Recently I read a letter from Badrinarayana Das, Minister for the Protection of ISKCON, addressed to an unnamed devotee. This letter was posted on Chakra.
As Vaishnavas we are enjoined to be very careful of criticizing other Vaishnavas, even if they are seen to engage in bad habits. Truthfulness is the one remaining leg of religiosity remaining in Kali-yuga, and even that is dwindling at an alarming rate. Therefore it should come as no surprise that partial representations and misrepresentations are presented as truth.
However, when Krishna, Vaishnavas, and one's initiating and instructing spiritual masters are the target of vilification, we should respond forcefully with the authority of guru, sadhu and shastra.
Srila Jiva Goswami explains in Bhakti-sandarbha that nindanam, blasphemy, means to engage in dosa-kirtana, or extolling the faults. Even this is understood as blasphemy, what to speak of manufacturing faults or magnifying insignificant ones.
I beg the forgiveness of the Vaishnavas for taking a fiery tone in response to many statements made in the abovementioned letter. When Vaishnavas are libeled in the name of Srila Prabhupada, it goes against all he taught us and does not bring glory to his name as we should always do.
I would like to respond to points made here with examples and shastric evidence, and allow the learned and gentle Vaishnava readers to judge for themselves whether I speak truthfully and according to the teachings of Srila Prabhupada.
Accusation 1: Maharaja is not a siksa representative of Srila Prabhupada
Let us consider what are the criteria for being considered a "siksa representative of Srila Prabhupada."
Is the criterion for being a siksa representative the ability to cut and paste quotes from Folio? No. Any person from the street can do this without understanding a thing.
Is it the ability to quote from memory? No. There are many scholars who are not even devotees of Krishna who can do this. We are to study Srila Prabhupada's books not just as if mining for sound bites to support our personal views, but to absorb everything in a mood of service and surrender. In this way we will gain realization of the scriptural conclusions.
Srila Prabhupada gave instructions primarily through his books. He strongly emphasized this, telling us even at the end "I have given everything in my books". The ability to plagiarize or memorize does not make one a siksa representative of Srila Prabhupada. What, then, are the criteria?
One should take Srila Prabhupada's instructions, his very mood, deep into one's heart. One should be dedicated, life and soul, to giving Krishna consciousness to others. One should take even a single instruction from Srila Prabhupada on one's head and find the means to carry it out.
Can we say that Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja is following Srila Prabhupada's instructions? Emphatically yes. He was serving Srila Prabhupada even before any of us knew what Krishna consciousness was. He assisted and supported Srila Prabhupada's preaching efforts even at the cost of his own health and well-being. Maharaja was requested at the very end of Srila Prabhupada's pastimes on this earth to help Srila Prabhupada's disciples. He has always done this as a well-wisher of ISKCON, the society of devotees following Srila Prabhupada.
Would Srila Prabhupada have requested that someone who was not his disciple should give him samadhi? Certainly Srila Prabhupada had many Godbrothers who were qualified to do this, even initiated disciples like Pradyumna Prabhu who knew various rituals, and other close spiritual relations like Srila Govinda Maharaja, who composed Srila Prabhupada's pranama-mantra.
Was our Srila Prabhupada interested in ritual and ceremony or in substance? Some persons seem to think that without the formal connection of initiation there can be no guru-disciple relationship. From his many years of service to Srila Prabhupada it is clear that Srila Narayana Maharaja considered the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON his siksa-guru and dear friend. By this final and most intimate request it is equally clear that Srila Prabhupada considered Maharaja his siksa disciple. A paramahamsa is always given samadhi by a leading disciple.
What is the state of affairs now? Why is it such a crime to hear the Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrita from a bonafide Vaishnava that one will be immediately evicted from the temple? One can be proven to engage in illicit affairs and receive forgiveness, even continue to serve as a leader of the society if the falldown is not visible. But to hear Hari-katha from a pure Vaishnava whose only business is hearing and chanting is a great crime. Is this not the fault of the prakrita-sahajiyas, that they consider illicit affairs to be acceptable, and Hari-katha to be a cheap commodity?
2: Enormous disparity and injustice
ISKCON is presented as tolerant, generous and forgiving, and Maharaja is characterized as just the opposite. Let us examine the specifics and see if they hold water.
2a: Maharaja roundly criticizes ISKCON
Three separate position papers have been prepared by various ISKCON leaders over the past four years or so. To varying degrees they have thoroughly libeled Maharaja by direct statements and insinuation. He has been threatened with physical violence in India. Programs that were arranged and paid for were disrupted by ISKCON leaders in England. Leaders continue to preach against him with varying degrees of vituperation. What has been his response? Has he sometimes said the leaders are acting like kanisthas? Yes, but why is it OK for Ravindra Svarupa to say this but not a senior Vaishnava? Why the double standard?
And in the face of so much intimidation, harassment, criticism and outright untruth, how much does Maharaja have to say about ISKCON? Very little. Sometimes he responds to the criticisms that ISKCON leaders make, insinuating that he is a sahajiya.
Does Maharaja encourage his followers to criticize ISKCON? Not at all; he is very strong on the point of not being critical of Vaishnavas. Are they able to follow this instruction under extreme provocation? Not that well, in many cases. Is Maharaja blamed for this? Of course. Is this a double standard? You decide.
The fact is that Maharaja remains a well-wisher of ISKCON. However, he considers that abandoning shastra, especially Srila Prabhupada's books and the writings of the Goswamis, in favor of sectarian policies will not be beneficial. His support remains on a positive level, encouraging devotees to read Srila Prabhupada's books carefully. When I met with him in Vrindavan last year he emphasized to me that he is especially interested in meeting devotees who have carefully read Srila Prabhupada's books. He has often remarked that if there are difficulties with some people accepting the things he is preaching, it may be because they have not read Srila Prabhupada's books.
2b. Gaudiya Math denies access to ISKCON sannyasis
This is interesting. In 1994 quite a few ISKCON sannyasis, some of whom were actively initiating gurus, spoke at Keshavji Gaudiya Math. I am not sure what basis, if any, this accusation has, but it is hard to take it seriously. To be fair, the philosophical standards in many Gaudiya Math missions are high, and those who are not willing or able to back their statements up with shastra may not be welcome to preach some new philosophy.
It is possible that the issue of unorthodox doctrine is being confused with sectarianism. In any case, more specific support could be produced for this.
Maharaja has received with honor and affection all disciples of Srila Prabhupada for many years, giving guidance and support on a number of different issues.
This is the ringer, the killer, the great fear-bringer. I have addressed this sensitive but largely false issue in a separate paper, which is available at http://hgsoft.com/~agrahya/papers/re-initiation.html
In short, consider this: a disciple of an ISKCON guru who has said things against Maharaja that I will not repeat hears him speak. He is inspired by Maharaja's association and desires shelter. He is simultaneously quite unhappy with the guru whom he feels has misled him. He tells Maharaja, "I have lost faith in my guru." What is the response?
Maharaja told him, "You should continue to respect him as guru. But you can take instruction. There is siksa and diksa relationship, and sometimes the siksa relationship becomes more prominent." This is how Maharaja has encouraged many devotees. I have witnessed quite a number of devotees who come to hear from Maharaja yet maintain respect for their ISKCON gurus. Undeniably, however, the siksa relationship may become gradually more prominent. This will be addressed in greater detail in response to Accusation #3 below.
But let us consider another scenario: the disciple does not feel misled or cheated, but feels it would be right to tell the initiating guru "I would like to continue taking instruction from Maharaja. Please give me your blessing."
In this scenario, the response may be something like: "You must immediately give up your relationship with Narayana Maharaja or send me back your japa beads." Or, "We can have some relationship but it will be like between devotees and Christians, following different religions." What position is the disciple in? He or she has gotten genuine inspiration along the path toward giving up bad habits and dedicating one's life to chanting Hare Krishna and preaching. He or she has heard powerful preaching according to shastra. Something must be rejected. Who will it be? Will it be the initiating guru who is issuing the ultimatum and demanding unquestioning obedience? Or will it be shastra and the sadhu who is giving inspiration, and the inspiration to hear, chant, remember, and preach enthusiastically?
This is not an easy thing, but again and again this scenario has been played out. And what position is Maharaja in? Will he tell the already rejected disciple, "You have to go back and get permission in writing"? Will he say, "I cannot accept you as a disciple because you were once in ISKCON and you belong to ISKCON" ? He will not withold shelter from those who are in need. This is the Vaishnava way. The blame lies not with the disciple who was rejected, nor with the guru who gives shelter.
Srila Prabhupada commanded our respect, he did not demand it, and he taught us to do the same. Therefore this is not re- initiation, it is simply initiation; what took place before can be accepted as a ritual, possibly a helpful one, but not as bonafide initiation. This is supported also by Srila Jiva Goswami, who comments in Bhakti-sandarbha on the verse from Mahabharata guror apy avaliptasya. If the guru becomes fallen, or becomes hateful toward Vaishnavas, he may be given up.
There is much more to be said on this issue. It is the greatest source of fear and is used as a goad to provoke dangerous and strongly negative emotions.
2d: Siksa-guru cannot be called "Gurudeva" or give name
This is an incorrect understanding of philosophy and precedent. As addressed below, the siksa relationship can become more prominent. There is no distinction made between initiating and instructing spiritual masters, only there may be only one initiating spiritual master and many instructing spiritual masters. For precedent we may consider Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami. We do not know who his initiating guru was, but his instructing gurus - Rupa, Raghunatha, and Nityananda Prabhu - are very well known to us. Might he address Srila Rupa Goswami as "Gurudeva?" It seems a possibility.
Can one be given a spiritual name by one who is not the diksa guru? Again we easily find precedent in none other than our Srila Prabhupada. We find the papers of incorporation for the League of Devotees showing his name as "Bhaktisiddhanta das." Later this was changed to "Bhaktivedanta Prabhu." By the standard suggested here, was Srila Prabhupada re-initiated? Or is it a dual standard, or a wrong idea to begin with?
Names are not given frivolously in Vaishnava society. They are given by senior and respectable personalities, usually by one's initiating or instructing guru. It is simply bad logic to consider that because a name is given at the time of diksa that name-giving is initiation. By such logic the father or the priest who performs nama-karana is the diksa-guru.
Yet another example is Bhaktivinoda Thakur, who took diksa from Bipin Bihari Goswami. It is known that the Thakur respected Bipin Bihari Goswami as his guru yet he held in far greater esteem his siksa-guru, Srila Jagannatha das Babaji. Those who emphasize diksa over siksa come dangerously close to the clamor of the siddha-pranali party, who claim that one must take initiation in their line and who do not accept Srila Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakur and any of his followers, including our Srila Prabhupada, as bonafide.
3: Diksa must be prominent
By claiming that the siksa-guru must take a subordinate role, there is a change to the siddhanta given by Srila Prabhupada. As mentioned above, there are many examples where the siksa relationship is far, far more prominent. It is only in the siddha-pranali line that they claim diksa is more prominent.
The idea that the disciple must do things in a rigidly prescribed fashion, or that one must surrender blindly to the diksa-guru, is not supported by shastra. Our Srila Prabhupada points this out very strongly in commenting on tad viddhi pranipatena: "Both blind following and absurd inquiries are herein condemned."
What does it mean to condemn blind following? Does it mean that the guru does not expect us to follow blindly? Are we supposed to hear from him and consider how he is presenting everything according to shastra and the previous authorities?
If the guru is a liberated soul like Srila Prabhupada, we may follow blindly or not blindly, and it doesn't matter much as long as we remain very close to him so that when we stumble he can turn and catch us. But it is far better to follow with our eyes open. We should have full faith in the guidance of the bonafide guru, at the same time we should have our eyes open and see the path he is showing us. The bonafide guru has not made up a new path, but is showing us the same path that has been traversed by the previous acaryas (etam sa asthaya paratma-nistham, adhyasitam purvatamair mahadbhih).
The purports to Cc. Adi 3.34-35 (vande gurun isa-bhaktan) are very significant. Srila Prabhupada explains about diksa and siksa gurus. He also speaks about serving the initiating spiritual master in his physical absence. In the physical absence of the spiritual master there is no opportunity to render service. In this situation Srila Prabhupada says, "If there is no opportunity to render service, one should take the order of the spiritual master as his life and soul." But then he cautions us, "But if one thinks he is above accepting guidance from anyone, including a spiritual master, one at once becomes an offender at the lotus feet of the Lord." (emphasis in italics added)
The claim is made here that the disciple must ask permission of the diksa-guru before receiving instruction from anyone. If this is followed strictly, one should ask permission from one's guru before attending Bhagavatam class. We may hear from many saintly persons, but if one saintly person in particular inspires us, then we may seek to seriously take shelter of them as an instructing guru.
It is perfectly logical that one may hear from Maharaja as a sadhu, and finding him genuine, seek the permission or blessing of the initiating spiritual master to continue instruction.
But any ISKCON guru who wants to remain in good standing, it seems, is required to say "No" if any disciple asks this question. Therefore it has become an issue of institutional politics rather than of siddhanta.
4: Offenses are being made against ISKCON devotees such as being called madhyama
Madhyama-adhikari is a very high level of qualification. To say that someone is a madhyama is not an insult. To claim that there are uttama-adhikaris who are offended by the "madhyama" label may be somewhat audacious. One senior sannyasi in the Gaudiya Math was once referred to as a kanistha-adhikari by another Godbrother. When told of this, his reply was, "Oh, he has granted me some adhikari (level of realization)."
If someone lives a comfortable and opulent lifestyle and exhibits attachment to that lifestyle, and that person is not attached to chanting Hare Krishna constantly, it is possible one may make the observation that "this person is materially attached." This is not offensive, particularly if the observer exhibits detachment from worldly things and strong attachment to hearing, chanting, remembering, and all the other processes of devotional service.
Criticism of the attachments of other Vaishnavas is not normally the business of a preacher. But if those who show some signs of attachment are themselves campaigning very hard to stop the influence of a Vaishnava who is able to inspire others all over the world according to vaco vegam, manasah krodha-vegam, then it is hard to not make the characterization. Many examples could be given of the various campaigns and attempts to stop Maharaja's preaching. To compare deliberate sabotage to "pushing back a little on the train" is poetic but not accurate.
5. Partial representation of events at Houston
It is described that Maharaja was nicely received at the ISKCON temple in Houston 2 years ago, then was critical. The actual account of this visit is quite different. The temple was in fact closed, and Maharaja was met by a single devotee, with no one else in sight. It is not hard to imagine that while this may be a common scenario at the Houston temple, where everyone lives outside, it does fit in with a general pattern of treating Maharaja and everyone associated with him as pariahs.
Parallels can be drawn from other temple visits. With very little variation there is a basic pattern which we have seen many times over, and I have participated in the process on one occasion:
* A senior devotee contacts ISKCON temple management and explains that Maharaja would like to come and take darsan of the Deities. Due to the strict health regimen that Maharaja is following under doctor's orders, this visit and the travel it implies needs to take place in the morning, so greeting the Deities is the ideal time.
* The response varies. Usually there is a referral to the official policy, which makes a number of conditions for any visit by Maharaja to an ISKCON temple:
* He must visit alone or with at most one or two people
* He may only visit during hours when no one is present, usually 11 AM - 3 PM
There are other conditions and concessions, some of which are presented as hospitality:
* They will feed him
* He can meet with some senior devotees behind closed doors
And of course, it is understood that he would not be allowed to speak anything in glorification of Srila Prabhupada. This is his main desire in visiting any ISKCON temple, especially places where Srila Prabhupada visited.
* We explain the restrictions on Maharaja's schedule, and ask only that he should be allowed to visit at the time when any member of the public is allowed to take darsan
* The final answer (often given at the last minute) is invariably "no"
* As temples are still considered public places, Maharaja may still exercise the right to visit. But this can hardly be deemed under favorable circumstances. The mood created amongst the devotees who feel they are being threatened and "invaded" is fearful at best.
It is therefore quite reasonable to assume that the account given of the Houston visit was far from complete.
Let me give two examples I was personally involved in.
I had conversations with devotees in the Potomac, MD ISKCON temple over the course of three or four days before a proposed visit. I explained the reason for the visit and the reasons why the proposed schedule would be unacceptable. The final answer came the day before the proposed visit: "We think it is best not to visit at this time." The decision was made amongst the senior devotees not to go. Some days later I received a call thanking me for having Maharaja not visit.
In Gita-nagari it was arranged with local devotees that there would be no problem with Maharaja visiting for greeting the Deities and guru-puja of Srila Prabhupada. It was understood he would not speak. It all seemed too easy. At 11 PM the night before the visit, we received a call asking us not to come.
In this case we went ahead and exercised our right to visit a public place of worship. The local devotees were visibly fearful and disturbed with few exceptions. The thought that went through my mind was, "What has been said to them to make them so fearful?" I spoke to one Godbrother I had known for over 20 years. He spoke to me in a manner that made it clear that he was not happy to see me.
What did these devotees expect we would do? Did they expect heavy retaliation from others in ISKCON, or did they think we would sit down and try to convert all of them? Did they think we were man-eating Raksasas with horns and pitchforks?
There is no desire on anyone's part to create such intense disturbance and agitation amongst devotees. However, we cannot overlook the fact that repeated intense propaganda against Srila Maharaja may certainly play a major role in such disturbances.
In answer to the claim that hospitality has been offered in the form of private meetings and a free lunch, let me give an analogy. I invite someone to my home, telling him that I respect him greatly. But I make a few conditions:
1. Please come when my children are not around - I don't want them to see you.
2. You can eat all you want but don't say anything.
3. You can only come at a time which I know is least convenient for you.
4. I reserve the right to cancel my invitation at any time.
In some circles this may be considered open, generous, and forebearing behavior rather than a thinly veiled insult.
If temples are open to the public, it may be assumed that a visit is proper provided that everyone behaves themselves. As long as temples are open to the public, permission cannot be demanded.
6. Claim of being "Tricky"
It is true that sadhus are very tricky. They tell us "Chant Hare Krishna and be happy." But if one hears from genuine sadhus, one will become dissatisfied with this world. By careful spiritual practice under the guidance of a bonafide spiritual master, in the association of single-pointed devotees, one will gradually develop a taste for chanting the holy name. All other worldly attractions will pale into insignificance.
Gradually one will take up a more renounced lifestyle. As one gets a taste, even a slight taste, for hearing and chanting one becomes more inclined toward Krishna and pure devotional service. Then if Krishna is especially merciful toward someone (yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad dhanam sanaih) He will take everything away and make that person a penniless beggar.
This is the only way sadhus trick and cheat others. They speak sweet Hari-katha which is so attractive to the mind and ears when narrated by pure souls, and what do we get in the end? We end up rejected by family, friends and society. We may even be rejected by those whom we considered our friends and guides on the path of Krishna consciousness.
But this "trickiness" is not like the mundane shyster who manipulates and cheats others. Those who are cheated by Krishna and His pure devotees are not robbed blind, they are robbed with their eyes wide open. They constantly beg Hari to remove even more of their unwanted attachments so that prema will come.
7. We only ask respect and the right to follow Srila Prabhupada
This is only fair. We only ask for a little respect and the right to follow Srila Prabhupada. Some specific requests:
* Please do allow us to buy books wholesale from the BBT.
* Please don't write letters on ISKCON letterhead in an attempt to disrupt preaching programs by telling those we rent facilities from that we are a dangerous cult.
* Please do provide some opportunity for open debate where both sides can present their arguments in a public forum and let devotees decide for themselves. This will promote better understanding.
* Please don't circulate slanted and inaccurate accounts in an attempt to create fear and loathing in the minds of devotees.
* Please do encourage devotees to carefully read Srila Prabhupada's books.
* Please don't threaten, intimidate and harass devotees who want to hear the other side of the issues. The truth will win out, and if that is what you want there is nothing to fear.
* Please do write papers and books encouraging devotees to carefully study Srila Prabhupada's books and engage in the practice of bhakti unmixed with jnana and karma.
* Please don't write papers and books falsely accusing others of sahajiyaism by innuendo and distortion, and contradicting the siddhanta given by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas.
In this world it is a certainty that every endeavor will have some fault externally. Somehow we should try to see the underlying sincerity and the desire to please Srila Prabhupada and Krishna. This is true on "both sides" of the fence.
My desire, personally, is to be left alone and not harassed so that I may continue endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of Srila Prabhupada. I am not concerned with whether a certain group of devotees thinks I am a demon, or whatever they say. But when inaccurate and slanted statements are made in an attempt to defame a Vaishnava whom I know personally to be of very high character, whom I accept as a bonafide spiritual master, I cannot and will not remain silent.
One can count all the negative words used in this paper. Certainly there are many. But if there is anything positive, please leave aside whatever you perceive as negative and take the positive points.
Completed Guru-purnima, 9 July 1998
Uttarapaksa (Refutations) Archive