The Unbroken Chain
By Nashvin Gangaram
What is the point of happiness if it doesn’t last forever? What is the key to everlasting happiness? Srimad Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of Vedic knowledge, offers us a solution: “Any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation.” The guru gives knowledge of real happiness. Since the founding of ISKCON fifty years ago, over 75 000 disciples have been initiated within ISKCON, beginning their spiritual journey to eternal, everincreasing happiness. Srila Prabhupada initiated over five thousand disciples from 1966 until he left this world in 1977. Since then, in keeping with the Vaishnava tradition and Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, his disciples began to accept disciples of their own, continuing the disciplic succession: “One who is now the disciple is the next spiritual master.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.9.43, purport)
Unfortunately, some people are under the impression that they can take initiation directly from Srila Prabhupada even after his disappearance from this world. However, this idea is unprecedented and not supported in the scriptures nor by Srila Prabhupada himself. This theory disregards Srila Prabhupada’s solid philosophical understanding and presentation of the guru-disciple relationship. Srila Prabhupada himself was a humble disciple of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He took shelter of a living spiritual master, because he recognised that the guru must be able to accept the prospective student as his disciple. We cannot force ourselves onto a spiritual master; we have to possess some kind of eligibility. Only via personal interaction with the guru can we ensure that our attitude, words, and actions are pleasing to our spiritual master, which is the secret of success in spiritual life. In Bhagavad-gita 4.34, Krishna says: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realised souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” Without a living guru, enquiry is not possible, because our questions cannot be answered, and we will not receive specific instructions according to our natures.
Therefore, Srila Prabhupada wanted all his students to become spiritual masters and assist him in bringing everyone back to the spiritual world: “Every student is expected to become acharya. Acharya means one who knows the scriptural injunctions and follows them practically in life, and teaches them to his disciples… Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bona fide guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as 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 any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bona fide spiritual master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy.” (Letter to Tusta Krishna, 2 December 1975)
Why even take initiation from Srila Prabhupada? Why not be a direct disciple of Lord Caitanya or even Krishna Himself? Some may think that there’s nothing wrong with being a disciple of the Lord Himself as it is a type of surrender. But the scriptures elaborate the parampara system: divine knowledge passed down from master to disciple. Srila Prabhupada himself was a surrendered disciple of his guru, and his guru of his guru—an unbroken chain. If someone sincerely desires to follow Srila Prabhupada, then they will obey his instructions, which include taking shelter of his disciples. If one feels that there are no qualified spiritual masters amongst Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, then this is an insult to Srila Prabhupada’s potency to elevate his disciples. We should have a thorough understanding of the process of initiation and all of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings from authorised sources, like his books and loyal followers, and be discerning regarding speculations from unauthorized sources.