Recognizing Sri Guru

g111aBy Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami

Devotees only have difficulty understanding how it is that someone can have two gurus 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 that the guru comes to impart to us, one will accept it, wherever it comes from. One 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 maya. 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.

We are infinitely indebted to all our gurus. We are helpless. What can we do? They are benevolent, they are infinitely gracious, they are our guardians. We may have many guardians; they are to look after our welfare, they have not come to destroy us.

How will we recognize the guru if he appears before us in another form or in a different body? Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya argued that Sri Caitanyadeva could not have been an incarnation. Gopinatha Acarya told him, “You do not know the sastra. ” “No, no,” Sarvabhauma said, “In the scriptures it is mentioned that God does not appear in Kali-yuga, but only in three ages and is therefore known as Triyuga.” Gopinatha Acarya replied, “You think that you know so much about sastra, but in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, there is direct mention of the avatara of Kali-yuga. Have you no knowledge, no recognition of that?” Then Sarvabhauma, apparently defeated, said, “You go and take prasadam, and afterwards come and teach me.” Then Gopinatha said, “Not by the dint of one’s study or intelligence can one understand God, but only through his grace.”1

Then Sarvabhauma said, “You say that you have that grace, and I do not? What is your reasoning behind this? You say that you have the grace of the Lord because you say that he is an incarnation. And because I can’t give recognition to that, I have no grace? What is the proof of this?” Then Gopinatha Acarya replied, “vastu-visaye haya vastu-jnana vastu-tattva-jnana haya krpate pramana (Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 6.89).” It is evident that I have the grace of the Lord, because I know him, and that you have not, because you deny Him. The answer to the question is given here. Our own inner experience, our internal satisfaction, our connection or acquaintance with reality is the real evidence; nothing external can give any real proof.

Our guru maharaja gave the example that if one is born in the darkness of a dungeon, and someone proposes “Let us go see the sun,” then the prisoner will carry a lantern in his hand saying “Oh, you will show me the sun?”

“Yes. Come with me. Leave your lantern behind. No light is necessary to see the sun.”

“Are you trying to fool me? Nothing can be seen without the help of a light.”

His friend will catch him and forcibly take the prisoner into the sunlight. “Do you see the sun?” And the prisoner will say, “Oh, this is the sun! By sunlight alone we can see the sun.” One will have that sort of experience when he comes in connection with the truth. Neither calculation, nor evidence, nor witness, but only direct experience is proof that Krishna is there, like the sun.

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is said, atma parijnanamayo : what to speak of Krishna, even the conscious unit is self effulgent. A certain section says, “There is God. Surely He exists.” Others say, “No, there is no God, He never existed.” This quarrel is useless; still it will continue. In a particular section this argument will have no end. Those who have no eyes will be unable to see the sun. They will say there is no sun (mattah para-nistat amsa-lokam). This misconception will continue for those who deny the existence of both the soul and the Supreme soul. For those who have direct experience, however, there is no question: it exists! But for the owl section who cannot admit the existence of the sun, the sun does not exist. It is something like that. Our own realization of a thing will be the greatest proof of its existence: vastu-tattva-jnana haya krpate.

One may be born blind, but if somehow or other his eyes are opened, he will be astonished to see the particular aspects of the environment. But if one has no vision, he can see no color or figure. Those who have vision will feel, “How can I deny the fact? I have seen it. I am feeling it, it is so magnanimous, so great and so benevolent, I can’t deny all these things. You are unfortunate; you cannot see.” Some see, some cannot see. In the same place, one can see, another cannot. Those to whom Krishna wishes to reveal himself can see him; others cannot.

  1. SB 10.14.29 []

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47 Responses to Recognizing Sri Guru

  1. I think more articles from Shri Guru and His Grace would be very appropriate and helpful. I know a number of devotees that are much more intelligent than I am who can’t understand how someone could have 2 gurus. There is a mood that if a Prabhupada disciple has another shiksha guru that he is somehow minimizing Prabhupada. Another Prabhupada disciple I know really likes a certain devotee, but he is very clear that this devotee is NOT his guru, as if there was something wrong with this. The idea of “guru-tattva” or the conclusive knowledge about Shri Guru, seems to be very hard for devotees to fathom who have a certain fundamentalist orientation, even if in other ways they may be open and broad-minded, and have interfaith dialogs with other religions etc.

    • I know a number of devotees that are much more intelligent than I am who can’t understand how someone could have 2 gurus.

      The two–intelligence and the ability to see essential truths of bhakti–have very little to do with one another.

      The idea of “guru-tattva” or the conclusive knowledge about Shri Guru, seems to be very hard for devotees to fathom who have a certain fundamentalist orientation, even if in other ways they may be open and broad-minded, and have interfaith dialogs with other religions etc.

      If by fundamentalist orientation you mean the attitude that “MY guru is the best guru” then I agree. When practitioners have a lack of understanding of how the diksa- and siksa-guru relates to guru-tattva then the inability you mentioned arises. The tendency to only be able to relate to one’s own diksa guru as representative of divinity and to distrust the teachings when heard from another merely shows one’s own lack of depth in understanding the philosophy. Without grounding in sambandha-jnana then we’re pretty much sure to have skewed vision on many things. At the end of the day, though, the inability to fathom guru-tattva stems from a weakness of faith (komala-sraddha), for which the best remedy is sadhu-sanga.

  2. Certainly it is true that intelligence and faith aren’t necessarily related. That is why I brought this up. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising to me, yet it is emotionally. As I mentioned, it is a strange thing how people can be broadminded in certain areas and very narrow in others. This devotee seems to have a good grasp of Krishna consciousness in other ways, yet has a blind spot regarding certain devotees outside his guru’s mission.

    • I think we should remember that most devotees are conditioned very strongly to accept only Srila Prabhupada and the gurus approved by ISKCON. I have to admit I also had this attitude for many, many years. It was how I was trained and took me quite a while to break free from (with much help from some very dear friends). As a fresh young bhakta I was told over and over again for decades that I should never hear, associate with, or accept any guru outside of ISKCON, nor associate with any devotees who do. I followed that instruction innocently but rigidly for many years. Nowadays, devotees are furthermore required to take a solemn vow to this effect at the time of initiation. So we shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a long time for most devotees to mature to the point where they can appreciate and learn from gurus or senior devotees belonging to other Gaudiya Vaishnava missions.

      • What you describe here is true and very unfortunate. This line of “preaching” can certainly develop negative samskaras, which can ultimately lead to vaisnava aparadha. Very dangerous.

        Such ideas impressed upon innocent devotees, may render them incapable or at the very least extensively delayed in seeking sadhu sanga which is the remedy for correcting such misconceptions.

      • This exclusivism that “only ISKCON is right” seems to spread on the wider public as well.

        I once witnessed this event in a central-European town: Three or four men, European by race, aged somewhere between 20 and 35, dressed in white Vaishnava-looking clothes with saffron scarves, with sikhas, were dancing and chanting Hare Krishna through the town, with karatals and mrdangas. They were quite loud, too, and it was around noon.

        The people in the street stopped and watched, and someone remarked “These are not the right ones.”

      • Nice comment. Yes, sectarianism is a great enemy on this line. However, it’s not just ISKCON. Party spirit fanaticism or amara guru jagat guru mentality is a basic symptom of the conditioned soul. Over the years, in the course of research work for articles in our Krishna Kathamrita magazine, aside from ISKCON, I’ve visited scores of mathas and ashrams affiliated with various branches of the Gaudiya Math, seminal Goswamis, and babajis, ect. Nearly everyone of them subtly or (usually) grossly promotes their line and their current acarya as the only bona fide one.

        Bhaktivinode’s description of this obstacle in Caitanya-siksamrita is sobering:

        To be controlled by prejudice causes many problems. From prejudice arises partiality; from partiality comes disrespect for truth.

        Wearing the signs of the vaisnava is one of the methods of cultivating devotion, involving the body. But to think that that is the distinguishing characteristic of a vaisnava is a prejudice arising from sectarianism. Controlled by such false beliefs, a person may not respect a real vaisnava who is not wearing those marks. If a devotee has such prejudice and he cannot find good association within his own organization, he will not venture to find good association elsewhere. Since nothing can be accomplished without good association, such a devotee falls into a dangerous position.

        Statements like “ISKCON is this” or “The Gaudiya Math is …” or “those rascal babajis …” have no relevance to the spirit soul and are simply another form of sectarianism.

        I like to associate with broad minded persons. I don’t care what religious organization they are affiliated with. Be they Christian, Muslim, ISKCON, babaji, or whatever, I look for what I consider to be quality people.

        Externally, Bhishma was a member of Duryodhana’s entourage. But we don’t see him like that.

        Although my personal official affiliation and support is with ISKCON, so far I haven’t experienced kaivalya mukti and merged with that organization (although there are some people in every group who try to do so).

        I’m not ISKCON, I’m the soul. And I like to be treated that way. 🙂

        Nice discussion thank you.

    • This devotee seems to have a good grasp of Krishna consciousness in other ways, yet has a blind spot regarding certain devotees outside his guru’s mission.

      Srila Sridhara Maharaja addressed this nicely in the first line of the article: “. . . when they enter into substantial spiritual realization, they will not have such a grievance because they will see what is guru.” If a devotee has the blind spot you mention that is cause to question just how much of a grasp on the rest of the siddhanta he or she has.

    • I had a similar problem. I was friends with this broad minded devotee for 3-4 years and as soon as she knew about my association with a guru outside ISKCON, she stopped communicating. I don’t think it is possible to rectify it now, given that people have to vow for loyalty to institution(indirectly the GBC decision) as part of their initiation. So as the GBC has already made up their mind on the issue of siksa guru, there is no possibility of reform now.

    • I think it sometimes has to do with some emotional issues that people seem narrow-minded regarding the number of those they take instruction from; and also that this is sometimes a more general issue, not specifically pertaining to a spiritual organization.

      For one, it can feel like cheating to move from one instructor to another. Especially if the various instructors are not made aware that the instruction-seeker is doing so, or are not synchronized.
      There is something unspeakable about trying to say to your instructor something to the effect of “Oh, you know, this other person, I think he is really knowledgeable and I am going to ask him some questions too, not just you. I expect you’ll be allright with that.”
      On the other hand, not telling your instructor that you are also seeking instruction from others (who are in the same field, regarding the same issues), comes with a burden of secrecy.

      This is something I myself am experiencing right now. I have become so emotionally attached and dependent on my instructor that I feel like I am cheating if I do anything on my own without his approval, I even feel reluctant to listen to or read the materials he suggests to me. He never pushed me into that, he even directly told me to also speak to others.
      I feel like I am in an emotional block, and I am just realizing that it has become detrimental to me. I have even come so far as to neglect the instructions he has been giving me.

      Secondly, I think there is a perfectly valid concern that by switching between instructors, one will become a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none.

      I can imagine that once someone is very advanced on the spiritual path, they are beyond such emotional blocks, commitment issues and legitimate concerns about efficiency.
      But until such a time, I think it might be best for many people to carefully choose one source of instruction and keep to it in order to benefit from it the most.

      • There is some truth to that. Initially only one guru is followed or else one may get confused with the instructions.
        But the selection of the guru should be done out of free flow of faith and not blocked by institutional legislation. Spiritual life is voluntary; it is not a compulsion for anybody.

      • Baker, you write:

        I can imagine that once someone is very advanced on the spiritual path, they are beyond such emotional blocks, commitment issues and legitimate concerns about efficiency. But until such a time, I think it might be best for many people to carefully choose one source of instruction and keep to it in order to benefit from it the most.

        I think that it is clear form the article that while this position/policy may be necessary for neophytes, it is a kanistha conception of guru tattva. While we should honor the limited realization of guru tattva on the part of kanisthas and engage them accordingly, it is important that a kanistha conception of guru tattva does not come to be accepted for something other than what it is, and certainly not such that it fights militantly against a higher conception of guru tattva because then it shoots itself in the foot.

        This article form the Harmonist may be helpful to read

  3. If your guru is not teaching you that you can have two gurus, how are you supposed to come to this realization? Disciples for the most part simply reflect the tendencies and understanding that their guru promotes.

    • The philosophy is there also. The first line of the Cc says it: vande gurun isa bhaktan. . . “Pranama unto all my gurus,” clearly indicating a plurality.

      But I think ultimately that’s not the point, because there are gurus who do teach the proper siddhanta. Then the question becomes “Upon hearing that one can have two gurus, how does one respond to this information?”

  4. It has come to my attention that there are devotees who are serving in ISKCON, but who also seek spiritual guidance outside of ISKCON. As far as I know, there is a GBC decision, saying that anyone seeking siksa outside ISKCON must leave ISKCON.
    How do these devotees deal with this?

    • You should protest against this mentality and change the institution by staying in the system. In the extreme case you may have to leave the institution in order to force them to change. If reasonable and open minded people leave the institution then it will be dead anyway,

      • I have to disagree with your first statement. Although it sometimes sounds unpalatable, the goal of our spiritual life is to become spiritually enlightened, ourselves. Helping others is of course a great way to do this, but it is not all that is needed. One’s staying or leaving an institution should not only revolve around changing the institution. You have yourself to change too. It is not that one should only leave a given group out of extreme negative impetus, sometimes extreme positive impetus calls us elsewhere.

        I think there can also be a tendency for people to remain in their group in the name of changing it but actually they simply are not ready to make the leap. Sometimes you have to apparently go away in order to really help.

        • I think the dynamic idea of guru parampara will be needed to ease the burden of fanaticism from this earth, atleast for the next 10,000 years.

  5. Here is a Sanga from Swami Tripurari on the subject of seeking spiritual guidance outside Iskcon.

    Never Leave Iskcon

  6. The traditions emphasizing personalism tend to concentrate on individual gurus, sometimes leading to personality cultism. These traditions rarely speak about the ekanda guru tattva (Guru is one) and do not mention important Vedic references in that regard such as Guru Gita from Skanda Purana.

    • A good example in our times of an impersonal sect that emphasizes the Guru-gita is Siddha Yoga, founded by Swami Muktananda. It would be hard to find a sect more personality centered around the guru. In similar monistic traditions the guru is entirely identified with God, and this lends more naturally to the problem you seek to address. In Vaisnavism there is an equal emphasis on the difference between God and guru. So if properly understood, the latter would seem to be better equipped to avoid this problem of degradation into a personality cult.

      • Good point Maharaja… the temptation to become the center of everything is universal, so is the tendency of the followers to deify their leader.

        • Yes, at the same time the guru in the Gaudiya tradition becomes more important than God because raga bhakti is about following in the wake of one of the Vraja bhavas. Love of Krsna is the focus, and this love is embodied in sri guru. Anything can be misrepresented, but this does not change the fact that raga bhakti is even more of a descending path, if you will, than vaidhi-bhakti, what to speak of actual technical processes such as yoga, which also depend upon some bhakti descending to be fruitful. One cannot ascend to Vraja loka by any process other than the process of taking shelter of a raga bhakta. Raga bhakti, however immature in its unfolding, is not based on a sense of urgency to remedy a problem, but rather on attachment to a raga bhakta and the ideal of Vraja-bhava. In the raga magra we advance not by vairagya or even our own effort, but rather by sanga. Make the effort for sadhu sanga, and at the end of the day real sadhus in some cases may not even appear reasonable by worldly standards.

  7. I fail to see what exactly is wrong with ISKCON’s position. Although I don’t know their exact reasoning behind their exclusivism, I can think of some practical reasons why it is good to have a position like they do.

    To use an analogy: When one applies for a college course, it is for the purpose of getting a degree from that college. So it only makes sense to keep to the course as prescribed by the college – to complete the assignments, exams etc. and also in the given time.

    From the college’s perspective, the point of taking a course at college is not to have a good time (of one kind or another) while at college, although some people go to college more to have a good time than they go there to get a degree.

    The college as an institution that provides education also doesn’t consider it wise to encourage its students to roam around to other colleges and other sources of education which have not been approved by the college. If students do that, the college cannot vouch or be held responsible to give them the education it promised to give them.

    And if one wants more than the college promises to give – then why hold it against it that it doesn’t?

    Then there are also practical issus of finances. A college couldn’t function if people signed up for a course, payed tuition only for the courses they personally like – but wanted to get the full degree anyway.

    In my estimation, religious institutions are similar to college institutions. I see nothing wrong or problematic with that.

    • But spiritual life is more an affair of the heart than it is an institution and one must follow one’s heart. So at Least the institution should recognize this and honor the hearts of its members. That may mean telling the student that if he or she is to follow their heart that they will have to leave the institution to study under the professor of their heart, but such instruction should be done with well wishing and respect for the students heart and his or her teacher outside of the institution, and with an open invitation to visit whenever one can. Such a policy might also include hosting visiting professors from time to time, especially if they did their undergraduate work there themselves.

      • What do you mean by “heart”? I don’t mean to be thick-headed, but I really don’t understand what people mean when they say “follow your heart”. I have always had problems with this phrasing.

        Thank you for your reply.

        • Your inspiration. The person whose example and teaching resonates with your heart’s aspiration and articulates better than you can yourself such that you feel that you must follow him.

        • I haven’t experienced such inspiration yet. I approach spirituality out of a sense of urgency and need, not out of liking or inspiration.
          I think I have more faith in the processes than I do in the people who propose to represent the processes.

  8. Gaura-Vijaya das

    There is certainly some protectionism required to be followed in college, but you do graduate from the college eventually and are free to roam around afterwards. Still you are in the good books of the college as college alumini is essential for current students job prospects, buildings, etc. But in the case of the spiritual organization, you never can graduate from the institution as they will never allow you to. I have been in two top schools(IIT and Georgia Tech), but there is no law in my school which prevents me to listen to lectures by MIT or Berkeley professors. I do listen to them and sometimes those lectures clarify my concepts better than professors here. Also MIT professors are invited to Georgia Tech for giving a talk too; they are not banned here. Does that happen with this organization? Can people from outside give a talk there? No, it is banned. This scenario where the institution respects good instruction from outside and does not take as a threat is needed.

    So you are comparing apples and oranges by comparing this institution to a college institution.

    • It is in Georgia Tech’s, MIT’s etc. interest to have some academic exchanges, because of the nature of the subjects of study and research, so they approve and facilitate such exchanges.
      Still, these are separate institutions.

      But for a spiritual/religious organization to invite exchanges with others would be tantamount to undermining its own authority on the subject it is supposed to have. Like saying “We here at ISKCON can’t teach and provide everything that is necessary to reach the highest perfection of spiritual life, so we and you need to look outside.”

      Apart from Spiritual Universalists and other ecclectic paths, I don’t know of any spiritual/religious organization that would seriously consider the input from other spiritual/religious organizations.

      This is where the analogy of college breaks down: because the topic of what is necessary to reach the highest perfection of spiritual life is of a different order than the subjects studied and researched at regular colleges.

      From “Elevation to Krishna Consciousness”:
      “The Vedic process does not involve researchwork. In mundane scholarship, we have to show our academic learning by some research, but the Vedic process is different. In the Vedic process the research work is already done; it is complete, and it is simply handed down by disciplic succession from teacher to student. There is no question of research work because the instruments and the means with which one conducts such research work are blunt and imperfect.”

      • P.S.
        I am not arguing for ISKCON here. I am currently finding myself somewhere inbetween, I haven’t decided yet what path exactly to follow, and so I’d like to look into the various pros and cons.

      • Gaura-Vijaya das

        I broke down your analogy. I never said the two situations were similar; you only made the analogy and now disproved it yourself.

        • I don’t see how I disproved it?

          The fact is that colleges, just like spiritual/religious institutions, have their goals and standards, and they don’t associate with just anyone or just any other institution, only those they approve of or have some interest in. And they do so on their own terms.
          For example, one doesn’t get to give a guest lecture at MIT just because one wants to.

        • One would think that a Gaudiya institution would be interested in and respectful of other similar Gaudiya institutions. If a Gaudiya institution is not interested in or respectful of another Gaudiya institution, there should be sound philosophical and theological reasons for this and not merely a sectarian policy based upon misunderstandings of the siddhanta. The article being discussed speaks of the importance of coming to a progressive understanding of guru tattva—to acknowledge a plurality of Gaudiya gurus crossing sectarian lines, which can be done form an institutional standpoint in the manner I suggested earlier. For example, Prabhupada invited Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja to give lectures in Iskcon, and when one of Prabhupada’s nama initiates found more inspiration in B.D. Madhava Maharaja, Prabhupada sent him to serve under Madhava Maharaja in his mission.

          But overall spiritual life is not about institutions and thus institutions that are formed to foster spiritual life must be careful not to allow institutional policies to stifle the free flow faith. After all, it is Krsna that guides us to our sat-guru.

        • My experience with various Gaudiya maths and temples is similar to what Baker is saying; it’s very rare for “outside” sadhus to be invited to come and speak at a center belonging to a different group. Almost all Vaishnavas seem to value the principle of one-pointedness. Although it sounds nice and broadminded, in practice hearing from a number of persons who have different moods and understandings can be confusing, especially for neophytes.

          Again, it’s not appropriate to just bang ISKCON, or “IGM” (ISKCON-Gaudiya Math) for behaving like this. It’s a common and understandable type of behavior that takes place all over — including among the babaji lines.

          Nor is it a new attitude. In our magazine on Putana we wrote the following short article, which substantiates “Ancientmariner’s” comment:
          Party Spirit Amongst Vaishnavas

          Some persons think that quarrel and party spirit amongst the vaisnavas is a new development. However, considering the following statement written in 1874 by F.S. Growse, an Englishman who served the British government in the mid-1800s as the magistrate and collector for the area of Mathura, it seems to be an old problem. While staying in Mathura, Mr. Growse fluently learned several languages, including Sanskrit and the local Vraja-bhasa. His “Mathura — A District Memoir”, contains many in-depth, sympathetic and fascinating descriptions of the Gaudiya Vaishnava temples, literature and culture in the Vraja area. Observing the vaisnavas in Vrindavan, Mr Growse wrote:

          … precisely as in Europe, so in India, no two men of the reformed sects, however immaterial their doctrinal differences, can be induced to amalgamate; each forms a new caste more bigoted and exclusive than any of those which it was intended to supersede, while the founder has become a deified character, for whom it is necessary to erect a new niche in the very Pantheon he had labored to destroy. The only point upon which all of the vaisnava sects theoretically agree is the reverence with which they profess to regard the Bhagavad-gita as the authoritative exposition of their creed. — “Mathura — A District Memoir”. Page 191.

        • I am sorry but when “one pointedness” turns into unhealthy sectarianism it fosters Vaisnava aparadha. You cite an article by an outside observer critiquing sectarianism and then seem promote it as one pointedness when you say

          Although it sounds nice and broadminded, in practice hearing from a number of persons who have different moods and understandings can be confusing, especially for neophytes.

          In think the point here in the article is to find a happy and healthy balance such that the entire Guadiya world will not only appear less ridiculous in its strident sectarianism (in the name of one pointedness or whatever else one might call it) in the eyes of the public and such that various sects can exist harmoniously enough to benefit from the association of one another at least on occasion. We do not find this kind of sectarianism in the early history of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, where even lineages focused on different bhavas existed harmoniously, not only Gaudiya lineages of sakhya and madhurya bhava, but the Gaudiya lineage and Vallabha’s pusti marg and demonstrated in Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu. Again, the point is that there is an ideal to strive for and it is a broadminded one. After all it is weak faith that requires an enemy.

          And as far as I can tell it has been Iskcon members who have brought up their institution in the discussion, which obviously is not related to them alone. So you may be a little over sensitive in your reminders to include other institutions.

      • Baker, you write:

        But for a spiritual/religious organization to invite exchanges with others would be tantamount to undermining its own authority on the subject it is supposed to have. Like saying “We here at ISKCON can’t teach and provide everything that is necessary to reach the highest perfection of spiritual life, so we and you need to look outside.”

        I think the above statement represents a misunderstanding of what spiritual exchanges between devotees who may be affiliated with different institutions constitutes. First of all no one knows everything there is to know about God and this is even more so when we discuss Krishna. Indeed, he struggles to know himself, as his Gaura-lila reveals. Spiritual exchanges involve hearing from other devotees of their realizations about the multi faceted jewel of Syamasundara. We invite others to share their realizations about Radha Krsna with our students not because we don’t have sufficient realization to inspire our students ourselves, but because we know that other’s realizations are also valid and worthy of consideration, if not beautiful and insightful in an of themselves. Even if we are cultivating sringara rasa it would be interesting in the least, if not charming and beautiful to hear a sadhu speak about our object of love form, say, the perspective of sakhya rasa on occasion. After all, these two are favorable to one another and ultimately exist in conjunction with one another.

        Really what you have written above in a broader sense dismisses all interfaith dialogue and sounds thus extremely insular and sectarian.

        • Gaura-Vijaya das

          ISKCON was not specifically mentioned till the members of the institution themselves perceived that there is a problem with that institution. The article talks of a greater problem that can occur with any institution.

        • Extremely insular and sectarian or not, kanisthas or not, there are practical considerations that need to be attended to.

          There are temples and other buildings to be maintained, bills to be payed, programs funded. And how is this supposed to be done if devotees are not exclusively committed to one institution?

          People who are interested in spirituality sometimes overlook that in order to foster spirituality, a gross material foundation is necessary.

          Spiritual exchanges are nice, but if one has no actual buildings in which these exchanges are to take place …

          Nowadays, especially in the West, costs are exorbitant. Many devotees don’t earn a lot of money to begin with, and there aren’t all that many George Harrison’s either to single-handledly provide large sums of money and property.

          The internet seemingly makes many things easy – but when the power runs out or we lose internet access, what will we do? And how good and inspiring is internet associacion anyway …

          Trying to physically maintain the infrastructure necessary to foster spiritual life costs money, nowadays, it costs a lot of money. And this brings about many consequences that certainly appear crude, sectarian, exclusivist.

          From this practical perspective, I can understand how spiritual/religious organizations behave in ways that many people find reprehensible and contrary to true spirituality.

        • Baker,

          You ask,

          There are temples and other buildings to be maintained, bills to be payed, programs funded. And how is this supposed to be done if devotees are not exclusively committed to one institution?

          But I would expect that devotees of an particular institution would be exclusively dedicated to it. That goes without saying. But one can do that and still honor other Vaishnavas in other Vaishnava institutions, read their books, and learn from them at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. And if some in a particular institution becomes attracted to another guru by God’s arrangement, we should honor his or her faith, even if that means that such a devotee ends up going to learn form and serve that Vaisnava. As I mentioned, Srila Prabhupada himself set this example, and as long as the spiritual leadership of the institution is strong, such would be a rare occasion.

  9. One thing I have learned after many years of trying to study Vaisnavism is that there seem to be almost as many divisions within it as there is in Christianity. It is no wonder because the Vedas are often a jumbled mess of contradictions but the avadutas are the saving grace of the Vedas in my opinion. The avadutas make all the contradictions and priestly warfare make sense in the end.

  10. My point was a philosophical one and not just about ISKCON. I only mentioned ISKCON because the two previous commenter’s brought it up. But thank you for the caution about being overly sensitive, that can also be another cause of divisiveness.

    I should have been more clear with my comments about one-pointedness and sectarianism. It was not my intention to to cite Mr Growse’s observations as one-pointedness. I only meant to show that divisions amongst the Vaishnavas have been there for at least a few hundred years.

    As far as being one-pointed, while there are some Vaishnava sangas who sometimes have outside speakers, I’m not aware of any teachers that encourage their disciples to idly go here and there to listen to various sadhus and acaryas. That is what I meant by one-pointedness. Such an ekantik attitude seems natural and beneficial and does not necessarily promote sectarianism.

    I applaud the call for unity amongst the followers of Mahaprabhu. That is one of the things that attracted to me to this discussion.

    Your following comment resonated in my heart Maharaja:

    But overall spiritual life is not about institutions and thus institutions that are formed to foster spiritual life must be careful not to allow institutional policies to stifle the free flow faith. After all, it is Krsna that guides us to our sat-guru.

  11. Gaura-Vijaya das

    This is an interesting article about different types of institutionalizations, since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

  12. My experience with inter-Gaudiya relationships is a little different from yours, Madhavananda Prabhu. When staying at Bon Maharaja’s ashram in Vrindavan, I observed several of the brahmacaris go to study the Bhagavatam from a non-IGM pandit on a daily basis. Whenever there was a festival at one Gaudiya Math, the ashramites of almost all other Gaudiya Maths would be invited, and the senior sannyasis would be asked to talk. Expert cooks or kirtaniyas could also be “borrowed” on special occations. Everybody had friends in other Maths, and if someone ran into problems with the authorities in their own Math, they could just move into another one. There was a real feeling of all the Gaudiya Mathas belong to one family. At the same time, many of these devotees at Bon Maharaja’s ashram also had a strong feel about the glories of their own preceptorial line, and made sure to follow their own particular way of offering arati and so on.

    • Thanks for sharing your positive experience Bhrigupad Prabhu. I’ve mostly been warmly welcome at the various Gaudiya Maths I’ve visited. There are four or five different ones that I sometimes stay at in Puri for example.

      I also had some nice experiences travelling with my Guru Maharaja and mixing with devotees in other sangas. Amongst others, Tripurari Maharaja gave us a warm welcome at his ashram in Oregon in 1993 (or 94?).

      I’ve visited Bon Maharaja’s ashram a few times but never stayed there. I know several senior devotees who speak highly of his kindness.

      In our small ashram for Gopal Jiu Publicationshere in Bhubaneswar we have had the good fortune of hosting a few different Vaishnavas from various sangas, and hope to have more. It’s always been a happy experience for us.

  13. I am often amused when very intelligent spiritualists have a philosophical discussion when what they need to be having is a realization of the political and economic reality.

    ISKCON is the big cheese of GV in the world right now. It has a larger ‘share’ of the market of spiritualists among Gaudia Vaishnavas. Economically, it has temples and the hearts and minds of big donors. When it is enjoying such resources, why would it just give up its monopoly on the ‘Hare Krishna’ image to others who don’t dance by (under) its tune?
    ISKCON’s leaders may be well-intentioned people. But to think that they don’t have economic and political considerations in deciding the alliances they want to make with other Gaudia Vaishnava organizations is naive. Infact, as good leaders with discrimination, they are wise to take the stance that they have. It may not be philosophically sanctioned. But so what? Who said that ISKCON runs on pure spirituality? ISKCON leaders need to take all kinds of economic and political considerations to run its institution, not just ‘philosophical accuracy.’ After all, they are operating a non-profit religious organization in the material world. They need to take the practicallities into consideration.

    What ISKCON is doing is not unique. The Catholic Church takes a very similar stance. The operative word is ‘monopoly.’ How does one have an economic or political monopoly? Well, one needs an ‘exclusive resource’ that no one else has. In the case of Christianity, that exclusive resource is Jesus. If anyone forgot, ‘Jesus is the Truth and the light and NO ONE shall reach God’s grace apart from surrendering unto him.’ This notion gives Christians the monopoly that they need so that all arguments end there. One cannot have a philosophical discussion beyond that point. Why? Because, they don’t want to have a philosophical discussion. They want to have a monopoly.
    It is foolish to have a philosophical, give and take discussion, with those who only wish to convince others about why their monopoly should be accepted and have no intention of being open to take. That is why it is often futile to have a discussion with Born-Again Christians.

    Similarily, it is futile to have a philosophical discussion about why ISKCON is not more flexible. Having a discussion about this with ISKCON leaders is like explaining the glories of the Holy Name to the faithless. It is like throwing pearls before swine.

    Christianities exclusive resource that gives them a political and economic monopoly is Jesus being the only gateway to God. ISKCON leader’s exclusive resource is Srila Prabhupada giving birth to ISKCON.

    Friendships and political/economic alliances happens among equals. I guarantee you that if ISKCON leaders saw another Gaudia Vaishnava organization come up that challenged them economically or politically to the point of making them the ‘smaller cheese’ their doctrines would change accordingly.

    In economics we learn that competition is good for the market. When there are options out there, the consumer gets a better product because the different firms compete. The same goes for spiritual organizations. I say that the presence of the different GV organizations gives the average consumer in the world more variety and a higher quality GV experience. If my history is correct, there were a lot more abuses of religion when the Catholic Church was the exclusive distributer of Christianity.
    Why should we expect differently from ISKCON?

    Let us look at the situation politically. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was the only super-power. To draw a parallel, ISKCON is the super-power of Gaudia Vaishnavism in the world today.
    So how did the other powers deal with this? Well, there were many prosperous European countries, but their collective power was not a lot because they were not all on the same page. There was no synergy between them. So, the European countries created the European Union. Today, the Euro, the currency of the European Union, is valued higher than the U.S dollar. The European Union is a force to be reckoned with. When the European Union talks, the United States listens.

    The same goes for the different Gaudia Vaishnava organizations. Like the European countries, they need to need to come to terms of the reality of their positions and strategically form an alliance with each other. Call it the ‘League of Devotees’ or whatever. If it is a force to be reckoned with, I have a strong feeling that a lot of ISKCON GBC’s absolute doctrines will start to become a lot more flexible.

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