Chakra Discussions

Sectarian and non-sectarian by nature

by Prabhupada dasa Adhikari

Posted January 20, 2004

The underlying nature of every human being is the same: All humans are subject to the influence of their three modes of nature. They must submit to the laws of nature in the form of gravity, light, atmosphere and the related effects upon the body. All humans must communicate with some form of language, writing, music and dance. However, from this foundation of oneness, we see an infinite display of difference. Language is one -- all humans have language. Language is different -- humans speak in thousands of languages and dialects. The human form is one -- all humans have head, two arms, torso and two legs. The human form is different - no two human bodies are the same and there are hundreds of ethnic and so-called "racial" varieties.

The underlying philosophy of every Gaudiya Vaisnava person is the same: All accept the authority of Srimad Bhagavatam, Srimad Bhagavad-gita, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, as well as all writings flowing from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and in the Vedas. In this manner all Gaudiya Vaisnava people have a common philosophical and cultural ancestry. Our Sampradaya stands supreme in the brilliance of its acintya bhedabheda philosophy of "simultaneous oneness and difference".

Human beings are social beings forced to act according to the impulses born of the modes of nature. A person of intelligence will act according to that nature, for to resist is a source of imbalance in nature's arrangement. This principle holds true also in the design of the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya, founded on the ancient principle of disciplic succession.

Although the philosophical and cultural heritage of the Gaudiya Vaisnava people is identical, there is also a myriad of variations in its expression. No two Gurus have the exact same manner in presenting Krishna consciousness, invariably drawing the philosophy from the same sources, though expressed in the form transferred from Guru to sishya. This establishes a logical foundation for inter-Vaisnava etiquette -- good manners. Each disciple accepts the words of the Guru as absolute. The instructions of the Guru are the life of spiritual advancement. This is a generic principle and practice, not only among Vaisnavas, but in nearly all systems. Rules exist for the integrity and optimum function of an organization. Rules must be followed to reach a goal.

When a disciple of Guru A is in the company of Guru B, that person must listen carefully and offer all respect. The proper etiquette is to appreciate the identical origin of philosophy and respect the variation in its expression among that Guru's shishyas. In the company of that Guru's disciples one must respect any differences and not attempt to bring them up for debate. If a disciple is mature, there will be no question of making an issue of the different ways in which the other Guru instructs shishyas.

Inter-Vaisnava communication must always rest on the principle of simultaneous oneness and difference. There is nothing to gain by the introduction of contention. If the disciple of Guru A sees unsettling differences in the camp of Guru B it is not that disciple's duty to present these to the disciples of Guru B, nor to Guru B directly. The proper etiquette is for that disciple to return to Guru A and present the situation for further enlightenment and instuction.

The problem among many Vaisnava individuals and organizations of particular Gurus is that there is not this more mature understanding. What happens in many cases is this:

  1. Disciples of Guru A go to visit the camp of Guru B, see some differences and immediately approach the disciples of that Guru to vent their different points of view. Contention follows and a rift forms along this boundary of ignorance.
  2. Disciples of Guru B go to visit the camp of Guru A, begin to chant the glories of their own Guru and exclaim how he is the current Acarya for all to follow. This also causes contention and a rift forms along that boundary of ignorance.

In both cases one sees a plain and simple expression of bad manners. It is a perfectly normal and acceptable manifestation of the simultaneous oneness and difference principle that one Guru will have a different manner of presentation than another. It remains a matter of maturity among the disciples to understand and respect these differences, instead of blundering foolishly into the camp decorated with the trappings of bad manners.

Many organizations offer public gatherings and anyone can go to hear the Holy Name, take Prasadam and associate in relation to the philosophy and culture. It is also acceptable for disciples of Guru A to visit the public program sponsored by the disciples of Guru B. It is a manifestation of extremely bad manners, however, for those disciples to approach a guest at Guru B's camp, and begin to present a different program. This is tantamount to vaisnava aparadha.

The proper action of the disciples of Guru A is to attend functions of other Gurus with utmost respect, without contentious dealings. In their own public presentations, for the pleasure of their Guru, they are duty bound and happy to present the unique understanding of their Guru. They must always remember how they would feel if disciples of Guru B came to their public gathering and began to canvass their guests with a different program. In the camps of each Guru the disciples would naturally feel offended, defensive and inclined to bar such offenders.

Where disciples of Guru A are rejected by disciples of Guru B, there is but one proper response -- in maturity and respect to accept the situation with dignity and not return. The disciples of Guru A may then take up the mission of their beloved Guru and present their own public program. In this manner, they are free to present the teachings of their Guru, fully independent of the disciples of Guru B. Two twigs from the same branch do not depend on one another to survive and grow. Their sole sustenance is in the branch from which they have both grown.

The main trunk of the Caitanya tree comes to many of the Gaudiya Vaisnava people through the branches of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami. The many organizations that have sprung from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati are all linked by a common philosophy and culture; this is the aspect of oneness. On the other hand, many branches sprout from him; this is the aspect of difference. The branch of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is different from the various branches begun by his godbrothers. These many branches are based on the identical philosophy and culture but have different ways of external manifestation. If everything were oneness without difference, there would be no such manifestation of branches and twigs. The entire sampradaya would then appear as one trunk without branches or twigs.

Difference is significant; understanding and accepting differences will make for much more peaceful dealings. It makes for contention if one tries to merge the branches into one. All branches and twigs originate from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati but each has its own space to grow in. It is a manifestation, not only of bad manners but also of immaturity, for individuals on one branch to make contention with those on other branches. Let each Guru and disciple strengthen the twig they have selected in an attempt to grow it into a strong branch capable of sprouting many more twigs, flowers and fruits.

Cancer is a disease where certain cells act to destroy the cells of the body that maintains them. Those who create contention among branches and twigs of the Sampradaya can be likened to cancer cells. Cancer cells depend for their existence on devouring the healthy cells around them, only to expire when their appetite has killed the host.

There are too many people in the world suffering who need immediate attention. To waste one minute in contention with other devotees on legitimate oneness-and-difference issues is an act of violence to the innocent and needy. It is a heinous display of bad manners and stupidity to make contention between branches and twigs when the world is "on its way to hell in a hand basket."