Dear followers of Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble obeisances! All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!
As I see it ISKCON is at a crucial juncture in its history. ‘Who is the head or captain of the ISKCON ship?’ Shall we choose the ISKCON Governing Body (GBC) or shall we choose our ISKCON Founder-Acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, (Srila Prabhupada)?
At the upcoming Mayapur GBC meetings in February, the GBC has to accept or reject a proposal to amend ISKCON’s legal and official documents which give conflicting statements as answers to this vital question. The proposal is an attempt to help the GBC Body accommodate itself to the personal membership and supreme authority of Srila Prabhupada. This letter is to bring awareness to this proposal which is attached as a PDF file.
As I see it ISKCON is in a worse danger than in 1970 when Srila Prabhupada detected many discrepancies in our behavior and dealings as related to SPL 31 A Threat Against ISKCON.. “The devotees began to understand how the offenses of minimizing Srila Prabhupada’s position were products of Mayavada philosophy. For the Mayavadi, to increase devotion to the guru is unnecessary;” Without first recognizing and establishing Srila Prabhupada’s constitutional rights in ISKCON, our well-intentioned strategic planning attempts are like building sand castles on a sea beach which the waves of our offenses will wash away.
In this regard, there is an anecdote from “Srila Prabhupada Nectar” by Satsvarupa Das Goswami who relates how in Hawaii Srila Prabhupada was challenged “Well, are you ISKCON?”, Srila Prabhupada replied, “I am a member of ISKCON” and indicated that other devotees were also.
Was Srila Prabhupada being humble or was he stating a constitutional fact that is even true today after his samadhi? According to our sastras the latter is true as our senapati-bhakta or commander-in-chief, Srila Prabhupada, is transcendentally situated like Narada Muni.
Our daily temple songs by Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura and Narottama Das Thakura, “Guruvastakam” and “Guru Vandana” are sung in the present tense and confirm the continued existence of Srila Prabhupada in both his vani and vapuh forms.
In his well-known poem on the passing away of Thakura Haridasa, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes “He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die / When thou art living still in Sound! The Vaishnavas die to live and in living try / To spread the holy name around!”
Similarly in his lecture in Atlanta on the Appearance Day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta — March 2, 1975, Srila Prabhupada says:
“But I had full faith that My Guru Maharaja is with me. I never lost this faith. And that is fact. There are two words, vani and vapuh. Vani means words, and vapuh means this physical body. So vani is more important than the vapuh. Vapuh will be finished. This is material body. It will be finished. That is the nature. But if we keep to the vani, to the words of spiritual master, then we remain very fixed up. It doesn’t matter.”
The question then arises what are Srila Prabhupada’s constitutional rights as a member of ISKCON? Isn’t it very simple? Srila Prabhupada still has the same constitutional rights as he had before his samadhi. Nothing has changed except our faith. We tend to assume Srila Prabhupada is dead and gone and now we have to fend for ourselves. But as our eternal spiritual father, he is still naturally expecting to be consulted and obeyed by all members of ISKCON. In reciprocation of our love, he wants to give us his mercy to go Back to Godhead. As such, we have the right to consult Srila Prabhupada and the duty to quote his words to justify our actions and administrative decisions.
The present wordings of ISKCON’s documents betray our wavering faith that Srila Prabhupada is a transcendental person with his rights as a member of ISKCON. Our documents contradict one another. For instance, in the ISKCON Law Book, Oath of Allegiance and Declaration of Will Srila Prabhupada is firmly established as the ‘supreme authority’ of ISKCON and the GBC is designated as the “ultimate managing authority” of ISKCON. But the “Memorandum of Association” of the ISKCON Governing Body Society dated 1992 states that its object is to act as Srila Prabhupada’s “natural legal and spiritual successor”. Does that sound right? In the recent GBC Press Publication “Foundational Document Srila Prabhupada the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON” (FA) p82 the GBC twice claims itself as Srila Prabhupada’s “chosen successor at the head of ISKCON” .This claim is beyond its management powers to make or in legal terms it is ultra vires. The proposal to be submitted to the GBC aims to amend these and other confusing statements in favour of recognizing Srila Prabhupada’s supreme authority as an active member of ISKCON.
How did these discrepancies come about? Did they arise from Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers and their followers or our feelings of separation from Srila Prabhupada’s vapuh, or out of our incompetence, or out of legal expedience or perhaps out of a conspiracy? Whatever the answers are, the fact still remains that in all ISKCON documents, the subject matter of HOW the GBC Body is to approach, consult and follow Srila Prabhupada’s vani form is hardly discussed . Practically speaking the ISKCON managers (the arms department of ISKCON) has very little set procedure for consulting Srila Prabhupada (the head).
In my understanding, our democratic parliamentary procedures in the GBC meetings are not the same as consulting Srila Prabhupada’s vani form .To think like that is impersonalism and amounts to kidding ourselves we are absolute and infallible.. How can Srila Prabhupada become subject to our vote? Does Srila Prabhupada have to approve our decisions just because we follow the rules and sadhana practices and have small kirtans and readings before our various meetings? Several times Srila Prabhupada had overruled the GBC decisions and even disbanded the GBC. Do we give Srila Prabhupada a chance to do that in his vani form? If we really accept Srila Prabhupada as ISKCON’s supreme member and authority we cannot afford to minimize or supersede his membership rights. Unless we give Srila Prabhupada his rights as the captain of the good ship ISKCON who will stop us from steering it on the rocks?
Some devotees may claim that “to keep Srila Prabhupada in the center” has already been dealt with in the GBC’s own FA book. Certainly the author of FA Ravindra-Svarupa (RS), with his amazing historical research and literary genius has taken us all a long way to appreciating Srila Prabhupada as the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON. We must be very grateful to the GBC for this. Nevertheless, with a straw in my mouth, whilst following in the author’s footsteps to glorify Srila Prabhupada, I feel duty bound to say that FA is still tinged with impersonalism. Why? Because it glorifies Srila Prabhupada with faint praise. It does not go so far as to declare that Srila Prabhupada is a living transcendental person in his vani and vapuh forms who is entitled to his full rights in ISKCON as its head. It relegates Srila Prabhupada to being, a “presence”, an “inescapable predominance”, “the soul of ISKCON”, a symbol of unity etc. I request my readers to read FA for themselves to see how the suggested amendments will correct this.
Some devotees may see me as an anti-establishment clownish simpleton with my impractical ideas in the clouds of my Changing Bodies diorama hat. But is Srila Prabhupada being simple when he teaches us that the managers, or arms department of human society must humbly approach and consult the head department the brahmanas?
“Just as all parts of the body cooperate to keep the body fit, in the ideal state all sections of society cooperate under the leadership of the brahmanas. Comparatively, the head is the most important part of the body, for it gives directions to the other parts of the body. Similarly, the ideal state functions under the directions of the brahmanas, who are not personally interested in political affairs or administration because they have a higher duty.” (ref/ Journey of Self Discovery 7.1: Plato: Goodness and Government)
What is the difficulty? Why can’t we be simple and practically start to apply the varnasrama system in ISKCON beginning from the top down, where the head member is Srila Prabhupada in his vani and vapu forms and the GBC are the arms? In the presence of our father, Srila Prabhupada, isn’t it children’s play to pretend to be independent authorities? Even though we may be ISKCON gurus on the GBC or otherwise our absoluteness and infallibility depends on being humble students or” monitor” gurus in Srila Prabhupada’s class. This is unbroken guru parampara . It is Srila Prabhupada’s siksa we are transmitting to our disciples. If we are not ready to humbly bow down to Srila Prabhupada’s Lotus feet then I submit to all ISKCON leaders, our parampara will be broken.
So what to do? I humbly suggest that the managers of ISKCON have to wrack their brains which must be full of finer brain tissues grown by drinking plenty of the miracle food cow’s milk. For its strategic planning, the GBC can find ways to structure itself to seek out and consult Srila Prabhupada’s words and those devotees in the ISKCON diaspora who are learned in sastra and loyal to Srila Prabhupada. For instance, Vanipedia and its team could be consulted as a kind of informal brahminical advisory Council which nevertheless remains independent from ISKCON management concerns. Vanipedia can also research and compile many books on all the topics covered by Srila Prabhupada’s words. These compilations can contain objective summaries which ISKCON managers can use as the basis for their decision making. They can also form convenient devotee groups on the internet and if they want they can try to use state-of-the-art media technologies to bring Srila Prabhupada right into the GBC meetings. . These are some suggestions. Where there is a will there is a way. Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.
So in conclusion, if the GBC is willing to accept the proposal to amend ISKCON’s official documents at the upcoming February GBC meetings it will greatly clarify and establish Srila Prabhupada’s position in ISKCON. It will be a landmark strategic step to establish that “Srila Prabhupada’s active presence will secure the unity and integrity of ISKCON”( FA Outcomes:- page 105).
Accepting the proposal will be a sign that at last we ISKCON leaders are beginning to question whether or not we are tending to use Srila Prabhupada’s name as lip- service or as a convenient brand to stamp on our own independent decisions? Then the future of ISKCON will start to look very bright as “one of the branches of the Caitanya tree”. (CC Adi 9.19). Otherwise, If the GBC does not accept the amendment proposal, as I see it, ISKCON may well inevitably become another one of the “useless, dried-up branches of the Vedic religion”. (CC Adi 12.73 )
Devotees will be disappointed and will ask how the GBC can continue wielding the authority given to it by Srila Prabhupada without first trying hard to consult Srila Prabhupada and get his approval for their decisions?
The detailed GBC proposal containing sastric evidences is attached as a PDF Link. I humbly request all the assembled devotees to please read it, understand what is at stake and share it widely to your colleagues and friends, so that our respected ISKCON leaders may possibly get influenced to make the right decision at this critical juncture in ISKCON’s history. It is late in the day but better late than never.
Of course, if I am mistaken here, I stand ready to be corrected by evidence from the words of our supreme ISKCON member and Founder-Acarya of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada. I humbly beg forgiveness if in his service I have committed any offences to any of the readers.
Thank you all for taking time to read this, Hoping that this finds you all hale and hearty,
Your humble servant, Mahavishnu Swami