This paper aims to present the contribution of Bhaktivinoda Thakur to the establishment and development of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It regards his personal life as the role model for the practitioners of Vaisnavism, and it considers his input in expanding preaching techniques, both innovative and traditional ones.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur: A role model for ISKCON members
Being born in a non-Vaisnava family, educated in Christian and Westernized Hindu schools and colleges, Bhaktivinoda Thakur, more than many other spiritual teachers in Gaudiya tradition, is the reference point for ISKCON, many of whose members have been born in and molded by the Western civilization. The historical context in which Bhaktivinoda Thakur commenced his spiritual quest can be portrayed as a time of serious encounter and conflict between Hindu traditionalists and a Westernized and secularized Bengalis intelligentsia. Because of his studies in and appreciation for Western ideologies, Bhaktivinoda Thakur experienced profound religious doubts and did not take for granted the philosophical and theological doctrines of Vaisnavism. This disproves the claim that ISKCON represents a merely incongruous transplant in Western civilization. On the contrary, Bhaktivinoda’s example shows how acceptance of Vaisnavism is a meter of personal conviction and not geographical and cultural conditionality.
Another point which makes Bhaktivinode Thakur the role model for ISKCON members is the way in which he has practiced his sadhana (spiritual discipline). Like most ISKCON members, he was a family man with many worldly responsibilities. Nevertheless, he had very intense sadhana. And despite having demanding a post as a deputy magistrate in government service, and a big family, he always found enough time for writing books on Vaisnavism and organizing preaching activities.[i] His life showed that becoming practitioner of Krishna consciousness does not mean to exclusively become a renouncer (tyagi). Rather it showed how to be responsible in worldly duties and engage them in service to Krishna.[ii] Shukavak (1999, 258) notes that ‘In the scarcity of viable role models for Gaudiya-Vaisnavas in the West, Bhaktivinode presented an excellent example of responsible worldly engagement and Vaisnava practice.’ His personal example can guide ISKCON devotees how to be in this world but not of it; and thus facilitate ISKCON’s integration into the society and help it avoid identification as a sect.Saragrahi Vaisnava