by Swami B.G. Narasingha
This short preface by Swami B.G. Narasiṅgha to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s English book, ‘Caitanya Mahāprabhu: His Life & Precepts’ was written for an edition published by Mandala Publishers in 2001. In this preface, Mahārāja gives a synopsis of the era that Bhaktivinoda wrote in and a brief history of the book.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākurā wrote over a hundred books, as well as numerous songs and articles, not only in his mother tongue, Bengali, but also in Sanskrit and English, to attract people everywhere to the sublime teachings of Śrī Caitanya.
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, the western world had risen to the height of power and influence. Its achievements in science, technology, and economic development seemed to know no limit. It had expanded its political power throughout the world, creating vast empires that dominated Asia and Africa, and with that came a sense of pride and conviction of the innate superiority of its civilisation.
India was one of the conquered nations. Deemed backward, underdeveloped, poverty-stricken and bound by the superstitions of the past, it seemed to have little to offer its masters, the British, other than its natural resources and physical labour. What then could the people of this country possibly contribute to world civilisation?
In 1896, an answer to that question arrived at Canada’s McGill University in a brown package postmarked Calcutta, India. The package contained a small Sanskrit book, Śrī-Gaurāṇga-Līlā-Smaraṇam-Maṅgala-Stotram, 104 verses summarising the life and teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Accompanying this Sanskrit work was a 63 page booklet, Caitanya Mahāprabhu: His Life and Precepts, which introduced the 16th Century incarnation of Kṛṣṇa to the English-speaking world for the first time.
The author of both these works, Kedaranatha Datta Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura (1838-1914), was a saint and scholar in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition. Though himself a great admirer of western thought and literature, he was confident that once the intelligent people of the West came into contact with Śrī Caitanya’s teachings, they would recognise their value and embrace them to their hearts’ satisfaction. As such, in this booklet he presented the quintessence of Śrī Caitanya’s life and teachings in such a simple and charming way that even today, more than a hundred years later, people throughout the Western world can still find great hope and satisfaction from reading it.
The sum and substance of Śrī Caitanya’s teachings is ;divine love,’ love for God, or Krishna. This philosophy of love, wherein Krishna is the receiver and wholesale reciprocator of love with His devotee, is so charming and reassuring that no unbiased person can resist it. Love is, after all, the all-powerful force in the universe, and when it reaches its perfection in love for God, all of mankind can rejoice in peace and harmony. This was the gift of inconceivable value and good fortune that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda was sending to the Western world.
A few years before he mailed his book to McGill University, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda had a vision in which he saw a great spiritual city rise up at Śrī Caitanya’s birth site in Māyāpura, near the banks of the Ganges in West Bengal. In that vision, he saw many thousands of people from both East and West, including the world’s most technologically advanced and wealthy countries, embracing the teachings of Sri Caitanya. He saw the realisation of Śrī Caitanya’s own prophecy, made nearly 400 years earlier, that his gift of divine love would spread to every town and village in the world.
Inspired by this supernatural apparition, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura made it his life’s mission to spread the teachings of Śrī Caitanya beyond India’s borders. Sending a small book across the vast oceans to a people unaccustomed to India’s spiritual traditions, though bold and courageous, was a small, even insignificant act. Now that we can see how a universal movement toward love of God is indeed taking shape, however, we can look back to this wonderful moment of deep faith and inspiration as its very beginning.
Knowing that the supreme good fortune of divine love was awaiting future generations, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda wrote over a hundred books, as well as numerous songs and articles, not only in his mother tongue, Bengali, but also in Sanskrit and English, to attract people everywhere to the sublime teachings of Śrī Caitanya. The books and songs that flowed from his prolific pen came to form the basis of the revived Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava movement whose practitioners can now be found in every country in the world.
It is our pleasure to once again publish Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s matchless gift to the world, Caitanya Mahāprabhu: His Life and Precepts. Those who are just on the threshold of discovering Śrī Caitanya’s sublime teachings will derive great spiritual benefit from the present edition, while those already acquainted with them will delight in knowing that the vision and work of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura are being carried on into the next millennium.
More Articles by Swami B.G. Narasingha
'Śrīyā Śuka’ was written by Swami B.G. Narasingha on July 11th 2010. This article answers the question whether Śukadeva Gosvāmī was the parrot of Rādhārāṇī and what his actual position is. After writing this, Narasingha Mahārāja received a number of death threats from certain quarters, inspiring him to write a follow-up article, ‘Heresy, Inquisition, Jihad, Fatwa and the Hare Kṛṣṇas.’
An Open Letter to an ISKCON GBC
'An Open Letter to an ISKCON GBC was written by Swami Narasingha in November 2017, in relation to Māhāraja's article, ‘Gaura-Rādhā-Mādhava and the Temple of Misunderstanding’
Jīvas and the Marginal Plane
“Jīvas and the Marginal Plane” was written in January 2005 by Śrīla B.G. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja, in response to a question concerning the ‘fall’ of the jīva, as explained in the GBC book ‘Our Original Position’ (OOPs). Narasiṅgha Mahārāja gives many quotes from the previous ācāryas to show how the misconception of the jīva’s ‘fall’ is erroneous.