A brief look into the history and essential meaning of the ISKCON and Gaudiya Math parampara.
(The following article has been written to counteract the accusation that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada and his disciples and grand disciples are not in the Parampara of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura. This accusation has recently appeared on the internet and therefore our response is being posted on VNN. For the most part the western community of devotees are unaware of the early histories surrounding the preaching movement of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and the types of opposition which they encountered. We hope this article will better aquaint the devotees with the facts and also send a message to the anti-party that we are not so uninformed as they would like to think - nor are we likely to depart from the siddhanta of Saraswati Thakur in favor of the imitationist process)
It so happens that from time to time over the centuries the movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has come under strong criticism and ridicule by those who are either uninformed about the actual practice of pure devotional service or by those who are overtly envious of the Supreme Lord and His pure devotees, the anti-party.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura
During the 1920s and 30s as well as recently as 1998 the anti-party has revived a certain propaganda that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur is not in the parampara of Bhaktivinode Thakur. It is the suggestion of the anti-party that Saraswati Thakur had no guru connection with Bhaktivinode whatsoever. Since Gaura Kishore dasa Babaji Maharaja was the diksa-guru (one who gives guru-mantra to gopal-mantra and kama-gayatri) of Saraswati Thakur his parampara, they say, should be traced to the Adwaita-parivad (disciplic succession in the family of Adwaita) and not to Bhaktivinode Thakur whom they say is in the Nityananda-parivad. It is also their thinking that Bhaktivinode Thakur did not regard Jagannatha das Babaji as his substantial guru (siksa-guru).
Furthermore it is the contention of the anti-party that since Saraswati Thakur did not receive siddha-pranali from Bhaktivinode Thakura he should not be considered his true follower and one who does not receive siddha-pranali, they say, cannot attain Vraja-bhakti. The anti-party is so strong on this point that they even go so far as to say that Bhaktivinode Thakur was not pleased with Saraswati Thakur due to Saraswati Thakur having wholesale rejected Bipin Bihari Goswami (the diksa-mantra/ pancaratrika-mantra-guru) of Bhaktivinode Thakur. Therefore they say that Bhaktivinode did not give siddha-pranali to him, as if rejecting Saraswati Thakur.
It is a fact that Bhaktivinode sent Saraswati Thakur to Gaura Kishore das Babaji for initiation and it is universally accepted that Babaji was a siddha-mahatma. The fact that Bhaktivinode did send Saraswati to Gaura Kishore is proof that he saw in the Babaji a higher conception than he found in his own diksa-guru - otherwise he could easily have corrected Saraswati and sent him to Bipin Bihari Goswami. But he didn't.
The anti-party draws their line of disciplic succession from Bipin Bihari Goswami to Bhaktivinode Thakur, to Lalit Prasad Thakur (the brother of Bhaktisiddhanta) to Gadadhara-pran and a few others.
The word "anti-party" has been chosen by Saraswati Thakur and his disciples to best describe the so-called disciplic succession going under the name of siddha-pranali because of their actually being in direct opposition to the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. There is such a thing as siddha-pranali and Krishna das Kaviraja Goswami has described siddha-pranali in his commentary to Krishna-karnamrta. He says that both siddha-pranali and chanting the holy name are bona fide, but Kaviraja concludes by saying that of the two - the process of taking the name of Krishna is superior. One becomes pure by chanting the name without offense and the holy name itself reveals the astakala-lila (eight-fold pastimes), being nondifferent from Krishna and His lilas. (This reference available at Caitanya Research Institute, Calcutta)
The first doubt raised by the anti-party is that the actual guru of Bhaktivinode Thakur was Bipin Bihari Goswami and not Jagannatha dasa Babaji. They say that to consider Jagannatha das Babaji as the guru of Bhaktivinode is an offense. They consider this so because Bhaktivinode Thakur accepted diksa from Bipin Bihari Goswami in 1881 and he never received any such initiation from Jagannatha Dasa Babaji. Thus the anti-party wishes to discredit the parampara line as shown by Saraswati Thakur in his song "Guru Parampara" and simultaneously they wish to establish their own line as the true parampara of Bhaktivinode Thakur.
Bhaktivinode Thakur went on pilgrimage to Vrindavana in 1881 at which time he met Jagannatha Dasa Babaji. The Thakur received many spiritual instructions from Babaji Maharaja and the Thakur accepted him as his substantial guru (siksa-guru). Bhaktivinode has referred to Jagannatha Dasa Babaji as vaisnava-sarvabhaumah, the most revered and worshipable Vaishnava:
gauravirbhava-bhumes tvam, nirdesta saj-jana-priyah
vaisnava-sarvabhaumah, sri-jagannathaya namah
"I offer my respectful obeisance to Jagannatha Dasa Babaji Maharaja who is respected and worshipped by the entire Vaishnava community and who discovered the birth place where Sri Caitanyadeva appeared."
This raises another interesting point: With the help of Jagannatha das Babaji, Bhaktivinode was able to discover the place of Mahaprabhu's appearance. Simultaneously it was declared that the so-call Yoga-pitha at Navadwip on the other side of the Ganges was false. Many cast Goswamis objected to the site at Mayapur being the original site. Bipin Bihari Goswami at that time rejected Bhaktivinode Thakur for preaching an untruth (mithyapracara) and he even published his rejection of Bhaktivinode's preaching in a small newspaper of his own called Gaurangasevaka Patrika in 1919. One could say at this point - that at least that they did not see eye to eye or that their feelings for placing distance in their relationship with each other was mutual - indeed a difficult relationship to maintain between "guru and disciple." (The Gaurangasevaka Patrika and article available at Caitanya Research Institute, Calcutta.)
Yoga Pitha ~ Birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Therefore Bhaktivinode turned over the Yoga Pitha at Mayapur to Saraswati and nobody else because he knew that only he had the strength, realization and sastric pramana (evidence) to hold the sacred ground against the sahajiya and Brahmin community. It is also interesting to note that although Bipin Bihari Goswami rejected the idea that Yoga Pitha was in Mayapur - the modern day followers of Lalit Prasad, nonetheless, accept Yoga Pitha in Mayapur and not the so-called Yoga Pitha in Navadwip.
For many years Saraswati Thakur saw the exchanges between Jagannatha Dasa Babaji and Bhaktivinode at times when the two lived together at Svananda-sukhada-kunja in Nadia for many years. We do not find any association of Bhaktivinode Thakur with Bipin Bihari Goswami except for a short time in the village of Narail, East Bengal and this does not include any reference to the latter instructing Bhaktivinode in the matter of pure devotional service.
It is true, as the anti-party says, Saraswati Thakur did not have very high regard for Bipin Bihari Goswami - he certainly did not consider him to be the Guru of Bhaktivinode Thakur. Saraswati Thakur as a small child (7 years old) was present when Bhaktivinode Thakur received diksa mantras from Bipin Bihari Goswami and from the outset Saraswati Thakur was critical of the Goswami. When Bhaktivinode offered his obeisances to the Goswami - the Goswami attempted to place his foot on the head of the Thakur - the child remarked, "Do you think that you have such spiritual power that you can put your foot on the head of Srila Bhaktivinode?"
There is another short story: Once a celebrated sahajiya came to see Bhaktivinode at his residence. The sahajiya was a gentleman but nonetheless a sahajiya. Saraswati was a young boy at the time. When he saw his father (Bhaktivinode) talking with that gentleman he simply offered obeisances at a distance and got up and went away. Seeing this the gentleman inquired, "Was that your son -why does he offer obeisances and go away?" Bhaktivinode replied in a happy style, "He has taken a vow not to come within one hundred metres of a sahajiya."
We must mention here that both Bhaktivinode Thakur and Saraswati Thakur have been accepted by many great devotees and scholars as liberated souls who appeared in this world by the divine arrangement of Krishna. They were not a pair (father and son) of this world as the mundane bhaktas (prakrta-sahajiyas) think - rather they were eternal residents from Goloka Vrindavana; namely Kamala-manjari and Nayana-mani-manjari respectively. Therefore from the beginning of their lives they both showed exceptional qualities and characteristics which are to be attributed only to pure devotees and liberated souls.
For example Bhaktivinode Thakur was preaching the process of pure devotion; writing and printing books such as Krishna-samhita and Kalyana Kalpataru (both revered devotional works) before he even met his so-called Guru, Bipin Bihari Goswami - something which is highly unusual, even unheard of - unless that is, one is already a liberated soul. Similarly Saraswati Thakur manifested himself as a pure Vaishnava from his earliest childhood. He was quick to catch the essence of the scripture and he especially showed a keen ability to distinguish between real bhajan and that of the sahajiyas (imitationists). We will not go into greater detail regarding their many transcendental pastimes, for many biographies have been written on this subject - it will suffice to say that both Bhaktivinode and Saraswati Thakur were liberated souls who came down to this world from Krishna's personal entourage to establish the essence of pure devotional service.
Bhaktivinode Thakur did for sometime show formal respect to Bipin Bihari Goswami but when the Goswami disrespected Raghunatha dasa Goswami, the Thakur distanced himself even more from Bipin Bihari. In essence the details of this incident show that like many cast Goswamis in Orissa, Bengal, Vrindavana and Radha Kunda - Bipin Bihari Goswami also thought that he could give blessings to Raghunatha dasa Goswami, the prayojana-acharya, because Das Goswami was from a "lower cast" or so he mistakenly thought. It appears that Lalit Prasad Thakur overlooked the stressful relation that had evolved between Bhaktivinode and Bipin Bihari over the issue of Yoga-Pitha being at Mayapur and also that of Ragunatha dasa Goswami in favor of the formal arangement of diksa. It does not appear, in spite of his vast learning, that he was able to catch the essence of the teachings of Bhaktivinode Thakur.
It is also known that Bipin Bihari mixed very freely with the degraded sections of Bengal society and associated with anti-Vedic philosophers like the Brahma Samaja. Even after his return to Vaisnavism he continued bad habits like smoking etc. - thus Saraswati Thakur, who was himself very strict in principles, saw this as a sign of lower Vaisnava adhikari (kanistha-adhikari) although Bhaktivinode Thakur remained somewhat unspoken on the issue.
In 1911 there was an assembly of scholars held in Medinpur (Bengal) wherein the topic of debate was to be "Brahmins and Vaishnavas." Bipin Bihari Goswami was present at that assembly and, as already known, he would side with the Brahmin community in the platform that Brahmin Vaishnavas were automatically superior to non-Brahmin Vaisnavas, due to a Brahmin being born in a higher cast. Bhaktivinode Thakur was also invited to attend that assembly. The conflict between he and Bibin Bihari was destined. Bhaktivinode Thakur - not wanting to take the position of confronting and attempting to defeat his "diksa-guru" in a public forum declined to attend the meeting on the plea of bad health. In his place he sent Saraswati Thakur (age 37) to represent pure Gaudiya Vaisnava-siddhanta in the line of Sri Rupa and Raghunatha das Goswami as per the teachings of Mahaprabhu.
In that assembly Saraswati Thakur prevailed in the debate and established to the satisfaction of the majority of that assembly that a pure Vaishnava, regardless of his birth was the topmost human being due to his unalloyed love for Godhead. The news of this was very pleasing to Bhaktivinode Thakur. The lecture (Brahmana O Vaisnavera Taratamya Visayaka Siddhanta - The Conclusion Concerning the Comparison of Brahmanas and the Vaisnavas) was published in a book in English called "Brahmins and Vaisnavism." (Also available at Caitanya Research Institute, Calcutta)
One might ask why Bhaktivinode Thakur took initiation from Bipin Bihari Goswami in the first place, for the question naturally arises whether or not the Goswami was actually a pure devotee (perfected soul)?
During those days in India all the "recognized Gaudiya Vaisnavas" were initiated into one of the main parivads such as Adwaita and Nityananda-parivads. Everyone was expected to wear tilok and neck beads corresponding to his particular parivad. Since he had not taken initiation in any such parivad, Bhaktivinode did not wear the external markings of a Gaudiya Vaishnava. It so happened that some persons who had no real eyes to see him would sometimes consider Bhaktivinode to be a materialist and so forth and thus commit vaisnava-aparadha. Seeing this situation Bhaktivinode considered accepting the external markings of a Vaishnava which he must receive from a guru. He longed to meet a bona-fide guru who could inspire him but as Bhaktivinode later wrote, "But I did not obtain one." Later in a dream the Thakur got some direction from Mahaprabhu and he accepted Bipin Bihari Goswami.
The followers of Lalit Prasad Thakur contend that this is proof that Bipin Bihari was a perfected soul, otherwise Mahaprabhu would not have given direction to Bhaktivinode to accept him as guru. At this point the anti-party suggests that "could Mahaprabhu have made a mistake?" - thus they wish to indicate that Bhaktivinode Thakur received a siddha-guru (sat-guru) by the arrangement of Mahaprabhu Himself and