Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Review

I haven't been very active on the blog lately. However, I thought I would post this review I wrote of a very important book.

In Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s masterpiece, Jaiva Dharma, one of his characters, Raghunatha dasa Babaji, tells a student, “Although Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not personally write any books, His followers have written volumes on His order. The Lord has personally given eight instructions, in verse form, known as the Siksastaka; the devotees cherish them as a necklace of priceless gems. They contain all His instructions in condensed form.” My own spiritual master, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, did not say very much about Mahaprabhu’s Siksastaka, but he cited those eight verses constantly in his books, lectures, letters, and informal conversations.

In fact, it appears that not many Gaudiya vaisnava acaryas have said very much about these verses that form the seed of the teachings of Lord Caitanya. However, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explored the meanings inherent in Siksastaka in his Sri Sanmodana-bhasya in 1886 and Bhajana-rahasya in 1902, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura followed in the wake of Sri Sanmodana-bhasya with his brief Vivrtti, which he published along with Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s commentary in 1929. Inspired by these two great spiritual geniuses, Swami B. V. Tripurari has recently published Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya. This book further explores the ocean of nectar that is Siksastaka, beginning with these commentaries and integrating material from other acaryas as well. It further serves as a sort of map of the path of spiritual progress prescribed by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers.

Most readers are probably aware that a couple of editions of Siksastakam have been published in recent years, with the commentaries of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. These are valuable books for which we should all be grateful. I have studied them myself to aid my own dedication to deeper immersion in chanting Sri Krsna’s holy names.

One thing that this book apart from the others and makes it unique—and indispensible to progressive Gauòiya vaisnavas—is its weaving of essential elements of Sri Sanmodana-bhasya, Bhajana-rahasya, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s Vivrtti, as well as of commentary from earlier Gauòiya acaryas, especially Srila Jiva Gosvami and Srila Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura, into a rich, poetic tapestry that more fully reveals the benefits of Sri Krsna saìkirtana, depicts aspects of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s inner life, and helps sadhakas better cultivate and measure the growth of their own inner lives.

The tapestry’s border ties the entire work together by framing Mahaprabhu’s eight verses as a confession offered to Ramananda Raya and Svarupa Damodara, a confession to what may be the greatest caper ever pulled: stealing the emotional life of Srimati Radharani. The progressively profound exploration of the verses themselves takes us on a journey into the depths of Sri Krsna saìkirtana, revealing along the way connections between the benefits of saìkirtana previewed in the first verse and the progressive stages of bhakti which Srila Rupa Gosvami describes in Sri Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, beginning with the initial faith that opens us to the association of vaisnavas and culminating in different stages of prema.

Swami Tripurari’s language often tends to the poetic, and appropriately so, considering the poetic density of his subject. This enhances the reader’s appreciation for the effects Sri Krsna saìkirtana—and the study of Mahaprabhu’s verses—on the hearts of those who apply themselves to them. Consider, for example, this passage from the Swami’s commentary on verse four, which discusses the third effect of chanting Sri Krsna nama, spreading the petals of the white lotus of good fortune by its moonbeams:
As we have seen from this fourth verse of Sikskastakam, Mahaprabhu, representing a devotee who has attained ruci, stands well positioned to gradually experience prema-dharma and the drama of Krsna lila. When the sadhaka attains ruci, saranagati is fully in place, as his or her sraddha has matured by virtue of being in touch with the land of faith. Now the stage—saranagati—on which the drama of Krsna lila is performed is established in the sadhaka’s heart. The seeds of material desire are destroyed and the seed of bhakti that has already sprouted in the form of sraddha begins to blossom.
The beauty of sraddha’s blossom shines brightly, enchanted by the soothing moon of Sri Krsnacandra. This blossom of ruci enchants the entire world and also charms the sadhaka’s heart. In its shadow stands material desire and the darkness it represents. As inauspiciousness is removed (klesaghni), the sadhaka’s life becomes truly auspicious (subhada).

Swami Tripurari’s language here and throughout the book sheds light on the charm that saìkirtana and Mahaprabhu’s glorification of that practice exert on the practitioner’s heart. However, his language never fails to clearly illuminate the features of Krsna-conscious philosophy vital to proper understanding. Moreover, his glossary and copious notes facilitate the kind of careful study to which many will want to subject this book.

The Swami writes that this book is written mostly for those familiar with Gaudiya vaisnavism, with an eye to exploring the ocean that is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Siksastakam. As with any diving expedition, each member will appreciate the tour according to his or her experience and skill. And as a skilled guide, Swami Tripurari helps show his charges how and where to find wonders previously unseen, perhaps even unimagined. I hope everyone who is serious about plumbing the depths of Sri Krsna nama will take advantage of the treasure that is Swami B. V. Tripurari’s Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya. This is certainly a book that I will always carry with me.