65th birthday in Vrindavan

I posted on Facebook:
Message from Prabodhananda Saraswati: If you respect me, you have to respect Hit Harivansh Goswami.

Yesterday was my birthday, and as I had just arrived the day before from Rishikesh, I went on parikrama. Parikrama for me started near Kaliya Daha, which is where the little frequented samadhi temple of Prabodhananda Saraswati lies.

I think that the coincidence of having Prabodhananda, the author of Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta right at the beginning of the parikrama, as the first major spot on the circuit, to be a fortuitous and particularly inspiring accident. I have cherished Prabodhananda Saraswati ever since Ananta Das Pandit Maharaj first "turned me on" to Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi more than 30 years ago.

I made up my mind to do the following for my birthday: I would go to Prabodhananda's samadhi, recite a few verses from his work, and then go to Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabha, then Radha Damodar to visit the samadhis of Sri Rupa, Sri Jiva, and Krishnadas Kaviraj, and the bhajan kutir of Srila Prabhupada, and then go to Seva Kunja to do something I had wanted to do for many years: chant the whole 270 verses of RRSN in one go. At least that was the plan: a pleasurable tapasyā to celebrate my birthday.

Now I don’t want to go into the whole Prabodhananda controversy, or complex of controversies, but I won’t be able to explain what I meant above without saying something about it. The main controversy is that Gaudiyas say that RRSN is written by Prabodhananda, and I also believe that, and the Radhavallabhis consider it a foundational dogma that Harivams, the founder of their sect, is the author. For the Radhavallabhis, RRSN is the sacred text, whereas in the Gaudiya world, Prabodhananda has always been something of a secondary figure. Certainly he was in every way qualified to be considered a seventh Goswami, but for some reason he never is. It is only recently that his writings have sprung into prominence in the Gaudiya world.

As far as I can tell (and bear in mind that my version is not accepted by either sampradaya), there was a controversy between Gopala Bhatta and his disciple Harivams, and Prabodhananda, even though Gopala Bhatta's guru, took Harivams’s side. Externally the controversy took the form of whether certain external rules were to be followed or not, with Harivams favoring laxer attitudes to regulations especially where Ekadasi is concerned. But it is more likely that Harivams was completely uninterested in anything other than Radha and madhura-rasa lila, and had no time for philosophy or the Bhagavatam, or even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Surprising though it may seem that the author of the Caitanya-candrāmṛta, 142 verses glorifying Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the first and most celebrated of Sanskrit panegyrics to Mahaprabhu, should take the side of Harivams, but he did. And I believe that he wrote the RRSN and allowed it to be circulated in Harivams's name. It was, as it were, his gift in support of Harivams's Radha absolutism.

The outcome of all this was what might be called the first schism of the Gaudiya sect in Vrindavan, and it is not written about much from this point of view. But if we Gaudiyas want to appropriate the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, it does make sense that its author's actions in making this gift to his protégé be recognized. Radhavallabhis consider Prabodhananda to be a disciple of Harivams.

After I had arrived at Prabodhananda’s samadhi and chanted a few verses, I was doing my dandavats when I heard the message: “If you respect me, then you must respect Hit Harivansh.” To which the voice added, “I wrote 142 verses glorifying Mahaprabhu and only eight for Harivams, so at least show him that much respect.”

I got up, mulling these words and as I walked past the pujari’s hut, the young baba came out and offered me a bright marigold garland. I took this as a confirmation of the message, fell to my knees in obeisance and then continued on my way.

I gave my pranams to Sanatan Prabhu and Madan Mohan from the Parikrama Marg and then went into Banke Bihari through the narrow alleyways of the old town. It felt so good to be back in colorful Vrindavan. Spring is here and the dull, depressing fogs of winter have lifted. Holi is here and each temple is being visited by lively Vaishnavas from near and far who come to celebrate the festival of colors. Banke Bihari is bustling with devoted raising their arms and calling out his jaya jayakar. At Radha Vallabh, a brightly dressed gosai was dancing with four aged and corpulent women in bright saris, their faces covered with delicately smeared phagu.

I met Gokulananda Baba from Jiva who was lumbering along the Seva Kunj road to Radha Damodar on his daily darshan tour of the main temples. I gave him the garland and he hugged me. I told him it was my birthday and he asked, “Where are my sweets? I did not get a sweet. You’re supposed to give people sweets on your birthday.”

A similar Holi scene prevailed at Radha Damodar. I even blurted out to some of the others taking darshan, "This is the best religion in the world! No other religion is so full of pure joy!"

After darshan, I sat down in front of Jiva Goswami’s samadhi and chanted my three favorite verses from Gopāla-campū. Then when I got up from my dandavat pranams, the pujari there also gave me a garland.

Just as an aside here, Jiva Goswami was a junior contemporary of both Hit Harivansh and Prabodhananda Saraswati. Prabodhananda was probably senior in age to just about everyone, including Rupa and Sanatan. If he was Gopala Bhatta’s uncle and guru, as most people think, then he was no doubt quite influential through him on the entire Gaudiya philosophy, since it is well known that Gopala Bhatta provided the outline and much of the content of the Sandarbhas. And that goes doubly without saying if he was also Prakashananda Saraswati, another opinion towards which I lean. We also have a strong indication that Prabodhananda’s commentary on Gopāla-tāpanī influenced that of Jiva Goswami, so at least for some time he did exert influence on the rest of the sampradaya.

Perhaps it was because I saw Dr. Demian Martins in the Krishna Balaram temple on my first day back in Vrindavan. Dr. Martins is doing the most intense manuscript search I have seen in anyone since Haridas Das, as he wanders around India looking for anything that might have a relation to Baladeva Vidyabhushan. He read my article about Prabodhananda and started looking for a book, Viveka-śataka, which was mentioned in early notices of manuscripts but I had not been able to find.

Dr. Martins found a couple of manuscripts in Bengali libraries, transcribed them, translated it, and is going to publish it soon. He showed me a few verses that seem to cast doubt on the Prabodhananda/Prakashananda connection as I had argued for it and seem to support a different version of Prabodhananda's life, .I have yet to read the whole work or to see how it fits in and look forward to seeing it when it is completed. At any rate, I had developed a certain image of Prabodhananda, as indicated above, and that has kind of stuck.

But the residue of the controversy goes on in that the Radhavallabhis and the Gaudiyas do not have much to do with each other. From the Radhavallabhi side, the break is total and absolute, or rather, it never existed.

But there in Seva Kunja, where every one of the 270 verses of Harivams’s Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi is engraved on a marble plaque inscribed with his name on the perimeter wall, the verses Prabodhananda wrote in his honor precede those prayers. I read them aloud, and then, before starting my planned vrata, I prostrated myself and began to recite the verse to Chaitanya that precedes the Gaudiya edition of Sudhā-nidhi. I was surprised to hear that voice in my head again, asking, “Here in Seva Kunj, the RRSN is Harivams’s. I gave it to him, so it is his. Here you must treat it as though it was his.”

In actual fact, I have taken this attitude in the past when speaking on Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, so there is nothing spectacularly new. But still, in the spirit of ecumenism, I thought I would just recount to the world what happened to me on my 65th birthday.

I previously wrote about the aṣṭakam:
Prabodhananda's aṣṭaka glorifying Harivams is the first external evidence attesting Harivams's existence. It shows that Prabodhananda was primarily impressed by Harivams's songs, particularly those concerning Krishna's lila, and by his voice (verses 1, 2, 3), even describing him as the incarnation of Krishna's flute, which is of course an interpretation of the name Harivams itself. According to Prabodhananda, devotion to Radha and Krishna could be had from Harivams (5); the moons of Radha's toenails (nakhara-pada-candrāṁ) illuminate the sky of his heart and, in the form of a girlfriend “attained by feeling” (bhāva-labdhālī-mūrtiḥ), he is present in Radha's pleasure grove (6) where he serves Radha and Krishna by their direct order (8). 
Though Prabodhananda does indicate that Harivams was “like a thunderbolt that easily beheads the mountain of pride” (7), indicating perhaps an element of truth in Bhagavat Mudita’s biography, the overall mood of this aṣṭaka is rather more reserved in its glorification of Harivams than that of Chaitanya found in Caitanya-candrāmṛta. There is no evidence within these verses that Prabodhananda considered Harivams to be his own spiritual master.
I only managed to get as far as verse 114 because it was time to close for the afternoon. I had already been getting fatigued, as I chanted each verse three times in order to be sure to savor it as completely as possible. So I will have to go back and complete the task soon.


darwin said…
I saw the word "controversy" at least once as I glanced through this article. I was thinking there was something interesting, someone's being punished or embarrassed or has gotten angry so I did do this quick look before I have to do some exercises and stuff. I am going to read all your latest stuff from this past week in detail later. I was near the Temple with my daughter and her friend today and I took them both to the Temple for a few minutes. I was trying to tell my daughter's friend about lord Chaitanya and all of it but it is very strange for me and I am strange too. I am not sure if I have the mythology/history correct, but your Sanskrit understanding and your going to the corner store in your gray beard and loin cloth was right in there with the guys with tridents and covered with mud. This is a girl who ordered Freud disciple Melanie Klein's books online when she was only 12 or 13.
darwin said…
"This is the best religion in the world!"

I said the same exact thing at the Boston Temple today.
Satya devi dasi said…
I enjoyed reading this, as I do with all your posts. It's important to note the passage of time with birthday vrats I think. You mentioned in passing something about ekadasi rules being laxer, and external rules in general. As I get older somethings seem easier to be strict about and others I just don't care about. Would you elaborate a little about this controversy between the two groups regarding these external rules? Thank you. Radhe Radhe!
Anonymous said…
@ S D D
Sri Jagatananda has written an article which can find elsewhere

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