The Lives of the Vaishnava. Seints: Shri- nivas Acharya., Narottam Des Thakur, and Shyamananda Pandit adds well- documented material in English, some- times from Indian-language sources, on important saints of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Steven Rosen's special focus in this work is on Shri- nivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda, some of whom had personal contact with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (the tra- dition's founder).
Mr. Rosen's guru, A.C. Bhakrivedanta Swami Prabhu- pada, of course, is the principal link in contemporary times between the Indian lineages and the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnavism abroad in the ISKCON move- ment. Mr. Rosen began in ISKCON and continues to be a practicing and believing Vaishnava.
In this latter respect Mr. Rosen's work empha- sizes his own devotional attitude toward the subject- matter and is written in the “bhakta” style rather than in a strictly scholarly manner. The adjustment of the reader to this point-of-view enhances his appreciation of the experience of devotion in this sampradaya' s tra- dition. The book, also, has value for students of Hin- duism generally and bhakti in particular because of Mr. Rosen's reporting and documentation of the historical development of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in its formative period. The work is perhaps unique in its presentation of material on the higher states of Vaishnava mysticism in the Sakhi-bhava mode.
For example, there is a moving description of a meditative trance of Shrinivas's wherein he witnesses Radha's water sport with the Gopis. In mystic exper- ience he observes Radha's nose-ornament (besara) fall into the waters of the Yamuna while Radha and the Gopis are splashing about. Shrinivas cannot return to normal consciousness for several days because he is ful- ly absorbed in finding the besara and returning it to Radha. He finally accomplishes this with the assistance of Ramchandra Kaviraj, another highly advanced devo- tee, who enters into trance side by side with Shrinivas, finds Shrinivas in the company of Radha and the Gopis and discovers the besara under a lotus leaf.
In the mystical realm of Sakhi-bhava bhakti, Shrinivas and Ramchandra Kaviraj share the identity of the Gopi, Mani Manjari, a Sahachari of Radha, and in this way participate in the companionate rase, available to the Gopis from the Radha-Krishna relationship. Un- derstanding this unusual meditative Scenario is impor- tant in distinguishing the process leading to spiritual realization in a particular bhakti tradition as distinct from the Indian mysticisms of Nirguna Brahman or the qualityless Purusha.
In this dark age of hypocrisy and quarrel Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu distributed love of Godhead and showed everyone the most sublime way to transcend the bondage of matter and enter into the spiritual sky. Even if one does not recognize Shri Chaitanya to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one who has knowledge of His life and teachings can never fail to appreciate Him as the greatest personality the world has ever seen.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada not only introduced Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His teachings to the world outside of India, but convinced thousands of sincere souls to becomes Shri Chaitanya's dedicated followers. Shrila Prabhupada himself spread the glories of the Lord through his writings. No one has ever written so many profound literatures in such a short span of time (about eighty volumes in ten years). He knew that in this age the written word would be the best means of propagating the spiritual message of Shri Chaitanya. Therefore he instructed his followers to distribute his books and to write as well.
Satyaraj Das (Steven Rosen) took that instruction to heart and dedicated himself to writing about the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His associates. The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints: Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda is a natural sequel to his two earlier writings, entitled, India's Spiritual Renaissance: The Life and Times of Lord Chaitanya and The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan. These books reveal Shri Chaitanya's confidential message.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to distribute the most precious gift of the spiritual sky to everyone, from the most advanced to the most degraded people of this world. Although He established the most profound spiritual philosophy, he Himself did not write anything except eight Sanskrit verses, the "Shikshashtakam," which delineate the essence of His teachings. The Goswamis of Vrindavan, especially Shri Rupa, Sanatan, Raghunath Das, Raghunath Bhatta, Gopal Bhatta, and Shri Jiva, wrote volumes of books elaborating Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's teachings and justifying them according to the Vedic scriptures. Had it not been for the Goswamis, the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would have passed into oblivion.
The activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are not accidental or coincidental. They are all due to His divine arrangements. The appearance of the Goswamis to assist in His pastimes was a part of His divine plan. So too were the appearances of Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda. The books that the Goswamis of Vrindavan wrote on the teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were originally distributed by them.
On the spiritual path one gets to know the predecessor through the successor. The Supreme Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna appeared as a devotee in the form of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and in this way revealed His own identity. It is by the mercy of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan that one gets to know shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His teachings, and by the mercy of Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda one gets to know the Goswamis.
In writing the book you now hold in your hands, Satyaraj Prabhu was extensively researched the lives of these three luminaries of the Vaishnava world. His main source of information is the authentic Gaudiya Vaishnava literature, from which he has carefully chosen all of the relevant episodes in connection with his subject. As a result, this book will be appreciated by devotees of Shri Krishna Chaitanya and by a wide variety of readers as well.
However, the work is not without potentially controversial segment. For example, Satyaraj has indicated how Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda were following the path of Ragatmika Bhakti, and their spiritual identities as manjaris were revealed to them by their spiritual masters. This may appear to contradict the teachings of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Shrila Prabhupada maintained that the spiritual master must be situated on the pure spiritual platform to reveal the spiritual identity of his disciples and the disciples also should be advanced enough to maintain his spiritual identity. This truth is clearly brought out in Satyaraj's book and is consistent with the conclusions of the sampradaya.
One's own spiritual identity and his spiritual master's identity in Vrindavan are revealed automatically in the heart due to his spiritual progress, just as the son of a millionaire who is a natural heir to his father's fortune spontaneously inherits it when he grows up.
When a disciple once asked Shrila Prabhupada about his siddha swarup ("spiritual identity"), Shrila Prabhupada replied, "Don't worry about your swarup. When you are ready I will personally come and reveal it to you."
Shyamananda Prabhu was initiated by Shrila Hridaya Chaitanya, in the line of Lord Nityananda. Hridaya Chaitanya did not reveal Shyamananda's spiritual identity at the time of initiation, but it was later revealed by Shrimati Radharani Herself that Shyamananda was Kanaka Manjari. One must remember that the spiritual world is the world of the absolute truth and that there is no room for mental speculation and unwarranted imagination. Surrender to the Lord and His devotees is the only way.
In his book, The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints: Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda, Satyaraj has succeeded in his attempt to reveal the glorious activities and brilliant contributions of three extremely prominent acharyas in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. The world needs to know more about such personalities. Shrila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada started a spiritual revolution all over the world and Satyaraj Das is making a wonderful contribution to His Divine Grace's mission by compiling the biographies of the eminent acharyas in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya.
The facts that surround the lives of eternally liberated souls are meant to be sung and heard for the enlightenment and benefit of all. Great souls have relished retelling these stories for centuries. It might be noted, as well, that factual narrations are sometimes more exciting than fiction: and the lives of Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda reinforce that statement. Therefore, knowledge of these personalities as presented in this book will bring peace, prosperity, and a tide of spiritual joy to the world.
"The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints: Shrinivas Acharya, Narottam Das Thakur, and Shyamananda Pandit adds well-documented material in English, sometimes from Indian-language sources, on important saints of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition
Mr. Rosen's work emphasizes his own devotional attitude towards the subject-matter and is written in the 'bhakta' style rather than in a strictly scholarly manner. The adjustment of the reader to this point-of-view enhances his appreciation of the experience of devotion in this sampradaya's tradition. The boom, also, has value for students of Hinduism generally and bhakti in particular because of Mr. Rosen's reporting and documentation of the historical development of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in its formative period."
-From the foreword by Charles S. J. White Chairman and Professor of Philosophy and Religion, The American University, Washington, D.C.
A large body of India's mystical literature remains inaccessible to the Western world despite that literature's invaluable content this inaccessibility is largely a result of untranslated Sanskrit and Bengali texts. Chipping away at this wall of stone, The Lives of the Vaishnava Saints: Shrinivas Acharya, Narottamm Das Thakur, and Shyamananda Pandit reveals for the first time in the English language the uncommon activities of three of sixteenth- century India's greatest mystics. Steven Rosen's thoroughly researched book recounts the varied sojourns of this transcendental triumvirate: their extensive travels throughout the Indian subcontinent; their profound spiritual journeys within; and their sojourns into the hearts of millions. The compelling stories of Shrinivas, Narottam and Shyamananda may indeed enter the readers' hearts as well.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu revolu- tionized the spiritual and social sensi- bility of sixteenth-century India. prior to this reformation a clear majority of the population had been gradually moving away from authentic Vedic re- ligion. Brahmanical deviations pro- liferated; Tantric Buddhists and other Hindu heterodoxies were increasing in popularity; Shakta worshipers and avadhuta ascetics roamed the coun- tryside; Nava-nyaya, the new science of logic from Mithila, was the pre- dominant course of study; and ever-present Muslim antagonism ex- acerbated the situation.
In the midst of this confusion. Mahaprabhu revived the natural spiritual inclination of the people by re- vealing the often-concealed. Vedic truth-that the ly name of Krishna is both the means and the goal spiritual enlightenment. The details of Mahaprabhu’s life and teachings and the renaissance that ensued have been elaborately explored by many writers and scho- tars. However, it is not widely known that a second, renaissance began shortly after Mahaprabhu completed His earthly pastimes, one which may be seen as the natural consequence of all that He had imparted While He had broken open the storehouse of love of God, and while His Six Goswamis had poured that love into tangible vessels by writing books, the world would not have been able to drink deep had three Vaishnava saints not taken those vessels and distributed them across the Indian subcontinent .
. Shrinivas, Narottarn, and Shyamananda were the crown jewels of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, It is hard to believe that no 'One has presented the lives of these three notable personalities in the English language. While it is true that D.C. Sen wrote about them in the 1930s, he did so in cursory form, and only Ramakant Chakravarti has written about them since, also in an all too abbreviated fashion. This reticence is surprising for Shrinivas, Narottam, and Shyamananda were res- ponsible for disseminating the esoteric message of Shri Chaitanya to all parts of India, which unquestionably necessitated a monumental effort.
In their day (circa, sixteenth/seventeenth cen tury), the dissemination of transcendental knowledge was largely accomplished through verbal sermons and by conducting elaborate festivals, with singing, dan- cing, and the distribution of sacred vegetarian foo (prasadam). The teachings were also conveyed by studying original palm leaf scrolls under a bona-fide spiritual master. Our three saints were particularly en- thusiastic and outstanding in these functions, and this has been duly noted by Bengali historians.
In fact, the magnitude of Shrinivas, Narorttam, and Shyamananda's accomplishments would not be replicated until the time of Bhaktivinode Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur who, in the nine- teenth and early twentieth centuries, distributed Vaish- nava philosophy through modern means, such as the printing press. Taking their enthusiastic mission even further, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples lovingly took the teach- ings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to every town and vil- lage of the world-a feat that was largely accomplished through book distribution.
The phenomenon of sharing or transmitting spiritual knowledge has a long and honored history in the Vedic tradition. The Upanishads were studied at the feet of a perfect master; Vedic knowledge was given orally from guru to disciple; scribes soon copied Vedic scriptures onto palm leaves; only to be revealed to serious students; the truths of these texts were con- cealed in complicated Sanskrit and kept by gurus as blueprints for their disciples's entry to the spiritual world. In pursuance of this 'same tradition, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was anxious that His Goswamis's Bhakti literature, which elucidated the hidden essence of Vedic texts, be distributed to all concerned individuals. The pioneers of this spiritual outflow were Shrinivas, Narottam.and Shyamananda-the first travelling san- kirtan party.
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