Ativadi Apa-sampradaya

Jul 8 2002 - Krishna Talk 32

Devotee: Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura has written that there were thirteen apa-sampradayas that developed after the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

aula, baula, kartabhaja, neda. daravesa, sani
sahajiya, sakhibeki, smarta, jata-gosani
ativadi, cudadhari, gauranga-nagari
tato kahe, ei terara sanga nahi kari

One of these apa-sampradayas is called ativadi, which means too great. Can you please explain how those who are ‘too great’ have become an apa-sampradaya?

Narasingha Maharaja: If the quality of humility is the crest-jewel of the Vaisnavas, and indeed it is, then undeniably its antithesis is pride. If one is falsely proud due to his greatness, or falsely proud due to his scholarship then one becomes an ativadi, too great.

To chant the Holy Name without offense, one must first become free from dambhika, or pride. A dambhika-brahmana is one who is proud of his scholarship and thus becomes offensive to the humble Vaisnavas. A true Vaisnava is always meek and humble. He sees every living entity as constitutionally a servant of Krsna and he never mistreats others, or looks upon them as his inferior.

In the words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, “One who thinks he is the highest is actually the lowest and one who thinks himself the lowest is actually the highest.”

Real humility can only be attained by strictly adhering to the instructions of Sri Guru and by preaching the glories of the Holy Name. However, a hypocrite in the guise of a Vaisnava (kapota-vaisnava) sometimes makes a show of his learning simply to attain cheap adoration and followers. Such persons are known as ativadi, too great.

The first pseudo sect of Vaisnavas to be known as Ativadi was founded by one Oriyan brahmana named Jagannatha Dasa. This Jagannatha Dasa lived during the time of Sri Caitanya. Jagannatha Dasa came from a tradition of professional Bhagavatam reciters and due to his sweet voice he attracted many followers. Jagannatha Dasa claimed to be a disciple of Srila Haridasa Thakura, but he later broke his connection with Haridasa and began to preach his own concocted philosophy.

Initially Jagannatha Dasa resided in an asrama donated to him by Maharaja Prataparudra, but after his rejection of Thakura Haridasa the king took the property back and Jagannatha Dasa and his followers founded their own matha called the Sat-lahiri Mandira. This story has been narrated in a Gaudiya Matha publication compiled by one of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciples.

Jagannatha Dasa once approached Mahaprabhu without getting permission from the Lord’s personal servant. Jagannatha Dasa had written his own translation of the Bhagavatam and desired to recite it for the Lord. This translation was in Oriyan and happened to contain five new chapters of the author’s own invention. In order to avoid hearing this concocted creation of Jagannatha Dasa, the Lord told him, “A fallen jiva such as Myself is not worthy to hear the Bhagavatam composed by a poet like you. You have become too great, ativadi. An insignificant soul like Me can have nothing to do with you.”

Being covered by false pride Jagannatha Dasa and his many followers took Mahaprabhu’s sarcastic statement to be one of praise rather than condemnation. The followers of Jagannatha Dasa then propagated his Bhagavatam throughout Orissa. The true followers of Sri Caitanya, however, reject the Bhagavatam by Jagannatha Dasa.

If one examines the cult of Jagannatha Dasa, it becomes quite clear why Mahaprabhu shunned his association. Jagannatha Dasa and his followers among other things claimed that Jagannatha Dasa was the incarnation of Srimati Radharani, that he was the personification of Srimati Radharani’s laughter. Certainly such a claim could hold no bearing over the followers of Sri Caitanya.

Another reason why Sri Caitanya rejected Jagannatha Dasa was because Jagannatha Dasa contradicted the original text of Vyasadeva and he sometimes leaned towards mayavadi impersonalism.

Later, after being rejected by Sri Caitanya, Jagannatha Dasa began mixing freely with women. His melodious singing attracted many unsuspecting women folk to hear his Bhagavatam recitations and serve him in various ways such as massaging his body. Eventually this came to the attention of Maharaja Prataparudra and Jagannatha Dasa was arrested and interrogated by the King. When the King asked him about his behavior Jagannatha Dasa replied, “I see no difference between men and women.” Maharaja Prataparudra then had Jagannatha Dasa imprisoned for some time.

The Ativadi sect also claims that Lord Jagannatha reveals to them secret revelations of apocalyptic visions of the end of the world. It is indeed amusing that in recent times these Ativadi prophecies have even duped some western Vaisnavas to travel to Orissa to have a glimpse of the future from an Ativadi priest known as the Copper-plate Baba. This Copper-plate Baba has been consulted numerous times by some western gurus and sannyasis in ISKCON. Little do they know that the Copper-plate Baba is the representative of Jagannatha Dasa and the Ativadi sect.

Unfortunately, in olden times the ativadi mentality also entered other Gaudiya Vaisnavas and caused their fall down from pure devotional service. During the seventeenth century a man from the Surma valley in Assam entered the Vaisnava communities of Bengal and Vrndavana. Eventually he took diksa from Sri Krsna-carana Cakravarti and became known as Rupa Kaviraja. This Rupa Kaviraja studied Srimad Bhagavatam under Sri Mukunda Dasa, a well known Vaisnava of the time. The residents of Radha-kunda felt great happiness to see Rupa Kaviraja engaged thus. Gradually though he became proud of his learning.

Soon after the disappearance of Sri Mukunda Dasa, Rupa Kaviraja made a grave offence to the great Vaisnavi Srimati Krsna-priya Thakurani. One day, all the Vaisnavas assembled to hear Rupa Kaviraja recite the Bhagavatam. Before he began, Krsna-priya Thakurani arrived and the devotees offered her all respects. Rupa Kaviraja however, did not show her any respect. During his recital, Rupa Kaviraja noticed that she was chanting and he became disturber at this. With anger, he asked Krsna-priya Thakurani, “ How is it possible to be doing two things simultaneously? It is very disturbing to see how you are chanting while I am reciting the Bhagavatam.”
With great humility, the Thakurani replied, “It is simply the habit of my tongue to chant continuously – it doesn’t impede my hearing at all.” Hearing this, Rupa Kaviraja sat back and fumed in anger. From this moment he was ruined. He offended Krsna-priya Thakurani, then later he made offences to his guru, his parama-guru and other Vaisnavas. Then Rupa Kaviraja became more and more proud of his learning and was ultimately robbed of the results of his spiritual advancement.

Since that time the Gaudiya Vaisnavas have referred to Rupa Kaviraja as being an Ativadi, one who is too great or knows too much.

Later on Rupa Kaviraja published a manuscript supporting the sahajiya conceptions and claimed that it had been written by Srila Rupa Gosvami. For all of his outrageous activities, the daughter of Sri Srinivasa Acarya, Srimati Hemalata Gosvamini tore the kanti-mala from his neck and ostracized him from the Vaisnava community. After this, the followers of Rupa Kaviraja began to wear only one strand of tulasi-beads since he was only left with one strand after they were broken by Hemalata.

According to the false doctrine of Rupa Kaviraja, known as Sauromya, one should imitate the gopis of Vraja in ones sadhaka-deha in order to gain entrance into the confidential lilas of the Divine Couple. Rupa Kaviraja was also against the worship of Tulasi and Salagrama and the following of ekadasi-vrata since the damsels of Vrndavana do not follow these vidhis.

In time the luster of Rupa Kaviraja disappeared and he soon contacted leprosy which spread rapidly throughout his entire body. Reduced to a decaying wretch, Rupa Kaviraja fled to Bengal and tried to gain entrance into his guru’s asrama pretending that everything was normal. But the Vaisnavas of Bengal had already heard of his offenses and he was forced to leave Bengal. He then traveled to Orissa and stayed in the village of Khuriya-grama. There his body became thoroughly eaten up with leprosy and in great pain he slowly died. It is said that he became a ghost who would haunt those who committed Vaisnava-aparadha.

The following paragraph is from an article by Srila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura on the life of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti which appeared in The Harmonist (Vol.18, No.18. 1922):

“Srinivasa Acarya’s famous daughter, Srimati Hemalata Thakurani, rejected an envious disciple named Sri Rupa Kaviraja from the Vaisnava society. This Rupa Kaviraja is counted amongst the deviant sub-branch of the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya known as Ativadi — he spread his own concocted philosophy (against Gaudiya tradition), stating that only a person in the renounced order of life is capable of acting as acarya. He claimed that it was not possible for a householder to become a spiritual master. Fully disregarding the vidhi-marga, or path of devotional rules and regulations, he also tried to preach a philosophical path of raga-marga, or spontaneous devotion, which was completely unregulated and undisciplined. He also claimed that smarana (remembrance) was possible without the help of sravana and kirtana (hearing and chanting). Thus, Rupa Kaviraja propagated a path that was contrary to the path shown by the Gosvamis. Therefore, Srila Cakravarti Thakura has refuted these false conclusions in his Sarartha-darsini commentary on the third Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. Actually, this refutation is a rendering of the truths outlined in Srila Jiva Gosvami’s Bhakti Sandarbha.”

One may be very learned in the scriptures, one may be adept at quoting many slokas, one may have some understanding of the Vaisnava siddhanta and be proficient in explaining its subtle details, but if one is devoid of the quality of true humility then all these attributes are simply like decorations on a dead body. Srila Rupa Gosvami has explained in Bhakti-rasamrta-Sindhu that a devotee should not read too many books (bahu-sastra-vyakhya-vivadi tyagah, or renouncing the study of many scriptures in order to make novel explanations and arguments). This point is also mentioned by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.118)

bahu-grantha-kalabhyasa-vyakhyana varjiba

“One should not partially study many scriptures just to be able to give references and expand explanations.”

Nowadays there are some pretentious devotees that deem themselves as very learned, traveling here and there, they speak on so-called high topics and compete for the cheap admiration of people who are ignorant in these matters. These so-called devotees expertly speak novel interpretations to the scriptures and sweet illustrative stories, but such discussions simply fall on the deaf ears of the unqualified audiences having only the impact of aranya-rodana-nyaya, crying out in the wilderness.

Learning alone does not qualify one as an advanced Vaisnava, especially if by one’s learning one becomes proud and offensive to other Vaisnavas. Study, or svadhyaya, is meant only to cultivate devotion to the Supreme Lord. Too much learning, even of a good thing, may sometimes cause one to become puffed up and proud. Great learning must therefore be balanced by great Vaisnava humility, otherwise one becomes an Ativadi, too great.