Giving food to a hungry person, supplying medicine to a patient, giving water to a thirsty person, and supplying winter clothes to a poor person suffering from the cold are acts of kindness to the material body. Manah-sambandhini-daya means showing kindness to the mind by giving knowledge.
Atma-sambandhini-daya means showing kindness to the soul, and it is the best daya of all. By such kindness one attempts to save a person from all worldly sufferings by giving him devotion to Lord Krishna. Some persons consider acts of kindness to the body to be very auspicious. Others, who are learned persons, emphasize acts of kindness to the mind. But pure devotees of the Lord act for the eternal welfare of the living entities by preaching devotion.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura exhibited the topmost type of kindness or welfare work, but how many people understand it? How many people glorify the qualities of such Vaishnava sadhus and mahajanas [great persons]? Even learned persons do not understand the work of the Vaishnavas.
We see that those who have done or are doing something for the welfare of the body or mind are highly glorified. But who is speaking the glories of those doing welfare work for the soul? How many people have spiritual knowledge? How many people realize the soul? How many people have the vision to see the soul? The sadhu-mahajanas have dedicated their whole lives for doing welfare work for the soul. By their blessings, spiritual vision has been received by many persons. Who knows and glorifies these sadhus and mahajanas? In this material world, no one speaks about their great works and efforts.
Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda left this world on June 23, 1914. He dedicated his whole life to preaching Gaudiya Vaishnavism [devotional service in the line of Lord Caitanya] and spiritualism, or bhagavat-dharma [eternal service to God]. In the Bhagavad-gita it is said, yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata: Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, Lord Krishna Himself descends along with His followers to reestablish the principles of religion. Thakura Bhaktivinoda is the embodiment of this verse. In this age of skepticism and fruitless nihilism, he exercised his mighty pen to reestablish sanatana-dharma, eternal religion. Inspired by the Gaudiya Vaishnava Acaryas [spiritual masters], he wrote book after book, refuting materialistic views based on nihilism and atheism. By speaking on the eternal Vedas, on civilization and education, he enlightened many conditioned souls who had forgotten their real spiritual identity.
Without imparting scriptural knowledge there is no means to bring the living entities, who are oppositely attracted, towards para-tattva, the Supreme Truth. Gaudiya gurus such as Srila Rupa Gosvami, Srila Sanatana Gosvami, and Srila Jiva Goswami did the work of spiritual masters by analyzing the Srimad-Bhagavatam and commentaries on it. The Bhagavatam is the essence of the eternal Vedic sound and the mature fruit of the desire tree of the Vedic literature. Thakura Bhaktivinoda nicely strung together the teachings of these Gaudiya gurus in easy and simple language. Therefore, after the six Gosvamis [leading disciples of Lord Caitanya], Thakura Bhaktivinoda is known as the Seventh Gosvami.
Following in the footsteps of Srila Jiva Goswami, in 1884 Bhaktivinoda reestablished the Viswa Vaishnava Sabha (World Vaishnava Congregation) and preached the Vedic religion—Upanishads, Vedanta Sutras, Srimad- Bhagavatam—as well as the life and philosophy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada inherited these bright qualities from him and preached this great ideology of Gaudiya Vaishnavism throughout the Indian subcontinent, from the Himalayas to the oceans and abroad.
Thakura Bhaktivinoda wrote more than one hundred books, both original works and commentaries, in English, Sanskrit, and Bengali. His numerous devotional songs, immersed in divine love born of full surrender, reveal his deep love for Lord Sri Krishna. These songs have inspired all types of people, from ordinary conditioned souls to highly elevated devotees. His books of devotional songs, such as Saranagati, Gitavali, and Kalyana-Kalpataru, are food for the soul and are very praiseworthy in human society. In this age of short-lived sensual pleasure and false renunciation, these books are Bhaktivinoda’s great call for those who are thirsty to get a taste of Vaikuntha [spiritual] love. Who can imagine the kindness he has shown?
Conditioned souls, being victims of illusion and the repetition of the cycle of birth and death, are prone to commit errors. The material world created by the Lord is our testing place. Here at every step we are continually being tested by maya. To pass this test one has to hear the devotional message spoken by mahajanas like Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Bhaktivinoda’s teachings should be preached more and more. If the leaders of present-day society sincerely desire the welfare of humanity, they should deeply cultivate and introspectively reflect upon these teachings. Please practice these teachings in your life and teach them to the world. This will surely bring auspiciousness and the unlimited blessings of Thakura Bhaktivinoda.
I pray for his blessings as follows:
adadana strinam danter idam yace punah punah
bhaktivinoda-padabja-renuh syat janma-janmani
Keeping straw between my teeth, I pray repeatedly that life after life I may be a particle of dust at the lotus feet of Thakura Bhaktivinoda.
Jaya! Sri Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura ki jaya!
By Krishna Kanta Dasi
A society can be judged by the kind of education it deems valuable. In ancient Vedic times, the intellectual class was composed of brahmanas, or those whose scholarship was dedicated to understanding the supreme reality, Brahman. Today’s intellectual class prides itself on teaching secular knowledge. And while most universities offer courses on religion, they tend to be slanted and incomplete.
Srila Prabhupada taught that the ideal university would educate students in knowledge of the divinity. He wrote, “Presently many people are interested in receiving degrees from big universities, but education without God consciousness is simply an expansion of maya’s influence. Because knowledge is taken away by illusion, the universities are simply presenting impediments on the path of God consciousness.” (Teachings of Lord Kapila, Chapter 12)
Prabhupada wanted to continue the scholarly diffusion of the philosophy of bhakti begun by his predecessors, especially Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. So Prabhupada encouraged some of his disciples to present Krishna consciousness in universities and correct misconstrued perspectives of God.
Recently, I interviewed Prabhupada’s disciple Garuda Dasa (known in the academic arena as Dr. Graham Schweig), who holds a doctorate from Harvard University in comparative religion and has been a professor of world religions specializing in Indic studies, teaching both college and graduate students in the university setting. With the academic training of a scholar and the devotional vision of a bhakta, he presents the real Krishna to the intellectual world. His recently released book, Dance of Divine Love: The Rasa Lila of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana (published by Princeton University Press), tackles a subject that scholars have often misunderstood, as the erotic tone of the work can appear to introduce an unethical element. Or scholars simply have not appreciated its depth and rich theological presentation.
I asked Garuda Dasa how he had come to write about the rasa-lila, the story of Lord Krishna’s sacred dance with the cowherd maidens of Vraja, known as the gopis.
“When proposing a dissertation topic for my doctoral work at Harvard,” he told me, “it was never my plan to concentrate on this most sacred and very often misunderstood theme. After I’d spent a year pursuing several topics, my doctoral advisor guided me to focus on the meaning of the rasa-lila for the Chaitanya school of Vaishnavism, since the rasa-lila had received very little scholarly treatment despite its fame.”
Presenting the rasa-lila is a challenge because this lila (pastime) of Krishna’s reveals God’s most intimate exchanges with his devotees. Furthermore, Krishna’s role in the rasa-lila could be viewed as immoral to the uninformed.
In the Introduction to his book, Garuda Dasa summarizes the five chapters of Srimad-Bhagavatam that describe the rasa-lila:
One special evening, the rising moon reached its fullness with a resplendent glow. Its reddish rays lit up the forest as night-blooming lotus flowers began to unfold. The forest during those nights was decorated profusely with delicate star-like jasmine flowers, resembling the flowing dark hair of goddesses adorned with flower blossoms. So rapturous was this setting that the supreme Lord himself, as Krishna, the eternally youthful cowherd, was compelled to play captivating music on his flute. Moved by this beauteous scene, Krishna was inspired toward love.
Upon hearing the alluring flute music, the cowherd maidens, known as the Gopis, who were already in love with Krishna, abruptly left their homes, families and domestic duties. They ran off to join him in the moonlit forest. Krishna and the Gopis met and played on the banks of the Yamuna River. When the maidens became proud of his loving attention, however, their beloved Lord suddenly vanished from their sight. The Gopis searched everywhere for Krishna. Discovering that he had run off with one special maiden, they soon found that she too had been deserted by him. As darkness engulfed the forest, the cowherd maidens gave up their search, singing sweet songs of hope and despair, longing for his return. Then Krishna cleverly reappeared and spoke to them on the nature of love.
The story culminates in the commencement of the Rasa dance. The Gopis link arms together, forming a great circle. By divine arrangement, Krishna dances with every cowherd maiden at once, yet each one thinks she is dancing with him alone. Supreme love has now reached its perfect fulfillment and expression through joyous dancing and singing long into the night, in the divine circle of the Rasa. Retiring from the vigorous dancing, Krishna and the Gopis refresh themselves by bathing in the river. Then reluctantly, the cowherd maidens return to their homes.
The rasa-lila event is spiritual, and the exchanges between God himself as Krishna and those closest to him constitute a pure spiritual love. To ensure that his approach to this sacred text would be authoritative, Garuda Dasa drew exclusively from the works of great saints in the disciplic succession of Lord Chaitanya. He wanted to present readers with an enchanting and detailed picture of what Lord Krishna, the reservoir of all pleasure, finds most pleasurable. To me, his translations and illuminations on the Supreme Lord’s most intimate pastimes succeed in delivering the reader into those realms where pure love abounds.
Garuda Dasa said, “I begin by acquainting the reader with sacred love stories across cultures and their function in expressing passionate love for God. The Song of Solomon has inspired followers of the Jewish and Christian mystical traditions in the West to open their hearts to the intimate dimensions of God. Similarly, the Puranic literature contains the rasa-lila, which Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a saintly philosopher of the tradition, has called ‘the crown jewel of all acts of God.’
“Within such sacred love stories, religious traditions emphasize a specific phase of divine love as a model for their worship. I point out that eight of these phases of supreme love are exhibited by the gopis: awakening, anticipation, meeting, conflict, separation, loss, reunion, and rejoicing in the triumph of love. For Chaitanya Vaishnavas the spiritual phase most honored is that of separation and loss, or vipralambha-seva, which finds its voice in the Gopi Gita (‘Song of the Gopis’), in the central act of the rasa-lila.
“Another saintly philosopher, Jiva Goswami, presents insights into the gopis’ intense feelings of separation for Krishna that are wonderfully illuminating to me. He wrote, for example, that the purpose of Krishna’s separation from the gopis is to increase their love for him. The verses of the Gopi Gita receive the most attention from Lord Chaitanya’s followers, as they depict viraha bhakti, or the soul’s love in separation from God and the divine madness that characterizes it. This madness of the cowherd maidens, as described in the Bhagavatam, in turn becomes the model for Lord Chaitanya, whose life is famous for his ecstatic madness in devotion to Krishna.”
Garuda Dasa spoke of the great challenges of translating this centerpiece of the Bhagavatam’s tenth book, what his former teacher of Sanskrit at Harvard called “the most enchanting poem ever written.”
“I discovered that the rasa-lila Sanskrit texts not only possess some of the ornaments of beautiful Sanskrit poetry (kavya), but in many ways also conform to the conventions of classical Sanskrit drama (natya). For example, the very first verse possesses many elements from these traditions, and I labored long over its translation:
Even the Beloved Lord,
seeing those nights
in autumn filled with
blooming jasmine flowers,
Turned his mind toward
fully taking refuge in
Yogamaya’s illusive powers.
“Here I attempt to convey some of the dramatic poetic beauty of the original while maintaining a very literal translation. Many pages of the book have been devoted to appreciating the literary and theological power of this first verse.”
The erotic flavor of the rasa-lila has both allured and intimidated thinkers throughout history. The irresistible lure lies in the gopis’ spontaneous and selfless outpourings of love for Krishna. The gopis are the perfect models for all who are progressing on the path of bhakti-yoga, through which souls attain God through devotional love. I asked Garuda Dasa to tell me how this esoteric lila is relevant to the modern-day Hare Krishna movement.
“Although the rasa-lila represents the loftiest vision of supreme love that the Vaishnava traditions possess,”he replied,“it is surprisingly relevant to essential practices in an aspirant’s life of devotion. For example, the maha-mantra—the widely known sacred thirty-two syllable mantra of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is the sonic ‘reenactment’ of the rasa dance. As I suggest in the book, ‘The patterned movement of eight pairs of feminine [Hare] and masculine [Krishna and Rama] names of the divine can be observed in the mantra. . . . When practitioners recite the mantra over and over, the divine names form a circular pattern imitative of the exchange between the feminine and masculine partners in the Rasa dance [the many cowherd maidens with the many duplicated Krishnas].’ And I continue: ‘The mantra begins and ends with feminine names, enclosing the masculine names, just as the Gopis engulf Krishna when they encircle him during the commencement of the Rasa dance.’
“Other themes I discuss are also relevant to the modern-day Hare Krishna movement, such as ‘Devotional Yoga Transcends Death,’ ‘Ethical Boundaries and Boundless Love,’ and the distinction between worldly love and passionate love for God in the section called ‘The Vision of Devotional Love.’
“One of the major messages of the text is that pride and love don’t mix. When souls become tainted by pride, God disappears. When we place ourselves as somehow greater than others, when we compare ourselves to others and judge them, God disappears from us, as he does with the gopis by the end of the first chapter of the rasa story. This message on pride is again emphasized in the second chapter when Krishna deserts his favorite gopi, identified as Radha, when she too exhibits pride. Although the gopis’ love for Krishna is exalted, this pride is exhibited as a lesson for all souls striving for pure love of God. The message here is very clear: There is simply no room for pride in pure, unremitting selfless love.”
My talks with Garuda Dasa can remind us of the interreligious tensions that plague the world. Members of the world’s religious traditions exclude God when they let pride interfere with pure love and understanding and make exclusive claims on divine truth, condemning all others. Contrary to such a parochial view, Srila Prabhupada delighted in how ISKCON’s membership consists of people coming from all religious traditions, uniting together to love God: “We can select our own religion and be Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, or whatever, as long as we know the real purpose of religion. Indeed, Srimad-Bhagavatam does not recommend that we give up our present religion, but it does hint at the purpose of religion. That purpose is love of Godhead, and that religion which teaches us best how to love the Supreme Lord is the best religion.” (Elevation to Krishna Consciousness)
At the end of the book, Garuda Dasa leaves his readers with the same profound understanding of theology that Srila Prabhupada describes here. While Dance of Divine Love presents the rasa-lila as an actually occurring transcendent exchange between Krishna and his most intimate devotees, those outside of the Vaishnava tradition could at the very least see the rasa-lila as speaking to them as a compelling symbol of genuine religious pluralism.
“The divine circle of the Rasa dance,” Garuda Dasa writes, “could be seen as symbolizing a genuine religious pluralism in which human beings of different faiths can love God . . . in joyous harmony, and individually, as each soul receives God’s singular and superlative attention. . . . Thus, it is only after devoted souls come together to surround the divinity in a great circle their arms linked in affectionate fellowship that the deity agrees to connect personally with each soul— implying that God is indebted toward those who bond with other souls for the purpose of honoring, serving, and loving him.”
Garuda Das adds to this by expressing the following: “Certainly the world could learn something very valuable from the rasa-lila: how to have that exclusive love and grace from God for which Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike so often long, and yet simultaneously achieve a world unity for which Eastern traditions so often long. The world is desperately in need of this blend of both inclusivistic and exclusivistic religious stances.”
Garuda Dasa is confident that this message about love, presented in the rasa-lila’s exalted vision of the supreme, can be received by intellectuals and others in the Western world. The dance with God in the rasa-lila is open to all souls who qualify themselves.
Furthermore, Garuda Dasa writes, there’s help: “The hearts of those who are already a part of the dance, for whom passionate and exclusive intimacy with God is already attained, melt with compassion for those who have not yet arrived, and yearn for all to delight in the dance of divine love.” From these words it is evident that saintly souls, great devotees, hold the key for the rest of us to enter these lofty regions of supreme love.
I think it’s safe to say that the book Dance of Divine Love, with its careful portrayal of God’s confidential exchanges, allows scholars as well as others to enter into an understanding of the true meanings and messages of the rasa-lila, while also assisting in fulfilling the desires of those who yearn for the spiritual progress of all souls.
by Nandarani Devi Dasi and Dayananda Dasa
Summary of Part I: In the early eighteenth century, after a vigorous study of Vedanta philosophy, Baladeva Vidyabhushana accepted Lord Chaitanya’s teachings as the highest revelation of the Absolute Truth. Meanwhile, a sect in Rajasthan known as the Ramanandis was challenging the authenticity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Although the Ramanandis were flourishing under the patronage of King Jai Singh, the king favored the Gaudiyas (followers of Lord Cai- tanya) and was a devotee of Govinda, one of their principal Deities.
The Ramanandis alleged that Lord Chaitanya’s followers lay outside the four recognized disciplic lines (sampradayas) and therefore had no valid standing. If the Gaudiyas failed to defend the legitimacy of Lord Chaitanya’s movement, they could lose all respectability and even the right to worship Govinda. Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, the leader of the Gaudiyas in Vrindavana, saw in Baladeva the right defender for Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
Jai Singh prepared himself for the religious confrontation he knew was inevitable. He collected and studied the writings of the Gaudiya sect and compared it with the writings of other Vaishnava sampradayas. He studied the Bhagavata Purana and its commentaries by Sridhara Svami, Sanatana Gosvami, and Jiva Goswami. He pored over the Vedanta- sutra and its commentaries by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, and Nimbarka. He explored the works of Sanatana Gosvami, Rupa Gosvami, Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, Jiva Goswami, and Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, the principal theologians of the Gaudiya school. And he read Jayadeva’s Gita- govinda, the poetry that had often evoked expressions of ecstatic love in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Jai Singh wanted to reconcile the differences between the principal sects of Vaishnavas. He felt that these differences had no philosophical basis, so continual wrangling could serve no purpose. Having completed his research, he composed a thesis entitled Brahma-bodhini, advocating the unity of the Vaishnavas.
The king’s attraction to Krishna had been sparked during his first visit to Vrindavana, as a child of seven. He had been called there by his father, the military commander of the district, who had been deputed to protect the caravans between Agra and Mathura. From that young age, Jai Singh had considered himself a devotee of Krishna. Now his study of the writings of the Vrindavana Gosvamis crystallized his sentiments. But his devotion to Radha and Krishna would be tested by the Ramanandis.
“The Gaudiyas should not worship Radha and Krishna together,” the Ramanandis told him. “Radha and Krishna are not married. There is no precedent for Their being worshiped together! Sita and Rama are together, and Lakshmi and Narayana, because They are married. But Radha and Krishna are not married.”
Now the Ramanandis were escalating the quarrel. They not only criticized the Gaudiyas’ lineage but also found fault with the Gaudiya method of worship. The Ramanandis demanded that Radha be removed from the main altar and placed in another room, to be worshiped separately.
Jai Singh sent word to the mahantas (religious authorities) of the Gaudiya temples. “You must prepare a response to the criticisms voiced by the Ramanandis of Galta Valley. I am sympathetic to your philosophy and practice, but your response must be adequate to silence the Ramanandi panditas, or I shall be forced to separate Radharani from Krishna.”
The mahantas of the four major Gaudiya temples of Amber submitted their response in writing. They explained that Rupa, Sanatana, and Jiva Goswamis shared the same opinion about Radha and Krishna: They could be worshiped either as married (svakiya-rasa) or unmarried (parakiya- rasa), since both these pastimes (lila) are eternal.Worship of Krishna in either lila is adequate to establish a devotee’s eternal relationship with the Supreme.
The Ramanandis rejected these arguments. Fighting for their religious and political power, they again approached Jai Singh.
Because Radha and Krishna were not married, the Ramanandis complained, worshiping Them together condoned Their questionable relationship. The Ramanandis also criticized the Gaudiyas for worshiping Krishna without first worshiping Narayana.
To appease the Ramanandis, Jai Singh told them he would ask the Gaudiyas to place the Deity of Radharani in a separate room. He would also ask them to explain their breach of Vaishnava etiquette in neglecting Narayana worship, and he would ask them to prove their link with the Madhva- sampradaya.
Vishvanatha Deputes Baladeva
Vishvanatha Chakravarti, a scholar of great repute, lived in Vrindavana at this time. Vishvanatha had been born in 1646 in a Bengali village named Saidabad, where he had spent the first years of his life. Like other aspiring young renunciants, Vishvanatha had faced problems with his family, who had betrothed him at a young age to tie him to domestic life. As a married youth, Vishvanatha had studied extensively, and while living with his family in Saidabad he had written brilliant commentaries on Vaishnava scripture.
During his life in Saidabad, Vishvanatha had taken initiation from Radha-ramana Chakravarti and studied the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vaishnava scriptures with Radharamana’s father, Krishnacarana Chakravarti. Radha- ramana was three generations removed from the main preceptor in their line, Narottama Dasa Thakura.
Eventually Vishvanatha had left his family and gone to Vrindavana, where he had lived at Radha-kunda. He formally accepted the dress of a renunciant and was then called Harivallabha. He continued writing and preaching, and eventually he became the leader of the Gaudiya community in Vrindavana.
By the time Govinda moved to Rajasthan in 1707, Vishvanatha was more than sixty years old. The aging scholar followed the Amber developments with interest. How would Govinda and His priests fare in that pluralistic environment, at the vortex of the competing forces of the young king’s devotion, the Ramanandis’ antagonism, and the threatening presence of so many sects?
Vishvanatha regularly communicated with the mahantas of the Vaishnava temples in Amber. Although he had expected trouble from the Ramanandis, the quarrel had stewed for years before threatening the Gaudiya priests or affecting the Deity worship. Now, he knew, they despaired over the growing antagonism of the Ramanandis.
Vishvanatha called for Baladeva. “We must refute the points of the Ramanandis,” Vishvanatha told his protege. “It will not be easy, but we can defeat them.”
Baladeva was outraged by the presumptuousness of the Ramanandi critics. “Why must we establish the legitimacy of our lineage?” he demanded. “The Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, appeared as Lord Chaitanya to establish the true religion for this Age of Quarrel. When God Himself originates a religious tradition, who may dare question its legitimacy?”
“The Ramanandis do question it,” Vishvanatha replied, “and they rest their criticism on the statement in Padma Purana that in this age there are four sampradayas, or lines of disciplic succession. The Purana says:
catvaras te kalau bhavya
hy utkale purushottama
The meaning is that the four Vaishnava sampradayas—Sri, Brahma, Rudra, and Kumara—purify the earth.”
“Yes,” replied Baladeva, “I know this verse. And the Ramanandis say that the words utkale purushottama mean that these four sampradayas have their monasteries in Orissa, in Purushottama-kshetra, the town of Jagannatha Puri.
“But the real meaning is that the Supreme Lord, Purushottama, is the quintessence of these four sampradayas. And when He appears in Kali-yuga, He lives in Jagannatha Puri, as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. So the Gaudiya lineage is not a fifth sampradaya but the essence of the four.”
Vishvanatha and Baladeva spent the night discussing the Ramanandis’ other points of contention about Lord Chaitanya’s movement. They developed the strategy by which they would defeat the Ramanandis.
Vishvanatha sent Baladeva with Krishnadeva Sarvabhauma to Amber. Baladeva’s arrival there was unheralded. He was new to the Gaudiya community, unknown even among the Gaudiya mahantas of Amber. And he was young. No one, even of his own tradition, suspected that a philosophical giant lived within the unpretentious form of this Gaudiya holyman from Vrindavana. Baladeva had difficulty gaining audience with the king. And when he was finally able to do so, the Ramanandis in the court were ready for him.
“Sir,” Baladeva said to the king, “I have come to resolve doubts about the Gaudiya-sampradaya and its methods of worship.”
“Your Highness,”a Ramanandi pandita broke in, “we request to speak to him directly!”
Jai Singh turned to Baladeva. “You may speak,” the king said, confident that if Krishna were indeed the Supreme Lord, Krishna would arrange for His own defense.
The Ramanandis opened with an offensive they felt sure would guarantee their authority.
“The problem,” they told Baladeva, “is that you do not belong to a proper sampradaya. Therefore we cannot accept the literature written by your panditas.”
“I am from the Madhva-sampradaya,” Baladeva asserted confidently.
“I have been initiated in Mysore by a Tirtha of the Madhva order. But Radha-Damodara Gosvami and Vishvanatha Chakravarti of the Gaudiya-sampradaya are also my gurus. They have taught me Bhagavata philosophy.”
The Ramanandis were surprised.
Baladeva’s Madhva initiation meant that they had to accept him as a qualified sannyasi and pandita of an authorized lineage. But they hoped his youth might indicate a lack of skill. They rallied themselves. “You may be from the Madhva-sampradaya, but the other Gaudiyas are not!”
Baladeva retained his dignity and produced a key piece of evidence. “That is the Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika, written by Kavi Karnapura more than one hundred years ago. This manuscript details our lineage from Madhva.” Baladeva presented the manuscript for inspection.
The Ramanandis again argued, “If the Gaudiyas claim descent from Madhva, then you must base your arguments on Madhva’s Brahma-sutra commentary. We know that the Gaudiyas have no commentary of their own.”
Baladeva thought. The Gaudiyas had never written a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, because they accepted the Srimad-Bhagavatam as the natural commentary. Vyasa is the author of both of these works, and Lord Chaitanya taught that when the author comments on his own work, his opinion is the best.
Baladeva knew that the Ramanandis would reject this argument. But he also knew that if he used Madhva’s commentary he would have problems, for Madhva’s commentary would not justify the style of worship practiced by the Gaudiyas. So Baladeva decided he would need to write a Gaudiya commentary himself. This commentary should be based on Madhva’s, but could have some allowable differences. “I will show you our commentary,” Baladeva said. “Please allow me to bring it.”
“Indeed, send for it,” granted the Ramanandi spokesman.
“That won’t be possible,” replied Baladeva. “I will require several days to write it.”
The Ramanandis were stunned. Could Baladeva produce a commentary within a few days? How audacious! But if Baladeva could indeed produce it, the Ramanandis’ position might be threatened. Should they grant him the time he required?
Before they could speak, King Jai Singh interjected. “Yes, the time is granted. Prepare your commentary and notify us when it is ready. You should know that unless you present a suitable commentary, we shall accept the criticisms of the Ramanandis as valid. But I shall not act on any of their demands until you have had an opportunity to present your commentary and your arguments.”
Govindaji Inspires Baladeva
Baladeva left the assembly, followed by Krishnadeva Sarvabhauma. Baladeva saw himself a puppet in the hands of the Lord. He had spoken boldly in the assembly, but would the Divine Puppeteer guide his pen?
Baladeva went to Govindapura. Presenting himself before Govinda, he knelt and prayed. “O Govinda, Your devotee Vishvanatha has sent me here to defend You and Your devotees, but I cannot do it! I am just a soul fallen in ignorance. If You wish, You may empower me to write a Vedanta-sutra commentary that will glorify You. If You wish, I shall write the truths I have learned from Your devotees and Your scripture. And I have faith that by Your mercy these truths will appear most logical.”
Then Baladeva began to write. Pausing scarcely to rest, he wrote and prayed and wrote again. Days passed, and nights, but he did not stop. Some historians say he wrote for one month. Others say it took him only seven days.
In any event, Baladeva soon returned from Govindapura. By now, keen expectancy had been aroused in all the various parties. Jai Singh, hoping to see the Gaudiyas vindicated, was especially eager to see the commentary. The Ramanandis, however, awaited the commentary with some trepidation, hoping they could defeat it readily.
Baladeva entered the court of debate convened in Galta. He stood on one side with the Gaudiya mahantas. Facing them were the Ramanandi panditas. King Jai Singh presided, and an audience of nobles and scholars was in attendance.
With the king’s permission, Baladeva rose.
“This commentary,” he said, putting forward his work, “is based on Madhva’s, but there are some important differences. If you examine it, you will find that it upholds the Gaudiya philosophy taught by Lord Chaitanya.”
A Ramanandi pandita stepped forward and received Baladeva’s commentary.
“Who is the author of this work?” he asked.
Baladeva replied, “The name of the commentary is Govinda-bhashya. Govinda has inspired this work. I have given the direct meanings of the sutras according to the wish of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And my comments are based on the teachings of my gurus.”
The learned members of the Ramanandi contingent examined the first portion of the bhashya to determine whether it was as Baladeva had claimed.
A spokesman conceded, “The influence of Madhva is certainly demonstrable in this commentary, but we should examine some of the differences.”
Baladeva then addressed each of the Ramanandis’ objections to Gaudiya worship.
“I have expounded on every aspect of Gaudiya practice in chapter three,” he said. “Since your criticisms concern our style of worship, you should turn to chapter three to see how Vyasa, the author of Vedanta-sutra, has provided for our worship.
“You object to our worship of Radha with Govinda on the superficial grounds that They are not married. In verses forty through forty-two I have presented the true position of Radha in relation to Krishna. Radha is the eternal energy of Krishna and is never separated from Him. Their relationship may be parakiya or svakiya, but that does not affect the eternality of Their union. The separation of Radha and Govinda you have effected is artificial and therefore offensive to the Lord, who holds deep affection for His female energy.
“You have criticized our predilection for worshiping only Krishna, neglecting neglecting the worship of Narayana, Vishnu, which you say is mandatory for all Vaishnavas. I have addressed that point in my comments to verse forty-three. According to the Vedanta-sutra, Narayana may be worshiped in any of His forms, including Krishna. No scriptural injunction prohibits the worship of Govinda exclusive of Narayana.”
Baladeva continued speaking while the Ramanandis stood defenseless. He spoke eloquently and exhaustively. A rebuttal from the Ramanandis never developed.
At the end of Baladeva’s presentation, King Jai Singh waited, weighing the evidence. The Ramanandis’ silence confirmed his own opinion.
He delivered his decision in a brief but conclusive statement. “The evidence supporting the Gaudiya legitimacy is unassailable. Hereafter, the Gaudiyas shall be recognized and respected as an authorized religious sect. I order the reunion of Radha with Govinda.”
The Gaudiya mahantas in Amber, free at last from condemnation by the Ramanandis, celebrated by building a temple of victory on the hill overlooking the Galta valley. The temple Deity was appropriately named Vijaya Gopala, “Victorious Gopala.”
At the Feet of Govinda
Baladeva returned to Vrindavana, where he assumed leadership of the Gaudiya community. He continued to write. Faithful to Jiva Goswami and devoted to Lord Chaitanya, he produced commentaries on ten principal Upanishads and nine works of the Vrindavana Gosvamis. He also wrote original works on grammar, drama, prosody, and poetics. He remained the unquestioned authority on Vaishnava theology until his death.*
With Baladeva’s victory over the Ramanandis, Jai Singh was satisfied. He had found the synthesis of Vaishnava religions. And Radha had been reunited with Govinda on the altar, as She is in eternity. Jai Singh dedicated himself to Govinda and passed a long, productive life as a king and scholar.
In 1714 Jai Singh moved Govinda to the Jai Nivasa Gardens and installed Him in a garden house, where He was worshiped for twenty-one years. In 1735 the king built a temple for Govinda within the Jaipur palace compound. Jai Singh later installed Govinda as the king of Jaipur and accepted the position of minister for himself. From that time his royal seal read, shri govinda-deva carana savai jai singh sharana: “Lord Govinda, at whose feet Jai Singh takes refuge.”
Jiva Goswami’s Tattvasandarbha, Stuart Mark Elkman (Elkman’s commentary includes Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s comments on Baladeva Vidyabhushana)(Motilal Benarsidass, 1986).
Sri Sri Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidana, Sri Haridas Das, Haribol Kutir, Sri Dhama Navadvipa, 1955.
History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. VII, R. C. Majumdar and others, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1974.
Mathura, A District Memoir, Frederick S. Growse, Oudh Government Press, Allahabad, 1883.
Literary Heritage of the Rulers of Amber and Jaipura, Gopal Narayana Bahura, City Palace Museum, Jaipura, 1976.
Jaipur City, A. K. Roy (publisher and date unknown).