The Zonal Acharya System (1995)
Before Srila Prabhupada left his body he named some disciples who could give ritvic initiation (accepting Srila Prabhupada’s disciples on his behalf). These devotees could chant on the beads and initiate new devotees, but these new devotees would be disciples of Srila Prabhupada, not their disciples. Tamal Krishna, Prabhupada’s secretary at that time, outlined the whole procedure in a letter sent to all temple presidents six months before Srila Prabhupada left his body. However, when Srila Prabhupada left his body there was confusion as to how the future initiations would go on, although it seemed clear that Prabhupada understood the system he established would continue after his disappearance, otherwise why would he go to the trouble of having Tamal Krishna document it and notify all temples?
Srila Prabhupada was staying in Vrndavana at that time and he knew quite well he was leaving his body very soon. If he had wanted his disciples to be acaryas in their own right surely he would have said so. At this time the GBC took advice from one of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers on the future initiations within ISKCON. It is strange that the GBC went to Prabhupada’s godbrothers for advice on such an important matter when Srila Prabhupada had warned so often that his godbrothers were envious of his success and couldn’t help in the preaching work…”They are simply trying to infiltrate our society to do something harmful…”
Srila Prabhupada had followed his spiritual master Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura by not naming an acarya to take over his position, instead, he had formed a governing body, the GBC, which was to cooperatively manage the preaching. He already had a system in place enabling a number of his disciples to initiate disciples on his behalf, they would still be Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, not disciples of the devotee who was performing the initiation ceremony. There are many indications that Srila Prabhupada intended this system to continue after he disappeared from our material vision and there are absolutely no indications that he approved of these devotees taking over ISKCON as his successors. Unfortunately the Gaudiya Math advice was the men named by Srila Prabhupada as ritvics should be treated as non- different from Srila Prabhupada. They were acaryas in their own right, entitled to sit on highly elevated vayassanas (seats), entitled to the title paramahamsa (the topmost devotee) and names like Visnupada and Bhaktipada, almost on the level of Prabhupada. Overnight these devotees became “rubber stamped” as pure unalloyed devotees and were to be worshiped on the same level as Srila Prabhupada. There was no question of of Srila Prabhupada’s other disciples ever reaching the status of “zonal acarya”; in fact, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples were expected to worship these “zonal acaryas” as if they were their disciples, if they refused there was no future for them in ISKCON.
“You have written that the devotees there say that you cannot know me, but only Kirtananda Maharaja can know me. But if Kirtananda is a disciple and he can know me, and you are also a disciple, why you cannot know me?” (to Satyabama dasi and Paramananda dasa 20 Jul, 1974)
All emphasis was placed on pleasing the “zonal acaryas” and Srila Prabhupada was put well into the background. It was considered offensive for a devotee to directly worship or approach Srila Prabhupada. He could only please Srila Prabhupada by pleasing the “zonal acarya.” Even disciples of Srila Prabhupada were expected to follow this procedure.
Any new devotee coming to ISKCON had no choice but to take initiation from the “zonal acarya” in his area. There was no room for questioning. If anyone did question the “pure devotee zonal acarya,” it was considered blasphemy and he didn’t have much chance of staying in ISKCON.
From the beginning an intelligent person who had studied Srila Prabhupada’s books could see the flaws in the “zonal acarya” system. Because speaking out against the “zonal acarya” was considered blasphemy a devotee who could see problems had to either keep his mouth closed and take initiation from the “zonal acarya” or leave.
This system made ISKCON a laughing stock for the Gaudiya Math and also for many Indians who were well aware of the actual qualifications of a spiritual master. Although the ISKCON “acaryas” were confident they were pure devotees on the same level as Srila Prabhupada, anyone looking on from outside the movement who knew the qualifications of a pure devotee could see how ridiculous this was. Prabhupada’s godbrothers and his so-called “leading disciples” had succeeded in destroying the credibility of ISKCON which Srila Prabhupada had fought so hard to establish. And still no one in ISKCON seemed to know what was happening.
“…our leaders should be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try always to generate some atmosphere of fresh challenge to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. This is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna. But where are so many expert managers? All of us should become expert managers and preachers. We should not be contented. There must be always some tapasya, strictly observing the regulative principles – Krishna consciousness movement must always be a challenge, a great achievement to be gained by a voluntary desire to do it, and that will keep it healthy.” (to Karandhara 22 Dec, 1972)
Many young people were attracted as a result of the devotees preaching and from reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. They came to ISKCON and accepted these “zonal acaryas” on face value. All the devotees in the temples were praising them as pure devotees (anyone who didn’t was thrown out) and they seemed to be advanced devotees. Many of these young people took initiation from the authorized “guru” in their area. That was their only option – there was no other way according to the ISKCON devotees. These new devotees were not aware of the poisonous effects of Mayavada philosophy which by now were spread throughout the entire society. They didn’t even know what Mayavada philosophy was! Once they joined the movement they received little training in Krishna consciousness, they were not encouraged to read Srila Prabhupada’s books. The main program was to make money for the temple. The result was most of these devotees never really understood what Krishna consciousness was and therefore didn’t experience any spiritual pleasure. This was because they were not following the process given by Srila Prabhupada. It was not their fault… The ISKCON devotees were not actually presenting Krishna consciousness any more. Everything had changed. Instead of always thinking of Krishna and distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books the devotees were now always thinking of money and selling anything and ev- erything they could lay their hands on, simply to make money. Many new devotees left after a short time because there was no pleasure or satisfaction at all in ISKCON anymore. The preaching was contaminated with Mayavada poison so just by listening to the classes devotees would loose any attachment they may have had for personal devotional service to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
These devotees either left, became contaminated themselves and joined the “Mayavadi” club, or became unhappy and frustrated within ISKCON.
“Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura suggests that people who are materialistically inclined and sahajiyas, or so-called Vaisnavas who take everything very casually, are both visayi, materialists. Eating food offered by them causes contamination, and as a result of such contamination, even a serious devotee becomes like a materialistic man. There are six kinds of asso- ciation – giving charity, accepting food, offering food, talking confidentially and enquiring confidentially. One should very care- fully avoid associating with the sahajiyas, who are sometimes known as Vaisnavas, and the non-Vaisnavas, or avaisnavas. Their association changes the transcendental devotional service of Lord Krishna into sense gratification, and when sense gratification enters the mind of a devotee, he is contaminated. The materialistic person who aspires after sense gratification cannot properly think of Krishna.
The organization built by the “zonal acaryas” was not Krishna consciousness. It was guru consciousness. Everything was centred around pleasing the guru and blind submission and surrender to the guru. Of course submission and surrender to a bona fide guru is good… even if it is blind faith. But the real spiritual master does not encourage blind sentimental following. He establishes Kr- ishna consciousness scientifically and authoritively from the authorized scriptures and trains his disciples in Krishna consciousness to enable them to thoroughly understand the philos- ophy. However, if a disciple doesn’t take advantage of his spiritual masters training, if he has faith in Krishna and his spiritual master and follows strictly the regulative principles of devotional life and chants at least 16 rounds daily, the end is the same. He is Krishna conscious. The difficulty is devotees who don’t have a solid philosophical understanding are usually not very fixed in their devotional service. Such philosophically naive devotees are also prone to exploitation. Because they don’t know the philosophy of Krishna consciousness they have no way of determining if the directions of the other devotees are correct. They are also unable to select a bona fide guru – they can’t tell maya (illusion) from Krishna. Basically they are religious fanatics. Srila Prabhupada so often referred to religion without philosophy as sentimental or fanatical.
The “zonal acaryas” themselves had no ability to preach and no real understanding of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness so they couldn’t attract intelligent disciples. They couldn’t properly present the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Only the envious and the sentimental were attracted. Of course many intelligent people read Srila Prabhupada’s books and were attracted by Krishna and Prabhupada, but usually their intelligence enabled them to see the devotees in the temples were not following the instructions clearly given by Srila Prabhupada in his books. So most intelligent persons didn’t join the movement and the ones that did usually got such a hard time from the devotees within ISKCON, who saw their intelligence as a threat, didn’t stay long. If somehow an intelligent person did stay within ISKCON he also became contaminated by the Mayavada philosophy and became just as bad as the others. The power of association is very strong.
“The pseudo religionists have neither knowledge of nor detachment from material affairs, for most of them want to live in the golden shackles of material bondage under the shadow of altruistic and philanthropic activities and in the guise of religious principles. By a false display of religious sentiments, they present a show of devotional service while indulging in all sorts of immoral activities. In this way they pass as spiritual masters and devotees of God. Such violators of religious principles have no respect for the authoritative acaryas, the holy teachers in the strict disciplic succession. To mislead the people in general, they themselves become so-called acaryas, but they do not even follow the principles of the acaryas.”
“These rogues are the most dangerous elements in human society. Because there is no religious government, they escape punishment by the law of the state. They cannot, however, escape the law of the Supreme, who has clearly declared in Bhagavad-gita (16.19-20) that envious demons in the garb of religious propagandists shall be thrown into the darkest regions of hell. Sri Isopanisad confirms that these pseudo religionists are heading toward the most obnoxious place in the universe after the completion of their spiritual-master business, which they conduct simply for sense gratification.” (Sri Isopanisad Mantra 12 purport)
ISKCON quickly became an organization that took innocent people and under the guise of educating them in Krishna consciousness proceeded to do just the opposite. Everything looked and felt almost like the same Krishna consciousness Srila Prabhupada had established. Actually the movement seemed to be booming… going forward with great leaps and bounds. There were more temples, more devotees, more of almost everything. So things appeared to be suc- cessful. However it was all maya (illusion).
The reason for the apparent boom in Krishna consciousness was the new “acaryas” relaxed ISKCON’s views on the regulative principles. Srila Prabhupada was very emphatic that everyone in the temples must strictly follow the four regulative principles (no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat eating and no gambling) and that everyone attend the morning temple program at 4:30am and that all devotees be fully engaged at all times. Although Prabhupada had great difficulty enforcing these rules it was at least clear that all these principles must be followed and one not following had no claim to be a member of ISKCON. The new “acaryas” didn’t have the same attitude to the regulative principles. Many of them were not following themselves so they could hardly inspire their disciples to follow. Their measure of spiritual advancement was different. It often had much more to do with how much money a disciple could collect than anything else. The change was not entirely obvious as devotees were still preaching that “you should follow…”, “you should chant 16 rounds…”, the classes sounded much the same as Prabhupada’s, but these devotees were not following themselves, nor did they have any intention of ever following. Many people picked up this subtle change and realized that now they could live in an ISKCON temple without following the regulations or chanting 16 rounds, and they could get some big post of power (temple president, etc) and exploit the devotees. No one was going to challenge them or check if they were following the principles or chanting their rounds… the field was wide open…
“Therefore the spiritual master gives different varieties of engagements to devotees in Krishna consciousness. For example, under the direction of the spiritual master the devotees may sell books in Krishna consciousness. But if the devotees think that the energy invested in selling books should be diverted in to selling jewellery, that is not a very good idea. Then we would become nothing more than jewellers. We should be very much careful not to be diverted from Krishna consciousness. Even if there is danger or suffering in Krishna consciousness, we should tolerate it. We should even welcome such danger, and we should pray in apprecia- tion to Krishna.” (Teachings Of Queen Kunti)
The purpose of our lives, our whole existence, is to render service to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Actually we have no other business. If we try to gratify our own senses it will end in frustration and suffering, no matter how attractive the sense gratification appears in the beginning. However, if we work for the satisfaction of Krishna’s senses, our natural constitutional position, we will enjoy transcendental bliss, ever increasing ecstasy on the spiritual platform, even though it may appear like poison in the beginning.
It is a prerequisite for a devotee to at least accept the principle that material activities aimed at sense gratification are a cause of suffering and repeated birth and death while service to Krishna liberates one from all the suffering of the material world and puts one on the transcendental platform. When Srila Prabhupada was physically present he had many problems with so-called devotees who didn’t even accept this basic principle. They were feigning Krishna consciousness to get some position, power, fame, wealth, reputation, followers and so on. For them Krishna consciousness was a totally mundane affair about exploiting other devotees and Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON for their own personal benefit. In Prabhupada’s presence he somehow adjusted things so the preaching went on. It is one of Srila Prabhupada’s glories that he could take anyone, even an all-out demon, and engage him in Krishna consciousness. Even though these demons didn’t accept Krishna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada was able to extract so much service from them. After Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, however, these materialists in the guise of devotees had an open field for their nefarious activities.
For a devotee it is difficult to understand that someone, especially another so-called devotee, could not believe in Krishna or accept Srila Prabhupada as a pure devotee and worship him as being Krishna in the form of the spiritual master. These things are crystal clear to even the most neophyte devotee. However the grossly materialistic demons and the more subtle Mayavadis and impersonalists will never accept Krishna or His pure devotee. That is their nature. The demons can’t stand the pure chanting of Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, nor can they bear to see devotees advancing in Krishna consciousness and the Krishna consciousness movement spreading all over the world. As a devotee is prepared to surrender his life, his energy, everything to preach Krishna consciousness, the demons are similarly prepared to sacrifice everything and dedicate their whole life and energy to stopping the advancement of the Krishna consciousness movement. Personally it amazes me how dedicated these demons are. They won’t stop their nefarious activities even though they are suffering greatly and it is as plain as day that Krishna is God, Srila Prabhupada is a pure devotee and they are demons. Still they want to be gurus and take as many disciples as possible with them to the darkest reigns of hell to suffer perpetually in the most unbelievable agony. So ISKCON became an organization run by these demons and the sincere fools and envious rascals who took initiation from the demons were dragged down to their level of consciousness. As a disciple of a pure devotee develops all the qualities of the demigods by serving a bona fide pure devotee spiritual master, similarly, a servant of a demon in the guise of a devotee develops all the qualities of the demons. This really changed the mood in the ISKCON temples. Even the devotees who were initially serious about serving Krishna and had some faith in Krishna consciousness were quickly contaminated by this very effective process of association with and service to demons.
ISKCON had been transferred from a society that was turning demons into devotees to a society turning devotees into demons! Anything is possible in this dark age of Kali-yuga it seems. This reversal of the process caused great confusion and distress for devotees who were sincerely trying to become Krishna conscious but were getting the opposite result. Devotees would rise early in the morning, attend the temple program, hear the classes of the “pure devotee” preachers and go out all day selling Hong Kong oil paintings, or whatever was the most effective way to make money for the temple and their “guru,” but instead of decreasing their material desires, their material desires increased more and more. Many, many thousands of devotees went through this process and left the Hare Krishna movement in a worse state than when they joined. ISKCON was now bring out the worst in people, instead of reviving their long forgotten love for Krishna.
Devotees subjected to this treatment suffered greatly. Some committed suicide, many went crazy and most lost faith in Krishna consciousness and went back to suffer in the material world.
“Those who are nondevotees, those who are mental speculators, those who are fruitive workers, those who are meditators or mystic yogis, cannot explain the science of God. This is especially mentioned also by Sanatana Gosvami, another great saint; those who are not in devotional service, nongodly, those who have no faith in God – such persons should not be allowed to speak on the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, or any other literature which is in relationship with the Supreme Lord. So it is not that anyone can speak the Bhagavatam or the Gita and we will have to hear it. No. Sanatana Gosvami especially prohibits us; we should not hear of the Supreme Lord from one who is not purified.”
“One may ask, “How can you taint the words of Krishna, which are naturally transcendentally pure? What is the harm if we hear from the nondevotee?” This question may be raised. The example given here is that milk is very nice and nutritious, but as soon as it is touched by a serpent it becomes poison immediately. The serpent is very envious. He bites and puts to death immediately, unnecessarily, and therefore is considered the cruellest animal amongst the living entities. In the sastra nonviolence is recom- mended, as in every scripture, but the serpent and the scorpion are allowed to be killed. You cannot say that milk is so nutritious, and we can drink – what is the harm if it is touched by serpents? No – the result will be death. One should not hear at least the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam from those who are not devotees of the Lord, who have no realization of God and who are envious of Him. Their touch renders it poison. The words of the Lord are always sublime, but as soon as they are touched by the serpent like nondevotee, one should be very careful about hearing.” (Krishna Consciousness – The Topmost Yoga System P94)
The New Guru System
With the “zonal acarya” system in tatters due to the fall of many of the so-called acaryas the GBC established a new system allowing any disciple initiated by Srila Prabhupada to apply to become a guru. This considerably increased the number of gurus in ISKCON, but did nothing to solve the problems resulting from the “zonal acarya” days. The qualification for becoming a guru seems to now be something of a political matter between the local temple authorities and the GBC.
“Another examination will be held in 1971 on the four books, Bha- gavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who passes this examination will be awarded the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want all my spiritual sons and daughters to inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. That is my program. So we should not simply publish these books for reading by outsiders, but all of our students must be well-versed in all of our books so that we can be prepared to defeat all opposing parties in the matter of self-realization.” (to Hansadutta 3 Dec, 1968)
It is obvious Srila Prabhupada wanted his students to take Krishna consciousness very seriously and advance to the stage where they would be capable of becoming spiritual masters in their own right and initiating their own disciples. However, guru, means literally ‘heavy.’ So to become guru is no small matter.
“Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bonafide guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But there’s a matter of etiquette. It is the custom that during the lifetime of your spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bonafide spiritual masters and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy.” (to Tushta Krishna Swami, 2 Nov 1975)
Unfortunately, after Srila Prabhupada left his body ISKCON institutionalized the concept of guru and rubber-stamped some unqualified men as guru. This appeared to work for some time, but such unqualified men have no ability to actually spread Krishna consciousness. They succeeded in attracting some sentimental dis- ciples and some envious ones as well who wanted to take their position. However, sincere devotees found it very difficult to stay in the new ISKCON built around the false idea that the new “acaryas” were on the same level as His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
If there is no one qualified to take the position of guru or acarya you can’t rubber-stamp unqualified men and expect success. Srila Prabhupada, of course, knew where his disciples were situated spiritually, so he established a system which would allow his disciples to go on initiating new devotees, however the new devotees would be disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada did not say that the eleven he named were acaryas or that they could take disciples on their own behalf. This idea came from the Gaudiya Math after Srila Prabhupada left his body.
Although this issue has been the subject of rather heated debate over the past years between groups who have their own vested interests to protect within ISKCON, any impartial observer can see that there is no point of justifying the “zonal acarya” system when most of the so-called acaryas have fallen down from spiritual life.
The current system is not different from the “zonal acarya” system. The only real difference is there are more “acaryas.” The new gurus still want worship on the level of Krishna from their disciples…everything is the same…nothing has changed. So if the “zonal acarya” system is not bonafide, the current guru system is equally un-bonafide. It is sure to collapse in the same way the “zonal acarya” system collapsed.
An acarya is not a cheep thing. Simply by GBC approval one doesn’t become an acarya. This is similar to the Mayavadi concept of taking sannyasa. The Mayavadis think that by taking sannyasa they become equal to Narayana or Krishna. Similarly, it seems, that ISKCON devotees think that they become equal to Srila Prabhupada by GBC approval. However it is not GBC approval that makes a devotee a qualified acarya. It is his sincere desire to please Srila Prabhupada and Krishna, and such an acarya does not have to be approved by anyone, he is self-effulgent. The whole world will accept him as a spiritual authority, as they did with Srila Prabhupada. He certainly won’t need GBC approval, any more than Srila Prabhupada needed the approval of the Gaudiya Math. In fact the Gaudiya Math never approved of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching and they still refuse to accept that Prabhupada is even entitled to be called Prabhupada (they call Srila Prabhupada “Swami Maharaja” – even now!) So as the Gaudiya Math was left behind by Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON may be left behind by the next self- effulgent acarya.
“Almost all the conditioned souls within the material world are envious. Jealous people generally turn against one who automatically attains some reputation. This is natural for jealous people. Consequently, when a devotee is fit to receive worldly reputation, he is envied by many people. This is quite natural. When a person, out of humility, does not desire fame, people generally think him quite humble and consequently give him all kinds of fame. Actually a Vaisnava does not hanker after fame or a great reputation.”(CC Mad 4.147)
“This is the function of the GBC, to see that one may not be taken away by maya. The GBC should all be the instructor gurus. I am the initiator guru, and you should be the instructor guru by teaching what I am teaching and doing what I am doing. This is not a title, but you must actually come to this platform. This is what I want.” (to Madhudvisa 4 Aug, 1975)