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by Swami B G Narasingha
Bhaktivinode Thakur wrote over a hundred books, as well as numerous songs and articles, not only in his mother tongue, Bengali, but also in Sanskrit and English, to attract people everywhere to the sublime teachings of Shri Chaitanya.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the western world had risen to the height of power and influence. Its achievements in science, technology, and economic development seemed to know no limit. It had expanded its political power throughout the world, creating vast empires that dominated Asia and Africa, and with that came a sense of pride and conviction of the innate superiority of its civilization.
India was one of the conquered nations. Deemed backward, underdeveloped, poverty-stricken and bound by the superstitions of the past, it seemed to have little to offer its masters, the British, other than its natural resources and physical labor. What then could the people of this country possibly contribute to world civilization?
In 1896, an answer to that question arrived at Canada’s McGill University in a brown package postmarked Calcutta, India. The package contained a small Sanskrit book, Shri-Gauranga-Lila-Smaranam-Mangala-Stotram, 104 verses summarizing the life and teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Accompanying this Sanskrit work was a 63 page booklet, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts, which introduced the 16th century incarnation of Krishna to the English-speaking world for the first time.
The author of both these works, Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinode Thakur (1838-1914), was a saint and scholar in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Though himself a great admirer of western thought and literature, he was confident that once the intelligent people of the West came into contact with Shri Chaitanya’s teachings, they would recognize their value and embrace them to their hearts’ satisfaction. As such, in this booklet he presented the quintessence of Shri Chaitanya’s life and teachings in such a simple and charming way that even today, more than a hundred years later, people throughout the Western world can still find great hope and satisfaction from reading it.
The sum and substance of Shri Chaitanya’s teachings is “divine love,” love for God, or Krishna. This philosophy of love, wherein Krishna is the receiver and wholesale reciprocator of love with His devotee, is so charming and reassuring that no unbiased person can resist it. Love is, after all, the all-powerful force in the universe, and when it reaches its perfection in love for God, all of mankind can rejoice in peace and harmony. This was the gift of inconceivable value and good fortune that Shrila Bhaktivinode was sending to the Western world.
A few years before he mailed his book to McGill University, Shrila Bhaktivinode had a vision in which he saw a great spiritual city rise up at Shri Chaitanya’s birth site in Mayapur, near the banks of the Ganges in West Bengal. In that vision, he saw many thousands of people from both East and West, including the world’s most technologically advanced and wealthy countries, embracing the teachings of Shri Chaitanya. He saw the realization of Shri Chaitanya’s own prophecy, made nearly 400 years earlier, that his gift of divine love would spread to every town and village in the world.
Inspired by this supernatural apparition, Bhaktivinode Thakur made it his life’s mission to spread the teachings of Shri Chaitanya beyond India’s borders. Sending a small book across the vast oceans to a people unaccustomed to India’s spiritual traditions, though bold and courageous, was a small, even insignificant act. Now that we can see how a universal movement toward love of God is indeed taking shape, however, we can look back to this wonderful moment of deep faith and inspiration as its very beginning.
Knowing that the supreme good fortune of divine love was awaiting future generations, Shrila Bhaktivinode wrote over a hundred books, as well as numerous songs and articles, not only in his mother tongue, Bengali, but also in Sanskrit and English, to attract people everywhere to the sublime teachings of Shri Chaitanya. The books and songs that flowed from his prolific pen came to form the basis of the revived Gaudiya Vaishnava movement whose practitioners can now be found in every country in the world.
It is our pleasure to once again publish Bhaktivinode Thakur’s matchless gift to the world, Shri Chaitanya: His Life and Precepts. Those who are just on the threshold of discovering Shri Chaitanya’s sublime teachings will derive great spiritual benefit from the present edition, while those already acquainted with
them will delight in knowing that the vision and work of Shrila Bhaktivinode Thakur are being carried on into the next millennium.