Sannyasa and Iskcon
By Gaura Keshava das
Sannyasa is not taken in ISKCON in the traditional Varnashram manner. Sannyasa in ISKCON is “awarded” to candidates that apply for it and go through the Society’s system of being considered and placed on a waiting list for years. A council of ISKCON senior Sannyasins considers all candidates. The traditional Varnashram system involves a person simply deciding to become renounced and finishing up his family business and (usually but not always) approaching another person who already is a practicing sannyasin and receiving training and sannyasa diksha from him.
So the question for ISKCON is. Whether Dhanurdhara Swami would have been awarded the order of Sannyasa, knowing all that is currently known about what is documented that he did and what he himself has admitted to. If the answer to this is “Yes”, then perhaps ISKCON needs to rethink it’s criteria for “awarding” sannyasa. If the answer to this is “No” then perhaps ISKCON needs to rethink his continued status of sannyasa. Would another devotee applying for sannyasa today with the same track record be “awarded” sannyasa?
We should also not forget that although we automatically accept sannyasins as advanced in spiritual life, probably due to the “rigid” process that they go through in order to receive their ordination, sannyasa in and of itself is a stage of life or ashram, part of the material (but useful) social system called Varnashram. It is not in itself a spiritual status. There are many Non-Vaisnava (Mayavadi) sannyasins in India who are considered great spiritual offenders by Vaisnavas. However sannyasa in ISKCON is not simply a stage of life to which anyone who reaches a particular age attaches himself. The way that it is revered in the Society, although having suffered damage due to frequent falldown, still commands much respect and obedience. As such the leadership of the society would do well to carefully monitor the standard of it’s sannyasins.
The alternative is to give up control of who takes up sannyasa and I do not think that ISKCON is ready for such a move.
By the way almost the same comment as made above can be made about the system of approving (or not disapproving) individuals to become gurus in ISKCON. The post of guru is also something which the institution (GBC) controls (although there is an attempt to deregulate this control to some extent). Since guruship in ISKCON is also still “awarded” under institutional guidelines (ecclesiastical conventions) we cannot say that it is the same as the “natural” sastric system whereby a person becomes a guru simply by the successful conclusion of mutual testing between prospective guru and prospective disciple.
Personally I am for the total deregulation of both these positions and the following of the “natural” sastric systems for them. This would not stop the GBC from enforcing strictly basic spiritual standards on all members of ISKCON regardless of their being gurus or sishyas. The GBC could also enforce the different standards for the different varnas (if people ever admit belonging to one of them) and ashrams for those who wish to work within ISKCON. If all such standards were accepted then where would be the need to police who belonged to what ashram or who gave diksha to whom?
Since I do not think that this is going to happen in the near future however, the leadership should dispassionately weigh the facts of the case and decide to apply their control over such positions even handedly. Remember that the world and the devotees are watching you. At the same time the decisions must not simply be based on the Vox Populi but on sound principles of Vaisnava philosophy.