November 7, 1998 VNN2471
Vaishnava Unity - Traditional and Avant-Guard Approach
BY SWAMI B.A. PARAMADVAITI
EDITORIAL, Nov 7 (VNN) We are approaching the end of the century and the beginning of the third millennium. Lord Chaitanya predicted that the chanting of the holy names of Krishna will reach every corner of the world. The message of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu which has been explained in the biography of Krishna das Kaviraj, Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita, gives us a clear understanding of a religion of pure love, full of mercy for all and free from envy of each other. How surprising is it then that the practitioners of the bhakti cult are so easily divided over even trivial issues like ceremonial details. Sometimes they are not united due to misunderstandings, other times due to lack of proper Vaishnava etiquette or overzealous preaching of enthusiastic neophytes.
There is also the permanent suspicion that someone may serve himself through Krishna or one of his missions rather then purely serving the transcendental interest of the Sweet Absolute. Since every kind of deviation and falldown has already happened one time or another, Vaishnavas from all over the world have by now some relevant experience to which they can refer to. That may excuse up to a certain extent the analytical attitude of some. It may, however, lead towards an offensive mentality in general. Let us not forget the impact of favoritism to ones' own race, caste and family connections. Moreover, fear and resentments towards some particular people such as Americans, white people, brahmanas, Bengalis, Hindustanis, Southerners, Jews, Muslims, Russians and others, makes a world unity amongst the followers of Shri Chaitanya almost impossible. Is it really impossible?
We have heard our acharyas say that this word comes from a fool's dictionary. Therefore we should go on to reevaluate the possibilities and benefits the world would get if Vaisnavas would be successful in finding a common ground. Many devotees have not felt the need for the World Vaishnava Association- Vishva Vaishnava Raj Sabha (VVRS-WVA). They are happily serving their gurus and missions in different capacities. But do they face the question about their dignity and identity as a group or as a Vaishnava individual? Many people in the world including governments, reporters and intellectuals question these days the validity of the guru-disciple relationship.
Looking at obscure cults with personalities of abusive nature in the leadership, it has become suspicious to belong to any minority religious group. Our own tradition of guru-disciple relationships and the formation of ashrams do not support abuse, irreligiosity, destruction of the family or criminal activities as has been found in strange cults around the world. We have a tradition of purity, goodness, selfless surrender, social welfare, spiritual upliftment, control of the senses, support to responsible family relationships, ecological awareness etc. Our tradition suits the need of the world for a pure religious revival. Those who are not preaching openly to new recruits or public forums may not feel that need of an identity beyond their own individual mission. But since the plan of Lord Chaitanya is for the whole world, and many new temples and missions are arising, the Vaishnavas are repeatedly investigated and questioned about their spiritual, intellectual and organizational affiliation by the public, scholars and the press.
It is our sacred duty as representatives of our guru-varga to create a positive impression in the world regarding all of our activities. This is the reason why the VVRS-WVA has an important function. United we stand, divided we fall. As the saying goes "Unity is strength." This may sound rhetorical, but if you are in a position of difficulty, you would rejoice if other Vaishnavas in the world are backing up the validity and religious dignity of your activities. In India this image may be accomplished by simply wearing a particular type of tilak, but in the West that is surely not the case. But even in India we see that materialism up to even meat eating is in a constant rise, let alone Mayavadi contamination. Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada impressed people in India very much and rekindled the spiritual enthusiasm in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition due to his world campaign. In a similar way, world Vaishnava unity will be so attractive and powerful that even Vaishnavas from South India will be enthused to come forward and accept the unique position of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And as an accepted world religion how much good can Vaishnavas do for India and the whole world. Today in meetings of the world religions Vaishnavas are hardly noticeable or represented. Every mission has a recognized individual autonomy and validity. The affiliation with the VVRS-WVA is just another opulence to further enhance the credibility of our preaching.
According to the by-laws and the design of the VVRS-WVA which you can find on the Internet, VVRS- WVA does not interfere in any missions' activities. The VVRS-WVA does not promote one mission or acharya over the others. VVRS-WVA protects the dignity of Vaishnavism keeping a distance from any individual's activities which are harmful to the general interest of all the members. Vaishnava Unity therefore is a true necessity even if one does not feel that he will be benefited by this very much. This great ideal was promoted by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself. What did motivate the appearance of Lord Chaitanya? It is interesting to note that His appearance has a unity aspect which has been glorified as the highest unity. Shrila Vrindavan Das Thakur has explained, "shri krishna chaitanya radha krishna nahe anya." The personality of Shri Chaitanya is the combination of the predominated moiety of Shrimati Radharani with the predominating moiety of Bhagavan Shri Krishna. That transcendental union takes place at Imli Tala in Vrindavan. It has been revealed by Shri Chaitanya to Ramananda Ray and we have all been blessed with the sweetness of the message of madhurya rasa due to the merciful intervention of the audharya lila.
On the other side, the pastimes of the lila avataras show less prominent aspects of the Absolute. No doubt He is also the lover of truth, the just slayer of demons like Hiranyakashipu (Nrisinghadev); the benefactor of the demigods who recover their lost property from Bali Maharaj (Vamanadev); the enlightened one who saves poor animals from the butcher section of degraded brahmanas (Buddha); the king who perfectly rules the world up to the point to break the heart of people by sending away Sita (Ram). Little of unconditional unity and magnanimity can we find in those lilas. They carry the message of dharma, righteousness and obedience. Now, all of a sudden, at the threshold of the third millennium, we see a new trend appearing. Is it consistent with the teachings of the Vedas? Nonborn brahmanas take the murtis of Bhagavan to foreign countries and worship them with traditional and local ingredients. Millions listen to the mahamantra with samba and rock 'n 'roll tunes.
Krishna katha and holy books appear by now in streets and colleges around the world in every possible language. We see devotees dancing together from all works of life. What previously was only Indian heritage is now welcome and widely appreciated by all. Even Western gurus with Indian brahmana born disciples. It sounds like a dream. And this is rapidly increasing. Now also the two main Gaudiya Vaishnava movements who had been instrumental to carry the message far and wide have branched into many little apparently independent movements, making it harder to even track down where they all are and what they do. For all of these movements, the expression of the great Vaishnava Vasudeva Datta is their hearts' expression: "If Mahaprabhu would not have come, how could we sustain our lives? How could we live? What type of ecstatic rasa has He imbibed that we have been able to have a little taste? Without this our life would be impossible." It is a divine plan to be divided.
If every drop of water which falls is controlled by the Supreme Lord, how could He be separated from what is going on in His own missions? Also this divided aspect is a constant challenge for new devotees to qualify and take responsibility on behalf of the dignity of their spiritual master. In addition this diversification creates a foundation which is increasingly invincible. One mission with one administrative center is very vulnerable in a world which is not seldom opposed to the preaching of unalloyed love and a life of sacrifice to divinity. Even from the side of the families of aspiring Vaishnavas, great attempts have been made to stop the activities of the Vaisnavas. In America that went so far that parents paid up to 20,000 US$ to get their children kidnapped from the temples and forcefully deprogrammed by subjecting them to torture and to non- stop offenses against their spiritual faith. Vaishnavas are not always welcome everywhere. Recent history has given us cases of illegal imprisonment of Vaishnavas in Russia, court cases to stop the preaching in Poland. Persecution of Vaishnavas by governments in Chile, Romania and other countries. Sometimes due to fear to loose their influence, governments and other religions have made it difficult for particular Vaishnavas or missions to even send their children to school or to establish a solid base for their activities.
Of course, not all aspiring bhaktas or those who pose as bhaktas have always acted perfectly. If you engage conditioned souls in the service of God and in the strict discipline of bhakti yoga, it is not surprising if some candidate repents his decision and returns to his former life, which sometimes was even of illegal nature. Vaishnavas do not close the door to those who previously may have had involvement with wrong activities and misconduct of any kind. Rather it has been the mercy certificate since the deliverance of Jagai Madhai that this incarnation of the Lord has the special feature to forgive and distribute transcendental love. Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakur made it a point to specifically prove this. If surrender to divinity is so powerful that even a degraded person can be saved, then there is also hope for us. We should not be over critical about others. However, some speak like this: " We feel that we and our group modestly considered are just a bit better than all the others. Of course, that is only because I got this spiritual master who appears to be more special than all the others I have mercifully glanced upon." Others correctly think:" It is just because of the false ego which has managed another new trick to keep them away from the impartial understanding of the descent of divinity in an uncontrollable fashion through a host of different agents." The divine ashraya vigraha which great souls have confirmed is none other then the divine reality of Shrimati Radharani. This comes in a special disguise and manifests itself to save all those who have chanted with fervor for Her grace.
Nobody would dare to claim that he has the rights reserved for Her merciful dispensation, but alas! when we come to the point of glorifying our divine master, we often just cannot stop doing it at the expense of others in slightly perverted ways. This amounts in the long run to substantial Vaishnava aparadha. And this is also why many disciples of other spiritual masters have taken refuge distant from our association. Unity is not so easy to accomplish but no effort should be spared in this direction. We shall not become pessimistic and give up our genuine enthusiasm for such a noble purpose. Our divine guardian Srila Jiva Goswami obediently executed the order of Sri Sanatan and Sri Rupa Goswami as he established and defended the Vishva Vaishnava Raj Sabha. Problems of different Missions and even the departure of spiritual masters from the perfect path had already been experienced or foreseen in that time and therefore Srila Narahari Sarkar Thakur compiled the Krishna Bhajanamritam to teach us how to deal with such complicated issues. Unity for what? That is a very good and justified question. Because unity for a bad thing will constitute only further confusion and more reactions. Unity against another Vaisnava family will cause catastrophic reactions. But unity for the sake of pleasing the Supreme Lord can only take us closer to the real spirit of the teachings of the bonafide acharyas. The vision of Srila Jiva Goswami to create a unified forum for all the Vaisnavas could not have been wrong. Of the same opinion were great stalwarts like Shrinivas Acharya, Narottama das Thakur, Shyamananda Prabhu, Hemalata Thakurani as well as Shrila Bhaktivinod Thakur, Shrila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Shrila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev Goswami and Shrila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami Maharaj. All of them, in one way or another were involved in the Vishva Vaishnava Raj Sabha. In this spirit we daily pronounce our Premadvan prayers saying, sama veta bhakta vrinda ki jaya.
We see how even the six Goswamis of Vrindavan who had with other contemporaries a great variety of Ashrams and different Vaishnava families in small villages, they could also foresee the need of such a forum as their message advanced among the masses demanding the recognition of a real world religion. A world religion not because of having branches all over the world, but due to having authentic holy scriptures and a living disciplic succession which keeps inspiring people upon hearing the message to turn to a traditional monastic life of the Vaisnava heritage. No other religion has been able to reach so many different kinds of people who voluntarily change their lifestyle and become devotees. This pattern is confirmed in the very words of Sri Chaitanya Himself. Nowadays we have sometimes three Vaisnava missions in the same little town. How sad and crazy if they do not speak with each other when they meet in the streets. Is it an unavoidable symptom of a neophyte stage? Do we have to live with this forever? Uttama adhikari devotees relate obviously in a different way which cannot just be imitated by devotees who have lower realizations.
The love of the topmost devotees does not allow them to discriminate. Devotees of the middle stage, or madhyam adhikari, learn to discriminate for the welfare of those who are under the guidance. They can thus choose those who are mature enough to understand the sweetness of the plural manifestation of divinity. If Srimati, the divine giver of delivery of the fallen souls, has thought out a plan to capture more and more souls, we have to prepare ourselves with a generous, broadminded heart to accommodate the recipients of that mercy, lest we want to upset Her and thus contradict our own humble supplication for eternal service. Devotees of the lowest rank or kanishta adhikari find difficult to even follow the most basic principles which make for a life in goodness. Being less experienced Vaishnavas, they are overcome with prejudice, easily angered over minor issues and always ready to pick a fight even with their fellow brothers and sisters. Generally they are open to any influence even from non Vaisnava sanga or so fanatically exclusive that they even shun looking at their own mother with favourable attitude because she did not "surrender".
The story of and with kanishta adhikari devotees is long and not palatable. But every Vaisnava guardian has to deal with this just like every mother has to clean the stool of her baby every day. Thus unity is obviously for the more mature, prepared devotee community. But the absence of such unity fosters the kanishta mentality even amongst those whom we may expect to have gone beyond this long time ago. If the Guru leaves this world at such a stage, we will find that the kanishta adhikari devotees will immediately turn on each other, since the harmonizing personality of love is not any more in control. If we do not educate the devotees to respect all Vaisnavas who do dedicated service, they will not be able to detect in the future which one of their brothers are trustworthy representatives of the spirit and substance of Gurudeva. They will be fooled by those who claim that they got the keys or the monopoly to grant entrance into the spiritual world, while they are not even inspired to really serve their Guru in his absence and due to lack of guidance and their offenses they gradually go down themselves. Unity amongst mature devotees is one of the most beautiful opportunities to make plans on a larger scale. If we are to fulfill the vision of our Shrila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, we shall come forward ready to assist him in so many ways. Dham Seva, service to the holy dhamas, to clean, fix the broken buildings and restore the worship of the deities.
To make a city of Vaisnavas from different missions in Mayapur or create a Vaisnava university where disciples from all over the world can study. I guess that even the most fanatical individual cannot honestly say that the world will be saved by the efforts of just one Guru. As a matter of fact the shastras even proclaim: It is very difficult to make much spiritual advancement with just one spiritual master. In the Land of Gurus, Sri Vrindavan, even the grain of sand is our Guru. Krishna stepped on it, the gopis also walked there. Who gives me the right to look down upon any individual? I am the servant of all. I want the blessings of all. This is the spirit of the divine Vishva Vaishnava Raj Sabha. If we are not there as yet, due to our own shortsightedness, we shall embrace every opportunity to come closer to this conception. This is the conception of a divine family. That is Goloka. Not that every group is going to try to put the other group down and then claim that Krishna only belongs to them. If for the sake of lila such a feeling arises it is wonderful, but even Chandravali said upon observing the pain of separation of Srimati Radhika: "
If Krishna comes back it would be only for the feelings of separation She is showing now." In separation from our spiritual master we should be very concerned with unity. We cannot ignore the welfare of our other brothers and sisters while proclaiming our devotion for our father. We may have to simply give an example of loving service in separation if the other family members are absorbed in fighting. But we should always be in the service of the great Harmonist Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Religion means proper adjustment. It means relationship. Relationship with the supreme Lord whom I have ignored until today in my wild goose chase after sense gratification. Relationship with my spiritual family. Relationship with other Vaishnava families. Relationship with men, women and animals as well. Relationship with Mother Earth. Religion means wise relationships. Realized relationships. Relationships to endear us to others by representing our Gurudevas. That may lead to converting them to become also members of our family. But if they are already initiated Vaishnavas, does it mean that now we cannot have a favourable relationship with them? How can we accept such a narrow ideal in our dealings with other Vaishnavas? Actually we cannot. So we have to train ourselves to have good relationships with other Vaishnavas from other missions. When they visit our temples, when we meet them in the streets, anywhere, in all circumstances. Krishna Himself had Godbrothers and they were very dear to Him. But is anyone who is consecrating his life to him not dear to Him? If we really want a pure unalloyed relationship with the Supreme in His dearest abode, we will surely have to pass the test of how we interact with other Vaishnavas and followers of other religions as well. How will people respect the Vaishnavas if they see that they cannot work together on any project.
All present themselves as great and other groups as inferior. By keeping this mood, we will not be able to pass the test of the investigating searchers. So they will go away searching harmony on the non-dual plane. Mayavadis show the ability to offer general respect to each other and work on some common projects. Yet they are on a different platform. Does that mean we cannot follow the vision of our Acharyas? Hinduism Today is the magazine most widely red by those who sympathize with Vedic dharma outside India including all Indian born families. They are fully conversant with and publish mainly Shaiva Siddhanta. On the other side, we only publish propaganda of our own individual mission. We hide the fact that others' missions may also represent the same ideals.
It looks as if we are somewhat afraid to loose potential recruits as soon as they become aware of other Vaisnava groups. But experience has shown that people are very faithful and thankful to the channel where they have received their spiritual help. And in another case they may be better of somewhere else. A solution to this point could be to request Vaisnava publishers to print in their books the logo of the VVRS-WVA together with the words "Member of the VVRS-WVA." I am not proposing that every new devotee should tour around from mission to mission. But at least after some time a devotee should understand a fuller picture of Lord Chaitanya' s plan to create Vaisnavism as a world religion.
A religion where we also help each other, defend each other and cooperate to spread Krishna consciousness. Not a world where every devotee tries to control the way others worship, dress or their kirtan style. A world where we can remember Lord Chaitanya and His many branches or devotee groups which even ended up having different tilaks as it was in the case of Syamananda Prabhu who received a different tilak by the grace of Srimati Radharani. Unity despite external differences will undoubtedly take true maturity in order to be accomplished. The World Vaisnava Association, though new in its latest format, has already achieved some success in this regard.
We are happy to see how broadminded and generous Vaishnavas are. Judge a tree by its fruits. phalena parichiyate. Not all devotees have to wear a dhoti in order to preach the pure essence of Mahaprabhu's gospel of love. Not every temple has to have installed deities. Not every kirtan has to sound the same. Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada made possible kirtan unity by focusing on the mahamantra. His aim was to be able to unite the whole world in one kirtan of praise of our merciful Lord. Today devotees from any part of the world sing Vaishnava songs just like Bengalis in their mother tongue and that has deepened their understanding of the Vaishnava tradition. In this way they like to sit for hours and sing one song after the other. And the instructions of Srila Rupa Goswami who is none but the same confidential associate of Srimati Radharani (Shri Rupa Manjari) has shown his absolute openness by saying: yena tena prakarena, manah krishna niveshayet. The most important think is that everyone should first think of Krishna, the rules and regulations can be introduced gradually. Even the sound of the violin and the harmonium are substantial part of the padavali kirtans in Bengal to attract the people to listen to the sacred stories for hours and hours. And it is a fact that Gaudiya Math brahmacaries listen to these musical performances as attentive as little old ladies from the villages. Shrila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta wanted his followers to go beyond the sweet tune of the kirtan and dive deep into the substance of selfless surrender. Shrila Sarasvati Thakur used modern machines for preaching as well as artistic dioramas to attract the masses to the exhibits.
Every spiritual master emphasize particular points, is lenient or innovative on others and tries out different things to realize the service received. Only few people know that Shrila Prabhupada Bhaktisidhanta dressed his devotees first in green, then in black and finally in the traditional color of renunciates. We have no right to reject any of these phases, but lastly we ended up with the saffron for our sannyasis and not purple. But would a purple sannyasi who gets all to chant the holy name be less empowered or bonafide? This may sound like a challenge for dynamic preachers. Definitely this is to be realized by the individuals, otherwise they may not be appreciative when they meet those who do things different from their spiritual masters., when we want unity, we have to understand that this is focused on those aspects which are common ground and common interest for all of us. Do not expect to create unity in all external appearances. That is a useless waste of time. The Vaishnava world religion has space for all who accept the basic tenets. The mercy of the holy name. The system of guru parampara (which also exists in the different sampradayas) The Vedic shastras The holy dhamas. The service to the Vaishnavas And the service to Shri Vigraha. The service of VVRS-WVA is now becoming increasingly important and will help all of us.
To reject this proposal would be very sad. Because it would mean that our goal would be further delayed. Of cause all is in the hands of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself. I cannot conceive of anyone who cannot see the benefit we may derive from the development of this unity. So many committees are there in the VVRS-WVA and all who have a particular interest can join them, get information and interface with other Vaishnavas in the world who share the same interest. If you are in a particular trade, you will surely visit the trade shows. Otherwise you may stay behind and later repent that you did not develop along with the evolution in your trade. Nityananda Prabhu opened the marketplace of the holy name. Our only interest is to serve this cause through all our efforts. And the different books, tapes, videos, posters, picture books, japa malas and necklaces, drama transcripts, temple constructions, deity manufacture, graphic material for books and magazines, dioramas, children and education materials, music and operas, CD ROM's, slide shows, movies and spiritual games are all services done by devotees to broadcast the glories of the holy name all over the world. Whatever we accomplish, we should be happy to share it with other preachers. That generosity was shown from the six Goswamis of Vrindavan. Why, in a humble way, should it not be expected from us? Vaishnava Unity will please our guardians and at the same time strengthen our diversity. The one without the other could not fulfill the purpose of a sweet individual guru-disciple relationship. At the same time the individual challenge will not be hampered by institutional concerns to limit the expansion of Vaishnavism to a few selected officers. It will be clearly known for all times to come. Nobody can limit or stop the expansion of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The divine plan from the very beginning is clearly becoming manifest.
Let us join together. The end of the century is near. It is a good moment to overcome all sorrows of the past. Let us forgive and forget. But we have to be cautious not to commit the same mistakes again. If we forgive, we will be forgiven. It is a deal with no conditions, since we feel that we have never been offended. Our attitude should be of humility. The world is good, the only faulty being , the only offender, is myself. Vaishnava unity will give light and hope to the whole world which is waiting eagerly for a real world religion to rise to answer the needs of suffering humanity. If we can be instrumental in making that happen, it can only go in our favor.
I thank you so much to give me your time going through these thoughts of mine. Praying to Sri Vrindavaneshvari on the special occasion of this Karttik month 1998, I beg Her to bestow Her unlimited magnanimous grace to all the Vaisnavas so that they will be happy and united as much as She may desires, for the dispensation of further mercy in accordance with Her plan. The practical step for you to get more involved with the VVRS-WVA, if you desire so, are the following points.
1.You can visit the VVRS-WVA Homepage and study the history and bylaws of the work we have done since 1994. 2. Visit the picture-book to meet many members and activities. 3. Visit our VINA news site to learn about current Vaishnava activities of active and passive members. 4. Become a VINA correspondent for the encouraging news or essays from your mission, guru and other evolutions. 5. Subscribe and write for the VVRS-WVA magazine Singapur address. 6. Visit or organize VVRS-WVA chapter meetings in your mission or public places. 7. Visit or organize VVRS-WVA street sankirtan with other Vaishnavas. 8. Visit our meetings hold twice a year in India. 9. Join any Committee of your interest and exchange with other members how to develop further services for the worldwide Vaishnava communities. 10. Subscribe to the Vedanta Net to get more Info on activities in the VVRS-WVA . 11. Always chant Hare Krishna, serve Shri guru and the Vaishnavas, read the transcendental scriptures and become as humble as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wishes for all of us. That will make the whole idea work without fail.
I am aware that many mistakes have been committed in our attempt to achieve Vaishnava unity. Most probably our shortcomings will create further obstacles. Without you, we would surely be missing someone very important. Why? Because we all belong to the same family. I beg you, please help the members of the WVA to approach the goals set by our acharyas.
PS. I have served as the VVRS-WVA secretary for the last five years. I am sad that my own personality came sometimes in the way to develop full appreciation for the importance of the WVA. People have identified me with the WVA, but this is not true. I pray that this article may be able to convey the real value the WVA has to offer to all of us. I am therefore trying to continue my support to the WVA from a less prominent position. At the same time I am thanking all who helped to get this far with the VVRS-WVA.
NEWS DESK | EDITORIALS | TOP
Surf the Web on