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Svalikhita Jivani [Autobiography]
of Srila Saccidananda
What follows is Sriman Shukavak Dasa's translation of a little known autobiography penned by Thakura Bhaktivinoda. Without meaning any disrespect to Shukavak Prabhu, I must point out that his preliminary English rendition of Svalikhita Jivani is so eccentric as to leave me wondering at times whether it was truly the work of an educated English-speaking person! Indeed, parts of it were so badly composed as to throw a great darkness of confusion over the subjects it was meant to illuminate. Thus, some sentences were beyond interpretation and simply had to be elided. Be that as it may, I have attempted to bring order out of chaos and to present his translation in a readable form. Inasmuch as I do not have access to the original Bengali text I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation overall. I have not dared to alter it too radically for fear of misrepresenting a great Mahabhagavata, and thus my work as editor no doubt contains many faults. I pray that Shukavak Prabhu, who was not unaware of the roughness of his work and who perhaps employed some method of working that is beyond me, will not be offended by what I have said, but, in defence of my criticism, I felt I must alert the reader to the possibility of there being some inaccuracies in what follows.
Another point that cannot go unmentioned is the strange interpretation that Shukavak Prabhu has put upon the purport of this extraordinary autobiographical work. He sees this book as the history of an ordinary Hindu who progressed from the pit of impersonalism and the practice of unpleasant habits to the plane of pure devotion by the simple process, more or less, of conversion to the Vaisnava faith. This seems to me to be an extraordinarily dangerous opinion to foster even in the privacy of one's mind - let alone in the circle of mundane scholars, where he intends the idea to be circulated!
That is not to say that there is absolutely no basis for this interpretation, but rather, that it is wrong and potentially calamitous. It is true, as the reader will learn, that Bhaktivinoda gave some credence to the monist view in his youth. It is true also that he followed some practices that the Vaisnavas generally opine to be wicked and impure. However, such things have been recorded about the very greatest souls, such as the four Kumaras, Rupa and Sanatana, Bhimasena, and many others. In other words, one should never judge great souls simply on the basis of some apparent deviation from standard scriptural regulations, but rather on the depth of their devotion to Krishna, which may not, by His sweet will, be manifest throughout that great soul's earthly life.
This text is practically new to all of us. Some of its revelations have, however, come to the notice of the occasional ISKCON devotee, and thus Srila Prabhupada had occasion to correspond on them on at least one occasion. The following excerpt from one of his letters touches on some of the startled questions that are bound to arise from the reading of this book, and, moreover, confound Shukavak's unfortunate thesis:
"Regarding your questions, 'I read in a book sent from India that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was sent directly by Lord Caitanya from the spiritual sky. I am not sure if that book was bona fide. Is the above true? Someone, a Godbrother, brought up that he had heard that Srila Bhaktivinoda was at one time an impersonalist. Was he ever?' Yes, what you have heard is alright. Just like Arjuna is constant companion of Krishna, as it is confirmed in the 4th chapter, Krishna says that both Arjuna and He appeared many times on this world, but he had forgotten his past appearances and Krishna did not. Krishna is like the sun, and maya is just like darkness. Where Krishna is present there cannot be any darkness of maya. So as Arjuna although always in the presence of Krishna as eternal companion in friendship, still he had some illusion in the battlefield of Kuruksetra, and Krishna had to dissipate that darkness by the teachings of Bhagavad-gita. The purport is, sometimes even a liberated person like Arjuna plays the part of a conditioned soul in order to play some important part. Similarly, Bhaktivinoda Thakura for sometimes was associating with the impersonalists. And then he exhibited himself in his true color as pure devotee, exactly in the same way as Arjuna exhibited in the beginning as a conditioned soul, and then as a liberated soul. So there is nothing to be misunderstood in this connection. Krishna and his devotees sometimes play like that, as much as Lord Buddha, although an incarnation of Krishna, preached the philosophy of voidism. These things are conducted in terms of place, audience, time etc. In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is said that the activities of a Vaisnava cannot be understood by the greatest scholar... So there is no doubt about it that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is eternal energy of Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And whatever he did was just to suit the time, place, circumstances, and etc. There is no contradiction in his activities."
Notwithstanding the above conclusion, which proves Srila Bhaktivinoda to have always been a Vaisnava of the highest order, we must be cautious in approaching him through the medium of his autobiography, lest we fall into the trap that Sriman Shukavak has fallen in. I would also urge the reader of this work not to pass it on to those who might misinterpret it and as a consequence denigrate a very, very great soul, or who might have his faith in the Vaisnava Acaryas in some way injured.
We would also do well to consider the following words of his son, Sriman Lalita Prasad, who first published the work, and to whom it was addressed.
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