nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine nirvisesa-sunyavadi-pascatya-desa-tarine
Srila Prabhupada, recently a Sri Vaisnava acarya invited me to a thirumanjanam (elaborate ceremony of worship) of Sri Ramanujacarya. That was another occasion for me to observe how the sampradaya to which Sri Ramanujacarya gave new life, meaning, and direction is still united around him many hundreds of years after the period of his manifest activities.
About three hundred years after Sri Ramanuja’s withdrawal from manifest activities, his sampradaya split doctrinally into two warring camps, each of which quite differently interpreted certain teachings of his. Even today both sects continue, their previous acrimony and doctrinal differences largely overlooked or forgotten. The very reason for the longevity of both divisions has been their sworn adherence to Sri Ramanuja’s teachings, regarding both siddhanta and practice.
The long-standing coherence of the Madhva-sampradaya must also be principally ascribed to the fact that its members are loyal to the teachings of their founding-acarya.
Similarly, in your ISKCON, strength derives from adherence to the teachings of the founder-acarya, namely Your Divine Grace.
Srila Prabhupada, although those teachings are available to all, and although to be your follower plainly means to follow your teachings, nowadays there are multiple interpretations of several of those teachings, and devotees who claim to be your followers are divided on various issues. Some camps have already sprung up outside the ambit of the ISKCON that you incorporated, and presently some doctrinal disagreements threaten to sunder the core movement that you established.
In this predicament, it is particularly apt to recall the following statements from your teachings:
keha ta’ acarya ajnaya, keha ta’ svatantra
sva-mata kalpana kare daiva-paratantra
Translation: Some of the disciples strictly accepted the orders of the acarya, and others deviated, independently concocting their own opinions under the spell of daivi-maya.
Purport: This verse describes the beginning of a schism. When disciples do not stick to the principle of accepting the order of their spiritual master, immediately there are two opinions. Any opinion different from the opinion of the spiritual master is useless. One cannot infiltrate materially concocted ideas into spiritual advancement. That is deviation. There is no scope for adjusting spiritual advancement to material ideas. [Cc. Adi 12.9]
acaryera mata yei, sei mata sara
taṅra ajna langhi’ cale, sei ta’ asara
Translation: The order of the spiritual master is the active principle in spiritual life. Anyone who disobeys the order of the spiritual master immediately becomes useless.
Purport: Here is the opinion of Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami. Persons who strictly follow the orders of the spiritual master are useful in executing the will of the Supreme, whereas persons who deviate from the strict order of the spiritual master are useless. [Cc. Adi 12. 10]
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There are many disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but to judge who is actually his disciple, to divide the useful from the useless, one must measure the activities of such disciples in executing the will of the spiritual master. . . . By accepting the criterion recommended by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, one can very easily understand who is a genuine world-preacher and who is useless. [Cc. Adi 12.12, purport]
* * *
If the Absolute Truth is one, about which we think there is no difference of opinion, the guru also cannot be two. The Acaryadeva for whom we have assembled tonight to offer our humble homage is not the guru of a sectarian institution or one out of many differing exponents of the truth. On the contrary, he is the jagad-guru, or the guru of all of us. The only difference is that some obey him wholeheartedly, while others do not obey him directly. [From your speech on the occasion of the Vyasa-puja of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, February 1936]
* * *
The main business of human society is to think of the Supreme Personality of Godhead at all times, to become His devotees, to worship the Supreme Lord, and to bow down before Him. The acarya, the authorized representative of the Supreme Lord, establishes these principles, but when he disappears, things once again become disordered. The perfect disciples of the acarya try to relieve the situation by sincerely following the instructions of the spiritual master. [Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.48, purport]
Srila Prabhupada, I pray that you may count me among those disciples of yours who are sincerely following your instructions. Please bless me with the association of those whom you have blessed with the unsullied vision and determination to always sincerely and wholeheartedly obey your instructions. Please protect me from the association and influence of persons who profess to be your followers yet do not obey you directly—for instance, by not rising early every day for sadhana, or by preaching and teaching in a manner distinctly different from yours.
You told us to be sastra-caksuh. Accordingly, a sincere disciple will always try to understand everything through the instructions in your books. By reading your books one can clearly observe that the principle of anyabhilasita-sunya—which is the central pulse of your teachings—is nowadays considerably compromised within the society that you founded for establishing this principle within the world. Hence, much of what passes as being adherent to your instructions is in fact a deviation from them.
Quoting again from your purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.48:
The perfect disciples of the acarya try to relieve the situation by sincerely following the instructions of the spiritual master. At the present moment practically the entire world is afraid of rogues and nondevotees; therefore this Krsna consciousness movement is started to save the world from irreligious principles. Everyone should cooperate with this movement in order to bring about actual peace and happiness in the world.
Srila Prabhupada, you are the most important acarya in this Kali-yuga, and your instructions, if perfectly understood and executed, can effect tremendous good for the entire universe—as is recognized even by leaders of other Vaisnava sampradayas. For instance, during a public meeting several years ago Sri Visvesvara Tirtha, a widely revered patriach of the Madhva-sampradaya, stated, “ISKCON is the only organization that can spread visnu-bhakti throughout the world.”
It could be said that the very cause of the longevity of the old Vaisnava sampradayas is also the cause of their present admitted inability to spread visnu-bhakti throughout the world. Acaryas Ramanuja and Madhva are fully worshipable by us, as are their teachings and the followers of their teachings. But, as ordained by Lord Caitanya, now is the time for gaura-vani to spread widely via the personage of Your Divine Grace. As the Sri Vaisnava acarya whom I mentioned above told me, in his sampradaya there are many elaborate procedures, but you made bhakti easily available to all.
Srila Prabhupada, one of the reasons that you were able to spread Krsna consciousness worldwide was your ability to present “old wine in new bottles.” You knew the art of maintaining basic principles while adjusting details according to time, place, and circumstance. Yet we who claim to be your followers must be careful to not imitate (anukarana) your example rather than faithfully following in your footsteps (anusarana). If, due to inexpertness in distinguishing details from principles, we infiltrate materially concocted ideas into spiritual advancement (in the name of “time, place, and circumstance”), and in so doing fail to bring about the revolution of bhakti that you envisioned, then we shall surely be asara.
What must we do to save ourselves from the same accusations that you leveled at your godbrothers? For the answer, we must look within your teachings—which you gave to us minute by minute during your manifest presence, and continue to give us through your books—and we must be sufficiently sincere to wholeheartedly accept those teachings unchanged and in toto. We must beseech you for the discrimination by which to distinguish details from principles, and for the empowerment to dynamically continue the parampara without becoming either anachronisms or rank speculators.
Your teachings are as clear and brilliant as the sun, yet great harm can be done if persons who present themselves as teachers of your teachings instead attempt to mix or replace them with their own materially infiltrated concoctions. If you see fit, please bless me to serve your mission during this critical period by careful, prayerful study of your pristine message, and with the ability to delineate it via both the spoken and written word, particularly to distinguish it from various misrepresentations; and also bless me to not be just an armchair critic but to continue to be actively involved in your mission in multiple ways, giving special attention to two crucial programs that are presently nearly forgotten, namely daiva-varnasrama and gurukula.
Srila Prabhupada, please give me the intelligence and wisdom to understand that, although you have given certain parameters the stepping outside of which disqualifies one as your genuine disciple, still there is no “one” way to be your follower. This is clear from your having accepted all kinds of people and encouraged them in various ways in your magnanimous, pragmatic endeavors to engage every jiva within the entire universe in Krsna consciousness. Considering this, I must also bear in mind your instructions regarding your disciples’ cooperating together, unity in diversity, the story of the quarreling sons beating their father rather than massaging him, excessive and inappropriate liberality in devotional service (niyama-agraha) vs. fanaticism (niyama-agraha), plus your own example of repeatedly trying to work with your godbrothers (despite their indifference toward such proposals) yet also castigating them, and of course Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s essential trnad api call for humility and tolerance—notwithstanding that all of these dictums are commonly misinterpreted and misapplied.
Always seeking your mercy, without which I have no hope of any good fortune—what to speak of executing any grandiose plans—I pray to always be
Your dedicated servant,
Bhakti Vikasa Swami