Philosophy, Rules, and Krishna West

Dear Devotees, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. A senior Krishna West preacher has written,

“The statistics paint a very different picture, on the contrary: the large majority of disciples of Hridayananda Maharaja have in fact not rejected their guru and instead continue to derive inspiration in their Krishna Consciousness from him. . . . . Aside from the above consideration, the question is how does one define the state of being “fallen.” How many times does Prabhupada claim that if one chants sixteen rounds and follows the four regulative principles, one is precisely *not* fallen?”1

In 1987, when Kirtanananda Swami was excommunicated from ISKCON, a majority of his disciples followed him. Yet no one at the time accused him of (or believed) that he was breaking the four regulative principles or not chanting his 16 rounds. Indeed, there is no mention of any of this in the 1987 resolution that expelled him from ISKCON: http://gbc.iskcon.org/2012/02/03/1987/

So, what we have here in ISKCON is a precedent for rejecting someone as a spiritual master who might otherwise follow all the regulative principles but as per the GBC resolution has nevertheless “systematically obscured and minimized His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada’s pre-eminent position as the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON.” Yet we are supposed to think that if such a person follows the four regulative principles and chants sixteen rounds, he is nonetheless a bona fide spiritual master? To quote Hridayananda Maharaja himself, “What planet have you been on? Where have you been? Like are you coming from some other sector of the galaxy?”2

The Krishna West preacher’s omission of philosophy as a qualification for a bona fide spiritual master is the very definition of fanaticism: religion without philosophy. Without addressing the question of Maharaja’s fidelity to the conclusions of our disciplic succession, the fact that most of HDG’s disciples still follow him without hesitation just as credibly demonstrates that it is human nature to follow the leader, yad yad acharati shreshtas. It is for this reason that Krishna Himself points out that if he did not perform prescribed duties, all the three worlds would follow His example, utsideyor ime loka, na kuryad karma ced aham. . . Indeed, during the zonal acharya days, most disciples went along with whatever their later-to-be-fallen gurus were telling them to do, no matter how ridiculous the instruction and how contrary it was to whatever Prabhupada taught. Yad yad acharati shreshtas. Thus it is not surprising that a Krishna West preacher would advise us to “go with the flow”, with vox populi, because Krishna West itself is a populist initiative.

The question then as to whether Hridayananda Maharaja is a bona fide spiritual master is not primarily about his own sadhana, it is not primarily about the rules he follows. It is about what he teaches and what he says he believes, because rules stand on that. In a recent lecture about Krishna West, Maharaja says, “The rule follows the philosophy. The philosophy doesn’t exist to justify the rule.” As he further explains, people easily give up rules if they have no philosophy to sustain them. Srila Prabhupada himself also believed this, which explains why he was lenient with devotees who broke the regulative principles but was much more intolerant of devotees who preached some deviant idea, even if they were otherwise vigilant in following all the rules. The question of whether Maharaja has in fact deviated is important because his philosophy will necessarily guide the Krishna West project, what to speak of his own disciples and admirers. “The rule follows the philosophy.” Even if for the time being Krishna West disciples follow all the rules that ISKCON devotees are supposed to follow, if the philosophy Maharaja preaches is deviant, then the rules of Krishna West will eventually change or be abandoned for some others.

Here then is the question: Does Hridayananda Maharaja teach something that deviates from the conclusions of the disciplic succession? Maharaja’s followers grudgingly admit that Maharaja holds differences with Srila Prabhupada on certain matters, but they frame them as differences of opinion, not major theological departures. And they further point out that great acharyas in our disciplic succession sometimes differed with one another on matters of interpretation. In this way they suggest that whatever differences Maharaja has with Srila Prabhupada, they should be seen as yet another example of one great acharya differing with another. Maharaja’s followers consequently believe the rest of us should just reverently accept his differences as some kind of spiritual diversity and question him no further. They feel that Maharaja is himself on a level of spiritual advancement where his own judgment is never to be questioned, like that of purvacharyas such as Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura or Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana. So a question related to Maharaja’s status as a bona fide spiritual master is his own level of spiritual advancement: Is his adhikara similar to that of a Sridhara Svami, whose authority we are obliged to accept without argument? So there are two questions central to vindicating Maharaja’s status as a bona fide guru: one question has to do with the nature of his differences with Srila Prabhupada, and the other his own spiritual status.

Unfortunately, the answer to the first question is negative, and it turns out to be so negative that it practically settles the second question. Maharaja has significant differences with Srila Prabhupada, and they are wide enough to count as a deviation. Over the past ten years, Maharaja has consistently questioned the authority of Srila Prabhupada’s statements in his own books and purports and in other instances where Srila Prabhupada is unquestionably speaking as a spiritual authority. The differences are indeed non-trivial, as they have serious implications for our own understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s own authority and how we approach shastra. Indeed, what Hridayananda Maharaja has been teaching his followers is an alternative way of interpreting Srila Prabhupada that allows them to disregard almost anything he says.

1.            In a Bhagavatam purport (3.20.26), Srila Prabhupada says that “It appears here that the homosexual appetite of males for each other is created in this episode of the creation of the demons by Brahma.” But Maharaja says, “Yet although homosexuality is said to have existed since the dawn of creation, the Bhagavatam does not explicitly describe nor proscribe it.”3  But then what does it mean to call Srila Prabhupada’s statement a purport, wherein Prabhupada explicitly describes it and proscribes it? If Srila Prabhupada’s purport does not convey the intended meaning of shastra, then it is faulty (and why even pretend to call it a “purport”?), and if it is faulty it has no authority. If Srila Prabhupada’s purports sometimes have things in them that do not represent the conclusions of the sampradaya, then everything he has written in his books has to be approached with suspicion. This profoundly changes the way we as devotees approach Srila Prabhupada in his books, so this counts as a major change, not simply an inconsequential difference. This difference will be fundamental to the development of Krishna West.

2.            Maharaja’s recommendation for gay monogamy depends on establishing that Srila Prabhupada’s purports lack authority. Maharaja says, “since we do not find a specific, explicit, unambiguous set of rules for dealing with homosexuality, we must engage in spiritual reasoning about it.” Maharaja ignores Srila Prabhupada’s purport completely, except to minimize it, to clear it out of the way so he can put forward his own ideas. This is not “explaining” Srila Prabhupada, but “explaining him away.” This is the same offense for which Lord Caitanya reprimanded Vallabha Bhatta, for rejecting the commentary of Sridhara Svami, svami na mane yei jana vesyara bhitare tare kariye ganana, “Whoever does not accept the authority of the svami (husband) I count among the prostitutes.” Srila Prabhupada called such interpretations Mayavada-bhashya, wherein scholarly interpretations are introduced to “fulfill someone’s personal ambition.” The choice to deliberately mislead the reader about the will of Krishna, or his pure devotee, is a great blunder, for which the consequence “will be that the misguided student of Bhagavad-gita will certainly be bewildered on the path of spiritual guidance and will not be able to go back to home, back to Godhead.” Since this is a philosophy on which Krishna West’s rules will depend, Krishna West is itself a misguided project.

3.            Hridayananda Maharaja’s own disregard for Srila Prabhupada’s teachings explains why he increasingly goes outside of those teachings to understand Krishna consciousness. In a recent defense of his advocacy for gay monogamy and for a moral philosophy called “consequentialism”, he writes, “KK attacks my ‘consequentialism’ and yet I learned this view from Krishna Himself in various Shastras, as clearly documented in my paper on Vaishnava morality.”4  And indeed, one will note in that paper the sparseness with which Srila Prabhupada himself is quoted to support consequentialism. Indeed, one will especially note that the main support for his philosophy of consequentialism comes not from the Gita or Bhagavatam, which he does refer to occasionally, but from highly selective quotes from the Mahabharata. One will also note in his paper, which is 22 pages and addressed to an ISKCON audience, and in which he introduces in detail his philosophy of consequentialism, almost nothing Srila Prabhupada has said about either consequentialism or homosexuality is quoted. Maharaja’s own scriptural exegeses thus indicate a clear and increasing avoidance of Srila Prabhupada. It is upon this aversion to Srila Prabhupada’s authority that Krishna West will form its practice of Krishna consciousness.

4.            One will note that by way of consequentialism, Maharaja reached exactly the opposite conclusion from Srila Prabhupada as to how devotees with homosexual tendencies should make spiritual advancement. In recent comments, Maharaja writes,

‘When I state that devotees should encourage gay devotees to give up promiscuity in favor of disciplined monogamy, KK states: “…Srila Prabhupada…unequivocally condemned the very notion—even for the general public, what to speak of for his own devotees.”

‘In fact, Prabhupada often stated that Krishna consciousness is a gradual process for everyone. He encouraged everyone to gradually give up sense gratification. Prabhupada condemned intoxication but he stated that the alcoholic should try to see Krishna as the taste in wine.’5

But this is a deliberate misrepresentation of Srila Prabhupada. To a homosexual disciple, Prabhupada himself said, “it will only hamper your advancement. . . You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise, your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil. Show Krishna you are serious, if you are.” Moreover, Srila Prabhupada was consistent in his statements on the matter of homosexuality. “’Watchtower.’ It has criticized, one priest has allowed the marriage between man to man, homosex. So these things are going on,” says Srila Prabhupada. “They take it purely for prostitution. That’s all.” As can be seen, this is quite the opposite of what Maharaja has inferred to be Srila Prabhupada’ intentions. This deliberate misdirection on the part of Maharaja will inform and guide Krishna West. If the rule follows the philosophy, here is the philosophy that Krishna West will follow.

5.            Maharaja has defined himself as an opponent of Srila Prabhupada. Over the span of a decade, he has consistently stated (2005)  “Srila Prabhupada also taught unceasingly that his own ultimate qualification, and indeed the qualification of any bona fide guru, is to always faithfully repeat the teachings of Krishna as they are found in revealed scriptures,” and then used this to ignore Srila Prabhupada’s statements in a purport he found inconvenient. In 2013 when disputing the validity of the pastime of Yudhisthira gambling away his brothers and Draupadi in a rigged match with Shakuni, he doubts the pastime despite the fact that its authenticity is upheld not only by Srila Prabhupada but by other acharyas. But in his own defense he wrote, “The case of Draupadi: 1. Prabhupada emphatically taught that the Guru’s teachings are infallible because the Guru is simply repeating Shastra6. Prabhupada made it very clear that a Guru is not infallible when not repeating Shastra.”  We have already noted Lord Caitanya’s objection to Vallabha Bhatta’s similar dismissal of Sridhara Svami. Here is more about the nature of a devotee of the caliber of Srila Prabhupada: “The statements of Thakura Bhaktivinoda are as good as scriptures because he is a liberated person. Generally the spiritual master comes from the group of such eternal associates of the Lord . . .” (Letter to Janardana, 26 Apr 1968). And the same is true of Srila Prabhupada. But if you think he “is not infallible when not repeating Shastra”, especially in his purports (as Maharaja has alleged), then that means, at the very least that a) Maharaja thinks he clearly understands shastra better than Srila Prabhupada, and b) that his own spiritual master in his own purport has an inferior, faulty understanding. This is just not the way you regard your own acharya, especially a parampara acharya like Srila Prabhupada. Traditional Vaishnava scholars will say they agree with Shankaracharya as long as he is repeating shastra. Indeed, Lord Caitanya said something similar to Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya after He heard the acharya’s Mayavada discourse on Vedanta. This is the attitude of an opponent, and it is unfortunate that Maharaja has assumed it towards his own spiritual master7.  If the rule follows the philosophy, then Krishna West will inherit this regard for Srila Prabhupada from Krishna West’s founder.

Hridayananda Maharaja’s statements over the past decade indicate that he himself has distanced himself from Srila Prabhupada, both in precept and in practice. That is why we saw that in 2004 he took a public stand to say that ISKCON should offer public support and encouragement for gay monogamy, and then in 2008 he participated in and caused to be performed an actual “gay monogamy” ceremony. And as his recent statements indicate, he still stands with those other statements. And now in 2013 and in 2014 he has applied the same principles and doubt to different spiritual topics Srila Prabhupada spoke about. Since the rule follows the philosophy and since Maharaja’s own philosophical stance toward Srila Prabhupada is oppositional, we cannot continue to consider Maharaja as a bona fide guru. His differences with Srila Prabhupada are too wide and deep to dismiss as trivial difference of opinion.

Finally, the Krishna West preacher writes,

“Krishna Kirti dasa is so enlightened and has such superior intelligence that he sees what the large majority of his godbrothers and godsisters – and all of the thousands of admirers of Hridayananda Maharaja – are too stupid to see.”

To this it can be said that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Human beings, including devotees, have a tendency to follow their leader regardless of whether he is right or wrong. As Hridayananda Maharaja would say, this is “a sociological fact.” In our society we have seen large populations of otherwise gifted devotees follow a deviant leader without question. It may be that this Krishna West preacher is too young to be aware of these events, but the rest of us who know better should not be swayed by vox populi and instead seriously address Maharaja’s departure from the conclusions of our disciplic succession and his demonstrated opposition to Srila Prabhupada’s authority.

Your servant, Krishna Kirti das

End Notes

 

[1] Comment on “My Further Response” by Krishna Kirti das, 30 Apr 2014, Akincana Gocara, 1 May 2014 <http://akincana.net/philosophy/319-my-further-response.html>

[2] “Krishna West, the Interview, vol 1.” 20 Mar. 2014, Youtube, 1 May 2014, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EEO5_2HVdc&feature=youtu.be>.

[3] “Vaisnava Morality and Homosexuality” (2005) page 20.

[4] “Hridayananda Das Goswami response to Krishna Kirti Das on Krishna West“ 10 Apr. 2014, ISKCON.us, 1 May 2014 <http://iskcon.us/hridayananda-das-goswami/krishna-kirti-dasa-krishna-west/#sthash.9Z0GBfjY.dpuf>

[5] “Hridayananda Das Goswami response to Krishna Kirti Das on Krishna West“

[6] “Infallibility of Guru & Shastra”, 27 Jun. 2013, AskAcharyadeva.com, 1 Mar. 2014, http://askacharyadeva.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/infallibility-of-guru-shastra/

[7] And for this reason alone I cannot be faulted for becoming Hridayananda Maharaja’s opponent.

 

 

Facebook Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *