An ex-ISKCON devotee’s personal experience in embracing true Gaudiya Vaisnavism

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MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

by

Radhapada Das

Jaya Radhe!

My name is Radhapada Das, formerly known as Rati Das. After spending 20 years in

ISKCON (more or less, in good times and bad) I received diksa from the Mahanta of

Radhakunda, Baba Sri Ananta Das Pandit.

One may ask what prompted me to do it? Basically, I did it because I didn’t see any light

coming from the end of the ISKCON tunnel. In other words, I didn’t see even a ray of

hope for discovering my spiritual identity (spiritual svarupa), nor did I get any guidence

in geniune raganuga-bhakti.

(Bhakti that takes as its model the passionate love for Krsna of the people of Vraja, that is, the close

servants, friends, parents, and lovers of his youthful days in the land of Vraja)

Now, some may say, and especially those who knew me as Rati Das, that I was too

impatient. I should have given it more time. More than anything, I should get more strict

and serious about spiritual life as given to devotees in ISKCON by Srila Prabhupada. In

answer to them I say that I gave it plenty of time. Second there are those a thousand

times more serious and strict than me in ISKCON, whom I don’t see as having attained

any profound level of spiritual advancement or as being able to teach the techniques of

  1. raganugabhajana. Don’t get me wrong, there are advanced devotees in ISKCON, but only

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by ISKCON standards. There are many who have a taste for chanting the Holy Name in

kirtan or in japa and others that can give great talks on the philosophy and the pastimes.

There are many who can perform austerities like nirjal ekadashi´s and relish deity

worship, and also there are devotees who simply like to talk about Krsna Of course, we

cannot forget the great souls who have taken the message of Krsna a to the farthest and

most remote regions of the world. Certainly they all are worthy of my deepest respect and

veneration. Yes, there are quite a few dedicated devotees serving in a selfless manner.

However, I really don’t believe that there are devotees of this institution or of the

Gaudiya Mataha that are having revelations like those described in the biographies of the

great siddha-s and in the Goswami grantha-s [writings]. In my own personal life, I have

felt a vivid transformation of consciousness after taking diksa from my Gurudeva in

Radha Kunda. It is said that diksa is the process by which transcendental knowledge is

transmitted into the heart and obstacles are destroyed. I can honestly say that this was

what I experienced after diksa. The many years of hearing and chanting the songs and

teachings of Narottama Dasa Thakura and Bhaktivinoda finally cystalized in my

consciousness. No longer were these teachings some mysterious puzzle that I would solve

only after death. They were manifesting themselves to me directly. These teachings were

slowly being unpacked out of the mystery box and becoming tools for bhajan [personal

worship]. The teachings of the Goswamis were becoming more meaningful to me. In

addition, it became more and more apparent that what I had been practicing before was

not the real bhakti-sadhana [the practice of bhakti] of a follower of Sriman

Mahaprabhu’s sampradaya [community].

I must admit that after twenty years of hearing Vaisnava aparadha [offensive language or

behavior directed at Vaisnavas] of the devotees of true sampradaya-s, I was a little

skeptical about the authencity of the Gaudiya Vaisnava guru-pranali [lineage of teachers],

known to most devotees in ISKCON as the Babajis. When I first used to visit

Radhakunda during the month of Kartik, I had no connection with what was going on

there, other than hoping that one day, I would attain some krpa [mercy] from Sri Radha

by bathing there at Sri Kunda, doing parikrama [circumambulation] and listening to

Krsna lila [pastime] lectures by an ISKCON sannyasi’s [renunciant] there. The world of

the Gaudiya Vaisnava-s seemed alien to me. I could not relate to the austere appearances

of the devotees and places there, especially when I had been hearing for years that

everyone there is a dreaded sahajiya However, just before and after my wife and I

became truly initiated, as we began to become familiar with the Vaisnavas and the

environment, we began to discover a richness there undescribable by words, but available

through experience. Behind the hard, austere appearances of the devotees that we met,

we noticed very blissful personalities among them. Sometimes they appeared to me to

possess intoxicated feelings of inner bliss that I had not seen in ISKCON or Gaudiya

Matha devotees. My experience in ISKCON was that despite the opulent surroundings of

devotees, many appear morose, uptight or anxious. After some time in ISKCON, I began

to seriously consider that I joined a religious society that promised to free one from the

problems of life, viz. birth, death, old age and disease, but that failed to give to many even

65

basic satisfaction or peace of mind. Moreover, the lives of many of these devotees were

plagued with the ongoing, tumultuous problems raging within the ISKCON society itself.

My wife and I became acquainted with a German lady named Anuradha initiated by

Prana Krishna Baba of Radhakunda. We would visit her often in her humble room in

front of Radhakunda. One day, when we came to visit her, there was a devotee there

from Switzerland whom I knew from before, who had just received diksa from Ananta

Das Pandit. When she announced that he received diksa, something came over me. I had

this incredible urge to take diksa also and I began to ask what is being offered there

regarding spiritual life. They explained to me:

siddha-pranali, (This is the same as guru-pranali, the lineage of one’s gurus going back to the

immediate associates of Sri Caitanya, except that one is taught their siddha or eternal names and

identities in Krsna’s sport).

manjari-svarupa (Manjari-svarupa Is the most common identity adopted by the members of the

Caitanya tradition. It is the identity of a younger female friend of Radha. The manjari combines

feelings of friendship and desire for service towards Radha. They thus often have access to the most

confidential interactions between Radha and Krsna).

and manasi seva (This is service performed, or rather visualized, in the mind. This is the major

method of learning and cultivating the identity of the manjari in Caitanya Vaisnavism).

Then I began to consider things more carefully. I knew about these things before, having

read books by O.B.L. Kapoor and Bhaktivinoda Thakura, but now I had encountered

devotees who were practicing it. In a few days we were introduced to Ananta Das Pandit

and we began to visit him regularly and ask many questions. I was encouraged to read his

translated commentary on Ragavartma-candrika by Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada,

which when I began reading I couldn’t put down. I was blown away by the combination of

the deep philosophy of Visvanatha and Ananta Das Pandit’s explanation of the verses

regarding raganuga-bhakti. I was convinced. My wife also read the book and she was

eager to take diksa, too.

At that time, I was not so sure about the break in the disciplic succession of

ISKCON/GM. I had heard something previously, but it was not clear to me. I was not

very interested in the subject either. My main concern was to step up into higher

education and become ”specialized” in learning about manjari-bhava upasana [the

method of worshiping with the feelings of a manjari], which I was convinced one cannot

get in ISKCON/GM. I had had enough of the ”work now samadhi [realization] later”

philosophy. My membership in ISKCON was already casual. I had lost faith in

gurus/GBCs and the teachings that went with them. Going back home, ”back to

Godhead” by becoming a dedicated ISKCON career member had lost its appeal for me

years ago. In the temple where my wife was from in Slovenia, the leading book distributer

once gave a Srimad Bhagavata lecture and said that a person who chanted the Holy

Name all day was a sahajiya. I even heard that in one kirtan there, while a devotee was

singing the names of Sri Radha, another devotee plugged his ears with his fingers and

sung out: ”Jaya Visnupada, Jaya Visnupada” (the name of his guru back then). So I had

66

had enough of the un-Gaudiya Vaisnava, offensive environment of ISKCON. I was

hoping deep in my heart for something better to come my way. However, the issue about

leaving my ISKCON guru still disturbed me a bit. I even remember crying one night

before I took diksa. Still, I felt that moving on was the proper thing to do. And you know

something, after I did it, I never ever regreted it!

One problem we faced was that my wife and I were working as Gurukula teachers in the

ISKCON temple in Vrindaban. Our main concern was how we were going to receive

diksa without letting anyone know. We wanted to stay in Vrindaban, and I liked teaching;

we didn’t want to get kicked out. So the solution was — don’t tell anybody. We were

undercover for over two years. Then slowly, slowly, we started letting our guard down, till

eventually we were discovered. We saw it as Sri Radharani’s krpa telling us it is time to

move on, to be true to ourselves, and to stop hiding.

In the recent year I have come to terms with the Bhaktisiddhanta issue, that is, his not

getting diksa from Gaurakisora Das Baba. I must admit it was depressing to have the big

bubble pop regarding the things we were taught about Bhaktisiddhanta, Bhaktivedanta

Swami, ISKCON/GM. I felt misled. Discovering that one had spent twenty years living

and telling others about things that were not a part of real Gaudiya Vaisnavism can be

disheartening. On the other hand, if it were not for ISKCON, I would never have heard

about Sri Caitanya, Radha-Krsna, Vraja Dhama, the Goswamis, and so forth. So I owe

ISKCON a great deal for pointing me in the right direction. I think that I was probably

not ready for real bhajan back then, that I needed the institutional teachings and facilities

to prepare me for the path of following the Goswamis.

Sometime ago someone presented me with this premise: ”Try to stretch your imagination.

What if a manjari from the spiritual world, Nayana Manjari (supposedly the manjari

svarupa of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) decided to come down to this world and start

his/her own lineage?” Could it be possible? The first problem with that idea is why would

a nitya-siddha, an eternal associate from Vraja Dhama, descend to this world without the

Lord’s association?

se saba sangir sange je kaila vilasa

se-sanga na paiya kande narottama dasa

Being unable to obtain the association of Lord Gauranga, accompanied by all of these

devotees in whose association He performed His pastimes, Narottama Das simply weeps.

It is generally observed that the nitya-siddha-s accompany the Lord when He descends to

enact pastimes. If a parsada (eternal associate) of the Lord did descend after God had

wound-up his pastimes in this world, then for what purpose? Surely, it would be to teach

something to the world, especially to the devotees of the Lord. It would be greatly

appreciated, glorified, and remembered for all time to come by the Vaisnava community.

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However, from a historical point of view, that was not the case with Bhaktisiddhanta

Saraswati. Except for among his followers, he was not accepted within the mainstream of

Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Furthermore, he heavily critized the Babajis and caste Goswamis,

the standard followers of Mahaprabhu. At least in my opinion, it doesn’t seem likely that

an eternal associate of God, who embodies transcendental emotions and sattvika

qualities [qualities of peacefulness and goodness] would start a war with other devotees

of the Lord.

This was one of the issues I had sorted out regarding my previous connection with

ISKCON/Gaudiya Math. I became convinced, after objectively analyzing the evidence

available, that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati did not take diksa from Gaurakisora Dasa

Babaji, as claimed by ISKCON/GM. The result is a spiritual practice within these

institutions that does not empower its followers to relish and experience the topmost

spiritual flavors of the Vrajabhakti that Sriman Mahaprabhu has kindly brought down

into this world, as documented and savoured by the Lord’s confidential associates

themselves, the Goswamis of Vraja. When we speak of ”a follower of Mahaprabhu” it

means a loyal adherent to the teachings and conclusions written down by the revered

Goswamis. It is mentioned in Caitanya-caritamrta that Sriman Mahaprabhu praised the

writings of Rupa Goswami, and He therefore blessed him and asked all the other

associates to bless Rupa Goswami with the power to describe bhakti. Similarly, the Lord

blessed Sanatana Goswami, Raghunatha Das Goswami and so forth. There is no

entrance into the kingdom of madhurya-rasa [the experience of sweetness or erotic love

for Krsna] in Vraja without accepting their teachings, because they are Sriman

Mahaprabhu’s instruments for the propagation of bhakti. Sriman Mahaprabhu is the

combined form of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna in Vraja. Their confidantes, the manjaris,

descended in male forms as the Six Goswamis of Vraja.

As I mentioned earlier, I was discovered in ISKCON Vrindaban to have taken initiation

from Ananta Das Pandita Baba. This was one reason for our leaving our service as

teachers there, although we were not kicked out. Actually, the administrative heads there

were very kind to us throughout our service there, as well as when our inner life and

connection with the Radhakunda Vaisnavas was discovered. Our main consideration for

leaving was financial. It is tough to live in Vrindaban as grhastha [householder]

foreigners. We also anticipicated some trouble from diehards within ISKCON. That was

another reason for our leaving. I have probably disrupted relationships with devotees in

ISKCON and lost my status as an older devotee and kirtan singer in the society.

However, I gained other friends, and especially the merciful glances of some of the

Gaudiya Vaisnava residents of Radhakunda. I did lose opportunities to lead kirtan in

ISKCON, but I got the opportunity to lead them with the Gaudiya Vaisnavas near Sri

Radha’s Lake. In addition, I received a very deep bhajan process, techniques in

remembering and worshiping Radha-Krsna. It is a genuinely fulfilling and real internal

experience. This bhajan is not dependent on a hierarchical system of managerial leaders

who may acknowledge your contributions or not, or on enjoying the thrill of big festivals.

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It is the path of a life spent inwardly cultivating your loving relationship with Sri Radha-

Krsna, guided mercifully by a true guru.

My humble advice is this for those who are hesitant to traverse the path of bhajanas

taught by the Goswamis, starting with diksa in a bona-fide sampradaya: put aside the

deep-rooted misconceptions implanted by the ISKCON/GM teachings against Babajis,

the siddha-pranali, smarana, etc., and with a sincere heart, see if you really want to be a

true follower of the great Mahajans [saints]. Spend some time reading the Goswami

grantha-s [books] and associate with devotees who have taken diksa in the authentic

Gaudiya Vaisnava lines.

Jaya Sri Radhe!

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