Srila Prabhupada and the Gaudiya Matha

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By Drutakarma Dasa
submitted by the Editor

(Editor’s note: This paper was written over 10 years ago).

If you prefer you can download and read this paper offline from here


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.

First Encounters

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 Allahabad

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.

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1 KKDasa

This was certainly a dramatic read. Some thoughts came to mind while reading, one of which is this.

We often hear that the Gaudiya matha gurus in question, have Srila Prabhupada’s interest at heart. As such, when Srila Prabhupada’s followers leave Iskcon to join them, and in some cases, to get re-initiated, which in itself must be embarassing and disappointing for Srila Prabhupada, then how can willingly accepting disaffected devotees this way be in any way an attempt to help Srila Prabhupada and his mission?

Surely, if someone were truly concerned about the welfare of Srila Prabhupada’s Iskcon, then whenever some unhappy devotees seek to take shelter of a particulat guru, would that guru not say; “Do you realize that Srila Prabhupada wants everyone to work together, however difficult things are between yourselves. You are embarassing him by leaving his mission and coming to me. My way of thinking is different from your guru or Srila Prabhupada’s. Therefore, better that you stay. Please do not leave his mission.”

Because there is a willingness to accept those coming from Iskcon for whatever reason, in spite of saying they have Srila Prabhupada’s interest at heart, these action seem not to tally with their noble sentiments.

There were some instances whereby certain of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples were approached, or even taken onboard other mathas by other Godbrothers, without any following of due vaisnava protocols,which deeply hurt and saddened His Divine Grace. In the abscence of proper vaisnava rules for acceptance and giving of initiation without prior permission from one’s guru and so on, again, how can these breaches indicate a desire to help Srila Prabhupada’s mission?

It may appear to be a blind form of following to say these things, but if these actions differ from the original desire by both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to cooperate, against all Kali-yuga odds, then it is more blinding to disobey, however pressing the reasons are for not doing so .

In this regard, we should give more appreciation to all those devotees in Iskcon who still persevere, perhaps even after being initiated by 1, 2 or 3 gurus who fell away, and who could have gone elsewhere or joined with some protest splinter group. These sort of devotees should be engaged to help identify, or bring back those who have lost precious faith due to guru/disciple problems.

Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on May 23rd, 2010
2 pustakrishna

Part II

The thinking is that the doctor must “hate the disease, not the patient”. If one does not have the capacity to undertake the care of disease, they should not pose as doctors, and if one cannot see or appreciate the entire serving tree of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, then they should remain fixed in their branch of service and never stray. There may be some who do have that capacity, and still serve Srila Prabhupad as their life and soul, seeing the forest without losing the importance of the trees that make it up.

First, there is full truth that Srila Prabhupad wants his mission to be managed by the GBC collectively. This should remain in perpetuity the method of management. I know that some may have thought that this or that Maharaj who passed on may have been the “next official acharya”. That is not Srila Prabhupad’s purpose. Srila Prabhupad divined substance of Krishna consciousness as paramount. Pratishtha or self-importance has not place in pure devotional service. In the spiritual world, Krishna (not self-consciousness) is the consciousness of the transcendental loving environment. Srila Prabhupad saw the devastation of the preaching mission left behind by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad due to self-interest and position. Our Srila Prabhupad learned from the disobedience of many of his Godbrothers as it related to the propagation of Krishna consciousness in India and beyond. Still, do not judge all harshly, as we do dis-service to the serving tree of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If one does not have the capacity for this, that is fine. But, I would beg you not to condemn a person like myself, a sincere (I hope) loving servant of Srila Prabhupad as an outsider because I feel it important to view things as I do.

The future may be influenced by our present mood and philosophy. There can be no doubt that some will be bridges builders and some will be breakers of such bridges. Do not expect everyone to be like you, and do not necessarily condemn non-envious souls who may hold different ideals. I do not think that is harmful nor against Srila Prabhupad’s desires. I realize that when approaching these topics as I have, I run the risk of being condemned by some of my ISKCON Godbrothers. I am prepared for that, just as I have opened myself up to condemnation by others in other camps. I remained fully committed to expressing these difficult topics, if Dandavats will kindly print this. Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on May 24th, 2010
3 Kulapavana

Here’s an excerpt from a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga in April of ‘74:

“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.”

Please read again: “So his idea was amongst the members of GBC who would come out successful and self effulgent acarya would be automatically selected.”

Perhaps Srila Prabhupada had the same idea about his own institution: someday one (or more?) self effulgent acharya would be selected from among his disciples to be the next acharya leader of Iskcon. Prabhupada nominated ‘officiating acharyas’ but was he waiting for a self-effulgent one? At a very least it is an interesting question.

It is also interesting to note, that among Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciples some were thought to be ’self-effulgent’ but there was no consensus on this issue and hence disagreements arose.

Would there ever be a situation when godbrothers can universally agree on who among them is the next self-effulgent acharya? Somehow it seems unlikely…

Comment posted by Kulapavana on May 24th, 2010
4 KKDasa

Regarding comment 3: To reach consensus on a “self-effulgent” acarya would probably be difficult. A consensus of another kind almost negates this possibility at present, and that is the “good as God” adoration disciples have for their spiritual masters, many of whom cooperate as the GBC.

After the demise of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s attempted GBC and the fall from grace of an elected “acarya,” many leading lights of the Gaudiya matha became acaryas of their own various mathas. From “one” elected acarya came many acaryas, that exemplified the Gaudiya matha, and it was a development not of Srila Prabhupada’s liking.

Though the spiritual masters who lead our Iskcon are not acaryas – at least by name or title – there would be little need to discover a unique individual possessed of “self-effulgent” characteristics. If even someone was elected from among Prabhupada disciple God brothers/sisters, perhaps unanimously, we can well imagine the potential resentment of certain grand disciples. We wouldn’t be ready for such a thing at present.

But why not in the future? As this “golden age” within Kali-yuga progresses, and the glories of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai increase, it will become an increasingly attractive proposition to want to participate somewhere in the world. So we should not be surprised to find just one, but many self-effulgent souls all relishing the mellows of sankirtana.

If they happen to be GBC members, there should be little concern. With succeeding generations of vaisnavas being born and raised, with true standards of learned humility naturally abundant, cooperating should be the easiest thing to do, naturally.

Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by KKDasa on May 26th, 2010
5 Babhru

I’m not going to comment on the entire piece at the moment. Rather, I just want to weigh in on one of Drutakarma’s assertions. He wrote, “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.”

The more widely accepted understanding of this incident is that other Godbrothers objected to using the title given to their guru maharaja. They ended up approaching Sridhara Maharaja to resolve the issue. He suggested substituting Bhaktivedanta, which he said conveyed the same meaning, and everyone accepted that. Later, we see that Prabhupada’s Godbrother B. P. Keshava Maharaja apparently liked the name so well that he gave that as the title for all the devotees he initiated into Tridandi Sannyasa (including retaining it for Srila Prabhupada), which custom persists among his disciples and their disciples to this day.

Comment posted by Babhru on May 27th, 2010
6 pustakrishna

Part II

When my friend Srila Govinda Maharaj knew his illness was terminal, in December 2009 he appointed a capable and dedicated servitor to become his sucessor, to care for Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. There were others (even very close servants of his for many, many years) who started a rebellion, even while Srila Govinda Maharaj was still present. This naturally broke the heart of Srila Govinda Maharaj. Police actions had to be taken because of incredible death threats, and money was also stolen from his mission at that time. Things have settled down, but we can see the extent that this envy and discord exist by studying other examples. In order to avoid such repetitive events from occurring, both Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad, and our Srila Prabhupad, recommended the concept of a GBC. Many heads provide a check and balance and can protect the future of a large organization like ISKCON. So, there is no need to require “one self-effulgent acharya” when there are many of them existing simultaneously. There is no precedent that the acharya must be of the stature of a Bhaktivinode, Bhaktisiddhanta, Bhaktivedanta, or the like. That is not the criteria…rather, they must be clean-hearted, selfless representatives of the Guru Parampara. The acharya must be transparent, ie we ultimately must be albe to glimpse Krishna through the acharya, for the potency to be there.
So, the many letters that Drutakarma has organized, and even some of his comments, that need to be separated from the substance of the letters, can give us some understanding of “protectionism” that is necessary for the preservation of the important legacy of Srila Prabhupad, but we must also try to understand things in the context of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan movement and its future. While we may not agree with the mood or even the message of others within the service world, there are two main issues that need to be protected against: Mayavadism and Sahajaism. These two are enemies of genuine Krishna conscious theism. Understanding must surpass protectionism, because understanding can foster affectionate dealings amongst vaishnavas and with Krishna. Protectionism places a wall, as it were, around the heart and organization. I have always believed that ISKCON must take the “high road” and be ready to explain these things. Krishna will never let you down, that’s a quote from Srila Prabhupad. Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on May 28th, 2010
7 Akruranatha

I thought it a very interesting observation of Drutakarma Prabhu how misunderstanding the GBC system as opposed to the “acarya” system is involved in the disaffection from the main branch of ISKCON of not only Gaudiya Math but also ritviks.

I have heard anti-ISKCON critics from the ritvik camp complain that the GBC is a faulty (and therefore bogus) “acarya,” when it should be obvious that the GBC is not an “acarya” at all, but nevertheless was clearly left in charge by the Founder-Acarya in his physical absence.

I might add that the “GBC vs. ‘acarya’ system” misunderstanding contributed to the “zonal acarya” problems of the first decade after Srila Prabhupada’s departure.

Here is an excerpt from Pandit Pradyumna Prabhu’s letter of August 1978 that accurately criticized the zonal-acarya misunderstanding early on:

“First of all, the word ACARYA may be taken in 3 senses. Etymologically the word means ‘one who practices’ or ‘one who practices what he preaches’. This is the general meaning and may be used in relation to any pure devotee - period.

“Secondly, the word means ‘one who grants initiation to a disciple’. This is specifically indicating one who is a GURU. Anyone who grants initiation, or is a guru, may be called as ‘acarya deva’, etc. by his disciples only! Whoever has accepted him as guru must give all respects to him in every way, but this does not apply to those who are not his disciples.

“Thirdly, the word acarya indicates ‘the spiritual head of an institution or pitha’. This meaning is very specific. It does not mean just anyone. It means only one who has been specifically declared by the previous acarya to be his successor above all others to the seat of the spiritual institution which he heads. He alone, among all of his godbrothers, is given a raised seat and special honor. No other godbrother may receive such respect and he is the authority in all spiritual and material matters. This is the strict tradition in all of the Gaudiya Sampradayas.

“Now Srila Prabhupada, it is clear, did not appoint any such successor, because no one of his disciples at present, is advanced to the level of Krishna cConsciousness necessary to assume such a position. Nor did Srila Prabhupada make 11 such ACARYAS. …

“The 11 gurus may be known as ‘acaryas’ only in the second sense of the word–to their disciples as mantra-giving gurus, not in the third sense, as ‘the’ spiritual successors of Srila Prabhupada. That was never meant to be, by His Divine Grace.”

Comment posted by Akruranatha on May 29th, 2010

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