Srila Prabhupada and the Gaudiya Matha
By Drutakarma Dasa
submitted by the Editor
(Editor’s note: This paper was written over 10 years ago).
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Why, some question, is ISKCON so reluctant to accept guidance from gurus from the Gaudiya Matha? Why, they wonder, does ISKCON wish to limit its association with those who have taken initiation from such gurus? To fully appreciate the reasons for this, we have to look at the history of Srila Prabhupada’s involvement with the Gaudiya Matha. After all, Srila Prabhupada was the founder-acarya of ISKCON, and members of ISKCON naturally look to him for guidance in all aspects of spiritual life, including how to relate to other followers of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
This essay will not be simply a catalog of every bad thing Prabhupada ever said about the Gaudiya Matha and various of his Godbrothers. I have endeavored to give a balanced picture of Prabhupada’s statements, and have included the positive along with the negative. I won’t ignore statements Prabhupada made during his last days regarding the possibility of reconciliation and cooperation with the various Gaudiya Mathas. Neither will I ignore the entire history of Prabhupada’s dealings with the Gaudiya Matha. In short, this essay will attempt the difficult task of analyzing all of Srila Prabhupada’s various kinds of statements about the Gaudiya Matha with a view towards assessing their combined meaning for ISKCON today.
Srila Prabhupada first encountered the Gaudiya Matha in Calcutta in the year 1922, when he was invited by a friend, Narendranatha Mullik, to meet Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati Thakura. At that time Prabhupada was a follower of Gandhi. He was reluctant to meet Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but his friend insisted. The meeting was a crucial turning point in Prabhupada’s life. He was won over by Bhaktisiddhanta’s purity and intelligence. At this first meeting he also received an instruction from Bhaktisiddhanta–to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya in the English language. Prabhupada was convinced he had met a very saintly person, and he concluded that the mission of Lord Chaitanya was in capable hands.
Bhaktisiddhanta had started the Gaudiya Matha in 1918 with the cooperation of Kunjavihari Babu, for short Kunja Babu, later known as Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja, or, for short, Tirtha Maharaja. He eventually became head of the Chaitanya Gaudiya Matha in Mayapura. This Kunjavihari Babu was an astute business man. Srila Prabhupada said that Kunjavihari Babu was materially motivated, and that he wished to have Bhaktisiddhanta as a spiritual front man for an organization that he himself would control behind the scenes. Concerning Kunjavihari Prabhu and his desire to earn money, Srila Prabhupada said: “And he was always after Guru Maharaja only for this purpose. Guru Maharaja took that ‘Oh, this man is helping me.’ But he had no such plan, to help Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He had the plan, ‘Keep Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in front, earn money, and put it in my pocket.’” (Room conversation, Bombay, Sept. 21, 1973). In a lecture given in Los Angeles on Bhaktisiddhanta’s appearance day (Feb. 7, 1969), Srila Prabhupada said about Bhaktisiddhanta’s relationship with Kunjavihari (later Tirtha Maharaja): “So in 1918 he started this movement with the help of some disciples. Krsna sent him. So one of the disciples, he is now Tirtha Maharaja. Perhaps he is… He belonged to Rama Krishna Mission Society. So he is very ambitious. So he took the opportunity of starting this movement, finding out the saintly person. So apart from that point of view, with his help this Gaudiya Mission was started, and gradually it developed.” So although Prabhupada could see some material ambition in Tirtha Maharaja, he also gave him credit for helping start the Gaudiya Matha.
In 1923, Srila Prabhupada moved his family to Allahabad, where he opened a pharmacy. In 1928, Bhaktipradipa Tirtha Maharaja (different from Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja) came to Allahabad to establish a Gaudiya Matha temple, and visited the pharmacy. Srila Prabhupada was happy to assist. He gave money, and introduced Bhaktipradipa Tirtha Maharaja to his friends. He also had the Gaudiya Matha devotees give a program in his home. After some time, Bhaktipradipa Tirtha Maharaja left Allahabad, but a small group of Gaudiya Matha devotees remained to run a preaching center. One of them, Atulananda Brahmacari, would often visit Srila Prabhupada. At the invitation of Atulananda, Prabhupada visited the Gaudiya Matha ashrama in Allahabad. Later, the center was relocated close to Prabhupada’s home, and he was able to regularly attend the programs, where he would sometimes lead the kirtans, playing mrdanga.
Prabhupada describes this time like this: “So in this way, in 1928, there was a Kumbhamela. At that time, these Gaudiya Matha people came to Allahabad to establish a center there, and somebody else said, somebody informed them that ‘You go to that Prayaga Pharmacy.’ My drug shop was named as Prayaga Pharmacy. My name was also there. ‘You go and see Abhaya Babu. He is religiously… He will help you.’ These Gaudiya Matha people, they came to see me. So ‘Sir, we have come to you. We have heard your good name. So we want to start a temple here. Please try to help us.’ And because I was thinking of these Gaudiya Matha people that ‘I met a very nice, saintly person,’ and as soon as I saw them, I was very much engladdened: ‘Oh, here are these persons. They have come again.’ So in this way, gradually, I became attached to these Gaudiya Matha activities.” (Bhaktisiddhanta disappearance day lecture, Los Angeles, December 13, 1973).
Through Atulananda, Prabhupada learned of the ongoing activities of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who was spreading the Gaudiya Matha all over India. In 1930, using funds donated by a wealthy member, he built a large marble temple in the Baghbazar district of Calcutta, and this became the headquarters of the Gaudiya Matha. During the 1930s, Bhaktisiddhanta sent some of his leading sannyasi disciples to preach in England and Germany, but they came back with few results. Srila Prabhupada says, “And he sent Bon Maharaja also in 1933 to London for preaching, but unfortunately, some way or other, he could not do anything, so Guru Maharaja called him back in 1934. He was not satisfied and sent another Godbrother, gosvami.” (Bhaktisiddhanta Appearance Day lecture, Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 1969)
In October of 1932, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was leading a circumambulation of the the Vrindavan area. Prabhupada, because of his work, could not join the pilgrimage, but he did manage to get away to visit for a few days. At this time he had “very good admiration for these Gaudiya Math people,” and he wanted to see what they were doing in Vrindavana (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 1, p. 64). Srila Prabhupada joined the party at Kosi. He heard Bhaktisiddhanta speak, listening so attentively that Bhaktisiddhanta took special notice of him.
A month later, he took initiation from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in Allahabad. Bhaktisiddanta had come in order to lay the cornerstone for a temple that the Gaudiya Matha would build there. Before the initiation, Atulananda, the matha president, presented Prabhupada to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who said, “Yes, he likes to hear. He does not go away. I have marked him. I will accept him as my disciple.” (Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 1, p. 71). At the ceremony, Bhaktisiddhanta gave him both first and second initiation. After initiation, Prabhupada increased his involvement with the Gaudiya Matha branch in Allahabad.
From time to time, Prabhupada would visit the Gaudiya Matha in Calcutta, especially to see and hear his Guru Maharaja. Prabhupada was not one of the big leaders of the Gaudiya Matha, but Bhaktisiddhanta was affectionate towards him and sometimes confided in him. For example, he told Prabhupada that some caste brahmanas had once plotted to kill him. Srila Prabhupada noticed that Bhaktisiddhanta was uncompromising in his preaching. Once one of Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciples had publically criticized a prominent Mayavadi as a “foolish priest,” and some other disciples complained about this to Bhaktisiddhanta, thinking he would disapprove. But Bhaktisiddhanta had said, “He had done well.” Bhaktisiddhanta himself was sometimes quite outspoken in his criticism of opponents, causing some of his own disciples to speculate that this “chopping technique” would not work. Prabhupada noted, however, that “those who criticized him fell down.” (Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 1, pp. 75-76).
At a certain point, Abhay’s business in Prayag failed. Atulananda tried to convince him to join the Matha, but Prabhupada felt he could not give up his family responsibilities.
In 1933, Prabhupada went to Bombay to start a pharmaceutical business.There he met Gaudiya Matha members such as Bhaktiraksaka Sridhara Maharaja (Sridhara Maharaja for short) and Bhaktisaranga Goswami. He helped them and other Gaudiya Matha members establish a branch there. Prabhupada recalled: “We made a party for collecting alms—Sridhara Maharaja, Goswami Maharaja, and myself. I took them to some of my chemist and doctor friends, and in two days we collected five hundred rupees. Sridhara Maharaja would speak, I would introduce, and Goswami Maharaja would canvass.” (Room conversation Mayapura, March 17, 1973). Bhaktisaranga Goswami tried to induce Prabhupada to come live in the Matha, but Prabhupada remained apart, conducting his business activities. But he regularly visited the small center on Proctor Road, and took the responsibility for looking for a bigger building. In 1935 he presented his famous Vyasa-puja homage to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati at the Bombay Gaudiya Matha. When Bhaktisiddhanta saw the essay, he was pleased with it, and said that whatever Prabhupada wrote should be published. Afterwards, Prabhupada arranged the rental of a new place for the Gaudiya Matha at Gwalia Tank Road in Bombay. In July of 1935, Bhaktisiddhanta came to the new center to install the Deity of Krishna. Bhaktisaranga Maharaja proposed that Prabhupada should join the center and become its president. But Bhaktisiddhanta replied, “It is better that he is living outside your company. He will do. When the time comes, he will do everything himself, You don’t have to recommend him.” Prabhupada recalled that Bhaktisiddhanta trusted him so much that he once gave him a large sum of money, and told him to keep it, and distribute it as necessary to the Matha members. (Prabhupada lilamrta vol. 1, pp. 88-89; based on room conversation, Mayapur, March 17, 1973).
With Bhaktisiddhanta at Radhakunda
In November of 1935, Prabhupada visited Bhaktisiddhanta at Radhakunda in Vrindavana. At this time, he had some confidential discussion with his spiritual master. Bhaktisiddhanta was concerned about how his disciples were fighting over who would occupy which rooms in the big new temple in Baghbazar, Calcutta. Bhaktisiddhanta told Prabhupada: “Agun jvable—there will be fire.” The fire he was speaking about was the fire of party conflict, a fire that could spoil the whole Gaudiya Matha. Bhaktisiddhanta said, “When we were living in a rented house, if we could collect two hundred or three hundred rupees we were living very nicely at Ultadanga. We were happier then. But since we have been given this marble palace in Baghbazar, there is friction between our men. Who will occupy this room? Who will occupy that room? Who will be the proprietor of this room? Everyone is planning in different ways. It would be better to take the marble from the walls and secure money. If I could do this and print books, that would be better.” Bhaktisiddhanta then said to Prabhupada. “I had a desire to print some books. If you ever get money, print books.” (Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 1, p. 91).
During this time the manager of the Gaudiya Matha was Kunjavihari Babu. His control was resented by some of his Godbrothers. Prabhupada recalled later: “He was taking money like anything. But he was a good manager. Other God-brothers complained, sannyasis. Guru Maharaja used to say that ‘Why you are complaining? You cannot reform him, your God-brother? And if I would have to keep expert manager like him, I would have to pay something. Suppose he is taking something, why do you grudge?’ (Prabhupada laughing) He would say like that. So nobody could say anything.” (Room conversation, Bombay, Sept. 21, 1973)
In December 1936, Prabhupada wrote to Bhaktisiddhanta asking how he could serve him. Bhaktisiddhanta repeated the same instruction he had given earlier, namely that he should preach the message of Lord Caitanya in the English language.
On January 1, 1937, Bhaktisiddhanta passed away in Puri. Before departing, he told his disciples, “I advise all to preach the teachings of Rupa-Raghunatha with all energy and resources. Our ultimate goal shall be to become the dust of the lotus feet of Sri Sri Rupa and Raghunatha Goswamis. You should all work conjointly under the guidance of your spiritual master with a view to serve the Absolute Knowledge, the Personality of Godhead. You should live somehow or other without any quarrel in this mortal world only for the service of Godhead. Do not, please, give up the service of Godhead, in spite of all dangers, all criticisms, and all discomforts. Do not be disappointed, for must people in the world do not serve the Personality of Godhead; do not give up your own service . . .” He also ordered that activities of the Gaudiya Matha were to be guided by a twelve-man governing body commission.
Almost immediately after Bhaktisiddhanta’s departure, his leading disciples abandoned his order to serve together under a governing body commission. Prabhupada later recalled: “After the demise, everything burst out. ‘Kunja Babu must be driven out.’ That was the whole plan of Gaudiya Matha breakdown. The grudge was against Kunja Babu . . . So that was boiling in everyone’s heart. So as soon as Guru Maharaja passed away, so that burst out. And the whole plan was how to get out this Kunja Babu. . . . This was the cause of breakdown. This was suppressed by Guru Maharaja under his influence, but the rebellious was there during his lifetime. And it burst into… Therefore he advised that ‘You make a governing body and Kunja Babu should be allowed to remain manager.’ This was directly spoken. He never asked anybody to become acarya. He asked that ‘You form a governing body of twelve men and go on preaching, and Kunja Babu may be allowed to remain manager during his lifetime.’” (Room conversation, September 21, 1973)
Nevetheless, Bhaktisiddhanta’s leading disciples decided that here should be a single acarya to conduct all initiations and decide all disputes. Prabhupada explained: “None, none of them were advised by Guru Maharaja to become acarya. His idea was ‘Let them manage; then whoever will be actual qualified for becoming acarya, they will elect. Why I should enforce upon them?’ That was his plan. ‘Let them manage by strong governing body, as it is going on. Then acarya will come by his qualifications.’ But they wanted that… Because at heart, they were, ‘After demise of Guru, I shall become acarya. I shall become acarya.’” (Room conversation, September 21, 1973)
At one point during his illness, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had written out a brief letter appointing three trustees, including Bhaktivilasa Tirtha. Prabhupada said, “This Tirtha Maharaja was a trustee, and another Godbrother and this man [Vasudeva]. In the beginning, they were made trustees. In the beginning, Prabhupada was to undergo surgical operation. So he was a little nervous, that ‘I may die.’ So he made a scrap paper, that ‘In case I die, these three disciples will be trustees of the Gaudiya Matha Institute.’ That’s all. So this Kunja Babu kept this. There are many long histories. So one of the so-called trustees was this Vasudeva. So he died, his end was like this.” (Room conversation, Toronto, June 18, 1976). Later, Bhaktisiddhanta had given his final direction, verbally, about forming a governing body and allowing Kunjavihari (later Tirtha Maharaja) to remain as manager.
In the struggle for the leadership of the Gaudiya Matha, the trustee Vasudeva went over to the side of a group of Gaudiya Matha sannyasis led by Sridhara Maharaja. They wanted to make an acarya, supporting him against the party led by Kunjavihari Babu, who later became Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja. This Tirtha Maharaja suggested to the party led by Sridhara Maharaja that instead of combining together to oppose him they should combine together to preach, and then he would join them. Prabhupada explained it like this: “Tirtha Maharaja’s only defense was ‘All right, you want to combine to make a guru. All right, why don’t you combine yourself for preaching?’ . . . Yes. ‘You have joined together to defeat me. Why don’t you preach jointly? What do you want? That I shall also join and we shall jointly preach. Do this. You are divided amongst yourselves, and you have joined together to defeat me.’ Sridhara Maharaja is the leader. . . Madhava Maharaja also.” (Room conversation, Bombay, April 22, 1977)
At first, one court ruled in favor of Vasudeva. But then another court gave two thirds of the Gaudiya Matha’s assets to Kunjavihari Babu, who had his headquarters at Caitanya Matha in Mayapur, and one third to Vasudeva, who had his headquarters at Baghbazar in Calcutta. (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 1). But the acarya selected by the Baghbazar party came to a bad end. Prabhupada said about him: “So he died, his end was like this. . . . His wife was a regular prostitute, and she killed her child, and on this shock, he took poison and died. . . . Naturally, he became shocked, that ‘This is my family life–the wife is prostitute and son is killed. What is the value of my life?’ This was his spiritual realization. Just see. (laughs) And he was made the chief, and one of the supporter was Sridhara Maharaja. . . . He was made chief. Guru Maharaja did not make him chief. But after his passing away, some of our Godbrothers [led by Sridhara Maharaja] voted him chief. . . . He was homosex and sex, everything.” (Room conv. Toronto June 18, 1976) It appears that the acarya’s wife was having an affair, and when her son found out about it and threatened to tell his father, the boy was killed. Prabhupada said his mother poisoned him. (Room conv. Toronto, June 18, 1976). The father then committed suicide.
Speaking of the attempts of Sridhara Maharaja, Kunjavihari Babu, and others to appoint an acarya, Prabhupada later said, “Why this Gaudiya Matha failed? Because they tried to become more than guru. He, before passing away, he gave all direction and never said that ‘This man should be the next acarya.’ But these people, just after his passing away they began to fight, who shall be acarya. That is the failure. They never thought, ‘Why Guru Maharaja gave us instruction so many things, why he did not say that this man should be acarya?’ They wanted to create artificially somebody acarya and everything failed. They did not consider even with common sense that if Guru Maharaja wanted to appoint somebody as acarya, why did he not say? He said so many things, and this point he missed? The real point? And they insist upon it. They declared some unfit person to become acarya. Then another man came, then another, acarya, another acarya. So better remain a foolish person perpetually to be directed by Guru Maharaja. That is perfection. And as soon as he learns the Guru Maharaja is dead, ‘Now I am so advanced that I can kill my guru and I become guru.’ Then he’s finished.” (Room conversation, Bombay August 16, 1976)
Kunjavihari Babu continued to press for control of all of the Gaudiya Matha properties throughout India. The battle went on for decades in the courts. According to Prabhupada, Kunjavihari Babu had known what would happen long before and had prepared for it: “And Kunja Babu, he is very intelligent man. So from the very beginning he knew that ‘There will be fight after the demise of Guru Maharaja. So fight will be in the High Court. So at the expense of Guru Maharaja, let my brother and sons become attorneys and barrister so I will have not to pay all these things.’ It was a planned thing. And that is being done. He was a clerk, it was not in his power to make his brother and sons attorneys and barristers. They were all made at the cost of Gaudiya Matha to fight . . . in favor of Tirtha Maharaja [as Kunjavihari was later known after taking sannyasa). These were the planned things.” (Room conversation, Bombay, September 21, 1973)
Kunjavihari Babu sold the Gaudiya Matha’s printing presses. Bhaktisiddhanta had once said that he would sell the marble in the big Gaudiya Matha temple in Calcutta in order to print books. Printing books was his main ambition. Prabhupada recalled Bhaktisiddhanta’s words, “If I can, I shall sell these marbles of this temple and convert them into books.” Prabhupada continued: “That was his ambition. He started a very nice press and this Tirtha Maharaja [Kunjavihari] sold it. . . He’s not representing Guru . . . . ‘Better let’s have money for fight in the court.’” (Room conversation, London, July 26, 1976).
But Prabhupada did not join in these battles for high position and control of money and property. Instead, he was planning how he would eventually fulfill his Guru Maharaja’s order for him to preach. Prabhupada later recalled: “I was rotting in my household life. That’s all. But I was planning how to make, how to make this [ISKCON]. That was my desire from the very beginning, since I heard it. But I was never with them, either this party or that party. And Guru Maharaja also recommended . . . ‘When there will be need, he will do himself. There is no need of living with you. It is better to live apart from you.’ When I was recommended by Goswami Maharaja to live in the Matha . . . he (Guru Maharaja) said, ‘Yes, he is very expert. He can do. So it is better to live apart from you. And he will do everything when there is need.’ He said. I could not understand.” (Room conversation, Bombay, September 21, 1973).
Although countersuits dragged on for years, Kunjavihari had won the main legal battle. Prabhupada said: “He thought, ‘By cheating all the God-brothers, I have got now Caitanya Matha. And people will come to see Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s birthplace, and I will get good income. And it will be distributed amongst my brothers and sons and myself. That’s all.’ That is his scheme . . . . It is another way of earning money.” (Room conversation, Bombay, September 21, 1973). Prabhupada also said, “That was the only endeavor, how legally he could occupy the bricks and stones of Gaudiya Math. That’s all. He had no other ambition. How to push on Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission, how to push on Guru Maharaja’s… He had no such. It was simply show. But real purpose was how to occupy, how to take the whole property. Business. . . . He advertised that he is the only favorite student of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. (laughs) But spiritually he was empty. Materially he was capable, how to manage things. But spiritually he was zero. That Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada] also knew and everyone knows. He had no spiritual understanding. Materially he helped Guru Maharaja how to organize. Therefore he liked him, that ‘This man is expert manager.’” (Conversation, Allahabad, January 13, 1977)
When Kunjavihari took control of most of the Gaudiya Matha assets, his sannyasi Godbrothers who opposed him, instead of setting up their own institutions on the basis of vigorous missionary activities in the style of Bhaktisiddhanta, simply set up temples where they could make a little money and live peacefully. Prabhupada said, “They also, when they saw that ‘This man is legally taking everything. Gaudiya sannyasis, we cannot go home. We must have some shelter.’ No spirit of pushing on.” (Conversation, Allahabad, Jan. 13, 1977) Prabhupada also said: “Just see our Gaudiya Matha. Everyone wanted to become guru, and a small temple and ‘guru.’ What kind of guru? No publication, no preaching, simply bring some foodstuff… My Guru Maharaja used to say, ‘Joint mess,’ a place for eating and sleeping. . . . there is a system. Some clerks, they make a small cooperative hotel. In India there are many.” (Room conversation, Bombay, April 22, 1977). Prabhupada was not objecting that any of his Godbrothers wished to become gurus. It was the kind of guru they wished to become that he objected to. A real guru should not be running a temple just to have a place to eat and sleep. There should be vigorous preaching and publication.
Back to Calcutta
In 1938, Prabhupada and his family moved back to Calcutta from Bombay, where his business activities were failing. By this time Sridhara, formerly the leader of one of the parties, had given up fighting and had set up his own mission in Mayapur. He would sometimes visit Prabhupada in Calcutta, and eventually rented some rooms above Prabhupada’s small chemical factory at 7 Banerjee Lane. This became known as the Devananda Sarasvati Matha, and sannyasis such as Puri Maharaja and Bhaktisaranga Goswami would visit there. Srila Prabhupada would assist them in their preaching. Sometimes when Sridhara Maharaja was ill, Prabhupada would take charge of the brahmacaris at engagements, leading the chanting and lecturing.
Prabhupada recalled these times, saying of Sridhara Maharaja: “So naturally we had very intimate talks and he was my good adviser. I took his advice, his instruction very seriously, because from the very beginning I know he’s a pure Vaisnava and devotee, and I wanted to associate with him, and try to help him also in so many ways. He also tried to help me, so our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Matha, I wanted to organize another organization, making Sridhara Maharaja head.” (Room conversation, Mayapura, March 17, 1973)
This is typical of Srila Prabhupada’s behavior with his Godbrothers. He could see their good points and bad points. And he treated them personally, with affection. As far as Sridhara Maharaja is concerned, we can see that Srila Prabhupada understood he bore a major responsibility for the breaking up of the Gaudiya Matha. But at the same time, he respected him as his Godbrother, and was prepared to work with him and even engage him in making another organization which could better fulfill the desires of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. Of course, by this time, Sridhara Maharaja had his own matha and was happy being the head of it.
Around this time, Prabhupada began to write, starting with a piece called “Introduction to Geetopanisad.” In recognition of Prabhupada’s learning, Bhaktisaranga Goswami wanted to give him the title Bhaktisiddhanta, but Sridhara Maharaja, thinking it improper to use that title, which belonged to their Guru, suggested Bhaktivedanta. Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja continued to associate. Although Sridhara Maharaja was somewhat retiring, Prabhupada would urge him to go out and preach more widely. Prabhupada sometimes asked him to come with him to confront Gandhi and Nehru and try to convince them to follow the teachings of the Gita more closely. Prabhupada also helped finance the publication of a book written by Sridhara Maharaja, a collection of Vaisnava verse called Prapanna-jivanamrta.
In 1944, in the midst of World War II, Prabhupada began Back to Godhead magazine in furtherance of Bhaktisiddhanta’s order for him to preach in English. The English language journal of the Gaudiya Matha, The Harmonist, had ceased publication before Bhaktisiddhanta had passed away, and the printing presses of the Gaudiya Matha had been sold by Kunjavihari. The first issue of BTG included an essay by Bhakisaranga Goswami in addition to Prabhupada’s writings. Prabhupada by this time had also started work on a translation of the Bhagavad-gita and was working on a translation of Chaitanya caritamrta. One night around this time, Bhaktisiddhanta appeared to Prabhupada in a dream, indicating that he should take sannyasa.
After the war, Prabhupada moved to Lucknow to start another pharmaceutical business, but had to close it in 1948. At that time, he had another dream from his spiritual master, who again asked him to take sannyasa. He started another business in Allahabad. Meanwhile he completed his Gita manuscript, but in 1948 it was stolen. In 1949, Prabhupada began writing articles in Bengali, for publication in the Gaudiya Patrika, which was run by his Godbrother B. P. Kesava Maharaja. In these articles he strongly criticized the materialistic mentality, reminding his Godbrothers of Bhaktisiddhanta’s style. But he stayed clear of involvement with any of the Gaudiya Mathas. By 1950, Prabhupada began gradually detaching himself from householder life. In 1952, he again began to publish BTG.
In October 1952, Prabhupada began preaching in Jhansi, founding the League of devotees in May 1953. During this time he initiated his first disciple, Prabhakar Misra. At first, it looked as if he was going to be given a building for the League of Devotees, but later it turned out that he would have to purchase the building. To raise funds, he returned to Calcutta to conduct business in 1954. During his stay in Calcutta he lived with some of his Godbrothers at the Gaudiya Sangha. At first he had no money, so he was supported by the temple. He gave daily lectures on the Bhagavatam. Eventually, he again became entangled in the affairs of his family. But it did not work, and he finally he left them for good. He then moved to an asrama run by some of his Godbrothers just outside Calcutta, at a place called Jhargam. There he lived with Damodara Maharaja and Paramahamsa Maharaja. Without money, Prabhupada stayed there for some time, mostly chanting Hare Krishna on his beads and giving some lectures at Bhagavad-gita. After awhile, he felt confident enough to return to Jhansi to resume his work with his League of Devotees. Before leaving he obtained a Deity of Lord Chaitanya to install in Jhansi. But he was not able to raise enough money to purchase the building he was using as a temple and center. Early in 1955, he went to Vrindavan to convince some of his Godbrothers to purchase the building. Bhaktisaranga Maharaja did not agree to do this. Kesava Maharaja, however, was interested in starting a center of his own, and was willing to consider Jhansi. Kesava Maharaja visited Jhansi with Prabhupada, but in the end decided the place was too remote. Damodara Maharaja also refused. Prabhupada tried to interest Madhava Maharaja, but the conditions desired by Madhava Maharaja were not to Prabhupada’s liking. In a letter to Mangalaniloy Brahmacari, a disciple of Madhava Maharaja, Prabhupada wrote on July 16, 1966: “Regarding the Jhansi incidence referred to by your Guru maharaj I may inform you that the donor of the house did not like to hand over the estate to any individual person. I therefore registered a society (The League of Devotees) and I invited your Guru maharaj to join it as the head man. But he, as he was with the then Kunjada [i.e., Kunjavihari Babu, later Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja] desired to have the property in the joint name of him and Kunjada. So I became silent and I left the whole scheme.”
In the Asramas of his Godbrothers
In the end, confronted with lack of support and the prospect of long litigation, Prabhupada left Jhansi and went to Mathura, where Kesava Maharaja had established his own center. Prabhupada gave him the Deity of Lord Chaitanya that he had hoped to install at Jhansi, and it was installed at Mathura. Prabhupada stayed for some time with Keshava Maharaja in Mathura, editing the Gaudiya Patrika paper and helping manage the matha.Shortly thereafter, in July 1955, Bhaktisaranga Goswami asked Prabhupada to come to his Gaudiya Sangh asrama in New Delhi, to edit his publication The Harmonist (also known by the Bengali title Sajjana-tosani). Kesava Maharaja agreed to the arrangement, as long as Prabhupada would continue to edit the Gaudiya Patrika through the mail. It appears, as Satsvarupa Maharaja states in Prabhupada-lilamrtra (vol. 1, p. 172), that Prabhupada now felt “he could carry out his desires to preach Krishna consciousness within the asramas of his Godbrothers.” The Gaudiya Sangha, like the other Gaudiya Matha institutions, was poor. And Srila Prabhupada, in addition to his editing work, found himself burdened with basic management chores. He also worked on a Hindi translation of Caitanya caritamrta. Srila Prabhupada was constantly trying to improve the quality and circulation of The Harmonist, but his ideas were not to the liking of Bhaktisaranga Goswami and his secretary Ramanananda Prabhu. They suggested that he take up a position elsewhere. So in October 1955, Prabhupada found himself alone again in New Delhi. He moved from place to place, continuing his solitary preaching and in February 1956 revived his Back to Godhead. In September 1956,. Prabhupada moved to the Vamsi Gopal temple in Vrindavana. By November 1956, he no longer had money left to continue publication of BTG. In 1957 and 1958, he preached on behalf of his League of devotees in Delhi, Bombay, and Kanpur. During this time, he began to seriously think of going to the West to preach. By the end of 1958, he was again spending most of his time in Vrindavana. In October 1958,. having received some contributions, he again began printing BTG in New Delhi.
In December of 1958, Prabhupada wrote his Virahastaka on Bhaktisiddanta’s disappearance day. He lamented the departure of his Guru Maharaja and how the preaching mission he had started was now languishing. “There was preaching everywhere, from the sea to the Himalayas. Now in your absence, everything is in darkness.” The entire poem was published by Kesava Maharaja in the Gaudiya Patrika. Satsvarupa Maharaja puts Prabhupada’s mood nicely: “The Gaudiya Math had been undone by its leaders, and everyone else had scattered like leaves in a storm. It was an unspeakable loss. And it was an old story—how the big sannyasis had disregarded their spiritual master’s instructions and had intrigued, disputed, litigated. Violent party factions, false leaders claiming to be world acarya—and which party had been right? No, both had been wrong, all wrong, because the Gaudiya Math had disintegrated. Now there were dozens of little mathas, and no preaching, no real preaching as before . . . . The scattered particles of the Gaudiya Math had settled quietly into self-satisfied, insular, almost impotent units. And it was the people in general who suffered.” (Prabhupada-lilamrta vol. 1, p. 222).
For a third time, Prabhupada dreamed his spiritual master was calling him to take sannyasa. Now he decided it was time. He approached Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja (formerly Kunjavihari). At this time, Tirtha Maharaja was head of the Chaitanya Math in Mayapura and was the legally the head of the Gaudiya Matha, although most of his prominent Godbrothers had left and set up their own mathas. In April 1959, Prabhupada wrote to Tirtha Maharaja, asking him to consider his request for sannyasa. Prabhupada also wanted him to sponsor his preaching in the West and the publication of his manuscripts. One might wonder why Prabhupada was writing to him, considering his opinion of him. But Prabhupada explained in a room conversation with Gopal Krishna Maharaja on Dec. 31, 1976 in Bombay that the actual consideration was that the Gaudiya Matha entity headed by Tirtha Maharaja was “Guru Maharaja’s institution,” the institution founded by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. So out of loyalty to Bhaktisiddhanta he first wanted to see if he could possibly fulfill Bhaktisiddhanta’s will through the institution that Bhaktisiddhanta himself had founded.
Tirtha Maharaja wrote back, advising that Prabhupada should first of all formally join the Caitanya Matha. After some time, the matter of his taking sannyasa would be considered. Tirtha Maharaja also said that if funds could be raised, then his proposals for publication and preaching abroad would also be considered. The offer was not substantial enough for Prabhupada to accept. He wrote again, asking for a more definite commitment to his proposal. On May 7, 1959, Tirtha Maharaja wrote back, repeating his request that Prabhupada first join the Caitanya Matha and agree to serve the Gaudiya Matha. Only afterwards would decisions be made about his proposals for publication and preaching abroad. Prabhupada could not accept this kind of offer. It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened if Tirtha Maharaja had embraced Prabhupada’s offer and given him his unconditional support. Prabhupada himself, speaking of his later accomplishments, said on December 31 1976: “Yes. These things I would have done from Caitanya Matha.”
He then approached Kesava Maharaja in Mathura about sannyasa. Kesava Maharaja strongly encouraged him to take sannyasa immediately. After his experiences negotiating with Tirtha Maharaja, Prabhupada was somewhat hesitant, but Kesava Maharaja’s insistence overcame his doubts. And on September 17, 1959, Prabhupada accepted sannyasa from Kesava Maharaja in Mathura. Narayana Maharaja, a disciple of Kesava Maharaja, assisted in the ceremony. Prabhupada said, “I took sannyasa, and then I decided to take up the responsibility of my Guru Maharaja. I thought that ‘My other Godbrothers are trying, so I am not capable to do it. They are better situated.’ But somehow or other, they could not do very much, appreciative activities, in this connection.” (Bhaktisiddhanta Appearance Day lecture, Atlanta, March 2, 1975) Soon thereafter Prabhupada began his monumental translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Prabhupada’s 1961 Vyasa-puja Offering
In February 1961 at the observance of Bhaktisiddhanta’s appearance day in Vrindavan, Prabhupada submitted an offering strongly critical of his Godbrothers. Satsvarupa Maharaja describes the background thus: “In honor of their spiritual master, some of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciples had gathered, offered flowers before his picture, and held congregational chanting in the temple. But Bhaktivedanta Swami thought that they should be doing much more than that: they should be planning and executing the worldwide preaching mission that Bhaktisiddhanta had desired. Instead, they were a gathering of independent individuals, each with his own small idea, each maintaining a small center or living at a center, but with no world programs, not even a program for India. Most of them had no plans or vision beyond their own bodily maintenance. Bhaktisiddhanta had asked for a governing body to conduct his movement, but there was no governing body, and practically there was no movement. Some who had fought bitterly were again on speaking terms and feared that any sudden organizational attempts now might simply stir up old animosities. At least they could gather together and make an offering to their spiritual master. Amongst his Godbrothers, Bhaktivedanta Swami was a junior sannyasi. Yet he knew he was trying to follow Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He saw himself helpless and alone against the vast forces of maya. His Godbrothers were not an army united against maya’s forces, but were more like apathetic monks, growing old, holding on to religious principles and rituals, devoid of life. How could they gather to worship their spiritual master without distressfully admitting their failure and, in the spirit of ‘better late than never,’ trying to rectify it?” (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 1, pp. 248-249)
Prabhupada had written:
Even now, my Godbrothers, you return here on the order of our master and together we engage in this puja.
But simply a festival of flowers and fruits does not constitute worship. The one who serves the message of the guru really worships him. . .
Oh, shame! My dear brothers, aren’t you embarrassed? In the manner of businessmen, you increase your disciples.
Our master said to preach! Let the neophytes remain inside the temples and simply ring the bells . . .
But just take a good look at the terrible situation that has arisen. Everyone has become a sense enjoyer and has given up preaching . . . .
From the seas, across the earth, penetrate the universal shell; come together and preach this Krsna consciousness.
Then our master’s service will be in proper order. Make your promise today. Give up all your politics and diplomacy. (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 1, p. 249)
In July of 1962, Prabhupada moved from the Vamsi Gopal temple to the Radha Damodara temple in Vrindavan. He continued working on his translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam. To raise funds for printing, he would sometimes go to Bombay, where he approached Sumati Morarji for free passage on one of her Scindia Steamship Company ships to the United States. When she finally gave permission, he boarded the ship Jaladuta in Calcutta, in August of 1965. The day before he left, he visited Bhaktisiddhanta’s samadhi in Mayapur.
During his early struggles to establish the Krishna consciousness movement in New York, Prabhupada would sometimes write to his Gaudiya Matha Godbrothers for help. On November 8, he wrote to Tirtha Maharaja, asking for assistance in opening a center. The text of the letter follows:
Pujaniya Srila Tirtha Maharaja,
Kindly accept respectful obeisances at your lotus feet. Since I have come to the United States of America I had several correspondence with Sripada Govinda Maharaja. While I was in Calcutta at that time as well as in our different exchange of letters there was some hint from Sripada Govinda Maharaja, I should work in cooperation with your holiness and in my last letter I have already expressed my readiness to cooperate with your holiness and I had to ask from Govinda Maharaja as to the basic principle of that cooperation. Before I took Sannyasa perhaps you will remember it that I proposed to join you if my publications were taken up. But some how or other it was not possible and we missed the chance.
Now here is a second chance and without undergoing a long series of correspondence with Govinda Maharaja, I am directly writing you about my intention. Srila Prabhupada had a strong desire to open our preaching centres in the Western countries and both Bon Maharaja and Goswami Maharaja were deputed for this purpose without any tangible result.
I have come to this country with the same purpose in view and as far as I see it here in America there is very good scope for preaching the cult of Lord Caitanya. Here the Ramakrishna Mission is there for the last forty years and I attended their two centres here and I found there is no appreciable gatherings. Vivekananda preached for Daridra Narayana seva and the practical Americans question the swamijis of Ramakrishna Mission why there are still so many Daridra Narayanas lying on the streets and foot paths in India. In America there is no such scene of Daridra Narayanas lying on the foot path or in other words there is no question of Daridra Narayana here because every one has ample to eat and there immense vacant places for their homes. I have not seen a single spot here which is not nicely decorated with good houses and nice roads. Actually they have built a properous country in this part of the world and so material prosperity is concerned they are happy in every respect. So naturally there is spiritual hankerings and because India is well known for her spiritual assets they more inclined to take something spiritual from the East. But unfortunately either the Ramakrishna Mission or the Yogis have not delivered the goods they want. I had a talk the other day with Swami Nikhilanand of the Ramakrishna Mission and he also opined that the Americans are just suitable for the Bhakti Yoga cult and that is also my opinion.
I am here and see here a good field for work but I am alone without men and money. To start a centre here we must have our own buildings. The Ramakrishna Mission or any other mission which are working here all have their own buildings. So if we want to start a centre here we must have also our own building. To have a own building means to pay at least Rs 500000/-five lacs or one hundred thousand dollars. And to furnish the house with up to date paraphernalia means another two lacs. If attempt is made this money can be had also. But I think for establishing Matha and temples here you may take the charge and I shall be able to make them self independent. There is difficulty of exchange and I think unless you have some special arrangement for starting a branch of Caitanya Math transfer of money will be difficult. But if you can do so with the help of the Bengal or Central Government, here is good chance to open immediately a centre in New York. I am negotiating with some brokers here who can give us a house and they have suggested like above. Without our own house it will not be possible to open our own centre. For me it will take long time but for you it is very easy. The Calcutta Marwaris are in your hand by the Grace of Srila Prabhupada. If you like you can immediately raise a fund of Rs 10,00,000/- ten lacs to open a centre in New Work. One centre started, I shall be able to start many others also. So here is a chance of cooperation between us and I shall be glad to know if you are ready for this cooperation. I came here to study the situation and I find it very nice and if you are also agreeable to cooperate with it will be all very nice by the will Srila Prabhupada. So I am writing you directly this letter to elicit your opinion. If you agree then take it for granted that I am one of the worker of the Sri Mayapur Caitanya Matha. I have no ambition for becoming the proprietor of any Matha or Mandir but I want working facilities. I am working day and night for my Bhagavatam publication and I need centres in the western countries. If I am successful to start a centre in New york, then my next attempt will be start one in California and Montreal where there are many Indians also. There is ample scope for working but unfortunately we have simply wasted time by quarreling with one another while the Ramakrishna Mission with misrepresentation have made their position all over the world. Although they are no so popular in these foreign countries they have made a great propaganda only and as a result of such propaganda they are very prosperous in India while the Gaudiya Math people are starving. We should now come to our senses. If possible join with our other Godbrothers and let us make an effort combinedly to preach the cult of Gaura Hari in every cities and villages of the western countries.
If you agree to cooperate with me as I have suggested above, then I shall extend my Visa period. My present Visa period ends by the end of this November. But if I receive your confirmation immediately then I shall extend my Visa period otherwise I shall return to India. Immediately I want some good assistants to work with me. They must be educated and able to talk in English as also read Sanskrit nicely. For preaching here two languages English and Sanskrit will be very much appreciated. I think under your leadership every camp of our god brothers should supply a man good for this purpose and they must agree to work under my direction. If that is possible then you will see how our beloved Srila Prabhupada will be satisfied on all of us. I think we shall all forget now the past fratricidal war and now come forward for a good cause. If they are not agreeable then do it yourself and I am at your service. Please therefore consider this and let me know by wire if you are agreeable. Otherwise I shall not extend my visa period but I shall return to India without being able to do anything tangible at my first tour. Hope you will take this matter as very urgent and let me know your decision by immediate return of post or by wire to my above address and oblige. Hope you are all well and thanking you in anticipation.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Here again, we see Prabhupada appealing to someone whom he blamed for the dissolution of the unified preaching institution founded by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Why was he doing this? Again we must go back to the explanation Prabhupada gave in Bombay in 1976. The Gaudiya Matha entity headed by Tirtha Maharaja was “Guru Maharaja’s institution,” the institution founded by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. So out of loyalty to Bhaktisiddhanta he first wanted to see if he could possibly fulfill Bhaktisiddhanta’s will through the institution that Bhaktisiddhanta himself had founded. It appears also that Srila Prabhupada was feeling that Krishna was indicating his own attempts could not be successful, and that it was in a sense necessary for him to appeal to his old Godbrother for assistance. But he was not coming to him simply as a beggar. He had taken up an important order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and was working in America to achieve it. He had taken a courageous, practical step. And now he needed assistance. He was offering all the Gaudiya Matha the chance to unite again for preaching. But we can also see that it would be under his guidance. Prabhupada was not interested in becoming the proprietor of a temple. We can understand therefore his willingness to cede legal control of any properties he acquired to the Chaitanya Matha of Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja, who was very much concerned about legalities, money, and ownership of properties. But as far as the actual preaching mission was concerned, that would go on under Prabhupada’s direction. As he says in his letter, each camp of his Godbrothers in the Gaudiya Matha should send him one person, who would work under his direction.
Tirtha Maharaja replied saying that although he had no objection to Prabhupada starting a center, Gaudiya Matha funds could not be used for this purpose. It might be possible to raise other funds, but it would take time. Prabhupada, still hopeful, described in his next letter a building he had seen at 143 West 72nd Street. He thought it would make a good temple, and he again asked Tirtha Maharaja to help in purchasing it. Prabhupada had already gotten a promise of a donation of funds from Padampat Singhania, a wealthy Vaisnava businessman in India. But he needed government permission to send funds from India, and he wanted Tirtha Maharaja to help with this. Here is the complete text of Prabhupada letter, dated November 23, 1965:
Pujaniya Sripada Tirtha Maharaja,
May it please your holiness. I am in due receipt of your letter of the 17th instant and although it is not very encouraging still as I am not a man to be disappointed, I take courage from your letter as you write to say that there is possibility to raise the fund but it will take some time.
Expecting your reply in the above spirit I had some correspondence with the broker firm and the latest reply which I have received from them is joined herewith please find.
“Dear Sir, In answer to your letter of November 16 regarding the property for sale on West 72nd Street. This is located at 143 West 72nd Street. It is 18.6 by 100.2. contains a store and basement both the same size and a mezzanine. The owner is asking $100,000 for the property with $20,000 cash and will make good terms on a first mortgage that they will take back. As I have the keys, you can call at me for an appointment to see the property. Yours very sincerely Sd/Louis Baun for Phillips, Wood Dolson, Inc.”
So I have seen the property and the whole space is twice as much as your Research Institute building on the road which is just in the central part of the city with all good facilities. Now if you decide to purchase the property, I can assure you that the building is just suitable for our purpose and it is almost on the same style as your Research institute. The basement can be used as cooking and dining department, the store as the lecture hall and mezzanine for installing the Sri Vigraha and personal apartment. The building is quite suitable and once started it will be possible to raise fund by lectures and membership fees etc by suitable arrangement. So the immediate investment is about $25,000 and I think this amount you can arrange immediately and just start a branch of your Sri Caitanya Math or designate the branch as New York Gaudiya Math. The idea is very nice to think of and it will be a nice reply to the local Ramakrishna Mission who indirectly denied to allow me lecturing in their hall. You will be glad to know that my lecturing propaganda is going on and so long I remain here it will go on without any hamper. Recently one lecture of mine is arranged in our Indian Government House (New India House) organized by the Tagore Society of New York who organize such meeting only for the most distinguished persons. The consul and other officers of the New India House are impressed with my book and practically the 2nd officer (consul) is arranging the meeting inviting all distinguished gentlemen both Indian and American with Tea Party. The copy of the invitation letter is also subjoined herewith.
“The Tagore Society of New York Inc. Cordially Invites You to a lecture ‘GOD CONSCIOUSNESS’ by A. C. BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI Date: Sunday, November 28,1965. Time: Lecture, 3:30 P.M. Tea, 4:30 P.M. Place: New India House, 3, East 64th Street. A widely respected Scholar and religious leader in India Swami Bhaktivedanta is briefly visiting New York. He has been engaged in the monumental endeavour of translating the sixty volume ‘Srimad-Bhagavatam’ from Sanskrit into English. etc.”
So my lecturing or appointing one selling agent here for my books is already finished and if I remain such many lectures can be arranged in different parts of the country. One Dr. Choudhry is prepared to arrange for my lectures in San Francisco, Los Angeles etc but in my opinion such casual lectures may be a good personal advertisement but factually they do not make any permanent effects. But if there is a centre of activity for attracting people as you are doing in the Research Institute, the people can be trained up in the cult by regular association and hearing the transcendental sound of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Now we have got our English Srimad-Bhagavatam and there will be no difficulty to impress the audience with our Siddhantas and any intelligent man impressed with our Siddhantas will certainly change his life’s mode of action. I think you may take up this suggestion very seriously and immediately start the centre and other things will automatically follow. And above all this is to satisfy the transcendental desire of Srila Prabhupada who desired very enthusiastically to start centres like that in the foreign countries. If you want to start the centre on rented house, the rent will not be less than three to four hundred dollars but the space will be one fourth of the house as we want to purchase. If you agree kindly confirm it by wire so that I can ask the broker to stay the house for some time for sale to other party. The Christian churches are not very favorable in the matter of increasing the Hindu religious institutions as it is natural to think with sectarian views. I hope you will accept this proposal and confirm it by wire on receipt this letter by the end of this month. Hope you are all well and with my humble obeisances for all the Vaisnavas.
I am your obediently,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Here again, we see Prabhupada giving his Godbrother the chance to let bygones be bygones and take up the cause of fulfillling one of the major desires of their Guru Maharaja, the spreading of Krishna consciousness in the West. But his Godbrother was not willing to cooperate to the extent Prabhupada desired.
In early January, Prabhupada wrote to his Godbrother Bon Maharaja, head of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Vrindavan, asking his assistance with his project of making a temple in New York, and in particular, with getting the Indian government to allow the release of private funds.
My dear Sripada Bon Maharaja,
Please accept my humble dandabats. I beg to thank you for your kind letter of the 14th instant. I am very glad to learn that your first part of Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu is now out and shall be glad if you send me one copy so that I can show to persons who are interested in my Srimad-Bhagavatam. I am also glad to learn that you are now thinking of New York on receipt of my letter and it may be that you have to come here again if there is the Radha Krishna Temple as contemplated. The money is there, the Deities are there, the house is there, the men are there but the sanction is not there. Your residence was somewhere near the Columbia University I think.
Temple idea is prompted in me because I feel that Srila Prabhupada wanted to open some temples in the foreign countries. Personally I have no aptitude to open temples neither I have done it in India although there were many great opportunities. But here see there is necessity even from the point of Hindu cultural view. There is not a single Hindu temple here at least in New York or all the places so far I have travelled in this country. Regarding management of the temple is concerned for the present I have called for one of my disciples from Delhi. If other persons from our so many camps want to come here I shall welcome and I think after the temple is started some men even from America may be available as I see there are in the Ramakrishna Mission as well as in so many Yoga societies.
So I am trying to open a temple here because Srila Prabhupada wanted it. Kindly therefore help me in this direction as far as you can. I am thankful to you for taking so much trouble in taking the estimate of deities. But before having the Deities there is great stumbling block of Exchange difficulty. My money in India is ready but I must have the exchange, by special sanction of the Government of India. I was so hopeful to get it because Lal Bahadur Shastri was known to me and he was to visit America. I arranged an interview with him during his visit in America through the Embassy here but his sudden death has put me into great difficulty. As soon as the temple is started, I am sure to get help locally but to start the temple I must have Indian money first. I am therefore asking your cooperation and help in this connection. I am requesting you to see Dr. Radhakrishnan and get me the sanction for Indian exchange for this cultural mission. This is not an ordinary temple of worship but it is an international institution for God consciousness based on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. This is standard Indian good will mission. “Lokasya ajanato vidwams cakre satvata samhita” The Government of India has its own department of culture and goodwill mission which is utilized for dancing parties to make show in the foreign countries. Here is the real culture and I am not asking any money from the Government but I am simply asking permission to transfer my money here for this great cultural mission of Srila Vyasadeva the Father of Vedic wisdom which is real Indian culture. When Dr. Radhakrishnan was vice president of India I had lots of personal correspondence and meetings with him and at that time he promised me help in this connection. I hope he will remember all these and I am requesting him through your good office to help me now to get the requisite exchange from India for this great and noble work. He is more or less acquainted with the activities of the Gaudiya Math preachers like your holiness, Srila Tirtha Maharaja and he know me also in this connection. We are all sincere workers for respiritualising the whole world situation and Dr. Radhakrishnan being man in the line and being in the highest position of the Indian Government, he must help us in this critical moment. It is not personal but for the welfare of the entire humanity and considering all these he may be kind enough to sanction this exchange immediately so that I may start it without delay.
I strongly wish that I may take possession of the house for the temple on the day of Srila Prabhupada’s Abhirva Teethi and if your holiness will at once see Dr. Radhakrishnan and take the sanction, I think my desire to take possession of the house on the above mentioned date will be possible. As I am out of India it is not possible to see him personally and therefore I am requesting you to see him. Besides that the matter being concerned directly with service of Srila Prabhupada both you and I are equally interested and I hope most sincerely that you will do this act very promptly and seriously. If need be you can show this letter to Dr. Radhakrishnan in order to convince him and offer him my good wishes and respects for him.
Thanking you in anticipation and awaiting your early reply.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
On February 4, he also wrote again to Tirtha Maharaja, asking for the same kind of help. Along with his letters to his Godbrothers, Prabhupada was also himself writing to Indian government officials.
My dear Sripada Tirtha Maharaja,
Kindly accept my humble dandabats, I am in due receipt of your kind letter of the 1st instant and I am glad to note that you will get the Exchange sanction on receipt of the letter of the donor. The donor is a big business magnet of India and as required by you I am enclosing here with the letter of Sri Padampat Singhania of the J.K. Organizations, Kamla Tower, Kanpur dated 14th January 1966 which will speak for itself. I think you may also know the gentleman and he is competent to spend any amount for a nice temple of Sri Sri Radha Krishna in New York. The Singhania family is traditionally devotees of Dvarakadhisa and therefore they are the right persons to take up this transcendental service of the Lord. Srila Prabhupada wanted such temples in foreign countries such New York, London, Tokyo, etc and I had personal talks with him when I first met Him at Ultadingi in 1922. Now here is a chance for me to carry put His transcendental Order and because you are Srila Prabhupada’s foremost and favorite disciple and actually engaged in His service, I am just seeking your favor and mercy in making this attempt successful. Everything is ready namely the house is ready, the donor is ready and my humble service on the spot is also ready. Now you are to give the finishing touch because you are most affectionate disciple of His Divine Grace. I think Srila Prabhupada wants that in this great attempt by my humble self your valued service may also be dovetailed.
Please therefore immediately take steps in this direction and if need be you may personally see Dr. Radha Krishna because he is sympathetic with the Gaudiya Math workers as they are sincerely trying to respiritualise the whole world. He is also personally known to me but because I am out of India it is not possible for me to see him.
As you will know from the enclosed letter of Sir Padampat Singhania, he is prepared to spend any amount for this purpose, you can get sanction as large an amount as it is possible. Minimum ten lacs of rupees.
So far men for working here in the temple, do not worry about it. I have already some American young men with me and they strictly vegetarian. Besides that there are many Indian students here and I shall be able to recruit workers both from Indian and Americans. I am confident of this. I may cite herewith one incidence which happened yesterday evening. I have prepared some Tape record of my personal Kirtana. When one of this Tape record was played the audience became practically charmed by that although not a single word of my language was understandable by them. So I am confident of the statement of Srila Haridasa Thakura that the transcendental sound of Lord Caitanya’s Harinama can do good even to the birds and the beasts. Undoubtedly these Americans are habituated to take nonvegetarian food but I am confident that they can be trained up to our line of living because they are sincere to take up the training. This will be all practically possible as soon as we have regular institution here in New York. If it is possible to send some men from India who must be educated it is well and good otherwise I shall manage everything by the Grace of Srila Prabhupada. We cannot do anything whatsoever but if our sincere service is accepted by the Vaisnavas everything is possible and may not have the audacity to speak all these before your holiness who is expert in this service. Please therefore make the transaction complete immediately and oblige.
By the by I beg to enclose herewith one cheque for Rs 10/- as my humble offerings to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada through your good self and I wish that you may ask for His blessings for becoming successful in this great attempt for His service.
Thanking you once more and I beg to remain,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
His final letters to his Godbrothers went unanswered. Their lack of cooperation is evident in the following letter by Srila Prabhupada to Mangalaniloy Brahmacari, a disciple of Prabhupada’s Godbrother Madhava Maharaja, dated June 23, 1966.
My dear Brahmacari Mangalniloy,
Please accept my dandabats. I am in due receipt of your letter of the 16th instant and have noted the contents carefully. Please let me know if I will have to send you money for the articles like Mrdanga etc. If so kindly let me know the respective price.
In your first letter dated June 3, 1966 you had to inform me that you had already advised Sri Jagamohon Prabhu to see the Deputy Controller of Exchange Calcutta but I have not heard anything about it. Please note that this work is very important and I have already submitted my application to the Finance Ministry of the Government of India through the Indian Embassy here in America. The Indian Embassy at Washington has acknowledged receipt of my application as follows:
“Prakash Shah Second Secretary Embassy of India Washington D.C. dated June 9, 1966. Letter No. Con.63(1)/66. Dear Mr. Swami, This is to acknowledge your letter dated May 28, 1966. Your application for release of Foreign Exchange has been forwarded to the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. Yours sincerely Sd/Prakash Shah”
Now I would request you to see the Finance Minister or the President immediately and get the Exchange sanctioned. There is provision for such exchange sanction but it requires special sanction from the Finance Ministry. So we have to convince only the Finance Minister that for spreading the culture of Bhagavad-gita or the science of Krishna Consciousness this cultural propaganda from India’s side has to be done. I have already explained the matter in my application but if yourself or Sripada Madhava Maharaja sees the Finance Minister immediately, I am sure the Exchange will be released. I have already informed you that the donor Sir Padampat Singhania is ready to spend any amount for constructing a nice Indian architectural temple in New York and why not take this opportunity for spreading the mission of Srila Prabhupada. Sripada Madhava Maharaja is known to the President because sometimes before His Holiness saw the President in New Delhi. I requested for this to Sripada Bon Maharaja but he has declined, I requested Sripada Tirtha Maharaja and at first he promised see the President and the Finance Minister but later on he is trying to avoid it. So I have to request Sripada Madhava Maharaja through you for this most important work to see the President and the Finance Minister immediately with reference to my application as it is acknowledged by the Embassy of India in Washington.
You have written to say in your letter under reply that you want to join first with me then talk with Sripada Maharaja about cooperation otherwise your journey to this country may be cancelled by him. I could not follow the import of this proposal. Do you think that cooperation with me prior to your joining me here is not possible? Why this mentality. Is it my private business? Srila Prabhupada wanted to construct some temples in the Foreign countries as preaching centres of the message of Srila Rupa Raghunatha and I am trying to do this in this part of the world. The money is ready and the opportunity is open. If by seeing the Finance Minister this work can be facilitated why should we wait for time so that you cannot talk with your Guru maharaj about any cooperation because you afraid of your journey here may be cancelled. Please do not think in that way. Take everything as Srila Prabhupada’s work and try to cooperate in that spirit. The Gaudiya Math institution has failed. . . .
So far your dress is concerned, I think you will require several suits for visiting gentlemen here. As a sannyasi I cannot take suits and boots but you are brahmacari so you can accept such gentlemanly dress. Regarding the mrdanga player, if you think that he is REALLY expert as it should be, then he may come even though he does not know English. We may engage him so many other things. Please send me immediately one copy of Panjika and a copy of Satkriya Sarartha Dipika of Gopala Bhatta Goswami. Hope you are all well and awaiting your early reply. Once more I may request you to cooperate with me in full spirit. Do not think for a moment that my interest is different from that of your Guru Maharaja. We are executing the will of Srila Prabhupada according to our own capacity. But combined effort would have been by far more better.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Eventually, the Indian government, acting on Prabhupada’s application alone, refused to grant his request for the transfer of funds, as can be seen in the following letter by Prabhupada to Mangalaniloy Brahmacari, dated July 16, 1966.
My dear Brahmacari Mangalaniloy,
I thank you for your letter of the 8th instant and have noted the contents. Please note my change of address as above mentioned. I have further risked in the matter of rent of the house. I was paying Mr. Murray $100.00 but I was not independent there. Here the rent is $200.00 per month but I am completely independent and that I have taken a telephonic connection. My lecture hall is on the ground floor and my apartment is on the first floor. This Second Avenue is one of the ten longest roads of the New York city.
Regarding the temple project I have just received the reply from the Embassy of India in America as follows: (D/July 11, 1966) “Please refer to your application regarding release of foreign Exchange from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. Due to existing conditions of foreign exchange stringency, it is not possible for the Government of India to accede to your request for release of foreign exchange. You may perhaps you like to raise necessary funds from residents in America.”
So the controversy is now closed and there is no need of help from any one else. We are not always successful in our attempts in preaching work but such failures are not certainly ludicrous. In the Absolute field both success and failures are glorious. Even Lord Nityananda pretended to be a failure to convert Jagai and Madhai in the first attempt, rather he was personally injured in such attempt but that was certainly not ludicrous. The whole thing was transcendental and it was glorious for all the parties concerned.
It is however very difficult to raise funds from the Indian residents in America. My followers here are 99% Americans. But Indian Government has taken written declaration from me that I shall not collect any fund from the Americans. So unless I do get such permission I think I will have to return to India disappointed to live at Vrindaban peacefully for the remaining days of my life.
Regarding the Jhansi incidence referred to by your Guru maharaj I may inform you that the donor of the house did not like to hand over the estate to any individual person. I therefore registered a society (The League of Devotees) and I invited your Guru maharaj to join it as the head man. But he, as he was with the then Kunjada desired to have the property in the joint name of him and Kunjada. So I became silent and I left the whole scheme. Let us now forget all these past incidences and go forward with present responsibility.
My future activities will now depend on the reply of the Indian Embassy whom I have asked for permission to raise funds from the American people. On hearing from them I shall let you know the result.
Hope you are well. When you are coming back to Calcutta?
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Srila Prabhupada continued alone, and with the assistance of the followers he attracted by his personal dedication to the order he had received from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Once a properly incorporated society had been registered in the United States, with American directors, it could raise funds on its own. So without assistance from big American foundations, or wealthy Indian businessmen, or the Indian government, or Prabhupada’s Godbrothers, the Society began to expand on its own, under Prabhupada’s careful personal guidance. This was a big turning point in his relationships with the Gaudiya Matha and his Godbrothers. Prabhupada apparently sensed that his success was due to his own very special manner of dealing with the souls that Krishna brought to him.
Even after founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Prabhupada still for some time invited cooperation from his Godbrothers, as can be seen in his letter to Madhava Maharaja, dated August 1, 1966.
My dear Sripada Madhava Maharaja,
Please accept my humble dandabats and I hope everything is going well in respect of your holiness health and preaching work.
I hope that you are aware of the correspondence which I had been exchanging with Sriman Brahmacari Mangalaniloy and you also know it that I am desiring to get him here in United States of America for my assistance. You may also know that I am trying to construct a Temple of Sri Sri Radha Krishna in New York specially and I was trying to get exchange from the Government of India. I am very sorry to inform you that the Government of India Finance Ministry has expressed its inability to sanction Exchange Release from India but the Indian Embassy in America at Washington W.C. has directly sanctioned to raise funds from the Indian residents in America and directly from the American citizens.
The American Foundations do not contribute anything to any institution or organization if it is not properly incorporated by law of the land. So far I have knowledge of the Indian residents in America they are mostly engaged in local educational or Indian Government service in the Embassy. Therefore there is very little hope to get from them any substantial help for the proposed temple construction which will require some millions of dollars. But if the Americans take the matter very seriously there are many Foundations one of them alone can contribute such amount.
I have therefore very recently incorporated one organization very recently (within a fortnight past) under the name of INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS (Incorporated in U.S.A.) The Trustees of this organization are all American gentlemen headed by one of the leading lawyers of New York Mr. Steven J. Goldsmith B.Sc. M.A.B.L. who comes regularly in my weekly classes and chants the Mahamantra very devoutly.
Now the chance for preaching the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the western countries like America and Europe is practically established and if the organization is properly managed I am sure there will be no dearth of financial facilities from the American citizens. But still I think this organization should have cooperation from all countries of the world specially of India and more specially from the Gaudiya Vaisnavas who are pledged to take the responsibility of preaching Caitanya cult in every village and town of the world. I am therefore inviting the first cooperation from my Godbrothers in this great adventure. I am very much hopeful of success of the attempt and I am seeking your good consultation if it is possible to have full sympathetic cooperation of my Godbrothers in India in this adventure. Sriman Brahmacari Mangalaniloy has already agreed to come here to assist me fully but I wish that each and every one of the different Gaudiya Math organizations may kindly send one person respectively to work under my direction in these foreign countries and thus become individually a member of the international organization abovementioned. The qualification of such intending candidates must be that he must be able to speak in English or be well versed in playing khol or singing. If one is qualified with all the above qualifications it is very good otherwise he must be qualified at least one of them. So far their coming here I shall take all the responsibility for passage and maintenance. Would kindly consider this proposal immediately and let me know your decision per return of post? . . . . Srila Prabhupada wanted us to do everything in complete cooperation and thus I am inclined to have full cooperation in this great attempt of preaching in the foreign countries. All the camps of our various camps may at least cooperate in the matter of special activities and I may be able to provide any number of men who may be now inclined to come here and work under my direction. There is great possibility of Lord Caitanya’s cult being preached amongst the younger section of the Americans and some of them are hearing me very seriously to accept the philosophy. Our men in the ideal line of activities chalked out by Srila Prabhupada will be great help to me and the persons who are now seriously attending my classes.
Awaiting to hear from you as early as possible with the list names of the persons who will come here from different camps.
I am asking people here to practice Krishna consciousness through music dance philosophy science religion and distribution of Prasadam. I am asking them to become freed from all sorts of anxieties by practicing the transcendental sound vibration of Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare etc and I am asking them to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Inc. My classes are being held thrice a week in the evening between 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. Hope you are well,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
We hear a lot from Gaudiya Matha sympathizers about cooperation. But here we see Srila Prabhupada’s program for cooperation being outlined. According to Srila Prabhupada, the proper method of cooperation is for members of the Gaudiya Matha, with the permission of their authorities, to join ISKCON and work under Prabhupada’s direction. In the present context, we may follow the same policy and invite members of the Gaudiya Matha, with the permission of their authorities, to become members of ISKCON and work under the direction of the GBC, which, in Prabhupada’s physical absence is charged with conducting the affairs of ISKCON according to his teachings, his standards, and his desires. In pursuance of this program, the GBC may write letters of invitation to the heads of various Gaudiya missions, asking them to send their disciples to become members of ISKCON and work under the guidance of the GBC. Prabhupada’s invitation for his Godbrothers to cooperate with him was thus a transcendentally diplomatic invitation for them to recognize his authority in matters of preaching Krishna consciousness around the world, in the manner desired by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
Back to India, 1967
In 1967, Prabhupada suddenly became ill with a heart attack, and decided to return to India for his recovery. One of his disciples, worried that he would not come back, suggested that one of his Godbrothers come to America to take over. Mukunda Maharaja, who was with Prabhupada when he received the suggestion, recalled, “I was sitting alone with Swamiji in his room, and he was very grave and silent. His eyes were closed. Then, suddenly, tears began flowing from his eyes. And he said in a choked voice, ‘My spiritual master was no ordinary spiritual master.’ Then he paused for some time, and wiping the tears from his eyes, he said in an even more choked voice, ‘He saved me.’ At that point I began to understand the meaning of ‘spiritual master’ and dropped all consideration of ever replacing Swamiji.” (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 3, p. 162). Satsvarupa Maharaja writes: “After two days, Prabhupada said he would not call any of his Godbrothers to come and take care of his disciples. He said, ‘If this person speaks just one word different from what I am speaking, there will be confusion among you.’ Actually, he said, the idea was an insult to the spiritual master.’” (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 3, po. 162-163) The words of Prabhupada were prophetic, because after his departure from this world in 1977, some of his disciples wanted to bring one or another of his Godbrothers or disciples of his Godbrothers into ISKCON, to take care of Prabhupada’s disciples. And true to Prabhupada’s predictions, the differences in their words from his caused great confusion among some of his disciples. Before departing for India, Prabhupada repeatedly emphasized that they should simply follow his instructions, and that he and his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, would be with them always.
Towards the end of July, 1967, Prabhupada returned to India, accompanied by his disicple Kirtanananda. In Vrindavan, Prabhupada and Kirtanananda visited Bon Maharaja at his Institute of Oriental Philosophy. Prabhupada suggested that some of his American disciples might come and study Sanskrit at Bon Maharaja’s institute. Bon Maharaja was agreeable. Prabhupada was also hopeful that Bon Maharaja would give him some part of his land, so that he could construct his own American House for his disciples. On Janmastami, Prabhupada awarded Kirtanananda sannyasa at the Radha Damodara temple. In September, Prabhupada’s disciple Acyutananda arrived in India. He first went to the Kesvaji Gaudiya Matha in Mathura, where Narayana Maharaja took care of him. Narayana Maharaja then sent him on to Vrindavana.
Accompanied by his disciples, Prabhupada then went to Calcutta, where he was greeted by members of the Goswami Math, of his Godbrother Bhaktisaranga Goswami. When speaking at the Matha, Prabhupada saw that there were mostly old widows in attendance. Prabhupada also visited his Godbrother Kesava Maharaja, who had given him sannyasa and was now near death. Kesava Maharaja invited Prabhupada to visit his Devananda Matha asrama in Navadvipa.He also had an invitation to Sridhara Swami’s Matha. Prabhupada went to Navadvipa on October 24 with his disciples Acyutananda and Ramanuja. Members of the Devananda Gaudiya Matha met them with kirtan. Some of Sridhara Maharaja’s disciples were also there. Prabhupada first went to Sridhara Maharaja’s temple, where he met his Godbrother, who praised his work in America as the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya’s prediction that Krishna consciousness would spread around the world. Prabhupada wrote to Satsvarupa: “Yesterday we have all come to Navadvipa. This place is another establishment of one of my Godbrothers. It is very nice and extensive place and my Godbrother, B. R. Sridhar Maharaj, has spared one entire nice house for our stay. He has also agreed to cooperate with our society. We shall observe his birthday ceremony tomorrow and the brahmacaris shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master’s birthday.” (Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 3. pp. 203-204.
Srila Prabhupada and his disciples attended the Vyasa-puja ceremony of Sridhara Maharaja. Sridhara Maharaja sat on a vyasasana, while Prabhupada and other sannyasis sat on chairs to his right and left. On the following days, Prabhupada’s disciples accompanied the disciples of Sridhara Maharaja on chanting parties in the villages. Once, both Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja went with the chanting party through the streets of Navadvipa. Later, Prabhupada and his disciples went to Kesava Maharaja’s Devananda Matha, where they attended a featival with the Matha’a two hundred brahmacaris and twenty sannyasis. Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja joined the Devananda Matha sannyasis on the stage and spoke. One of the Devananda Matha sannyasis praised Prabhupada’s preaching in the West. calling it the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya’s prophecy. After the feast, Prabhupada and his disciples returned to Sridhara Maharaja’s Matha.
On the train back to Calcutta, Acyutananda asked Prabhupada what he and Sridhara Maharaja had discussed during their private talks. Prabhupada replied, “Oh, many, many things. But if I were to tell you know, you would faint. Still, I offered him to be president of our Society. I knew he would not accept. He is keeping things within him. Anyway, this is all beyond you. Do not have any ill feelings toward any of my Godbrothers. They are all great souls. There are just some differences on preaching and spreading Krishna consciousness. Even in your mind do not feel any ill will toward them. At the same time, do not mix very thickly with them.” This policy, enunciated by Srila Prabhupada seems to be the best one for ISKCON devotees to follow. What about the offer of presidency. This appears to have been an invitation for Sridhara Maharaja to take a position in which he would be working closely with Prabhupada, in a responsible but still subordinate post. Prabhupada said he knew Sridhara Maharaja would not accept it, most probably, in my opinion, because he knew Sridhara Maharaja was comfortable being the unquestioned head of his own matha and was not prepared to accept his leadership in a practical way, even though he was ready to speak some words of praise about Prabhupada’s accomplishments.
Prabhupada asked his disciples in India to obtain some land to build a center in Mayapur. He had asked some of his Godbrothers to assist them, but they did not comply with his desire. Shortly thereafter, Prabhupada returned to America.
Back to America
Around this time, some of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers tried to induce him to join together with them. Prabhupada, sensing correctly, that they wanted to make ISKCON part of an organization that they would control, replied that he would join, but that representation on the organization’s governing board should be proportionate to practical preaching activity. Of course, that meant that ISKCON would have by far the majority of seats. In another incident, a Gaudiya Matha Godbrother asked Prabhupada for money to support his temple. Prabhupada described the incident like this: “Another Godbrother, he asked me [for] fifty thousand rupees to maintain his temple. So I said, ‘Yes, I can give you fifty thousand, but this is mleccha money. You’ll be polluted. Best thing is that give [the temple to ISKCON]. We can maintain. I’ll immediately deposit fifty thousand.’ He has stopped [asking for the money]. (laughs) ‘We are mlecchas. I am the leader of the mlecchas, so my money will pollute you. But if you are feeling difficulty, you hand over the temple to us, and on condition I immediately deposit fifty thousand in the name of the temple.’” (Room conversation, Bombay, April 22, 1977) Prabhupada pointed out that his Godbrothers who would not accept prasadam prepared by the ISKCON devotees, considering them mlecchas, were nevertheless ready, quite hypocriticallly, to accept money earned by the “mlecchas.”
Here is another indication of how Prabhupada saw the Gaudiya Matha in relationship to ISKCON. Prabhupada, regarding efforts to get nongovernmental organization (NGO) status for ISKCON in the UN, wrote to Purusottama Dasa on February 2, 1968: “Regarding the NGO section of the United Nations, I am enclosing herewith a statement addressing Mr. David J. Exley, explaining the very importance of our movement. You can inform him that the Gaudiya Math Institutions in India and in England, are also part of this Institution.” Here Srila Prabhupada saw the Gaudiya Matha institutions of his Godbrothers as at least theoretically part of his institution, ISKCON, which was taking the lead in spreading Krishna consciousness around the world, in compliance with the will of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. We should follow the indication of Srila Prabhupada in making a long range plan to integrate all of the Gaudiya Matha institutions under the banner of ISKCON. This will depend upon the various Matha accepting the leadership of ISKCON in international preaching. Those capable of integrating themselves into the collective leadership process set up by Prabhupada, as per the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta, may become closely associated with ISKCON whereas those Mathas wishing to maintain their independence, in contradiction to the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, may have a more distant but friendly relationship with ISKCON. Those who manifest antagonism and opposition to ISKCON will simply be left to pursue their own course of action, with no relationship to ISKCON. As a practical matter, ISKCON should search among the various Gaudiya Matha entities to find one whose leader is willing to submit himself to the collective decision-making authority of ISKCON, and make an attempt to integrate that Matha into ISKCON as an ISKCON-associated matha. Other Gaudiya Matha leaders who wish to discuss cooperation could then be directed to consider this example as the standard of how such cooperation should be implemented. They could choose to follow suit, demonstrating the sincerity of their desire for cooperation, or they could refuse to do so, thus demonstrating they were approaching ISKCON with some ulterior motive.
On June 22, 1968, Prabhupada wrote the following letter to his Godbrother Jagannatham Prabhu in Bombay, regarding the possibility of opening a branch of ISKCON there.
Dear Jagannatham Prabhu,
Please accept my respectful obeisances at your lotus feet. I am so glad to receive your letter after a long time. I think I met you sometimes in the year of 1950, in Madras Gaudiya Math, when I went with Tirtha Maharaja to attend the Janmastami Festival. I know you are a sincere servant of Srila Prabhupada and you have done excellent service while He was present before us, and you have done similarly even after His Disappearance. I am very glad to learn that your children are well situated, but you are very much anxious to get them in touch with Krishna Consciousness. . . .
Regarding our Gaudiya Math in Bombay: I am very sorry that you are disappointed in respect of their activities. I know this fact because in 1934 I was one of the active members in starting this Math. The Gowalia Tank center was opened by me, and although I lived separately from the Math, practically I was in charge of the Math and under the instructions from His Divine Grace. Then after His Departure, you know so many unhappy things happened, but, as I was a householder, I remained always aloof from those unhappy incidences. I have accepted this renounced order of life in 1958, and since then I am completely devoted to the service of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. You’ll be very glad to know that by the Grace of Srila Prabhupada, the duty which was entrusted upon me is being discharged as faithfully as possible, and by the Mercy of His Divine Grace, I have got here many American boys and girls, who are sincerely assisting me. I have got 8 branches in U.S.A. and one in Canada, and probably my next move will be in European countries, beginning from London. As you are Prabhupada’s old disciple and you have served His Divine Grace so nicely, I would request you that you can make some attempt to open a branch of this International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Bombay. And if you agree to this, then I can send some of my American disciples to join you. Your children and these American boys under your guidance may do very good service to the cause of Srila Prabhupada in spreading this Sankirtana movement. I have trained my disciples to perform Sankirtana nicely and deliver lectures on Krishna Consciousness, and if your children practically see their activities, certainly they will be influenced. Besides that, they can talk on Krishna Consciousness very nicely. I shall be very glad to know from you if there is any possibility for such activity. Bombay is very advanced city in India in all respects. They have got money, and they have got heart also to participate in such movement. Unfortunately the present workers in the Bombay Gaudiya Math are not at all competent to do any tangible work. They are staying there for the last 35 years, but they have not done any appreciable work. it is simply a place “khabadavar addakhama.” Srila Prabhupada used this word many times in connection with inactive centers. And when one was too much engaged in buildings, He always warned that our business is not for becoming mason workers, or becoming carpenters, neither to create a place for eating and sleeping. So these people are collecting funds and eating and sleeping. The reason is that they deviated from the disciplic succession from Srila Prabhupada. So, I don’t wish to discuss on this point, because you know better than me; but I think you are also old enough, and I am also old enough. At any time we may pass away from this world, but I wish that we may try to do some service to Srila Prabhupada until the last moment of our life.
I was thinking of opening a branch in Bombay of this International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and if you cooperate, we can attempt this important activity. Your letter was addressed to my headquarters at 26 Second Avenue, New York, N.Y., and it has been sent to me at Montreal. I shall be glad to hear from you about these suggestions in your next letter. Thanking you once more for remembering me.
Hoping you are well,
Yours in the service of the Lord,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Here again we see how Srila Prabhupada came to envision cooperation. If his Godbrothers were truly interested in advancing the cause of Krishna consciousness, they would help him open centers of ISKCON in India. Of course, the centers would be under the direction of Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder-acarya. We may also take warning that ISKCON centers are to be primarily places of preaching, and not simply nice displays of architecture. If our leading devotees are simply collecting big donations from big donors to make some big temples where there are not sufficient activities of preaching and where instead there are numbers of less qualified persons simply engaged in maintaining the building that is not very good. Also, we sometimes hear that we should not judge the present members of the Gaudiya Matha by the actions of their predecessors. This may be true, that one is not automatically guilty. But we must look at the practical activities and decide how much the “new” Gaudiya Matha resembles the old one. Here Srila Prabhupada gives one standard: are they vigorously preaching and expanding the activities of the Krishna consciousness movement or are they simply content to have some building where they can collect sufficient money for maintaining the structure, and otherwise are simply eating and sleeping?
The issue of cooperation came up once more in Prabhupada’s letter to the Gaudiya Mission in Calcutta, dated May 23, 1969:
Kindly accept my humble obeisances. I beg to enclose herewith a copy of a letter received from my Godbrother, Dr. Syama Sundardas Brahmacari, of your Mission. Taking the concluding portion of his letter inviting me to cooperate with the Gaudiya Mission in the matter of my activities of spreading the objective of Srila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja, I am prepared to cooperate with the Gaudiya Mission in all respects, but I do not know under what condition you wish to cooperate with me. But I am prepared to accept any condition for getting your cooperation in full. So I shall be glad to know from you under what condition our cooperation is possible. But I am prepared in every respect and I shall await your reply with interest.
So far as my starting a separate organization known as International Society for Krishna Consciousness, it was inevitable because none of our Godbrothers are cooperating with one another. Every one of us is conducting his own institution, and there is difference of opinion even between Gaudiya Mission and Gaudiya Math.
So if it is now possible to combine ourselves together, I shall be the first man to welcome this good opportunity. But apart from others, if Gaudiya Mission is prepared to cooperate with me, I am prepared to accept this cooperation in any condition. Please therefore let me know your terms of cooperation, and I shall be very glad to consider it. It has been suggested by Dr. Syama Sundardas Brahmacari that we cooperate at least in London, and I shall be glad to know your terms of cooperation.
Thanking you in anticipation for your early reply.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
It is important to note that Srila Prabhupada deliberately (and expertly) framed the issue of cooperation in terms of the Gaudiya mission cooperating with him, and not the other way around. As Prabhupada put it, “I am prepared to accept any condition for getting your cooperation in full.”
Prabhupada continued this particular discussion in a letter to Swami B. S. Bhagavata Maharaja of the Gaudiya Mission, in a letter dated August 21, 1969.
Revered Sripada Bhagavata Maharaja,
Kindly accept my humble obeisances. I beg to thank you very much for your letter dated 8th July, 1969 . . . . I have also gone through the Memorandum of Articles of Association of your Mission and particularly seen the specific portion referred to in your letter in reply. I see it is in order, but similarly, we have also incorporated our International Society for Krishna Consciousness pursuant to the religious corporation laws of the state of New York.
The main purposes of this institution are as follows amongst others: 1) To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world. 2) To propagate a consciousness of Krishna as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. 3) To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and thus develop the idea, within the members and humanity at large that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna). 4) To teach and encourage the Sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
So practically there is no difference of opinion in our missionary activities, especially because we all are deriving inspiration from His Divine Grace Prabhupada Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja. I think all of our Godbrothers are doing the same missionary activities without a doubt, but still the regrettable fact is we are doing all separately, not in conjunction. I have also read specifically your articles on the matter of acaryas, wherein on the 14th Paragraph I see the acharya shall be entitled to nominate in writing his successive acharya. But we do not find any record where our Srila Prabhupada nominated any acharya after Him. Different persons have interpreted on this point, and every one of our Godbrothers are acting as acharya, so this is a controversial point which I do not wish to enter into while we are proposing for cooperation. I think now we should cooperate fully for preaching the Mission of Srila Prabhupada. He very eagerly desired that the message of Lord Caitanya should be preached all over the world. About 40 years before, Sripada Bon Maharaja, guided by our senior old Tirtha Maharaja were sent to London, and perhaps Gaudiya Mission was established at that time. Since then, activities in foreign countries was practically stopped altogether. Although I was intimately connected with the Gaudiya Math institution, I was a householder. But when I first met His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, He instructed me to preach in the foreign countries, but I could not do anything tangible on account of my family attachment. So after taking sannyasa in 1959 I prepared myself for coming to the foreign countries. As soon as three books were ready, Srimad-Bhagavatam, I started for New York in 1965. This was out of my inspiration in receipt from Srila Prabhupada, and it appears that my attempt in the foreign countries has become successful to a great extent. By my personal attempt I have established preaching centers numbering about two dozen, beginning from Hamburg to Tokyo. I think if my Godbrothers would have attempted similarly, preaching centers would have been established all over the world by this time. Therefore, I wish that Gaudiya Mission should send their preachers and establish different centers in different parts of the world. That will fulfill the Mission of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja.
I know there is some difficulty in the matter of getting the passport and visa for preaching in foreign countries at the present moment, but if the Gaudiya Mission decides to send their representatives in all other parts of the world, I can help them in this matter. Similarly, I would also expect cooperation from all our Godbrothers in the matters where I require their help. This mutual cooperation can be established immediately. Apart from the point of the acharya question, I think everyone is working in his individual capacity. That may not be disturbed at the present moment, but if we concentrate our energies for spreading the message of Lord Caitanya all over the world, that will be right missionary activities on behalf of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.
I thank you very much for inviting me to your head office in Calcutta for heart-to-heart talk and discussion. I shall be always glad to abide by this suggestion, but the thing is if I go to India, it will cost me at least Rs. 25,000 to go and come back. In this old age, wherever I go I take with me one personal assistant. This means if I go to India, I will have to take my secretary, and that means two return tickets also, as well as other expenses. But if something is tangibly understood on the line of cooperation, it will be not difficult for me to go and see the acharya of the Mission for the final decision.
I am going to Germany the day after tomorrow via New York, and therefore my next address will be c/o Internationale Gesellschaft fur Krishna Bewusstein, 2 Hamburg 19, Eppendorfer Weg 11, West Germany. In the meantime I shall request you to cooperate with my missionary activities to supply me 10 mrdangas (kholes), first class and 50 pairs of karatalas, Navadvipa made, first class, every month to our different centers like New York, Los Angeles, London, Hamburg and Tokyo. Also I would request you to arrange for supplying Radha-Krishna Deities made in Vrindaban or Calcutta, 24″ high, for our different centers. We can also cooperate in selling your books in our different centers, and similarly you can cooperate by selling our books in your different centers. So there is ample opportunity of cooperation in good will, and if we continue like that, in the near future it may be possible that we completely amalgamate both our institutions. I hope you will give your due consideration to my proposals and shall be glad to hear from you at your earliest convenience. Also please let me know if personally I can become a member of your society under Clause 3 on page 19 of the Memorandum.
Please offer my humble obeisances to His Divine Grace Sripada B.K. Audulomi Maharaja and other Vaisnavas of the Math.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
enclosures: copies of news cuttings of our Rathayatra Festival, which we held in San Francisco, London, Boston, Ohio, and Hamburg.
This very interesting letter deserves careful study, particularly the matter of Prabhupada signalling his apparent agreement for “amalgamation” of ISKCON and the Gaudiya Mission. I wish to make some comments on this, and other matters mentioned in the above letter, but first we should have a look at the following letter to Dr. Syama Sundardas Brahmacari, dated September 5,1969.
Dear Dr. Syama Sundardas Brahmacari,
Please accept my humble obeisances. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 22nd August 1969, addressed to New Vrindaban center and redirected here in West Germany. At the present moment I am preaching here in our German center, and next week I am going to our London center. . . . Regarding Gaudiya Mission, I am enclosing herewith a copy of the letter addressed to the Secretary Official. You will understand the whole situation. I am prepared to cooperate with the Gaudiya Mission wholeheartedly. I am prepared also to be amalgamated, and they have invited me to go to India to talk frankly, face to face. But unless we have come to some definite understanding, how I can risk the journey which will involve more or less Rs. 25,000? But I am sure if Gaudiya Mission and I combine together, it will be very nice thing to preach the cult of Lord Caitanya all over the world. I can reorganize all the branches of the Gaudiya Math in India, and if there is any financial question, it will be not difficult for our society to help in that way also. So if you can negotiate about our amalgamation on a cooperative basis, it will be great service to Srila Prabhupada. I have not as yet received any reply to the enclosed letter. . .
The crucial point is how Prabhupada conceived of this proposed cooperation between ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha. He envisioned reorganizing the Gaudiya Matha to conform to his own standards, and also envisioned putting ISKCON money into the Gaudiya Matha, if it submitted to his plan for reorganizing it. A Gaudiya Matha reorganized under Prabhupada’s direction and with ISKCON funds would be an extension of ISKCON, operating under Prabhupada’s direction. So this is what Prabhupada meant by cooperating with the Gaudiya Matha, bringing the various Gaudiya Matha entities under the shelter of ISKCON and reorganizing them according to the ISKCON model, using ISKCON money. I believe that ISKCON should have the same long range goal, namely, to bring all the Gaudiya Matha entities under the shelter of ISKCON.
Going back to some of the details of the above letters, especially the letter to Bhagavat Maharaja, we can see that Srila Prabhupada was an expert transcendental diplomat, in the style of Sri Krishna Himself and Srimate Radharani Herself. Yes, he is prepared to cooperate with the Gaudiya Mission, which apparently wants to incorporate his activities into its own. But Prabhupada, subtly and not so subtly, gives many hints that his view of cooperation is somewhat different, the exact opposite, really. He says he has studied the acarya clause in the Gaudiya Mission’s incorporation documents, and objects to it. He says that for now he is not going to make an issue of it, but he clearly disapproves of it, signalling that in any negotiation about cooperation this issue is eventually going to have to come up and that the leader of the Gaudiya Mission may have to give up his position as sole acarya along with his right to designate his successor. Prabhupada indicates that he certainly is not immediately going to give up his independent position as leader of ISKCON to become part of the Gaudiya Mission. Concerning cooperation between the institutions, we have seen in the above letter to Syama Sundardas what Prabhupada’s idea was. In the letter to Bhagavat Maharaja, Prabhupada does not directly come out and say that ISKCON is a much bigger success, in terms of fulfilling the desires of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, than the Gaudiya Mission. But he says it indirectly by pointing out the failure of the Gaudiya Matha to establish centers outside India, while his own efforts, supported by a pile of newspaper clippings, have been greatly successful. Prabhupada diplomatically declines the summons to Calcutta, which could only be interpreted, if he complied, as a sign of submission to the authority of the Gaudiya Mission leadership. He gives an excuse for not coming. And then he gives his own counter proposal, namely that the Gaudiya Mission first make some satisfactory proposal for cooperation. And Prabhupada then also gives them a specific task, the supplying of various goods to ISKCON centers. To me this indicates that Prabhupada is signalling to the leadership of the Gaudiya Mission that any negotiations about cooperation are going to be on his terms, not theirs, and that on the strength of empowered preaching, he is in the superior position. Of course, at the same time, Prabhupada is displaying proper Vaisnava etiquette. ISKCON leaders can take many lessons from this exchange of letters on how to deal with the Gaudiya Matha. It is obvious that the Gaudiya Mission got the point, and that is why they did not reply to Prabhupada’s letter. They could see that their proposal for cooperation would mean their submission to Prabhupada and not his submission to them. Finally, we can reflect once more on how Prabhupada envisioned cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha: all the various Gaudiya Mathas would submit to his plan for reorganization in exchange for which they would receive financial help from ISKCON, thus effectively bringing them under the shelter and leadership of ISKCON. I propose that this should be the explicit long-range policy of ISKCON in relationship to the Gaudiya Matha. Just like the United States and its allies adopted a particular long-range policy toward the Communist countries, especially the Soviet Union, we need to articulate and carry out a long range strategy for our relationship with the Gaudiya Matha. This strategy should be the eventual incorporation of the Gaudiya Matha into ISKCON. In pursuance of this strategy, the GBC and other ISKCON leaders should make a program of regularly inviting the Gauidiya Matha entities and gurus to cooperate with ISKCON on ISKCON’s terms. A good offence is the best defence, the saying goes. In this way, we can take back the initiative which has passed to those advocating cooperation on the terms of the Gaudiya Matha. The key point will be submission to ISKCON’s system of collective leadership, which will mean an end to the Matha system, a system clearly not favored by Prabhupada.
In a letter to Narayana Maharaja, dated September 30, 1969, Prabhupada gave his opinion of the ongoing legal wranglings among the various Gaudiya Matha parties: “Regarding the 92 section case against the Gaudiya Math, I don’t think there is any possibility of compromise. But the Baghbazar party and Mayapur party have unlawfully usurped the missionary institution of Srila Prabhupada, and whenever they will talk of a compromise, it means another complication.” In the same letter, Prabhupada wished Narayana Maharaja a quick recovery from some sickness, and politely turned down a request from him to sponsor a person’s travel to America from India, pleading that “to sponsor a person from India means to send him immediately a return ticket by air, which means Rs 12,000. I do not know who will be agreeing to invest this money for an unknown person.” Prabhupada turned down many other such requests, which periodically came from Gaudiya Matha members seeking entrance to America. In the very beginning, he had thought of bringing some Gaudiya Matha members from India to assist in starting his mission, but later reconsidered. Prahupada wrote to Bhagavan Dasa on November 14, 1975: “I am glad that you now have 20 devotees in Geneva. This is very encouraging. Try to train them up and gradually leave the matters to be managed by them, in the hands of the Swiss devotees. When I started this movement, I wanted to bring some men from India. The problem was that in India the men who joined the Gaudiya Math mission were not very educated. So I declined to bring them in the Western countries and by the grace of Krsna I was able to train the local men. And thus gradually, things became successful.”
In May of 1970, during his stay at the ISKCON temple in Los Angeles, Prabhupada noticed some discrepancies in the activities of his disciples. He thought some of the managers were becoming too self-important. He was upset that they were filtering his mail, not letting some letters reach him (in the name of not disturbing him). A book arrived from the ISKCON Press in Boston. It was a small paperback version of a chapter from the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The name given on the cover was simply A. C. Bhaktivedanta. The titles His Divine Grace and Swami Prabhupada were left out. In another publication, he was identified as simply the acarya of ISKCON. But he had always specifically asked that he be identified at the founder-acarya, emphasizing his special position. Prabhupada was also upset by letters coming from his disciples in India. In one such letter, a disciple had written that Prabhupada’s Godbrothers were saying he should not use the title Prabhupada. It should be used only in connection with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. Other letters contained suggestions that Prabhupada was not the only guru for ISKCON. Prabhupada was very concerned by these developments. He summoned some of his leading disciples from around the world, and made plans with them to leave Los Angeles. He said, “It is like a fire here. I must leave at once.” (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 4., p. 102). Prabhupada judged that his Godbrothers in India were behind everything. “I made my headquarter in Los Angeles. And they made a conspiracy against me. That’s all.” (Room conversation, Vrindavan, June 17 1977). Prabhupada added, “Anyway, forget the past. Push forward.”
Before Prabhupada left Los Angeles, he signed a document establishing a Governing Body Commission to run ISKCON. In this document he said, “I am getting old, 75 years old, therefore at any time I may be out of the scene, therefore I think it is necessary to give instruction to my disciples how they shall manage the whole institution.” The next day he signed a document setting up the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust to publish his books. Prabhupada then decided he would go to India to preach and establish temples. He wrote to Satsvarupa and Uddhava: “You are all my children, and I love my American boys and girls who are sent to me by my spiritual master and I have accepted them as my disciples. . . . After taking sannyas, I was more engaged in writing my books without any attempt to construct temples or to make disciples like my other Godbrothers in India. I am not very much interested in these matters because my Guru Maharaja liked very much publication of books than constructing big, big temples and creating some neophyte disciples. As soon as He saw that his neophyte disciples were increasing in number, He immediately decided to leave this world. . . . At the present moment in our ISKCON campus politics and diplomacy has entered. Some of my beloved disciples on whom I counted very, very much have been involved in this matter influenced by Maya. As such there has been some activity which I consider disrespectful. So I have decided to retire and divert attention to book writing and nothing more.” (Prabhupada-lilamrta vol. 4, p. 105)
Around this time, Prabhupada wrote to Jayapataka, who was staying with Acyutananda in Calcutta. He had been encouraging them to leave the Gaudiya Matha temple where they had been staying. The timing suggests that Prabhupada wanted to remove them from association he regarded as possibly damaging to their spiritual lives. The letter, dated July 10, 1970, read in part: “I have written two letters addressed to both you and Acyutananda in which I wanted to know if you have changed your place. In you letter dated 29th June you wrote to say, ‘We shall move into our apartment the next day after or tomorrow, Acyutananda says,’ but in your letter dated 2nd July it appears that you have not gone there, so I am surprised why the delay. It is not possible to stay at the Gaudiya Math because we want to organize our preaching work in our own way which we are following here. So in the Gaudiya Math we will not get any facility except for staying, neither they will be able to accommodate more men who are intending to go to India. . . . Regarding the Math, naturally because they are getting great name and fame by your service they will not like you to leave, but if more men go where they will live. I do not know why there is hesitation still. We must have our own place.” Up to this point, Prabhupada had tolerated his disciples living in the Gaudiya Matha temples in India, but now he wanted to change things, for two reasons. The first appears to have been a concern that they were being exposed to influences that were not helpful. The second appears that Prabhupada wanted to jump start his own temples in India, and needed his disciples to do the groundwork. Prabhupada also emphasized that there was a difference between his preaching and that of the Gaudiya Matha. This is evident in his statement that “it is not possible to stay at the Gaudiya Matha because we want to organize our preaching work in our own way which we are following here.” He also objected to the Gaudiya Matha using the presence of his American disciples, the results of his preaching in the West, to advertise its own position.
On his way to India, Prabhupada stopped in Japan. There he learned that at a festival in New Vrindavan four of his sannyasi disciples were preaching that he was Krishna. Prabhupada judged that they had been influenced by impersonalism, and sent them out of ISKCON for some time, to preach on their own. He suspected they had been contaminated by influences from the Gaudiya Matha in India.
On August 29, 1970, Prabhupada arrived with his disciples in Calcutta. He went to Navadvipa, where he met with his disciples in India, such as Acyutananda and Jayapataka. He began the serious effort that led to the establishment of major ISKCON centers in India. From this time on, he would make tours to the West, but he spent much time in India each year. In 1971 and 1972, he and his disciples obtained land in Mayapura, Vrindavan and Bombay and he began the construction of temples there.
During these early days in India, Prabhupada continued to warn his disciples about associating too closely with his Gaudiya Matha Godbrothers. Having uncovered more hints of a conspiracy of his Godbrothers against him, Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga on September 25, 1970 from Calcutta: “I am very pleased that you all GBC members are remaining vigilant so that the disturbance in our Society may not continue. In Isana and his wife’s letters there is reference to Tirtha Maharaja’s name, as if they were advised by Brahmananda Maharaja and company to come to India and join Tirtha Maharaja. It appears like that. I shall be glad if you kindly inquire on this point. It is now clear that my Godbrothers take objection of my being called as Prabhupada and on this point they wanted to poison the whole Society–that is now clear. But how it was manipulated–that is a mystery.”
Policy of Restricted Assocation
To Yamuna Devi Dasi, Prabhupada wrote on November 18, 1970, from Bombay: “Regarding the Gaudiya Math, our position has nothing to do with them. They cannot do anything and if somebody does something, they will be envious. That is the nature of third class men. My Guru Maharaja once told this story; one friend informed another that one man has become the High Court Judge. ‘Oh no,’ he replied, ‘No. That cannot be right.’ ‘Yes, he is now a Judge,’ said the first friend. ‘I have seen him sitting on the bench.’ The second man replied, ‘Maybe. But I don’t think he is getting any salary.’ Such envious men will find out some fault anywhere. There is no fault, actually, but they will manufacture some fault. That is their business. So many persons were envious of my Guru Maharaja, but He was preaching and did not care for them.”
In a letter Jayapataka Swami, dated February 23, 1971, Prabhupada once more gave his opinion about cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha: “So far as cooperating with my Godbrothers is concerned, that is not very urgent business. So far until now my Godbrothers have regularly not cooperated with me and by the grace of my Spiritual Master, things are still going ahead. So cooperation or non-cooperation, it is the desire of Bhaktivinode Thakura to preach the Caitanya cult all over the world and in 1875 he predicted that someone would come very soon who would individually preach this cult all over the world. So if his benediction is there and my Guru Maharaja’s blessings are there, we can go ahead without any impediment but all of us must be very sincere and serious. We have been a little inflicted by public criticism that we Godbrothers do not work together. My Guru Maharaja wanted also us to work together but some how or other it hasn’t happened up until now. So your program of cooperating with Madhava Maharaja is not so important. Best thing is that all we Godbrothers work together [my note: in the sense of each working separately to carry out the mission of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati by vigorous preaching]. Then the criticism will stop, otherwise even we join together, criticism will go on. So this has been going on for the last 24 years, but everyone of us is doing his best keeping Lord Caitanya in the center. We should be satisfied so much.” Here Prabhupada is apparently engaging in a little transcendental diplomacy. Prabhupada respects his Godbrothers. He appreciates that they are doing their best according to their understanding to carry out the mission of Lord Caitanya. But by referring to Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s prophecy, he is indicating that he is the one who has gotten the mercy of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. The implication is that the Gaudiya Mathas should be cooperating with Prabhupada, and that it is not seemly for Prabhupada’s disciples to be engaging in their own “cooperation” with his Godbrothers. Prabhupada appears to be saying that first of all let his Godbrothers come up to his level of preaching, following him, and then there might be some possibility of real joint endeavor.
About the lack of real preaching in the Gaudiya Mathas, Prabhupada said: “Missionary activity is not laziness or sleeping. My Guru Maharaja used to say that . . . [some gurus say] ‘I have got some dozens of disciples, and I have got a temple, and people are contributing. Now I have got good arrangement for eating and sleeping. Now I am perfect. Because I am getting some food without any work, and honor, then I am perfect.’ This is not the mentality. . . . You must be engaged continually for these missionary activity. The Gaudiya Mission has failed in preaching work because they adopted this principle. As soon as they got a little shelter under the name of Matha, or temple, and a few dozen of…, not few dozen, one dozen [disciples], then he is settled up there. Now he is bhajana, ‘Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna,’ showing that he is very great chanter. And what is your preaching? . . . Therefore my Guru Maharaja condemned this policy. Mana tumi kisera vaisnava: ‘What kind of Vaisnava you are?’ Pratisthara tare nirjanera ghare: ‘And simply for cheap popularity, Oh, he is a Vaisnava. He is chanting. All right.’ . . . No botheration, because if there is no preaching, there is no botheration. You can sit down and show people, ‘I have now become a very liberated soul,’ and chant and meditate. That means sleeping. This sort of business is condemned by my Guru Maharaja. Pratisthara tare nirjanera ghare tava harinama kevala. This is simply cheating. He did not approve this kind of business. He did not approve. He wanted to see that everyone is engaged in preaching work, some sort of preaching work, either indoor or outdoor. When you are indoor you have to be busy writing articles for a magazine and proofread and so many things indoors. And outdoors you have to go door to door, make them members, make them interested in this movement, collect money for expenses, outdoor. Preaching, you have to meet opposing elements. So many will criticize, so many will attack. Nityananda Prabhu was hurt personally, but still, outdoor. This is missionary work, not that ‘Whenever I find some opportunity, go to some solitary place and sleep.’ This is not missionary life. So we should adjust things, not that ‘All right, it is going on. That’s all.’ You have got very responsible business, this Krsna consciousness. It is genuine, it is authorized, and Lord Caitanya wants us to do it all over the world. The things should be adjusted and keep us always alive to our self responsibility. That is missionary life.” (Bhagavatam lecture, Gorakhpur, India, Feb. 11, 1971).
It has become a fashion recently for ex-ISKCON members or ISKCON members sympathetic to Gaudiya Matha gurus to bring such gurus out of India, and take them on tours of places where there are ISKCON centers. This is good, that they are getting out of their temples in India, and traveling about the world. But this kind of traveling can’t be compared to the kind of traveling that Prabhupada did, going out on his own into cities where there were no temples, no devotees, and, depending only on guru and Krishna, making devotees where there were none. If instead of collecting followers from among disaffected members of ISKCON these gurus would begin to organize missionary activities directed towards bringing Krishna consciousness to those who don’t have it, that would be an improvement. The distinguishing characteristic between ISKCON and the various Gaudiya Mathas remains ISKCON’s strong commitment to intensive missionary activity on a worldwide scale, under collective leadership. ISKCON members who don’t have the strength to continue a life dedicated to intensive missionary activity, or who have difficulty living under the system of collective management devised by Srila Prabhupada, following the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, may indeed find some comfort in the shelter of the Gaudiya Mathas, where there is less pressure, less organization, and more emphasis on bhajan. But that was not the style of Srila Prabhupada or Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who wanted to see lots of highly organized, dynamic, creative, intensive missionary activity on a worldwide scale.
Prabhupada seemed to find transcendental competition, rather than cooperation, the best model for ISKCON’s relationship to the Gaudiya Mathas. He wrote in a letter to Jayapataka Swami, dated July 30, 1972, about the Mayapur temple: “If you make it a first-class temple, there will be no lack of visitors for preaching, you will never even have to leave that place for preaching. And if you serve nice prasadam, the whole of India will come. So stick to our principles very rigidly, and everyone will come to see these American Vaisnavas. I want that we shall excel the Caitanya Math. They have been struggling for the last 50 years, and we shall surpass them in two years. We are working two shifts of labor: that is American style of doing things. I am very pleased if you can continue in this manner of American style. But if you do not, then I shall remain on the same level, then it is a great discredit to the Americans. But if I defeat my Godbrothers, then I am worthy to be called the guru of the Americans. Even there is competition in spiritual life.” Prabhupada’s prophecy came true. Anyone can make the comparison. On any weekend, go to Caitanya Matha, and you will see a quiet and peaceful place with almost no one there. Go to ISKCON Mayapur and you will see thousands of visitors crowding the place.
In February 1972, Prabhupada and his disciples visited Madras. One of Prabhupada’s more envious Godbrothers wrote to him: “Your disciples dance with Hare Krishna mantram, (I) are they really God-intoxicated as Lord Chaitanya? (II) Have you Swamiji really got free of your ego? If so, why you said, ‘I challenge,’ and why are words like ‘I’ and ‘my’ always on your lips? (III) Why do you use a cushion unlike a real yogi—Did Lord Chaitanya use cushions? (IV) Why do you wear a ring and a wrist gold watch? Are you not free from material attachment? (V) Did you visit Lord Chaitanya Krishna Temple at Gaudiya Math? If not, why not—The purest Vaishnava cult is indwelling there with pious Swamijis with Lord Krishna dwelling therein. Melodious sound from your throat is absent, but a jarceing [sic] undivine comes out. Is there any divinity in your person. I doubt. One disgusted on hearing your speech.”
A kinder letter came from Puri Maharaja, who invited Prabhupada and his disciples to visit his ashrama in Visakhapatnam. Prabhupada accepted the offer and arrived there with his disciples on February 17, 1972. Prabhupada had friendly dealings with Puri Maharaja and also with another Godbrother, Ananda Brahmacari. He cooked expertly for Prabhupada and his disciples, and humbly served the preparations to them. Puri Maharaja praised the preaching activities of Srila Prabhupada in the West. Prabhupada invited him to come to the West for preaching. He also invited him to come to Mayapura. Puri Maharaja agreed and traveled there with Prabhupada and his disciples.
On February 29, 1972, Gaura Purnima, Prabhupada conducted the official corner-stone laying ceremony for ISKCON Mayapura temple. He invited his Godbrothers to attend. Ten Gaudiya Matha sannyasis came. Prabhupada received them graciously. During the ceremony, each of the Godbrothers spoke in praise of Prabhupada’s preaching in the West. But a few days later, some of them returned to complain about his use of the title Prabhupada. He explained that his disciples were using this title out of their respect for him. But he did not use the title himself on his own stationary.
Prabhupada would sometimes use the example of the breakup of the Gaudiya Matha as a warning to his own disciples. He wrote to Kirtanananda Swami on October 18, 1973 the following letter:
Now this displeasing of Godbrothers has already begun and gives me too much agitation in my mind. Our Gaudiya Math people fought with one another after the demise of Guru Maharaja but my disciples have already begun fighting even in my presence. So I am greatly concerned about it.
Following in the footprints of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
trnad api su-nicena taror iva sahisnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniya sada harih
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”
We must always remember this verse and be as tolerant as the tree, as we execute the Krsna consciousness movement. Without this mentality we cannot be successful.
Material nature means dissension and disagreement, especially in this Kali yuga. But, for this Krsna consciousness movement its success will depend on agreement, even though there are varieties of engagements. In the material world there are varieties, but there is no agreement. In the spiritual world there are varieties, but there is agreement. That is the difference. The materialist without being able to adjust the varieties and the disagreements makes everything zero. They cannot come into agreement with varieties, but if we keep Krsna in the center, then there will be agreement in varieties. This is called unity in diversity. I am therefore suggesting that all our men meet in Mayapur every year during the birth anniversary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With all GBC and senior men present we should discuss how to make unity in diversity. But, if we fight on account of diversity, then it is simply the material platform. Please try to maintain the philosophy of unity in diversity. That will make our movement successful. One section of men have already gone out, therefore we must be very careful to maintain unity in diversity, and remember the story in Aesop’s Fables of the father of many children with the bundle of sticks. When the father asked his children to break the bundle of sticks wrapped in a bag, none of them could do it. But, when they removed the sticks from the bag, and tried one by one, the sticks were easily broken. So this is the strength in unity. If we are bunched up, we can never be broken, but when divided, then we can become broken very easily.
Srila Prabhupada did not want ISKCON to turn out like the Gaudiya Matha, a bunch of ineffective little mathas, with no strong, unified preaching. To some extent, Srila Prabhupada’s fear has been realized. Many ISKCON members have not been able to live with the admittedly difficult process of discussion and submission to collective decision making set up by Srila Prabhupada. Such members have become frustrated and displeased, and instead of continuing to work within the system, have left to set up their own organizations, have joined the organizations of various Gaudiya Matha gurus, or have drifted off into isolation. This has certainly weakened ISKCON. But to some extent, Srila Prabhupada’s hope has been realized. A critical mass of ISKCON members continues to work together, in the spirit of unity in diversity, tolerating all the difficulties of submitting to a process of collective decision making by the GBC. If we look carefully at the above letter, we can see that Srila Prabhupada says that the collective decision making process should involve not just the GBC but “all GBC and senior men.” To some extent, exclusive focus on the authority of the GBC may at times have weakened the collective decision making process. The presence of “all senior men” (and women) at Mayapur should be given due attention as part of ISKCON’s collective decision making process. But in the end, it does become necessary for each individual to adopt a humble mood and be prepared to bow to the will of the leadership system devised by Prabhupada. This also entails some sensitivity on the part of those who may find themselves in the party that prevails at any point in time. It may be said that at times the GBC has made the wrong decision. I cannot see that Srila Prabhupada ever said the GBC system would always yield a perfect result. He simply said that the considered opinion of a number of senior persons is preferable to the decision of one appointed leader (unless the one person happens to be the “self-effulgent acarya” who might arise out of the collective leadership, freely recognized by all). The vast gulf between ISKCON and the various Gaudiya Mathas has always been and remains acceptance of the principle of joint action under a collective decision making process.
In another warning to his disciples not to follow in the footsteps of the Gaudiya Matha, Prabhupada wrote to Gurukrpa Maharaja on September 30, 1975: “Why is there this politics? This is not good. If politics come, then the preaching will be stopped. That is the difficulty. As soon as politics come, everything is spoiled. In the Gaudiya Math the politics is still going on. My Guru Maharaja left in 1936, and now it is 1976, so after 40 years the litigation is still going on. Do not come to this.” It has become a fashion for persons who cannot accept the discipline of living under ISKCON’s system of collective decision-making, such as Adridharana Prabhu and Madhupandit Prabhu, to get the courts to impose their personal policy opinions on ISKCON. Although they protest they are not infected with the Gaudiya Matha disease, their symptoms are the same.
In yet another warning, Prabhupada wrote to Ramesvara Maharaja and Radhaballabha Dasa of the BBT on August 14, 1976: “The report of the book printing is both encouraging and surprising. Every time I see this I remember the words of my Guru Maharaja when he told me that wherever there was money it should be used to print books, not that we shall have big big temples and then fight in the court. He asked me to do this and I am trying my little bit, that’s all. It is all by his blessings for without his blessings this wonderful thing would not have happened. He said personally to me, ‘If I could sell this Gaudiya Matha building, that would have been better.’ He predicted that there would be fire within these walls. So I took it, ‘O, His Divine Grace wants some books.’ So I accepted it, ‘Yes, I shall do it.’ It is all by his blessings. Mukam karoti vacalam pangum langhayate girim, by his mercy a dumb man can speak and a lame man can cross a mountain.” Now we have seen that some managers of big ISKCON temples in India, Adridharana in Calcutta and Madhupandit in Bangalore, unhappy with the GBC’s rejection of their proposals for making Prabhupada the only initiator in ISKCON, have decided to take the matter to the Indian courts instead of abiding by the process of collective decision making. I cannot imagine that Prabhupada would be pleased with them.
Prabhupada would encourage devotees to adopt his own mood in carrying out service in the face of obstacles imposed by others. He wrote to Gaurasundara Dasa in a letter dated August 26, 1972: “All along I have been discouraged in every way by my Godbrothers, but still I have stuck to my duty, keeping my Spiritual Master always in front. Because there is some fighting or bickering amongst us, that does not mean that I should go away. If I have understood the order of my Spiritual Master rightly, then I must perform my duty under any circumstances and never once think of going away under disgust.” In the same spirit, Prabhupada wrote to Gurudasa Dasa, on August 29, 1972: “Do not be depressed. All along my Godbrothers gave me only depression, repression, compression–but I continued strong in my duty. So never mind there is some discouragement, continue with your work in full enthusiastic Krishna Consciousness attitude of service.”
Srila Prabhupada did not very much like his disciples to sell or read literatures from the Gaudiya Mathas. In a letter to Sukadeva Dasa, Prabhupada, dated November 14, 1973, Prabhupada said: “Regarding the Gaudiya Math books being circulated there, who is distributing? Who is sending these books? The Gaudiya Math does not sell our books, why we should sell their books. Who has introduced these books? Let me know. These books should not at all be circulated in our Society. Bhakti Vilas Tirtha is very much antagonistic to our society and he has no clear conception of devotional service. He is contaminated. Anyway, who has introduced these books? You say that you would read only one book if that was all that I had written, so you teach others to do like that. You have very good determination.” The reasons for Prabhupada’s objections appear to be several. He appeared to be concerned about some deliberate attempt to infiltrate Gaudiya Matha ideas into ISKCON, as suggested by his asking who sent the books. He was also concerned that deviations and contaminations may have entered the otherwise Vaisnava literature. Prabhupada had presented to ISKCON his own carefully considered synthesis of Vaisnava thought and practice, perfectedly adapted to time, place, and circumstance, and he was worried about the infiltration of different understandings that might have an unhealthy effect on the preaching instrument he had carefully crafted in furtherance of the desires of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. Reciprocity was another issue. Why sell their books, unless they sold his? Prabhupada also suggested that his own book were sufficient for ISKCON members.
Prabhupada also objected to an attempt by one of his Godbrothers, Purusottama Prabhu, to insert himself into the process of editing Prabhupada’s books. Prabhupada wrote to his disciple Karuna Sindhu Dasa on November 9, 1975: “I can understand this cunning Purusottama das has taken advantage of your simplicity. So any one of my Godbrothers cannot help me in this way of book writing because they are unfortunate in the matter of preaching work. They are simply trying to infiltrate our society to so something harmful by their attempt. So please do not have any correspondence with this Purusottama or any of my Godbrothers, so-called. And do not do anything without consulting me. You can inform this instruction to everyone and send back to me the sheets of corrections sent to you by Purusottama. I was very much anxious to know how Purusottama entered in our camp. Now the matter is clear. Be careful for further dealings with such men.”
Continuing his policy of warning his disciples from close association with the Gaudiya Mathas, Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga Maharaja on April 28, 1974:
You are right about Sridhara Maharaja’s genuineness. But in my opinion he is the best of the lot. He is my old friend, at least he executes the regulative principles of devotional service. I do not wish to discuss about activities of my Godbrothers but it is a fact they have no life for preaching work. All are satisfied with a place for residence in the name of a temple, they engage disciples to get foodstuff by transcendental devices and eat and sleep. They have no idea or brain how to broacast the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. My Guru Maharaja used to lament many times for this reason and he thought if one man at least had understood the principle of preaching then his mission would achieve success. In the latter days of my Guru Maharaja he was very disgusted. Actually, he left this world earlier, otherwise he would have continued to live for more years. Still he requested his disciples to form a strong Governing body for preaching the cult of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He never recommended anyone to be acarya of the Gaudiya Math. But Sridhara Maharaja is responsible for disobeying this order of Guru Maharaja, and he and others who are already dead unnecessarily thought that there must be one acarya. If Guru Maharaja could have seen someone who was qualified at that time to be acarya he would have mentioned. Because on the night before he passed away he talked of so many things, but never mentioned an acarya. His idea was acarya was not to be nominated amongst the governing body. He said openly you make a GBC and conduct the mission. So his idea was amongst the members of GBC who would come out successful and self effulgent acarya would be automatically selected. So Sridhara Maharaja and his two associate gentlemen unauthorizedly selected one acarya and later it proved a failure. The result is now everyone is claiming to be acarya even though they may be kanistha adhikari with no ability to preach. In some of the camps the acarya is being changed three times a year. Therefore we may not commit the same mistake in our ISKCON camp. Actually amongst my Godbrothers no one is qualified to become acarya. So it is better not to mix with my Godbrothers very intimately because instead of inspiring our students and disciples they may sometimes pollute them. This attempt was made previously by them, especially Madhava Maharaja and Tirtha Maharaja and Bon Maharaja but somehow or other I saved the situation. This is going on. We shall be very careful about them and not mix with them. This is my instruction to you all. They cannot help us in our movement, but they are very competent to harm our natural progress. So we must be very careful about them.
This is one of the more important of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions regarding ISKCON’s relationship with the Gaudiya Mathas. Srila Prabhupada’s thoughts about his Godbrother Sridhara Maharaja are worth careful consideration. Srila Prabhupada says on the positive side that he is genuine, that he is his old friend, that he executes the regulative principles of devotional service. Elsewhere he says that he has high realizations but is keeping them to himself. But the critical point is faithfulness to the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who wanted a strong governing body to guide the affairs of the Gaudiya Matha by collective decision making. On this crucial point, Prabhupada says that Sridhara Maharaja, despite all his good points, violated the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He attempted to artificially establish an acarya who would solely conduct initiations and guide the affairs for the Gaudiya Matha. When he failed to achieve this, due to the falldown of his proposed acarya, he became the sole acarya of his own Matha, and the other Godbrothers did likewise. Perpetuating his error, he also appointed a successor acarya to take his position in his own Matha after his death. Prabhupada points out that the Mathas established by Sridhara Maharaja and others were not characterized by vibrant, successful attempts to widely spread the teachings of Krishna consciousness. In this regard, they were not proper models and examples for his disciples, even though the leaders of such Mathas might individually have some good Vaisnava qualities and they might make some small contribution in their own way to the spreading of Krishna consciousness. Some of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers were, in his opinion, guilty not only of failing to establish a unified preaching mission and failing to do much on their own in the absence of such a unified preaching mission, but of deliberately trying to undermine ISKCON.
Some will wish to point to the history of falldown and scandal in ISKCON. As we have seen, the Gaudiya Matha is not without its own history of falldown and scandal. But there is a difference in falling down in pursuing the actual desire of the acarya and falling down in deviation from the actual desire of the acarya. ISKCON, for all its faults, has managed to keep intact the system of collective managament envisioned by Prabhupada and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. ISKCON did not make the mistake of trying to select a single acarya to conduct all initiations and decide all matters of policy for the whole Society. It has also not broken up into many individual organizations each with their own leader, although there have been some individuals, all influenced by Gaudiya Matha gurus, who have gone and set up such Gaudiya Matha style institutions on their own (Tripurari Swami, Paramadvaiti Swami, etc.). In ISKCON, there are many gurus and the decision making power is collectively exercised by the GBC in consort with other senior devotees such as sannyasis and temple presidents. That some leaders have fallen down in this process is certainly a cause of embarrassment. But Srila Prabhupada indicated that among the collective leadership it would be seen in time, in a practical way, who was spiritually realized and who was not. So we are seeing. But in the Gaudiya Matha, the falldowns took place in pursuance of deliberate disobedience of the orders of the acarya. So in the Gaudiya Matha, those who fall and those who don’t fall are, all of them, not completely in line with the desires of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. This defect could be remedied by their submitting to the existing collective decision making process in ISKCON. If they do not wish to join their institutions with ISKCON, then as far as possible ISKCON can try to work with them, to the extent that cooperation can be established along the lines approved by Srila Prabhupada. But under no circumstance can ISKCON permit any unreconstructed Gaudiya Matha leader, accustomed to see himself as the sole initiator in his Matha and the sole proprietor, to exercise any influence within ISKCON, even though such a leader might otherwise have some nice Vaisnava qualities and friendly intentions. And neither can ISKCON recommend that its members go to such persons for guidance in devotional life. In addition to nice Vaisnava qualities, such a person, if he is to be welcomed within ISKCON and recognized by ISKCON as a guide for its members, must show dedication to the dynamic worldwide preaching mission of Srila Prabhupada and submission to the collective management system of ISKCON. In making such distinctions I am not blindly applying statements that Prabhupada made long ago about Godbrothers now dead and gone. I have extracted from Prabhupada’s words some principles that have application beyond the particular circumstances under which they were first uttered. Applying these principles, I conclude that Prabhupada’s recommendation that ISKCON members not mix very thickly with Gaudiya Matha gurus is still valid today. We should not bear them ill will. We should behave properly with them on ceremonial occassions or when visiting their Mathas. But we should not intimately associate with them or try to bring them into ISKCON for leadership purposes. START
Prabhupada was always concerned when he detected signs of the Gaudiya Matha mentality developing in ISKCON. He wrote on October 8, 1974 to Karandhara Dasa: “All these properties and opulences, whatever we have got, this will not go with me when I go away from this world. It will remain here. I am training some of my experienced disciples how to manage after my departure. So if instead of taking the training, if in my lifetime you people say I am the Lord of all I survey, that is dangerous conspiracy. . . In India some of the important members they have collected huge amounts in the name of the Society and spent it luxuriously. I wanted you all my experienced disciples should manage the whole institution very cleverly without any personal ambition like ordinary materialistic men. The Gaudiya Math institution has become smashed, at least stopped its program of preaching work on account of personal ambitions.” Here we can see that Srila Prabhupada expected his own disciples to manage the movement after his departure. But he wanted them to do it without personal ambition. We can also see that he would not be happy if ISKCON survived as a collection of peaceful centers of bhajan. He wanted a unified, dynamic international preaching organization.
Prabhupada also said in his letter to Karandhara: “I believe all my students they are very serious devotees, maybe sometimes influenced by maya, but they can be corrected and the whole thing will go on as usual without any difficulty. Please try to help me in this connection in this endeavor.” This should be the proper attitude of all sincere disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Live in the Society he created, realizing that although sometimes things may appear to go wrong, they can be corrected, by the mercy and grace of Srila Prabhupada and his sincere followers who desire to help him in that connection.
The phenomenon of disappointed ISKCON members leaving the Society to take shelter of Gaudiya Matha gurus (or taking shelter of such gurus after having been asked to leave the Society) is not something new. It happened also during Prabhupada’s time, sometimes with his approval. On January 10, 1975, Prabhupada wrote to Asita Dasa, then residing at a Gaudiya Matha temple in Puri: “If you want to stay there I have no objection. For the time being you can perform your devotional service in Puri and when I return to Mayapur in mid-March, you can see me and we shall see what was the cause for your being asked to leave. It is a big establishment and sometimes disagreement happens and I am helpless. I am enquiring from Mayapur why you were asked to leave there. If you want to take initiation from Madhava Gosvami Maharaja I have no objection.”
Among all the choices available to this particular disciple, I am sure that Prabhupada would have had preferred a different outcome. But it would appear that if a disciple had lost a lot of faith in ISKCON, and apparently a lot of faith in Prabhupada, then Prabhupada was prepared to let that disciple do as he wished. But this was not an endorsement of Madhava Maharaja’s qualification to be a guide for all ISKCON members, nor was it meant to be the example for all ISKCON members to follow.
In 1975, one of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers, Bon Maharaja, toured universities in North America, making statements that belittled Prabhupada’s accomplishments. He insinuated that his own few writings were more authoritative and scholarly than Prabhupada’s monumental output, praised by scholars worldwide. Prabhupada instructed his disciples to challenge him in the following way: “You meet Bon Maharaja, and if he talks again . . . say, ‘You were sent in London for establishing a temple, why you could not do it? You remained there for three, four years. And why you were called back by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati? What did you do for the three, four years in spite of full support from Gaudiya Matha?’ We were sending seven hundred rupees. In those days seven hundred rupees means nowadays seven thousand. He was squandering the money. Authority, authority, scholarly, ‘how many books you have published from your institution for the last forty years?’ He was in London. In the 1930s he came back. Came back means Guru Maharaja called him back. Then he separated from Gaudiya Matha, and he tried to start this institution. . . . And it is ’75 , clear forty years. So what books you have published? Authority, scholarly, what books you have published? And how many scholars you have produced? Why it is closed now? . . . He has simply collected money like anything by this bluff. . . . Therefore Dalmia [a wealthy donor] said [to] one of the trustees, ‘You better give it [the institute] to Bhaktivedanta Swami.’ They have seen. . . . Institute of Oriental Philosophy? Yes. And the students are coming to him with knives. That is his popularity. Amongst his own students, he is threatened with knife. And he has to sign something by such threatening.” (Morning walk, Denver, June 30, 1975)
So it appears that in some cases, if a Gaudiya Matha member was demeaning ISKCON or Prabhupada, Prabhupada was willing to have his disciples reply in kind, directly questioning the Gaudiya Matha member’s competence and qualification, to his face. Today, this may also be necessary in some cases, with proper authorization from ISKCON’s governing body.
Prabhupada also said about Bon Maharaja, “Of course, he will not be able to do anything. Simply ask him, ‘You, sir, what you have done for the last forty years? And who asked you to start this institute? And why you were called back by Guru Maharaja?’ You ask these things. ‘And you performed some ceremony for neutralizing your guru-aparadha.’ He did it. [To] Some astrologer… He admitted that ‘I have offended my Guru Maharaja. So I am not improving. So can you suggest anything?’ He [the astrologer] said that “You offer 108 bilva patra to Lord Siva.” And he [Bon Maharaja] did it for so many . . .” (Morning walk Denver, June 30, 1975)
During a conference at a Canadian university, one of Prabhupada’s disciples, Uttamasloka Dasa, had replied to some of Bon Maharaja’s statements. For example, Uttamasloka had remarked that all of the scholars had been presenting various opinions about the Absolute Truth without coming to any conclusion about it, thus inviting a debate that would arrive at a conclusion. Bon Maharaja said Vaisnavas don’t argue and debate. Uttamasloka pointed out that Lord Caitanya had converted Prakasananda Sarasvati by argument. “Oh, yes, very good,” said Prabhupada, hearing of this. Bon Maharaja had then said that actually Prakasananda had been converted by Lord Caitanya’s effulgence, not His arguments. “But there was argument, rascal!” interjected Prabhupada, interrupting a devotee’s account of the incident. Bon Maharaja had complained to the scholars that ISKCON devotees are in general intolerant. Prabhupada, as if directly answering Bon Maharaja, said, “You are also not tolerant . . . Because you are envious.” (Morning walk Denver, June 30, 1975)
Srila Prabhupada voiced the same sentiments in a letter to Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, dated June 4, 1975: “Regarding, Bon Maharaja, I am actually authority accepted by authority. In the Caitanya Caritamrta it is said, krsna sakti vina nahe nama pracar. So, now the Hare Krishna movement is world known, and learned scholars, etc. give plaudits to me as Professor Judah has. So, then why I am not authority? Nobody says Bon Swami has done it, or Vivekananda, or any other swami. There are so many yogis and swamis coming, but nobody is giving credit to them, they are giving the credit to me. So, why I am not an authority? If Krishna accepts me as authority, then who can deny it? Besides that, in 1933, Bon was given the first chance to preach Lord Caitanya’s movement in London. He remained there about four years and not a single person could be converted to become a Vaisnava and he was receiving regularly 700rs. per month for his expenditure, being supported by the whole Gaudiya Math institution, and still, as he could not do anything appreciable, he was called back by Guru Maharaja. Then where is his authority? Our authority comes from Parampara system. If the Guru was not satisfied with him and called him back, and since then, he gave up connection with Gaudiya Math and started his own institution, then how he becomes authority? And in spite of all these things, if he is still authority by his own imagination, then people should ask him what he has been doing for the last 40 years, about the objective of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Even if he thinks that he has done, certainly he has not done better than me. Under the circumstances, accepting him as an authority, I am greater and better authority than him. So, all Vaisnavas are authorities to preach Krishna Consciousness, but still, there are degrees of authorities. On the whole, if his motive is to supress me and that is why he has come here, how we can receive him? He has already given one Professor a wrong impression. He may be treated as a guest, if he comes to our center, give him prasadam, honor him as an elder Vaisnava, but he cannot speak or lecture. If he wants to lecture, you can tell him that there is already another speaker scheduled. That’s all.”
This letter forms the basis of ISKCON’s policy toward Gaudiya Matha gurus, with questionable attitudes toward ISKCON and Prabhupada, who may wish to speak in ISKCON temples. We honor them as elder Vaisnavas, but we do not let them speak, unless they have proved themselves in line with the spirit of Krishna consciousness exemplified by Srila Prabhupada and are properly respectful of those he left in charge of the institution he created. ISKCON, as given to us by Srila Prabhupada, is a finely tuned instrument for the dynamic mass propagation of Krishna consciousness in the modern world, and even apparently minor differences from Prabhupada’s example in teaching and practice can upset the delicate balance. Therefore we are cautious about letting Gaudiya Matha gurus enter the ISKCON Society, particularly if they are accustomed to functioning in the Matha system instead of the collective management system instituted by Srila Prabhupada, following Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s instructions for how the Gaudiya Matha was to be managed after his departure. If we could find a Gaudiya Vaishnava guru who would submit to guidance by the collective management system of ISKCON, such a guru might be welcome to speak in ISKCON temples. Another qualification would be accomplishments in the preaching field that we might imagine Srila Prabhupada would consider substantial. Unfortunately, at the present moment there does not appear to be any such guru among the various Gaudiya Matha organizations (or among the various former ISKCON members who have become gurus of their own Gaudiya-Math style groups).
Therefore, intimate association should continue to restricted. In the wake of the Bon Maharaja incident, and other incidents, Prabhupada asked his disciples to strictly avoid associating with the Gaudiya Matha. He wrote to Visvakarma Dasa on November 9, 1975: “I am in due receipt of your letter dated September 3, 1975 with the enclosed statement about Van [Bon] Maharaja. So I have now issued orders that all my disciples should avoid all of my Godbrothers. They should not have any dealings with them nor even correspondence, nor should they give them any of my books or should they purchase any of their books, neither should you visit any of their temples. Please avoid them.” This restriction remained in force up to the time of Prabhupada’s departure, when he authorized some limited association for limited purposes with some Gaudiya Matha personalities.
Prabhupada did not consider his references to his own preaching success to be a manifestation of pride or false ego. He said to his disciples: “So it is not my pride, but I can say, for your instruction, I did it. Therefore whatever little success you see than my all my Godbrothers, it is due to this. I have no capacity, but I took it, the words of my guru, as life and soul. So this is fact.” (Bhagavatam lecture, Philadelphia, July 12, 1975)
In explaining the failure of his Gaudiya Matha Godbrothers to accomplish much in the way of substantial preaching, Prabhupada said, “Because one important person learns the science, he will preach it all over the earth. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has directly said they [such preachers] are not ordinary persons. So unless one is materially not ordinary, he cannot preach. All the Gosvamis, they were coming from respectable… And where Gaudiya Matha came? These are third-class men, no position in their past life. . . That’s all. Uneducated, half-educated, poor, poverty-stricken. They could not do anything. Some of our Godbrothers I have beat them.” He made an exception for Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja, who had been able to do something with Caitanya Matha: “In his previous life he had a big, big business organization. So therefore he has been able to organize.” But as far as the others were concerned: “They will admit. They are coming from some third-class status of life . . . this is fact. . . . Who established the mission of Caitanya Mahaprabhu? Rupa Gosvami. He was minister. He was not a cultivator, plow department.” (Morning walk, Perth, May 8, 1975).
Prabhupada compared the quality of the persons joining the Gaudiya Matha to those that were joining ISKCON. He said: “And here they are poverty-stricken. Generally they come, join this [Gaudiya Matha] institution, those who are poverty-stricken, not willingly, ‘Oh, here is a good institution. We should join.’ That is very rarely. . . . The father-mother cannot maintain them, so entrust them Gaudiya Matha. . . . Not that willingly they’re coming, ‘Oh, it is good institution.’ That they do not. One or two, that way they are coming. Otherwise . . . generally all helpless people, no caretaking at home, ‘So let me go to…[Gaudiya Matha].’” (Room conversation, Mayapura, Feb. 20, 1977). Of course, there are also some people who come to ISKCON in that way, and in that regard we should remember what Prabhupada said here.
About his Godbrothers Prabhupada said, “I wanted to serve. That is the difference. But now it is clear. None of them, they want to serve. They want to make one establishment so that they can eat and sleep. Of course, there is some preaching, but if, there is, preaching is the purpose, why they should separate? That is not the purpose. The purpose is that ‘I must have some separate establishment as ordinary karmis they have got their separate establishment.’ Preaching is not that, neither they can preach with enviousness. So, what to do?” (Room conversation, February 10, 1977). In the course of this same conversation, Prabhupada said of his Godbrothers who were speaking against him, “They are very envious.” He went on to recommend: “So envious, upeksa, means they should not be associated . . . . Four division. So four divisions you have to treat in different ways. Prema, Lord, prema, love. Maitri, friendship with devotees. Krpa balisu, those who are innocent, the krpa. Let them learn. And upeksa. As soon as come to the dvisat [envious], no cooperation. Keep aloof. So when we try to keep aloof from the envious, that is not our enviousness. That is just to avoid trouble for preaching work. Not that we hate them. But because… When you avoid a snake, it does not mean I hate the snake, but because he is harmful we have to take precaution. This is the statement of Bhagavatam.” This is the philosophical basis for ISKCON’s remaining aloof from the Gaudiya Matha. We do not hate the Gaudiya Matha gurus, but we have practical experience that they cause difficulties in our preaching, so we remain aloof from them; we avoid them, as much as possible. We should note that Prabhupada’s recommendation for keeping aloof came during his last months.
Jayapatka, concerned about ISKCON members running to the Gaudiya Matha for instruction in Krishna’s most confidential pastimes, said: “So many devotees are very innocent.They’ll fall prey. They’ll be impressed by some fancy talking and then can be misled.” Prabhupada replied, “Yes.” Jayapataka Maharaja continued, “But Your Divine Grace is very expert in very carefully training them up stage by stage.” Prabhupada replied, “Yes.” (Room conversation, Mayapur, Feb. 10, 1977). This conversation ended with Prabhupada and his disciples discussing how one of the Gaudiya Matha sannyasis, Damodara Maharaja, had tried to implicate ISKCON in some legal proceedings. Regarding Damodara Maharaja, Prabhupada wrote to Jayapataka Swami on December 4, 1976: “Damodara Maharaja is a dangerous man. Remain very cautious with him. He is always causing difficulty.”
Prabhupada had set up ISKCON so that much of its income came from selling books. About the Gaudiya Matha, he said, “They have no other way of income except begging in different way. Now they have taken to this business, parikrama. They earn something, lump sum, by calling men to parikrama, and they pay, say, two hundred rupees. Out of [this], a hundred rupees they save, minimum, and that is their whole year’s livelihood. . . . because they have no books.” (Room conversation, Mayapura, Feb. 18, 1977).
Even though Prabhupada gave Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja, among his Godbrothers, credit for organizing at least a little bit, he considered his own accomplishments to be in a different league. In 1976, devotees brought to Prabhupada a pamphlet published by Caitanya Matha, glorifying the activities of Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja (formerly Kunjavihari Babu). A disciple read from the pamphlet: “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Thakura took hold of Gaudiya Vaisnavism . . . . In proper time, he got a great personality who readily shouldered the burden of the mighty mission of Srila Sarasvati Thakura.” Prabhupada interrupted: “Just see now. ‘He got a great personality.’ He is that personality. He’ll also prove that.” The disciple continued reading: “That great personality is President Acaryadeva, his holiness Sri Srimad Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja…” Prabhupada said: “This great personality, why he is not accepted by other disciples? How he became a great personality? . . . No one accepts him.”
The pamphlet continued: “In all the missionary works and the management of the mathas, Srila Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Gosvami Maharaja was the right hand of his Gurudeva. By his constant, unstinted service rendered to Srila Prabhupada, whose most intimate disciple he was, he almost became a counterpart of that great saint.” One of Prabhupada’s disciples commented that this language meant that Tirtha Maharaja was “trying to become equal or superior to guru.” Prabhupada said, “Superior.”
The pamphlet continued: “In all preaching work, everybody felt the sober but encouraging hand of Srila Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Gosvami Maharaja. Srila Prabhupada never did anything without consulting him first or without his consent.”
The pamphlet also attempted to subsume Prabhupada’s worldwide preaching under the banner of Bhaktivilas Tirtha Maharaja: “There may not be any doubt among the well-informed people that the Sri Caitanya Matha, with its branches, Sri Gaudiya Mathas, throughout India and abroad, have been propagating the greatest religion, which, from a realistic point of view, has helped to build up a true civilization. Today, due to the activities of Sri Caitanya Matha, a spiritual thirst has been created, especially among the deep-thinking and educated people of the world, for people from all over the world are coming to this institution to learn and follow the great religion of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and to understand the practical Indian way of life.” (Room conversation, Mayapur, January 19, 1976). At this time, no one except Srila Prabhupada had attracted a large worldwide following. Tamal Krsna Maharaja said, “He’s speaking against us all the time. He never says anything good about us.” Prabhupada replied, “He is very envious about us.” At this time, Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja was avoiding coming to the ISKCON center at Mayapur, but was always trying to induce Prabhupada to come to his center. Prabhupada suggested that his policy was to make “an attempt to mix with us so he can take advantage.” According to Prabhupada, Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja wanted to somehow or other take credit for Prabhupada’s accomplishments.
One of Prabhupada’s disciples said, “People are attracted by the Westerners coming to the matha. So if we’re up at that matha [Caitanya Matha], any of us, and then they [the Matha members] say, ‘Just see.’ They say in Bengali, ‘Just see. They are coming. To see our guru maharaja, they are coming.’” Prabhupada answered: “That was the policy of Madhava Maharaja and Sridhara Maharaja, that ‘Although Bhaktivedanta Swami is propagating throughout [the world], he is subordinate to us, under our instruction.’” But Prabhupada’s main response was: “Let them do whatever nonsense they want. We shall do our own business.” He pressed his disciples to get on with the construction of the Mayapur Temple of Vedic Planetarium. Already, far more people were coming to ISKCON’s Mayapur center than to the Gaudiya Matha temples, and Prabhupada wanted that process to continue. (Room conversation, Mayapur, January 19, 1976) What can we learn from this? In evaluating Gaudiya Matha gurus, we should note whether or not they are trying to say that Prabhupada was in some way their subordinate. One way this comes out is through suggestions that Prabhupada was giving only basic teachings whereas the Gaudiya Matha guru is giving the more advanced teachings.
Prabhupada’s Godbrothers were amazed by the expansion of the Krishna consciousness movement. Some of them thought that it was because of something more than Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Prabupada said: “Yes. Our Tirtha Maharaja is accusing me that I have got two crores of rupees from American government to start this movement. (laughs) Even my Godbrother says, what to speak of others.” (Conversation, Mayapura, February 14, 1977).
About the level of Deity worship found in Gaudiya Matha temples, Prabhupada said, “How they can worship? The worship is done by devotee. Unless you create devotee, where is the question of worshiping? Without devotee it is idol worship. There is no life. And without life, how can you pull on artificially?” (Morning walk, Delhi, November 30, 1973) In ISKCON, we should also remember this important aspect of Deity worship. The best form of worship is to have a vibrant, dynamic program for bringing more and more devotees to the lotus feet of the temple Deity. This gives life to the temple. Without this life of preaching, of making new devotees, gradually the number of worshipers of the Deity will decrease to a few old priests.
A temple should be a center for preaching. Prabhupada said: “My Guru Maharaja used to say, prana arthe yanra sei hetu pracara. ‘One who has got life, he can preach.’ The dead man cannot preach. So you become with life, not like dead man. Without life… Just like all my Godbrothers. They are dead men. And therefore they are envious of my activities. They have no life. If you want to make easy-going life, showing the Deity and then sleep, then it is a failure movement.” (Morning walk, Los Angeles, July 13, 1974)
In 1976, Prabhupada received another proposal for cooperation from B.S. Bodhayana Maharaja. Prabhupada replied to him in a letter dated November 9, 1976: “I’m very much obliged to you that you write to say, ‘It is clear to me that you are great powerful Acarya in the Vaisnava world at present.’ Sometimes Sridhara Maharaja also says like that. So, actually if you are feeling like that let us work conjointly. There is great prospect for preaching Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s message all over the world and in India also. At least in India we can preach very vigorously if we combine together. It is already tested in many cases. Whenever we held some festival in big, big cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras, Delhi, etc. thousands of men gather and they request regularly to continue the program. Recently we held a similar program in Candigargh and the devotees of Sri Caitanya Gaudiya Math also participated. They invited me in the local center of Sri Caitanya Gaudiya Math and many thousands of people came to hear me. So there is great prospect if we work conjointly at least in India. So you can consult Sridhara Maharaja also. He’s also of that opinions you have opined and if in this old age we can do something combinedly it will be a great triumph. I thank you very much once more.” The letter essentially says that if Bodhayana Maharaja and Sridhara Maharaja actually think that Srila Prabhupada is the greatest and most powerful Vaisnava acarya in the world at present, then they should give him all facility to preach in the Gaudiya Matha temples so that thousands of people could hear Prabhupada. For Prabhupada, cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha meant that the Gaudiya Matha should give facility for and participate in ISKCON’s highly successful large scale preaching, and not that ISKCON should give facility to the Gaudiya Matha’s efforts.
Sometimes Gaudiya Matha disciples would come to take shelter in ISKCON. But Srila Prabhupada was not very eager to allow this, as can be seen in his letter to Jayapataka Swami, dated December 4, 1976: “Regarding the two men who have come to us from Gaudiya Math, for the time being we should try not to give shelter to such persons unless they are tested.” This is the model for ISKCON’s current policies regarding giving shelter to disciples of Gaudiya Matha gurus. They can be tested on an individual basis to see whether or not they can remain submissive to ISKCON’s system of authority.
In April 1977, Prabhupada made some reference in a room conversation to some statements he had made about his Godbrothers in one of his Caitanya-caritamrta purports. The verse and purport read as follows (Cc. Adi-lila 12.8):
At first all the followers of Advaita Acarya shared a single opinion. But later they followed two different opinions, as ordained by providence.
The words daivera karana indicate that by dint of providence, or by God’s will, the followers of Advaita Acarya divided into two parties. Such disagreement among the disciples of one acarya is also found among the members of the Gaudiya Matha. In the beginning, during the presence of Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split into two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were asara, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master. Despite the spiritual master’s order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gaudiya Matha, the two unauthorized factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.
Therefore, we do not belong to any faction. But because the two parties, busy dividing the material assets of the Gaudiya Matha institution, stopped the preaching work, we took up the mission of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Bhaktivinoda Thakura to preach the cult of Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world, under the protection of all the predecessor acaryas, and we find that our humble attempt has been successful. We followed the principles especially explained by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita verse vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana. According to this instruction of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, it is the duty of a disciple to follow strictly the orders of his spiritual master. The secret of success in advancement in spiritual life is the firm faith of the disciple in the orders of his spiritual master. The Vedas confirm this:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
“To one who has staunch faith in the words of the spiritual master and the words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the secret of success in Vedic knowledge is revealed.” The Krsna consciousness movement is being propagated according to this principle, and therefore our preaching work is going on successfully, in spite of the many impediments offered by antagonistic demons, because we are getting positive help from our previous acaryas. One must judge every action by its result. The members of the self-appointed acarya’s party who occupied the property of the Gaudiya Matha are satisfied, but they could make no progress in preaching. Therefore by the result of their actions one should know that they are asara, or useless, whereas the success of the ISKCON party, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which strictly follows guru and Gauranga, is increasing daily all over the world. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura wanted to print as many books as possible and distribute them all over the world. We have tried our best in this connection, and we are getting results beyond our expectations.
About this passage, Prabhupada said in a conversation that took place on April 12, 1977 in Vrindavan: “In one place I have criticized my Godbrothers . . . in Caitanya-caritamrta. . . . Sridhara Maharaja is little . . .[upset?]” A disciple asked Srila Prabhupada if Sridhara Maharaja had read it. Prabhupada replied, “I think so.” The disciple asked if Sridhara Maharaja had made any comment. Prabhupada said: “He cannot make any comment. These are facts. Two parties there were. One party, to use guru as their instrument for self-aggrandizement, and another party left guru. So both of them are offenders. This Kunja Babu, this Tirtha Maharaja’s party, he wanted to enjoy senses through guru. And the Bagh Bazaar party, they left. . . . So both of them are severe offenders. . . . Sridhara Maharaja belonged to the Bagh Bazaar party. And I was living aloof. My Guru Maharaja approved. He said, ‘It is better that he is aloof from them.’ . . . . he [Bhakisiddhanta Sarasvati] was very sorry. At the last stage he was disgusted.”
Here is a similar purport from Caitanya-caritamrita (Adi 12.12): “There are many disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but to judge who is actually his disciple, to divide the useful from the useless, one must measure the activities of such disciples in executing the will of the spiritual master. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura tried his best to spread the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to countries outside India. When he was present he patronized the disciples to go outside India to preach the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but they were unsuccessful because within their minds they were not actually serious about preaching His cult in foreign countries; they simply wanted to take credit for having gone to foreign lands and utilize this recognition in India by advertising themselves as repatriated preachers. Many svamis have adopted this hypocritical means of preaching for the last eighty years or more, but no one could preach the real cult of Krsna consciousness all over the world. They merely came back to India falsely advertising that they had converted all the foreigners to the ideas of Vedanta or Krsna consciousness, and then they collected funds in India and lived satisfied lives of material comfort. As one fans paddy to separate the real paddy from useless straw, by accepting the criterion recommended by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami one can very easily understand who is a genuine world-preacher and who is useless.”
Prabhupada made more favorable statements about his Godbrothers, such as this one from his Bhagavatam purports: “Among Vaisnavas there may be some difference of opinion due to everyone’s personal identity, but despite all personal differences, the cult of Krsna consciousness must go on. We can see that under the instructions of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja began preaching the Krsna consciousness movement in an organized way within the past hundred years. The disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja are all Godbrothers, and although there are some differences of opinion, and although we are not acting conjointly, every one of us is spreading this Krsna consciousness movement according to his own capacity and producing many disciples to spread it all over the world. As far as we are concerned, we have already started the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and many thousands of Europeans and Americans have joined this movement. Indeed, it is spreading like wildfire. The cult of Krsna consciousness, based on the nine principles of devotional service (sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam/ arcanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam), will never be stopped. It will go on without distinction of caste, creed, color or country. No one can check it.” (Bhagavatam 4.28.31, purport) Even here we can see that Prabhupada is subtly highlighting his special achievement, indicating that his capacity was greater than that of his Godbrothers. And, as we have seen from the statements made by Prabhupada in the above cited conversation that took place in 1977, he never withdrew the comments he made in his Caitanya-caritamrta purports.
Srila Prabhupada’s dealings with his Godbrothers were complex. In his personal dealings he was cordial. He appreciated that they were following regulative principles and doing their best, according to their understanding, to fulfill the desires of Lord Caitanya and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. But at the same time he never forgot that they were responsible for disobeying the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and he could make realistic comparisons between their accomplishments and his own. He was also capable of guaging the proper relationship between his disciples and his Godbrothers, between ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha. And his decision was that the relationship should be a limited one. His disciples should be respectful of the Gaudiya Matha but should not mix very thickly with it. None of the factors entering into that judgement have changed, and therefore the policy is still valid today.
In 1977, some of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples were negotiating with with the head of the Gaudiya Matha branch in Dacca, who wanted to give his temple to ISKCON. Prabhupada told his disciples about the previous history of the place. The temple was originally started by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, but after his disappearance Bhaktivilasa Tirtha Maharaja wanted to give it to a Calcutta Muhammadan in exchange for a piece of property in Calcutta. Srila Prabhupada personally intervened, informing the original donor of the temple what was being planned. Prabhupada thus sabotaged his Godbrother’s plan. Prabhupada recalled the episode: “Gaudiya Matha. Gaudiya Matha. . . . So it will be nice. That [Dacca temple] was started by my Guru Maharaja. We have to take. . . . Tirtha Maharaja was planning to exchange that property with a Calcutta Muhammadan, that he would give him that property, and this Muhammadan would give him this property, his property. I checked it. I approached the donor, the Bali-hatti zamindar, that ‘You donated this temple and it is going to be in the hands of Muhammadan. Do you like it?’ So he said, ‘No, I don’t like it.’ I said, ‘Make it inquiry.’ He inquired, and he immediately wrote Tirtha Maharaja that ‘You are contemplating. This we do not approve. We are the donor.’ So Tirtha Maharaja replied him that ‘It is no more in the hands of the donor. I am the trustee. Whatever I like, I can do.’ . . . . There was very strong correspondence, and Tirtha Maharaja could not dare to do it. Otherwise he arranged like that, to give the temple to a Muhammadan and accept a Calcutta property which belonged to the Muhammadan. . . . He had no spiritual idea. Simply he wanted to exploit the property. That’s all.” (Room Conversation, Bhubaneshwar, January 19, 1977) Regarding the attempts of his disciples to get the Dacca Gaudiya Matha temple from its current leaders, Prabhupada said: “These people will not give. . . . These rascals, Gaudiya Matha. . . . They have nothing. . . . .There is no poison, but the hood is [there, like a snake]: ‘Arrhh.’ (laughs) . . . . Even this bite, there is no poison. . . . Canakya Pandita says, manina bhusitah sarpah kim asau na bhayankarah: A snake . . . sometimes snake has got some jewel on the hood. So he can go in the darkness by the light of the hood. If somebody thinks, ‘Oh, here is a snake with jewel. Let me embrace him,’ no, no, no, it is very ferocious. Even it is jewel there, it is ferocious. Similarly, these people are envious. Although they have become so-called Vaisnava, they are ferocious. They have not acquired the qualification of Vaisnava. Simply vesopidin(?), by dress. So what is there? They could not do for the last fifty-sixty years. Still… They wanted to exchange. I stopped it.” (Room conversation, May 24, 1977)
In Prabhupada’s last weeks, he was visited by Narayana Maharaja. Prabhupada said that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had “said that we should preach in Europe, America. That was his desire. And his other desire was that we all would work together jointly to preach.” Narayanana Maharaja said, “Yes, that is right.” Prabhupada then expressed again his desire that Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers work jointly. He also asked his Godbrothers for forgiveness. Furthermore, he asked Narayana Maharaja to guide the ceremonies which would take place upon his departure from this world. Narayana Maharaja also said that whatever Prabhupada had created should be protected, and pledged to help.(Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 6, pp. 399-400). There were other visits from Prabhupada’s Godbrothers. On one occasion twenty of them gathered around his bed. Prabhupada repeated his requests for forgiveness of any offenses he may have committed. Prabhupada said, “All over the world there is a beautiful field to preach Krishna consciousness. I didn’t care whether I should be successful or not. People are willing to take. They are all taking also. If we preach together, the saying of Mahaprabhu, prthivite, will come true.” Prabhupada said, “Forgive all my offenses. I became proud of my opulence.” Puri Maharaja replied, “No, you never became proud. When you started preaching, opulence and success followed you. That was the blessing of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Krishna. There cannot be any question of your being offensive . . . . You have saved millions of people around this world.” Others of his Godbrothers said, “You are the eternal leader. You rule over us, guide us, and chastise us.” (Prabhupada-lilamrta, vol. 6. pp. 415-416).
Some have suggested that ISKCON’s current policy toward the Gaudiya Matha should be based on a onesided interpretation of these exchanges between Prabhupada and his Godbrothers. The implication is that Prabhupada really had been offensive, and that his Godbrothers had forgiven him. And now Prabhupada’s disciples should be prepared to forget everything Prabhupada had told them about the Gaudiya Matha and his Godbrothers, and accept them as competent to guide them, individually and collectively, in Prabhupada’s absence. But I don’t see this as the best way to understand these last exchanges. Throughout his life, Prabhupada had always been cordial with his Godbrothers in his personal dealings. He would visit them at their mathas, and he would invite them to his temples in India. On these occasions he would always show them proper respect, and there would be affectionate dealings, appropriate to the circumstances. They were his Godbrothers and he loved and respected them, yet at the same time he had a realistic appreciation of their shortcomings and failings. This should not be surprising. As an ISKCON member, I sometimes encounter Godbrothers who once had big positions but did not live up to the expectations of Srila Prabhupada. I know this, but at the same time, I can see that even in their present positions they are still disciples of Prabhupada. I know that he appreciated their service. I can deal with them respectfully and affectionately, but at the same time I remain aware of their shortcomings. If we look at all the statements that Prabhupada made about the Gaudiya Matha and his Godbrothers in 1977, we see that he did not change his basic opinion about them. So I think that Prabhupada’s last personal exchanges with his Godbrothers are not essentially different from any other personal exchanges he had with them. He was always cordial to them. He was always ready to cooperate with them, on terms he specified. And he was always aware of their shortcomings and how his disciples should behave towards them.
Another angle is that most of the Gaudiya Matha personalities Prabhupada talked about are now gone. This is certainly true, but Prabhupada was not differing with his Godbrothers simply on a personal basis but on the basis of fundamental actions,policies, and attitudes. It is certainly true that statements Prabhupada made in relation to departed Gaudiya Matha personalities do not automatically apply to their successsors. But to the extent that the successors manifest the same actions, attitudes, and policies as their predecessors, the statements made by Prabhupada should apply. Some of the objectionable actions, attitudes, and policies would be: 1. continuing failure to unite the Gaudiya Mathas for dynamic preaching, under a real collective authority system; 2. mediocre preaching results in whatever organizations exist now; 3. attitudes of superiority to Prabhupada, manifested, for example, in the attitude that Prabhupada gave the basics, and the Gaudiya Matha guru is giving the advanced teachings; 4. policies subversive of ISKCON authority and preaching, such as canvassing for disciples among ISKCON members.
In any case, if we want to make a big issue of last statements, then we should also pay attention to statements by Prabhupada’s Godbrothers that he was not offensive and that he was the eternal leader of all the Gaudiya Matha Godbrothers, meant to rule, guide, and chastise them. I would take this to mean that they, or their current representatives in the Gaudiya Matha, should follow the instructions and desires of Srila Prabhupada by becoming part of the preaching instrument he created. They should harmonize their teachings with his, their practical instructions with his, their institutions with his.
Another point to consider is that in his last will, Prabhupada indicated that property trustees and managers were to be his disciples, indicating that Gaudiya Matha personalities were not eligible for these leadership positions.
As a practical gesture of cooperation, Prabhupada set up the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust to help renew places of pilgrimage in Mayapura, working with the Gaudiya Matha temples. Gaudiya Matha sympathizers take this to mean that Prabhupada desired that ISKCON should cooperate with the Gaudiya Matha to the extent that ISKCON should become part of the Gaudiya Matha “family” and accept the leadership of senior Gaudiya Matha personalities. But Srila Prabhupada’s references to cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha were on the level of practical preaching matters only, with no mention of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples approaching Gaudiya Matha personalities for spiritual instructions in the higher levels of Krsna consciousness. Even the instructions about practical cooperation were very specific. Any merging of institutions was to be strictly on ISKCON’s terms. Earlier, Srila Prabhupada wrote concerning a proposal about jointly developing the birthsite of Bhaktivinoda Thakura with Lalita Prasad, the brother of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati:
“Regarding Lalita Prasad Thakura’s proposal, merging is possible in two ways: They become merged in our institution and we make it as one of our branches. In that case, as we are supplying all necessities to our branches, similarly, this branch will be also supported. When there is scarcity of money, everything will be provided by us. So in that case the management will be under our direction. Otherwise, if they want to keep their own identity then there is no other alternative than to take the land on lease. They can keep aside their portion independently, and the land which is given to us on lease, we keep ourselves independently. So far our relationship is concerned, even though we keep independent of one another, there will be no misunderstanding, because the central point is Bhaktivinode Thakura. Our only ambition is that the birthsite of Bhaktivinode Thakura must be gorgeous and attractive so that people may come to see from all parts of the world. Bhaktivinode Thakura is no longer localized. His holy name is being expanded along with Lord Caitanya’s. So let them understand this point. They are occupying the place for more than 50 years and none of their men could fulfill the desire of Bhaktivinode Thakura in the matter of preaching in foreign countries. With this spirit we should combine. So next you can talk with them on this understanding. I can understand also that Lalita Prasad Thakura is very much favorable in giving us the concession but his assistants may be hesitating unnecessarily.”(letter, May 17, 1972)
Here it is clear that any merging means they merge into ISKCON under ISKCON’s control and leadership (because ISKCON had demonstrated its superiority in the matter of practical preaching). It is not merging for the sake of merging. Srila Prabhupada had a very specific object in mind. He did not see that ISKCON was lacking in any way, and that merging would provide ISKCON with better spiritual leadership. He simply wanted that the birthsite of Bhaktivinoda Thakura be glorified. Therefore he was considering different proposals for cooperation. Cooperation had to be there because the Lalita Prasad group controlled the site. So it was not cooperation for the sake of merging organizations but to carry out a very specific practical preaching program that could not be carried out by the other party. And there is no mention that Lalita Prasad will then become a siksa guru and rasa guide for ISKCON followers (quite the opposite). The cooperation is on the level of practical preaching.. But that does not make it less, because the transcendental goal of the practical cooperation will be the glorification of Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
As for the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust, set up during Srila Prabhupada’s final days, it does not seem that Srila Prabhupada envisioned it as some grand scheme to unite ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha. This idea was, however, introduced by his disciples. This can be seen from the following conversation, which took place in Prabhupada’s room in Vrndavana on October 29, 1977, shortly before his departure.
Tamala Krsna: …for getting a little more clear purposes of the Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust we’re developing at Gauda-mandala-bhumi. Would you like to hear what we have written?
Svarupa Damodara: “First point: To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to the residents and the visitors of Gauda-mandala-bhumi. Second point: To propagate the consciousness of Krsna, as it is revealed in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and to propagate that Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Lord Krsna Himself, as is revealed in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and the Caitanya Bhagavata. 3) To bring all the members of Gaudiya-Madhva sampradaya together nearer to Lord Caitanya and thus develop within humanity at large that each soul is a part and parcel of Godhead, Krsna. 4) To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement of congregational chanting of the holy names of God given in the teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. 5) To erect temples, schools, colleges, universities, institutes of higher studies, hospitals and other buildings with or for the advancement of the objects of the Trust and to maintain, alter and improve the same, including existing buildings, and to furnish and equip the same. 6) In keeping with the spirit of the previous acarya’s vision of Gaudiya-Madhva sampradaya, to cement relations with all the sister temples of Gaudiya-Madhva sampradaya under one banner, to solidify preaching the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as desired by His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada and Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda and all the previous acaryas in this line. 7) With a view to achieving the aforementioned purposes and to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, and other books and other items. 8) To do all such other things for the attainment of the objects of the Trust. 9) Trustee members are appointed lifetime. The members should always be seven. 10) A meeting once a year at Sridhama Mayapura during Gaura-Purnima. 11) There should be a chairman, a treasurer, and a secretary elected each year. 12) A quorum of at least five members.” Finishes.
Tamala Krsna: “So these are the points, Srila Prabhupada, that we have… We expanded this. Your original simple point was to form a Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity for developing Gauda-mandala-bhumi. So we have expanded it into these points if they please Your Divine Grace. We took the ideas mostly from your original points in the…, when you formed the New York corporation, Srila Prabhupada. We used those points and just changed them around a little bit.”
The most important words in the above passages are from Tamal Krsna Goswami: “Your original simple point was to form a Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity for developing Gauda-mandala-bhumi. So we have expanded it into these points. . . ” It is clear that Srila Prabhupada just wanted a charity trust set up so that different pilgrimage places could be repaired and developed, and since these places were mostly under the control of various Gaudiya Matha institutions, of course their cooperation would be required. But all the flowery language about uniting all the Gaudiya institutions under one banner was the creation of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and not of Srila Prabhupada himself. As Tamal Krsna says: “Your original simple point was to form a Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity for developing Gauda-mandala-bhumi. So we have expanded it into these points. . . ” I think it would be best in our current discussion of the Trust, as it relates to “cooperation,” to stick to the “original simple point.” But if we do wish to discuss unification of institutions, it can only be along the lines that Prabhupada himself suggested whenever the topic of cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha came up—integrating the Gaudiya Mathas into ISKCON.
In the days that followed the above conversation, whenever Srila Prabhupada mentioned the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust, he only talked about using it to make improvements at various places in Mayapura, improvements his Godbrothers had been unable to make in 40 years. So obviously he desired their cooperation, but mainly he just wanted to see somehow or other that the holy tirthas were properly maintained. The following excerpt from a Vrndavana room conversation on October 30 1977 is an example:
Prabhupada: So we shall construct a Yoga-pitha Bhaktivedanta Hall.
Tamala Krsna: Hm. Yoga-pitha Bhaktivedanta Hall.
Prabhupada: And we have a bookstall there. Make it like that.
Bhavananda: Oh, yes.
Prabhupada: For the last fifty years they could not…
Bhavananda: Very nice.
Tamala Krsna: What is the idea of that?
Prabhupada: They have no shade. What is called? Darsana-mandapa.
Tamala Krsna: I don’t understand.
Bhavananda: At the yoga-pitha…
Prabhupada: At yoga-pitha.
Bhavananda: …when people come for darsana there’s no covered area for them. They’ve been trying to construct for years and years. They’ve never been able to do. So you have to stand out. If it’s raining, what do you do? There’s no shelter.
Tamala Krsna: Yeah, that’s right. There’s nothing there.
Prabhupada: And Sridhara Maharaja could not finish. He has spent five, ten thousand, I think. Finished. In this way we shall serve Gauda-mandala-bhumi.
So this is what Srila Prabhupada had in mind when he talked of cooperation under the banner of the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust. He was simply interested in properly honoring the sacred tirthas. Because these were under the jurisdiction of various Gaudiya Matha institutions, their cooperation was required. But Srila Prabhupada’s concern, as he expressed it, was simply that he wanted to serve the dhama in a way that others had not been able to properly do. So it was all very practical, and ISKCON was to take the leading and guiding role in accomplishing these practical programs. The current idea of “cooperation,” which seems to involve merging of ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha philosophically and institutionally, for the special purpose of bringing in superior spiritual guidance from Gaudiya Matha personalities, does not appear to be what Srila Prabhupada had in mind when he talked of “cooperation.”
In furtherance of the goals of the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust, ISKCON has organized an association of Gaudiya Math and ISKCON leaders to make further plans for cooperation, such as giving proper respect and assistance to all living disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. This organization is also trying to come up with policies for joint and reciprocal preaching activities. So it is not true, as some Gaudiya Matha sympathizers claim, that ISKCON is ignoring the Gaudiya Matha. Rather, ISKCON is pursuing a policy of cooperation with the Gaudiya Matha, along the lines actually suggested by Srila Prabhupada instead of the kind of cooperation some disaffected ISKCON members would like to see: ISKCON’s incorporation into the Gaudiya Matha by means of installing one or another Gaudiya Matha guru as ISKCON’s siksa and diksa guru.
Before leaving this world, Prabhupada told his leading disciples that if they had questions about Vaishnava practice they could consult with Narayana Maharaja or Sridhara Maharaja. Some have tried to create a myth that Prabhupada wanted them to be overall guides for ISKCON in his absence. But Prabhupada gave many indications how he wanted his society to go on. For example, he said during his last days: “Stick to our principle, and see our GBC is very alert. Then everything will go on, even I am not present. Do that. That is my request. Whatever little I have taught you, follow that, and nobody will be aggrieved. No maya will touch you. Now Krsna has given us, and there will be no scarcity of money. You print book and sell. So everything is there. We have got good shelter all over the world. We have got income. You stick to our principles, follow the… Even if I die suddenly, you’ll be able to manage. That’s all. That I want. Manage nicely and let the movement go forward. Now arrange. Don’t go backward. Be careful.” (Room conversation, Bombay, April 22, 1977). Prabhupada here says that his own teachings were sufficient. It was simply necessary for the GBC to govern the Society carefully according to the principles given by Prabhupada.
After Prabhupada’s departure, Narayana Maharaja oversaw the performance of the ceremonies. In the months that followed, Prabhupada’s disciples, especially those who had been mentioned by Prabhupada in connection with initiation, sought the advice of Sridhara Maharaja about how they were to carry out their duties. According to some accounts, Sridhara Maharaja gave advice to the GBC that helped set up the now discredited zonal acarya system, which appears to have been a modified version of the Gaudiya Matha system, where each Gaudiya Matha guru had his exclusive organization where he was the sole initiator. Under the zonal acarya system, it was considered that each of the eleven original ISKCON gurus had been directly appointed by Prabhupada, and that they should each have their exclusive zone of control, where they would be the sole initiator and ultimate authority. When some ISKCON members later became unhappy with this system, they voiced their discontent to Sridhara Maharaja, who said the number of gurus should be increased. The GBC had independently come to the same conclusion, recognizing that Prabhupada had intended all of his qualified disciples to become gurus, not just eleven, and that the policy of exclusive zones of initiation was incorrect.
During the time when all this was happening, some disappointed ISKCON members began to do more than consult with Sridhara Maharaja. They began to associate very closely with him, and began to regard him as their guru. Some of them took sannyasa from him, and others took initiation. They wished that ISKCON would accept him as a kind of siksa guru for the entire institution. The GBC would not approve this. As Prabhupada had warned earlier, if one of his Godbrothers said anything different from him, it would cause confusion. Therefore he would not call any of his Godbrothers to head ISKCON if he were to depart this world or remain ill in India. For example, Sridhara Maharaja had a concept of the origin of the jiva (soul) that was different than Prabhupada’s. Prabhupada taught that all jivas were originally with Krishna, and had fallen from the spiritual world into this world. Sridhara Maharaja taught that the jivas had not originally been with Krishna. By itself this could have been a minor matter, but Sridhara Maharaja’s ISKCON followers turned it into a major issue. Yes, they said, Sridhara Maharaja was giving esoteric truths beyond those taught by Prabhupada. They, the followers of Sridhara Maharaja, were the ones with the true understanding now. And ISKCON should join them in accepting these truths. There developed a schism, of a kind that would be repeated in coming years.
Unable to find a place within ISKCON, the ISKCON members who aligned themselves closely with Sridhara Maharaja joined his organization or set up their own organizations. Among these devotees were Dheera Krishna Swami, Tripurari Swami, and Alanatha Swami. Before the departure of Sridhara Maharaja from this world, he appointed an acarya, his disciple Govinda Maharaja, to succeed him as head of his Matha. Govinda Maharaja continues to accept disciples among ISKCON’s disaffected followers. And the relatively small associations set up by Sridhara Maharaja’s western followers continue to function in various parts of the world. From this group, particularly the organization headed by Alanatha Maharaja, has emerged the World Vaishnava Association, which is trying to reunite the Gaudiya Matha under the guidance of Sridhara Maharaja followers. For some time, ISKCON and the BBT declined to sell Prabhupada’s books to the Sridharite camps, but this policy has recently changed.
As years passed, Narayana Maharaja also began to attract followers from among ISKCON. He preached that Prabhupada had given the foundation for a life of Krishna consciousness, but that it was necessary to go beyond this, into the development of raganuga bhakti by the specific process of taking instruction from a raganuga guru who would give his disciples entrance into the intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishhna. He gave the impression that the worldwide missionary activities of the Krishna consciousness movement, set in motion by Prabhupada himself, were a kind of neophyte actitivity. He said that he wanted to complete the work that Prabhupada had started, indicating that he wanted to bring ISKCON members from the neophyte platform of preaching to the more exalted platform of raganuga. To many Prabhupada disciples, this seemed to be different than what Prabhupada had said. Prabhupada had told them that simply by carrying out the activities he had given them they would come automatically to the highest stages of Krishna consciousness. There was no need for a special rasa-guru. Like Sridhara Maharaja, Narayana Maharaja also favored the idea that the soul had never been with Krishna. Some of Prabhupada’s leading disciples became followers of Narayana Maharaja, and, as in the case of Sridhara Maharaja, Narayana Maharaja was being promoted as a possible successor to Prabhupada, an advanced soul whose advice should be heeded by ISKCON’s leadership. This concept was rejected by the GBC. The leaders who had aligned themselves with Narayana Maharaja and promoted his particular philosophy admitted their error, and obeyed GBC resolutions to give up their association with him. But the damage had been done, and many disaffected ISKCON members continued to seek his association. Narayana Maharaja began initiating disciples even though some of them had already been initiated by gurus in good standing who were members of ISKCON. Former ISKCON members, familiar with Prabhupada’s way of doing things, began to fly Narayana Maharaja around the world, to various places where ISKCON had large congregations. In this way, he attracted many disciples from among those disappointed for various reasons with ISKCON. Puri Maharaja also attracted a following among ISKCON devotees, and some other Gaudiya Matha gurus have also attracted small followings.
If adherents of Gaudiya Matha gurus truly desire their favorites to be welcomed by ISKCON, they would serve this purpose better by emphasizing the commonality of the guru’s teachings with ISKCON rather than the differences. Time and time again, we have had associates of the Gaudiya gurus tell us, “Oh, you think you know the truth about this or that subject because of what Prabhupada said, but there’s more to it. Such and such Maharaja has told us that the real truth is . . .” It would be better if such gurus were to harmonize their teachings with Prabhupada’s, if they truly wished to be accepted as guides by ISKCON. Such gurus should also be wary of presenting themselves as giving higher truths than did Prabhupada. They should be willing to submit to advice of the collective management authority of ISKCON on their preaching within ISKCON as to where, when, and how. Gaudiya Matha personalities who submit to this might be allowed to speak in ISKCON temples on a trial basis a few times a year.
The main reason we have difficulty in relationships with Gaudiya Matha gurus is that they have all grown up under the matha system that came into existence after Bhaktisiddhanta’s departure. They seem incapable of understanding how to work under a collective authority system, and they also seem incapable of relating to others who do. Under the Matha system, one guru becomes the sole initiator and proprietor of the Matha. Upon the departure of the guru, he selects one of his followers to head the matha. Everyone connected with the matha is his disciple or follower. The head of the matha has a position of sole leadership, and is accustomed to functioning in that way. So it is very difficult for such persons to interact with ISKCON and its collective leadership. They naturally wish to interact with ISKCON as they have been accustomed to interact in their own mathas, as the sole leader, the acarya, to whom everyone must defer. They cannot accept that their opinions and advice must be subjected to the collective decision making power of the GBC, and that it may be accepted or rejected depending upon whether the GBC sees it as harmonious with Prabhupada’s desires, teachings, instructions, etc. This mentality, combined with the mentality of the former ISKCON members who wish to see their favorite guru installed as the siksa guru guide for all ISKCON, makes it all but impossible to have any more than the courteous but distant relationship Prabhupada recommended that we adopt toward Gaudiya Matha gurus. It is true that Prabhupada’s Godbrothers have mostly departed, but the basic mentality of the Gaudiya Matha remains the same. They still are not prepared to work under a collective authority system, and that is the main obstacle to the integration of Gaudiya gurus and their followers into ISKCON.
Psychologically, the Gaudiya Matha gurus are not prepared to see themselves as anything other than the superior guide for ISKCON. But they have insufficient ability to guide ISKCON, just as the captain of a small sailing ship on a peaceful lake has insufficient ability to guide a fleet of high powered modern warships into battle on the high seas. They may be able to give shelter to ISKCON members who have fallen off one of the boats in the ISKCON fleet, usually because of inability to accept the results of ISKCON’s collective decision making process. But they cannot command the fleet and its loyal crew. Only the officers trained by Srila Prabhupada are capable of that. If the Gaudiya Matha guru wishes his institution, including former ISKCON members, to become part of the ISKCON battle fleet, he should accept the authority and guidance of the experienced battle-tested officers. And if after some time functioning within ISKCON’s system of collective decision making, it is seen that he displays some special qualities of leadership, then that will be recognized. But he is not going to come into ISKCON as the admiral of the fleet, with ISKCON deserters as his aides-de-camp. The fact that some ISKCON officers have failed in their duties and become casualties is not the issue. The Gaudiya Matha has had its own failures and falldowns. ISKCON devotees who took sannyasa from Sridhara Maharaja are no longer sannyasis.
It is also true that to some extent ISKCON was set up on the Matha system, with Prabhupada serving as sole ultimate managing authority, and sole initiating spiritual master. Some veterans of those early days, seeking to recreate that situation, have found comfort in the association of Gaudiya Matha gurus. But from the very beginning Prabhupada made clear that he intended that ISKCON eventually be governed collectively and that there would be a multiplicity of gurus. Of course, he was also insistent that any future gurus and any future GBC carry out his will as founder-acarya. But the main point is that in the future there would be collective leadership, and ISKCON members, even the most powerful, were expected to submit to it. Prabhupada set up this system during his life and encouraged his disciples to follow it. Sometimes they would run to him with their problems, but he would often encourage them not to do this and to work things out themselves according to the management system he set up. Undoubtedly this is a difficult proposition, and the matha system may seem easier and in some senses more natural. But both Bhaktisiddhanta and Prabhupada made it clear they wanted a unified preaching institution with a collective management system to which all members had to submit.
At the root of every ISKCON heresy lies the Matha mentality. The current rtvik movement wants a Gaudiya Matha regime, the single guru model, except that the single guru does not change—it remains Prabhupada for all time. The ISKCON members who have deserted ISKCON for various Gaudiya Matha gurus are also adhering to this matha system. They could not accept their guru’s decision that they go through the admittedly difficult process of submitting to a collective management system in ISKCON. They want to take shelter of some single acarya figure outside ISKCON or they want to bring that acarya into ISKCON and replace the collective management system that Prabhupada set up with their own favorite Gaudiya Matha guru. Of course, these Gaudiya Matha gurus are quite happy with this, as this is the system that they have grown up with ,the system that they have inherited from their Gaudiya Matha predecessors.
So it is not that ISKCON is blindly preaching hatred of anyone who is associated with the name Gaudiya Matha. Rather we have thoughtfully and carefully considered the insight offered to us by Srila Prabhupada that the Gaudiya Matha failed to institute the collective leadership that Bhaktisiddhanta desired. We are also aware that somehow or other, despite all the difficulties and problems, ISKCON has managed to set up a functioning system of collective leadership to carry out the goals Prabhupada set for ISKCON. And when we see that the current Gaudiya Matha gurus are persisting in the error of their forefathers, then we have a right to maintain a policy of distant respect. And certainly we are not going to reinstitute the matha system by accepting one of them as acarya for all ISKCON. But we will instead follow Prabhupada’s policy of inviting them to cooperate with ISKCON on ISKCON’s own terms. If we find that any Gaudiya leader can learn to function properly in a system of collective management, then we may, like Prabhupada, be ready to almagamate his institution into ISKCON. Otherwise, we shall respectfully pursue separate but parallel courses. It is difficult to allow even a little intrusion of Gaudiya Matha gurus into the affairs of ISKCON, because all of their actions and words are colored by their experience of seeing themselves as sole acaryas of their institutions, the person with the highest realization, to whom everyone must submit. Could such a guru accept the collective decision of ISKCON that “Maharaja, your preaching on this point of philosophy differs from that of Prabhupada, so kindly do not mention it any more in your classes.” Or could such a guru accept a decision that “Maharaja, this year we would kindly like you to confine your preaching to this part of the world”? I suspect not, but the matter could be put to the test and we can see.
For the Gaudiya Matha, the ideal thing would have been for all the Godbrothers to coooperate. They should have formed a GBC and jointly carried out the desires of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. That did not happen. So it was not an ideal situation. Srila Prabhupada adjusted. He carried out his own orders from Bhaktisiddhanta, and when possible he would try to cooperate with his Godbrothers, even with those who had been most responsible for the destruction of the Gaudiya Matha as a unified preaching institution. When his own ISKCON formed, Prabhupada could see that it would have to function on its own. He did not want his disciples to mix very thickly with the Gaudiya Matha, but he did not want them to be disrespectful. Prabhupada resented attempts by His Godbrothers to interfere with his disciples love and respect for him. But still he was friendly to them. In ISKCON we also do not have an ideal situation. It would have been better if all of Prabhupada leading disciples had kept their vows. But many of them did not, causing understandable confusion and resentment among many followers of Prabhupada. This has caused many of them to seek shelter of Gaudiya Matha gurus, and we can see that there are now small but significant alternative associations of Western disciples centering on such gurus. But ISKCON, despite its severe problems, has not broken up. The GBC system is still intact, the world wide preaching mission is still intact. Some gurus have fallen, but many others have not. So what are the options? In this less than idea situation what should we do. In the short term, we should follow Prabhupada’s example of always attempting to cooperate in a limited way with the Gaudiya Matha on our own own terms while at the same time protecting our members from detrimental outside influences.
1. Prabhupada was not in principle opposed to having disciples of his Godbrothers working with him, but he wanted them to be tested on an individual basis. So we could also invite disciples of Gaudiya Matha gurus to work within ISKCON under ISKCON authority, with permission from their gurus.
2. We should not manifest animosity toward any of the Gaudiya Matha gurus. We should maintain a respectful but distant relationship. If they accept certain conditions offered by the GBC, we should allow them to speak, as long as our gurus and senior devotees are given similar privileges in their mathas.
3. At the same time, Prabhuapda did not want any disrespect to his position as founder-acarya, or any deviation from his personal teachings. So we cannot tolerate anyone being proposed as a guide for ISKCON, a successor acarya, without that person first submitting to ISKCON’s collective managament system and demonstrating his qualities within that system. We also cannot tolerate teachings that differ from those of Prabhupada.
For the long term, we should pursue the goal of integrating all the Gaudiya Mathas into ISKCON, along with their former ISKCON members. This will depend upon ISKCON maintaining its commitment to a unified dynamic worldwide preaching mission, under the authority of collective leadership, the quality of which should continually improve.
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