Our Affectionate Guardians, Chapter One, Part Two
Published on November 10th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff37
Chapter two, part two, of Our Affectionate Guardians by Swami B. B. Visnu. The historical account of the relationships between Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami and Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and his society.
Read previously published sections here.
I Take It on My Head
It is clear in the following letter that Srila Prabhupada regarded Srila Sridhara Maharaja as his confidential friend and well-wisher throughout his life. Concerned about his failing health, Srila Prabhupada had written Sridhara Maharaja asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrindavana. Srila Sridhara Maharaja wrote Srila Prabhupada advising him to stay in the U.S. and preach rather than come back to Vrindavana to leave his body. He asserted in his letter, “Wherever you are, that is Vrindavana.” After receiving Sridhara Maharaja’s reply, Srila Prabhupada wrote,
What Sripada Sridhara Maharaja has directed, I take it on my head. He is always my well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta], it is appropriate that I should accept his direction. I got direction from him that I shall live in this country forever.1
My Siksa Guru
Throughout his life, Srila Prabhupada always maintained the highest respect for and confidence in Srila Sridhara Maharaja. He even sent some of his disciples to Srila Sridhara Maharaja for instruction. On January 31, 1969, in a letter to one of his disciples, Hrsikesa dasa, Prabhupada wrote:
Because you are my disciple and, I think, a sincere soul, it is my duty to refer you to someone who is competent to act as siksa guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practicing spiritual life; not to some head of a mundane institution, not to someone who has offended his spiritual master in so many ways. I do not wish to go into details here. So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a siksa guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, whom I consider to be even my siksa guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have by his association.So, if you are serious about the advancement of your spiritual life, I will advise you to go to Sridhara Maharaja.It will be very good for your spiritual benefit, and I will feel that you are safe. When I was in India with the others, we lived with Sridhara Maharaja. You can also make arrangements for your other godbrothers to go there in the future.
Your Instructions Nondifferent Than Our Prabhupada’s
At the opening ceremony of the Iskcon Mayapur Candrodaya Mandira, Srila Prabhupada remarked that he considered Srila Sridhara Maharaja to be his siksa guru. And then he declared,
Jaya Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja ki jaya.
At the 1976 Gaura Purnima celebration in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada invited Srila Sridhara Maharaja to share his vyasasana with him, which he did. The only other godbrother to share Srila Prabhupada’s seat was Akincana Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja. In March of 1981, it was related to Srila Sridhara Maharaja by Sudhira Goswami that Acyutananda dasa had written about him in his book Autobiography of a Jewish Yogi:
He compares you to a great general, when he met you. And he tells how Srila Prabhupada told him that he regarded you as his siksa guru, and that Acyutananda should come to you for your instructions. He was in some spiritual difficulty. So he describes the nine months that he was living here and his hearing from you, the many different subjects you would speak about. For all these years we have wondered how Acyutananda knew so many things. Everyone has always wondered. And now we can understand, by your association where he learned so many things. His conclusion was that your instructions were nondifferent than our Prabhupada’s instructions. But at the same time different. This is my understanding—the spiritual sweetness of variety. It’s nondifferent but at the same time it’s different. And I didn’t know that it could be like that. Because as you said in your poem to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta about this world being filled with the cheaters and the cheated. So, Srila Prabhupada was the only person I ever met who did not cheat me, until I met Your Divine Grace.
When Srila Sridhara Maharaja was told that many devotees cannot understand how someone can have two gurus, he replied:
That is because they are situated in a formal position, but when they enter into substantial spiritual realization, they will not have such a grievance because they will see what is guru. Guru means one who has come to give Krishna consciousness. The formal difference will be reduced when one can catch the very substance of the teachings for which the guru is respected. When one is intimately connected with the thread of divine love which the guru comes to impart to us, he will accept it, wherever it comes from. He will see it as a friendly relation-not antagonistic, but cooperative. Although separate in figure, at heart both of the gurus are the same because they have a common cause. They have not come to fight with one another; they have come to fight only with the agents of Satan. If we can recognize the real thing for which we are approaching the guru, then we will understand how to make the adjustment in our relationship with the siksa guru, diksa guru, and vartma-pradarsaka guru [the instructing spiritual master, the initiating spiritual master, and the one who first shows the way to devotional life, respectively]. We are infinitely indebted to all our gurus. We are helpless. What can we do? They are benevolent; they are infinitely gracious; they are my guardians. I may have many guardians. They are to look after my welfare; they have not come to destroy me.
We Are Happy; We Are Glad; We Are Proud
The endorsements that Srila Prabhupada gave Srila Sridhara Maharaja are unparalleled in Prabhupada’s statements about his other godbrothers. The fact is that Srila Prabhupada had the highest respect and appreciation for Srila Sridhara Maharaja, and Sridhara Maharaja consistently expressed his deep admiration of Prabhupada, as shown in the following eulogy:
So our Swami Maharaja has done a miracle! Thakura Bhaktivinoda conceived and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaja, in his last days, it has been fulfilled to such a great extent. We are happy; we are glad; we are proud!2
Prabhupada with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied:
By guru and Vaishnava, whatever position I have got, it is by guru’s mercy and the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Otherwise, how may I have? So, I wish that Sridhara Maharaja may bestow his blessings as he was doing always, and may Guru Maharaja help me so I can do some service. By his grace it has become successful. I have no credit. I do not know how things are happening, because I am not at all qualified: chadiya vaisnava seva, nistara payeche keba. [Without serving an ideal Vaisnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?]
In Navadvipa on June 27, 1973, Srila Prabhupada joked with Srila Sridhara Maharaja about coming to America with him.
Srutakirti wants to serve you, provided you go with us to the U.S. (laughter). He says, “If Maharaja goes with us, then I shall take care of him.”3
In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Prabhupada’s leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhara Maharaja to take up residence at his temple in Sridhama Mayapur.
Please Stay With Me
Excerpt of 1977 conversation in Navadvipa (transcription by Bhakti Caru Swami):4
Srila Prabhupada: I do not know for how long I will be able to carry on. So, I came to see Sridhara Maharaja.
Devotee: If you all go away, then the world will become dark.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: [to Prabhupada] It is so wonderful that the will of the Lord becomes manifest through someone.
Srila Prabhupada: I want very much, Maharaja, that you come and stay at Mayapur. Because Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta] always desired that you preach. He told me quite a few times, “Why don’t you pull him out?” [They both laugh.] You know, I also tried to some extent before, but somehow or other it did not work out. Now, why don’t you come and stay at Mayapur? Srila Prabhupada told me also, “Sridhara Maharaja is one of the finest preachers.” I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapur, people are coming from all over the world. If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me. So both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here to your matha.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfill [Bhaktisiddhanta] Prabhupada’s desire.
Srila Prabhupada: This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. I shall make that arrangement. If you stay, then it will be helpful to me also. Sometimes I need to consult with someone and there is no one. There is no one that I can consult with. I feel this deficiency very greatly.
Devotee: If he [Srila Sridhara Maharaja] stays in Mayapur, all kinds of people will get to hear from him.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that’s right.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won’t have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won’t even have to move a step yourself. I’ll make arrangements for a car and an elevator. My disciples are telling me that they will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am traveling around, so if you are there, they can get some guidance. So, Maharaja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you.
That planetarium [The Temple of Understanding] also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money—the lame man and the blind man policy. I tell them also that this will be very beneficial for the world.
Temple of Understanding
Srila Prabhupada refers to “that planetarium.” Srila Sridhara Maharaja was very fond of Sanatana Goswami’s most famous work, the Brhad-bhagavatamrta, in which devotees, devotional service, and Krishna are described very scientifically. On the basis of this transcendental literature, Sridhara Maharaja had contemplated an elaborate preaching exhibition, using dioramas to depict the varieties of spiritual planetary systems and showing that the ultimate spiritual destination is Krishna’s own abode, Goloka Vrindavana. Due to insufficient funds, Sridhara Maharaja humbly submitted his idea to Srila Prabhupada, who concurred, saying, “It will be built under your direction.”5
He Can’t Be Converted
In a talk on October 8, 1981, Srila Sridhara Maharaja remarked:
Some faith, yes, he had some faith in me. I can’t deny that. In his last days he expressed that two quarters side by side will be built here. And you will live in one and I in the next. Birds of the same feather flock together. Common interest has drawn us near; our common attraction has brought us nearer, closer.
Sometimes it is wondered why Sridhara Maharaja did not take up Prabhupada’s offer. Sridhara Maharaja explains,
I said, “Of course I shall try to help you. Sometimes I shall go and stay there with you.” But I really did not think at the time that I shall survive [live longer than] him.
About the reticence regarding large-scale preaching that Srila Prabhupada mentions in friendly jesting, Srila Sridhara Maharaja once reflected,
I did not want to become a big person. That is not my nature. I did not want to move around with many people. I am just satisfied with whatever I have. My spiritual thinking is my life. The conclusions of the scriptures, the advice of the mahajanas, to relish them and practice them and to discuss them in a small confidential circle, that is the main goal of my life.
Prabhupada testifies to his having personally heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura mark the high qualifications of Sridhara Maharaja, whom he first chose to have go to the West. Many of the mission stalwarts recommended Sridhara Maharaja to preach, stating: “He is the fittest man to preach in the West.” In this regard, Sridhara Maharaja said the following:
My Guru Maharaja wanted me to go to the West for preaching, but I don’t consider myself a fit person to preach in the West. Because, you see, I can’t follow your intonation. I must listen clearly, then I shall tell. So, in this way, I told that if you order, I must go, but I don’t think that I am fit to preach in the West. Anyhow, it was stopped, and Goswami Maharaja was sent to the West. I am of reserved type, of reserved mood. I am a man of more thinking and less speaking.
When Sridhara Maharaja had been selected, one of his sannyasa godbrothers came to him and revealed the reason Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had chosen him to preach in the West. This godbrother explained:
Do you know why Prabhupada wanted you to be sent to the West? He said, “Because he can’t be converted.” You have checked such an ambitious chance. If you went to the West, a big name you could acquire easily as a preacher, but you left it so easily.
Shortly before his departure from this mortal world, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura called Sridhara Maharaja and asked him to sing Narottama dasa Thakura’s song “Sri Rupa-Manjari Pada” (the lotus feet of Rupa Manjari are my treasure). Sridhara Maharaja recalls:
So I did, hesitatingly. My nature is always hesitating, pushing back. Then, Kunja Babu asked me to stop. I was not a good singer, so as soon as he suggested, I stopped. Then, Kunja Babu asked Puri Maharaja of Kalna, “You sing.” So he began. Then, Srila Prabhupada was a little disturbed. “I don’t like to hear the sweet tune of the song,” he said. Then, he stopped singing, and I had to begin again with Sri-rupa-manjari-pada, sei mora sampada. He wanted me to sing that song. That is the fulfillment of life for every one of us, to be rupanuga followers of Sri Rupa.
Senior godbrothers who witnessed this exchange (notably Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja) have described it as a “mystic transmission” in which Sridhara Maharaja was given admittance into the eternal entourage of Sri Rupa Manjari. Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s humble vision, however, is that he was posted as the gatekeeper, the guardian of devotion (bhakti-raksaka), to protect the storehouse of conclusive truths about the full-fledged theistic conception of Sri Krishna as given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
The innumerable high qualities and praises of our Srila Prabhupada are well-known and accepted by the vast majority of Vaishnavas around the world. Additionally, throughout this publication, we present the many wonderful glorifications of Srila Prabhupada by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. We would also like to enumerate herein a few of the divine qualities of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:
- High recognition by other saintly personalities, including Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Akincana Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja, Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, and a host of godbrothers and other respectable devotees and scholars.
- Numerous original Sanskrit compositions and literary contributions.
- Brahma-gayatri commentary, unprecedented in our sampradaya.
- Spotless character.
- Freedom from envy and faultfinding.
- Extraordinary ability to harmonize opposing elements.
- Exceptionally kind and affectionate nature in dealing with subordinates.
- Great attachment for discussing the pastimes of the Lord and Krishna conscious siddhanta for hours on end.
- Superexcellent realization and clarity of presentation of Gaudiya siddhanta, thereby earning the title sastra-nipuna.
- Blessing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura as the guardian of gevotion (bhakti-raksaka) and further as the representative of the Rupanuga siddhanta (Rupanuga-acarya).
Just prior to his departure from this mortal world, Srila Prabhupada advised his senior disciples that in his absence, when the necessity arose to consult higher authority for clarification of certain philosophical points, they should consult Sridhara Maharaja. Prabhupada thus once and for all opened the door for his disciples to associate with Sridhara Maharaja. His final instruction regarding Sridhara Maharaja takes precedent over all other instructions. It was made only weeks before Srila Prabhupada’s passing from this world, a time during which one puts all else aside and shares one’s heart. He did this in spite of having on occasion criticized Sridhara Maharaja, criticisms we shall discuss in later chapters.
In this chapter we have presented the spirit of the relationship shared by these two parama Vaishnavas. Ignoring this while attempting to assess the nature of their relationship, one ignores the very spirit of Vaishnavism. Srila Prabhupada’s glorification of Sridhara Maharaja and his stated subordination to his godbrother is balanced with similar statements of Sridhara Maharaja in praise of Srila Prabhupada. Such a transcendental exchange reveals the greatness of both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja, who thus in the very least instruct us as to genuine Vaishnava humility and the sense that all of one’s success in spiritual life is derived from the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Thus we humbly submit that the transcendental relationship between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja be viewed and respected in terms of their eternal spiritual positions and long-standing appreciation and affection for each other, rather than in terms of their differences in style.
- Prabhupada Letter toGovinda Maharaja, Jan. 29, 1969 [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730317RC.MAY [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730627RC.NAV [↩]
- 1977 BBT transcription available only, not original. [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730627RC.NAV [↩]
Very interesting reading, thank you. Personally I am an initiated member in ISKCON, yet also relish reading Srila B.R Sridhara Maharaj.
A disciple of A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada just quoted his Gurudeva saying;
“anyone who goes to hear from my God brothers commits the greatest offense to his Guru”
This did not sit too well with me as it seemed contrary to this article as well as quite narrow minded.
Please offer some comments on this topic,
Perhaps you should ask the person masquerading as a Vaisnava that told you this to read these articles as they come out. Ask that person for a reference and he or she will not be able to give you one. If you cannot do it yourself, bring this person’s misunderstanding to the attention of a senior Vaisnava and ask him or her correct the person. It is a serious misunderstanding that is blocking that person’s opportunity to advance spiritually.
Srila Prabhupada’s last words to Narayana Maharaja (Nov. 6/1997 Bengali tape):
“I wish that my god-brothers forgive my offenses… While preaching, many times we do say things contrary to each other, or we cut each other’s philosophical arguments. That happens. Please ask my god-brothers to forgive my offences…”
The person who said that obviously does not know the history very well. Srila Prabhupada made statements like that when he asked for help in his Western outreach campaign and got none from those he asked. But as Kula-pavana pointed out this was not his final position on the matter, and it was never his position with regard to Sridhara Maharaja as the example of Acyutananda clearly shows.
I’d even go further than this and say that, if becoming genuinely God-realised means that I have to commit one grievous vaisnava-aparadha after another (a la Sampradaya Sun or Ritvik proponents), then I’d opt to stay in darkness and ignorance and forever rot in this dull phenomenal realm.
Indeed, the Prabhupada-onlyites have a knack for bringing out my worst, most beastly tendencies, and this inevitably ends in me feeling obnoxious about myself. That said, I consider His Divine Grace Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami as my eternal siksa-guru, for his wondrous writings remain, to this day, the backbone of my connection to Krsna, no matter how tenuous this link may be for the neophyte that I am.
That said, my own observation is that the wider characteristics and attitudes of those who would take exception to this series of articles are far, far too commonplace these days. Regrettably indeed, there are not enough devotees around with the broad-mindedness and generosity of spirit to appreciate the efforts of groups other than their own to spread the timeless message of Sriman Mahaprabhu.
That is a shame. About that Swami B.V. Tripurari has said something to the effect that all the politics and infighting we see today in Gaudiya Vaisnavism is due to a lack of understanding between body and soul. Ironic, since some of the devotees who lack such generosity are the ones who go around spouting the truism that “You are not your body!”
Yes, the difference between the body and the soul, or the institution and its purpose, its spirit. Such a basic issue when misunderstood creates havoc on the spiritual path.
The flames of conflict and dissension between ISKCON and other Saraswata Gaudiya parivaras were in fact ignited by the very words and deeds of Srila Prabhupada.
This calls into question the very vision and outlook of Srila Prabhupada. It’s hard to imagine that he could have actually seen the sorts of disparity, disruption and discord that his words would reap after his passing from the helm of ISKCON leadership. Had Srila Prabhupada foreseen the sort of disintegration and fragmentation of the global Gaudiya community that his words would cause in the future after his passing, would he have not tried more to mend these divides and insure that the Gaudiya Vaishnavas of the world are united on a common platform?
Did Srila Prabhupada foresee the emergence of Sridhar Maharaja, Narayana Maharaja, Govinda Maharaja etc. etc. etc. as succeeding leaders of the KC movement after his departure? It doesn’t appear that he did, unless in fact we accept that he did foresee it and still persevered to malign his Godbrothers and the whole Gaudiya world outside of ISKCON and bring about a global Gaudiya community that is bitterly divided over Srila Prabhupada’s less than sanguine comments about otherwise highly respected and worshipable Vaishnava Godbrothers.
This puzzle is very hard to put together. Some of it just doesn’t seem to make sense.
Eventually, there might be a great synthesis of Gaudiya Vaishnavas around the world as all the old school ISKCON devotees die off and there are no more party politic fanatics around committing Vaishnava aparadha on the strength of some old comments made by Srila Prabhupada when he was here pushing a preaching campaign that stepped on many toes and rubbed many Gaudiyas the wrong way.
As much as we love Srila Prabhupada, we can’t say that he is blameless in the matter of a global Vaishnava community that is bitterly divided.
I am sure that he will reincarnate again to try and mend this bitter divide that he created in the Gaudiya world.
I’m not so sure I fully agree with your comment. Senior Vaishnavas from within the Sarasvata parampara and outside of it alike have accepted Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as an acarya who was empowered by Lord Nitai. I don’t know about you, but I will refrain from passing judgement on a preacher specifically energised by the Lord to spread His transcendental name and glories, least of all someone without whom practically none of us would have even heard of Krsna, whether directly or indirectly. There are many things HDG said, and those who claim to be his followers do not necessarily abide by every single instruction he ever gave – hence, I do not blame Prabhupada for the pitiful paucity of good relations one observes between different Gaudiya camps, for the most part at least.
And it is emphatically not just some devotee members of ISKCON who are culpable of sectarianism. Just to cite one well-known example, that there is no love lost between Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti is common knowledge. The list goes on. In passing, it should be recognised that there are indeed MANY wonderful Vaisnavas in ISKCON as well. Like most, I don’t quite chime in agreement with some of the policies and attitudes that pass as mainstream inside that society, but that doesn’t take away all the good that a number of ISKCON adherents are doing in trying to serve Guru and Krsna. And I personally know quite a few who do not at all exhibit the society-consciousness that you rightly derogate.
As little a person as I am, I nonetheless dream big that someday, there may be widespread and heartfelt camaraderie, co-operation, solidarity and mutual respect among Vaisnavas of all denominations and groups, not just Sarasvatas, but also traditional Gaudiya Vaisnavas (yes, there are good, committed bhaktas there too; just as an example, I can name one whose sincerity and humility many in cyberspace who’ve met him or know about him would confirm: Vinod Bihari dasa Babaji of Varsana), and also other Vaisnava sampradayas.
It is very possible that my dream remains just that. Still, one loses nothing by wishing for the greater good of all.
The problem with your comment, K.B das, is the fact that is a hard pill to swallow that a pure devotee like SP makes so many mistakes. From SP’s books you get the impression as if only mortals like Gandhi can make mistakes but spiritual master who is perfect cannot. So his every statement about assessing his god brothers takes absolute value. But then he himself asked his godbrothers to forgive him. That is seen just as his humility by SP’s disciples, not that he actually made any mistake. Obviously this statement of SP is taken relatively and not “as it is” absolutely. Like Swami has pointed out, even literalists have to pick and choose the statements they consider absolute.
KB das wrote:
“The flames of conflict and dissension between ISKCON and other Saraswata Gaudiya parivaras were in fact ignited by the very words and deeds of Srila Prabhupada.
This calls into question the very vision and outlook of Srila Prabhupada. It’s hard to imagine that he could have actually seen the sorts of disparity, disruption and discord that his words would reap after his passing from the helm of ISKCON leadership.”
I do not think Srila Prabhupada could foresee what his criticism of his godbrothers would lead to, anymore than he could foresee what his support for unqualified leaders like Kirtanananda would create. Sometimes devotees expect Vaishnava gurus to have a perfect vision of the future. IMO that is urealistic.
Yes, Srila Prabhupada’s criticism of his godbrothers and Gaudiya Matha is often very uninspiring. Yes, this criticism is a major reason behind the negative atitudes of his disciples. But this is the way Srila Prabhupada was. His criticism of modern society, modern science, women or people in general, was often over-the-top, unbalanced, and sometimes flat out unfair. The same can be said about his criticism of his godbrothers. In other words, he had a relative, human side.
Kulapavana, I’d agree with you on a few counts, but as anyone with the most rudimentarily honed observational skills ought to notice, the sectarian spirit across much the contemporary Gaudiya landscape is not restricted to those in SP’s lineage. Far from it.
Try interacting with some of the sadhakas claiming affiliation with one or both of the institutions I referred to earlier, and what I’m alluding to should manifest in plain sight. Yet, their many positive endeavours in the service of Mahaprabhu’s mission need to be acknowledged and respected. This is Kali-yuga, after all, and it would be unrealistic and utopian to expect perfectly honourable behaviour from everybody, even those trying to become fixed in spiritual contemplation based on the highest, most esoteric and refined metaphysics the world has known.
Everyone has an opinion on Prabhupada. The substance of HDG, though, is that he was THE choice of Mahaprabhu and the previous acaryas for broadcasting Krsna Consciousness outside of the subcontinent. Like I mentioned, this has been recognised not just by some of his guru-bhais, but also by well-respected senior non-Sarasvata Gaudiya Vaisnavas like Radha-Govinda dasa Babaji of Vrindavan’s Harabari and Hridayananda dasa Babaji of Nitai Gaur Radhe Shyam fame.
Evidently, none of this excuses party politics and society groupism in the name of being chaste to him, and as I wished for above, may this pathetic situation someday change for the better.
Vikram-ji, I am well aware that the sectarian spirit in the contemporary Gaudiya landscape is not restricted to those in SP’s lineage. The guru-centric nature of contemporary Gaudiya Vaishnavism lends itself to that problem rather naturally. And it does not help when gurus themselves incite sectarian spirit by promoting it among their disciples.
The case of Srila Srila Sridhar Maharaja particularly is the shining example of how the ISKCON leadership misled ISKCON after the passing of Srila Prabhupada. That the ISKCON leadership turned against Srila Sridhar Maharaja for displaying his independence from the GBC authority is appalling.
The whole matter brings into question the very character of those 11 men who conspired to take control of ISKCON away from the GBC and assume leadership as succeeding acharyas. The GBC hasn’t fully recovered from the blow suffered when these 11 gurus surmounted GBC authority as succeeding acharyas.
Of all the many atrocities that have been committed by the ISKCON leadership since the passing of Srila Prabhupada, the failure to give Srila Sridhar Maharaja his due honor and respect is the most glaring.
I credit dear Narasingha Maharaja and Tripurari Swami for bringing me to Srila Sridhara Maharaja. What a fortune, I am grateful forever. “Reality, the beautiful” is one of the most beautiful phrases describing God I have ever heard or read in my many years of searching through spiritual texts and speeches.
Regarding Prabhupada’s criticism of his Godbrothers, if you read the historical record of his correspondence with them you will see why he developed a critical policy towards them. His initial interaction with them was not one of criticism at all. He invited and encouraged all of his Godbrothers to participate in what he saw as the manifestation of the desire of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura for international outreach. Had they responded favorably things would have ben very different. In those days the mission was much less structured and very formative. I used to man the book table on Sundays in Los Angeles and we sold many books published by Guadiya Math that Prabhupada shipped to the US. His criticism, however, came as criticism of his disciples surfaced on the part of his Godbrothers and efforts were made to keep us from participating in pilgrimages in the holy dhamas, etc.
Such an explanation seems to justify and explain the reasoning and rationale behind why Srila Prabhupada departed from decorum and openly criticized his senior Godbrothers which would normally be restricted in Vaishnava discipline.
We understand why Srila Prabhupada criticized his Godbrothers when he did.
It just seems like a very difficult situation that had to happen in the course and history of ISKCON, but which in the future became a very heavy burden on ISKCON as members grapple with the strict Vaishnava conduct of non-criticizing a Vaishnava and Srila Prabhupada’s well-documented criticisms of some Godbrothers that many of his disciple went on to respect, admire and love.
Surely, we cannot place blame on Srila Prabhupada. He acted and reacted as Krishna willed him to. History will surely tell that Srila Prabhupada was the giant among the Saraswata acharyas.
As well, the unsavory facts about the history of the Gaudiya Math had to be told, even as the very same condition inflicted ISKCON after the passing of Srila Prabhupada.
To this very day, many of Srila Prabhupada disciples have failed to grasp his message in regards to the break-up and break-down of the Gaudiya Math and how he tried so hard to prevent the same fate befalling ISKCON.
When ISKCON went astray from the direction of Srila Prabhupada, the disintegration of ISKCON, as it existed under Srila Prabhupada, was assured and the upsurge and growth of non-ISKCON sects became possible.
It appears that Srila Prabhupada was banking on his disciples being able to execute his mission and keep ISKCON strong and undivided into so many various camps and sects.
When the leading disciples of Srila Prabhupada failed to execute his orders, they laid the foundation for the splintering of ISKCON and the upsurge of these popular non-ISKCON sects and the awkward situation of an ingrained rivalry between ISKCON and all the offshoots of the Gaudiya Math.
Had ISKCON succeeded in executing the mission of Srila Prabhupada there would be practically no competition from these Gaudiya Math organizations that were the brunt of severe criticism by Srila Prabhupada.
Did Srila Prabhupada foresee the situation we have today of a KC movement that is bitterly divided over his words about his Godbrothers?
It’s hard to think that he did.
Obviously, Srila Prabhupada was banking on ISKCON succeeding after his departure. When the ISKCON leadership failed in the mission of Srila Prabhupada there resulted in a different scenario than anything Srila Prabhupada had envisioned for ISKCON as a global KC giant.
As such, the global Gaudiya community is a fractured and fragmented remnant rather than a global powerhouse that Srila Prabhupada wanted it to be.
“Even Gandhi is killing Krsna. Dr. Radhakrishnan is killing. Their only business is to kill Krsna. He is also doing that, our, this Bon Maharaja. He never speaks of Krsna. His rascal, that Institute of Indian Philosophy, nobody goes to [pass] urine there. We see practically. And our temple is always filled up, five hundred men. And he is trying for the last forty years. He is simply planning: ‘This will be playground. This will be this ground. This will be this ground.’ And it is becoming jungle. Still, he is so envious, black snake.” Srila Prabhupada’s Room Conversation with a Reporter in Johannesburg 10/16/75
For me, that is an example of over-the-top, unbalanced, and flat out unfair PUBLIC criticism. I can accept that Srila Prabhupada had a good reason to be critical in this situation, but I would still expect his criticism to be reasonable and measured. Common men follow the example of their superiors and that is why we expect our gurus to be exemplary.
There is a long story of mutual misunderstandings behind their relationship. And it is unfortunate that some devotees keep spreading only this side of it forgetting that ultimately both of them begged for forgiveness.
I think when SP himself apologized to his godbrothers, I guess the matter was settled. He just was protecting his disciples. Yes his presentation is many times unbalanced and over the top and it has been very difficult for me to digest at times. But, then I thought it was more to do with SP meeting my mind’s expectation of a saintly person. Just reading a book like SB and matching all saintly qualities listed there with SP was my mistake. I was just imposing my understanding on his behavior. That way even Krsna’s behavior is less than saintly, we still love him!!
I looked up this quote and it is a statement made not to a reporter but to Prabhupada’s disciples after the reporter leaves. After the statement quoted Prabhupaa asks that a letter be sent to all his centers concerning Bon Maharaja and his representatives. At the time BM was reported to have been canvassing professors and trying to convince them that SP was not authorized. Thus in so many words Prabhupada told his disciples that BM was envious of him and that his own preaching projects were going nowhere. Nothing short of the truth. SP was indignant and I do not blame him. So again, context cannot be ignored. Such comments understood in context do not give license for a policy of Vaisnava aparadha. Indeed, Prabhupada’s overall teaching and example make that abundantly clear. To blame Prabhupada even in part for those who have adopted such a policy is folly. Yes, he criticized some of his Godbrothers, and for good reason. I know how he felt. After all, I have my own Gobrothers, all of whom are not the best company. What a rude awakening!
Some of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers preached against him and his disciples, tried to prevent him from purchasing land in the Dhama, etc. etc., all while he was sincerely spreading the mission of Sri Caitanya all over the world. Such Godbrothers would not eat food cooked by SP’s disciples nor walk in their shadows without bathing afterward. Still he also praised others among them such as Sridhara Maharaja for good reason. Can Prabhupada be blamed for the lack of discrimination on the part of some of his disciples?
I should mention also that six months after this conversation Prabhupada sent me as his representative to BM’s math to honor BM’s appearance day festival.
“Such comments understood in context do not give license for a policy of Vaisnava aparadha. Indeed, Prabhupada’s overall teaching and example make that abundantly clear. To blame Prabhupada even in part for those who have adopted such a policy is folly.”
Absolutely. For adequate and proper comprehension, things should invariably be looked at in aggregate, not by parsing and dissecting individual statements in isolation. After all, everything belongs to a right context, and the ground on which the society-conscious lot stand is, in effect, nothing short of shaky and sloppy.
This ‘lecture’ given by Indradyumna Swami (an otherwise able and potent preacher of Mahaprabhu’s philosophy) seems to indicate just that, and as far as I am concerned, for a man in his position to utter such words publicly is both regrettable and frustrating at the same time.
I think it would be wise to remember that during his antya-lila, Srila Prabhupada apologised to his godbrothers and said, “The war is over.” However, even after Srila Prabhupada made this statement some of his leading disciples went out of their way to campaign against Gaudiya Matha and Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers and unfortunately this type of ‘preaching’ continues to this day.
Taken as a military scenario, when the commander-in-chief states that “the war is over”, if his troops continue to fight they are liable to be court-martialled (and in some cases, shot for insubordination).
Yes, Srila Prabhupada did criticize some of his godbrothers (and as Sripada Tripurari Maharaja has explained, it was for good reason), but also Srila Prabhupada cautioned his disciples, “I can say these things, you should not!”
So considering the above, I think it is very unreasonable to claim that Srila Prabhupada is to blame for the disunity we find in the present Vaisnava world – rather, it would be more accurate to say that such disunity is due to his disciples not following his instructions in relation to dealing with his godbrothers.
Well said, Maharaja.
Another big mistake that some of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples do is to lump all the “Godbrothers” into on mess on “envious snakes”.
But Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur must have had thousands of disciples, all with different levels of adhikara and different personal short-comings. I think it’s very offensive towards Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati to maintain this illogical prejudice that all of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers should not be trusted or associated with.
Except for a couple of purports, Srila Prabhupada’s criticism of his godbrothers was limited to conversations with his disciples and letters he wrote his disciples.
Giri Maharaja’s comments should be noted seriously, as should Tripurari Maharaja’s above. Srila Prabhupada’s dealings with his godbrothers, and with his disciples with regard to their relations with his godbrothers, are complex. As Tripurari Maharaja points out above, we need to attend to context in all cases. Prabhupada’s criticisms of his godbrothers were clearly in response to particular situations that arose, as well as their inability to grasp the extent of his accomplishments over the years.
And we should note that he not only closed down the controversy (which, as Giri Maharaja points out, should be our clue that it’s over, so we don’t appear foolish, like the Japanese soldiers stranded on Pacific islands and who hadn’t heard that WWII had ended), but he never allowed us to engage in it personally. I heard a recording of a morning walk on which one disciple started criticizing Bon Maharaja. Srila Prabhupada shut him down immediately, admonishing him very sternly: “You may not say. I may say, but you may not.” This devotee himself told another of my godbrothers, an outspoken sannyasi, of this exchange.
Moreover, we should not ignore, as pointed out above, the many instances in which he praised those same godbrothers. I remember hearing that, when asked about the destination of the elder Tirtha Maharaja, who we know he disagreed with on so many things, he replied that he had certainly gone back to Godhead because of his lifetime of service dedicated to maintaining their guru maharaja’s mission. To assign any responsibility for continuing friction among missions to Srila Prabhupada simply misses the broad sweep of his teachings.
You have a point, but I don’t think it will be convincing to many of Prabhupada’s disciples, granddisciples etc, simply because Prabhupada didn’t just react to a few godbrothers who insulted him, he made many statements condemning all of his godbrothers. He said they were all useless, offensive to their guru, should all be avoided, all envious, all lazy and only interested in politics, all sudras, none qualified to be an acharya, etc. He specifically said to avoid all of them and their books, and he never rescinded those statements. The only one who he gave some respect to was Sridhar Maharaja, but even then he made a backhanded compliment. He did say that he considered Sridhar Maharaja to be his siksa guru, but that was in the early days of ISKCON and possibly to try to get Acyutananda away from Bon Maharaja. Years later when asked about Sridhar Maharaja in the famous letter to Rupanuga he said he was “the best of the lot” but then went on to say very negative things about all of his godbrothers and blamed Sridhar Maharaja for disobeying his guru and for the breakup of the Gaudiya Math, including Sridhar Maharaja as “not qualified” to be an acharya. This was totally unlike Prabhupada’s relationship with Bon Maharaja.
Why did Prabhupada speak like that? I think it is pretty obvious — he didn’t want his followers to spend their time in anything else but expanding ISKCON. Dealing with his godbrothers, even the ones who admired him, was seen by Prabhupada as a waste of time for his followers. At the end he changed his attitude towards Sridhar Maharaja probably because he knew that when he was gone his neophyte disciples would need some advanced guidance.
Why didn’t Prabhupada make that more clear knowing for a long time he was going to live his body due to his sickness? We could wonder why he didn’t make very clear how he wanted ISKCON to continue on after he was gone, which would have made the zonal acharya and ritvik problems moot. Still, the reality is he didn’t make anything very clear. Why? Why does anything happen the way it does? Krishna controls whatever happens and we simply have to accept that whatever occurs is part of God’s plan.
I think that the real question is who has understood Prabhupada’s criticisms and sometimes praises of his Godbrothers in balance—in a way that truly represents the spirit of Vaisnavism as he would have expected?. And there is more praise and positive advice than you acknowledge in your comment. Time is also an important factor. It is not frozen. Pramode Puri Goswami admitted that he did not understand the significance of Prabhupada’s preaching at first and had a touching exchange with SP shortly before his passing that demonstrated a significant change of heart and realization, one that Prabhupada appreciated.
You ask why did Prabhupada speak negatively about his Godbrothers, and you answer “he didn’t want his followers to spend their time in anything else but expanding ISKCON.” But the historical record shows that he actually wanted his disciples to associate with his Godbrother and that they all serve together. This was his overarching desire by far. The fact that many of his Godbrothers disappointed him and he had to abandon that ideal for some time does not dismiss his ideal, one that he returned to in the end by advising us to hear from SM and to end the war between his Godbrothers and himself. As others have pointed out, some have decided to perpetuate the war in the name of following his orders. They do not want to look at the issue in a well rounded manner. Take the way they selectively circulated the “Rupanuga” letter, when there were so many other letters to SM and statements about him from Prabhupada that put that letter in perspective. The fact is that the people circulating that letter did not even understand the first word of the letter—”Rupanuga.” Thus it was apparent for anyone with eyes to see that they needed guidance, not to speak of the negative example they personified. Many devotees of Iskcon base their opinion of SM, etc. on the statements they heard from people they have otherwise rejected. It’s merely group think at best.
That was a very thoughtful, well-balanced response Maharaja, much appreciated by me.
Your tone and tenor are certainly more Vaishnava in quality than the extremist fanaticism that you have replied to.
Such commentary as this is what really demonstrates that Tripurari Maharaja is in fact a safer council than any ISKCON party-liner espousing non-Vaishnava conduct on the premise of “Prabhupada-said” in abject indifference to all the strictures in shastra that prohibit such denigration of Vaishnavas.
ISKCON is not exempt from such Vaishnava codes.
Well said, KB Prabhu. When ISKCON have been incapable, in the 30+ years since His Divine Grace departed this world, of correcting things as elementary as the Jaya-dhvani (the right version being Sri Sri Radha-Krsna gopa-gopi-go instead of the Sri Sri Radha-Krsna gopa-Gopinatha one hears in ISKCON centres), have lacked the wisdom to realise that Sri Advaita Acarya, as the joint avatara of Maha-Visnu and Sadasiva, is God, and is thus ever youthful (hence, ought not be depicted with a white beard), and that the holy feet of Radharani’s deity should only be displayed on certain very specific occasions, it is obvious that the more discerning will know where their real benefit lies.
By that, I don’t mean to imply that all ISKCON members commit these mistakes routinely. In fact, there are many good devotees in that society, but at the same time, gh’s comment above does demonstrate, if need there was, that it will be a long, long time indeed before the current morass evolves and makes way for something more desirable.
Though it seems like you are trying to present the facts (of Prabhupada’s criticism also of Sridhar Maharaj) you appear to not have read the other installments in this series. Specifically, you should be aware of the conversations Prabhupada had with Srila Sridhar Maharaj (in 1977) where he is asking SSM to come live in Mayapura and preach to all of his disciples, also mentioning that he does not have anyone like SSM to share realizations with. What could be more direct? So no, I don’t think it is intellectually honest to read some diplomatic meaning into Prabhupada’s endorsements of SSM.
Sripad Bhakti Caru Maharaj who is very loyal to iskcon transcribed this conversation, and later in this book we see that he also had a deep admiration for SSM shortly after Prabhupada’s disappearance.
I echo Madan Gopal’s suggestion that gh reconsider his remarks after reading Srila Prabhupada’s conversation with Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1977. Here’s a preview. Note Srila Prabhupada’s assertion that it is his “earnest desire” that Sridhara Maharaja stay with him in Mayapura so that devotees from around the world can hear about Krishna consciousness from him.
Yes, that’s true. He told me also, “He is such a qualified person. Sridhara Maharaja is one of the finest preachers.” I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapura, people are coming from all over the world. Why don’t you come and stay there? What is your objection to staying in Mayapura? If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me, so both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here [to his Navadwipa math].
I have heard weak attempts to explain this conversation away. But can surrendered disciples honestly dismiss his claim that he expresses his “earnest desire” in this conversation? And those who assert that later instructions necessarily supersede earlier ones, as gh implies by pointing out that the Rupanuga letter is “years later” than what Prabhupada told Achyutananda, should note that this was in the spring of 1977. We may argue that this was Srila Prabhupada’s last word on the subject.
somehow some people just attached to what they imagine (speculate) what SP really feel in relation to his godbrother…
i decided to just choose the positive, save and inspiring conclusions.. ^_^
I think you are focusing on the details in ISKCON and doing what they do by knit picking tiny things. It is the same as some people ISKCON knit picking tiny things from SP’s letters to criticize his godbrothers. SP had Advaita Acarya depicted with a beard, so there is bound to be some resistance to change. In that sense, God can not even have white hair according to scriptural details.
The mistakes that you are focusing on are minuscule compared to other big mistakes like offending SSM.
Gaura-Vijaya, outside of ISKCON, Advaita Acarya is, as far as I know, generally shown as young-looking and with no beard whatsoever, whether white or not white. My point is that many such mistakes would not persist to this day had ISKCON leaders had the humility and open-mindedness to take instruction from elsewhere after SP’s passing.
I did, I confess, focus on a few small details, and deliberately left out one of the most, if not THE most serious and glaring of all, the continued propagation of the pseudo-doctrine of ‘fall from Vaikuntha,’ something no Vaisnava sampradaya, Gaudiya or otherwise, has ever subscribed to nor disseminated. As some have argued, this false theory is widely prevalent within ISKCON probably because of illusion caused by vaisnava-aparadha. It therefore bears a degree of relevance to this discussion.
But you seem to ignore the fact that I always temper any criticism I level at certain facets of ISKCON with the caveat that the sweep of my words do not embody a wholesale negative characterisation of the institution. As I pointed out earlier, a large number of ISKCON devotees are definitely exempt from such charges.
Missed this thread until now…
Sripad Tripurari Maharaja, as well as several other devotees, have pointed out that we need to be very careful to take statements from the past in their proper context. It is all too easy to misunderstand quotes or statements improperly unless we are aware of the surrounding circumstances in which they were made.
For example, Srila Prabhupada definitely encouraged his disciples to associate with his godbrothers in the beginning and even went with them to his godbrothers mathas, but due to some negative experiences, like criticism of Srila Prabhupada himself and also his disciples, he needed to protect his disciples from this. Thus he spoke strongly at the time against his godbrothers and the instruction became “don’t go there, avoid them.” All of this needs to be taken in the context of the situations and balanced — the positive and the negative. Not so easy to get it right, from our armchair computer in a distant corner of the globe far removed from the intricacies of these long past activities and statements.
As shown in “Our Affectionate Guardians” Srila Prabhupada’s positive statements towards Srila Sridhara Maharaja far exceeded his negative statements. When informed of some of these statements, Srila Sridhara Maharaja remarked, “Just see the preaching of Swami Maharaja, he has not even spared me, his dear friend.” So Sridhara Maharaja understood why Prabhupada made such statements. One needs to be more careful about commenting without complete information.
There is a greater message here and that is that the Vaishnava community in general should be more careful about criticizing any devotee and senior devotees in particular.
Having spent considerable time documenting various facts and devotee activities for “Our Affectionate Guardians” I can say with conviction that it is very clear to me that a number of devotees who directly offended Srila Sridhara Maharaja, have received strong reactions to their offenses. These reactions range from falldowns, to physical problems, to the disintegration of their bhakti creeper. Reaction is not always direct, quick or shocking, but sometimes one may simply lose their interest in devotional service. But the result of Vaishnava-aparadha is certain and devastating and we must be very careful to avoid it. If not then we must atone and beg for forgiveness.
In the case of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, apologies were made but never with any effort to correct the misconceptions and offenses drilled into devotees by the shouting from the vyasasana’s. Therefore the remnants of those offenses lingers even today.
I feel strongly that the atmosphere amongst the Vaishnava community today is unhealthy in that so many devotees feel free to say anything and everything, including criticism, about any devotee. Consider the newer devotees, how will their faith develop in such an unfavorable atmosphere?
The internet, while a great tool for communication and preaching, has also made it so easy to hurl our statements into an irretrievable archive. Or we may find our private statements forwarded endlessly for all to see. It is all too easy to make offenses with one click of the mouse.
It is up to each individual devotee to cultivate a healthy Vaishnava attitude of non-offensiveness and appreciate the devotional service of other devotees. Krsna says that there is no one more dear to him than his devotee.
We can only bow to the truths Sripada Visnu Maharaja highlights in his great post.