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Heralding the Twilight
A Pioneer of Exclusive Devotion
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura appeared (in 1838) in a very famous Kayastha family, bearing the title Dutta. In Calcutta there is a place called Hat-khola Dutta which was named after the family. Near Birnagar there was a big village named Ula, and the family of the title Mustauphi were landowners there. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's mother came from this line. Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born and brought up at Ula, and he studied at Krishnanagar College. Of course, he had exceptional talent. He came into contact with the then educated society. Especially, there was a Mr. Duff, a Christian missionary who established the Scottish Church College. Duff was encouraging and attracting many of the young Bengalis of the time to take up Christianity. Gradually, Bhaktivinoda Thakura had close association with the Brahmo Society, the so-called culturally advanced followers of Ram Mohan Ray. Maharsi Devendranath Thakura's elder brother, Dvijendranath, was his very intimate friend.
For his livelihood he accepted government service. He was posted at Orissa in the position of subdivisional officer. He was also posted as inspector of the Jagannatha Puri Temple, where his duty was to guard against corruption. At that time he came into contact with the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and he tried to read it. He was gradually charmed by Bhagavatam, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and the life of Sri Chaitanyadev. The Brahmo Association had expected much of him because of his scholarly nature; he could write and debate well. But after coming into contact with the Bhagavatam, he dissociated himself from them. When he was serving in Dinajpur he gave his speech on Bhagavatam, and it was then that he completely separated himself from the Brahmo school, and he was seen to side with the Vaisnava school of thought in the line of Mahaprabhu. And gradually he also read the sastras and wrote many books on Vaisnavism.
After his retirement, he wanted to go to Vrndavana and pass the rest of his life there. But he repeatedly had a dream that he must discover the actual Birthplace of Sri Chaitanyadev. He could not neglect that dream. He again entered into service at Krishnanagar, and there, he consulted the records of the locality. With the help of
those records, and by his divine inspiration, he discovered the Birthplace at Yogapitha, Mayapur. Then, with deepened interest, he visited the entire Nabadwip-mandal; and with reference to the Scriptures he gave a description of both the ancient and contemporary holy places in the Dhama of Mahaprabhu. He established a committee to ensure that the Service of Mahaprabhu's place of Advent continue. Lastly, he handed it over to our Prabhupada.
From the beginning, the fourth son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Bimala Prasad (the family name of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami) was naturally inclined to the Service of Mahaprabhu. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura finally entrusted him with the Direct Service of Mayapur. He accepted that, a little hesitantly at first, but to his last moment he conducted the Service faithfully. In that matter, from the practical standpoint Kunjabihari Vidyabhusana, later Srimad Tirtha Maharaj, assisted Prabhupada a great deal. Gradually many scholars also gathered around him. With their help, he started the movement of Sri Gaudiya Math. He was inspired to preach, and he did so up to the last moment of his life.
When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura passed away, Srila Prabhupada arranged a condolence meeting in a public hall and invited many respectable gentlemen. Amongst them were the leading scholars of the time, including Bipin Pal, the then principal of the Metropolitan School; and Satish Sarkar, Panchkari Bandopadhyay, and others.
New Thought to the world
They all spoke very highly about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, recognizing that he gave new thought to the society at large; his writings were of original character, not stereotyped. His investigations into Vaisnavism excelled that of all the modern Acaryas. Shishir Ghosh also once said, "We have heard of the Six Goswamis of the time of Mahaprabhu, but Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s writings prove that he holds the seventh position amongst the Goswamis. He has left us such extensive and original writing about the teachings of Sri Chaitanyadev." In this way, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura left the world his literature - he is in his literature, present forever. He has delivered his writings about the Teachings of Mahaprabhu and Bhagavatam in a systematic and scientific way, suitable to the modern age. Our debt unto his Holy Feet has no end.
The Predominant Guru of Srila Prabhupada
Although Prabhupada, as suggested by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, took initiation from Gaura Kisora Babaji Maharaj, he still held Bhaktivinoda Thakura as his Guru, substantially. Formally, by the order of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, he took Gaura Kisora Babaji Maharaj as Gurudeva. Bhaktivinoda Thakura selected Srila Gaura Kisora for him, but from what we have found in him, he knew Bhaktivinoda Thakura as his Guru from the internal consideration. We find his outside and inside was filled with Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Bhaktivinoda Thakura not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense. Prabhupada inaugurated many Maths (Ashrams and Temples), and we find that he named the Deities "Vinoda-Vilasa," "Vinoda-Rama," "Vinodananda," "Vinoda-Prana," and so on.
He saw everything through his Gurudeva, Bhaktivinoda Thakura. His attempt to approach Sri Sri Radha Govinda or Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is inconceivable without Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s intervention in him. I attempted to write something about Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and I thought that this was the key to Prabhupada's affection towards me. His attention was drawn to me because I tried to give the greatness of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s character to the public in a systematic way. It is my own feeling. He can give everything to one who is a little attached to Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
That was his spirit. He thought himself indebted to Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s holy life, so much so, that he saw Srimati Radharani and Gadadhara Pandit in him. This is the highest ideal of Guru-tattva: Gadadhara Pandit in Gaura-lila, and Srimati Radharani in Krsna-lila, in Madhura-rasa. He also once said, "If we raise our vision and observe, we shall find Srimati Radharani in Gurudeva." If we raise our head a little and search, then we shall find that it is Srimati Radharani Herself who is behind the function of Gurudeva; all others are channels or instrumentals, but the real source of Grace as Guru springs from the Original Source of Service, of Love. He saw Bhaktivinoda Thakura in that light.
uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih
kim tu prabhor yah priya eva tasya
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
"According to all the Scriptures, Gurudeva is directly the Lord Himself, and the pure devotees also realize the same. He is actually a simultaneously one and different Manifestation of the Lord, different in the sense that he is the Lord's dearmost servitor. I offer my obeisances unto the Lotus Feet of that Divine Master, Sri Gurudeva."
We are asked to see Gurudeva not opaque, but transparent - transparent to such a degree that through him the highest end, the highest conception of Service, can be seen and attained. We can attain it there. If we are earnest, we shall find the highest link, from the very Source. So we are requested not to see Guru as limited in his ordinary personification, but as the Transparent Mediator of the highest function in his line. We can see this only if our vision is deep. According to the disciple's depth of sraddha, he will see the Lord present in his Gurudeva. The Guru Principle, Guru-tattva, is very special, very noble, very broad and very deep.
So we are warned against thinking that our Gurudeva is in mortal relativity. Prabhupada showed us by his ideal conduct how much earnestness one may have for Gurudeva. We have witnessed this in his practices and teachings. Gurvaika-nistha - exclusive adherence to the Service of Sri Guru. Bhaktivinoda Thakura was his very being. Everything was Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Indomitable Loyalty to Mahaprabhu:
Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada
Devotee: Is it true that Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami would openly criticize Isvarachandra Vidyasagar (a famous Sanskrit scholar of the time)?
Srila Guru Maharaj: Once Vidyasagar wrote in a book 'isvara-nirakara-caitanya-svarupa' ('The Lord is without any figure, and He is a mass of consciousness'). As but a young boy, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada went to him and challenged, "What have you written here? You say Isvara, Lord, and then you say nirakara, formless! Where have you found this? Isvara, the Creator, the Master - He is nirakara, formless?! Where have you found that Isvara is nirakara? He has a type of akara, form, and that is Cidakara, a Transcendental Form. But you say He is only a mass of consciousness and without any figure, and He is the Creator? Where have you found this?" In this way he challenged Vidyasagar. But he was very young, and Vidyasagar may not have cared for the challenge. Nonetheless, he did his duty. That was his temperament - he would always challenge. He had to challenge whatever was against the line of Mahaprabhu, otherwise he could have the satisfaction of having done his duty.
Devotee: No compromise.
Srila Guru Maharaj: No compromise. Protest. Once Rabindranath Tagore wrote articles in some book under a pen-name, and Prabhupada also wrote protesting against those writings, also under a pen-name. Devotee: Maharaj, did you personally spend some time with Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami?
Srila Guru Maharaj: Yes. In my later years with the mission I got chances to live with him quite often. Many persons used to come and visit him, and perhaps he liked to keep me with him to talk with them in a respectable way and to authoritatively explain his teachings to them. In his later years his memory faded, so when he spoke, some appropriate slokas from the Scriptures were required to be supplied, to indicate and support his line of thought. Very few of us could do that. When he was trying to recollect a certain sloka in support of his speech, I could generally supply it immediately, and sometimes in advance as well. Of course, we originally heard all those slokas and their proper representation from him only.
Infinite courage of the Pioneer
When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura began the Service of the Dhama and Mahaprabhu, he had to do many things to attract the public to accept his discovery of the Dhama as authentic. At that time, the place was uninhabited. Gradually a brick building was made, and the worship of the Deity of Mahaprabhu was begun.
The Temple came later. Generally the Brahmana cooks he required would not stay there very long because it was an isolated place and there were violent elements nearby. To ensure that the Service continued, he had to undergo many undesirable things. For example, sometimes he had to prepare ganjika (hemp) by his own hand, for the cook! Otherwise, the cook would have left. At times, when 'respectable' persons came, he had to make arrangements for tobacco. There were many other trials.
Our Guru Maharaj, Prabhupada, also did similar things, to the extreme. When Anderson, the Governor, was invited to Mayapur, at that time it was arranged with a Calcutta hotel to bring appropriate food for the function, including even meats. The hotelier was arranged to cater for the Governor and his entourage. And when Prabhupada suggested some similar approach in foreign preaching also, I modestly protested that if the meat dishes, non-vegetarian dishes, were served in the Math area it would bring criticism to the mission; to which he replied, "No, no! I decided all these things thousands of births ago. We have to do anything and everything for the Service of Mahaprabhu." That was his answer. Vaikuntha-vrtti - no kuntha, no limitation: 'I am prepared to do anything for the Service of Mahaprabhu, for the propagation of His Mission. The Grace of Mahaprabhu should be distributed throughout the length and breadth of the whole world. And for that, anything should be done. No stone unturned. Physical connection is no connection. We shall try to save our internal purity, that is all.' And to save so many souls from impure habits and diet, Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj also took the risk of external contamination by filthy things. He had to go to the place of that anti-atmosphere to save them. If the house is on fire, one must run the risk of burns to his body if he really wants to save the inhabitants.
The Thakura’s Divine Vision and Foresight
Devotee: Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda also had a great vision for the world.
Srila Guru Maharaj: Yes. He saw in his divine eye that Prema-dharma, the Religion based on Divine Love, is so self-evident in character that the intelligent could never avoid embracing such a conception of Pure Religion Is the highest. Love - Prema - the fine intellect cannot but detect the purity in the Love in religion, in its highest conception. His idea was: 'With an unbiased mind, the Western thinkers cannot but appreciate the doctrine of Divine Love, as given out by Sri Chaitanyadev. So I am sure that in the future many of the Western scholars will come under the flag of Sri Chaitanyadev.' This was his conviction, and he mentioned this in lectures that he delivered throughout Bengal.
When Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj returned from preaching in England, he brought one Mr. Burchett back with him. A meeting was held at the Bagh Bazaar Math. That meeting was presided over by a gentleman of the name Hiran Dutta, a good scholar and a Theosophist. In his talk he said, "When we were students at City College, Bhaktivinoda Thakura delivered a lecture there to the effect that in the near future Western scholars would come and join the Sankirtana under the banner of Mahaprabhu. Now, clearly, I can bear witness to the fact that his prediction is beginning to come true. I heard the lecture in my young days, and now in my old age I see the evidence - it is going to be true. I am very glad for that."
Devotee: Did Your Grace ever have the darsana of Thakura Bhaktivinoda?
Srila Guru Maharaj: No. He left the world in 1914, and I joined the mission in 1926, twelve years later.
Devotee: Perhaps you met other persons who had his contact?
Srila Guru Maharaj: There was one Parvat Maharaj who lived next door to Bhaktivinoda Thakura when he passed his old age in Godruma.
"To spread the Holy Name around..."
Parvat Maharaj said that there was only a partition wall between his house and Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s. That was at Surabhi Kunja. From about three o'clock in the morning, Bhaktivinoda Thakura would rise and take the Name of Krsna, the Mahamantra, at the top of his voice. Parvat Maharaj described it like this. As though calling someone from afar - with this spirit Bhaktivinoda Thakura would chant the Holy Name. That Maharaj was astonished to see such behavior. There was a cement chair, and when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura felt tired he took his seat and rested there awhile. And then after some time he would again wander in the garden, chanting at the top of his voice, "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna!" With such animation in his voice he was calling - calling a person; with this spirit, and not in a formal way, but with a material hankering, he was calling for the Lord.
There was another thing I also heard about him from another source, Ram Gopal Vidyabhusana, an M.A. and Barrister-at-law.
Ram Gopal Vidyabhusana told me, "Once we went to visit him. We had heard that a Government officer, an educated man, had become a Vaisnava Babaji. So we went to see him, and someone amongst us asked him, 'Please speak something about Krsna and Krsna-nama (the Holy Name of Krsna).'
"After a moment, Bhaktivinoda Thakura then said, 'Oh, you want to hear something about Krsna, you want? You want Krsna-nama?' In this way he continued for some time: 'Krsna? You are so fortunate? You have come to hear Krsna-nama?'
"Then the consequence of that inquiry had such an influence on his body and mind, that as it is written by him personally in his own poem, Sri-Nama-Mahatmya:
krsna-nama dhare kata bala
visaya-vasananale, mora citta sada jvale,
ravi-tapta marubhumi sama;
karna-randhra patha diya, hrdi majhe pravesiya
varisaya sudha anupama 
hrdaya haite bale, jihvara agrete cale,
sabda-rupe nace anuksana;
kanthe more bhange svara, anga kape thara thara,
sthira haite na pare carana 
cakse dhara, dehe gharmma, pulakita saba carmma,
vivarna haila kalevara;
murcchita haila mana, pralayera agamana,
bhave sarva-deha jara jara 
kari' eta upadrava, citte varse sudhadrava,
more dare premera sagare;
kichu na bujhite dila, more ta' batula kaila,
mora citta-vitta saba hare 
lainu asraya ya'ra, hena vyavahara ta'ra
balite na pari e sakala;
krsna-nama icchamaya, yahe yahe sukhi haya,
sei mora sukhera sambala 
premera kalika nama, adbhuta rasera dhama,
hena bala karaye prakasa;
isat vikasi' punah, dekhaya nija-rupa-guna,
citta hari' laya krsna-pasa 
purna vikasita hanya, vraje more yaya lanya,
dekhaya more svarupa - vilasa;
more siddha deha diya, krsna-pase rakhe giya,
e dehera kare sarva-nasa 
krsna-nama cintamani, akhila-rasera khani,
namera balai yata, saba lay 'e hai hata,
tabe mora sukhera udaya 
Cakse dhara - From my eyes tears flowed; dehe gharmma - my body perspired; murcchita haila mana - I fell into a faint; kari' eta upadrava - the Holy Name created a great turmoil in me; citte varse sudha-drava - causing a rain of nectarine current in my heart; more dare premera sagare - and casting me into the ocean of ecstasy, of Love; kichu na bujhite dila, more ta' batula kaila - I could not feel the environment around me, and became as though mad; mora citta-vitta saba hare - I lost myself in that thought.*
*For an illuminating full translation extracted from Srila Guru Maharaj's informal talks, see p.126-129, Search for Sri Krsna: Reality the Beautiful, published by Guardian of Devotion Press. - Ed. (search for Saranagati)
That gentleman, Ram Gopal Vidyabhusana said, "I saw with my own eyes that all these symptoms were displayed in his body and mind, simply upon hearing our inquiry. Bhaktivinoda Thakura said, 'You are so fortunate, you have come to hear Krsna-nama from me? Krsna - ! Krsna - !' In this way, he entered into another domain, and so many symptoms and expressions appeared in his body and mind - convulsions, tears, all these things." I heard this from an eye-witness.
Devotee: Is it true that prior to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s appearance the Vaisnava tradition had become very much neglected?
Srila Guru Maharaj: Very few suddha Vaisnavas were to be found, just before the appearance of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. But he adjusted religion in a modem garb, and so it was easy for many regardful students to come forward and accept suddha Vaisnavism. It had been much molested by pseudo-followers. The real ideal had become eclipsed, and so for the inquisitive it was difficult to have real entrance and real attachment for Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
The so-called Babajis were especially responsible for disturbing the ideal. They hailed from any caste, they could marry, and they simply went on taking the name with no proper practice or feeling of real earnestness for the truth. They dragged on their lives with no pure practices or pure habits, and worst of all, in the name of religion they freely mixed with women. That brought in return a hatred for them in society. Similarly, those 'Goswamis' who took up initiating disciples as their trade also lost their honor in the general respectful society, because they had some low association. The Babajis and Goswamis lost their prestige in society because of their imitative character. But Gaudiya Math came out with the real spirit of religion, and pure practices subsequently followed. So the attention of the educated inquirers after truth was drawn to Gaudiya Math and they flocked together.
Devotee: After hearing about great personalities like Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, we feel ourselves to be very insignificant.
Srila Guru Maharaj: Yes. We can but do our might, contribute our might as much as possible for the Service of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.