Dear prabhu, while you are an historic devotee who has done tremendous service for Srila Prabhupada, the way you understand and explain spiritual subjects is not the way that Srila Prabhupada told us to understand them. If we consider the way Srila Prabhupada himself explained them, whether in his books or lectures especially, he lead with shastra; only seldom did he quote his own Guru Maharaja. But most of us don’t do that. In these debates we tend to either quote Srila Prabhupada at length or quote from our own experience of him and seldom quote from shastra. And there are many reasons why this leads to innumerable misunderstandings.
Consider the case when we happen to speak with devotees who do not belong to our sampradaya. For example, Sri Vaishnavas. When we discuss spiritual subjects with them, we don’t quote Srila Prabhupada at length, we quote shastra at length and then may sometimes add the support of our acharya, Srila Prabhupada. Otherwise, they will not accept what we say, even if it is right. And we can’t blame them for that. We would do the same if they started bashing us over the head with quotes from whomever their current acharya is.
So the first point here is that when we lead with shastra, then that evidence has wide authority, more so than any other kind of evidence. Srila Prabhupada wanted to present the teachings of Lord Krishna in the most authoritative way, which is why he placed so much emphasis on shastra in his own presentations.
Therefore Srila Prabhupada says in his commentary on CC 20.352,
“Srila Narottama dasa Thakura says, sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, cittete kariya aikya. One should accept a thing as genuine by studying the words of saintly people, the spiritual master and the sastra. The actual center is the sastra, the revealed scripture. If a spiritual master does not speak according to the revealed scripture, he is not to be accepted. Similarly, if a saintly person does not speak according to the sastra, he is not a saintly person. The sastra is the center for all.”
Srila Prabhupada is making a very important philosophical point about the central place of shastra in this triad of authorities. It is what we should quote to begin with. Lord Krishna also says that austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, and beneficial to others, and also in citing Vedic literature–anudvegam karam vakyam satyam priyam hitam ca yat svadhyaya bhyasanam caiva van mayam tapa ucyate. In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada says, “The process of speaking in spiritual circles is to say something upheld by the scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying.” Here again Srila Prabhupada is making this same point about the centrality of shastra. He doesn’t say, “at once quote your guru,” he says quote shastra, and that this is the process of speaking in spiritual circles.
Of course, it is also pleasing, and necessary, to hear the words of the guru. Yet it is not at all pleasing to hear him quoted or represented in a way that is contrary to shastra. The person bhagavata lives his life in terms of the book bhagavata, and as we have already seen, the person bhagavata speaks according to shastra. So words and speech of the acharya must be in line with shastra. That is why he is an acharya in the first place. Therefore when we represent Srila Prabhupada, or any bona fide acharya, we should quote him in such a way as to augment our understanding of the shastra. That is why [for] every single verse in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Sri Caitanya-caritamrity, a verse is typically followed by the word “purport”. What Srila Prabhupada is doing is quoting shastra, and then explaining it. That should be our standard when we discuss these matters.
Another point to consider is that ISKCON itself at this point in time is an agglomeration of different sampradayas. Different gurus in our midst, and others not formally gurus but influential in their own right (like your good self, for instance) emphasize different aspects of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and teach their realizations to their followers and disciples.
And though there is a special closeness of consensus on innumerable practical and theological areas by virtue of being a member of Srila Prabhupada’s grand institution, the differences that have emerged are significant enough to also cause unwanted (and usually unnecessary) dissension, such as what we are experiencing now on the topic of women’s roles in society. Without considering actual incompatibilities (some views are plain wrong) and who is correct or incorrect for a moment, the differences arise in part because of the fact that we do have within ISKCON different sampradayas. We have many in fact. And because of these differences the common currency for discussion of spiritual topics should be shastra, as it is when we converse with other Vaishnavas who are in completely different sampradayas.
And finally, I would like to point out that the reason we should make shastra the center of our discourse is that there is often enough a difference between what Srila Prabhupada said and what we think he meant by what he said [such] that the two are not equivalent. You yourself have the experience of having at one time objected to something Srila Prabhupada had asked [you] to do (or specifically refrain from). Srila Prabhupada recanted, and then innumerable women henceforward came to the wrong understanding. Citing shastra helps us better understand whether an utterance of Srila Prabhupada was, for example, a specific concession to a specific disciple or group of disciples, or limited only to a special time, place, and circumstance, or whether he gave an instruction that is generally applicable.
Considering all that has been said, and especially the shastra quoted, I request you to reconsider your method of divining Srila Prabhupada’s intent and adopt a shastra-centered approach to presenting your ideas. The fashionable way of discussing spiritual topics now is not the way Srila Prabhupada wanted us to understand spiritual topics. And it is because we don’t understand these things the way he told us to understand them that we get into so much unnecessary difficulty.
Your servant, Krishna-kirti das