Noting the Passing of Time by Celebrating Spiritually Commemorative Days
For the last few days and up till Saturday, we are blessed to have consecutive festival days in which to remember various incarnations of the Lord, and great devotees. Wednesday was Ekadashi (referred to as the day of Hari, or God), yesterday the appearance of Lord Vamana (the dwarf incarnation) and Shri Jiva Goswami (a principle disciple of Lord Chaitanya and one of the greatest philosophers of India). Today is the appearance day of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and tomorrow the disappearance of the nam-acharya (great teacher of the holy name) Shrila Haridas Thakur. There are many such days throughout the year, and they are meant to remind us of God, and his most devoted souls who live to share their realizations of life and God with us forgetful souls. By taking up Krishna consciousness or the path of pure devotion (suddha bhakti) we can live our life, work at our profession, and take care of our families while also making spiritual progress by cultivating knowledge of, and feelings for Krishna, and remembering Him through every moment of the day. Such special days help us to do this.
I will very briefly speak on a few of these holy days to give you a general sense of them and hopefully provide a starting point for your learning, or a brief reminder of what you may have heard before. First, we observed Ekadashi, or a special observance of the eleventh day after the new moon, and the eleventh day after the full moon. As I mentioned, this day is also called the day of Hari, or Krishna, and is considered the mother of devotion for devotees who observe it. Although there are complicated rules for fasting on this day, generally we at least fast from grains and beans, and increase our devotional service to Krishna, or more hearing and chanting of the holy name of the Lord, His spiritual activities (lila), and the philosophy which supports our spiritual practices. Looked at another way, this is an auspicious period when we can more easily please the Lord by increasing our focus on Him. Ekadashi is another example of how Krishna gives us special ways to make rapid spiritual advancement. He goes out of his way to help us, and is pleased by our attempts to increase our devotion. The month of Kartik is another time when we can make great advancement for only a little effort. In fact, any holy day can help our increase our spiritual consciousness, and our dependence of the Lord.
The next day was the appearance of Lord Vamana, who manifested to favor the devas or demigods (empowered servants of the Lord entrusted with universal management), and to bless Bali Maharaja, who although a covered great devotee, was ruling over the demons and had conquered heaven. Bali Maharaja was born into an asura or demoniac family, and was the grandson of the great devotee Mahajan Prahlad Maharaja. King Bali is celebrated because he refused the advice of his materialistic guru to not accept the request of Vamana (Lord Vishnu in disguise) for the charity of three steps of land. He thus rejected his guru for the service of the Lord. For this reason he is also accepted as a Mahajana, or authority in devotional service. Additionally, Bali surrendered everything to the Lord without hesitation and so he is considered an example of one who attained perfection by taking full shelter of Vishnu—one of the nine principle types of devotional service (hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, worshiping the Deity in the temple, praying, carrying out orders, serving Krishna as a friend and sacrificing everything for Him.). It is a very sweet pastime as Bali’s attitude is so exemplary for us. He teaches us how to react to adversity, seeing it as a blessing, and also to accept the Lord’s arrangement as mercy while surrendering to him. Lord Vamana was so kind that after taking away Bali's kingdom to test him, he gave Maharaja Bali a planet to rule and acted as his doorman!
Shrila Jiva Goswami (1511-1596) took birth in a family of pure devotees. His father was Shri Vallabha (Anupama), whose brothers were the great Shrila Rupa, and Sanatana Goswamis. When he was only an infant, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu placed His lotus feet upon the child's head, foretelling that the boy would grow up to be a superlative devotional example and teacher in the Gaudiya sampradaya. In his studies the Jiva excelled in all subjects, especially Sanskrit grammar, rhetoric and poetry.
After his two uncles had renounced the world, and his father had passed away, Shri Jiva journeyed to Navadvipa, in order to get the mercy of Lord Nityananda. When he arrived in Navadvipa Lord Nityanananda introduced Jiva to all the associates of Lord Chaitanya. On the order of Nityananda, Shri Jiva went on to Varanasi to study Vedanta from Madhusudana Vachaspati, a disciple of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, the great devotee of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Jiva mastered all the major philosophical systems of the day, and then left for Vrindavana to join his uncles Shri Rupa and Shri Sanatana Goswamis.
Shri Jiva took spiritual initiation (diksha) from Shrila Rupa Goswami and remained under his shelter and guidance until Rupa Goswami entered into samadhi (went back to Krishna) in 1564. After this, Shrila Jiva Goswami was proclaimed as the leader of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. He ensured the future of the Gaudiya Vaishnavism by teaching its philosophy to eminent devotees such as Shrila Narottama Dasa Thakura, Shrila Syamananda Pandita and Shrila Srinivasa Acharya who all preached widely. By his vast erudition, he attracted scholars throughout India to study in Vraja. Thus, Vrindavana became the headquarters of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya (disciplic succession).
Some of the books that he has written are the Sat-sandarbhas, Harinamarta-vyakharana, Sri Madhava-mahotsava, Brahma-samhita Tika, Goplala-campu, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu Tika, Ujjvala-nilamani Tika, Laghu-vaisnava Tosani, Srimad Bhagavata Tika, Sarva-samvadina Tika, Gopala-tapani Tika, Gayatri-vyakhya Vivrtti, Padma Puranastha-yogasara-stotra Tika, and many more.
I have run out of my allotted words, but I have written elsewhere about the glories of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, the great pioneer of Krishna consciousness in the modern world, and about Shrila Haridas Thakur, our great teacher of the holy name who was so dear to Shri Chaitanya.
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda, who is transcendental energy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He is a strict follower of the Gosvamis, headed by Srila Rupa."
After Haridas Thakur passed from the world, Shri Chaitanya said: "Haridasa Thakura was the crown jewel on the head of this world; without him, this world is now bereft of its valuable jewel. Say ‘All glories to Haridasa Thakura!' and chant the holy name of Hari." Saying this, He personally began to dance. Everyone began to chant, 'All glories to Haridasa Thakura, who revealed the importance of chanting the holy name of the Lord!'"
[Chaitanya Charitamrita Antya-lila 11.97-99]