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4. Prakrita-sahajiya: cheap pseudo-devotees
"Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur suggests that people who are materialistically inclined and sahajiyas, or so-called vaishnavas who take everything very cheaply, are both visayi, materialists. Eating food offered by them causes contamination, and as a result of such contamination, even a serious devotee becomes like a materialistic man. There are six kinds of association -- giving charity, accepting charity, accepting food, offering food, talking confidentially and inquiring confidentially. One should very carefully avoid associating with both the sahajiyas, who are sometimes known as vaishnavas, and the non-vaishnavas, or avaishnavas. Their association changes the transcendental devotional service of Lord Krishna into sense gratification, and when sense gratification enters the mind of a devotee, he is contaminated. The materialistic person who aspires after sense gratification cannot properly think of Krishna." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 6.278, purport)
The word sahaja ("natural", "simple", "normal") has two connotations in vaishnava literatures. Tracing these can help us see more clearly the crux of the sahajiya deviation. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna uses the word sahaja in reference to material nature:
saha-jam karma kaunteya
sa-dosam api na tyajet
sarvarambha hi dosena
"Every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault." (Bhagavad-gita 18.48)
Here the word saha-jam means "born of material nature." This refers to human sense activities, which are said to be sa-dosa, faulty. Despite this, Lord Krishna says we should not renounce activities.
But this does not mean that we should engage in material sense activities. Two verses earlier, Sri Krishna declares, "By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work." In the purport, Srila Prabhupada stresses the following points: "the Supreme Lord is the beginning of all living entities"; "as part and parcel of the Supreme Lord one has his duty to render service unto the Supreme"; and "Everyone should think that he is engaged in a particular type of occupation by Hrsikesa, the master of the senses."
So sahaja, or "natural", used in this connection, indicates the imperfect human nature. A man's sense activities are faulty due to his birth in matter. But he should learn that his real origin is Krishna, and he should engage his senses in the Lord's service. Then he can transcend the faults of his material conditioning and attain perfection. "Liberation is never inaction, but service without human mistakes." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.2.1, purport)
The other sense of the word is found in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.215:
sahaja gopira prema - nahe prakrta
kama kama-krida-samya tara kama-nama
"It is to be noted that the natural characteristic of the gopis is to love the Supreme Lord. Their lusty desire is not to be compared to material lust. Nonetheless, because their desire sometimes appears to resemble material lust, their transcendental love for Krishna is sometimes described as lust."
The context is clear: sahaja refers to the spiritual nature. Another point of interest in this verse is the word prakrta ("material"), which is used to distinguish kama or lust from the gopis' love for Krishna. We can conclude that when prakrta is combined with sahaja, transcendental sensual affairs are not indicated. We can also conclude that a person subject to material lust has no chance to comprehend the gopi's spiritual emotions. He must first follow Lord Krishna's prescription and rise above his imperfect condition.
This is what hits at the heart of the prakrta-sahajiya contamination: they refuse to follow the reformatory process. Thus their perceptions of Krishna, Krishna's devotees, Krishna's service and love of Krishna are faulty creations of their lower nature.
"Without serving Krishna according to vidhi-marga regulative principles of the pancaratrika-vidhi, unscrupulous persons want to jump immediately to the raga-marga principles. Such persons are called sahajiyas." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.45-46, purport) They sometimes say that one enters raga-marga only by the causeless grace of Bhaktidevi and not by a vain attempt to conquer sensual disturbances, but Srila Prabhupada says, "When a devotee strictly follows the rules and regulations, Bhaktidevi becomes very much satisfied with him, and at that time he is never disturbed by anything external." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.59, purport) "Such an advanced devotee has nothing to do with the sahajiyas, who manufacture their own whimsical way and commit sins by indulging in illicit sex, intoxication and gambling if not meat-eating." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 22.153, purport)
According to Dr. S.B. Das Gupta, the history of the Bengali sahajiya movement can be traced back long before Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's appearance, to the reign of the Buddhist Pala royal dynasty (ca. 700-1100 A.D.), when a secret cult of the name Sahajayana arose within the so-called Diamond Vehicle (Vajrayana) school of Buddhism. Vajrayana, still prominent today in Nepal and Tibet, is a blend of ritualistic tantric yoga and sunyavada. Some scholars think that Vajrayana was created in Bengal, a stronghold of the tantric Kapalika religion when the first Buddhist missionaries arrived. From Bengal, so this theory goes, Vajrayana spread to the Himalayan regions. Anyway, wherever the birthplace of Vajrayana was, it is certain that the fermentation of Vajrayana into Sahajayana (the Easy Vehicle) was according to an original Bengali recipe.
Sahajayana Buddhists abandoned ritualism and study of scriptures as useless. They practised a "yoga of sex" in which they visualized consciousness as being composed of the unity of the male and female principles, sometimes called upaya and prajna or karuna and sunyata. The Sahajayana Buddhists wrote many songs known as the Caryapadas that express their philosophy in mysterious language.
Later on, under the Sena kings, Vaishnavism became ascendent in Bengal, royal patronage having been won for it by the great acarya Srila Jayadeva Gosvami. Now the Buddhist sahajiyas absorbed and perverted aspects of vaishnava philosophy. They renamed their upaya and prajna principles "Krishna" and "Radha", imagining Radha-Krishna to represent the highest state of bliss attained by men and women on the sahajiya path.
After the Muslim invasion, the sahajiyas were influenced by the Sufis. The word Sufi comes from the Arabian word saf, which means sacred. The Sufis were a mystical Islamic order of mendicants whose goal was a state of inspiration they called fana, or oneness in love with Allah, which they sought to attain through song and dance. In the Arabic countries, the Sufis faced condemnation as heretics because some preached that through fana they had become Allah. But in India the Sufis flourished, not in the least because their ideas had much in common with Mayavadi philosophy.
In the 16th century, the sankirtan movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu flooded the world with the sublime, perfect and transcendental religion of pure love of Godhead. The sahajiyas, who celebrated their mundane sex-mysticism with song and dance, were nothing more than a perverted reflection of the sankirtan movement. They were not accepted as genuine vaishnavas by Mahaprabhu and His followers, as is evident in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. For instance, in Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 12.114, Lord Caitanya refuses a gift of scented oil, explaining that those who might smell it on His head would think Him a dari sannyasi, a tantric sannyasi who keeps women for sense gratification. In Antya 2.120, the Lord calls such men markata-vairagis ("monkey sannyasis"). And as Srila Prabhupada relates in his purport to Antya 2.143, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu banished Chota Haridas for the slight mistake of begging rice from Srimati Madhavi-devi "as an example to future sahajiyas who might adopt the dress of the renounced order to imitate Rupa Gosvami and other bona fide sannyasis but secretly have illicit connections with women."
In the 18th century, the great movement begun by Lord Caitanya appeared to have become corrupted by the influence of the jata-gosani and the smartas. This sad state of affairs presented an opportunity for the sahajiyas to expand their influence among the common people. Deviant sects like the gauranga-nagari and kartabhaja are mutations of the prakrta-sahajiya movement that became popular at this time. In the 19th century, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur took great pains to distinguish the pure teachings of Lord Caitanya from prakrta-sahajiya perverions; on this basis, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati openly denounced all who deviated even an inch from the Caitanya Sampradaya: "No compromise -- Rama Krishna, avatars, yogis, everyone was enemy to Guru Maharaja -- he never compromised." (Srila Prabhupada in a letter of 20.7.73)
The Prakrta-Sahajiya Doctrine: The Call of Maya
Srila Prabhupada said, "Sahajiya means taking things very easily." It is a generic term that applies not so much to any specific sect or apasampradaya but indeed to all forms of deviation. From the characteristics of the sahajiya mentality shown below, it may be readily concluded that there is only one apasampradaya -- the prakrta-sahajiya -- with twelve sub-branches going under different names: "Such sahajiyas are called sakhi-bheki, and sometimes they are called gaura-nagari." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.204-205, purport)
Sahajiyas betray their historical affinity to Buddhism by not distinguishing matter from spirit, which is the first step in bona fide spiritual life. As Srila Prabhupada mentioned in a letter, they take "spiritual advancement as something materially manifest" by intensifying their mundane emotions until a maddened state of sentimental ecstasy is reached.
The sahajiya misconception of spirit is nourished by doubts about the transcendental nature of God's personal form. That Lord Krishna's foot was pierced by an arrow, and that Lord Nityananda bled when struck on the head by Madhai, is evidence enough for the sahajiya that his own physical body has exactly the same quality as the forms of the Supreme that appear in the material world. If the bodies of avatars are material, their divine essence flows in the blood of their descendents. It follows, therefore, that anyone connected to the families of Nityananda Prabhu or Advaita Acarya are as godly as their great forefathers.
"When the Lord descends, he displays affection for his family members (Nanda, Yasoda, Jagannatha Misra, Sacidevi). Moreover, Lord Krishna showed great fondness for young girls. This is all divine behaviour, worthy of being emulated. It is maya for someone claiming to be a vaishnava to renounce family life and lusty affairs, because that goes against the Lord's own way of life."
Preaching is not very important to the prakrta-sahajiya. One can best make new devotees by impregnating a female "vaishnava." In this way that woman is also blessed by the good association of an advanced soul. This was the real mission of Lord Caitanya, as carried out in Bengal by Nityananda Prabhu.
As an answer to all the above notions, Srila Prabhupada writes: "Whoever thinks in this way is a candidate for the darkest regions of hell. Those who hanker after women and money, who are self-interested and have the mentality of merchants, can certainly discover many things with their fertile brains and speak against the authorized revealed scriptures. They also engage in some moneymaking businesses to cheat innocent people, and they try to support their business programs by making such offensive statements. Actually Nityananda Prabhu, being the expansion of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is the most munificent incarnation. No one should consider Him an ordinary human being or an entity like the prajapatis, who were ordered by Brahma to increase generation. Nityananda Prabhu should not be considered instrumental for sense gratification. Although professional so-called preachers support this, such statements are not found in any authorized revealed scriptures. Actually there is no support for these statements made by sahajiyas or other professional distributors of krsna-bhakti." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 15.143)
Sahajiyas say that it is great offense to find fault with one's guru and abandon him, even if he drinks liquor and consorts with prostitutes. Garuda, Lord Vishnu's carrier and eternal associate, eats fish and meat, so this may be done by anyone in the mood of service to the Lord. No matter what nonsense a person wearing neck beads and tilak may have done, if he shows symptoms of ecstasy in kirtan (trembling, crying and falling on the ground) he is a faultless and pure devotee. Srila Prabhupada replies: "Sometimes [the] eight symptoms of ecstasy [the asta-sattvika-vikara: inertness, perspiration, standing of hairs on end, failing in the voice, trembling, paleness of the body, tears in the eyes, and trance] are imitated by the mundane devotees (prakrta-sahajiyas), but the pseudo symptoms are at once detected when one sees the pseudodevotee addicted to so many forbidden things. Even though decorated with the signs of a devotee, a person addicted to smoking, drinking or illigitimate sex with women cannot have all the above-mentioned ecstatic symptoms. But it is seen that sometimes these symptoms are willfully imitated, and for this reason Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti accuses the imitators of being stone-hearted men. They are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms, yet if they still do not give up the forbidden habits, then they are hopeless cases for transcendental realization." [Note: A fuller understanding of what Srila Prabhupada means by "they are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms" can be had by reading Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 18, pages 139-141.]
A very significant feature of the sahajiya attitude is its perverse "humility", which is really just enviousness: "Sometimes a sahajiya presents himself as being void of desires for reputation (pratistha) in order to become famous as a humble man. Such people cannot attain the platform of a celebrated vaishnava." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 4.147) For example, sahajiyas think that a devotee who becomes recognised for his preaching accomplishments is fallen into the grip of name and fame. If a preacher refutes atheists and materialists, he is simply too proud. Harer-nama-sankirtan is too showy: it's best to remember the Lord in the core of one's heart. Only caste brahmanas should worship saligram-sila: if others do it, they'll fall down by becoming too puffed up. Vaishnavas who are fussy about sadhana, insisting that illicit sex, smoking and other harmless enjoyments be given up, are actually attached to these pleasures themselves.
In this connection, sahajiyas abhor preachers who accept disciples: "...Narottama das Thakur and other great acaryas like Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya and others accepted many thousands of disciples to induce them to render devotional service. However, there is a class of sahajiyas who think that these activities are opposed to the principles of devotional service. Indeed, the consider such activities simply another phase of materialism." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 7.130)
The holy name is all-powerful, so the sahajiyas say; therefore there is no difference between namaparadha, nama-abhasa, and suddha-nama. The spiritual state of a guru and disciple at the time of initiation doesn't matter, because the holy name works by its own power. If Bilvamangala Thakur became Krishna conscious by hearing a prostitute, then what can be wrong in receiving the holy name from a prostitute or immoral man? There is no need to instruct anyone to follow rules and regulations -- let them chant Hare Krishna while smoking, drinking, gambling and having sex. The holy name will cleanse them of sinful reaction.
Though it is too lengthy to reproduce here, the purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.2.30 very exactingly explains why it is that one can realize the full glories of the holy name only by offenseless chanting. One may refer to the purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 4.113 for the warning from Padma Purana that hearing from avaishnavas is like drinking milk touched by the lips of a serpent. As for those who would argue otherwise, the following quote exposes their real motivation:
"Srila Bhaktisiddhanta comments that saralata, or simplicity, is the first qualification of a vaishnava, whereas duplicity or cunning behavior is a great offense against the principles of devotional service. As once advances in Krishna consciousness, one must gradually become disgusted with material attachment and thus become more and more attached to the service of the Lord. If one is not factually detached from material activities but still proclaims himself advanced in devotional service, he is cheating. No one will be happy to see such behavior." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 2.117, purport)
The sahajiyas believe there is no harm at all in hearing devotional songs sung by professional singers and musicians, and there is no harm in propagating these songs through modern media like records, tapes and radio. The consciousness of the singer and hearer plays no part in the transmission of devotion. In the same way, there is no harm in employing professional actors and prostitutes to enact Krishna's pastimes in dramas. If these actors can bring tears to our eyes by their performance, that proves they are spiritually empowered.
But Srila Prabhupada writes: "Professional players and dramatic actors have no sense of devotional service, and therefore although they can perform very artistically, there is no life in such performances. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur used to refer to such an actor as yatra-dale narada, which means "farcial Narada." Sometimes an actor in a drama plays the part of Narada, although in his private life he is not at all like Narada because he is not a devotee. Such actors are not needed in dramatic performances about the lives of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Krishna." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 10.13, purport)
Sahajiyas argue that although someone is degraded in his personal life, if he has material writing power, he may freely compose books on Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna, the lives of great devotees, and devotional service. Similarly, the most confidential pastimes of Krishna (for instance, his stealing of the clothes of the gopis) may be recited to the general public on the condition that the speaker is sufficiently paid. Furthermore, a disciple can be instructed on the confidential mellows of madhurya rasa even though he is not free of material lust, because this will help him engage his lust in Krishna consciousness. The main point is to engage the emotion somehow or other in Krishna. Even demons like Kamsa and Sisupala were liberated by hating Krishna, so what is the harm of becoming lusty while hearing about the Lord's pastimes of love with the gopis?
In his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.193, Srila Prabhupada compares the attempt of mundane persons to understand the confidential affairs of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna to the attempt of keeping an elephant in a dish. And: "Material lust cannot be engaged in the service of the Lord, for it is applicable to materialists, not to Krishna. Only prema, or love of Godhead, is applicable for the satisfaction of Krishna. Prema is full service rendered unto the Lord." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.215, purport)
"But the main thing is to be natural," the stubborn sahajiya retorts. "Lord Caitanya and His associates used to overeat, so we need not endeavour to control our tongues. Some of the Lord's greatest associates had more than one wife, so we can enjoy in this way too. Even when a so-called advanced vaishnava chastises a sahajiya, calling him a dog, fool, demon, sinner and saying, 'I kick on your face', this shows he is no different from the rest of humanity, for he gives free vent to feelings of pride, anger and enviousness. Why does he then pretend to be free of lust? He should just relax and be natural."
This attitude qualifies the sahajiya for receiving the kind of vaishnava-krpa described in the purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.2.46: "Srila Bhaktisiddhanta has stated, 'When childish people think themselves maha-bhagavatas and act in defiance of the vaishnava spiritual master, such behavior simply holds them back from receiving the mercy of the vaishnava guru. Bewildered by false ego, these self-proclaimed devotees gradually become fit to be ignored by pure devotees on the intermediate platform and are cheated of the mercy that comes from the devotees' satisfaction. Thus they become asadhu by constantly committing offenses against the devotees who preach the holy name of Krishna. Pure devotees, therefore, in all circumstances display indifference to those who falsely imagine themselves to be visuddha-bhaktas, or pure devotees of the Lord. This indifference is an excellent manifestation of their mercy.'"
The sahajiyas entertain all sorts of mundane ideas about Lord Caitanya and His associates which they try to support with offensive interpretations and outright lies about the pastimes described in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and Sri Caitanya Bhagavata. Sometimes they present their own bogus scriptures to prove their false assertations. The sahajiyas want us to understand that we poor fanatics should be realistic about the great acaryas, who, being only human, also had their faults. We should take these faults into account before accepting their teachings blindly or idealistically.
Srila Prabhupada deals with this feature of sahajiya rascaldom at length in his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 10.85, where he describes three bogus stories about Srila Jiva Gosvami circulated by the sahajiyas. And in his purport to Madhya 1.220 he writes: "A jealous person in the dress of a vaishnava is not at all happy to see the success of another vaishnava in receiving the Lord's mercy. Unfortunately in this age of Kali there are many mundane persons in the dress of vaishnavas, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has described them as disciples of Kali. He says, kali-cela. He indicates that there is another vaishnava, a pseudo-vaishnava with tilak on his nose and kanthi beads around his neck. Such a pseudo-vaishnava associates with money and women and is jealous of successful vaishnavas."
In summary, a sahajiya is a dog-stubborn sense enjoyer who may have some talent for singing, dancing, acting, speaking, joking and seducing women. He dresses himself as a vaishnava but is unable to distinguish between worldly fame and spiritual fame, incomplete renunciation and perfect renunciation, false devotion and pure devotion, offensive chanting, unclear chanting and pure chanting of the holy name, worldly service and devotional service, lust and love, maha-maya and yoga-maya, jiva and Vishnu, the cheater and the bona fide spiritual master, the godasa and the gosvami, the neophyte and advanced devotee, what is authorized and what is not authorized, the spiritual master and the disciple, proper conclusion and wrong conclusion, rasa and rasabhasa, idol worship and Deity worship, devotees and demons, and so on.
In their persistant materialism, the sahajiyas can only be compared to Hiranyakasipu, who thought Prahlada, a pure devotee, was just his son; or to Ravana, who thought Laksmi-devi was a woman he could enjoy; or Sisupala, who thought Krishna was subject to His criticism.
How can such offensive fools be delivered? It is very, very difficult, because they hold the bona fide conclusions of sastra in great disdain. "In Vrindavan, there are prakrta-sahajiyas who say that writing books or even touching books is taboo. For them, devotional service means being relieved from these activities. Whenever they are asked to hear a recitation of Vedic literatures, they refuse, saying, 'What business do we have reading or hearing transcendental literatures? They are meant for neophytes.' They pose themselves to be too elevated to exert energy for reading, writing, and hearing." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.132, purport)
Therefore, in dealing with the sahajiya class, one should simply stick to the proper behavior of a devotee (vaishnava-acara), asat-sanga-tyaga, - ei vaishnava acara: "The rejection of the association of nondevotees -- this is the acara of the vaishnavas." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 22.87)