Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part IV
So what do I mean "keeping faith with Kheturi"?
The primary significance I take out of the above account is in its implications for initiation. Kheturi, as Chaitanya Vaishnavism's first major council, was an exercise in what is called, in religious-historical terms, the routinization of charisma. In short, it was a major development in the organization of the Chaitanya Vaishnava “church.”
It is common for people to characterize this kind of institutionalization as a murder of the religious spirit. It’s what we could call the "St. Paul ruined Jesus" school of thought. Ramakanta Chakravarti, like Hitesranjan Sanyal and many other leftist Bengalis, see Kheturi and the establishment of the Goswami scriptures as a historical disaster because it reaffirmed Brahminical social dominance and its values instead of furthering the emancipation of the lower classes that had been started off by Nityananda Prabhu with his egalitarian ethos. Thus it was the victory of conservative forces over the dynamic spiritual movement started by Chaitanya.
There are many reasons why this point of view is shortsighted. Different forms of institutionalization are necessary steps in the growth, development and maturing of a religious community. The church, or social aspect of a religion, must neither be overemphasized at the expense of individual spiritual culture, nor must it be rejected out of hand, as Simone Weil did, as just another domain of the "Prince of the Earth." In the understanding of the Goswamis, the association of devotees, sādhu-saṅga, is the second stage in the life of devotion. It follows śraddhā, which is the conversion experience that reorients one from the mundane to the spiritual. The kind of institutionalization we are talking about puts in place the fundamental parameters of devotional association, or entry into this “communion of saints."
This sādhu-saṅga is of course a “second” sādhu-saṅga. The first, which is considered the root cause of śraddhā, is more or less accidental. The second is intentional. It is a necessary response to conversion. The beginning of sādhu-saṅga, it is agreed by most members of the Chaitanya Vaishnava sampradaya, is largely defined by initiation. One who has faith naturally seeks out like-minded people, who share not only the same goal of prema, but the means for achieving it. Initiation is the price of admission into the community of devotees. Initiation thus has more than a purely spiritual meaning, it also has social and institutional significance.
The first elements of bhajana-kriyā are all related to sādhu-saṅga and initiation—
First, take shelter of a spiritual master; then take initiation and instruction from him. Serve the guru with trust and follow the path of saintly behavior. (BRS 1.2.74)The significance of Kheturi is to be sought in these elements of devotional life. Let us look at the background to this a little. People habituated to the "we are not this body" starting point for all discourse leading to bhakti may find my reasoning here a little original, to say the least. I humbly ask for indulgence.
My wealth is Nityananda, my master/husband is Gaurachandra. My life-breath is the Divine Couple. Advaita Acharya is my strength, Gadadhar my family, Narahari my act of sweet self-indulgence.
The dust of the Vaishnavas’ feet is my playful bath; my satisfaction is in the Vaishnavas’ names. And when I seek to understand matters related to the relishing of devotional rasa, my arbiter is the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.
My source of satisfaction is the remnants of the Vaishnavas; hearing their names my source of joy. The land of Vrindavan is my mind’s enclosure, so says the lowly Narottam Das.There are a number of things that could be said about this song, besides the interesting naming of the members of the Pancha Tattva with the inclusion of Narahari in the place of Srivas Pandit and the somewhat mysterious ascription of different relationships to each of them, but that discussion will have to wait for another day. What I would like to point out is the prominent place given to the names of the Vaishnavas.
One of the things that is remarkable about this period of Chaitanya Vaishnava history is the appearance of lists of Vaishnava names—Devakinandana’s Bengali Vaiṣṇava-vandanā (likely the first of the genre) and another of that name in Sanskrit and attributed to Jiva Goswami, Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, and the “revised list” in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which comes a few years later. There are also other lists, such as those naming all who came to Kheturi (see the bottom of this document), or those who were leading disciples of various other leading Vaishnavas. It appears that the remembering of Vaishnavas’ names, especially those associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, became an integral part of devotees’ sādhana, either as a result of Kheturi, or as part of the general culture that was being confirmed at that great meeting.
Devotees were called prātaḥ-smaraṇīya, “to be remembered in the morning,” as a kind of purifying ritual. Part of this glorification of Vaishnavas is a general principle that can be found even in the Bhagavatam, but Narottam draws a deeper implication when he equates Gauranga with Krishna in one song (gaurāṅgera duṭi pada):
Whoever considers the companions of Gauranga to be eternally perfected beings will attain the company of Krishna in Vrindavan. And whoever recognizes that this land of Gauda is the divine realm verily resides in Vraja-bhumi.One cannot see Chaitanya as Krishna without giving due honor to those who associated with him. After listing some of the Vrindavan Vaishnavas he had the good fortune to associate with, Narottam prays—
Why have I not had the fortune to live with those who associated with those who have associated with all these devotees? How can I express my misery? My life has been wasted! A pox on me, cries Narottam Das.And again,
I will strike my head against a stone, I will enter the flames. What must I do, where must I go to attain the company of that ocean of virtue, Gauranga? Narottam cries out in distress at having been deprived of the association of those who associated with him and his companions.Clearly, these two verses show the idea of parampara in an organic fashion: Not just those who came in touch with Chaitanya, but those who came in touch with those who knew them, and further on, all are blessed.
The feet of the saintly Vaishnavas are the greatest treasure of this world. Listen, my brother, and worship them single-mindedly. One who worships Krishna after taking refuge in the Vaishnavas is never abandoned by him. Everyone else is unnecessarily doomed.“Taking refuge” means taking initiation and becoming a part of this Vaishnava community. So this is the mindset of Kheturi: Chaitanya was God in this world. All his companions were his eternal associates, a part of Vrindavan as much as of Nabadwip. Anyone who had known their association received the magic of their touch, which was transferred to them organically, as it were. So when those in the Gaudiya Math speak disparagingly of a “body parampara,” as Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj so eloquently put it, they are actually right. The disciplic successions which formed and continue to form the backbone of the Chaitanya Vaishnava world consider the connection back to the members of the “avatar generation” to be the touchstone of membership to the community. Through the process of acceptance, one enters into a special relationship with its founding members. Breaking faith with Kheturi means saying that this kind of connection is no longer necessary. Now the question is, is there any validity to this way of thinking? Or is this a superficial understanding? Let’s start with the texts of the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition.
The first great mystery that needs clarification is the question of the “incarnation” itself. The other day I was talking to Mangala Maharaj, a disciple of Madhava Maharaj, the founder of the Chaitanya Gaudiya Math. He said that Bon Maharaj told him not to use the word “incarnation,” but “descent.” Why, because when God descends into this material world, he never becomes a flesh and blood mortal (in carne) like the rest of us. In Christianity, this is called the “Docetic heresy.” Though I am not going to argue for or against Docetism, I think that we need to examine the idea of “God-in-human-form” and the implications that it has for us. How could anyone say that God, wholly spiritual, infinite, eternal and full of consciousness and bliss, appears in a finite or material body? In fact, we are quite accustomed to responding to this question by denying the very premise: God has a form of sac-cid-ānanda, and though he appears like an ordinary man, he is never such—
On careful examination, however, the language of this verse (Gita 9.11) is not so unambiguous, for mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam (or mānuṣīṁ deham āśritam , Bhagavatam 10.33.37), clearly mean “taking a human body.” The Vaishnava commentaries all concentrate on the theme that, “taking” a body in this case is figurative. God himself has human form, eternally, despite being possessed of a supreme nature ( paraṁ bhāvam ), being the glorious lord of all creatures (mama bhūta-maheśvaram), etc.
The one who is the witness and controller within all beings, as well as the gopis and their husbands, appeared here in this world in a human body. (10.33.36)There is no reason to go into all the commentaries, however much fun that would be. They make hundreds of interesting points, but as far as Krishna’s body is concerned, the principal point is always to counter Mayavada on the one hand—God is ultimately not formless, and pure materialism on the other—God’s body is not mundane like ours, it’s spiritual. There is no difference between Krishna and his body. And yet, we have a problem that repeating this mantra does not resolve. The reason that Krishna, the personal God is considered superior to the impersonal forms of Deity is precisely the expanded facility for rasa that comes with the human body. In fact, the more human God becomes, the more subject to limitations (within the realm of love), the more we “forget” his divinity, the happier he is. During his incarnation, such as that of Mahaprabhu, he presumably did the things that ordinary humans do—he bled when he scratched himself, his body was covered in bruises as a result of his ecstasies, he even went to the toilet, as we know from the Gopal Guru story. So where is the dividing line between a material body and a spiritual one? What exactly is the difference?
Let me take this another step further, when we talk about the guru’s physical defects, we are told not to be distracted from his spiritual nature, any more than we should stop believing in the transcendental nature of the Ganges, even when filled with bubbles, foam and silt. As sādhakas, we aspire to attain a “spiritual body” or siddha-deha, but we do so in a dualistic way that minimizes the spirituality of this sādhaka-deha, and we often hear devotees denounce the lower nature, the pull of sensuality coming from this “material body,” but this ignores the promise of Chaitanya himself, made to Sanatan:
At the time of initiation, when a devotee surrenders to the spiritual master, Krishna makes him equal to himself. He transforms the devotee's body into spiritual substance; the devotee then worships the Lord in that spiritualized body. (CC 3.4.192-3)In other words, initiation transforms this material body into a spiritual one. This is a vital fact about this religion of grace that has been stressed over and over again, and yet is submerged again and again in the karma and jnana mentality. That is, divine grace is immediate and final. One cannot chant the Holy Name with material senses—therefore when one has the slightest desire to chant Krishna’s name, it mercifully spiritualizes the tongue so that it can appear there. No one can worship God without become a god oneself. Initiation thus means being transformed through the ritual to become member of this select club that stretches back, organically, through to the avatar generation.
Thus the words sambandha viseṣa (“special relationship”) in Jiva Goswami’s famous formulation of the definition of dīkṣā, take on a very real meaning. Narottama Das’s words-- hethā pābo gauracandra sethā rādhā-kṛṣṇa also take on a new significance. Just as the members of the Nabadwip lila inwardly relished their identities as participants in Vrindavan, the “special relationship” there is also cemented through the process of initiation. Thus arises the expression, siddha-praṇāli—“the channel of perfection,” or the firmly established channel. In other words, the channel is siddha because it connects to those nitya-siddhas.
āśraya laiyā bhaje tāre kṝṣṇa nāhi tyaje
āra saba mare akāraṇa
āra saba mare akāraṇa
There is a lot of confusion about initiation in the Vaishnava world as a result of this breaking of faith with Kheturi. Rather than taking initiation to be entry into a relationship with Gauranga and the whole of the Vaishnava world, it is seen as very much a relationship with one individual, upon whom the entire responsibility for one’s salvation is dumped. That person becomes the lightning rod for all the disciple’s aspirations and doubts rather than a facilitator and representative of the founding member of the disciplic line. Thus the doubters point and accuse, “What realization did this one or that one have?” They had the one realization that was necessary, “I am Gauranga’s servant and I belong to him and his.”
By simply giving the mantra, they were passing this on. Those who have broken faith with Kheturi confuse conversion (śraddhā) with initiation (dīkṣā). Śraddhā is an epiphany, a radical transformation of orientations, an adoption of an entire new framework for spiritual understanding. It is, one may well say, the full manifestation of Krishna’s mercy because, indeed, everything is present in the Holy Name. The ecstatic experience of conversion is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s free gift of prema. This does not mean that one does not have to follow the process of devotional life that leads from śraddhā through sādhu-saṅga, anartha-nivṛtti, niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti to bhāva and prema. Thus, we often hear the misinterpretation of the famous verse from the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa defining dīkṣā, where people say that any kind of divya-jñāna, or as Sri Jiva says, “Knowledge of Krishna’s true identity (svarūpa) and of one’s special relationship with him (sambandha-viśeṣa),” means that one is initiated.
An analysis of this verse shows, however, that it is not describing an unknown named "dīkṣā," but rather telling us why the known thing, dīkṣā, has been given that name. It is like the difference between saying "a beautiful woman is my wife" and "my wife is a beautiful woman." In other words, "Dīkṣā, i.e. the transmission of mantra by guru to disciple, is known by this name because it is meant (use of vidhi-liṅ) to bring divine (dī) knowledge and destroy sins (kṣā)." Not, "Anything that gives knowledge and destroys sins is dīkṣā."
When one is married, one knows for certainty that one has a certain relationship to another person. Of course, in our age of dubious legal relations, there is a deep impermanence to all things, including one’s spiritual relationships through initiation. And the fact is that the Holy Name enters into a relationship with everyone who utters it even once. However, in order to transcend the offenses to the Holy Name, one must surrender to Guru Tattva through taking initiation. But more significantly, it came to mean a connection with the theophany of the avatar through the disciplic chain.
The following Vaishnavas are known to have attended the Kheturi festival. (These names are found in Prema-vilāsa, ch. 19, Narottama-vilāsa, and Bhakti-ratnākara, ch. 10, and were compiled by R.K. Chakravarti.
1. The Vaishnavas of Khardaha led by Jahnava Devi.
1. Chaitanyadasa of Nabadwip-Baghnapara. Son of Vamsivadana Chatta.
2. Damodara. He attended the Katwa festival. BRK.
3. Gauranga. CCM, p. 137, Nityananda branch.
4. Hridayacaitanya. Disciple of Gauridasa Pandit and guru of Shyamananda.
5. Jahnava Devi.
6. Jagaddurlabha. Son of Virabhadra.
7. Jnanadasa. Celebrated Vaishnava poet.
8. Jiva Pandit. GGD. p. 46, verse 169.
9. Kamalakara Pippalai. Gopala of Mahesh.
10. Kanai Pandita. BRK. p. 394. He attended the Katwa festival.
11. Krishnadasa. BRK. p. 393. He attended the Katwa festival. He might have been Kala Krishnadasa, Gopala of Akaihat.
12. Krishnadasa Sarkhel. Uncle of Jahnava Devi.
13. Madhavacarya. Husband of Ganga Devi, Nityananda's daughter.
14. Manohara. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.
15. Mahidhara. CCM. p. 139. Nityananda branch.
16. Minaketana Rarnadasa. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.
17. Murarichaitanya. CCM. p. 136. Nityananda branch.
18. Mukunda. VAD. p. 343.
19. Nakadi. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.
20. Nayana Bhaskara. Noted sculptor of Halisahar, 24 Parganas.
21. Nrisimhachaitanya. CCM. p. 137. Nityananda branch.
22. Pararamesvara Dasa. Gopala of Tara-Atpur.
23. Raghupati Vaidya Upadhyaya. CCM. 1.136. Nityananda branch.
24. Raghunatha Acharya. Son of Khanja Bhagavan Acharya, of Gosvami-Malipada, Hooghly.
25. Sankara. CCM. p. 128. Chaitanya branch.
26. Suryadasa. Suryadasa Sarkhel, Jahnava Devi's father?
27. Balarama Dasa, or Nityananda Dasa, Jahnava's disciple, and said to be the author of Premavilāsa.
28. Vrindavan Dasa. Author of Chaitanya Bhagavata.
29. Other numerous Vanik-disciples of Nityananda.
2. Vaishnavas of Nadia (Nabadwip)
30. Madhavacharya. Nephew of Vishnupriya Devi, Chaitanya's wife.
31. Srinidhi. Brother of Srivasa Pandit.
32. Sripati. Another brother of Srivasa Pandit.
3. Vaishnavas of Shantipur
33. Achyutananda. Eldest son of Advaita Acharya.
35. Gopala Acharya. Another son of Advaita Acharya.
37, Kanu Pandit.
39. Narayana Dasa.
40. Purusottama. Possibly Purusottama Nagara.
41. Vishnudasa Acharya. Influential disciple of Advaita Acharya.
4. Vaishnavas of Burdwan and Murshidabad
42. Bhagavan Kaviraj. Srinivasa Acharya's disciple.
43. Chandra Haldar.
44. Devidasa. Famous mridanga artist.
45. Divyasimha. Son of Govindadasa Kaviraja.
56. Dvija Ramakrishna.
47. Govindadasa Kaviraja. Celebrated Vaishnava poet, and brother of Ramachandra Kaviraja.
48. Gopaladasa of Budhuipara, Murshidabad.
49. Gokula of Kanchangaria, Murshidabad.
51. Gokuladasa. Narottarna's disciple.
52. Gokula, of Shergarh, Pancet.
54. Karnapura. Disciple of Srinivasa Acharya, and resident of village Babadurpur.
56. Krishnadasa of Akaihat, (Kalakrishnadasa, the Gopala).
57. Krishnananda Majumdar.
59. Locana Dasa, author of Chaitanyamangala.
60. Mangala Thakura of Birbhum. He belonged to the Gadadhara Pandit branch.
61. Mitu Haldar.
62. Narayana Kavi.
63. Nimai Kaviraj.
65. Raghunandana, nephew of Narahari Sarkar of S'rikhan4a.
66. Rupa Kaviraja.
67. Ramacharana. Srinivasa's brother-in-law and disciple.
68. Rupa Ghataka. Affluent disciple of Srinivasa.
69. Srinivasa Acharya.
72. Shasthivara. A Mahanata and noted klrtan singer.
73. Vyasacharya. Court scholar of Vishnupur; Srinivasa Acharya's disciple.
76. Vallabhikanta Kaviraja. Disciple of Srinivasa Acharya.
77. Yadunandana of Katwa.
5. Vaishnavas of Midnapur.
78. Rasikananda, chief disciple of Shyamananda.
79. Shyamananda. Leader of the Midnapur Vaishnavas.
6. Important Mahantas and Vaishnavas.
80. Baninatha Vipra.
81. Chaitanyadasa. Perhaps Vira Hamvira, king of Vishnupur.
82. Hari Acharya. A disciple of Ramacandra Kaviraja. Resident of Goas village in Murshidabad.
83. Jagannatha. He was known as Kasthakata, the wood-cutter. He was a disciple of Gadadhara Pandit. He came to Kheturi from Vikrampur Pargana in the Munshiganj sub-division of Dacca.
84. Jita Mishra.
85. Kavi Karnapura. Presumably the noted Bengali theologian and poet.
86. Kashinath Pandit.
87. Laksmikanta Pandit.
88. Nartaka Gopala.
89. Nayanananda. Poet of the "Gadai-Gauranga" sub-sect.
91. Raghu Mishra.
92. Raghunatha. Youngest son of Gauridasa Pandit, the Gopala of Kalna.
93. Uddhava. Possibly Shyamananda's disciple.
94. Shivananda. Was he Shivananda Sena, father of Kavi Karnapura? [I doubt it.]
95. Vallabha. Grandson of Vamsivadana Chatta of Nabadwip.