Lord Chaitanya’s Mercy
530 years ago Lord Chaitanya appeared on earth and flooded India especially Bengal with Krishna bhakti. With a sublime philosophy in the highest Vedic tradition and the simple process of Harinama Sankirtana, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu made esoteric Krishna Bhakti accessible to every human being. He transcended all social, cultural and intellectual boundaries and gifted the greatest accomplishment of the austere, renounced, enlightened and devoted spiritualist to everyone however absorbed in worldly pursuit. He so inundated the world with Krishna Bhakti that whoever touched the movement was swept up in its current and was elevated to the supreme spiritual experience of the love of Godhead. He brought to the forefront of society the highest, most intimate worship of Krishna – that which was conceived of by the Gopis of Vraja. (ramya kecid upasana vrajavadhu vargena ya kalpita). It is in no small measure that Srila Rupa Goswami glorified Lord Chaitanya as maha vadanyaya – the most munificent incarnation of Sri Krishna.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura: Powerful Preacher
However, by the time Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took up the helm of Lord Chaitanya’s bhakti movement, numerous deviant sects, by their cheap and often illicit activities had brought it such disrepute that it was no longer discussed in cultured circles and even the epic work on the life and teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita’ by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami had all but disappeared from society. When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great personality of his time, erudite in various philosophies of the world read a rarely available edition of the Chaitanya Charitamrita, he eventually became convinced that Lord Chaitanya was Krishna Himself and discovered truths in His teachings he had not encountered anywhere else. Learning under the tutelage of the great Vaishnava saint Srila Jagannath Dasa Babaji Maharaja, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura deepened his understanding of the genuine teachings of Lord Chaitanya. He was outraged that some 14 apasampradayas or deviant sects had badly distorted the exalted teachings of Lord Chaitanya regarding the intimate bhakti of the Gopis into a cheap exhibition of mundane sentiments. He resolved to correct the situation and launched a powerful campaign through preaching and publication of literature to save the lofty message of Lord Chaitanya from the degradation wrought by the false teachings of the deviant sects. Beginning his preaching work from the year 1869 at the age of 31 years, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura launched a period of rejuvenation in which the movement of Lord Chaitanya rose out of the ashes of dereliction and soared again to its rightful place of esteem in the contemporary society. Lord Chaitanya had predicted that His name would be chanted all over the world. Accordingly, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had an intense desire to spread the message of Lord Chaitanya worldwide. He prayed to Lord Chaitanya for a son who would help him in his mission.
Appearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura
In a large house situated on the Grand Road in Jagannatha Puri on the fifth day of the dark fortnight of Magha [January-February] corresponding to February 6th, 1874, a son he named Bimala Prasad was born to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Many auspicious signs heralded the child’s birth and it was clear he was the Lord’s answer to Srila Bhaktivinoda’s prayers. In time he would become known as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura – powerful Simha Guru of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya and the founder of the Gaudiya Math.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was a great scholar. He was learned in the Vedas, the books of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Acharyas, Literature of the Ramanuja and Sampradayas as well as the Christian and Islamic scriptures. He performed great austerities like chanting Hare Krishna Mantra 1 billion times in 9 years of austere living at Mayapur and strictly observing the stringent rules of Chaturmasya which involved eating only once a day and sleeping on the bare floor. Seeing his austerities Srila Gaura Kishora Dasa Babaji said that he saw the renunciation of Rupa and Raghunatha Dasa Goswamis in his only disciple. In his every deed Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had the single-minded purpose of furthering the cause of his illustrious father of spreading Lord Chaitanya’s movement all over the world.
Breaking the Stranglehold of Caste Brahmins
A great service Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura did was to defeat the caste Brahmins of his times by establishing that Brahminism and Vaishnavism were not birth rights but achievable by anyone, regardless of birth, provided he had the requisite qualifications. In the year 1911, he participated in a great debate on whether one not born in a Brahmin family could perform worship of Salagrama Shila or take the position of Acharya. Srila Saraswati Thakura presented a paper citing numerous sources from a wide variety of Vedic scriptures that established beyond any doubt that worship of the Saligrama Shila and the position of Acharya were never limited to seminal Brahmins but possible for anyone with the necessary qualification. This broke the stranglehold of unworthy caste Brahmins over the conduct of spiritual activities. In the later days, this made it possible for westerners, considered lowborn by Vedic standards, to qualify for performing Vedic rituals like accepting the Brahmin thread and worshiping Deities.
Writing the Parampara
Parampara is a crucial aspect of spiritual learning. Lord Krishna has declared in the Gita that the imperishable science of yoga is to be acquired through parampara. While the great Acharya Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana enlisted the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya parampara from Lord Krishna to Lord Chaitanya and then up to himself, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura continued the list placing Jagannath Dasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Gaura Kishore Dasa Babaji and then himself as the chain through with the profound teachings of Lord Chaitanya were being transmitted in society. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the brilliant disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta appeared as the next link in the parampara who spread Lord Chaitanya’s teachings throughout the world. The pure devotee, great Acharya Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had the profound insight and transcendental genius to authoritatively establish this Brahma Madhva Gaudiya disciplic chain. It is another one of his imperative contributions to the world.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura placed a profound impetus on establishing printing presses to produce authentic Gaudiya Vaishnava literature in profuse quantity to distribute far and wide. He famously titled the printing press as ‘Brihad Mridanga’ or great drum that could be heard not just in one locale but over a vast region of time and space. He published Gaudiya Vaishnava literature prolifically. His disciple Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada continued this great tradition by writing and printing a great body of literature and distributing it on a global scale. This was also another example of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s penetrating vision for propagating Sri Chaitanya’s mission.
A major requirement for establishing a worldwide movement for preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya was organization. Renounced devotees who preached in a limited geographical range were propagating the Bhakti movement at that time. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura with his prolific writing and powerful preaching had laid the foundation of a strong worldwide movement, yet his efforts needed the structure of an institution to spread it far and wide. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura who had been performing severe austerities and deeply contemplating expanding Lord Chaitanya’s movement thought of creating an organization for this purpose. He envisaged brahmacharis, grihastas and sannyasis residing in Ashrams all over the world. In these spiritual oases, the inmates would austerely practice the topmost religious system of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and fan out worldwide, preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya in every town and village. Their sustenance would come from donations raised by their preaching activities and the publication of literature. In this way, they would learn to fully depend on Krishna and spread the message of Lord Chaitanya. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura called his institution ‘Gaudiya Math’. Traveling widely, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and his energetic disciples established 64 Gaudiya Math centers among them centers in Burma, England, and Germany as well. It is hard to fathom that at a time when the world was poorly connected by communication and transportation, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and his disciples could establish so many centers in a short period of 11 years. They used the available means of transport like cars, trains, and boats to their best advantage. Typewriters and printing machines were widely utilized. Sannyasis were allowed to wear shoes and stitched clothes in their preaching forays. The fire of preaching was ignited in every disciple and this drove the activities of Gaudiya Math.
Instituting a Resurgence
The British period in India saw a systematic dismantling of the ancient education system of India as well as a deliberate effort by the British to undermine the ancient spiritual wisdom of India. With the ancient philosophy losing currency, the mundane education of the west gained ascendancy in India. The world was bereft of the transcendental sciences. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, by his incisive argument and profound exposition in impeccable English, powerfully instituted a resurgence of Vedic knowledge that had been callously disparaged by the British. He specifically ordered his beloved disciple Abhay Charan De (later to be His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) to propagate the message in the English-speaking world.
All that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did, lead a global blossoming of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. When his disciple, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada took the movement to the west, his meticulous execution of the orders of his guru, initiated a global wave of Krishna Consciousness that fulfilled the five-hundred-year-old prophecy of Lord Chaitanya that His name would be chanted in every town and village of the world.
His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, fearless preacher, powerful Acharya of the Gaudiya Math has given to humanity the ultimate blessing – a viable opportunity to transcend all material imperfection to attain pure love of God for in every town and village of the world is resounding the powerful vibration of the holy name of Lord Chaitanya!