Can Greatness Be Too Great?
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
I began to write a simple, short comment on Parampara Prabhu’s article about our sampradaya, but more thoughts came, and thought again that this might as well become an article. Is the desire to glorify Srila Prabhupada or other vaisnavas in certain ways, the result of our human calculation, or our realised convictions?
It is human nature and natural for us to adulate those who mean the whole world for us. In the case of one’s saviour or spiritual master, there is ample space to describe him in terms befitting our estimation. But our estimations may come from trying to be different, or original, to be recognised or even subtly competitive.
By trying to be different, one may invent a title for an acarya and have one’s identity or status linked to it by way of a website or individual self. The same can be said for trying to be original or to be recognised.
As far as being subtly competitive, it can happen say when, while reading one’s Vyasa-puja offering or giving some verbal address or talk, or even in writing, one can try to outdo what others have said thus far in glorification of the spiritual master. For instance, I have seen it said of Srila Prabhupada that he is The Yuga Acarya. Think of the implications for this?
Fairly recently after our Aindra Prabhu left us, there was a desire by some to have him designated as Nama Acarya, (in an unofficial capacity) when our sacred lineage already has one. What precedent could that have set? What titles would our other great kirtaneers have eventually?
I have also observed how the term ‘Prabhupada’ is not very popular among some other Gaudiya Matha groupings, particularly among disciples of God brothers of Srila Prabhupada.
These all point to the phenomenon of each of us wanting to identify with and be part of the best – human nature again. Our respective spiritual masters and our Srila Prabhupada is the best for us in terms of guiding us to pure service for the Divine Couple, Sri Sri Radha and Krishna.
Does this help us feel good about ourselves in a spiritual or human way, or both? Does it make us feel even better if whom we follow is given the highest or ‘better-than-the-other’ accolade? Should there be any surprises in this?
What really matters is how we internally develop our relationships with our spiritual masters, fellow vaisnavas and the Lord. As the songs of acaryas proclaim, our Guru Maharaja’s or Siksa Gurus are everything for us. Where they might stand in matters of importance as far as our sampradaya goes has no real impact on our relationships, but it might hurt our own esteem and self-worth otherwise. So long as repect for them is deserving, we are happy, or not?
When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was present, and so were Svarupa Damodara, Ramananda Raya, Rupa, Raghunatha and Sanatana Goswamis and countless others who were all acaryas in their own rights. But Lord Chaitanya is considered the Acarya of that time due to His originality, reforms and assimilating two points of philosophy from each of the four sampradayas, and helping to clear philosophical and tattva uncertainties with “Simultaneous Oneness and Difference” harmony.
In spite of Srila Prabhupada’s definition of an Acarya we all know of, is there still a difference between an Acarya and a Guru or initiating spiritual master? Is an Acarya one who has done more, and innovated more, or has achieved what others of his generation has not, just as the Galileo’s, Newton’s and Einstein’s stood out in the scientific world?
Because our Srila Prabhupada did something unprecedented in travelling to the West and becoming a historical figure in Western thought, is it that we must think he is more nearer and dearer to the Lord than the other acaryas? Is this really the case?
It is often said by followers of Srila Prabhupada that our Founder Acarya has a special place near the Lord. There is no doubting of this, but could this sentiment have a comparative edge that makes the other acaryas in our line, “Very dear to the Lord, but not as dear as Srila Prabhupada?” How can we determine this… by the quantity of achievement alone?
When Srila Prabhupada states on the first line of Nectar Of Instruction how, “This International Society For Krishna Consciousness is conducted under the supervision of Srila Rupa Goswami,” does this make Srila Prabhupada less? Is it not a glorious position to be under the care of Sri Rupa and Rati Manjaris?
If we assume titles for Srila Prabhupada like Sampradaya Acarya, that would put him above Srila Rupa Goswami, what to speak of others. And if the title Yuga Acarya is used, we know something is wrong with that title. Then we sometimes hear that Srila Prabhupada is the Seventh Goswami, or the Eighth if we factor in Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Where does it end?
Do we need to recognise one, two or three definitive titles for Srila Prabhupada and abide by them in official dealings? Or can we accommodate all heartfelt descriptions as tokens of life changing gratitude? Should there be a rule, for example, if and when devotees meet with Gaudiya Matha members, not to use the term ‘Prabhupada’ due to sensitivity?
We all know the greatness of Srila Prabhupada, but is there a possibility of attributing terms and titles that make him too Great? If so, would this increase the prospects of something close to Godhood being conferred upon him in the future? In our past, during the late 1960’s Srila Prabhupada was referred to as ‘God’ by impersonalist leaning disciples.
Our Iskcon level of Guru worship for initiating spiritual masters has also been toned down over the years, and it is still described as excessive by some. Could this have a bearing on our overall sense of glorification for vaisnavas in general? Are we too generous with our glorification in general?
There is a danger in our Iskcon case, where disciples of initiating spiritual masters, although having the right to glorify their Gurus, may do so with well-meaning but comparative miscalculation. There may be a nice description of how one’s initiating spiritual master ‘appeared’ in this world, whereas Srila Prabhupada was ‘born’ in this world.
These apparently small differences can have huge consequences for future generations. But if these escape our scrutiny now, or we ignore them as ‘sincere’ efforts to please, then our sense of glorification will remain unbalanced.
With all the different types of glorification expressed in various ways as our human nature dictates – even when trying to subscribe to vaisnava ideals – it seems that we need a consistent set of guidelines to help devotees know when and how to glorify with Realism.
Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa
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