Praghosa das – Jun 17, 2009: Realigning ISKCON with Srila Prabhupada’s directives..
The system Srila Prabhupada gave us in 1977 – was based upon his formation of the GBC Zonal System of “OVERSIGHT” that was sought by his Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.
Srila Prabhupada established a Zonal System – with all authority coming from Him – and manifested locally via his Temple Presidents. The GBC were “inspectors” only, and their authority is “enumerated” and “represesentative” only. They have no “inherent” authority of any kind. They have no control of money. They have no means to “reach in” to the local temple and control men or money. The Zonal System and its reach to every town and village – was supported in the matter of ritvik gurus. This is a matter of both history and public record.
The Oath of Allegiance – establishes all leaders in Iskcon as servants of “representative authority” exclusively.
I sent the following letter to a GBC member on June 3rd:
My dear Prabhu, Please accept my most humble obeisances. All Glories to our Eternal Master His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.
Today is the most auspicious day of Nirjala Ekadasi, June 3rd 2009. I am compelled by our Mutual Best Friend; Sri Paramatma who in His eternal form resides in our most loving hearts acting as “overseer and permitter” and “ever well-wisher” to us all to reach out to you who have always served as inspiration and example to myself in devotional service to our Srila Prabhupada.
My connection with you is fixed up due to our having a clear understanding of the importance of the Holy Dhama of Sri Mayapur as the very “heart” of Lord Gauranga’s Sankirtan Mission.
Since 1986, my own ability to work within the very fabric of the preaching mission has been hampered by both my necessary absorption in tending to family affairs and more importantly – my own reticence to throw myself totally in the fire due to not being entirely convinced that we as “brothers” were yet perfectly clear on very particular and important matters pertaining to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to us all.
I am sure you are well aware that the overall sankirtan mission in the
West and particularly in the United States has been severely and negatively affected by some misunderstandings in the basics of Srila Prabhupada’s very unique program for providing the entire world with unfettered access to association and guidance of “The Bonafide Spiritual Master” and the easy method for re-awakening one’s eternal Krishna Consciousness, pure love for God – initiated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself.
As sincere and well intended as each leader may see himself to be – the mission has been deeply affected by the lack of clear and unambiguous representation of Srila Prabhupada’s directives, and this in turn has resulted in confusion and a breakdown in both the “unity” and more importantly “chain” of command that was so successfully implemented by HDG in the beginning of our glorious ISKCON.
The simplicity of Srila Prabhupada’s overall program for re-invigorating the spiritual life of every single human being on the earth was magnificent and amazing.
He describes it thus in CC Madhya Lila 19:151:
brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
“According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.
When we speak of brahmanda, we refer to the whole universe, or to the cluster of many millions of universes. In all universes, there are innumerable planets and innumerable living entities upon those planets in the air and in the water. There are millions and trillions of living entities everywhere, and they are engaged by maya in suffering and enjoying the results of their fruitive activity life after life. This is the position of the materially conditioned living entities. Out of many of these living entities, if one is actually fortunate (bhagyavan), he comes in contact with a bona fide spiritual master by Krishna’s mercy.
Krishna is situated in everyone’s heart, and if one desires something, Krishna fulfills one’s desire. If the living entity by chance or fortune comes in contact with the Krishna consciousness movement and wishes to associate with that movement, Krishna, who is situated in everyone’s heart, gives him the chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master. This is called guru-krishna-prasada. Krishna is prepared to bestow His mercy upon all living entities, and as soon as a living entity desires the Lord’s mercy, the Lord immediately gives him an opportunity to meet a bona fide spiritual master. Such a person is fortified by both Krishna and the spiritual master. He is helped from within by Krishna and from without by the spiritual master. Both are prepared to help the sincere living being become free from this material bondage.
How one can become this fortunate can be seen in the life of Srila Narada Muni. In his previous life he was born of a maidservant. Although he was not born into a prestigious position, his mother was fortunately engaged in rendering service to some Vaishnavas. When these Vaishnavas were resting during the Caturmasya period, the boy Narada took the opportunity to engage in their service. Taking compassion upon the boy, the Vaishnavas offered him the remnants of their food.
By serving them and obeying their orders, the boy became the object of sympathy for the Vaishnavas, and, by the Vaishnavas’ unknown mercy, he gradually became a pure devotee. In the next life he was Narada Muni, the most exalted of Vaishnavas and the most important guru and acharya of Vaishnavas.
Following in the footsteps of Narada Muni, this Krishna consciousness movement is rendering service to humanity by giving everyone a chance to come in contact with Krishna. If one is fortunate, he becomes intimately related with this movement. Then, by the grace of Krishna, one’s life becomes successful. Everyone has dormant krishna-bhakti – love for Krishna – and in the association of good devotees, that love is revealed. As stated in Chaitanya-charitamrta (Madhya 22.107):
nitya-siddha-krsna-prema ‘sadhya’ kabhu naya
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya
Dormant devotional service to Krishna is within everyone. Simply by associating with devotees, hearing their good instructions and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, dormant love for Krishna is awakened. In this way one acquires the seed of devotional service. Guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija.
In the verse above – Krishna Das Kaviraja Goswami says “one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna.”
In his purport Srila Prabhupada clarifies how one is made so “fortunate”. He states without ambiguity: “If one is fortunate, he becomes intimately related with this movement. THEN, by the grace of Krishna, one’s life becomes successful.”
He likewise finishes by saying “Simply by associating with devotees, hearing their good instructions and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, dormant love for Krishna is awakened” and “in THIS way – the seed of devotional service is acquired” and planted in the heart of the sincere seeker of Krishna.
So clearly – THE bonafide spiritual master – is fully available within the Krishna Consciousness movement – in complete accord with the instructions of Srila Prabhupada. When ISKCON is perfectly situated in flawless re-presentation of Srila Prabhupada’s directions – any of its centers and the chain of command within it – are perfectly capable of connecting all sincere souls to our Parampara and the Mercy of Mahaprabhu.
I am sure, over the last few years, you have heard from somewhere or someone – something along this line as regards myself: “Oh Praghosa is a nice devotee, BUT he endorses the “ritvik” position” and this is presented as good or bad; fortunate or unfortunate – dependent upon with whom you are speaking.
I have approached the present situation in ISKCON as a scientist. I have analyzed the facts and looked carefully at all these facts tell me. This has been an arduous and oft times difficult process; primarily because until I was able to arrive at my present conviction – I was necessarily unable to associate as freely and affectionately as I had always done with all my golden-hearted brothers such as yourself! That more than anything – was truly bothersome. However I prayed to Srila Prabhupada and Mahaprabhu constantly and agreed to accept the discomfort – if in the end it would lead me to the right conclusion.
With the assistance of many helpful and faithful brothers, and my own simple faith in the directives of Srila Prabhupada, it has. Let me share this with you.
The original appointment of ritvik representatives – to intiate disciples on behalf of Srila Prabhupada – is the system that is meant to work with the above simple system set down in the CC Madhya Lila 19:151.
The men so selected were “guru” BUT “By my order” as Srila Prabhupada stated. Making their “authority” limited in the “official” sense to the stated “powers” he set down in the July 9th Directive.
However – in the “actual” sense – these men – as well as all leaders – were instructed to both be and become – more and more “acharya-like” in their conduct and in time – their “realization” of Lord Krishna.
In the Nectar of Devotion first chapter, “Characteristics of Pure Devotional Service”, Srila Prahbupada provides us the following assertion in the section describing such pure devotional service as extremely “rare”:
The Rareness of Pure Devotional Service
In the preliminary phase of spiritual life there are different kinds of austerities, penances and similar processes for attaining self-realization. However, even if an executor of these processes is without any material desire, he still cannot achieve devotional service. And aspiring by oneself alone to achieve devotional service is also not very hopeful, because Krishna does not agree to award devotional service to merely anyone. Krishna can easily offer a person material happiness or even liberation, but He does not agree very easily to award a person engagement in His devotional service. Devotional service can in fact be attained only through the mercy of a pure devotee. In the Chaitanya-charitamrta (Madhya 19.151) it is said, “By the mercy of the spiritual master who is a pure devotee and by the mercy of Krishna one can achieve the platform of devotional service. There is no other way.”
The rarity of devotional service is also confirmed in the tantra-shastra, where Lord Shiva says to Sati, “My dear Sati, if one is a very fine philosopher, analyzing the different processes of knowledge, he can achieve liberation from the material entanglement. By performance of the ritualistic sacrifices recommended in the Vedas one can be elevated to the platform of pious activities and thereby enjoy the material comforts of life to the fullest extent. But all such endeavors can hardly offer anyone devotional service to the Lord, not even if one tries for it by such processes for many, many thousands of births.”
In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is also confirmed by Prahlada Maharaja that merely by personal efforts or by the instructions of higher authorities one cannot attain to the stage of devotional service. One must become blessed by the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee, who is completely freed from the contamination of material desires.
In the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sixth Chapter, verse 18, Narada also says to Yudhisthira, “My dear King, it is Lord Krishna, known as Mukunda, who is the eternal protector of the Pandavas and the Yadus. He is also your spiritual master and instructor in every respect. He is the only worshipable God for you. He is very dear and affectionate, and He is the director of all your activities, both individual and familial. And what’s more, He sometimes carries out your orders as if He were your messenger! My dear King, how very fortunate you are, because for others all these favors given to you by the Supreme Lord would not even be dreamt of.” The purport to this verse is that the Lord easily offers liberation, but He rarely agrees to offer a soul devotional service, because by devotional service the Lord Himself becomes purchased by the devotee.
So on the one hand – devotional service is described as most rare and difficult to achieve – and is achieved ONLY by the (rarely attained) mercy of the pure devotee – while the CC Madhya Lila 19:151 – urges all souls to become simply and intimately associated with this Krishna Consciousness movement and the association of the devotees so inspired and in this way – make their short lives completely successful.
Srila Prabhupada stated the following in his glorification of The Spiritual Master which he offered as his own Vyasa Puja offering to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur in February 1936:
“Gentlemen, the offering of such an homage as has been arranged this evening to the Acharyadeva is not a sectarian concern, for when we speak of the fundamental principle of gurudeva, or acharyadeva, we speak of something that is of universal application. There does not arise any question of discriminating my guru from yours or anyone else’s. There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me, and all others.”
“There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me, and all others.”
This statement by Srila Prabhupada – if understood in full – resolves all disparate conclusions as to the issue of formal initiation within the ISKCON mission of Srila Prabhupada. Once this issue is clearly resolved – then the managerial issues concerning the GBC body and most importantly – the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust – will almost magically – right themselves with little difficulty.
Ritvik Acharya means “one who is authorized” by Srila Prabhupada or his Governing Body – to initiate disciples on behalf of Srila Prabhupada and his mission. The ritvik gurus are just one of the “infinity” of forms within which the Acharya or Sri Guru reveals Himself. In the context of Srila Prabhupada – the 11th Acharya and obvious Shaktyavesha Avatar of Lord Krishna/Gauranga – his appointed or authorized “ritvik gurus” occupy a most vital and significant position within his mission.
In 1986 – the year of the so-called “reform” – the men occupying this important position (ritvik acharyas) had undermined their ability to represent Srila Prabhupada correctly in this all-important service. This allowed the “reformers” to attack the position itself indirectly – while focusing upon the less than adorable representation of Srila Prabhupada by some of the original delegates.
When Thomas Jefferson addressed King George III with a list of “grievances” in 1776 – he used this list of grievances to both explain and justify the colonial’s rejection of the monarchy itself – with their objections to the exhaustive list of that particular King’s supposed offences.
In the same manner – Rabindra Swarup, Bhir Krishna Goswami and Virabahu Das and the others collectively RULED AGAINST the directives of Srila Prabhupada in the matter of ritvik acharyas and interpolated the Gaudiya Math interpretation of Srila Bhaktisiddanta’s orders. They insisted that Srila Prahupada’s order to “send the letter of recommendation by the Temple President to whoever was nearest” should be replaced with the new edict that “the Temple President should send their letter of recommendation to whoever was dearest to the sentiments of the new devotees”. Under the guise of “correcting” errant gurus, they mistakenly directed their antipathy towards the arrangements of Srila Prabhupada. In short – knowingly or otherwise – they advocated disobediance of The Spiritual Master, as the long term solution to what was always a simple problem; correcting or removing an unqualified ritvik representative of Srila Prabhupada.
The so-called “reform” threw out the baby – with the bathwater, and we have endured a litany of negative and undermining consequences to this day ever since. The “reformation” they assumed was so vital and necessary – was in fact the ultimate rejection of Srila Prabhupada. With cries of “They should not be worshipped so” or “They all have conducted themselves in a manner commensurate with their “level” of realization – the “reformers” both set aside the proper respect for “The Spiritual Master” as He was appearing to us through Srila Prabhupada’s simple system of appointed ritvik gurus, AND they opened the door to all the pretension and dissension that entered later via this one or that one who WAS purported to be “self realized”, i.e. Narayana Maharaja and others.
I propose that we quietly implement the principles on guru as Srila Prabhupada clearly gave them.
THE SPIRITUAL MASTER – appears in an “infinity” of forms – and within Srila Prabhupada’s personal offering to our Parampara – his ISKCON misson – The spiritual master appears eternally in the person of Srila Prabhupada our Acharya and the Current Link to our Spotless Parampara – his books – and his system of delegated ritvik gurus. This is clearly and undeniably – precisely what he arranged for the benefit of the whole world.
Thus this particular service of ritvik guru is very significant and sacred and should be deeply respected. The requisite respect for this important service – must first and foremost be assigned it – by the very men who are endorsed by Srila Prabhupada or his GBC to assume its responsibilities. So vital is this service that Srila Prabhupada left it subservient to the corrective oversight of the Governing Body Commission – as per the wishes of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. He said “Now we must be very careful. Previously we were lenient for preaching but now we must be very strict” when he was appointing the first 11 men. In the military – one is obliged to salute the “rank” not the man. Thus – the means of fulfilling the obligation to accept initiation – was given full scope by Srila Prabhupada via his selected “ritvik gurus“. We are not at liberty to assign this office more or less deference than it warrants; it being Srila Prabhupada’s own arrangement. NOD Chapter 6 asserts this most clearly:
“How to Discharge Devotional Service”
Srila Rupa Gosvami states that his elder brother (Sanatana Gosvami) has compiled Hari-bhakti-vilasa for the guidance of the Vaishnavas and therein has mentioned many rules and regulations to be followed by the Vaishnavas. Some of them are very important and prominent, and Srila Rupa Gosvami will now mention these very important items for our benefit. The purport of this statement is that Srila Rupa Gosvami proposes to mention only basic principles, not details. For example, a basic principle is that one has to accept a spiritual master. Exactly how one follows the instructions of his spiritual master is considered a detail. For example, if one is following the instruction of his spiritual master and that instruction is different from the instructions of another spiritual master, this is called detailed information. But the basic principle of acceptance of a spiritual master is good everywhere, although the details may be different. Srila Rupa Gosvami does not wish to enter into details here, but wants to place before us only the principles.
Srila Prabhupada eternally sits upon the vysasana – within his temples and he is at full liberty to establish exactly how this “detail” in devotional service – will be executed under his watchful eye. How the details in the matter of initiation are met WITHIN his mission – are a matter of public record. The GBC and BBT need to be correctly established. They are presently not so. Fixing them is not possible – unless this matter of how to establish and respect the ritvik acharya in ISKCON is established, for it is clear that the “reformers” of ’86 are determined to sustain their rejection of Srila Prabhupada’s assigning absolute value to the position of guru as ritvik appointees for his mission as opposed to allowing all his disciples to represent him as guru within his mission.
We are not at liberty to alter the respect given to The Bonafide Spiritual Master.
The Spiritual Master appears in an infinity of forms – and all of them made their appearance here in the West – with Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in Boston’s Commonwealth Pier on September 17, 1965 and are to be respected for the simple fact that each of them equally represents the “promise of perfection” in our simple short lives as offered by our Parampara through intimate association with this Krishna Consciousness movement. ISKCON must come to the realization that ritvik guru IS guru; when it is conducted in accordance to the instructions of Srila Prabhupada. Employing the terminology given us by Srila Prabhupada – does not set us at odds with the science of bhakti, nor does using this terminolgy alter the demands upon these men as being “teachers” of Krishna Consciousness. The spiritual master within ISKCON is uniquely adjusted by our Srila Prabhupada – in order to facilitate the spreading of this chanting of Hare Krishna to every town and village. The “rareness” of the association of the Pure Devotee and Pure Devotional service – are made available to everyone now in the form of ISKCON. What remains very rare indeed – is finding sincere souls who recognize that and agree to embrace that golden opportunity.
Finding the pure devotee – and the possibility of pure devotional service is accomplished in the arrangements of Srila Prabhupada. No one need go on the world wide search for the “pure devotee”. He has appeared in the form of this great Krishna Consciousness mission under the banner of ISKCON.
I have some very simple suggestions that we can discuss for mending all the “broken fences” that have manifest over the last two decades. Please contact me at your discretion.