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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Vaisnava culture of respect and honour

Tuesday, 22 September 2015 / Published in Articles, Editorial, Praghosa Dasa / 10,867 views

By Praghosa Dasa

The media have for some time now, been gripped and enthralled by the phenomenal success of ‘reality tv’ shows like ‘Big Brother’ etc. Many would argue that material life consists of little but the shallow exhibition of vanity etc., that reality tv so proudly parades, so it is hardly surprising that it has been such a ‘success’.

While this particular genre is a recent development, history tells us that such developments will likely only get more daring and probably generate spin offs that will be of even less quality. The phrase ‘keep running to stand still’ comes to mind and just like the practice of spiritual life, if we are not enthusiastically engaged in making progress on the bhakti marg, then we run the very real risk of falling back in our spiritual development, as standing still is not an option.

One of the interesting dynamics of those who become ‘stars’ as a result of reality TV, is that their star is generally very much of the shooting variety. Even die hard fans of the such programs are probably hard pushed to remember the names of the participants once their star has begun to fade. For sure the cult of celebrity is indeed an unfortunate reality, from many angles of vision and the results of such unbridled desires for fame and importance, either material or spiritual, are not very auspicious;

“Anyone who has any desire or aspiration for satisfying his senses by becoming more and more important, either in the material sense or in the spiritual sense, cannot actually relish the really sweet taste of devotional service.” (NOD p. 33)

You will find little argument, at least from devotees, as to the motivation of those who sign up for reality tv shows. Still the desire for fame and distinction is not the exclusive preserve of reality tv contestants, rather it is a common vice for all of us. As devotees we strive to uproot the desire for fame and distinction but paradoxically, as devotees, we generally take as many opportunities to serve, appreciate and indeed glorify the service of other devotees. So naturally it is important that such glorification is appropriate, in so far as who it is directed to. Indeed devotees in receipt of such glorification would be very happy that any appreciation is commensurate with the factual reality and in proportion to whatever they are being appreciated for. In reality devotees are not desirous of such praise and essentially hearing such words of glorification is more or less something they shun.

That said we want to preserve our vaisnava culture of respect and honour, and giving appreciation to devotees is a big part of that culture. On the other hand being excessive with that particular aspect of our culture could inadvertently jeopardize the very tradition we are trying to preserve. Depending on the role and service we are engaged in, dealing with praise and honour will be a bigger challenge for some devotees than others. Sannyasis for example, being the spiritual leaders of society, experience all other members of that spiritual society bowing down before them, thus honouring them and the asrama they represent. Can you imagine in a large society having thousands of people bowing down in front of you on a daily basis? If you were not in good consciousness and deeply immersed in strong sadhana, it is easy to see how someone could lose the run of themselves.

Another service in ISKCON that arguably receives an even greater level of appreciation, respect and glorification is that of guru, particularly diksa guru. Another element related to the service of diksa guru, as it currently functions in ISKCON, is that if someone performing this service runs into spiritual difficulty then much attention is focused on the individual/s concerned and it can have quite a negative impact on our ISKCON society as a whole. As such it makes sense for us to work toward establishing an ever increasing stable and sustainable environment for devotees to perform the service of guru in.

ISKCON is more or less unique in vaisnava history, being an institution that is dedicated to spreading Krsna consciousness. During vedic times you would have what devotees often term as the traditional guru disciple relationship brahmacari guru-kule vasan danto guror hitam, a disciple living in a local village, where a local guru would teach the children of those who lived in the village, and more or less those villagers who stayed in the village with everyone living a simple lifestyle with no institution.

However as we know that is not the model given to us by Srila Prabhupada and as ISKCON is the institution of Srila Prabhupada, in essence the devotees serving as gurus within ISKCON are first and foremost initiating devotees into the institution of their spiritual master.

This is a subtle but significant difference from the traditional guru disciple relationship. It also raises the question of how a guru functions within an institution, particularly in the context of him no longer being a ‘sole trader’ so to speak, but rather being a member of a greater entity. The other issue it raises is the issue of authority, devotees serving as guru in ISKCON are not the ultimate authority as would be the case in the traditional vedic setting. This of course is something that not only the gurus have to embrace but also something the disciples have to understand as well. Ultimately of course when we talk about guru the essential point and indeed ‘tradition’, for being a bona fide guru, is that the guru must follow the instruction of his spiritual master. Given that Srila Prabhupada clearly wanted an institution to be the vehicle to spread Krsna consciousness and given he also clearly outlined the authority structure under which that institution would function, it is incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to maintain – as is – what Srila Prabhupada has created. It is interesting to note the voluminous instructions from Srila Prabhupada on many many subjects, including how ISKCON should function, mirrored against some of his thoughts on initiation;

“… disciplic succession does not always mean that one has to be initiated officially. Disciplic succession means to accept the disciplic conclusion. SPL 31st Oct 1967

“… Well initiation or no initiation first thing is knowledge…. knowledge. Initiation is formality. Just like you go to school for knowledge and admission is formality. That is not very important thing.” SP Interview 16th Oct 1976

So the question may be raised; does the guru serving in an institution mean that his authority is diminished as a result of him not being the final authority? If we consider the following then no would be the answer; the guru’s authority comes from following the instructions of his guru. In the case of both Srila Prabhupada and also Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, their wish was that all members of their institutions would subordinate themselves to the authority of an administrative, managerial body. Again the question may be raised; does this compromise the principle of acarayam mam vijaniyan¬ saksat hari. Again no, in so far as there is no risk or cost of honouring the order of your guru and therefore Srila Prabhupada used very very heavy words; asara useless, in relation to the break up of his guru’s institution.

One thought is that if the guru is an uttama adhikari and guaranteed not to fall down then there is no harm in him being the ultimate authority, indeed perhaps it is better that he is. However that debate is one we don’t need to enter into as our founder acarya has instructed us differently. In essence that instruction is that ISKCON’s gurus are not invested with the prerogative of being the ultimate authority within the institution, rather they are also a servant like all other members of ISKCON. Their service is to give diksa, everyone else can, and are, to one degree or another, giving siksa as a service and they also should be giving siksa as generally diksa is based on siksa. The question could be raised; “If diksa gives the guru some kind of extraordinary position or authority within the institution, and that diksa is based on siksa, that means that anyone who is giving guidance and instruction to others (siksa), would have some type of independent authority by dint of the fact that they’re also giving siksa. If that was the case we would really have anarchy and chaos on a large scale.

So diksa is a service but it should not automatically mean that one doing that service gains independent authority, no, rather they remain a servant under the authority structure of the institution.

Sometimes in our society an authority like a temple president may request a devotee serving in their temple to do a particular service and often the devotee will respond with “Oh I need to check with my guru first”. This type of understanding can severely inhibit the mission of ISKCON and if allowed to flourish could lead to its break up.

If you are employed by a company and are requested to do a particular task it is not that before doing that task you tell your boss “First I have to check is it alright with my dad” You can rest assured you won’t have your job for very long in such a scenario. So does the diksa guru not having ultimate authority mean that their position or role is undermined? Again no, particularly if the diksa gurus keep good communication with all of their relevant ISKCON authorities and vice versa.

As ISKCON moves forward it is vital that all devotees associated with it understand clearly its authority structure. The more of us that don’t understand this will simply increase the risk of ISKCON becoming like reality TV’s shooting stars – short lived and inconsequential.

One thing we likely all share is that such an outcome would not be something we would be fired up having to inform Srila Prabhupada of.

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka: Chanting from Trutnov (Czech Woodstock) and Prague to the North of England
The "Traveling Parson"

47 Responses to “Vaisnava culture of respect and honour”

  1. ccd says :

    Really an interesting topic — I am sure there will be sufficient feedback. While of course it has been discussed at length in the GBC – Parallel Authority sub-committee, for the regular folks there may remain a dilemma due to lack of information and basic sastric pramanas.

    However if we look on how Prabhupada historically set up GBC and the guru system, it was rather simple, GBC was both diksa-gurus and managers, not that some were selected diksa-gurus and others were their managers. Accountability is certainly a very important for both types. but segregating the two typologies is really not very helpful, since there would be a variety of situation where inevitably at least some of diksa-gurus are doubling as management/GBC.

    I guess taking very seriously the third verse of the Siksastakam may be helpful for all in all positions, certainly in ISKCON, but since it is essentially a “family business” with our common worshipable guru – Srila Prabhupada — it will always remain the common denominator and the sole basis of unity.

  2. Akruranatha says :

    A big, important topic, worthy of being discussed from many angles and thoroughly understood in different contexts.

    The absolute respect, devotion and obedience that Vaisnavas show to the Supreme Lord, to the spiritual master, and to other advanced Vaisnavas, is practically unheard of in this day and age. It makes nondevotees worried and uncomfortable. Often reporters would question devotees (or even question Srila Prabhupada himself) about why he was given so much honor, rode in a nice car, etc. There is a democratic feeling that no one should bow to another.

    In a properly functioning feudal society, status-based relationships worked in two directions. A servant had to be obedient, respectful and loyal to his master, but a master also had an important obligation to see to the well-being of his servants. A kind of spontaneous, two-way loving relationship was supposed to exist, and such relationships permeated society at all levels.

    In Kali-Yuga human nature is such that feudalism did not work out so well. Given the opportunity, those with the power to exploit others often do.

    Even modern, egalitarian, contract-oriented societies recognize the need to take the edge off the naked, exploitative nature of capitalist employment relationships, resorting to collective bargaining and various social insurance programs, labor and workplace safety regulations, etc.

    ISKCON is supposed to be based on love and trust. We don’t pay people salaries and we certainly don’t keep them in shackles. We depend upon their voluntary inspiration to serve and make sacrifices for the greater mission.

    And yet we often need some kind of hierarchical organizational principle to mobilize a large, voluntary workforce. We need some leaders who can give orders that will be obeyed, and many followers who can be relied on to do as they are told.

    The guru-disciple relationship is a special relationship that helps a disciple learn how to serve and surrender to Krishna.

    The devotee-temple authority relationship may be, but does not necessarily have to be, characterized by that same degree of loyalty and respect. Still, obedience should be there, based on a sense of common purpose.

    Our gurus should set an example of how we all must surrender to the principle of organized authority for the sake of the greater mission.

    And all our gurus and managers should recognize the importance of caring for those in their charge, and not exploiting them.

  3. Akruranatha says :

    An employee who tells his boss, “I have to ask my dad first” won’t keep his job very long, but a boss who does not pay a salary probably won’t keep his employees very long either. That is not the kind of organizational principle we are looking for.

    It seems that part of the challenge for ISKCON is to develop spiritual relationships of voluntary service based on love and trust, and inspiration to perform works of bhakti yoga, and yet to have enough obedience and organization to be able to accomplish big things for Prabhupada.

    Devotional service is offered without expecting personal reward, and yet Krishna is the maintainer and protector of surrendered devotees. The leaders of devotees, be they project managers of spiritual masters, have to see to it that caring for the needs of volunteers and disciples is an important part of their service.

    Of course the gurus should believe in and exemplify the principle of obedience to their authorities in ISKCON’s organizational structure. “Yad yad acarati sresthas.” If they don’t obey the authorities, their disciples won’t either.

    Lord Krishna obeyed authorities. After He killed Kamsa, He could easily have made Himself king, but he re-installed Maharaja Ugrasena. He is the Supreme Authority and He does not have to obey anyone, yet He does so to set a good example.

    But authorities have to earn the respect and obedience of their subordinates, especially if they have no “carrots” or “sticks”.

    What can we do with disobedient devotees in ISKCON? We can’t court-martial them and shoot them like army deserters, or fire them and stop paying them like salaried employees.

    [I guess we could strip them of their service, but even that is not always possible, because devotees are rare, and our mission is to recruit and protect such rare individuals. They somehow have to be trained to see how it is their duty to obey, and we have to live with the fact that there may always be some amount of independence or disobedience, especially among those who live and work outside ISKCON]

    I would expect to see that as the level of authority rises in an organization like ISKCON, the degree of cooperation and obedience rises as well. That is, we should expect to see that the individual GBCs, Trustees, TPs, and of course the spiritual masters, have a deeper sense of responsibility to the mission and therefore a better track record of obeying its rules and directives. But the rules need to be good ones, too.

  4. Akruranatha says :

    “Obedience” should not depend on agreeing with the order to be obeyed. Obedience gets its real test when we have to obey orders we detest, just as “freedom of speech” in a democracy isn’t really tested until someone says something odious.

    For a surrendered person, an order that personally is like poison will be accepted as nectar, and something prohibited will be accepted as poison even if it is personally like nectar.

    But unless there is some sense of the legitimacy of the process and the general reasonableness of the orders given, as a practical matter people will eventually cease to obey. Faith in the authority of leaders will wane, and eventually the center won’t hold.

    The legitimacy of the GBC as the ultimate managerial and ecclesiastical authority in ISKCON is clear. Srila Prabhupada made no mystery of his wishes in that regard (although he sometimes disapproved of specific decisions the GBC took).

    But there was a kind of crisis, at least for some time after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, in which many devotees lost faith in the GBC’s ability to make proper decisions. Mainly I think it had to do (ironically) with the power of certain zonal gurus (who were also leaders of the GBC) and their unwillingness to recognize any higher authority than themselves, their sometime exploitation of other devotees, and their eventual ignominious falldowns which tarnished ISKCON’s reputation.

    I have a sense that those days are behind us and there is now a lot of momentum and resurgence of faith in ISKCON, its purpose and its leadership, and a renewed, growing sense of cooperation for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada. In such an optimistic environment it should be easier to foster the kind of willing obedience to ISKCON leadership that is needed to accomplish the lofty goals Prabhupada set for us.

  5. KKDasa says :

    While the necessity is there to honour and glorify those devotees worthy of praise, there is a risk of neglecting to honour other devotees who are equally worthy, but are lower down in the hierarchical scheme of things. In other words, the combined glorification can appear too ‘top heavy’ or exclusive.

    Disciples honouring their gurus must also give the lion’s share to other devotees in good standing, and who may not be in the forefront of things, preferring to remain in the background. An equalisation of honour and respect has to happen in order that the parallel system of management runs smoothly.

    So long as the exclusivist attitude remains which can cause some imbalance in normal authoritative matters at temple level, this same imbalance assumes a lop-sided form of social cohesion, which in the longer term, runs the risk of creating havens of loyalty dissimilar to the interests of our common good.

    Then, with our frequent changes of management it is hardly surprising to find the necessary trust and loyalty in new incumbents on par with that of the gurus or GBC’s. It takes time. Meanwhile certain authorities wonder why they cannot function properly.

    We tend to be inconsistent in continuity of temple or community policy. It usually happens that a new temple president has a different set of ideas from the previous authority, and when implementation begins, all previous progress is halted, or toned down…and we sometimes wonder, “why aren’t we moving forward?”

    All sensible governments put policies into legislation so that whoever comes to power next will continue – there is consistency. For us to function just as well – and it is a difficult ask considering the inordinate strength of Maya – our middle leaders have to be havens of stability, thus earning the trust to manage mutually with the guru/disciple interests at heart.

    So the equalisation of respect and honour will fluctuate with every changing of the guard as it were. In such circumstances unique to a volunteer mission as ISKCON, parallel authority or cohesiveness will be quite an accomplishment.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  6. ccd says :

    A quote from a letter by Prabhupada wth some revelation of his own realization on competition and following the authority:

    “Regarding your questions you say that amongst the elder disciples there are still symptoms of greed, anger, strife, bickering, etc., but you are one of them. You are one of the old students, so you fall in that group. So the fighting is among that group, but not amongst the real workers. There was fighting amongst the gopis also, so we cannot expect there will be some utopia without fighting, there is even in the spiritual sky transcendental greed, lust, envy, like that. But that is transcendental. Hamsaduta is maintaining his position of service, so why, even if a little fighting, you should go away? We should never give up our duty. My godbrothers always discouraged me but I did not give up, I am doing my duty and always keeping my spiritual master in front. Even there is some difficulty or hardship, or even my godbrothers may not cooperate or there may be fighting, still, I must perform my duty to my spiritual master and not become discouraged and go away…

  7. Akruranatha says :

    “‘Yashas’, fame, should be according to Lord Caitanya, who said that a man is famous when he is known as a great devotee. That is real fame. If one has become a great man in Krishna consciousness and it is known, then he is truly famous. One who does not have such fame is infamous.” (B.G. 10.5 Purport)

    I think Srila Prabhupada used his disciples’ desire for fame and distinction in order to spur them on to achieve good preaching results and to make sacrifices and undergo austerities for Krishna consciousness.

    Of course, to become a truly “great man in Krishna consciousness” means that one becomes free from material desires like the desires to become independently famous, powerful, rich, beautiful, etc. The really great devotees are enjoying so much ever increasing happiness from Krishna consciousness that they spit at the thought of such lower and degrading forms of happiness.

    Fortunately we see a number of our godbrothers and godsisters have become truly great men and women, who have embraced Krishna consciousness as their life and soul, foresaking all other attachments, and who are working cooperatively to push on this mission under the authority of the GBC. They have real fame as approved by Lord Caitanya.


    “‘Tapas’ means austerity or penance. There are many rules and regulations in the Vedas which apply here, like rising early in the morning and taking a bath. Sometimes it is very troublesome to rise early in the morning, but whatever voluntary trouble one may suffer in this way is called penance. Similarly, there are prescriptions for fasting on certain days of the month. One may not be inclined to practice such fasting, but because of his determination to make advancement in the science of Krishna consciousness, he should accept such bodily troubles when they are recommended…” (B.G. 10.5 Purport)

    When new devotees move into an ISKCON asram, they undergo all kinds of austerities to which they are not accustomed. To add on top of that being in the lowest position in a pecking order can be unbearable to the breaking point. Still, hierarchies are needed for practical organization. What to do?

    I think we just have to be especially sensitive and kind to the devotees, especially to the tender new recruits, while at the same time recognizing that without obedience to rank and authority, no army, corporation or other organization can be very effective.

  8. Akruranatha says :

    “…One should not fast for some political purpose; that is described in Bhagavad-Gita as fasting in ignorance, and anything done in ignorance or passion does nt lead to spiritual advancement. Everything done in the mode of goodness does advance one, however, and fasting done in terms of the Vedic injunctions enriches one in spiritual knowledge.” (B.G. 10.5 Purport)

    I hated to leave out this part of the quote in my last comment, but space was limited and it was hard to see how it was relevant to the whole “parallel lines” topic.

    One thing is, a lot of devotees have been doing the Pandava Nirjal Ekadasi fast, without any material motive, seeking only purification so they can perform their service better.

    Is it a material or fruitive mentality to desire that, as a result of such fasting and chanting, the Lord will bless ISKCON with success in its organization and community spirit and achieving its goals in furtherance of the mission to please Srila Prabhupada and benedict the conditioned jivas?

    I think such desires are not material and we can undergo austerities with the aim of seeing these auspicious things develop more and more in our society of devotees.

    Disciples should be faithful to their gurus. Gurus should first and foremost be faithful to their own gurus and should not have any ulterior motives for independent fame and distinction.

    Everyone in ISKCON from top to bottom should be tuned in to the need to make ISKCON successful as a cooperative, organized enterprise for spreading Lord Caitanya’s mercy, and should accept the principle of obedience to duly-constituted authority with that goal in view.

    And last but not least, all authority should be wielded in ISKCON for the purpose of service to the Vaisnavas and their compassionate mission, and should never be used for personal material enjoyment. Nor should we ever put the so-called needs of the mission (e.g. the need for money and property and favorable publicity) over the legitimate needs of its individual members. Our real mission is to make pure devotees, for their benefit. We should never, ever use people’s faith and submission to serve some ulterior purpose.

    I guess the hard questions and crunches come when we feel the authorities are making wrong decisions or giving us unconscionable orders. I suppose some need for flexibility and intelligence remains, but hopefully these times will be few and rare, by Krishna’s grace, and by His grace we shall overcome them.

  9. pustakrishna says :

    In the early days of Krishna consciousness in the US, the utter joy and relief of coming into genuine spiritual service made it easier to ignore minor inconsistencies. We heard Srila Prabhupad speak of the spiritually discriminating Swan-like mentality versus the fault-finding Crow-like mentality. We would strive to overlook defects, understanding that we were being re-born, just learning to maneuver in a new universe of hopes, service, and transcendental knowledge. Human nature has not changed from then to now. Perhaps offenses, perhaps boredom, certainly the illusory energy, creeps up to leave us with one foot in the spiritual life and one foot receding back into the material world. We came from many different backgrounds, with many different mentalities. Some people were more gregarious, some more reclusive. And, our pre-conceptions of what life in a monastery or ashram were also may plan a big role in realizing satisfaction or not.
    The topic is a very heady one. Somewhat of a study in sociology, but one that merits examination. We must not relegate the minor inconsistencies evident in bhaktas or aspiring bhaktas with the karmic sinful activities of non-bhaktas. This is not a self-righteous viewpoint. It is supported in the Bhagavad-gita. We all know that desires for standing (pratishtha) visits each and every one of us. Desire for sense exploitation (kama) visits each and every one of us. Desire for wealth (kanak) visits each and every one of us. How we deal with these winds, urges, defines our character and may have a profound effort on our capacity to please Sri Krishna. Bhoktaram yajna tapasam…Krishna is the enjoyer of our sacrifices and austerities which we do for attaining His divine service. Srila Rupa Goswami discusses that the many urges may come, and we are best to practice restraint and tolerance of these urges for the higher purpose of attaining a measure of sense control (vaco vegam…).
    Truly, the sociology of this world, even in the context of religion, must take a subordinate position to the higher aspirations of the soul, the higher taste. ISKCON, after all, is one vehicle to promote the individuals’ higher spiritual “property”. All may get bogged down at various points, but it is Krishna’s all-attractive nature and His divine plan that the jiva-soul will regain enthusiasm and renewed purity of purpose. Faithfully, Pusta Krishna das

  10. ccd says :

    From Prabhupada Nectar by SDG:

    Srila Prabhupada’s servant was having difficulty controlling his senses and he asked Prabhupada to give him a special diet. When word got around that Prabhupada had recommended a special diet, another devotee approached Prabhupada for similar treatment.

    “Prabhupada, is there anything I could get that would help me control my tongue more? Are there certain things to avoid, like sugar?”

    Prabhupada said, “The method to control the tongue is to chant and to pray.”

    “Well,” the devotee said, “I am chanting and praying, but still I am having difficulty.”
    Prabhupada sat back in his seat and laughed. “Yes,” he said, “I know. I have a tongue too. It may be difficult, but as much as you can, try to eat simply.”

    Prabhupada went on to describe how during World War II there was a bombing of Calcutta-during a time when Prabhupada was just about to honor prasadam. Friends had come running to the house giving warning: “Abhay Charan, come quickly! The air-raid siren is going off! The bombs are coming!” Prabhupada had responded by saying that he could not go because his wife had just prepared some kacauris. He told his friends, “You go to the shelter. I will stay here.”

    And so he offered the kacauris, ate them, and chanted Hare Krsna.

  11. Akruranatha says :

    Some criticize that ISKCON does not function like a natural, organic culture or civilization. That is, we can imagine a “Golden Age” where people have internalized the laws and customs of daivi varnasrama dharma, and there is no need for an organized preaching mission to benefit the “fallen” population. In such a society, Vaisnava brahmanas will guide everyone, and children will attend gurukulas and accept initiation from qualified gurus, without the necessity of those gurus belonging to any specific preaching organization. They will just belong to various disciplic lines in the parampara system. To bring about such an ideal civilization is one of ISKCON’s avowed, long-term goals.

    This was brought up in some of the Constitution conferences I had the privilege of participating in. We were reminded that ISKCON’s organizational structure is merely a means to achieve practical ends. “Utility is the principle.” We don’t say that following the GBC is one of the eternal principles of Bhakti or of varnasrama dharma. There is no GBC mentioned in “Nectar of Devotion.” But it is a detail Srila Prabhupada created (on SBSST’s order) for our time and circumstances, sprung from his divine, compassionate intelligence as an effective method of bringing Krishna consciousness to the masses of people in this fallen age. He has identified the establishment of the GBC as the proper way to proceed, and we are carrying out his design, which has already proven very successful.

    We cannot afford to simply “pretend” there is no current need for a well organized, dynamic mission for preaching the sankirtan movement to today’s world. We have to have a guru system that is geared to the “real world” demands of ISKCON’s current missionary work, and to the organizational structure Prabhupada established for us. ISKCON has to function according to the desires of Srila Prabhupada for bringing KC to the world, under the aegis of the GBC.

    I do agree that we must remain alert not to fall into the traps of parochialism and materialism as ISKCON continues to expand in membership, wealth, power and influence.
    We should keep the goal in mind that we hope to bring about a society someday in which there may be no need of ISKCON as such. It is sort of like the Leninist communists who see the need of a vanguard party to establish a dictatorship temporarily, to bring about cultural changes which are theoretically supposed to make the party and even the state itself wither away…

  12. Akruranatha says :

    But in the mean time and for the very long term foreseeable future a dynamic, well-organized ISKCON is needed, which can function very much like an organized church with a corporate or collegial organizational structure.

    Spiritual authority still descends through the guru, sastra and sadhus. However, gurus and sadhus can be (should be) loyal to the holy mission organized by the great acarya Srila Prabhupada, and the great sastras we have in the form of Prabhupada’s books.

    The danger of becoming a “Churchianity” no longer concerned with genuine, pure Krishna consciousness is slight, if our leaders keep in mind the real goal and mood, and follow Pusta Krishna’s advice and restrain or subordinate the urges of pratistha, kama, kanak, etc.

    I have every reason to believe this will continue to be a successful force for distributing pure Krishna consiousness.

    On a side note I was reading Stephen Knapp’s book on “Crimes Against India” (a review of which just surfaced on Dandavats), and it makes me think of how for hundreds of years Vaisnavas have been persecuted at the hands of well-organized Muslim emperors and Christian inquisitions, but that by the grace of Srila Prabhupada and on the order of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur there is now an organized force for bringing the mercy of the Vaisnavas throughout the world.

    I do not think it has to be ruthless and insensitive to the genuine spiritual understandings of others, the way certain Christian missionaries and Muslim persecutors of Hindus have historically behaved. On the contrary, as a real Vaisnava mission, ISKCON will be the opposite of such ignorant, chauvinistic and cruel organizations. But it is comforting to know that it will be a large, cooperative, organized, wealthy and powerful institution for bringing this enlightenment of pure devotional service and spreading it throughout the world for the benefit of everyone, protecting the bhaktas from mistreatment and persecution by the ignorant and materialistic forces.

    ISKCON is “one vehicle” for doing that, and it happens to be a very important vehicle with great potential for exponential growth in influence. The loyal followers of Srila Prabhupada have happily inherited as our life’s work the project to cooperatively make this vehicle successful, and it will only succeed if the individual gurus and managers recognize the authority of the organizational structure and GBC leadership.

  13. pustakrishna says :

    We are very fortunate to see many varieties of Krishna consciousness expanding in the current time. From collective temple life, to Nama-hatta programs, and even individual families or individuals practicing Krishna consciousness, we are seeing many manners, even experiments, in the practice of Krishna consciousness. It is important, in my opinion, to respect these varieties of efforts, as they are directed toward Krishna.
    It would be a wonderful happening if the world’s millions of devotees were free from suspicion and able to feel that the worldwide Sankirtan movement of Lord Chaitanyadeva was, like achintya-bhedabheda tattva, One and yet diversified.
    Our faith must expand beyond the boundaries of institutionalism. This does not diminish the effect of ISKCON, but rather fulfills the Sankirtan promise. Sankirtan must even expand beyond Vaishnavism itself. When Atreya Rsi Prabhu in Tehran, Iran, was proudly informing Srila Prabhupad that some of his muslim visitors were chanting Hare Krishna, then Srila Prabhupad cautioned him that Mahaprabhu’s mission is not sectarian. “Let them glorify the name of Allah”. Namnam akari bahuda…
    We sometimes try to build a moat around the society to protect it from other influences, but we must have confidence that the training of Vaishnavas equips them to see everything through the parampara teaching. We want to have the association of good devotees, and we want to enhance the Audarya, distributing capacity, of Nitai-Gaura, by being their instruments. We feel that a genuine Guru is necessary so that we will not cheat ourselves, deceive ourselves, into compromising with the spiritual ideals. Whether this involves formal diksha or simply siksha is debatable, but siksha is indispensible. We must have instruction, sravanam/kirtanam/smaranam…to cut the knot within the heart that roots us in consciousness other than Krishna consciousness.

    Humbly submitted for discussion,

    Pusta Krishna das

  14. Akruranatha says :

    Pusta Krishna Prabhu has submitted an important topic for discussion, namely expanding our faith beyond the boundaries of “institutionalism.”

    It’s a big topic and I hope many others join in the discussion. (I am mindful that I do more than my share of talking here, and surely I could express things more concisely, but I really am not trying to “hog” the conversation. I wish many people would jump in.)

    The topic is related to the “parallel lines” topic in that it deals in many ways with the authority of the GBC and in particular its function and duty to protect, maintain and expand ISKCON as a preaching institution, and its need to accommodate diversity in methods of preaching and practice, as well as its authority to “draw the line” when necessary to maintain standards and prevent deviations.

    More directly to the point, “parallel lines of authority” issues may arise when a particular guru or spiritual leader in ISKCON is dissatisfied with lines the GBC draws, or fails to draw.

    Of course the hallmark of a broad-minded, mahatma devotee is the ability to appreciate and respect devotional service in all its varieties, even when it appears ouside of Vaisnava sampradayas, among Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, philosophers, scientists, etc. Krishna reveals in the 9th Chapter of the Gita that even impersonalism and even demigod worship is really worship of Him, but in a wrong way (jnana yajnena capy anye yajanto mam upasate…) (…mam eva kaunteya yajany avidhi purvakam).

    And yet we have something very special to distribute to the world in the direct knowledge of Lord Krishna, the Son of Nanda Maharaja, His Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Teachings of Lord Caitanya.

    Of course, Vaisnavas who revere Vedic literature and actually practice devotional service in accordance with the authorized regulative principles within a bona fide Vaisnava sampradaya must be highly respected as being on the right path, and even more so those who are followers of Lord Caitanya. Closer still are those who follow Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.

    And yet, Srila Prabhupada was very careful to regulate how we interact with these different Vaisnavas so as not to harm the success of ISKCON or allow ourselves to be deviated from service to Prabhupada’s own preaching institution. It seems the GBC has inherited the task of providing guidance as to how loyal ISKCON devotees should or should not interact with those outside ISKCON.

  15. Akruranatha says :

    We do sometimes try to build a moat around ISKCON to protect it from improper influences. It may be a paradox that a “house the whole world can live in” should need moats and ramparts and security systems, but as long as there are potentially dangerous outside influences a good house needs such things. Krishna went so far as to build His capital as a fortess in the sea.

    I agree with Pusta Krishna that best protection is to train the ISKCON devotees thoroughly in the parampara whys and wherefores of how we should and should not associate with devotees from other sampradayas or other branches of the Caitanya tree. We must not be offensive in our interactions, but we must also uphold the honor of Srila Prabhupada and protect the interests of his ISKCON institution.

    Not everyone can do that properly, and it might be better for many devotees to just have little to do with other Gaudiya Vaisnava organizations, except for the opccasional, official, ISKCON-approved formal functions with them. That seems to be the approach Srila Prabhupada took in the 1970s.

    Yes we need association with good devotees and we need genuine gurus, but most of us find all these things we need in ISKCON. When devotees started looking for these things among Prabhupada’s godbrothers and god-nephews, all kinds of troubles and dislocations arose, probably in some cases due to our own immaturity but also in some cases due to ambitions of non-ISKCON gurus and acaryas.

    Because our basic doctrines and practices are so similar, there is always the chance that devotees from one institution can be wooed away to a different institution. Sometimes it has unfortunately been the case that Gaudiya Vaisnava preachers from outside ISKCON have arranged for programs in close vicinity to ISKCON temples for the purpose of luring ISKCON devotees to join their separate organizations, without seeking prior approval of the ISKCON authorities, or even in open defiance of ISKCON’s authority.

    There should be standards respected by all sides regarding proper and improper behavior when it comes to such things. While we should avoid the “institutionalism” of substituting loyalty to a particular mission or institution for genuine surrender and devotion to Guru and Krishna, we should also appreciate that protecting the dignity and effectiveness of the institution Srila Prabhupada created is an important aspect of our devotional service. That much should be clear.

  16. Akruranatha says :

    The “unity in diversity” issue raised by Pusta Krishna was a topic discussed in the “membership” committee working on the Constitution. We used to have a sense that our “members”, or at least our core members, were totally dedicated and willing to have every aspect of their lives governed by an ISKCON authority in the chain of command extending down from Srila Prabhupada. It was easy to tell who was “in the army” so to speak, because they answered directly to their commanding officers.

    Our society was never completely that narrow, and we did cultivate “life members” and other friends and allies who might not have completely submitted to ISKCON’s disciplinary hierarchy but who we embraced as part of our larger constituency.

    It seems that as ISKCON has grown the sociology of “membership” and our attitudes toward it have shifted. We accept our independent householder congregations as “members” in a different way than we used to. These things are evolving, with largely positive but also at least the possibility of some potentially negative consequences. We do still need at least a core of very dedicated, highly committed individuals with strict sadhana as well as deep realizations.

    But getting back to the “parallel lines” topic more generally, it is important that all this unity in diversity (nama hatta, loft preaching, hatha yoga mixed with KC, surrendered brahmacaris, independent householders, etc.) is handled in an enlightened way.

    I have long felt that it is the genius of the GBC system that it can demonstrate to the world that senior Vaisnavas are free enough from lust, greed, pride, ambition for fame, power, and followers, that they can work cooperatively or collegially in a greater preaching organization or “institution” (I have never been fond of that word but Srila Prabhupada did use it), without jostling to become sole “acarya”, without the kind of politics that more or less proclaims to the world that our faith is sentimental, emotional, unenlightened, materially motiated.

    Am I being obscure? Let me try to clarify:

    Modern people distrust religion. They find it entails belief in things that cannot be proven by hard-headed rationalism. They fear it breeds blind faith and fanatic loyalty to individuals who merely exploit followers for personal motives like the passion for being in charge, and that this state of affairs leads to useless quarrels and even violence.

    In Kali yuga, religion does have that track record…

  17. pustakrishna says :

    My personal view is that the mercy and compassion displayed by Srila Prabhupad are incomparable in the history of Vaishnavism. His character and his faith in his spiritual master’s desire for him to teach Krishna consciousness in the English speaking West, sitting beneath a tree in Tompkin’s Square Park at the advanced age of 70, to fulfill his Gurudeva’s order…and not merely to fulfill it and return to his place in Sri Vrindaban Dham! But, to initiate the Sankirtan Movement outside of India throughout the world, and to reinvigorate Sankirtan within India as well. I would be very impressed indeed if there were similar Gaudiya vaishnavas who followed his example. Some will admit, as I have heard, that they are merely taking “the prasadam of Srila Prabhupad.” He will remain so great a figure in the world of Sankirtan, and it is important to keep his memory as the great mahatma, even saktyavesha-avatar, that he is. If we make him appear small-minded and defensive, rather than the broadest minded person on the planet in his time…if we consider that his compassion is limited to only a few within his own serving mission…if we try to drag him down by our own sectarian preconceptions or understandings/misunderstandings…what will be the final historical recollection of Srila Prabhupad?
    As the soul can be neither wet by water, or burned by fire, etc., so too the conceptions of Srila Prabhupad cannot be touched by mundane mis-understanding. However, as Srila Prabhupad has said….”one judges the jockey by the performance of the race horse.” That is, Srila Prabhupad will be honored by the mission and institution which represents him. Hence, the institution must be able to “multi-task”. It can illustrate the ideals of suddha-bhakti, and also appeal to the fallen souls to recognize the dignity of their own true identity. It can reach out to provide a proper non-sectarian message for all humanity, so that the Sankirtan Movement will truly become the beacon for ALL religious traditions. Small-minded or provincial, and defensive will not be enough to glorify our spiritual master. His greatness is as the transparent via medium to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. That is my humble opinion. Pusta Krishna das

  18. Akruranatha says :

    “[Srila Prabhupada] will remain so great a figure in the world of Sankirtan, and it is important to keep his memory as the great mahatma, even saktyavesha-avatar, that he is. If we make him appear small-minded and defensive, rather than the broadest minded person on the planet in his time…if we consider that his compassion is limited to only a few within his own serving mission…if we try to drag him down by our own sectarian preconceptions or understandings/misunderstandings…what will be the final historical recollection of Srila Prabhupad?”

    Yes. It is important that the disciples and grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada become perfect and try to exemplify Srila Prabhupada’s freedom from sectarian considerations, while at the same time carrying out his work according to his orders.

    And yet a large part of Srila Prabhupada’s work while he was present involved seeing to it that certain moats or protections were built around ISKCON. He engaged his disciples in so many different kinds of devotional service, like book distribution, Deity worship, cleaning the temple, discussing Srimad Bhagavatam, chanting, cooking, etc. But he also engaged certain devotees in management of ISKCON, and he instilled in us all a sense of loyalty to the ISKCON mission and management. All other services were part of one big, institutional preaching enterprise, as in the Indian Railway campaign that everything was done to “keep the wheels rolling.”

    I do not know exactly in what context Srila Prabhupada quoted William Cowper’s “England, with all thy faults I love thee still”, but it always seemed to me he was encouraging us to love ISKCON and continue to serve it, even if some fault could be found in its devotees or even in its leadership.

    So I guess the question arises, if we are convinced Srila Prabhupada was never small-minded or defensive, as to what his transcendental purpose and motivations were when he did things such as sternly ordering his disciples not to mix freely with his godbrothers (which he undeniably did). I am sure he was not being small-minded or “provincial”, but he was doing what ISKCON needed and what we needed, to save us and our mission from certain dangers.

    And in carrying out the tasks he set for them, ISKCON’s leaders have to understand how to continue protecting ISKCON from such dangers without being “provincial.” And even if they make a mistake, we have to obey our institutional authorities, perhaps loyally expressing our disagreement.

  19. Akruranatha says :

    The thought I never finished at the end of comment #16 was that it seems to me that sometimes the politics within and around ISKCON (or churches and religions generally)can bolster the views of those who distrust bhakti or devotional religion as being sentimental and prone to fanatical quarrels and blind faith in charismatic but interested individuals.

    To a certain extent it cannot be helped. There really are tendencies to certain kinds of quarrels as long as we are not advanced devotees with deep realizations. There really will be some charismatic leaders who exploit the simple faith of their followers, and there really are going to be some fanatic, disgruntled dissidents who say and do all kinds of crazy things.

    My hope is, though, that a large scale, united Krishna-concious educational or evangelical mission that can work cooperatively under the auspices of a GBC in much the same way as an established church (say, the Roman Catholic Church), will bring about a tremendous appreciation for the science of Krishna consciousness throughout the world.

    I use the word “science” advisedly, the way Srila Prabhupada used it, not to describe an ascending process of empirical knowledge of matter and energy, but as a standard, coherent and practical body of factual knowledge about how to liberate our psyches from base material qualities that bind us to repeated birth and death, and how to revive our dormant, natural tendency to experience an eternal, blissful life or service to Krishna.

    Such an organization will have numerous gurus and exemplary guru-disciple relationships in accordance with Vaisnava traditions, but at the same time the various gurus and other leading devotees will cooperate in obedience to a single collegial managing authority and will not fragment into competing personality cults.

    Such a stable, established, sophisticated and non-fanatical organization can do tremendous good for the world. It can teach the world the message of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. It can also provide a vehicle for active service to that educational mission.

    It seems to me that was Srila Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON, and it seems that is the vision shared by ISKCON’s GBC and by most ISKCON devotees. I have every expectation ISKCON will grow and flourish in this way, and this makes me very happy and optimistic.

    Such an organization is at once broad-minded and yet institutional.

  20. Akruranatha says :

    For many decades the ruling party in Mexico was the PRI, the “Institutional Revolutionary Party.”

    It always seemed like a contradiction to me, how the party could be simultaneously “institutional” and “revolutionary,” and how it could be “revolutionary” when it had long been the established ruling party in essentially a one-party system.

    I do not know anything about Mexican politics, but I am interested in the linguistic implications of the word “institution.”

    It seems clear that Srila Prabhupada cared very much for the institution of ISKCON, and encouraged us to care for it, as a transcendental organization.

    ISKCON is, first and formost, composed of its members, individual devotees. It also has properties, land, buildings, artwork, but those things are secondary. ISKCON is a society of devotees united by the instructions of Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession, and by the personal relationships and loving exchanges that develop between devotees, based on their shared, eternal loving relationship with Krishna.

    But it is also an institutional organization inasmuch as it was endowed by its founder Srila Prabhupada with not only a spiritual mission (to spread the sankirtan movement of Lord Caitanya to every town and village of the world), but a practical organizational principle (that to that end the society’s GBC would conduct annual meetings in Mayapur and make necessary decisions for coordinating and deploying the society’s human and other resources).

    It seems contradictory that a mission can be at once transcendental (non-sectarian, broad-minded, embodying the spritual principles of equipoise and universality or samatvam), and at the same time be a specific organization that protects itself in competition with other organizations or challenges, which implies partiality.

    Krishna also has this contradictory nature of being equally disposed to all and yet being especially attentive and partial to His devotees.

    We cannot take this in a casual or flippant way. It is very serious and sublime. But the fact is that by being especially careful and attentive to the needs of his fledgling institution and its often immature members, Srila Prabhupada was actually engaged in the greatest and broadest welfare work for all living beings.

    And similarly, in caring for the continued stability, growth and effectiveness of ISKCON, the GBC is continuing in that transcendental, broad-minded work. May it be successful!

  21. Akruranatha says :

    I guess in response to Caitanya Candrodaya’s quotation of the “don’t expect utopia” letter, I would say as follows:

    Granted, even if we were all pure in every respect, there would still be differences or quarrels, as that is the nature of individual persons. Variety is the spice (another quotation from Cowper), and we should not expect or hope to make everything “all one”.

    At the same time, the quality of the quarrels between residents of Goloka are all very charming and pleasing, as they are not influenced by material lust, greed, anger etc.

    It may be very surprising for us to hear that there are actually quarrels and differences of opinions that take place beyond the influence of the three modes of material nature, but we still cannot imagine how sweet such quarrels are, which take place in the transcendental atmostphere of unalloyed devotion to Krishna, for His pleasure, and with each quarreling party having utmost respect and affection for the pure devotee with whom he or she is quarreling. It is inconceivable.

    When we do have quarrels, we should try to improve the spiritual quality of our quarrels by checking our own motivations and by offering obeisances to our rivals within the core of our hearts and trying to see how they are being motivated (at least partially) by a sincere desire to serve Krishna.

    First and foremost, we have to take on our head Srila Prabhupada’s instruction that we show our love for him by how we cooperate together, and we should never let a quarrel be a cause for us to leave the service of Srila Prabhupada or his ISKCON mission.

    Most of us have to admit that we are far from perfect in our devotional service, and that we still have improper motivations and may behave in many ways that fall short from the real, exalted character of Vaisnavas. And yet somehow Srila Prabhupada still loved us and took pride in us, despite our numerous faults. “We can’t blame a dirty man who is in the shower.”

    “ISKCON with all thy faults I love thee” means that even when we are embarrassed or dismayed by some immature behavior or mistake in our society, we still find so much to love. Not that we do not try to improve things if we are able, but where else can we repose our love? When the baby is Krishna, even the bathwater is carnamrta!

  22. ccd says :

    Actually I would not object for a devotee to join one of the prominent TV shows…if they can. The desire for fame and distinction is not “the exclusive preserve of reality tv contestants”, nor it is ‘wrong’ for a devotee to seek fame. It may sound strange (how?! the ‘desire for fame’ pratistha!!)… well not only Prabhupada okayed Balavanta to run for president (the biggest reality tv show I know), he also wrote:

    “You have got some desire to become a famous preacher and famous Vaisnava singer and also jagad-guru. This is a spiritual desire, so it is not like any material desire and it is all right to desire for Krsna in this way…”

    I did, on purpose cut the quote… we know that you can draw the line where it is material and where its not. But the difference — is if it is ‘for Krishna’ or not; is it for us to feel perfect (perfect guru?).

    Being from the Abrahamic traditions, we still very much confusing the falls, faults and tribulations of an aspiring/maha/vaisnavas with disqualifications on their path of bhakti. Hense troubles in leadership and overreliance on ‘what others will say’.

    Why anyone even try to be seen perfect? The only thing we should try to be perfect is in service attitude in pleasing Prabhupada. There is a thin line between fame for Krishna and fame for yourself, perfect in service and seen perfect, there is also a thin line for thinking that by perfect behavior one can get credit to be dear to Krishna (taking it for granted? Do you think you “reached” “the perfection”?) As Prabhupada wrote “The more one feels imperfect in Krishna’s service, the more he is advancing in Krishna Consciousness. Even the topmost devotees feel they are inadequate in their service to the Lord. So it is good to feel inadequate, and to try harder to please Krishna with better service. But one should never feel, oh, I have seen Krishna, and so I am reached perfection — this is not Krishna Consciousness.” In the same way to expect that GBCs and gurus must be absolutely perfect and there should not be a conflict at all, or that there should not be a feeling of being inadequate in their service, is hardly a sign of the advanced KC view. It is this perception of being inadequate but focused in service that brings you to the spiritual world, not a conception that you are guaranteed the entry. So the key is to base the compassionate mission on your own hankering for the causeless mercy not on who is controlling whom.

    So “what others will say?

  23. pustakrishna says :

    Regarding page 18, and the context of Srila Prabhupad’s use of: “England, with all her faults, still I love thee”. I had personally heard him use it in the context of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur”. That is, some might find some fault with their Gurudeva’s action/approach/or whatever. Still, the disciple must think that their Gurudeva is beyond reproach, as the quote implies. In this context, Srila Prabhupad intended to give his own disciples the message that if they find any fault with Srila Prabhupad, they must overlook it so that it does not present any obstacle to wholeheartedly serving their spiritual master. Revisionism: ISKCON with all her faults, still I love thee. One may say that Srila Prabhupad is ISKCON, just as one may say that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur is the Gaudiya Math. How much criticism we hear of the Gaudiya Math in some of these writings. Really, it is not for us to criticize, nor to imitate Srila Prabhupad if he had any such criticism himself for some of his Godbrothers. Few know the warm friendships Srila Prabhupad kept with some of his Godbrothers.

    There does seem to be some revisionism going on from time to time in the conversational nature of some of these discussions. And, there is a great deal of energy spent in trying to formalize what ISKCON should be. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine that such nature of talks came up during the time of Lord Chaitanya, but we know that there were some 70 or so branches to the so called tree of Sankirtan during His time. My own observation is that the greater dangers to the organization have come from within, rather than from without. When talk shifts too much to organization, hierarchy, and power, then many will rethink their own commitment to such organization. Unless one gets fed, they remain hungry, and must seek out nourishment elsewhere. Thus, very simply, it is the role of leadership to simply provide spiritual nourishment and engagement in devotional service, rather than create “us and them” mentality. In the end, the direction of Lord Chaitanya to give honor to others without expecting honor for oneself, is a formula for sure success in the quandry that Chaitanya Charitamrita das describes above(22). It is Krishna consciousness, magnification of Krishna, diminution of oneself (negative attracting the positive), that may draw Krishna to us….maybe, we hope. Pusta Krishna das

  24. Praghosa says :

    In the article itself the only core issue raised was that of the relationship and responsibilities of ISKCON diksa gurus with the ISKCON organization itself. There was no reference to other preaching missions or organizations, nor was there any reference to the thousands of devotees engaged in other services within ISKCON. Therefore the reference about power and organization and hierarchy is essentially irrelevant as the only devotees the article focused on were the initiating spiritual masters in ISKCON which number approximately 76.

    Again if ISKCON is to continue to grow and be successful in its mission it has to work as a united team all pulling the cart in the same direction. Traditionally the guru was the head of his math and the ultimate authority. The model given to us by Srila Prabhupada is of course very different and there is no doubt that that alone creates a challenge for us all and maybe even more so for the gurus as they have to work under an authority – the GBC. Still with an instruction comes the ability to carry out that instruction, particularly one given by Srila Prabhupada.

  25. Akruranatha says :

    In response to Caitanya Candrodaya’s #22, I say you have spoken very well and hit on a very important point. “Don’t try to see Krishna but try to act in such a way that Krishna will want to see you.”

    One of the problems or necessary evils of hierarchical “institutionalism” is that it naturally breeds a desire to occupy a higher place in the hierarchy. Sometimes being the lowest ranking devotee could be a very painful position. We have sometimes tended to base our organizational hierarchy on perceptions of how “advanced” devotees are, at least implicitly. That is, to justify one’s responsibility to follow an order from a higher-ranking devotee, we tend to foster the belief that higher rank within the organization is equated with greater spiritual advancement.

    Of course, we want our leaders, TPs, GBCs, etc. to be as advanced as possible. At a minimum they should be strictly following the rules and regulations and not be hypocrites. We also want them to have sufficient knowledge and realization to know the purposes and needs of ISKCON and have a proper vision of what is to be done.

    But we make a mistake if we philosophically base our duty to obey authorities within ISKCON on their supposed more advanced position. A simple book distributor, pujari or potwasher with no institutional “authority” to speak of may nevertheless be a highly elevated Vaisnava. And it is quite possible that the TP or GBC, though following strictly and and attending morning and evening programs faithfully, still has many material desires and anarthas obstructing his ability to serve in pure love.

    Aside from the fact that equating institutional authority with advancement is often factually untrue, it is dangerous in other ways. It promotes the desire to be seen as advanced.

    Obedience to properly constituted authority serves other purposes than merely ordering relationships between more advanced and less advanced devotees. It is for the sake of cooperatively carrying out the mission of Srila Prabhupada that we have a duty to obey our authorities, even if they happen to be beginners in devotional service and even if we are fully self-realized maha-bhagavats.

    Because we believe in the mission and in the process pursuant to which political authority is wielded in ISKCON on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, we subject ourself to the orders of the authorities, just as we must obey civil authorities like policemen and judges without assuming they are morally superior

  26. Akruranatha says :

    This distiction between obedience out of deference to the mission and its processes, for the sake of service to the founder-acarya, as opposed to obeying out of deference to the supposedly superior spiritual qualities of the authority, may be a big part of what makes “parallel lines” issues confusing to us.

    For a disciple, the spiritual master must be obeyed and served “as good as God” because he is the representative and confidential servant of God.

    On the other hand, the temple president must be obeyed because he is the administrative authority of the temple. It is nice if we can also see that the TP is doing some confidential service with a nice devotional attitude, and conversely the TP would like to see that all the temple cleaners, cooks, pujaris, and preachers are doing confidential service with nice attitudes and a high degree of spiritual realization.

    But whether or not the TP is a highly advanced devotee with firm realization that he is an eternal servant of Krishna and not his material body, he nevertheless has a function by dint of his position as TP that he must be obeyed in his jurisdiction of directing the activities of the temple. He also has power to delegate authority to subordinate temple officers such as sankirtan leader, head pujari, head cook, temple commander, bhakta program leader, membership director, school headmaster (assuming the school is part of the temple), etc.

    It is often the case that temple leaders take on a role as spiritual mentors to junior devotees who need training in spiritual life, but their authority and the duty to obey them does not depend on their being perceived as more “spiritually advanced”. It comes from the fact that, in order to function properly, a temple, like any other well-organized enterprize, needs a clearly identified “org chart” so that people know whose decisions must be followed.

    And similarly, the worldwide society, though it is not organized as a centralized bureaucracy (i.e., there is room for individual initiative of separate temples), also needs an org chart so that the powers to make decisions and the duties to obey decisions are clearly defined.

    All this should be based on our cooperation to carry out the wishes of the Founder-Acarya and not on our perception of having “spiritual authority” over each other based upon our supposedly more “spiritually advanced” positions.

    Therefore, highly elevated gurus and paramahamsas will obey the ISKCON rules.

  27. Akruranatha says :

    In response to Pusta Krishna Prabhu’s charges of “revisionism” I looked up “England with all thy faults I love thee” on folio. I only found two references where Srila Prabhupada himself is recorded as saying this, but he does seem to be using it in two different contexts.

    The “purest” and closest to Pusta Krishna Prabhu’s interpretation is in a Srimad Bhagavatam lecture in 1968, where Prabhupada is describing how real love does not depend on our expectation of receiving something in return:

    “One should not misunderstand what is divine love. Just like in the material world, lust is accepted as love. A boy is loving a girl, a girl is loving… But it is lust. That is not love. But is going on in the name of love. The boy wants to enjoy the girl, the girl wants to enjoy the boy, and that is going on in love. Love is not like that. Love means, ‘I enjoy or not enjoy, I love you.’ That is love. Just like Cowper said, ‘England, with all thy faults, I love you.’ That is love. There is no return. ”

    In a morning walk in 1974 in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada seems to be telling Dr. Patel that by his appreciating Srila Prabhupada’s disciples even though they may not like him, Dr. Patel is showing signs of real love:

    “Dr. Patel: So I am trying to associate with them because here is a guru who is trying to spread the real religion to the foreign countries.

    “Prabhupada: Thank you very much.

    “Dr. Patel: Sometimes I don’t, I mean, they don’t like me. Because I am a man who talks non…, sometimes like a Patel. But still I love them because they are sadhus, and you know we must love some…

    “Prabhupada: Yes. There is a poetry, Cowper: ‘England, with all thy faults, I love you.’

    “Dr. Patel: No. They may not be liking me because sometimes I am very much opposing them, but…

    Prabhupada: That is also loving.”

    In “Vrindavan Days,” Sriman Hayagriva quotes Srila Prabhupada as follows:

    “‘People are often mistaken about Vrindaban in the beginning,’ Gurudas says.

    “‘Yes, because they are trying to find fault with Vrindaban,’ Prabhupada says. ‘But a devotee knows that Vrindaban is Vrindaban. ‘England, with all your faults, I love you still.’ So, even if the people living in Vrindaban do not appear very pious, they are most fortunate because they live in the land of Krishna. Jaya jaya vrindavana-vasi yata jana. All glories to all the inhabitants of Vrindaban! It is not said that only the devotees here are glorified. Everyone! Even the hogs….”

  28. Akruranatha says :

    The interpretation that Pusta Krishna Prabhu finds “revisionist” is expressed by other devotees, such as in Sridhar Swami’s Vyasa Puja offering for 1988:

    “While foolish persons may juggle words, trying to camouflage their own ambitions as your mission, I am bound to work by all means, however inconsequential, for ISKCON as it was, is, and will be. You would sometimes quote the British: ‘England with all my faults, I love thee.’ There may have been faults in ISKCON, and I am sure there always will be, but I will not abandon ship so easily.”

    Similarly, Satsvarupa Prabhu wrote the following in an essay about ISKCON:

    “ISKCON is an aspect of Prabhupada’s work, yet it is different from his books in that Prabhupada himself recognized imperfections in ISKCON. But there is a method of rectification, according to guru, sastra and sadhu. Prabhupada sometimes quoted, ‘England, with all thy faults I love thee.’ He encouraged his disciples to remain loyally working to improve and purify the movement. He established a Governing Body Commission, composed of a group of his senior disciples whom he hoped would be able to cooperate together for preaching interests worldwide.

    “Srila Prabhupada considered himself a member of ISKCON. He told his disciples, ‘Your love for me will be shown by how much you cooperate to keep this institution together after I am gone.’ He also warned them not to allow ISKCON to dissolve or split apart as the Gaudiya Math had done after the disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta.”

    I do not recall ever hearing Srila Prabhupada quoting the passage from Cowper directly, even in a tape recording, but the way I have often heard it in ISKCON has been along the lines that Satsvarupa and Sridhar Maharaja have used it above.

    It does seem the two meaning are related. The “pure” meaning is that real love is the abject, complete love of Radharani without any expectation of return: “yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato mat prana nathas tu sa eva naparah.”

    But this interpretation is also reflected in the love of all inhabitants of Vrindavana, even the hogs, despite the apparent discrepancies in the behavior of some of them. That is, one who unreservedly loves Krishna also loves Vrindavana and its inhabitants, in spite of apparent faults.

    This comes very close (pretty much exactly) to what I was saying about ISKCON. Prabhupada did want us to love and serve in ISKCON in spite of the mistakes some of us members sometimes make.

  29. Akruranatha says :

    I just want to make clear that it was not my intention to criticize any of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers, nor do I disregard the warm, close spiritual relationships Srila Prabhupada had with many of them. Nor do I think we can afford to minimize the highly elevated spiritual standing of some of Prabhupada’s godbrothers, godnephews and -neices, etc. We must have utmost respect for all Vaisnavas, and even though there is sometimes found to be quarrels between them, we should somehow try to see it as transcendental.

    My point was only that loyalty to ISKCON and the ISKCON mission and protecting it from outside influences (as Srila Prabhupada did) is not incompatible with having proper respect for all Vaisnavas.

    I do not think I said anything critical of any Gaudiya Math devotees, but I do think there needs to be some care and regulation regarding how and when we interact together, to avoid unnecessary friction. We have definitely seen unfortunate friction in the past, and sometimes there has been wrong behavior from both sides. There has also, of course, been friction and even litigation between various branches of Gaudiya Math, and Srila Prabhupada had warm friendship with different sannyasis who sometimes had differences or quarrels with each other.

    It is indisputable that Srila Prabhupada was very careful regarding the interaction between his disciples and the various branches of Gaudiya Math. The GBC has inherited a kind of thankless task in continuing to monitor and regulate such interactions so as not to harm ISKCON and its preaching mission. Prabhupada clearly did not want ISKCON devotees going off to other missions.

    But more to the point of this discussion, disciples of Srila Prabhupada have a duty to stick together under the authority of the GBC and not form their own separate organizations or insist that as gurus and “acaryas” they should have undisputed authority. Real “acaryas” will set the example of how to cooperate under the auspices of the GBC in accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. This type of mature organization and cooperation will prove greatly beneficial to the world.

    We do not want a balkanized ISKCON that is merely a testament to the ability of charismatic leaders to attract loyal followers. We want the leaders to set the example of understanding Srila Prabhupada’s desires for vigorous, worldwide preaching under the banner of a single, cooperative, collegial or corporate system of organization.

  30. ccd says :

    Yes it can be that material relationships or structures project on our relationship with Vaisnavas. Cooperation is the key, humility is the principle and respect is the method:-)

    Pragosh pr. seems trying to resolve a historical dilemma of some gurus not being gbcs and some gbcs not being gurus and how they get their ‘share’ of respect:-

    One way to look at it is that guru disciple relationship is private and “any-iskcon-devotee” to gbc relationship is public/eg both are completely different things happening on different levels: two Vaisnavas have a relationship of guru and disciple and both of these vaisnavas (independently) have a relationship with the society of devotees where the “collective gurus” are GBCs;

    I would suggest an alternative to this (a current system) as to abolish parallel lines of authority — all gbcs should be gurus (ISKCON siksa or diksa) and all gurus should be gbcs (acting, assisting or advising), thus there is only one line of authority and one body of senior sadhus representing Prabhupada. What do you think? Will gurus want to share their vyasa-puja seats with gbcs? will gbcs want to share “gbc discussions” conferences with ‘advising gbcs’ (ie current non gbc gurus)?

    Of course it is hardly the goal or a spiritual consideration, but it is good to keep unity. On the other hand even if it painful to be the lowest ranking devotee it is safer then being the highest ranking (with an exception when getting higher ranking gave you direct access to Prabhupada!). How demanding it is to be the highest rank if there are so many neophites…

    An advise to them on loving gurus/gbcs/iskcon “with all thy faults” is in an important purport that tells us that we should change our ‘view’ on seeing material and try to see spiritual even when some material elements are present:

    “Sometimes doubts arise in the minds of neophytes about whether or not the spiritual master is liberated, and sometimes neophytes are doubtful about the bodily affairs of the spiritual master. The point of liberation, however, is not to see the bodily symptoms of the spiritual master. One has to see the spiritual symptoms of the spiritual master. Jivan-mukta means that even though one is in the material body (there are still some material necessities, since the body is material), because one is fully situated in the service of the Lord, he should be understood to be liberated.” (SB 3.33.10 p)

  31. Praghosa says :

    No Caitanyaji I am not “trying to resolve a historical dilemma of some gurus not being gbcs and some gbcs not being gurus and how they get their ’share’ of respect” I wasn’t aware that such a dynamic existed. In essence it does not matter who are gurus, who are GBCs or who serve in both roles, indeed there is a good argument to say that GBCs should not be diksa gurus and diksa gurus should not be GBCs. However whatever the configuration is, the key point is that all serving in ISKCON should follow the instruction of Srila Prabhupada to work cooperatively under the authority established by Srila Prabhupada. Working under the authority of the GBC body is of course something that first and foremost applies to the GBC members themselves. If we all work together cooperatively, as outlined by Srila Prabhupada, that will likely be the single most auspicious component to the success of Srila Prabhupada’s mission.

    Regarding Pusta Krishna prabhu’s comment:

    “The GBC is carrying out the will for management of the society that has been founded by Srila Prabhupad. They may or may not be purveyors of truth”

    Yes that possibility could come to pass, however that possibility exists no matter whom we accept as an authority or take shelter of. One of the key ideas behind the creation of a GBC, to serve as the authority for ISKCON, was the simple principle that it is far more likely for a single acarya to deviate than it is for a group of leaders to collectively do so. Yes, so there are no guarantees in life (other that death and taxes I guess), but some formulas offer a better chance of success than others, particularly those endorsed by Srila Prabhupada.

    Regarding the point about the goal of devotional service being Krishna prema as opposed to simply following the ‘rule of law’, again no argument with that whatsoever but the two are not mutually exclusive. I’m reminded of the Srila Prabhupada’s words “Without obedience where is the question of love?”

  32. Akruranatha says :

    Regarding the idea of a devotee on a prominent reality TV show (comment #22), many devotees might be surprised to learn that “American Idol’s” Sanjaya Malakar, one of the most talked about contestants on any U.S. reality show (see,, is apparently from a devotee family.

    He is from the Seattle area. When my wife was visiting with Kaumudaki dasi in Vancouver, B.C., shortly before Kaumadaki passed away, she noticed a young man who looked very familiar was also visiting Kaumudaki. They were introduced, and it turned out to be Sanjaya, who was there with his father and sister (I think).

    I was not there, but my wife told me that Sanjaya and his family are devotees. So, if anyone wants to be the first devotee to become a celebrity on a reality TV show, it is probably too late. :-)

    Most reality shows involve contestants doing a lot of crazy things (like eating spiders and snakes) that devotees would not do. I guess even singing pop songs and dancing is not every devotee’s idea of the best way to become famous, but anyway it seems to have worked for “Bhakta Sanjaya.” By all accounts it has launched a career for him in which he has done some acting, writing and additional singing. He certainly has acquired a lot of fame, although a lot of it came from being the butt of jokes of late night comedians.

  33. Akruranatha says :

    Please allow me to correct my having said “Satsvarupa Prabhu” instead of “Satsvarupa Das Goswami.”

    I certainly meant no disrespect to Satsvarupa Maharaja. I somehow had the mistaken idea that he had given up his sannyas asrama. It was actually painful for me not to write “Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami,” and I am very happy to learn that I was under a mistaken impression.

    At any rate, “Prabhu” is certainly a highly honorable form of address, and Satsvarupa Maharaja will always be my “Prabhu” as well as my “Maharaja”.

    It dawns on me that I should also have written “Hayagriva Swami”, as he did in fact accept initiation as a sannyasi during the time of his terminal illness. This story was told in a class by Radhanatha Swami posted on Dandavats.

  34. pustakrishna says :

    Simple point. One can scour the verbal record to see where a statement is used, and that is fine. The point is that when I share with you what directly was expressed by Srila Prabhupad in my presence about the use of a particular phrase like “England etc”, that is not acceptable. You have not heard it directly does not mean that no one else has heard it directly. The key is that if one is a fault-finder, then the stream of devotion may be blocked by the eye of criticism. If one is prone to pick away at Sri Gurudeva or Sri Vaishnava, then we will find an answer to why one may have chanted for so many years, and not found delight bathing in the transcendental sound of the Holy Names. Actually, the jiva souls frequently may look for a “way out” of surrendering to Krishna. If there can be some perceived flaw, then one may take a step back toward even mundane religiosity, dharma. The safety that might be thought to be inherent in dharma is truly not the safety of fearlessness that comes with surrender to Krishna, knowing Krishna as one’s Protector and Guardian. I may not be able to adequately transmit this across to some, but it is the genuine ideal that Srila Prabhupad, the transparent via medium, has given to us. For it is love of Krishna that is the goal of all endeavours in bhakti. I think that “revisionism” that I am referring to is that of “institutionalism”. There is naturally a cooperative climate amongst bhaktas where Krishna is the Center. I do think that the proposal that leadership must lead to a militarization of ISKCON as soldiers in a battle, led by the GBC, is a proposal that does not hold merit. Yes, you may find quotes to the contrary, but the fact of the matter is that Srila Prabhupad did not make disciples for simply preaching Krishna consciousness in a sophist manner. The GBC is intended as a management wing, with some need for proper Vaishnavas to see that proper spiritual conception does not become replaced by sahaja-ism or mayavad-ism within the temples. All can be siksa-gurus for one another. That is intrinsic to satsang. Now, the substance of Krishna consciousness takes precedence over form, and not the other way around. Authority resides in the truth. Many will oppose the concept that the chain of management authority is not synonymous with the Parampara. The GBC is carrying out the will for management of the society that has been founded by Srila Prabhupad. They may or may not be purveyors of truth. PK das

  35. pustakrishna says :

    Continuing on…Faith must not be challenged by deviations in the name of the form of a religious society. One can tolerate the obvious difficulty inherent in the development of a religious society…and still be a member of that society. But, if deviation from truth occurs, that cannot be tolerated. Now to propose that GBC = Truth and anything else is non-Truth, fails to get to the attractiveness of Krishna bhakti. The GBC is a management wing, desired by Srila Prabhupad, authorized by Srila Prabhupad. It is not necessary that the GBC be flawless in its management role. The proposal of Praghosa Prabhu is that common purpose takes precedence over sectarian (ie guru specific) dictates. It is obvious, from a casual observer, that there appears to be cases where individuals do not understand their role in temple life. Disciples of many gurus in ISKCON are challenged to work together, and to, hopefully develop and awaken their Krishna consciousness in the process. Even in Srila Prabhupad’s presence (and I mean directly in his presence), there were discrepancies regarding duty. Srila Prabhupad had common sense, and also desired that we get along. He generally did not say that “you listen to this man because he is the temple president or the GBC”. Rather, he encouraged that we cooperate. I know this from personal experience, and not from “the letters”.
    Now, you have so many gurus, diksa/siksa, and there is some risk that splintering of purpose could occur because of desire for pratishta and control by diksa gurus over their disciples. Here is the risk, and that is the question that is brought up by Praghosa. Will the single-minded mission win out over the many headed mission? I propose that Lord Chaitanya is maintaining His sankirtan movement, so long as the purpose is not lost (yoga-nastha). I do think that strength comes by unity and diversity both. If you suppress the creative and loving natures of bhaktas, forgetting tolerance to the rule of “the law”, then I think individuals will walk finding some emptiness in the rule oriented society. In Jaiva Dharma, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur discusses the different tendencies of bhaktas. If ISKCON cannot tolerate these different categories of genuine bhaktas, then they could migrate, and that is not what is desired by Srila Prabhupad. You must cultivate tolerance. I have observed this personally in him. Do not try to make him into what he is not. Pusta Krishna das

  36. Akruranatha says :

    Pusta Krishna Prabhu I think you are saying some very profound and important things. It reminds me of the famous “Organized Religion” article that SBSST published in the Harmonist in 1932 (see,, which I have to admit I have some difficulty understanding.

    We should always beware, while protecting the institution of ISKCON as Srila Prabhupada clearly wanted us to do, that we do not substitute loyalty to the institution for genuine Krishna consciousness. We should remember that it is a society for Krishna consciousness, not for ISKCON consciousness or even Prabhupada consciousness for that matter. Prabhupada did not want us to become simply another organization glorifying an ecclesiastical establishment, a set of mechanical principles, or a particular saint or teacher. Prabhupada was always giving unalloyed service to Krishna as the only panacea, and such service cannot be reduced to a formula, ritual, or membership in any institution or church, but depends on the sincerity of the heart and the transmission through bona fide parampara.

    Nevertheless, we serve Krishna by serving Srila Prabhupada according to his desires, and Srila Prabhupada unquestionably desired us to maintain a united ISKCON for broadcasting the glories of Krishna and increasing distribution and study of his books in a big, well-organized way. Nobody can deny that.

    Of course, first and foremost, he wanted us to become Krishna conscious, but Krishna consciousness is expressed through active service, and he indicated the kind of service he wants us to perform for the pleasure of Krishna, including cooperation for the success of ISKCON.

    I agree with Praghosa that it is not incompatible to follow the guru and the “rule of law” at the same time, especially if the guru has instructed us to follow the rule of law. Gurus in ISKCON should instruct their disciples to follow the rule of obedience to ISKCON authority, and should set a good example by their own obedience.

    It is not law for law’s sake, mind you, but for management of the preaching institution in accordance with Prabhupada’s desires. Nor is obedience to the institution an absolute or highest principle. But it is an important principle to be recognized and valued.

    I think we all agree on that, and yet you seem to be arguing against the idea that ISKCON gurus should accept a principle of loyalty and obedience to the GBC. Have I gotten you wrong on that?

  37. Akruranatha says :

    Pusta Krishna Prabhu, regarding “England with all thy faults I love thee,” I do not want to quibble about whether it was “acceptable” for me to go to the Vedabase and see when Prabhupada had said it. I am not a big fan of such Vedabase research as a method of understanding Prabhupada, but I think it is one tool that is sometimes useful.

    You heard it directly from Srila Prabhupada’s lips, and I am hearing it from you, but I have also heard it from others (like Satsvarupa Maharaja) who also heard it directly from Srila Prabhupada. And I can read it from others (like Hayagriva and Sridhar Swami) who also heard it from Prabhupada directly.

    Directly or indirectly in terms of physical proximity is not all important. The important thing is that by discussing Srila Prabhupada instructions favorably among devotees, we can get the essence intact, without any doubt. That is the principle of prampara. Otherwise, we may even be in Srila Prabhupada’s personal presence and misunderstand or misinterpret.

    You say:

    “The key is that if one is a fault-finder, then the stream of devotion may be blocked by the eye of criticism.”

    This is the sense of the Cowper quote that Srila Prabhupada conveyed to you, and you are conveying to me. I accept. It makes sense and is clear to me.

    I also believe it is worthwhile noting the relation of this instruction to other instances when the same quote was used. All these minor variations on a theme are part of the same idea Prabhupada had when quoting “with all your faults I love you still.”

    The essential point, captured in the Bhagavatam lecture, is that the nature of true love is that even the beloved’s faults of cannot check the love. The helpless lover thus loves unconditionally. This makes vipralambha possible–even Krishna’s apparent rejection of His devotee increases her love and dependence. There is no question of rejecting Him.

    How is this related to faultfinding? For one who loves even the faults as part of the whole package, faultfinding will not occur. Otherwise, it will. The faultfinder is still trying to take something selfishly for himself, while rejecting what he finds distasteful. The lover can’t help but overlook faults.

    This same principle does apply to sense of seeing the good fortune of the inhabitants of Vrindavana (quoted by Hayagriva), and sticking with ISKCON in spite of faults (stated by Sridhara Swami). To really love Prabhupada we must love ISKCON like Sridhar Swami did.

  38. Akruranatha says :

    Praghosa Prabhu writes:

    >>…in essence the devotees serving as gurus within ISKCON are first and foremost initiating devotees into the institution of their spiritual master.

    This is a subtle but significant difference from the traditional guru disciple relationship. It also raises the question of how a guru functions within an institution, particularly in the context of him no longer being a ‘sole trader’ so to speak, but rather being a member of a greater entity.

  39. Akruranatha says :

    The “parallel lines” issue is often felt at the local or temple level. Managing devotees can be like herding cats. It helps if devotees have a sense of loyalty and respect for the authorities under whom they directly work.

    Spiritual masters should foster that sense of respect and loyalty. To do so requires a relationship of respect and trust between the spiritual masters and other managers. Gurus should feel confident in entrusting disciples to work under the guidance of local managers.

    But true respect cannot be legislated any more than true love. We cannot truly respect someone just because it is our duty to do so. “Institutionalism” connotes the negative sense of “official” expressions of loyalty which are not really heartfelt. Large organizations, like totalitarian states, sometimes foster a kind of Orwellian façade or cult of leadership based on repression and fear of true feelings being made known. We do not want that.

    Even in a modern corporate setting, tact or diplomacy often require one to mask disagreement with a boss or superior, in order to stay in the good graces of those with power to make or break a career.

    However, a good manager knows how to encourage frank exchanges of honest opinions and creative ideas in a setting and manner that will not undermine his or her authority, and how to earn the genuine respect of subordinates as a capable and talented leader.

    Devotees should be able to surpass even the most gifted CEOs as leaders. So much of devotional service has to do with cultivating relationships. “One who says he is My devotee is not My devotee; only the devotee of My devotee is truly My devotee.” Until we learn how to properly interact with other devotees, with due respect and honor for their sincere service (and not just “official” respect based upon official positions of authority), we will remain as neophytes without a very solid standing in Krishna’s service.

    Krishna does not accept exactly the service (as if He needs anything from us), but the mood of devotion with which it is offered. Getting the relationships right in ISKCON is more important even than numbers of books distributed, temples opened, or members made. If we can accomplish good Vaisnava friendships based on genuine respect, especially among the leaders and managers, everything else will become a snap.

    It has to be done, but it has to be real and not phony, “official,” or bureaucratic. We can truly admire each other if we try.

  40. Akruranatha says :

    I was trying to say, in #38 (I must have said something unprintable), that even a traditional guru in the ideal Gaudiya Vaisnava guru-disciple relationship is never really supposed to be a “sole trader”, inasmuch as he initiates a disciple into a parampara that includes Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Visvanath, Narottama Das, six Goswamis, Lord Caitanya, Madhavendra Puri, Madhvacarya, Vyasadeva, Narada Muni and many others whom he obeys, as well as a Vaisnava family that includes innumerable branches of the Caitanya Tree and innumerable groups of residens of Goloka Vrindavana.

    The idea of ISKCON as an organized institution in which multiple gurus accept the principle of organization under the GBC as established by Srila Prabhupada is thus not in any way a departure from acceptable Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition or practice.

    It is one of the hallmarks of Gaudiya Vaisnavism that the devotee’s ideal is not to divorce himself from society and merge into the impersonal absolute or have an exclusive concentration on Paramatma that admits no other person, but to enter a transcendence filled with numerous unlimited devotees acting together in different harmonious groups for the satisfaction of Krishna. Ours is a highly social form of transcendentalism, although we give up the association of those concerned with material enterprises.

    The opposing “normal types” of “gemeinschaft” and “gesselschaft” posited by sociologist Ferdinand Tonneis in 1887 (see, are very pertinent to this discussion. Although ISKCON should be well-organized and capable of achieving large-scale, practical goals, the dominant principle of organization in ISKCON will always be one of community or “gemeinschaft”. In fact, I can think of no better example of gemeinschaft-type social organization than the ISKCON ideal, considering that devotional relationships are even closer and more based on shared beliefs and common purpose than ordinary family ties.

    I had a lawyer boss who told me one time that Hare Krishna could never succeed in a modern industrial society with all its division of labor and ethic of individualism. He did not understand the power of bhakti and the immense power of Prabhupada.

    Granted, transplanting a genuine spiritual cuture into a modern, scientific and industrial setting may be like putting an elephant through the eye of a needle, but we can see that it can be done and is being done.

  41. niscala says :

    Hi, this has been an interesting topic, I’m glad Praghosa brought it up. However, I disagree with him that guru is the ultimate authority in a traditional setting. The ultimate authority is the sastra, and that applies regardless of the institution or not. Looking at sastra, we get some idea also of the respect issue that has been brought up- how much to share around? Kapiladeva in the third canto Srimad Bhagavatam warns that if we worship the form of the Lord in the temple but do not show respect to the living entities, the worship is as fruitful as pouring ghee into ashes. He is very strong in his condemnation of those who discriminate on the basis of externalities- proclaiming that he will come as the “blazing fire of death”…We know that the Lord is all around us, seated in the hearts of not just the gurus, but the neophytes, the innocent, and the envious. We must come to the level of being aware of that Supersoul within and without, so as to avoid offenses. We are enjoined to show respect to all, even the ant, but as kanisthas trying to come to the level of madhyama, we should discriminate so as to preach effectively and get good association- by showing respect only at a distannce to the envious, being very compassionate to the innocent, very friendly to peers and very respectful to those more advanced in their development of the 26 qualities of a devotee- please try to look beyond the social heirarchy for symptoms of spiritual advancement! The story of the cobbler and the brahmana is very instructive as to how to look for qualities such as faith, humility, and sastric vision, regardless of social standing! You can find it in the potwasher as much as in the person with saffron and danda. The story of Jada Bharata also comes to mind. The king at first couldn’t recognize the saint due to his social standing and appearance, but he recognized spiritual wisdom and he paid his full dandavatas to that, treating him as one would a guru. The story of Cintamani is another one- there are so many that indicate that respect should be offered when one meets a guru, whom Krishna sends us all the time! The guru can take any shape- if one gets somehow a spiritual impetus or inspiration from someone, that is guru. That is the criterion for special respect, as one worships the Lord coming to him in the form of siksa. Beyond that, there are special gurus whose only business is to see us advance in sastra caksusa, and then one surrenders completely.

  42. Pandu das says :

    Has anyone made a collection of Srila Prabhupada quotes on this subject of how multiple diksa gurus would function in ISKCON? Before Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, there was a sole diksa guru in ISKCON who was above the GBC in authority, but now the many diksa gurus are below. That’s a flip in the position of guru relative to the GBC and it changes the traditional behavior of both guru and disciple. I read in one place that he never spoke about this, but it’s hard to believe that devotees should be left to figure out that change after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance.

  43. Akruranatha says :

    Pandu Prabhu,

    Dandavats. I do not know about Srila Prabhupada quotes regarding a multiple diksha guru ISKCON, but Vanipedia ( could be a good place to start research. It seems the PVRA has organized Srila Prabhupada’s quotations with such of questions in mind. Of course Vedabase is also available for key word searches.

    Srila Prabhupada was above the GBC in authority only as a necessity, because the GBC still needed to be trained. However, I believe Srila Prabhupada also acted in many instances as beholden to the decisions of the GBC (although he reserved a veto), to set an example that a guru should submit to the authority of the GBC for the purpose of expanding unified, cooperative worldwide preaching under the banner of an institutional society of devotees.

    That is, even though Srila Prabhupada was world acarya, ISKCON Founder-Acarya and initiating spiritual master of all GBC members, I believe if you look you will find instances where Srila Prabhupada set the example of asking the GBC to make a decision and then followed it even if it was not the decision he himself might have made.

    There are also instances where he vetoed a decision or even disbanded the entire GBC, but it was clearly his goal to create a functioning GBC to direct the affairs of ISKCON. In 1975, Srila Prabhupada presided over the GBC meetings, but in 1976 he instructed the GBC to meet outside his presence and then present resolutions to him for his approval or veto.

    Does having a GBC change the “traditional” relationship of guru and disciple? How?

    Which “tradition” are we looking at? There were multiple gurus in Lord Caitanya’s time, but they were all beholden to Lord Caitanya. Then for some time there were specific acaryas considered the ultimate go-to authority (e.g., Lord Nityananda, Jahnavi Devi, Jiva Goswami). I do not really know this history in detail. There were still numerous initiating and instructing gurus, but it seems in the case of some major controversy to be settled, the Gaudiya Vaisnava community generally looked to a most-esteemed current Vaisnava for ultimate decision.

    ISKCON is not synonymous with Gaudiya Vaisnavism, nor is SBSST’s family of disciplic descendants, as there are followers of Lord Caitanya outside all these organizations. But ISKCON has the GBC as an ultimate authority per Srila Prabhupada’s wishes, and gurus in ISKCON accept that authority. What is so unusual about that?

  44. niscala says :

    Pandu wrote:
    “Before Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, there was a sole diksa guru in ISKCON who was above the GBC in authority, but now the many diksa gurus are below.”
    The reason Srila Prabhupada was above the GBC in authority was that he was a spiritual authority, a guru. This is the standard of varnashrama that he wanted very much to introduce in ISKCON as a solution to its problems. In varnashrama, the spiritual authority, the brahmana, is above all managerial authorities. The test of a vaisnava brahmana is actually the same as that of a guru- that his words enlighten- they cut through illusion- and the spiritual vision they impart to the hearer, enlivens and enthuses him to surrender. In varnashrama, the brahmana, being humble, naturally follows the directions of the ksatriya, unless it compromises the standards of Krsna conscious authority as described in the sastra- compassion, truthfulness, equaniminity etc. If the direction of the managerial authority in any way causes people to become discouraged in their spiritual advancement, or lose faith, no one is required to follow. So, ideally, the GBC should be imparting instructions which enthuse people and keep them in Krishna consciousness, and thus be working in harmony with the ISKCON gurus- diksa and siksa. If there is conflict, it should be worked out civilly on the basis of sastra. It is not that the opposition should be silenced or demonized for not following the GBC if their reason is Krishna conscious. It is said in relation to sastric injunctions that they should not be followed simply for the sake of following, but they should not be whimsically rejected either. If this is true of sastric injunctions, which are the very breathing of the Lord, what to speak of GBC injunctions? It is the duty of the guru to adjust his preaching according to time, place and circumstance without compromising the essence in any way- the basis of his adjustment is to how to bring people to Krishna consciousness, how to keep them in it, and how to increase it. If however, he has compromised the essence of Krishna consciousness either in his own example, or his teaching, he is no longer a guru, by definition. He is also not a guru if he makes a fanatical representation of Krishna consciousness, without consideration of time place and circumstance, and thus discourages people from the practice. A guru by name only, is not a guru, and must be subject to the rule of law- GBC regulations.

  45. pustakrishna says :

    How to say this…from first hand observation and experience with Srila Prabhupad, His Divine Grace did not manage by decree, but rather with faith in Krishna. Srila Prabhupad witnessed many things that were incongruent amongst his more experienced disciples, but he did not attempt to correct every anartha (unwanted thing) amongst his disciples. Srila Prabhupad lived what he preached.
    Godhead is light, nescience (ignorance) is darkness, where there is Godhead there is no darkness.
    Adau sraddha sadhu sanga…
    Srila Prabhupad lived by faith in Krishna. So many times we ourselves would try to manipulate Srila Prabhupad to take our side in a dispute, but he usually simply led by his transcendental vision and faith……and so we were expected to learn in the same way.
    Sometimes the learning was a joy, and sometimes it was painful to digest, but in the longterm it was always Guru-kripa in action.
    So, to answer prabhu’s issue of why Srila Prabhupad did not “legislate” how ISKCON would function in the era after his departure, he left one thing clear. He wanted “his” mission to be managed by a GBC, a collection of many aspiring bhaktas rather than one. I once served in that capacity in 1975-6. Still, Srila Prabhupad did not agree with the GBC’s actions always. And, so we continued to observe and learn. In an era when others would take disciples with the hope that they would serve the ISKCON mission, Srila Prabhupad left all to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Grace. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is able to chastise and bless because He is the Supreme Absolute Truth and Cause of all causes. That is the faith of Srila Prabhupad. Not by legislation, but by faith…
    Let us learn and follow in the footsteps of His Divine Grace.
    Pusta Krishna das

  46. I have read and thought about this subject, however I really feel Srila Prabhupadas Vyasa puja offering of 1961 addresses these issues :

    20. To resolve all the apparent contradictory statements is not the play of some incompetent fool.

    21. If everyone simply sat down together and considered these things, what nice preaching there could be.

    22. What is your order also, that everyone, coming together, should merge in your message and preach it to the world.

    23. If everyone just initiates then there will only be a contradictory result. As long as it goes on there will be only failure.

    24. Now even, my godbrothers, you return here to the order of our master, and together we engage in his puja.

    25. But simply a festival of flowers and fruits does not constitute worship. The one who serves the message of the guru really worships him.

    26. The service of the message is the real meaning of the Vedas. Don’t be proud, brothers, come back to this.

    27. Kalidas Nag (a learned man who was defeated by Srila Saraswati Thakura and later became his disciple), that master said in public forum one day.

    28. That Kali’s mission was to kill the entire world while the essential meaning of Lord Caitanya’s message was kept locked up in a cage.

    29. O shame! My dear brothers, aren’t you embarrassed? In the manner of businessmen you increase your disciples.

    30. Our master said to preach. Let the neophytes stay in the temples and ring the bells.

  47. Sita Rama 108 says :

    Above we read:
    Sometimes in our society an authority like a temple president may request a devotee serving in their temple to do a particular service and often the devotee will respond with “Oh I need to check with my guru first”. This type of understanding can severely inhibit the mission of ISKCON and if allowed to flourish could lead to its break up.
    If you are employed by a company and are requested to do a particular task it is not that before doing that task you tell your boss “First I have to check is it alright with my dad” You can rest assured you won’t have your job for very long in such a scenario. So does the diksa guru not having ultimate authority mean that their position or role is undermined? Again no, particularly if the diksa gurus keep good communication with all of their relevant ISKCON authorities and vice versa.
    My comment:
    I am a very strong proponent of the understanding that a cardinal qualification of a diksha or siksha guru is that he/she follow the order of Srila Prabhupada and accept the GBC as the ultimate managerial authority. That seems to be the thesis of this article, but the paragraphs above switch the topic in midstream and then give ambiguous examples with comparisons that do not seem to follow.
    The thesis is that the GBC has authority above any one guru, but the example above switches from the GBC to an, “authority like a temple president”, requesting a devotee to do something and the devotee deferring to his/her guru first. Unlike the GBC, neither the temple president, nor a guru, nor any single individual, is the ultimate authority. We also do not have an example of the, “particular type” of service the temple president is requesting the devotee to do. Also, given the various possibilities, we do not know the root cause of, “this type of understanding” which causes a devotee to say he/she must first check things out with the guru.
    It is common for a new devotee to sincerely feel they need to ask the guru everything. This tendency was shown by Srila Prabhupada’s first disciples. If this is what causes a devotee to say they need to check out the request by the temple president with their guru, then the guru will eventually teach them how to utilize their own discretion and the problem will clear up. Of course it is possible that the temple president is asking the devotee to do something that is not in their own best spiritual interest. The guru teaches the disciple how to avoid this while serving ISKCON and respecting authorities to the best of their ability. A devotee denying the request of a temple president cannot, in any way, be equated with rejecting the GBC as the ultimate authority, although the paragraphs above seem to attempt to do so.
    The analogy of someone working for a company must be analyzed on both sides. There is a job description and an agreement with ones boss before accepting a position. Similarly both the devotee and the temple president should have basic understanding and agreement of what he/she is expected to do and is capable of, then both should honor that understanding. It does not seem to me to be unresonable, per se, for a devotee to expect a temple president to allow them to consult their guru, particulaly if a major change in the nature a service is being requested. As stated in the paragraphs cited above if such an understanding is not upheld by either party the situation will not last.Similarly, Srila Prabhupada told ISKCON managers to always remember that devotees are not payed servants and if the managers try to force them against their will they will simply go away.
    So I request Praghosa Prabhu to be more specific in describing this, “type of understanding” which can lead to a breakup of the society, and the how it is directly caused by confusion regarding the GBC as the ultimate authority.