The weeds of deviation choking the plant of bhakti take firm root in offenses to the holy name.
Worshipers of Guru as God
In India people generally associate the Kartabhajaapasampradaya (deviant sect) with the Baulas of Bengal (another deviant sect). The Kartabhajas and the Baulas are indeed similar in many ways. They share, for example, the concept of jiyante mara living death as the highest goal.
But the Kartabhajas are distinguished by their doctrine ofguruvada. All the deviant tantric sects have a philosophy ofguruvada, or veneration of the guru, but only the Kartabhajas go to the extreme of proclaiming the guru to be God incarnate. Kartabhajaguruvada arises from the Mayavadi idea of absolute oneness. For the Kartabhajas, the guru alone is the worshipable form of God. No other form than the guru's is worshipable, not even that of the arca-murti, the temple Deity. The Kartabhajas chant no name other than the name of the guru. They do chant the name Krsna, but only because they say that the guru is Krsna. And for the Kartabhajas the names of Krsna and Khoda (Allah) are just as good, because all are names of the guru.
The Kartabhaja sect was founded by Karta Baba Aul Cand, a fakir who lived from 1686 to 1779. His followers say he was the reappearance of Lord Caitanya Himself. Aul Cand's principal disciples were Karta Ram Sharan Pal and his wife, Sati. The Kartabhajas consider them adi purusa (the original man) andadyasakti (the original woman). Their house in Ghosepara, in the Nadia district of Bengal, is preserved as a Kartabhaja place of pilgrimage. Nowadays, many Baulas come to the the Ghosepara Kartabhaja center during the three-day Dola Yatra festival. This may be why many people associate the Kartabhajas with the Baulas.
The Kartabhajas have their own scripture, the Bhaver Gita, mostly written by Dulalcand in the form of songs. The text is puzzling and deliberately contradictory: it is to be understood only by initiates. Yet it clearly hints at Mayavadi and tantric ideas. The Kartabhajas, unlike the Baulas, do not have a reputation for promiscuity. They are enjoined to marry and be true to their partners. On Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) they must refrain from sexual relations and be vegetarian.
In the last century, the Kartabhajas were a powerful force against the jata-gosani and smartas, who had become the sedentary establishment of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The Kartabhajas and othersahajiya groups converted thousands of common folk on the plea that "the company" (the Gaudiya Vaisnavas) was once rich but now bankrupt. Out of the ruins of the old company, the Kartabhajas said, a new company had arisen (the Kartabhajas themselves). And this company, they said, did not carry out business in the name of religion.
In 1893, Karta Dulalcand, a famous Kartabhaja songwriter and guru, was invited to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (where Vivekananda lectured). But the invitation was a little late: Dulalcand had already been dead sixty years.
The Kartabhajas address their gurus, beginning with Karta Ram Sharan Pal, as Karta ("master" or "boss"). All the Kartas have lived at the residence of the first Karta and run the Kartabhaja mission from there. The faithful followers of the Kartas are called Baratis, "members of the bridegroom's party." The Baratis accept and worship the Karta as God on earth. Whatever words he speaks are themselves scripture, to be blindly obeyed. His activities are divine, even if he dances naked at a wedding of his disciples, as did Karta Baba Aul Cand.
The Kartabhajas say that deceased Kartas continue to initiate disciples through living representatives known as rtviks.
Neda or Neda- Nedi
Neda means a shaven-headed man, nedi a shaven-headed woman. Members of the Neda- Nedi sect can be seen in the area of Navadvipa, West Bengal. They resemble other Vaisnavas, with shaved heads, tilaka, and white clothes.
It is said that Sri Virabhadra Gosvami, the son of Lord Nityananda and Jahnava-mata, converted more than a thousand Nedas and a thousand Nedis to Vaisnavism from tantric Buddhism. Under his direction, they took to the chanting of the Hare Krsnamaha-mantra. Most of them accepted marriage, ending their indulgence in illicit sex, which they held to be tantric meditation. But after some time, a number of them resumed their old practices while claiming to be Vaisnavas. Nowadays, the Neda- Nedi is taken to be a type of Baula.
In the first part of this series, I mentioned that a genuine devotee of Krsna is known by his good qualities. Because the Vedic scriptures prescribe the chanting of the holy name of Krsna as the essential dharma, or spiritual practice, in the present age, a devotee of Krsna is to be known especially by the quality of his chanting.
As Srila Prabhupada explained, "Nobody can strictly follow all the rules and regulations. In the Kali-yuga [the Age of Degradation] it is not possible. Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu has recommended that hari-nama, chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, should be very rigidly performed."
A person may advertise himself as a follower of Lord Caitanya's and chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, but if he deliberately commits namaparadhas (offenses to the holy name) he disqualifies himself.
The link between namaparadhas and deviation from the path of Krsna consciousness is indicated by Srila Jiva Gosvami. He warns in his Bhakti-sandarbha that there are offenders to the holy name who are acikitsya, or incorrigible (jnana-lava-durvidagdhastra-acikitsya-atva-dupeksa). As soon as they acquire a little knowledge from the Krsna conscious community of devotees, they become insolent and arrogant. They are excluded from the genuine devotional community because of three kinds of offense to the holy name:sadhu-ninda (blasphemy of devotees), guru-avajna (disregard of the spiritual master), and sruti-sastra ninda (blasphemy of the Vedic scriptures).
The incorrigible offender never admits his offenses. He cannot understand that the mercy of the spiritual master and the association of pure devotees are indispensable for the chanting of the holy name. He considers the spiritual master not a transcendental teacher but a worldly one and tries to measure the person and instructions of theguru by his own mental standards. Thus he commits guru-avajna.Because he values worldly knowledge and accomplishments, he looks down upon the simple devotees who have surrendered themselves to devotional service. Thus he commits sadhu-ninda.Finally, he studies the revealed scriptures as if they were ordinary books, accepting whatever seems to support his preconceived notions and rejecting the rest. Thus he commits sruti-sastra ninda(blasphemy of the Vedic scriptures).
The incorrigible offender mistakes the growth of these and other offenses within his heart for the growth of the bhakti-lata (the plant of devotion). He mistakes his fallen condition for great advancement. Such is the illusion from which the apasampradayas, or deviant sects, have sprung.
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.
In preparing this series, I have drawn from a number of sources. The most important are the books, letters, and lectures of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I drew a great deal upon Apasampradaya Svarupa, a work by one of Srila Prabhupada's Godbrothers, Sri Bhakti-vilasa Bharati Maharaja. This was translated for me from the Bengali by Bhakta Krishanu Lahiri, a student of languages at Calcutta University and a member of Bhaktivedanta Youth Services. Krishanu was ably assisted by Sriman Sarvabhavana Prabhu and Kishore Ghosh. I consulted The History and Literature of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, an unpublished manuscript by another Godbrother of Srila Prabhupada's, Sambidananda Dasa. I also consulted the following books:Vaisnavism in Bengal, by Dr. Ramkantha Cakravarti (Sanskrit Pushtak Bandhar, Calcutta, 1985), Obscure Religious Cults, by Dr. Sashi Bhushan Das Gupta (1976 reprint by Firma KLM Ltd.), The Bauls of Bengal, by Rebati Mohan Sarkar (Gian Publishing House, New Delhi, 1990), and Braj Centerof Krishna Pilgrimage, by Alan W. Entwistle (Egbert Forsten, Holland, 1987). Sri Bhakti Vikasa Swami Maharaja and Kiranasa Prabhu brought me up to date on the modern deviant sects they have encountered in their years in Bangladesh.