Found in Sanga, Sanga 2004.

Q. What did you mean when you wrote that true beauty involves full involvement in Krishna consciousness at the level of one’s eligibility?

A. This is a rendering of the famous Bhagavata verse that Thakura Bhaktivinoda liked to quote:

sve sve ‘dhikare ya nistha
sa gunah parikirtitah
viparyayas tu dosah syad
ubhayor esa niscayah

“Steadiness in one’s own position is declared actual piety, whereas deviation from one’s position is considered impiety. In this way, the two are definitely ascertained.” (SB 11.21.2)

To a large extent, this verse parallels Bhagavad-gita 3.35, which is about acting in the soul’s interest appropriate to one’s sva-dharma, or socioreligious position. The Thakura applied these verses to devotional life as well, which is above varnasrama dharma. His position with regard to SB 11.21.2 was that piety and impiety are ascertained thus: applying oneself steadily (chanting the holy name) in accordance with one’s level of advancement is actual piety, whereas deviation from one’s position (imitating a stage that one has not attained) is considered impiety.

Q. Why are critics of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati inclined to distance him from his guru and father Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura?

A. Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a popular saint who energized Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the late nineteenth century. In some cases he was critical of the Gaudiya orthodoxy and they of him, but his teachings, although innovative, were generally appreciated by devotees of his time. For the most part all branches of Gaudiya Vaisnavism still hold him in high esteem.

However, his son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura instituted changes that were, and still are, contested by many in the orthodox lineages of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. He also discontinued or de-emphasized some age-old practices that he felt had been corrupted by time. Among these was the practice of siddha-pranali, which in brief involves the guru telling you your siddha-deha or giving a prototype of your siddha-deha (depending on how the practice is understood) at initiation. Siddha-deha refers to one’s spiritual identity in Krishna-lila, attaining which is the ultimate goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

The siddha-pranali practice in some form can be traced to an eternal associate of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Gopala Guru Goswami). However, questions remain about this practice as to whether the guru should tell the disciple the siddha-deha at initiation or only after the disciple attains an advanced stage of bhakti and as to whether this practice need be done at all.

In his essay “Vaisnava Ke?” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura writes:

sri-dayita-das, kirtanete as,
koro uccaih-svare ‘hari-nama-rava’
kirtana-prabhave, smarana svabhave,
se kale bhajana-nirjana sambhava

“This humble servant of Radha and her beloved Krishna always hopes for kirtana, and he begs all to loudly sing the names of Lord Hari. The transcendental power of congregational chanting automatically awakens remembrance of the Lord and his divine pastimes in relation to one’s own eternal spiritual form (siddha-deha). Only at that time does it become possible to go off to a solitary place and engage in the confidential worship of their Lordships.”

Thus Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura taught that one’s siddha-deha awakens automatically when one is in a purified stage of consciousness. The guru might see tendencies in a disciple as he or she advances and at an appropriate time suggest a scripturally based prototype for meditation, but in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s opinion, actual experience of one’s siddha-deha comes naturally at an advanced stage of bhakti, whether the guru gave the disciple a prototype of his siddha-deha beforehand or not.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s opinion on this issue was opposed by many in the Gaudiya orthodoxy, especially certain gurus in family lines that had for decades made their living by selling people so-called siddha-dehas. As Bhaktivinoda Thakura was generally considered a saint, critics of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s innovations were apt to distance him as much as they could from his father. However, if one scrutinizes the teachings of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati together, one will find that the two are inseparably connected. When we point this out by referencing their teachings, these critics then often want to distance themselves from Bhaktivinoda Thakura as well.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura took his vows of renunciation (babaji vesa) from Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji and his writings and realizations received the blessings of Jagannatha dasa Babaji. Both are venerated as saints in the orthodox community. So where does it end? Will critics protesting the innovations of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta distance themselves from Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji and Jagannatha dasa Babaji as well, or will they come to understand the underlying harmony of the teachings of all these great souls? We hope that they will.

Q. Here is a verse from the Caitanya-caritamrta, which is translated one way by followers of the siddha-pranali tradition of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and another way by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The translation by Srila Prabhupada appears to be interspersed with commentary and thus will not be universally accepted, as would the literal translation. How can this kind of interspersed translation be justifiable?

bahya, antara ihara dui ta’ sadhana
bahye sadhaka-dehe kare sravana-kirtana
mane nija-siddha-deha kariya bhavana
ratri-dine kare vraje krsnera sevana

“The external and the internal, they are the two aspects of sadhana. Externally, in the sadhaka-deha one engages in sravana and kirtana. In his mind, one meditates on his very own siddha-deha, serving Krishna in Vraja day and night.” (Cc 2.22.156-157)

Srila Prabhupada translates these verses as follows:

“There are two processes by which one may execute this raganuga-bhakti—external and internal. When self-realized, the advanced devotee externally remains like a neophyte and executes all the sastric injunctions, especially hearing and chanting. However, within his mind, in his original purified self-realized position, he serves Krishna in Vrindavana in his particular way. He serves Krishna twenty-four hours, all day and night.”

A. There is no doubt that Srila Prabhupada has inserted his realization and purport into the translation of this verse. However, all considered, it is this kind of devotee’s realization that we seek because understanding scripture from the viewpoint of a pure devotee is absolutely essential to the culture of bhakti.

In this case, although Srila Prabhupada’s translation differs from others, it faithfully follows Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s translation of the verse. Indeed, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura discusses this verse when writing about bhava-bhakti. He writes that one’s siddha-deha is awakened or realized when one attains bhava-bhakti, and at that time one truly serves Krishna in one’s siddha-deha as well as in one’s sadhaka-deha (practitioner’s body).

Commenting on Sri Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu verse on vandanam (offering prayers), Sri Jiva Goswami writes:

“Prayers that have the purpose of firming the mind and senses in devotional service are known as samprarthana. Such prayers are characteristic of those who have not attained bhava. On the other hand, expressions of a desire for one’s specific personal service (siddha-deha) are known as lalasa; these (prayers) are characteristic of those who have attained bhava.” (Brs. 1.2.156)According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, one glimpses one’s siddha-deha at the devotional stage of asakti and realizes it in bhava-bhakti, at which stage one’s identification with it is developed until attaining prema (pure love of God). Bhava is the ankura, or the sprout of the fruit of prema, and its culture involves the blossoming and flowering of one’s siddha deha.

Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s treatment of this subject is well-documented in his Bhajana Rahasya. He discusses the siddha-deha in some detail only when he speaks of bhava-bhakti. Otherwise, he makes it clear that premature so-called meditation on one’s siddha-deha can be counterproductive. In Bhajana Rahasya he writes:

“One should next become mature in one’s worship on the basis of the first four verses (of Siksatakam), before accepting one’s spiritual body with the fifth verse (corresponding with the stage of asakti). With this verse (ayi nanda tanuja kinkarah…), one begins to take shelter of Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet in one’s siddha-deha and then makes gradual progress.”

The Thakura then writes, chaya sloka bhajite anartha dure gela tabe jnana siddha-dehe adhikara haila adhikara na labhiya siddha-deha bhave viparyaya buddhi janme saktira abhave: “By the time one has reached the sixth verse of Siksatakam (nayanam galad asru…), one’s contaminations have pretty much disappeared and one therefore has the right to worship in one’s siddha-deha… If anyone tries to meditate on his spiritual body without having this qualification, his intelligence will be turned upside down due to his lack of (spiritual) strength.”

The controversy is that (“In addition to the previous points,”) Rupa Goswami’s verse, from which Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s verse above is derived, appears in Sri Rupa’s discussion of sadhana-bhakti, not bhava-bhakti. However, the devotional stage of asakti is also within sadhana-bhakti. Thus the siddha-deha is directly cultivated in the final stage of sadhana-bhakti and then more fully in bhava-bhakti. This is the realization of Thakura Bhaktivinoda. His is no doubt an interpretation of when it is appropriate to engage in such meditation, but there is no statement in scripture that directly says otherwise. Thus the matter is open to interpretation. His interpretation that higher things come at more advanced stages makes common sense, as it is one thing to speak to a disciple in a general way and encourage his or her affinity for a particular sentiment and quite another to attempt to cultivate in depth a sentiment that one has not yet attained.

Q. Some say the eternally conditioned Jiva does not have the inherent capacity for loving devotion and that it must be given by the guru. They say that the idea of “awakening” dormant loving service to Krishna is a misconception.

A. The question is whether the jiva’s potential for attaining bhava is inherent within itself, or whether it is not inherent within itself and must be given to the jiva by a guru. Those who argue that it is not inherent stress that the svarupa-sakti (internal energy) is not within the jiva, often citing Sridhara Swami’s commentary on Visnu Purana and Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s explanation of the jiva as being a particle of cit (cit kana—knowledge) with no mention of ananda (bliss). They say that the guru’s bhava constituted of svarupa-sakti is given to the disciple.

Others, the parivara (spiritual family/lineage) of Bhaktivinoda, say that it is inherent within the jiva and cannot be realized without coming in contact with the guru. They say that the tendency of the jiva toward love in the material world is evidence of its being constituted of not only cit kana but ananda kana as well. They accept the statement of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami regarding the jivas being cit kana but interpret this to be a reference to the intrinsic form of the jiva, whereas his later statement (jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’) refers to the jiva’s eternal nature or inclination. In support of their position they also cite examples of disciples who developed a particular bhava for Krishna that was different from that of their guru. For example, a guru in sakhya rati (friendly love) initiated Syamananda, but instead of realizing the same bhava of his guru, he realized madhurya rati (conjugal love) for Krishna.

As for awakening dormant love of God, both sides agree with Krishnadasa Kaviraja when he says, krishna prema nitya siddha sadhya kabhu naya, sravanadi suddha citte karaye udaya. They agree, that is, that the prema svarupa of the jiva is eternal (nitya siddha krishna prema). It is not manufactured by any process (sadhya kabhu naya), rather it is awakened (udaya) by devotional processes such as hearing and chanting (sravanadi) after one’s consciousness is cleansed (suddha citte) by the same hearing and chanting. They differ only as to the location of the dormant love. Is it in the spiritual realm of Goloka and brought here by the guru, who gives it to the jiva, or is it in the heart of the jiva in potential and awakened by the guru? One might just as well ask further where the “heart” of the jiva is. Anyone who is capable of searching this out will end up in Goloka anyway because that is where the spiritual heart of the jiva resides.

There is, of course, much more to the discussion than I can do justice to here, but it is important to note that we find siddhas (perfected devotees) from both sides who are universally accepted as siddhas.

Both sides are also in agreement as to the necessity of the guru. Add to this the fact that neophyte followers of either side often tend to make more out of this argument than is warranted in an intellectual effort to secure their own faith. Ultimately, real faith comes from spiritual experience, which comes from spiritual practice and mahat krpa, the mercy of Sri Guru.

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