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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Report from the parallel lines of authority GBC committee

Saturday, 07 July 2007 / Published in Badrinarayan dasa, Editorial, GBC / 6,183 views

By Badrinarayan dasa

1. What is the goal of your committee?:

Our committee deals with the situation we often find in ISKCON where there are two lines of authority in ISKCON: the initiating spiritual masters and GBC body/GBC member/Temple President system created by Srila Prabhupada.

Our goal is help craft a shared, supportive, and shastrically sound system for guiding devotees in ISKCON. Rather than sometimes working at cross purposes, the aim is to have a system that respects, guides, and nutures the devotees in general, as well as all those senior devotees who give siksha and diksa in ISKCON.

One of the elements in this formula is having open and transparent standards for all of our leaders and a clear system of accountability and assessment.

2. What successes are you hoping for?:

Well, how successful we are only time will tell. These are sensitive issues that have torn apart other institutions. One success is the fact that we are talking about it at all. Srila Prabhupada started something revolutionary; a multi-guru system all serving under a govering body. How that all works out so that the disciples, the gurus, temple presidents, sannyasis, and congregation are protected and enlivened, while keeping Srila Prabhupada central as our founder-acharya, for generations to come, is no easy task.

3. What are the challenges facing your committee:

Let’s take just one of the questions on the table for example: “Who delivers the jiva?” It is not just the diksha guru and everyone else is chopped cabbage. Whoever is giving genuine siksha is essential to the process. There is the mercy of the holy name, the Deities, sadhusanga in general—there are so many factors. How to develop a mature society that reflects all these dynamics?

4. How do you see this translating into the lives of the devotees?

We are working towards a future where all our gurus are spiritually strong, simple, and happy. A world where disciples are making solid spiritual advancement and feeling enlivened. We are working towards an ISKCON with increased cooperative spirit, focus on the spiritual care and growth of the individual members, and where the preaching work is growing expotentially. After all, Srila Prabhupada said that his nature was that he could not think small. He intended ISKCON to be a powerful means to change the world and it is our sacred duty to deliver on his promise and vision.

5. How can devotees participate and contribute in this?

Give us some time, your prayers, and suggestions. We are working on training manuals, guide books, philosophical support papers, retreats, and seminars. I believe that the goal is eventually to have a website set up with the work of all the GBC’s strategic planning committees work posted there but in the mean time devotees can contact our committee chair, Prahladananda Maharaja at

Thank you for asking and Hare Krishna.

Countdown to Toronto Ratha-Yatra

8 Responses to “Report from the parallel lines of authority GBC committee”

  1. Akruranatha says :

    I do not see what the fuss is about. Maybe my difficulty is that I have lived outside ashrams most of my life and do not have enough experience with the practical kinds of conflict that can arise between temple authorities and initiating spiritual masters. It seems to me such conflicts generally should not arise.

    I mean, we all deal with multiple authorities all the time. If we have a job, we have to please our boss, or we might get fired. If we are stopped by a policeman on the street, we have to comply with his orders, or we might get arrested. If we take a class, we have to do what the teacher assigns, or we might get a bad grade. And we have our parents to consider, our ancestors, demigods, governments, spouses. There are so many authorities everyone has.

    The spiritual master is a special authority because by the mercy of the spiritual master we can attain the perfection of our lives, pure devotional service. The Vaisnava spiritual master is the official representative of Krishna, and we have to accept the spiritual master’s order as Krishna’s order and make it our life and soul.

    We also have to respect all Vaisnava devotees, as taught in Upadesamrta. We respect neophytes with our minds, fixed-up initiated devotees with our bodies, and we faithfully serve the very high-quality devotees who are free of envy and always engaged in serving Krishna without deviation.

    Now, in ISKCON we have a proselytizing mission. Aside from practicing our own sadhana, bathing and worshiping our guru and chanting our rounds and attending morning and evening programs, our active service in ISKCON involves becoming sympathetic with Srila Prabhupada’s mission and doing something to support it and make ISKCON successful.

    The expert spiritual master in ISKCON knows how to properly engage his or her disciple in serving the ISKCON mission in cooperation with other Vaisnavas. Usually the disciple will participate actively in one or more local ISKCON projects. The guru will want to see the disciple getting along nicely with all the local devotees and not disobeying the local authorities.

    Because the authorities in the temple are also Vaisnavas who can teach us how to execute devotional service, they may also be instructing spiritual masters (but they do not have to be). Ideally, we would not expect to find any conflict between the instructing spiritual masters and the initiating spiritual master.

    The disciple should not be in a position of “choosing” whether to follow an instructing spiritual master or an initiating spiritual master. Although all spiritual masters are on the same absolute platform, the formal system is that we always obey the initiating spiritual master.

    If there is an irreconcilable conflict between our initiating guru and a local authority (assuming our initiating guru is not fallen and has not deviated from the Founder-Acarya’s or GBC’s instructions), then the local authority is not really an instructing guru. This is so because there cannot be an irreconcilable conflict between the instructing and initiating guru: both of them are external manifestations of Supersoul. A real instructing guru would not interfere with the disciple’s relationship with the initiating guru.

    [Whenever we discuss this subject we inevitably are reminded of the story of Syamananda Pandit, Hrdoy Caitanya and Jiva Goswami, told so nicely in Satyaraja Dasa’s book on “Vaisnava Saints”]

    Whether we have one spiritual master in ISKCON, as we did before Srila Prabhupada’s departure, or many spiritual masters working cooperatively under the auspices of the GBC, as we do now, devotees still have to obey local authorities. In Srila Prabhupada’s presence, he instructed his disciples to obey the local authorities. What is the difference today?

    If a disciple is disrupting a local project, whether through disobedience to the project’s manager or inability to work harmoniously with others on the project, the guru should try to help resolve the situation so the project will not be disrupted. Usually this will take the form of instructing the disciple to work cooperatively with others and obey the local authorities. In rare cases where there may be an intractable problem or personality conflict, it may take the form of finding some different engagement for the disciple.

    If a spiritual master is pulling disciples away from where they are doing vital service, the disciples still have to do what their spiritual master orders, but the local managers might try to persuade the spiritual master to reconsider (whether directly or with the help of the spiritual master’s peers or the GBC).

    The spiritual masters in ISKCON must all be careful to place the orders and desires of Srila Prabhupada above all else, especially his request that we all work cooperatively under the GBC to prosecute the ISKCON mission nicely. Because the spiritual master has become an intimate servant of Krishna in this way, placing Srila Prabhupada’s desires above all else, he or she is “as good as God”, and the disciple can safely surrender to and take shelter of such a spiritual master.

    We do not say that the spiritual master is God (like the Mayavadis) and has no authorities. We say “servitor Godhead”. Our spiritual masters demonstrate by their good example how they surrender to their spiritual masters and respect all Vaisnavas and show proper obedience to all spiritual and even material authorities.

    Thus we expect to see from the example of spiritual masters in ISKCON how to nicely cooperate and respect all channels or lines of authority in ISKCON.

  2. Akruranatha says :

    We tend to expect a guru in ISKCON to also be a big isvara of a specific ISKCON project. Maybe that is our common experience in ISKCON, but it does not have to be that way.

    We could at least imagine that a particular initiating guru might also be a book distributor or cook or pujari in a temple. In that case, based on the kind of service the guru is doing in the temple, the guru would set a good example by properly obeying the temple authorities.

    Its not that the guru will say, “Last week I had to do what the sankirtan leader told me, but now that I have a disciple I can decide whether I will go to that sankirtan spot, cook that offering, or dress the Deities on that day.” The guru will still set a good example of how to obey temple authorities, just as he or she did before initiating disciples.

    But the disciple always has to obey the orders of the initiating spiritual master. It is just that the spiritual masters usually won’t have any reason to give instructions that conflict with temple authorities. Why would they?

    Mostly in ISKCON our gurus are not serving under temple authorities (but they are still serving in cooperation with their peers and under GBC authority). Nevertheless, it is at least a useful thought experiment to imagine a guru who is. There is no philosophical reason why a pujari, cook, treasurer, or even a temple cleaner or householder living outside the temple cannot be a guru, is there? (yei krsna tattva vettha sei guru haya).

    If so, we expect them to set an example of how to behave properly with temple authorities.

    [And conversely, temple authorities should also behave nicely with *all* temple devotees. Even though the devotees may not be gurus, they are all vaisnavas of one degree or another and should not be disrespected or mistreated due to their subordinate position.]

    When an admiral travels on a junior officer’s navy ship, the ship’s commander is still in charge of how the ship is sailed. In that example, even though the admiral outranks the commander, the commander is supreme in his sphere of responsibility.

    And a spiritual master is not a “rank.” Unlike the navy, it is not that in ISKCON one progresses in rank from temple commander to vice president to president to GBC and then to “guru”. Being a guru is like being a parent: it is a special responsibility undertaken to look after the spiritual progress of particular disciples, not a rank within an organization, even a spiritual organization.

    Srila Prabhupada sometimes said that he saw his disciples as being sent by his guru to assist him in the mission. The gurus in ISKCON see their disciples as being sent to assist Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and therefore they engage their disciples in following the local authorities wherever the disciple lives and serves.

    Even material authorities are generally to be obeyed. It is not that Srila Prabhupada would openly defy immigration officials or other government officers or police, or even air hostesses. We disciples might have resented that some foolish policeman was ordering a saintly pure devotee about, but Prabhupada did not disturb the peace by insisting he was above the rules that applied to the public (even though he was).

    If a stewardess says I have to fasten my belt and return my seat and tray table to the upright position, don’t I comply all the same, whether I have a disciple or not? Why should it make a difference whether one is serving in the capacity of spiritual master when it comes to following even ordinary rules and authorities? The same is even more true for the temple authorities who have responsility to organize temple activities. It just all seems like common sense to me.

    One final thing: Is it really all that unusual to participate in an organized spiritual movement with multiple gurus and guru-disciple relationship? In the Caitanya Caritamrta we read about so many different gurus and their disciples all preaching and serving together at the same time. Can’t we also work together just like that?

    Someday we may even see householder gurus with “outside jobs” or operating their own businesses. (Isn’t that possible? Can’t a pure Vaisnava be employed as a vaisya or sudra and still serve as an initiating guru? Or not?) Such gurus would be obedient to their bosses and polite to their customers, just as they expect their disciples to do in similar circumstances, and yet their own disciples would be surrendered to them, just as they surrendered to their own gurus.

  3. srimanta says :

    Krsna Consciousness is like a river that is always flowing towards the ocean of Krsna. It can be compared like the river Ganga. River Ganga itself is the container and the water that flowing is Bhakti. Similarly GBC is the container under ISKCON and Guru- Siswya parampara is flow of Bhakti through disciple succession. Most of the times, the river is unchanged in its path of travel but the flow in the river changes with season. In rainy season more water flows through the river but in summer less water flows because of heat. Similarly the devotional system that is preached and taught by spiritual master through disciple succession depends the personal relationship between spiritual master and his disciples. If the master is absorbed in Krsna completely then so his disciples follow the master and more waters of devotion flows from the source that from its master. These are the spiritual masters like always one rainy season. But other way, if the spiritual master remains dry like in mood of summer in devotion to Krsna, then his disciples are also dry in mood of devotion. But to river whether water flows more or less, the contour of the entire river traveling across vast land is always same. Thus authority that is given to GBC as governing body will always be same and unchanged based on the contour of Krsna Consciousness river traveling. But the power of devotion that creates amount of holy water will always be with the individual spiritual master and its own devotional energy. By creating third body for imparting spiritual training and learning etc, it looks like one reservoir that will store water coming from different spiritual sources in different amount but as a whole the flow will be regulated most likely with same current without getting disturbance from season that is devotional power of individual spiritual master. So the goal of spiritual training must be how to manage and control the flow of water in seasonal changes effectively such that unnatural flood or scarcity of water does not happen. The location of the reservoir must be in Mayapur because that is the supreme abode of Bhakti under purview of supreme Lord Mohaprabhu. All glory to Prabhupada! All glory to GBC and ISKCON! Hare Krsna! Haribol!

  4. Mother Gandharidasi says :

    What are the differences of the functions of all these diffent committees, SSPT, Sastric and now Parallel Line?

  5. Adiguru says :

    Very good comment, Akruranath Prabhu – Haribol

  6. shiva says :

    Akruranatha you wrote:

    One final thing: Is it really all that unusual to participate in an organized spiritual movement with multiple gurus and guru-disciple relationship? In the Caitanya Caritamrta we read about so many different gurus and their disciples all preaching and serving together at the same time. Can’t we also work together just like that?

    There is a major difference between multiple gurus and disciples cooperating together as they did during Sri Caitanya lila and continuing up to the present in India and what is going on in ISKCON. The former was a casual association of devotees, the latter is a legally incorporated organization with specific laws and duties and purpose, a hierarchical organization with systematic governance.

    You also wrote:

    I do not see what the fuss is about.

    You then went on to describe how devotees should see things philosophically and that everything should work out if that is done. While that is well and good I think you are not really understanding the need of what Badrinarayana Das is talking about. For example you wrote the following which comes across as a little bit unrealistic :

    But the disciple always has to obey the orders of the initiating spiritual master. It is just that the spiritual masters usually won’t have any reason to give instructions that conflict with temple authorities. Why would they?

    There are many reasons why a guru would want a disciple to do something which is in conflict with temple authorities. The guru could be opening a new temple, he could be running a festival, he could want the disciple to travel with him, he could want the disciple to do any number of services which can be in conflict with the local authority.

    So what is the “fuss about”? ISKCON was originally created as an organized hierarchical system of governance with one person as undisputed leader, and beneath him the GBC, and beneath them temple presidents, etc, the system was simple and organizationally sound. With the introduction of multiple gurus a wild card was added to a sound organizational structure. Instead of top down authority from a single leader to his disciples. now authority can come from any direction . This is a recipe for chaos organizationally speaking. While Akruranatha prabhu writes philosophically about spiritual duties and etiquette which is all fine and good, in reality not everyone is going to be acting on the highest level of pure devotion. So there needs to be some organizational policy in order for the system to function without chaos being ever ready to overtake any situation and cause confusion amongst disciples and potential disciples.

    For example: If a guru wants a disciple to leave his service at a temple so that he can do something else does the guru have the freedom to do that? If yes then that can cause the temple to suffer and subverts the current hierarchical system, if no then that is subverting the role of the guru to train his disciple the way he sees fit and can cause disillusionment and confusion and even anger and resentment from a disciple or potential disciple. This is the heart of the problem: how much authority does a guru have in ISKCON independent of his organizational authority? The answer needs to be spiritually sound and managerially sound.

    The only solution that I can see is that if a guru doesn’t have organizational authority over a disciple (i.e the guru is not serving in a position in the organization wherin he has direct authority over the disciple e.g. temple president, GBC of temple)) but wants the disciple to change his current service, there needs to be a review by the GBC. That review would be made up of the local GBC and the GBC whose area of jurisdiction the disciple would be moving to work under, if that is the case. In many cases there may be more then one GBC which governs a jurisdiction. If there is disagreement amongst GBCs and they can’t work it out, then the guru should have the final say. If the situation is reversed wherein the temple authority or GBC wants a devotee to do something and the guru doesn’t want him or her to do it, then the guru is entitled to explain to the disciple his reasoning but cannot forbid the disciple from doing the service. The disciple is then left to make up his or her mind.

    There is no perfect solution to these dilemmas because a hierarchical organization doesn’t fit neatly and smoothly into the traditional guru disciple relationship when the guru doesn’t have absolute authority over the organization. The best that can be done will to be make some compromise both managerially and spiritually for the benefit of the organization.

  7. Akruranatha says :

    Haribol Adiguru. Thanks for the encouragement. I know I tend to be overly talkative and I always think, “I probably really put my foot in it this time.” It is always nice to know when someone appreciates what I wrote. :-)

    Really, it is good for us desk-jockeys to just be able to converse with friendly devotees during the day. (And it doesn’t even cost anything!) But I really will try to restrain myself a little. I know I tend to overdo it.

  8. gauradasa says :

    Hare Krsna.

    It is amazing to see endeavours of GBC to improve ISKCON even further. Srila Prabhupada must be so pleased with these endeavours. Like it is said, that nobody can preach, unless he is empowered by the Lord. Similarly one could say, that nobody can do good in ISKCON, unless he is empowered by Srila Prabhupada.

    Sometimes I notice, how many devotees are sceptical regarding GBC and their work. But the fact is, that GBC is attracting Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, and nobody does it better than they do. Many have this and that ideas on how GBC should work, but in the end, none of them is empowered by Srila Prabhupada to create some result. But GBC clearly creates results, so to me it is clear, that they are personally empowered by Srila Prabhupada. And thus everybody should support GBC, even follow them blindly, and make their plans come true. Blind followind is usually not recommended, but in case of something proper, blind following is not even proper, but even practical. GBC knows what they are doing, and everybody in ISKCON should help make their plans to come true as soon as possible.

    I hope GBC will be bold enough to ask devotees to fully support them and cooperate with them, in order to please Srila Prabhupada. Also devotees would have to provide all neccessary finances, so that leaders can work quickly and efficiently. And any man power that is needed, should step forward at service to GBC, and provide full help and support in endeavours of GBC to guide members of ISKCON in their service to Srila Prabhupada.

    ys gaura dasa