(On Accepting the GBC as Spiritual Authority)
by Nitya Krishna dasa
“Devotees may be divided into three classes. The devotee in the first or uppermost class is described as follows: one is very expert in the study of relevant scriptures, and he is also expert in putting forward arguments in terms of those scriptures. He can very nicely present conclusions with perfect discretion and can consider the ways of devotional service in a decisive way. . . . . . The first-class devotee never deviates from the principles of higher authority, and he attains firm faith in the scriptures by understanding with all reason and arguments. When we speak of arguments and reason, it means arguments and reason on the basis of revealed scriptures.” Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 3, p28-29, Eligibility of the Candidate for Accepting Devotional Service
Here Srila Prabhupada makes clear that becoming a pure, first class devotee entails developing “perfect discretion” in regard to the conclusions of the scripture and higher authority. Those higher authorities would include his spiritual master and other saintly sadhus. Furthermore, such a devotee is able to present those conclusions in a convincing manner with sound reason and arguments.
This means that a very important part of advancing in Krishna consciousness is studying the sastras and words of pure devotees with the aim of coming to the same conclusions. One must learn, either by hearing or the indication of the Lord in the heart, what is the opinion or realization of the definer of reality, Lord Sri Krishna, and His cent-percent devotees.
“Śāstra-cakṣus means one who sees through the eyes of the authorized scriptures. Actually, any man of knowledge and experience should see everything through these books. For example, with our naked eye we perceive the sun globe simply as some glaring substance, but when we see through authorized books of science and other literature, we can understand how much greater the sun globe is than this earth and how powerful it is. So seeing things through the naked eye is not actually seeing. Seeing things through the authorized books or authorized teachers is the correct way to see.” Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 21, p170, Qualities of Sri Krsna
One who is lax in this regard cannot come to the pure, first-class, uttama platform.
siddhanta-alasa-jana anarthata’chade na
jade krsna bhrama kari’ krsna-seva kare na
“One who is lazy in properly understanding the Vaishnava philosophical conclusions can never become free from anarthas, the unwanted bad habits and philosophical misconceptions that impede devotional service.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, Prakrta-Rasa Sata-Dusini 28
Here Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada writes that a philosophically lazy devotee will remain a neophyte, third-class, kanistha devotee until he becomes free from his misconceptions. The second-class, madhyama devotee is one who has developed firm faith, or nistha, the stage of advancement dependant on becoming free from anarthas (anartha-nivritti). These stages are described in Srila Rupa goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.4.15-16 (The Nectar of Devotion).
From these quotes we can understand that discretion or discrimination is one of the most important elements for advancing in consciousness of the infinite Supreme Personality of Godhead, or going from a neophyte to a pure devotee.
“Fortunate means everyone has got his discretion. So one who has the fortune to discriminate, then he can understand Krishna very easily.” Class on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.15, London, July 30, 1971
This exercise of proper discrimination is therefore useful from one’s very first contact with Krishna consciousness, either genuine or so-called. Genuine Krishna consciousness is extremely rare.
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja “According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Kṛṣṇa. By the mercy of both Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya Lila, 19.151
In regard to such spiritual masters, there may be times when Krishna distributes His mercy like rainfall and sends the world pure devotees like Srila Prabhupada or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, devotees who preach far and wide, sometimes even accepting many disciples who may not be fully qualified. However, these events are exceptional and extraordinary in the history of Krishna consciousness. Far and away, most of the time there is no obvious, widely accepted pure devotee, and what is called Krishna consciousness is often a facsimile.
“Sometimes in autumn the falls come down from the top of the hill to supply clean water, and sometimes they stop. Similarly, sometimes great saintly persons distribute clear knowledge, and sometimes they are silent. The small ponds which were filled with water because of the rainy season, gradually dry up in autumn.” Krishna Book, Chapter 20, Description of Autumn
Simply because someone claims to understand Krishna consciousness or Bhagavad-gita does not mean that one will understand the science “as it is” from them.
“In the course of time, this yoga imparted by Śrī Kṛṣṇa was lost. Why is this? Were there no learned sages at the time Śrī Kṛṣṇa was speaking to Arjuna? No, there were many sages present at the time. By ‘lost’ it is meant that the purport of Bhagavad-gītā was lost. Scholars may give their own interpretation of Bhagavad-gītā, analyzing it according to their own whims, but that is not Bhagavad-gītā. This is the point that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is stressing, and a student of Bhagavad-gītā should note it. A person may be a very good scholar from the material point of view, but that does not qualify him to comment on Bhagavad-gītā. In order to understand Bhagavad-gītā, we have to accept the principle of disciplic succession (paramparā). We must enter into the spirit of Bhagavad-gītā and not approach it simply from the viewpoint of erudition.” Rāja-Vidyā: The King of Knowledge; Parampara: Knowledge Through Disciplic Succession
It is therefore recommended that one hear from someone who has developed perfect discretion. Beyond coming to the proper understanding previously implied by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, developing this perfect discretion is also part and parcel of becoming free from doubt and knowing Krishna fully.
mayy asakta-manah partha
yogam yunjan mad-asrayah
asamsayam samagram mam
yatha jnasyasi tac chrnu
Now hear, O son of Prtha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt. Bhagavad-gita 7.1
In this current age of quarrel and hypocrisy, Kali yuga, there is a great dearth of virtue. It therefore behooves any serious seeker of the absolute truth to discriminate that much more carefully. In his translation of the brahmanda bhamite verse above Srila Prabhupada specifically inserted the term “bona fide” spiritual master. He thus indicates that a seeker will not be fortunate unless the guru is genuine. Such a spiritual master can give the disciple the actual seed of the creeper of devotional service, the bhakti-lata-bija, whereby he can make steady progress to the ultimate goal. In regard to finding such an authorized person and avoiding pretenders, Srila Prabhupada also laid out how one can chart a safe course in Krishna consciousness.
Reporter: Don’t you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with fake gurus? If you went to a quack dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another dentist.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, naturally, if you are cheated, you become suspicious. But this does not mean that if you are cheated once, you will always be cheated. You should find someone genuine. But to come to Krishna consciousness, you must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science. . . . .
Reporter: When you say that lots of people want to be cheated, do you mean that lots of people want to carry on with their worldly pleasures and at the same time, by chanting a mantra or by holding a flower, achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is like a patient thinking, “I shall continue with my disease, and at the same time I shall become healthy.” It is contradictory. The first requirement is that one become educated in spiritual life. Spiritual life is not something one can understand by a few minutes’ talk. There are many philosophy and theology books, but people are not interested in them. That is the difficulty. For instance, the Srimad-Bhagavatam is a very long work, and if you try to read this book, it may take many days just to understand one line of it. The Bhagavatam describes God, the Absolute Truth, but people are not interested. And if, by chance, someone becomes a little interested in spiritual life, he wants something immediate and cheap. Therefore, he is cheated. – The Science of Self Realization, Ch. 2, Choosing a Spiritual Master-Saints & Swindlers (emphasis added)
In his first remark in this conversation Srila Prabhupada says that those who come to Krishna consciousness “must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science.” Clearly, those disciples of a pure devotee who are unqualified and perhaps short on sincerity are very fortunate. In less auspicious times such as these when great saintly persons are silent and pretenders are numerous, it therefore serves any serious spiritual seeker to “become educated in spiritual life.” Only those who are very sincere can avoid this.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the best friend is the spiritual master because he saves from the blazing fire of confusion. That is best friend.
O’Grady: The problem is to find this friend. The problem is to find this spiritual master.
Srila Prabhupada: No, there is no problem. The problem is if you are sincere. Yes. That is stated. Because actually you have got problems, but God is within your heart. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrid-dese arjuna tistahati. God is not far away. God is within your heart. So if you are sincere, then God will give you spiritual master. If He knows that now you are sincere, then He will give you a spiritual master.
O’Grady: O.K. Thank you. That I know.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore God is called caittya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. And the physical spiritual master is God’s mercy. If God sees that you are sincere, He will give you a spiritual master who can give you protection. He will help you from within and without, without in the physical form of spiritual master, and within as the spiritual master within the heart. – Room Conversation with Irish Poet, Desmond O’Grady, May 23, 1974, Rome
Since it is hardly indicative of sincerity to casually think oneself already there, it is in the best interest of every seeker to study Srila Prabhupada’s books. This will benefit both the beginner trying to avoid cheaters and an older devotee wanting to approach the first class platform. Pursuing perfect discretion will benefit all!
Above Srila Prabhupada says that a beginner who takes the time to become educated in Krishna consciousness can avoid accepting a pretender who is “immediate and cheap.” This indicates that their sincerity is enough to please the Lord in the heart to where they can recognize pretending so-called gurus. This then negates the argument of many followers of pretenders who say that new people can’t tell a genuine guru from a cheater. This illustrates such followers’ disregard for proper discretion, rooted in their mentality, as described above by Srila Prabhupada, of wanting to “continue with my disease.” Accepting a pretender as “guru” is extremely hard to recover from.
“One cannot deny the order of a spiritual master. Therefore one has to select a spiritual master whose order, carrying, you’ll not commit a mistake. You see? Now, suppose if you accept a wrong person as spiritual master, and if you, if he guides you wrongly, then your whole life is spoiled. So one has to accept a spiritual master whose guidance will make his life perfect. That is the relation between spiritual master and disciple. It is not a formality. It is a great responsibility both for the disciple and for the spiritual master.” Class on Bhagavad-Gita 2.7-11, New York, March 2, 1966
ekadasat-prasangan nikrta-matir vyudaka-srotah-skhalanavad ubhayato ’pi duhkhadam pakhanḍam abhiyati
Sometimes, to mitigate distresses in this forest of the material world, the conditioned soul receives cheap blessings from atheists. He then loses all intelligence in their association. This is exactly like jumping in a shallow river. As a result one simply breaks his head. He is not able to mitigate his sufferings from the heat, and in both ways he suffers. The misguided conditioned soul also approaches so-called sadhus and svamis who preach against the principles of the Vedas. He does not receive benefit from them, either in the present or in the future. Srimad Bhagavatam 5.14.13
The followers of pretenders sometimes continue with their disease by going so far as to directly engage in illicit sense gratification while performing what they call devotional service. This is otherwise known as sahajiya, or cheap Krishna consciousness. Generally however, such followers only resume their illicit activities after rejecting their so-called guru.
In regard to the above quote, we should note that anyone who knows they don’t have the qualifications of a genuine guru and yet acts as such is a kind of atheist; they doesn’t believe there is a God who will punish them for misleading the innocent. Ultimately, one has to depend on the Lord in the heart to be protected from such people, even if one has earlier been initiated by a pure devotee. That Supersoul is that much more kindly disposed to a devotee who has already taken His representative’s advice to value sastra-caksus, advice which is non-different from His.
“Your siddhanta is correct to the sastra and in this way go on reading books and have the correct perception and Krsna will help you. siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa iha haite krsna lage sudrdha manasa [Adi 2.117]. A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krsna. You should be always alert in understanding the sastric conclusions that will help you, otherwise we can be misled by bogus philosophies. I am very pleased that you are studying the books. This will make you happy and successful.” Letter to Ayodhyapati dasa, 22 September, 1976
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, when you are not present with us, how is it possible to receive instructions, for example, on questions that may arise?
Srila Prabhupada: Well, the answers are there in my books. Conversation, May 13, 1973, Los Angeles
Sentimental approaches to Krishna consciousness that neglect coming to the proper understanding of the scriptures and teachings of the guru are, therefore, fraught with danger. So-called gurus or leaders who can make a show of religious sentiments can easily mislead such devotees by adulterating or leaving out certain principles of the philosophy. This is why understanding the details and conclusions of our philosophy, or siddhanta, is so essential in the matter of not going astray.
It is immediately suspect if a leader says that studying too hard contaminates one’s devotional service with jnana-yoga, or speculative knowledge. They often demand that one simply follow their orders. Although this may have value if the leader is properly situated, if that prohibition of study comes from an urge for unthinking followers, there will be a different result. Srila Prabhupada praises genuine jnana.
“Without being elevated to the position of a jñānī, or wise man, one cannot stick to the principle of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead. . . . The wise man is he who has thoroughly understood that he is spirit soul and not simply a body. Because he realizes that he is spirit and Kṛṣṇa is the supreme spirit, he knows that his intimate relationship should be with Kṛṣṇa, not with this body.” Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 3, p31, Eligibility of the Candidate for Accepting Devotional Service
A related misdirection is that, in the name of surrender, followers should abandon discrimination altogether. This is not Krishna consciousness. A genuine well-wisher will train new people in the philosophy so that they develop the conviction that leads to realization.
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth. Bhagavad-gita 4.34,
From the Purport – “In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect.”
“Bhagavad-dūtas, those who are gosvāmīs, they place everything with nyāya, or logic. Their instructions are not blind, dogmatic. Naya-kovidāḥ. Everything, what is said by Kṛṣṇa or His representative, they are not dogmas. Those who are not representative of Kṛṣṇa, they will say simply dogmas. Just like in every religion there is a dogma. But in bhāgavata religion, bhāgavata-dharma, there is no dogma. Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s bhāgavata-dharma, the Caitanya-caritāmṛta’s author, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, says, therefore, that caitanyera dayāra kathā karaha vicāra. Vicāra means you just try to understand the gift of Lord Caitanya by logic, vicāra. Don’t follow blindly. Following blindly something, that is not good. That will not stay. But one should take everything with logic. But the servants of God, they put everything in logic. Caitanyera dayāra kathā karaha vicāra. If you study the Caitanya’s philosophy with logic and argument… Don’t go by sentiment. The so-called missionary, they’re simply bogus propaganda without any logic.” Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 6.2.1-5, Calcutta, January 6, 1971
Pretending “guru’s” societies have no shortage of other pits of ignorance. “Blank slate” followers, in the name of supposedly developing brahminical qualities, are sometimes encouraged to regularly lie to the public and break the laws of civil society, often by becoming petty thieves. Examples are cited of emergency techniques used by Vaishnavas of old, and such things may actually be needed in genuine emergencies. But money-obsessed pretenders tend to make these practices standard, keeping followers constantly whipped up in an anxious emergency that never ends.
Another variety of abusive leader takes on a military or mafia don “tough-guy” demeanor, which even intimidates underlings with the possibility of physical abuse. This is then emulated by the ladder-climber-henchmen closest to him. Even basic humility is eschewed, and there is absolutely no accountability, even when things go wrong or offenses are made. “Offenses” in such groups, by the way, are only committed by subordinates, and if the leader silently changes his mind about something and then chastises someone for doing the previously approved thing, the follower is required to apologize profusely to stay in good graces. This is especially the case if they, even meekly, point out that they were unaware of the change. It is hard to imagine this level of verbal, psychological and emotional abuse leading to even mental stability, much less the transcendent peace of love of Krishna. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes such practices as ugra-dharma – “unnecessary religious principles.”
mām ugra-dharmād akhilāt pramādān
nārāyaṇaḥ pātu naraś ca hāsāt
dattas tv ayogād atha yoga-nāthaḥ
pāyād guṇeśaḥ kapilaḥ karma-bandhāt
May Lord Nārāyaṇa protect me from unnecessarily following false religious systems and falling from my duties due to madness. May the Lord in His appearance as Nara protect me from unnecessary pride. May Lord Dattātreya, the master of all mystic power, protect me from falling while performing bhakti-yoga, and may Lord Kapila, the master of all good qualities, protect me from the material bondage of fruitive activities. Srimad Bhagavatam 6.8.16
However, even pretenders more in line with standard Vaishnava behavior inculcate any amount of ignorance into their teachings and recommended practices. These so-called gurus, as well as many substandard ones, usually preach the “A,B,C” basics of Krishna consciousness correctly – chanting, not being the body, the 4 regs., as well as Srila Prabhupada’s other daily recommendations. What they inevitably leave out is studying the siddhanta to develop proper discrimination. In the name of developing simplicity, such leaders thus train devotees in simplemindedness. Followers are very much encouraged to understand and preach the basics to “spread the sankirtana movement,” but not to pursue realization of the “G,H,I” points that the leader is adulterating, minimizing or just doesn’t understand. In the name of advancing towards the full knowledge that is beyond even the liberation of Brahman, they are being trained to ignore the self-interest and deviations of their leader(s). Of course, the main letter that pretenders gloss over is “G” – guru.
Actually all these adulterated or watered-down facsimiles of the pure teachings, as established by guru, sadhu and sastra, are considered “unnecessary religious principles.” In this way the followers are deprived of the pure absolute truth and its benefits. Serious followers of the Bhagavat will reject and avoid these misdirections.
“In the introduction of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Vyāsadeva says who are the candidates to understand this science of God, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam? It is not for the persons who are entangled in cheating religious system. Cheating, dharmaḥ kaitavaḥ. Kaitava means cheating. So cheating type of religious system are kicked out from this book, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but it is meant for persons who are not envious, paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satām. Vastavya-vastu. One who wants to learn reality, not false reality. This, here, in this material world, everything is false reality.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 2.1, Ahmedabad, December 6, 1972
dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ
vedyaṁ vāstavam atra vastu śivadaṁ tāpa-trayonmūlanam
śrīmad-bhāgavate mahā-muni-kṛte kiṁ vā parair īśvaraḥ
sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate ‘tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt
Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhāgavata Purāṇa propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhāgavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyāsadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhāgavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.2
The words of the bona fide guru, sadhus and sastra are non-different from the supreme absolute truth, Krishna.
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead can appear before us in many forms, as he likes, but we must know the true facts: janma karma ca me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ (Bg. 4.9). By following the instructions of sādhu, guru and śāstra—the saintly persons, the spiritual master and the authoritative scriptures—one can understand Kṛṣṇa, and then one makes his life successful by returning home, back to Godhead.” Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 10.3.46
Following these representatives of the absolute truth will mold one’s consciousness similarly. Sincere and serious devotees will therefore only accept as authority those leaders who do not change, adulterate or minimize the statements of guru, sadhu and sastra.
“As stated by Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, sādhu-śāstra-guru: one has to test all spiritual matters according to the instructions of saintly persons, scriptures and the spiritual master. The spiritual master is one who follows the instructions of his predecessors, namely the sādhus, or saintly persons. A bona fide spiritual master does not mention anything not mentioned in the authorized scriptures. Ordinary people have to follow the instructions of sādhu, śāstra and guru. Those statements made in the śāstras and those made by the bona fide sādhu or guru cannot differ from one another.” Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 4.16.1
In chapter 6 of the Nectar of Devotion Srila Rupa Gowami gives a summary of the rules and regulations for performing devotional service. Srila Prabhupada writes that he is giving the most important ones from his brother, Srila Sanatana Goswami’s, book Hari Bhakti Vilasa, the comprehensive compilation of guidance for Vaishnavas. The translation of the first three items by Srila Prabhupada is:
“1) accepting the shelter of the lotus feet of a bona fide spiritual master, 2) becoming initiated by the spiritual master and learning how to discharge devotional service from him, 3) obeying the orders of the spiritual master with faith and devotion,” Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 6, p53, How to Discharge Devotional Service
Since these items begin the list, one can understand that they are primary. And indeed, a devotee cannot be said to be making spiritual advancement if he avoids them. In this regard, however, so-called gurus like to stress immediately accepting “spiritual masters” like them so that new people can supposedly begin making spiritual progress. When neophytes haven’t had time to read the books or talk to non-affiliated devotees, such presentations can be quite convincing. Needless to say, the so-called guru’s followers are simultaneously filled with fervor for him and portray those who question him as fallen or polluted with envy.
Nevertheless, concerning the perfection of one’s human life, Srila Prabhupada said previously that accepting a pretender means that “your whole life is spoiled.” In this regard, a new person has a valuable asset in their innocence and willingness to become submissive to the spiritual master, a willingness Bhagavad-gita 4.34 said previously is very much needed to advance.
Inevitably pretenders instruct their followers wrongly, especially in regard to the parts of Krishna consciousness that illuminate their self-interest and sense gratification. This will lead to eventual disillusionment for more perceptive followers, especially if the pretender becomes an embarrassment. However, even if the so-called guru manages to maintain his profile by chanting his rounds and following the four regs., he is incapable of delivering the bhakti-lata-bija because he lacks the empowerment of the genuine spiritual master. He certainly can’t give brahma-bhuta realization or Krishna prema. This means that the perceptive followers who leave are more fortunate, if that word can even be used. They at least get off the train before it reaches its damned destination.
patatāṁ tamasi hy adhaḥ
ye śraddadhyur vacas te vai
majjanty aśma-plavā iva
Leaders who have fallen into ignorance and who mislead people by directing them to the path of destruction are, in effect, boarding a stone boat, and so too are those who blindly follow them. A stone boat would be unable to float and would sink in the water with its passengers. Similarly, those who mislead people go to hell, and their followers go with them. Srimad Bhagavatam 6.7.14
“As for your next question: ‘Can only a few pure devotees deliver others?’ Anyone, if he is pure devotee he can deliver others, he can become spiritual master. But unless he is on that platform he should not attempt it. Then they will both go to hell, like blind men leading the blind.” Letter to Tusta Krishna, 12/14/72
Through the remaining cycle of pretense, the pretenders’s duller followers concoct all sorts of rationalizations to keep their faith propped up. Those who left the leader are portrayed as having “failed the test of faith” that maya, or illusion, allegedly put before them. Supposed well-wishers of the group sometimes recommend that they stick with the questionable apparent guru because “a blind uncle is better than no uncle.” The thinking is that, despite the compromise, those who will return to sinful activities are better off staying. However, this dull reasoning is hardly applicable to those capable of self-control and proper discrimination. For such devotees, Srila Prabhupada does not recommend blind uncles.
“Nowhere in authentic scriptures is it said that one will ultimately reach the same goal by doing anything or worshiping anyone. Such foolish theories are offered by self-made ‘spiritual masters’ who have no connection with the parampara, the bona fide system of disciplic succession.” Purport, Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 13
After realizing that one has accepted a sense gratifier as apparent guru, devotees almost inevitably enter a “once burned, twice shy” state of victimhood. At this point their initial quantity of innocence and submission is pretty much used up for this life. This is perhaps the reason why Srila Prabhupada said previously that one’s life becomes spoiled or why the Bhagavatam likened such devotees to someone who jumps into a shallow river. Unfortunately, instead of considering one’s own shortcomings, victimhood usually drives such devotees to blame their previous “spiritual master,” his followers or the greater organization he was part of, and which may have recommended him as apparent guru. Srila Prabhupada, however, recommends that one point the finger squarely within.
“When actually you want Krishna seriously–you do not know who is guru–then Krishna will give you a guru. Just like Dhruva Maharaja. He was advised by his mother that ‘If you go to the forest you can see God.’ So he went there. But when he was very serious, then Krishna sent him Narada Muni. So if you are actually serious about Krishna, then Krishna will send you some of His representative and he will take charge of you. That is the process. If you do not find a guru, that means Krishna is not yet pleased, ….. you are not serious.” Conversation with Bajaj and Bhusan (at their home), September 11, 1972, Arlington, Texas
Those who have been exploited by a so-called guru and the organization that promoted them usually go quickly from victimhood to a cynicism that, in the worst cases, causes loss of faith in Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. They almost all become convinced that anyone who speaks authoritatively about Krishna consciousness is, like their previous apparent guru, only doing so because of self-interest and pretense. In this way, one of the key avenues to advancement becomes closed to them.
Despite its apparent connection with Krishna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada viewed such skepticism or cynicism as unwanted and very much on the bodily platform. In other words, the challenge for victim devotees is to again return to the open-hearted place where they can put their faith in someone genuine.
Devotee: What is the best way to deal with skepticism?
Srila Prabhupāda: Skepticism, rascalism. (laughter) We are not going to deal with rascalism. We are going to deal with sense. Skepticism means they do not believe in anything. Everything is false. They are so disappointed, they think everything is false. We are not going to deal with such men. What is the use? Is not that skepticism? What is that skepticism?
Srila Prabhupāda: That’s all. So why one should be disappointed? We say that “You come to the spiritual platform. You will be happy.” We want to deliver him from the platform of disappointment. Sometimes one, being very disappointed, he commits suicide. But will anybody recommend that, that “You are so disappointed. Now you commit suicide”? Nobody will do so. So similarly, the skepticism is disappointed. We say, “Why you are disappointed? You come to the spiritual platform, and you will be happy.” That is our version. So we are not going to accept his philosophy, skepticism, but we want to deliver him from this fallen condition. That is our mission. He is in false conception, that disappointment. Why? Our Vedic literature says, ānandamayo ‘bhyāsāt (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.12). The living entity, the spirit soul, is by nature happy. There is no question of disappointment. You see Kṛṣṇa’s picture anywhere, how they are happy. The gopīs are happy, the cowherd boys are happy, Kṛṣṇa is happy. Simply happiness. Where is disappointment? Arrival Lecture, Philadelphia, July 11, 1975
Nevertheless and despite all the emotional and psychological damage suffered by victims of pretenders, the purity of the spirit soul can never be completely suppressed by such material adversities. Intense sincerity akin to that which makes it possible to realize Krishna in a moment can always propel the spirit soul to the association of a genuine guru.
Reporter: Have you ever had people come to you who had previously been involved with a fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.
Reporter: Were their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?
Srila Prabhupada: No, they were genuinely seeking something spiritual, and that was their qualification. God is within everyone’s heart, and as soon as someone genuinely seeks Him, He helps that person find a genuine guru. – The Science of Self Realization, Ch. 2, Choosing a Spiritual Master-Saints & Swindlers
Sadly and most regrettably, all the above traumas and more are in progress or have played out in what was once Srila Prabhupada’s movement. After his departure in 1977, the eleven zonal acaryas caused all manner of the disappointment and cynicism described previously, but this was not limited to them. Many of the ISKCON institutional apparent gurus that were later approved by its Governing Body Commission (GBC) caused much the same for their apparent disciples. The numerical scale of those who have come and gone from the “approved” list is well known. Since 1978 the bad conduct and philosophical deviance of the scandalized has been so regular that the positions of even those remaining in good standing have come under serious doubt. This has caused the GBC to slowly evolve into what has been called the “ultimate spiritual authority” for the institution. This is also the default understanding one takes away from the recent official Founder-Acarya document written by one of the institution’s chief apparent scholars, Ravindra-Svarupa dasa. In addition, institutional leaders have sometimes written or described that the GBC is Srila Prabhupada’s “successor.”
This transformation could be considered natural, at least if one is familiar with the institution’s managerial difficulties and priorities. It is however a complete contradiction of any idea of absolute or sanatana dharma (eternal religion), the way the movement’s teachings were always described by that founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada.
“So in the parampara system in that disciplic succession, you will find no change. You cannot change anything.” Lecture on Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, December 1, 1966, New York
Clearly and despite the institution’s official statements, the real reason the GBC has assumed any role as spiritual authority, wherein it approves, disciplines, and even “fires” apparent gurus, is because the characters of those selections have been so undependable and regularly deplorable. They have shown that they simply could not be trusted with the traditional ultimate spiritual authority that Vaishnava scripture and practice invest in the genuine spiritual master, someone who is depicted as having absolutely no need to be disciplined. This abandonment of tradition and sanatana dharma is admitted by previous GBC chairmen.
“The other issue it raises is the issue of authority, devotees serving as guru in ISKCON are not the ultimate authority as would be the case in the traditional vedic setting. This of course is something that not only the gurus have to embrace but also something the disciples have to understand as well.” Pragosa dasa, ex-GBC chairman, GBC member, Vaisnava Culture of Respect and Honour, Dandavats.com, September 22, 2015
“Stating that he (Srila Prabhupada) wanted there to be ‘hundreds and thousands of spiritual masters’ within ISKCON, he implied that the normative guru-disciple relationship would be perpetuated within the unified institution under the direction of the GBC. In such an organization, many gurus would be able to act with concerted force, operating together with other leaders and managers in collegial accord.” Ravindra Svarupa dasa, Founder-Acarya p. 23 (our parentheses), ex-GBC chairman
From these remarks, one is led to wonder where the statements of guru, sadhu and sastra lend support to an ecclesiastical body assuming such so-called spiritual authority. Srila Prabhupada’s Will certainly endows the governing body with “ultimate managing authority” over the movement. However, managing practical material affairs is a far cry from the body placing itself over the Vaishnava spiritual master’s sastrically enjoined absolute spiritual authority. One is hard pressed to find where the scriptures recommend or cite a managing body acting as absolute spiritual authority. At least apparent scholar Ravindra Svarupa failed to provide such in the institution’s Founder-Acarya “sastra,”. After all, the chain of disciplic succession and authority is one of individuals – gurus and disciples, not managing bodies. The sadhus and the guru, Srila Prabhupada, also fail to recommend such a structure. In fact, they condemn it:
“It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Goswami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.” Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 1.35, purport
These obvious contradictions may be why this level of disregard for traditional Vaishnava authority took years to evolve. Although the institution’s official presentations may lead one to believe that their arrangement of “GBC over apparent gurus” has always been, this is historically not the case. Institutions of the material world regularly make such adjustments due to changing managerial necessity, but when such hocus-pocus is presented as eternal truth, there is a galling aftertaste. Such is institutional religion.
Immediately after Srila Prabhupada’s departure in 1978 the eleven zonal acaryas, themselves a near majority of the 23 person GBC, forced themselves on the rest of the movement by claiming that they were Srila Prabhupada’s appointed successors and gurus. They all imitated his topmost worship standard, mandated worship from their peers and took on “Srila” titles announcing each as a pure devotee on the highest standard. They also individually demanded to be treated as the highest spiritual authority in traditional Vaishnavism, just as Srila Prabhupada had been.
Yet after only a couple of years, the cracks in this façade began becoming public. Not just one, but two of them, Tamal Krishna Swami and Hamsadutta Swami, were subjected to a disciplinary exile in India away from their temples and disciples. This “purification” was said to be the order of the GBC, and their followers were told that the GBC was their ultimate authority, not their personal apparent guru.
However the traditional honoring of the authority of guru largely returned when they and their followers were informed that Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother, Sridhara Maharaja, had said that coming between the supposed guru and his disciples in this way was a “death blow” to the relationship. Sridhara Maharaja had previously been touted as a “senior authority” by the GBC, supposedly to be consulted on such matters after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure.
However, as the next years brought more scandals for the eleven, and with Srila Prabhupada’s initiated disciples either leaving the institution or demanding reform, it became clear that the GBC had to do something. Conveniently, by this time their relationship with Sridhara Maharaja had deteriorated to the point where they viewed him as subversive. No longer accountable to him, they were thus that much freer to abandon the traditional ultimate authority of guru. Nevertheless, due to the relatively small-medium influence of the dissenters, the first reforms of 1985-6 largely preserved the dominance of the remaining zonals and the appearance of traditional guru authority.
Just like when the zonals used their numbers on the GBC to force themselves on the rest of the movement, these reforms were also largely shaped by the relative power blocs among GBC members. Since a number of zonals were still un-disgraced and on the commission, and since, by this time, their apparent disciples numbered in the thousands, they were largely able to minimize their downsizing to matters of titles and standards of worship. They also played politics with several reform leaders, the up-and-coming power bloc, by pressuring them to sell out their peers by joining the apparent guru club. Atreya Rsi dasa and Ravindra Svarupa dasa were both reform leaders who accepted the appointments.
This “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” mundane deal making further illustrates how the GBC regularly spins management necessity as sanatana dharma, in this case who is qualified to be guru. Of course this naked power tradeoff was never described as such, just like the initial power grab of the ambitious eleven in 1978. Both of these sense gratification-soaked, mundane, Machiavellian devices were packaged as “Krishna and Srila Prabhupada’s great mercy” on the new people who were now supposedly able to connect to the Gaudiya Vaishnava disciplic succession due to getting the eternal seed of devotional service, the aforementioned bhakti-lata-bija, from “these dutiful souls who were willing to take on the great sacrifice of accepting disciples.”
Nevertheless, the most powerful zonal, Kirtanananda “Swami” Bhaktipada, didn’t see any reason to downsize anything. He took his thousands of apparent disciples, Srila Prabhupada initiates and temples out of the institution. He, for one, was not buying into any idea that he was under the GBC; he was going to single-handedly continue the standard of the physical guru being the ultimate authority. Kirtanananda told the meeting of reformers gathered at his New Vrindavana farm in August 1985 that, “The bonafide guru cannot be limited.” Indeed, although he was later revealed to be perhaps the most audacious pretender, this was completely in accord with the scriptures and Srila Prabhupada.
“It is also an offense to consider an empowered Vaishnava an object of disciplinary action. It is offensive to try to give him advice or to correct him…The spiritual master must not be subjected to the advice of a disciple, nor should a spiritual master be obliged to take instructions from those who are not his disciples. This is the sum and substance of Srila Rupa Goswami’s advice in this sixth verse.” Nectar of Instruction, text 6, purport
In this way, the initial attempt to move the ISKCON institution into the “collegial accord” described previously by Ravindra Svarupa, perhaps its main architect and defender, resulted in a significant schism. As pointed out by Kirtanananda, this was largely caused by the GBC’s attempt to impose its authority on the institution’s apparent gurus.
Time, however, was on the side of the reformers, and this gave them and the downsized zonals all the apparent justification they needed to later proclaim collegial accord as “Krishna and Srila Prabhupada’s arrangement,” despite its utter lack of confirmation from either. In the above quote the best endorsement Ravindra Svarupa could attribute to Srila Prabhupada was that he “implied” that apparent gurus should be under the GBC. However, the previously cited ecclesiastical condemnation carries far more authoritative weight than Ravindra’s subjective inference.
As destiny would have it, within months of Kirtanananda’s departure fate intervened with the arrest of some of his followers for the murder of his most vocal critic, Sulocana dasa. This was done because of Sulocana’s alleged blasphemy of this supposedly pure uttama devotee, the profile Kirtanananda would not renounce. Also after parting ways with the GBC, Kirtanananda had his followers give up a number of the externalities of Krishna conscious culture in an attempt to make his mission more acceptable to American Christians. Finally, in the 90’s he was revealed as a pedophile, thus prompting virtually all of his followers to leave him. His gradual demise after leaving the ISKCON institution gave the GBC all the supposed justification and propaganda they needed to proclaim themselves and collegial accord triumphant.
Adding the murder to the zonals’ other scandals also created the perfect storm of management necessity to mandate accountability from the institution’s apparent gurus. This necessity, however, only further illuminates the base reason for all the institution’s problems after Srila Prabhupada’s departure – so many of the apparent gurus were obviously unqualified from the moment they began acting as such. According to the previous quote referencing the offense of correcting a genuine guru, there should absolutely be no need create a management mechanism to hold apparent gurus accountable. One is thus led to wonder whether any of these men was ever a bona fide spiritual master. After all, even the “good” ones were either so dull or duplicitous that they previously endorsed and honored the debauched. We have already described the two mundane power plays that led to most of the 1986 list getting the post. But perhaps the biggest part of the problem was that the GBC had “authorized” these questionable people with their official “ultimate managing authority.”
Admitting these blatant abuses of authority would, however, tarnish the image the body thinks it needs to maintain the loyalty of the institution’s followers. After all, after the supposed guru appointment of the zonals by Srila Prabhupada in 1978, it was always the authority or sanction of the GBC that was cited as providing the apparent gurus’ spiritual legitimacy, both before and after the GBC officially took a stated position over them.
It thus follows that the GBC now thinks it has assumed the same absolute position as a pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada. At least they collectively conduct themselves that way. Somehow, “causelessly” a group of mundane managers, when their group decision has been reached, is capable of the same absolute perfection as residents of the spiritual sky. Of course, this also means they don’t have to account to anyone else either. On the other hand, everyone has to account to them. This level of deception and change of Gaudiya Vaishnava practice, as well as contradiction of scripture, is however not too different from a pedophile like Kirtanananda proclaiming of himself the same purity. It would be laughable if so many lives were not affected by it.
Needless to say, even after the zonals and their fallout, the GBC hasn’t shown much interest in taking everything back to where Srila Prabhupada left things in 1977. The face saving and pretence, along with managerial priorities in the service of the ever-morphing power blocs, have apparently locked in the future of the condemned “GBC over apparent guru” hierarchy. Outside observers have come to expect only damage control cosmetology and rhetoric that keeps the inmates in blinders. Besides, virtually every university had the same well-proven structure to limit licentious professors. It’s a system that has proved its staying power, something Ravindra Svarupa, a PhD at Temple University, was very at home with.
“All these things are nonsense inventions. Such inventing spirit will ruin our this movement. Gradually the Krishna Consciousness idea will evaporate: another change, another change, every day another change. Stop all this.” Letter to: Sudama, Vrindaban, 5 November, 1972
“But if we don’t carry out the orders of God, this is cheating religion. That is not religion. That is condemned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. That cheating religion are kicked out from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. So any religious system which has no conception of God and does everything–every year changes by resolution of the priests, (saying) that ‘Now this is all right,’–against religious principles: that is a farce. That is not religion.” – Discussions with Hayagriva dasa about the writings and philosophy of Pascal