miércoles, 27 de julio de 2011

Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bipin Bihari Goswami

Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bipin Bihari Goswami

By Jagat

So, for the occasion of Bhaktivinoda Thakur's appearance, and to thumb our nose at those who would deny Bipin Bihari Goswami's role in the Thakur's life, I include an article that was posted originally on-line on the now defunct Gaudiya Discussions. I must have started writing this at around the time I was translating the above-mentioned text.

I have just copied it here, unexpurgated. Some of the links don't work. Sorry about that. Perhaps in some respects the article is inappropriate for Bhaktivinoda Thakur's appearance day, because it is not unadulterated hagiography, which is apparently the path we have to follow if we want to attain spiritual perfection. I don't know, folks. It's a bee in my bonnet. It might not be as big a bee in my bonnet as it was in my guru's, but I have to carry this tiny banner for him, even if I do nothing else in my life.

Do I really care any more? This is such an old battle that I can barely relate to it emotionally any more. It sometimes seems that my position has shifted so far from the conventional Vaishnava sampradaya attitudes that gave rise to the controversy in the first place. I offer my respects to all these gurus because they passed something of value on to me, but it is my unfortunate task to look at the weaknesses they have left in the edifice of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. However flawed I am, I was just made this way. So forgive me for bringing this all up again.

A pox on everyone who pretends that Bipin Bihari Goswami played no role in the rise of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the world. After reading the article again, I stand by my conclusions.


Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bipin Bihari Goswami

Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s relationship with Bipin Bihari Goswami
A name remarkable for its absence in the parampara given by Siddhanta Saraswati is that of Bipin Bihari Goswami (1850-1919), the initiating spiritual master of Kedarnath Datta, Bhaktivinoda Thakur. (1)

Born 3 Sravan 1850, Bipin Bihari was twelve years Bhaktivinoda’s junior. He was born in the family of Goswamis whose seat is in Baghna Para, between Kalna and Nabadwip in the Burdwan district. This is the seat of Ramachandra Goswami, the grandson of Vamsivadanananda Thakur, an associate of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and the adopted son and disciple of Jahnava Thakurani, the wife of Nityananda Prabhu.

Married at 13, Bipin Bihari moved to Hooghly district. He became closely involved with the Brahmo Samaj, causing a reaction from other members of the Baghna Para family, who insisted that he move back to Kalna. There he began associating with the famous "siddha," Bhagavan Das Babaji, one of the most notable Vaishnavas of the time. He studied the Vaishnava scriptures with Bhagavan Das for nine years. He also studied with another prominent renounced Vaishnava, Nabadwip’s Chaitanya Das Babaji. He took initiation from Yajneshwar Goswami in 1872.

He began writing articles almost immediately after initiation and submitted articles on Gaudiya Vaishnavism to various magazines both in Bengali (Prema-pracharini, Samvada-purna-candrodaya) and English (The Education Gazette). He made his reputation in 1877-1880 by giving lectures on the Bhagavatam and attracted the attention of the king of Burdwan, Mahatap Chand. Aftab Chand, Mahatap Chand’s successor, also regularly invited Bipin Bihari to the Burdwan palace.

Bipin Bihari Goswami wrote a number of books. The first, written in Sanskrit, Harinamamrita-sindhu, was published in 1879. His major work, Dasa-mula-rasa (1898), is over a thousand pages long and covers the gamut of Gaudiya Vaishnava doctrine and practice. Other works were Arcanamrita-sAgara (1883), Madhura-milana, Sara-sangraha, Bhava-sangraha, Hari-bhakti-tarangini (1902) and a number of Sanskrit and Bengali poems and songs.

Kedarnath Datta and his wife both took initiation from Bipin Bihari Goswami in 1879, after three years of exchanging letters.(2) Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself summarized his initiation from his guru in his autobiographical letter to his son Lalita Prasad in 1896.

I had been searching for a suitable guru for a long time, but had not found one, so I was feeling disturbed. Whenever I met someone in whom I could have a little faith, when I studied his teachings and character, I would lose whatever little faith I had. I was quite worried, but Prabhu eradicated these worries in a dream. In that dream, I had a hint of what would happen and when morning came, I felt joyful. A day or two later, Gurudeva wrote me a letter saying, "I will come soon and give you initiation." When he came and performed the initiation rituals, I became cheerful. From that day on the sin of meat eating vanished from my heart and I began to feel a little compassion toward all beings. (3)

In the period that followed, Bipin Bihari and Bhaktivinoda cooperated in the publication of the periodical Sajjana-toshani, which first appeared in 1882. Many articles by Bipin Bihari appeared there, as well as his translation of Vishnu-sahasra-nama. In January 1886, he arranged for his disciple to be given the title Bhaktivinoda in Baghna Para itself in a ceremony at the Baladeva Krishna temple. (4)

Bhaktivinoda mentions his spiritual master’s name in several places in his own writings to offer him respects, as is appropriate Vaishnava etiquette for an author. These appear in works published in 1893 (Siddhi-lalasa of Gita-mala), at the end of his commentary on the Chaitanya Charitamrita (1894) (5), in his introduction to an edition of Krishna Karnamrita, (6) in 1898 and in Bhagavatarka-marichi-mala in 1901, one of the Thakur’s last works. (7)

The two texts from Giti-mala are particularly interesting, as they indicate the siddha name of Bipin Bihari, which is Vilasa Manjari.

When will Vilasa Manjari and Ananga Manjari [Jahnava Mata] see me and, being merciful, speak the follow essential words?

O Vilasa Manjari, Ananga Manjari and Rupa Manjari, please notice me and accept me at your feet, bestowing on me the essence of all perfection?

In both of these songs, Bhaktivinoda follows the classical tradition established by Narottam Das of praying to his spiritual master in his siddha form as a Manjari. It is thus clear that Bhaktivinoda had not only taken initiation, but had also received siddha-pranali from his guru. Shukavak Das has argued in his work on Bhaktivinoda that he followed the Rasa-raja concept of worship that had been developed in the early days of the Baghna Para line. (8)

In Kalyana-kalpa-taru, Bhaktivinoda Thakur also offers heartfelt prayers for the association of Srimati Ananga Manjari in the spiritual world, further showing a strong affinity for Jahnava Mata, the original preceptor in Bipin Bihari Goswami's line.

Cooperation between Bhaktivinoda Thakur and his spiritual master continued on other levels to the very end of the former’s active career as a writer and preacher, which may be said to have come about in around 1907, the date of his last published work and after which his health began to deteriorate considerably.

Most notably, Bipin Bihari participated in the meeting of dignitaries in Krishnagar in 1893, helping Bhaktivinoda Thakur to launch the great project of establishing Chaitanya’s birthplace in Mayapur. Bipin Bihari's magnum opus, Dasa-mula-rasa, written in 1898, not only quotes a verse written by Bhaktivinoda in 1896, but seems to have been inspired by it. (9) In his autobiographical notes to that work, Bipin Bihari proudly mentions Kedarnath Datta as his disciple. All indications are that from 1880 up until at least 1901, the two worked harmoniously. Nowhere has anyone been able to demonstrate that Bhaktivinoda Thakur ever said anything negative or dismissive about Bipin Bihari Gosvami.

Some, like Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha Maharaj(10), say that Bhaktivinoda "did not imbibe any of the conceptions of Bipin Bihari Goswami." He argues that Bhaktivinoda placed central importance on the chanting of the Holy Names "in contrast to the stress on siddha-pranali given by Bipin Bihari Goswami." This of course is nonsense, for on the one hand Bipin Bihari Goswami's first book was written in glorification of the Holy Name (Harinamamrita-sindhu), and on the other, Bhaktivinoda himself stressed the siddha-pranali method of bhajan in at least three of his books: Jaiva-dharma, Chaitanya-sikshamrita and Harinama-chintamani. Bhaktivinoda followed the siddha pranali system himself and passed it on to his son Lalita Prasad, to whom he gave initiation.

Did Bhaktivinoda Thakur ever reject Bipin Bihari Goswami?
This would then appear to be the very image of a perfectly harmonious guru-disciple relationship, were it not for a number of issues that were raised in the years following the deaths of both Bhaktivinoda and Bipin Bihari. The classical statement of this position is given by Rupa Vilasa Dasa in his biography of Bhaktivinoda Thakur, The Seventh Goswami:

Bipin Bihari Goswami initially enjoyed a very sweet relationship with the Thakur, but later he is said to have been neglected by the Thakur due to a disagreement about the position of Raghunath Das Goswami. He also assisted the Thakur in his preaching work, but his spiritual advancement was not on the same level as the "Commander-in-chief of the Vaishavas," as Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji came to be called... (11)

This proposition is riddled with misconceptions, but arises as a result of a need to explain why the initiating spiritual master of Bhaktivinoda Thakur is not a part of Siddhanta Saraswati's disciplic succession. Siddhanta Saraswati may have felt it necessary to reject Bipin Bihari Goswami, but how can this be explained if Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself did not do so?

Saraswati’s disciples have adopted his concept of prioritizing teaching (siksha) over formal ordination (diksha) as a sign of relationship and a marker of disciplic succession. They thus wish to establish that the renunciate bhajananandi Jagannath Das was more significant in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s life than Bipin Bihari Goswami, who represents the Gaudiya Math's bête noire—the householder Vaishnava born in the traditional guru families.

At the time Bhaktivinoda was living, however, the siksha and diksha gurus would have occupied complementary roles, not exclusive of one another. Even if Bhaktivinoda had considered Jagannath to be more advanced than his own initating spiritual master, a not at all unusual or offensive attitude, this would not have affected his disciplic relationship with Bipin Bihari Goswami. Scripture is clear: there can only be one initiating guru, who is not to be abandoned unless there is a sign of complete destitution from the spiritual path. There appears to be no evidence of this in the case of Bipin Bihari Goswami.

Some representatives of the Gaudiya Math, such as Narasingha Maharaj try to discredit Bipin Bihari by saying that he was engaged in less than exemplary behavior such as smoking tobacco. On the one hand this is hearsay; on the other, this in itself would probably not been considered sufficient criterion for rejection. After all, would Bhaktivinoda Thakur not have been aware of this from the very beginning of his relationship?

Other oft-heard statements linking Jagannath Das Babaji to Bhaktivinoda as his real spiritual master are that he took vesh from him (another misconception, by the way, for this was a unilateral act performed years after the Babaji's death), or because Jagannath helped him to discover the place of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance, or that Bhaktivinoda called him "Vaishnava-sarvabhauma." None of these, however, indicate that Bhaktivinoda Thakur rejected his initiating spiritual master. It is evident from Bhaktivinoda’s relationship with own son and disciple, Lalita Prasad, that he held the diksha relationship to be paramount, at least when it came to the understanding of initiation and disciplic succession.

The Raghunath Das Goswami Issue
A more significant claim coming from the Gaudiya Math is that Bhaktivinoda Thakur rejected Bipin Bihari because he had taken an unsavory stance on the Raghunath Das Goswami issue. Little can truly be ascertained here, but we shall examine it briefly anyway. The setting of this incident is the famous Balighai meeting that took place on Bhadra 22, 1318 (i.e., September 1911). (12)

Here is the summary of this position as expressed by Narasingha Maharaj:

In 1911 there was an famous assembly of scholars held in Medinipur (Bengal) wherein the topic of debate was to be on "Brahmin and Vaishnavas." Bipin Bihari Goswami was present at that assembly and, as was already known, he would side with the brahmana community on the platform that brahmana Vaishnavas were automatically superior to non-Brahmin Vaishnavas, due to a brahmana being born in a higher caste. Bhaktivinode Thakura was also invited to attend that assembly. The conflict between he (sic) and Bipin Bihari was destined. Bhaktivinoda Thakur--not wanting to take a position of confronting and attempting to defeat his "diksha guru" in a public forum declined to attend the meeting on the plea of bad health. In his place he sent Saraswati Thakur (age 37) to represent the Gaudiya Vaishnava Siddhanta in the line of Sri Rupa and Raghunath Das Goswami, as per the teachings of Mahaprabhu. We all know what happened in the meeting."

In his book on the history of the Baghna Pada Vaishnavas, Kanan Bihari Goswami makes the following interesting statement: "He [Bipin Bihari Goswami] defeated the scriptural considerations of the Smarta pandits and demonstrated the superiority of Gaudiya Vaishnavism." Evidently, there seems to be some misunderstanding: both traditions hold that their man was defending the same position.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura did for sometime show formal respect to Bipin Bihari Goswami. But when the Goswami disrespected Srila Raghunath Das Goswami by thinking that he can give blessings to Raghunath Das, the prayojana-acarya, because Raghunath Das was from a "lower caste," the Thakur distanced himself more from Bipin Bihari Goswami.(13)

I have heard, though I have not been able to get it confirmed, that a statement of this type was made by one of Bipin Bihari Goswami's more zealous disciples, a young zamindar by the name of Choudhary Jadabendranandan. This then was attributed to Bipin Bihari, but once this attribution became tradition it has been established a a "fact" though no real evidence can be found to substantiate it. Since Bipin Bihari Goswami spoke strongly at the Midnapur debate that Vaishnavas were superior to Brahmins, this accusation becomes even more doubtful and seems likely to be the result of some misunderstanding.

All Vaishnavas are agreed that the Vaishnava is superior to a Brahmin in the karma kanda. There are, however, some subtleties that have arisen in the course of time that were objected to by reformers like Siddhanta Saraswati. These were principally the incursion of caste conventions into Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This will require something of a detour into other matters, but we will do so since they are not without relevance to the subject at hand.

The debate around Raghunath Das arises from the fact that of the six Goswamis, he was the only one who was not born in the Brahminical caste. He was also the first person known to have worshiped the Giridhari shila, which was given to him by Lord Chaitanya himself. The question asked by the Brahmin Vaishnavas is why Mahaprabhu confided the worship of Giridhari in him rather than Shalagram, as was worshiped by Rupa and Gopal Bhatta Goswamis? Some consider this to be exemplary behavior on Mahaprabhu’s part, setting the standard of behavior for non-Brahmin Vaishnavas, by putting Shalagram worship, like the Gayatri mantra and sacred thread, out of their purview. As with the wearing of saffron cloth, the standards of behavior of the associates of Mahaprabhu are considered law that stands above scripture. Thus, though scripture approves the worship of Shalagram by non-Brahmin Vaishnavas, the maryada followed by most Gaudiyas not born in the Brahmin caste is that they do not do so.

The usual reference is found in Jiva Goswami's commentary to Srimad Bhagavatam (3.33.6).(14) He there states that there is no need for a non-Brahmin Vaishnava to perform the savana-yajna, even though the verse clearly states there he is so so free from sin that he is "eligible" to do so. Jiva interprets this to mean that a low-caste Vaishnava is more revered than a Brahmin, but that this verse does not specifically permit him to act as a karma-kanda Brahmin. The primary reason for this is that is such sacrifices are outside the scope of a Vaishnava's duties or desires. Vishwanath Chakravarti (himself a Brahmin) has elaborated further on this point to some degree, stating that since such sacrificial activities are lower on the spiritual hierarchy than direct service to Krishna, they are not to be taken up even by Brahmin Vaishnavas.

In other words, Gaudiya Vaishnavism historically did not interfere with the social status quo. Siddhanta Saraswati’s daiva-varnashram ideas were radically opposed to this vision, as he tried to democratize the Brahminical function and open it, so to speak, to people from all castes and races.

Narasingha Maharaj also repeats the received Gaudiya Math tradition, no doubt heard from Saraswati himself, that Bipin Bihari arrogantly claimed that he, as a Brahmin, was in a position to bless Raghunath, a Shudra. This kind of statement is obviously inflammatory. All evidence indicates that Raghunath, as a humble Vaishnava, would have observed the social protocol of the time and would have offered due respects to any Brahmin.(15) There is external protocol and inner spiritual achievement. The external protocol is based on social position, not on inner worth. Hari Das Thakur observed the protocols of Jagannath Puri: despite being universally recognized as a man who was as holy if not more so than the Brahmins who served Jagannath, he never attempted to enter the temple there. Sanatan also respected the Puri Brahmins' ritual purity out of extreme humility and avoided coming in contact with them.

No doubt caste prestige and position are dangerous spiritually and also lead to social abuse. From a Marxist perspective, the only way that the lower caste or casteless Vaishnava could gain a modicum of social prestige was to become a renunciate, in other words, to take himself completely out of society and forfeit any worldly privileges. But such critiques are entirely separate and distinct from those found in the scriptures, where the issue is only whether a lower caste Hindu can enhance himself socially (and by extension his family) by becoming a Vaishnava. As the Vaishnava is supposed to be indifferent to Varnashram, elevation to Brahminical duties through his religious activities or spiritual achievements is clearly counterindicated.

We are, of course, dealing with a feudal mentality that functions within the static agrarian culture of the Indian middle ages. What transpired is to a great degree the result of a clash of civilizations--egalitarian Western concepts had started to be internalized in Bengali society through the reform or renaissance movements that began with Ram Mohun Roy. Though some kind of spiritual egalitarianism may have been inherent in Vaishnavism, I think it is not excessive to say that no external transformation of social hierarchies ever took place in Gaudiya Vaishnava, nor that it was ever intended. In the opinion of a Ramakanta Chakravarty, it never was, though Bengali Vaishnavism did at least stop the hemorrhaging of lower caste Hindus to the socially more egalitarian Muslims, winning them back into accepting Brahminical leadership. With very few exceptions, Mahaprabhu’s close associates were Brahmins and the non-Brahmins amongst them were perhaps nothing more than representative "tokens."

Scriptures like the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, which suggest that where possible one should take a guru who is a Brahmin, in the absence of which one should take a guru who is in a higher caste than oneself, are marginalized by the Gaudiya Math as a mere concession to the caste-conscious times. Nevertheless, their very sanction in Gaudiya Vaishnava rulebooks would indicate that maintaining existing Hindu caste conventions was not an aberration in Vaishnava society.

To summarize: It would appear that Bipin Bihari took the conventional position held by orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnavas prior to Saraswati Thakur in holding that though a Vaishnava was spiritually superior to a Brahmin, that did not accord a Vaishnava any specific social rights. Saraswati strongly contested this social conservatism and his Daiva Varnashram doctrine was a powerful element in his preaching movement.

To establish Bipin Bihari’s position, however, we are on shaky territory, for we are not in possession of any of his writings, nor do we have an objective account of the Balighai meeting that could shed further light on these controversies. With only a partisan account of these matters, we cannot make any conclusive pronouncements. But, on the whole, since Bipin Bihari's position at worst would have been conventional, it does not seem that in itself it would have been cause for Bhaktivinoda Thakur to reject him. And, of course, as stated, there is no evidence that he did so.

Did Bipin Bihari Goswami reject Bhaktivinoda Thakur?
More significant and troubling for disciples in the line of Bhaktivinoda is evidence that Bipin Bihari Goswami rejected Bhaktivinoda because of "preaching untruths" about the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

As mentioned above, Bipin Bihari was one of the first directors of the committee to oversee the worship of Sriman Mahaprabhu, newly established at the Yogapith in Mayapur by Bhaktivinoda Thakur in 1891. However, though many significant personalities in the Vaishnava world participated in these events, not everyone accepted this as the true birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Not long afterward, controversy arose when a certain Vraja Mohan Das Babaji, an engineer in his life before renunciation, declared that the so-called Yogapith in Mayapur was false and that the real one was in Ranichora, a suburb of Nabadwip that had recently been reclaimed from the receding Ganges. (16)

After the disappearance of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur in 1914 these controversies became quite shrill, and nasty exchanges went on between the followers of Saraswati Thakur and the Nabadwip adherents. This time, however, Bipin Bihari Goswami sided with the Nabadwip Goswamis and in 1919 rejected the claims of Bhaktivinoda and his son in a small newspaper of his own called Gauranga-sevaka Patrika.

Unhappy with the Miapur controversy. In order to show his commitment to the Nabadwip, [Bipin Bihari] held a festival in honor of Vamsivadanananda Thakur in Kuliya in 1919. He disappeared the same year. (K. B. Goswami, 542) (17)

Since this rejection took place after Bhaktivinoda’s disappearance, it may well be that Saraswati and his disciples’ heavy-handed approach to the debate contributed to Bipin Bihari’s making a break of this sort. However, it is not unlikely that he became convinced that Bhaktivinoda had wilfully fabricated evidence to promote the Mayapur birthsite.

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