Judging Judgmentalists

Here is the conundrum – if you see people becoming judgmental, how do you judge their behavior without indulging in it yourself? My answer is drawing the difference between judging and discriminating. That might not be fully satisfactory either because after making your assessment you are still tempted to feel yourself superior. This isn’t going to be solved until one becomes perfectly satisfied with the arrangements Krishna has made for him and therefore is not bothered with someone else being better or worse. Their arrangements are perfect for them, too. Why then should there be the need to discriminate at all? Because we are not static beings and we are always on the move. What is perfect for others might not be as good for us. We are always driven by “association”, after all – ideas, feelings, experiences coming from outside. They affect us and we react, and so discrimination is necessary. We just have to manage it without becoming judgmental.

With this problem out of the way – to the matter at hand. A few days ago a devotee recommended me some sannyasi I’ve never heard of before. I wish we had more of this in our society because we should always be on the lookout for good association, but these recommendations do not always excite us as they excite the persons who send them. I’ve experienced people going “meh” in reaction to my recommendations and now it looks like it’s my turn to be less than excited after hearing to that sannyasi talks. I’m not sure I should disclose his name but I also see no reason to hide it either. It might reflect not so well on his guru and his godbrothers might freak out, so, for now, I’ll keep his identity hidden. I got two links to lectures and the order in which I listened to them played a large part in how I formed my opinion. It was first impression, then “also this?”, and then “and that thing, too?” and so on. I hope the reader will recognize familiar patterns and familiar declarations and that’s how this post might be useful even I don’t get around to disclosing the names.

First thing I heard was “What are you going to preach? First you need to hear this, then that, then realize these things, then … so what is the use of your preaching?” I’ve heard this argument before and I will say this – it comes from people who have never been made into tools in Lord Caitanya’s hands. They just don’t have the experience and, according to their mental calculations, it should not be possible. Those who DO have direct experience of this know that it works and they know how it works. They also know that it can’t be calculated into existence by building mental arguments one onto another. The process is different and it doesn’t depend on how much you know at all. It doesn’t depend on how many slokas your remember or any of that sort of thing.

The easiest way for me to reference this is on the example of book distributors, though not all of them. Sometimes, somehow you are just made to do the right thing and say the right words, and it’s attributed to guru and Lord Caitanya’s mercy, sometimes they attribute it to Paramatma. Sometimes they are compelled to do the right thing against their own judgement. Sometimes this “voice” is absent, and some book distributors never hear it at all, but some seek it out everywhere and at all times because it brings them into the state of samadhi. They just go with the flow of Lord Caitanya’s mercy, fully aware of their personal disqualifications, but these disqualifications don’t stop anybody – neither Lord Caitanya, nor book distributors, nor the people they are talking to.

Another aspect of this is that they do not discuss Radha-Krishna pastimes or complicated philosophical points. It’s not what happens at all. They punch through all these cultural, emotional, and intellectual layers and reach straight to the heart of the person. Then the heart issues a cry of freedom, love, and devotion, and the sankirtana devotee hears and reflects it back. It’s a non-verbal communication and, as people eventually go away, they are left wondering what just happened to them and they try to use words to justify their experiences, but it still remains inexplicable and indescribable. Their minds and intelligence might struggle with intellectually parsing the contents of our books and so they might not open them again, but they will never ever forget that moment of meeting a devotee, and that transformation of their own hearts. It will take time to propagate through the rest of their bodies, through all the gross and subtle layers, and bring it in sync with the vibration coming from Lord Caitanya, but it’s only a question of time, which by itself is a question of how many transformations are needed for the body to go from it’s current state to the state of recognizable “pure devotion”. We are not concerned with this re-tuning of the body, however, we are concerned with Lord Caitanya’s given ability to reach out and touch people’s hearts. So back to the beginning of this argument – some people have never experienced it and they rule out the possibility. That’s what I heard in that sannyasi’s argument. Those who had this experience will never ever say “you are not qualified because you didn’t hear or didn’t read enough”.

Next thing I heard was his insistence on going only through the guru, which is sastrically correct, of course, but, to me, he went completely the wrong way about it. He made himself into the sole guardian of transcendental knowledge and made his disciples into being totally dependent and deprived of all mercy, unless it’s HIS mercy. Once again, anyone who experienced acting as Lord Caitanya’s tool knows that one is not the sole guardian of anything and is not in control of anyone. Devotees who had experienced it had see how mercy flows through other devotees, too, and how it can potentially flow everywhere, and how the devotee himself can sometimes get in its way and it will still flow and reach intended recipients. This mercy is totally independent.

Now, the disciple should see his guru and his sole protector and his sole beneficiary, but he should also see how “guru” is a principle not confined to the material body and how the same guru speaks to him through variety of media. If a person sitting in front of you does not acknowledge that and claims exclusive proprietorship I, personally, would not consider him as a genuine guru. I would consider him to be simply “full of himself”. This is a rather subtle point that must be experienced, too – it takes practice and purity to see one’s guru speaking through different people and even thought what we call “objects”. Srimad Bhagavatam gets to this point only in the Eleventh Canto, too. Or I could refer one to Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who feel his presence, care, and guidance everywhere. Or I could remind one that guru is a the “servitor God”, not “master God”. Servitors should never claim to be masters. If one does so it’s a vestige of one’s material conditioning. The desire to be in control should go away but it takes time, so it’s forgivable, but I insist it should be recognized for what it is.

Next I heard a long rant about “Maya”, how we should choose between Maya and Krishna and so on. The hallmark of this kind of argument is presumed juxtaposition of Maya and Krishna where she is presented as our equivalent of Christian Satan, where there is an eternal battle between this Satan and God, as if Satan has some sort of independent existence. Well, again, it requires realization to know it for certain, but even intellectually we must know that Maya has no independent power and no independent existence. She cannot possibly oppose either Krishna or Lord Caitanya. No independence means she cannot force her own will. She doesn’t have her own will – she is shakti, she makes the will of the shaktiman happen. And who is shaktiman here? Krishna, of course, and also ourselves as His parts and parcels. We have the ability to desire control and Maya makes it happen. We play little gods and Maya carries out the gameplay.

There is no such thing as “Maya tells you…”, which was the basis of that sannyasi’s argument. Maya doesn’t tell you anything – YOU tell her what you want and she fulfills YOUR desires. She also runs the universe so she fulfills Krishna’s desires, too, and this mismatch between our desires and Krishna’s desires creates perpetual swings between happiness and distress, but it’s not the point. Technically, she fulfills desires of Maha Vishnu, or one might argue that she works for Lord Siva, but that is also not the point. The point is that she doesn’t tell you anything – she reflects your own desires and echoes your own words and orders.

Of course we all know “don’t listen to Maya” warnings but I would argue that they shouldn’t be elevated to the status of tattva. We want something, material nature arranges for the fulfillment of this desire, we become attracted to the results, and we want more. It’s at the point where we start feeling attraction that we can say “Maya tells me” but this process is mechanical, there is no actual person telling us to do things. You wanted to like that thing and now you do – none of it is Maya’s fault.

Another aspect of Maya acting on Krishna’s orders is that she arranges these things perfectly for our gradual purification. She is not our enemy. Let me repeat that – she is not our enemy. My impression from that sannyasi’s talk was that he still doesn’t get it. Once you do, you will become overwhelmed with humility – because you will see the world as being perfectly run already, something we should also already know, and so one becomes not judgmental but appreciative instead.

Speaking of humility – that sannyasi clearly thinks that it’s caused by humiliation. This was a question and answer part of the class and he put down and humiliated absolutely every questioner. He didn’t grant anyone the capacity and ability to pose an honest inquiry that should be answered. Pariprasnena in Bhagavad Gita means there should be questions and questions must be answered by the guru. In this case, however, this guru went straight for character assassination of anyone who dared to open his mouth. He was a little more accommodating in the second talk I listened to, but the first one was just a festival of putting people down, one after another.

Several times this sannyasi stressed that because guru means “heavy” it means he has to be heavy on his disciples. That’s a misunderstanding. Heavy means not easily swayed – by emotions, events, or arguments. Being “heavy on somebody” is an idiom from English language, I don’t think it even exist in Sanskrit, even if sometimes guru is supposed to be “cutting” his disciples false egos. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada was “heavy” in this sense, too, but not very often and he certainly never invited people to get in line for punishment.

Speaking of which – I believe it’s some kind of psychological issue when people expect pleasure from punishment. It’s one thing to experience it when it happens naturally but it’s quite another to come to your guru and request him to put you in pain. It’s unhealthy. Purifying pain should not be the constant feature of guru-disciple relationships. However, I believe this is where the source of this sannyasi’s power lies.

In the second talk he told a story of his personal spiritual journey and to me it confirmed my suspicions – humiliation is the path to glory in the same way that austerity is the path to comfort and riches. You withhold experiencing one aspect of reality and then it comes to you anyway to complete your experience. This is an aspect of the law of karma I can’t possibly explain in great detail now. In everyday terms this same sannyasi demonstrated how it works – in the ashram he was serving they once undertook some fast with overnight chanting involved, and the next day they ate triple the normal and slept twice the usual. They, basically, saved some enjoyment for later and they experienced it all at once instead of spreading it over the normally allotted period of time.

Same works with humility, and pretty much everything else. If you want to experience glorification and respect, withhold what is allotted to you now, which means become “humble”, and then wait for the big payout when it comes all at once. You can see the same principle in waiters, shop assistants, and all other kinds of service personnel – they serve you now because they expect you to pay them good money in the end, and the end goal for them would be to not serve you anymore.

Need I mention that it’s the opposite of actual love and devotion? It’s a big topic in itself and I just don’t have the time.

And then this sannyasi went into putting down his unnamed godbrothers and seniors. One anecdote after another demonstrated his superiority and their deficiencies. At one point he even started mocking some other devotee’s voice to demonstrate how pathetic that unfortunate soul was. At another point he took on GBC’s then current chairman and smashed him to pieces. He went as far as to tell Prabhupada’s disciple to get a better guru, not noticing how absurd he sounds – he was on the roll, having finished with denigrating his own disciples and now rolling over everybody else. There wasn’t an authority he couldn’t take on.

If his utterly humiliated disciples enjoyed this ride of ruling over the world and humiliating others, even if in their absence when they cannot say anything to defend themselves – I can understand them, though I would call them sycophants with some serious psychological issues.

So there I was, starting off with expectations of hearing from an inspiring devotee, and ending up with … that. I don’t want to judge, as I said, but this is definitely not for me. I feel like I’m forgetting something to comment from those talks, but it’s time to wrap it up anyway.

All in all, nothing that I heard was absolutely against our siddhanta – all these statements and ideas have their place, but when one has the enjoying attitude he would naturally try to apply them outside their scope and it will be disastrous. We do this with everything else in the world already, this was an example of doing the same thing with our siddhanta. Christians and other critics have done it to our siddhanta as well, twisting and turning it to sound ridiculous, so even this is not new.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in listening to this devotee’s preaching whatsoever – in one of the talks you can hear the exultation in the interpreter’s voice, and not over the issues I discussed above but over “regular” statements about the role of guru and expositions of crooked mentality. One has to go through these things and one will naturally be excited about them, so this sannyasi’s preaching is far from being a total waste, but none of that is actually spiritual, which brings me back to my first argument – intellectually parsing our siddhanta and seeing it applied in the world around us does not cause outpouring of Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Mahaprabhu’s mercy cannot be captured by logic and rationality, nor can He be captured by humility. He will respond in kind, as Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, but that response would be less than available idea. I would refer to Srila Prabhupada’s “they haven’t got a clue” response to the critics of his movement. In the end, even the critics came around to accepting that Lord Caitanya’s mercy flowed through Srila Prabhupada’s disciples against all common sense. Or I could refer to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati waving away a swarm of Vrindvana babajis as kanisthas – they should have had known better but they still haven’t had the clue. This kind of ignorance of Lord Caitanya’s mercy is entirely possible.

Of course we cannot say the same thing as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and declare ourselves to be better than them, but we should keep it as a reminder of who we have to follow, as a guiding light for ourselves. This kind of discrimination is necessary. More over, I’m confident that with time even that sannyasi will exhaust his good karma accumulated through humiliation and servitude, and come to appreciate real humility and desire to be of service, which is not the same thing. Maybe not in this lifetime but one has to see that humiliation and servitude do not pay off either, even if for a while it appears they bring good, enjoyable results.

Mystery of initiation

The following is a thread of quotes and ideas which ties together several aspects of approaching a guru and taking initiation. It’s by no means complete, but if one insists on a different understanding it should be kept in mind that quotes given here should also be accommodated and not excluded as impossible. They exist and we have to deal with them.

Let’s start with the most basic definition of a guru given by Srila Prabhupada, as recollected by Hari Sauri Prabhu from a morning walk on December 20, 1975:

If there is no need of guru,” Prabhupada said sharply, “why are they writing books to tell people? As soon as you tell someone something, that is guru.

From Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary, Vol 1

Actual transcript differs in wording but it conveys the same idea and there’s really nothing strange about it. That’s how we get mother as the first guru, and then how things like trees, pigeons, and pythons can also become guru, not to forget the prostitutes (SB 11.7-8). The principle is very simple – every time we learn something, there is a guru. There’s a guru who teaches you to write, there’s a guru who teaches you to tie your shoes, play mridanga, cook, and so on.

When talking about ISKCON, however, we clearly mean something more specific, something related to purely spiritual instructions. Here we can start with the often quoted Upanishadic verse: tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet. That’s the guru we are talking about. The second line tells us about qualities of such guru: śrotriyaṁ brahma-niṣṭham, and it tells us something about the disciple as well: samit-pāṇiḥ – bring firewood, which immediately brings the question: “What are you going to do with that?” and then from possible answers we can figure out the dynamic of guru-disciple relationships. Previous line says something more about qualification of a disciple but that’s before he tries to approach a guru.

In Bhagavad Gita Krishna is a lot less cryptic and He gives us three components: praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā, and they form the basis of our understanding, thanks to Srila Prabhupada repeating them over and over again. One must surrender, one must inquire, and one must serve  his guru. Srila Prabhupada himself attributed his success to unwavering commitment to fulfilling the order of his spiritual master to preach to English speaking audience, and then Prabhupada’s disciples made it their life goal to further expand this mission to cover the whole world. Being part of this mission is what defines ISKCON as opposed to members of various other branches of Gaudiya tree. That’s where we want to be – in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and that’s also the goal of our surrender to guru and Krishna. There’s nothing more we could possibly want, though there are plenty of lesser goals for us to settle. Would one be comfortable enjoying Krishna’s company in Goloka while Srila Prabhupada continues the battle for lost souls in one material universe after another?

This could lead to a potentially uncomfortable discussion but let’s get back to the main topic – we still haven’t heard anything about initiation yet. Well, let’s take this quote from Srila Prabhupada, describing his own initiation process:

So anyway, from 1922 to 1933 practically I was not initiated, but I got the impression of preaching Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s cult. That I was thinking. And that was the initiation by my Guru Mahārāja. Then officially I was initiated in 1933…

From, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Disappearance Day Lecture, Hyderabad, December 10, 1976

It appears he considered the moment guru’s order was given and accepted to be the moment of his initiation, though not official yet. One might say it’s just one quote to stress one point, but look at the next one and see how serious Srila Prabhupada was about this understanding of initiation:

Student:: I came to New York from Detroit with a recommendation from Bhagavān dāsa to be initiated. I have my letter with me.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: You’ll be initiated. Any one of you—when you agree to follow the regulative principles and you are recommended by our men, then you can also be initiated. Initiation is a formality. First of all you have to decide whether you will abide by the rules and regulations and become Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is your consideration. You have to decide for yourself whether you are going to take this Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously. That is your decision. Initiation is a formality. If you are serious, that is real initiation. If you have understood this Kṛṣṇa philosophy and if you have decided that you will take Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously and preach the philosophy to others, that is your initiation. My touch is simply a formality. It is your determination. That is initiation.

From a conversation published in Back To Godhead

I don’t know how to double bold the last three sentences – real initiation happens in the heart of the disciple when he becomes determined to accept Krishna consciousness seriously. This is not a mere recollection, these are instructions given to devotees just as they were about to be initiated themselves. Srila Prabhupada fully meant it there.

Another quote in a similar vein:

So you take the bhakti-latā-bīja from the spiritual master—that is called initiation—and develop it by pouring water of hearing and chanting. Then it will grow.

From lecture on The Nectar of Devotion, October 29, 1972, Vṛndāvana

Note that one has to “take” the seed of devotion to become initiated. One might say that in order to take the seed it must be offered first and this offering of the seed happens during initiation procedure, but it would mean that the same words about Krishna consciousness spoken prior to the ritual do not carry the seed of devotion in them, which is obviously absurd. The offering is always there, from the very first moment of meeting with guru, and initiation happens when the disciple takes it. Of course some gurus do not always speak of Krishna in public and keep the “good stuff” for private conversations, but Srila Prabhupada was not one of them. Any book you open, any class you hear – the seed of devotion is always there, ready to be accepted and ready to grow. Just take the advice to your heart and that will be your initiation – that’s what Srila Prabhupada was saying there. There’s further clarification in this quote:

chanting Hare Krishna is our main business, that is real initiation. And as you are all following my instruction, in that matter, the initiator is already there. Now the next initiation will be performed as a ceremony officially, of course that ceremony has value because the name, Holy Name, will be delivered to the student from the disciplic succession, it has got value, but in spite of that, as you are going on chanting, please go on with this business sincerely and Krishna willing, I may be coming to you very soon.

From letter to: Tamala Krsna, 19 August, 1968

Here Srila Prabhupada first tells his prospective disciples (from the context it’s clear he didn’t mean already initiated Tamal Krishna) that real initiation is chanting of Hare Krishna mantra, but then he adds that the formality of initiation ceremony still has value because at that moment they would hear the Holy Name from the disciplic succession. This could mean that so far the disciples had heard the mantra from fellow devotees and hearing it from Srila Prabhupada himself would carry more potency, not that the Holy Name heard from Srila Prabhupada before initiation ritual is less potent. Still, the importance of “official” and “formality” initiation is undeniable and one should not forsake the ceremony when one eventually gets the chance. That would be silly, just as if Krishna appeared in front of one’s very eyes and asked for an apple, but the devotee replied that in Kali yuga Krishna should be satisfied only with chanting.

Let’s not forget how Srila Prabhupada pushed for initiations in the summer of 1966 when the devotees had only started developing their faith. It’s wasn’t a formality back then, certainly not for Srila Prabhupada himself and he, apparently, hoped that the ritual would make his disciples more serious. Some did, others didn’t and drifted away, which, again, stresses the most important part of initiation – it should be accepted in one’s heart.

Now we come to the subject of the first initiation and it was the only initiation our devotees knew for almost two years, until brahman initiation was conducted in May 1968. Up to this day anyone who receives this first initiation is considered as “initiated devotee” in ISKCON, but that wasn’t the case in Gaudiya Math where this ritual was known as harināma-pradāna  and devotee was then called harināmaāśrita  as opposed to dīkṣā and dīkṣita – what is known to us as second initiation now. Only after that dīkṣā a devotee would be considered a fully fledged disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, not before. That was general understanding widely shared by all GM devotees, but there was one occasion where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta disagreed, perhaps to curb the pride of some dīkṣita disciples, but nevertheless:

The dīkṣita are inferior to the harināma-āśrita. They don’t believe that the name and the named are nondifferent. For them deity worship is required.” He then quoted Lord Caitanya’s statements ihā haite sarva-siddhi haibe sabāra (The holy name alone gives all perfection) and dīkṣā puraścaryā-vidhi apekṣā nā kare (With the holy name, one need not undergo initiation or puraścaryā observances, as with other mantras).

From Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by Bhakti Vikasa Swami

The passage in the book continues to establish the main point here – chanting of the Hare Krishna alone is sufficient and perfect, but some devotees require help of deity worship and, correspondingly, dīkṣā initiation:

Indeed, to some disciples he never awarded dīkṣā, deeming harināma alone sufficient for their spiritual progress. And he stated, “The success of dīkṣā is inclination for harināma. Whoever remains fixed in chanting inoffensively should be understood to have undergone dīkṣā and all other proceedings.

From Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by Bhakti Vikasa Swami

Speaking of ISKCON’s first brahman initiation, this is how Hansadutta Prabhu remembers it:

“After the first Brahmin initiation ceremony (Boston 1968), I asked Prabhupada, “What is the significance of this Brahmin Initiation?” Prabhupada gestured dismissively and said, “It is not very important. My Guru Maharaja introduced this ceremony of Brahmin initiation, because in his time SMARTA BRAHMINS (caste conscious) were deriding Vaishnavas as not being qualified Brahmins, because they were not born into Brahmin families and had received no second initiation. So to counteract their belittling attitude towards the Vaishnava community, he introduced this policy, but it is not very important. One can become perfectly Krishna conscious simply by first initiation, Hare Nama initiation. Nothing else is required. It is a formality to satisfy the SMARTA BRAHMINS – CASTE CONSCIOUS community.

About an hour later, still not being completely satisfied, I again approached Prabhupada and asked him, “What is the meaning of this Gayatri mantra? What does it do?” Again Prabhupada’s reply was quite casual and dismissive. He said, “IT IS A LITTLE AUXILIARY TO THE MAHA MANTRA. IT IS NOT VERY IMPORTANT, but it helps in chanting Hare Krishna. The main thing is chanting HARE KRISHNA. That is the main thing. So Gayatri mantra, it is a little helpful, but chanting Hare Krishna is sufficient. It is the main thing.”


One might question veracity of Hansadutta’s recollection, but it seems completely in line with how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati explained the same point above. Similar understanding is expressed in this letter:

Srila Prabhupada explained the difference between first and second initiation as follows: “Why do you believe in rumors, that first initiation is not so important as second? I have already said that it is equally important, but you say rumor. Actually first initiation is more important. You can go without second initiation; if the first initiation is executed very thoroughly that is sufficient. First initiation stands strong. The spiritual master accepts the disciple’s sinful reactions upon giving first initiation. The Vedic system was to give the sacred thread at the first initiation. We are following Pancaratriki. Vedic initiation was given to a person born to a brahmana. That is not possible in this age. Therefore he has to be prepared by Hari Nam initiation and then second initiation. He is given a chance. Therefore others protest that I am giving initiation: He is not born of a brahmana, how can he be initiated?

From letter to Satswarupa complied by Tamal Krishna Goswami, August 7, 1977

The following letter mentions many of the points above and puts them together:

Regarding your questions, second initiation is real initiation. First initiation is the preliminary, just to make him prepared, just like primary and secondary education. The first initiation gives him chance to become purified, and when he is actually purified then he is recognized as a brahmana and that means real initiation. The eternal bond between disciple and spiritual master begins from the first day he hears. Just like my spiritual master. In 1922 he said in our first meeting, you are educated boys, why don’t you preach this cult. That was the beginning, now it is coming to fact. Therefore the relationship began from that day.

From letter to Jadurani,  4 September, 1972

Notice how at first Srila Prabhupada seems to contradict the other quotes about first initiation but then comes around to the same thing – real initiation happens on the first day disciple hears, and then rituals need to be performed in a certain (and inviolable) order as the disciple gradually purifies his consciousness.

What about our previous acharyas? What did initiation mean to them? Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis received their names from Lord Caitanya, they received the Holy Name from Him, they received instructions, they received orders, they surrendered, they inquired, they took up the assigned mission, and yet they were not considered initiated disciples in a sense they did not get dīkṣā. Or look at the description of initiation of Ramacandra Kaviraja (of ramacandra sanga mage fame) by Srinivas Acharya:

Ramacandra spent the night in a brahmanas house, thinking deeply about Srinivasa Prabhu. In the morning he came running to Srinivasa and fell at his feet crying loudly. Overwhelmed with emotion, he begged the blessings of Prabhu. Srinivasa lovingly lifted him from the ground and embraced him warmly. Sri Acarya emotionally confessed that they had a long-deeped rooted relationship and were meeting again after a long separation. Thus Srnivasa gave Krsnanama in his ear and sang Radha Krsna lila to him. He also assisted him in the study of Vaisnava literatures, and blessed him to become an earnest lover and devotee of Lord Krsna. Srinivasa told Ramacandra about the glories of Narottama Thakura, and instructed him to go to meet him in Vrndavana. Thus, in due course of time, Narottama and Ramacandra became such good friends that people considered them like one soul.

From Sri Karnananda by Yadunandana Acharya, chapter 1

All three of praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā were evidently present and Srinivas Acharya unquestionably became a guru  of Ramacandra Kaviraja, but it wasn’t a dīkṣā  according to Pañcarātrika rules. Speaking of which – Jiva Goswami raises the subject of pañcarātrika dīkṣā  in Bhakti Sandarbha when it comes to the necessity of worshiping the deity – an important aṅga of devotional service, but not as important as guru-pādāśraya, which always stands first.

Now will be considered worship of the Lord (arcana), which begins with the invitation (avahana) to the Lord to appear. If one has faith in the path of worship, one should take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master and ask questions of him. This is described in these words of Srimad Bhagavatam (11.3.48); “Having obtained the mercy of his spiritual master, who reveals to the disciple the injunctions of Vedic scriptures, the devotee should worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the particular personal form of the Lord the devotee finds most attractive.

Although in the opinion of Srimad-Bhagavatam the path of worshipping the Deity, as it is described in the Pancaratras and other scriptures, is not compulsory, and without engaging in Deity worship one may attain the final goal of life by engaging in even only one of the nine processes of devotional service, processes that begin with surrender, nevertheless, in the opinion of they who follow the path of Narada Muni and other great sages, by accepting initiation from a bona fide spiritual master one attains a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a relationship established through the feet of one’s spiritual master, and when one is thus initiated, the process of Deity worship is compulsory.

Therefore in the Agama-sastra it is said; “Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity. A person expert in the study of the revealed scriptures know this process as diksa.

“It is the duty of every human being to surrender to a bona fide spiritual master. Giving him everything; body, mind and intelligence, one must take a Vaisnava initiation from him.” / “Therefore one should offer respects to guru, offer him everything and accept vaishnava mantra according to the rules while taking diksha” [alternative translation by Bhanu Swami]

The words “divyam jnanam” (transcendental knowledge) here refers to the descriptions of the Lord’s transcendental form in sacred mantras. Chanting those mantras establishes a relationship with the Supreme Lord. This is explained in the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda’s description of the eight-syllable mantra. Thus for wealthy householders the path of Deity worship is most important.

From Bhakti Sandarbha by Jiva Goswami, Anuccheda 283, 16-20

I’ve bolded “Lord’s transcedental form in sacred mantras” above because it’s something different from “generic” Hare Krishna mantra. Dīkṣā mantras describe specific forms of the Lord and specific relationships with them and, therefore, have special values. Gopa Kumara in Brihad Bhagavatamrita received one such mantra and chanting of this mantra took him all through various places and planets in the universe until it finally delivered him to Krishna’s personal company. It’s not a trivial thing. BUT, please also look at the last bolded sentence – dīkṣā is meant for wealthy householders so that they could engage in deity worship.

This Bhakti Sandarbha passage, and I apologize for how lengthy it was, gives us a clue to understanding how Bhāgavata marga and Pañcarātrika-vidhi relate to each other in relation to initiation, taking shelter of the guru, chanting the Holy Name, and taking dīkṣā. They are all necessary components and they help each other, but among the two Bhāgavata marga is superior, which is confirmed in the next Anuccheda:

…It may therefore be questioned why there is a necessity for further spiritual activities in devotional service for one who engages in the chanting of the holy name of the Lord.

The answer is that although it is correct that one who fully engages in chanting the holy name need not depend upon the process of initiation, generally a devotee is addicted to many abominable material habits due to material contamination from his previous life. In order to get quick relief from all these contaminations, it is required that one engage in the worship of the Lord in the temple. The worship of the Deity in the temple is essential to reduce one’s restlessness due to the contaminations of conditional life. Thus Narada in his pancaratriki vidhi, and other great sages have sometimes stressed that since every conditioned soul has a bodily concept of life aimed at sense enjoyment the rules and regulations for worshipping the Deity in the temple are essential.

From Bhakti Sandarbha by Jiva Goswami, Anuccheda 284, 1-2

We’ve just heard the same explanation in the above quoted letter to Jadurani – initiation rituals and accompanying deity worship help one to purify his consciousness, but [pure] chanting itself does not depend on initiation.

This was taught by Lord Caitanya Himself:

Upon hearing this, Satyarāja said, “How can I recognize a Vaiṣṇava? Please let me know what a Vaiṣṇava is. What are his common symptoms?”

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu replied, “Whoever chants the holy name of Kṛṣṇa just once is worshipable and is the topmost human being.
Simply by chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa once, a person is relieved from all the reactions of a sinful life. One can complete the nine processes of devotional service simply by chanting the holy name.
One does not have to undergo initiation or execute the activities required before initiation. One simply has to vibrate the holy name with his lips. Thus even a man in the lowest class [caṇḍāla] can be delivered.
By chanting the holy name of the Lord, one dissolves his entanglement in material activities. After this, one becomes very much attracted to Kṛṣṇa, and thus dormant love for Kṛṣṇa is awakened….

Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 15.10.105-109

But when instructing Sanatana Goswami in the matters of regulated devotional service, Lord Caitanya put dīkṣā right after guru-pādāśraya:

guru-pādāśraya, dīkṣā, gurura sevana
sad-dharma-śikṣā-pṛcchā, sādhu-mārgānugamana

“On the path of regulative devotional service, one must observe the following items: (1) One must accept a bona fide spiritual master. (2) One must accept initiation from him. (3) One must serve him. (4) One must receive instructions from the spiritual master and make inquiries in order to learn devotional service. (5) One must follow in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas and follow the directions given by the spiritual master.

Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 22.115

Thus, dīkṣā should not be avoided, but it isn’t central to success in developing love of God, which depends on chanting of the Holy Name. Perhaps a story of a devotee, Sitalasayi Prabhu, who by all accounts achieved perfection of regulative devotional service as outlined in the quote above, can illustrate this point. For the last fifteen years he reduced his sleep to two-three hours a day, spending the rest of the night chanting extra rounds of japa. During the day he was a regular temple devotee (sankirtana leader, actually) and did everything that was expected of him. Eventually his health deteriorated and he couldn’t perform active service anymore so he dedicated himself to chanting three lakhs of names per day, though no one was counting. He stuck to this vrata until his very last days, even when his body refused to cooperate completely, as you can see in this short video. He left this world in Vrindavana in May 2018.

Youtube video – warning, we don’t usually see devotees or even people in general  in this condition, it can be unsettling.

The beginning of his devotional life was standard for many of ISKCON devotees at the time – he lost interest in material life, got Srila Prabhupada’s book, Easy Journey To Other Planets in his case, surrendered his life to Krishna, and started chanting the holy name – just as Lord Caitanya described above. Then he understood the necessity of accepting a spiritual master and began his search. He understood that book distribution was at the core of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and looked for initiating gurus who put sankirtana first and foremost. He settled on two of them and tried to approach them personally. One was simply too busy and had too many disciples to hope for any meaningful personal relationship while the other was easily approachable and personally appreciative and that sealed the deal. He took shelter of this guru, received pranama mantras, went through the waiting period, got duly initiated according to ISKCON standards, received instructions regarding his service and carried them out to the best of his ability. In other words, he closely followed the sequence for executing regulative devotional service given by Lord Caitanya and somehow he also attained an unprecedented taste for chanting of the holy name, which is the symptom of success on the path of Bhāgavata marga. Did his dīkṣā help? Certainly, but dīkṣā mantras and deity worship did not play a prominent role in his life. The relationship between Srila Prabhupada’s books, initiating gurus, and disciples is an interesting topic but is outside the scope of this article.

One interesting thing that could be added is that, historically, dīkṣā mantras in ISKCON have never taken center stage even during second initiation. It was always known as “Brahman initiation”, during which one would get a Gayatri Mantra. This is how Srila Prabhupada described it in his answers to Hansadutta above and there are countless references in Vedabase Folio where it’s identified similarly, most often speaking of *the* Gayatri mantra with no mention of the other six mantras, which actually constitute pañcarātrika-dīkṣā, though they were included on all “Gayatri tapes” used by hundreds if not thousands of devotees. Just as an example – please consider this famous letter to Vaikunthanatha Prabhu often cited as a precedent of women giving Gayatri mantra, which isn’t a correct understanding of what was going on, but ignore that aspect for a moment:

Even though you have had no gayatri mantra, still you are more than brahmana. I am enclosing herewith your sacred thread, duly chanted on by me. Gayatri mantra is as follows:


Ask your wife to chant this mantra and you hear it and if possible hold a fire ceremony as you have seen during your marriage and get this sacred thread on your body. Saradia, or any twice-initiated devotee, may perform the ceremony.

From Letter to Vaikunthanatha and Saradia, April 4, 1974

“Taken out” part is present there since the first edition of Prabhupada’s letters, so we don’t know which mantra(s) were there exactly, but what I find curious is that Srila Prabhupada refers to “this mantra” here – in singular, apparently not giving any consideration to the other mantras that were supposed to be included. Moreover, he talks about brahmana, not pañcarātrika initiation as necessary for deity worship – the reason these instructions were given in the first place. Vaikunthanatha and his wife were far away from any other devotees and they needed to establish a temple but Vaikunthanatha wasn’t qualified to serve deities so Srila Prabhupada told him to receive second initiation via his wife, Saradiya, and the key part of that initiation was Gayatri mantra, not the dīkṣā mantras specifically meant for deity worship, as we learned above from Jiva Goswami.

I’m pointing this out to demonstrate the scope of applying Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā rules to ISKCON – historically, it has not been very great. It can’t be ignored, it was always present in how we organized our deity worship and initiation ceremonies, but it’s never been given the central defining role in the same way Bhāgavata marga features in our practices, and in the definition of initiation and our understanding of guru-pādāśraya.

It doesn’t mean that Pañcarātrika-viddhi is an alien subject that often simply gets in the way. Fundamental principles of Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā  deserve careful consideration in this regard. In fact, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur once wrote an article specifically dedicated to this process of pañca saṃskāra which constitutes full pañcarātrika-dīkṣā. If we go through five of these items word by word and check how they are described in Pañcarātrika literature it would appear that our initiations have little resemblance to the process – we don’t brand out bodies with hot iron, we don’t wait to put tilakas until the initiation, we chant Hare Krishna mantra from the very first day, too, we don’t get any special mantras until the second initiation, and we don’t aim towards deity worship. I mean that the last step in pañca saṃskāras is yāga – literally the deity worship, but for the vast majority of devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s time deity worship was done only by a few designated pujaris and everyone else was out in the streets preaching or distributing books. No one had ever thought that unless he became a pujari his devotional service would not bring desired results.

On the other hand, essential elements of our initiation are not present in Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā – we give a vow to chant 16 rounds, we give a vow to follow four regulative principles, we receive japa beads from the guru, and we also get a right to wear three threads of kanthi-mala, but that is kind of secondary. Vows and beads – these two have always been the most important. Thousands of devotees received their beads in mail, but everyone always got them, so initiations were completed even without actual guru’s presence, which makes another supporting argument that the ritual is a formality and actual initiation happens in the heart of the disciple when he agrees to accept his guru’s words.

Of course we shouldn’t forget unique ISKCON context – Srila Prabhupada was ready to initiate every sincere soul. This context is not always present and sometimes devotees had to beg the guru repeatedly to accept them. Narottama Das Thakur and Lokanatha Goswami is a prominent case, as well as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. It should be noted that this latter case is not accepted as genuine initiation by some “traditional Gaudiyas” on the grounds that not all aspects of “traditional” initiation have been carried out when Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji finally consented to accept Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati as a disciple, but we can only laugh at their literal application of the rules where they can’t see forest for the trees.

Nevertheless, in the second part of his article, Bhaktivinoda Thakur delves deep into the meaning of each of the saṃskāras and demonstrates to us how they do not deviate in any way from the praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā principles given in Bhagavad Gita, and from his elaboration we can understand  how they rather expand on the understanding of these principles. He goes through each of them and shows how they manifest in our traditional Gaudiya practices even as they manifest differently in Pañcarātrika literature. The first one, tāpa, is described as a voluntary atonement taken by the disciple for his previous years of material life. The guru observes the disciple for one year to see that his dedication to the process is, indeed, serious. The same could be achieved by observing eagerness of a disciple to be branded forever by hot iron as still practiced by vaishnavas in South India. The second step, ūrdhva-puṇḍra, is described as a counterbalance to the renunciation of tāpa where, instead of giving a disciple a list of forbidden things guru gives him an elevating path forward, his new relationship as a servant of Krishna, which what tilaka marks signify in Pañcarātrika process. I encourage the reader to complete the list by reading the original article called “Panca Samskara — The Process of Initiation”, it’s enlightening. The point is –  Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā is not entirely alien to our initiation, but it should be seen as a particular extension of the same underlying principles where, as I demonstrated above, real initiation happens when a disciple takes guru’s instructions to his heart.

Once again, this is the point when actual dīkṣā happens and when a person gets divine knowledge, gets relief from his previous karma, and gets protection of the Lord. To illustrate this point let me tell a story of Sarabha Prabhu, which I heard in a class recently. He grew up in Bosnia Herzegovina and found Bhagavad Gita in a house of his friend. He became a devotee, stopped all illicit activities and started chanting sixteen rounds a day. Eventually he got to the point where he had to go and find other devotees. The problem was that Balkan wars were raging at the time and the only temples were in Croatia, so he decided to walk there on foot. Everybody said this was the craziest idea ever, but he recited the line he learned from the books – if Krishna wants to protects someone then he cannot be killed. He got a bag with essentials, his beads, and set out through the war zone. In one desolated village he heard a familiar click-clack of an automatic weapon, turned towards the sound, and saw a muzzle of a Kalashnikov releasing a volley of rounds in his direction. Bullets were bouncing of the rocks to the left and right but none hit him. He ran for his life, never forgetting to chant the mantra. On another occasion he was pinned down inside an abandoned house and had a barrel of a gun pressed against his face. He kept chanting, soldiers demanded him to stop but he didn’t. Eventually they shot him point blank but the bullet somehow hit his bag, ricocheted off the wall, and almost hit one of the soldiers themselves. They decided not to shoot in close quarters anymore and instead took him for questioning. All he told them was that he was going to a temple and then he kept chanting. They checked his ID but now he was shaved up and didn’t look anything like in the picture. In the middle of the night one of the militants approached him and said that he knew his family and that he knew he had a Serbian mother, which was almost like a death sentence at the time. Sarabha didn’t stop chanting and instead showed him a picture of Krishna he kept on him. Upon seeing the beautiful form of the Lord the militant’s heart immediately softened and he retreated without causing any more trouble. Next morning they agreed to drive him to the Croatian border but said he had to deal with three checkpoints on the way himself. Miraculously, he passed all three and no one ever asked for his papers, they just looked at his shaved head and how he was chanting and waived him through. Next day he was offering fruit to the Lord in a public park – Panca Tattva picture and food on the bench, Sarabha himself kneeling on the ground. A police patrol happened to pass by at this very moment and they asked him what he was doing. Sarabha had seen everything by then and he confidently told them to wait until he finishes. That really threw them off and, confused by his audacity, they patiently waited. When he explained his situation they checked his papers, concluded that he had no right to be there, and decided to send him back to the same checkpoints again. As they were driving, Sarabha remembered that now he had prasadam and so he offered it to the policemen, they accepted it, and immediately decided to drop the idea of strictly following rules and regulations and drove him back to the city. Eventually, he found a way to cross the border, met the devotees, got initiated and everything.

Who can honestly say that before initiation he didn’t get recognition and protection from the Lord? Obviously, his real initiation had happened very early in his devotional life when he decided to surrender himself to Krishna. This, accidentally, reminds me of another aspect of our initiation – it’s considered the beginning of one’s relationship with the guru, it’s the start of one’s devotional life. Traditional mantra initiations, on the contrary, often become the end of guru-disciple relationship. After getting the mantras the disciple can and should start deity worship on his own and so there’s no reason for him to serve his guru anymore, pretty much in the same way we don’t go back to school to learn ABCs but always respect our first teachers anyway. Relationships with our Bhāgavata marga gurus, by contrast, are eternal, which is explained by sevayā part from Bhagavad Gita and by Srila Prabhupada’s personal example.

I guess I need to write another article to present a “full theory of initiation” where all the above points can co-exist and support each other without contradicting all our known legitimate practices. I call it “theory” not in the sense of scientific theories where people don’t know the conclusion but as an admittance that full knowledge of all aspects of guru-tattva and guru-disciple relationships is impossible for an embodied being. We select some of these aspects as the most important to us and hope it will be enough to please our gurus. Our bottom line, for example, is chanting sixteen rounds and following four regulative principles. Everything else might go totally wrong in our lives and we might misunderstand all kinds of things but as long as we stick to these two foundational principles we should be safe – on the strength of Srila Prabhupada’s promise and his firm conviction that Krishna will take care. Even more fundamental than that is “harer nama eva kevalam” – even the strength to follow regulative principles depends on the mercy of the Holy Name. It’s in this sense that I call everything else a “theory”. Only the Holy Name carries substance in this age and everything else is dependent on it, and can and will go wrong.

Nevertheless, I believe it’s entirely possible to construct a compelling theory of initiations based on the above mentioned quotes, and when this theory is clear one could address all sorts of questions and doubts. Ritviks and FDG are two most obvious topics of interest here. The backbone of this theory should be Bhāgavata marga acceptance of guru to attain spiritual knowledge, and Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā and Gaudiya Math and ISKCON initiations should be seen as local and contextual applications. They might appear different but they share the same root in Bhāgavata marga and this root presents “unity in diversity” in this case.  Ultimately, only success on Bhāgavata marga counts for us as Srila Prabhupada’s followers and it’s be the degree of this success that all other practices should be judged by. Now is not the time to start this discussion, though, and so I shall stop here.

PS. Many of the quotes used in this article were originally collected by Bhanu Swami for his 2018 presentation on ambiguities in ISKCON diksha.

On defense of FDG resolution

A couple of days ago one Russian devotee who is a “GBC Deputy”, which means he serves in some sort of an advisory role, gave a long talk answering various concerns regarding recent GBC resolution authorizing Female Diksha Gurus. He was present during that meeting, translating for a Russian GBC member, and, incidentally, he gives vote tally as 16+9+4, meaning there were almost twice as many “yes” votes as there were “nos”. Anyway, this devotee has presented the most comprehensive explanation for this resolution so far. Most likely his arguments will be included in the promised “milestones leading to this decision”. Still, it’s not an official position so whatever deficiencies are there in his talk, they might not be present in actual GBC explanations.

The arguments below are not meant for GBC bashing, they are meant for deeper understanding of the issue. They are not meant as a call to action and I do not propose any alternatives. It’s meant for sambandha, not for abhidheya, nor for prayojana. In the talk this devotee also warned about this from the start – those who are looking merely for more reasons to “defeat GBC” should skip it altogether.

I’m not going to comment on this talk minute by minute either but start with what I think is the most important point. By important I mean the point which allows us to understand not only GBC position but to reconcile it with the position of FDG opponents – because they must have forked at some point before which there was unity, and I think I found it. In the video it’s about 29:30 minute mark and it’s the definition of diksha itself. It relies on CC Adi 1.35 and CC Antya 4.192

In short, it means that a devotee meets many siksha gurus and, after carefully listening to them, selects one guru who speaks to his heart and in whose words he can see Krishna. By speaking sabda-brahman this one special guru reveals Krishna himself, and so a devotee surrenders to him completely, seeing him as no different from God. This act not only cements their existing relationships, where all the doubts of mundanity are finally removed, but also signifies the beginning of the new stage where disciple’s body, mind, and soul belong to his guru – atma-samarpanam.

When this happens I don’t think any arguments will matter at all – this kind of revelation is self-evident, and I don’t think any FDG opponent will object here. If we look at it in light of Bharadvaja Samhita, then there’s a concluding text (1.44) in a series related to FDG and it says that those who are pratyakṣitātma-nāthānāṁ are not subjected to regulations covering women, shudras, etc. The exact meaning of pratyakṣitātma-nāthānāṁ is disputable, but everyone agrees it has something to do with direct perception of the Absolute. The diksha definition of GBC goes even further than that – not only the guru has this perception but at the moment of diksha this direct perception develops in the heart of the disciple, too. In other words, it totally satisfies Bharadvaja Samhita requirements.

The opponents, however, do not mean this kind of diksha in their arguments, and I have serious questions whether our actual ISKCON initiation practices reach that lofty goal either. In the zonal acharya days one could be initiated by anyone, I mean anyone who is put in charge of your geographical location, and it was all the same – all the gurus preached the same things, gave the same lectures, and presented Srila Prabhupada in one unified voice. There was nothing magic happening during those initiations either, no actual revelation of the full glory of the holy name. For this reason our whole guru system is often criticized like, for example, in this Aindra’s video. His presentation is a bit unusual, but I don’t know who can disagree with his argument that unless one has the necessary purity in his bhajan there’s no question of giving a pure name to a disciple, and if one has this purity then what does it matter if he is in a male or a female body? In other words, by arguing about bodily differences we miss the most important thing – purity of the shuddha nam. If one doesn’t have it, it can’t be fixed by passing resolutions. And, conversely, when it’s present no resolution can stop it either.

In recent years, maybe decades even, there have appeared voices nudging us to re-calibrate our diksha vs siksha preferences. The society grows, gurus are few and far in between, all the good ones have thousands of disciples already, and there’s no question for a new initiate to develop any kind of personal relationships with any of them to make an informed choice, and there’s no hope of developing such relationships after initiation either. Every guru can give a solid class, with all the quotes and dramatic pauses in all the right places. Quite often they give the same class in different temples and polish it to perfection – what can the prospective disciple learn from it? Does his guru have any character faults? How does he deal with those? How does he deal with anger? How does he deal with upsets and inconveniences? All you have is these classes which by now the guru can give in his sleep, if it comes to that.  So, there’s a push to recognize local siksha gurus, to recognize devotees who actually guide people in their spiritual life day in and day out, helping them deal with their problems, giving them little boosts of inspiration, sheltering and protecting them from troubles – all the things necessary to nurture someone’s tender creeper of devotion. Alternatively,  more devotees can be allowed to give diksha, considering that nothing magical is expected to happen anyway. But here’s the problem, though – if there’s no actual revelation of the holy name in the heart of the disciple at the moment of diksha, then GBC selected definition does not apply to our everyday practices.

That’s where Bharadvaja Samhita’s warning about not taking diksha from women, shudras, fallen persons etc fits very nicely – if we make diksha an institutional formality, then it’s a different kind of initiation and it’s subject to a different set of rules. In Caitanya Caritamrita Srila Prabhupada describes maybe half a dozen different “initiations”. Look through all the search results here. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada talks about two different kinds of initiations even in the same purport. Sometimes he says that for chanting the pure name initiation is not required at all. In this case it still means someone should give you the holy name first, which is a kind of initiation, but what is not required is a pancaratrika process of getting a new name and a brahman thread etc.

Having spent a bit of time on thinking in terms of Sankhya, I think we are making a mistake of not recognizing the distinctions between different kinds of diksha, and then not understanding of how they all fit together – which are more important, which are less, and then we make a mistake of not recognizing which kind of diksha is applicable to which situation or which Prabhupada quote to use where.

This is all there really is to it at the moment – it’s the source of all our disagreements. The kind of diksha GBC is talking about is appropriate for Bhagavata parampara, but they want to institutionalize it for diksha parampara. Both are required, but requirements are not the same. One is wholly spiritual in nature, the other one is social. Just like in Vedic or Hindu society – everyone should get diksha, everyone should get upanayana when the age comes, there’s social pressure to be initiated, too, and one does not require supergurus for that kind of initiation. The fact that the resolution put in social requirements for FDG – minimum age limit and family/temple protection, is evidence that here we are talking about social function which depends on social conditions. Bhagavata parampara diksha, on the other hand, does not depend on any conditions, including gender, and it does not require any change in social status. No need change of names, no big temple yajnas, nothing. In some cases it could even fall under Hari Bhakti Vilasa’s prescription to hide one’s ishta devata, one’s guru, and one’s mantra. If we try to mix the two different kinds together we are bound to run into all kinds of problems.

Back to the talk – this is one of my big concerns with it – they read into quotes what is in their heads already. Just take the first quote in GBC resolution, from this Vyasa Puja address, second paragraph from the bottom. Yes, it does say “men and women” and “become spiritual master”, but “become spiritual master” was repeated ten times in that class and Srila Prabhupada gave many many examples of what he meant by it and none of them had anything to do with the right to initiate.

Devotee giving the talk accused the opponents of relying on “Yes, Prabhupada said that, but what he actually meant was…” argument. Well, I don’t know about opponents, but this is an example of Srila Prabhupada asking us to humbly approach people, praise them, and then beg them to forget everything they know and take instructions of Lord Caitanya instead. That’s how we should “become spiritual master” and that’s what “follow the principle” refers to in GBC quote, but then the resolution defender says that what Prabhupada actually meant is gender parity in giving initiations. Really?

Or take the famous “Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples” from this letter to Hansadutta. The bulk of that paragraph is about examinations, books studies, titles awarded and so on, but from one sentence which wouldn’t be noticed if it was missing, we conclude that it set Prabhupada’s vision for gender equality in giving diksha. It has never been repeated again and I suspect no one knew of this vision until many years after Srila Prabhupada’s departure when it was included in Vedabase Folio. And so it becomes the case of “in the letter Srila Prabhupada talked about exams, but what he actually meant was…”

Or take the second quote in GBC resolution, duly mentioned in the talk, too: “The word guru is equally applicable to the vartma-pradarśaka-guru, śikṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru.” It’s from the purport to the kiba vipra kiba ‘nyasi verse where guru means a person who knows science of Krishna. Yes, this person can perform the role of all three of these kinds of guru, “but what Prabhupada actually meant was that vartma-pradarśaka-guru can give diksha, too.” No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Bilvanmangala Thakur’s vartma-pradarśaka-guru was a prostitute, and just because some “working girl” can give you directions to the temple it doesn’t make her potential diksha guru as well.

Even more worrying is the general understanding expressed over and over again – Srila Prabhupada always wished that his female disciples were initiating people on par with men. Over the course of my life I’ve spent some time reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, I’ve listened to his lectures, I’ve read his letters, I’ve read his biographies, I’ve listened to people telling stories about their time with him, but I’ve never heard any indication that he meant gender parity in giving diksha. I might be wrong, of course, but when they say his every quote proves exactly that and anyone who disagrees actually disagrees with Prabhupada I don’t know how to accept this argument. The fact remains that not a single time he said anything about women devotees giving diksha on par with men. Never. And yet we are told “but what he actually meant is exactly that”. I want to understand this logic, but so far it escapes me. I mean I can’t find a rational explanation behind it. I have no problem imagining an explanation where devotees get carried away and become blinded, but I don’t want to think that about vaishnavas.

Accusing the opposition of applying this argument doesn’t seem to be fair, especially when you yourself indulge plenty.

Then there’s an objection to characterizing FDG agenda as being influenced by feminism and to using that word itself when addressing pro-FDG devotees. Okay, maybe it’s better to refrain from using such labels, and maybe there’s no such thing as “feminist lobby”, but let’s not pretend that feminism has no influence on how devotees think about FDG issue whatsoever. As I mentioned, when we start treating diksha as a social formality which does not necessarily require revealing Krishna in one’s heart, the opposition has the right to say that this is not about spiritual equality anymore, but about social equality between sexes, ie feminism.

There’s a She Can Become Guru video where many devotees and scholars present many arguments for FDG, and equality between genders is one recurring theme there. It literally starts with words “The crown jewel of discrimination against women in ISKCON is the refusal of the GBC to allow them to initiate disciples” – how’s that not feminism? Why is it “discrimination against” instead of plain discrimination based on qualities, shastra etc? That first speech ends with saying that there’s no doubt inequality in having gurus turns people off our organization. How’s that not a pressure from people desiring gender equality, ie feminists? Then there’s one young woman who is ashamed to tell her friends that in her religion there are no women gurus. Where does this shame come from if not from orienting oneself relative to feminist values?

One could say “it’s just one video”, but it has roughly five times more views than the most popular “controversial” videos by Bhakti Vikasa Swami and eight times more views than FDG resolution posted on dandavats. Therefore I can’t accept the argument that there’s no feminist influence on these issues in our society. Maybe not among GBC members themselves and not in their meetings, but it is definitely felt everywhere else.

Let’s not forget that Srila Prabhupada’s concessions to his female disciples concerning second initiations, brahmacharini ashrams etc was solely due to prevailing social conditions at the time, and those conditions were dictated by feminist norms taking over American society. It’s not that he wanted to introduce those in his League of Devotees in Jhansi. Our devotee girls were born into a feminist society and absorbed its values when growing up. In other often quoted purport he writes: “…one cannot suddenly change a community’s social customs”, which means the pressure to deal with feminism was felt even by him. But now we say we are immune to it while there are often repeated calls to stay in tune with modern times or risk becoming irrelevant. Doesn’t compute. “I’m not a feminist, I just want gender parity and justice for women’s suffering.”

In the talk that devotee said that there’s no way Srila Prabhupada could have been swayed by feminism, that all the revolutionary changes he introduced, sending his unmarried female disciples to solicit donations or sell books, could not have been made under pressure from his equality seeking disciples. But how to explain Mother Govinda’s account of the first ever brahmana initiation when she sulked and pouted and refused to attend because girls were not included, and how Srila Prabhupada eventually agreed to hold a second initiation for the girls the next day? That’s ISKCON classic and an example of women devotees strong-arming Prabhupada, how can we deny it happened? Or how to explain an episode told by Prabhupada’s servant, I don’t remember if it was Srutakirti or Nanda Kumar, but one devotee asked Srila Prabhupada for permission to divorce his wife and it was granted! The servant later asked Srila Prabhupada why he went against his usual instructions against it. “He would have divorced with or without my permission, but now at least he is not guilty of disobeying guru’s order,” Prabhupada replied. So I don’t buy the argument that Srila Prabhupada was completely immune to our requests for social liberties and that he meant all the revolutionary changes right from the start. These objections don’t matter in the big picture of FDG discussion, but I thought these were unacceptable arguments in defense of GBC decision.

Back to the main topic – I’m really alarmed how so many devotees read diksha gender parity into his quotes. As I already said, not once he mentioned it explicitly whereas he made countless other statements regarding duties of women or treating guru as male by default. To me this interpretation of Prabhupada’s words looks like an invention, and while pro-FDG devotees do not treat it as such, the speaker quickly ran into a problem here – because he discovered that Srila Prabhupada didn’t leave us any language to describe these female guru related terms. “Female guru” by itself is nonsense – the word “guru” is masculine gender and feminine form should be “gurvi”, with long “i” at the end. Good luck finding Srila Prabhupada or anyone else using this word in our tradition. Gurudevi, anyone? Is it grammatically correct? Then the speaker turned to fellow Gaudiya Vaishnavas where female gurus were very common in at least some lineages, and said that there they were addressed as Thakurani. Or Goswamini… And I think that was the point where he realized he better stop because this takes us into caste goswami practices which Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati before him opposed without any reservations.

About inventions – once you invent something you will find there are faults in it which need to be fixed and so you have to invent a patch, which will create more problems in turn – and that’s how the living entity gets entangled in the chain of actions and reactions. It wasn’t specified what weakness was found there in FDG, but I suspect something was felt so that additional constraints where introduced – minimum age of 55 and family protection. It wasn’t spelled out, and the devotee presenting it avoided the topic, as a brahmachari should, but are we talking about female hormonal levels here? Are we talking about “don’t worry about her, she’s just on her period”? It’s an important consideration, but since when it had to be factored when choosing a guru? Especially according to the earlier given definition. The guru should be free from all these things, otherwise there’s no question of possessing the pure name, nor of possessing science of Krishna, which had to be realized. Same argument goes for requirement of family protection. The guru should be niskincanasya and he should depend solely on Krishna, not on the mercy of a son-in-law or something. To be fair, the resolution mentions protection of vaishnava sanga, too, and the speaker mentioned that even male gurus depend on such protection, but if we compare it to a stable family situation then it’s not the same thing. We should depend on mercy, not on the accommodations for material bodies. Once again, there’s a mix of purely spiritual and social functions here. Not to mention that Srila Prabhupada wouldn’t qualify himself. Nor, if we are looking at FDG precedents, Gangamata Goswamini, who left protection of her family very early in her life.

We have plenty examples of devotees who were sent out to preach without any material support whatsoever, to foreign and sometimes dangerous countries, and later on many of them became gurus in our society. It’s possible, it was a expected in our early history, and it’s a requirement stated many many times in shastra. But now we have to select gurus from among the materially well-off devotees? Where does this come from, spiritually speaking? Is it defensible in any way? I’d say – yes, if we treat diksha as a social function under rules of varnashrama where everybody had to get it when they reach a certain age.

There’s another accusation leveled against anti-FDG arguments – that they don’t rely on Srila Prabhupada for their support. Not true. Take the book “Masters and Mothers” by Bhakti Vikasa Swami which is based entirely on Srila Prabhupada’s quotes and which had to be unbanned partly for this reason – it was like banning Srila Prabhupada himself. A lot of anti-FDG arguments can be sourced from there. Statements about women’s duties are plentiful in Srila Prabhupada’s works, too, and so are statements implying that gurus are male, like in “second birth is made possible by the spiritual father” in SB 4.12.48 or “Under the guidance of the spiritual master, the spiritual father, one can return home, back to Godhead” in SB 6.16.6. Or this passage from a lecture in 1968:

    But those who are twice-born… That means once born by the father and mother, and the second birth is the spiritual father and Vedic knowledge. Once born by this material bodily father and mother, and the second birth is Vedic knowledge, the mother, and the spiritual master, the father. So that is second birth.

Incidentally, this [public] lecture was given just a couple of months before that [private] letter to Hansadutta, which FDG proponents take as a statement of Prabhupada’s actual intentions.

Of course there’s only one statement explicitly concerning female qualifications for giving diksha, too – that of “Suniti, being a woman”, but the speaker didn’t have time to address it as promised. I wonder how it will be reconciled in the promised GBC paper. Even when the opponents cite from Manu Samhita they do so on the strength of Srila Prabhupada’s numerous references to it and his instructions to treat it as a law book on dharma. Anyway, I find this argument, that opponents don’t rely on Prabhupada, to be unacceptable, too. It doesn’t meant that in my opinion the victory should go to anti-FDG devotees, but it’s not a fair characterization of their position and I expected better.

There was another argument from tradition – the lineage of Haridas Shastri, who was called the greatest Gaudiya scholar of the 20th century. I hope no one will dispute that, but he appeared in the line from Gadadhara Pandit where, according to him, ALL initiations were done by women. He himself didn’t get one from his mother because she passed away before he came of age. Once again, Srila Prabhupada never said anything good about those caste goswami practices. In 2013 SAC issued a paper where they presented a count of numerous female gurus in half a dozen lineages they examined. I can’t repeat their research, but in the line of Bhaktivinoda Thakura there appears a string of three female gurus and what I do know is that the last one of them gave diksha to her son, who then gave diksha to Vipina Bihari Goswami, who gave diksha to Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I suspect that all three of these female gurus where simply mothers and daughters. I heard that this count of female gurus didn’t factor in the resolution, but I think it should have – because it establishes not only the precedent, but also consequences of having FDG. One important result being that no one remembers they existed, so why bother again? Srila Sridhar Swami knew about them and mentioned their example in “Dead Mantra” chapter of his book on guru tattva. Should we be impressed by this historic precedent? I don’t think so.

Speaking of 2013 SAC paper. The speaker mentioned it as acceptable evidence and he also mentioned Mukunda Datta Prabhu as a trusted devotee who worked on this research, but Mukunda Datta resigned from working on that paper, very tactfully and without assigning any blame, but he made it clear that, in plain words, the outcome of that research had been fixed beforehand and no one was really interested in what he had to contribute. The paper itself is not listed on the official GBC website, but, apparently, its arguments live on, though they shouldn’t. Again, I expected better.

Then there was treatment of Bharadvaja Samhita. First time it was dismissed as “never heard before” but towards the end of the talk the speaker explained why they didn’t accept arguments against FDG based on it. There was some medieval commentator on it, Saryu Prasad Mishra, and on the crucial verse regarding women there he said that the same conditions should be applied to brahmanas as well. It would take me too much time to clarify this issue, but it was something like “self-realized person is not constrained by considerations of birth”, which leaves a kind of loophole for women to become gurus, and the commentator added “brahmanas should be self-realized as well”. This has been discussed a while ago already, this is all that I remember, sorry. I thought it was a misinterpretation on the part of GBC Sanskrit scholar who discovered it – the commentator’s statement was meant to stress the importance of self-realization, not to rewrite the slokas themselves. It’s a noble sentiment glorifying the ideal, but not an actual requirement stated in the text.

In another verse Bharadvaja Samhita says that one should not choose a guru who has more material attachments than oneself – meaning that total and absolute purity was not expected and deficiencies in prospective guru’s realizations had to be considered as well. An aspiring disciple cannot see absolute purity anyway, he can only conclude that he sees something “better than myself”.

In any case, I don’t think Bharadvaja Samhita was given a fair hearing. First of all, half of the anti-FDG presentation based on it was about general description of diksha and about proving that our process, given to us by Srila Prabhupada, complies with all the essential principles of it. Secondly, it demonstrates a clear connection between demands of purity and resulting rituals. It’s not a set of mindless commands like “wave the lamp three times”. It bridges the gap between “Bhagavat diksha” and “Pancaratrica diksha” and demonstrates how the principles of the first manifests as rituals of the second. I also know of Sanat Kumara Samhita, also part of Narada Pandaratra, which does the same thing but doesn’t mention women. In other words, by carefully studying these texts we can learn how Bhagavat and Diksha paramparas are but two different aspects of the same reality. This should help us figure out their commonalities, special features, relevant applications and so on. Earlier I mentioned this difference already, and studying Pancaratra texts should help us to learn about their commonalities as well. It’s sad that this was given a miss.

To sum it all up – there’s nothing wrong with FDG when we go by the given definition of diksha, but I’m afraid we are trying to apply it in the wrong place – as a societal function governed by an institution with somewhat different goals in mind. To solve this problem we should study the shades of meaning of diksha first and then proceed on the basis of that. I can’t do it in this article, sorry, but I think I do get the gist of it. I also don’t think that the speaker was entirely honest or maybe not knowledgeable enough, which is a milder accusation, when describing the process and motivations behind this decision. I think it’s far better to deal with feminists influences in our common psyche than deny that they even exist. I also don’t want to see lumping pro-FDG devotees with feminists and gays, and with characterization of anti-FDG devotees as narrow-minded fools and wife beaters I heard elsewhere. I’m actually against this dual vision altogether. I believe it should disappear once we honestly focus our attention on Srila Prabhupada’s instruction and then another type of vision, one that of harmony in diversity, will take over our consciousness.

PS. I apologize for not using diacritic marks consistently for transcription of Sanskrit words.

Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

Vanity thought #1751. Ways to hear

Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.

It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.

Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.

So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.

First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.

There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.

What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.

The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.

The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.

Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.

Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.

Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.

I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.

My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.

Vanity thought #1677. Frailty

These days we can read a lot about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, often including minute details in a diary like format. We often have several devotees remembering exactly the same events and conversations and Prabhupāda’s participation in them, too. All of this adds volume and depth to the standard story of his life but it also makes him human, which is not always a good thing.

Typically, we seek such deeper, more intimate understanding of our guru, or any other authority, for that matter. We want to be close to them, we want to feel what they feel, we want to know what they know, but I’m afraid these desires are not legitimate manifestation of devotion.

For a conditioned soul knowledge is power and possessing such intimate knowledge gives one unprecedented leverage over his peers. Regardless of how it’s used, a person who is known to be close to a guru, or Śrīla Prabhupāda in this case, is going to command a great deal of respect and his words would carry enormous weight in our community. Avoiding this power is impossible and power is the enemy of devotion, generally speaking.

Of course there are devotees who cannot be swayed and there are devotees who are put in the position of power to carry out the mission of Lord Caitanya but we if go through the list of those who once yielded it we can’t help but notice that close association with Śrīla Prabhupāda was not a guarantee of staying. These devotees will eventually reunite with their master, of that there’s no doubt, but while we are still here, struggling with out anarthas, we should note that power of association is not the same as staying power, which is the first sign of maturing devotion – niṣṭhā.

This is a really simple bottom line – if one forfeits his service to the Lord then he doesn’t have niṣṭha and all his previous achievements have not yet born the fruit of bhakti. It’s not a condemnation, it’s not a test that one has to pass, it’s just an observation. Devotees with niṣṭhā have Lord’s energy arranging their lives in such a way that they never spend a moment without service to the Lord. You can’t imitate it, it’s either there or it is not, cheating won’t help.

The first reaction would be; “Oh look, he’s blooped, let’s write him off as a neophyte.” Technically it might be correct but since niṣṭha or falldowns are both arrangements of the Lord blaming the devotee himself is doubly wrong. First, because he is not the cause of actions by the material nature, and secondly because blaming him means actually blaming the Lord. Nothing good will come out of it and this in itself is a sign of our immaturity.

When such thoughts enter our heads we should know them to be simply perturbations of the mind serving the false ego. The ego wants glory and recognition and even if we might accept that we are not perfect in our service we still go for the pleasure of being better than someone else. “Kṛṣṇa,” we mean to say, “I know I’m fallen, but at least not as low as him. You know that I’m actually a better devotee, right?”

What can we do? Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī recommended beating such a mind with a shoe. What was it – with the shoe in the morning and with a broomstick before going to bed? During the day the mind must be engaged and therefore always under control but when we sleep the mind has total freedom to dream whatever it wants. That’s why it must be beaten in advance, before bed, and on waking up to shake off its impure thoughts, too. That was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s personal method, btw, our minds can’t be controlled by beating alone. In his waking hours he was totally engaged in service but we can’t master even that, what to speak of controlling our dreams.

Can we speed up the process? Possibly, but we should be clear in our motivation – if we want to become better devotees meaning better than someone else then our rush to perfection will be useless. We should become sensitive to our desires and spot the selfish ones as soon as possible. If we fail to do that then we’d naturally enjoy “making progress” and that would lead to our falldown.

How many times have we been caught indulging in selfish thoughts like that? Should be a lot, and if one denies ever having them he is still in deep illusion. That’s the feature of growing bhakti – it should make us look worse and worse in our own eyes. If the opposite is happening then we are doing something wrong. Real bhakti would never ever let us feel good about ourselves or take credit for our success.

So, instead of rushing it, we should gradually develop indifference to waves of fame and infamy and to successes and failures. These things come and go and only time separates a devotee from perfection anyway, so if he looks like a neophyte today just wait it out and Kṛṣṇa will eventually shine through him tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. Once you are sure it will happen you’ll stop looking at him as imperfect now, too.

Think of King’s child, everyone knows that he is special and great things await him so they don’t see him as on ordinary baby soiling his diapers. Same should be with devotees – forget what they look like now and appreciate their eternal connection with guru and Kṛṣṇa.

About frailty – unless our minds are ready for it, I think we should avoid seeing humanity in Prabhupāda’s life. It’s easy to see him as human, one just have to get close enough for it, either personally or through reading personal accounts. It’s far more difficult to see him as an external manifestation of the Lord.

It’s one thing to worship him from afar where we can imagine him to be whatever we want him to be, even God himself, as history shows, it’s another thing to see him as God’s representative when you are up close and personal. We were never meant to be in his entourage but, thanks to all the written diaries, we can take a mental place alongside individuals selected by the Lord as Prabhupāda’s personal servants, cooks, and secretaries. These are not the positions we were born for, we should always remember that. It’s not the kind of knowledge of Prabhupāda we should be seeking but we should rather try to pick the devotional mood of his servants, that’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day, not the amount of “once Prabhupāda said that..” quotes we can carry in our brains.

Our nascent personal service to Prabhupāda is frail and we should treat it with great care, always remembering all the devotees in between who make it possible. By personal service I mean simple stuff like offering praṇāma mantras and reading books, not anything special, like looking after his mūrti in the temple. We should always remember that this personal service is enabled by our guru and everyone else who helps. And we should also be sensitive in the service to our guru, too – nothing can be taken for granted in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and everything must be treated with great care, as if it was the most precious thing in the world.

Vanity thought #1663. Ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ

In the past couple of days I often mentioned the difference in goals between us and the rest of the materialistic society. This is obvious, of course, but our exact goals are much less clear. What do we want from Kṛṣṇa? What do we expect? What can we reasonably expect?

Devotional literature in our sampradāya offers a wide range of achievements from the highest goal of developing Kṛṣṇa premā down but we also know that most of it is closed for us and we’ll never be able to experience it while in our present bodies. We know that eventually, by the grace of our predecessor ācāryas, we will attain Kṛṣṇa’s company but how we will get there is less clear. Will it be another birth in this world but in Kṛṣṇa’s presence? Or will we taken straight to the spiritual world? There are good arguments for both outcomes, plus Śrīla Prabhupāda promised return back to Godhead from the very beginning.

It would require a little word jugglery to accommodate that promise with another birth in Kṛṣṇa’s presence but I bet we are up for it because, while technically incorrect, being in Kṛṣṇa’s company is not the same as being in the material world due to one’s karma, it’s not a return to the world of the repeated birth and death.

The argument goes that we get to train ourselves for direct participation in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes just like those unnamed gopīs who couldn’t participate in rasa dance. They were with Kṛṣṇa but not quite there yet. They were technically born inside of the universe but they weren’t a part of it either. They had to die like ordinary people do but they didn’t suffer from birth, death, old age and disease because they were liberated.

Then we have even the higher gift of service when Kṛṣṇa asks His devotees to come back to the material world to reclaim fallen souls because they are very very good at it. I seriously doubt anyone ever says no to such a request and I’ve heard that in one of his books Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī said that these requests are very common. Will we be asked the same? Quite possible.

Right now for many of us it seems like a waste of time because we are largely useless of the preaching mission but it’s one thing to try and take it up from our present condition and quite another to come back empowered by the Lord Himself. With His blessings everything will become possible, no excuses.

Then there’s a “minor” matter of us being saved by Lord Caitanya. He taught us to serve Kṛṣṇa, of course, but I don’t see how this bond between us can ever be broken. We will always be His servants and this means we will always be concerned with spiritual welfare of the conditioned souls. Just like each incarnation of the Lord has its own faithful following we will always be in Lord Caitanya’s posse. For us this will be preferable even to eternal pastimes with Kṛṣṇa Himself because that is our natural position. We will never be excluded from Vṛndāvana either so we’ll have the best of both worlds.

Does it mean that we all will stay in this world indefinitely to serve Lord Caitanya’s mission in one universe after another? Quite possible, but hardly any one of us mentally prepares himself for such an outcome. We are just not up to it, only the best of us, devotees who already act on a liberated platform, can consider it seriously.

So, what’s left for the rest of us? The fact that we have been plucked out of completely materialistic surroundings means that outcome of our current attempts at service will be far more modest. Kṛṣṇa premā, eternal preaching service, milking surabhi cows – that’s not for us, not in the immediate future and so we should not get carried away.

Take Mahārāja Parīkṣit, for example. He was descendant of the Pāṇdavas and therefore related to Kṛṣṇa Himself. He was saved by the Lord in the womb of his mother, he was a pure devotee from his very birth, he was the original recipient of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, who are we compared to Him? Nobodies. So, what was HIS goal of life, as explained by Śukadeva Gosvāmī?

It was his direct question right in the beginning, when Śrīla Śukadeva first made his entrance (SB 1.19.37-38):

    You are the spiritual master of great saints and devotees. I am therefore begging you to show the way of perfection for all persons, and especially for one who is about to die. Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. Please explain all this to me.

And what did Śukadeva Gosvāmī answer? Premā-pumartho-mahān? No. He declared the following (SB 2.1.6):

    The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.

Ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ – at the end we should remember Nārāyaṇa. That’s it, nothing fancy. There are plenty of quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda telling us the same thing, before we get carried away with all the other delicious prospects. Chant sixteen rounds without fail, follow the regulative principles, and that should enable us to remember Kṛṣṇa at the moment of death. That’s all we have been promised, that’s our contract with our guru.

We can dream of this and prepare for that but all we really need to do is to remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of our lives. Many devotees prepare themselves for entrance into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. They read up on them and try to develop attachment to hearing about them, they retell these stories to one another, they hope that it would help relieve them from sexual attraction, yet the goal of all this hearing and reading is still far more modest – remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of life. In our current state everything else is pure speculation.

Of course even if some devotees do all those things for a wrong reason it still helps them to think of Kṛṣṇa on their deathbed so there’s no loss. Still, we should be realistic with our expectations and there are other ways for these unauthorized discussions to impede us in our service. We think that remembering Kṛṣṇa would be OUR action, that it would be OUR choice, but no, it’s more likely that we won’t be able to think straight and make any decisions whatsoever. The ability to think of Kṛṣṇa would be due to blessings of our guru which come in reciprocation for the lifetime of service. If we spend our lives doing something else then blessings might not be there even if we ostensibly engaged ourselves in discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in our mind would be Kṛṣṇa’s, it won’t come as a result of our own attempts, and Kṛṣṇa comes only by the mercy of the guru no matter what we read or discuss. If guru’s mercy is not there then there won’t be Kṛṣṇa either. The point is – we should be very careful with inventing our own ways to render service, it should be done on guru’s terms, not ours.

Vanity thought #1609. Sophisticated rascaldom

We learned a lot about “rascals” from Śrīla Prabhupāda, from atheists to māyāvādīs, and we think we got it all covered. The world of rascaldom, however, does not stay in place and evolve with times. We need to keep up, too.

These days it’s not enough to know how to spot māyāvādīs and I think they are not the worst danger that awaits bewildered souls of the modern age. I’m not quite clear myself on the contemporary classification and I hesitate to lump all deviants together under the same label, especially when it comes to those who look like vaiṣṇavas.

Even in Prabhupāda’s time many of our devotees realized that those darned māyāvādīs are actually ourselves, that Prabhupāda was railing against tendencies prevailing in our own hearts, and that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between somewhat erroneous devotees and impersonalists.

Why do we need labels anyway? It’s like using “Hitler” brush to paint anyone we don’t like. Hitler was bad, some of our contemporaries might be similarly genocidal, too, but we can call them out for their exact crimes, not for comparisons with Nazi Germany. Trying to fit everyone under one giant label is a propaganda trick, we don’t need this unless we are trying to rally less-discerning masses to our cause. So far I’m talking about clearing our own hearts, not about leading others, which is a political process that plays by its own rules.

So, we know about māyāvādīs, we know about their new-agey followers, too. Most of us can spot them a mile away by their wishy washy attitude and love of all things “spiritual” without any discrimination. They can sing Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra right before they switch to singing for Gaṇeśa, it’s all the same to them. Sometimes our devotees invite them to our own functions and they are being called out for improper association. There’s danger in that but I think we’ve got it covered, the rest is up to our political leadership, it’s not our job to correct our seniors directly.

Another big and loud group is ex-ISKCON devotees who still claim to be Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavas and insist on judging us by their standards. Historically, it happened like this – devotees accompanied Prabhupāda to India and came across different sādhus there. Some decided to hedge their bets and take initiation from them just in case things didn’t work out with Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was a foolish decision, no doubt about that, but these devotees didn’t see it that way and still don’t see it that way. They and those who followed their path think rather the opposite – leaving ISKCON was the best thing that ever happened to them. When they meet our devotees they pity us: “Oh, you are still there? When will you finally realize and get out?”

In some places being out of ISKCON is a new normal, especially on the internet where a few people of similar persuasion can meet each other and present themselves as a solid community even if they are separated by thousands miles. With proliferation of discussion boards and then later blogs and other social media building your own community is relatively easy. If you can’t create one you can certainly find one to join, all it takes is a google search and a few clicks. I don’t think I’d be far off if I say that in Vṛndāvana there are more ex-ISKCON devotees than those who are still in our movement, but Vṛndāvana is unique in that sense. Still, it’s a place where they can feel at home and where they can be a community and support each other. They are all in the same boat, all facing the same dangers, and they have no choice but to stay united. This might shaken our resolve, too, because we are human and humans are social animals, we love to follow the crowds and we love to belong somewhere. Some might argue that spiritual monogamy is unnatural, too.

The other big group are those who left for Gauḍiyā Maṭha, they also love to tell how they represent the real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism as opposed to immature ISKCON fanatics. Unlike Vṛndāvana bābājīs with their questionable behavior GM is a bona fide institution following bona fide philosophy. They know what’s right and what’s wrong, they know the value of preaching, too, and some of these renegades have built themselves a following and initiated their own disciples, something that has not yet happen to our fake “brijabasis”.

At this point we should be fair and accept that universal laws apply universally and that any service to Kṛṣṇa is accepted regardless of other transgressions. That’s one possible reaction to their success but we should not get confused even for a moment that there’s spiritual progress outside the shelter of our guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda. This is the most fundamental law of any spirituality – yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi – without the mercy of the guru there’s no possibility of any progress whatsoever.

The mitigating part for those who left for GM is that they accept shelter of their newly found gurus there and if they follow orders they must achieve some sort of success, the universe can’t deny them that. The part that should be clear to us, however, is that we are not looking for this kind of rewards and should not be swayed by them. Some brainless celebrity can have a thousand times more followers than all our renegades combined, that does not mean much. We need to follow our guru no matter what. Some other guru having more followers is not a reason for us to doubt ours, and ISKCON is never going to be in danger of losing anyone numerically anyway.

What we need to know is that we can’t make any progress if we deviate even a little from serving our guru. We can see how others make progress elsewhere but that’s them, not us. They can learn to chant, worship the deity, and read books but they will never ever receive the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advaya-jñāna will never blossom in their hearts. You can see it for yourself if you ever come across them – all they do is talk philosophy and scriptures, accumulation of such mundane knowledge is their substitute for bhakti. The number of disillusioned GM devotees is also relatively high and many of these self-proclaimed real Guaḍiyās have left service to Kṛṣṇa altogether, their offenses have finally caught up to them and no amount of academic knowledge could protect them.

The difficulty is this – they are ostensibly vaiṣṇavas, they chant the holy name, they know the philosophy, the know intricacies of Rādhā-Kṛṣna līlā but they preach to everyone that leaving the guru is acceptable and even desirable, and they call it “real” Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism.

What label to put on them? “Imersonalists”? “Māyāvādīs”? Some form of apa-siddhānta? Which one? Sometimes, if we don’t have the ready label, we might think it’s rather innocent but there’s nothing innocent about disobeying orders of your guru. We can pull up generic quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda but this won’t impress them, no more than aforementioned yasyāpradādān na gatiḥ kutl ‘pi.

In a way they are like that Russian professor of Hindu studies who, when Prabhupāda asked him what happens after death, replied that there’s nothing. People like him know Bhagavad Gītā and can talk about it for hours but they don’t *know* even the most basic spiritual facts, it goes straight past them. What is the value of academic knowledge like that? What is the value of knowing all about Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa līlā if you don’t know you have to serve your guru no matter what?

This rant is not over.

Vanity thought #1539. Rascaldom

I occasionally check Hinduism subreddit. Usually these places are overrun by māyāvādīs and devotees appearing there are immediately insulted and chased off but this one maintains a modicum of civility. It doesn’t mean it’s not completely off the chart when it comes to philosophy, though, and it’s this part that is truly scary.

Just on this last visit I saw at least three postings that make me lose hope in humanity. One was made by a devotee, btw. He happens to be a disciple of one ex-ISKCON swami, won’t mention any names but it’s the one whose disciples are into research and making their own minds as they read Vedic literature. Nominally in GM, he himself diverts greatly from them on jīva falldown issue, for example, because he’s read Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa and so has an informed opinion on this (as opposed to “lesser” ācāryas in both GM and ISKCON?).

Anyway, this particular devotee digs up rare books on all sorts of issues, I’m not sure how much he retains but if you want to check on dvaita schools in Kashmiri Śaivism he’s got you covered. This time he asked about vaiṣṇava dvaita, though, and wanted to see their teachings on free will. Speaking for Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism he said that Baladeva took a compatibilist position on this and provided helpful links to Stanford’s overview of philosophy explaining what compatibilism is.

He was immediately corrected because in our tradition we don’t take Western philosophical positions, we don’t have freedom to take any positions other than the ones given by our guru. Being a devotee he agreed, and yet this small episode betrays the dangerous attitude common to all of us.

We still approach our books as wannabe philosophers. We read stuff, try to understand it, and then form the conclusions. If we are lucky these conclusions are in line with Śrīla Prabhupāda but even this luck is limited in its power because these are still OUR conclusions, it’s what WE think Kṛṣṇa consciousness is, it’s a product of OUR minds.

Real knowledge, on the contrary is what Kṛṣṇa REVEALS about Himself. If He hasn’t done so then we don’t have it and whatever we do have is useless, it’s just a concoction of one’s mind with his memories as ingredients and guṇas as a cook.

Kṛṣṇa, however, reveals this knowledge gradually, so sometimes it’s hard to tell our own speculations from realizations provided by Him from within our hearts. I think a sure way not to make this mistake is not speculate in the first place, just accept what Prabhupāda says and try to realize it through service. Of course analyzing guru’s teachings is a service, too, and so next one should see a difference between philosophical and mental speculations and between trying to come to our own conclusions and comprehending conclusions offered by ācāryas.

That’s why our path is not easy even though it’s relatively simple. If only we could surrender unconditionally.., but even that ability is granted by the Lord. Therefore we depend on Him and our guru in all respects – the fact that we often forget.

Two other requests were from non-devotees reading our Bhagavad Gītā As It Is and asking for better translations. What do you say to that? They’ve read Prabhupāda’s books and purports and weren’t impressed. I don’t know if we have a protocol for dealing with this, I thought we should just sigh and move on, some people are hell bent on going to hell, that’s what Kali yuga is for, and we should just let them. Time spent with Prabhupāda’s purports will not go in vain anyway, they’ll be back.

The problem here, however, is that it’s a public forum and so if people start saying that our Gītā sucks everyone else would notice and it would undermine our otherwise spotless authority. Of course hardly anyone would agree that ISKCON is spotless but we maintain that our process is – read the books and bhakti would naturally grow, it works all the time, except when it doesn’t, sadly.

The only solution I see so far is that these people aren’t after God or bhakti, one wanted to read up on the war and the other wanted the text itself, without purports. I think that if we can highlight this point then we can explain why our Gītā didn’t satisfy their interests. Still, the problem remains – our Gītā should satisfy all desires because it gives one Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Obviously, these particular readers didn’t get enough of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to forget whatever they wanted in the beginning, and it’s not supposed to happen. Or, perhaps, atheism is particularly strong in them and they are hell bent on avoiding surrendering to the Lord or accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as an authority. Perhaps they want to use both Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda for their own ends and so it might take a long time before they realize that they might have missed the real treasure in our books.

I mean there’s a lot of people out there who think Bhagavad Gītā is just a collection of words and it’s up to us to construct a meaning from them, not that these words convey existing meaning already. They still think that if they translate the words differently the meaning would change.

Concepts like disciplic succession and guru mean nothing to them, guru is just a teacher, as in “paid service provider”, and these days teachers tell students to question everything, including themselves. So guru is needed to gain the ability to question his authority.

In these people’s view to become a guru one only needs to gain followers, no other qualification is important. It’s not gaining trust from your predecessors but the ability to dupe the ignorants. No wonder that all these gurus must be questioned and rejected in the end – they are frauds.

And so people are left in this self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and rascaldom. They can’t take to bhakti because of their arrogance and pride and bhakti is the only way out. What can we do? Nothing short of a miracle.

We need to give people actual realization, compared to which all these mental speculations will appear as worthless waste of time. That’s all people will respond to in the end – rasa, the taste of the Absolute Truth, we are all after this ānanda – ānanda mayo ‘bhyāsāt. Can we give it to them ourselves? Obviously not, and if they can’t get it from Prabhupāda then what?

I have a couple of ideas but I don’t want to start a new topic today.

Vanity thought #1473. Two steps away – how far is it?

While watching all these devotees share their memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda a question must naturally arise – what has it got to do with us exactly. Are we permanently excluded? Are we permanently in? Should we try to replicate them with our gurus? Are they the standard by which to judge relationships with our gurus, too? What is the right attitude to have here?

First of all, when we hear stories, any kind of stories, we always immerse ourselves in them as if we were there. We might identify with protagonists, for example, or we might imagine ourselves as mere observers, but in any case we must identify with some aspects of it to have any impact on ourselves, to empathize. We must have “I know how it feels” moment for any story to register in our hearts, and this means “I know what it’s actually like to be there, to be the part of it.” I think it’s unavoidable in our material condition, and might be even spiritually.

This is no problem if we are talking about mundane work of fiction, it’s perfectly okay to pull underwear over your pants and imagine you are a Superman and then go to Comic Con dressed like this, or feel yourself like Neo from the Matrix and never admit in public, or imagine yourself in any other shoes and replay their pastimes in your head.

The problem here is that we cannot imagine ourselves on par with Prabhupāda’s disciples, they are our spiritual fathers, not equals. We will never become like them just as we can’t replay our fathers’ romantic relationships with our mothers, the mere thought of it grosses people out. The similarity here is not in the nature of relationships but in their value. For a disciple the most intimate one is with his guru, for an ordinary man it’s with this wife. We can’t step into either of those.

This point, btw, is important in itself – guru and Kṛṣṇa are closer for devotees than their wives or husbands or even children. Materialists can’t comprehend it and would immediately reject us and our philosophy if they hear about it. We can imagine any kind of God we want, they generously allow, but we cannot, under any circumstances, treat our bodily relationships as inferior to our religion. Family ties are real, God is not, and this is where they draw the line for our “rights”. We should have no right to place God above our wives, let along children. Children are sacred, God is not. Well, their version of God isn’t, it’s just a plaything for them, not a reality. For devotees, however, guru and Kṛṣṇa are real and are closer than their families. Not for everyone, of course, but eventually we should all achieve this realization because they ARE real, after all.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, we can’t put ourselves in our guru’s shoes and imagine how it feels there. We will never become part of Prabhupāda’s pastimes with his disciples, that’s also the reality, we will always be a step away, or two steps from Prabhupāda himself, because our gurus can’t put themselves in Prabhupāda’s shoes either.

Where does it leave us? Is our position inherently inferior then?

Not at all, it’s absolutely perfect for us. This is our place in devotional hierarchy and this is what it means for us to be a servant of a servant of a servant. Our gurus are two steps away from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda was two steps away from Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Everybody is always two steps away from someone just like everybody has grandparents and doesn’t feel he needs to become his own father in order to appreciate them fully. It’s just silly to think like that but when we come to ISKCON it happens. This is all new to us and if we come from a culture where everybody can become a president then we naturally think that we can also become our gurus and approach Śrīla Prabhupāda ourselves. We do not see him as a grandparent yet, it hasn’t sunk in.

There’s a little story to illustrate in this regard. Śrīla Prabhupāda had a servant named Kartikeya, it was in the very early days, when devotees were still calling him svāmījī. Once, in Hawaii, Kartikeya wanted to present Prabhupāda with halava made from wheat germ rather than usual suji, semolina. Wheat germ is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel and was/is considered a specialty, Kartikeya thought his guru deserved that.

It happened to be a rainy day and it was a bit cold, so Śrīla Prabhupāda called for halava, which he liked on cold days. Kartikeya cooked a pot and presented Śrīla Prabhupāda with a nice, steaming hot bowl of wheat germ halava. Prabhupāda had a one look at it and dismissed it right away, with his left hand, which is the most offensive way to dismiss someone in Indian culture. I don’t know if Kartikeya was aware of that but he was heart-broken just the same. He ran downstairs to the temple room and let his tears flow. He sat in front of the picture of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and explained the situation: “All I wanted was to please my guru, your disciple, it was my only intention, but now it turned out all wrong and I was rejected.”

At this point he heard loud calling “KARTIKEYA! KARTIKEYA!” coming from upstairs. He rushed there not knowing what to think but Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to bring back that halava and ate the entire bowl. He then asked for a refill and ate the entire bowl again, until he ate everything that was in the pot.

Anyone who doubts that there’s a real connection between us, our gurus, and the rest of the paramparā deserves his heart being turned into stone. They all are always there for us, the fact that we don’t see or don’t feel them at any particular moment doesn’t mean anything, the connection is always there.

We will never be Prabhupāda’s disciples, but our gurus will never be his spiritual grandsons either, and as such they are missing on a lot of nectar, too, because grandparents always have special love for their grandchildren. There’s always special sweetness that their own children sometimes feel they don’t get their fair share of.

I’m not saying we are entitled to it but with honesty and humility it should always be available. It also means that it should be a special treat and we should not burden Prabhupāda with silly requests and use him to get around our spiritual parents.