The eighteen sannyasa initiates of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura:
 
By Brahma Das (ACBSP)


A reply to Jalakara dasa


Many devotees think that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura initiated
an army of sannyasis but factually he initiated only eighteen men into the
sannyasa ashrama and contrary to rumor he did not give sannyasa to anyone
born outside of India.  A complete list of the eighteen-sannyasa initiates
of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta taken from Gaudiya Math archives can be found in
the book "Prabhupada Saraswati Thakura" available from Mandala Publishing
(www.mandala.org). This book is an excellent source of information on Srila
Bhaktisiddhanta and the history of the Gaudiya Math.

In a discussion on this issue Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja confirmed that
all of the eighteen-sannyasa disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had been
born into Brahmin families and this is common knowledge among senior members
of the various Gaudiya missions. This is not surprising because
socio-religious customs of the times dictated that sannyasa be awarded only
to Brahmins by birth. This practice had been established by the Shankara
sampradaya and is also the accepted system in the Ramanuja sampradaya, after
which Srila Bhaktisiddhanta modeled his concept of Gaudiya tridandi
sannyasa.

Shankaracharya taught that moksa was only available to those of Brahmin
birth who had renounced the world by taking sannyasa. This standard for
sannyasa was the norm in the caste-conscious religious culture of India at
the time Srila Bhaktisiddhanta began his mission, and the rules regarding
sannyasa were already well established among the sampradayika traditions.
Mahaprabhu taught that varnashrama in general and sannyasa in particular
were external but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta decided to establish the ashram in
Gaudiya Vaisnavism because religious Hindus of all sects considered sannyasa
highly respectable.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta did have a German disciple named Satananda but he did
not give him sannyasa. In India during WWII the British interned people from
Axis countries in concentration camps for the duration of the war. During
internment in one of these camps Satananda met and converted an Austrian
named Walter Eidlitz who wrote a book about his experiences with Gaudiya
Math. This fascinating book called "Journey to Unknown India" is also
available from Mandala publishing.

Eventually a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta initiated Eidlitz but the
book does not indicate that Eidlitz ever took sannyasa. Throughout the book
Edlitz refers to his mentor by the name Satananda which indicates that
Satananda had not taken sannyasa from Bhaktisiddhanta or anyone else at that
time. If Edilitz or Satananda did eventually take sannyasa it could not have
been from Bhaktisiddhanta because the Thakura had ended his manifest
presence in 1937 which was before Satananda met and converted Eidlitz. Srila
Prabhupada discussed how one of these first foreign-born devotees had a
problem keeping the vow of celibacy but I never read anything about either
of them ever taking sannyasa. (If anyone has further information let me
know, as I would be interested to read it.)

 Bhaktisiddhanta also did not allow women to cook for or perform the seva
puja of the deity, as this was also contrary to the religious practices of
his day. Although Srila Prabhupada allowed women to serve the deity he
rescinded this mandate in his Vrndavana temple and in other places in India
to avoid criticism from the still powerful Hindu-Brahmin orthodoxy.
Prabhupada felt this restriction was necessary in order for Iskcon to be
accepted in that culture, therefore in essence this restriction was for
preaching purposes as well. The prohibition against women pujaris in Iskcon
Vrndavana is still in effect.

Admittedly, evidence provided shows that Prabhupada at that time was not in
favor of women taking sannyasa.  However Srila Prabhupada was overwhelmingly
in favor of promoting Krishna consciousness and there are instances when he
adjusted his position on relative rules and issues to increase book
distribution and preaching. For this purpose he even encouraged some
sannyasis to wear disguises and secular clothes and even talk with and take
money from the hands of women, all of which are against Vedic rules for that
ashram. Sannyasa was established in Gaudiya Vaisnavism to expand the
preaching even though Mahaprabhu taught that it was external and
non-essential to the culture of bhakti. Considering this there may come a
time when the rules regarding sannyasa may require further adjustment in
order to fulfill the purpose for which the ashram was introduced into the
mission. The challenges of preaching in changing cultures and times will
require this and in our present day and age I believe Prabhupada's disciples
and grand-disciples should ask themselves this question:

Are Prabhupada's prohibitions regarding women, including those about women
and sannyasa and women and seva puja, meant to be considered absolute into
eternity regardless of ever-changing culture and times?

Personally I believe not. This is because Prabhupada taught that preaching
had dynamic application and showed by example that one should make
adjustments in the presentation of Krishna consciousness according to time
and circumstances?

The sympathy of modern culture flows in favor of women's struggle for
equality. On relative issues such as the awarding of sannyasa, are we to
stand against the current of that struggle and further lose sympathy for our
message or are disciples of a great guru permitted to consider adjusting his
presentation in order to deliver his principal message?

I believe that ultimately qualified disciples are permitted to adjust the
details of presentation in order to deliver the principal.  The essential
message of bhakti is the all-important principal that the sannyasa ashram
was re-introduced into Gaudiya Vaisnavism by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati
Thakura to promote. The sannyasa ashram is not the goal of Krishna
consciousness nor is it absolutely essential to the culture of bhakti.

Prabhupada writes: "If one is following the instruction of his spiritual
master and that instruction is different from the instructions of another
spiritual master, this is called detailed information. But the basic
principle of acceptance of a spiritual master is good everywhere, although
the details may be different." (Nectar of Devotion)


Bhaktivinode writes: "Differences that arise from places, times, languages,
behaviors, foods, dresses, and natures of various communities are
incorporated within peoples spiritual practices and gradually make one
community so completely different from another community that even the
consideration that everyone is a human being may cease to exist. Due to
these differences there is disagreement, cessation of social intercourse,
and fighting, even up to the point of killing one another. When this
ass-like mentality becomes prominent within the kanistha-adhikaris, they
certainly indulge in these things. But if they develop a swanlike mentality,
then they do not take part in quarrels; rather, they endeavor to attain a
higher level." (Sri Krishna Samita)


brahmadasa@yahoo.com

These are the eighteen-sannyasa initiates of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati
Thakura

Bhakti Pradipa Tirtha Maharaja
Bhakti Hrdaya Bon Maharaja
Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja
Bhakti Sarvasya Giri Maharaja
Bhakti Sambandha Turyasrami Maharaja
Bhakti Viveka Bharati Maharaja
Bhakti Srirupa Puri Maharaja
Bhakti Prakasa Aranya Maharaja
Bhakti Vilasa Gabhastinemi Maharaja
Bhakti Bhudeva Srauti Maharaja
Bhakti Svarupa Parvata Maharaja
Bhakti Prasuna Bodhayana Maharaja
Bhakti Gaurava Vaikhanasa Maharaja
Bhakti Sambala Bhagavata Maharaja
Bhakti Vijnana Asrama Maharaja
Bhakti Sudhira Yachaka Maharaja
Bhakti Vaibhava Sagara Maharaja
Bhakti Vardhana Sagara Maharaja