by bhakta Eric Johanson
Roots of Sahajiya
siddhanta-alasa jana anartha to’ chade 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.” Prakrta Rasa Sata Dusini 28, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada,
“It is not so easy. That is called sahajiya. Why you want such exalted things so easily?” Room Conversation, July 8, 1976
Who Gets Misled?
Like anything, cognitive dissonance is not, in and of itself, completely opposed to Krishna consciousness; many devotees surrendered because of a type of cognitive dissonance (the distressed). Many of us were thrown into a position of having two contradictory ideas simultaneously when we understood for the first time that we are not the body. Previously, we may have been convinced that we were “a spiritual person,” somehow or other.
For the devotee who follows the real path of yoga, cognitive dissonance is always engaged (and eventually eradicated) in the service of the Absolute Truth. When the genuine bhakti-yogi understands that he or she holds some position contrary to the Absolute Truth, he or she gives it up. It is the neophyte, whose insincerity led him to accept wrong conceptions, who becomes devastated by cognitive dissonance. This was the case for those who had been convinced to follow and surrender to the zonal acaryas.
Even previous to the departure of Srila Prabhupada, the leading “pet disciples” were engaged in the creation of their own separate cults; it is not that they only began diverting the devotees away from Srila Prabhupada after his departure. According to the method in which most of these “pets” engaged their Godbrothers and Godsisters, how they controlled them, it was not really possible for those on the lower rungs to have much of a manifest individual relationship with His Divine Grace—at least, not independent of the pet just above them.
Those who refused to accede to seeing the pets as spiritual or even psychic intermediaries, who instead saw them as devotees who conducted the order (from the real guru), were branded as renegades in due course of time. They did not get any of the special favors granted to the amenable ones who gave in psychologically to the local leader. This is, of course and most unfortunately, a naturally occurring phenomenon in almost any religious institution. It is the essence of how ladder-climbing replaces yoga, and it is how real Krishna consciousness transforms into a mundane institutional religion. (See Putana (Organized Religion) by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada)
According to the pet-disciple model, the movement was a big family, a social arrangement backed by God to take over the world. Sure, philosophy played a part, but those who “over-emphasized” it were “too attached to jnana.” Interestingly enough, there was a certain overlap of these wrongly characterized “mishra-jnana” devotees with the renegades. However, what was of paramount importance in the pet disciple’s or bad leader’s conception of “Krishna consciousness” was something far less tangible: It was “the mood of Srila Prabhupada.” This “mood of Srila Prabhupada,” as interpreted by the pets, generally dictated the need for big results – more money, temples, devotees, etc. These were all things that, coincidently, benefited the pet disciples in their “transcendental competition” to climb to the top of the turtle tank within the institution.
This was the essence of how the pet disciples indoctrinated or mis-trained some of their original Godbrothers and Godsisters. There should be no surprise that later they did the same damn thing in relation to their so-called initiated disciples. They had no real interest in elevating anyone philosophically, in the principles of yoga, or in becoming an independent and realized brahmana. It actually served their mundane and utilitarian purposes far more if these chelas remained ignorant about all of these things. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada refers to these types of misleaders rather unkindly:
“Those are, therefore, greatly mistaken who are disposed to look forward to the amelioration of the worldly state – in any worldly sense – from the worldly success of any really spiritual movement. It is these worldly expectants who become the patrons of the mischievous race of the pseudo-teachers of religion, the Putanas, whose congenial function is to stifle the theistic disposition at the very moment of its suspected appearance. But the real theistic disposition can never be stifled by the efforts of those Putanas.” Putana (Organized Religion) by His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada certainly wanted to see his books distributed and devotees made. He created a house in which the whole world could live so that anyone could have the association of devotees. There was a little bit of society, friendship, and love in his movement, of course, but these were all in the family of Krishna and His devotees. These were, however, only the externally manifest activities of his movement, and a small part of the overall picture. The real purpose of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was to provide a place (asrama) where no one would be misled, a facility for anyone to become a pure devotee of Krishna:
“You cannot judge a movement simply by the number of its followers. If one man is genuine, then the movement is successful. It is not a question of quantity, but quality.” Science of Self Realization, Ch. 2, “Choosing a Spiritual Master-Saints & Swindlers”
“Ekas candras tamo hanti na ca tarah sahasrasah. If we can, I mean to say, raise one person to Krishna consciousness, that means we have successfully preached our mission. One moon is better than millions of stars.” Hare Krishna Press Release from Los Angeles on December 22, 1968
It was only the brahmanas who had spent their time trying to become learned in the siddhanta – and saw service as an opportunity to control the mind – who were not devastated by cognitive dissonance when the movement began to crumble. Since they never accepted the zonal acaryas, they had expected that, sooner or later, the chickens were going to come home to roost. Those who were absorbed in the society, friendship, and love were stolen from Krishna by the zonal acaryas; they were easy targets. They were like bowling pins that had been set up by previous indoctrination, and they are the ones who have populated the abovementioned three deviant factions.
siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa iha haite krsna lage sudrdha manasa
”A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krsna.” Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi, 2.117
“You should be always alert in understanding the sastric conclusions that will help you, otherwise we can be misled by bogus philosophies.” Letter to: Ayodhyapati from Vrindaban, Sept. 22, 1976
Encouragement Is Not Verification
“The transcendental symptoms of ecstasy certainly are auspicious, but they are not for advertising to others. One should not advertise directly or indirectly that one is feeling like this. They should be checked. Otherwise one will gradually become sahajiya or one who takes spiritual advancement as something materially manifest.” Letter to Makhanlal from Los Angeles on June 3, 1970
The zonal acaryas were never very concerned with the finer points of the philosophy. Although one of them could be called a scholar of some kind, they did not base their takeover on the strength of any kind of brahminical consensus within the movement; it was pretty much an act of raw power: One might say it was “ksatriya-like” (Machiavellian). It was also their clumsy, “shoot the moon” appointment of themselves to uttama adhikari, a devotee on the highest level, that later got them into all kinds of trouble.
Philosophical subtleties played a much bigger role in what came after their horrible reign, however. Those subtleties were employed in the attempt to stem the tide of cognitive dissonance that had resulted. One of the most prominent “reforms” of the movement was to bring the “gurus” down from the level of extreme pretence to something more believable, a little less pretentious. It is still a common misconception that the “gurus” are (or were) madhyams, devotees on the middle level. Of course, this misconception allows disciples to still see their previously adored one on the highest level (to entertain their own fantasies), since it is well-known that even an uttama devotee must act on the middle level in order to preach to the general public and the neophytes.
vaco vegam manasah krodha-vegam
etan vegan yo visaheta dhirah
sarvam apimam prthivim sa sisyat
“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.” Nectar of Instruction, Verse 1
This verse from Upadesamrita by Srila Rupa Goswami has been repeatedly cited by ISKCON institution authorities to justify their new arrangement. Because the devotee being described in the verse is in a condition of simply being able to “tolerate” his material desires, there appears to be no requirement by Srila Rupa Goswami here that the genuine guru must always be on a realized level. It is quite easy to falsely conclude that this verse is describing a devotee who is merely following the four rules and regulations (no intoxication, illicit sex, meat eating and gambling). A more thorough study of the verse, however, will discover that the word dhira is being used:
“Those who are dhira – dhira means sober, thoughtful – they are not bewildered. But those who are not dhira, adhira . . . There are two classes of men: dhira and adhira. Dhira means one who is spiritually situated. He is called dhira or brahma-bhutah prasannatma, dhira.” Lecture on Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta, Madhya-lila 20.101-104, Bombay, November 3, 1975
Here Srila Prabhupada definitively states that someone who is dhira is brahma-bhuta. In other words, the dhira devotee has already realized the brahman conception of the Absolute Truth. The qualities of the dhira devotee are further elaborated in this verse:
na socati na kanksati
samah sarvesu bhutesu
mad-bhaktim labhate param
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything: he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” Bhagavad-gita, 18.54
There is another quote from the purport of The Nectar of Instruction, Verse 5, that is used by the ISKCON institution to justify its new and improved “initiation” arrangement:
“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. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as a spiritual master.” The Nectar of Instruction, Text 5, purport
Although there is allowance in this quote for devotees on the lowest and middle levels to accept disciples, Srila Prabhupada offers no shortage of caution to any prospective disciples even considering this for themselves. As he said on May 28, 1977: “But by my order.” The type of neophyte being described here is clearly one who is on the highest level of that platform – anartha nivritti. It is at the next level of firm faith, or nistha, wherein one reaches the middle, or madhyama, platform:
adau sraddha tatah sadhu-
sango ‘tha bhajana-kriya
tato ‘nartha-nivrttih syat
tato nistha rucis tatah
athasaktis tato bhavas
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 the 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 Krsna. This taste leads one further forward to attachment for Krsna 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.” Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, 1.4.15-16 (emphasis added)
Any neophyte who acts as guru must be an ideal man; he cannot act badly or require any kind of “reform.”
“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”
Anartha nivritti is translated as “disappearance of all unwanted contamination.” There are many places where Srila Prabhupada more or less equates this state with following the four regulations. Dealing with Westerners who were accustomed to these things from an early age, His Divine Grace used every opportunity to emphasize the need for these restrictions to be followed. Certainly following the four rules and regs. is included in becoming free from unwanted contamination, but to conclude that this is all that is required to come to this stage of the platform is neither good logic nor honest. A sincere person will see that other things must be necessary; there are many of them and they certainly are necessary. In this regard, we see in the above translation to Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.4.15-16) that Srila Prabhupada has used the phrase “one becomes free from all material attachment.” (emphasis added)
We also find this verse by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada:
siddhanta-alasa jana anartha to’ chade 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.” Prakrta Rasa Sata Dusini 28 by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada,
“The Lord was very pleased with those who could cleanse the temple by taking out undesirable things accumulated within. This is called anartha-nivrtti, cleansing the heart of all unwanted things.” Purport to Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta, Madhya 12.135 (emphasis added)
“As one cultivates and acquires knowledge about the goal of bhakti, the various stages of bhava and love of Krsna, problems may arise. The process of becoming free of these problems is known as anartha-nivrtti (the removal of unwanted elements).” Introduction to Prakrta-rasa Sata-dusini by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Prabhupada
Here we see a much more exalted requirement is being described. This devotee is no longer under philosophical misconceptions and certainly does not speak or act upon material emotions. He does not offend other Vaishnavas. These stricter, more scientific understandings of our philosophy get in the way of the ambitions and managerial schemes of the current leaders, such as those of the ISKCON institution. These men are misleading their followers when they dumb down such key philosophical terms as anartha nivritti to supposedly the mere following of the four rules and regulations. This is one of the ways in which they are falsely able to give the impression that they are “gurus” or even emergent madhyam-adhikaris.
The genuine madhyam-adhikari is one who has surpassed the level of anartha-nivritti and has come to the level of nistha or firm faith. As described above, he is brahma-bhuta, self-realized in brahman:
“The devotee in the second stage, the madhyama-adhikari, is completely aware of the sastric conclusion and has firm faith in his guru and the Lord.” Purport to Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta, Adi 7.51
The genuine madhyam is also included in a key verse from Bhagavad-gita: He is at least brahma bhuta, self-realized in brahman:
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” Bhagavad-gita 4.34
Here the words tattva-darsinah refers to “one who has seen the truth.” That truth (tattva) is elaborated in Srimad Bhagavatam:
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
bhagavan iti sabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.” Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.11
This confirms that the genuine madhyam-adhikari is a realized soul; he is not an ordinary man. As the next verse describes, he is brahma-nistham, fixed in brahman:
tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham
Mundaka Upanisad, 1.2.12
“’The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.’ He should know what brahman is and how to become situated in brahman.” The Science of Self Realization, 2a: What Is a Guru?
Misconception is due to misunderstanding. Another key misconception held by most of those who have been indoctrinated by the leaders of the ISKCON institution is that a siksa (instructing) guru is merely someone who repeats the philosophy. The ISKCON institution has utilized this false idea to create the impression that its society is authorized.
“The initiating and instructing spiritual masters are equal and identical manifestations of Krsna, although they have different dealings.” Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita Adi 1.34, purport
“Therefore, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru . . .” Room conversation in Bhubanesva on Jan. 31, 1977
“According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru, and generally the siksa-guru later on becomes the diksa-guru.” Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.12.32, purport
There are also a number of places in room conversations and lectures where Srila Prabhupada made statements that were clearly meant to encourage his neophyte disciples. Sometimes, he would describe how a devotee’s performance of a vidhi-marga service, such as making garlands every day, was like asakti or the advanced stage of attachment.
The serious student of bhakti will try to understand such encouraging statements within the overall context of the philosophy and the full presentation of it made by His Divine Grace. There certainly are quotes (that can be singled out) which apparently give support to the cheap idea of a siksa guru (or diksa guru) being anyone who repeats the philosophy to some extent. Similarly, there are a number of quotes leading one to think that anartha-nivritti means just following the four rules and regs. Statements by the guru meant to provide encouragement or to make an illustration do not necessarily define conclusive truth. We should make a more thorough (“threadbare”) study before drawing any cheap conclusions. It is a great mistake to assume that the easiest interpretation is always the correct one:
“Sahajiya . . . Sahaj means easy, easy-going.” Conversation on May 1, 1974
“. . . . 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 from New Vrindaban on June 3, 1969
“A Very Human Story”
In describing the background misconceptions that have provided fertile soil for what is now taking place, it would be completely remiss to not mention the so-called Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita. This contaminated, sometimes extremely mundane, depiction of the Sampradaya Acarya only served to make the zonal acaryas look better than they were, supposedly by comparison to Prabhupada. Since every effort was made to make them appear as elevated as possible, the only other means that could be utilized was to depict Srila Prabhupada as just like them. Let us consider this verse from the Padma Purana:
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.”
Now let us consider this passage from “Lilamrita,” where Srila Prabhupada is described as lower than a homeless person:
“Suddenly, he was as homeless as any derelict on the street. In fact, many of them, with their long-time berths in flophouses, were more secure than he. They were ruined, but settled . . . If he couldn’t go to the loft, he had no place.” Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita Vol. 2, Ch. 6, pg. 96.
It is no wonder that the author of this book is now a bewildered person who has recently written (Sanitorium) a book depicting illicit sex. Neither is it any kind of accident that practically every devotee who populated the three predominant factions had previously read the “Lilamrita” and thought it to be “nectar.” As the quote from Padma Purana makes clear, that “nectar” was laced with the poison of gurv-aparadha.
“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).” Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.21.37
Note: An earlier version of this article, 21st Century Meleccha Sahajiya Cults, was posted on the Sampradaya Sun and Vaishnava Foundation websites and was extensively edited by Sriman Kailasa Candra dasa. Much of that edited content remains herein, for which the author is grateful.