Our Affectionate Guardians, Chapter Six, Part Three
Published on December 31st, 2009 | by Harmonist staff5
Read previous sections here.
Later, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke more:
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: I am not going anywhere to do anything against them. I am sitting here. People are coming, and according to my conscience, what I have to say to them I am saying. I am not an aggressor.
Sudhira Maharaja: This has disturbed many of the devotees who are appreciating your instructions.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Is it going against Swami Maharaja what I say?
Sudhira Maharaja: Not according to them, but there is a difference of opinion.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: But what I said was taped by you all. Was there anything which went against the preaching of Swami Maharaja? I don’t think that is the case.
Sudhira Maharaja: No one thinks like that.
Bhakti Caru Maharaja: But it is going against them [the leaders’ improprieties]. Actually many of the godbrothers started to see things from a different perspective.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Last time also I asked them what they wanted me to do-should I give ditto to whatever they will do. Then I asked them, “Do you think that I am under your committee.” “No, no, that we don’t think.” Then the day before yesterday, again the same thing. “We had a meeting and in our meeting we accepted the principle that the number of acaryas may be increased, but we did not receive any inspiration this year for extension. But this was not told to you, so we have been told that you remarked that our decision is injudicious and unfortunate.” Yes, I did remark in such a way because I want to clear my position to you now, that I am not wholly one with Iskcon and even not wholly one with Swami Maharaja. I have got my special consideration and inclination and thinking. With other godbrothers also I differ in many ways. So everyone has his special characteristic, and I also have such. So, what you think to be srota-pantha, your meeting, unanimous verdict, what you think the right thing coming down, I am not bound to pronounce the same thing-that it is infallible. The meaning is like that. According to my consideration, your combined decision was a faulty one, but I did not say so clearly.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja mentions that he has his own unique contributions to make and that these may sometimes even differ from Srila Prabhupada, a viewpoint that Srila Prabhupada himself supported in a letter to Upendra in 1972. Many non-GBC devotees, dissatisfied and discouraged by the Iskcon GBC‘s overbearing style of management, also approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja for advice. His advice evoked a higher, more mature perspective in these devotees that many times also included more tolerance and compassion in regard to the Iskcon leaders. His expert advice revived many devotees’ faltering faith and earned Srila Sridhara Maharaja a fast-rising popularity, which the GBC feared would diminish their position and control. In addition to examples presented in earlier chapters, an indication of the grave problems that confronted Iskcon is that the vast majority of disciples of Srila Prabhupada left the movement in a discouraged state of mind. A further strong indication is that, of the original eleven gurus only six remained in the mid-1980s.
Real Seekers of Truth Are Fearless
Devotee: They are afraid that the institution is breaking.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: If they are seekers after truth, they’ll be fearless. It is his movement [Krishna’s]. If he likes, he will keep it. It is spread by his will. So spacious and extensively, in such a small span of life, Swami Maharaja took it to the length and breadth of the world. It is by divine will.
Devotee: Their position is that now they are in so much difficulty that they are just looking for somebody to blame. They don’t want to blame themselves. They are just looking for someone outside.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: It is human nature. General weakness
Although officially ignoring the advice of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the GBC eventually implemented almost all of his suggestions, without giving him credit. Not until the New Vrndavana meetings in 1985, when they were forced by the overwhelming consensus of their godbrothers, did the GBC open up the guru extension. Many issues were at hand, as godbrothers throughout the movement demanded reform. In his September 21, 1985, Guru Reform Letter distributed to all his disciples, Satsvarupa Maharaja writes:
A near unanimous decision has been reached by the senior devotees, that the present system of zonal acaryas should be changed and it has become apparent that daily guru-puja is questionable.
These changes were recommended all along by Srila Sridhara Maharaja.
Acyutananda Swami’s November 22, 1982 letter of apology to Srila Sridhara Maharaja provides us with a glimpse into the mood of the GBC just prior to severing their connection with Sridhara Maharaja:
Revered Sridhara Maharaja,
Please accept my humble obeisances and apologies for my remarks in a letter written some time ago. I am falling at your feet–you are my siksa guru, and I will not go back to Godhead without your blessings.
At the time I wrote the letter, there were many disturbances in Iskcon. People were losing faith in the leadership, and I feared that there would be a split in the society, due to internal dissension.
The GBC were convinced that the preaching of ___ Swami and his presentation of your opinions was one of the chief causes of the trouble in the institution. It was also known that Jayatirtha Maharaja was involved with sahajiya activities, and I was told that he claimed his activities were endorsed by you. In this state of confusion and concern for the welfare of the society so loved by my spiritual master, I allowed myself to be coerced into writing a letter that was meant to minimize your exalted position and question your credibility in the matter of management.
His Holiness _____ Swami and His Holiness ____ Swami urged everyone to make strong stands to support the views of Iskcon. Why did they want me to write? Because of my long time with you, whenever I lecture, I pray in my invocation to my guru Srila Prabhupada and sing your verse “nikhila bhuvana maya.” Whenever there is a precedent to cite, I cite you; whenever there is a need for sastra interpretation, I refer to you; whenever there is a need to confirm a point in any matter, I quote you. So, they wanted the devotees to hear from me in the state of turmoil that was happening then. At least that is how they presented it to me.
I do not want any Vaishnava in the universe to curse me; please don’t curse me. You may be knowing that I have written a book about my accepting Krishna consciousness. It is called Autobiography of a Jewish Yogi. In it, I explain how you saved me from the maya of nirjana-bhajana and certain Vaishnavas who were interfering with my faith in Guru. Three chapters are about you, and I think you are the hero of this part. Nothing changes that.
I think even the leaders and present acaryas of Iskcon also regard you with reverence and will show their real feelings as time goes by. In January I may go to India and I will see your feet personally.
Your servant, Acyutananda Swami
Sridhara Maharaja Used as Scapegoat
The final incident that lead to the offensive policy of the GBC regarding Sridhara Maharaja involved one of the original eleven Iskcon gurus and his deviation. Jayatirtha Maharaja had fallen from devotional standards and the GBC was unsuccessful in reinstating him in good standing. In fact their subsequent policy of forcing him out of Iskcon led to his further degradation. In spite of increasing public criticism of Sridhara Maharaja on the part of the GBC, its leader nonetheless had the sense that if anyone could help Jayatirtha, Sridhara Maharaja could. In 1982, Srila Sridhara Maharaja related the history regarding Jayatirtha Maharaja.
Sridhara Maharaja: Jayapataka Maharaja came to me saying that Jayatirtha Maharaja is showing much sentimentalism and saying that this is all transcendental ecstasy. He asked me, is it so? I replied, this cannot be transcendental sentiment. What is the proof? I showed him, these are the scriptural quotes and the facts, and therefore we can never accept it as transcendental sentiment.
Jayapataka Maharaja wrote a long letter to me, stating that such and such things have happened. He wrote that he had consulted with Bhavananda Maharaja who told him to consult with me. He asked me for my opinion about all the things that have happened in regards to Jayatirtha. I told him that I don’t want to say anything before meeting Jayatirtha Maharaja. I want to know what happened. And I had some doubts. They told that Jayatirtha wanted sannyasa. Ultimately, we have not forced. Reluctantly we gave sannyasa. Still I told him that I would like to hear from him [Jayatirtha] first before making any remark. Then Bhakti Caru Swami brought Jayatirtha Maharaja here from Puri, leaving his wife and son in Calcutta, but I also wanted his wife and son to be here. Then they were also brought here and I consulted with them all. I had had some apprehension he might be thinking that Swami Maharaja had delegated him for acarya position as a grhasta and that Iskcon, the present managing committee, has thrust sannyasa upon him and in some uncareful moment he has accepted that. Then the sannyasa should not be continued–what Swami Maharaja has given, my gurudeva, I must stick to that. I inquired and found his son thinking like that. So, I told him the acaryas are mostly sannyasis, and anyway, once you have accepted sannyasa you should not go back formally. It was only an accidental fall; that is not everything. You must have courage. Your Guru Maharaja appointed you as a general to fight against maya, and you must not leave your position. To go back, that won’t look good. So I gave my opinion, that once sannyasa is accepted, you must retain it. Otherwise, it will give a bad name to Iskcon; that is, to your Guru Maharaja, Prabhupada. Then he agreed. I also had to convince his former wife, Manjuali. She is a good lady. She also told in the tapes what happened. And I asked her, “Did you come [to Krishna consciousness] before your marriage?” “Yes.” “You came to get the grace of Lord Krishna?” “Yes.” “Then you are to sacrifice for Swami Maharaja, you are to sacrifice your best beloved object for the cause of Krishna consciousness, I think. Visnupriya devi she left Mahaprabhu for the good of the public. And Krishna will look after you. You sacrifice, give him up for fighting. He is a general. One of the big generals, fighters in Krishna consciousness. I heard that he has a good name in his propagation. It must not be taken back.” In the beginning, of course, she wept, shed tears, but anyhow, she got encouragement through my words and advice. The boy also said yes-I also encouraged him and the mother. Finally they accepted my advice. Then I asked that Jayatirtha send a letter to his previous sannyasa guru Kirtanananda Maharaja stating that he has again taken up the sannyasa order given by him. Then I sent him to Katwa where Mahaprabhu took sannyasa. I sent him with Bhakti Caru Swami and Govinda Maharaja. After taking a bath in the Ganges, he again took his former sannyasa dress at the place where Mahaprabhu took his sannyasa. I tried my best to reinstate Jayatirtha Maharaja to the old role of a sannyasi to save the good name of Iskcon, and I also sent him to Katwa where Mahaprabhu himself took sannyasa, for his inspiration and impression that he can be firm in his future life. Afterwards he told,
“Yes, I have got the strength. As if I have gotten from Swami Maharaja, I have got sannyasa.” They asked me to touch the kaupina and the danda, and I did it. He said, “I have gotten strength from all those things, now I am strong.” That is one thing. I also asked him to give a letter to his sannyasa guru Kirtanananda saying that I am again coming back to the role that you have given me. Please accept. But Jayatirtha is a very frank man, not diplomatic. So, what he felt in himself, he gave vent to that [he glorified Srila Sridhara Maharaja], and that created the trouble. I wanted to avoid that.
Devotee: But already I spoke to him and he said that he won’t pursue that anymore. Just privately he’ll have some appreciation but not publicly.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: And publicly he is connected to Iskcon. And that is what I wanted. That would be a smooth activity with Iskcon in harmony. Things are going otherwise.
After Jayatirtha Maharaja was secretly sent to Sridhara Maharaja, he reemerged with the miraculous effect of his return to sanity. In fact, his enthusiasm took him on an expansive preaching tour in which he did not hold back from informing all of the greatness of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. This public acclaim for Sridhara Maharaja voiced by one of the society’s gurus was too much for the GBC to bear. In March 1982 the
GBC insisted that either Jayatirtha remove Sridhara Maharaja from his heart or leave Iskcon. He chose with dignity the latter. Yet the GBC could not even honor his nobility, what to speak of his spiritual principle of acceptance of a siksa guru, one whom they themselves had sent him to, one that Srila Prabhupada had introduced to the mission.
Rather than allow Jayatirtha to peacefully follow their own policy, upon his leaving the society the GBC mounted a campaign to expose his deviations to all the devotees from whom they themselves had been hiding them. They thus implied that they had rejected Jayatirtha, while Sridhara Maharaja had sheltered him, and in effect sanctioned his avaisnava habits, habits that he had, while under the shelter of Sridhara Maharaja, given up. The force of public embarrassment and crude exposure of his deviations to all of Jayatirtha’s disciples proved too much for Jayatirtha. He fell even from the association of Sridhara Maharaja. One wonders then to what extent the GBC is responsible for the untimely and disgraceful demise of Jayatirtha. Without dismissing his own deviations, there is certainly a shared responsibility for his sad story on the part of the GBC, for they failed to support him in a spiritual principle, that of taking shelter of a competent siksa guru. Instead, they tried their best to break his faith and that of his disciples. Such reprehensible action was characteristic of the GBC at that time.
Offenses against Srila Sridhara Maharaja increased exponentially. Rumors were circulated that Srila Sridhara Maharaja sanctioned the strange activities of Jayatirtha Maharaja, that he was trying to destroy Iskcon, and many more things. Derogatory publications of the GBC, such as Vaishnava Ke and Purity is the Force, were widely distributed in their vilification campaign. Sridhara Maharaja was labeled everything from a mayavadi to a sahajiya.