Sex, drugs, and the teachings of Lord Caitanya. No, they don't go together as some would have us think.
In the early 1870's Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as a deputy magistrate stationed at the holy city of Jagannatha Puri, arrested, judged, and jailed a self-styled incarnation of Maha-Visnu named Bisa Kisen. Bisa Kisen, by his mystic power, used to lean into fire and then lift his head and make flames come out of his hair. He had two companions who presented themselves as Brahma and Siva.
Many wealthy and influential Hindus of Orissa came under Bisa Kisen's sway. They sent him money to build a temple and provided him women for his "rasa-lila." Bisa Kisen belonged to the Ativadi-apasampradaya.
In a letter dated August 18, 1871, addressed to the editor of Progress, a newspaper in Cuttack, Orissa, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura described the origin, philosophy, and practices of the Ativadi sect. The Ativadis claim to be Vaisnavas, but they are quite opposed to the principles of Vaisnavism. What follows is a synopsis of the most pertinent points of Bhaktivinoda's letter, along with other details gleaned from Apasampradaya-svarupa, a Bengali booklet by Bhakti-vilasa Bharati Maharaja.
The Ativadi apasampradaya (spurious sect) was started by one Jagannatha Dasa when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stayed at Puri as a sannyasi. Jagannatha Dasa pretended to be a disciple of Srila Haridasa Thakura, one of Lord Caitanya's close associates. But he later broke his connection with the Thakura and began preaching his own ideas. For instance, he had his followers cover their mouths while chanting the maha-mantraand told them to chant the second half (Hare Rama) first.
Once Jagannatha Dasa arrogantly approached Lord Caitanya, ignoring Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, who would screen visitors so that they might not disturb the Lord. Jagannatha Dasa wished to recite his Oriya translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which included five chapters of his own invention. He also wanted to explain his independent manner of chanting Hare Krsna.
To avoid him, Lord Caitanya said, "A fallen soul like Me is not worthy to hear the Bhagavatam composed by an author like you."
Then Jagannatha Dasa declared Lord Caitanya to be Krsna, and himself Radharani.
The Lord replied, "Sir, you have become too great [ativadi]. An insignificant and fallen soul like Me can have nothing to do with you."
Jagannatha Dasa and his followers took the Lord's statement as praise instead of what it really was condemnation. Thus this apasampradaya views itself as more well-read in the scriptures than Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, and likewise better in judgment and logic.
Jagannatha Dasa had a sweet singing voice, which attracted women whom he engaged in massaging his body. When brought to the court of King Prataparudra for indecent behavior, he said to the king, "I don't see any difference between men and women." For conduct unbecoming a Vaisnava sadhu, or saintly person, the king had him imprisoned.
Jagannatha Dasa and his followers had been living in an asrama donated by the king. But when Jagannatha Dasa rejected Haridasa Thakura and started his own movement, the property was taken back. He then founded his own asrama on the seashore. It is called the Satlahari Matha and can still be seen today.
Ativadi priests sometimes dress up as women on certain religious occasions, and they are known for loosely mixing with women. The Ativadis are influential in Orissa because Jagannatha Dasa's translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam is widely read, especially by simple, undiscriminating people.
The Ativadis appear very devoted to Lord Jagannatha, the famous form of Krsna worshiped in the Puri temple. They proudly claim that Lord Jagannatha has personally revealed some truth or prophecy to them. Thus every respected Ativadi can recite what he will speak of as his Malika, or series of revelations from the Lord. A common prediction is the year the world will end.
Yet despite the devotion the Ativadis profess for Lord Jagannatha, the scriptures they received from their founder put forward many impersonal ideas. Though the Ativadis worship the Lord's form in the temple, they believe that when they die they will realize Him as formless. Worshiper and worshiped will then merge into oneness.
Ativadis are mystics who practice yoga and sometimes work magic to cure diseases and bring people under their control. They form a secret brotherhood, Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, like the Freemasons in the West, and use drugs like marijuana and opium. Bhaktivinoda Thakura reckoned there were fifteen thousand of them in Orissa during his stay there. He noted that they often engaged in conspiracies against the government.
Bisa Kisen was only one of many self-proclaimed avataras hailing from this apasampradaya. Lord Caitanya taught, avatara nahi kahe ami avatara: "The real incarnation of the Lord never claims to be one."
Aula, Baula, Sani (Sain), and Daravesa
These four apasampradayas are closely related. They may be regarded as divisions of one group, commonly called "the Baulas of Bengal." Heavily tantric, with Sufi leanings, they don't necessarily present themselves as Vaisnavas, though they claim to embody the real spirit of Lord Caitanya's movement.
The Aulas, Baulas, Sains, and Daravesa share the same philosophy, which directly descends from the Sahajayana tantric Buddhist tradition. They view all existence as being formed from the combination of the mundane male and female principles (purusa and prakrti). They can harmonize these two principles within themselves, they believe, through so-called love generated by the bodily union of man and woman through tantricyoga. When purusa and prakrti are perfectly harmonized, one realizes the inner ecstasy they call jiyante mara,or "death while living," signified by complete stoppage of all physical and mental activity.
They identify this state with the mahabhava ecstasy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When this state is attained, they say, one can know the maner manush the "man in the heart," also known as sahaja manush("natural man"), bhaber manush ("man of devotion"), raser manush ("man of rasa"), and sonar manush ("man of gold").
These four sects believe that all exalted states of transcendence, like the realization of Vaikuntha and Krsnaloka, rest in the physical body. Their motto is "What cannot be found in the body cannot be found anywhere." Without going into details of their practices, suffice it to say that this philosophy encourages a person to release the "inner bliss" stored in the body through degraded acts of lust and depravity.
These apasampradayas are syncretic in that they combine aspects of different religious disciplines Vaisnava, Mayavadi, tantric, and Islamic. And because they reject Deity worship they are iconoclastic.
The word aula has different meanings, either of Arabic or Bengali origin. The Persian word aul (from the Arabic wallia) means "very important person," signifying the supposed exalted status of a member of the cult of Aulas. Also from the Islamic world is the word auttal, "the first phase." This indicates that of the four sects the Aulas are on the first stage of advancement because they are married householders.
Another meaning of Aula is au ("woman") and ula ("come down"). This meaning points to their close connection to women, through whom they think descends deeper wisdom of the universe. In Bengali the wordaul is related to kulata ("afflicted") in the sense of being afflicted with love. For instance, in the Caitanya-caritamrta the word aulaya denotes the gopis' affliction with love for Krsna.
The Aulas practice what is termed "bodily meditation." This means that the men of this sect take themselves to be purusa, and women to be prakrti. Their path to perfection is illicit sex. Husbands and wives of this community freely switch partners. Their idea is to excite their senses to a fever pitch so they can attain divine love. They claim that Lord Caitanya, Lord Nityananda, and the six Gosvamis were all "auliya," and they use citations from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta to try to substantiate their claim.
But Lord Caitanya's teachings clearly distinguish between love and lust. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 4.165) defines love, or prema, as eagerness to please Krsna, whereas lust is the eagerness to gratify one's senses. By this definition, the practices of the Aulas are simply lust and have no connection with authorized scriptures.
The influence of Mayavadi philosophy on the Aula sect is marked. The Vaisnava scriptures say that Krsna is the only transcendental purusa. But the Aulas say that if one happens to have a male form he too is purusa and so may imitate Krsna's activities with impunity.
The word baula comes from the Sanskrit word vatula, or "mad." It may also be related to the wordvyakula, which means "impatiently eager."
The Baulas are wandering minstrels who play instruments like the single-stringed ektar, the dugi (a drum like the larger drum in a tabla set), and the bamboo flute. They publicly chant the names of Krsna and sing enchanting songs with enigmatic words.
The Baulas, being folk musicians, exert an extraordinary influence on Bengali culture. They were patronized by no less than Rabindranath Tagore, Bengal's Nobel Prize-winning poet. Bengali intellectuals are fascinated with them and have written many books to their glory. In recent years, this kind of sophisticated regard for the Baulas has spread to the West. Baulas have even performed in London's Albert Hall.
Baulas often keep long hair in a bun atop their heads and adorn their foreheads with tilaka. They may wear the gown of a Muslim fakir and wear on their necks Shaivaite rudraksa beads, the glass worry beads of a Muslim, and the japa beads of a Vaisnava. They are usually bearded and carry a shoulder bag, a bamboo walking cane, and a fisti (a pot made from a big coconut). They have been known to use hashish liberally for "self-control."
The Baulas typically flock to festivals they call mahotsabs, many of which coincide with important Gaudiya Vaisnava functions. The Jayadeva Mela each winter in Kenduli, in Bengal, is the largest such mahotsab. The Baulas have an akhra (or asrama) there, and thousands of them converge at that spot for the three-day festival.
At other places across Bengal and Bangladesh they hold mahotsabs throughout the year. The Baulas move from one to the next, perform music, smoke hemp, and look for women. Often a Baula picks up a woman (orsadhika) at one mahotsab and drops her at the next to take on a new one. His former sadhika will be picked up by another Baula.
Some Baulas write books presenting perverted accounts of the lives of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates. Because of their talents, the Baulas cast over the minds of the innocent populace a spell that the Vaisnavas regard as extremely inauspicious.
The word sani comes from svami (master). The Sani group is more commonly known as the Sain. They are mendicants who wander about without following any particular discipline, having supposedly renounced all external designations.
Supposedly liberated from all material conceptions, the Sains may appear in any kind of dress (Hindusannyasi or Muslim fakir) or no dress at all. They are so much beyond the grip of illusion that they may drink wine or eat human flesh as expressions of their high awareness. Many Sains maintain themselves by distributing mysterious medicines and cures.
The Daravesa (Darbesh) are the gurus of the Aulas, Baulas, and Sains. They are supposed to have reached the highest realization through tantric practice. Darbesh is a Sufi term, from the Persian dar ("door") and bhitan("to beg"), meaning "one who begs from door to door."
The Darbesh Ashram in Dubrajpur, West Bengal, was founded by Atal Behari Darbesh, known simply as Darbeshji. It is said that by his mystic feats he brought a king under his control. The king gave him the land on which the asrama is situated. The Aulas, Baulas, and Sains venerate Darbeshji as a spiritual giant.
The followers of Darbeshji dress as they imagine Sanatana Gosvami was dressed when he escaped the jail of Nawab Hussain Shah to join Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Prayaga. Sanatana told the jailer, whom he'd bribed for his release, "I shall go to Mecca as a daravesa [renunciant]." The Darbesh cult takes this as Srila Sanatana Gosvami's most profound instruction.
[Part Four of this series will appear in our next issue.]
Suhotra Swami, an American disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has taught Krsna consciousness in Europe since the mid-seventies. He was recently appointed ISKCON's Governing Body Commissioner for Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Czechoslovakia.