Thursday, August 20, 2009

Celebrating Unity and Diversity in Gaudiya Vaishnavism

These are my thoughts on my Birthday

I started my first world preaching tour in November of 2008 in Alachua Florida. It has been a great tour. I have been to Florida, Texas, California, Hong Kong, Malaysia for Srila Narayan Maharaja’s Vyasa Puja, India for Gour Purnima, Bangalore, Vrndavana, Italy, England, France, Italy again for Srila Narayan Maharaja’s European festival, and back to Hong Kong and I am now in Mumbai. Some of the highlights for me on this tour are that I have been able to participate in festivals, kirtans, and classes, with various different Gaudiya Vaishnava associations including ISKCON.

In Malaysia the devotees from Srila Narayan Maharajas sangha in Johur Baru made a Sobha Yatra festival where they carried their deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subhadra on one cart. They invited the ISKCON center to come with their full size Srila Prabhupada Murti for the other cart with a picture of Srila Narayan Maharaja. We went all around the neighborhood with the carts and a Chinese Dragon team because it was close to or on the day of the Chinese New year. It was so colorful and exciting and the people from all cultures in Malaysia came out on to the streets and greeted us, gave gifts, performed aratik, and in general had a wonderful time in spite of the rain. Both parties were completely happy and we celebrated our unity and diversity as two branches of the same Gaudiya Vaishnava family.

In Mayapura I got the opportunity to glorify my dear God Brother Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja on His Disappearance day in the Gour Govinda Ashram that is in Sridham Mayapura. I sang Guru puja and talked for over and hour on the pastimes and glories of the Great Saint that I was so fortunately allowed to live with in an intimate way for over 3 years in India.

In Vrndavana I sang the morning Guru Puja for Srila Prabhupada and gave a Bhagavad Gita Class that night. I honored my Srila Prabhupada alone in His temple Guru Puja and glorified the purports of His Bhagavad Gita As It Is that evening in the class.

In London at the Bhaktivedanta Manor my old friend Ananta Shakti Prabhu arranged a plate of Mahaprasad from the noon aratik I attended and I caught up with old friends like Krpa Moya Prabhu whom I shared lunch with, Tattvavit Prabhu and others. In Soho Street I had a nice Lunch at the Govinda’s Restaurant and went upstairs where they asked me to lead the singing for the noon aratik. I led a good old fashioned Hare Krishna Kirtan changing the tune only twice in half an hour. All were happy especially me.

In Rome I stayed at Srila Bhakti Vaibhava Puri Maharajas Temple with his disciples. Srila Prabhupada told myself and Srila Gaura Govinda Maharaja in 1977 to preach together with His Godbrother Srila Puri Maharaja and we did. I went to Berhampur and did programs with him and he came to Bhubaneshwara and did programs with us. He was a great friend of Srila Prabhupada’s and I was honored to stay in his temple with his disciples. I was asked to lead the morning mangal aratik and the Gurupuja and give class. This temple sang different songs then we sing in Srila Narayana Mahrajas sanga or that are sung in ISKCON for Mangal Aratik. I sang their songs and they allowed me to glorify Srila Narayana Maharaja there during the Guru Puja which was performed in front of Srila Prabhupada’s Murti and Srila Bhakti Vaibhava Puri Maharaja’s picture both on their own vyasasanas. They added a picture of Srila Narayana Maharaja and so after I sang Sri Guru Carana Padma I sang the pranam mantras and glories of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhakti Vai Bhava Puri Maharaja, and Srila Narayana Maharaja as well.

In Hong Kong one independently wealthy lady sponsored a Rathayatra parade and festival in a theater on Rathayatra day. She invited the Ritviks, ISKCON and Srila Narayan Maharaja’s Sanga. Narasimha Maharaja from ISKCON led the kirtana for part of the procession and then I led the kirtana after that at the request of Chandra Shekara Prabhu the GBC for ISKOCN in Hong Kong. At the Theater Narasimha Maharaja and me shared lunch prepared by one of Srila Narayan Maharaja’s disciples and caught up on old times from London and Calcutta. During the program the ISKCON and Ritvik devotees spoke and then the GBC for ISKCON, Chandra Shekar Prabhu, spoke beautifully about the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the inner meanings of the Rathayatra pastimes in very clear and simple to digest way for the entire audience. Nanda Prabhu who is the local Temple president here for Srila Narayan Maharja’s sanga spoke in Chinese at the end and then gave the microphone to me. I spoke about how Srila Prabhupada was responsible for spreading the glories of Rathayatra all over the world and I spoke of the glories of Sriman Jayananda Prabhu who assisted Srila Prabhupada in this pastime. Then I was asked to lead the concluding Kiratan which everyone joined in together.

Presently in Mumbai I am staying at the ISKCON JUHU Temple by the grace of my old God Brother Bhima Prabhu who is the zonal secretary. This place is especially dear to me because I had most of my association with Srila Prabhupada here in this temple as it was being developed. I have been giving classes leading kirtans and having a wonderful time. The devotees here all have a very enthusiastic service attitude which is both refreshing and enlivening.

Whichever temple I go to I try to honor the particular way in which the founder acharya of that branch of our Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya has established the worship. I do not try to impose anything from another branch of the Sampradaya because each branch has their own flavor and so I honor that flavor and savor the rasa or taste that it provides me. After all Variety is the spice of life. To me this is the beauty of our Sampradaya it has so many variations on a theme and we can celebrate the unity of our Gaudiya Vaishnava Family while honoring the diversity which it manifests. We can read in the Caitanya Caritamrta how the devotees from Bengal were different from the devotees in Orissa and both were glorified and glorious!

When I was at Srila Bhakti vai Bhava Puri Maharajas Temple I was asked by his disciples what they should do now after the departure of their Guru Maharaja. I advised them to take shelter of and siksha from the Sannyasis that their Guru Maharaja had appointed to be his successors. I said you can take siksha from any sadhu but you should continue in the mood of your Guru Maharaja and take shelter of the successors he specifically appointed. A devotee from an ISKCON Temple asked about a situation where there were many devotees in the Temple who could not decided who to take initiation from. He asked me about whether they should look outside ISKCON to take initiation. I told him that there were many qualified persons in ISKCON who can give Hari Nam and Diksha. I named a few and told them to take diksha and siksha from them and that they could also take siksha from any other sadhu they were attracted to. Siksha is just as powerful as diksha and can be very valuable for the advancement of our spiritual life. Srila Bhakti Vinode Thakura took diksha from Bipin Bihari Goswami but He accepted siksha from Jagannatha Das Babaji who he revered equally to his diksha guru.

I believe that Srila Narayan Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, Srila Saraswati Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, and Srila Narottama Das Thakura all share this sentiment celebrating the unity and diversity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Unfortunately not all of their followers do and as a result there is some unnecessary friction when there need be none at all. This is not the first time that there has been so many groups of Gaudiya Vaishnavas separated from each other over misunderstandings and a failure to celebrate their unity in their diversity. During the time of Srila Narottam Das Thakura there were several branches arguing over what was the real siddhanta and legacy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Some were rejecting Lord Nityananda but accepting Lord Caitanya. Others were saying that Narahari was part of the Pancha Tattva not Srivas Thakura. Other misconceptions about siddhanta were also manifesting. The result was disputes, disagreements, and disunity. Srila Narottam Das Thakura wanted to resolve this and unify the Gaudiya Vaishnavas so that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission could be spread unrestrictedly and unlimitedly. He called for a meeting of all the Vaishnavas in Kheturi to discuss everything and do kirtan together. At the commencement of the festival Srila Narottam Das Thakura led a beautiful Hari Nama Sankirtana which was performed in great ecstasy by him and all of the devotees. When he did this Hari Nama Sankirtana although the members of the Pancha Tattava had already departed this world they began to manifest themselves in front of all the Vaishnavas by dancing and chanting in ecstasy. You can imagine what Jhanavi Mata and Birbhadra, the wife and son of Lord Nityananda felt like when they saw him. When Acyutananda saw his father Advaita Acarya and others saw their siksha and diksha Gurus in the different members of the Pancha Tattva. The festival was a complete success as it united all of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas in purpose and siddhanta and established the Caitanya Caritamrta and its siddhanta as the most authorized biography of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Unfortunately things gradually dissolved and it fell upon the shoulders of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura to both resurrect and again establish the unified siddhanta of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had firm faith that the prediction of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would come to fruition.

Prithvi-parjanta jata ache desa-grama
sarvatra sancara hoibek mora nama.

“My name will be preached in all the countries
and towns that exist throughout the world”

To accomplish this Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura engaged himself tirelessly praying, writing, preaching, and organizing Hari Nam Sankirtan and other preaching activities.

One of his most important efforts in this regard was finding the original holy birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would make this a rallying point for both the various Gaudiya Vaishnava’s of his day and for the future Sankirtan missions from all over the world. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura remembered that Narottam Das Thakura had organized the Kheturi festival 450 years ago to unify all the followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With this idea in mind Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura brought together all the followers of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu at the Lords birthplace on Gaura Purnima March 21, 1895. On that day He installed the deities of Lord Sri Caitanya and his consort Srimati Vishnupriya with a ceremony and sankirtan festival at the site of the newly constructed temple. There were thousands of devotees of Lord Caitanya at this festival from all the various Gaudiya Vaisnava groups and many of the devotees remarked that such a gathering had not taken place in 450 years since Srila Narottam Das Thakur’s famous Kheturi festival. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had now brought them all together to remind them that their real purpose was to co-operatively preach the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and spread the Hari Nam Sankirtan movement of the Lord all over the world.

The next year 1896 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would begin planting the seeds of preaching in the western world by responding to the entreaties of the famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who had opined that he could not read the Thakur’s Sri Krishna Samhita in Sanskrit. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura would send the newly completed Sri Gauranga-lila-smarana-stotram. This book contained 104 Sanskrit verses but was prefaced by an introduction written in the English language called Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts. This introduction was a summary of the Sanskrit verses explaining in concise and nectarine terms the life and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as found in the Sri Caitanya-Bhagavata and Sri Caitanya Caritamrta. It was sent to Universities and intellectuals in different parts of the world with the conviction that this English introduction was something that Westerners could read and benefit from. One of the institutions that received the book was McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Having now begun the preaching of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission in the western world Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura continued praying for the day when this preaching would make such an impact that it would develop into a world wide movement that would eventually embrace and liberate everyone in the world. These prayers of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura were actually predictions of his in which he had boldly unfolded the following vision of the future in an article published in Sajjana-Tosani more than ten years earlier in 1885. It appears as follows:

“Lord Caitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men of India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the Eternal Religion. Lord Caitanya says in the Caitanya-Bhagavata: “In every town, country, and village, My name will be sung”. There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass… Very soon the unparalleled path of Harinama-sankirtan will be propagated all over the world. Already we are seeing the symptoms…(Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura goes on to talk about the Salvation Army band marching through the streets of the western world as the first strains of sankirtan in the west) the article continues: Oh for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mrdangas, and kartalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh for the day when the fair skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘jaya sacinandana, jaya sacinandana, kijaya’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be?”

Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura continued with his prediction “On such a day they will say, “Our dear Brothers, we have taken shelter of the ocean of Lord Caitanya’s Love; kindly embrace us”. Some will say that this has already happened but if you read the rest of the prediction you will see that it may have happened on the surface but it has not taken place deep within our hearts and souls. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura continues “that day will witness the holy transcendental ecstasy of the Vaisnava dharma to be the only dharma, and all sects and religions will flow like rivers into the ocean of Vaisnava dharma. Oh when will that day come?” In another place he repeats the same prediction a little differently: “Oh when will that day come, when pure and transcendental Vaisnava prema will be the only religion of all souls and all tiny sectarian religions will meet in the unlimited and universal religion of Vaishnavism as rivers merge into the great ocean? O when will that day come?

Another prediction by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura on the future unity of all of the world’s religions is given in Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts, pages 68-69 as follows:
“The dharma preached by Caitanya Mahaprabhu is universal and not exclusive … The principle of kirtan as the future church of the world invites all classes of men, without distinction of caste or clan, to the highest cultivation of the spirit. This church, it appears, will spread worldwide and replace all sectarian churches, which exclude outsiders from the precincts of the mosque, church, or temple.”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura once wrote the following statement in an article titled “THAKURA BHAKTIVINODA” which announces with absolute conviction the unquestioned manifestation of the final prophesy just mentioned, while admonishing those who would not participate in it’s fulfillment.

“Thakura Bhaktivinoda has predicted the consummation of religious unity of the world by the appearance of the only universal church which bears the eternal designation of the Brahma Sampradaya. He has given mankind the blessed assurance that all Theistic churches will shortly merge in the one eternal spiritual community by the grace of the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna Chaitanya. The spiritual community is not circumscribed by the conditions of time and space, race and nationality. Mankind had been looking forward to this far-off Divine Event through the Long Ages. Thakura Bhaktivinoda has made the conception available in its practicable spiritual form to the open minded empiricist who is prepared to undergo the process of enlightenment. The key stone of the Arch has been laid which will afford the needed shelter to all awakened animation under its ample encircling arms. Those who would thoughtlessly allow their hollow pride of race, pseudo-knowledge or pseudo-virtue to stand in the way of this long hoped for consummation, would have to thank only themselves for not being incorporated in the spiritual society of all pure souls.”

On the last day of His manifest pastimes on this planet Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura said many things. The following statement was one of them:

“The stream which flows from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura will never be dammed up. Remember this and vow to double your efforts to fulfill Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's desires.”

When my Srila Prabhupada was asked about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s statement that “He had not finished His work” Srila Prabhupada replied: “Then let us finish it, He is Vaishnava, He is all powerful, He could have done, but He left it for us to finish, so we should finish it.”

Unfortunately there are many devotees from the different sangas who do not share this vision of unity and diversity. They insist that their particular Guru or institution is the only authorized avenue for spiritual advancement. Due to their hollow pride of race, pseudo-knowledge or pseudo-virtue and insecurities and weaknesses in their own practice of Bhakti they can only feel good about themselves when they criticize others as being less fortunate because they do not have the association of their particular Gurudeva or Institution.

This attitude does not finish the work of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura it obstructs it. We the disciples of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada have a responsibility to fulfill the order of our spiritual master and finish the work that Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura started. To bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy that all the Gaudiya Vaishnavas will embrace in Vaishnava Prema creating a Vaishnava Dharma that is so attractive it will cause all of the other religions of the world to flow into it like the rivers into the ocean. Our failure to do so will place us in the category of those who would thoughtlessly let heir hollow pride get in the way of the consummation of the society for all pure souls and hence we will forfeit having any place in it.

Some may say that we need another Srila Narottam Das Thakura or Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura to make this manifest. However I feel that we already have the order from Srila Prabhupada if we work together to fulfill the order it will happen. We the disciples of Srila Prabhupada have been empowered by HIM to make this manifest by HIS order. Just like everything else that Srila Prabhupada accomplished He did so by empowering his disciples. Srila Prabhupada Himself was empowered to fulfill the order of his Guru Maharaja long after His Guru Maharaja departed form this manifest plane. Now it is up to us to build a consensus amongst all of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas to fulfill this prophesy. And what will happen if we do not do it?

Once my Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter saying that “Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu predicted that in every town and village my name will be heard” “Now” my Srila Prabhupada said: “I have started this world wide mission and some of you are helping me so you will also get some credit”, “however even if all of you were to leave me tomorrow still it would happen only some one else would get the credit.” “God said it would happen therefore it must happen.”

So how much more definitely are the predictions of the pure devotee of the Lord fulfilled by the Lord? Based on Tattva Siddhanta I believe with absolute certainty that Srila Bhaktivinoda’s predictions must be fulfilled. However who will get the credit? Srila Prabhupada has made all of the arrangements. He has placed His disciples everywhere. They are serving in or connected to just about every Gaudiya Sanga. Srila Prabhupada’s books are influencing everyone. The present Acharya’s of two different Gaudiya Matha’s started with and still study Srila Prabhupada’s books on a regular basis. Acharya’s and vaishnavas in all of the other Gaudiya Matha’s read Srila Prabhupada’s books. He has given us the order and he has made all of the arrangements. He has spread his influence everywhere and we need only take up the order with the same conviction and determination and patience and humility and love that He himself displayed as he fulfilled the order of His Guru Maharaja.

Can we become humble enough to celebrate the unity and diversity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and see all the sangas as different limbs of Lord Caitanya’s body and embrace each other in Vaishnava Prema and by doing so create the Vaishnava dharma that will be so attractive to the whole world that all will enter into it? Will we go down in history as the generation that passed up the greatest golden opportunity to fulfill this order of Srila Prabhupada, to fulfill these prophesies of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura? Or will future generations mark this point in time as the beginning of a new era in Gaudiya Vaishnava history which was inspired by the tireless, humble, patient, loving, efforts of the disciples of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to fulfill His order and these prophesies of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura? Will the future generations remember us as the ones who failed to fulfill the order of Srila Prabhupada and kept everyone apart or the ones who built the consensus that brought everyone together to fulfill the prophecy of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura?

I ask all of you who are Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and followers, how do YOU want to be remembered in the annals of Gaudiya Vaishnava History? This prophecy will be fulfilled! Will we, as Srila Prabhupada’s disciples let this opportunity pass to another generation to fulfill? Or will we follow in the footsteps of our Guru Maharaja and fulfill the order?


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