Question: Some scholars of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism claim that the associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī and the māyāvādī sannyāsī Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī are one and the same person. Can you comment on this?
Answer: Actually, such a conclusion about Prabodhānanda is nothing new. This claim has been propagated for centuries and has been accepted amongst some sections of Gauḍīyas – in particular within the ranks of the prākṛta-sahajiyās. The sahajiyās have been supported in their claim by mundane scholars who have attempted to fortify their theory through a combination of elaborate word-jugglery, misapplied logic and inadequate historical research. However, from the historical and sastrika perspective it is clear that Prabodhānanda was never a māyāvādī sannyāsī. Rather, he was a tridaṇḍi–sannyāsī in the Śrī Vaiṣṇava sampradāya, who became a follower of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
The Life of Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī
In 1511 when Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was touring South India, He observed the caturmasya vow in Śrī Raṅgam and stayed at the home of the Bhaṭṭa family. The Bhaṭṭa family was headed by three brothers, Tirumala, Veṅkata and Prabodhānanda, who were all members of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava sampradāya. During the four months of Mahāprabhu’s stay in Śrī Raṅgam, Mahāprabhu and his teachings profoundly influenced all three brothers, and especially Prabodhānanda and his young nephew Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. After Mahāprabhu’s departure from Śrī Raṅgam, Prabodhānanda accepted the renounced order of life in the Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition and travelled to Vṛndāvana, spending the remainder of his life living in Kāmyavāna writing such works as Saṅgitā-mādhava, Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, Caitanya-candrāmṛta, Vṛndāvana-śatakam and Navadvīpa-śatakam. His nephew and disciple Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī later joined him.
The Origins of the Prabodhānanda/Prakāśānanda Misconception
The misconception that Śrīla Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī was previously a māyāvādī has its origins in a book called Rasika Ananya Mālā (circa.1650) written by one Bhāgavata Mudita. Although Mudita claimed to be a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava, he had stronger leanings towards the Rādhā-Vallabha cult of Hita Harivaṁśa. (1)
According to Bhāgavata Mudita, Prabodhānanda was originally a proud māyāvādī sannyāsī that came to Vṛndāvana and was converted to Vaiṣṇavism by Harivaṁśa’s disciple Paramānanda. Paramānanda introduced Prabodhānanda to Harivaṁśa and due to serving the feet of Harivaṁśa, Prabodhānanda attained perfection. Prabodhānanda then wrote his Śrī Vṛndāvana-śatakam though the inspiration of Harivaṁśa and later wrote a prayer in praise of Harivaṁśa called Śrī Hita Harivaṁśa-candrāṣṭakam. Such is the claim of Bhāgavata Mudita.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to various Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava works, it was actually Harivaṁśa who came to take shelter of Prabodhānanda after Harivaṁśa was rejected by his guru Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī (Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī repudiated Harivaṁśa when he refused to follow his orders and ate betal nut on the holy day of Ekadasi). It should be pointed out however that Harivaṁśa’s taking ‘shelter’ of Prabodhānanda can only refer to his appreciation of Prabodhānanda’s written works. It is highly unlikely that Prabodhānanda would have given any personal shelter to Harivaṁśa, knowing full well that his nephew, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī had rejected him for disobeying his instructions. (2)
Since no other biographical account of Śrīla Prabodhānanda tallies with Mudita’s farfetched claims, we can only conclude that the Rādhā-Vallabha sect, eager to have such a great rasika author as Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī within their line, reconstructed Prabodhānanda’s biography. If indeed Śrī Prabodhānanda was a follower of Harivaṁśa, then how is it that his samādhi, in the Kāliya-daha district of Vṛndāvana, is in the hands of the Gauḍīya sampradāya? There is no historically recorded dispute between the Gauḍīyas and the Rādhā-Vallabhīs over the samadhi, thus we must logically assume that Prabodhānanda was always a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava with firm allegiance to the lotus feet of Śrīman Mahāprabhu.
In 1718, about 60 years after Mudita’s claim, an obscure Oriyan author called Ānandin wrote his Rasika-vadini commentary on Prabodhānanda’s Caitanya-candramrta wherein he concluded that Prabodhānanda was previously the māyāvādī Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī. This idea steadily gained popularity amongst some sections of prākṛta–sahajiyas and scholars. Yet there are various reasons why Ānandin’s theory should be considered to be untenable.
Evidence from Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata
Firstly, we find in Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura’s Caitanya-bhāgavata the following conversation between Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Murāri Gupta:
kāśīte paḍāya beṭā prakāśa-ānanda
sei beṭā kare mora aṅga khaṇḍa khaṇḍa
vākhānaye veda mora vigraha nā māne
sarva aṅge haila kuṣṭha, tabu nāhi jāne
“There is one wretch in Kāśī called Prakāśānanda, who cuts My body into pieces while teaching the Vedas. He explains the Vedas but does not accept My form. His entire body is afflicted by leprosy, yet he does not come to his senses.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya-khaṇḍa, 3.37-38)
This conversation must have took place somewhere between 1504 and 1509 as Mahāprabhu was still performing His gṛhasta-līlā. What is clear from this discussion is that at that time, Prakāśānanda was the leader of the māyāvādīs of Kāśī. However, it is accepted by all that Mahāprabhu visited Śrī Raṅgam in the year 1511 and stayed at the home of Veṅkata Bhaṭṭa and his brothers Tirumala and Prabodhānanda who were of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava sampradāya.
dakṣinā bhramana-kāle prabhu gaura-rāya
bhaṭṭa-gṛhe cāri-māsa ānande goyāya
“During His travels in South India, Śrī Gaura Rāya happily spent four months at the house of the Bhaṭṭa family.” (Bhakti-ratnākara 1.85)
Later, in 1513, the Lord traveled to Kāśī and converted Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī and his disciples. Thus, the mundane scholars and sahajiyās would have us believe that Prabodhānanda was a māyāvādī in 1509, a Śrī Vaiṣṇava in 1511, and again a māyāvādī in 1513!
Furthermore, it is said that Prakāśānanda was an established ācārya with many thousands of disciples. How is it possible that Prabodhānanda left Śrī Raṅgam after Mahāprabhu’s visit, took eka-daṇḍa sannyāsa, travelled to Kasi and suddenly collected sixty-thousand disciples – all in the space of about two years?
Another important point is that according to the above verse from Caitanya-bhāgavata, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī had contacted leprosy due to his many offences. Yet there is no literary evidence to show that Prabodhānanda was ever afflicted with leprosy at any time in his life.
Evidence from Gaura Gaṇoddeśa Dīpikā
In his Gaura Gaṇoddeśa Dīpikā, Kavi Karṇapūra has written:
tuṅgavidyā vraje yāsīt sarva-śāstra viśāradā
sā prabodhānanda-yatir gaurodgāna sarasvatī
“The gopī Tuṅgavidyā, who is most learned in all the scriptures, has today become the sannyāsī Prabodhānanda whose words are all used in the glorification of Lord Gaurāṅga.” (Gaura Gaṇoddeśa Dīpikā 163)
In gaura-līlā we find various examples of Mahāprabhu converting impersonalists to Vaiṣṇavism. A prime example of this is Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya who is considered to be the incarnation of Brhaspati, the preceptor of the demigods. However, it cannot be accepted by any real Vaiṣṇava that Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s intimate associate and one of Her immediate personal expansions, Śrī Tuṅgavidyā Devī, would appear as Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī – an offender to the Vaiṣṇavas and to the transcendental body of the Lord.
Śrīla Kavirāja Gosvāmī’s Caitanya-caritāmṛta
In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta Śrīla Kavirāja Gosvāmī has narrated in great detail the conversions of impersonalists such as Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī. If such an important personage as Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī became Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī – the author of various transcendental literatures explaining the highest levels of bhakti–rasa – would not Kavirāja Gosvāmī have also written about this in order to show the greatness and munificence of Mahāprabhu? Why would he only narrate one half of the story when Prabodhānanda was a dry Vedāntin, but neglect to recount the glorious second half of the story after his conversion by Mahāprabhu, when he made a complete volte-face and became the author of some of the most profound rasika literatures of the Gauḍīya sampradāya?
Of course, the question may also be raised why Prabodhānanda was not specifically mentioned by Kavirāja Gosvāmī in Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Actually there were a number of great Vaiṣṇavas that were not mentioned by Kavirāja Gosvāmī. Out of their profound humility, such mahājanas requested Kavirāja Gosvāmī not to mention their names in his magnum-opus. Śrīla Narahari Cakravartī has written in his Bhakti-ratnākara (1.209-225):
“Some have described the pastimes of Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, while others have not. Those who cannot understand the reason for this busy themselves in useless speculation, the result of which is that the seed of aparadha sprouts in their hearts. Previously, great rasika poets who were very capable of describing such events did not do so in order that others would be able to describe them in the future. Although Ṭhākura Vṛndāvana Dāsa described the pastimes of Mahāprabhu he did not mention the Lord’s South Indian tour. Vṛndāvana Dāsa was the incarnation of Śrīla Vyāsadeva, by the desire of Veda Vyāsa, he did not describe that part of the Lord’s lila. Being empowered by Veda Vyāsa, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja took pleasure in elaborately describing that South Indian tour. But he also omitted certain parts so that later poets could elaborate on them just as a guru keeps remnants of food for his disciples to accept as prasādam. A layman cannot understand the writing of a great poet therefore people should give up their speculations on such writings and simply try to accept them as they are. Before attempting to write about Mahāprabhu and His associates Śrī Kavirāja made a serious effort to understand their characters in depth. Vaiṣṇava poets would always approach the devotees of Mahāprabhu in order to understand their desires. After taking their guidance and permission the poets would write. Having taken permission from many devotees, Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja wrote several books. Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa would not permit his name to be mentioned in any of the books, although he did authorize and encourage Śrī Kavirāja to write. As ignorant persons we will never know why Gopāla Bhaṭṭa forbade his name to be mentioned. Perhaps his humility did not allow it. Kaviraja could not reject his order and thus Gopāla’s name is mentioned rarely in Śrī Kavirāja’s books. I have heard from one old Vaiṣṇava that Lokanātha Gosvāmī gave the same order that his name not be used.” (3)
Evidence from Śrīla Prabodhānanda’s Caitanya-candrāmṛta
Some scholars have also formed conclusions about Prabodhānanda based upon the peculiar notion that a pure devotee and pārṣada of the Lord may retain some previous saṁskāras that can be traced in his writings in order to determine his background. Of course, it is possible and is often the case that a Vaiṣṇava describes his condition before being blessed by the Lord and he may cite his own history to illustrate the merciful dispensation of Mahāprabhu— but this is usually done quite explicitly. This would especially be expected to be so in the case of Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, who could have used the rich emotional and philosophical contents of his conversion to appeal to so many others influenced by māyāvāda.
The conclusion of this psycho-analysis of Caitanya-candrāmṛta has been reached by speculating that Prabodhānanda alluded to his māyāvāda past by using ambiguous statements and various revealing terms such as jñāna, mukti, kaivalyā, jyotir etc. What these scholars fail to recognize is that words such as these are not the monopoly of the māyāvādīs—all these words are used by Vaiṣṇava ācāryas both in their primary theistic sense as well as in the monistic Advaitic sense while debating with māyāvādīs. This novel approach to the subject hardly provides concrete evidence to prove Prabodhānanda’s previous impersonal tendencies.
If we follow this flawed logic and concede that the Caitanya-candrāmṛta is semi-autobiographical, then we must also conclude that Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī was previously an impersonalist since he refers to the word ‘mukti’ over 156 times in his Sandarbhas and the word ‘brahman’ appears over 470 times! If we apply the same technique to the works of all our previous ācāryas, then we could probably conclude that they were all previously māyāvādīs! Should we accept that any ācārya that profusely uses the philosophical terms kaivalyā, brahman, mukti, mokṣa, jyotir etc. was previously a follower of advaita–siddhānta?
There are a large number of verses in Caitanya-candrāmṛta where impersonalists are mentioned as recipients of Mahāprabhu’s mercy, but generally they are not mentioned alone – rather, they are included amongst other pseudo-transcendentalists such as karmīs, jñānīs or amongst demigod worshippers, sinners etc. In other words, according to many verses found in the Caitanya- candrāmṛta it could just as easily be proven that Prabodhānanda was previously a karmī, jñānī, pāpī (or all of the above). Although the scholars claim to be unbiased researchers, it seems that they are extremely selective in which words they choose to describe Prabodhānanda. By resorting to such a faulty method of analysis, the scholars betray the fact that their conclusions are actually biased and predetermined.
Evidence from the Descendants of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī
Some time back we took the opportunity to visit Śrī Raṅgam and interview Śrī Muralīdharaṇa Bhaṭṭa, the present-day descendent of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, to ask him about Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī. When we explained to him that some scholars claim that Prabodhānanda was previously a māyāvādī, he emphatically stated:
“No, this is impossible! No one in our family ever took eka-daṇḍa, because we are arcakas (temple priests). If this happened, the incident would be well known to everyone in Śrī Raṅgam. Our whole family would have become disgraced and we would lose the right to worship Lord Raṅganātha. Nowadays things have become very liberal, but in those days they were very conservative – very strict. Maintaining the purity of our line is very important to us arcakas, and if one of us gave up Rāmānuja’s teachings and became a follower of Śaṅkara, our line would have become polluted.” (Conversation with Muralīdharaṇa Bhaṭṭa, 20th July, 2004)
Prabodhānanda’s Connection with Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī
Some scholars (such as Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda) have concluded that Prabodhānanda was never a member of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava community. However, if we study the works of previous ācāryas we find that it is indisputable that Prabodhānanda was previously a Śrī Vaiṣṇava, since he was the uncle of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, the son of the head-priest of Raṅganātha in Śrī Raṅgam.
This relationship between Prabodhānanda and Gopāla Bhaṭṭa is collaborated in the eighth chapter of Sādhana-dīpikā by Śrīla Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī:
śrīmat-prabodhānandasya bhrātuśputraṁ kṛpālayam
śrīmad-gopāla-bhaṭṭaṁ taṁ naumi śrī-vraja-vāsinam
“I offer my humble respects unto Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī who was a resident of Vṛndāvana and the nephew of Prabodhānanda and the object of his mercy.”
It is also explained by Sanātana Gosvāmī Prabhu in the maṅgalācaraṇa-śloka of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that Prabodhānanda was the guru of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa:
bhakter vilāsāṁś cinute prabodhānandasya śiṣyo bhagavat-priyasya
gopāla-bhaṭṭo raghunātha-dāsaṁ santoṣayan rūpa-sanātanau ca
“Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, the disciple of Prabodhānanda, who is dear to the Lord, has collected these devotional activities for the delight of Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.2)
The Vacillating Opinions of Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda
The scholar Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda also speculated that Prabodhānanda was previously a māyāvādī and initially refused to acknowledge Prabodhānanda’s affiliation with the Śrī sampradāya. Drawing from evidence given by the commentator Ānandi and works of the Rādhā-Vallabha sect, he wrote in his work Vaiṣṇava-vandana o Vaiṣṇava-abhidhānam that Prabodhānanda and Prakāśānanda were one and the same person, implying that Prabodhānanda never belonged to the lineage of Rāmānuja. One of Vidyāvinoda’s arguments was that Ānandi’s Caitanya-candrāmṛta commentary should be considered to be more reliable since his commentary was written earlier than Narahari Cakravartī’s Bhakti-ratnākara. Yet Ānandi’s commentary has many flaws and is not fully trustworthy from an historical perspective. For example, he ascribes the famous verse anarpita–carim cirāt by Svarūpa Dāmodara Prabhu to Sanātana Gosvāmī instead. Why Vidyāvinoda would place more importance in the words of an obscure commentator over the writings of Narahari Cakravartī is unclear.
However, a few years later, Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda acknowledged the futility of his previous arguments and wrote the following in his book Paratattva-sima Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya –
śrī gopāla bhaṭṭa gosvāmīpādera pitṛvyadeva o gurudeva śrī prabodhānanda sarasvatīpāda, yini pūrve āḷvār-sampradāya bhakta chilen, tini tāhāra yavatīya rasa-granthe āḷvār-sampradāyera rasa-vicārera nyunata pradarśana koriyāchen
“Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmīpada’s uncle and spiritual master Śrī Prabodhānanda Sarasvatīpada, who was previously a member of the Āḷvār sampradāya, has demonstrated the inadequacy of the Āḷvār sampradāya’s approach to rasa through all his rasa literature.”
The Title ‘Sarasvatī’
Some say that Prabodhānanda must have accepted eka-daṇḍa sannyāsa because his name was Sarasvatī – one of the daśa-nāmī sannyāsa titles prevalent in the Śaṅkara sampradāya. The Bhakti-ratnākara explains the actual reason why Prabodhānanda was known by this appellation:
keha kaha prabodhānandera guṇa ati
sarvatra haila yāra khyāti sarasvatī
“Some say that Prabodhānanda had many great qualities and thus he became famous everywhere as ‘Sarasvatī’ (Bhakti-ratnākara 1.148)
It should also be pointed out that it was extremely uncommon for Mahāprabhu to change the names of those who converted to Vaiṣṇavism. Even those associates who had Śakta names such as Gaurīdāsa and Kālīdāsa retained them. If indeed He did change their names, it would certainly be an explicit Vaiṣṇava name (ie. Vidyānidhi – Premanidhi), rather than a synonymic difference (such as Prakāśānanda becoming Prabodhānanda).
Whereas Prabodhānanda became the celebrated author of rasika-granthas, nothing is known of the fate of Prakāśānanda. Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja concludes the following:
“Prakāśānanda was converted to Vaiṣṇavism and he also might have gone to Vṛndāvana, but he did not get much recognition from the Vaiṣṇava society. He was both rejected from this side and did not receive much respect from the other side – he has almost gone to unknown quarters.” (Conversation, January 2nd 1983)
It is acceptable that mundane academics who lack śraddhā in Mahāprabhu and His followers will draw their own opinions based on empirical analysis, considering Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī to be an ordinary jīva. However, it is deplorable when those that profess to be Vaiṣṇavas derive the same conclusions that the expansion of the hlādinī-śakti, Tuṅgavidyā Devī, could possibly take the mood of a māyāvādī in gaura-līlā.
From studying the above evidences found in the writings of the previous ācāryas, we must conclude that only those with an inadequate fund of knowledge will try to equate the pure Vaiṣṇava Prabodhānanda with the māyāvādī Prakāśānanda.
1) In his vraja-bhāśa translation of Prabodhānanda’s Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta written in 1650, Bhāgavata Mudita claims to be a śikṣā disciple of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācārya Śrī Haridāsa Paṇḍita Gosvāmī, an associate of Śrīla Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja and the mahānta of the Rādhā-Govinda Temple in Vṛndāvana. It has also been said by some scholars that after Haridāsa Paṇḍita, Bhāgavata Mudita became the mahānta at the Rādhā-Govinda temple – this is contestable however since it is a well known fact that the successor of Śrī Haridāsa Paṇḍita was Śrīla Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī. All in all, the background of Bhāgavata Mudita seems to be plagued with inconsistent information.
2) There are also doctrinal reasons why Gauḍīyas cannot accept that Prabodhānanda would have accepted Harivaṁśa. Firstly, the followers of Harivaṁśa falsely claim that Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī only had faith in the primacy of Kṛṣṇa and not Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Secondly, Harivaṁśa was an advocate of svakīya-bhāva (married union between Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa) and Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī worshipped Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in the mood of parakīya-bhāva (paramour rasa). Furthermore, Harivaṁśa placed more emphasis on sambhoga (union) rather than vipralambha (separation). Lastly, Harivaṁśa rejected most of the aṅgas of vaidhi-bhakti (observance of Ekādaśī, worship of Tulasī, strict performance of arcana etc) all of which Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas strictly follow.
śrī gopāla bhaṭṭera e saba vivaraṇa
keha kichu varṇe keha nā kare varaṇa
na bujhāya marma haite kutarka ye kare
aparādha-bīja tā’rā hṛdaye sañcare
parama rasika pūrva pūrva kavi-gana
varṇite mamartha haiya na kare varnana
pascate samārtha kari mane vicāriyā
rakhāye se sakalera sukhera lagiyā
prabhu-līlā varṇila ṭhākura vṛndāvana
dakṣiṇā-bhramana ādi nā kailā varṇana
vyāsa-rūpa tiñho tā’ra ke bujhe āśāya
paścata varṇive veda-vyāsa icche kāya
kṛṣṇa-dāsa kavirāja tāre dainya kari
dakṣiṇā-bhramana ādi varṇila vistāri
rakhilena madhye madhye varṇana karite
varnive ye kavi-gaṇa tāhāra nimitte
yaiche īṣṭhadeva mukhe annādi bhuñjiyā
pātre avaśeṣa rakhe śiṣyera lāgiyā
kavi-rita e kichu varṇite nahi anta
kutarka chāḍiyā asvadeha bhagavanta
prabhu āra prabhu-bhakta-gaṇera carita
vividha prakāre varṇe haiyā savahita
bhakta icchā pravala jāniyā kavi-gaṇa
prabhu bhakte sambodhiyā karena varṇana
kṛṣṇa-dāsa kavirāja mahā-hṛṣṭa heyā
varṇilena grantha anekera ājñā laiyā
śrī gopāla bhatta hṛṣṭa haiyā ājñā dilā
granthe nija-prasaṅga varṇite niṣedhila
kene niṣedhila ihā ke bujhite pāre
nirantara ati dīna mane āpanāre
kavirāja tārā ājñā nāre langhivāre
nāma mātra likhe anya nā kare pracāre
lokanātha-gosvāmīha icche ājñā kailā
pracina vaiṣṇava mukhe e saba śunilā