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24. Bhakti Kuti and Svananda-sukhada-kunja
AT the turn of the century Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was inspired to return to Jagannatha Puri, the site of the final pastimes of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His son, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who had recently been initiated by Shrila Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji, stayed there in his association as a naishthika brahmacari. He was performing bhajana in the renounced mood of his gurus at the Gandharvika Giridhari Matha, which was located just near the samadhi of Shrila Haridasa Thakura. In order to facilitate his son's worship the Thakura had the temple repaired and cleaned. Daily, [as has been described in the first volume of this series, A Ray of Vishnu] they gave lectures, and the Thakura established a place of bhajana a short distance from the ocean, also near the samadhi of Haridasa Thakura, which he called Bhakti Kuti. Later, when there was severe controversy arising from the attempt of the Thakura and Sarasvati Thakura to correct the deviations of Radharamana Carana dasa Babaji, the Thakura instructed his son to perform his bhajana in Mayapura.
A devotee named Krishna dasa Babaji, who later became the disciple of the Thakura, stayed in Puri as an assistant and became very dear to Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. He continued to serve him up to the last moment of the Thakura's life, and, feeling intense separation from his master, gave up his own life a year later. His samadhi is found just next to the Thakura's in Godruma-dvipa. At Bhakti Kuti the Thakura performed his bhajana in solitude. His biographers state that occasionally some impious rascals tried to disturb him, but Krishna protected him in every respect. A number of sincere persons also came there to see him, however, and they were inspired and saved by his association and blessings, which he readily gave them.
The Thakura stayed in Puri for some time, but he eventually returned to his place in Godruma-Svananda-sukhada-kunja, where he continued to chant and to translate and write books. In 1900 one of his most important works, Shri Harinama-cintamani, was published. It presented the teachings of Shrila Haridasa Thakura about the Holy Name and other important aspects of spiritual practice, as collected from various Gaudiya Vaishnava literatures. It was divided into fifteen chapters and composed in Bengali verse form. In 1901 he published Shrimad-Bhagavatarka-marici-mala. In this important book, the Thakura presents a study of the Shrimad-Bhagavatam in twenty chapters, arranging its principal verses so as to illustrate the divisions of sambandha (the soul's relationship with God), abhidheya (the means for reviving that relationship) and prayojana (the ultimate goal of life). The Sanskrit verses were accompanied by Bengali prose translations and explanations by the Thakura. The Bhagavatam is compared to the sun and each chapter is considered to be an individual ray of Bhagavata sunlight. In his concluding remarks Shrila Bhaktivinoda describes how he came to write the book as he did: "How I was inspired to compile this work is a mystery which I felt improper to disclose as it might constitute spiritual conceit. Subsequently, I realised that it would be a slight against my spiritual master which might stand as an obstacle on the path of my spiritual progress, and therefore, without any shame, I record the fact that, while under the benediction of my guru ... I was meditating deeply upon the Shrimad-Bhagavatam one day, when in a vision Shri Svarupa Damodara, the intimate adherent of Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, instructed me to compile the verses of the Bhagavata in accordance with the principles of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana as set forth by Shri Chaitanya, so that the book could be read with an easy understanding and with happiness by the devotees of the Lord. Shri Svarupa Damodara further guided me by giving me a wonderful explanation of the first verse of the Bhagavata, and he also showed me how I was to explain the verses in the light of the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy." In the same year the Thakura published an edition of Padma Purana, as well as the Sankalpa-kalpadruma by Shrila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, with Bengali prose translations by Thakura Bhaktivinoda.
In 1902 he brought out a supplement to Harinama-cintamani called Bhajana-rahasya. It was arranged in eight chapters, and the chanting of each chapter is to be observed in correspondence with each three hour period of the twenty-four hour day. Each chapter corresponds also to one verse of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's Sikshashtakam and deals with one of the eight steps in the gradual development of Krishna-bhajana as is enunciated by Shrila Rupa Gosvami in his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. All the chapters are filled with scriptural quotations explaining the philosophy and practice of worshipping Krishna. Each Sanskrit verse is accompanied by the Thakura's Bengali translation in both prose and verse. This was one of his last major works, and it can be observed that the subject matter of the Thakura grew increasingly more elevated and esoteric as time passed. It is clear that his daily existential experience was on the same level as that of the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavana.
In 1904 he published Sat-kriya-sara-dipika, a Sanskrit work by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami on the samskaras (purificatory rites) and other practices pertinent to both Vaishnava grihasthas and renunciates. He gave his own Bengali translations as well. In 1906 he published the Bengali verse classic Prema-vivarta, a book by Jagadananda Pandita, the incarnation of Satyabhama, who explained his loving mood with Lord Chaitanya and the glories of the Holy Name.
The last known work of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was called Shri Sva-niyama-dvadasakam, ('Twelve Verses Of Self-Imposed Regulative Principles') written in 1907. The Sanskrit stava was modeled after the famous stava of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami called Sva-niyama-dasakam, which was comprised of ten verses of self-imposed vows. This work was a final statement of the Thakura's, an illuminating set of instructions regarding preparation for the spiritual realm of existence, and his expressed determination not to budge from the path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami:
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 1
"Birth after birth, let me be attached to the following, come what may-1) to my spiritual master; 2) to Lord Shri Gauranga; 3) to the topics of pure devotional service as instructed by Him; 4) to the holy places of pilgrimage, which are all blooming with sanctity due to His performance of pastimes therein; 5) to my diksha-mantra; 6) to the holy name of Shri Hari; 7) to the beloved associates of the Lord; 8) to the holy days associated with Lord Hari; 9) to those persons who follow in the footsteps of Shrila Rupa Gosvami; and 10) to the scriptures enunciated by Shrila Sukadeva Gosvami.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 2
"Within the forest of Vrinda, which is gloriously rich in the treasure of madhurya-rasa, Shri Krishna, the personification of spiritual mellows, gives transcendental bliss to Shri Radhika, who is the topmost manifestation of His divine potencies and the personified form of the supreme mellow of love-in-separation. This same Lord Krishna is identical to the son of Mother Saci, who resides in Gauda-desa [Bengal] and teaches the process for rendering His own devotional service. May this Saci-nandana be my Supreme Master birth after birth.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 3
"Let not renunciation be fit for my acceptance if it does not give rise to loving devotion. And let not knowledge appeal to me at all if it does not admit to the individuality of the Lord and the jivas. I have no desire at all to practice the eight-fold yoga process. None of these are productive of the happiness of serving Lord Hari such as His confidential worship is. Therefore, let such abundant, confidential service to Shri Shri Radha-Krishna be mine.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 4
"May I always dwell in a humble cottage at the root of a desire tree in the holy abode of Shri Sacisuna [Gauranga Mahaprabhu] and there perform devotional service as is practiced in Vraja. Let me never dwell in any other place, even if it be fit for the happy residence of the most enlightened persons, nor even in a palace furnished with all the rich trappings of sovereignty.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 5
"I have no attachment at all for the caste divisions of society [varnas] and I certainly do not identify with any of the social orders of life [asramas]. I have not the least fondness for religion or for sinful life in this world. Instead, I desire to perform whatever duties are required for the maintenance of my body of dull matter-so long as they facilitate my performance of pure devotional service.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 6
"My austere vow is devotion to the lotus feet of Shri Hari. Thus I have chosen to cultivate the following in myself: great humility, simplicity, tolerance in all circumstances, respect for others, and compassion. Those transcendental activities alone are mine which are recommended by devotees of the lotus feet of the Lord, and which are found described in books that are full of the imperishable character and pastimes of Shri Chaitanya.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 7
"I have no longing for residence in the kingdom of Vaikuntha, nor for sense gratification or material works. I will never cherish the desire for attaining impersonal liberation, even for a second. There are, moreover, pastimes of Shri Hari that are purifying [for the conditioned souls]-yet they are different from the bliss experienced in Vraja, and being devoid of any relationship with Shri Radhika, they give me no happiness at all.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 8
"I disown wife, daughters, sons, mother and all my friends if they have no genuine attachment for Lord Hari, for His devotees or for His devotional service. It is a great blunder even to accept foodstuffs prepared by such non-devotional, materialistic sense-gratifiers. How will the perfection of my Hari-bhajana ever come about if I remain in their association?
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 9
"Some persons have utterly rejected the evil company of those who are blinded by mundane logic, those who are addicted to the fleeting pleasures of the dull material body, those who turn their faces against Lord Shri Krishna, and those who are fond of the inferior concept of impersonal liberation. However, being swollen with excessive pride, they worship Govinda without Shrimati Radharani being present. Therefore, I vow that I will never go near such as these-not even for a second.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 10
"I shall pass my life eating only prasada food grains and milk products, wearing only cloth that was offered to the Deity, and using only utensils sanctified by the Lord's service; I will thus remain aloof from material sense gratification. Living in a place sacred to Radha, worshiping the Divine Couple with a blissful mind, I will in time give up my body at the soles of the devotees' lotus feet, who are themselves serving the lotus feet of the Divine Couple.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 11
"Daily I will take the nectar that has washed the feet of one who is expert at grasping the instructions of the Son of Saci, and who incessantly adores the most worshipable Personality and the enjoyer of mellows with Krishna-Shrimati Radharani, within the forest of Vraja. I will carry it on my head with a restrained mind, and drinking it with great bliss, I will then offer my prostrations unto him.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 12
"My constitutional tendency is one of servitude to Lord Hari and will be, a long time yet to come. Due to the deluding power of Mahamaya, however, I have fallen into the ocean of misery. I will rise above [this world of suffering] by daily following my self-imposed regulations with determination. May my only guide be the mercy of the Vaishnava, which destroys illusion.
Path established by Shrila Rupa Gosvami: 13
"This Sva-niyama-dvadasakam was written by someone about his personal mode of performing bhajana. Whosoever studies this stava with resolute faith, offering his mind unto the beautiful forms of the Divine Couple, assuredly attains his residence in Shri Vraja-dhama and following behind his own manjari-guru, he renders all kinds of service for the worship of Shri Shri Radha-Krishna."
Though incapable of commenting on such topics with any degree of competence, the author feels compelled to at least state his appreciation of the valuable, nectarean instructions and amazing blessings given by His Divine Grace Sac-cid-ananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura in the Shri Sva-niyama-dvadasakam, his final message to this world. All glories to Shri Sac-cid-ananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura!
Yet there is more to be told. The Thakura's son, Lalita Prasad Thakura, in his biographical notes, tells the story of Sir William Duke. In 1908, just three months before the Thakura adopted the order of paramahamsa, one of his sons, who at the time was working at the Writers' Building in Calcutta, came home one day and informed his father that Sir William Duke, Chief Secretary of Bengal, was in Calcutta. The Thakura had previously worked with this gentleman as a magistrate. The next day the Thakura made an appointment to meet him and went down to the Writers' Building. Sir William met him just outside the building and escorted him to his office with folded hands. "My dear Kedaranatha," he said, "when you were District Magistrate, I wanted to take you out of office. I thought that if there were many men as qualified as you in Bengal, then the English would have to leave." Sir William used to read the judgments that the Thakura passed in his court cases and was amazed at the great wisdom they reflected. On several occasions he visited the Thakura at his home and observed how he was absorbed in his writing of Shri Chaitanya-Sikshamrita. The Thakura's wife used to feed him a lunch of puri, luci and sweets whenever he came. He was astounded at the constant activity of the Thakura. He then admitted that he had considered the Thakura's extraordinary abilities a threat to British control. But now he begged the Thakura's forgiveness. The English custom was that when a man grows old, he would approach everyone he had ever offended and beg their pardon so that he could pass away peacefully. After hearing Sir William Duke's apology, the Thakura replied, I considered you to be a good friend and well-wisher all along." The Thakura admitted later to being astonished that this man had wanted to do him harm, but he was so pleased by his repentant attitude that he gave him all his blessings.