A Rational and Ethical View of Guru Since Prabhupada's Departure by Rohini Kumar Swami

On November 14th, 1977 in Vmdavana, India, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada returned to the spiritual world. For this world his passing away marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. At our center at 26th Second Ave., Srila Prabhupada, when asked who would be the next acarya after him stated, "There will not be any more acaryas." The word acarya is used in several senses. Its first and primary meaning is "one who teaches by example." Its other outstanding meaning is the spiritual master of a particular period, one who stands out among all others by his full comprehension of the scriptures, like Madhav, Jiva Goswami, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Bhaktivinode Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Srila Prabhupada, or else one who is completely absorbed in relishing the bliss of God consciousness at every moment, such as Madhavendra Puri, Narottama dasa Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Srila Prabhupada. In other words, Srila Prabhupada exemplified both. The acarya does not talk effervescent and flowery words that sound beautiful but cannot quite be understood or explained. (This, as can be seen, is the usual manner of the typical bogus sahajiya and Mayavadi gurus in India.) The acarya is practical and down to earth. He does not have his head in the clouds as if in some imaginative lila. His mind is fixed on Krsna in the spiritual world, but he is also simultaneously aware of the exigencies of the world around him. Although he has all the vast wealth of Vedic knowledge at his disposal, he presents it always in a logical, comprehensive and clear way-he does not try to be abstruse, esoteric or talk above the heads of his listeners. Those who do so are either eccentric or simply trying to impress others with their "higher knowledge."

The acarya is always a diksa-guru, but even among many diksa-gurus at any given time there may not be such an outstanding acarya. Thus the lack of a great acarya at certain times does not mean that a sampradaya ceases to exist or becomes broken. Rather it is carried on by the regular diksa-gurus, and with tune another great acarya manifests himself. Thus it is seen in the Ramanuja sampradaya and in the Madhava sampradaya that there were times when there was not great acaryas, though their lines of disciplic succession have continued always by the many diksa-gurus. When Srila Prabhupada passed away in the fall of 1977 there was a void created in ISKCON. There was no acarya and there was no diksa-guru. At the next Mayapura festival the entire GBC body convened to decide how to continue our parampara. Obviously there had to be gurus to initiate the new devotees that were joining. Since Srila Prabhupada had appointed eleven ritviks to initiate on his behalf while he was still living, it was naturally assumed that these ritviks above everyone else held an unequalable mandate from Srila Prabhupada to be gurus. Since Srila Prabhupada had recommended that the devotees consult Sridhara Swami in Navadvipa if there was need for advice on basic Vaisnava procedures, several representatives from the GBC went to ask him how the eleven ritviks should go about assuming the position of guru. Sridhara advised that it begin in a very simple and humble fashion. I remember listening to the tape, how one of the GBCs was asking about pranama prayers for the new gurus, whether it was all right to use "nama om vishnu padaya" or not. Sridhara Maharaja simply said, "Om ajnana timirandhasya' is enough. Later the disciples can write a mantra according to how the guru reveals himself. The pranama prayer should be composed in Sanskrit that is both grammatically and metrically correct." But the GBC representatives instead continued to press on, "Oh, then it is all right to use 'nama om vishnu padaya." It was by the continual insistence of this particular GBC man that the use of nama om vishnu padaya became the standard prayer of all ISKCON gurus in imitation of Srila Prabhupada's pranama prayer, even though in almost all cases the particular guru's name is either too short or too long, thus rendering the standardized prayer metrically incorrect.

The problem, therefore, seems to be that since Srila Prabhupada was the only example of a guru and acarya that the devotees knew, they naturally presumed that whoever was to be a bona fide guru would have to exactly imitate him in every way. Failure to do this would render one suspect of not being up to the standard set by Srila Prabhupada. Of course, this external imitation of prayers, titles, big vyasasanas, lavish guru-pujas, living quarters, personal comforts, etc., does not automatically make one infallible like Srila Prabhupada. To imitate him does not make one as good as him, just as imitating Siva or Krsna does not make one equal to them. And just as the imitators of Siva cannot drink an ocean of poison, nor the imitators of Krsna lift Govardhana hill, the imitators of Srila Prabhupada have not been able to maintain ISKCON as Srila Prabhupada did, with the result that the majority of Srila Prabhupada's dear disciples have left his movement, while the movement itself has been shaken to its very foundation by feuds, rivalries, and schisms. Yet, it is not that there is anything wrong with ISKCON having diksa-gurus, but that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we have pursued it.

The entire history of mankind is full of stories of how money, women, power, prestige, honor and worship have corrupted the best of men, even highly advanced spiritual persons. The great acarya is such a person that even in the midst of these dangerous situations he is not overcome by them. But unless one is such a great acarya on the level of the Goswamis, Narottama dasa, Baladeva, Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada, then one had better avoid these temptations as far as possible. The guru is a preacher. He delivers Srila Prabhupada's teachings and gives the holy name of Krsna. Not that he is the enjoyer of the assets and adulation of his disciples.

We must face the facts: even a thousand gurus (of the present standard) cannot equal Srila Prabhupada or replace him. Since Srila Prabhupada was an uttama-adhikari or pure devotee and he had said so many times that a guru must be of such caliber, it was assumed that the gurus who succeeded Srila Prabhupada would have to somehow be uttama-adhikaris. Therefore, in a convened meeting the GBC unanimously conferred upon the new gurus the rubber stamp status of "pure devotee." But is it possible that by a vote of the GBC that someone who was previously just a regular madhyama-adhikari, at best, can instantly become an uttama-adhikari? It is the height of folly for someone to think himself an uttama-adhikari, for as soon as one does one cannot be one. Although All ISKCON members are pure devotees in the sense that they refrain from all sinful activities and regularly chant 16 rounds, none of us are uttama-adhikaris or pure devotees of the type exemplified by Srila Prabhupada and the other previous great acaryas. Simply receiving the title of guru does not make one an uttama-adhikari. What then should be the position of ISKCON gurus after Srila Prabhupada. In light of the numerous ways in which we presently fall short of the mark of uttama-adhikari, anyone who accepts the position of guru should be understood to be merely a vyavaharika-guru, or a conventional priest authorized to give initiation into the chanting of the holy name. Such gurus must also make their disciples understand their position. They should be honest enough to say "I did not create ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada did. And every project in ISKCON is simply the manifestation of his energy. It is not that because of what I have done ISKCON has become so great. Whether I became a devotee or not would not have mattered. Everything still would have been achieved because it is really Srila Prabhupada who did it all. I was only one of many instruments, and after all, instruments are always dispensable. I cannot do what Srila Prabhupada has done. All I can do is give you the same mantra that he gave me. I personally cannot save you. But if you chant this mantra and study Srila Prabhupada's teachings as preserved in his books, then despite my own imperfections and shortcomings, you will be able to go back to Godhead because Srila Prabhupada will take you back." In this way, if the vyavaharika-guru has some difficulties, as we have already seen in ISKCON, there will be no great cause of distress for the disciples and the society in general because everyone actually understands their relationship with each other and with the vyavaharika-gurus and of everyone with the great acarya, Srila Prabhupada.

The creation of eleven gurus in ISKCON has proven to be the most divisive and destructive event in the history of ISKCON. It has caused a polarization of ISKCON into areas of influence: "This is so and so's temple. He's the guru here. If you don't like it, get out!" Thus Srila Prabhupada's disciples were made to feel like foreigners in their own temples. No wonder the majority of them have left! With the installment of eleven gurus in different regions, ISKCON ceased to be one movement, as it had been under Srila Prabhupada, but instead became eleven little ISKCONs each with its own little guru as the absolute authority. It was therefore unavoidable that there would be rivalry, schism and excommunications. How should ISKCON have acted in order to avoid this polarizing effect that ultimately ends in disunity and schism? Well, if we examine how other Vaisnava sampradayas have dealt with the problem we might be able to learn something. TheRamanuja and Madhava sampradaya have both adopted the same formula. In their temples there is only one guru present, that is, their own respective founding acarya as either Ramanuja or Madhava. ALL the gurus who succeeded them have their own ashramas outside the temple and it is in those ashramas that the disciples offer respects to their gurus. In this way the temples remain the center of worship for everyone in the sampradaya, regardless of who the gurus are. Thus, although sectarian differences have sometimes arisen in these sampradayas, the temples have remained nonsectarian and the neutral ground where all could worship the Supreme Lord.

If anyone reads the Caitanya-caritamrta he will see the great love and trust that existed between the different gurus. They often sent their disciples to other gurus to be trained up in the philosophy. On the other hand, in our present ISKCON we have the gurus say, "Don't listen to anybody's tapes but mine. I don't want you going to any other temple because you will become confused, bewildered and will fall down, etc." Has everyone forgotten that it is only Srila Prabhupada who can save the fallen souls and is also saving us? Instead of pushing the successor gurus on the new disciples they should be giving them Srila Prabhupada, just as we were given him when we joined. what could be offensive in instituting such a program? By it we only gain to have a unified ISKCON that wig continue to be so indefinitely. Otherwise, ISKCON will eventually deteriorate into another mess like Christianity with schisms, crusades, and inquisitions, and does the world need another burden like that. Everyone should be aware of the real issue. It is not a matter of eleven gurus, or of one thousand, it is a matter of the present method. Sometimes it is seen that the limbs of a tree grow too large, with the result that they slump down, crack, or even break off. The only remedy for this is to trim the limbs back. This is exactly what must be done with ISKCON. We have to trim back the artificially over-blown position of diksa-gurus in ISKCON to a position that is safe and healthy for the survival of one unified ISKCON in the future. To do so I suggest the following proposals:

1) In all ISKCON temples, which are, after all, Srila Prabhupada's temples, there should only be a big vyasasana for Srila Prabhupada. There may be a modest, unimposing asana in the temple room for the vyavaharika-guru to speak from. In fact, this same asana may be used by all those who represent Srila Vyasadeva by preaching Krsna consciousness and following the four regulative principles.

2) Only Srila Prabhupada's pictures be in the temple room and on the altar.

3) Only Srila Prabhupada's name and pranama prayer should be chanted in the temple.

4) A suitable room or asrama be set up where the vyavaharika-guru and his disciples can have intimacy

together in the form of darsanas, vyasasanas, pictures, chanting of the guru's name and pranama prayer, guru-puja, etc.

5) During kirtan in the temple the title "gurudeva" can be chanted to indicate the particular guru or gurus at that temple and respects can be offered them by chanting om ajnana timirandhasya. Since this mantra is used to offer respect to all bona fide gurus within our disciplic succession, to use it for the vyavaharika-gurus is also perfect (if they are bona fide). In this way, no one will be made to feel that they are not allowed to offer proper respects to their guru, and at the same time, while chanting it no one will feel that they are being forced to offer respects to someone who is not their guru.

6) Although presently all vyavaharika-gurus are sannyasis, since it is permissible that even householders be diksa-gurus, when reciting the jaya dhvani at the end of kirtan one may offer them respects by saying: sad gurudeva ki jai! or some other simple arrangement. This is necessary because those vyavaharika-gurus who are householders cannot be addressed with the sannyasa titles in the usual formula as jaya om visnupada etc.

7) The vyavaharika-guru should always be explicit about his position as such and not pretend to be something which he is not, such as an uttama-adhikari, the one great acarya, etc. Of course, it may not be possible to institute all these principles immediately, but they must be eventually if ISKCON is to survive as one unified movement. If these principles are established, then no matter how many gurus there are, ISKCON will remain one movement united around Srila Prabhupada the acarya and founder of ISKCON, and will remain so for all future generations of devotees. All glories to Srila Prabhupada! All glories to ISKCON.

Rohini Kumar Swami

Note: The above was composed in Berkeley with the sole aim of removing the bogus worship of Hamsadutta from the temple proper. It was very successful. For personal and other reasons certain points were not emphasized at that time. Having discussed with Rohini Kumar Swami at some length on these points the following was concluded:

That the vyavaharika-guru must be, as Prabhupada says, "strictly following the principles himself." That means all the principles, not just the gross principles of no meat, sex (including homosex), drugs, and betting, but also no TV, movies, prajalpa, neglect of 16 rounds, ignorance of sastra, obnoxious behavior, stealing other men's wives, puffed up mentality, disrespect to Godbrothers, rock and roll "kirtana" bands, all association with women, if sannyasa, etc. Single women must wait for a husband to devote themselves to. In the meantime, they can find an advanced householder to take instruction from.