The Double Standard: Is Srila Prabhupada Present or Not? (Classic)
BY: MADHAVANANDA DAS
Originally Published Jun 16, 2009 USA (SUN) —
It is interesting to see how some leaders simultaneously propound and reject the philosophy of Prabhupada being present and alive through his vani. An article was recently posted by Parasuram das titled, “Philosophy of Narayana Maharaja Proven Misleading and False”. There Parasuram challenges against the “living guru” philosophy when it is being preached by a Narayana Maharaja follower. The Narayana Maharaja follower is accused of preaching that sabda-brahma can only be attained through a physically present guru. Parasuram gives some nice quotes and supports the opposite view that Srila Prabhupada is still living with us and present through his vani. Particularly interesting, he gives a quote where an initiation is conducted and devotees are initiated as Srila Prabhupada ‘s disciples through the use of a tape recording of Srila Prabhupada chanting Gayatri mantra.
I don’t know exactly where Parasuram stands on the whole issue, but generally I have seen where many ISKCON leaders will take one stand of upholding the truth of Srila Prabhupada ‘s presence through vani when it comes to countering Narayana Maharaja propaganda, and then at the same time preach the opposite, denying that Srila Prabhupada could still be the current initiating spiritual master. This type of preaching is another display of hypocrisy in the age of Kali yuga.
Narayana Maharaja preaches the same “living guru” philosophy which today’s ISKCON leaders have adopted from the Gaudiya Matha after the passing of Srila Prabhupada, and which Srila Prabhupada warned us about as having been erroneously conceived of after the passing of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. This whole scenario of ISKCON having conflict with the Narayana Maharaja camp is just another product of this “living guru” philosophy. ISKCON has embraced a guru system which opens the door for all these problems. We want to preach that Srila Prabhupada is living when it’s convenient, and then reject it when it doesn’t comply with the status quo.
A material bodily conception is being imposed on the very definition of parampara and initiation itself, where it is being said that the parampara cannot continue and initiation is not possible without the initiating guru being physically present. Srila Prabhupada has taught, however, that disciplic succession and initiation mean simply the transference and application of spiritual knowledge. We all know that this is going on through Srila Prabhupada ‘s books, and that it is his murti’s and guru pujas which are being performed daily in all ISKCON temples. This will go on as long as this institution is called ISKCON. So to reject that Srila Prabhupada could be the current initiator, saying he is not physically present and then turn and challenge Narayana Maharaja followers that Srila Prabhupada is our guru, he is present with us through his vani, is certainly duplicitous.
Here is the excerpt from Parasuram’s article”
“Big Bhagavat Maharaja (sorry, I don’t know his new name) claims that Srila Prabhupada ‘s books, tapes, DVDs, (vani) cannot bring one to Vraj lila, as they are not sabda-brahma.
Here’s the concept:
“One has to hear. It is not that, “All right, tapes are there, I’ll hear the recorded tapes.” sabda-brahma will never descend. […] You should be greedy. Physical contact is required. You must hear directly, not just by listening to tapes. Sabda-brahma will never descend through a tape. One must hear from a physically present Sri Guru.” (HH Gour Govinda Swami, ‘Q&A’, The Worship of Sri Guru, chapter 3)
Here’s the reality:
“The potency of transcendental sound is never minimised because the vibrator is apparently absent.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 2.9.8, purport) “You should have a fire sacrifice and the second initiates should hear through the right ear the mantra on my recorded tape.” ” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, November 13th, 1975)
Dear Maharaja, in the past, no doubt you loved Srila Prabhupada . My challenge for you is to stand face to face with Srila Prabhupada in his murti form and declare out loud that: “Your books cannot bring me to the highest platform of Vraj lila as they are not sabda-brahma – and Narayan Maharaj can take me there.”
I don’t believe you can do it! You said it to me – you know you can’t say it to Srila Prabhupada , because he is still here with us. ”
I absolutely agree with Parasuram that Srila Prabhupada is still with us, and not knowing his overall position on this matter I’m not making any accusations towards him, however it would be interesting to know what his conclusion is on this side of the issue. There is quite sufficient information available to us to make an educated conclusion that Srila Prabhupada has intended to continue initiating his own disciples after his disappearance through his vani and through his disciples. It appears that Lord Krishna has set up a situation where Srila Prabhupada would be the Spiritual Master for the whole world, just as He setup to make Yudhisthira the king of the whole world. Srila Prabhupada should become renowned throughout the world just as Lord Jesus Christ. In the way that everyone in the world has heard of Jesus, it should similarly come about where every person has heard of Srila Prabhupada. Right now if you go out and ask a hundred people, how many will have heard of Srila Prabhupada? At least the majority have not. The only way this likely will happen is with Srila Prabhupada remaining as the current initiator for ISKCON.
The current system of preaching that Srila Prabhupada is not physically present and not the current initiator simply diminishes and diverts the real glorification of Srila Prabhupada, which is needed in order to bring about his widespread awareness. So long as we keep propagating this “living guru” or physical guru philosophy we will always have so many of these competitor “guru’s” competing with Srila Prabhupada by publishing their own Bhagavad Gita’s, giving new names to Prabhupada disciples, and so on. And rather than having a united family of Prabhupada disciples as there once was, there will always be so many groups cropping up following this “guru” and that “guru”.
After several more generations, the connection with Srila Prabhupada will become more and more obscured, with everyone bewildered in search of another new fashionable upstart “guru”. So long as ISKCON is ensnared in these debates over who is a bonafide guru and does not have a
clear cut presentation of a pure devotee whom all the world can take shelter in and connect to directly as his initiated disciple, then the world at large will never become attracted to this movement, or at least there might never be a united following of bonafide disciples.
I think we all know that a disciple must accept only one initiating spiritual master. According to Srila Prabhupada ‘s definition, although there may be many instructing gurus, the initiator is the primary focus of one’s devotional service, the primary source of our knowledge, the one whom a disciple actually worships as good as God, and for that matter the one who should actually be an uttama adhikari, seeing and communicating directly with Lord Krishna.
“Actually, you have only one Spiritual Master, who initiates you, just as you have only one father. But every Vaisnava should be treated as prabhu, master, higher than me, and in this sense, if I learn from him, he may be regarded as guru. It is not that I disobey my real Spiritual Master and call someone else as Spiritual Master. That is wrong. It is only that I can call Spiritual Master someone who is teaching me purely what my initiating Spiritual Master has taught. Do you get the sense? (Srila Prabhupada Letter, November 20, 1971)
Naturally, since a devotee must accept only one person as initiating guru, it would seem to make sense that the initiator guru should be the same for everyone in an institution. This is why the guru puja is going on daily in all ISKCON temples for Srila Prabhupada only. Some of us remember the days back in the 80’s and early 90’s in the temples when after Srila Prabhupada ‘s guru puja, a folding screen was put out to cover Srila Prabhupada and little tables were put out, each with a picture of some different “initiating” guru, and devotees each did their own little separate guru pujas for their “initiating” gurus. Those days are over now because all that kind of stuff was a concoction that was a fiasco. And grand worship of ISKCON “initiating” gurus has gradually been scaled down, and their positions and powers amended and redefined by the guru voting board. But still somehow the living guru philosophy and denial of Srila Prabhupada’s actual position continue to resound in ISKCON, (perhaps we should call it MISKCON, or the great MISKCONception), so much so that devotees who propound this Prabhupada philosophy are banished from the society, just as the Pandavas were banished from their kingdom.
Those of us who cannot admit that Srila Prabhupada is the one person who is the primary guru for everyone in ISKCON, are doing so because of some personal motivation. Some want the recognition and honor of being an exclusive Prabhupada disciple, one of the few…one of the chosen, some want the satisfaction of fame and followers, servants and contributions, and some just want to be part of the club, society, friends and facility to enjoy. Grandfather Bhisma was a great devotee, but he played the role of someone who took the wrong side because of his own personal interest of being maintained.
I am hoping that devotees come more together on this understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s position. Before signing off, I’d just like to recap a few points. Although most of us have heard the evidences, I’d just like to recap as briefly as possible. To this day there is no official statement where Srila Prabhupada gives authorization to the current ISKCON guru system. Although we may find a few earlier quotes where Prabhupada gives mention of his disciples someday initiating on their own, we find many latter statements giving a different idea. The many quotes where Prabhupada orders to become guru, when analyzed, are clear to be simply ordering to preach. [See Addendum]
Several times when Srila Prabhupada was asked about a successor, he did not state anything like, “My disciples will be my successors and initiate their own disciples”. He stated there was no need for a successor and sometimes referred to a zonal system being in place to carry on the movement. When we refer to the latest and most final statement on the matter, namely the May 28th 1977 Conversation and following July 9th Letter, we find more supporting evidences. The May 28th Conversation, although confusing for some because of the mention of “grand disciples” and “disciple of my disciple”, is concluded by Srila Prabhupada stating “When I order”. Such an order however is nowhere to be found. The July 9th Letter, which is the official follow-up to the entire society resulting from the May 28th Conversation, makes no mention of anyone becoming initiating gurus and accepting their own disciples. Furthermore, and adding more to the question of the actual authenticity of the May 28th recording, Tamal Krishna had made a recorded statement three years later confirming that Srila Prabhupada had never appointed these 11 as initiating gurus, and that he had only appointed them as ritviks, saying you cannot show otherwise in tape or writing. Here is the well known quote:
Tamal Krishna: “Actually, Prabhupada never appointed any gurus. He didn’t appoint eleven gurus. He appointed eleven ritviks. He never appointed them gurus. Myself and the other GBC have done the greatest disservice to this movement the last three years (32 now) because we interpreted the appointment of ritviks as the appointment of gurus. […]
The point I want to state on that is this realization, and I feel that the GBC body, if they don’t adopt this point very quickly, if they don’t realize this truth: You can’t show me anything on tape or in writing where Prabhupada says, “I appoint these 11 as gurus.” It doesn’t exist because he never appointed any gurus. This is a myth. Everyone is qualified to right now give initiation and you’ll see no blood and pus will fall out of the sky, no thunderbolt will strike you dead.”
(December 3, 1980 Topanga Canyon Pyramid House)
The question that follows: Tamal Krishna admits that Srila Prabhupada never appointed 11 successors, yet he goes on to promote the idea that Srila Prabhupada has authorized everyone to take the position of initiating guru. Now if this were so, then why do we have a May 28th recording where Srila Prabhupada, when asked specifically about initiations after his departure, speaks of appointing eleven persons? Why does Srila Prabhupada not say right then something to the effect that any of my disciples can go ahead and initiate if they are qualified? When did Srila Prabhupada ever say such a thing? It certainly is not stated in the July 9th Letter, the one and only official document on the matter which Srila Prabhupada ever issued. We all know the document appoints eleven disciples to initiate on his behalf, and it does not say that the system should end at any time, it just says that it should continue “henceforward”. So where is the authorization to have ended this system? And where in the first place did ISKCON leaders even get the idea from to have a zonal system which they carried on for 10 years?
Isn’t it obvious enough that Srila Prabhupada set-up this zonal system and never instructed for it to end? If he had instructed it to end after his departure, then why did ISKCON leaders have it going for 10 years after? If Srila Prabhupada, as today claimed to, had so clearly instructed his disciples that they would become his successors and initiate their own disciples after his departure, then why did they even have to question him about it on May 28th, and why did they subsequently have a zonal system for eleven years?
One might think that it should be obvious enough to most of us what Srila Prabhupada has intended, but here 32 years later, this issue is still a perplexity for most of us being baffled and ensnared by the onslaught of “living guru” propaganda. Perhaps if we keep chipping away at the stone by presenting the facts, then someday these clouds of illusion will disperse and Srila Prabhupada ‘s light will shine on all the world.
In 1972 Srila Prabhupada had already indicated his intention for a zonal system whereby initiations would be performed by his disciples. The following statements indicated his intention for that system to continue functioning after his disappearance.
“GBC means now they should tour very extensive. That is the first principle, the GBC. Not sit down one place and pass resolution. No, they must be active. They must act like me. As I am old man, I am traveling all over the world. Now to give me relief, the GBC members…I shall expand into twelve more so that they can exactly work like me. Gradually they will be initiators. At least first initiation. You must make advance. That is my motive. So, in that way I want to divide it in twelve zones. And we have to make more propaganda throughout the whole world. Now if you think that the world is so big, twelve members are insufficient, then you can increase more than that and make the zone similarly divided. It is world affair after all.” (Conversation with GBC May 25, 1972 Los Angeles)
Note that since Srila Prabhupada is speaking here of zones and indicating a time extending over his physical presence, he is obviously referring to his disciples as “initiators” in the capacity of initiating on his behalf. On another occasion later, after he had already deputed certain disciples to perform initiations on his behalf within this zonal system, he spoke using similar terminology, referring to these representatives as “initiators”.
Prabhupada: “Hare Krsna. One Bengali gentleman has come from New York? Tamala Krsna: Yes. Mr. Sukamal Roy Chowdury. Prabhupada: So I have deputed some of you to initiate. Hm? Tamala Krsna: Yes. Actually… Yes, Srila Prabhupada . Prabhupada: So I think Jayapataka can do that if he likes. I have already deputed. Tell him.” (October 18, 1977, Vrndavana)
It is an undisputed fact that Srila Prabhupada was the only initiator for ISKCON up until his disappearance, yet here he says that Jayapataka can “initiate” him. Although Srila Prabhupada is using this terminology, it is understood that Srila Prabhupada is actually giving diksa and his representative is performing the formal ceremony on his behalf as clearly outlined by the July 9th Letter:
“Srila Prabhupada indicated that soon He would appoint some of His senior disciples to act as “ritvik – representative of the acarya, for the purpose of performing initiations, both first initiation and second initiation. […] The newly initiated devotees are disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the above eleven senior
devotees acting as His representative.” (July 9th Letter to all Temple Presidents and GBC’s)
It is therefore consistent that Srila Prabhupada would refer to his representative for initiation as “initiators”(later to be called “officiating acaryas” or “ritviks”). Whether Srila Prabhupada was intending at that time in 1972 for these “initiators” to go on to initiate their own disciples after his departure should be examined in light of the following; Srila Prabhupada was questioned during news interviews in 1976 on three occasions about who will succeed him after his departure, and each time he spoke only of a committee of GBC zonal secretaries. He never spoke of any individual successors and does not say that his disciples would carry on the movement by initiating their own disciples. In fact, he even states that there is no need of a successor acarya (because the zonal committee, as his representative, he says, would manage the movement).
Reporter: “Is there anyone who is designated to succeed you as the primary teacher of the movement? Prabhupada: I am training some, I mean to say, advanced students so that they may be very easily take up the charge. I have made them GBC. They are under my direct training, and I think they will be able to conduct this movement. Reporter: Do you expect to name one person as your successor or have you already? Prabhupada: That I am not contemplating now. But there is no need of one person. As other things are managed, but by committee, so this can also be managed, and the committee may elect one person as chief. As, just like in the democracy there are senators and there is president, so it may be I may nominate or they can nominate.” (Interview, June 4, 1976)
Interviewer: “What happens when that inevitable time comes when a successor is needed? Ramesvara: He is asking about the future, who will guide the movement in the future. Prabhupada: They will guide. I am training them. Interviewer: Will there be one spiritual leader, though? Prabhupada: No, I am training GBC, eighteen all over the world.” (Interview, June 10, 1976)
Interviewer: “I was wondering if he had a successor to do… Do you have a successor to take your place when you die? Prabhupada: Not yet settled up. Not yet settled up. Interviewer: So what process would the Hare Krsnas…? Prabhupada: We have got secretaries. They are managing. Ramesvara: He has appointed from all the disciples a group of secretaries. Each one is in charge of a different sector of the world. Interviewer: How many secretaries? Ramesvara: Presently there is eighteen. Interviewer: And so that group of eighteen secretaries will choose another leader? Prabhupada: I am training each one of them as leader so that they can spread extensively. That is my idea.” (Interview with Newsweek July 14, 1976)
Srila Prabhupada is specifically questioned three times in late 1976 about whether he will have a successor, and on each occasion he refers to this zonal system to carry forth the movement after his disappearance. There is no specific mention here of disciples initiating their own disciples and
becoming successor diksa gurus. We should note that it is late in 1976, and Srila Prabhupada is being specifically questioned by Newsweek, a major national news magazine, about what will happen after his disappearance and there Srila Prabhupada is openly referring to a zonal system, managed by “secretaries“, to carry forth the movement. We know that later in the July 9th Letter Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 of these GBC secretaries to the post of ritvik.
It is an undisputed fact that for ten years after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, a zonal system was in effect in ISKCON. This clearly indicates that Srila Prabhupada never gave an instruction for the zonal system to end after his disappearance. This is consistent with the fact that the July 9th Letter instructs for the zonal system to continue henceforward without any indication of it ending at any time. The zonal system, however, has been disregarded by ISKCON after having been improperly executed. The zonal system, of course, was setup to function only through the proper execution of ritvik initiators or “officiating acaryas”, as Srila Prabhupada called them.