Gurus and Godbrothers
By Vyasasan das
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my most humble obeisances, and kindly forgive my offences. In my last letter to you, which I titled “Return to the Hare Krishna Movement”, I was addressing some of the changes I witnessed to your movement since my return in 2006. I expressed some of my disappointments and concerns, and yet I still have faith in this mission of yours.
It was interesting to see which of my older God brothers was still practicing their Krsna Consciousness within the framework of ISKCON, who had remained and who had left. I read one very sad statistic the other day on the Internet, and am sorry to report that 95% of your initiated disciples are no longer practicing their KRSNA Consciousness within the structure of ISKCON. I was very alarmed by this, because it indicates to me there is a fatal flaw in the way the society is being managed.
This is not to say that they are not still practicing their Krsna Consciousness, for “once a devotee always a devotee”, or as is stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam 1.5.19, a person who has once relished the taste of the lotus feet of the Lord can do nothing but remember that ecstasy again and again, but sadly most are not practicing their faith within the structure of ISKCON.
So who is still practicing within this once great society of ISKCON? I would have to say that today’s membership is mostly reduced to my Godbrothers who have become Gurus, their disciples, and those devotees who support the current Guru system as it was set up after your departure. Many of your devoted disciples are no longer practicing within the structure of ISKCON, but rather have formed their own separate groups or societies, (such as the Bhaktivedantas and Prabhupadanugas, Hare Krishna Society, etc.). Those devotees who are opposed to the new guru structure which was formed after your untimely departure, and believe that only you, Srila Prabhupada, are the true Sampradaya Acarya for this Hare Krishna Movement, are often banned from ISKCON temples altogether, and are not allowed to lead Kirtan, give Srimad Bhagavatam classes, or attend services at the temples. This I found to be very sad, and am sure is not very pleasing to you.
It seems to me the big part of the problem is that many of the devotees within the structure of ISKCON are not seeing that you are still here, still with us, our ever well wisher and the guiding force, always present within this movement. Many of the new devotees who come to your temples are told that you are no longer with us, but they can take shelter from one of the many initiating gurus within ISKCON. But you yourself have said many times:
I shall remain your personal guide, whether I am physically
present or not, just as I am getting guidance from my
Guru Maharaja (Vrindaban, Oct. 1977)
As Bhakti Caru Swami lamented so eloquently in your disappearance day address (11-15-08)
It is due to the mistake of considering that Srila Prabhupada is gone, that we are facing all these difficulties. Therefore with all sincerity, I say that we are losing everything because we had been thinking that Srila Prabhupada is now dead and gone, and we started to claim our shares of our inheritance. Why do we hesitate to tell a new comer who is searching for a guru that Srila Prabhupada, the best guru the world has ever seen, is still here, and one can surrender unto him and go Back to Godhead very easily?
If we really love ISKCON and if we sincerely want the Krsna Consciousness movement to spread all over the world in every town and village, then let us broadcast all over the world that Srila Prabhupada is still with us and that anyone who wants to receive his mercy can approach him and establish his eternal relationship with him, “As his humble servants, let us help them to establish their relationship with His Divine Grace.”
(Bhakti Caru Swami 11-15-08)
I was very moved when I read this Disappearance Day address, as it perfectly fits my sentiments and views. For me you have never left, you are present in the temples you established, and in the pages of the books you have written, and are very much alive in the hearts of your sincere devotees. I have actual realization of this, for even in my darkest hours you were still there for me, erasing my doubts and fears, and encouraging me always, my ever well-wisher. Even after your untimely physical departure from our sight my relationship with you was the same, for my mood has always been service in separation. Even when you were physically present I was serving you in the mood of separation. I was not part of your intimate circle of disciples, and my personal association was very limited.
One morning when I was allowed to accompany you on a morning walk, I watched in awe as you spoke with your intimate disciples, and felt very privileged to witness your interactions with my senior God Brothers. I had so many questions I wanted to ask but failed to do so because I felt very insignificant in your presence and after the walk retreated back to my service of distributing your books. You have said countless times that real association is hearing from you, and following your instructions. The remedy for eliminating all inauspicious things within the heart is the association of the Bhagavatas. The book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata. You have given us the book Bhagavata and in the purports we are associating with you directly, the person Bhagavata.
It seems that the devotees who preach that you are no longer personally present, and that we need to go through them to get to you, are the ones who are not following your instructions and not having faith in your words. They are listening to their own minds and are re-writing your books. They are following their own ambitious goals and not initiating new disciples as you instructed in your Letter of July 9th 1977, to act as “Rittvik representatives of the Acarya” and initiate on your behalf, but rather taking on disciples on their own behalf. It is so clear to me that the present diksa-guru system in ISKCON today is not the authorized system you left for us. It seems that the leadership of ISKCON rejected the system of initiation you left for us. The rejection of your instructions was the result of personal motivation and insubordination. This and the changing of your wonderful books, is quite literally a complete and total reversal of your direct orders. “Just maintain what I have given you”.
vancha-kalpa-tarubhyas ca krpa-sindhubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo vaisnavebhyo namo namah
I offer my respectful obeisance’s unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord. They are just like desire trees who can fulfill the desires of everyone, and are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.
Where would I be today without my Godbrothers? They gave me my first book, cared for me and nurtured me when I was just a young brahmacari, instructed me and engaged me in your service, and who ultimately brought me to meet you. I offer them all respect. They are worthy of my respect, but were they worthy of my worship? It was at this point in 1978 when I left the society of ISKCON. O Srila Prabhupada, I had such great respect for the young leaders and sannyasis in our movement, how I longed to be like them someday. They could lead such ecstatic kirtan and give such wonderful classes and were an inspiration to me, because they were like ideal men, full of all good qualities and were engaged in your service, abandoning all other pursuits. But then after your physical departure, when some of them jumped up on the Vyasasan, ignoring your clear instructions for the initiation process to proceed on your behalf, I became bewildered and lost a good amount of respect for these eleven men, my God Brothers, and those who supported them.
You stated in a darshana in 1968, After me, there will be no more acarya. And many times you have said, I shall live from my books. Srila Prabhupada your position as our eternal-preceptor guru is an irrevocable, perpetual fact. And yet today I am finding so many of my God Brothers have tried to claim your position. In the Sri-Sri-Guru-Astaka prayers we sing every day it is said, “The Spiritual Master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord.” I confess that I personally could not see my God Brothers in this light. This is no doubt due to my envious nature, or lack of spiritual understanding, or else it was simply because I found all of them lacking your pure qualities. No one could replace you, except perhaps Lord Caitanya.
I remember back when I was a new bhakta, on the RDTSKP, I could hardly even understand the philosophy, what to speak of understanding the lofty ambitions of some of my God Brothers. One morning during Srimad Bhagavatam class being given by Tamal Krishna Goswami, I was sent to the back of the bus to peel potatoes. Well, at least I could manage to stay awake while I was peeling potatoes, and after the class and my service was finished, I ran around to the front of the bus and asked my God Brothers what I missed from class. They told me the topic came up about how the movement would go on after you left the planet. So one devotee asked me who will you pick as your spiritual master after Srila Prabhupada departs? Kirtanananda Swami was Srila Prabhupada’s first disciple, but Tamal Krishna Goswami is the most like Srila Prabhupada and has spent the most time with him. It went on like this for sometime before I finally blurted out – I already have a Spiritual Master. Srila Prabhupada is my Guru! I was quite firm in my beliefs at the time, but I was just the new bhakta who had to peel potatoes to stay awake, so my input to the conversation wasn’t taken too seriously. But I will never forget that morning; it was in August of 1975. So even years before you actually departed from our material vision there was already talk of who would replace you? So I guess it was not too surprising when after your departure, motivated by ambition for fame and adoration the diska-guru system was invented, aided in part by your godbrother from the Gaudiya-math, HH Sridhara Swami Maharaja. This was quite literally a complete and total reversal of your direct order for the selected 11 men to act as “Rittvik representatives of the Acarya”. This is well documented in letters written in July of 1977. All these letters are accessible to all devotees who visit the Internet, but this leads me to my next question. If all your instructions are so readily available, why isn’t the GBC following them?
maha-bhagavata-srestho, bramano vai gurur nrnam
sarvesam eva lokanam, asaupuyo yatha harih
The guru must be situated on the topmost platform of devotional service. There are three classes of devotees, and the guru must be accepted from the topmost class. When one has attained the topmost position of maha-bhagavata, he is to be accepted as guru and worshiped exactly like Hari, the Personality of Godhead. Only such a person is eligible to occupy the post of a guru. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 24.330, purport)
It was clear to me, and to all your disciples, that you were such a Maha-bhagavata. It is also clear to me that you did not instigate a system of nominating or approving successor acaryas or diksa gurus. Nor did you indicate that one might appoint himself as diksa guru or acarya simply by adopting the role or status. Such ideas are concoctions, unsubstantiated anywhere in your writings or directions for sadhana.
I have always suspected that the reason your final instructions were not followed was the result of personal ambition on the part of the eleven men you appointed to act as “Rittvik representative of the Acarya”, those who helped appoint them, and those who succeeded them. Although your orders were very clear, still there was a desire for “fame, adoration, and distinction” on the part of your disciples. Also as became apparent in coming years, a desire for “profit” as well. It is interesting to note that in your purport to the verse 2.2.12 in the Srimad Bhagavatam you stated that, – the grossest type of anartha which binds the conditioned soul in material existence is sex desire which is summarized in three headings, namely profit, adoration and distinction. I have also heard that the last traps of Maya are to be “Guru” and “Krishna”. If we desire to become “Guru”, we aren’t really qualified?
It is our desires that bind us to this material world, and as long as we desire fame, adoration, and distinction, we are not really free from our material conditioning. You wanted all your disciples to become guru, even the women and children. This means teaching by good example, and instructing (siksa) not necessarily taking on our own disciples (diksa). My Godbrothers would be more glorious today if they were following your instructions and initiating on your behalf, acting as proper disciples and servants, rather than promoting themselves as self-realized pure devotees, capable of taking their disciples Back Home, Back to Godhead, and your mission would have been kept whole. We would all be god brothers and god sisters, or disciples, grand disciples, and great grand disciples, working together on your behalf. And I think you would be more pleased with all of us today.
I don’t know what will become of your ISKCON. It seems that your ISKCON has fallen into the same trap that your beloved Guru Maharaja Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami’s Gaudiya Matha mission fell into after his untimely departure. Where one leading disciple stepped up to claim the mantle of Acarya, but then after being found unqualified, many leading disciples stepped up to become gurus. History repeats itself. When we fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.
Perhaps your ISKCON is simply going through a process of purification, and after which we will emerge more unified and effective. That you hold a unique, preeminent, and prominent position within ISKCON and our parampara is not in question. I think this is something all devotees can agree on. I think we need to always keep you at the center of all our preaching, and missionary activities. Srila Prabhupada you are the complete basis for my faith, and spiritual understanding. Krsna can only be approached through His pure devotee, so I attach myself to your lotus feet, and refuse to ever let go. How can we forget that vani and vapuh are the same? ï¿½He reasons ill who says that Vaisnavas die, when thou are living still in soundï¿½ï¿½ Who can deny that you are still present in your words and instructions, and are still present spiritually?
Some may find it odd that I continue to write you letters many years after your physical departure, but for me it is a process of purification and enlivenment. Writing you these letters is a deep meditation on your instructions and glorious activities. I write to you with an attitude of gratitude, and it helps to ease the pain of separation, and alleviate the anguish I often feel when my attention is focused on your ISKCON society today, and the many issues we are facing. And it helps me to remember that you are still watching out for all of us, our ever well wisher, and eternal friend. Begging to remain forever in your divine service.
Your insignificant servant,