sri sri guru gauranga jayatah!

Edition No.25 (2011)
Posted: 5 April, 2024

Dedicated to
nitya-līlā praviṣṭa oṁ viṣṇupāda

Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja

Inspired by and under the guidance of

Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja

Transcendental Vaiṣṇavas – Non-different in Body and Soul

by Śrīla Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja

Excerpts from a lecture given on the occasion of the auspicious appearance day of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, 21 September 1934, in the Avidyā-haraṇa Temple Hall, at Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, Śrī Dhāma Māyāpura

The Vaiṣṇava Is Neither Born Nor Dies

Whatever we know about birth and death in this world does not apply to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. In fact, instead of saying ‘birth’ and ‘death’, the Vaiṣṇavas use the terms āvirbhāva and tirobhāva, ‘appearance’ and ‘disappearance’, prakaṭa and aprakaṭa, ‘manifested’ and ‘un-manifested’, and so forth. By using the words ‘birth’ and ‘death’, a kind of mournful mood, full of disbelief, grief and lamentation arises in the heart. But such moods do not arise when we use words like āvirbhāva and tirobhāva or prakaṭa and aprakaṭa.

Factually, for the Vaiṣṇava, pain is completely absent in his appearance and disappearance, unlike the experience of birth and death. Generally, therefore, the Vaiṣṇavas do not use the term ‘birth’ but instead say ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’. And in place of the term ‘death’, they say ‘disappearance’ or ‘has become unmanifest’. We understand this from a statement from Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, the scripture describing the pastimes of Śrī Caitanyadeva:

adyāpiha sei līlā kare gaurarāya
kona-kona bhāgyavān dekhibāre pāya

"Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is still performing His pastimes to this day, but only a few, very fortunate souls can see them."

From this, we can apprehend that Śrī Caitanyadeva’s eternal servants and associates are indeed ever-present. Among us, a few had the good fortune, some time ago, to have the direct audience (darśana) of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but because it is not possible to see him at present, a doubt can arise that he is existing eternally. It should be understood, however, that despite the inability of our mundane eyes to perceive him, he is still present to this day. Do not be amazed by this! I am speaking the truth, the complete truth. He is present with us even today! I will endeavour to remove your doubt to some extent with an example.

Our Deeply Rooted Doubt

Imagine that we are seated by a window inside a house and are looking outside toward the pathway. We see someone walking along the path and can keep sight of him to the extent that our vision allows. When he passes beyond the framework of the window, he goes out of our sight. Please contemplate this example carefully. We accepted his existence upon his entering our vision, but to conclude that he ceases to exist the moment we cannot see him indicates a definite lack of intelligence. That person existed before coming into our vision and continues to exist after he leaves our sight. This is the proper understanding. 

If we relate this example to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and his action of appearance (āvirbhāva) and disappearance (tirobhāva), our doubt can be removed to some degree. It is simply not logical to think that because we cannot see him with our mundane eyes, he is not present today. The Vaiṣṇavas are eternal; their bodies are transcendental and eternal, and they are not bound within the abject, temporary material nature and subject to birth and death, nor can they ever be so! 

Now, you may doubt that the Vaiṣṇava’s body is transcendental. Within your minds, you may consider, “The body that Ṭhākura Mahāśaya came with when he appeared in this world was left behind when he disappeared. We touched his gross body after he left this world, and placed that body in samādhi. When he departed for the eternal abode he did not take with him that body that we perceived here. Just as there is a difference between the body and the soul of the materially conditioned living entity, similarly the body and the soul of Śrīla Ṭhākura were also different. This is evident in his leaving that material body behind and departing in his soul form (dehī-rūpa).” 

Your reasons for raising this objection, or doubt, are valid, but to doubt the Vaiṣṇavas in this way will result in us suffering dreadful inauspiciousness. Although we have heard repeatedly that the form of the Vaiṣṇava is transcendental, the contaminating filth of this doubt lingers in our consciousness and is not removed by any means. It is only to maintain the etiquette of respecting the instructions of the Vaiṣṇavas and the statements of the scriptures that we do not express this doubt through our mouth; nevertheless, this mundane mentality is certainly awake in our minds. 

maṭha resident Vaiṣṇavas and respected gentlemen! Please do not be displeased by my words, for it is not impossible for such a mentality to reside in the heart of an unfortunate living entity like me. Such feelings have been present in my mind for many days, and it is for this reason that today, even though it is the auspicious appearance day of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, I am discussing the fundamental principles relating to the disappearance of a transcendental personality (tirobhāva-tattva). There is no difference between the Vaiṣṇava’s body and his soul, but for those who are sceptical, I will try to clarify it with an example, for it is indeed a fact that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura took his self-same form with him to that eternal abode of transcendental magnanimity (audārya-maya nitya-dhāma). We shall now strive to understand this point.

The Transcendental and Mundane – Similarities and Differences

You have all heard that this world is a shadow of the spiritual world. No one can completely and perfectly understand every aspect of another person or object, merely by beholding their shadow. Yet, the shadow serves the purpose of enabling us to understand which object it is. For example, by seeing the shadow of a tree, we can understand that its source is a tree, but the shadow will not tell us what kind of tree it is, for example, a mango tree or a litchi tree. At the same time, we will perceive that it is not the shadow of an elephant, a hill or a mountain, but that of a tree only. We can understand that much. 

Similarly, by seeing the shadow of a human being, we can discern that its source must be a human being and not an animal, but it will be difficult to know whether the shadow belongs to a man called Rāma or one called Yadu. 

In this way, since this world is only the shadow of the transcendental world, our experience of this world cannot allow us full understanding of the nature of that transcendental realm. Still, we can know about it to some degree and that is why I am utilizing an example from the material world, in an endeavour to obtain a conception of the transcendental reality (aprākṛta-tattva). This example is not completely perfect, but my insignificant intelligence cannot think of a superior one. I am furthermore presenting before you the following example, considering that this sound logic will also help dispel your doubt. 

You have seen how a snake leaves its skin and then slithers away in the same form it had before. Upon seeing the skin, we understand that it belongs to a snake. The skin also tells us the exact shape and size of the snake. Although the snake has discarded its full skin, it has gone off in its complete form somewhere else. 

I recall one verse from the Gītā on this subject. You are aware of the verse:

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī

Bhagavad-gītā (2.22)

"Just as a person discards his old garments and acquires new ones, similarly the embodied soul gives up old bodies and accepts new ones."

Do not consider that this verse, which applies only to conditioned souls, also applies to my subject of discussion. There is no difference between the body and the soul of the eternally liberated mahāpuruṣas, so if we apply this verse to them, we will incur an offence. As far as we are concerned, there is a vast difference between our ‘cloth’ (our body) and us. 

The ‘cloth’ – our body, or the substance that our body is composed of – differs categorically from the substance that we, the living entities, are made of. That is, the constitutional ingredients are diametrically opposite. This Gītā verse is thus applicable to us. But it cannot apply to eternally liberated Vaiṣṇavas, because for them the upādāna, or ingredients, comprising their bodies and those comprising their soul are, in fact, one and the same. Therefore, the transitory act of leaving one body and accepting another is not a transcendental, or eternal, function. Now, deeply consider the example of the snake and the Gītā’sexample of cloth, and perceive the difference. 

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s All Spiritual Form

At the time of his disappearance, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, took his body, which is completely composed of knowledge and bliss (cid-ānanda-maya), with him to the transcendental abode. A snake, which takes its complete form with it when it leaves behind its skin, or shape, in its trail, does not simply discard old and torn ‘cloth’ (its body) and don new cloth (take a new body). Similarly, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura took his supremely munificent and compassionate body to the transcendental abode, where he is situated. He did not leave his body and accept a new one, as one leaves old cloth for new. In this temple room named avīdyā-haraṇa, that place where ignorance is totally removed, we are taking darśana of the vigraha, or the picture, of Śrīla Ṭhākura’s manifest (prakaṭa) and unmanifest (aprakaṭa) pastimes. That vigraha is his beautifully decorated worshipful form (arcā). 

The picture of him before us is his very arcā-mūrti, which is transcendental. This form is not transitory but eternal, and this indeed is his form in the manifest (prakaṭa) and unmanifest (aprakaṭa) pastimes. If this mūrti were not eternal, then we would diligently seek out his eternal mūrti and worship that alone. But in fact, this very mūrtiis established at Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s place of samādhi, and thus is never material, or temporary. We never heard our ācāryadeva, Śrīla Prabhupāda, instruct us to worship a temporary material object, or to imagine a material object to be transcendental and worship it. Therefore, with a peaceful mind, free from doubt, aim to understand the purpose of this example. 

Consider this subject carefully and see, in every respect, that the body and the soul of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura are totally one and the same, and that he is eternal (nitya), transcendental (aprākṛta) and ever-lasting and primeval (sanātana). 

Due to misfortune, we are not able to have the direct audience of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Despite this, may we never be separated from his association. During our student life in our youth, we read a book by Yogendranātha Vasu Mahāśaya that stated, “The book itself is a life sketch of the author.” Therefore, although at the present time Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura cannot be perceived by our mundane eyes, we will collect his life from his writings, and endeavour to attain his personal association.

Translated from Śrī Śrī Bhāgavat Patrikā, Year–8, Issue 1–2
By the Rays of The Harmonist team
Originally published in Bengali in the daily Nadīyā Prakāśa, Year–9, No. 180

No.25 (2011)

Rays of The Harmonist On-line, Edition No. 25, 2011, “Transcendental Vaiṣṇavas – Non-different in Body and Soul ” by Śrīla Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License to ensure that it is always freely available. You may redistribute this article if you include this license and attribute it to Rays of The Harmonist. Please ask for permission before using the Rays of The Harmonist banner-logo.