Hindu Encounter with Modernity

Hindu Encounter with Modernity: Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaisnava Theologian, by Shukavak N. Dasa is a critical,

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theological biography of my grand-spiritual-teacher, Bhaktivinode Thakur. It supports natural devotion and Universalist Radha-Krishnaism. He was very influenced by 19th century rationalism, Christianity and Unitarian thought. Bhaktivinode presented the teachings of Krishna Chaitanya in a new way to intellectuals of his day, just as I adapt those teachings to thoughtful Western people today.

Shukavak Dasa concludes that “if Chaitanya Vaishnavism is going to have a lasting position and positive impact on the West, then it must intellectually move beyond the literalism by which it entered the West and begin to develop new forms of intellectual expressions and perspectives that are a part of the Western intellectual and academic traditions. Bhaktivinoda’s work provides the basis for such a development.”

This is a mission I have been working on for thirty-five years. I shed most of the Indian cultural externals of Vaishnavism and maintain the spiritual essence. “Bhaktivinoda’s separation of the phenomenal and the transcendent, along with his implicit distinction between religious faith and belief” frees me to experiment with the task of creating a lifestyle where by Westerners can utilize the spiritual practices of Chaitanya Vaishnavism without having to become alienated from Western culture or pursue the life of a renunciate. “Bhaktivinoda recognized the need for spiritual and cultural adaptation.”

“If Chaitanya Vaishnavism is to become indigenous to the modern and even Western world, then it must…adapt to conditions of modernity and to the West.” This may take some generations and much experimentation. However, Universalist Radha-Krishnaism addresses this need.

“Bhaktivinoda envisioned the modern religious thinker as a saragrahi, one able to transcend the limitations of his own religious culture and appreciate the spiritual essence of other religious traditions.” My long periods of immersion in Chaitanya Vaishnavism and Christianity as an ordained religious leader along with extensive study and practice of other traditions certainly qualifies me in this regard.

Bhaktivinode “approached the transcendent through religious faith rooted in sahaja-samadi, innate religious intuition.” This is also my mode of operation. It allows freedom and creativity in the religious realm for new revelations of spiritual truth that are not bound by the past.

“Chaitanya Vaishnavism as it now exists in the West is largely disconnected from the tradition of raganuga-bhakti-sadhana, and for this reason is somewhat alienated from the esoteric depths and spiritual inspiration of its parent movement.” I was initiated into this path of natural devotion to Radha-Krishna by Bhaktivinode’s son and disciple, Lalita Prasad Thakur. This frees me from over dependence on rules and regulations, which seem to preoccupy so many devotees. Natural devotion cultivates entry to the esoteric spiritual realms of devotion. Thus, I live a modern, Western life conducive to my spiritual growth. This is what I offer others as well.

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2 Responses to “Hindu Encounter with Modernity”

  1. You can buy Hindu Encounter with Modernity directly from Shukavak at http://www.Sanskrit.org for $14.95. Shukavak Das also has a Bhagavad Gita that compares the commentaries of Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva.

  2. The challenge to reconcile with modernity is part of the enquiry. In my case, as an immigrant from India, I find myself in the same situation, where I am kind of distanced and uncomfortable with Hindu conventions, but retain the value for spiritual discovery, which in my case, has been most influenced by Ramana Maharishi and Advaita Vedanta.
    A teacher I have known who shares similar background and concern is Swami Tadatmananda, based in New Jersey. I am providing his website, since I support and use it for my study.