Devotee Writings etc.

The Greater Krishna Consciousness Movement Part 3 of 4

by Nitya Krsna dasa






Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a great reformer of the Vaishnavism of 150 years ago. At this time, 350 years after Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu inaugurated the movement of chanting the holy name, all sorts of deviations from His teachings had become rampant in India. It was so bad that many respectable people equated Gaudiya Vaishnavism with sexual debauchery, usually because of imitations of Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis (cowherd damsels of Vrindavana).


In response, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura listed the thirteen prominent deviations from the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. These were groups which had strayed from His strict instructions and example. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura called them all apa-sampradaya or “outside of the sampradaya.” Although one of the groups was called sahajiya, all thirteen became grouped under that general name. Sahajiya means “easy going,” indicating some lack of strictness. The idea was that none of these groups were truly Krishna consciousness. They accepted some standard of conduct, instruction or philosophical principle casually, thus deviating them from the absolute standard. This meant all were engaged in some degree of material sense gratification. These people were contrasted with serious and truly surrendered devotees, even if such serious devotees had occasional but accidental falldowns.


Some of these groups (Sakhibheki, Cudadhari, Ativadi, Aula, Baula, Daravesa and Sani) were known not to condemn sexual activity if it was, according to their so-called spiritual thinking, associated with Krishna. Nevertheless they usually followed some of the other teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.


However, the outward behavior of some other sahajiya groups was virtually indistinguishable from serious devotees. Many even thought themselves superior to the genuinely surrendered. Surely they accused Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura of being sectarian in his condemnations. Nevertheless he and his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, as well as others, have described these groups’ deviations in detail.


In summary, Gauranga-nagaris emphasize Sri Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis, neglecting most others.  Both Smartas and Jata-gosanis value heredity for who they accept as authority, but Smartas also tend to obsess about rules instead of their transcendental goal.  Kartabhajas are influenced by impersonalism and worship their so-called gurus as god (guruvada). Impersonalism or monism posits that the absolute truth is an impersonal light or energy. The true theism of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, however, says that the absolute contains every aspect of creation and must therefore have personality and form. That person and form is Sri Krishna. Nedas are influenced by the Buddhists, and the Sahajiyas minimize the standard practices of Krishna consciousness, imagining they have come to the spontaneous level of Krishna’s pastimes.


The general disqualification of every sahajiya group is to take some aspect of Krishna conscious philosophy or practice cheaply. Then they consider and preach that they are performing pure devotional service. Regardless of the actions of their individual leaders or members, this is the fundamental pretense that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wanted to reform. This is what made all the groups hypocritically devout pretenders or dharmadvajis.


Although most of the groups described by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura still practice, even more have come about since, both in India and abroad. With these thirteen, he also described only the principal apa-sampradayas. All sorts of groups around the world now sing and chant the Hare Krishna mantra. However, most don’t emphasize the strict Krishna conscious philosophy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but instead mix in their favorite blend of impersonalism, Buddhism, etc.


Undoubtedly these groups have been cited in sectarian condemnations of more recent devotees ever since Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. It is very easy to associate one’s opponents with one or more of these groups, and in their “devotional” food fight, Srila Prabhupada’s followers have been no exception. In such acrimony, accusations of sahajiyaism are greater than saying that a group is not strictly following but less than calling them demons, all of which are now commonplace. Due to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s exalted position, however, accusations of sahajiya carry an air of philosophical authority and are generally taken as more than inflamed rhetoric, although there is also a burden of minimal evidence.


Be that as it may and distancing oneself from sectarian antagonism, thinking all these comparisons baseless may not be wise. Since Srila Prabhupada spread Krishna consciousness to the West, the pure philosophy has become subject to that many more potential contaminations. A devotee who wants to avoid being misled should exercise proper discrimination by applying the scriptures and praying for guidance from Srila Prabhupada and Paramatma, the Lord in the heart.


Advancement in Krishna Consciousness


Advancement in anything entails a growth in understanding. Most Westerners know hardly anything when they begin Krishna conscious practice, and Indian Hindus often have to unlearn much of what they were brought up with. The first year of practice generally brings the neophyte to what can be called the abc level, where one becomes pretty convinced of the principles at the beginning of the article. At this point one generally begins to consider the subtleties of Krishna conscious philosophy.


Of course those with more sentimental or social ideas of Krishna consciousness may choose to ignore those subtleties, especially if it will put them at odds with their group’s leaders or apparent guru. Such devotees generally fear being ostracized; something that is quite difficult after a renunciate has given all their possessions to the group.


Nevertheless Krishna is the absolute truth, and realizing Him absolutely requires getting free from all material misconceptions or untruths, even if they are part of one’s apparently Krishna conscious society. Krishna consciousness is defined by Krishna and very much involves bringing one’s discrimination in line with His. As explained previously by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, this very much includes giving up sectarian party spirit mentality, something he describes as ass-like. Lord Krishna has very kindly laid out His principles in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, and they are more thoroughly explained in the previous acaryas’ writings and recordings, such as Srila Prabhupada’s.


“We, Krishna’s devotee, we are not fools and rascals. We have got our reason. We have got our philosophy. When we know that Krishna is actually the supreme controller, the Supreme Person, the supreme maintainer, then we surrender. Then we become Krishna devotee. It is not blind. It is not blind. We are strongly convinced that that one person is the Supreme Person. Therefore we surrender. We are not blind followers.” Class on Bhagavad-gita 16.8, Tokyo, January 28, 1975


The serious devotee determined to achieve transcendence will accept and follow only the unadulterated philosophy and principles of Krishna and the previous acaryas. This is real renunciation. Such a person becomes truly learned and able to discriminate between genuine Krishna consciousness and pretense. He or she is a genuine brahmana or a madhyama adhikari with firm faith.


It then follows that such a devotee will be a source of irritation for hypocritical leaders or dharmadvajis. This is why such leaders don’t encourage their followers to go past the abc level or apply the philosophy’s principles to their own group. In these groups advanced thinking is considered “overemphasis on jnana” (book learning), faultfinding, speculation or envy. In such environments, deviant devotees, sahajiyas or apa-sampradayas are only found in other religions, opposing sectarian groups or in the past.


Although all Krishna conscious groups will protect new people from tempting influences so they can develop conviction, in sectarian groups this includes warning them about the thinking of any devotees outside the group, even if they are non-sectarian and completely in line with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.


This is how dharmadvajis or sectarian groups promote a pernicious form of ignorance, all in the name of the knowledge and liberation of genuine Krishna consciousness. This means it is rare for anyone under such leaders to not be a blind follower. These are the ones who are just keeping quiet. Despite the often great difficulties of parting ways with such apparently spiritual society, the sincere spiritual aspirant will eventually see no other choice. Srila Prabhupada described the way forward for anyone who was truly serious:


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 other words, one must take the time to properly understand the principles of Krishna consciousness and act on them if they truly want to go back to Godhead. This is how one can avoid the contradiction and disappointment that come from following something that only purports to be Krishna conscious but that is really on the material platform. This is how to avoid being misled. Krishna consciousness has been described as a razor’s edge.


“Not only must one come to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness, but one must also be very careful. Any inattentiveness or carelessness may cause falldown.…Factually, there is always the chance that this will happen, and therefore one has to be very careful” Srimad Bhagavatam 3.26.24, purport


Apa-Sampradaya Tendencies among Srila Prabhupada’s Followers


“. . . . actually, we do not want to create a group of prakrta-sahajiya, or devotees who do not know the science of Krishna and do not know the science of devotion but simply worship the Deity with no depth of knowledge.” Letter to Syamasundara, June 3, 1969


“Sahajiya . . . Sahaj means easy, easy-going.”  Conversation on May 1, 1974


Since the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada the conception of guru in the ISKCON institution has been a source of controversy. When it was acknowledged that Srila Prabhupada had not really appointed the eleven zonal acaryas as his successor gurus, they fell back on the argument that they had been selected by the GBC, his designated “ultimate managing authority.” This then became the group mechanism for selecting apparent gurus. After the eleven, all required this approval. However, their “guru by vote” idea immediately became the object of criticism.


“Mundane votes have no jurisdiction to elect a Vaisnava acarya. A Vaisnava acarya is self-effulgent.” Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 1.220, Purport


Although Srila Prabhupada had ordered the GBC to manage the institution’s affairs, there was no clear mandate for them to take his spiritual place and say who was guru. As cited earlier, there were a number of places where Srila Prabhupada said that all of his disciples should become guru.


Originally the eleven demanded that they be worshipped on the very high uttama adhikari (completely pure devotee) standard of Srila Prabhupada. They had “pada” titles, such as Bhaktipada, and sat on high seats before the Deities in the temple rooms. After their early 80’s scandals, however, the movement’s middle managers rose up in what became known as the reform movement and eventually forced the cessation of these and other public excesses. After that, the more or less official version was that the institution’s apparent gurus were on the madhyama adhikari (second class firmly fixed) level of Krishna consciousness. However when these men also became frequent victims of scandal, this too became subject to the doubt that subsequently gave birth to the rittvik movement.


Well before the 1989 appearance of rittvik, however, there were a number of devotees who wondered if any of these apparent gurus had ever been fully qualified at any point. When Srila Prabhupada was still physically manifest in late 1977, the eleven had been just like his other disciples. Then suddenly in the spring of 1978, it was as if they ascended into heaven as a group. This was that much more suspect because they had spoken about the need for initiations after Srila Prabhupada “because of the new people.” When taken with their other excesses, it all led to accusations of forming personality cults, wherein newcomers became psychologically bound to them; hardly a spiritual motivation or a necessary extension of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. Needless to say, everything proved pretty counterproductive when many of them turned into embarrassments. The institution paid for this dearly when their refugee followers later joined the rittviks, who rose up and wanted to take over.


Although there were some remarks by Srila Prabhupada that supported madhyamas and even neophyte kanistha adhikaris (devotees with soft faith) becoming gurus, such gurus were hardly recommended.


“One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of uttama-adhikari. A neophyte Vaishnava or a Vaishnava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance.” Nectar of Instruction 5, Purport


Even if an apparent guru was advertised as a madhyama adhikari, a group problem was that the ISKCON institution had not tightly described the qualifications of such a devotee. Theirs was, almost exclusively, a loose, sentimental, eye-of-the-beholder standard. Accepting their apparent gurus as being thus qualified could then be seen as a watering down of the pure Krishna conscious standard, especially when so many of them became embarrassments.


adau sraddha tatah sadhu-

sango ‘tha bhajana-kriya

tato ‘nartha-nivrttih syat

tato nistha rucis tatah


athasaktis tato bhavas

tatah premabhyudancati

sadhakanam ayam premnah

pradurbhave bhavet kramah

In the beginning one must have a preliminary desire for self-realization. This will bring one to the stage of trying to associate with persons who are spiritually elevated. In next stage one becomes initiated by an elevated spiritual master, and under his instruction the neophyte devotee begins the process of devotional service. By execution of devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual master, one becomes free from all material attachment, attains steadiness in self-realization, and acquires a taste for hearing about the Absolute Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. This taste leads one further forward to attachment for Krishna consciousness, which is matured in bhava, or the preliminary stage of transcendental love of God. Real love for God is called prema, the highest perfectional stage of life. Srila Rupa goswami, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.4.15-16


Strictly applying this teaching of the previous acaryas to the madhyama guru question produces a far different conclusion from those still accepted in the ISKCON institution. According to these verses, the highest stage of advancement for a neophyte kanistha devotee is called anartha-nivritti (free from all material attachment). The stage after anartha-nivritti is called nistha, or “steadiness in self-realization.” Such a person is fixed in Krishna conscious conduct and philosophy and is a genuine madhyama adhikari.


Srila Prabhupada also translates anartha-nivritti as “disappearance of all unwanted contamination.” There are, however, a number of places where it is easy to conclude that he says this state means merely following the four regulations of abstaining from meat eating, intoxication, gambling and illicit sex, as well as chanting the minimum number of rounds of Hare Krishna maha mantras. Dealing with Westerners who were accustomed to these four vices from an early age, His Divine Grace regularly encouraged them like this.


Following the four rules and regulations is definitely included in becoming free from unwanted contamination, but to conclude that this and the minimum chanting is all that is required is neither good logic or honest. A sincere person will consider that other things may be necessary. Indeed, in one place Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada previously filled in these missing details.


siddhanta-alasa jana anartha to’ chade na
jade krsna bhrama kori’ krsna-seva kore 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 clarifies Srila Prabhupada’s definition of anartha-nivritti, making clear that “disappearance of all unwanted contamination” entails much more than merely chanting a minimum number of daily rounds and following the four rules and regulations. In this regard, early critics of the ISKCON institution’s “guru by vote” system cited this book purport by Srila Prabhupada:


“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 (emphasis added)


Here Srila Jiva Goswami, the highest regarded scholar of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, is said to condemn apparent gurus who base their authority on the selection of an ecclesiastical management structure like the GBC’s. This quote does not merely apply to a person getting a required number of votes but includes any method, such as not being disapproved by certain members of the body. Over the years since Srila Prabhupada’s departure, the GBC has used a variety of such mechanisms to select the institution’s apparent gurus.


This means that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s above verse 28 of Prakrta-Rasa Sata-Dusini introduces a very big problem for those claiming to be a guru or spiritual authority in the ISKCON institution – their apparent guru selection process disregards the above stricture of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Jiva goswami. This then leads to the conclusion that they are “lazy in properly understanding the Vaishnava philosophical conclusions.” Srila Prabhupada is extremely emphatic in the above quote because he uses the word “imperative.” It is not, therefore, something to be dismissed or taken in a casual manner.


This means that, in terms of strict Krishna conscious philosophy, all of the ISKCON institution’s apparent gurus and managing authorities have not achieved the minimum qualifications for even the lowest standard of guru, the kanistha adhikari. In other words, their dismissal of Srila Jiva goswami’s order means that they all have this group anartha. However, previously Srila Prabhupada cautioned that even a genuine kanistha adhikari guru’s guidance is insufficient. Because the ISKCON institution’s apparent gurus have not even reached this minimum requirement, they must be some kind of pretender, regardless of their purported levels of spiritual advancement. Another meaning of anarthas is “unwanted things” – something bad.


“Actually, a guru cannot be bad, for if someone is bad, he cannot be a guru.” The Science of Self Realization, Chapter 2, Choosing a Spiritual Master, “Saints and Swindlers”


Who is the Highest Spiritual Authority?


How the zonal acaryas initially claimed to have been appointed gurus was already discussed. The GBC selection option was only used when it was found out that they had merely been named “rittiks.” This methodology points to the utilitarian nature of many GBC decisions. A frequent need of ambitious leaders like the zonals is handling the blowback of their previous mistakes and self-interest. The Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya standards, however, are not based on such utility. These are coming down in strict disciplic succession and are laid out in various scriptures, or sastras.


The directions of one’s guru, the previous acaryas and the scriptures define service to the Lord – guru, sadhu and sastra. When one follows these transcendental instructions there is no karma or reactions to ones activities. Although neophyte devotees rarely ascertain this purity, as they continue, their consciousness becomes more and more situated in the aforementioned mode of goodness. If they advance beyond this stage, they will regularly relish pure spiritual goodness, or the transcendental nature of service to Krishna. However, when devotees disregard guru, sadhu and sastra, becoming attached to utilitarian results, they come under the influence of the lower modes of passion and ignorance. The idea is that the thinking of all devotees, even managers, has to be regulated constantly to prevent speculation, something that usually opens the door to self-interest and vanity. If one fails to return to goodness, there is every chance they will find themselves in a vicious cycle of materially motivated adjustments, along with their concomitant material reactions. Srila Prabhupada always cautioned his followers to avoid this manorathena, the “chariot of the mind.”


“Now by training the mind, jitatmana, one who has conquered over the mind, jitatmanaḥ prasantasya… Prasanta means he has become in equilibrium, prasanta. Prasanta. Because mind is dragging me always in nonpermanent things. Harav abhaktasya kuto mahad-guna manorathenasati dhavato bahih (SB 5.18.12). Asati manorathena. By the chariot of the mind. So long we are seated on the chariot of the untrained mind, unbridled mind, the mind will drag me to things which are nonpermanent.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 6.4-12, New York, September 4, 1966


Several devotees, such as Krishna Kirti dasa, describe examples of GBC policy being influenced by utilitarian Western philosophies like pragmatism, empiricism and consequentialism. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly cautioned his leaders about management that strays from the Vedic mode of goodness.


“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, 5 November, 1972


At the outset the zonals apparently thought they would be free and independent supreme Vaishnava authorities like Srila Prabhupada or any genuine guru. After their scandals’ damage to the movement’s credibility, however, especially after the 1986 murder of Sulocana dasa, it became clear that their brand of independent authority was hardly in the movement’s best interest.


Sulocana was an angry, articulate critic of the most powerful zonal acarya, Kirtanananda “swami” Bhaktipada, whose center of activity was the New Vrindavana Farm community in West Virginia. As documented in the book Monkey On a Stick and other devotee research, Sulocana was killed by his devotees, with the cooperation of other temples. This was also a huge publicity black-eye for the ISKCON institution. The FBI’s apprehension of the killer was nationwide news.


Although previously there had been wavering on whether the GBC had spiritual authority over the apparent gurus, after the murder GBC policy moved unequivocally in this direction, much like how the Catholic Church manages its priests and cardinals or how a university oversees its professors. This is the bottom-line reason why GBC regulation and approval of apparent gurus has remained a necessity. However, it then raises the question as to who is the supreme spiritual authority in the ISKCON institution – their apparent gurus or the GBC?


One important authority restructuring architect was Ravindra Svarupa dasa, the Philadelphia temple president, apparent guru and PhD. Although the more strident reform movement members had wanted to strip the zonal acaryas of their apparent disciples and license, Ravindra Svarupa and others compromised with the remaining powerful zonals to limit their downsizing to what was described previously. He thus emerged around 1987 as the new face of this “reformed” GBC coalition. His recent Founder-Acarya paper asserts that GBC authority over apparent gurus is unavoidable in a modern world-wide movement.


“Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami therefore called for an organization in which the ultimate authority would reside not in the person of a single autocratic acarya but rather in a board of directors, which he called the ‘Governing Body Commission.’” Founder-Acarya p. 8 (our emphasis)


“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)


“Consequently, Srila Prabhupada has left to us the task, after his departure, of fully articulating the form and functions of ISKCON for effective action in the world. One central challenge is to integrate the guru-disciple relationship—which carries its own proper demand for deep loyalty and commitment to the person of the guru—within a larger society that demands, in a certain sense, a higher, all-encompassing, loyalty.” Ravindra Svarupa dasa, Founder-Acarya p. 23


Here Ravindra Svarupa’s failure to present Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s literal “ultimate authority” remark immediately raises suspicion of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s supposed authorization of the GBC’s arrangement. In any case, Srila Prabhupada only accorded them “ultimate managing” authority, which does not include “ultimate” spiritual authority over apparent gurus.  Terms like “collegial accord” and “all-encompassing loyalty” are just flowery terms to describe apparent gurus’ submission “under the direction of the GBC.” Ravindra Svarupa thus claims that Srila Prabhupada’s mission necessitates the opposite of his own “imperative” order, the previously cited non-ecclesiastical stricture.


Although Ravindra Svarupa’s paper was presented in a manner similar to scripture, it is not difficult to discern its utilitarian underpinnings – such an arrangement is unavoidable when many of the official apparent gurus are unable to control themselves much better than lecherous college professors or drunkard priests. If anything, the need for such regulation only points to their previously described lack of qualification.


A genuine spiritual master has absolutely no need to submit himself to the review and regulation of the managers on the GBC. Such a guru has already received the blessing and empowerment of his guru and Krishna. He is saksad-dharitvena, to be worshipped as “good as God.” He only recognizes the authority of Krishna and other pure Vaishnavas. Such a devotee is completely dedicated to truth and doesn’t care a fig for what the diplomatic controllers of an institution think. It is difficult to imagine someone like Srila Prabhupada or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Prabhupada submitting themselves to the current GBC to be managed. When Srila Prabhupada was physically manifest, he controlled the GBC, not the other way around. Ravindra Svarupa attempts to get around this contradiction by bestowing only Srila Prabhupada with special status because of his being “founder-acarya,” a self-serving, over-exaggerated misapplication when compared with the literal meaning of the term.


When we closely analyze how the GBC manages apparent gurus, it is easy to see the similarity to how any company deals with workers or how a professional board handles accreditation. The would-be apparent guru applies for their license to practice from the GBC, all accompanied by the understanding that it can be revoked if the apparent guru starts saying or doing things the GBC doesn’t like. This very much entails avoiding public discussion of the philosophical contradictions we are enumerating here. The aforementioned institutionally approved ignorance will thus make such a person’s “career” that much smoother.


Such an employer-employee relationship model is hardly Vedic or Vaishnava. In Vedic culture a brahmana, what to speak of a Vaishnava guru, is enjoined to never accept service to anyone. This is because they must always be free to speak truth of all kinds. When one is an employee one must kowtow to their employer and keep quiet about their faults or contradictions. This service to others is therefore the business of the sudras, or the working class. A real brahmana or guru will never accept such a position. It is said that in times of emergency a brahmana may accept the occupation of a ksatriya (warrior/administrator) or a vaishya (merchant), but never the business of a sudra. Sudras are compared to dogs because they require a master to hire and supervise them.


This means that anyone who agrees to be an ISKCON institution apparent guru is consenting to act as the GBC’s sudra. The Founder-Acarya paper’s assertion that the GBC must have authority over their apparent gurus is thus a thin disguise for a mundane employment relationship – one learns only the “Krishna consciousness” they need to get the apparent guru job, ignoring what will get them in trouble with their employer. Then one gets some experience preaching this. Finally one formally applies for their apparent guru position.


“Therefore, after education you’ll have to write application, ‘My dear sir, I am such and such qualified dog. (laughter) If you’ll kindly give me some service.’ And the tail is like this. (laughter) You see? Just imagine. If by education he becomes independent … Just like Vedic culture. The brahmanas, the ksatriya, the vaisyas, they are independent. The sudras are compared with the dogs because they cannot live without a master. Brahmana, he will not accept anyone’s service. That is real brahmana.” Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 2.3.18-19, Los Angeles, June 13, 1972


The Founder Acarya paper’s recommended submission of apparent gurus thus leads one to conclude that the ISKCON institution has abandoned the standards of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. There is no mundane person or governing body above a genuine guru. Management of apparent gurus directly entails criticism of them. The honoring of guru described by the sastras, however, is to be done by everyone, including the GBC body and members.


“Therefore Krsna says, acaryam mam vijaniyan nava-manyeta karhicit [SB 11.17.27]. ‘The acarya is as good as I am,’ Krsna says. Nava-manyeta karhicit, ‘Never neglect him.’ Na martya-buddhyasuyeta, ‘Never be envious of the acarya, thinking him as anything of this material world.’ Acaryam mam vijaniyan. Therefore, acarya’s position is as good as Krsna. Saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair.” Room Conversation with John Greisser (Yadubara dasa), 3/10/72 (our emphasis)


saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair

uktas tatha bhāvyata eva sadbhih

kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya

vande guroḥ sri-caranaravindam

The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord, because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and followed by all authorities. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is a bona fide representative of Sri Hari (Krsna) – Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Sri Gurvastaka 7


The concept of managing apparent spiritual masters is a very delicate matter in Vaishnavism. This is because disciples may hear godbrothers or godsisters of their apparent guru criticizing him, and this has been called a “death blow” to their faith. This is why Sridhara maharaja, Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother who made this remark in the early days of the zonal acaryas, initially advised the GBC to form an “acarya board.” This was to be composed solely of other apparent gurus, so that questions of guru impropriety could be dealt with privately by supposedly qualified equals. Unfortunately the board ended up being little more than another means of the zonals’ impunity from others.


When spiritual masters are not accorded absolute freedom by other devotees, or in this case the GBC, there is the direct implication that such apparent gurus are subject to all the defects of ordinary people. According the principle of damaging the faith of the disciples then, the current Founder-Acarya “GBC over guru” standard is itself a death blow, or at least severely injurious, to any kind of genuine faith devotees in the ISKCON institution might try to develop in their apparent gurus. One is thus led to question the consciousness of both the Founder-Acarya author and the GBC.


arcye visnau sila-dhir gurusu nara-matir vaisnave jati-buddhir
visnor va vaisnavanam kali-mala-mathane pada-tirthe ‘mbu-buddhih
sri-visnor namni mantre sakala-kalusa-he sabda-samanya-buddhir
visnau sarvesvarese tad-itara-sama-dhir yasya va naraki sah
One who thinks the Deity in the temple to be made of wood or stone, who thinks of the spiritual master in the disciplic succession as an ordinary man, who thinks the Vaisnava in the Acyuta-gotra to belong to a certain caste or creed or who thinks of caranamrta or Ganges water as ordinary water is taken to be a resident of hell. Padma Purana


“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


Based on the above scripture, either the members of the GBC are “residents of hell,” or the apparent gurus they regulate are ordinary men. Of course, both could be true.


In this regard, there are some stories circulating that, before his departure, Srila Prabhupada personally told some devotees they were already gurus or should act as such when he was no longer physically manifest. Although these men may have achieved the qualifications at that time, there is no guarantee that they have remained on that platform. One can say with little doubt that they fell from that level if they submitted to the GBC’s apparent guru management system.


Re-Initiation and “Soft Rittvik”


Regarding how utilitarian the GBC can be, one need only study how Radhanatha swami became an apparent guru. After the murder of Sulocana and Kirtanananda’s refusal to accept the GBC’s mandated reduction of his worship standard, Radhanatha swami accompanied him as he embarked on a merger of so-called Krishna consciousness and Christianity, all in defiance of the GBC. However, several years later Kirtanananda’s pedophilia was publicly revealed, thus throwing his thousands of followers into chaos. Radhanatha swami quickly came to the rescue by not only “re-initiating” many of these thousands, but by bringing them, as well as Kirtanananda’s temples, back under the GBC’s authority. This enabled him to instantly go from ignominy to being perhaps the most powerful apparent guru in the movement.


One might ask, as there were many approved apparent gurus who remained loyal to the GBC when Radhanatha swami was off being a reprobate, “Why wasn’t their commitment recognized, giving them opportunity to accept some of Kirtanananda’s former followers?” According to the institution’s standards, they were far more advanced and worthy than the traitor Radhanatha swami. The apparent reason he was chosen was that Kirtanananda’s followers had long been trained by him to distrust the GBC. They would more likely go en-mass if one of their own were to lead them back. This certainly gave the GBC the preferred utilitarian outcome of men, money and assets.


The question then arises as to the position of the ISKCON institution’s apparent gurus. If they are not real gurus, what are they? Since they are still influenced by at least one group anartha, what to speak of other misconceptions, they have not come to even the bottom rung standard of a genuine kanistha adhikari guru. They are also influenced by the mode of ignorance that is inherent in turning a blind eye to the institution’s other deviations or their own sudra-like positions vis-à-vis the GBC. They are thus blindly leading their blind followers. They are unfit to teach by example or lead others. One is led to conclude that they are little more than institutional priests playing the part of spiritual masters.


Srila Prabhupada would often teach how a genuine guru was one who followed his guru’s instructions, as opposed to merely imitating him. The senior manager zonal acaryas had certainly spent a lot of personal time with him. However, their actions after his departure are not those of serious followers. They apparently only learned to imitate his outward demeanor and superior position. Others, such as Radhanatha swami, learned to imitate one of them. This unfortunately has become the standard of apparent gurus in the ISKCON institution.


Perhaps nothing illustrates the victimization of devotees and the tragedy of the GBC’s cascading utilitarianism more than their re-initiation policies. When the first zonal acaryas became embarrassments in the early 80’s, their previous followers were mandated to accept re-initiation from an apparent guru who was still approved. The previous acarya’s writings were cited, and these followers were pressured to believe this would keep them in good standing with Srila Prabhupada and the parampara. They also remained a kind of outcaste until they accepted the order. However, because their new apparent guru was often as unqualified as the old one, there was every chance that the new one would go the same way as the first. Indeed, by the 90’s a number of such “good” devotees had accepted as many as four apparent gurus.


For others, however, even the thought of approaching another GBC sanctioned apparent gurus was repulsive. Many of these devotees felt they were just as advanced as their peers with approved apparent gurus, and they didn’t want to find themselves on the bottom of another apparent gurus’s totem pole. Many of these people were easily allured by the rittvik’s claim that they were already initiates of Srila Prabhupada.


Of course, it was only a matter of time before the GBC realized that these heavy handed re-initiation policies were one of the rittvik movement’s best recruiting tools, and that due to the constant turnover of their apparent gurus, the rittviks were eventually going to outnumber them. Therefore, by the turn of the millennium, re-initiation became far more a matter of personal preference. There were still some quoting the previous acaryas’s writings, but the pressure was a lot less. By now, even powerful members of the GBC, such as Satsvarupa dasa’s apparent disciple Pragosa dasa, have apparent gurus who have been recognized as an embarrassment.


Some have legitimately asked, “Who is the spiritual authority for devotees whose apparent guru has become disgraced?” This was the primary reason given for required re-initiation in earlier years. If someone is acting as an initiated disciple, brahmana or sannyasi without an apparent guru, what is their spiritual position? According to Vaishnava tradition such a person is supposed to have a genuine guru, either physically manifest or departed.


What has therefore evolved according to the “time, place and circumstance” needs of the GBC is a somewhat fuzzy conception that the governing body itself is such people’s default “guru” and means of deliverance from material existence. This is pretty much what one derives from a review of GBC policy and the arguments of the Founder-Acarya paper.


“By thus establishing the GBC and leaving it as his chosen successor at the head of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada insured that the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakura would continue to work efficaciously in the world and bear fruit.” Ravindra Svarupa dasa, Founder-Acarya p. 82 (our emphasis)


This sentiment is hardly approved by the previous acaryas’ writings. The GBC preferred method has long been picking and choosing from these to favor their utilitarian needs, and the Founder-Acarya paper is a veritable festival of such selectivity. Therefore, most of their ordinary devotees have long ago given up differentiating between the concepts of “ultimate managing authority” and “ultimate spiritual authority.” Everything is somehow justified as coming down from Srila Prabhupada, despite such obvious contradictions as flaunting the “imperative” instructions cited previously.


Srila Prabhupada regularly condemned picking and choosing from the instructions of guru, sadhu and sastra as ardha-kukkuti-nyaya, the “logic of half-a-hen.”


“So therefore Arjuna said, sarvam etam rtam manye yad vadasi mam. This is devotee, that ‘I accept everything, whatever You say.’ This is devotee, not that I make some amendment and then I accept. And this is nonsense. You cannot… This is called ardha-kukkuti-nyaya. Ardha-kukkuti-nyaya means one man was keeping a hen and it was delivering every day a golden egg. So the man thought, ‘It is very profitable, but it is expensive to feed this hen. Better cut the head so I shall save the expenditure of feeing her, and I’ll get the eggs without any charge.’ So these rascals, they take, accept sastras like that. ‘Oh, this is not… That is very expensive. Cut this portion.’” Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 6.1.22, Indore, December 13, 1970


The loose ISKCON institution understanding of spiritual/managing authority has prompted some, especially those associated with the Gaudiya Matha, to accuse them of practicing a kind of “soft rittvik.” Most with the Matha adhere to Vaishnava disciplic succession standards where, after their apparent guru’s physical departure, some experienced disciples become apparent gurus and take over or start new missions.


The rittvik faction says outright that Srila Prabhupada is still initiating and delivering new devotees, whereas the ISKCON institution says, kinda between the lines, that he, through the GBC, is at least delivering those whose apparent gurus are disgraced. One is de jure rittvik (by law), while the other is a kind of de facto rittvik (by custom). Either way, it appears to be a kind of pseudo-Vaishnava “Christian” standard, where a departed personality is the apparent present-day deliverer of people he did not say he wanted as disciples.


What’s the Alternative?


Defenders of the ISKCON institution often accuse critics of lacking a positive alternative. They ask, “What should have been done in regard to succeeding Srila Prabhupada?” One answer, according to Gaudiya Vaishnava practice, is that the GBC should have acted as mere servants by maintaining the movement’s facilities so that advanced devotees could preach and possibly assume the position of spiritual master. In the fervent late 1977 environment, this was considered a tangible possibility. The GBC would also protect the movement’s ordinary devotees from any pretending gurus (such as the zonal acaryas) who had deviated from Srila Prabhupada’s siddhanta and standards of conduct. This could easily have been done by simply prohibiting such loose people from preaching in the movement’s temples.


Instead of protecting devotees, since 1978 we have seen the GBC offering its own brand of pretence, one where new devotees were pressured to accept all manner of approved dharmadvajis. This “fox in the henhouse” standard has caused the spiritual shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s temples, or asrama, to be absent since the first day the zonal acaryas declared themselves in 1978.


In doing what they did, the GBC failed to heed Srila Prabhupada’s many warnings and allowed the authority-crazed zonal acaryas to simultaneously take over the GBC and act as apparent gurus, thus merging both management and apparent spiritual authority in the movement. Because the GBC has failed to separate these two functions since, the body retains all the movement’s power. Although many have accused them of being intoxicated with this, it certainly prevents them from assuming any kind of genuine service attitude.


Contrary to the Founder-Acarya paper’s assertions, Srila Prabhupada always taught that spiritual authority rested in the person of the genuine spiritual master. However, he also designated the GBC as the movement’s “ultimate managing authority.” This strongly implies that he wanted these two divisions of the movement’s authority to be separate. This is easily understood when we consider that his Western disciples would be more prone to be corrupted by the absolute power of being an apparent guru than those born and raised Vaishnavas in India. If the GBC had kept the zonals and other apparent gurus from controlling the temples, such people would have been free to rise and fall at will without having significant effect on the movement’s preaching or public image.


Hubris, Hell & Buddhism


The GBC’s ecclesiastical merger of apparent spiritual and management authority and their abandoning service attitude are indicated by how they never really admit the body’s mistakes, past or present. The world is apparently expected to think of them as infallible, again in the manner of a genuine guru, yet also somehow divinely able to self-correct independent of any outside influence. However, the effects of all this are on-going.


Srila Prabhupada would sometimes describe how glowworms and fireflies give off apparent light, but that they are only noticeable in the dark.  When the sun comes up, they are immediately forgotten. Similarly new and naïve devotees are convinced that the GBC and the institution’s apparent gurus are spiritually advanced. However, a genuinely qualified guru could easily dispel all the darkness in their collective night. Because of the ignorance and anartha inherent in the positions and understanding of the GBC and their apparent gurus, they are, individually and collectively, all incapable of delivering anyone from material existence.


A number of devotees, especially those in rival sects, have viewed the position of such apparent gurus or arrangements very negatively, as well as that of their followers. There are some quotes in Sri Isopanisad where Srila Prabhupada describes the fate of imitative spiritual masters very graphically.


“By a false display of religious sentiments, they present a show of devotional service while indulging in all sorts of immoral activities. In this way they pass as spiritual masters and devotees of God. Such violators of religious principles have no respect for the authoritative acharyas, the holy teachers in the strict disciplic succession……to mislead the people in general they themselves become so-called acharyas, but they do not even follow the principles of the acharyas.
These rogues are the most dangerous elements in human society. Because there is no religious government, they escape punishment by the law of the state. They cannot, however, escape the law of the Supreme, who has clearly declared in the Bhagavad-Gita that envious demons in the garb of religious propagandists shall be thrown into the darkest regions of hell (Bg. 16.19-20). Sri Isopanisad confirms that these pseudo religionists are heading toward the most obnoxious place in the universe after the completion of their spiritual master business, which they conduct simply for sense gratification.” Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 12, Purport


The position of their followers was similarly described elsewhere.


“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


A very serious person will not skirt such remarks or rationalize their submission to a pretender. However, Srila Prabhupada’s tolerance and magnanimity was already discussed, so it is difficult to say unequivocally that every member of the sahajiya leaning sects of his movement is going to hell despite their service attitude towards him. We should not forget that everyone is supposed to be following Srila Prabhupada’s program and reading his books.


Unfortunately the GBC’s hubris causes them to preach that they or their apparent spiritual masters are continuing the Gaudiya Vaishnava disciplic succession after Srila Prabhupada. This prompts them to approve the writings of their apparent gurus as transcendental literature on much the same level as his. Followers thus read these instead. According to the Sri Isopanisad and other quote above then, one can say with a great deal of certainty that the institution’s devotees are in spiritual danger to the extent that Srila Prabhupada’s authority and teachings are replaced by those of pretenders.


This is especially true with some apparent gurus of late. Hridayananda swami, one of the two remaining zonal acaryas on the approved list, recently embarked on a mission similar to Kirtanananda’s Christian-Hare Krishna synthesis. Hridayananda swami’s variety, Krishna West, strived to make what he considers Krishna consciousness more acceptable to modern Westerners.


Although much has been made of his approaches to the LGBT community or his dressing like a country club member, it is his regular minimization and occasional disavowal of certain sastras and statements of Srila Prabhupada that make his position especially questionable. Hridayananda swami received a post-graduate degree in Sanskrit and Indian studies after 1978, something Srila Prabhupada regularly advised against. Hridayananda swami therefore sometimes sounds more like an academic than a Vaishnava.


“The Manusamhita is said to be the work of Manu, the progenitor of humankind and a lawgiver. The work is controversial because of its misogynistic statements, and many scholars reject the text as an accurate portrayal of Vedic culture.” Hridayananda swami, personal communication to E. Burke Rochford, cited in Hare Krishna Transformed, chapter 6, footnote 8


In this remark Hridayananda swami says Manu, a stalwart member of the parampara acknowledged by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, is a misogynist, or someone who despises or is prejudiced against women. This can hardly be called praise of an elevated Vaishnava, someone who is never on the bodily platform of a real misogynist. In addition, Hridayananda swami is minimizing or completely dismissing a key Vedic scripture, apparently so his preaching can appeal more widely to modern Westerners.


What to speak of committing the “mad elephant” offense of saying something so derogatory about a great devotee, Srila Prabhupada strongly condemned such dismissals of Vedic authority as a form of Buddhism. Once in Bombay on one of his morning walks, Dr. Patel brought along a book called Siksha-vadri, something which purported to be a kind of Vaishnava catechism. Dr. Patel read a passage to Srila Prabhupada which said that Vaishnavas should not eat meat, even if it is recommended in the Vedas. Although Srila Prabhupada said repeatedly that devotees should not eat meat, he took strong exception to the author’s dismissal of the Vedas.


Dr. Patel: (speaking in defense of the author) If the Vedas say “Kill,” I won’t. I won’t, don’t want that.

Srila Prabhupada: That is Buddhism.

Dr. Patel: I don’t mind you call me a Buddhist or a fool, but I won’t kill an animal, being a Vaishnava myself.

Srila Prabhupada: That’s all right, but the thing is that you may not like something, but you cannot decry the authority of the Vedas. . . . .


Srila Prabhupada: No, this is Buddhist philosophy; you do not know it.

Dr. Patel: I’m not talking about Vaishnava philosophy and Buddhist…

Srila Prabhupada: This is Buddhist philosophy. That even if the Buddha, Lord Buddha said, “Even if it is recommended in the Vedas, I don’t accept Vedas.” That is Buddhist philosophy.

Dr. Patel: He accepts Veda. He said the next moment. Now we read it, I’ve read it before you.

Srila Prabhupada: You’ll see, it is stated, nindasi yajna-vidher ahaha sruti-jatam. Sruti-jatam is the Vedas. There is recommendation of sacrifice, but you have decried them.

Dr. Patel: He has not decried them. Devatam, devata te ta vi pranam sadvinam ca satam api, vedanam ca na kartavyam ninda svadya na ca tapi.

Srila Prabhupada: Hm. So this is ninda. If you say, “Even if it is recommended in the Vedas,” that is ninda. If you say, “Even if it is recommended by the Vedas,” that means Vedas are mistaken. You are right. You do not know what is the purpose of Vedas. Morning Walk, Bombay, March 29, 1974


The author of Siksha-vadri only wrote that the Vedic recommendations for some to eat meat should not be followed by Vaishnavas, yet Srila Prabhupada strongly condemned even this apparently innocent devotee zealotry as ninda, or blasphemy. However, Hridayananda swami dismissed as questionable the entire Manu Samhita, something that has been followed by stalwart acaryas for centuries. Is this the exemplary speech of a genuine guru? Instead, Hridayananda swami indicates that his post-graduate academic conditioning has made him a nastika, or faithless person.


“Astikyam means to believe in the injunction of the sastra, astikyam. That is called theism. One who does not believe in the injunction… Just like Krsna is advise in the Bhagavad-gita. One who believe in the words of Krsna, he is astika. One who does not believe, he is nastika. This is the astika and nastika. So our nastika definition means one who does not believe in the Vedic instruction. He is called nastika. So brahmana must be astikyam.” Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 18.45, Durban, October 11, 1975


One can then ask if Hridayananda swami’s translations and commentary on cantos 10-12 of Srimad Bhagavatam will make the reader similarly convinced. The Neda sahajiyas are influenced by Buddhist philosophy, and Hridayananda swami’s remarks enter this territory.


Around 2000 the GBC was implicated in similar accusations. A number of post-graduate devotees on the VAST internet forum (Vaishnava Advanced STudies) had openly questioned and criticized some of Srila Prabhupada’s statements about women. They were (are) opposed by certain outspoken “traditionalists.” Understanding the implications of alienating many feminists, it was unsurprising that the GBC failed to condemn or punish the doubting VAST devotees who had portrayed Srila Prabhupada as materially conditioned or ordinary.


In Vaishnavism there are different degrees of offense or aparadha. However, offending a Vaishnava, especially if he or she is a pure devotee, is most detrimental to one’s spiritual progress and realization. In terms of the degree of Vaishnava aparadha, the very worst is offense to one’s spiritual master, the gurv-aparadha.


“According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, there are two kinds of impediments to devotional service. The first is an offense at the lotus feet of a Vaishava. This is called vaisnava-aparadha. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu warned His devotees not to commit vaisnava-aparadha, which He described as the mad elephant offense. When a mad elephant enters a beautiful garden, it destroys everything, leaving a barren field. Similarly, the power of vaisnava-aparadha is so great that even an advanced devotee becomes almost devoid of his spiritual assets if he commits it. Since Krsna consciousness is eternal, it cannot be destroyed altogether, but advancement may be checked for the time being.” Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 5.1.5


“The most grievous type of vaisnava-aparadha is called gurv-aparadha, which refers to offenses at the lotus feet of the spiritual master. In the chanting of the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this gurv-aparadha is considered the most grievous offense. Guror avajna sruti-sastra-nindanam (Padma Purana). Among the ten offenses committed against the chanting of the holy name, the first offenses are disobedience of the spiritual master and blasphemy of the Vedic literature.” Purport, Srimad Bhagavatam 4.21.37


During Srila Prabhupada’s manifest presence, the comments of the VAST devotees were literally unthinkable. Even casual devotees would not have dared to say such things in his temples. Yet by the year 2000, these things were not only condoned by the GBC, but rewarded in the sense of giving the offenders increased influence in the movement’s management and preaching. Instead it was the traditionalists who were portrayed negatively by the governing body. This was notwithstanding all the extremely offensive rhetoric both sides directed at each other. It is not difficult to conclude that, by failing to condemn the blasphemers, the GBC also became implicated in their gurv-aparadha.


Indeed, the lack of defense by the institution’s leadership prompted Dr. E. Burke Rochford, the foremost academic authority on Srila Prabhupada’s movement, to write, “The fact that the leadership failed to act decisively on Prabhupada’s behalf was an acknowledgement that his authority was no longer absolute” (Hare Krishna Transformed, p159-160). These statements and actions by Hridayananda swami or the GBC are only further evidence of the leadership’s utilitarian disposition, as well as Buddhist leaning, all opposed to strict Gaudiya Vaishnavism. From his comment it is apparent that Dr. Rochford understands strict Krishna consciousness better than all of them. In further regard to Hridayananada swami, in the above quote Srila Prabhupada cites the forth offence to the holy name, “sruti-sastra-nindanam – blasphemy of the Vedic literature.”


The Greater Krishna Consciousness Movement Part 1 of 4


The Greater Krishna Consciousness Movement Part 2 of 4


The Greater Krishna Consciousness Movement Part 4 of 4

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