Diving for Treasure: a Review of Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya
Posted August 3, 2006
In Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s masterpiece, Jaiva Dharma, one of his characters, Raghunatha dasa Babaji, tells a student, “Although Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not personally write any books, His followers have written volumes on His order. The Lord has personally given eight instructions, in verse form, known as the Siksastaka; the devotees cherish them as a necklace of priceless gems. They contain all His instructions in condensed form.” My own spiritual master, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, did not say very much about Mahaprabhu’s Siksastaka, but he cited those eight verses constantly in his books, lectures, letters and informal conversations.
In fact, it appears that not many Gaudiya vaisnava acaryas have said very much about these verses that form the seed of the teachings of Lord Caitanya. As the author points out, Srila Rupa Gosvami collects the verses in his Padyavali, and Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami arranges them in the order familiar to us in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, with precious little explanation of the verses.
However, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explored the meanings inherent in Siksastaka in his Sri Sanmodana-bhasya in 1886 and Bhajana-rahasya in 1902, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura followed in the wake of Sri Sanmodana-bhasya with his brief Vivritti, which he published along with Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s commentary in 1929. Inspired by these two great spiritual geniuses, Swami B. V. Tripurari has recently published Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya. This masterwork further explores the ocean of nectar that is Siksastaka, beginning with these commentaries and integrating material from other acaryas as well. It further serves as a sort of map of the path of spiritual progress prescribed by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers.
Most readers are probably aware that a couple of editions of Siksastakam have been published in recent years, with the commentaries of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. These are valuable books for which we should all be grateful. I have studied them myself to aid my own dedication to deeper immersion in chanting Sri Krishna’s holy names.
Swami Tripurari’s Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya starts with those commentaries, of course, and goes further. One thing that sets this book apart from the others and makes it unique — and indispensible to progressive Gaudiya vaisnavas — is its weaving of essential elements of Sri Sanmodana-bhasya, Bhajana-rahasya and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s Vivritti, as well as of commentary from earlier Gaudiya acaryas, especially Srila Jiva Gosvami and Srila Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura, into a rich, poetic tapestry that more fully reveals the benefits of Sri Krishna sankirtana, depicts aspects of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s inner life, and helps sadhakas better cultivate and measure the growth of their own inner lives.
The tapestry’s border ties the entire work together by framing Mahaprabhu’s eight verses as a confession offered to Ramananda Raya and Svarupa Damodara, a confession to what may be the greatest caper ever pulled: stealing the emotional life of Srimati Radharani. The progressively profound exploration of the verses themselves takes us on a journey into the depths of Sri Krishna sankirtana, revealing along the way connections between the benefits of sankirtana, previewed in the first verse, and the progressive stages of bhakti, which Srila Rupa Gosvami describes in Sri Bhaktirasamrita-sindhu, beginning with the initial faith that opens us to the association of vaisnavas and culminating in different levels of prema. The author brings all these sources together in a way that facilitates our understanding of these essential elements and clarifies the relationships among them.
Swami Tripurari’s language often tends toward the poetic, and appropriately so, considering the poetic density of his subject. This enhances the reader’s appreciation for the effects Sri Krishna sankirtana — and the study of Mahaprabhu’s verses — on the hearts of those who apply themselves to them. It also enriches our contemplation of the many meanings the Lord’s words carry. Consider, for example, this passage from the Swami’s commentary on verse four, which discusses the third effect of chanting Sri Krishna-nama, spreading the petals of the white lotus of good fortune by its moonbeams:
As we have seen from this fourth verse of Sikskastakam, Mahaprabhu, representing a devotee who has attained ruci, stands well positioned to gradually experience prema-dharma and the drama of Krishna lila. When the sadhaka attains ruci, saranagati is fully in place, as his or her sraddha has matured by virtue of being in touch with the land of faith. Now the stage — saranagati — on which the drama of Krishna lila is performed — is established in the sadhaka’s heart. The seeds of material desire are destroyed and the seed of bhakti that has already sprouted in the form of sraddha begins to blossom.
The beauty of sraddha’s blossom shines brightly, enchanted by the soothing moon of Sri Krishnacandra. This blossom of ruci enchants the entire world and also charms the sadhaka’s heart. In its shadow stands material desire and the darkness it represents. As inauspiciousness is removed (klesaghni), the sadhaka’s life becomes truly auspicious (subhada).
The language the author uses here and throughout the book sheds light on the charm that sankirtana — and Mahaprabhu’s glorification of that practice — exert on the practitioner’s heart. However, his language never fails to clearly illuminate the features of Krishna-conscious philosophy vital to proper understanding. Moreover, his glossary and abundant notes facilitate the kind of careful study to which many will want to subject this book.
This book, the Swami tells us, is written especially for those familiar with Gaudiya vaisnavism, with an eye to exploring the ocean of nectar that is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Siksastakam. As with any diving expedition, each member will appreciate the tour according to his or her experience and skill. As a skilled guide, Swami Tripurari helps his charges explore boldly with a sense of adventure, hinting how and where to find wonders previously unseen, perhaps even unimagined. To say too much more may spoil the sense of discovery to which this book lends itself so well. I hope all who are serious about plumbing the depths of Sri Krishna-nama will avail themselves of the treasure that is Swami B. V. Tripurari’s Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya. This is certainly a book that I will always carry with me.