His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
the Hare Krsna movement)
His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
the Hare Krsna movement)
by Purujit Dasa
It is a habit of the post-modern times to say that man does not depend on any authority. He is free to create his own viewpoint of the world unique and exceptional. However if we are to sincerely consider our condition, we must conclude that such thinking is nothing but delusional. In order to acquire knowledge, we always depend on superior authority. We cannot even ascertain who is our father without the help of a superior authority -the mother. We were not there when our parents conceived us and therefore we can only put faith in our mother's words. We are in complete ignorance about things that are beyond our perception. Therefore the Vedic injunction is acintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet (Mahabharata, Bhisma parva 5.22). We should not try to understand things that are beyond our material conception by argument and counter argument. Rather, we should approach a guru. How can we recognize the perfect guru and not get cheated at the same time? In this connection, interestingly enough Srila Prabhupada gives a rather liberal definition of what the word guru means:
Prabhupada: Suppose I do not know which way to go. If I ask somebody, it is supposed that he knows. Is it not?
Here Srila Prabhupada defines "guru" as a person we approach to ask questions. According to this definition, any person whom we approach to resolve different questions is our guru. In fact, we are constantly accepting various types of gurus in the course of our daily lives be it mother, father, friend, teacher in school, or the internet even without knowing. Sometimes it is argued that the newly initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada have no guru, because Srila Prabhupada is not physically present. Such accusation is unfounded:
All devotees surrendered to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada regardless of their level of advancement can be accepted as guru. Provided one is eager to learn the transcendental science one is always eager to associate with such devotees, whom he considers to be Srila Prabhupada's representatives. Srila Prabhupada says:
Accepting Srila Prabhupada as our initiating guru does not mean we reject everyone else. This is not the way.
Guru is one in the sense that all gurus repeat the same unadulterated message of Krsna. It does not matter that one may not have a complete realisation of the science. If he repeats the message as it is, he is a guru.
He may be a fool and a rascal. It doesn't matter. But as soon as he accepts what Kåñëa says, that is his qualification. A a child may be a fool, but when the father says, "My dear child, this is called a microphone," and if the child says, "This is microphone," it is correct. So our business is like that. Srila Prabhupada says:
Our Godbrothers might not be perfect, but we can still learn from them as long as they repeat the perfect instructions of Srila Prabhupada.
And similarly, one may be very knowledgable, renounced, or so-called perfect but if he manufactures or adulturates the message given to us by the bona fide acarya Srila Prabhupada, he is to be rejected.
Sometimes due to foolishness or unfortune one accepts such a rascal as bona fide and becomes cheated. Then, instead of seeking association of bona fide Godbrothers, he concludes that bona fide association is nowhere to find and that ultimately everyone is a cheater and a fool.
This however simply shows lack of sufficient zeal on his part to come out of the conditioning of the material existence. It is a question of neccessity. Just like a man who is hungry must buy plates to eat from, a bona fide disciple must be always inquisitive about how to follow the orders of his spiritual master. And this desire to know pushes him to search out the proper association even if he might not be successful in finding it right away. Many however simply continue life of sense gratification supported by their equally disappointed peers who then preach that except the recognized uttama adhikari guru no one should be trusted. Srila Prabhupada himself disapproves of such sectarian mentality:
Naive devotees who follow such conclusions are not able to recognize that those who are speaking in this way, namely that no devotee association should be trusted are themselves taking the position of instructors.
Similarly, the person who says: "You should only accept an uttama adhikari as guru and everyone else is nonsense" is hinting that that one should reject everyone else and accept only him as guide. Otherwise why is he instructing: " You do this" ? So he is taking the position of a guru without taking the responsibility that comes with it. He is trying to become a guru through the back door so to speak by using an uttama adhikari as a front. It is not sufficient to say that one should accept such and such guru. If the guru is bona fide, we must repeat his teachings. If we do not repeat the teachings of the guru, what is the use of saying that such and such guru is bona fide? Srila Prabhupada complains:
There are revealed scriptures and they are considered the standard books to be followed by human society. Such scriptures are not man-made. They have been given by the perfect authority of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and they are received in the disciplic succession of self-realized spiritual masters. Thus they do not contain the four defects of human fraility. The bona fide spiritual master is teaching such scriptures and it is our duty to understand and repeat such teachings for the benefit of others. This is the real glorification of the spiritual master. It is only by following such perfect authority we can become free from the material sufferings of birth, death, old age and disease. Our teaching should be therefore based on the principles of such standard sastras as recieved from the bona fide spiritual master. One should not take the position of an instructor if he is not conversant, or does not follow the rules prescribed by the bona fide acarya. If he takes such position and preaches untruths, he will only misguide others and create confusion. In the Caitanya Caritamrta(Madhya 19.152 purport), Srila Prabhupada explains that the seed of devotional service can be received only through the mercy of the spiritual master. Therefore one has to satisfy the spiritual master. This seed is the origin of devotional service. Unless one satisfies the spiritual master, he gets the seed, or root cause, of karma, jnana and yoga without the benefit of devotional service. Only one who is faithful to his spiritual master gets the seed of devotional service. This seed is received when one is initiated by the bona fide spiritual master. After receiving the spiritual master's mercy, one must repeat his instructions, and this is called sravana-kirtana-hearing and chanting. One who has not properly heard from the spiritual master or who does not follow the regulative principles is not fit for chanting (kirtana). One who has not listened carefully to the instructions of the spiritual master is unfit to chant or preach the cult of devotional service. In this connection, Lord Rshabadeva instructs his sons:
gurur na sa syat sva-jano na sa syat
pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat
daivam na tat syan na patis ca sa syan
na mocayed yah samupeta-mrtyum
"One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod."
In a commentary on this verse Srila Prabhupada states that if the instructor cannot liberate his dependants from the clutches of birth and death, "he plunges himself into the ocean of reproachment for his unlawful activities.(SB 5.5.18 purport)" So it is not so insignificant matter that we simply glorify our guru and emphasize his elevated position and think that our business is finished. We must hear from him and then repeat and follow his teachings.
Similarly, in the third Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita the Lord says:
yad yad acarati sresthas
tat tad evetaro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
Whatever a respectable leader of society does, common men follow in his footsteps and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
He also says:
saktah karmany avidvamso
yatha kurvanti bharata
kuryad vidvams tathasaktas
na buddhi-bhedam janayed
vidvan yuktah samacaran
"As the ignorant perform their prescribed duties with attachment to results, the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading the general mass of people.Those who are hankering after the fruits of their labor should not be induced to refrain from work, for it will disrupt their intelligence. Rather, they should be engaged in all sorts of activities to develop Krnna consciousness gradually."
By the laws of material nature, the general mass of people is always ignorant and the intelligent class is in minority.Just like at university education. The number of graduates and postgraduates is less, while the others are in bigger number. So it is not expected that everyone will be capable to understand the spiritual knowledge immediately simply by hearing. However, by following the example of the enlightened leaders even a common man can make advancement. Srila Prabhupada explains:
It is essential therefore that responsible disciple shows the example of good behavior for the sake of general mass who might not be so enlightened to understand things by hearing only. Being a bona fide instructor also carries with itself a great responsibility to show the proper example. Simply words will not do, one must also act. For this reason Krsna says:
na me parthasti kartavyam
trisu lokesu kincana
varta eva ca karmani
yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
manusyah partha sarvasah
O son of Prtha, there is no duty prescribed for Me within the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor is there anything for Me to gain —and yet even I am engaged in My prescribed duty.For if I ever carelessly gave up My prescribed duties and did not engage in work, O Partha, certainly all men would follow My path.
It is the natural weakness of a common man to use the leader's failure as an excuse to give up his own duty. Therefore such an "opportunity" should not be given. The Ceasar's wife must be beyond suspicion. Here are a few examples where Srila Prabhupada warns about the negative consequences of showing bad example to the rest of the devotees:
It is a diseased idea to say that Srila Prabhupada is the only perfect teacher and that our qualification is irrelevant. It is very relevant. Even if we only accept Srila Prabhupada as bona fide, still we cannot justify such misconception as Srila Prabhupada himself encourages his disciples to do so. He wants us to be gurus. He wants us to preach. Plain and simple.
Nor is it proper to think that Srila Prabhupada is our guru and perfect and therefore we, as his disciples, do not have follow or serve anyone else.
At the same time, Srila Prabhupada on numerous occassions pointed out the principle of maryada vyatikrama. It is a Vaisnava etiquette not to accept disciples in the presence of one's spiritual master. In this connection, we may take note of a particular instance referred to in the Srimad Bhagavatam:
nanu te tattva-samradhya
rsih kausaravo 'ntike
Sri Uddhava said: You may take lessons from the great learned sage Maitreya, who is nearby and who is worshipable for reception of transcendental knowledge. He was directly instructed by the Personality of Godhead while He was about to quit this mortal world.
This is an excerpt from a pastime, where Vidura wanted to accept Uddhava as his spiritual master, but Uddhava did not accept the post because a senior spiritual master Maitreya was present nearby. Srila Prabhupada comments on this verse: "The rule is that in the presence of a higher personality one should not be very eager to impart instructions, even if one is competent and well versed." Both Uddhava and Maitreya were directly instructed by the Lord and both had thus the authority to become the spiritual master of Vidura but following the proper etiquette Uddhava decided to send Vidura to Maitreya. One who is eager to become a spiritual master cheaply for the sake of personal profit, gain and fame, and not exclusively for the service of the Lord is a pretender. The Lord never tolerates the impertinence of maryada-vyatikrama(passing over the honor due to an elderly spiritual master) by such a pretender. The impertinence on the part of the pseudo spiritual master is very risky to progressive spiritual realization. By so doing one loses his duration of life, his opulence, fame and piety and the blessings of all the world. While studying Srila Prabhupada's instructions, we see that he touches upon this principle while guiding his disciples. Here are a few examples:
So while the guru is present, one must bring prospective disciples to him. That is the etiquette. But we see that sometimes a devotee accepts disciple even in the lifetime of one's spiritual master. For example, the head of our disciplic succession Lord Brahma is still alive, yet Narada, who is his disciple, already accepted Srila Vyasadeva as his disciple. Physical departure of the acarya is therefore not the only time his disciples can become gurus. One should not fall into the Mayavadi mentality that by the disappearance of one's guru one automatically gains the right to sit on his seat.
Srila Prabhupada hints that when one's spiritual master retires and when he orders one to do so, one can become acarya in his physical presence also. On April 22. 1977 Srila Prabhupada says: "I shall choose some guru. I shall say, "Now you become acarya. You become authorized." I am waiting for that. You become all acarya. I retire completely." Srila Prabhupada explains:
The word nirjana bhajana means "sitting silently in a solitary place and executing devotional service." Srila Prabhupada indicated to his disciples his wish to engage in such worship at the end of his life many times. For example as early as 1970 he writes:
There are also other quotes where Srila Prabhupada expresses such a desire:
Besides establishing the GBC, in order to free himself more from managerial work, Srila Prabhupada gradually, step by step empowers his disciples to also give initiations. He introduces the concept as early as 1969:
In this letter he envisions his disciples to be eligible for the title Bhaktivedanta and on that basis be empowered to initiate new devotees. In another instances, Srila Prabhupada wants the GBC members to initiate the newcomers:
Later he indeed starts authorizing many GBC members and sannyasis to give first initiations by chanting on new initiate's beads. It is seen from Srila Prabhupada's correspondance that many disciples have done this service in Srila Prabhupada's lifeime.
Then towards the last months of his stay with us, Srila Prabhupada travels to Vrndavana to prepare for his final departure. Upon his arrival he says:
On the 28th of May 1977 he announces to soon recommend some of his senior disciples to act as officiating acaryas, which would completely free him from any involvement in the formal initiation procedure. They will from now on approve the new initiates, give their names, chant on their beads or chant on their brahmin threads as it is in the case of second initiations. The conversation runs as follows:
Srila Prabhupada here again repeats the principle of maryada avitakrama and warns his disciples not to become gurus unless he orders them. The initiations are to be performed on Srila Prabhupada's behalf still. This order is later officially confirmed by the directive to all temple presidents known as "the July 9th letter" and we see that this system of initiation is indeed taking place while Srila Prabhupada is still physically present on the planet:
Later on Srila Prabhupada is sending his leading men back to work on their managerial duties to leave him to do a parikrama (pilgrimage) of the holy places.
At this point, he is completely relieved from all managerial duties. His disciples are running the movement independently from him. Thus Srila Prabhupada by his personal example shows that the rtvik system of initiation works even without his physical involvement in the matter and therefore the system can continue even after Srila Prabhupada's physical departure. If the only reason to discontinue such a system is that the spiritual master is not physically present, we may rightfully ask why follow any of his instructions if he is not physically present? If Srila Prabhupada cannot guide his new disciples in his physical absence, he certainly cannot guide his original disciples either. So these are all very childish proposals. Those who are sincere will follow his instructions whether he is physically absent and those who are insincere will disobey him even in his physical presence. Srila Prabhupada remembers:
The disciplic succession is the succession of transcendental knowledge, not bodies made of flesh and bone. As Srila Prabhupada points out:
Further evidence that Srila Prabhupada did not envision a successor after his departure is his explicit wish that in his absence the movement was to be run by the GBC body. This is confirmed in the following conversations. When asked if he plans to name a successor to carry on after his departure, Srila Prabhupada explicitly states:
Later on in a different interview, he elaborates:
He thus follows the example of his guru Maharaja Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura who instructed a similar GBC system for his own institution in 1936. And this is not the first time Srila Prabhupada have made such a statement. Please note:
It is undeniable that this was what Srila Prabhupada wanted. The function of the GBC is defined as the body of representatives to execute the will of Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada explains the basic principle of running an organisation is to follow one leader:
Since the GBC is a body of many, the question arises as to who that one chief man is in Srila Prabhupada's movement today? The answer is obvious. Please note the wording in one of the incorporation legal papers for ISKCON:
It is Srila Prabhupada himself. He is the founder(initating)-acarya of his movement and he never ceased to be so. A father is the father for the son always whether he is physically present or not. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada is the iniator of his movement and this fact cannot be covered by any amount of speculative theories. Even for argument's sake, if a pure Vaisnava was to manifest to succeed Srila Prabhupada, subjecting such a pure Vaisnava by an ecclesiastical governing body would be highly offensive:
Especially, it would be offensive since the GBC's are expected to be conditioned souls subjected to fall down:
Taking the hypothetical scenario that a self-realized devotee would manifest to succeed Srila Prabhupada, how could Srila Prabhupada possibly set up a system where such an uttama adhikari devotee, a devotee situated on the highest platform of devotional service is subjected to the advice and chastisements of the governing body of possibly neophyte devotees with the tendency to fall down? The presence of a new guru within such organisational structure would create an entirely incompatible match. The only possible conclusion one can arrive in the light of all these considerations is that Srila Prabhupada desired his disciples to act as aspiring or full fledged siksa gurus with conditional authority and accept disciples on his behalf. We must therefore try to see the following statements in the light of this understanding:
We should follow the order of Lord Caitanya and become worthy representatives of our great and magnificient spiritual master Srila Prabhupada. Then the whole world can greatly benefit. This is the desire of Srila Prabhupada for the future of his movement.