It is not correct to claim, as a recent Chakra article did, that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami initiated only 18 sannyasis, nor that he only initiated those born in brahmana families into the order of sannyasa.
Those who misunderstand the position of nitya-siddha devotees portray the maha-bhagavata as adopting material caste-consciousness to appease society.
The material elder surviving son of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Mathura Mohan De, claimed in Bombay High Court that his father, born in a vaisya family, was ineligible for sannyasa, so it followed ISKCON was a family business and the family was entitled to its assets. That idea was defeated in court on the basis of shastra and precedent. The main witness on behalf of ISKCON was Sri Bhaktivedanya Narayan Maharaja, who testified for a number of days and conclusively established the principle to the satisfaction of the court.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur initiated sannyasa candidates from any caste without restriction, and never attempted to appease anybody, let alone caste brahmanas. He was an empowered, eternally liberated personality who swept aside prevailing caste taboos and removed unauthorized restrictions (such as the Nityananda vamsa) that were preventing all persons from practicing vaishnava dharma, or pure bhakti.
He was so concerned to recruit non-brahmanas that he maintained two preaching missions in Europe by sending scarce money from India. He also wrote lectures and posted them to London by costly airmail. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati literally invented Gaudiya vaishnava sannyasa. Had he wanted that order of life restricted to caste brahmanas, he would have said so; instead, he restricted it to men, but caste at birth was never a consideration. He also established a mission to Rangoon, Burma.
His first sannyasa disciple, Bhakti Pradip Tirtha Maharaja--the noted disciple of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, son of Radha Govinda Babaji and brother of Ananta Vasudeva -- was not from a brahmana family. Another sannyasa disciple, Bhakti Keval Audulaumi Maharaja, is neither among the listed 18, nor was he from a brahmana family. That he is not on the list of 18 sannyasa disciples leads one to believe that the list has been truncated.
Another sannyasa disciple from a non-brahmana family was Srila Bhakti Vivek Bharati Maharaja. All of this information has been confirmed in writing by Srila B.B. Bhodayan Maharaja, the disciple of Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja and acharya of Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math in Mayapura.
The respected author of the Chakra article states, "Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja confirmed that all of the eighteen sannyasa disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had been born into Brahmana families and this is common knowledge among senior members of the various Gaudiya missions."
Two senior Gaudiya Math personalities, however, disagreed with this contention. One stated, "That is simply bogus. We know more about Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati than he does." Another said "The claim can be refuted by consulting the biographies of Saraswati Thakur's sannyasa disciples."
Brahma das further states, "I believe that ultimately qualified disciples are permitted to adjust the details of presentation in order to deliver the principle."
Well, there are details of presentation, and there are also established religious functions and procedures. Presentation means, "I think I will dress in this way and speak in this way, in order to maximize the effectiveness of my preaching without compromising the message as it has been handed down to me.” These things are understood to be within the realm of adjustment by competent and experienced preachers."
But changes in siddhanta, established religious functions, procedure, custom and etiquette are only within the realm of empowered maha-bhagavat acaryas.
Therefore, if 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.
For such a devotee to make adjustment in siddhanta is acceptable and required from time to time. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada all made slight enhancements to enrich or amplify the vaishnava siddhanta for the benefit of all living entities entrapped in the swirl of maya.
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. Until then, who among us is the empowered personality qualified to do this?
Artificially making woman sannyasis will not have any effect on their bhakti. Rules of varna and ashram are designed to minimize misidentification with the body. If A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the pre-eminent Gaudiya acarya, with unmatched experience in the West, did not see fit to alter the rules of sannyasa, as he was certainly entitled to do as an eternally liberated acarya, then we should not second-guess him; to pick and choose which of his teachings we accept will not be helpful to bhakti.
Adherence to the instructions of the parampara protects us and embellishes our devotion, while over-liberalization and unnecessary pandering to contemporary sentiment is dangerous, as is too much reliance on faulty material intelligence.
We should be very cautious, about introducing anything new or thinking ourselves qualified to deviate from the path of the guru varga by even one millimeter, thinking such deviation represents advance to the swanlike stage.
Pure bhakti is a river of nectar, which flows from the guru parampara to us and through us regardless of whether we are man or woman, sannyasi or householder, little girl or boy. No external dress or qualification is required; no bodily designation is obligatory. Indeed, over-emphasis on the bodily condition is counter-productive.
In the past many, many persons were liberated by compassion alone, but our compassion should be tempered by reference to the previous acaryas; we dismiss their views as outdated and discredited notions from another era at out peril. But if we cling to their example, their mercy can flow to us and through us. Were we to create a new line in a misguided attempt to benefit the female gender it would have no more effect than the impotent ritvik deviation has.
With humility and respect, I submit that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta
Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaja did initiate disciples into the
sannyasa ashram irrespective of whether they were born into the brahmana
caste, and that he initiated more than 18 sannyasi disciples. I mean no
offence to the learned author, as written discussion of tattva is a
traditional and honored way to assist each other towards devotional