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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Prema Vilāsa


While we were in Switzerland my friend Tarungovinda presented me with a copy of Bhūmipati's translation of Nityānanda Dās' 'Prema Vilāsa', which I read during my stay in the alpine āshram. The book itself is controversial enough; it narrates how Kṛṣṇadās Kavirāja died in front of Raghunātha dās Gosvāmī after he heard that his Caitanya Caritāmṛta was stolen by King Bīrhambīr, whereas he actually outlived Dās Gosvāmi for about 30 years.

There is a narration in there how Raghunātha dās Gosvāmī gave his Govardhana śilā and Gunjā mālā to Yadunandanācārya, who rendered service to them, and to Raghunātha Dās himself as well, at Rādhākund, whereas Yadunandanācārya was rather the guru of Raghunātha dās Gosvāmī, and never lived at Rādhākund, nor ever worshipped the Govardhan śilā and Gunjā mālā. Apart from that, the Prema Vilāsa is consistently anti-brāhmana, which is even aggravated by Bhūmipati dās, who was also not exactly brought up in brāhmana-friendly circles. He says that Haridās Thākur gave dīkṣā to a brāhmana named Rāma Dāsa, while the text (already biased against brāhmanas, so who knows if this story is as 'true' as the above-mentioned ones), says: tār śiṣya hoiyā viprer hoilo suddha-mati "The brāhmana's mind was purified by being Haridās' śiṣya." The word śiṣya means both 'pupil' and 'disciple', so we presume it is pupil, since Haridās Thākur is known for having no disciples at all, let alone brāhmanas.

On rāga mārga Bhūmipati writes on page 179: "Before practising rāga bhakti one must make sufficient spiritual advancement. That path is not for everyone. As long as one works under the jurisdiction of the Vedic rules and regulations one cannot serve Kṛṣṇa with spontaneity. Still, one should practise regulative devotion until his heart is firmly attached to Kṛṣṇa  Only then can he practise rāga safely." Though the original text does give a caution against whimsical speculations, the above text is nowhere in sight and originates from Bhūmipati's upbringing too.

Furthermore Prema Vilāsa mentions that Vīracandra's boat was torpedoed by Abhirāma Thākur's flute when he crossed the Gangā to take dīkṣā from Advaita Prabhu, while the Advaita Prakāśa says that he was sent back by Advaita Prabhu himself.

Having said all this, Prema Vilāsa should not be dismissed as a baby with the bathing-water either - it does provide many details about the lives of Narottama, Śyāmānanda and Śrīnivāsācārya. Also on a positive note, the book repeatedly mentions the kāma gāyatrī as a dīkṣā-mantra and mentions (chapter 24, page 276) that those in the Advaita Parivāra (Mādhavācārya or Mādhavī sakhī) serve in the yūtha of Visākhā sakhī.

Advise: read with caution, then enjoy.

5 comments:

  1. The Prema-vilas does seem to be a troublesome text. I believe that Steven Rosen (in his book 'Lives of the Vaishnava Saints') also noted that it contradicts other well-known sources on certain details. It is a mystery why this happened.

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  2. Radhe Radhe

    I am not well read in the historical aspects of the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. I am more interested in the philosophical or theological side of the science, which maybe bad, I do not know. But my question is: how does a devotee get to write those historical narratives. I mean where does the author reference, base, support, cross reference such historical narratives?

    In the Christian world, because they have the money, historical writings are based among other things from archeological finds, artifacts, and ancient texts . I was recently reading in the National Geographic magazine about the Judas Gospel, the latest discovery (1974) which was restored and translated from 2001-2006 using computer technology that was said to shed light on the Gnostics and radically reinterpret Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

    Sorry for the points I raise here. But maybe Rosen or Jagadananda or even you Adavaita das can educate me re this topic. I suppose there are departments of Indology or Eastern Religion in some institutions that study these things.But of course, they do not have the devotional spirit. But if you have 2 books on a certain topic like what the Prema Vilas has touched, who should be the arbiter of its authoritativeness or at least being of sound foundation?

    Or should I just keep to the fundamentals of the theology and the siddhanta and just breeze through the history. Sorry, to show that my mind is so crazy. But be happy, be very happy that I will be in the Vraja area on 21 Oct – 31 Oct because I will finally seek mercy and hopefully become serious in my spiritual life. I also hope to meet in person devotees that speak via the internet. My principle is : so long as we do not speak ill of each others’ Gurus then we should all be friends.

    Anyone has ideas on the points I raise? Thanks

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  3. Myrla: "I mean where does the author reference, base, support, cross reference such historical narratives?"

    Often they are eye-witnesses, intimately related with the narrative's hero(es).

    "But if you have 2 books on a certain topic like what the Prema Vilas has touched, who should be the arbiter of its authoritativeness or at least being of sound foundation?"

    Some things are historically impossible like Krishnadās Kavirāja dying in front of Raghunāth dās gosvāmī, or are theologically impossible, like Yadunandanācārya being the menial servant of his own disciple Raghunāth dās gosvāmī. Common sense, historical and theological facts can help us out for the most part. Another important thing to remember is that these books used to be hand-copied and in this way errors may have crept in, or deliberate changes. The latter are known as praksipta kathā or interpolations. most of them can easily be detected for the abovementioned reasons.

    "I also hope to meet in person devotees that speak via the internet."

    By Rādhārānī's grace alone we may meet.

    "So long as we do not speak ill of each others’ Gurus then we should all be friends"

    Right on.

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  4. Advaitadasji: "historical and theological facts can help us out for the most part."

    But was not the question how to determine those facts?

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  5. The version of the Gosvamis is to be accepted as irrefutable.

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