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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs statements, and have included the positive along with the negative. I won‚Äôt 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‚Äôs dealings with the Gaudiya Matha. In short, this essay will attempt the difficult task of analyzing all of Srila Prabhupada‚Äôs 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‚Äôs life. He was won over by Bhaktisiddhanta‚Äôs 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: ‚ÄúAnd he was always after Guru Maharaja only for this purpose. Guru Maharaja took that ‚ÄėOh, this man is helping me.‚Äô But he had no such plan, to help Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. He had the plan, ‚ÄėKeep Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in front, earn money, and put it in my pocket.‚Äô‚ÄĚ (Room conversation, Bombay, Sept. 21, 1973). In a lecture given in Los Angeles on Bhaktisiddhanta‚Äôs appearance day (Feb. 7, 1969), Srila Prabhupada said about Bhaktisiddhanta‚Äôs relationship with Kunjavihari (later Tirtha Maharaja): ‚ÄúSo 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.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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: ‚ÄúSo 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 ‚ÄėYou go to that Prayaga Pharmacy.‚Äô My drug shop was named as Prayaga Pharmacy. My name was also there. ‚ÄėYou go and see Abhaya Babu. He is religiously… He will help you.‚Äô These Gaudiya Matha people, they came to see me. So ‚ÄėSir, we have come to you. We have heard your good name. So we want to start a temple here. Please try to help us.‚Äô And because I was thinking of these Gaudiya Matha people that ‚ÄėI met a very nice, saintly person,‚Äô and as soon as I saw them, I was very much engladdened: ‚ÄėOh, here are these persons. They have come again.‚Äô So in this way, gradually, I became attached to these Gaudiya Matha activities.‚ÄĚ (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, ‚ÄúAnd 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.‚ÄĚ (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 ‚Äúvery good admiration for these Gaudiya Math people,‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúYes, he likes to hear. He does not go away. I have marked him. I will accept him as my disciple.‚ÄĚ (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‚Äôs disciples had publically criticized a prominent Mayavadi as a ‚Äúfoolish priest,‚ÄĚ and some other disciples complained about this to Bhaktisiddhanta, thinking he would disapprove. But Bhaktisiddhanta had said, ‚ÄúHe had done well.‚ÄĚ Bhaktisiddhanta himself was sometimes quite outspoken in his criticism of opponents, causing some of his own disciples to speculate that this ‚Äúchopping technique‚ÄĚ would not work. Prabhupada noted, however, that ‚Äúthose who criticized him fell down.‚ÄĚ (Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 1, pp. 75-76).
At a certain point, Abhay‚Äôs business in Prayag failed. Atulananda tried to convince him to join the Matha, but Prabhupada felt he could not give up his family responsibilities.