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[world-vedic] The First Western Vaishnava

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The First Western Vaishnava







EDITORIAL, Oct 17 (VNN) — In his book, Sri Krishna Samhita, Srila

Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentioned a scholar, a certain Mr. Norton, who had

written something in appreciation of the madhurya rasa as preached by

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Thakur praised the scholar and remarked

that he was confident that very soon the mellows of madhurya rasa would

cross the boundaries of India and many people in the Western countries

would turn into Vaishnavas followers of Mahaprabhu.


We do not have any other details about Mr. Norton, if he was himself a

Vaishnava or just an Indologist or a philosopher. Surely he had not

been chosen by the Lord to reveal the Vrindavan mellows to the Western

world. That task, everyone agrees, was left to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Prabhupada. However, some fifty years before the divine exploit of

Srila Prabhupada, by the arrangement of the Lord, a Western sadhu had

already come to Vrindavan. His name was Swami Krishna Prema. He was the

first Vaishnava from the West, so his case is worth our consideration.

His name for the world was Ronald Nixon, a former fighter pilot in the

British Royal Flying Corps. Fascinated by the Pali language and

Buddhism, at the end of his Cambridge studies, he wanted to find some

way of living in India in order to deepen his practice of Buddhism from

experienced gurus. In this way, in the early 1920s he accepted a post

as Reader in English at Lucknow University. The university's

vice-chancellor Dr. Chakravarti, member of the Theosophical Society,

kept Nixon in his home, helping him to quickly integrate within the

Indian community.


Chakravarti's wife, Monica, was spiritually very advanced. Impressed by

her devotion, Nixon accepted initiation from her in 1924. His name

became Sri Krishna Prema. Few years later the chancellor, acting as his

wife's guru, released her from family ties initiating her into the

renounced order of life with the name Yashoda Ma. At Almora in Northern

Uttar Pradesh, she built an ashram by the name Uttar Vrindavan. Even if

Yashoda Ma was certainly his diksha-guru, Krishna Prema desired to

improve his understanding of the Gaudiya siddhanta through a more

traditional preceptor. They moved then to Vrindavan where, after

several weeks of research, they came in touch with Bal Goswami, a

well-known priest of the Radha- raman Temple. Krishna Prema wanted a

connection with him, but he had already accepted diksha mantra from

Yashoda Ma.


With her consensus it was arranged that Yashoda Ma would first take

initiation from Bal Goswami and, as part of the same ceremony, she

would formally initiate Krishna Prema into the Gaudiya sampradaya. In

this way Bal Goswami became Krishna Prema's param guru and spiritual

instructor. Shortly thereafter, Bal Goswami introduced Krishna Prema,

the first Western Vaishnava, into the Radharaman Mandir.


The guru had hard times with the temple authorities, who excommunicated

him because, according to them, the rules of purity had been violated.

This may sound now an extremely conservative attitude, but we should

keep in mind that that was the first case of a Westerner turning into a



At that time the position of Bal Goswami became very precarious. He had

accepted a Westerner into the fold of his disciples, and the Westerners

(especially the British) were known for their unclean habits, like

eating meat, drinking alcohol and above all for being non-Hindus.

Obviously Bal Goswami risked his reputation in his attempt to help

Swami Krishna Prema.


After some time, by the mercy of Sri Radharaman Dev, another council

with all the priests was held in the temple. After due consultation of

the Scriptures, the council reached a solution for the case: "Every

individual with the required standards of knowledge and cleanliness can

be accepted into the sampradaya."In this way all Western Vaishnavas owe

a debt of gratitude to both Swami Krishna Prema and Bal Goswami. Swami

Krishna Prema was undoubtedly the most important historical precedent

for the Western Vaishnavas.


His fame spread far and wide and many Indians accepted him as their

guru. Many spiritual leaders went to visit the ashram at Almora to talk

with Swami Krishna Prema, who became famous for his philosophical

acumen, his rigid adherence to the principles of ashram life and his

affectionate dealings towards all.


After Yashoda Ma's death, he took over her ashram until his own demise

in 1965. His funeral rites were attended by a large crowd of people and

the President of India sent a heartfelt message of condolence to the

bhaktas of Almora praising the brilliant personality of Swami Krishna

Prema. Some books on his life and teachings have been written recently

by Dilip Kumar Roy (Yogi Sri Krishnaprem, 1968) and Narendranath Kaul

(Writings of Sri Krishna Prem,1980).

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