Our Affectionate Guardians, Chapter Six, Part Two

Chapter 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.

Read previous sections here.

A Fair Field Is Necessary

In March of 1981 Srila Sridhara Maharaja responded to the following question of a GBC guru:

Ramesvara Swami: So, I have some questions about the position of our gurus. Prabhupada named me also as one of the devotees who would begin initiating. So I have felt disturbed that the position of the gurus was raised above all of our godbrothers because of too much worship. It seems to me that many of my godbrothers, they are equal or even greater—they can give Prabhupada’s teachings just as well as anyone, but they are not named as gurus, so there seems to be too much difference between them and the gurus. So this has been a big disturbance to me.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That is a very serious question. They are making much of the position of the acarya. They are misusing the position according to him. [Trying to imitate Srila Prabhupada.] That is a very serious question and on that point I have given my opinion many times. In brief, a system should be created or arranged for proper adjustment. From the relative standpoint, the disciple will see his guru to be the best, and he will think that God has delegated him to come to me and to deliver me from the clutches of maya. He has some particular affinity there. And there are many acaryas, and what should be the behavior, the conduct of the disciples of different acaryas? How and what should be the behavior or conduct towards the non-acarya, godbothers of the acarya? That should be evolved.

If direction is not given by Swami Maharaja, there might be some signs, some hints. But if it is not found there, then we shall have to evolve some rules and regulations for a proper adjustment so that the mission may not suffer. Suffer from indifference or negligence or abhorrence of the non-acarya disciples of Swami Maharaja. As you say, there are more qualified disciples outside the acarya board, or GBC. It is not impossible, not impossible. So, we should sit together and try to see that valuable persons that came to serve Swami Maharaja with all their energy and sincerity will not go away. That would be very, very regrettable. We should try to save the mission from that great disaster. I hear that so many stalwarts are going away, becoming indifferent and going underground to the unknown quarter, depressed because they do not see a fair field. So these things should not be set aside but it must be taken in and they should be discussed. Some salient points, you should prepare a list of disadvantages, inconveniences. The disease has entered into Iskcon and how to treat it. This is our common cause, we are all interested in Iskcon, we are members, we have given our life, dedicated our life for this mission. We are interested and we don’t like that our godbrothers will go astray dissatisfied with the management. So try your best to evolve some rulings or some sort of laws, rules which should guide us all, help us all. At the same time, it will push the cause of the mission of Iskcon. As dynamic as it is accommodative, a comprehensive and dynamic mission we want to have.

We have a great field ahead. We must go to the length and the breadth of this world with the banner of our Guru Maharaja, your Guru Maharaja, and combined effort is necessary for that. We should collect all our energy, money, men, and we must go on with the banner of our Prabhupada. For this, unity and fairness in the field are necessary. This will strengthen the hearts of all the members of Iskcon. In this way, you may introduce your suggestions for reform—that such an accommodating and dynamic program we want to have, and without doing that, we won’t allow you to end your meeting. You must come to such a conclusion and give us such a program. Otherwise, we won’t allow you to go away from this matha. Make provision to feed all the members, such that all can be satisfied, have food, proper food. Everyone must have proper food to work on. Evolve such a program and give it to us. If you will consider yourself to be efficient, then give us this thing—that we can march on with the flag with our head erect. We have to go and capture the new, but the old is already going away. They are being driven away. The old, important members who received the grace of our Guru Maharaja, they are being discouraged and becoming indifferent, and we are going to recruit new persons? Is it not a farce? I am speaking a little strongly. But as a friend of your Guru Maharaja, I feel this in my heart, so I say, this worldwide grand mission will thrive like anything. It will touch the heaven and cover the world and other planets also. And what is this? That longtime devotees are leaving the mission? There may be one, a few exceptions, but generally people came with a good and sincere heart and they are feeling discouragement. Some encouraging program must be evolved, we want to have. So, let us evolve. Not just a formal meeting for two days, three days. But it must be a meeting to satisfy the real necessity of the day. That is a living committee, that we want. Living meeting we want. Not a formal meeting. After one year, a formal meeting and some resolutions passed, and everyone has gone to his own field and is doing as he likes.

Ramesvara Swami: I take it that Prabhupada is speaking to us through you.

The wisdom of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s advice is further shown in the following 1980 darsana. Hearing that many godbrothers were leaving Iskcon in frustration, unable to tolerate the mismanagement of Iskcon, Sridhara Maharaja advised non-GBC disciples of Srila Prabhupada not to be rash, but to “wait and see.” Further, he suggested that the godbrothers should “call for a meeting.” He proposed that at this meeting the grievances of the godbrothers be presented to the GBC and hopefully resolved. Excerpt from August 19, 1980 darsana:

Bhakti Caru Swami (Bengali): Maharaja, the main consideration is that many of Prabhupada’s disciples are leaving the movement. They are quite unable to tolerate all this nonsense anymore. The main reason we came is because there are many devotees, those who are impatiently waiting to hear what you have to say. Now, if you just show us the way. It has come to the point where unless some rectification is made, then they all will get together to do something about this.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: If I have to say something formally from outside, then I have to say that among you the person who enjoys the greatest confidence of all the devotees, through such a man you call for a meeting in America or wherever the field is the most important. And in that meeting, those who are willing to boldly face the situation participate, the GBCs, those who you feel are dissatisfied inwardly, call them and call a few acaryas who are sympathetic. And in the meeting, record the feeling of different devotees. Then, with the strength of that resolution, call for their explanation, asking, “What are you doing in the name of Prabhupada? You are not absolutely infallible. Due to your activities, the mass of the disciples of Prabhupada have become very bewildered. They are becoming very disappointed and they can see that a great loss is going to be incurred by the Iskcon society. The Iskcon society is in danger. So now, you all reconsider yourselves and appeal to them to readjust themselves, and thus this disaster can be saved.

“So many devotees are leaving the movement. So many devotees have become half-dead, and so many devotees have already died. So many are lamenting, and we cannot just sit idly without trying to rectify the situation. We ourselves do not want any position, but what is going on is intolerable. It shows that the major portion is going to die. This must be thought out and accepted.” So, with this idea, you form a committee, make a resolution, and then selectively invite people to come. In this way, you call for a meeting, pass a resolution, and then call for them and ask them to readjust their position and reconsider. Otherwise, we shall be in painful necessity to make progress independently. You can say this.

On another occasion, Srila Sridhara Maharaja gives further advice:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That will be fair for you, that you increase the number of designated gurus from those who are already empowered. Those who are empowered will extend their consideration, their scope. If you move in this way, it will have spiritual characteristic. It should be the duty of the godbrother not holding the position of acarya to show the disciples how to give special regard for their gurudeva. But, the acarya is obligated to teach the newcomers that they must respect his brother. Then only can it go in a harmonious way for some time. You have to show some respect. They also have received grace of my gurudeva. My gurudeva’s grace, if it is in me, it is in them also. So you must look at them with respect.

Bhakti Caru Swami: But these acaryas, they are not teaching their disciples to show respect to their godbrothers. Sometimes the opposite.

No, Only These Eleven Gurus

In March 1981 Srila Sridhara Maharaja was told that “guru extension” was to be voted upon in that year’s GBC meeting:

Devotee: In Srila Prabhupada’s last will he established the GBC as the supreme managing authority of Iskcon, but with the establishment of eleven spiritual masters the situation in the GBC has become that actually eleven people are making the decisions and not the full governing body. So the non-acarya section of the GBC is very discouraged and unable to fully execute their voice as GBC members.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: So, they are to take decision on that point in this meeting [1981 Mayapur GBC meeting], a very important meeting.

Sudhira Goswami: They will. Ramesvara Maharaja has proposed on this question of the extension of the acaryaship that the GBC come to take your advice.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: I told them right at the beginning [March 1978] that this should be made into a dynamic practice so that every year during Gaura Purnima some new gurus can be added. Then the other party, the non-initiating godbrothers, will have their confidence in the initiating godbrothers and give their support to them. Otherwise, if they maintain some rigid practice [not allow other godbrothers beyond the original eleven to become initiating gurus], then the relationship will be cracked. This was my suggestion but they did not care about that. Emphatically they said,

“No, only these eleven.”

Guru Non-extension: Injudicious, Unfortunate, and Faulty

At their annual Mayapur meeting in 1981, the GBC resolved that the number of initiating gurus would not be extended for an indefinite time period. After these GBC meetings, when Srila Sridhara Maharaja was queried on his opinion regarding the resolution not to expand the number of initiating gurus in Iskcon, Srila Sridhara Maharaja said:

Let us hope that their decision may help Iskcon, by the will of Krishna it may not bring any disaster to the organization. Let us hope and pray. Iskcon is a new-born child, a new-born child. There may be so many child-enemies, so we shall pray to the Lord that the child may grow to be a strong young man and do the desired service of its founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja. With good wishes we shall pray to him. It is a great campaign, the highest campaign the world has ever seen. Expansion of the creed of love of the Absolute in the religious sky. So its expansion, its happy movement is to be wished and prayed by all. Mahaprabhu’s grace may reach to every unknown corner of the world. And so many souls may receive that nectar. Hare Krishna.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja repeatedly suggested for many years that the number of initiating gurus be increased. The moratorium was lifted in March 1982, when three gurus were added. More gurus were not added again until three years later in 1985, when godbrothers finally insisted on meeting with the GBC. At this meeting, it was recognized that the grandeur and excessive worship of the present gurus must be reduced and a process for guru extension implemented, as suggested for the previous seven years by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. By this time, however, the fact that such prudent advice had been offered by Sridhara Maharaja was long forgotten, if ever known by the assembly of devotees. By this time, three years of vilification of Sridhara Maharaja had saturated the consciousness of every member of the society.

The GBC officially rejected Sridhara Maharaja in 1982. Events leading up to this brought out the following sentiments and instruction of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: My aspiration is unchanged in all these long years. I haven’t changed my position. So you may convey to them that I am not the man to fight with anyone. The fight will be one-sided.

Bhakti Caru Swami: They don’t want to listen, Maharaja. They don’t want to listen.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Then, they may go on in that way, but they will have to fight with their shadow. Isn’t it? If there’s no one to fight, then who will they shoot?

Bhakti Caru Swami: And the thing is, they are looking at the world, they’re looking at everybody as feeling the same way they are feeling. Atmavat manyate jagat. Since they want to take over the whole world.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, that is laudable. In the name of Swami Maharaja, let them capture the whole of the world. But at the same time, they should not banish the very Deity of their worship. If I see that they are deviating, my heart will ache. Cannot but ache. But they can’t see that they are deviating, that they are neglecting their own property, their own wealth. Swami Maharaja repeatedly requested, “I have taken them all, so many raw things [inexperienced and unqualified persons], you have to look after them.”

Bhakti Caru Swami: And I have been seeing that for the last four years Maharaja, you have been giving them a chance. You are always taking their side. You are trying to support them.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: As far as possible. As far as possible.

Bhakti Caru Swami: I remember in 1978, you wrote a letter to Tamala Krishna Maharaja, because Pradyumna and Yasodanandana Maharaja had so many complaints, and you wanted to consult with them before you gave your opinion.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: But after all, this is their finding [that they will not listen to Sridhara Maharaja’s advice]. I can’t help. What can I do? They should try by their combined effort to solve any problem facing their mission, and whenever they are facing any difficulty, they should refer to me. I am affectionate to them; they do not have to apprehend anything from me. I am eager to serve you, to help you, but not against the principle, that which I understand to be the truth. In that case, I would be a traitor to my own cause, to my own master.

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