Sri Gauranga Samaja –
The Society of Sri Gauranga
by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Only those who have faith in
Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu are part of His society
After thorough deliberation we have concluded that mankind will greatly benefit through Sri Gauranga Samaja, the society of Sri Gauranga. Srila Vrndavana dasa Thakura has said “ye va mane, ye na mane, saba tanra dasa– Everyone is a servant of Sri Caitanya, even if some accept Him as Bhagavan and others do not.”* Indeed, every Gaudiya Vaisnava accepts that Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu is Sri Krsna Himself, the Absolute Truth.
* A similar verse appears in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila 6.85): “keha mane, keha na mane, saba tanra dasa– Everyone is a servant of Sri Caitanya, even if some accept Him as Bhagavan and others do not.”
Constitutionally, every living being is a servant of Sri Krsna. However, many do not accept this because they are afflicted by offences. Such people will certainly neglect this Sri Gauranga Samaja, so what will the society do but remain indifferent to them? Those who hold Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu in high regard will participate in this society with one-pointed focus. What doubt can there be in this?
Three types of people have faith in Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu: (1) those who have faith that He is the Supreme Lord, (2) those who have faith that He is the topmost devotee, and (3) those who categorize Him as a great personality. However, as all three types respect Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, they can be included within His society.
It is necessary to include in the society of Sri Gauranga
the three types of people who have faith in Him
Those who perform bhajana of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, knowing Him to be the Supreme Lord, are His one-pointed devotees who are counted among His intimate associates. This category is further divided because even though some people know Sri Gauranga to be the Supreme Lord, they may not consider Him the object of their bhajana. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that everyone in this particular category demonstrates love for Sri Gauranga.
Those who consider Sri Gauranga to be the topmost devotee will certainly propagate love for Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu (gaura-prema) from time to time, even if they belong to another sampradaya. Persons in this category can never become disinclined to the promotion of Sri Gauranga Samaja.
And those who consider Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu to be an ordinary devotee and a native social reformer also belong to His community. If the second and third categories are not included in the society of Sri Gauranga, then this society cannot be said to benefit the public at large. Taking care to bring them within the community of Sri Gauranga is thus an intelligent act.
Accordingly, the conclusion is that the society of Sri Gauranga comprises those great souls who hold Sri Gauranga as an ideal.
The members summoned to the society of Sri Gauranga,
and the grand assembly of Prakasananda Sarasvati of Kasi (Varanasi)
One question must be considered here: Does Sri Gauranga approve of such a society or not? If we examine the sastras pertaining to bhakti we will observe that Sri Gauranga personally established the foundation of such a society during His prakata-lila, or manifest presence.
O reader, do you remember that in the holy place of Varanasi a grand assembly was held in honour of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu? It was organized by the brahmana from Maharastra, who was an exceptional devotee and an associate of Mahaprabhu. He invited all the Sankarite sannyasis and other paramahamsas of Kasi and specifically requested Sriman Mahaprabhu to join that assembly so that Mahaprabhu would bestow His mercy upon them all, as well as manifest some of His opulence. Astonished upon beholding Sriman Mahaprabhu’s grandeur, those sannyasisrose from their seats and offered Him – the Lord of our hearts – the most elevated sitting place.
In that assembly Sriman Mahaprabhu preached suddha-svabhakti, or pure devotional service to Himself, and thus became worshipful by all of those present there. The sannyasis, their eyes brimming with tears, took shelter of His lotus feet. All varieties of people participated in that grand assembly, which was made more glorious by the presence of paramahamsa sannyasis, a multitude of brahmanas who were engaged in fruitive activities, countless worldly minded people, devotees from every sampradaya, and the most elevated pure devotees such as Sri Sanatana Gosvami, Sri Candrasekhara Acarya, Sri Tapana Misra and Sri Paramananda Kirtaniya. This is described in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta:
ara dine gela prabhu se vipra-bhavane
dekhilena, vasiyachena sannyasira gane
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.58)
The next day Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to that brahmana’s residence and saw the sannyasisof Varanasi sitting there.
vasiya karila kichu aisvarya prakasa
mahatejomaya vapu koti-suryabhasa
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.60)
Sitting on the ground, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu revealed His mystic power by manifesting extremely effulgent bodily lustre as bright as millions of suns.
prabhave akarsila saba sannyasira mana
uthila sannyasi saba chadiya asana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.61)
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s brilliant bodily effulgence attracted the minds of the sannyasis, and they respectfully rose, giving up their sitting places.
apane prakasananda hatete dhariya
vasaila sabha-madhye sammana kariya
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.65)
Prakasananda Sarasvati, however, personally caught Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by the hand and with much honour seated Him in the midst of the assembly.
prabhura mista-vakya suni’ sannyasira gana
citta phiri’ gela, kahe madhura vacana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.99)
After hearing the sweet words of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the minds of the Mayavadi sannyasiswere moved, and thus they spoke pleasing words.
ye kichu kahile tumi, saba satya haya
krsna-prema sei paya, yara bhagyodaya
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila7.100)
“Dear Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, all You have said is completely true. Only one whose good fortune has awakened attains krsna-prema.”
The founding of the society of Sri Gauranga and its success in preaching
By reading this narration, we can certainly understand that the original Sri Gauranga Samaja in the house of the brahmana from Maharastra was manifested by the desire of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu. If He bestows His mercy upon us, the present society of Sri Gauranga will achieve similar success. If those who honour Sri Gauranga constantly cultivate an understanding of His glories they will become supremely pure Vaisnavas within no time. Moreover, even if those who do not honour Him at all attend the society’s assemblies and thereby regularly hear sweet narrations about Him, they will also become gentle at heart. Moreover, they will eventually relinquish the impurity of their adherence to other sampradayas and become wholly pure bhaktas of Gauranga. As Srila Kaviraja Gosvami says in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila2.87):
yeba nahi bujhe keha, sunite sunite seha,
ki adbhuta caitanya-carita
krsne upajibe priti, janibe rasera riti,
sunilei bada haya hita
If one does not understand Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s wonderful life and pastimes but nonetheless continues to hear about them again and again, love for Krsna will be aroused. Gradually one will come to understand the tradition of rasa, the loving affairs between Krsna and the gopisand other associates of Vrndavana. Thus, simply hearing about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu awards the highest benefit.
Only Vaisnavas in the topmost class do not belong to any society
According to the scriptures, there are three categories of Vaisnavas: uttama, madhyama and kanistha. Among them, the uttama-vaisnava, or topmost devotee, does not belong to any society. Nonetheless, his merciful presence in Sri Gauranga Samaja will bring it much benefit. He inherently sees all beings in relation to Bhagavan and therefore he does not differentiate between what belongs to him and what belongs to someone else. Because he sees every living entity as situated within the Supreme Absolute Truth, He does not distinguish between friend and enemy, or devotee and non-devotee.
Sri Haridasa Thakura, the topmost Vaisnava, possesses all these bhavas, or moods. Nonetheless, he has particular affection for the bhakta-gosthi, the community of bhaktas, and He is devoted to the preaching of bhakti. As stated by Srila Sanatana Gosvami in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila4.100?):
avatara-karya prabhura – nama-pracare
sei nija-karya prabhu karena tomara dvare
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu descended with the mission to propagate the importance of chanting the holy name. Now He is accomplishing His own mission through you [Sri Haridasa Thakura].
pratyaha kara tina-laksa nama-sankirtana
sabara age kara namera mahima kathana
Daily you are chanting 300,000 holy names and speaking the glories of the holy name before all.
apane acare keha, na kare pracara
pracara karena keha, na karena acara
Some persons behave properly but do not preach the glories of chanting sri nama, whereas others preach but do not behave according to the principles.
‘acara’, ‘pracara’, – namera karaha ‘dui’ karya
tumi – sarva-guru, tumi jagatera arya
In relation to the holy name you both behave in an exemplary way (acara) and preach to others (pracara). You are the guruof all, for you are the topmost devotee in this world.
The duty of an intermediate Vaisnava in
Sri Gauranga Samaja
The Vaisnavas on the madhyama, or intermediate, level remain under the guidance of uttama-vaisnavas, and are the benefactors of kanistha-vaisnavas, neophyte devotees. Therefore, uttama- and madhyama–bhaktas are qualified for the bhajana section of Sri Gauranga Samaja.* Although they may occasionally participate in the activities of the working section, they do not manifest their competence in such work like the kanisthadevotees, who are fond of it. However, with the assistance of the kanistha–vaisnavasthey accomplish whatever work needs to be done.
* According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the society of Sri Gauranga has two divisions: the bhajana section and the section that focuses on external work. The division a person belongs to depends on his adhikara, or qualification.
Vaisnavas in the bhajana section of Sri Gauranga’s society commonly take pleasure in nirjana-bhajana, or solitary absorption in the holy name, and in istagosthi (a gathering of like-minded devotees in which they discuss their ista, worshipful Lord, and thus attain much satisfaction and pleasure). There are two types of istagosthi: personal practice (acara) and missionary work (pracara). To maintain their practices, such Vaisnavas remain engaged in reciting and hearing scriptures like Srimad-Bhagavatam, and in performing harinama–kirtana. At the time of preaching, they impart knowledge of bhagavat-tattva, jiva-tattva, rasa-tattvaand the glories of the holy name of Sri Hari, according to the qualification of the listener.
“Istagosthi” and “Vaisnava society” are
other ways of referring to Sri Gauranga Samaja
The general society of Gauranga was founded during the Lord’s manifest pastimes in Varanasi, and the istagosthi process was also established at that time. Vaisnavas participated in some form of istagosthi even before the advent of Sri Gauranga. At Mahaprabhu’s time also those istagosthis were known as the “Assembly of Gauranga” or the “Vaisnava assembly”. Once, while in an istagosthiwith all His associates at Siddha-bakula (in Puri-dhama), Mahaprabhu spoke to Sri Rupa Gosvami:
prabhu kahe, – “kaha, kene kara sankoca-laje?
granthera phala sunaiba vaisnava-samaje?”
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila1.130)
Mahaprabhu encouraged Rupa Gosvami, saying, “Why are you hesitating out of shyness? You should recite the good fruit of your writing to the Vaisnava assembly.”
Istagosthi also means krsna-katha-gosthi
Without the association of suddha-bhaktas*, or pure devotees, there is no question of holding an istagosthi.
* One of the definitions of suddha-bhaktagiven by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada is one who is free from the desire for wealth, women and fame.
The word ista means “desired subject”, and gosthi means “assembly”. These two words combine to form the term istagosthi, which refers to an assembly of sadhus who are devoted to suddha-bhakti, or the practice of pure devotion. Suddha-bhaktas are rare in this world, and therefore only a few suddha-bhaktas can be found in any single istagosthi. Even a gathering of just three Vaisnavas constitutes an istagosthi. This is described in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila4.52):
prabhu asi’ prati-dina milena dui-jane
ista-gosthi, krsna-katha kahe kata-ksane
Every day Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would come to meet them both (Sri Svarupa Damodara and Sri Raya Ramananda) and in their istagosthi they would discuss krsna-kathafor some time.
A meeting of only two Vaisnavas is called a krsna-katha-gosthi. This is stated in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila4.136):
dui-jana vasi’ krsna-katha-gosthi kaila
panditere sanatana duhkha nivedila
When Jagadananda Pandita and Sanatana Gosvami sat together for a krsna-katha-gosthito discuss Krsna’s pastimes, Sanatana Gosvami submitted to Jagadananda Pandita the cause of his sorrow.
Sri Gauranga Samaja is universal
The purport is that when all types of people congregate in assemblies organized by devotees or faithful people, a general assembly of Gauranga is formed. A congrega-tion consisting solely of devotees is called a Vaisnava assembly, or an istagosthi of Vaisnavas. When two suddha-bhaktas meet, a krsna-katha-gosthi takes place. And when a single suddha-bhakta resides somewhere to exclusively chant the holy name, it is a place of nirjana-bhajana, or solitary devotional practice. The people in all these categories are included in Gauranga’s society. It can therefore be concluded that the purpose of Sri Gauranga’s congregation is to cultivate activities related to the eternal, constitutional occupation of the living entity (jaiva-dharma) throughout the universe.
The founding of Sri Gauranga Samaja in Kalikata
and an instruction for the society’s leaders
By the inspiration of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, Sri Gauranga Samaja has been established in the vast city of Kalikata (Kolkata). This is a matter of extreme good fortune for the public. Now it is the responsibility of every noble-hearted, genuine seeker of the Truth to work on promoting and preserving it. This society will not remain undisturbed unless its members vigilantly avoid selfishness, hypocrisy and the desire for honour and prestige.
In the land of Bengal, these three faults pollute whatever grand mission is inaugurated, and consequently that mission is eventually ruined. With folded hands we humbly beg the big-hearted leaders of this society to remain ever conscious of this. If the members of this society can follow all the ancient rules and regulations of sat-dharma, or true religion, while remaining unaffected by the three improprieties mentioned above, the society will flourish. Unity alone is the life of any community. The introduction of a new opinion or the divergence of opinion will destroy the unity of its members and eventually ruin the very life of the society. We, however, will perform kirtana of Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s glories and never be envious of the opinions and activities of the other sampradayas. The most venerable Haridasa Thakura has said:
suna, bapa, sabarai ekai isvara
nama-matra bheda kare hinduye yavane
paramarthe ‘eka’ kahe korane purane
eka suddha nitya-vastu akhanda avyaya
paripurna haia vaise sabara hrdaya
se prabhura nama-guna sakala jagate
balena sakale matra nija-sastra mate
ye isvara, se punah sabara bhava laya
himsa karilei se, tahan himsa haya
Sri Caitanya-bhagavata (Adi-khanda16.76–78, 80–81)
Dear father, the Supreme Lord is one for all living entities. The difference between the Muslim God and the Hindu God is in name only. All scriptures, whether the Koran or the Puranas, state that there is only one Supreme Lord. He is the non-dual, eternal, transcendental Absolute Truth, infallible and perfectly complete, and in that capacity He resides in everyone’s heart. The Supreme Lord’s transcendental name and qualities are glorified throughout the world by various scriptures. The Lord accepts each individual’s mood of surrender. When you are violent to others, you are being violent to the Lord Himself.
khanda khanda hai’ deha yaya yadi prana
tabu ami vadane na chadi hari-nama
Sri Caitanya-bhagavata (Adi-khanda16.94)
My body may be cut into pieces or I may lose my life, but I will never abandon uttering the holy name.
Delineating the behaviour of the members of the Vaisnava society
The society of Gauranga is certain to develop if its noble-hearted members adhere to the above guidelines. It is essential that they follow certain time-tested principles. In the general meetings of Sri Gauranga Samaja,* recitations, explanations, scriptural discourses and nama-sankirtana can be performed, but it will be offensive to hold discourses imbued with rasa or to sing rasa-kirtana in such assemblies. This can take place only in an istagosthi. It is essential to observe certain principles, as witnessed in the character of Mahaprabhu:
* When all types of people congregate in assemblies organized by devotees or faithful people, a general assembly of Gauranga is formed.
dine nrtya-kirtana, isvara-darasana
ratrye raya-svarupa-sane rasa-asvadana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila11.12)
During the day, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu performed nrtya-kirtana, dancing and chanting, and He also took darsana of Lord Jagannatha. At night, along with Raya Ramananda and Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, He tasted the nectar of rasa.
This implies that there is no pleasure in discussing rasa in the association of general people, and that such discussions will substantially impede one from relishing rasa. This hindrance does not appear in an istagosthi.
It is necessary to preserve the etiquette of kirtana when nama-kirtana is performed. In this regard it is also necessary to decide what is most effective. If the members of the Vaisnava society themselves perform kirtana, that kirtana will bear the most fruit. Listening to the kirtanaof hired musicians who perform for remuneration is both offensive and fruitless.
Caution to preachers regarding their qualification
It is vital that Sri Gauranga Samaja exercises great care in its preaching. Discourses and instructions should be strictly in accordance with the teachings Sri Gauracandra, bestowed upon the jivasof Kali-yuga out of His boundless compassion.
The responsibility to preach is best given to the members of the bhajana section. Mere eloquence cannot make one a preacher of Sri Gauranga’s teachings. If some young, learned great souls attend istagosthis of the bhajanasection and therein discuss in a simple-hearted way the teachings of Sri Gauranga, they will quickly become adept preachers.
If the society of Gauranga consists of preachers who do not have the understanding that the Lord’s name (nama) and the Lord Himself (nami) are non-different, and if they do not have faith that this non-different reality is the Supreme Absolute Truth, parama brahma-tattva, they will not confer any welfare to others. Rather, their preaching will only have a negative effect. This is most vital. The only qualified preachers are those who have acquired knowledge about the intrinsic nature of suddha-bhakti, and who relish nama-rasa, the nectar of the holy name, being completely free from offences.
It is essential for all preachers to be fully acquainted with nama-aparadha, offences to the holy name of the Lord. Those who are aware of these offences are qualified to preach the glories of the holy name. In disseminating the glories of the holy name, one must also give instructions about the necessity of consciously avoiding nama-aparadha. Preachers who do not do so will themselves become offenders to the holy name.
The genuine society of Gauranga is the society
that includes from its inception visuddha-vaisnavas,
or devotees on the transcendental platform
Previously, we explained that a society of Sri Gauranga that does not accommodate all types of Vaisnavas will be short lived. That said, the fact is that a society founded with visuddha-vaisnavas, or pure devotees on the transcendental platform, as members is to be regarded as the true Sri Gauranga Samaja. Among the various Vaisnavas in such a congregation, the visuddha-vaisnavas are immersed in the bliss of bhajana, and are mostly inactive in developing their worldly life. Until those who have an inclination for bhajana become specifically immersed in the bliss of bhajana they can engage in activities to advance their worldly life. However, if they do not get the association of Vaisnavas who are immersed in the bliss of bhajana, they will become completely materialistic within no time. For such people, it is nothing but self-deception to establish and promote themselves as representing the society of Sri Gauranga, without associating with suddha-vaisnavas.
Progress in bhajana is not possible
without the association of an elevated Vaisnava
One may certainly be engaged in spreading the holy name of Sri Krsna Caitanya while living with extremely materialistic people. But without having the association of Vaisnavas who are deeply absorbed in the bliss of bhajana, one’s life will go in vain and gradually one may fall down. Those in the society of Gauranga may see this happening to certain members. However, if they still do not seek the association of those devotees who are deeply absorbed in the bliss of bhajanaand include them within their society, what will become of their society? We cannot say.
The preachers of bhakti-dharma
always reject the policy of conciliation,
which is opposed to the teachings of Sri Gauranga
Nowadays it is seen that the members of Sri Gauranga Samaja are not performing any special activities beyond celebrating the festival of Mahaprabhu’s appearance. It does not seem that by holding assemblies in the homes of two or three materialistic people anything significant will be accomplished. If they simply try to satisfy the materialists, anarthaswill gradually arise in them. By agreeing with the opinion of materialistic people they will continue to float on the unending wave of impersonalism.
To propagate bhakti to Sri Gauranga, it is essential that in taking the help of materialistic people, one is not obliged to agree with their understanding. To accept conceptions that oppose the teachings of Sri Gauranga in order to satisfy the minds of materialistic people is utterly inappropriate. Respect all beings in this world. Try to remove the suffering of every living entity. While living with others, try to act for their welfare. Never forget, however, to follow the supremely ideal character and absolutely essential instructions of Sri Gauranga. In every city, perform sri krsna-sankirtanaand propagate Sri Gauranga’s teachings.
An instruction of benevolence to Sri Gauranga Samaja:
Travel and spread the teachings of Sri Gauranga
O devotees in Sri Gauranga Samaja, go from door to door with the scripture Sri Caitanya-caritamrtain your hands and spread the name and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Just as Sri Mahaprabhu ordered Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Sri Haridasa to travel everywhere and preach, you also become the servant of Sri Gauranga and go to every country, engaging honest people in circulating Sri Gauranga’s message.
This preaching mission cannot be accomplished by dishonest people. Immediately establish a Vaisnava school for this purpose. Educate some selfless people of good character and give them the responsibility of itinerant preaching in every town and village. Most blessed indeed are they who can do this. Those who do not follow such a formula will simply be imitating the supremely pure character of Sri Mahaprabhu.
Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika, Year 8, Issues 8 and 10
by the Rays of The Harmonist team
CC-BY-SA Rays of The Harmonist No.17 (Kartik 2007)