Bhaktivinoda Thakur on Sahajiyaism

I would like to thank the friend who has sent me the following quotes from Bhaktivinoda Thakur's writings and, being concerned about the spread of Sahajiyaism, asked how I would respond.

In view of my initiation into the disciplic line of Bhaktivinoda Thakur through his son Lalita Prasad Thakur, my friend finds it strange that I should be promoting Sahajiya ideas and wonders where I got them from. I have previously explained that I did not get them from my dīkṣā guru, but later through my own inspiration, through the grace of the Inner Guru, and from a śikṣā line.

As the following quotes show, this would not have met with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's approval, nor in all likelihood that of Lalita Prasad Thakur, nor indeed of any of the orthodox Vaishnavas who follow the rāgānugā path in Braj or Gauda Mandal. Although I continue to bow down to all of these mahātmās, by whose grace I have made some small progress in spiritual life and indeed by whose grace I have come to my present conclusions and practice, though indirectly, I must reiterate my disagreement with them and my conviction in my own findings.

As I have clarified in my own comments to the abovementioned article (Literalism and the Shadow), I take Bhaktivinoda Thakur's idea that thought is progressive to be a major factor in my own spiritual orientation. Intelligence when used to understand Radha and Krishna is spiritualized, as are all the senses. Krishna becomes the intelligence of the sincere devotee. Indeed, the inspiration of the caittya-guru is our one guide, as without Him, we cannot even choose an external guru or understand his words.

Here are the quotes.
A loathsome ideology is spreading insidiously in several places in Bengal. All the activities and conduct prescribed by this Sahajiya doctrine are extremely corrupt and contemptible. The jiva is cinmaya (spiritual), and its only natural dharma is cinmaya service to Krishna.

The word sahaja means saha-ja, i.e. that which arises along with the atma. Transcendental service to Krishna is sahaja (natural) for the pure atma, because it occurs along with the jīvātmā and thus it is naturally inherent. However, it is not natural in the stage of bondage to inanimate matter.  Sahajiyas cheat others and are themselves cheated or deprived of their pure and natural love for Krishna by transforming the union of man and woman into a mundane, supposedly natural dharma.

In actuality, the union of man and woman is not a natural dharma. On the contrary, in the natural dharma of the atma, the union of the dull male and female bodies is extremely loathsome, depraved and inappropriate conduct. What is called sahajiyā-dharma nowadays is totally immoral, contrary to saintly behaviour and opposed to shastra. Pure Vaishnavas should be extremely careful in regard to this. That dharma in which the custom is to accept mantra in the left ear is in all respects a deviation.

…We never find anywhere in the scriptures instructions such as, “One should associate with a woman in order to attain Vrajendra-nandana.” On entering into mādhurya-rasa the minute conscious jiva attains his own natural condition. Then there is no necessity whatsoever for associating with the inanimate material nature. Chota Haridasa, himself being prakṛti (female), was rejected by Mahaprabhu for committing the offence of conversing in puruṣa-bhāva (male mood) with another prakṛti.

Licentious people create the path of their own sense gratification (see Antya-līlā 2.117), but śuddha Vaishnavas neglect them. The association of a married woman is not part of bhajana even for householders, therefore this association of woman has been accepted in a regulated way free from sin for conducting household life. It is the opinion of pure Vaishnavas that male sādhakas should perform bhajana and remain separate from female sādhakas. A female sādhaka should not invite any male person to her bhajana party. Bhajana is a completely spiritual activity. When even the slightest mundane sentiment is allowed to enter it becomes ruined.

…Many times, because of bad karma, miscreants of various unauthorized cults, such as pseudo-religion and irreligion, say that they preach the teachings of Sri Caitanyadeva. Being absorbed in material enjoyment and not having the ability to discriminate, many people accept those unauthorized cults as the line of Mahaprabhu, and thus they are cheated from receiving the actual instructions of the Lord. (Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta)

An abominable sect known as sahajiya is secretly being followed in many parts of Bengal. The activities of this cult are extremely sinful. They do not follow sahajiyā-dharma or spontaneous duties that are mentioned in the sastras. The spontaneous duties of the pure spirit soul are to engage in the transcendental service of Krishna. These duties are spontaneous for the soul, and they manifested at the same time as the soul, but they are not spontaneous when the soul is materially conditioned.

The cheaters and the cheated have turned their pure love of Krishna into mundane spontaneous activities by the meeting of man and woman. Actually pure love is not like that. For a soul in its constitutional position, the contact of a material male and female body is extremely abominable and improper. The cult that is being advertised at present as sahajiyā-dharma is against all shastras. (Sajjana-toṣaṇī 4/6)

The form in which the Baul philosophy is seen at present is totally opposed to shastras. There are two types of instructions on devotional service that are found in the shastras: vaidhī and rāgānugā. The Bauls do not follow any limbs of vaidhī bhakti; they engage in various improper activities on the pretext of rāgānugā bhakti.

It is very hard to say who started the Baul philosophy. Sometimes the Bauls claim Sri Sanatana Goswami and sometimes Sri Viracandra Goswami as their propounder. Actually neither Sri Sanatana Goswami nor Viracandra Goswami ever thought of the sinful path of the Bauls. (Sajjana-toṣaṇī 4/4)

bhaktivinoda-ṭhakkuraṁ vande'haṁ paramaṁ gurum
yat-prasādād bhakti-mārge pravṛtto'smi tad-anvayāt
tasya caraṇayor dvandvaṁ namaskṛtvā punaḥ punaḥ
tan-matasya khaṇḍanārthaṁ bhīruḥ kiñcid vadāmy aham
aḥ kācid yānubhūtir mayāhṛtā
āgāsamarthaṁ mām kṣamasva kṛpayā prabho
pravartaka-daśāyāṁ hi siddhi-viśeṣo labhyate
īnasya na kṣipraṁ prema-pūrṇatā
man-mate sthāpite sarve sukhina santu sādhakā 
sat-saṅgāt jāyatāṁ bhāvo bhāvāt premaiva jāyatām

I bow down to Bhaktivinoda Thakur, my parama guru, by whose mercy and through his descendants, I have entered the path of devotion. I bow down to his lotus feet again and again before saying something in opposition to his statements. I am unable to reject the experiences I have gained through the bliss of bhajan, so I ask him to mercifully forgive me. In the beginning stages of devotion, the pravartaka stage, certain levels of success are certainly attained. But without the practice of Sahaja-sādhana the culture of prema is not quickly completed. I will establish my concept [in this article and elsewhere]. May it give the aspirants for prema happiness. May they develop devotion in the association of devotees and through devotion, prema.

To begin with, let me say a little something about the language. I do not have access to the original Bengali, but I trust that the translator has faithful conveyed Bhaktivinoda Thakur's state of mind when he uses words like "loathsome, insidious, corrupt, contemptible, depraved, inappropriate, totally immoral, contrary to saintly behaviour, abominable, extremely sinful, improper."

These are not just words, but a state of mind. As is too often the case, when discussing sexuality, it seems that some find it impossible to remain detached and free from inner conflict. Thus, their attitude takes on the characteristics of bībhatsa-rasa or jugupsā-rati. [I have commented on this before and humbly ask the reader to look here and here.]

In a more modern way of psychoanalytic observation, the repeated use of strong adjectives indicating disgust signals something more than just a neutral or dispassionate view of things. It is a sign of a mind that is not entirely healthy, that is to some extent disfigured by repression of sexual desire and an incapacity to adequately assimilate that to consciousness. In other words, it exemplifies the "Shadow" spoken of in the original article. This to me strikes at the very root of the problem. Aversion to sexuality is simply the opposite of attachment, and strong language of this sort indicates more than simply a thirst for spirituality, but an unhealthy attitude to sexuality and indeed the opposite sex.

Let us just say that this does not strike us as entirely "natural." But, of course, the Thakur's principal philosophical point is that the jiva is spiritual and devotional service to Krishna when free of the corrupting taint of all bodily consciousness is natural, and that therefore the union of male and female, being the result of identification with the body, is not natural to the soul.

But is that what is intended by the word sahaja? In Gita 18.48, Krishna uses the word to describe the work or duties that are "born-with" (saha-ja) the body. In other words, Krishna always advises that wherever sva-dharma is being spoken of, it is the duties that arise naturally to a particular body and are part of one's saṁskāra. Similarly, the human body has dharmas related to all the sense activities, of which sexuality is one of the most prominent. Is it not natural, then, to seek to harness the spiritual energy latent in sexuality for spiritual life? This is the real meaning of dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo'smi.

Now one may object that this meaning does not apply here, or at least, since this word is used in the context of karma-yoga, that it cannot apply to svarūpa-siddha bhakti. We have spoken on this several times before, and the following article, Ahangrahopasana and Aropa Part III is a good place to start.

Sexuality is a part of the bodily functions, the sex organs are counted amongst the five karmendriyas. Like all worldly phenomena and human activity, sexuality must be analyzed according to the three guṇas of nature. Activities are categorized both according to their form and the consciousness in which they are conducted. One who simply applies the same standard of disgust and abhorrence to those activities that are conducted in the tamo-guṇa to those that are in sattva-guṇa has allowed his intelligence to be clouded over. (Sexuality in the Three Gunas, Is Sex just for Procreation?)

At any rate, the scripture says that all the senses should be engaged in the service of the master of the senses, so it is ludicrous to think that the most powerful of all the senses should somehow be exempt from this rule.

But more importantly, the force of sexual attraction and the desire for love itself must be engaged in the service of Krishna and used as a sādhanā. I do not think it is an understatement to say that any prescription for spiritual life that ignores this aspect of the physical and mental makeup of the human being is doomed from the outset. All the cultivation of disgust to induce indifference to this need in the manner of the Buddhists will be a failure.

We hear the expression "dovetail" over and over again; we hear of the need to spiritualize the material energy again and again, but even Bhaktivinoda Thakur had a blind spot to this necessity and thus left the bhakti path open to huge anarthas, direct and indirect.

Bhoga and tyāga are two sides of the same coin. Attraction and aversion. What is needed is the harnessing of the sexual energy so that it is directed towards the spiritual, transformed through love into Love.

The Thakur also uses the word sahajiyā in the context of scriptural injunction, and repeatedly says like so many others before and after that this kind of activity meets with no approval in shastra. I have looked thoroughly at the shastra. Certainly there are injunctions against strī-saṅga, but I say that I find calling a devotee sādhikā an ordinary mundane woman extremely offensive.

To furthermore think of the sex act as a wholly material is also offensive. The body is inhabited by a soul and is not lifeless flesh. One who perceives the soul in the other body and enters into communion with it through the lovemaking act of amative sharing is not engaged in a mere I-It relationship. One who thinks in this way displays a lack of consciousness.

But more than this, the gopis are the very example of devotees who disregarded the principles of religion to follow the path of prema. To say we follow the gopis in this path does not mean that we encourage wholesale licentiousness, but love should be free to follow its natural course, especially where the higher goal of prema. Or rather, love is always challenged to overcome hurdles in order to attain its natural object; that is the test of its strength.

For a sādhaka, intimate association with an advanced sādhikā woman for the dedicated culture of devotion in the madhura-rasa is the most powerful and joy-giving practice. It enlivens every aspect of devotional life. Without it, one is doomed to sterile and barren ritualism. I am sorry to say that Bhaktivinoda Thakur, as a product of his times, was so dismissive of this potential. No doubt there was some abuse in the Bengali society of that time that led to his forming this blind spot, but ultimately we must recognize a blind spot for what it is.

I have written many articles on this subject here on this blog, so I entreat those interested in the subject to go to the very beginning and work your way through if you want to understand it fully. But two of my most recent articles may be useful: Sex and Bhakti Yoga, Part I, Part II. Another, Is Kripalu the Sahajiya Bogeyman? also contains a lot of good information. The pages linked beneath the banner are also extremely relevant. So I think it better to read all that and understand what this is all about. With regard to prakriti-purusha, see More Aropa.


Steve Bohlert said…
Another good one. You're hitting on some sensitive important issues that need to be cleared up such as how we regard a guru's teachings and the roles of sex and women in bhakti.

I agree with the progressive nature of thought, and in one place the Thakur said Gaudiya Vaishnavism's misconceptions would be cleared up as it is adopted and adapted by Westerners. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your perceptive dissection. I agree that the erotic impulse, root, stock and branch, must be included in the devotional life. But I don't want to come down too hard on the good Thakur. The transcendent ones among us, no matter how pure, speak through the filter of the language, customs, and mores of their time. So we find Bhaktivinode echoing 19th Century Hindu/British priggishness. But then, our own versions of spirituality are no doubt likewise products of our time. Behind it all lives the timeless reality, which even at the ultimate issue is experienced according to personal desire.
Tarun said…
Not long ago i was reading in the Gita As It Is, the divine and demoniac natures, where Prabhupada actually wrote that sex between a married couple outside of procreation is demoniac.. Ièm not kidding..
Tarun said…
There is a huge disconnect anyway between what is said in books and what devotees live. And then there is the pretence that we present to the world so it thinks we are following strictly.. the whole tradition needs such an immense makeover that it boggles my mind.. we are classed amongst the most base of fundamentalists with little relevence to the present day mindset.. Rave on Jagat..
Jagadananda Das said…
Thank you, Tarun. You are quite right about the disconnect. This is why I approve of Steve Bohlert's work and hope that he makes headway with his ideas.

(1) The remapping of the archetypal universe through the smarana of Braja Lila. Since madhura-rasa is the most important, Radha and Krishna smaranam is the most important of smaranas, as Ramananda Raya said to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Any philosophy that tells us to wait too long before doing so is manipulative and probably going downhill.

(2) Institutionalization attracts a bureaucratic mentality that is antithetical to prema.

These are two ideas that have been somewhat refined by my interactions with Subalji.

Someone was saying to me recently that the devotees are, as you do, disconnected in their actions and precepts, but using that argument to say that the kind of discourse I am engaged in is unnecessary.

Actually this is totally wrong. It is absolutely necessary to bring beliefs and actions into harmony by making the beliefs relevant and meaningful. This is why I stressed the shadow in some recent posts. The repercussions will not be good.

Jai Sri Radhe.

Popular posts from this blog

"RadhaKrishn" TV serial under fire

Getting to asana siddhi

What is sthayi-bhava?