Direct Shelter

Direct Shelter
By Maha Mantra das

 When I visited my first ISKCON centre many years ago and began to show an interest in the Hare Krishna philosophy and lifestyle, I was welcomed in with open arms and congratulated on my willingness to break away. I was told how, contrary to popular belief, it was actually society at large who were doing the brainwashing. It was further explained that the Krishna’s were not some dogmatic religion, and that the Movement was ‘calling-out’ modern society for keeping the masses in darkness and oppressing people’s rights to free-thought, free-speech. I was impressed with the courage and questioning/challenging spirit of the devotees. So it’s nice to see that spirit alive and well in Dhira Prabhu’s latest thoughtful article, and I’m sure my mum will be very pleased to know that I have not, in fact, joined some dangerous cult that muzzles it’s members if they dare speak up…. right?

As a newcomer to the temple, I was quickly introduced to His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, even though he had physically left the world some 10 years prior. I was taught his pranams that I recited daily, shown how to offer my food to his picture, and encouraged to repose whatever love or devotion I had in His Divine Grace as my link to Lord Krishna.

He became my ultimate shelter whenever my world fell apart, and I found I could take my worries and doubts to him and always felt tangible reciprocation. I read his books, heard his lectures from the tapes, and soon began dressing and caring for his murti in the temple. We offered Guru Puja and Vyasa Puja, chanted and danced, and worked hard on his behalf to spread Krishna Consciousness in many towns and villages under the guidance and authority of our inspiring temple president. Several happy years were passed in this way.

Then one day I was informed that I would have to take initiation from an ISKCON Guru, and I was shown a list of names. I was told this person would become my new link to the bona fide Disciplic Succession – number 33 in a long line of pure devotees. And so it was with some difficulty that I redirected my love, devotion, and finances to this new man, whom I was told to worship “as good as God” in accordance with the philosophy enforced by the GBC.
The days now passed with me standing before HDG Srila Prabhupada feeling somewhat confused when I sang about the mercy and grace of the spiritual master. I wondered if I really had implicit faith in this Guru I had been given, or if he had the power to answer my prayers through his picture, receive my bhoga offerings from the other side of the world, or bestow Krishna’s mercy like rain? Was he the transparent-via-medium we had heard so much about, was he the ‘one’ to take me back home?

Then one day he left! He decided he wanted to do something else and so cut us all adrift. Years later he wrote explaining how he was never qualified to have taken that most crucial position in another’s life! Some of his ex-disciples joined other groups (as did many whose gurus fell over the years), others stayed but became somewhat bitter and cynical, while still others gave up their spiritual lives altogether. The once tight global family of god-brothers and sisters was scattered to the four winds, kilo-tons of spiritual momentum and energy lost.

Those of us who did remain were soon told by the authority of GBC to go back and take shelter of Srila Prabhupada, chant his pranams and offer our food, prayers, love, etc. to him. As distressing and bewildering as it all was at the time, I also felt somewhat relieved to be ‘allowed’ back under the shelter of His Divine Grace, and wondered why someone had to be slotted between myself and this great Vaisnava whom I knew I could surrender and dedicate my life to. True there were many senior devotees who inspired, encouraged, or guided me over the years, but I felt full and honest surrender was something I was only willing and able to commit to His Divine Grace, Srila Prabhupada. Still I was happy and content to be back chanting before our beloved ISKCON Founder-Acarya. It felt like coming home.

Then one day I was told – according to some new GBC ruling – that I must take re-initiation, and was shown a list. My heart sank. A few did take up the list and made their choice for another ‘33′ (fingers crossed), and I know some sincere souls who have now lost as many as three gurus in the ‘pure-line’ over the course of their devotion lifetime (anyone lost four?), as they try again and again to do right by the GBC.

You have to wonder where those youthful years of hard work – and all those donations – went? Our local GBC assured us at the time of our guru’s abandonment that we were not to worry, because Prabhupada had accepted our service all along. Again this begs the question: “Then why stick someone in the way, and why tell us they are pure if you don’t actually know?” Or is it as others say, that we were never linked to the pure line due to the initiator’s lack of spiritual qualification (this does not imply that they weren’t nice devotees), and so we may not have actually been performing devotional service at all?

There are still others who have remained serving in ISKCON over the years even after their ‘33s’ fell away, and who have not been coerced into taking the questionable ‘re-initiation’, but seem to be doing well serving under the Direct Shelter of the Founder-Acarya, our 32 in the line of pure devotees, Srila Prabhupada. That, no doubt, raises even more questions!

So our thanks to Dhira Govinda Prabhu for keeping this important dialogue open and alive.

Your servant,
Maha Mantra das

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