Some who say they follow
Lord Caitanya try to make His easy method easier
by throwing out the rules.
Part Two: Prakrta-sahajiyas
The great spiritual master Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura spoke of thirteen sects that claim to have inherited Lord Caitanya's mission but who distort His teachings. Although especially prominent in Bengal, their ideas show up even in the West. Here, therefore, in the second of a three-part series, Suhotra Swami continues to examine these sects.
VAISNAVAS, devotees of Lord Krsna, use the term prakrta-sahajiya to refer to persons who imitate the signs of prema, pure love for God, while still addicted to the low-class pleasures of illicit sex and intoxication. The sahajiyas imagine that they feel the divine emotions of Krsna and His dearest devotee, Srimati Radharani. Yet they don't understand that before we can savor the pleasure shared by Radha and Krsna, we must rid ourselves of lustful desires for sensual pleasure.
The word sahaja means "easy." A prakrta-sahajiya wants the bliss of spiritual life without the struggle to attain it. And the word prakrta means "materialistic." Because the sahajiyas forgo the standard disciplines ofbhakti-yoga, the divine love they apparently show never gets beyond material lust.
The prakrta-sahajiyas mistake lust the disease of the soul for spiritual advancement. So instead of curing lust, they wind up cultivating it.
Bhagavad-gita (16.23-24) recommends that we follow sastra-vidhi, the directions of the scriptures, to purify ourselves of lust. Sastra-vidhi especially calls for us to give up meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication and to chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. This gradually readies us for raga-marga, the path of natural attraction to Krsna, reserved for highly advanced devotees.
The prakrta-sahajiyas, however, go easy on the scriptural regulations. They stay attached to materialistic enjoyment of the senses. But this sense enjoyment blinds them, and therefore their ideas of Krsna, Krsna's devotees, Krsna's service, and love of Krsna are but a faulty creation of their lower nature.
According to the Bengali historian Dr. S. B. Das Gupta, the Bengali sahajiya movement can be traced back long before the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to the reign of the Buddhist Pala dynasty (c. A.D. 700-1100). At that time a secret cult of the name Sahajayana arose within the Vajrayana ("Diamond Vehicle") school of Buddhism.
Sahajayana Buddhists abandoned ritualism and study of scriptures as useless. They practiced a "yoga of sex" in which they took consciousness to be the unity of the male and female principles, sometimes called upayaand prajna, or karuna and sunyata. The Sahajayana Buddhists wrote many songs, known as the Caryapadas, expressing their philosophy in mysterious language.
Later, under the Sena kings, Vaisnavism became ascendant in Bengal when the great spiritual master Jayadeva Gosvami won royal patronage for it. The Buddhist sahajiyas then absorbed aspects of Vaisnava philosophy and twisted them. They renamed their upaya and prajna principles "Krsna" and "Radha," imagining Radha-Krsna to represent the highest state of bliss attained by men and women on the sahajiya path.
In the thirteenth century, with the Islamic occupation of northern India and Bengal, the sahajiyas were influenced by the practices and philosophy of the Sufis. The word sufi comes from the Arabic word saf,meaning "sacred," and it signifies a mystical Islamic order of mendicants. Their goal is a state of inspiration calledfana, or oneness in love with Allah.
Sufis seek to attain fana through song and dance. In the Middle Ages they faced persecution as heretics in Arabic countries, especially because some Sufi preachers announced that they were themselves the very Allah worshiped by all Muslims. But in India the Sufis could flourish, not in the least because their ideas had much in common with Mayavada, or impersonalistic, philosophy.
The sixteenth century saw the advent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His movement of sankirtana,congregational chanting of the holy names of God.
In a typical social blur, the sahajiyas who had arisen from the Buddhists and merged with the Sufis now sang and danced on the fringes of the sankirtana movement. There they celebrated their mundane sexual mysticism with song and dance.
This, of course, was a perversion of the sankirtana movement. So Lord Caitanya and His followers rejected the sahajiyas. This is evident in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which tells us how strictly Lord Caitanya followed the rules of celibacy and how sternly He dealt with those devotees who broke them.
By the 1700's, however, the great movement begun by Lord Caitanya appeared to have become corrupted by the caste gosvamis and the ritualistic smarta brahmanas [see the May/June issue of BTG]. This offered a chance for the sahajiyas to influence the common people, and various prakrta-sahajiya sects became popular.
In the next century, therefore, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took pains to distinguish the pure teachings of Lord Caitanya from prakrta-sahajiya perversions. Following his example, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati strongly opposed those who deviated from Lord Caitanya's teachings. And Srila Prabhupada kept to this same strong, uncompromising course.
As Srila Prabhupada mentions in his commentary on Caitanya-caritamrta, the sahajiyas "indulge in sense gratification in the name of devotional service." In this way they "throw mud into transcendence." They churn their materialistic emotions into a state of sentimental ecstasy, and this they take to be spiritual. But the first step in spiritual advancement is to distinguish between spirit and matter. The sahajiyas confuse the two.
"The name of Krsna is all-powerful," the sahajiyas say. "So the spiritual state of a guru and disciple at initiation doesn't matter, because the holy name works by its own power. There's no need to tell anyone to follow rules let them chant Hare Krsna, smoke, drink, gamble, and have sex. The holy name will cleanse them of sinful reactions."
Genuine spiritual masters reject such notions as offenses to the holy name of Krsna. The holy name of the Lord is certainly all-powerful, just as a fire is powerful. But fire can give life, and fire can kill. So too, the holy name of Krsna, properly chanted under the guidance of a spiritual master, burns up the devotee's lingering material attachments. It nourishes his spiritual life. But if the power of the holy name is used as a tool to mix spiritual life with intoxication and illicit sex, the effect is ruinous.
Another feature of the sahajiya attitude is its perverse "humility" (really just envy). The sahajiyas consider themselves simple and modest and the strict devotees haughty. For example, sahajiyas think that a devotee who becomes known for spreading Krsna consciousness has fallen into the grip of name and fame. A devotee who refutes atheists and materialists is proud. Congregational singing of the Lord's holy names is showy. Devotees fussy about giving up illicit sex, smoking, and other harmless enjoyments are fanatical and inwardly attached to these pleasures.
Sahajiyas look down on devotees who take disciples and train them in scriptural principles. The scriptures, the sahajiyas think, oppose true devotion. So the sahajiyas either interpret the scriptures in their own way or write new scriptures to prove that sex and intoxication promote rather than obstruct spiritual awareness.
In summary, prakrta-sahajiyas are stubborn sense enjoyers. They may have talents for singing, dancing, acting, speaking, joking, and seducing women or men. They may try to pass off these talents as spiritual accomplishments. And they may dress as Krsna conscious devotees. But in fact they can't see the difference between offensive and pure chanting of the holy name. They take worldly service to be devotional service, lust to be love, and illusion to be spirituality.
The gauranga nagaris are a type of sahajiya who mix moods of devotion (rasas) in a clashing, unpalatable way. This error is technically called rasabhasa. The gauranga nagaris are prominent in Bengal and Bangladesh.
Some of their customs seem praiseworthy. For example, like staunch Vaisnavas they wear tilaka and neckbeads, perform good kirtana, and strictly abstain from flesh and fish. But they are counted out of Lord Caitanya's disciplic line because of a subtle contamination in their idea of who Lord Caitanya is.
The gauranga-nagaris are devotees of Lord Caitanya, who is also known as Gauranga ("the golden-limbed Lord"). But they impose upon Him Krsna's role as the free enjoyer of the village girls of Vrndavana. They style Him as nagara (a lusty village youth) and themselves as nagari (village girls).
Yet although it is true that Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself, His mood is never that of Krsna, the supreme enjoyer, but always that of Krsna's devotee.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 1.5), Lord Gauranga is said to be golden because He is radha-bhava-dyuti-suvalita, "adorned with the mood and luster of Srimati Radharani," Krsna's foremost devotee. Nowhere in any revealed scripture is it said that Lord Caitanya descends with the mood of Krsna.
Spokesmen for the gauranga-nagaris not only say that Lord Caitanya exhibited Krsna's enjoying mood; they say that Visnupriya Devi, the Lord's second wife, was Srimati Radharani and that her close female friends were gopis.
But as Srila Vrndavana dasa Thakura makes clear in Sri Caitanya Bhagavata, Visnupriya Devi is actually a form of the goddess of fortune, Laksmi. The wives, mothers, and daughters of Lord Caitanya's associates attended Visnupriya just as the maidservants of Laksmi serve Laksmi in the spiritual world. They serve in awe and reverence, not in the informal mood of the gopis.
Sri Caitanya Bhagavata also speaks clearly about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's extreme gravity in His dealings with women even with His own wives, what to speak of other women. But the gauranga nagarishave invented offensive myths about Lord Caitanya's supposed love affairs. These stories should never be heard.
The so-called mood of devotion of the gauranga nagaris is mere eroticism. Their conception of Lord Gauranga is a creation of their impure minds, and as they meditate upon this wrong conception, they succumb to lust. But, following the sahajiya line, they take that lust to be spiritual ecstasy.
Sakhi Bekhi and Cuda Dhari
Sakhi is a term for the confidential girlfriends of Srimati Radharani. The word bekhi is a corruption of the Sanskrit word vesa, which means "dress." A sakhi bekhi is a man or a woman who dresses like a gopi and imagines himself or herself to be enjoyed by Krsna.
Sakhi bekhis imitate rasa-lila, Krsna's dance with the gopis, sometimes by dancing with a person dressed like Krsna who wears a cuda, a crown of peacock feathers. This person is called cuda dhari. The philosophy of these two types of sahajiya groups is the same. Practically the only difference is that one group dresses likegopis and the other like Krsna.
Lord Caitanya taught, "The only controller is Krsna; everyone else is His servant." Each spirit soul is a tiny spark of para-prakrti, the Lord's subordinate or female spiritual energy. But this sense of our "being female" has nothing to do with mundane gender. We have temporarily assumed a male or female body as a result of pastkarma; the material covering does not reflect the eternal nature of the soul.
From Srimad-Bhagavatam (Canto 4, Chapter 28) we learn that souls now in men's bodies received them as a karmic result of earlier lives when they were women with a lusty attachment to men. And those now in women's bodies were men too attached to women.
The soul as a spiritual spark caught in the cycle of birth and death is genderless. But according to the particular ecstasy a soul enjoys in relation to Krsna, the soul's transcendental gender is revealed.
We see this in the spiritual bodies of Krsna's eternal associates. Krsna's devotees who serve Krsna with motherly and fatherly affection, for instance, have transcendental bodies accordingly. And the same is true of those who serve Krsna in madhurya-rasa (conjugal love). To be placed in madhurya-rasa one must develop the sentiments of a gopi, or cowherd damsel, under the guidance of a highly realized Vaisnava.
In Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.156-158), Lord Caitanya clearly tells Sanatana Gosvami how an advanced devotee is to use the physical body in Krsna's service. Externally, the devotee should perform regular devotional practices, such as hearing and chanting the holy name. Obeying all the scriptural rules, he or she should strictly avoid sinful life. And it is internally within the purified, self-realized mind that the devotee always meditates on serving Krsna in Vrndavana in a particular rasa, or relationship.
The sakhi bekhis, however, seem to think they have found an easier way. They dress in saris, decorate themselves with nose-rings and ornaments, and grow their hair in long braids. They paint their feet red, shave their faces twice a day, sing in falsetto voices, and gesture with women's mannerisms. And they seem to think that this will please Krsna.
Cuda dharis similarly think they can attract Srimati Radharani to their rotting material bodies simply because they dress like Krsna.
Some sakhi bekhis say they are only following the example of Sri Gadadhara Dasa Thakura. This devotee of Lord Caitanya's (a different person from the well-known Gadadhara Pandita) once walked through town in the mood of a gopi, carrying a clay pot of Ganges water on his head, calling out to sell yogurt, and laughing loudly. This, however, was an unusual ecstatic incident in the life of a pure devotee; it was not his regular practice.
Imitators say they can see their internal spiritual form by external play-acting. They forget, however, that neither Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu nor any spiritual master in Lord Caitanya's line ever taught that one can awaken love for Krsna through speculative histrionics.
Srila Prabhupada once told a story to show how we must follow the method of bhakti-yoga to get love for Krsna. In the story, a man tried to cook by placing the flame on the floor and hanging the pot near the ceiling. "If you want to cook," Prabhupada said, "you have to cook according to the method. You may have a pot and you may have a flame, but if you don't cook by the method, you'll never get the food."
The sakhi bekhis and cuda dharis take Krsna and the gopis cheaply. Under the influence of impersonalism, they think they can become one with the Lord and the gopis through some imaginative meditation. But the scriptures say that even Laksmi, the goddess of fortune herself in her eternal form, can't enter the rasa-lila,despite ages of austerity. So how can a fool do so by merely dressing up the material body?
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.