Our Affectionate Guardians, Chapter Six, Part One

prabhupada_devotees_walkChapter 6 traces Iskcon’s relationship with Srila Sridhara Maharaja from the time when the GBC first approached him until the time of the writing of Our Affectionate Guardians.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s advice was much sought after by many prominent GBC members officially and privately, from even before the first meeting of the GBC with Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1978 until 1982 when the GBC decided that no one in Iskcon could hear from Srila Sridhara Maharaja. The GBC repeatedly sought answers to the many important questions confronting them in the absence of Srila Prabhupada and asked Srila Sridhara Maharaja to settle the disputes or controversies that they could not settle themselves.

In settling disputes, Srila Sridhara Maharaja would ask each devotee involved what he saw as the problem and possible solution, then he would give several sastric references, relate episodes from the Vedas of similar occurrences, and finally offer his advice, charged with his widely respected realization.

Many times he hinted that an all-encompassing solution would be difficult in such a grand and expansive society as Iskcon; thus his overall suggestion to the GBC was that they go forward with “fair feeling” and make adjustments as time revealed new details. His advice did not pertain so much to the details as it did to the spirit with which the mission should be conducted.

At first, the GBC members openly and enthusiastically expressed their satisfaction with Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s advice, but gradually the feelings of the GBC members soured when they failed to understand and embrace that which Sridhara Maharaja suggested, and confidence in their leadership waned. Eventually, the GBC saw him as a threat to their sense of authority.

Their ultimate rejection of Sridhara Maharaja was not without good intention. It did however suffer from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the very spirit of spiritual life, and thus, as is the case with many well-intended roads, their course led them astray from their intention to protect the movement of Srila Prabhupada. Ironically, they themselves became the greatest nemesis to the natural progress of the mission.

A mission the size and scope of Srila Prabhupada’s Iskcon would be difficult to destroy. Its shear momentum at the time of Srila Prabhupada’s departure ensured its continuation for some time. With the common sense of good management and wide-scale propaganda, such a movement was sure to increase its numbers. Yet we would be wrong to conclude that the mere increase in new numbers of the society is the sole barometer of its health. If such is at the cost of veteran members becoming discouraged and leaving, progress is questionable. Such is the case in Iskcon today, where as devotees advance they find it difficult to find siksa within the society that corresponds with the level of their interest.

Depth of inner realization is the real standard of progress, and such progress will certainly show itself in the form of regard for others, what to speak of senior vaishnavas. It is precisely this lack of regard toward others, and advanced vaishnavas in particular, however, that characterizes the Iskcon mission today. The vilification of Srila Sridhara Maharaja flows freely within the society even today. As recently as 1994, the GBC thwarted an effort led by several of its members to retract the resolution that banned Iskcon‘s members from associating with Sridhara Maharaja and any other senior vaishnava outside of the corporate structure of the society. Yet rather than erase the resolution, they underscored it and punished those who rallied for the reform.

Such a bewildering turn of events are the unhappy result of vaishnava-aparadha. Invited into the society by its founder, Sridhara Maharaja offered his siksa in the spirit described below, even as he was mistreated.

I was repeatedly requested by Swami Maharaja, “Look after them. I have taken them, brought some raw things [inexperienced and unqualified persons] to you, especially to you. Please look after them.” I did not think at that time that he would pass away before me. I also have some affinity for the cause of Mahaprabhu. So if anyone is coming to seek Krsna consciousness but is going away frustrated, then naturally, some sympathy should come in my heart to help him-to give him relief. With that idea, I give help, whatever help I can, although it is very meager. I am simply sitting here. I am not running hither and thither to disturb the brains of the Iskcon followers, and those that are coming to me, how can I send them away? How can I sit tight without giving what I know, what I feel, without extending this sort of help to those persons? But the Iskcon administration has only some formal consideration. These few gentlemen, whom I consider to be students—students, not professors—speaking from my absolute consideration standpoint, I consider them to be students, not professors. And they have become self-made authorities, thinking that whatever they dictate, I shall have to obey that? I am not a person of that type. With my clear conscience to God; that is to Krishna, to Mahaprabhu, to my gurudeva, and to Swami Maharaja, what I am doing, I think it is justified. Let them capture the whole world. I’ll be satisfied. I am not an enemy, because we have a common cause.

The First Darsana

In the spring of 1978 during the annual meeting of the GBC in Sridhama Mayapur, the GBC approached Sridhara Maharaja with questions regarding the nature of disciplic succession. They went to Srila Sridhara Maharaja following the advice of Srila Prabhupada. Sadly, Sridhara Maharaja’s deep insights and generous heart were later misconstrued to be philosophically deviant and arising from evil intentions.

In the following darsana, the GBC‘s first official meeting with Srila Sridhara Maharaja after the departure of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja responds to a question asked by Jayapataka Maharaja as to how those who have harinama initiation from Srila Prabhupada should select their mantra guru:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: A disciple, he may like one-first or third or fourth or fifth [guru], how to solve that.

Tamala Krsna Maharaja: That we must solve.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: According to his sraddha, a newcomer should be given some time. Who will come to be initiated, he should be given a fair period of time to hear from different persons and then the sraddha, the faith

Devotee: will be awakened.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: He will consider to whom he will submit. Do you follow?

GBC Assembly: Yes.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: The first stage is to hear, and the second stage, varan, is acceptance by the guru and the disciple. Then the sadhana, or attempt for realization, will begin. The first stage is to hear openly-fair field to hear-then the connection should come between the guru and sisya-preceptor and disciple, both sides.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja goes on to explain the difficulties that can come to arise in the guru/godbrother, guru/disciple relationship. He said, “the sisya will be greatly disturbed if he sees any other vaishnava disturbing the absolute position of his guru. At least one place should be there where the disciples can get their guru exclusively.That will not be possible practically in such a large and expansive society as Iskcon.” The darsana concludes with this advice:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: We cannot reach a particular solution as all complete and perfect. Go with fair feeling, go on with fair feeling—this is the utmost I can suggest to you.

Tamala Krsna Maharaja: Maharaja, we are so grateful.

GBC Assembly: Jaya.

From this darsana we can see that Srila Sridhara Maharaja advised according to eternal spiritual principles. He emphasized that a disciple must have free choice in selecting a guru. Some initiating gurus did not follow this advice, however, and many devotees were forced to take initiation by a certain guru because they were in his “zone.” Ironically, Srila Sridhara Maharaja was later blamed by some for the “zonal acarya” arrangement. It should be noted that the idea of zonal acaryas is not inherently bad—Srila Prabhupada himself designated the eleven gurus to initiate in the zone that they were in charge of as GBCs. When the problems that arose in the zonal acarya arrangement were brought to the attention of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, he replied as follows:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: My suggestion to keep the unity is that a person of one zone may accept a guru of another zone. Free choice by sraddha. He who has preference for one acarya but is compelled to accept one whom he considers to be lower, that is an anomaly. That zonal arrangement is against free choice. Also, new appointments of acaryas from amongst the brothers who are considered fit, that sort of position should also be there.By sacrifice we come together. By serving attitude we come together. By assertion we separate, distance is created by self-assertion. By self-sacrifice we unite.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja brought up another point that was not well-received by some of the eleven gurus: “new appointment of acaryas from amongst the brothers who are considered fit.” The lack of this, along with other problems, was creating havoc in Iskcon. In suggesting the expansion of the number of gurus, Sridhara Maharaja’s opinion concurred with that of Srila Prabhupada, who stated at the time he mentioned the first eleven gurus that other “senior sannyasis” could be added as the necessity arose. Sridhara Maharaja realized the vision of Srila Prabhupada without being told of his statement regarding a provision for expansion. He also represented the heart of Srila Prabhupada with regard to his generous spirit of encouragement.

Certainly Prabhupada sought to encourage the first eleven gurus, inspiring them to rise to the occasion of the service at hand. This spirit, however, was severely lacking in the eleven gurus with respect to their regard toward the qualified godbrothers. As a result, the movement was stifled, and it was not until considerable hardship and discouragement were suffered by sincere godbrothers of the eleven gurus that in 1982 three new gurus were added. Less well-known is that this was largely due to the insistence of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, who accurately read the environment and often suggested this change. It is significant that the three new gurus immediately went to Sridhara Maharaja for his blessings. The movement sighed a breath of relief, but soon after the entire GBC rejected Sridhara Maharaja, beginning their official campaign of vilification.

GBC Activities Intolerable

The GBC received much valuable advice from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, but when the many frustrated godbrothers similarly sought advice from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the GBC strongly advised against it and eventually forbade it. They did this because these godbrothers were seeking answers to the many problems of the leadership itself: guru expansion, excessive puja, disrespect of non-guru godbrothers, leader deviations, excessive control, and so on.

Those who did not agree completely with whatever the leaders wanted to do were made to feel left out of the mainstream of Iskcon and many times were exiled. Those who sincerely wanted answers to the many problems within Iskcon were consistently regarded as troublemakers. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada were frustrated that they had no voice. The GBC was maintaining tight control of Iskcon, refusing to expand the number of gurus, and discouraging the enthusiasm of many sincere devotees with their official policies. As a result, many devotees left Iskcon.

Acarya Godbrother Relations-A Slap to the Cheek

In the following transcription of the first official meeting with the GBC in 1978, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke about acarya relations with godbrothers:

If you think-in the tatastha vicar, absolute consideration-that the person who is doing the function of acarya, that his adhikara is lower than yours, still you should formally give special honor to him because he is in that position. For example, the son may be a judge and the father the lawyer, so the father is giving honor to the chair of the judge—nirodha. Like that you should do; otherwise, the social dealings will be disturbed, is it not? That kind of adjustment should be in the mission. When the acarya brother and the non-acarya brother are alone, they can mix freely. You can give a slap to his [the acarya’s] cheek, but when publicly amongst his disciples, you must show respect.

Acarya Grandeur

Many disciples of Srila Prabhupada complained to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, from 1978 until 1985, about the excessive worship and grand arrangements for the Iskcon gurus. In view of the many falldowns (five GBC gurus of the original eleven), mounting frustration, and repression of so many devotees, excessive worship became a source of great irritation. It became even more irritating when nothing was done about it year after year. Srila Sridhara Maharaja addressed this problem of acarya grandeur on August 18, 1980:

According to my consideration, as I hear it, the grandeur of the acarya, the puja of the present acaryas, it is undesirable and too much and that will create some difficulty. It should be modified. The way in which the acarya puja has been established, that should be modified to suit the circumstances, and some adjustment with the godbrothers should be made. A protocol, a spiritual protocol, should be evolved which may not be very harmful to the body, to the association, the Iskcon organization. It is a very difficult thing tackling the fine point of divine sentiment. So, very carefully the adjustment in the spiritual protocol should be observed. Not only adjustment with the sentiment of the godbrothers of the acaryas, but this difficulty will continue also amongst the disciples of the acaryas themselves. So, a very sober and well-thought conception should be evolved by the help of the scriptures and the statements of the vaishnavas and their experience-all these things must be considered. Adjustment may help the mission grow-adjustment such that it may not be detrimental to the missionary activity. It is a very difficult thing to adjust. When there is acarya puja—afterward they should also show some respect to all others, the godbrothers of the gurudeva. In this way, the respect will be shown—the guru with his parsada, with his friends (paricaraka sahitam).But puja in a gorgeous way whenever an acarya will come, that gorgeous puja that will create havoc and disembarkment in the mission, so much grandeur. And now another thing in the opposite. Mat guru si jagat guru—a newcomer, he should be given such understanding that my guru is not less in capacity of divinity. The newcomers should be given the highest attraction-to draw their maximum faith. Acaryam mam vijaniyan—sastra has got no small mantra for a small guru and a big mantra for a big guru. Guru should be looked at by the disciple with maximum reverence. To draw the maximum reverence or sraddha, faith, from the disciple, it is not a very easy thing. So, two things should be considered, and an intermediate process should be evolved.

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