Nitya-siddha & the Vox Populi
by Brahma Das
Posted April 26, 2003

A reply to Jalakara dasa's article.

First I must acknowledge the errors in my previous article. Although the majority of the sannyasa disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta were from brahmana families it does appear there were a few exceptions. It is likely that those exceptions were from the kayastha community and although the kayastha is a mixed community Srila Prabhupada writes that in Bengal the kayastha community is honored almost as much as the brahmana community. (Antya 6:23)

Also I was informed from a number of sources that Audolomi Maharaja was as well a sannyasa disciple of Bhaktisiddanta. That his name was not on the official list has given rise to the speculation that it may have been removed (truncated) due to his later connection with the discredited Ananta Vasudeva. In any case I apologize for the errors in my article entitled "The Eighteen Sannyasa Disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta".

It is now clear that there were at least nineteen initiated sannyasis of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and that at least two or three of them were not born as brahmanas. That a few of the sannyasa disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta were not born in brahmana families does not indicate that Bhaktisiddhanta was indifferent to social norms (desa-kala-patra) when he established his system of sannyasa. Jalakara dasa wrote in his first article: "Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati traveled to South India and studied the Ramanuja system for accepting sannyasa, and then he adopted it." Adopting the Ramanuja system at that time meant adopting a system based on giving sannyass to those who were born as brahmanas. Perhaps there were also exceptions in the Ramanuja system but in general it was the practice of the Ramanuja and the Madhva sampradaya to take varna into consideration in regard to sannyasa. Indeed it was pointed out that this was the legal argument given by Prabhupada's son in his court case against ISKCON.

That Bhaktisiddhanta, and later Srila Prabhupada, in their presentation of Krishna consciousness considered the social norms of their time does not mean they were "pandering to contemporary sentiment" or "adopting material cast consciousness to appease society". Some of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers made similar complaints about his changes but about those complaints Srila Prabhupada wrote this in his Caitanya Caritamrta.

"Sometimes jealous persons criticize the Krsna consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticize the boys and girls in Krsna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community's social customs. However, since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krsna consciousness." (Adi 7.31)

"It is the concern of the acarya to show mercy to the fallen souls. In this connection, desa-kala-patra (the place, the time and the object) should be taken into consideration. Since the European and American boys and girls in our Krsna consciousness movement preach together, less intelligent men criticize that they are mingling without restriction. In Europe and America boys and girls mingle unrestrictedly and have equal rights; therefore it is not possible to completely separate the men from the women." (Adi 7.38)

The question we are discussing is not about caste-consciousness or appeasement of society but rather whether advanced devotees trying to spread Krishna consciousness are authorized to adjust practices established by their own guru or another prominent acharya. The theory offered in Jalakara dasa's latest article is that changes in the tradition are acceptable but only if they are made by a recognized nitya-siddha acharya. This theory leads to the question of what authority determines beforehand which devotees should be recognized in their time as nitya-siddha acharyas and did Srila Prabhupada ever write that only a nitya-siddha is authorized to make adjustments to the tradition. Underlying this discussion are the words of Thakura Bhaktivinode who wrote that when self-realized devotees ordain any new arrangement, this should be followed as a religious code, even if such new arrangements are not found in the scriptural dictums of the previous sages." (see here)

Jalakara dasa acknowledged this essential statement of Bhaktivinode as well as recognized the obvious relativity of the women and sannyasa issue when he wrote: "Therefore, when a nitya siddha maha bhagavat uttama adhikari devotee manifests and makes an adjustment in siddhanta, that is acknowledged as acceptable and even required from time to time. When such a recognized nitya siddha maha bhagavat uttama adhikari devotee further enriches the sannyasa ashram by extending it to include those who have taken birth in female bodies, we will happily accept it."

In other words few diligent students of Gaudiya history and philosophy would argue that rules such as those prohibiting women from taking some type of sannyasa are absolute or apply to everyone in all times and circumstances. Indeed Bhaktivinode admits the same in this quote from Shri Chaitanya-shikshamrita 2/4:

"There are no ashramas acceptable by women other then the grihastha ashrama or in specific cases as per time, place and circumstance the vanaprastha ashrama. Of course there can be some exceptionally rare cases when an extraordinary and greatly advanced woman in bhakti can accept the brahmacharya and sannyasa ashramas and make a success of her spiritual life."

On this point it appears that Jalakara dasa and I are in some type of qualified general agreement so now I would like to address the point he made about recognition of a nitya siddha maha bhagavat uttama adhikari, a matter that is easier said than done for historically in Gaudiya Vaisnavism there has been little consensus on this issue.

If we take into consideration all of Gaudiya Vaisnavism including groups outside the Bhaktivinode parivara we will find that the only devotees universally accepted as nitya siddhas are the parishads or direct associates of Mahaprabhu such as Svarupa Damodhar and the Goswamis. Most Gaudiya Vaisnavas consider Bhaktivinode a great saint but only after he wrote his books, made various adjustments to the tradition, and established the yoga pitha was he popularly recognized as such. Bhaktivinode wrote Sri Krishna Samhita before he was initiated and in his autobiographical writing (Svalikhita-jivani) said he was criticized by the orthodoxy for writing the book before he was initiated. Thus it appears that Bhaktivinode began to reveal his revolutionary concepts of Krishna consciousness without the approval of a committee of Vaisnava judges as to whether or not he was an uttama-nitya siddha.

Neither did all the devotees of his time accept Srila Bhaktisiddhanta as an uttama-nitya siddha. Changes he made for preaching purposes were hotly contested by the orthodoxy but eventually he gathered a following and much of the populace embraced his changes. Those changes were accepted because they made sense as well as because a large number of Gaudiya Vaisnavas experienced Bhaktisiddhanta as a living saint. This was true regardless of whether or not he was officially recognized or proclaimed nitya siddha by a committee of followers.

When our Srila Prabhupada began his mission he also made various adjustments for preaching such as establishing the bramacharini ashrama or allowing women to perform seva puja for the deity. At the time what devotee council proclaimed him uttama-nitya siddha and eligible to make these changes and were the changes he made universally accepted in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, or even universally accepted among the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta? The answer of course, is no council proclaimed him nitya siddha before he dared to make adjustments to the tradition and the adjustments he did make are still not universally accepted in Gaudiya Vaisnavism or even in Gaudiya Math. Yet although not everyone in Gaudiya Math accepts our Srila Prabhupada as a nitya siddha, the majorities affiliated with the various Gaudiya Maths do accept him as a great saint and acknowledge the wisdom of the adjustments he made for preaching purposes. It should also be noted that besides ISKCON a number of other Gaudiya Vaisnava and Gaudiya Math groups have proclaimed their departed individual founder/acharyas to be nitya siddha maha bhagavat uttama adhikari devotees, indeed the occurrence of such proclamations seems to have steadily risen over the years.

As for precedent, none of the above-mentioned acharyas submitted to a vote of confidence as to whether or not they were nitya siddha maha bhagavat uttama adhikari before they did what needed to be done and it is unlikely that any highly qualified acharya would actually do so. The vast majority of devotees in any group are kanista adhikaris and kanista adhikaris are not qualified to rubber stamp which saint or saints among saints, are uttama-nitya siddha. After all vox populi is not necessarily vox dios.

As to whether or not it is a forgone conclusion that only a nitya siddha can make adjustments within the tradition I have searched but could find nothing from Srila Prabhupada to substantiate that claim. If someone can produce evidence to that effect I will be happy to consider it. On the other hand I have found numerous citations from Prabhupada stating that nitya siddha and sadhana siddha come to the same stage. Here is one of them.

"Maharaja Pariksit was naturally inclined to Lord Krsna from his very childhood. He might have imitated either of the above-mentioned activities, and all of them establish his great devotion from his very childhood, a symptom of a maha-bhagavata. Such maha-bhagavatas are called nitya-siddhas, or souls liberated from birth. But there are also others, who may not be liberated from birth but who develop a tendency for devotional service by association, and they are called sadhana-siddhas. There is no difference between the two in the ultimate issue, and so the conclusion is that everyone can become a sadhana-siddha, a devotee of the Lord, simply by association with the pure devotees. The concrete example is our great spiritual master Sri Narada Muni. In his previous life he was simply a boy of a maidservant, but through association with great devotees he became a devotee of the Lord of his own standard, unique in the history of devotional service." (SB 2:3: 15)

In this citation Prabhupada writes that Sri Narada Muni is a sadhana siddha and that there is no difference between nitya siddha and sadhana siddha in the ultimate issue. Therefore even though it is not specifically stated I suspect that Sri Narada Muni, a sadhana siddha, would be qualified to make relevant adjustments to the Gaudiya tradition according to time, place, and circumstances.

Best wishes to all the disciples and grand disciples of Srila Prabhupada.

Brahma das