Room for variety and individuality in spiritual life


In Hindu Encounter with Modernity I learned that Sri Bhaktivinode Thakura, our revered Seventh Goswami, ate meat until he was 42. He stopped when he received diksa.To eat meat is reviled in our movement.

In “By His Example” Gurudas tells a story about how Srila Prabhupada during a flight watched a movie by Charlie Chaplin and he laughed so much that tears fell. Srila Prabhupada actually saw a movie – something that isn’t directly or even indirectly connected to service.

One of the criticisms of the biography of Tridandi Swami Bhakti Hriday Bon Maharaj (or the person itself is more correct) is that Hriday Bon Maharaja felt the need to visit the four holy sites in the Garhwal Himalayas of north India to atone for an grave offense in the past. The criticism goes along the path that staying in Vrindavin and chanting the maha-mantra should be enough to counter any previous offence.

I’m not so interested in these actions itself, what interests me is what these actions imply.

  1. That Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur ate meat until 42 really gives me hope and belief that it is possible to achive prema in this lifetime. He had trouble giving up meat because he liked it and still he somehow became THE Bhaktivinode Thakura.
  2. Watching a movie (however innocent Charlie Chaplin is) indicates that it’s possible to be an uttama maha-bhagavata and still there is a lot of room to interact in this material world.
  3. The path of Hriday Bon Maharaja solidifies the second point even more. It’s possible to follow vaidhi-bhakti, chant the maha-mantra and still need to visit different holy sites to atone for sins.

This tells me a story of life paths towards prema that leaves room for mistakes, leaves room for the individual and taking an individual path. We still have to follow vaidhi-bhakti, but even within vaidhi-bhakti people may need to take different positions and roads.

These stories and the story of Ajamila have crystalized a certain faith, a certain knowledge in me. As long as I keep on working on my spiritual life, I will be alright. Even if I fall off for some moments in time, I will still be alright. I’m being taken care of – at least spiritually.

These small bits of stories of our Acharyas doesn’t reveal how they managed to get to prema and I know at least one huge benefit they have above me; They were born in india. But the more I read and learn of the maha-bhagavatas in our line, the more astounded I become.

I love Bhaktivinode Thakura’s rational approach towards the philosphy, his tendency to question everything and not giving in, but keep on working. I find myself curious to learn more about his work and the conflicts he had to mediate. He had to have some serious people skills. I admire his scholarly pursuits when analyzing our philosophy.

In Srila Prabhupada I heard about a person who was a well of humour. Who could see the humour in different situations, who knew and made jokes. How I would have loved to be around that lightness.

In Hriday Bon Maharaja – well, I haven’t gotten far enough in the book to make an opinion yet 🙂

All this tells me what I have already known for a long time, but haven’t voiced. My path is different from yours. It’s okey, even healthy, to question our philosphy. I loved that Bhaktivinode Thakura even questioned whether Srimad-Bhagavatam was spoken from Vasudeva 5000 years ago. Keep the belief in the philosophy, but you can question everything else that relates to the materiel world.


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