On Fences around the Devotional Creeper

I left ISKCON in 1979, which is a good long time ago. In the intervening 33 years, I have had plenty of experience with life, but for the most part I keep a healthy distance from the institution in which my spiritual life had its beginnings. There were numerous steps in my development that made me a very different person today than I was as a young Hare Krishna brahmachari.

Recently I was invited to participate in a Facebook forum for Srila Prabhupada disciples. I thought this was intriguing, an opportunity to feel the pulse of this interesting segment of the world's population, the 4500 or so people who took initation from Prabhupada between 1965 and 1977, all of whom are now at least 50 years old, many in their 60's and even older. They are, in other words, in the latter stages of life; indeed, many are approaching death, some after living their entire lives in dedication to the movement and in service to Sri Chaitanya.

There are many who left ISKCON to take initiation again in various other sampradāyas, including non-Gaudiya lines like the Nimbarkis. But this is actually welcome because it shows an advancing interest in the essence of bhakti itself, which is bhajana, for which higher association with a bhajana-vijña sādhu is an unavoidable and absolutely necessary step. The order to associate with advanced sadhus is one of the most powerful commands in the devotional path, and the constant awareness of the guru's presence in various forms, externally and internally, is also an integral measuring stick of spiritual progress.

But for many in ISKCON, the path of spiritual life has been so carefully delimited by various orders that Srila Prabhupada made. ISKCON was identified with him, as Srila Prabhupada's own body. Leaving ISKCON was made the same as rejecting guru-tattva itself. He made restrictions over associating with anyone not directly connected to him, his literature, his interpretations of the tradition, and so on.

Prabhupada may have made these kinds of orders out of a fear that his disciples would become entangled in the labyrinthine world of Indian spiritual politics and to keep them actively preaching Krishna consciousness worldwide, but in my estimation these restrictions have a double purpose.

One, which is better understood by the general society of devotees, was to protect the neophytes; the other, only understood by those who have moved on, is to create the kinds of obstacles that need to be overcome in order to truly follow the path of the gopis...

eta saba chāḍi' āra varṇāśrama-dharma
akiñcana hayā laya kṛṣṇaika-śaraṇa

If all this was supposed to be in order to "protect the neophytes," we have to wonder why Prabhupada's disciples, who are seniors now, are still neophytes. They should by now have become accomplished spiritual leaders, coming closer and closer to the highest attainments promised by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's grace. 

Since the real criterion for advancement in the bhakti path is eagerness, especially eagerness to hear from a pure rasika devotee (śravaṇam), and since even the intention to hear is its own reward (sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate'tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt, etc., SB 1.1.2), there is no loss or diminution for those who follow this effort, even if they break down the fences that were created by the guru himself.

loka-dvayāt svajanataḥ parataḥ svato vā
prāṇa-priyād api sumeru-samā yadi syuḥ |
kleśās tad apy atibalī sahasā vijitya
premaiva tān harir ibhān iva puṣṭim eti ||
As a strong lion defeats many elephants and then becomes further nourished and strengthened by feeding on them, so too does sacred love, when exceedingly great, conquer all obstacles before it, whether they come from this world or the next, from enemies or from family members, from one’s own body or the things connected to it, or even from that dearest one who is the object of the love itself. Even if such obstacles should be as vast as the immeasurable Mount Meru, sacred love will conquer them and, having conquered, become stronger and more vital. (Prema-sampuṭikā , 54)
There is no offense to Prabhupada, because Prabhupada's real intent was that we should become Krishna conscious in the way that Rupa Goswami prescribed it. At least I hope so. ISKCON or Gaudiya Math consciousness may be an effective starting point, but it is most certainly not the end of the road. Not for everybody, anyway.

Just to make that a little more clear, the Gita says that one who desires to hear about yoga stands above the Vedic injunctions. In other words, the desire to hear about direct, anāsaṅga-bhajana, is above any scriptural injunction to follow dharma, even if that dharma is dressed up as "following the orders of the spiritual master."
 To make that even more clear. Since lobha is the essence of progress in bhakti, if one receives the inner impulse to associate with advanced rasika devotees and inquire from them, this should be seen as the grace of the guru, not a temptation to be overcome, and as the grace of the antaryāmī guru who is giving light from within (Gita 10.10-11), not as some kind of great sin or offense.

Many Prabhupada disciples raise the question of initiation as though this is the ultimate offense; after all, Jiva Goswami says in Bhakti-sandarbha that reinitiation means rejection of the first guru, and in the case of a "bona-fide" guru, this would be an offense. Of course in the veritable musical chairs of initiation that followed Prabhupada's disappearance, it is rather strange that it should still be a matter for concern, but those who worship Prabhupada as a śaktyāveśa avatāra and so on cannot conceive of the logic behind a decision to be initiated by anyone else. How could anyone else be better? they ask.

The arcane problem of disciplic succession and the traditions that existed and were followed by Vaishnavas in Bengal prior to the Gaudiya Math are not things generally known or understood by foreign disciples new to this world. But Prabhupada himself was reinitiated by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, as were many others who received a mantra from their family's kula-guru. This was current in the Gaudiya Math as it was in open warfare with the traditional Vaishnava order, the Goswamis and Babajis, so why not reinitiate? And of course the reverse was true, because the Goswamis and Babajis rejected Saraswati Thakur's interpretation of initiation and disciplic succession just as he rejected their legitimacy. Since we follow Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, we have made the decision to follow his initiation, as it was given by him to his son, Lalita Prasad Thakur.

When the legitimacy of one initiation is rejected, there is nothing inappropriate about reinitiation. This rejection of legitimacy on both sides of the divide is the fundamental evidence that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati created an entirely new
sampradāya, even though his claim was to be the true guardian of the pristine and original teaching of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. At least Srila Sridhara Maharaja had the decency to recognize this fact by calling it the "Chaitanya Saraswata Sampradaya."

But the reason there are different
sampradāyas is because there are differing goals and differing visions of God. So if one wishes to engage in madhura-rasa bhajana in the tradition followed by Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself and his guru-paramparā through Bipin Bihari Goswami to Jahnava Thakurani, one is more or less obliged to change environments.

In my personal case, I do not feel that this requires an official rejection of Srila Prabhupada because, as he himself so eloquently said once, long ago, "Guru Tattva is One." Srila Prabhupada came to give Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, to give Rupa and Raghunath, to give Radha and Krishna, to give Vrindavan, so how can pursuing those things be rejecting him?

There is the old fear of "jumping over" the guru. Somewhere along the line, Prabhupada created this fence, teaching his disciples that they could only access the previous acharyas through him. But if there is any meaning to initiation at all, it is that the guru gives his disciple the entire disciplic succession; he comes to give access to the sum total of the teaching, not a part of it. Initiation is just that: an initiation, an introduction to the world of bhajana. 

Srila Prabhupada had a twelve year period in which to give several thousand, mostly uneducated and undisciplined, people an introduction to a very sophisticated system of religious philosophy and practice. His disciples accept on faith that he gave them everything. That is fine; I personally chose to investigate. 

Everyone seeks their own level of comfort. But spiritual life requires a bit of discomfort. Physical discomfort is not as uncomfortable as anomie, but anomie or alienation is actually a greater challenge. Fundamentalist religion is based on avoidance or the fear of such alienation. This leads to a purely social model of religion, Varnashram or "quasi" Varnashram, which must be overcome in order to make headway into Mahaprabhu's religion of love as stated clearly in Ramananda Raya's teachings.

It takes a while to understand these things, and no doubt Prabhupada was very clear in his mind about what the limitations of the greater number of his students would be and decided that shastra, dharma, duty, Varnashram, etc., were a necessary substratum for further progress.

Some feel that it is a defect that most of the devotees who left ISKCON to go to some other teacher with a new charisma are preaching to ISKCON's disenchanted rather than to an entirely new audience, but this may have been Srila Prabhupada's real intent. After all, the institution has its limitations and its dangers, and may even be itself an insurmountable obstacle to progress. Ultimately, the failure to find loving guidance and elevated association, the impersonalism of the institutional mindset, and so on, will create disenchantment and the necessity of finding or founding micro-social groupings that are more conducive to spiritual community.

Perhaps those who have left ISKCON and fine-tuned their spiritual understanding will find ways of communicating to the larger public that ISKCON, in its sclerotic incapacity to jump over the fences that Prabhupada created, will never find. The world does not stand still.

Let us not forget that in relation to Gaudiya Math, the mission of his own guru, Prabhupada was himself an outsider, a householder in a world dominated by sannyasis and brahmacharies. Often the most creative solutions come from those who have the outsider perspective. His inspiration resulted in the creation of a new, powerful branch in the Chaitanya tree, but perhaps it is Mahaprabhu's plan that his tree will grow newer and newer branches.
Prabhupada has now been gone from the physical world for 35 years. Are we still such neophytes that we need to protect our fledgling creepers with such prudence? Are they still so weak? Are we still committing mad-elephant offenses??
Don't we need to grow up and become mature?

I was of the feeling that we are all truly a family, many of whose members have taken different paths in life--some have "deviated", some have "sinned", and so on and so on. But since we are "family" we should help one another, learn from one another, love one another. If the first thing we do is create this artificial division between "true" followers and others, then that is not helpful to anyone.

We say that Prabhupada built a
house in which the whole world could fit.  It is more than a little ironic that 90% of his own disciples no longer participate directly in ISKCON for one reason or another. The most intelligent are ostracized or made to feel unwelcome for simply being themselves because they do not adhere to a set of definitions made by a self-appointed elite. 


beevee said…
Dear Jagatananda Ji;
I had read a post on Facebook in which you stated that the Gaudiya Math does not accept the process of siddha pranali, but in the biography of Srila BP Keshava Maharaja published by the Gaudiya Vedanta Publishers there is a quotation of a conversation with some devotees and the Maharaja in which he answered the question of whether Srila BSS Prabhupada had given siddha Pranali or not, by saying that if he had not then how would the Mission continue.
Thus, it became obvious from his remark that siddha pranali had surreptitiously been awarded to some.
I was personally always of the opinion that this process was given to Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja in Bhuvanesvar by our Srila Prabhupada who had shared a small kutir with his disciple for more than two weeks. I cannot verify this at all as it is such a discreet initiation. But the point that you are making is now definitely in the public arena as the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinode has been in print in the English language for many years and stands practically as the foremost publication of the Gaudiya Vedanta Press of Srila BV Narayana Maharaja as much as Srila Prabhupada's most formidable publication in the initial stages of his mission was the Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
It would seem that the grace of Sri Guru will reveal these things more and more and that as devotees follow the process continuously that everything will be revealed in proper time. But in essence we cannot really separate ourselves from what is Bhaktivinode Dhar.
Satya devi dasi said…
Radhe Radhe Jagat. I was also a part of that FB forum and left. I think I left before you got there. I completely agree with what you've said here. I think as we get older and our realisations become more clear, we don't want to sit on the bank and play in the sand but jump in the river and swim in the prem. I no longer want to be limited by the constraints of the group, but listen rather to the urgings in my heart, my caitya guru. I have to listen, there's really no other choice. Jaya Radhe Shyama!
Jagadananda Das said…
Beevee, I really cannot accept this history. Bon Maharaj was a senior sannyasi in the GM. Why did he come to Lalita Prasad Thakur to seek siddha-pranali? No one knew Keshava Maharaj had received siddha-pranali, or that Tirtha Maharaj had done so, but these are the only two that I have heard making such a claim. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Saraswati Thakur received anything of the sort from Gaur Kishor Das Babaji, who spoke against the system himself and was so quoted by Saraswati. Siddha-pranali is deliberately withheld, in my opinion, to promote an orientation to preaching as well as being based in more fundamental objections. Read Brahmana o Vaishnava, where these matters are discussed to some extent.

I am extremely doubtful.
Jagadananda Das said…
Thanks Satya Devi. Well I am sticking out for a little while longer. There are still a few non-ISKCON Prabhupada disciples hanging in there, but we can open a pool for betting how long it lasts.

I am just posting something about institutions. The same mechanism of rooting out the undesirable elements is underway.
Anonymous said…
Dear Jagadananda-ji,

Radhe Radhe.

Thanks you for the stimulating article.

In regard to Gaurakisora Baba's opinion on lila-smaranam and siddha-pranali, O.B.L. Kapoor corroborates your points in the author's The Saints of Bengal:

"Baba laid all the stress on the repetition of the Name [taraka-brahma-maha-mantra]. He forbade lila-smarana (contemplation of lila). He said that each letter contained in the Name was pregnant with lila. When one contemplated the letters, the lila manifested itself."

He quotes Baba as saying:

"There are infinite forms of Sri Bhagavan and His lila. One cannot know them by imagination. When the Name is constantly repeated, Sri Bhagavan and His lila automatically manifest Themselves out of the Name.The Name also inspires in the heart of the sadhaka the seva (service) he has to perform in lila."

According to Dr. Kapoor, Baba wrote the following in a letter to one of his disciples named Harendra Kumara:

"The letters of the Nama-mantra have such sakti (power) that if you continue to do japa while looking at them, you will one day have the darsana of Sri Radha-Krsna with Their parikaras (companions)."

If one is to trust O.B.L. Kapoor's account, it is not hard to see how Gaurakisora Baba's view on lila-smaranam has helped to shape ISKCON's perspective on siddha-pranali.

Krsna-Purvaja dasa

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