GBC and Swami B. V. Tripurari
Over the years many of my friends have asked me who Swami Tripurari is, what his relationship is with ISKCON and with ISKCON’s founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, and furthermore, how ISKCON devotees should relate to him. Though I have more often than not had to sort through various misconceptions about these issues, I’ve generally walked away satisfied, being able to clarify them for open minded devotees. I’ve been able to carry on as usual, in the association of ISKCON devotees, at ISKCON temples, and serving shoulder to shoulder in long-term relationships I’ve had since the time of my spiritual birth in the ISKCON movement some twenty-two years ago. The root of confusion about who Tripurari Maharaja is has usually been misinformation passed along word of mouth in everyday conversation. Sadly, there have also been direct malicious attacks on Tripurari Swami’s character.
Most recently, the North American GBC of ISKCON issued a policy forbidding ISKCON members to associate with, host, or hear from Tripurari Swami and restricting Tripurari Swami’s disciples from serving in ISKCON temples, in effect driving a wedge between friends, families, and other long-term relationships by artificially dividing between “us and them.” Because the language of the policy spreads misconceptions and at times outright lies about Tripurari Swami, I feel it most important to respond to its charges in defense of Maharaja’s wonderful devotional character and because I value the relationships that I have with ISKCON devotees. I know that many of us prefer to avoid these politically charged discussions in our pursuit of spiritual life, but I beg your attention to hearing me out in the spirit of “satyam eva jayate,” allowing the truth to prevail. I do not seek to share my faith in Tripurari Swami or to bring anyone from one “camp” to another, but rather only to inform the public and by consequence lessen the burden of offensive attitudes, which spread by misinformation.
Below I have included the North American GBC’s policy statement interspersed with my responses. Accompanying the policy statement are several appendices worth of “evidence” to support the points they have summarized. To include each of the appendices here would make this article very long and so I have distilled and commented on the points the appendices are used to support. A PDF of the policy letter below and all of the appendices in full can be viewed here: http://harmonist.us/wp-content/uploads/gbc-policy.pdf
North American GBC Policy Letter Regarding Tripurari Swami
June 12th, 2012
Dear North American leaders and fellow ISKCON devotees,
Please accept our humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Having received reports of a long pattern of troubling actions and comments by H. H. Tripurari Swami, the North American GBC has been obliged to draw up this position paper. The purpose is to establish a policy for ISKCON North America leaders and members. We hope that clarifying the relevant issues and establishing clear guidelines will reduce any tensions between Tripurari Swami and ISKCON.
To help understand the need for this position paper, we here present a list of those actions and comments by Tripurari Swami that have brought us to this point.
1. Leaving ISKCON
Tripurari Maharaja has left ISKCON. This is his own declaration.
(See appendix A)
Madan Gopal response:
Appendix A references a few quotes of Tripurari Swami regarding his relationship with ISKCON. As we will see, the GBC has taken these quotes out of context and highlighted them to portray Tripurari Swami as having an anti-ISKCON agenda. It is also notable that quotes from a “taped discussion in 1995” are used several times in the policy and a quick internet search reveals that the GBC excerpted them from a similarly contextless attempt at defaming Tripurari Maharaja; an article written by Udayananda das in 2006. It is apparent from this that the GBC have not taken the care to research their information, or better yet to ask Tripurari Swami directly for a statement about his relationship with ISKCON. Rather, they have resorted to third-hand information from an unreliable source. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a strategy for political conquest, not Vaishnava relationships. Though they say they are “obliged” to write this position paper, these tactics are tell-tale signs of propaganda, not truth-seeking.
The lack of context for the rest of the quotes in Appendix A are telling. For example, the first quote referenced as evidence sounds quite reasonable:
…I have encouraged devotees to leave ISKCON at times. But I have also encouraged devotees to remain in ISKCON at times. For some it may be better to leave, and if they wish to follow their particular conscience they should do so.
Tripurari Maharaja advises some people to leave Iskcon, some to stay, based on what will be best for them. This quote was taken from an email forum for Prabhupada’s disciples and was also used by Badrinarayan dasa in an email campaign against Tripurari Maharaja last November. I cannot reproduce the whole discussion that was going on, but here is a sentence from the very same paragraph that lends some context to this “evidence”:
Furthermore in my mind leaving Iskcon and being its well wisher are not mutually exclusive. I continue to help Iskcon devotees every day. Many of them write me and ask me philosophical and practical questions and I take the time to answer them. I am not on a campaign against Iskcon and I recognize the many good things the sect is doing.
Obviously the GBC did not give the recipients of the policy the whole story, or all the “evidence” with which to come to judgment about Tripurari Swami’s non-involvement in ISKCON. As I will discuss later in this article, Tripurari Swami’s break with ISKCON some twenty-seven years ago, when seen in context, is much more complicated and yet understandable than the GBC tries to gloss over in this policy statement.
GBC policy continued:
2. Rejecting Srila Prabhupada as his preeminent instructing spiritual master
The members of ISKCON accept and revere Srila Prabhupada as the Society’s Founder-Acharya. This means that for us, he is the link with the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya, and that his siddhanta, standards, and practices remain the permanent and irreplaceable basis for all subsequent teachings and activities of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada must always remain the preeminent instructing spiritual master for all devotees in ISKCON. His position is unique.
Tripurari Swami does not accept this standard. Rather, he presents Srila Prabhupada as one among a number of Gaudiya authorities, among whom he can pick and choose to follow on a particular principle or practice. (See appendix B)
Madan Gopal response:
This second charge is the most offensive and inflammatory charge of the policy, and the GBC supports it with the least amount of “evidence”, and flimsy evidence at that. What this charge highlights though is very important to consider.
Firstly, the GBC’s claim that Tripurari Maharaja rejected Prabhupada as his pre-eminent siksa guru is illogical, confused, and impossible for them to verify. Tripurari Maharaja accepted siksa from Prabhupada throughout Prabhupada’s time here, and siksa leads to diksa—of which Maharaja received three initiations from Prabhupada. Obviously from his diksa by Prabhupada, Maharaja accepted Prabhupada as his siksa guru as well.
The fact that Tripurari Swami also accepts Pujyapda Sridhara Deva Goswami as his siksa guru does not lessen his adherence to the siksa of Srila Prabhupada. Indeed, it was Srila Prabhupada who suggested that his disciples could accept Sridhara Maharaja as their siksa guru. Tripurari Swami holds both of his gurus in the highest regard, and you will never hear him relegate either siksa or diksa guru to a lower position. As Prabhupada explains in his Caitanya Caritamrita purport on guru-tattva; siksa and diksa gurus are equal manifestations of Krishna.1
In today’s ISKCON, acceptance of a siksa guru within the society is acceptable and even encouraged. Tripurari Swami accepted a siksa guru in Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja almost 30 years ago, after Srila Prabhupada left for the nitya-lila. What is curious is that anyone with the slightest familiarity with ISKCON history knows what an incredibly conflictual and confused time the early 1980’s were for ISKCON. So many devotees were looking for spiritual guidance and on Prabhupada’s own recommendation the Acaryas and GBCs had approached Sridhara Maharaja for assistance. Prabhupada’s recommendation to go to Sridhara Maharaja was not in any way ambiguous. Indeed, we can see it repeated by the GBC members themselves on their first meeting with Sridhara Maharaja in March of 1978:
Jayapataka Maharaja: “After the departure of our beloved spiritual master we came to offer our respects to you as well as to hear your very esteemed upadesa on certain matters if you would be kind enough… He (Prabhupada) has given explicit desires, but he told us that, on other technical points and other matters of philosophy, if there was question we should approach you.”2
Several years later when the GBC’s relationship with Sridhara Maharaja deteriorated and turned into a campaign of aparadha against him, many devotees, including Tripurari Swami, were given a choice by the 1980’s ISKCON leadership: give up Sridhara Maharaja as your siksa guru, or leave ISKCON. When given a choice between a spiritually potent siksa guru with 60 years experience versus an ISKCON leadership with hardly a decade of experience and fraught with political in-fighting, the spiritual substance of Srila Sridhara Maharaja was obvious. How unfortunate it is that the mandates of misguided people in positions of ISKCON authority 30 years ago (most of whom are no longer practicing devotees) continue to set the agenda for ISKCON’s relationship with other Gaudiya missions in the present day! Resolutions against Srila Sridhara Maharaja and the many disciples of Prabhupada who sought his siksa are still on the ISKCON law books and influence policy decisions like the one being discussed in this article.
Finally, while the GBC attempts to make the case that Tripurari Swami does not hold Prabhupada in prominence, people who are familiar with Tripurari Swami’s preaching and his internal life understand how vitally important Prabhupada’s role really is to this disciple of his. Quite to the contrary of the GBC’s assessment, Tripurari Swami often points out the debt that any western follower of any Vaishnava sampradaya has to Srila Prabhupada’s valiant preaching efforts. To question the faith of a disciple who has for 40 years followed Prabhupada loyally in both preaching and internal pursuit is most offensive.
GBC policy continued
3. Violation of Vaisnava etiquette regarding re-initiations
It is a well-established principle of Vaisnava etiquette that one does not “re-initiate” disciples of a Vaisnava guru who is in good standing. If beseeched by an aspiring initiate, one must at a bare minimum first receive the permission and blessing of the disciple’s guru. (See appendices C and D)
Tripurari Swami has violated this principle of Vaisnava etiquette.
(See appendix E)
Madan Gopal response:
In any case of an ISKCON guru’s disciples seeking initiation, Tripurari Maharaja, out of courtesy, has followed the etiquette that the GBC recommends herein. Tripurari Swami has been approached many times by members of ISKCON who have for one reason or another lost faith in their ISKCON guru, have been mistreated in the institution, have not had their faith in siksa outside of ISKCON honored, or have grown to understand guru-tattva outside of ISKCON’s perspective. As these are not reasons for giving up Gaudiya Vaishnavism altogether, Tripurari Swami does the needful and cares for those who bring their faith to him. These are difficult issues for any preacher to navigate, but Tripurari Swami always honors the principle of divine faith first and foremost. It should be noted that Tripurari Swami has many siksa disciples who are initiated by ISKCON gurus and there is no question of re-initiation. Both Tripurari Swami and the ISKCON guru honor the faith of the disciple and the progress of the student continues as it should. As will be noted below, the GBC’s evidences for Tripurari Swami violating Vaishnava etiquette in regard to reinitiation are either completely false or far more intricate than the policy indicates.
The first example of reinitiation of one of Indrayumna Swami’s disciples has been researched and is entirely false. Tripurari Maharaja and his disciples in the area in question have confirmed that this did not happen. In stark contrast to this false claim, Indrayumna Swami just last year very sweetly encouraged one of his harinama (first initiated) disciples to accept diksa (“second” initiation) from Tripurari Maharaja. Here is his wonderful letter in this regard:
My dear _________,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you for your letter and for revealing your heart to me. Actually, I was just thinking of you yesterday – and now your letter has arrived.
I have no objection if you accept 2nd initiation from HH Tripurari Swami. You have my full blessings to do so. I am well aware how much he has inspired you and your husband in your spiritual lives. I am happy that you feel so inspired in devotional service as a result of his guidance. My only desire is that you make nice progress towards life’s ultimate goal. If you feel that Maharaja can help provide that for you, then by all means take shelter of his lotus feet. I would like to think that with me on your left side, and Maharaja on your right side, you will attain Goloka Vrindavan in this lifetime. Please do keep in touch with me. I would like to hear from you once or twice a year. Just share with me your experiences and realizations in devotional service.
Please offer my obeisances to Maharaja and my respects to your good husband.
Your ever well wisher,
These are the beautiful kind of dealings that gurus should be having with their disciples. Indradyumna Maharaja is honoring divine faith, which is the fuel of progress in bhakti. Tripurari Maharaja similarly honors the faith of his own disciples should they find inspiration elsewhere. Faith is not a doormat, something to try to manage or control.
In the case of Trivikrama Swami (example 2), when his disciples approached Tripurari Maharaja for siksa, Tripurari Maharaja referred them back to their ISKCON guru for blessings and they were told that if they took siksa from Tripurari Maharaja they would have to leave ISKCON and Trivikrama Swami would reject them. This experience was recounted to Tripurari Maharaja and verified by others. Therefore these disciples were left without shelter. If Trivikrama Swami had permitted his disciples to hear from Tripurari Maharaja, there would have been no need to put the disciples in that awkward position. As explained above, Tripurari Maharaja has many siksa disciples who are initiated disciples of ISKCON gurus and for whom there is not a question of reinitiation. Many ISKCON gurus have graciously and correctly encouraged their disciples that it is okay to hear from Tripurari Maharaja as a supplement to their practice. This has not been a problem. The current GBC policy will make these cordial relationships much more difficult and only increase misunderstandings.
Example three from Appendix E mentions the case of a harinama disciple of an ISKCON guru receiving “second” initiation from Tripurari Swami. This is not “re-initiation.” Having one harinam guru and another diksa (second initiation) guru is not against our tradition or etiquette, and the disciple in question honors both of her gurus. I know of similar cases in ISKCON where the disciple accepted diksa from a different ISKCON guru. In fact, Srila Prabhupada set the example in this regard when he recommended a harinama disciple of his to accept diksa from one of his godbrothers.
If you want to take initiation from Madhava Goswami Maharaja, I have no objection.3
Prabhupada also wrote to Madhava Maharaja:
I understand from the letter of Asita das that he has gone to your place in Jagannatha Puri. He has asked permission from me for taking initiation from you. I have given my permission and you can initiate him if you like so that he may increase his devotional service there.”4
GBC policy continued:
4. Standards and practices different from those of Srila Prabhupada
Tripurari Swami requires a different, less strict standard for initiation vows. (See appendix F)
Madan Gopal response:
There are many differences in details between how individual gurus make the practice of sadhana-bhakti most effective for individual disciples. Prabhupada also made many adjustments, just one being his reduction of the number of rounds required in chanting japa from 64 to 16. I also know of many adjustments made by ISKCON gurus today. Such is the duty of the acarya, the guru. The guru has to make the practice relevant for the disciple, and this may vary according to individual circumstances.
There is a difference between details and principles in the practice of Krishna consciousness. Principles are not to be changed. Whereas details of how those principles are pursued and by which practices, are made relevant by current acaryas and gurus. These details serve to help establish the relationship between guru and disciple and need not be an arena for discussion by anyone else but these two.
In Tripurari Swami’s role as an acarya and guru in the parampara, he considers, in consultation with prospective disciples, how they will best advance through their practice of sadhana-bhakti. This does not mean the vows or number of rounds agreed upon are “less strict” than ISKCON’s. As a matter of fact, sometimes they are more strict. Some initiates based on status in life or ability to honor their vow agree to chant more than 16 rounds of harinama, while some chant less and many others simply chant 16 rounds. After all, if the disciple is unable to follow the instructions of the guru given to them at initiation, they will be guilty of the offense of neglecting the orders of their guru. Srila Prabhupada makes this clear in his Nectar of Devotion:
In the Naradiya Purana it is directed, “One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service.” The purport is that one should not neglect following the principles of devotional service, nor should one accept the rulings of devotional service which are more than what he can easily perform. For example, it may be said that one should chant the Hare Krsna mantra at least one hundred thousand times daily on his beads. But if this is not possible, then one must minimize his chanting according to his own capacity. . . . He must be sure to keep his vow. If he does not strictly follow this out, then he is sure to be negligent. That is offensive in the service of the Lord. If we encourage offenses, we shall not be able to make progress in devotional service. It is better if one fixes up a regulative principle according to his own ability and then follows that vow without fail. That will make him advanced in spiritual life.
The underlying basis of Tripurari Swami’s instructions and requirements of his initiated disciples is an attention to and honoring of their faith and their individual circumstances. This is a very personal and endearing system that I would suggest makes for a very strong bond between the guru and disciple.
GBC policy continued:
SUMMARY: Position and Policy
Srila Prabhupada labored long and hard to design ISKCON as a great transcendental boat. He believed that it was fully able to carry those who take shelter of it across the ocean of the material world to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. The planks, the sails, the rigging, and the charts of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON boat are his standards, his mood of devotion, his instructions, and his system of organization. Thus, out of duty, to help assure that the elements set in place by Srila Prabhupada remain intact, the North American GBC is obliged to establish the following policy.
- Temple presidents and congregational leaders are directed to not promote or host Tripurari Swami.
- ISKCON devotees in general are requested to not promote or host Tripurari Swami.
- Tripurari Swami has his own society. As per international GBC resolutions,those who want to hear from, follow, and promote Tripurari Swami are advised to serve in his society, not ISKCON. (See appendix G)
- Likewise, ISKCON’s policy regarding those initiated by a spiritual master outside ISKCON—including those initiated by Tripurari Swami—is that they should serve in the mission of their initiating spiritual master. (See appendix G)
Madan Gopal response:
To be very clear, Tripurari Swami’s disciples do not use ISKCON facilities to promote him. ISKCON temples are supposed to be places of seva, and so when we followers of Tripurari Maharaja go to them, we are interested in rendering seva; singing kirtan to Prabhupada, Mahaprabhu, and Krishna, worshipping the deities, speaking on the siddhanta, and associating with the devotees. On Tripurari Swami’s own direction, we don’t have any other business there and don’t use the temples for politics. We have many relationships with ISKCON devotees and many of us attend ISKCON temples without any incident. There are also many of Prabhupada’s own disciples inspired by Tripurari Maharaja who are also members of ISKCON in good standing and render service within ISKCON. It is very much their right to continue doing their service to their spiritual master, as it is also their right to follow their heart and accept siksa from their godbrother.
GBC policy continued:
The North American GBC does not like being in this position. There is no short-age of conditioned souls eager to hear Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message, and the world is full of ripe fields to spread that message. Lord Gauranga has given all of us His sweeping mandate:
prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama
sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama
“In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.”
As fellow followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and our previous acharyas, we pray that the seva of ISKCON and of Tripurari Swami may continue to bring benediction to the forgetful jivas of this age. At the same time, experience tells us that it will benefit us all, help us all avoid Vaisnava aparadha, and protect Srila Prabhupada’s position in and standards for his Society, if ISKCON and Tripurari Swami spread Krishna consciousness each in our own specific and separate ways.
The North America GBC Executive committee
Contact: Nityananda dasa / NA GBC executive committee chair
Madan Gopal response:
I hope it is clear that the North American GBC does not need to be in this position. As fellow followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, our previous acaryas, and Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON and Tripurari Swami’s mission could be serving Mahaprabhu’s sweeping mandate arm in arm. Though there may be some differences in details between our two missions, there is no good reason why the two cannot continue to work cooperatively. We have a record of doing that for many years without incident, most notably in North Carolina where the local GBC does not oppose our co-existence with the ISKCON community and temple. Unfortunately, it seems that elements of the North American GBC and perhaps other ISKCON leaders are determined to see that a divide is created and widened. We also know that the policy, although officially an action of the North American GBC, has already made its way to Europe, essentially making it an international policy. When this policy was originally conceived of by the GBC, they planned on releasing it to ISKCON temple presidents without notifying Tripurari Swami. It was ISKCON devotees who intervened and asked that the GBC show the courtesy to Tripurari Swami by informing him of the planned release of this policy. Despite many attempts on our part, the GBC ignored our requests for communication and decided to release this policy in the current form. It seems the only reasonable way to interpret this action is to conclude that the North American GBC is insincere in their claim of regret for “being in this position.”
In conclusion, I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies if my discussion of this subject has caused disturbance to your spiritual practice. I cherish my relationships with my devotee friends and family, and yet our loving relationships must grow from a well-informed foundation. I pray that I have helped to clarify some issues and look forward to progressing towards our goal of prema-purusartha in your association.
Madan Gopal das
President, Saragrahi Community of Sri Caitanya Sangha
- C.C. Adi 1.34 [↩]
- March, 1978 [↩]
- Letter to Asita, 1/10/75 [↩]
- Letter to Madhava Maharaja, 1/14/75 [↩]