Spiritual teacher, Steve Bohlert (Subal Das Goswami) makes the bold move of redefining and reforming the sixteeenth century mystic Krishna Chaitanya’s teachings from an indigenous, Western postmodern intellectual perspective. Others present a traditional perspective that tends toward a literal, fundamentalist interpretation. Many scholarly books also examine this devotional tradition along with its history and influence as one of the leading branches of Hinduism. However, Bohlert presents a major reformation of Chaitanyaism adapting it to the needs of today’s cultural creatives, also known as new progressives. Universalist Radha-Krishnaism is the fruit of a lifetime of spiritual teaching and practice in multicultural contexts.
Universalist Radha-Krishnaism is a person first, then a worldview
Steve Bohlert helped lead the Hare Krishna Movement to its early success (1967-74). Its founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami named him Subal Das Goswami. Steve served as associate editor and business manager of Back to Godhead magazine, and started eight temples in North America, India, and Fiji. He preached widely in Western Europe and India as well.
He lived in India for three years as an itinerant monk and gained firsthand experience of Radha-Krishna devotion in its homeland. While staying in Vrindaban, he was befriended and mentored by O.B.L. Kapoor, a prominent devotee, doctor of philosophy, retired professor, and author of over thirty books. Dr Kapoor directed him to Lalita Prasad Thakur (1880-1980), the son and disciple of renowned nineteenth century reformer and westernizer of Chaitanyaism, Bhaktivinode Thakur (1838-1914).
In 1974, Lalita Prasad initiated Steve into the esoteric practices of natural devotion. This path frees practitioners from unnecessary dependence on rules and regulations while facilitating their experience of esoteric spiritual devotion. These teachings, gained by eight years of arduous study and practice, form the basis of Universalist Radha-Krishnaism. Although he planned to stay in India permanently, Lalita Prasad asked him to go back to the West, preach, and inspire people as his disciple.
In 1988, he began his studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary and the associated schools of The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. There, he learned critical interpretive techniques, theological perspectives, and spiritual practices that he later applied to Chaitanyaism. He learned how the church was reformed and is always reforming. Each generation contributes to its progress.
In 1991, he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree and received ordination as a pastor and teacher in the United Church of Christ. He served three churches in Iowa, North Dakota, and Michigan until 2002. In 2002, he began an independent eclectic ministry and developed it into Universalist Radha-Krishnaism.
Following the path of natural devotion, I feel I am part of the global community, and I feel moved to work on a systemic level to relieve the suffering of others. I worked for peace, a living wage for all, an end to poverty, gay rights, holistic health care, alternative energy development, bio-regionalism, protection of the environment, and other causes. Rather than setting myself apart from others, I recognize our common humanity and oneness with all things. God-dess unites all.
Why this major project?
Ben Reist, my reformed theology professor, said, “If a little Buddha rubs off on Jesus, and a little Jesus rubs off on Buddha, so much the better for both of them.” As an eclectic universalist, I firmly believe the cross pollination of religions brings a higher understanding of truth. The liberal Reformed tradition welcomed my background as a Radha-Krishna devotee as an asset for Christian ministry, and I saw Christian ministry as a Western version of Radha-Krishna devotion.
Now that I no longer minister in the Christian church and focus on Radha-Krishna devotional practices, I find that most Radha-Krishna devotees are exclusivists who think they have the ultimate answers to Truth and that their answers are superior to anyone else’s. When I interned at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California, Pastor Larry Peterson said, “Remember, your truth is truth with a small ‘t’ just like everyone else’s.”
We live in a relativistic, pluralistic world open to truth in all forms. Our unique opportunity at this time allows us to take the best teachings and practices of all paths and integrate them into a multifaceted whole that gives a more complete picture of Truth than any one path alone could.
I find the eternal association of Radha-Krishna in their spiritual realm of Braj to be the most attractive vision for eternity. Yet, I feel a need to update it for life in the West. I present a nonsectarian version of Radha-Krishna devotion, which I feel pleases my grand-teacher, the nineteenth-century visionary, Bhaktivinode Thakur.
– Steve Bohlert