The Spiritual Master (Part 2)

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This is a continuation from our previous post, The Spiritual Master a few days ago. This is a fascinating account by Sriman Locanananda Prabhu revealing his insights into the ‘guru issue’ in our ISKCON society today, from his own personal understanding, and his realizations of the instructions given by Srila Prabhupada shortly before his untimely departure. Our obeisances to him for sharing his personal recollections and realizations. [Note: some of the other comments were edited out so as not to distract from Locanananda Prabhu’s train of thought. You can follow the entire stream of comments by going to Prabhupada News

…Because the focus of every devotee’s efforts is to please Srila Prabhupada knowing him to be Krishna’s pure representative, we can understand that the officiating acarya’s function is to formalize the disciple’s connection with Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession by the giving of diksa.

… According to this correct understanding, the officiating acarya is not particularly empowered to take those he initiates back to Godhead. But if he is capable of acting as the transparent via medium to the founder acarya, he is certainly to be honored and shown great respect. However, so that Srila Prabhupada remains the central figure and worshipable spiritual master within the Hare Krishna movement, no other spiritual personality should become his competitor by exacting worship from disciples. It is the responsibility of the GBC to preserve this unique role as exclusively the position of Srila Prabhupada.

Locanananda dasa 
19. October 2012

Srila Prabhupada was asked how initiations would be conducted when he would no longer be present. The answer was: by officiating acaryas. This is synonymous with ritvik acarya. Let’s be careful not to drop the “acarya” from “ritvik acarya.” Acarya means guru. One who is giving diksa is guru, and in ISKCON he who gives diksa is supposed to act as an officiating acarya. If you think you are more than that and greater than your godbrothers, because of your pride Krishna will eventually cut you down. Everyone giving diksa in ISKCON should accept Srila Prabhupada’s nomenclature and stop expecting to be worshiped. Hasn’t this unauthorized worship gone on long enough?
[Reply]

Locanananda dasa 
20. October 2012

I wanted to clarify for readers here that what may be called the final order was not the July 9th, 1977 letter but was rather the May 28th directive spoken by His Divine Grace, that initiations given after his worldly pastimes had ended would be conducted by officiating acaryas. This would be the second phase of the ritvik initiation system. The first phase was set forth in the July 9th letter which, by the way, did not mention anything about that time when Srila Prabhupada would no longer be with us.

In the July 9th letter, it was stated that Srila Prabhupada had named eleven disciples who would immediately begin to act as “rittik”-representatives of the acarya. This is not the same as “ritvik acarya.”

Srila Prabhupada had said on several occasions that during the spiritual master’s lifetime, the disciple should bring others to the spiritual master to be initiated. It was mentioned again on May 28th. When the ritvik acarya would give diksa after Srila Prabhupada had entered samadhi, those initiated would be his disciples and Srila Prabhupada’s grand disciples. If Srila Prabhupada had some other intention, he would have stated it clearly on that occasion when asked:

TKG: These ritvik acaryas, they are officiating, giving diksa. The people who they give diksa to — whose disciples are they?

Did Srila Prabhupada answer, “They are MY disciples.”? No. He said, “They are HIS disciples,” referring to the ritvik acarya.

So here Srila Prabhupada rebuts the misdirected understanding of his ritvik system phase two which incorrectly holds that he would continue to initiate disciples when he would no longer be physically present. In fact, he never made such a statement at any time, nor is there any precedent for doing so in our disciplic succession. To the contrary, Srila Prabhupada said the spirit of the parampara system cannot be changed.

Locanananda dasa 
20. October 2012

The word “officiating” is used in the Srimad Bhagavatam. It is found in Canto One, Chapter 13, Verse 15:

“As long as Vidura played the part of a sudra, being cursed by Manduka Muni, Aryama officiated at the post of Yamaraja to punish those who committed sinful acts.”

So for one hundred years, Aryama, the son of Kasyapa and Aditi, took charge of the office of Yamaraja, who is one of the twelve Mahajanas.

One who acts as an officiating acarya is authorized to give diksa, just as Aryama wasa authorized to do the work of Yamaraja and punish the sinful. Because the focus of every devotee’s efforts is to please Srila Prabhupada knowing him to be Krishna’s pure representative, we can understand that the officiating acarya’s function is to formalize the disciple’s connection with Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession by the giving of diksa. Just as we do not think of Aryama as the actual Lord of Death, similarly we do not think of the officiating acarya as the deliverer of the devotee he initiates. The expression devotees heard Srila Prabhupada use was “ritvik acarya, transparent to the previous acarya.”

According to this correct understanding, the officiating acarya is not particularly empowered to take those he initiates back to Godhead. But if he is capable of acting as the transparent via medium to the founder acarya, he is certainly to be honored and shown great respect. However, so that Srila Prabhupada remains the central figure and worshipable spiritual master within the Hare Krishna movement, no other spiritual personality should become his competitor by exacting worship from disciples. It is the responsibility of the GBC to preserve this unique role as exclusively the position of Srila Prabhupada.

Locanananda dasa 
20. October 2012

Dear Robin,
If I am repeating what Srila Prabhupada said, then what I write is not a product of of my own logic and reason. On May 28th, 1977 Srila Prabhupada said that when he would no longer be present, initiations would be conducted by officiating acaryas. After introducing the term “officiating acarya” he was asked,

“What is the relationship of that person who gives the initiation….?”

The questionner wants to know what the relationship is between the officiating acarya and the devotee he gives initiation to. Srila Prabhupada replied,

“He’s guru. He’s guru.”

So I ask you, when Srila Prabhupada says “He’s guru,” who is he talking about? The answer is simple: the oficiating acarya is guru and he is giving initiation.

Later in the conversation, Srila Prabhupada is again asked about the initiations performed by the officiating acarya (a/k/a ritvik acarya):

Q: These ritvik acaryas, they are officiating, giving diksa. The people who they give diksa to — whose disciples are they?

They are his disciples.

Robin, I think you have to ask yourself why you cannot accept these words of the spiritual master. You sound like an intelligent, sincere devotee. Srila Prabhupada is saying that when the ritvik acarya is giving diksa, those who receive diksa from the ritvik acarya are disciples of the ritvik acarya. He did not say, “They are MY disciples,” which is what you would like to believe. It just isn’t so. The conversation continues:

Q: They are his disciples? (They are disciples of the ritvik acarya?)

SP: Who is initiating. (Of the ritvik acarya who has given diksa.) He’s grand disciple. (The new initiate is the disciple of my disciple)

I am not defending the ISKCON initiation system. ISKCON gurus never say they are officiating. Nor in thirty-five years has even one of them ever referred to himself as an officiating acarya. Instead of embracing Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation to have officiating acaryas perform initiations, the GBC introduced a system based on their own ambitions. For all these years, the movement has been held back, first, because of the conflict brought about by the non-parallel lines of authority created by a concocted initiation system and, second, because of the ever-present ambition of the leaders which have caused them to neglect Srila Prabhupada’s order, an ongoing offense to His Divine Grace that has curtailed the spiritual advancement of these leaders as well as that of their followers.

Locanananda dasa 
21. October 2012

Thanks, Robin, for your reply. We have all felt great disappointment with the path taken by ISKCON’s leadership. As for myself, I have been assaulted, banned for thirteen years (and counting) from giving classes or leading kirtana in my local zone (but not everywhere) — even had donations returned to me on the order of the local GBC — just for explaining what it was that Srila Prabhupada wanted implemented after his departure from this world.

All I have said is taken from the May 28th, 1977 conversation in Vrndavana, India. Srila Prabhupada had called the entire GBC body to convene there because there was a strong possibility that he might be called back to Godhead by Lord Krishna. The meetings took place from May 27-29. A select committee that consisted of the six GBC members who were on the original GBC formed in 1970 went into Srila Prabhupada’s room to ask specific questions concerning how to manage ISKCON when he would no longer be with us. They asked about future translation work, about how long GBC members should serve, and about how initiations would be conducted. A summary report of the outcome of the meetings was sent to all temple presidents. I still have my copy, as well as the July 9th letter I received in the mail in Amsterdam. In this report, there was no mention of Srila Prabhupada’s response to the question concerning initiations. However, the answers he gave to all other questions were reported to the temple presidents.

Why was there no mention that Srila Prabhupada intended to have initiations performed by officiating acaryas? The report skirted the issue by saying that Srila Prabhupada would answer other questions in the future.

What Srila Prabhupada explained on that occasion had mainly to do with management. For example, how would initiations be managed? Srila Prabhupada certainly did not want to create a conflict with the existing management structure and chain of command. His perfect and divinely inspired recommendation was to have the most acarya-like (again, his term) leaders officiate as ritvik acaryas, transparent to the founder acarya.

Your question is a valid one, as to whether anyone in today’s ISKCON is qualified to act as an officiating acarya? Obviously, those who reject the idea altogether are not qualified to act as officiating acaryas, even though the concept was clearly stated by Srila Prabhupada on May 28th, 1977. Personally, I would say that those who do not fight to have the correct system of initiation implemented in ISKCON are not sufficiently advanced to occupy that position.

At one point in the conversation, Srila Prabhupada refers to the ritvik acarya as a “regular guru.” There is no other instance we know of where this term was used by Srila Prabhupada. Arjuna is referred to as a “regular disciple” in the Bhagavad-gita, but I could find no other reference to “regular guru.” The interesting thing is that Srila Prabhupada says:

“When I order you become guru, he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple. Just see.”

The whole conversation is about the officiating acarya, also known as ritvik acarya, giving diksa and acting as a regular guru. So what did the GBC not like about it and why did the GBC keep this instruction hidden for so many years? Have you figured it out yet? The reason is because 1) There would be no worship connected with officiating at initiations and therefore their absolute power over the life decisions of the disciple was being denied, and 2) They could not see the scriptural or historical precedent for such initiation protocols.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that Srila Prabhupada has stated that a strict follower is qualified to act as guru even though he has not yet attained the highest platform of self-realization. I will try to find the exact quote for you. Also, scripturally, it is indicated that siksa guru and diksa guru are equal manifestations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We are advised not to diminish the role of either. Please note that understanding the May 28th conversation from the perspective of management does not involve making a distinction between siksa and diksa guru. In fact, those terms were used only on very rare occasions in discussions between Srila Prabhupada and his ISKCON leaders, and not at all on May 28th.

Rukmini Ramana DD 
21. October 2012

Thanks for commenting on these important points! It is of course correct to always refer to what is stated in all documents/Vedabase.
However, there is also 35 years post samadhi ISKCON history with 110 fallen sannyasis, 41 fallen diksa gurus, mass exodus of thousands desperately disappointed devotees to join Gaudiya-matha camps, gurukula scandal, bookchange scandal. Last but not least, ISKCON’s educational reputation from spiritual point of view nowhere mentioned in any media.

In other words, intellectual Westerners consider this movement at present moment to be destroyed from within. So would it not be worthy to also include this present state of emergency in any discussion? When Prabhupada left he would leave behind a fully functional global Gaudiya Vaishnava Sankirtan movement. In order to have this previous status again reinstated what should be done next?

Locanananda dasa
21. October 2012

Dear Rukmini DD,

All of the things you mentioned are painful reminders of what we have endured over the past thirty-five years. I was reminded of a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to me in 1972, when I was attempting to open a temple in Geneva, Switzerland. He used to say our movement was spreading like wildfire, and in that particular letter he spoke of a Japanese philosopher who predicted our movement would become the world religion by 1982 if it continued to grow at the current rate. Srila Prabhupada used to say, “The name of Krishna has become a household word,” indicating the success of the Sankirtana movement, but where are we now in terms of making the world Krishna conscious, and how are we going to get things back on track?

I very much appreciate your pro-active approach. I believe the first step is that devotees who are true followers of Srila Prabhupada, and who are not willing to drink the GBC kool-aid, should bond together to keep themselves spiritually strong. Everyone should appreciate what others are doing to serve Srila Prabhupada outside of the ISKCON mainstream. The same principle activities of book distribution, prasadam distribution and Harinam sankirtana can be performed by groups of devotees acting independently. In New York City, we formed our own Harinam party in 1998 and still go out every Saturday night to chant the Holy Name. You can get a glimpse of the ecstasy of the devotees in our party by going to Youtube and searching “Hare Krishna Explosion at Times Square,” which has had more than 100,000 hits.

Even if nothing changes for the better in ISKCON, we will have successfully played a small part in spreading Krishna consciousness by carrying out the order of the spiritual master to the best of our ability. These efforts will not go unnoticed. The sincere endeavor of the devotee never goes in vain, but instead attracts the attention of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

My impression is that the leaders of ISKCON have circled the wagons to protect the domain they control from the influence of outsiders. Presently, one sannyasi who by all accounts is a strict follower of the regulative principles and of sannyasa dharma is being banned here and there for strongly preaching against ISKCON’s mission drift. He is attempting to protect the legacy of Srila Prabhupada and the response is to ban him and reprimand him into submission. Good spiritual leaders would be very happy to discuss with him ways in which the direction of the movement could be strengthened to coincide with the intentions and priorities of the founder acarya, but it appears that ISKCON is devoid of such visionary leaders at the present time.

Do not wait for the next generation of devotees who are the children of devotees to rise up and take charge. They have been too traumatized to want to run the show. Nor are the current leaders making room for them to have managerial responsibility. And do not expect members of the predominantly Indian congregation to demand change. Their main interest is to visit the temple and see how the Deity of Krishna is being worshiped.

I used to think that the Lord in the heart would enlighten the leaders and give them inner strength, especially if we all prayed to Krishna to guide them, but now I realize that the leaders themselves must offer that prayer collectively if they really want inner guidance. We can be their well-wishers while we deal with them at arm’s length. To give you a hint why I feel this way, whenever I attend an ISKCON function I chant prayers to Lord Nrsimhadeva for my protection. Why? I have done that since being violently assaulted in front of the Deities at the 2004 NY Rathayatra parade. After the incident I had to go to the hospital to have x-rays of my back taken. I was not able to sit, stand or lie down comfortably for two weeks. One good sign was that the attacker finally apologized to me eight years later at this year’s Rathayatra festival.

I think what the GBC needs to do is open a venue of communication with devotees who would like to make suggestions. There should be GBC resolutions that revolve around healing these wounds and bringing about unity within the family of devotees. And they should stop passing resolutions that explain in detail how they intend to punish dissenters.

This is just a starting point, and I would like to hear what every devotee has to say in response to your last post dated October 21, 2012.

Your servant,
Locanananda dasa

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Spiritual Master (Part 3) « The Hare Krishna Movement
  2. Trackback: The Spiritual Master (Part 4) « The Hare Krishna Movement

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