Universalist Radha Krishnaism 2

This is my latest attempt to define Universalist Radha Krishnaism. I will approach it using The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Caitanya by O.B.L. Kapoor. Dr. Kapoor was a dear friend and mentor when I lived in Vrindaban, India in the early 1970s. He was a retired philosophy professor and life long devotee of Radha Krishna. Originally initiated by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, later, he was initiated into the way of the heart (ragamarg) by Gauranga Das Babaji. Dr. Kapoor was instrumental in leading me to the way of the heart and my teacher, Lalita Prasad Thakur. I shall ever be indebted to him.

The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Caitanya is the best scholarly, academic summary of Chaitanya’s philosophy available. I shall borrow from it extensively, trying to put the philosophy in simple English. I shall also omit and change certain ideas. My goal is to extract the essence and leave the rest. That is the way of progressive thought. I see Dr. Kapoor as a progressive thinker. I feel he would appreciate my humble attempts to adapt Chaitanya’s philosophy in a relevant manner for twenty-first century Westerners. May his blessings be upon this work.

Materials for Chaitanya’s Philosphy

Although Chaitanya was a great scholar and philosopher, he left no writings of his own, except possibly the eight verses known as Shikshastaka. Still, “he is the recognized founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Community, and it seems quite natural that he should have formulated the philosophical tenets of his school, which his learned disciples were commissioned to broadcast all over the country…The works of the learned disciples of Sri Chaitanya,…commonly known as the ‘Six Goswamins’ of Vrindaban, who were directly inspired, instructed, and commissioned by him to write, may be regarded as truly representing the doctrine and dogma of his faith.” (54)

The Goswamins lived together in Vrindaban and collaborated on their writings. They were inspired by Chaitanya and dedicated themselves to the task of popularizing his teachings. They were great, learned men who left important positions to live ascetic lives so they could devote all their time and energy to spread Chaitanya’s teachings with single-minded devotion.

Chaitanya declared the Srimad Bhagavat “fully represents his own doctrine.” (56) Therefore, it is the basis for much of the Goswamis’ writings. Just as Socrates and Jesus are known through the writings of their disciples, Chaitanya is known through the writings of his disciples.

There are four important Bengali biographies of Chaitanya as well as three notebooks written on his life by his most intimate disciples. “Of the biographies…, Chaitanya-bhagavat and Chaitanya-charitamrita are the most authoritative. They are huge works, containing exhaustive philosophical discourses given by Sri Chaitanya…Their importance as sources of the philosophy of Sri Chaitanya is, therefore, great and they are held in high esteem by the Vaishnav community.”

Chaitanya-bhagavat was written shortly after the disappearance of Chaitanya. Chaitanya-charitamrita was written some decades later. Both authors had access to first hand accounts of Chaitanya’s life from his intimate associates. They are therefore quite authoritative. However, they were written to popularize the life and teachings of Chaitanya. They cannot be viewed like an objective, modern biography. They create the myth of Chaitanya as we know it. It is a major academic undertaking to separate fact from embellishment.

The Chaitanya-bhagavat being earlier and coming out of Bengal is less philosophically developed, focuses more on Chaitanya’s early life and gives more prominence to Nityananda who requested his disciple to write it and provided firsthand accounts. Chaitanya-charitamrita comes out of Vrindaban with much influence from the Six Goswamis, is more philosophically developed and gives a fuller account of Chaitanya’s whole life. It is generally considered most authoritative and popular among devotees. (To be continued.)

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