Devotee: A book called Advaita Prakāśa was recently translated from Bengali into English. I was very inspired by it and it seemed to be bona-fide, but I recently heard that it is an unauthorised literature. Can you explain?
Answer: Advaita Prakāśa is a hagiography of Śrī Advaita Ācārya Prabhu which was written around 1560 and it is claimed that its author was Śrī Īśāna Nāgara, the servant of Advaita Ācārya. However, considering the historical and philosophical inaccuracies in the book it cannot be considered bona-fide. The pervading mood throughout the book is that Advaita Ācārya holds a much higher ontological position than that of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu since it was He that invoked the Lord and later requested the Lord to leave. In other words, in Advaita Prakāśa Mahāprabhu is treated simply as a functionary Deity, to be summoned and dismissed at will. It is also implied in Advaita Prakāśa that the main branch of the Caitanya-tree is the seminal line of Advaita Ācārya, the Advaita-vaṁśa.
There are many defects in the book Advaita Prakāśa. For example, in chapter twelve it is stated that the son of Advaita Prabhu, Śrī Acyutānanda, attended the tol (Sanskrit school) of Nimāi Paṇḍita. However, this statement is not in accordance with the authorised biographies of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, namely the Caitanya-bhāgavata by Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Thākura or the Caitanya-caritāmṛta by Śrīla Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī. This subject is elaborated upon by His Divine Grace Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda in his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Ādi-lila, 12.17 as follows:
“Advaita Prabhu married in the beginning of the fifteenth century Śakābda (late fifteenth century A.D.). When Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu wanted to visit the village of Ramakeli while going from Jagannātha Purī to Vṛndāvana during the Śakābda years 1433 and 1434 (A.D. 1511 and 1512), Acyutānanda was only five years old. The Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya-khaṇḍa, Fourth Chapter, describes Acyutānanda at that time as pañca-varśa vayasa madhura digambara, “only five years old and standing naked.” Therefore it is to be concluded that Acyutānanda was born sometime in the year 1428 (A.D. 1506). Before the birth of Acyutānanda, Advaita Prabhu’s wife, Sītā Devī, came to see Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu at His birth. Thus it is not impossible that she had the other three sons by Advaita within the twenty-one years between 1407 and 1428 Śakābda (A.D. 1486 and 1507). In an unauthorised book of the name Sītādvaita-carita, published in Bengali in the unauthorised newspaper Nityānanda-dayinī in 1792 Śakābda (A.D. 1870), it is mentioned that Acyutānanda was a class friend of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. According to Caitanya-bhāgavata, this statement is not at all valid. When Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted the renounced order of sannyāsa in the year 1431 Śakābda (A.D. 1509), He came to the house of Advaita Prabhu at Śāntipura. At that time, as stated in the Caitanya-bhāgavata, Antya-khaṇḍa, Chapter One, Acyutānanda was only three years old. The Caitanya-bhāgavata further states that the naked child, the son of Advaita Prabhu, immediately came and fell down at the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.”
So, if indeed Śrī Īśāna Nāgara was the actual author of Advaita Prakāśa, it is most illogical that as Advaita’s family servant that the age of his master’s son would not be known to him or that he would make such a mistake as to think that Acyutānanda could have been Mahāprabhu’s student when in fact Acyutānanda had not yet been born.
Another glaring defect in Advaita Prakāśa is found in chapter seventeen when Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu meets Prabodhānanda Sarasvati. According to Advaita Prakāśa, Prabodhānanda was a māyāvādī sannyāsī living in Kāśī. This is a common opinion expressed by many misinformed scholars and by the sahajiyā section who confuse Śrīla Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī, a Vaiṣṇava tridaṇḍi-sannyāsī, with Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, an ekadaṇḍi–sannyāsī of the Śaṅkara school of Vedānta. In his commentary to the Caitanya-bhāgavata, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Thākura dismisses this opinion as follows:
prakāśānanda nāmaka eka jana kaivalyādvaitavādī adhyāpaka-yati vedera vyākhya-kāle āmāra aprākṛta nitya aṅga-samuha-ke vi khaṇḍita kare. Ei prakāśānanda-ke keha keha anabhijñāta-vase kāverī-pravāsī vyenkaṭa bhaṭṭara anuja prabodhānandera sahita samajñāna kare. Bhaktamāla nāmaka sahajiyā-granthābhyastare ei prakāra bhrama-dośa praveśa karāya, adhunatana lekhaka-gaṇera madhye u sei bhrama-doṣa nuyanyādhika praveśa kariyachhe.
“Prakāśānanda was the name of a scholastic sannyāsī of the Kevalādvaita school of philosophy and through his explanations on the Vedas, he would cut the Lord’s transcendental body into pieces. Some ignorant people consider that this Prakāśānanda is the same person as Vyenkaṭa Bhaṭṭa’s younger brother, Prabodhānanda, who lived on the banks of the River Kāverī. This mistaken belief is found in the sahajiyā book Bhakta-māla, and even in the works of many modern day scholars.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, purport to Madhya-khaṇḍa, 3.37).
That Śrīla Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī was a tridaṇḍi-sannyāsī originally in the line of the sampradāya of Ācārya Rāmānuja is a topic that may warrant a separate article. However, it is sufficient to say here that those in the line of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura do not entertain the idea that Prabodhānanda was formerly the māyāvādī sannyāsī known as Prakāśānanda, as stated in Advaita Prakāśa.
Furthermore, in chapter ten of Advaita Prakāśa, we find an incident wherein baby Nimāi refuses Śacī Devī’s breast milk because she has not taken dīkṣā from Śrī Advaita Ācārya. In order to please her child she then takes initiation from Advaita. However, nowhere in the bona-fide biographies of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu do we find any mention of Śacī Mātā taking initiation from Advaita Prabhu. This is merely a fabrication created by the seminal gosvāmīs of the Advaita-vaṁśa to show the importance of Advaita Ācārya over that of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
In chapter twelve, Advaita instructs his son not to chant ‘oṁ gaurāya namaḥ’ in worshipping the Deity of Gaurasundara, but rather to chant ‘oṁ kṛṣṇaya namaḥ’. Similarly, in chapter twenty, Gaurī Dāsa Paṇḍita and Acyutānanda approach Śrī Advaita Prabhu and request him to tell them which mantra to use in the worship of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Advaita Ācārya replies, “I don’t know whether you know, but Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself has descended in Nadīyā. He has covered His body with the bodily complexion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, just as a person appears different by wearing different dresses. Therefore Mahāprabhu is worshiped by meditating on the ten-syllable gopāla–mantra. Worship Radha as the covering of Kṛṣṇa, and then your worship will undoubtedly be successful. By worshiping Nityānanda through the nārāyaṇa–mantra, your worship will be successful and you will be happy.”
However, what is inferred to in these passages is that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu can only be worshipped with the ten-syllable kṛṣṇa–mantra (gopī-jana-vallabhāya svāhā). Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has explained the following:
“Some people consider that worshipping and offering foodstuffs to Gaura is performed by chanting gopāla–mantra, and by chanting this mantra He accepts the offering. Up to the time when Deity worship of Śrī Gaurasundara was introduced in the world, He was worshipped through kṛṣṇa–mantras; but after the covered form of Kṛṣṇa, the origin of all incarnations, mercifully manifested His own form, Deity, and Name to His most confidential devotees, the Lord’s devotees began to worship the Deity of Śrī Gaura by revealing the eternal Names and mantras related with Lord Gaura. Those who are bereft of receiving the mercy of the covered incarnation simply make a show of worshipping the Deity form of Śrī Gaurasundara with kṛṣṇa-mantras, but Śrī Gaura is not worshipped in this way. Such people are cheated out of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, because they do not realise that Gaura’s pastimes are eternal.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, purport to Ādi-khaṇḍa 5, 126)
Advaita Prakāśa also advises that one should worship Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī separately as the ‘covering’ of Kṛṣṇa, and that Lord Nityānanda should be worshipped by the nārāyaṇa–mantra (oṁ namo nārāyaṇāya). However, this system of worship has not been mentioned in any of the bona-fide arcana-paddhatis of the Gauḍīya sampradāya.
Also, in chapter twenty of Advaita Prakāśa there is a reference encouraging the worship of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the bhāva (mood) of a nāgarī (enjoyer). Such worship is known as Gaura-nāgarī-bhāva. However, this conception of Gaura-nāgarī-bhāva has been rejected by Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura in Caitanya-bhāgavata as follows:
ei mata cāpalya karen sabāra sane
sabe strī mātra nā dekhen dṛṣṭi koṇe
strī hena nāma prabhu ei avatāre
śravaṇa-o nā karilā vidita saṁsāre
ataeva yata mahā mahimā sakale
gaurāṅga nāgara hena stava nāhi bale
“The Lord was apt to indulge in indiscriminate, merciful behaviour towards all, except that he never looked at a woman, even by a sidelong glance. It is known to all the world that He did not even allow the name of a woman to enter His ear. Those who are His real devotees, therefore, never address Śrī Gauranga as ‘Gaurāṅga-nāgarī’ or the enjoyer of women. Although all forms of praise are applicable to the Lord, the wise only sing that which is in accordance with His nature.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata 15.28-31)
In chapter fourteen of Advaita Prakāśa Lord Nityānanda is referred to as ‘The crest-jewel of sannyāsīs’. However, this too has been rejected by our ācāryas. The revered Guardian of Devotion, Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja has commented on this topic thus:
“Nityānanda was not a sannyāsī, but he was a brahmacārī. But He performed Vyāsa-pūjā in Śrīvāsāṅgana. There some say that He was a sannyāsī but there He had no special garment either for sannyāsī or brahmacārī. He was very independent spirit.” (Conversation 81.09.23)
“That Nityānanda was a sannyāsī it is not a proved fact. The Nityānanda, this is Ānanda, this indicates the affix added to brahmacārī. Ānanda, Svarūpa, Prakāśa, all these types of brahmacārī. Ānanda, a name also in the sannyāsī we find, but no other title. Ānanda is a part of the name but title, no title of Nityānanda. And also no mention who was the sannyāsa-guru of Nityānanda. But dīkṣā-guru of Nityānanda is Madhavendra Purī, it is known. Avadhūta does not mean who is sannyāsī. Avadhūta means who is not very particular of his external practices and sometimes commits something wrong which should not be committed, should not be practiced. When lower practices are seen in connection with the high-levelled person then they are considered as avadhūta. He is above that but his practices are of lower nature. Ava means lower; dhūta – that also he can either remove or he can purify.” (Conversation 82.02.06)
There are many philosophical defects (apa-siddhānta) in Advaita Prakāśa which render the book useless for those desiring to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura in his introduction of Śrī Caitanya–caritāmṛta by has written as follows:
anyanya katipaya adhunika vā paravartikāle likhita granthagulike (yathā, jayānandera caitanya-maṅgala, govinda dāsera kadaca, vaṁśī-śikṣā, advaita-prakāśa, nityānanda-vaṁśa-vistāra). Pracina’ baliyā nirdeza karate āmādera pravṛtti haya nā, viṣeṣataḥ, tāhādera tattva vā siddhānta-viparyāya, abhisandhi-mūle saṅkīranata pratipādana karibāra prayāsa u śikṣāra abhāra prabhṛti lakṣya kariyā, śrī caitanya-caritāmṛtera ‘ākara-grantha’ baliyā ei apa-granthagulike kehi svikāra karen nā
“There are several other new books or books that were written a little later (such as Jayānanda’s Caitanya-maṅgala, Govinda Dāsa’s kadaca, Vaṁśī-śikṣā, Advaita Prakāśa, and Nityānanda-vaṁśa-vistāra). Although it is said that these books are old, we have no interest in them. They are distinct in the way that they are incorrect in their philosophical truths and conclusions. Their narrow-minded, evil intentions are obvious and highly noticeable due to the absence of any effort and proper teachings in them. The Caitanya-caritamrta is said to be the original book and these apa-granthas (bogus books) are not recognised.”
Nowadays, some devotees are known to use little or no discretion in reading or in publishing various books without fully being aware of their origins or contents. It is not a good sign when devotees are translating and publishing literatures whose contents clearly contradict the bona-fide Gauḍīya siddhānta and which have been rejected by our previous ācāryas.
Some persons, in the name of presenting the Vaiṣṇava community with new and ‘nectarian’ literatures, are unwittingly administering apa-siddhānta (poison). By digesting such poison, the innocent devotee becomes prone to accepting more and more apa–siddhānta as the real conclusions of the previous ācāryas. Such acceptance of apa-siddhānta cripples the spiritual advancement of an aspiring devotee.
The Supreme Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has warned:
bahu-śāstre bahu vākye cite bhrama haya
sādhya sādhana śreṣṭha nā haya niścaya
“If one reads too many books and accepts the opinions of too many people, doubt will arise in the heart. One will not be able to ascertain what the supreme goal of life is.” (Cc. Ādi. 16.11)
Out of their great compassion, our spiritual guardians have written and recommended many scriptures for us to study, yet regrettably we quickly become tired of reading them and desire to read something new – something that we have not heard of before. This is typical of our modern consumer mentality. Our parama-guru, Śrīla Prabhupāda, did not approve of this mentality:
“I may say that this practical devotional service is the secret to understanding the śāstras. My Guru Mahārāja used to say that for one who is not engaged in devotional service, reading all the books is simply like licking the outside of the honey jar. One who thinks that the books are the thing, is content in this way. But we should learn the secret to open the jar and taste the honey. In this way, if we simply understand one book, or one śloka, the perfection is there. Lord Caitanya warned about reading too many books, although I see in America this is very popular to get volumes and volumes of books and not understand one. Anyway, by sincerely working by carefully executing the instruction of the spiritual master, you will be all successful by Kṛṣṇa’s Grace.” (Letter to Pradyumna Dāsa 17 Feb.1968)
The unauthorised tendency to read many books does not only pertain to reading so-called devotional literature. Such books also include books on the lives of famous sahajiyā and māyāvādī gurus, Christian mysticism, Tantra, UFOs, mundane novels, Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques and the prophecies of Nostradamus to name but a few. Such mundane books are known as asat-śāstreṣu and fall under the category of prajalpa since they are full of topics unrelated to pure devotional service. Such books are useless for our advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The great Vaiṣṇava saint Śrī Madhvācārya has advised that one who is serious about attaining the lotus feet of Lord Hari should become callous towards such worthless books (na codasinaḥ śāstrāni).
To read many books, for whatever the reason, can be the cause of ruination for a sādhaka if it is done without the guidance of a senior Vaiṣṇava. Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja has commented that even the reading of the Bhāgavatam without the permission of a senior devotee cannot be considered as pure devotional service. We may attain some knowledge by such study, but we will not attain bhakti. Reading on our own initiative is only knowledge-seeking which does not promote pure devotion, śuddha-bhakti.
The bewildered mind may dictate to us that by reading many books (such as Advaita Prakāśa) that we will obtain a greater understanding of the Supreme Lord or that we will obtain a greater knowledge of the scriptures, but this is doubtful. Unfortunately, by studying unauthorised books or even by hearing too many opinions one runs the risk of spoiling his advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. One should therefore not read, translate, or publish those books that are not recommended by Śrī Guru and the previous ācāryas.