Institutionalizing Prema-bhakti

I was doing some web research today and came across this book excerpt by eminent Chaitanya Vaishnav scholar, Joseph T. O’Connell. He concisely and insightfully describes how Chaitanya’s devotional teachings and practices became institutionalized in a soft, symbolic, decentralized manner as opposed to the hard, centralized, coercive institutions later formed by Gaudiya Math and ISKCON.

I noticed these differences in the ways A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and Lalita Prasad Thakur dealt with me and their other disciples. I was much more attracted to Lalita Prasad’s way and modeled Universalist Radha-Krishnaism on that.

— Steve Bohlert


One Response to “Institutionalizing Prema-bhakti”

  1. Zvonimir Tosic says:

    It’s interesting to read in the second part of his book excerpt; Joseph O’Connell describes work of six gosvamis from Vrindavan (Braj) as perhaps too successful — in a way that their work seemingly discouraged further development and new creative directions of prema-bhakti. Instead, all successors were writing commentaries on what six gosvamis already outlined. Aesthetics of love suddenly became teachings and philosophy of religion, now carved in stone.

    This goes hand in hand with my conclusions about shortfall of creative pursuit in aesthetics of prema-bhakti and its wonderful myth. The myth has stopped to develop further, and newer generations were acting as blind followers. Instead of connecting us with a living, beautiful myth — or an artistic motif — encouraging to accept it as such and enrich in each successive generation, we were left with a rigid and literal interpretation of it and thousands of strict rules to follow a doctrine. Stagnation took place.

    No wonder resulting philosophy is outdated, full of flaws. In the history of painting that would mean nothing ever happened since, say, Fra Angelico or in music nothing since Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

    So, this is a good example of literalism vs symbolism. Renaissance in the West helped us rise above medieval literalism and accept symbolism (thank classic Greeks for the inspiration), but that never happened in the Orient. I should write more about it.

    — Zvonimir Tosic