Doubting Thomas And A Doubting ISKCON
It’s interesting that in noting the incident of Doubting Thomas from the Holy Bible, we can see a similar element of physical bodily dependency in what has become of ISKCON today. Just as Thomas wanted to rely on his eyes to believe in the presence of his spiritual master, Lord Jesus Christ, “disciples” of Srila Prabhupada are preaching that Srila Prabhupada cannot be approached as ones spiritual master (as Jesus was to his disciples) today due to him not being physically present. They do not understand the real presence of the spiritual master: his instructions. Blessed are those who have not physically seen Srila Prabhupada yet believe and accept him as their spiritual master in full.
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
King James Bible John 20:24-29
Madhudvisa: Is there any way for a Christian to, without the help of a spiritual master, to reach the spiritual sky through believing in the words of Jesus Christ and trying to follow his teachings?
Prabhupada: I don’t follow.
Tamala Krsna: Can a Christian in this age, without a spiritual master, but by reading the Bible and following Jesus’s words, reach the…
Prabhupada: When you read Bible, you follow spiritual master. How can you say without? As soon as you read Bible, that means you are following the instruction of Lord Jesus Christ, that means you are following spiritual master. So where is the opportunity of being without spiritual master?
Madhudvisa: I was referring to a living spiritual master.
Prabhupada: Spiritual master is not the question of… Spiritual master is eternal. Spiritual master is eternal. So your question is without spiritual master. Without spiritual master you cannot be, at any stage of your life. You may accept this spiritual master or that spiritual master. That is a different thing. But you have to accept. As you say that “by reading Bible,” when you read Bible that means you are following the spiritual master represented by some priest or some clergyman in the line of Lord Jesus Christ. So any case, you have to follow a spiritual master. There cannot be the question without spiritual master. Is that clear?
(Srila Prabhupada lecture — Seattle, October 2, 1968)
Note: When Madhudvisa said that he referring to a living spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada seemed almost surprised at such a question. Today, the idea of a living spiritual master has become the standard answer and definition of following a spiritual master. This is beyond surprising. Listen to the lecture 49 minutes in to get a feel of Srila Prabhupada’s tone of response when presented with the question.
“You must follow one acarya, like Christians, they follow Christ, acarya. […] You must follow some acarya … Evam parampara praptam.” (Room Conversation, Melbourne, May 20th, 1975)
“A spiritual master means voluntarily accepting a great personality whose rules and regulations he must abide by. This is accepting of spiritual master, voluntarily accepting somebody, “Yes, sir. Whatever you say, I’ll accept.” Śiṣya. Śiṣya means who abides by the rules. That is called śiṣya. Or English, “discipline.” From discipline, disciplic, disciplic succession. From the discipline. So either you take English or Sanskrit, the same meaning. Śiṣya means who accepts the ruling of his spiritual master; and disciple means also the same thing, who becomes disciplined by the spiritual master.”
(Lecture: Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.1 — Tittenhurst, London, September 12, 1969)
“A disciple means one who is always following the orders of the spiritual master. So I instruct my disciples to refrain from four prohibitions, namely no eating of meat, fish or eggs, no illicit sex life, no taking of intoxication, including tea, coffee, cigarettes, etc., and no gambling. Besides that my students must chant sixteen rounds of japa-mala of Hare Krsna mantra daily. So if you are able to follow these principles without fail, then you are as good as my disciple. And after you have practiced these things for a few months’ time, then we can see to your formal initiation.”
Letter to: Suresh Candra — London 11 August, 1972