Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura

On the eve of his disappearance, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura instructed his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, to preach the teachings of the six Goswamis and Lord Chaitanya far and wide. He also requested that Siddhanta Sarasvati develop the birthsite of Lord Gauranga. Mother Bhagavati Devi disappeared a few years later. Before her passing away, she held the hands of Sarasvati Goswami imploring him to preach the glories of Lord Gauranga and His dhama. Accepting the instructions of his parents as his foremost duty, Sarasvati Goswami took up this task of preaching with intense enthusiasm and vigor.

With the passing away of his father and his spiritual master a year later, Siddhanta Sarasvati continued the mission of Lord Chaitanya. He assumed editorship of Sajjana-tosani and established the Bhagwat Press in Krishnanagar. Then in 1918, in Mayapur, he sat down before a picture of Gaurakishora dasa Babaji and initiated himself into the sannyasa order. At this time he assumed the sannyasa title Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was dedicated to using the printing press as the best medium for large-scale distribution of Krishna consciousness. He thought of the printing press as a brhat mrdanga, a big mrdanga. The mrdanga drum played during kirtana could be heard for a block or two, whereas with the brhat mrdanga, the printing press, the message of Lord Chaitanya could be spread all over the world.

Once on the day preceding Janmastami in the Bengali month of Bhadra, Sarasvati Goswami was engaged in bhajan at Mayapura but was feeling disturbed as he was unable to arrange for milk to be offered to the Deity. As soon as he began to think in this way he chastised himself: “Have I thought like this for my own sake? That is wrong.” Because it was the monsoon season, Lord Chaitanya’s birth site was covered with water and was totally inaccessible except by boat. However, that afternoon, one milkman turned up there wading through water and slush carrying a large quantity of milk, ksira, butter, cottage cheese etc. Apparently, a zamindar named Harinarayana Cakravarti, guided by Lord Caitanya, had sent the milkman with all the items.

After offering everything to the deity, the devotees partook of the prasada joyfully. Sarasvati Thakura was surprised to see so much prasada and the Devotees explained what had happened. After taking prasad Siddhanta Sarasvati humbly appealed to the Lord: “I am very sorry to have caused You so much trouble. Why did I have such an uncalled for thought? To fulfill my desire You have inspired another person and arranged to send these things.”

The world was amazed to see the supernatural power of Sarasvati Goswami. Many educated persons from highly respectable families were attracted to him and thus dedicated themselves to the service of Lord Gauranga. Between 1918 and 1937 Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati founded sixty-four suddha bhakti mathas at the following places: Navadvipa, Mayapura, Calcutta, Chaka, Mymensingh, Naryanaganj, Chittagong, Midnapore, Remuna, Balasore, Puri, Alalanatha, Madras, Covoor, Delhi, Patna, Gaya, Lucknow, Varanasi, Hardwar, Allahabad, Mathura, Vrindavana, Assam, Kuruksetra, and outside India in London, and Rangoon. Sarasvati Goswami instituted Gaurapadapitha at Nrsimhacala on the top of the Mandara hill, and at several places in South India. He initiated twenty-five highly educated persons into Bhagavata Tridandi sannyasa.

He published the following periodicals on suddha bhakti in different languages:

  • Sajjanatosani (Bengali fortnightly)
  • The Harmonist (English fortnightly)
  • Gaudiya (Bengali weekly)
  • Bhagavata (Hindi fortnightly)
  • Nadiya Prakasa (Bengali daily)
  • Kirtana (Assamese monthly)
  • Paramarthi (Oriyan)

In addition he published a large number of Vaishnava books. In fact, he heralded a new era in the spiritual world. He deputed well-disciplined tridandi sannyasi‘s to preach the message of Lord Gauranga all over the world. For six years he continued to supervise this preaching work and when he found that his mission had attained its goal, to a reasonable extent, he decided to pass into the eternal service of Lord Gauranga.

He recommended to all Vaishnavas to read these books: Caitanya Bhagavata (by Vrindavana dasa Thakura), Dasamula Siksa (by Bhaktivinoda Thakura), Sri Krishna Bhajanamrta (by Narahari Sarkara) and Prema Bhakti Candrika (by Narottama dasa Thakura). According to others, they were Prema Bhakti Candrika, Prarthana (by Narottama dasa Thakura) and Upadesamrta (by Rupa Goswami).

A few days before his disappearance Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati called his foremost disciples and showered his blessings upon all his devotees. He gave them the following instructions:

With the utmost enthusiasm preach the message of Rupa Raghunatha. Our ultimate goal is to become a speck of dust touching the lotus feet of the followers of Rupa Goswami. All of you remain united in allegiance to the spiritual master (asraya-vigraha) in order to satisfy the senses of the Transcendental Entity of Non-Dual Knowledge. Do not give up the worship of Hari even amidst hundreds of dangers, hundreds of insults or hundreds of persecutions. Do not become unenthusiastic upon seeing that the majority of people in this world are not accepting the message of Krishna’s sincere worship. Never give up the glorification of the topics of Krishna, they are your own personal bhajan and your very all and all. Being humble like a blade of grass and tolerant like a tree, constantly glorify Hari.

In the early hours of the day on January 1, 1937, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami passed away.

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6 Responses to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura

  1. prahlada bhakta dasa

    Wow! Nice enumeration of the spiritual periodicals that he published and many of the places where he established temples.
    I never knew that published Assamese and Oriyan periodicals also. What a storehouse of preaching potency he was/is!

  2. He “initiated himself into the sanyasa order”. Leaving aside the question as to whether or not Sanyas is allowed to the followers of Sriman Mahaprabhu, how does one initiate himself into anything of a transcendental spiritual order? There are mantras associated with Sanyas, so how does one initiate himself into Mantras? Perhaps you’ll say that he was initiated with the mantras in the *dream state*? Fine, but does this not raise serious problems because of its violations of the norms of Vaishnava practice and even normal Vedic practice? Does this not lead to another disturbing question about how BSST received his Brahmin thread & Brahma Gayatri mantra? He did not receive this from his father Kedarnath Bhaktivinoda nor did he receive it from Gaurakishore Dasa Babaji Maharaj as the Babaji wasn’t a Brahmin and had never worn a thread! Some members of the BSST Sampradaya posit a mysterious Sanyasi of the Sri Sampradaya but this solution isn’t very tenable. The Sri Sampradaya confers its Brahmin threads & Gayatri mantras strictly within a householder family system so its highly improbable that any such mysterious Sanyasi was involved. So, was his Brahmin initiation also received in the dream state? These are important questions that members of the BSST Sampradaya do not like thinking about too much but I believe that they’re important. I’m sorry to raise these questions and I mean no offence whatsoever as I hold Tripurari Swami in great respect but could you please answer them? Dandavats.

    • At the onset of 3.2. of Govinda-bhasya we find a discussion of the nature of dreams. Therein it is explained that they are arranged by God, real, and among other things are also a medium though which mantras can be imparted. To have received the sannyasa mantra in dream and then publically formalize that by honoring one’s guru in ceremony as the source of the mantra appears to be what BSST did.

      Sannyasa is a form of renunciation. The sannyasa mantra in the Gaudiya sampradaya is found in Hari-bhakti-vilasa and it is different from the sannyasa mantra of Sankaracarya’s sannyasa order. It is a gopi-bhava mantra. While the form of sannyasa instituted by BSST is somewhat novel and not promoted in HBV, neither is it denounced. The closest one can get to any such denunciation is the text’s advocacy of dressing in white cloth. And the book does promote a renounced order. The distinction between the form of renunciation for Gaudiyas described in HBV and the form of the order instituted by BSST is merely one of detail, not substance. And while the words of HBV should not be taken lightly, no Gaudiya sect follows this book to the letter of the law. Furthermore, the text states that it is written for householders and not renunciates.

      So to wrap renunciates in saffron robes so that they stick out in the world like missionaries and engage them in promoting Gaudiya Vaisnavism all over the globe amounts to adjusting a detail with a view to deliver the principle, which is something that an acarya should have the power to do. And the experiment met with considerable success, with its emphasis on kirtana as the way, kirtana prabhave smarana svabhave.

      Regarding Gaura Kishore das Babaji, history records that he predicted at the time BSST initiated one of his early disciples in GKDB’s and BVT’s presence that this disciple would become a sannyasi and travel to the West. That disciple later became Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Maharaja and fulfilled this prophecy. Some question the formal authenticity of BSST as an acarya, but GKDB and BVT were not among them. And beyond the doubts concerning formalities some have raised we must look to the results. They are mixed, as might be expected with any preaching strategy, but quite positive overall.

      Regarding brahma gayatri, I believe BSST underwent the upanayana samskara in youth. But the highest reach of this mantra is contained within kama gayatri. The Bhagavatam is a commentary on it. BSST gave it to students along with the sacred thread with an explicit purpose in mind. It was a preaching strategy. As such, it has a shelf life.

      Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura gave his disciples the sacred thread and brahma gayatri for a particular reason. He incorporated this practice into his Gaudiya mission because at that time hereditary brahmins were considered higher spiritual authorities than Vaisnavas. In consideration of this, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had his initiated disciples wear the sacred thread and chant the brahma gayatri regardless of whether or not they had been born in Brahmana families as a way of saying that Vaisnavism transcends varanasrama. At the time it did bring dignity in the eyes of the Hindu public to Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

      One a can argue against the details of the Thakura’s strategies with hindsight and arguably there are some downsides to them, but it is difficult to argue against the Thakura’s spiritual power and personal character. Again, the result overall was quite good and his preaching has directly and indirectly nourished other Gaudiaya lineages and other Vaisnava lineages. It has also done much to bring Gaudiya Vaisnavism into the modern world. Indeed, this work is what characterizes the Bhaktivinoda Parivara. So we have our unique contribution and approach to the ideal with its emphasis on sankirtana and we are also not beyond being nourished in the present day by other lineages—bhodayantas parasparam tusyanti can ramanti ca.

      • Pranams to Tripurari Swamiji,

        Thank you Swamiji for such a detailed and very deep and considered answer to my query. If the Govinda Bhasya says that Mantras may be conferred in the dream state, then I’m inclined to be more accepting of this idea. I do recognize the great good brought about by the BSST’s acceptance of Sanyas and that perhaps you’re right that the times did indeed call for this solution. After all, the global dissemination of Gaudiya Vaishnavism the world over wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
        With respect to the issue of BSST’s Brahma Gayatri initiation, I must say that its rather unconvincing that BSST could have received it in his youth unless…..he got it from the Arya Samaj group (gasp). I have heard this rather uncharitable view mentioned sometimes among some Trad Gaudiyas. Either way, I agree with you Swamiji that there was a noble purpose in his institution of this practice among his disciples & followers.
        There is however one huge problem that this Brahma Gayatri practice introduces into GVism. It completely changes the nature of Diksha. I’ve noticed among the vast majority of ISKCON & Gaudiya Math followers referring to Diksha as “Brahmin initiation”. This term indicates that they regard the Brahma Gayatri as somehow more important than the Traditional Mantras received in Diksha such as the Gopala, Radha & Kama Gayatri mantras. This is in my view the most unfortunate aspect of the integration of the Brahma Gayatri into the Diksha process. In Trad GV, absolutely NOTHING compared to the importance of these other mantras and the Brahma Gayatri is simply not on the same level.
        I’ve personally spoken to many devotees of ISKCON & GM who sincerely feel that the “second initiation” is about becoming a Brahmin. In Trad GV, Diksha is all about becoming a Vaishnava which is infinitely superior to becoming a Brahmin. This introduces the mood of Vaidhi Bhakti into what is otherwise a Raganuga Sampradaya.
        Actually, I think that *Brahmin Initiation* can be successfully integrated into GV if it can be separated from Diksha and only conferred on those who are truly worthy(irrespective of birth of course). Such a adjustment would perfect a basically good idea and would make sacrosanct once again the absolute, devotional & Raganugiya character of Diksha and the transcendental mantras that it confers. It would take a courageous leader to make this adjustment though.
        I thank you once again for your excellent reply that has given me some ideas to consider. Please accept my humble obeisances.

        • I agree with you that this “second initiation” in which brahma gayatri has ben included has been misunderstood by many in the Bhaktivinoda parivara. Indeed, I have endeavored to correct that. And brahma gayatri and the sacred thread are clearly not necessary parts of Gaudiya mantra diksa. The sacred thread in particular has little value in today’s world in terms of what BSST had in mind when he saw fit to bestow it. Therefore I do not give it. But I also think that the position of brahma gayatri is misunderstood in general. After all, the Bhagavatam is a commentary on it—gayatri bhasya rupo sau—and the Bhagavatam is the very heart of Mahaprabhu Sri Garuasundara. Understood from the Gaudiya perspective, it is an esoteric mantra suitable for imparting along with other diska mantras/gayatris. Jiva Goswami has explained its Gaudiya import in his sandarbhas and B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami has explained how can be understood to be pointing to Radha dasyam. Still it can also be omitted, given that its esoteric Gaudiya import is concisely contained in kama gayatri.

    • I should add that every Gaudiya sects that I am aware of has some irregularities, philosophical and practical.

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