Do I believe in Srila Prabhupada?

A question I often get asked is, "Do you still believe in Srila Prabhupada?" Or some variation of this question. This was most recently asked by someone who had just read the article About Jagat, where I have tried to summarize the major events in my life.

This question often puts me off my guard a little, as I suspect that the questioner has a very naive understanding of guru-tattva or is out to entrap me by getting me to submit to a kind of loyalty test.

To make a succinct statement, I will just paraphrase what I wrote yesterday in my article Anti-intellectualism and Anti-Semitism join forces in the Krishna consciousness movement:

I have been out of ISKCON for more than 30 years and have developed a way of thinking that I see as being at least three steps removed from it as a result of my contacts with (1) traditional orthodox Gaudiya and rasika Vrindavan Vaishnavism; (2) with Sahajiya Vaishnavism; and (3) with the Western academic study of religion, all three of which have altered my understanding of spiritual life considerably. But none of these influences has altered my self-identification as a Vaishnava for which I pay my undying obeisance of gratitude to Srila Prabhupada.

Perhaps this will satisfy my questioner. But what does "believing in Srila Prabhupada" mean? Judging by the kinds of rigid ideas that some Prabhupadanugas have, you practically have to live in a mental straightjacket to "believe in Srila Prabhupada." And I once again point to the above article.

What I believe is that the gurus give us their ucchishta, their remnants. They set us on the road to discovery, but they can never answer all our questions. Most of the time, our questions don't come until long after they are gone.

For each disciple, according to their understanding, the guru's remnants are different. Just as on the guru's plate, there may be rice, chapati or sabji or something else remaining, so different disciples see a particular aspect of the guru's mission as being their own field of work, the area in which they can complete the work of the spiritual master.

This means that for some, who are actively inclined, the mission is to spread the message as they have received it, without any changes, without any question, and through the implicit faith that they have in the guru and the tradition, to bring Krishna consciousness to those who have never heard the message.

For others it may be an attempt to rigidify the guru's tradition and to be absolutely faithful to the letter of the guru's law.

For others, the goal might be to try to go deeper into understanding the message, into clarifying what is there, into validating logically and experientially the essence of the tradition and teaching.

For me, the guru's remnants has meant that we have to really find out the answers in this way – through combined study and practice -- in order to keep the tradition alive, to make it meaningful.

Therefore I feel that simply lip service to Srila Prabhupada becomes "idol worship" in the true sense. Everyone is held to a standard of faithfulness toward a figure from the past. People who can claim they were personal servants, or who have some "Prabhupada nectar" to tell, are exalted above all others.

Prabhupadanugas spend all their time knocking ISKCON for not following Prabhupada faithfully and spend all their time condemning innovations or for "thinking themselves to be equal to or better than Srila Prabhupada."

In my opinion, this is all idolatry and saps the very life out of Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness, as Bhaktivinoda Thakur said, is progressive. That means that as human understanding and experience expand, our understanding of religious and spiritual phenomena can also expand. We have more tools for understanding spirituality, mythology, ritual and religious practice today than we did a century or five centuries ago.

But this does not mean, as Bhaktivinoda Thakur so correctly pointed out, that we deny the legacy of the past. As Newton said, "If I saw far, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

Somehow, our task is to combine the experience and insights of the past with the experiences and insights of the present. Putting old wine into new bottles means this. It means repackaging the essence of spiritual practice into terms that modern man can understand and find meaningful. Without this, faithfulness to a mythology or to a tradition becomes artificial and dry, an empty shell. Strangely enough, we end up with an old bottle and no wine.

We live in a different world from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and even from the world of the 60's when Srila Prabhupada started his teaching. We must recognize the particular world we live in and bring Krishna consciousness alive in that world.

You cannot simply promote escapism and denial of the world we live in. Mere promotion of a return to some imaginary "Vedic culture" is a pipe dream that has failed several times. Unless we reimagine these things according to modern sensibilities, there is no way that we can make Krishna consciousness real for the people of today.

But let me make it perfectly clear that Srila Prabhupada set into motion something that appears to be very powerful, and despite all the negative things that have happened, a wide variety of manifestations of the bhakti movement appear to be growing in many parts of the world. I recognize that all these manifestations have their value and purpose, even those I oppose.

So I am happy to be a part of this world-wide phenomenon and recognize with gratitude my debt to him as the original source of what has become my own life's central theme.

evaṁ janaṁ nipatitaṁ prabhavāhi-kūpe
kāmābhikāmam anu yaḥ prapatan prasaṅgāt |
kṛtvātmasāt surarṣiṇā bhagavan gṛhītaḥ
so’haṁ kathaṁ nu visṛje tava bhṛtya-sevām ||

I was fallen into the darkened well of material life, where I was engaged in seeking sense enjoyment after sense enjoyment in bad association. The rishi of the gods, Narada, took me, O Lord, and made me his own. So how could I ever abandon the service of your servant? (Prahlad to Nrisingha, 7.9.28)
Truly, everything I do is a service to Srila Prabhupada and not a day goes by when I do not remember him. And, as I tried to show in my "About Jagat" article, I also feel that everything that has happened to me since his departure, beginning with my going to Lalita Prasad Thakur, was also by his grace -- even when it appeared to be against his written or spoken instructions.

And though I believe in each manifestation of the guru that has appeared subsequently, it would be dishonest for me to deny the importance of the one who set me on the path that I still follow.

At the same time, all external gurus are manifestations of the internal guru. And, ultimately, it is that guru in the heart that we must "believe" in. It may be the hardest lesson of all that the caittya-guru trumps all manifestation of the external guru.


Tarun said…
This issue of the guru being all knowing bedevils me again and again. It seems like such a part of Gaudiya Vaisnavism to have implicit faith in Acaryas and Gurus. But how are we to deal with statements of theirs that are obviously erroneous or just primitive.. I'm thinking sexism, racism, classism here.
If KC is to go ahead this is one area that needs to be worked up. But as you know it can be dangerous. I tread lightly when talking about anyone's guru, but the general principle of the infallible nature of the guru has to be addressed.. In some way, that has to be acknowledged, that the guru knows Krishna and can transmit that. But as far as the size of a woman's brain and other mundane yet important issues goes, we have to reason things out. Even in the realm of spirituality, there are, as you say, many innovations in thought that modify the old understandings, and make for a new model. Modernizing KC is a difficult and lonely task it seems, but the game changers task has always been such. Good Luck!
Satya devi dasi said…
Hare Krishna. I'm surprised that there are no comments about this post. For those of us who have left ISKCON or have a tenuous relationship with it, it's difficult to verbalize how we feel--whether it's the reverberations of leaving a cultish atmosphere, the potential of committing an offense, or difficulty in teasing out the issues. Yes, I agree with you that caittya-guru trumps all. After all, He's the one who's been guiding you. I think this is a very courageous post. Thank you for it. Radhe Radhe!
Citta Hari said…

You raise a good point. To insist that the guru is all-knowing about all things at all times is not a wise position to take, for a couple of reasons. First, it ignores the bhedabheda nature of the guru --one with and different from Krsna, saksad Hari and priya, dear to Hari, and second, it can be clearly demonstrated that gurus do sometimes make mistakes about relative issues, like the example you gave about women's brains.

Believers in the guru's omniscience have to resort to all kinds of bizarre explanations in an attempt to make mistakes appear to not be so, which just makes them (and the guru) look rather silly ("He said that to test us--it's just a lila"). A far simpler approach is to recognize that a guru may be spiritually realized and so fully competent to guide us spiritually yet not know every detail of the material creation.

Srila Prabhupada is my parama-guru and I have utmost respect for him. He demonstrated that he was deeply spiritual, able to instill faith in others and then guide them in the cultivation of that faith. Does the fact that his statement about women's brains is wrong damage my faith in him? Not in the least, because I don't expect or need him to know such things. He was infallible in his Krsna consciousness, and rather than seeing his mistakes as faults I see them as ornaments--he was as human as he was divine.
sungazer said…
Pamho JagatJi. Could you please do an article, on your position and that of your Gurudeva on the whole fall of the jiva issue? Since you have worked with Sri Satyanarayana Babaji, you must be familiar with his work 'in vaikuntha not even the leaves fall' and perhaps you must have had discussions that you had with him. But I have never read your expressions on this topic. My thoughts are, the fall of the jiva understanding passed thru a gbc resolution, has a smell of the garden of eden story in the bible. In the bible adam and eve are with God. And then they are cast out of the garden. So similarly some former christians in iskcon may be thinking, jivas were in goloka with Sri Krsna, and then they were cast out. Clearly the tatastha shakti understanding is lost unto them. Could you please comment if not make a whole new article on this topic, we would love to read it!
Anonymous said…
A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad~

"Chaitanya Charitamrita Adi Lila Ch.12 Texts 10+11

Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 6 Ch. 18 Text 40 Purport ~
"It should be understood that sexual inclinations are meant not for spiritual progress but for gliding down to hell."

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