by Nitya Krishna dasa
On the Killing of Brahminical Culture
Having apparent gurus serve at the pleasure of the GBC puts them in a dependent, employee-like relationship with the body. In real Vedic culture a bona fide spiritual master is in the highest social position. Such a Vaishnava is above even the intellectual brahmanas. This is because he has all those qualifications but has advanced still further to performing devotional service to Krishna. The genuine spiritual master thus never has to serve any institution of the material world, such as the GBC, because he is freely distributing love of Krishna to everyone.
“And servant, when one becomes servant, he has to execute anything which the masters order. Suppose one is serving some big man, he says that ‘You do this. I want.’ Now, to satisfy him one has to act according to his desire, which he may not like. Suppose one says that ‘You go and tell this lie. It is required by me.’ Now, because I am in service… Even great personalities like Bhīṣma, such a great personality, he could not join with the Pāṇḍava’s party, because he became a servant of the Kurus. So servitude is such a thing. A servant means a dog’s qualification. In the Bhāgavata it is stated that… Because the higher caste… The caste system, higher means the brāhmaṇas, the kṣatriyas and the vaiśyas, they will never become servant of anyone. Therefore they are higher. The śūdras, they accept service of others. So that was the stricture. And in the śāstra the brāhmaṇas and the kṣatriyas, the higher castes, and the vaiśyas, they would never serve. Now there is injunction in the Bhāgavata: if a brāhmaṇa is in trouble he can become…, he can take the profession of a vaiśya, but never take the profession of a dog. That never serve. Because as soon as one becomes servant, his independence is lost. So our independence… We can keep only our independence when we become servant of God, because there is no injustice.” Lecture on Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya 22.14-19; New York, January 10, 1967
In this way, a major reason brahmanas avoid kowtowing to material authorities is that they are duty bound to be independent so that they can always speak truth.
“So a brahmana should be truthful in any circumstances. He will never speak lie. Truthful, satya. . . . A brahmana is not supposed to be crooked and duplicity. No. Simple. It is said even the enemy wants to know something from him, he will clearly say, ‘It is this.’ That is called simplicity.” Lecture, Melbourne, April 6, 1972
‘Manager’ is a mundane designation of someone who administers others. Although not everyone who administers is a ksatriya, it speaks of the qualities of that varna or class of men. Ksatriyas or managers are inherently involved in the diplomacy of getting mundane things accomplished, and this sometimes involves deception or even Machiavellian ruthlessness. The GBC has conducted itself or supported such activities any number of times, some of which have been recalled here. However, the use of such political devices can, either consciously or unconsciously, be motivated by personal sense-gratification, something that can cause offenses to other devotees. That is why, in the Vedic system, administrators are supposed to consult and submit to qualified brahmanas. Brahmanas are supposed to know Brahman, the absolute, and be able to put forward what is in the best interest of Krishna and His part and parcel living beings. They are also detached and hesitant to jeopardize their realization by committing offenses.
“According to the system of varnasrama-dharma, the pious and learned brahmanas were the natural guardians of society. The brahmanas, by their learned labor of love, would instruct the administrator-kings how to rule the country in complete righteousness, and thus the process would go on as a perfect welfare state. . . . .The learned brahmanas would advise the king in terms of those standard books of knowledge and with reference to the particular situation of time and place. Such brahmanas were not paid servants of the king, and therefore they had the strength to dictate to the king on the principles of scriptures. This system continued even up to the time of Maharaja Candragupta, and the brahmana Canakya was his unpaid prime minister.” Purport, Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.7.9
The ISKCON institution’s “GBC over apparent guru” authority arrangement thus turns this traditional Vedic arrangement on its head. Management diplomats have placed themselves over what is called a guru or brahmana in the institution. To be genuine, well-functioning varnasrama-dharma, it should be the other way around. Instead, those who are supposed to know “complete righteousness” have been made subservient to the people they are supposed to advise.
This conclusion is also borne out by the history of the institution. The zonal acaryas had no use for any analysis of their assumption of power other than their own glorification. In regard to any discussion among their peers of its bonafides one of them said, “There is nothing to discuss. Everything is already decided. We are simply here to tell them.” The movement’s brahmanas and other thoughtful devotees were thus only potential obstacles for their plan. Another account of a conversation between two of them notes this exchange, Q: “What do you do when someone is not accepting the party line?” A: “You just rub them out. Anyone who does not fall in line should be dismissed.”
Unfortunately and mostly by the design of these ruthless men, virtually all documentation of how hundreds of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples either got “dismissed” or quietly left the movement is largely non-existent. The two quoted accounts above were taken from a paper, Challenging the Zonal Acarya System (part 2), that was connected to one incident that is pretty documented due to the paper’s recent publishing on the Sampradaya Sun. That incident was the February 1979 confrontation with the zonal acaryas of about 60 senior Srila Prabhupada disciples in Vrindavana, India.
Earlier in 1978 several of these devotees had begun sending the zonals letters and discussing amongst themselves whether the zonals were following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, Gaudiya Vaishnava practice and Vedic culture. Pradhyumna dasa, Srila Prabhupada’s longtime secretary and Sanskrit editor, was a prominent letter writer and was chosen by the challenging group, led by Yasoda Nandana Maharaja, to debate the zonals at the February 1979 meeting. As recently attested by Yasoda Nandana, it was Kailasa Candra dasa who wrote the above position paper that was signed by many senior devotees.
In the end, however, the zonal representative in the debate, Hridayananda Swami, demanded that the only discussion point be whether the GBC was the ultimate authority for the ISKCON institution. Pradhyumna, faced with this Machiavellian abuse of brahminical etiquette, therefore begged off. Virtually everyone then removed their names from the paper under threat of being ostracized from the movement. The preaching of Kailasa Candra, who did not remove his name, was subsequently labeled “poisonous” in the 1979 GBC resolutions. Shortly after, Pradhyumna’s service of finishing Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam, as previously ordered by him, was taken away by the GBC and given to Hridayananda.
This was how the zonals and GBC openly and officially dealt with a sincere brahminical challenge, one intended to keep the movement from straying onto a path different from Srila Prabhupada’s. Unlike the zonal’s responses, virtually every word in the challenger’s letters, debate points and paper was polite, humble and respectful. Here, unlike the other hundreds of quieter or undocumented dismissals of thoughtful devotees, we have clear evidence of how the zonals and their other complicit “non-guru” GBC associates regularly and ruthlessly ran roughshod over the idea of Vaishnava respect and etiquette in the ISKCON institution. Here we are witness to their tyrannical repression of brahminical dedication to truth, guru, sadhu and sastra. During their heyday even sannyasis who had doubts about them sometimes found themselves driven out of temples. It is through these incidents that the Machiavellian diplomacy of the zonals and other subservient GBC members was established as the standard of the movement’s power, something that only continues with the on-going marshalling of power blocs. In this regard, the Vishnu Purana describes the Lord as the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas.
govindāya namo namaḥ
My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brāhmaṇas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world. Vishnu Purana 1.19.65
This means that every devotee should undeviatingly serve the Lord’s support for brahminical culture and behavior. This should be how the GBC manages the movement.
As an illustration, in the Mahabharata even the Kaurava enemies of the Pandavas strictly adhered to these standards. There is the instance of how Duryodana, due to a previous promise of a favor to his enemy Arjuna, simply handed over the five arrows that Bhisma, the grandfather-uncle of both sides, had prepared to kill those five Pandava brothers. Despite such loss largely insuring his defeat, this was Duryodana’s dedication to word and truth. This means that, in their treatment of the brahminical challengers, what to speak of the already many unnamed dismissed, the GBC and zonals were not even on the standard of the Vedic enemies of Krishna’s devotees. And the zonals were supposedly the “gurus” of the movement.
“Because if the human society does not give protection to the cows and does not cultivate the brahminical culture, then it is cats and dogs society. Therefore it is given. And as soon as the whole society becomes full of cats and dogs, how can you expect peace and prosperity? The dog’s business is ‘Gow gow gow gow! Why you have come here? Why you have entered in our neighborhood? Please get out. Please get out.’ Not ‘Please.’ ‘Get out.’ (laughter)” Class on Bhagavad-gita 7.1-3, August 4, 1971, London, “Beauty Of Brahminical Culture”
After the confrontation the challengers were told, in no uncertain terms (and like all the others who departed) to either submit to the zonals or “get out.” This offense was compounded many-fold by how, at the time, everyone was under the impression that Srila Prabhupada had really appointed the eleven as gurus, as they had asserted since early 1978:
Jayapataka Maharaja: Maharaja, when our Srila Prabhupada left, then he has given instruction that for initiating and for carrying on the sampradaya there would be eleven-in the beginning, he appointed eleven devotees, his disciples, to be initiating spiritual masters or to accept disciples and in the future that number would also be able to be increased. So we wanted to take your advice on some points as to various details of how these initiating spiritual masters should deal with certain questions. If we could ask questions to you then?
Sridhara Maharaja: yes, you may ask.
Jayapataka Maharaja: He has given explicit desires, but he told us that, on other technical points and other matters of philosophy, it there was question we should approach you. He said that during his…when he was very ill, he had appointed eleven ritviks and he said that after he disappears that these ritviks would continue as initiating spiritual masters and that they could be increased later, that would be decided by the GBC or Governing Body Commission. – Two Official Meetings of Sridhara Maharaja with the ISKCON GBC, March 1978 (our italics)
The deception of this assertion was not revealed until a couple of years later, when the so-called May 28, 1977 “appointment tape” was released. Although he had not there named anyone specific, Srila Prabhupada had answered some questions about how initiations would take place after his departure. In a subsequent July 9, 1977 follow-up letter the eleven zonals had only been designated as “rittik – representative of the acarya, for the purpose of performing initiations.” This appointment was a far cry from being told they could act as guru and initiate their own disciples. It only gave them license to continue an earlier movement practice of performing the initiation ceremony in the stead of Srila Prabhupada for those who would then become his disciples, not theirs. No individuals had been officially directed to initiate their own disciples after his physical departure.
This makes the abuses shown to any devotees who were previously driven away all that more sinful, egregious and heinous. Injustice in the form of “might makes right” was imposed as how things got done in the ISKCON institution. After the 1979 confrontation, however, official brahminical discussion or challenge became pretty much out of the question. If even Pradhyumna dasa, perhaps the movement’s most highly regarded brahmana, was treated so heavily, others could assume that their fate would be even worse. The later reform efforts of 1985 and after, on the other hand, were more of a popular uprising of Srila Prabhupada initiates. They were, however, largely conducted according to brahminical etiquette.
A question can nevertheless justifiably be raised as to how qualified even the best of Srila Prabhupada’s brahmana initiates were. After all, virtually all of them were eating meat only years previously. How realized were they? Srila Prabhupada once made this related admission:
“Actually I have not given any of you sanyasa. But I am in a war with Maya, the material energy, and I need leaders. It is called in wartime ‘battlefield commission.’ There are no qualified leaders, but someone has to lead the charge. So you take every fifth man, ‘You are now lieutenant of the squad.’ He is really a private, but we make him lieutenant for the day and he leads the charge. It is to be understood that you are not sufficiently equipped for this fight and most of you will go down.” Conversation, July 1,1976, New York
If even the lieutenant-sannyasis in Srila Prabhupada’s military analogy were just privates or spiritual neophytes, then the sergeant-brahmanas certainly were also. Yet, also according to the analogy, such devotees were being directed by a genuinely empowered spiritual general. There would definitely be many casualties, but those who survived would advance rapidly. This means that, even though the movement’s brahmanas were subject to many weaknesses, by Srila Prabhupada’s grace they had the opportunity to develop some real qualifications. As long as they sincerely followed, his spiritual potency prevented everything from becoming the current cheap makeshow that we are attempting to describe.
Herein we give some remarks where Srila Prabhupada cites training brahmanas as a purpose of his movement. This means such people were to act like brahmanas, which entailed having others treat them as such, or brahminical culture. His surrendered Western second initiates may not have been the brahmanas of the Vedic age, but under his direction they did have a transcendental connection that was the essence of brahminical consciousness.
As part of the zonal imposition the activities of the movement’s brahmana initiates became limited to worship and giving class or instruction, and then only if it did not criticize or differ with the zonals. In other words, they became answerable to the power possessing zonal administrators (dictators) – “speaking truth” in the institution became limited to what served them. Oftentimes, however, this “truth” included knowingly exaggerating, or lying, about the “spotless” purity of one or more of them. The 1979 confrontation was perhaps the last gasp of public brahminical culture (threadbare dedication to truth) in the ISKCON institution. The challenger’s defeat thus signaled the firm establishment of the upside down “brahmanas under administrators” standard (later “apparent gurus under GBC”). Although the zonals and GBC members were also brahmanas in name, their activities were more those of ksatriyas, or administrators. Their harsh and brutal deeds, however, were not how a real ksatriya would respond to brahmanas. They spoke more of another group, one that tends to offend humble devotees:
dambho darpo ‘bhimanas ca
krodhah parusyam eva ca
partha sampadam asurim
Arrogance, pride, anger, conceit, harshness and ignorance-these qualities belong to those of demonic nature, O son of Prtha. Bhagavad-gita 16.4
pravrttim ca nivrttim ca
jana na vidur asurah
na saucam napi cacaro
na satyam tesu vidyate
Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them. Bhagavad-gita 16.7
One is also reminded of the activities of King Vena, who also prevented brahmanas from performing their duties, instead demanding that they worship him.
tasmān māṁ karmabhir viprā
baliṁ ca mahyaṁ harata
matto ‘nyaḥ ko ‘gra-bhuk pumān
King Vena continued: For this reason, O brāhmaṇas, you should abandon your envy of me, and, by your ritualistic activities, you should worship me and offer me all paraphernalia. If you are intelligent, you should know that there is no personality superior to me, who can accept the first oblations of all sacrifices. Srimad Bhagavatam 4.14.28
We should always remember that, despite being brahmana initiates, the individual ksatriya-manager GBCs are susceptible to all the diplomatic temptations of falling from the high standards of a brahmana. This is why they very much require venerating and following those devotees who always act on that standard. Srila Prabhupada distinguished the spiritual concerns of genuine Vaishnava brahmanas from those dealing in management priorities and politics.
“Politics are always there, and enviousness, jealousy. This is the nature of this material world. You cannot avoid it. Spiritual world means just the opposite. There is no politics. There is no jealousy. There is no enviousness. That is spiritual world. And material world means politics, jealousy, diplomacy, enviousness, so many things. This is material world. So even in the heavenly planets, these things are there, politics. Even in animal kingdom, these politics are there. This is the nature. Matsarata. Matsarata means enviousness. One man is envious of another man. It doesn’t matter, even they are brothers or family members. Here the family members, Dhrtarastra and Pandu, two brothers, their sons, they were family members, but the enviousness…So the Krsna consciousness movement is not for the persons who are envious. Envious. It is a movement to train people how to become not envious. It is very first-class scientific movement, yes. Not to become envious. Therefore Srimad-Bhagavatam in the beginning introduces, dharmah projjhita-kaitavo atra [SB 1.1.2]. In this Srimad-Bhagavatam, dharma, religious principles, cheating type of religious principle is completely eradicated, thrown away, projjhita. They are kicked out, projjhita. Just like you collect all the dirty things from the room, sweeping and then kick out, don’t keep it within the room. Similarly, cheating type of religious system — kicked out. It is not such religion, ‘this religion,’ ‘that religion.’ Any religion system, if there is jealousy, that is not religion. Jealousy means… We should understand jealousy, what is jealousy. Jealousy means that you are rightful owner of something; I won’t allow you to take it. This is jealousy. This is jealousy. Jealousy, try to understand. Suppose you are rightful owner of something, and I am trying that ‘You don’t own it. I shall own it. Or somebody own it. I shall not allow it.’ This is jealousy.” Class on Bhagavad-gita 1.1, London, July 7, 1973
Indeed, the entire zonal acarya debacle might have been prevented if the GBC had accepted the advice of detached brahmanas immediately after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure. In his absence it was inevitable that new people would request initiation. The movement’s scholars and brahmanas should have been consulted and asked to compile Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on how his disciples should assume the responsibilities of guru. Included would have been this statement from the appointment tape conversation, “When I order, ‘You become guru,’ he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple. That’s it.” Ironically, this answer was cited by the zonals as partial evidence of being deputed by Srila Prabhupada. However, their ambition apparently caused them to overlook “regular guru, That’s all.” Regular guru does not mean “Srila this-or-that,” mandatory worship from godbrothers and godsisters, and raised vyasasanas in the temple rooms.
Unfortunately any thoughts of taking such brahminical advice were abruptly cut short by Kirtanananda giving “initiations” only one short month after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure. Since he had the largest movement community at New Vrindavana, his audacity clearly defied the GBC to do something to stop him. Rather than censure him, however, the GBC quietly allowed him to set the stage and Machiavellian example for how the other zonals would later join him. In these early months after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure the movement’s brahmanas were just ignored by the GBC. It was the zonal’s assumption of power that brought out the GBC’s real disregard for brahminical dedication to truth.
History has shown that, rather than brahminical culture and following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, the GBC’s primary concern is political control of the assets and personnel of the institution. Srila Prabhupada enjoined them to institute brahminical Vedic standards so that his followers and the world could experience an alternative to “cats and dogs” society. Instead, almost from the day of his physical departure, they began reverting to their self-interested, Western, meleccha upbringing with its fallen politics of subjection and deception. And a big element of that deception is that the GBC follows and protects brahminical culture. The reality is that in the ISKCON institution one can be a brahmana up to where he or she disagrees with the GBC. At that point they either submit, leave or play dumb like Jada Bharata.
Since the zonals had irrevocably established that the petty standards of Vedic culture and Gaudiya Vaishnavism were not going to interfere with their dominance, it was clear to the 1985 reformers that something extra would be needed to force changes. Yet despite all their political organizing and largely attended meetings, a real show of force that the zonals could not ignore, they were initially only able to effect some outward changes, and then only with the zonals who cooperated. By then there was even widespread knowledge that the zonals had lied about being appointed gurus by Srila Prabhupada, something completely contrary to the behavior of a real guru. Despite this, the GBC allowed them to continue, only further confirming the non-Vedic nature of the institution’s standard of management.
“For the present, you may know that this gentleman is very much materially ambitious. He wants to utilize Krsna consciousness for his material name and fame. Sometimes he greatly offended our Guru Maharaja, and it so happened that at the last stage, practically Guru Maharaja rejected him. And the result, we can find that instead of becoming a great preacher of Krsna consciousness this gentleman has become artificially a head of a mundane institution. To become a very important man in the mundane estimation is not success in Krsna consciousness… On the whole, you may know that he is not a liberated person, and therefore, he cannot initiate any person to Krsna consciousness. It requires special spiritual benediction from higher authorities.” Letter to Janardana about Bon Maharaja, a godbrother of Srila Prabhupada, April 26, 1968
This quote speaks directly to whether the zonals were really able to initiate or give the bhakti-lata-bija to their apparent disciples. Of course there were reformers who wanted to sweep the zonals out and make the slate clean again. They were, however, sold out by the ones who, in the name of “cooperation” and stability, recognized that doing so would severely impact the movement’s 1986 membership and likely expand the impending schism several-fold. By then, because Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had been largely replaced by the zonal’s people; most of the movement’s devotees were theirs. Ravindra Svarupa was the prominent compromiser and, as continuing scandals increased demands for apparent guru accountability, went on to largely shape the current arrangement of collegial accord.
The Challenging the Zonal Acarya System paper was a compilation of many reforms that various devotees, going back to the zonal’s spring 1978 launch, had concluded were necessary to return to Srila Prabhupada’s stated mission and direction. Eventually virtually every point was adopted by the GBC, with one of the zonals, Tamal Krishna Swami, even later admitting that their reign was a “heresy.” Although these superficial changes were very much needed, they failed to get to the deeper Western institutional disease that had taken the place of brahminical culture and Vaishnava standards. Despite the confession, Tamal and several other zonals continue to be considered “gurus” up to the present day.
The reform movement and its manifestos certainly had many elements of brahminical challenge and debate, and there were undoubtedly respectful discussions with some zonals and their followers. What had changed since 1979, however, was that the zonals’ abuses, scandals and deceptions – their injuries to the glory that Srila Prabhupada had established – were well known to Srila Prabhupada’s initiates. This gave the reformers the justification and righteous indignation they needed to play on the shame of the accountable zonals. Despite these acknowledgements, those who wanted substantive reform of the real deviations were also disregarded or crushed by the GBC alliance of zonals and “reformers” who wanted only cosmetic changes. The outcome only further proved that, in the GBC’s ISKCON institution, brahminical righteousness with strict adherence to guru, sadhu and sastra takes a back seat to the majority of diplomats.
Mutual Admiration Society for Krishna Consciousness
Anyone seeking GBC approval to become what they consider guru should contemplate some self-evident statements by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas. This was cited earlier:
“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
Here Srila Prabhupada paraphrases Srila Jiva Goswami, recognized as the foremost scholar in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, as recommending that one not accept an apparent guru based on ecclesiastical conventions. This cuts a very broad swath in religious practice and unequivocally includes every method the GBC has used to select or not reject apparent gurus since Srila Prabhupada’s departure. Here Srila Jiva Goswami and Srila Prabhupada are telling us that if an apparent guru bases any part of their authority on some institutional sanction, it is imperative that they be avoided. This order (something that is imperative) makes clear that such apparent gurus are un-bona fide and only accepted by those with such poor discrimination that they are destined to be cheated. The question then arises why anyone who values seriousness would ever consider becoming an apparent guru in the ISKCON institution.
In this regard, I was recently party to a related discussion regarding those who had taken sannyasa from a zonal acarya who had not only rejected GBC authority but was not even following his own sannyasa vows. One devotee had written authoritatively that, although others were not genuine, so-and-so was a sannyasi because, despite his having accepted sannyasa under such questionable circumstances, his had later been affirmed by the GBC.
Accepting sannyasa means that one vows to give up every desire of the material world. It is a type of death. To truly receive such an initiation, or the seed (bija) of such determination, one needs to receive it from someone who is secure in this standard of renunciation. How could one think, under any circumstances, that they had received this precious seed from anyone who was later revealed to be sexually promiscuous? It is hard to believe the Lord would give the candidate the mystical empowerment needed to carry them through years of temptations. Doubts would certainly arise, thus compelling a truly serious devotee to approach someone better for the real thing.
Nevertheless, there are apparently any numbers of devotees who accept that such men are bona fide sannyasis simply because the GBC declares them to be so. The GBC’s so-called ability to recognize who is a qualified guru is a similar exercise of what is not mere management but rather, spiritual authority. Apparently, for many devotees, the GBC’s declarations have taken on the same weight as guru, sadhu and sastra – a new form of apparent scripture – “Sri GBC uvaca.”
Needless to say, in the light of the previous statements about the purity and authority of guru, sadhu and sastra, putting the GBC on an equal or greater level does not evince a very high degree of discrimination or intelligence. As alluded to before, this lazy abandonment of basic Krishna conscious philosophy is not something one associates with real brahmanas or advanced Vaishnavas, much less apparent gurus.
Another applicable text is the first verse of Upadesamrita, The Nectar of Instruction.
vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ
etān vegān yo viṣaheta dhīraḥ
sarvām apīmāṁ pṛthivīṁ sa śiṣyāt
A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world. Upadesamrita 1, The Nectar of Instruction
This should be pretty obvious for anyone contemplating such a duty. Although controlling the other urges could be considered minimal qualifications, controlling the mind’s demands is perhaps more subtle and less self-evident. In the purport Srila Prabhupada gives the general direction that controlling the mind means always thinking of Krishna. This certainly includes avoiding the speculative laziness Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada previously associated with anartha. As cited previously, the discretion of those aspiring to be guru should be completely in line with guru, sadhu and sastra. Such a devotee should at least consider whether an ecclesiastical managing board is authorized to act as spiritual authority. Regardless of this, however, many of these men have difficulty even controlling the other urges.
Considering these statements of sastra and Srila Prabhupada, it is surprising that any half-serious devotee would consider applying to the GBC to become an apparent guru, even without knowing their track record. However, since much of their history is well known, it must, therefore, be a far more casual, sentimental or socially considered decision. Indeed, if one already accepts the GBC to be on the level of guru, sadhu and sastra and believes that, regardless of whether they follow his instructions, their ISKCON institution is “Srila Prabhupada’s movement,” they are that much more likely to apply for the post. Although such decisions and approvals are usually accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, many outside observers instead find what appears to be garden variety institutional ladder-climbing.
The context of being a GBC licensed apparent guru is also one that hardly remains august; the attrition rate is widely known to be quite high. Accepted apparent gurus know they will be subject to the derision of many devotees beyond the GBC orbit. Although the zonals were audaciously able to present themselves as jagat gurus, or gurus of the whole world, their failings, as well as those of subsequent appointees, have created a kind of caricature for many outside observers.
Such experienced critics generally recognize a gulf of difference between the previous acaryas and the GBC’s apparent gurus. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada often said “guru means heavy,” indicating the weight of his knowledge, conviction and realization, very much including freedom from the bodily illusion. Although GBC apparent gurus are usually capable of giving this impression, at least to the naïve, their regularly succumbing to that illusion’s temptations leads many to conclude they are just (somewhat) capable actors.
Another essential aspect of a genuine guru’s heaviness is their freedom from worldly authority. Such a spiritual master acts only to please his guru, other genuine sadhus and sastra. Their superior discretion sees through the sentiments, ideas and directions of those controlled by the senses.
“So one who is under the control of the senses, he is go-dāsa. Go means senses and dāsa means servant. And one who is master of the senses, he’s gosvāmī. Svāmī means master and go means senses.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 6.25-29, Los Angeles, February 18, 1969
The genuine spiritual master is always such a goswami. He understands immediately if someone is under the dictation of the senses. In this regard, the GBC may be imminently qualified to manage the external affairs of the institution, but their ability to determine transcendental truth or follow Vedic injunctions has already been shown to be rife with hypocrisy and managerial self-interest. A genuine goswami will not be attracted to such authority and direction. This does not speak well of those who accept.
The discrimination of some specific individuals has also been questioned. Reform movement leaders like Ravindra Svarupa and Atreya Rsi dasa accepted apparent guru approvals in 1986. These men had just been part of a sufficient number of Srila Prabhupada initiates to force the GBC and remaining zonals to come to the negotiating table. There had been no shortage of discussion among that group of whether the zonal acaryas came up to the standard of a bona fide spiritual master.
“The first thing, I warn Acyutananda, do not try to initiate. You are not in a proper position now to initiate anyone… Don’t be allured by such Maya. I am training you all to become future Spiritual Masters, but do not be in a hurry… You don’t be attracted by such cheap disciples immediately. One has to rise gradually by service… These services are most important. Don’t be allured by cheap disciples. Go on steadfastly to render service first. If you immediately become Guru, then the service activities will be stopped; and as there are many cheap gurus and cheap disciples, without any substantial knowledge, and manufacturing new sampradayas, and with service activities stopped, and all spiritual progress stopped up.” Letter to Acyutananda, 8/21/68
In those reform discussions there were many who viewed the zonals and their followers as “cheap gurus and cheap disciples.” How Atreya and Ravindra could quickly go from such discriminatory association to being junior zonals does not evince a very high degree of either conscience or discrimination. One is forced to question their honesty, knowledge and religiousness, all supposed functions of their faith in Srila Prabhupada’s guidance.
All this hypocrisy, scandal and turning a blind eye has caused a certain mind-set to form among the institution’s leaders and apparent gurus. In this regard it is important to understand the dynamics of such institutional religions. At all points in the ISKCON institution’s “growing pains” of approving apparent gurus, one central purpose has always been entertaining the needs of “new people” to feel that they have advanced to the stage of initiation, bhajana kriya, or receiving the aforementioned bhakti-lata-bija. This coincidently also has the management utility of binding these people to the orders of their new apparent guru (or the GBC) for the rest of their lives – a pretty handy side effect if you are concerned with membership numbers and donations. This means that it is very important that apparent gurus be seen with as much gravity as possible.
Conversely, this also necessitates that the embarrassing indiscretions of backsliding apparent gurus be hushed up, obfuscated or covered up for as long as possible. Only when it is clear that too many people know the truth or when the offender makes a public admission, do the GBC and other apparent gurus break their silence to acknowledge his “weaknesses.” In one of the worst cases, zonal acarya Bhavananda “Swami” was reinstated with full initiating privileges and authority only months after admitting to multiple homosexual affairs. Although these official pronouncements are generally sufficient to calm the loyal and dependent, they only further contribute to the caricature in the minds of those who have left the institution. Another interesting side-affect is that each scandal only increases the number of these unbound, resentful and angry ex-disciples.
One consequence of this ever-growing chorus of criticism is that, for the GBC, there is no apparent alternative to a continuous supply of naïve new people, people who generally read one of Srila Prabhupada’s books and are easily convinced that the ISKCON institution is his movement or successor. This may be why membership among non-Indians, who don’t historically or culturally accept gurus, has been declining since Srila Prabhupada’s departure, and why many Western temples are now dominated by either local people of Indian descent or salaried Indian immigrants.
Apparently committed to riding this lame horse to the end, everything remains “authorized,” supposedly just like when Srila Prabhupada was physically manifest. In such an Orwellian context, the pastime of one great devotee has found disproportionate utility in maintaining the loyalty of as many rank-and-file devotees for as long as possible. And this is Srila Ragunatha Bhatta Goswami’s vow to never hear criticism or speak negatively about any other devotee.
“Although a Vaiṣṇava preacher may sometimes criticize others, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa avoided this. Even if another Vaiṣṇava was actually at fault, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa would not criticize him; he saw only that everyone was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. That is the position of a mahā-bhāgavata. Actually, even if one is serving māyā, in a higher sense he is also a servant of Kṛṣṇa.” Purport, Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya Lila, 13.133
Here Srila Prabhupada makes clear that Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s standard is one of maha-bhagavat devotees. Although there are dire consequences for blaspheming or offending other devotees, especially one on that level, artificially imitating such a great personality is also not recommended.
“However, one should not imitate the behavior of an advanced devotee or maha-bhagavata without being self-realized, for by such imitation one will eventually become degraded. …The devotee should also know his own position and should not try to imitate a devotee situated on a higher platform.” Nectar of Instruction, Text 5, purport
An honest objective devotee will thus avoid imitation, choosing to follow in the footsteps of his guru and other genuine authorities. In this regard Srila Prabhupada also said that a Vaishnava preacher may sometimes criticize others. However, since criticism can very easily turn into offense, it is very important to take much time and prayer before launching into it. Srila Prabhupada liked to paraphrase a standard attributed to Jesus Christ.
“Just like Lord Jesus Christ said that ‘You hate the sin, not the sinner.’ Not the sinner. This is very nice. Because sinner is illusioned. He’s mad. If you hate him, then how you can deliver him? Therefore those who are devotees, those who are really servant of God, they have no hate for anyone.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 6.6-12, Los Angeles, February 15, 1969
So a devotee, or an institution populated by devotees, may not be acting or preaching according to standard Vaishnava siddhanta, but we should not hate or offensively criticize those devotees personally. However, as we saw previously with Srila Prabhupada’s own statements about his godbrother Bon Maharaja, bona fide criticism of devotee’s deviations and self-interest can sometimes be quite pointed, especially if there are questions of pretence and misleading.
“According to social conventions, it is said that one can speak the truth only when it is palatable to others. But that is not truthfulness. The truth should be spoken in such a straight and forward way, so that others will understand actually what the facts are. If a man is a thief and if people are warned that he is a thief that is truth. Although sometimes the truth is unpalatable, one should not refrain from speaking it. Truthfulness demands that the facts be presented as they are for the benefit of others. That is the definition of truth.” Purport, Bhagavad-Gita 10:4
Srila Prabhupada’s personal example was that he was rarely critical of other devotees, and then usually only in private conversations and letters. One aim of his criticism was to demonstrate proper discrimination to his disciples through proper application of the philosophy. This is one duty of the spiritual master. He may be on the same topmost level as Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, but he acts outwardly on the middle madhyama platform to demonstrate perfect discretion to the world.
However, in parts of the ISKCON institution the example of Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami has almost taken on the weight of a fifth regulative principle. “Avoiding faultfinding” of devotees has thus become a semi-official stricture. “Good devotees” are thereby differentiated from those (usually outside the institution) who, among other things, write articles such as this. Unfortunately this differentiation generally makes no attempt to distinguish if the criticism hates the sin or the sinner. For the most part, any and all negative mentions of the GBC or their apparent gurus are considered falldowns. In this way, those in the institution who exemplify and preach Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s renunciation are considered worthy of following, while any and all outside devotees are inherently suspect and therefore to be avoided.
Although superficially this has the appearance of a very high standard of Krishna consciousness, something that easily overcomes the intelligence of the naïve, it has the rather pernicious side-effect of limiting advancement to that level. In other words, in the name of following Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, neophyte devotees are encouraged to abandon discrimination in regard to Vaishnava behavior. Instead, for the sake of staying in good graces, developing or remaining in the approved previously described ignorance is rewarded.
Clearly, this misapplication of Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s example also has great management utility. In this regard, it is not uncommon to find ISKCON institutional authors railing against “bogus gurus” outside the institution, such as Guru Maharaji or Rajneesh. This criticism of non-devotees follows Srila Prabhupada’s long-time example. However, a line is drawn when one compares the genuine Vaishnava gurus to the apparent ones of the institution. That is considered very sketchy territory wherein neophytes (without the experience of the GBC!) are cautioned about “falling victim to the mad elephant offense.” The clear implication is that sinful reactions will likely force them to share the fate of all the outside faultfinders.
In regard to official enforcement of Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s standard, until recently one institutional temple had a webpage entitled “A Stern Warning,” on which potential visitors were cautioned about criticizing great devotees. At this temple, therefore, the example was apparently enforced as mandatory conduct. Among those pictured, in addition to the previous acaryas, were Gour Govinda Maharaja, Aindra dasa and George Harrison. Although George was instrumental in bringing many to Srila Prabhupada with his music, it is somewhat well known that he later had other more impersonal spiritual interests, as well as smoking, occasional drug use and drinking difficulties. Although he left his body hearing devotees chant, he was hardly fixed up. Gour Govinda Maharaja and Aindra, despite their reputations, can both be charged with lack of discrimination in bowing to the zonal acaryas and lending at least tacit support to decades of GBC hypocrisy and deviation. Accepting them as maha-bhagavatas is hardly self-evident. Apparently stating such things was, and may still be, prohibited at this temple.
What has resulted in the ISKCON institution is a kind of “mutual admiration society of (so-called) Krishna consciousness.” Superficiality thus reigns in much the same way as those choreographed kirtans that sometimes accompany institutional Ratha Yatras and other events – a large number of young, shapely, tightly sari-ed matajis dance and play karatalas in well-rehearsed unison. For those enthralled by the institution’s spectacle, simple honesty finds itself cowering before the prodigious volume of ignorance and misapplied faith required to maintain such a semblance of legitimacy.
For others, it doesn’t take much internet research to learn that in 1978 the zonal acaryas repeatedly lied to the movement that Srila Prabhupada had appointed them gurus and his successors (See Jayapataka quote cited earlier). He had only named them “rittik – representative of the acarya.” The fact that they used this lie to ruthlessly and audaciously overlord their godbrothers and sisters still burns in the hearts of many of those who left what was previously their heart and soul.
Because this gross deception can be described so clearly, perhaps the most fundamental block in that wall of institutional ignorance is that “the word lie is perhaps harsh and not applicable” – a tact also used by any number of government leaders – the purpose of which is to obfuscate and create as much plausible deniability as possible. Of course, that obfuscation can be minimized to the extent that a glossed-over version of the history has been accepted. Nevertheless, anyone considering being one of their apparent gurus should know the truth. Yet, such people apparently still find reason to join the three remaining liars ensconced as “senior gurus” on the officially approved and to-be-honored platform.
People who lie for the purpose of being worshipped can hardly be considered good people, much less senior and honorable spiritual masters. Yet, submission to such a wizard-of-Oz standard is de rigueur for prospective apparent gurus. Outside of this Oz, however, the previous acaryas like Srila Bhaktivinoda Takura take a much different view of those who lie for the purpose of being “guru.”
“One should give up the association of dharmadvajis, the hypocritically devout, with special care. Those who accept the external signs of dharma but do not actually follow dharma are called dharmadvajis. There are two types of dharmadvajis—the hypocrites and the fools, or the cheaters and the cheated. Such hypocrisy in jnana-kanda and karma-kanda is also condemned. In devotional service this hypocrisy ruins everything. Better associate with sense enjoyers, for in this whole world there is no worse association than the dharmadvaji. The deceitful dharmadvajis accept the signs of dharma with a desire to cheat the world, and to fulfill their crooked desires they cheat the foolish by helping them in their rascaldom.” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Bhaktyaloka, Six Faults that Destroy Bhakti, Jana Sanga
Not only do prospective apparent gurus agree to sit down with, honor and mutually admire the three remaining zonal acarya, brahminical-culture-killing dharmadvajis, but they also rub shoulders with all the other apparent gurus, men with that many more years of experience in compromising with ethics, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and sastra. This latter group includes men like Ravindra and Radhanatha swami who were brought into the circle for almost entirely political reasons. Radhanatha was invited because he brought thousands of Kirtanananda’s ex-disciples back to the institution, despite being among Kirtanananda’s GBC apostates for all the years they acted like Christians.
This clearly does not speak well of the discrimination of anyone agreeing to join or remain one of the apparent gurus authorized by the ISKCON institution’s GBC. Continually turning a blind eye to the prodigious amount of historical hypocrisy and abuse pretty much amounts to undergoing a spiritual and ethical lobotomy. After undergoing this “wiping” of standards, such people actively propagate all the aforementioned institutional ignorance as part of the daily charade of their post.