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Once upon a time — or in a moment that transcends time — The great Gaudiya Vaisnava teacher Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura instructed one of his more academically gifted disciples to write a book that would sum up the vast and profound teachings of Krishna Consciousness. The disciple was Sundarananda Vidyavinoda, who was specifically asked to accomplish this task by quoting only from the work of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta father and intimate spiritual advisor. Bhaktivinoda, in many ways, was the first to express the rich Gaudiya theological system in modern language, both in his native Bengali and in English. He is also renowned as the systematizer of the tradition for the contemporary world. Moreover, he is revered in his lineage as a singularly empowered individual, whose writings are on an equal footing with sacred scripture. The eager Sundarananda thus took his Master's mandate to heart, and the result is the book you now hold in your hands, Bhaktivinoda Vani Vaibhava.
Many words and precious time have been wasted on detailing Sundarananda's strained relationship with the Gaudiya Math, and this is not the place to belabor the issue. Suffice it to say that Sundarananda's books speak for themselves, and their analysis of Gaudiya philosophy is deep and penetrating. A few of his titles should be known: SrlKsetra, Acintya bhedabheda, Gaudiyera Tin Thakura, Gaudiya Vaisnava Siddhantera Itihasa, Harindma-cintamani-kirana-lesh, among others. While there may be points of detail in some of these works that differ from the common understanding of Gaudiya Math devotees, overall they bear the same message of Krishna-bhakti, and they explain the science of love of God with exacting detail. And we must consider Sundarananda's other services: For many years he was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's chief editor and a respected intellectual in his movement. He was trusted enough to be given Bhaktivinoda's autobiography for editing purposes, which is something Bhaktisiddhanta would not allow anyone else to do.Sundarananda was clearly not an ordinary personality. Further proof of this can be found in a thorough reading of Bhaktivinoda Vani Vaibhava,vi\Y\c)\ systematically conveys "the power of Bhaktivinoda's teachings," as the title suggests. Originally written in Bengali, the work is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge, revealing both general information about spiritual life and intimate details of Gaudiya siddhanta. Sundarananda draws on works ranging from Bhaktivinoda's autobiography to the Thakura's novels and more sastra-like literature. What's more, he adopts Bhaktivinoda's frequent style of presenting detailed information in the easy-to-read format of questions and answers: Sundarananda composed the questions and then allowed Bhaktivinoda himself to answer by quoting the Thakura's various books.
Sundarananda also divides the book into sambandha (the path), abhidheya (the means), and prayojana (the goal), which are themes Bhaktivinoda uses in many of his own works, such asJaiva Dharma, Kalyana Kalpa-taru, and so on. In doing this, both authors follow much of the traditional literature of their lineage. For example, JIva Gosvami's Sat-sandarbha is expressed in terms of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana, and, in fact, the entire gamut of Vedic literature subscribes to this format, either directly or indirectly. As Kaviraja Gosvami says in his Caitanya-caritamrta: "The Vedic literature gives information about the living entity's eternal relationship with Krishna, which is called sambandha. The living entity's understanding of this relationship and acting accordingly is called abhidheya. Returning home, back to Godhead, is the ultimate goal of life and is called prayojana. These are the three subject-matters of these books of knowledge."(Cc. Madhya 20) His Grace Bhumipati dasa, the translator, and Isvara dasa, the publisher and organizer of this great effort, have done an invaluable service to the modern world by presenting this book in English — in the spirit of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. The first volume (Sambandha), presumably one of three, covers such subjects as the Vedic literature, spiritual lineage, the spiritual master, sacred space, God, His associates, and so on. The volume is made even more precious by including a brief life of the Thakura, and a list of his literary accomplishments. In conclusion, then, we find that Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhanta, Sundarananda, Bhumipati, and Isvara have, in a sense, worked together to produce an ocean of transcendental nectar. If one plies this ocean properly, one will emerge in Vrndavana, the holy land of Krishna, where Bhaktivinoda now serves as Kamala Mahjarl, a maidservant of Sri Radha. And by giving keen attention to the teachings of this book, one can begin to assist him in his service to that best of gopis.
*Satyaraja Dasa (Steven J. Rosen) is the author of twenty books on Vaisnavism and related subjects. He is also the senior editor of the Journal of Vaisnava Studies, an academic quarterly esteemed by scholars around the world.