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Balancing The Roles Of The Gbc And The Disciple In Guru Selection

Sunday, 18 April 2010 / Published in Articles / 15,118 views

A paper by the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC)

(You can download and read the whole paper as a .doc file from our Archive section or from here)

Members participating in the authorship of this paper: Drutakarma Dasa, Gopiparanadhana Dasa, Purnacandra Goswami, and Urmila Devi Dasi

“The rules and regulation are that nobody should accept blindly any guru, and nobody should blindly accept any disciple. They must behave, one another, at least for one year so that the prospective disciple can also understand, ‘Whether I can accept this person as my guru.’ And the prospective guru also can understand, ‘Whether this person can become my disciple.’ This is the instruction by Sanatana Gosvami in his Hari-bhakti-vilasa.” (Srila Prabhupada, Bg 13.1-2 lecture, 25 February 1975, Miami)

“In the Mantra-muktavali: By living together for one year they can ascertain from seeing each other’s nature whether they can act as guru and disciple. Indeed, there is no other way to determine this.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.74)

“It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.” (Srila Prabhupada, Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 1.35 purport)

“Self-deceived persons sometimes accept leaders or spiritual masters from a priestly order that has been officially appointed by the codes of material life. In this way, they are deceived by official priests.” (Srila Prabhupada, Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 17.185 purport)

SAC’s Mandate given by the Executive Committee of the GBC

Early in 2004, the Executive Committee (EC) of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) wrote to the
Sastric Advisory Council:

“Srila Prabhupada states that it is the responsibility of the prospective disciples to examine and test their prospective guru prior to initiation. Given that the GBC gives tacit approval to gurus via their no-objection procedure, it could be that the prospective disciple’s desire to examine their prospective guru prior to initiation is compromised. Although there are many glorious descriptions of the qualities of guru in sastra, it is the duty of prospective disciples to not automatically assume those qualities are possessed by all ISKCON gurus. Rather, they should objectively examine their prospective guru. There is prima facia evidence that suggests that prospective disciples do not take this responsibility seriously. Therefore we request the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) to research the balance between the responsibility of ISKCON to protect its members from unqualified gurus and the duty of the prospective disciples to give proper attention to the study of their prospective gurus prior to initiation.”

The SAC is free to accept or reject requests from the GBC. We decided to accept this particular request because we accept that there is truth in the premise of the EC’s statement.

Normally, the SAC submits papers to the GBC containing only philosophical and historical evidence, but in this case we felt that we could not address the philosophical issue of the responsibility of the aspiring disciple to test the prospective guru without also addressing practical issues of policy within ISKCON. We wrote to the EC expressing this, and they said that the GBC would be willing to receive a paper from SAC that included policy recommendations.

Introduction

In sastra we find some rare examples of aspiring disciples being directed to particular gurus. For example, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was directed by his father, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, to approach Srila Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji. In earlier times, Lord Brahma told the demigods to accept Visvarupa:

“O demigods, I instruct you to approach Visvarupa, the son of Tvashta, and accept him as your guru. He is a pure and very powerful brahmana undergoing austerity and penances. Pleased by your worship, he will fulfill your desires . . . .” (Bhag. 6.7.25)

These above examples do not contradict the statements found in Hari-bhakti-vilasa seen later in this paper. Even if advice is received from others, the aspiring disciple still has the full responsibility of making the ultimate decision. The aspiring disciple is responsible for choosing, testing, and evaluating a guru. The sastric injunction is that a guru and disciple mutually test each other for a year in the course of personal association.

There are, however, several aspects of current ISKCON practice and understanding that make it difficult for an aspiring disciple to personally test a guru. The current procedure and understanding of the guru authorization process is one such obstacle. And there are others. Therefore SAC recommends that the GBC consider the following initial suggestions:

1)Devotees should be helped to understand that it is their responsibility to test their prospective guru, as recommended by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas.
Generally, this should be done in consultation with trusted senior devotees.

2)Devotees seeking initiation from a spiritual master in ISKCON should be informed that they can choose any qualified senior devotee in good standing as their diksha-guru, not just those who are already initiating.

3) The GBC should openly encourage all senior devotees in good-standing who are qualified ISKCON representatives to accept the role of a spiritual master.

The Responsibility of the Disciple to Test the Spiritual Master

When it is clear to aspirants that their choice is not limited to those already taking disciples, it should also be clear that they have the opportunity to study the qualifications of a whole range of possible spiritual masters, apart from those who are already initiating.

In ISKCON the range of acceptable spiritual masters is, however, limited by a certain principle. There are different sampradayas and sangas, and the members of those sampradayas and sangas, although respecting each other, follow their own leaders.
The eternal leader of our sanga, ISKCON, is Srila Prabhupada, and he had his own special vision about how to practice and spread Krishna consciousness. Devotees in ISKCON have decided to follow Srila Prabhupada because he is the one who saved them and is bringing them to Sri Krishna. They understand Prabhupada as the most empowered Vaishnava acarya of modern times mainly because his vision and method of world-wide preaching is most effective for people in general. Not every Vaishnava guru in the world has this same personal vision and mood. Accepting a guru who does not have the same vision and mood as Srila Prabhupada would create disharmony in the Society he created. Therefore, if someone is attracted to a guru who is functioning outside of ISKCON, the best arrangement is that he or she goes outside ISKCON to associate with that guru in the kind of environment the guru has created. Thus ISKCON members are limited to choose as guru only qualified devotees serving in ISKCON. (Note: This point could be explained to new devotees in a brochure on this topic to help them understand why such an ISKCON policy exists.)

But before making a final choice, they should personally test the guru. The testing may be in terms of basic qualifications: “Is this guru representing Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas in the best way? Am I capable of accepting instruction from this guru?” Or the testing may extend to more personal requirements. A disciple may wonder, “Will this guru deal with me personally? Will this guru respond to my letters? Will I have a chance to personally serve this guru?” These considerations should be tested in advance.

This is in line with the instructions of Srila Prabhupada, who recommended that a disciple personally test a guru for at least one year before accepting initiation. Such recommendations can also be found in Hari-bhakti-vilasa, which gives practical instructions for executing devotional service in the Gaudiya Vaishnava line. This responsibility to personally test and judge the guru remains whether or not the prospective guru already has diksha disciples. In other words, a prospective disciple should not think, “Well, this guru already has disciples. This means that he is qualified, and so I don’t have to test him myself.” The disciple still must examine the guru.

“Blind following and absurd inquiries. These things are condemned in this verse. Blind following means: “Oh, there is a svami. So many thousands of people are following. Let me become his disciple.” This is called blind following. You do not know what is that svami, whether he is a svami or a rascal. You do not know. But because everyone is going, “Oh, let me become his disciple.” This is blind following, without any knowledge, blind following.”(Prabhupada BG lec. 4.34-39, 12 Jan. 1969, LA)

References for a Guru-sishya Mutual Examination Period

Hari-bhakti-vilasa—a section from the first vilasa
(translation by Gopiparanadhana Prabhu)

Text 73 tayoh pariksha canyonyam / ekabdam saha-vasatah
vyavahara-svabhavanu- / bhavenaivabhijayate

The two of them should live together and test one another for one year. This test is fulfilled by observing one another’s behavior and character.

atha parikshanam

The mutual examining is described as follows.

mantra-muktavalyam,

74 tayor vatsara-vasena / jnatanyonya-svabhavayoh
guruta sishyata ceti / nanyathaiveti niscayah

In the Mantra-muktavali: “By living together for one year they can ascertain from seeing each other’s nature whether they can act as guru and disciple. Indeed, there is no other way to determine this.”

srutis ca,

75 nasamvatsara-vasine deyat

There is also the statement of sruti: “One should not give (the vishnu-mantra) to one who has not resided with one for a year.”

sara-sangrahe ’pi,

76 sad-guruh svasritam sishyam / varsham ekam parikshayet

77 rajni camatyaja doshah / patni-papam sva-bhartari
tatha sishyarjitam papam / guruh prapnoti niscitam

And in the Sara-sangraha: “A proper guru should test for one year a disciple who has taken shelter of him. The faulty acts of a minister accrue to the king, and a wife’s sins fall on her husband. Similarly, a guru certainly obtains the sinful reactions accumulated by his disciple.”

krama-dipikayam tu,

78 santoshayed akutilardratarantaratma
tam svair dhanaih sva-vapushapy anukula-vanya
abda-trayam kamala-nabha-dhiyati-dhiras
tushte vivakshatu gurav atha mantra-diksham

“The Krama-dipika, however, says this: ‘Without deception and with a heart moist with affection, one should satisfy him with one’s own wealth, with the work of one’s body, and with favorable words. He should do this for three years, remaining sober and thinking of the guru as non-different from the lotus-naveled Supreme Lord. Then, when the guru is satisfied, he may speak the mantra in the initiation ceremony.’ ”

Commentary

evam “varsham ekam pariksha ca tato diksheti niscitam” tatra sri-gopala-mantra-vara-dikshayam varsha-traya-guru-sevanantaram eva diksheti tatra tattva-vidam matam likhan diksha-praktana-guru-seva-vidhim ca sankshepena darsayati, santoshayed iti….abda-trayam ity atra visesho granthantarad drashtavyah; tatha hi, “trishu varsheshu viprasya shatsu varsheshu bhu-bhritah / viso navasu varsheshu pariksha tu prasasyate // samasv api dvadasasu tesham ye vrishaladayah” iti. yac ca sarada-tilakadav uktam, “ekabdena bhaved vipra bhaved abda-dvayan nripah / bhaved abda-trayair vaisyah sudro varsha-catushtayaih” iti. tad atyanta-purva-parisilita-vishayam iti vivecaniyam.

“It has thus been said that ‘There should be testing for one year, and then initiation.’ In this regard, when the initiation is with the best of mantras, the Sri Gopala mantra, diksha should be performed only after serving the guru for three years; this is the opinion of those who know the truth. Recording this opinion, the passage beginning santoshayet briefly sets forth the processes of initiation, along with the preliminary service to the guru…. Further particulars about this three-year period can be found in other books, as for example, ‘It is best to test a brahmana for three years, a kshatriya for six years, a vaisya for nine years, and sudras and others for twelve years.’ It is also said in the Sarada-tilaka and other texts, ’A brahmana is tested in one year, a king in two, a vaisya in three, and a sudra in four.’ This, we should distinguish, refers to what was practiced very long ago.” (Dig-darsini-tika by Srila Sanatana Gosvami)

Statements by Srila Prabhupada on a Mutual Examination Period

1) “Unless one is prepared that ‘I am accepting somebody as my spiritual master. I must accept whatever he says,’ if there is any doubt, that ‘I cannot accept his words verbatim,’ then one should not accept him as spiritual master. That is hypocrisy. One must be first of all convinced. Therefore it is the duty of the spiritual master and the disciple to associate—that is the injunction of Sanatana Gosvami—for some time, and both of them should study. The disciple should study “whether I can accept this saintly person as my spiritual master.” And spiritual master also will see “whether I can accept this boy, this person, as my disciple.” That is the way. But sometimes the time is reduced. That doesn’t matter. But the principle is this, that before accepting a spiritual master you can examine him, you can scrutinize him, but not after accepting him.” (Srila Prabhupada Initiation lecture, 13 July 1971, LA)

2) “First of all you find out the person, that one who is better than you. Then you submit. Therefore the rules and regulation are that nobody should accept blindly any guru, and nobody should blindly accept any disciple. They must behave, one another, at least for one year so that the prospective disciple can also understand, ‘Whether I can accept this person as my guru.’ And the prospective guru also can understand, ‘Whether this person can become my disciple.’ This is the instruction by Sanatana Gosvami in his Hari-bhakti-vilasa.”
(Srila Prabhupada Bg 13.1-2 lecture, 25 February 1975, Miami)

3) “So therefore the process is before accepting a guru, one must hear him at least for one year. And when he’s convinced that “Here is actually a guru who can teach me,” then you accept him, guru. Don’t accept whimsically. This system now should stop that somebody’s coming for three days—“Prabhupada, initiate him.” Why? First of all see whether he’s fit for becoming a disciple; then recommend. Otherwise, don’t recommend. Because the cheap recommendation is creating havoc. One is not fit for becoming a student, disciple, and he’s accepting discipleship, and after three days he’s going away. This should not be allowed. Therefore, in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa by Sanatana Gosvami it is directed that the spiritual master and the disciple must meet together at least for one year so that the disciple may also understand that “Here is a person whom I can accept as my guru,” and the guru also can see that “Here is a person who is fit for becoming my disciple.” Then the business is nice.”
(Srila Prabhupada SB 1.16.25 lecture, 21 January 1974, Hawaii)

4) “First of all, you must find out a person who if you can surrender there. Tasmad gurum prapadyeta. Tad viddhi pranipatena [Bg. 4.34]. Pranipata, surrender, that is required first. If you think somebody that he’s not worth surrendering, then don’t make him guru. Don’t make a fashion. First of all you test that “Whether I can surrender?” Pranipatena. Then try to understand.”
(Srila Prabhupada SB 7.6.2 lecture, 18 June 1976, Toronto)

5) “…acceptance of spiritual master must be selected, you see, after careful examination, just like one selects his bride or bridegroom after careful examination. And in India they are very careful because the marriage of the boys and girls take place under the guidance of the parents. So the parents very carefully see. So one has to accept a spiritual master whose guidance will make his life perfect. That is the relation between spiritual master and disciple. It is not a formality. It is a great responsibility both for the disciple and for the spiritual master.
(Srila Prabhupada BG lecture, 2.7-11 2 March 1966, NY)

6) “But if you want to know who is a spiritual master, then you have to test him whether he is speaking exactly like the bona fide spiritual master. Sri Narottama dasa Thakura has explained about this, who is spiritual master. What is that? He says, sadhu sastra guru vakya, tinete kariya aikya. If you want to advance yourself in spiritual science, then you have to test these three things. What is that? Sadhu, saintly person. Sadhu, sastra, scriptures, and spiritual master. Now suppose you want to know who is a spiritual master. Then you have to test whether he’s speaking just like other saintly persons and whether he’s following scriptures. Sadhu sastra. So you have to test a spiritual master by corroborating whether he is speaking according to the scriptural injunction, whether he’s speaking (according) to other saintly persons.”
(Srila Prabhupada TLC lecture, 25 September 1968, Seattle)

7) “Suppose you are going here. You are coming here to learn something. When you are convinced that “Swamiji knows the thing,” when you are convinced, then you accept. Then you ask for initiation. Otherwise don’t do it hesitatingly or knowing half. Therefore in the system it is enjoined that the spiritual master also observe the disciple at least for one year, and the disciple also studies the spiritual master at least for one year. So when both of them are convinced that “He can be my spiritual master” or “He can be my disciple,” then the relationship is established. We initiate our students.”
(Srila Prabhupada BG lecture 4.34-39, 12 January 1969, LA)

8) “It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.” (Srila Prabhupada, Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 1.35 purport)

This last reference makes it clear that a real candidate is one who is serious and has studied sastra to the point of being able to recognize who is a genuine spiritual master; not that ISKCON should base its guru system on the uninformed neophyte. We would do better to lean towards a system that educates its aspirants. It is also obvious that such aspirants are the ones who then make the choice. Furthermore, the above condemnation of the acceptance of a spiritual master in terms of ecclesiastical convention casts a negative light on our present system. Finally, the last sentence places the onus on the aspirant to find out who is genuine and compatible.

Gurus Should Test Disciples

Although in this paper we are emphasizing the duty of the disciple to personally test and evaluate a prospective guru, it follows from the statements of the Hari-bhakti-vilasa and Srila Prabhupada that the guru should personally test and evaluate his prospective disciple.

In fact, a guru who does not test a disciple runs the risk of committing the offense of preaching the holy name to the faithless. A diksha-guru takes the responsibility of recommending the disciple to Sri Krishna, and suffers if the disciple commits some mistake.

1) “If a servant makes a mistake, the master is punishable because he is responsible for the offense.” (Bhag. 6.3.30 purport)

2) “But when a living entity plays the part on behalf of Krishna, he also takes the responsibility for the sinful activities of his devotees. Therefore to become a guru is not an easy task. You see? He has to take all the poisons and absorb them. So sometimes—because he is not Krishna—sometimes there is some trouble. Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu has forbidden, “Don’t make many sishyas, many disciples.” But for preaching work we have to accept many disciples—for expanding preaching—even if we suffer. That’s a fact. The spiritual master has to take the responsibility for all the sinful activities of his disciples. Therefore to make many disciples is a risky job unless one is able to assimilate all the sins… Therefore your question was—when I suffer is it due to my past misdeeds? Was it not? That is my misdeed—that I accepted some disciples who are nonsense. That is my misdeed.” (PQPA 6: The Perfect Devotee)

We should also note that if a guru does not properly test devotees before accepting them as disciples, the bad behavior of unqualified disciples will hurt the reputation of the Krishna Consciousness Movement, not just the individual guru. Therefore, the responsibility of a guru to test disciples should be taken as very important. This duty of the diksha-guru—the one who officially brings someone into the sampradaya—is similar to the responsibility of a university admissions officer who wants to bring in students who will have a high chance of academic success and of whom the school will be proud.

Delegation of the Responsibility to Personally Test

Personal testing should always be considered the standard because it is declared by guru, sadhu and sastra. But this standard has been modified in ISKCON in the following ways: (1) A disciple sometimes delegates his responsibility of testing the guru to others such as leaders or committees in the institution. (2) A guru sometimes delegates his responsibility to test his prospective disciples to others such as temple presidents. These modifications do not relieve the guru or disciple of their ultimate responsibilities in this matter. The prospective disciple is ultimately responsible for the choice of guru, and the guru is ultimately responsible for accepting a disciple.

The choice of a guru should always be considered primarily the personal responsibility of a prospective disciple. Therefore, delegation of that responsibility to others should not be encouraged, and what to speak of mandated. Rather, official policy should always encourage personal and direct testing. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the guru to test prospective disciples. Therefore, delegation of that responsibility to others should not be mandated. Rather, official policy should always encourage personal and direct testing of disciples. It is better to risk having disciples and gurus make their own mistakes and thereby acknowledge their own responsibility, not least of all because doing so is the sastric injunction.

It is presently ISKCON law that a guru cannot accept a disciple unless there is a recommendation from a temple president or a similarly situated person. In this way,
some of the responsibility for mutual testing has been delegated to a third person who could possibly interfere with the process. Although Srila Prabhupada himself established the precedent of delegation, even he experienced problems with it, as when he said that devotees were being recommended too easily for second initiation and called for a “boiling of the milk”. SAC, in their discussions, have not tried to resolve this issue, but feel that it should be considered in the future.

According to sastra there is a great responsibility for the aspiring disciple to personally test the guru. But in ISKCON this is not always possible, especially when gurus have large numbers of disciples. Disciples’ delegating their responsibility to the institution for testing gurus has become quite common in ISKCON, so much so that many take it to be the standard. This is especially true for devotees aspiring for initiation from gurus who already have many hundreds of disciples and who may not often visit the aspirant’s geographical location.

The aspiring disciple is confronted with some important decisions: “Shall I choose a guru whom I can test in a personal way through direct association? Or shall I choose a guru I am not able to test through direct association?” These considerations are individual, and individuals have the freedom to decide for themselves. We hope, however, that the aspirant will consider the choice of guru very carefully in reference to sastra, in consultation with trusted senior devotees, and on the recommended method of direct personal association. But no matter which of these methods the aspirant applies, he assumes the ultimate responsibility for testing the guru’s qualifications.

Conclusion

We conclude that sastra, tradition and Srila Prabhupada place the ultimate responsibility to test whether or not a guru is bona fide on the prospective disciple. Therefore, if we wish that new aspirants understand their need to examine a guru, we should move our guru-authorizing system as close as possible to the traditional form and terminology.

Policy Recommendations

As SAC members explored the concept of disciples testing their guru, they began to understand that ISKCON’s process of guru-authorization is an integral factor in this topic. Therefore the SAC team was led to research and write about the process of guru-authorization in this paper.

As a modern international organization, ISKCON must express Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and practice in ways appropriate for the modern world. This has meant giving the institution a role in the guru-selection process in ways that depart from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. If there are going to be such departures from the tradition in the name of institutional integrity, they should be minimal.

Such departures should be minimal in regards to (1) the way a devotee assumes the role of guru in ISKCON, (2) the way a guru is tested by disciples, and (3) the way a guru tests his disciples. In whatever ways these functions differ from tradition, they should be grounded in other, similar aspects of tradition to ensure protection from deviation.

In the next section of this paper, the SAC team has tried to draw examples from Gaudiya Vaishnava history and tradition to offer credence to the present guru-authorization system in ISKCON. However, we had no choice but to do so from examples not specifically related to the topic of guru and disciple. In other words, ISKCON is using a system that can only be scripturally justified by referencing unrelated principles and examples and then extrapolating them to match the present system. This suggests that our present guru-authorizing system is not close enough to tradition.

The remaining portion of this paper focuses on the topic of guru-authorization which is integral to an aspirant’s testing and choosing a spiritual master.

Blessing-Seeking

Presently, members of ISKCON generally use the term “authorization”, “nomination” or “no-objection” when discussing the procedure for devotees accepting the service diksha-guru. Although we do not find sastric evidence for bureaucratic entities granting authorization to gurus, we do find evidence that devotees who are ordered to begin an important service first take the blessings or permission of senior Vaishnavas. For example, when Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was ordered to write the Caitanya-caritamrita, he took the permission of the senior Vaishnavas, his gurus and the Deity as well. Kaviraja Gosvami did this because it was considered standard Vaishnava etiquette. And at that time and place, this etiquette was well-established within Gaudiya Vaishnava society. But today, in our Society, these etiquettes are not so well-established. Therefore ISKCON has institutionalized the process of blessing-seeking.

It is a principle of Vaishnava etiquette that one receives blessings or permission from senior Vaishnavas before performing an important service. This is, however, specifically for the benefit of the prospective guru himself, not for the organization. Blessings provide spiritual protection and security to keep one free from Maya’s influence. Therefore it should be highly recommended that all prospective spiritual masters take advantage of Vaishnava blessings and approach those senior Vaishnavas with whom they have a relationship. In this way, the blessings become meaningful and potent.

Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, on his own volition, took blessings or permission from the leading Vaishnavas in Vrindavana before taking up the service of writing the Caitanya-caritamrita:

a) “I took permission from Srila Vrindavana dasa Thakura by praying at his lotus feet, and upon receiving his order I have attempted to write this auspicious literature.”

PURPORT: “Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami took permission not only from the Vaishnavas
and Madana-mohana but also from Vrindavana dasa Thakura, who is understood to
be the Vyasa of the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” (Caitanya-caritamrita Adi-lila 8.81)

Maharaja Prataparudra, on his own volition, took the permission of the devotees before massaging the legs of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu:

b) “Following Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya’s instructions, the King had given up his royal dress. He now entered the garden in the dress of a Vaishnava. Maharaja Prataparudra was so humble that with folded hands he first took permission from all the devotees. Then, with great courage, he fell down and touched the lotus feet of the Lord. As Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu lay on the raised platform with His eyes closed in ecstatic love and emotion, the King very expertly began to massage His legs. The King began to recite verses about the rasa-lila from Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya-lila 14.6)

To refer to the process of seeking blessings as an act of Vaishnava etiquette does not trivialize it. Rather, it exalts it:

“My dear Sanatana, although you are the deliverer of the entire universe and although even the demigods and great saints are purified by touching you, it is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the Vaishnava etiquette. Maintenance of the Vaishnava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. By observing the etiquette, you have satisfied My mind.” (Caitanya-caritamrita Antya-lila 4.129-130, 132)

It is consistent with our tradition that a prospective guru asks for the blessings or permission of senior devotees before starting to take disciples. Our present system has institutionalized a process of senior devotees voting or offering no-objection to prospective gurus. But we do not find that this institutionalized blessing-seeking process is mentioned by guru, sadhu or sastra as the way that one is authorized to become a guru.

This system has been created to enable some institutional oversight. The institutional oversight of prospective gurus is needed, but it can be performed in a different way as we shall suggest later. The very first point to understand is how a devotee is actually authorized or empowered to assume the service and role of a spiritual master in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and in our ISKCON movement.

Empowerment

The actual order or empowerment to initiate disciples comes from the order of one’s spiritual master:

Svarupa Damodara: [The professor asked me] how do you know that guru is qualified, spiritual master is qualified? Then I said [answered] everything is written in the sastras, so we have to follow according to the injunctions written in the sastras. So all the qualifications of a pure devotee, of a bona fide guru, is written there. Just like you are a professor of physics in the university. Before you came, you had some qualification, degree of doctors. And then there is a committee to decide you whether you are qualified for the post. So it is selected by a committee of members and then they interview and then they find out your qualifications. If they find that you are qualified for the post, so you are selected as a professor. It’s like that in the spiritual field also. There are revealed scriptures and there everything is written what will be the qualification of a guru and then how to choose a bona fide one. So everything is written, you should follow the injunctions of the revealed scriptures accordingly.

Prabhupada: Committee is his spiritual master, he orders that you do this.
(Morning Walk, 1-3 October 1972 LA)

Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, amara ajnaya guru haya tara sarva-desa, tara ei desa. He’s asking everyone to become a spiritual master. So how everyone can become a spiritual master? A spiritual master must have sufficient knowledge, so many other qualifications. No. Even without any qualifications, one can become a spiritual master. How? Now the process is, Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, amara ajnaya: ‘On My order.’ That is the crucial point. One does not become spiritual master by his own whims. That is not spiritual master. He must be ordered by superior authority. Then he’s spiritual master. Amara ajnaya. Just like in our case. Our superior authority, our spiritual master, he ordered me that ‘You just try to preach this gospel, whatever you have learned from me, in English.’ So we have tried it. That’s all. It is not that I am very much qualified. The only qualification is that I have tried to execute the order of superior authority.
(Bg. 2.2 Lecture, 3 August 1973 London)

Brahmananda: He’s asking when did you become the spiritual leader of Krsna
consciousness?
Prabhupada: When my Guru Maharaja ordered me. This is the guru-parampara.
Indian: Did it…
Prabhupada: Try to understand. Don’t go very speedily. A guru can become guru
when he’s ordered by his guru. That’s all. Otherwise nobody can become guru.
Indian woman 2: (Hindi)
Prabhupada: (Hindi) Sadhi mam prapannam. “I am surrendered to You. Whatever You
say, I shall carry out.” That’s all.
Indian man: When did he tell you to…?
Prabhupada: What is the business, when did he tell me? And why shall I disclose
to you? It is so very insignificant thing that I have to explain to you?
Indian man: No, I am just curious when…
Prabhupada: You should be curious within your limit. You should know that one
can become guru when he is ordered by his guru, this much.
(Lecture, Bhagavad-gita 7.2, Nairobi, 28 October 1975)

In the case of Srila Prabhupada’s diksha disciples, a general order to become spiritual master has been given many times by His Divine Grace both orally and in writing. Therefore, all diksha disciples of Srila Prabhupada who are properly following his instructions are in fact already authorized and empowered to initiate disciples. To work within ISKCON, however, a preacher must agree to cooperate with the organization and thus seeks the blessings of senior Vaishnavas within the Society. But this seeking of blessings would be best performed if it were not officially mandated. Rather, it could be done at the discretion of the devotee who plans to accept disciples.

The references in the next section demonstrate that Srila Prabhupada intended and ordered all of his disciples to become spiritual masters.

Srila Prabhupada’s Intentions

Srila Prabhupada made his intentions clear about all of his disciples becoming spiritual masters:

Atreya Rishi: How many qualifications does a spiritual master have in terms of being a spiritual master?
Prabhupada: One qualification: he is a devotee of God. That’s all.
Atreya Rishi: Does he have to be designated by the former spiritual master? He has to be devotee…
Prabhupada: Oh, yes, oh yes.
Atreya Rishi: …surrendered and designated. That is…, identifies disciplic succession: both surrender and designation.
Prabhupada: And by the result.
Atreya Rishi: And the result of activity.
Prabhupada: So far designation is concerned, the spiritual master authorizes every one of his disciples. But it is up to the disciple to carry out the order, able to carry out or not. It is not that spiritual master is partial, he designates one and rejects other. He may do that. If the other is not qualified, he can do that. But actually his intention is not like that. He wants that each and every one of his disciple become as powerful as he is or more than that. That is his desire. Just like father wants every son to be as qualified or more qualified than the father. But it is up to the student or the son to raise himself to that standard.
Atreya Rishi: Yes, I understand.
Prabhupada: If you are incapable of raising yourself to the standard of becoming spiritual master, that is not your spiritual master’s fault; that is your fault. He wants, just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, amara ajnaya guru hana [Cc. Madhya 7.128], By My order, every one of you become a guru. If one cannot carry out the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, then how he can become a guru? The first qualification is that he must be able to carry out the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Then he becomes guru. So that carrying out the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu depends on one’s personal capacity. Amara ajnaya guru hana. (Room Conversation, 29 June 1972, San Diego)

Every student is expected to become Acarya. Acarya means one who knows the scriptural injunctions and follows them practically in life, and teaches them to his disciples. …Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bona fide Guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your Spiritual Master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bona fide Spiritual Master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy. (Letter to Tusta Krsna, 2 Dec. 1975)

I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program. (Letter to Hamsaduta 3 Jan. 1969)

Now is the time for the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness to distribute krsna-bhakti all over the world and thus follow the orders of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The Lord has ordered everyone to become a guru (Cc. Madhya 7.128): amara ajnaya guru hana tara’ ei desa. (Cc. Madhya 15.41 purport)

So there is no bar against anyone; anyone can become a spiritual master provided he knows the science of Krsna. This is the only qualification, and this science in essence is contained in Bhagavad-gita. At the present moment, thousands of spiritual masters are needed to spread this great science throughout the world. (Raja Vidya ch.7)

He must not take on unlimited disciples. This means that a candidate who has successfully followed the first twelve items can also become a spiritual master himself, just as a student becomes a monitor in class with a limited number of disciples. (Easy Journey ch.1)

Ordered by Sri Guru and Gauranga

The following are just a few of the numerous instances wherein Srila Prabhupada ordered his disciples to take up the duty of becoming spiritual masters:

So our request is that every one of you become a guru. That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s order. He wants that everyone must become a guru. How? That He says: yare dekha tare kaha ‘krsna’-upadesa amara ajnaya guru hana tara’ ei desa. (Bg. 7.1 Lecture, 20 Dec. 1975 Bombay)

Who is actually guru in the parampara system? Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh [Bg. 4.2]. So we have to take the authority of become guru from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the same thing. Within five hundred years His order is that amara ajnaya guru hana: [Cc. Madhya 7.128] “You cannot become guru all of a sudden. You must take order from Me.” He is jagad-guru. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu says you, all of you, to become guru and deliver. Because there are so many innumerable fallen souls in this age-mandah sumanda-matayo manda-bhagya hy upadrutah [SB 1.1.10] — we require hundreds and thousands of gurus. But not cheaters. This is the time when requires hundreds and thousands of gurus. But who will become guru? That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s injunction, amara ajnaya: “By My order you become guru. Don’t be all-of-a-sudden guru. Become guru on My order.” (Speech to Devotees, April 7, 1976 Vrndavana)

“I give you order. You, every one of you become a spiritual master.” “Oh, I have no qualification. How can I become spiritual master? It requires high knowledge, Sanskrit understanding.” “No, you don’t require anything. Simply you speak krsna-upadesa.” What is krsna-upadesa? Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja [Bg. 18.66]. You simply go door to door and say, “Please surrender to Krsna.” Then you are spiritual master. I have done this. What I have done? I have gone to your country to say this thing, that “Here is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You surrender; you become perfect.” That is being done. So it is not very difficult to become spiritual master. Simply you have to become very serious and sincere to the service of Krsna. (Bhag. Lecture, 4 Nov 1973 Delhi)

“Take My order and you become a spiritual master.” How? “Simply speak Krsna consciousness, that’s all. Simply speak on Krsna’s message, krsna-katha.” There are two kinds of krsna-kathas. One is the Bhagavad-gita, and the other is Srimad-Bhagavatam. So this is the propagation of Krsna consciousness. (Lecture 11 Dec 1968 Los Angeles)

Lord Caitanya says that “Every one of you become the spiritual master, every one of you. Why one, two? Every one of you.” “Oh, spiritual master is very difficult job.” No. No difficult job. Caitanya Maha… Amara ajnaya: “Just try to carry out My order. That’s all. Then you become spiritual master.” And if you interpolate, if you put something nonsense, rubbish, to show your so-called rascal’s education, then it is spoiled. Immediately spoiled. And if you present as it is, then it is pure. (Lecture 9 May 1969 Columbus)

So our request is that every one of you become a guru. That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s order. He wants that everyone must become a guru. How? That He says: yare dekha tare kaha ‘krsna’-upadesa amara ajnaya guru hana tara’ ei desa. This is guru. Suppose you are family member. So many living entities, you sons, your daughters, your daughter-in-law, or children, you can become their guru. Exactly like this you can sit down in the evening and talk about the Bhagavad-gita, yare dekha tare kaha krsna-upadesa. You haven’t got to manufacture something. The instruction is there; you simply repeat and let them hear—you become guru. It is not difficult at all. So that is our preaching. We do not want to become alone guru, but we want to preach in such a way that every, the chief man, or any man, he can become guru in his surroundings. Anyone can do that. Even a coolie, he can also, he has got family, he has got friends, so even though he is illiterate, he can hear the instruction of Krsna, and he can preach the same. This we want. (Lecture, 20 Dec 1975 Bombay)

Since the order to become spiritual master has been amply given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada, strict disciples of Srila Prabhupada are already authorized to accept disciples. Preachers have agreed to cooperate and obtain the blessings of senior devotees within our Vaishnava community. But it would be better if this seeking of blessings was not officially mandated because it would then be closer to tradition. It could be done at the discretion of the devotee who plans to accept disciples. Such a devotee should be encouraged to seek blessings from whomever he sees fit.

Once this more traditional system is established, gradually it will become clearer to new aspirants that they are not limited in their choice of spiritual master only to gurus who are already accepting disciples. ISKCON leaders should explain to devotees that they can choose any devotee in good-standing who has the proper qualifications as guru as given in the scriptures.

In light of this understanding, the GBC may wish to consider other changes in the current procedures.

Increasing the Number of Gurus

If the GBC are seriously interested in emphasizing the role of the aspiring disciple in personally testing his prospective guru, then they may wish to increase the number of initiating spiritual masters in ISKCON. Otherwise, the GBC will find itself in the position of trying to place the burden of examination on the aspiring disciple, while in reality he or she has little chance to do this. If there were more gurus, this would increase the chance that an aspiring disciple could actually observe and test a guru for a year.

There are several ways that an increase in gurus could be accomplished:

a) New devotees aspiring for initiation should be instructed in all possible ways that they are not limited in their choice of guru to devotees who are already initiating. In this way, there can be a disciple-driven increase in the number of gurus. Presently, there are devotees in good-standing who are qualified to be gurus but are not coming forward on their own accord to “apply for the post.” But if approached by sincere aspirants, this will encourage them to take up the responsibility.

b) There may be qualified devotees not currently initiating who have been approached by aspirants but who are still reluctant to take up this service. ISKCON leaders could positively encourage such devotees to take up the service.

c) Two years ago the GBC passed a resolution that disciples of living gurus, in exceptional circumstances, may also become spiritual masters in ISKCON. The GBC may want to encourage gurus with senior disciples to give blessings to such qualified disciples to begin taking their own disciples. In other words, new devotees can approach anyone in good-standing as guru, even a disciple of a living guru, but that prospective guru would require the blessings of his guru in order to begin initiating.

The Traditional System for Choosing Gurus was Not Bureaucratic

The traditional system for becoming a guru was not similar to the bureaucratic system for producing the ordained clergy of modern religions. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gave warnings against bureaucratic systems.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in Sri Caitanya Sikshamritam (p. 242) that Putana
represents a deceitful guru. Obviously, the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya does
not wish to have deceitful persons taking the role of guru. It might seem that
one way to avoid this is to institute bureaucratic controls. However, in his commentary, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura argued that bureaucratic systems for producing ordained clergy are not the way to ensure qualified gurus:

“It is not from any deliberate opposition to the ordained clergy that these observations are made. The original purpose of the established churches of the world may not be always objectionable . . . But no mechanical regulation has any value even for such a purpose. The bona fide teacher of the religion is neither any product nor the favorer of any mechanical system. . . The mere pursuit of fixed doctrines and fixed liturgies cannot hold a person to the true spirit of doctrine or liturgy.” (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, printed in the January l932 edition of The Harmonist, or Shree Sajjanatoshani, “Putana”, part 1)

Some devotees may discount these words of Srila Sarasvati Thakura, bringing up the seemingly contradictory fact that he started and led a spiritual organization. However, that would be a mistake. Referring to a properly qualified spiritual personality, Srila Sarasvati Thakura said, “In his hands no system has likewise the chance of degenerating into a lifeless arrangement.” So Sarasvati Thakura does not reject all systems. Some system should be there, but it should be, as much as possible, like the traditional system of guru selection, with minimal bureaucracy. We should not rush into imitating the bureaucratic systems for ordaining clergy found in modern religions.

Srila Prabhupada has also written against officially appointed gurus:

“Self-deceived persons sometimes accept leaders or spiritual masters from a priestly order that has been officially appointed by the codes of material life. In this way, they are deceived by official priests.” (Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 17.185 purport)

Srila Prabhupada has also given many general warnings against the over-centralization and over-bureaucratization of ISKCON.

“Forget this centralizing and bureaucracy.” (letter to Karandhara, Bombay, 22 December 1972)

“Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled.” (letter to Karandhara, Bombay, 22 December 1972)

Our point in bringing up these warnings is not to say that the current system is completely wrong, or that the gurus that have gone through this system are just official priests. However, we do think that it would be an improvement if the system for guru authorization in ISKCON resembled more the traditional system and resembled less the modern systems for appointing official priests. We are not advocating the removal of all institutional oversight of the guru authorization and selection process. Some minimal institutional oversight should always be there. We are simply suggesting that it would be better to emphasize the education of devotees to choose the right guru by personal testing as the primary system, with institutional oversight applied afterwards to correct things if wrong choices are made.

A decentralized and non-bureaucratic institutional form of disciples and gurus engaging in mutual testing meets the criteria given by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sarasvati Thakura, and it avoids the pitfalls they mentioned. Perhaps the main pitfall is the fact that with a bureaucratic process, once a person starts taking disciples, other prospective disciples get the impression that the guru has been “certified”; thus they often forgo the proper process of mutual testing.

We should also note that there are religious and secular organizations which have decentralized and non-bureaucratic forms. Such forms are not anarchies. Some of these organizations are very effective in achieving their purposes and protecting their core principles.

Again, ISKCON has a legitimate concern over who represents it and who can officially accept disciples. However, the leaders of ISKCON also have an obligation to fulfill this duty according to guru, sadhu, and sastra. There are enough admonitions against bureaucracy and centralization to conclude that our institutional concern about the purity and loyalty of gurus is possible to accomplish in ways that are decentralized and non-bureaucratic.

“Bhakta Joe”

One argument against a decentralized system is the “Bhakta Joe” argument. Those who put forward this argument are convinced that Bhakta Joe or Bhaktin Mary are completely incompetent to hold the primary responsibility for choosing a guru (although guru, sadhu, and sastra state that aspiring disciples have the primary responsibility for this choice). To those who make the “Bhakta Joe” argument, we draw their attention to the following points: (1) If we cannot train our Bhakta Joe’s and Bhaktin Mary’s to differentiate a bona fide guru from a hole in the wall, or if they are not intelligent enough to be so trained, we are in big trouble. They should learn about the qualifications of a bona fide guru from sastra, sadhu, and guru and then make their decision ideally on the basis of the recommended process of personal association with gurus or prospective gurus who are members of ISKCON in good standing. (2) SAC also advocates that Bhakta Joe consults with senior devotees about their choice of guru, and (3) in the last resort, if after all good training and advice, Bhakta Joe makes a decision that turns out to be incorrect, then the organization will step in to rectify the situation by taking action against the wayward guru; this is what is already happening in practice anyway.

SAC does not believe that exams are required, but it should be required that aspirants read a booklet that we prepare, or sit in some lectures based on this booklet.

General Recommendations

From guru, sadhu, and sastra we learn that it is the duty of an aspiring disciple to test a prospective guru for a year. To help establish this principle in practice, the GBC may wish to consider the following recommendations:

1) The GBC should state clearly and repeatedly that devotees are free to choose any qualified devotee in good-standing as guru, not just those who are already initiating.

2) The GBC should suggest that a devotee, by his heart, intelligence, study of the scriptures, and consultation with trusted senior devotees, carefully try to choose his guru. And once he has some indication, he should study that person’s qualifications very carefully in light of sastra and not assume that the person is qualified due to having received permission to act in that role.

3) The GBC should inform new aspirants that delegating the responsibility for testing the guru is not traditional and thus risky. The aspiring disciple and the prospective guru have a grave responsibility to take every possible precaution in making a thoroughly informed decision, for which they themselves are ultimately accountable.

A Suggestion for Balancing the Responsibilities

The mandate given to SAC by the EC puts the question of guru choice in terms of the relative responsibilities of the individuals and the institution. This reflects the underlying fact that Srila Prabhupada wanted us all to carry out our practice of Krishna consciousness within the framework of an institution, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in which the ultimate managerial authority is the Governing Body Commission. This means that the GBC has an interest in the qualifications of the gurus chosen by individual members of the Society. And therefore the GBC has, through decisions taken over the past thirty years, come up with the present system for a devotee accepting the role of a guru. But, if SAC reads the mandate for this paper correctly, the GBC also wishes to emphasize the traditional responsibility of the prospective disciple in evaluating the qualifications of a guru.

The GBC desires to exercise some control over who represents ISKCON as initiating gurus. The SAC proposes, however, that the present system does not provide effective safeguards, and at the same time it stifles initiative. In other words, applying for the guru post and approaching devotees for recommendations does not sit well with truly humble Vaishnavas. And it’s the truly humble who are most worthy to become our Society’s gurus.

We should also be aware from the history of other sampradayas and religions of the real danger of gradual corruption. Even if apparent purity were maintained for some time by a bureaucratic regulating system of authorization, the eternal temptations of misusing the status of guru for self-aggrandizement could ruin the system and the institution. In future generations we, like other sampradayas, could become burdened with gurus who collect disciples mainly for money and power. Such corruption could occur even while maintaining the external appearance of bureaucratic purity. Therefore SAC suggests that the GBC shift their oversight to mainly after-the-fact. Exactly how this is to be implemented should be decided by the GBC.

SAC members also feel that the procedure of determining no-objection to giving initiation should be simple. The main questions to ask are, “Is this devotee chanting a daily minimum of sixteen rounds and following the four regulative principles?” and “Is he loyal to Prabhupada and ISKCON?” These questions can be answered easily, even without the separate procedure of no-objection that leaves the GBC to blame when permission has been granted to someone who later deviates.

Srila Prabhupada gave instructions about how to recognize and expose false or incompetent gurus:

“The whole situation has been spoiled by these so-called rascal gurus who gives his own opinion. This is our plain declaration: Let any rascal guru come. We can convince him that he is not guru, because he is speaking differently. We can challenge any rascal.” (Prabhupada Lecture: What is a Guru? — London, August 22, 1973)

Journalist: I think an awful lot of our readers, and an awful lot of people in the United States, are terribly confused with the many people who claim to be gurus and gods and who pop up in this country, one after the other after the other, and they say that –
Srila Prabhupada: I can declare that they are all nonsense.
Journalist: I wonder if you could elaborate on that a little bit.
Srila Prabhupada: I can say, furthermore, they’re all rascals.
Journalist: For example, the famous one who sells meditation mantras?
Srila Prabhupada: He is rascal number one. I say it publicly.
Journalist: Could you explain, give me a little background on that, and why, because our readers —
Srila Prabhupada: From his behavior I can understand he is rascal number one. I do not want to know about him, but what he has done makes it obvious. But the wonderful thing is that people in the Western countries are supposed to be so advanced — how are they befooled by these rascals?
(Journey of Self Discovery 4.1 Show-bottle Spiritualists Exposed)

It appears that the Vaishnava system relies principally on the “exposure” system for maintaining the quality of gurus. In fact, this is how ISKCON has also practically operated in the past. Bureaucratic processes about the suitability of a person to function as guru before the person has actually functioned as a guru have not proved successful as an effective guarantee. The actual behavior of the person as guru has, in practice, turned out to be the only effective basis for determining merit. One might argue that such a system does not guarantee that a guru will remain fixed on the spiritual platform, but that is true of any system.

It seems to us that if a devotee is apparently in good-standing and wishes to accept disciples it is best to let the devotee accept disciples after a period of mutual testing between guru and disciple for at least a year. The institutional check against unfit gurus should be applied not a priori but a posteriori, in terms of attention to the actual behavior of the guru. If it turns out that the guru is unfit, this fact will be exposed.

This a posteriori system is mentioned in Sri Harinama-cintamani:

“The guru-disciple relationship is eternal. If both maintain their pure positions and are bona fide, their eternal relationship is never jeopardized. However, if the spiritual master is later exposed as perfidious, the disciple must immediately repudiate him. The same is to be done by the spiritual master if the disciple is similarly exposed. If such repudiation is not carried out by both parties when necessary, they stand to be doomed.” (Sri Harinama-cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Ch. 6)

End

49 Responses to “Balancing The Roles Of The Gbc And The Disciple In Guru Selection”

  1. Pandu das says :

    The sixth page of this article begins by saying that Srila Prabhupada was clear about wanting all his disciples to become spiritual masters, but the SAC seems to be improperly favoring specific meaning of a term that actually has broad applications.

    We know of at least three kinds of gurus (introducing, instructing, and initiating), so it seems helpful to consider which kind of guru is being described in each quote. The term “spiritual master” can also have various meanings, including a pure devotee with no disciples (as contrasted with a spiritual aspirant). Sometimes more than one meaning seems to be used in a discussion, making it difficult to separate them. Especially with personal letters, context often seems very relevant to the meaning and implications of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. I just don’t find arguments on this topic very persuasive if these factors are ignored.

    In the lecture on 4 Nov 1973, for example, Srila Prabhupada gives an order to become spiritual master, but what kind of guru does he mean? There is no mention of waiting until after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance (as required in the 2 Dec 1975 letter to Tusta Krsna Swami), and the description is of introducing people to Krishna consciousness and giving basic instruction. The word “disciple” does not even appear in the quote. How then can this be used as proof for authorizing initiating gurus?

    Another example, the next quote, from 11 Dec 1968, also qualifies the phrase “spiritual master” as “Simply speak Krsna consciousness, that’s all.”

    I’ve heard of only six instances where Srila Prabhupada apparently says his disciples will be able to initiate their own disciples. Five are private letters to ambitious disciples where the point is clearly to stall his disciple’s drive to initiate, while the prospect of initiating seems to be held like a carrot on a stick to keep the disciple following. Never was such a letter sent to a patient, humble devotee. The other was an early (1971), private interview with an Indian reporter that was not even published until 1997. None of these examples seem intended or remotely sufficient to dictate ISKCON policy that was supposed to take effect in 1977 or 1978.

    Since the issue at hand relates to diksa gurus, it makes sense to stick to quotes that clearly reference diksa gurus and avoid those that describe other kinds of gurus. This can also have the enlightening effect of forcing us to rethink some of our assumptions. Hari bol.

  2. nrsimhananda says :

    ITV has a newly released 4- hour dvd, “How to Select a Guru in Iskcon – A Seminar at Bhaktivedanta Manor.” It is presented by veteran devotees Kripamoya, Sitaram, and Sruti Dharma prabhu’s to a group of aspiring devotees whom interact with the leaders and in groups. The seminar took place in 2009. The dvd can be purchased from ITV ($15) via the website http://www.itvproductions.net and through authorized distributors (who will have it in stock in the near future).

  3. ccd says :

    It is interesting that the comment Pandu das has made [no1] makes sense only and in a context where a siksa-guru (or instructing spiritual master) is considered to be somewhere or somehow inferior to the role of a diksa-guru. This however is not the fact. The truth is, and I wished members of SAC explained it further, the siksa-guru relationship is already de-regulated in ISKCON. The “apriori-deregulation” proposed by SAC only confirms the general consensus that all good disciples of Prabhupada are already authorized to be a guru in his own words. And because being instructing guru on his behalf is by far more essential to all the grand-disciples than the guru who gives a particular mantra, it is a matter of formality for GBC to finally end the long overdue extension of the Zonal-acharya system of ‘approved few’.

    I think the question of humility is rather essential one, it should be elaborated more on, as far as in stepping forward to be a ‘designated guru with an approval’. It appears to me that there is very little argument that one can make to maintain this system. However it should be looked at in connection with general training of disciples to never think of ISKCON guru being an guru by default to all. Guru is not a position but a relationship. In fact it will not be unusual for a guru to think himself a servant of his disciples and to learn from them.

    The argument of the ‘stupid Bh. Joe’ and ‘anarchy’ and ‘siksa yes but not diksa’ are all fallacies. Let’s move ahead with this de-authorization at least in one particularity stable region of ISKCON and gradually expand it to other areas. In fact it is not impossible to imagine if one particular GBC can be presented with the choice to implement it in his zone alone.

    One thing that struck me is the fact that SAC constantly refers to “tradition” as the pramana. It is sastra and words of our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, are the pramana, the tradition is in fact just following the revealed scriptures and other dharma-sastras and I have seen many devotees not going through the examination process of the guru before accepting initiation, and that I attribute to a huge phenomenon of guru-hopping/lost faith. So this mandatory period of testing should be the first phase of the implementation of this SAC paper. This examination period automatically limits the number of disciples a guru can hold at one time and also creates a pressure on disciples to be in ‘a relationship’ before the ‘marriage’.ysccd

  4. Undoubtedly a siksa guru is to be revered as much as a diksa guru. The first chapter of Adi Lila of Caitanya Caritamrta makes this very clear.

    The diksa guru is considered by the disciple to be a direct manifestation of Madanamohan (the Deity of sambandha), whereas the siksa guru is considered a direct manifestation of Govinda (the Deity of abhideya).

    So, Caitanya Candrodaya Prabhu is absolutely right that the distinction between initiating and instructing gurus should not be made on the basis of one being more exalted or important. The scriptures all say they are identical manifestations of Krishna, “acarya mam vijaniyat”, “saksad-dharitvena samasta sastrair”.

    Of course, the bona fide guru (whether siksa or diksha) never considers himself to be Krishna or the enjoyer of his disciples, but must be an exemplary devotee, an exemplary disciple of his own guru, who always embodies the ideal of humility, tolerance, compassion, wisdom, sense control, and who knows how to engage and train his disciples to advance in devotional service.

    The SAC’s recommendation is an interesting one. It seeks to avoid the “Bhakta Joe” problem by a campaign of education about the qualities of gurus and disciples and the nature of the guru-disciple relationship. Such study of Srila Prabhupada’s books, which are full of discriptions of the parampara system and how it works, will be healthy and beneficial.

    Not only the qualities of the guru are important, but the qualities of the disciple and the actual process of making progress in devotional service. Otherwise, the idea of guru as “fashion” predominates, and people become more concerned with which “club” they belong to than whether they are getting tangible realization and understanding through relevant inquiries in the proper mood of service and submission.

    This “guru as fashion” idea is prevalent among materialistic followers of all religions. Everyone is preoccupied with externals such as who gets to give the orders and make the decisions. The process of actually getting a clear understanding of the bona fide guru’s instructions and learning how to really surrender is more important, however.

    In ISKCON we have Srila Prabhupada’s books, the repository of bona fide guru’s instructions par excellence. Srila Prabhupada is undoubtedly instructing guru of all of us. Let us become good disciples by learning about his instructions on parampara and guru tattva very carefully, as explained in his books.

  5. One concern I have about the SAC’s proposal is, do we really have enough disciples of Srila Prabhupada who are qualified to serve as spiritual masters, who can give proper training and guidance to disciples, who will not break the regulative principles and injure ISKCON’s reputation?

    We cannot get the GBC entirely out of the process because, if someone acting as guru does begin to deviate in behavior or words, the institutional authority will have to intervene, as the SAC’s paper acknowledges.

    The SAC tells us, this is already going on, so what is the concern? My concern (I am so conservative I fear that even minor changes can have unforeseen bad consequences), is that if it is going on now when the GBC tries to at least weed out the clearly unqualified or improperly-motivated candidates, might it not go on in much greater numbers if the GBC only intervenes after the fact?

    Also, isn’t it easier to nip such problems in the bud, before the guru-disciple relationships have developed and the disciples become resentful of the way their guru is being treated?

    The SAC’s paper talks about the importance of ISKCON gurus working within the ISKCON organizational structure that Srila Prabhupada created, and I agree that is very important. One concern might be that “Bhakta Joe” may be attracted to a maverick guru who does not sufficiently embrace Srila Prabhupada’s desire that his disciples work together for organized preaching under the direction of the GBC.

    Once again, perhaps these concerns can be addressed through educational programs aimed at not only stressing the qualities of bona-fide gurus and bona fide disciples but also the importance of the GBC system established by Srila Prabhupada (and desired by SBSSTP).

    The GBC system, in effect, divides institutional authority of the ISKCON preaching organization from the direct authority of the initiating guru over the disciple’s life. However, the GBC is supposed to retain its authority by virtue of being accepted as the guru’s authority, and by being authorized as the Founder-Acarya’s representative within its jurisdiction. An ideal guru should be exemplary in cooperating for preaching through embracing the GBC system.

    This GBC system may not be “traditional” or identified in Hari-Bhakti-Vilas, and yet Srila Prabhupada was very clear about its importance.

    He was less clear, IMHO, about exactly how the guru system would go on after his departure. Did he deliberately leave room for flexibility?

  6. I very much like the SAC’s discussion of how the devotee should seek guidance in some manner before accepting the responsibility of initiating a disciple.

    One thing I will observe about Srila Prabhupada’s standing desire that all his disciples should become gurus is, it is one thing for him to want them to become gurus, and quite another thing for him to tell them “You should now perform this particular service.”

    The prospective candidate should satisfy himself or herself that Srila Prabhupada really has given the authorization to go ahead and accept the awesome responsibility to train a devotee and become the repository of that disciple’s faith and reverence and worship and obedience. I do not believe there is any such blanket “order” that all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples are qualified to do it (obviously).

    At the barest minimum, the prospective guru should be steady in following 16/4 and should be confident in his or her ability to do so continually. The guru also needs to be able to explain Srila Prabhupada’s books and advise the disciple on how to properly perform devotional service, so unless the guru is actually capable of performing the service without making a farce and being a hypocrite, it is fair to say he or she has not been ordered by Srila Prabhupada to do so.

    Also, it is important that one not be motivated to accept disciples for some ulterior motive such as to receive money or honor or a large following and the power it brings. One should really be motivated only by pure desire to bestow Krishna consciousness on the disciple and to satisfy Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession by continuing the tradition to the next generation.

    Yet, a humble devotee may be ordered while feeling unqualified.

    Srila Prabhupada often told us how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada practically forced him to take sannyasa, and of course this happened after SBSSTP had already departed.

    Similarly, Srila Prabhupada may well order one of his disciples to actually become an initiating guru, today or tomorrow, and the disciple who believes he or she has been so ordered will want to seek confirmation from other senior ISKCON devotees, whether through a GBC-mandated process or a more informal process as described by the SAC.

    But why, in May of 1977 when the GBC asked Srila Prabhupada, did he not say something more like this? Why did he say he would select some to initiate on his behalf, etc. (the famous conversation)?

  7. Locanananda dasa says :

    It seems to me that since the GBC must ultimately approve whoever is giving diksa, they are in a better
    position than the neophyte devotee to determine who is qualified to act as guru and who is not. That we are concerned with the well-being of newcomers and do not want their faith to be broken is a good thing. But what if the new devotee chooses someone not yet approved to give diksa and places his (or her) faith in him (or her) only to learn later that their guru of choice did not receive GBC approval to initiate? A young aspiring devotee should not have to experience such devastation when his guru is rejected by the GBC, forcing him to look elsewhere for someone he can surrender to.

    As I recall, the first group of initiators was selected by Srila Prabhupada. The GBC was authorized to add to the number of initiators as needed, especially if they saw that someone was qualified to take up the responsibility. The suggestion that each neophyte should choose whoever he was attracted to in the movement to perform his initiation did not come from Srila Prabhupada. Those who would conduct initiations were selected first by Srila Prabhupada and were later to be chosen by the GBC on the same basis, of need and qualification. This becomes more clear when one considers that the role of the guru is to officiate in the giving of diksa. As far as I know, in ISKCON, when a disciple takes diksa, he does not vow to surrender his life to the service of that particular guru. Rather, he promises to follow the regulative principles and chant sixteen rounds of the Mahamantra daily on his beads, dedicating body, mind and intelligence to the service of the mission of Srila Prabhupada. With this mentality, the new initiate becomes a member of the ISKCON family.

  8. Sachi devi dasi says :

    It is very sad to see that after so many years of reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and practicing Krishna consciousness that such a mundane understanding of what is guru and what is guru tattva is being propagated.

    If one really wishes to understand guru and guru tattva clearly I suggest going to the following site. http://www.gopaljiu.org/

    There on the site you’ll find a booklet entitled “How to Find Guru” and it answers all the questions one might have very clearly.

    Ys Sachi Devi Dasi

  9. Locanananda dasa says :

    The basic principle in the training of new devotees is to instill in them total faith in Srila Prabhupada as their ultimate spiritual authority. Without that implicit faith, the import of Vedic literature will not be revealed to the aspiring devotee. Whatever initiation system evolves in ISKCON, we should be very careful not to undermine the relationship between the new devotee and the founder acarya.

    Srila Prabhupada sometimes referred to the official initiation ceremony as a formality, like a student being formally approved by an admissions officer to attend a particular college. One’s real education
    is in the hands of the school’s professors. In Krishna consciousness, we will be educated by so many teachers of the science, but we will receive diksa from only one of them. Whoever performs the sacrements of initiation must be qualified to act as guru, but that does not mean he is worshipable above all others. We must be careful not to eclipse the position of Srila Prabhupada as the guru in whom we repose the highest degree of faith and who is worshipped by all as Krishna’s dearmost servant and empowered representative.

    The SAC wants the GBC to act in a bonafide way when it comes to regulating the guru/disciple relationship. While so doing, they must also take into account what it is that was authorized by Srila Prabhupada as a managerial mandate. One item of importance is Srila Prabhupada’s instruction that
    a new member may be first initiated in six months to a year after joining. During Srila Prabhupada’s lifetime, when a temple president would recommend a disciple for initiation, His Divine Grace would give his approval in almost every case. If those who are giving diksa in ISKCON today saw themselves more like an admissions officer, devotees recommended by the temple president could be initiated within one year instead of waiting the current two to three years to take their vows and receive a spiritual name.

    If in Srila Prabhupada’s books it is written that in our movement we offer initiation within the first year and second initiation within one year after that if the regulative principles have been followed, I think we should try to stick to that timeline, since it is both bonafide and authorized.

  10. ccd says :

    I am a bit shocked that after reading all of material and arguments of sastra quoted by SAC. all the comments are coming from a perspective of external approval. “One concern I have about the SAC’s proposal is, do we really have enough disciples of Srila Prabhupada who are qualified to serve as spiritual masters” “Read this book by my guru” or “what if the new devotee chooses someone not yet approved to give diksa and places his (or her) faith in him (or her) only to learn later that their guru of choice did not receive GBC approval to initiate?” The whole point of the presentation is that it is not for you to decide on behalf of someone else, it is the function of the disciple to do that without you telling him or inducing him. The doubt I have is that the “education system” has to receive a complete overhaul and that included training to experienced teaches and the preachers who give instructions to the beginners. It is not an easy thing it appears, the switch from the paradigm of ‘pre-approved’ good guru position and qualification to ‘it’s your own duty of the disciple’ paradigm to test and see.

    It is like explaining to someone that milk does not come in plastic bottles, it comes from a cow. And if you have never seen a cow, you will keep wondering, how will a plastic bottle come from the cow… It is disciples who are to learn to take the responsibility and assumption of qualification. It is qualification towards him, not a centralized quality control. Nobody else should do it for him, otherwise risking spoiling it by taking away the foundation of his/her spiritual life. If things happen later, it is easy to fix an error, but to wholesale the delegated approval is really destructive. Just as equating acceptance of Prabhupada to acceptance of a guru.

    Of course we have it easy. We all come and accept Prabhupada as the spiritual master, but we also need to chose the person who will represent Prabhupada and his teaching for us in the parampara, and for that you need to know a bit about Prabhupada and Krishna, not that you have to start from scratch as describe in the Gour Govinda Maharaja’s brochure. But still it has to be done according to the sastra and not as per pre-packaged ready cooked meals system we have at present. Social pressure, ready made decisions and approval by others should be taken out of equation for good, in order to return to a healthy system once again.

  11. Puskaraksa das says :

    I have one question:

    Our friends of the SAC have expressed the fact that it is both customary within our tradition and also a matter of Vaishnava etiquette, that one will not inititiate and will not formally accept disciples, while one’s guru is still physically present on the planet. Rather, one will direct any potential disciple towards one’s guru…

    Contrary to that, we know of at least one example in ISKCON of a devotee inititiating and accepting disciples, with his guru’s permission (provided such a permission can be granted according to Guru, sastras and saddhus) while his guru is still physically present on the planet.

    One may argue that the guru in question doesn’t wish to accept anymore disciples and has accepted, as it is, a very small number of disciples…

    But this was also the case of Srila Gaura Kishora das babaji, who accepted very few disciples…

    Despite this fact, did Srila Bhaktisiddantha accept disciples before the physical departure of his guru, despite the fact that there was many a conditioned soul to be saved… ?

    Kindly enlighten me in this matter, as I am an ignorant fool…

    Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada
    Puskaraksa das

  12. Dear Sachi Devi Mataji,

    PAMHO. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    Thank you for providing the gopaljiu.org link. It is a wonderful site with beautiful articles and graphics. It seems everything Madhavananda Prabhu touches turns to gold.

    I do not understand your comment that a mundane understanding of guru is being propagated. Do you mean in the SAC’s paper? Or in the comments devotees have posted here? Could you elaborate on what you found to be mundane and how it differs from the articles you like on the gopaljiu page?

    I do not see any discrepancy between the SAC’s paper and the Srila Prabhupada and Gaura Govinda Swami articles at gopaljiu.org. It may be that I am too dull to see it (really, I am not being sarcastic), and I am sincerely eager to learn more about this topic.

    It does seem to me that there is a meaningful distinction to be made between the two related topics of (1) how a devotee by Krishna’s grace gets a guru, and (2) how ISKCON as an organized preaching institution decides whether to recognize a particular guru as an authorized member of the parampara and spokesman of the organization.

    The SAC’s point that the ISKCON institutional authority ought to minimize its intrusion into the process of the formation of guru-disciple relationships seems (to me at least) to be in keeping with the thrust of the writings found on http://www.gopaljiu.org.

    The SAC recognizes, as it must, that there may be times where a devotee in ISKCON, who is acting as a guru, who was duly initiated by Srila Prabhupada and who has initiated followers of his own, may have to be rectified or even disowned by the organization, to protect its purity and reputation, if such person is teaching apasampradaya or is what Srila Prabhupada called a “bogus guru”.

    I do like the idea that devotees who feel they are being prompted by Guru or Supersoul to begin formally initiating their own disciples should seek some form of confirmation from seniors they trust that they have truly been called to do so.

    It reminds me of Srila Prabhupada’s statement in the May 1977 conversation about “when I order,” he becomes a regular guru, his disciples are my grand-disciples, the disciple of my disciple.

    Ironically, those who advocate Prabhupada wanted to stop the parampara and accept disciples by proxy after his departure (you know who I mean), assert that he can no longer order his disciples to become “regular gurus.” That position is inconsistent and untenable.

  13. I always liked this story, from a purport in CC Adi 10.113:

    “…Another name of Thakur Saranga das was Sarnga Thakura. Sometimes he was also called Sarngapani or Sarngadhara. He was a resident of Navadvipa in the neighbrohood known as Modadruma-dvipa, and he used to worship the Supreme Lord in a secluded place on the Ganges. He did not accept disciples, but he was repeatedly inspired from within by the Suypreme Personality of Godhead to do so. Thus one morning he decided, ‘Whomever I see I shall make my disciple.’ When he went to the bank of the Ganges to take his bath, by chance he saw a dead body floating in the water, and he touched it with his feet. This immediately brought the body to life, and Thakur Sranga dasa accepted him as his disciple. The disciple later became famous as Thakur Murari, and his name is always associated with that of Sri Saranga. His disciplic succession still inhabits the village of Sar…”

    I am not sure what it has to do with this thread, but I felt inspired to quote it here.

  14. Dear Puskaraksa Prabhu,

    PAMHO. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    Regarding your questions in comment #11, let me first say I am also an ignorant fool, but since we are having a friendly discussion here and you have asked for responses from the peanut gallery, so to speak, I will give you my reactions.

    My first reaction is, since you are asking about etiquette, I have some reservations about the etiquette of presenting the question in this forum in the first place. It seems as if you are inviting the general public to pass judgment on whether they approve of what H.H. Jayadvaita Swami and H.H. Kadamba Kanan Swami are doing.

    The question of whether this is bona fide should better be addressed first to those two senior devotees themselves, and then if your questions and doubts are not resolved, you might then discuss it privately with other senior devotees. These general, open discussions are probably not the best place to air doubts about specific practices of specific leading devotees, IMHO.

    My second reaction is that, as far as I know (I am no expert), if your spiritual master actually asks you to accept disciples in his presence, the proper etiquette should be to follow his instruction.

    One example from the Bhagavatam about the etiquette of deference was when Uddhava directed Vidura to hear from Maitreya Muni. Uddhava was actually more perfect in his intimate devotion to Krishna, but he deferred to Maitreya because of his age and position as a great sage. Not that Maitreya was Uddhava’s guru (both had just heard directly from Krishna), but the mood of deferring to a superior was demonstrated. It seems different, though, if the guru says “I want you to initiate this person.”

    This does raise an interesting question, though, as to why Srila Prabhupada did not ask any of his disciples to begin initiations in his presence, despite the general etiquette that prohibits such initiations. It might have provided useful training.

    Aside from several statements Srila Prabhupada made to the effect that his disciples were qualified to make disciples but should not do so because of the etiquette that one does not initiate in the presence of one’s own guru, there may still have been some concern on his part that many of even his leading disciples were not yet fully trained up or pure enough to do it well. This is just a speculation of mine, however, and I probably should not second guess Srila Prabhupada’s own unfathomable spiritual reasons.

  15. I think the SAC has written an excellent paper and I am also encouraged by the thoughtful comments of Pandu, Locanananda, Caitanya Candrodaya and others here.

    I feel I need to read the SAC paper over (and over) more carefully, as lawyers read Supreme Court opinions. I have not yet engaged in such a “close reading” of the paper, but I do find it encouraging and positive so far.

    I appreciate Caitanya Candrodaya’s comment (#10) expressing shock and disappointment that many of our comments are preoccupied with external approval, and that the process of educating devotees to think more in terms of the disciple’s own responsibility to recognize guru and Krishna may be a difficult paradigm shift we need to make.

    I am not surprised that many of us are also concerned about external approval, however. The GBC Executive Committee recognized an ongoing need for ISKCON to exercise and maintain control over the quality of what goes on in ISKCON in the name of guru-disciple relationships. Part of the mandate given to the SAC involved researching the “balance” between the external, quality-control issue and the importance of the internal realization of the disciple:

    “Therefore we request the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) to research the balance between the responsibility of ISKCON to protect its members from unqualified gurus and the duty of the prospective disciples to give proper attention to the study of their prospective gurus prior to initiation.”

    My understanding of the existing “no-objection” a priori authorization process is that it is already meant to be something like the “seeking blessings” process recommended by the SAC, but that it is unfortunately still widely understood as some sort of approval or appointment process.

    I was fascinated by the quotation from Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur at the end of the paper about the importance of an a posteriori disapproval process (that a disciple is required to reject a guru, and a guru is required to reject a disciple, who proves perfidious).

    Unqualified gurus have been and will be an issue within ISKCON, despite our best intentions. Better education of prospective disciples and more emphasis on the internal, personal realization than the external, institutional control may help.

    However, how the institution controls its image, chooses its spokesmen, and protects its members from perfidious teachers in the guise of leaders, is going to remain important, and is certainly part of the topic at hand.

  16. Locanananda dasa says :

    The moment one decides to join the Krishna consciousness movement, he or she accepts the authority of Srila Prabhupada as spiritual preceptor. Every action of the new member in devotional service is dictated by the order and instruction of Srila Prabhupada as contained in his writings and as transmitted by his dedicated followers. In this way, one is able to approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is called transparency.

    In February, 1936, Srila Prabhupada wrote of his own spiritual master, “He is our eye-opener, our eternal father, our eternal preceptor, and our eternal guide.” Is this not the relationship all members of our society aspire to have with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada? It is the teachings of Srila Prabhupada that all ISKCON members adhere to. No one can reprioritize those instructions. No one can change those standards. Therefore, when one joins the movement, they are accepting Srila Prabhupada as their eternal preceptor. They are choosing their guru.

    In Vidura’s talks with Maitreya, in the Third Canto, Srila Prabhupada writes, “The father and mother of the material body are so only in one birth, and in the next birth the father and mother may be a different couple. But the bonafide spiritual master, as the representative of the Lord, is the eternal father because the spiritual master has the responsibility to lead the disciple to spiritual salvation, or the ultimate gol of life.” (S.B. 3.5.7 purport)

    Before taking diksa, a new devotee engaged in full-time service should take six months to a year to practice our life-style and study the words of his eternal preceptor, Srila Prabhupada. Then, upon the recommendation of the temple president, he may take the vows of initiation and receive a spiritual name. Whoever is awarding diksa must be fixed in Krishna consciousness and GBC authorized. Then the system of formally connecting with the guru parampara will be firmly in place. This will lead the disciple (who has become a grand disciple of Srila Prabhupada) to spiritual salvation and attainment of the ultimate goal of life.

    The most important element in his advancement is his unswerving faith in Srila Prabhupada as his eternal spiritual guide. This is the unchanging principle that unifies the Hare Krishna movement.

  17. In comment #16, Locanananda Prabhu wrote: “Whoever is awarding diksa must be fixed in Krishna consciousness and GBC authorized.”

    I suppose the crux of the SAC paper’s recommendation is whether being “GBC authorized” requires that one pass through some specifically-mandated GBC “no objection” procedure (as is currently done), or whether the GBC should just say that, as far as the GBC is concerned, all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples are “authorized” to give initiation if they feel satisfied that Srila Prabhupada has really called them to perform that service, unless the GBC affirmatively decides a particular devotee should be singled out as NOT authorized.

    I had some experience with the GBC’s current no-objection process when I sought authorization for Vaisesika Prabhu to begin giving initiations. The process went something like this:

    (1) I had to contact the local GBC representative in the zone and receive his authorization to form a “local council” of senior devotees including the GBC and all temple presidents in the candidate’s preaching area (I forget how many were required, but I gathered about 15 of them).

    (2) Each council member was required to fill out a questionnaire identifying his or her own devotional history, and rating the candidate in a number of relevant areas of inquiry, such as whether the candidate was motivated for the wrong reasons, is committed to preaching and book distribution, is knowledgeable about Srila Prabhupada’s books, is attached to hearing and chanting, has good sadhana, is sufficiently committed to working cooperatively within the ISKCON administrative structure, has been involved in any scandal, is overly afflicted with lust, anger, envy, passion for honor, etc.

    I do not remember all the questions (I may well have misrepresented one or more of them above), but at the time I remember thinking, “This is intelligent; they are asking the right questions.” It was kind of like filling out a job evaluation for a subordinate at work, with places for comments and explanations, and a vote on whether the evaluator believed the candidate should be approved.

    (3) After the forms were all completed, they were forwarded with a letter to the GBC corresponding secretary, who checked to make sure the council had complied with the rules, then forwarded his name to the GBC, who then had six months in which to object.

    Of course Vaisesika sailed through without a hitch. The question is, should there be any such procedure?

  18. The SAC paper observes that by even having any such procedure in advance, the GBC is unintentionally doing at least two things which are not desirable.

    First, they give prospective disciples the impression that anyone who has been vetted and pre-approved by the GBC must be highly qualified. [Actually, the GBC's current process is designed to weed out candidates who are likely to be UN-qualified or cause problems.]

    Second, they give prospective disciples the mistaken impression finding an initiating guru does not require a lot of examination to find one who can transparently represent Krishna to that disciple.

    This second unintended consequence of the procedure may foster a laziness on the part of a prospective disciple and a kind of “institutionalism” that is not in keeping with the actual, traditional process of learning to see a particular advanced devotee as a representative of Krishna who can be worshiped and obeyed and learned from as a direct manifestation of Hari in the form of His pure devotee.

    On the other side of the “balancing” task, ISKCON obviously has had very real problems of disciples forming relationships of faith and obedience and admiration for gurus whose behavior and teachings were not in line with parampara as received from the Founder-Acarya, and who brought shame and disrespect on the organized preaching mission.

    Maybe by emphasizing the more “internal” aspects of the guru-disciple relationship and giving a better, more thorough education to prospective disciples and prospective gurus (and generally to all devotees) about these issues of guru tattva and parampara and about the importance of both the guru and the disciple being bona fide so that the actual transformation from a conditioned soul to a liberated lover of Krishna really can take place, we will automatically reduce problems of immature gurus and the disciples who worship them.

    I think that is the sense that the paper is trying to convey and I think (please correct me if I am wrong) that Caitanya Candrodaya agrees.

    I am happy to be won over to this position. I do agree that by over-emphasizing the institutional, “external” aspects of guru-hood (guru as “fashion”) we might have exacerbated some of our past problems.

    Still, I want to be cautious and avoid wishful thinking. Some charismatic but immature individuals might attract disciples for the wrong reasons and cause problems that earlier GBC intervention could prevent. I hope not, but I am not sure.

  19. One thing is, regardless of whether the GBC decides to stop intervening in advance through a no-objection procedure, we should do a better job in ISKCON of providing general education about the process of selecting a guru and the importance of carrying on with the process of surrender and relevant inquiry and getting a clear understanding from the guru after initiation.

    That is, the “guru as fashion” problem has to be confronted with education and training. The a priori (as opposed to a posteriori) guru non-approval procedure may contribute to the problem, but stepping up education and training about guru tattva and parampara will be an important step whether or not the no-objection procedure is changed.

    Many devotees still think that what the GBC is doing when it authorizes a devotee to initiate disciples through the no-objection procedure is pronouncing that the candidate is qualified to be a bona fide spiritual master. We some how have to get the word out is that all the GBC is doing is saying that after conducting some investigation it has NOT decided that the candidate is NOT qualified.

    The GBC does not endorse specific devotees as pure devotees, uttama adhikaris, liberated souls, seers of the truth, or anything of the kind. In the “zonal guru” decade, ISKCON did announce to the world, through literature it distributed and through its face-to-face preaching, that these specific 11 devotees were perfect, pure devotees, great acaryas, etc. It has been our policy not to do that sort of thing for the last 20 years or so, but I still meet people all the time who think we still do that.

    I also meet devotees from time to time (I met one last night) who felt pressured in ISKCON to take initiation from someone they did not personally have faith in, and even to again take “re-initiation” from someone else they did not have faith in after the first one fell down. All these things have been against ISKCON’s policies for years, but because we do a bad job of explaining these things, many people believe that ISKCON still pressures people to be initiated and reinitiated in this way. (I have not done any survey, but I talk to people all the time who think these are still official ISKCON policies, when quite the opposite has been true for a long time.)

    Whether or not the GBC’s “no-objection” procedure is changed, guru pamphlets and education courses based on clear understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s books are sorely needed. This is long overdue.

  20. “…The spiritual master must be satisfied with the disciple; only then is knowledge automatically manifest before the student of spiritual science. The process should not, however, be misunderstood to be something like magical feats whereby the spiritual master acts like a magician and injects spiritual knowledge into his disciple, as if surcharging him with electrical current. The bona fide spiritual master reasonably explains everything to the disciple on the authorities of Vedic wisdom. The disciple can receive such teachings not exactly intellectually, but by submissive inquiries and a service attitude. The idea is that both the spiritual master and the disciple must be bona fide….”

    [From Purport to S.B. 2.1.10]

    I keep thinking about this phrase “not exactly intellectually”. The process is one of not merely changing philosophical perspective, but actually purifying and changing the heart, cleansing the mirror, getting the dust of lust off of the mind and intelligence until true vision of the Supreme Truth becomes possible.

    It does involve making relevant inquiries and getting a clear understanding.

    “Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries…”

    [From Purport to B.G. 4.34]

    The story that Ramakrishna injected Vivekananda with spiritual realization like an electric current and then was totally bereft afterwards because he had transmitted all of it and didn’t keep any is just ludicrous. It does not work that way.

    The disciple strives to get a clear understanding from the guru, through relevant inquiry and applying the intellect, but the understanding will not come unless one develops the qualities of being a good, faithful, submissive, devoted disciple.

    “Initiation” is just a beginning. The seed planted at initiation must be watered by hearing and chanting, and the sprouting creeper must be protected and tended. We should focus more on the whole process not just initiation.

  21. ccd says :

    In a way to most of us what will happen right now or next meeting of GBC is not as relevant. Of course it will save qualified devotees like Akruranatha the painful ‘approval’ procedure. However what is more important is what is right. The period of testing is essential. Not only because it is ‘how it is in the sastra’, but also because it is something essential for disciples’ progress in bhakti yoga. Just as anartha-nivritti is essential to have as a ‘past event’ for someone who is a guru, in the same way it is really essential for a disciple to see it for himself that the guru-devotee has practically cleared the major anarthas. Of course the ‘smell’ of anarthas and in fact possibility of fall remains with a devotee up to the point of directly meeting Krishna (saksad-darsana). But it is really important for a disciple to see things for himself, and not being told this devotee is fallen or this devotee is ‘pure’. I guess if you do not have this trial period or mutual testing with your diksa guru you may have to undergo the same period of mutual testing with one of your siksa-gurus. But knowing how often even mature devotees change their living siksa-gurus in ISKCON, it will be hard to enforce, But I suggest the mutual testing by direct experience should be the first step that GBC should take, regardless of the de-regulation. I do not mean to impose on privacy of gurus or demand that disciples will have hard time, but we see so much blind faith or cheap self advertisement already, there is a need of action.

  22. Locanananda dasa says :

    ISKCON has placed so much weight on initiation that, due to guru falldowns, the GBC has had to deny its role as the selector of initiators and shift the responsibility onto the shoulders of young, inexperienced neophytes who really have no way of knowing which guru may be most advanced and in whom they can place their absolute faith.

    In a lecture, Srila Prabhupada spoke of the meaning of initiation:

    “Formal initiation means to accept, officially, to abide by the orders of Krishna and His representative. That is formal initiation. Officially accept, “Yes, sir. I shall accept. I shall do whatever you say.” This is initiation, official acceptance of the job.” (Lecture 2-22-73)

    This is different from a zonal acarya setup in which the initiator became the absolute authority and the disciple surrendered with body, mind and intelligence to one of eleven supposed maha-bhagatavas.
    No. The GBC selects devotees it considers to have the qualifications of guru to officiate and conduct
    initiations of devotees recommended by their temple president. In this way, there is no second line of authority and management will run so much more smoothly.

    The two lines of authority spoken of by ISKCON managers are anything but parallel. First, consider that a medium sized temple may have disciples of at least five different gurus, all of them having a say in how their disciples are engaged. The temple president says, for example, that a first initiated devotee is required to cook an offering because no second initiated devotee is available, but the guru has told the disciple he cannot cook for the Deities without being an initiated brahmana. Second example: the temple president is asking a devotee to go out to sell paintings, but the guru has told the devotee he should only sell our books and not get involved in any other business. Multiply that conflict by as many devotees as there are living in the temple and you will see how convoluted management has become.

    So the gurus are now taking a lesser role with their disciples who are temple devotees and focusing more on the congregation members who are independent and who are able to contribute to the cost of their travels and other personal projects. If there were no second line of authority, the gurus would be trying to recruit more devotees to surrender to temple life and engage in Sankirtana, as when Srila Prabhupada was present. I do believe this is what His Divine Grace intended.

  23. Puskaraksa das says :

    It is true that the responsibility in accepting such or such Guru lies with the aspiring disciple, as much as the responsibility of accepting such or such disciple lies with the initiating guru…

    Beyond, one of the questions raised is whether or not the GBC should be involved in validating who is qualified or not qualified to accept disciples, be it a priori or a posteriori.

    But how can one really evaluate the inner level of spiritual advancement of a devotee and his degree of love for Srila Prabhupada and Krishna ?

    Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja, quoted earlier, used to ask: “Do you have a measuring rod to measure Guru ?”

    As a matter of fact, wouldn’t it sound actually unrealistic for a conditioned soul to try and evaluate a sat Guru, a pure devotee…?

    Vaishnavera kriya mudra
    It is very difficult to understand the activities and symptoms of a Vaishnava

    Then, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja would humbly encourage devotees to pray to Srila Prabhupada and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who may guide them, according to their sincerity and surrender, to the shelter of a bona fide guru, who is Krishna’s representative…

    This being said, let’s have a look at what sastras and our previous acaryas say about who is fit to be guru or not.

    First of all, I would beg to enhance the fact that accepting Guru is not a simple formality as some may view it, summarized merely by some personal vows…

    We see in the example of Srila Bhaktisiddantha Sarasvati Thakur how he had to approach his potential Guru, Srila Gaura Kisora das babaji several times and finally literally beg for shelter at his lotus feet and therefore for initiation…

    Srila Gaura Kishora das Babaji from the very beginning also taught his disciple both humility and the necessity of surrender at the lotus feet of Guru…

    In that regard, Srila Prabhupada stressed that the most important verse in Bhagavad-gita was:

    “tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya, upadekshyanti te jnanam, jnaninas tattva-darshina”

    Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth. (B.g. 4-34)

    Here, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and supreme spiritual authority Sri Krishna Himself, refers to Guru as being a tattva darshi, he who sees the absolute truth…

  24. Puskaraksa das says :

    This reminds me of some instance, when Srila Prabhupada challenged by a persistent man in the audience, finally asked him: “do you see God ?”. The answer of the man was obviously “no”. Then, Srila Prabhupada asserted his authority and ended the man’s impertinent interruptions, by stating “I see God”. Prabhupada, as sat Guru, is a “tattva darshi”; he sees the absolute truth, Sri Krishna Himself…

    Besides, the injunction of the Supreme Lord is to approach Guru, directly inquire from him and render service unto him. Here, the relationship with Guru is stressed by the Supreme Lord, so as to render personal service and receive personal instructions in return. i.e. a personal treatment and appropriate individual cure, according to one’s material disease and affliction by Maya…

    kiba vipra, kiba nyasi , sudra kene naya
    yei krishna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya

    Whether a brahmana, a sannyasi, or a sudra, one who knows the science of Krishna is to be accepted as guru. (Cc. Madhya 8.128)

    Srila Rupa Goswami in his Upadesamrita has defined a set of six criteria for one to be qualified to accept disciples throughout the earth…

    vaco vegan manasah krodha-vegan, jihva-vegam udaropastha-vegam
    etan vegan yo visaheta dhirah, sarvam apimam prithivim sa sisyat

    A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.

    kripa-sindhuh su-sampurnah, sarva-sattvopakarakah, nisprihah sarvatah siddhah, sarva-vidya-visaradah, sarva-samsaya-samchetta, ‘nalaso gurur ahritah

    One who is an ocean of mercy, who is fulfilled in all respects, who has all good qualities, who works for the benefit of all souls, who is free from lust, who is perfect in all respects, who is well-versed in the scriptures, who knows the science of Krishna, who can remove all the doubts of his disciples, and who is always alert in the service of Krishna is known as a genuine guru. (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.45,46 quoted from Vishnu-smriti Vacana)

    sravanayapi bahubhir yo na labhyah, srinvanto ‘pi bahavo na vidyuh
    ascaryo ’sya vakta kus lo ’sya labhda, ascaryo jnata kusalanusishtah

    Many cannot hear about the soul, and even after hearing about it many cannot understand it, because it is hard to find a guru who is a genuine seer of the truth. Such a qualified guru is a great soul and is very rare. (Katha Upanishad 1.2.7)

  25. Puskaraksa das says :

    If one is fortunate – bhagyavan, one will be bestowed the immense mercy of being sheltered by a pure devotee, a sat guru, who will act as his/her diksha or siksha guru, or both, in best cases….

    This is all natural and transcendentally arranged by Krishna, acting as Paramatma, Caitya Guru…

    brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva, guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
    tate krishna bhaje, kare gurura sevana, maya-jala chute, paya krishnera carana

    Wandering throughout the universe, by the mercy of Krishna, the living entity who is fortunate meets a bona fide spiritual master. By the mercy of the spiritual master, he gets the seed of the bhakti-lata. By worshiping Krishna and rendering service to the spiritual master, one is liberated from the illusory world of maya, and attains the lotus feet of the Lord.
    (Cc. Madhya 19.151, 22.25)

    By the mercy of Krishna, one gets Guru and by the mercy of Guru, one gets Krishna…

    vande gurun isa-bhaktan isam isavatarakan
    tat-prakasams ca tac chaktih krishna caitanya samjnakam

    I worship the Supreme Lord Sri Caitanya, who appears in six features as: instructing and initiating gurus; the Lord’s devotees, beginning with Srivasa Thakura; His avataras such as Advaita Acarya; His prakasa, or full expansion, (Nityananda Prabhu); and His sakti, (Gadadhara Pandita). (Cc. Adi 1.1 )

    yadyapi amara guru caitanyera dasa
    tathapi janiye ami taohara prakasa

    Although I know my guru is a servitor of Sri Caitanya, I know that He is a full manifestation (prakasa) of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. (Cc. Adi 1.44)

    jive sakshat nahi, tate guru caittya-rupe
    siksha-guru haya krishna mahanta-svarupe

    Since one cannot see the Supersoul directly, Krishna appears as a liberated devotee. Such a siksha guru is none other than Krishna Himself. (Cc. Adi 1.58)

    However, according to Krishna and the revealed scriptures not everyone can or should become guru, unless one is fir for the role, understanding what it means and implies:

    gurur na sa syat sva-jano na sa syat, pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat
    daivam na tat syan na patis ca sa syan, na mocayed yah samupeta-mrityum

    One who cannot deliver his dependents from repeated birth and death should never become a guru, a relative, a father, mother, demigod, or husband. (Bhag. 5.5.18)

    paricarya-yaso-lipsuh sishyad gurur na hi

    One who accepts disciples for personal service and fame is unfit to be a guru. (Vishnu Smriti)

  26. Puskaraksa das says :

    guravo bahavah santi sishya-vittapaharakah
    durlabhah sad-gurur devi sishya-santapaharakah

    Many gurus take advantage of their disciples and plunder them. They exploit their disciples for sex, and use them to amass wealth, but a guru who can remove the miseries of his disciples is very rare. (Purana-vakya)

    vaishnava-vidveshi cet parityajya eva. “guror api avaliptasye” ti smaranat, tasya vaishnava-bhava-rahityena avaishnavataya avaishnavopadishteneti vacana-vishaya tvacca. Yathokta-lakshanasya sri-guror-avidyamanatayastu tasyaiva maha-bhagavatasyaikasya nitya-sevanam paramam sreyah.

    A guru who is envious of pure devotees, who blasphemes them, or behaves maliciously towards them should certainly be abandoned, remembering the verse “guror api avaliptasya”

    [guror apy avaliptasya karyakaryam ajanatah, utpatha-pratipannasya parityago vidhiyate
    A guru addicted to sensual pleasure and polluted by vice, who is ignorant and has no power to discriminate between right and wrong, or who is not on the path of suddha-bhakti must be abandoned. (Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva, 179.25)]

    Such an envious guru lacks the mood and character of a Vaishnava. The sastras enjoin that one should not accept initiation from a non-devotee (avaishnavopadishtena…).

    [avaishnavopadishtena mantrena nirayam vrajet,
    punas ca vidhina samyag grahayed vaishnavad guroh
    One who gets his mantra from a guru who is a non-devotee or who is addicted to sensual pleasure is doomed to a life in hell. Such a person must immediately approach a genuineVaishnava guru and again accept the mantra from him. (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 4.366)]

    Knowing these injunctions of the scriptures, a sincere devotee abandons a false guru who is envious of devotees. After leaving one who lacks the true qualities of a guru, if a devotee is without a spiritual guide, his only hope is to seek out a mahabhagavata vaishnava and serve him. By constantly rendering service to such a pure devotee, one will certainly attain the highest goal of life. (Bhakti-sandarbha, Annucheda 238)

    Beyond any amount of personal deliberation, concoction or speculation, remains the following fact:

    nayam atma pravacanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna srutena
    yam evaisha vrinute tena labhyas tasyaisha atma vivrinute tanum svam

    The Supreme Self can never be known by any amount of argument, reasoning, intelligence, or by much hearing. To those whom He chooses, however, He may reveal His personal form. (Katha Upanishad 1.2.23)

  27. Puskaraksa das says :

    Our dear Akruranath Prabhu, whom we can congratulate to be the most prolific writer amongst all ISKCON devotees at Dandavats, has been so kind as to share his personal approach of Vaishnava etiquette.

    However, our intention was not to name and point out at two devotees whom we feel some affection for. Neither was it to confront any of them, as we have assumed that they mustn’t be deprived of any good intention…

    Rather, our question was simply brought about, within the present context of the paper issued by the respected SAC members, by the following statements:

    On one hand (index 6), there is a quote by Srila Prabhupada, going as far as explaining what is the law of disciplic succession

    “Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bona fide Guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your Spiritual Master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession”. (Letter to Tusta Krishna, 2 Dec. 1975)

    On the other hand (index 7 – c), it is mentioned:

    “Two years ago, the GBC passed a resolution that disciples of living gurus, in exceptional circumstances, may also become spiritual masters in ISKCON.”

    With the following SAC’s comment:

    “The GBC may want to encourage gurus with senior disciples to give blessings to such qualified disciples to begin taking their own disciples.”

    And the following suggestion from the SAC’s members:

    “In other words, new devotees can approach anyone in good-standing as guru, even of a living guru, but that prospective guru would require the blessings of his guru in order to begin initiating”.

    Interestingly enough, in a letter dated 3 Jan. 1969, Srila Prabhupada had mentioned in a letter to his new and eager disciple Hamsaduta:

    ‘Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the number of generations. That is my program”.

    However, we see that this “maybe by 1975” is followed at the end of 1975, by the above quoted explanation given by tri-kala-jna Jagat Guru Srila Prabhupada, of what is “the law of disciplic succession”.

  28. Puskaraksa das says :

    As I mentioned earlier, since I am ignorant, I know of no sastric instruction of a disciple being allowed (what to speak of being encouraged) to initiate while his guru is still present.

    So, please kindly provide such sastric injunctions and recommendations from our previous acaryas for a guru to be entitled to allow his disciple to accept disciples in
    his presence, to this ignorant servant of yours…

    As a matter of fact, I cannot imagine a disciple initiating competition with his own guru, in the eyes of the neophyte prospective disciples, on whatever ground, most likely to be material.

    As I mentioned earlier, I am also a fool… Therefore, I do not understand why the respected GBC or SAC would decide over or promote anything which goes against the instructions of ISKCON Founder Acarya Srila Prabhupada, who has clearly explained what is the “law of disciplic succession”.

    So, kindly explain to this fallen servant of yours, why one should disregard the instructions of Guru, Sastras and Saddhus and break the “law of disciplic suggestion” ?

    Many thanks for your understanding…
    Yours in service

    Puskaraksa das

  29. Madhvacarya certainly accepted disciples although his guru Srila Vyasadeva was and is still present on this planet at Badarikasrama. However, as Srila Vyasadeva can hardly be seen by anyone, perhaps this is not the kind of counter-example Puskaraksa is looking for.

  30. Caitanya Candrodaya Prabhu unfortunately said: “Of course it will save qualified devotees like Akruranatha the painful ‘approval’ procedure.”

    Prabhu, I thank you for your good thoughts, but I have to categorically say that I am definitely NOT qualified to be anyone’s guru. I am very much a struggling, beginner neophyte devotee.

    In fact, I still have never received second initiation. This is not because (as someone once suggested) I see no one qualified to act as my guru. I see many qualified devotees, and I am actually aspiring to take second initiation from Vaisesika Prabhu. There are many other devotees in ISKCON whom I feel deeply indebted to and who I am confident are completely worthy to surrender to.

    The reason I have not received gayatri mantra initiation after 34 years is simply that I am still very much affected by ignorance and passion and am not confident of my ability to steadily follow my vows. I have had many slips but I keep trying…

    I like to blog and really love to communicate in a friendly and positive way with other devotees, but no one should mistake my verbal output as an attempt to set myself up as anyone’s instructor. I will count myself a successful blogger if my words encourage devotees to honestly and openly share realizations and appreciations for Srila Prabhupada’s instructions without trying to establish their authority over one another as we so often seem to do.

    The whole “master-servant” dynamic is of course an essential part of the Bhagavata tradition and is the very icon of transmission of spiritual knowledge, whether from Krishna to Arjuna, Sukadeva to Parikshit, or any number of other celebrated spiritual dialogs.

    However, there is also a place in spiritual life for friendly, serious talks among fellow students, and I hope I can contribute to the mood of such honest and cooperative discussions. In the course of such discussions, authoritative knowledge has a way of enlightening the heart of all participants, as Supersoul is surely eager to award understanding to those who humbly seek for it together in the pages of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

    As for whether the process of seeking “no-objection” approval from the GBC is “painful,” I admit it seems strangely bureaucratic, but I do not see why it should be painful to the candidate. I expect qualified candidates will easily sail though, and would respect the GBC’s concern for the safety of ISKCON students and for maintaining the highest possible standard.

  31. It is important to always remember, as Puskaraksa reminds us, that a bona-fide guru should be a fixed-up Vaisnava:

    “Therefore any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the bona fide guru is that he has realized the conclusions of the scriptures by deliberation and is able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities, who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, should be understood to be bona fide spiritual masters.” [S.B. 11.3.21]

    It is also important, as Caitanya Candrodaya and Sachi Devi remind us, that ISKCON not become just another religious organization dedicated to establishing “my guru is the best guru” and making an external show of being associated with a great guru, rather than actually acquiring the good qualities of self-realized devotees of Krishna by following the guru’s instructions very sincerely.

    I just re-read Madhavananda Prabhu’s article “Hide Your Guru” at http://www.gopaljiu.org. It is a wonderful article, and it emphasizes the distinction between inward facing disciples who please their gurus by taking his instructions very seriously, actually learning how to serve Krishna, and outward facing disciples who are concerned with externally advertising what a great guru they have so that they will be considered great by association with such a great person.

    Madhavananda Prabhu explains that the outward facing disciples are known as “religious flag wavers”, and because they themselves want to be honored as higher than others, they assume their guru will be pleased by their efforts to establish him as better than all other gurus.

    The inward facing devotees, however, feeling their relationship with their guru something very precious and sacred, do not make a big show of it. They follow Sanatana Goswami’s advice from Hari-Bhakti Vilas, that one’s mantra, japa mala, guru and istha-deva should be kept hidden, confidential, not something exposed to all and sundry.

    For the sake of preaching we do need to tout the glories of Srila Prabhupada’s books far and wide. Granted. Yet we will make a better impression if we actually study the instructions of those books and make the instructions we find there the treasures of our lives. We are dying to share this treasure with anyone who really has the sincerity to appreciate it, who “seriously desires real happiness.”

  32. Locanananda Prabhu has been making some good points about Srila Prabhupada’s preeminent position in ISKCON as Founder-Acarya and param guru. Srila Prabhupada’s books are the essential scriptures of ISKCON and through his books and recorded instructions (and through his disciples and grand disciples) he is the prominent instructing guru of the whole Society.

    The “parallel lines of authority” topic deals mainly with learning how to follow Srila Prabhupada’s serious order to leave management of the institution in the hands of a GBC and to cooperate together for preaching in a united, well-organized society with multiple, vital guru-disciple relationships.

    It is not an easy topic. Even the big sannyasi disciples of Om Vishnupada Paramahamsa 108 Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada were bewildered about how to do it, and divided into competing, litigating factions shortly after his disappearance. Our Srila Prabhupada therefore took pains to make it very clear well in advance of his departure and to set it up right.

    Simply put, we should not equate the power of the bona-fide guru to properly transmit Krishna’s message to the sincere disciple with the authority to run the preaching organization. Srila Prabhupada very clearly and deliberately invested his authority as the ultimate administrative head of the ISKCON institution to the GBC body and not to any “successor acarya” or “foremost disciple”.

    Nevertheless a GBC is not a substitute for the disciple’s need to take shelter of a bona-fide spiritual master, surrender to him (or her) and learn how to perform pure devotional service from initiating and instructing spiritual masters. The GBC is not a guru.

    Still, the bona fide gurus in ISKCON will take very seriously Srila Prabhupada’s order to make the GBC system work for the benefit of cooperating to distribute Lord Caitanya’s message everywhere. The guru should set an example of maintaining good relations with ISKCON’s management system, and to try to guide disciples in how to harmonize with ISKCON’s management for the sake of cooperative, well-organized preaching.

    The idea of setting up one’s own guru as above the GBC or above other gurus in ISKCON is a distraction, or even a destruction. It is kali-yuga’s trick to prevent us from fulfilling our acaryas’ desires to have a united preaching force of cooperative, advanced devotees.

    We will not fall for it this time, Mr. Kali. We are sticking together under the GBC.

  33. It may be appropriate to share here something I recently wrote elsewhere:

    “Srila Prabhupada used language of inheritance and succession when speaking of the
    GBC (and did not use the same language when discussing the 11 disciples who
    became zonal gurus for a short time until most of them proved all too
    fallible). He invested the GBC with his power and authority over ISKCON.
    This was intentional and should be made clear.

    “I believe part of his reason for doing so was to prevent succession
    struggles over who is more ‘advanced’ or ‘annointed’ as his successor due to
    divine qualities, purity or holiness. We may find many devotees in ISKCON
    who are advanced and full of personal divine qualities, whom we should
    accept as instructing (or initiating) gurus and serve faithfully and inquire
    from submissively, but none of them need be or even should be ‘in charge’ of
    ISKCON. I expect such advanced devotees to respect Srila Prabhupada’s clear
    directive that the GBC should be ‘in charge’ of ISKCON.

    “In other words, the GBC system intentionally splits the authority to oversee
    running of the organization from the personal, charismatic authority of the
    guru to pass Krishna’s message to the disciple. Srila Prabhupada clearly
    intended the GBC to succeed to his authority over the organization, what I
    have called “institutional authority.” The authority to explain Krishna and
    train disciples remains in his books and in the parampara system that is
    explained in his books.

    “Simply put, the idea that institutional authority must be wielded by some
    ‘most holy’ monk, pope or sankaracarya is not our system. It is an
    unnecessary affectation that causes distractions and hypocrisy. Our holiest
    teachers will accept Srila Prabhupada’s determination that the organized
    preaching institution can and indeed should be run by an ecclesiatical
    committee. They will accept the authority of that committee, and this will
    free them up from getting drawn into the politics of church leadership.”

    The business of guru-disciple relationships is to turn material-minded people into spiritual servants of Krishna.

    The business of administrating ISKCON is to facilitate the dissemination of Krishna consciousness — of Prabhupada’s books and the holy names — through intelligent organization and planning.

    Because such dissemination is desired by Lord Caitanya and the acaryas, bona-fide gurus in ISKCON will cooperate under GBC authority, striving to make it a success.

  34. Locanananda dasa says :

    There are numerous sastric references in this SAC treatise that define the guru/disciple relationship. Here is one quote that indirectly designates Srila Prabhupada as the absolute reference point in understanding who is qualified to act as guru:

    “Guru means who is following the principles given by the jagad-guru. You cannot become guru automatically without following the order of jagad-guru.”

    So if there is going to be any testing of the guru by the disciple, the first thing is that the observer must be fully conversant with the teachings and principles taught by Srila Prabhupada.

    We know how the principle of mutual testing was carried out when Srila Prabhupada was present.
    The aspiring disciple was trained under the supervision of a temple president and perhaps under a bhakta leader. When the temple authorities were convinced that the new devotee was seriously hearing the message of Krishna consciousness and practicing the basic principles, he or she would be recommended for initiation. Srila Prabhupada trusted his temple presidents who were considered representatives of the spiritual master.

    Personally, I would like to hear the instructions that Srila Prabhupada gave us that he wanted applied to ISKCON when he would no longer be present. For me, that would be the starting point. Then, to deepen my understanding, and to eliminate any possible confusion that might linger, I could study whatever else has been gathered by the SAC from various scriptures and our previous acaryas.
    ISKCON is a unique institution. Nothing has ever existed in the past that is comparable to its worldwide scope. It was Srila Prabhupada who was personally empowered by Krishna to guide ISKCON through its development as the vehicle that would spread the message of Godhead and the Sankirtana movement of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Therefore, his ISKCON-specific instructions concerning how initiations would be carried out in the future are our primary concern.

    It seems to me that each devotee will be attracted to particular preachers of our philosophy based on their style, personality and their faithfulness in representing Srila Prabhupada. This fits nicely with the principle that one can receive instruction from many senior devotees. This was also in effect when Srila Prabhupada was present. However, I do not find the guidelines recommended by the SAC for choosing one’s initiator as coming from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on ISKCON management.

  35. Pandu das says :

    I’m lacking sufficient time to participate fully in this interesting discussion, but I at least want to respond to a comment that addressed me.

    @ CCD – How does my point make sense only if siksa guru is inferior to diksa guru? I don’t say a diksa guru is necessarily superior, but they have different entry points. A complete beginner can act as vartma pradarsaka guru simply by giving someone one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. A devotee with some understanding of Krishna consciousness, but who is not necessarily even initiated, can act as siksa guru simply by teaching another beginner. Acting as diksa guru is more restricted. For example, a diksa guru must himself be initiated at the very least, and Srila Prabhupada has said the etiquette allows one only to initiate one’s own disciples after the disappearance of one’s own guru. His behavior should also be a perfect example of Krishna consciousness, otherwise how can he be accepted as Krishna’s representative?

    When Srila Prabhupada said to become guru and teach Krishna consciousness to others, it’s clearly calling for siksa gurus because the activity is teaching and there is no mention either of waiting until after his disappearance or a waiver of that rule. If the statement doesn’t talk about diksa gurus, it shouldn’t be taken as positive evidence regarding diksa. Just because the word “guru” is used does not mean we can take any meaning of the word that we like. We have to deduce Srila Prabhupada’s intended meaning and stick with that, otherwise it’s cheating.

    While siksa may be more important, the diksa guru is still special. We can take siksa from many sources, but we get only one diksa guru. When someone asks who is your guru, it is customary that one answers the name of the guru who gave initiation. We identify with him and look to him as Krishna’s representative and worship him accordingly, as “my lord birth after birth.” The diksa guru is almost always taken as a chief siksa guru too, so when he speaks, our “only wish is to have (our) consciousness purified by the words emanating from his lotus mouth.” If somehow one of our siksa gurus fails to inspire us, we can move on without much difficulty; but if an aspiring devotee loses faith in his diksa guru, it is a serious dilemma. Otherwise there would be no need for the GBC to ask the SAC to address it. If this is a problem for experienced devotees on the GBC, how much more difficult it must be for newcomers!

    Hare Krishna.

  36. Puskaraksa das says :

    Dear devotees

    PAMHO AGTSP AGTSG & SG

    Thank you very much to Pandu Prabhu who made a very good point.

    Yes, Srila Prabhupada wants all his disciples to become teachers (monitor gurus) and not necessarily diksha gurus. He wanted all the generations to come to be able to teach Krishna consciousness and gradually rise to the level of exemplifying it through their thoughts, words and actions, and become pure devotees…

    In the same line, we address each other as Prabhu, as an humble devotee can learn from anyone, as the avadhuta brahmana who accepted 24 masters as his siksha gurus… Besides, Prabhu is a very honorific title, born by the original spiritual master, Sri Nityananda Prabhu.

    Thank you also, Pandu Prabhu, for reminding us about the instruction, the teachings and the example of Srila Prabhupada, in the line of our Vaishnava tradition, to abide by the etiquette and the law of disciplic succession and not initiate while one’s spiritual master is still present on the planet.

    Another interesting point was also raised by Akruranath Prabhu when he wrote:
    “It reminds me of Srila Prabhupada’s statement in the May 1977 conversation about “when I order,” he becomes a regular guru, his disciples are my grand-disciples, the disciple of my disciple.”
    which was in the line of another valuable comment:
    “Srila Prabhupada often told us how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada practically forced him to take sannyasa, and of course this happened after SBSSTP had already departed. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada may well order one of his disciples to actually become an initiating guru, today or tomorrow…”.

    It is actually very important and as a matter of fact essential to be directly connected with one’s sat Vaishnava Guru who, as a liberated soul, will follow and instruct his disciple step by step as an ongoing process, even after his external disappearance from this world, and who will be able to estimate when one is ready to formally accept disciples and act as an initiating spiritual master. Then, he will order his disciple to do so, which explains why Srila Prabhupada said “when I order” even shortly before his physical departure.

    Our enemies are definitely the lack of faith in the words of the Acarya, the materialistic and conditioned vision which leads one to think that the Acarya is not present after his physical disappearance and personal ambition…

  37. Puskaraksa das says :

    In a conversation on April 20, 1977, Srila Prabhupada stated:
    “Our mission is to serve bhakta-visesa and live with devotees. Not that you take the place of the Guru. That is nonsense, very dangerous. Then everything will be spoiled. As soon as you become ambitious to take the place of Guru – Guru su nara matih. That is the material disease”.

    As it is,

    siksha-guruke ta’ jani krishnera svarupa
    antaryami, bhakta-sreshtha, ei dui rupa

    “One should know the siksha guru to be Krishna Himself. As guru, Krishna has two forms as the Supersoul and as the best of devotees”. (Cc. Adi 1.47)

    Thereby, as Akruranath Prabhu interestingly noted from the story of Thakur Saranga das, also named Sarnga Thakura, he quoted from the purport of CC Adi 10.113:

    « He used to worship the Supreme Lord in a secluded place on the Ganges. He did not accept disciples, but he was repeatedly inspired from within by the Suypreme Personality of Godhead to do so. Thus one morning he decided, ‘Whomever I see I shall make my disciple.’ When he went to the bank of the Ganges to take his bath, by chance he saw a dead body floating in the water, and he touched it with his feet. This immediately brought the body to life, and Thakur Sranga dasa accepted him as his disciple. The disciple later became famous as Thakur Murari, and his name is always associated with that of Sri Saranga. His disciplic succession still inhabits the village of Sar…”.

    We see from that example that this soul ordered by Caitya Guru to become guru and accept disciples was no ordinary soul…

    As a matter of fact, despite the desire of Srila Prabhupada to see his disciples become qualified and expand the generations, it would seem wiser to establish Tattva and invite disciples of a sat Guru to be patient and keep undergoing the strict training of Sri Guru, even after his apparent disappearance. For how could one be Tattva darshi and see Krishna, if one doesn’t even see one’s sat Guru and fails to communicate with him and be guided by him. Then, only highly qualified devotees, once they’ve become sat disciples, would accept disciples in their turn, once they have been ordered by Sri Guru and Sri Krishna to do so. In this way, they would be sat gurus themselves and could be accepted as such and would become valuable representatives of our Parampara.

  38. Puskaraksa das says :

    Otherwise, on one hand, one may fall prey to what Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur names in several places, the “dharmadvajis”, the cheating religionists, literally “those who wave the flag of dharma”. He says, as in Bhaktyaloka (a series of articles he wrote commenting on the second and third verses of Upadesamrita), that there are two types of dharmadvajis – the false leaders and their foolish followers, which he also describes as the hypocrites and the fools or the cheaters and the cheated”.

    On the other hand, as far as the process of testing one’s prospective spiritual master goes, from the side of the aspiring disciple, Srila Bhaktisiddantha Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada has written:

    “At the dawn of our spiritual life, we sincerely and with complete submission and self-surrender pray to God for receiving the protection of Sri Guru. The Supreme Lord, perceiving our earnestness and devotion with a view to guide us on the true path, will send a real guru to us. Otherwise, it is impossible for us to find Sri Guru by our own fallible energy. If we guide ourselves by our own energy we shall come across the pseudo-gurus, and being caught hold of by them by their temporary pleasing manners, run down to hell”. (Sajjana-Toshani, Oct. 1929, vol XXVII, no. 5)

    Therefore, we see that unless we follow Sri Guru, Sastras and Saddhus (Gaura-priya janas), our chances to succeed and really please our previous acaryas are null.

  39. Locanananda dasa says :

    Pandu prabhu is presenting another point of view concerning the distinction between the different roles of the guru. I think we all accept that the Lord Himself as the Supersoul acts as caitya guru and guides us from within. The Lord then appears externally as the spiritual master. The spiritual master has the role of instructor (siksa guru) and of initiator (diksa guru). The vartmapradarsaka guru is a type of siksa guru who first introduces us to Krishna consciousness.

    According to sastra, the siksa and diksa guru are equal manifestations of Krishna. It is also stated that the term “guru” is equally applicable to these three categories of spiritual master. In the example of Suniti, the mother of Dhruva, it is said that as a woman, she could not initiate her son, but she acted as vartma-pradarsaka guru. She had no spiritual disqualification.

    Whoever is conversant with the science of Krishna can act as guru but should follow the etiquette concerning giving diksa during the lifetime of one’s own spiritual master. Caste brahmanas say that anyone not born in a brahmana family may act as siksa guru but not as diksa guru, but this is not a vaisnava principle.

    Srila Prabhupada certainly called for all of his disciples to become spiritual masters and preach everywhere. I would not agree with Pandu prabhu’s assertion that Srila Prabhupada wrote to his disciple Tusta Krishna to explain the “law of disciplic succession” mainly to pacify an ambitious disciple. First of all, most of the leaders of ISKCON could be called ambitious because they are very eager to spread Krishna consciousness and to have an important role in this movement. If their ambition is to become a better servant of the spiritual master, is that to be condemned?

    Secondly, this explanation of Srila Prabhupada’s letter makes him appear to be an ordinary manipulative institutional head. The fact of the matter is that when Srila Prabhupada wrote letters to his disciples, he had in mind to broadcast whatever principles were stated therein to the whole society. His mention of the “law of disciplic succession” did not apply only to one “ambitious” disciple. It was meant for all of his disciples. A similar statement was made on May 28, 1977 when Srila Prabhupada reiterated that, “in my presence, one should not become guru.” Obviously, this was in relation to acting as an initiator.

    I do not know of any example given by Srila Prabhupada of a siksa guru who was not an advanced devotee.

  40. Regarding the importance of the spiritual master being blessed by his or her own guru, I came across this verse [S.B. 1.1.8]:

    vettha tvam saumya tat sarvam
    tattvatas tad-anugrahat
    bruyah snigdhasya sisyasya
    guravo guhyam apy uta

    “And because you are submissive, your spiritual masters have endowed you with all the favors bestowed upon a gentle disciple. Therefore you can tell us all that you have scientifically learned from them.”

    In the Purport Srila Prabhupada refers to the stanza in Guruvasthakam that says, yasya prasadad bhagavat prasada… (“Only by [the guru's] satisfaction can one please the Personality of Godhead, and when [the guru] is dissatisfied there is only havoc on the path of spiritual realization.”)

    The sages at Naimasaranya were expressing their confidence that Suta Goswami was qualified to serve as instructing guru, because he had the qualities of a submissive, gentle disciple, and had thus pleased his spiritual masters (including Vyasadeva and other sages). Thus he was able to fully realize and was empowered by them to explain all the scientific and confidential knowledge that he had learned from them (i.e., the knowledge revealed in the scriptures described in the two previous verses).

    So, it is not a matter of just becoming a learned professor. One must develop all the qualities of a submissive disciple, and thus pleasing the gurus and receiving their blessings, one will have the power to realize and explain the science in turn to a qualified disciple. [Of course the blessings do not have to be given before the guru's disappearance, or in written form.]

    The blessings of the gurus discussed here, and the “no objection” of the GBC are of two different orders.

    The GBC is charged with the responsibility for managing ISKCON, its preaching efforts and its properties. It has a certain authority to disassociate from ISKCON a teacher or spokesman (whether guru, sannyasi, or officer of any kind) who is clearly not properly representing the teachings of Srila Prabhupada or who would cause harm to the reputation or effectiveness of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching institution.

    Whether it should reserve the authority to exercise that responsibility *before* a particular ISKCON member begins accepting disciples is addressed in the SAC’s paper.

    The argument goes, by continuing to exercise that authority before the fact, people may confuse the GBC’s role with that of receiving Guru-Krishna’s blessings to begin initiating.

  41. By not objecting to a particular devotee accepting disciples, the GBC is not in any way certifying that the disciple is bona fide and has received his guru’s blessings to make disciples. It is only saying it sees no reason why it would harm ISKCON for that person to accept disciples. The person may not be a bona fide guru, but the GBC has no reason to determine that person is not a bona fide guru.

    The SAC paper raises an interesting point. We do seem to have a problem of over-institutionalizing the personal guru-disciple relationships. We perhaps put more emphasis on the fact of being initiated by a certain person than on the all-important quality of actually getting realization and embodying the qualities of a truly submissive, successful disciple. We may subtly and unintentionally be pressuring people (institutional pressure or “peer pressure”) to get initiated by those with whom they have not formed a personal relationship of faith and mutual trust.

    The SAC indicates that the practice of GBC before-the-fact “no objection” may contribute to the conflation of the institutional management by the GBC and the internal, personal transmission of blessings through the parampara, from bona fide initiating and instructing gurus to bona fide, submissive and gentle disciples who are capable of realizing and explaining (and practicing) the subject matter.

    This may be like the other side of the “parallel lines of authority” coin. We are trying to properly clarify and educate our members on the proper relations and spheres of authority of (1) the administration of the preaching organization (institutional or ecclesiastical authority, which contains a measure of authority to make important society-wide decisions of spiritual import and in some cases to manage human resources and financial resources for the cooperative, organized preaching effort desired by the Founder-Acarya, and (2) the spontaneous, personal and direct transmission of Krishna consciousness to the submissive disciple by initiating and instructing gurus.

    Such education, as well as very thorough education on this essential institution of the guru-disciple relationship, which is an important part of the science of bhakti yoga, is crucial.

  42. Do we over-emphasize initiation in ISKCON?

    While the initiating guru often remains an important instructing guru for the disciple, there is no restriction to the number of instructing gurus one may accept, and ISKCON encourages everyone to accept Srila Prabhupada as primary instructing guru (as Founder-Acarya and as author of our principle translations and commentaries on the scriptures).

    Instruction, whether by the initiating guru or by other instructing gurus, is the more important thing, because initiation is just the beginning. At initiation the seed of the bhakti lata is planted and then by hearing and chanting it is watered and sprouts. Then the hearing and chanting continues and it is carefully tended and weeds of various anarthas are uprooted until it pierces the material universe and produces fruits of prema at Krishna’s lotus feet. Srila Prabhupada sometimes emphasized this at various initiation lectures. Initiation is just a beginning. Of course, usually the initiating guru also continues as an instructing guru, but not always.

    The sages at Naimasaranya were not getting initiated by Suta but were receiving the essential Bhagavatam instructions from him. So many of the guru-disciple relationships we read about in the Bhagavatam are based on instructions, without any formal ceremony of initiation.

    Another point: As a society we need to respect the relationships our members have with their various gurus, and therefore it does seem important that those who are serving as gurus have some minimally respectable qualities.

    Of course, if the disciples are educated and careful about selecting gurus, the GBC may not have to play a role in screening gurus beforehand. The educated disciples might prove trustworthy not to get initiated by debauchees and renegades (I hope). And if all else fails the GBC can still put the kibosh on an unacceptable guru after the fact.

    The question arises,”Why doesn’t the GBC just examine and pronounce those who are actually clearly fit to be gurus as “bona fide”?

    For one thing, as a practical matter of administration, it may be impossible for the GBC to do so. They might have to live in proximity to a candidate and observe him or her for some time to be sure.

    For another, the SAC suggests that it is the disciple’s responsibility, which cannot be delegated, to test the guru and develop a faithful relationship. The GBC does not expect members to rely on its choice. Members must be responsible.

  43. Akruranatha prabhu wrote:

    “By not objecting to a particular devotee accepting disciples, the GBC is not in any way certifying that the disciple is bona fide and has received his guru’s blessings to make disciples. It is only saying it sees no reason why it would harm ISKCON for that person to accept disciples. The person may not be a bona fide guru, but the GBC has no reason to determine that person is not a bona fide guru”

    Yes that is true. However once a devotee successfully goes through the no objection procedure, they then become an ‘ISKCON authorized guru’. For the vast majority of new devotees and prospective disciples coming to ISKCON, they assume that a guru authorized by ISKCON’s highest authority, the GBC, must be qualified. Also a key part of a devotees training is to understand the principle of following authority. As most devotees who take diksa in ISKCON are relatively young in Krishna consciousness and given the principle of following authority and the fact that the highest authority in ISKCON has authorized their guru, the reality is that most of these prospective disciples do not exam their guru prior to taking initiation. So the no objection procedure definitely mitigates against the prospective disciple studying, examining and scrutinizing their chosen guru prior to initiation as recommended in the Nectar of Instruction.

    Ys Praghosa dasa

  44. We have seen many gurus fall from their service and thus many are weary about the diksa guru, especially about expanding their numbers. There is also hope that there is a way we can better make sure few future diksa gurus fall down. This can’t be prevented, neither is there reason to believe that GBC authorizing as opposed to a disciple choosing is going to better prevent this. Just as the GBC cannot guarantee that your spouse won’t leave Krsna consciousness, they cannot guarantee a guru will not fall down. But when they authorize persons to initiate within Iskcon, they become implicated. However, when the choice is left to the disciple (who certainly can take guidance from leaders) the disciple assumes full responsibility for his or her choice – and the GBC assumes no liability.

    There are many disciples of Prabhupada qualified to give diksa who will not accept this position under the current system of being approved (or not being objected to). We have 65 diksa gurus in Iskcon but there are many more devotees qualified to do the job who are currently acting as siksa gurus for the many disciples who have little contact with their diksa gurus as well as for uninitiated devotees. Although they are gurus, in the current system they are not recognized as such capable of being diksa gurus without going through an approval process. We need more gurus. They are already out there. The no vetting process is getting in the way of many taking up this service.

    Prospective disciples will understand they have more than 65 options if the no vetting process is not in place and this will naturally increase the number of diksa gurus in a natural way. At the very least, temple leaders should acknowledge Prabhupada disciples in their temples who are already acting as (or qualified to act) gurus and give them the green light.

    Mahatma das

  45. rasarajdas says :

    Hare Krishna

    PAMHO AGTSP

    Enlightening Discussions indeed for generations to come.

    Practically as I have seen, this is how things have been working atleast in some circles.

    Prospective discipe (PD) listens to various lectures by various Gurus (or otherwise). He/she may also ready their diaries, or blogs, or books, or hear of their “exploits” from their preaching missions around the world. Thus association by “vani” takes place probably for greater than 1 year. This is unknown to the Guru.

    The PD then approaches the Guru who maybe has not met him/her previously and asks for initiation. Prior to that the disciple may or may not have met other disciples of that Guru, and does not know how to develop a personal relationship. This may have been possible in case the PD is part of a Bhakti Vriksha / Namahatta group etc. or is under the “tutelage” of an ISKCON missionary.

    In any case, the PD approaches the Guru being inspired by vani.

    The Guru then approaches the leader of the PDs BV/NH group, or the associated TP. This is the way a Guru may find out about the sincerity of the disciple and the services rendered. In some instances, the Guru may even assign some tasks (chant 16 rounds for 3 years, and follow the Reg Principles, and … ). He may assign a “counseler” or “mentor” if such a system exists.

    After this dating period, the initiations is then finalized. Till that time I believe both the Guru and dicsiple have the option of going their own way.

    I believe a process can be in place to facilitate the internal acceptnace of the Guru by the PD and vice versa. I also believe the Vani plays an important part.

    Thank you
    Ys
    Rasaraj das

  46. pustakrishna says :

    I have not written on Dandavats for some time, but I read and was inspired to write by something Akruranath Prabhu said. “Yasya prasada bhagavat prasado…”This brings a situation to mind. We want to please Sri Gurudeva, and sometimes we extend this to mean any one who may be giving us instruction…ie siksa guru. Very interesting.

    Now, in the days when I was with Srila Prabhupad, sometimes there would be a conflict in a situation. My first great vaishnava influence was by Gargamuni (Swami) in 1970. I really do, still to this day, revere the help he gave me in bringing me to Krishna and Srila Prabhupad. He was very good in 1970 and early 1971. Not always so good or supportive to me later on. When Gargamuni gave me some order later on that Srila Prabhupad was not in agreement with (face to face Srila Prabhupad), and Srila Prabhupad was not pleased, I could see…I said “but Gargamuni told me to do this (which was the case at the time).” Srila Prabhupad looked at me and said, “he is not your spiritual master, I am your spiritual master.” No ifs, ands or buts…that is the way it was.

    So, while we may want to equate another vaishnava with Sri Gurudeva, that may not be what is wanted by Sri Gurudeva himself, in this case, Srila Prabhupad. We thus have the theoretical issue of pleasing vaishnavas = pleasing Sri Gurudeva…but not always, and certainly not in front of Sri Jagat Gurudeva. Guru means “heavy”, and we have to appreciate that we are walking on rice paper, as it were.

    I place this out there to contemplate. It is not absolute, but rather experiences with Srila Prabhupad that come to mind. It is service in separation for me. We see so much envy of Gurudeva in our lives, and we need his shelter…Pusta Krishna das

  47. Locanananda dasa says :

    I very much appreciate the comments that have been posted here by senior, experience devotees. I think we are all interested in seeing the expansion of the Krishna consciousness movement through the agency of the institution Srila Prabhupada founded. The crux of the issue concerning initiations is how the giving of diksa should be managed within the context of a worldwide movement without causing a disruption to the smooth running of the temples and our overall preaching programs.

    I am very much attracted to the description given in the Caitanya caritamrita of Raghunath dasa’s initiation by Yadunandana Acarya, a personal associate of Lord Caitanya and disciple of Vasudeva Datta. There it is said that Yadunandana Acarya was the “official initiator spiritual master” of Raghunath dasa. This fits very well within the ISKCON framework where it is the founder acarya who is the agent of divine grace and by whose mercy we will be relocated back to the abode of Krishna.

    The essence of our movement is its outreach preaching programs — Harinam Sankirtana, transcendental book distribution, Hare Krishna Festivals, prasadam distribution, Rathayatra and so on. And to remain spiritually fit and empowered to preach, devotees have their sadhana program of regular hearing and chanting before the Deities in the association of the vaisnavas.

    The more emphasis is placed on the choosing of one’s guru, the more the gurus will feel encouraged to canvas for new recruits. They will think this is what is being asked of them. Subsequently, they will spend their time in places where they have disciples or where there is the possibility of making more disciples. I believe the real focus should be on training up new members who join our movement in devotional arts and vaisnava skills. These new devotees should be filling our temples, but instead, we have the same temple devotee population that was present ten years ago.

    Along with the principle of “I will choose my own guru to initiate me,” we have many new initiates who have never experienced temple life. They reside independently, follow the rules and regulations, and support themselves financially. In many cases, they have practically no Sankirtana experience and will never feel the urgency to become good preachers of our philosophy. To solve this imbalance of values, I believe ISKCON needs to facilitate more preaching by gurus while placing less emphasis on how to receive diksa from the guru of your own choosing.

  48. Locanananda dasa says :

    Let’s remember that Krishna was preaching to Arjuna, not giving him diksa. Arjuna became His regular disciple. So why do we classify those who give diksa in our movement as “authorized ISKCON gurus?” What about those who simply preach Krishna consciousness, who are conversant with the science of Krishna and who inspire others to place their faith in Krishna? Because the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu to the generations of His followers was to deliver the message of the Bhagavad-gita to the world, those who follow strictly and who preach are also authorized to act as guru. In no way are they unauthorized.

    Who should give diksa in our movement? It must be those who are most acarya-like. We need many more preachers than we need initiators. We also need devotees who can manage the preaching effort.
    Young devotees as well as older devotees need to see that in the future there is the promise of increased service. Each leader has a zone, and within his zone, the GBC man is responsible for the advancement in spiritual consciousness of the entire population, not just of those he has initiated. There can be no small-mindedness when it comes to delivering the fallen conditioned souls. Vasudeva Datta set the standard for such universal compassion.

    Srila Prabhupada is our jagad guru. Regular gurus must be the transparent via medium to Srila Prabhupada. It is explained in the Nectar of Devotion that the guru’s role is to train others to follow in the footsteps of the great acarya. Therefore, the duty of a leader in ISKCON is to see that everyone is nicely engaged in Krishna’s service, that devotees are working together cooperatively to push forward the movement and that they are following the program of sadhana chalked out by our founder acarya. The leader must communicate Srila Prabhupada’s vision to Srila Prabhupada’s followers. He must also observe first hand that by proper training, devotees are learning the skills necessary to propagate Krishna consciousness successfully and that the content of their preaching is parampara, i.e., in line with the understanding imparted by Srila Prabhupada.

    So let the new devotee become fixed up in the philosophy that he is not this body (B.g., Chapter Two), fixed up in street chanting, book distribution, assisting in the kitchen and in cleaning the temple, and when he is ready to take the next step, he will be recommended by his temple president to receive diksa from an authorized initiator within ISKCON.

  49. pustakrishna says :

    I know Locanananda Prabhu from days we shared on Sankirtan in Paris from 1973-6. His last note indicated that only those living in the temple may receive initiation, and only if they are engaged in the activities he outlined above. Really, we must appreciate that not all bhaktas will become street chanters, book distributors, living in the temple. Yet, those who will take up the chanting of the Holy Names may come from many quarters. Even in the time of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, householders and even plantain plate vendors were part of Mahaprabhu’s close circle. The mercy of the Holy Name must not be limited to those living within the temples, and those within the temples are not “certified pure”, as history and common sense has shown.

    Any who have inclination for serving the Holy Name, including simply by chanting the Holy Name, must be encouraged to proceed with the help of the bhaktas. If we close the door on others, we might someday find that the door has been closed on us. Mercy begets mercy. We are in the infirmary of the prisonhouse and must realize how delicate our situation is. Take nothing for granted. Something to contemplate.

    Pusta Krishna das

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