Though my interest in Indian culture and religion had been developing for years beforehand, it took a serious turn in 1970 when I became a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
My ISKCON career lasted nine years. After the requisite brahmachari and sankirtan training, I became a Sanskrit editor for Iskcon Press publications in 1972, and not long afterwards became the first Sanskrit teacher at the ISKCON Gurukula in Dallas. In 1975 I came to India and spent four years as the headmaster of the Gurukula [See 2.9] at Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir. The name A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gave me was Hiranyagarbha Das.
By the time I joined, the insulation of Bhaktivedanta Swami from the rank and file members of ISKCON by the "inner circle" of disciples had already begun. What was not achieved by protective layers of guarding was attained by an aura of awe and reverence that surrounded Srila Prabhupada. Though I never rose above rank and file status during the time that Prabhupada was present and associated primarily "through service", I still had several personal audiences with Srila Prabhupada, which included my reading a verse translation of the Bhagavad Gita I had written. Prabhupada told me personally on that occasion to "become a guru."
When Srila Prabhupada left the world in 1977 I was in Mayapur. Though I joined in the general mood of grief and loss, my instant and overriding feeling was that my days in ISKCON were numbered, as my need for direct guidance was still strong and I could see no one within the organization who could give it me.
Not long afterward, I had the honor of being asked by ISKCON leadership to carry out one of Srila Prabhupada's last requests, namely to visit as many of Nabadwip's Vaishnavas, both Gaudiya Math and from the traditional sector, to ask forgiveness for any offenses that he might have incurred in his preaching activities, and to give a donation for "Vaishnava seva." This gave me the great opportunity to meet most of the living acharyas of the Gaudiya Math, Goswamis and members of other traditional Vaishnava lines. I was most impressed by the humility with which one and all accepted this last, most exemplary request made by Srila Prabhupada. One of the first people I visited was Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur.
|Srila Lalita Prasada Thakur meeting A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami at Dwadash Mandir (the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakur) in around 1972.|
|Radha Kund in 1983. Photo by Mark Tinghino.|
The immediate effect of this new initiation and a few weeks of staying in Birnagar with Prabhu, was a period of intense bhajan at Puchari by Govardhan and at Radha Kund. I was in Puchari when Lalita Prasad Thakur left this world in 1980, at the age of 101. My connection to him and the disciplic line beginning with Nityananda, Jahnava Thakurani and Ramachandra Goswami of Baghna Para, and through to Bipin Bihari Goswami and Bhaktivinoda Thakur was the single most important event in my spiritual life after joining ISKCON.
Sri Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur gave me the name Jagadananda Das and told me to "bring joy to the world."
|Sri Sri Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj, Mahanta of Radha Kund.|
For most of the next six years I studied, traveled, lecturing in Hindi and Bengali in West Bengal, Bangladesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. There are too many sants and sadhus with whom I made contact during this time. I should mention a few at least: Sri Ananta Das Babaji, who became and continues to be my greatest inspiration in terms of rasika Vaishnava scholarship in the Gaudiya tradition; Sri Madan Gopal Goswami, grandson of Pran Gopal Goswami of the Nityananda Vamsa, who was my friend, neighbor and great supporter during the years I stayed at Gokulananda Ghat in Nabadwip; and Hridayananda Das Babaji, disciple of the great Ramdas Babaji of Nitai Gaur Radhe Shyam fame. I should also mention Nimai Chand Goswami of Shrivas Angan and his sons, especially Sri Jiva, Svarup Damodar and Ramananda, "Debu Da", the successor of Kanupriya Goswami in Prachin Mayapur, as well as Tin Kori Goswami Prabhu and all his Nabadwip disciples. There were many other friends and influences, many of whom were just interesting characters populating the Vaishnava world, too many to mention. I bow down to all of them.
Part of the time I spent studying at the Nabadwip Sanskrit College for a traditional Tirtha degree in Vaishnava philosophy under Kanai Lal Adhikari, Pancha Tirtha, which unfortunately I did not complete. And, of course, Sachinandan Das, my godbrother, whose commitment to kirtan inspired more people than probably even know about it today.
The next turning point in my life came during the last year or so I was in Bengal, when I came into contact with "heterodox" (apasampradaya) elements in the Vaishnava culture. I had a lot of things to sort out and found it difficult to continue in the community of which I had become a part, and so I made the decision to return to Canada after almost 11 continuous years in India.
The return to Canada in 1985 was one of culture shock combined with a deep sense of incertitude about the value of my experiences in India. I plunged into the study of comparative religion at McGill University with many fine professors. I was especially enriched by the various approaches used by historians, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers to explain religious phenomena.
By the time I had completed my B.A. in religious studies, winning the Birks Award for the highest GPA in the department, I felt myself on a much surer footing. On the whole, though, the most lasting influence came from my readings of Freudian and Jungian psychology, which on the one hand made the relation of sexuality to the entire psychic apparatus explicit, and on the other that of religious symbolism to personal individuation or the growth of spiritual maturity. These two understandings are, whether everywhere stated or not, deeply tied to my conviction that sexuality is at the essential core of religious experience and mysticism, especially where Radha and Krishna are concerned. With the help of these thinkers, Sahajiya practice makes rational sense to me, besides being experientially sound.
In 1988, I won a Commonwealth Scholarship to study in England, where I was accepted at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) in the PhD program. It took four years to complete my dissertation (1992), which was on Jiva Goswami’s Gopāla-campū, a treatment in prose and verse of Krishna’s life based on his siddhāntas in Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha.
After 1994, I worked as a translator and editor for Mandala Publishing in San Francisco. For the most part, I worked on books by acharyas of the Gaudiya Math, especially Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj and Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj. Mandala also published a scholarly translation I did of Rupa Goswami’s Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa (Mystic Poetry, Mandala Publishing, 1999). I have published numerous articles, primarily on Vaishnava history and siddhanta. Many of those articles can be found on this blog.
During this time, I also taught a few courses at McGill University.
I also translated a number of books from French to English, as well as doing freelance translation work. Over the past few years, I have been collaborating with Satya Narayan Dasji of the Jiva Institute in Vrindavan as an editor of his soon-to-be published translation of Bhagavat-sandarbha. We have now also started completed the Paramātma-sandarbha and have started work on Sri Krishna Sandarbha.
Currently, I am the chief editor of the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir, an important digital publishing project of Sanskrit texts, primarily in the Vaishnava tradition. This is a project meant to preserve rare works, and make them freely available to scholars and devotees on the Internet. Unfortunately, due to funding difficulties, the site is currently down. But with the help and support of Satya Narayan Dasji and the Jiva Institute, I am hopeful that we will be able to get this up and running again soon.
|Swami Veda Bharati|
I have also finished work on the Yoga-tarangini, which will be published as a joint project by AHYMSIN Publishers and Motilal Banarsidass.
Vrindavan Today, which has multiple purposes as stated in the given link. It is my intention to henceforth make my permanent place of residence in Vrindavan, where I have been living since 2011. Satya Narayan Dasji and the Jiva Institute, Jagannath Poddar of Friends of Vrindavan, Shrivatsa Goswami of the Sri Chaitanya Prema Sansthan and others are supporting this project.
Other than this, I hope to complete a few scholarly works, a translation of Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad and its commentaries, Dāna-keli-kaumudī (much of the research work can be found in this blog), a compilation of my historical investigations into controversial issues in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and most importantly, a general guide to Sahajiya Vaishnava philosophy and practice called Prema Prayojana. This, I feel, will be my true life's contribution.
Jai Sri Radhe!