In Defense of Tripurari Swami
Posted July 9, 2006
I would like to respond to the charges that Udayananda das has levelled against Tripurari Swami in his recent article. First, I would like to thank him for the opportunity to do some research in our rich Gaudiya tradition and for the invaluable exercise of intelligence in discriminating good philosophy from sentiment. I recommend it to one and all. Additionally, I am grateful for the opportunity to defend a Vaishnava against unwarranted criticism.
The alleged 1995 Krsna Balarama Swami tape that Udayananda prabhu extensively quotes from is not in Swami B.V. Tripurari's tape ministry, so I was not able to verify the accuracy, the context or even the existence of such a tape.
In answering Udayananda prabhu's article, I will summarize his allegations and respond to them in turn.
1. Tripurari Swami is said to be stealing devotees from ISKCON and taking them to his Gaudiya Vaishnava Society.
The people recently initiated in North Carolina are not people who joined or were living in an ISKCON temple. As we all do, they have their unique story of coming to Krsna Consciousness. Whether they are treated as being part of ISKCON or not is up to the broad- or narrow-mindedness of ISKCON devotees.
Unfortunately, society-consciousness taking precedence over Krsna consciousness dictates to many devotees that Tripurari Swami is not an ISKCON devotee and therefore his disciples have stepped out. What is sure is that Tripurari Swami has not preached to these people to leave their ISKCON services or to stop their cooperation with ISKCON. Many of Swami's disciples render valuable services in ISKCON temples where they are welcomed.
In regard to the general principle of accepting a guru, please consider this advice from Srila Prabhupada: "Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding." (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 1.35 purport.)
All of these initiates did accept a guru who they felt spoke the truths of Krsna bhakti to them. They left ecclesiastical convention aside and followed their hearts, despite the unfortunate antagonism they received.
2. Srila Prabhupada instructed time and again to simply hear from him (not from any other, supposedly including Sridhara Maharaja).
As with any contentious philosophical issue, it does everyone enormous benefit to be well informed before speaking such broad statements. Srila Prabhupada did make some warnings about association with his godbrothers. He also glorified some of them. If you do the research, you will find that he was particularly fond of Srila Sridhar Maharaja. As for spoiling his disciples' spiritual life, one may reconcile that statement with a few of the following, noting that the timings of these statements extend from the beginning to the end of Prabhupada's ISKCON pastimes:
"...the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, whom I consider to be even my siksa guru. If you are serious about the advancement of your spiritual life, I advise you to go to Sridhara Maharaja and I will feel that you are safe. You can also make arrangements for your other godbrothers to go there in the future." (Letter of Srila Prabhupada to Hrsikesa, January 1, 1969)
"Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Matha I wanted to organize another organization making Sridhara Maharaja as the head." (Srila Prabhupada Conversation, March 17, 1973)
"What Govinda Maharaja (Sridhara Swami's successor) has said is true. I consider his guru as my siksa guru." (Srila Prabhupada, at the ISKCON Mayapur Candrodaya Mandira opening ceremony, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada visiting Sridhar Maharaj's matha in Navadvipa: "Yes, and they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won't have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won't even have to move a step yourself. I'll make arrangements for a car and an elevator. My disciples are telling me that they will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am traveling around, so if you are there, they can get some guidance. So, Maharaja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you." (Excerpt of 1977 conversation)
3. Tripurari Swami says he takes a little from Srila Prabhupada and a little from Sridhara Swami and then adds a little himself to give us what he refers to as "adding a new product."
It could be argued that every guru does this, and that Prabhupada demanded this. It is called preaching according to one's realization. We read the books of Prabhupada, we hear from sadhus, we read the teachings of previous acaryas, and if we are fortunate we have some realization and present it to others. Prabhupada did say he wanted us all to become guru. In a sense we are all expected to have our own "product" (our bhakti-lata), and we must further the family business of preaching through sharing our realizations.
4. Tripurari Swami supposedly gave up the specific instruction he received from Srila Prabhupada (book distribution).
Did Tripurari Swami really give up book distribution? It becomes quite apparent from a quick glance over Prabhupada's teachings that he equated book writing and book distribution. Both comprise the brhat-mrdanga. Tripurari Swami has now authored numerous books and is responsible for a huge Internet preaching campaign. He also continues to promote Srila Prabhupada's books. Who can argue that he has not taken advantage of Prabhupada's kindness towards him and expanded his distribution of Krsna-katha? He has successfully expanded his service to Srila Prabhupada.
"Now that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has taken up this task of preaching the cult of Lord Caitanya, its members should not only construct temples in every town and village of the globe but also distribute the books that have already been written and further increase the number of books." (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 1.764, purport)
"Temple construction is meant for the general populace and neophyte devotees, but the business of advanced and empowered devotees is to write books, publish them and distribute them widely." (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.133, purport)
"You ask one question about the nature of books. I want you to write as my disciples; on this point, Krsna consciousness is not limited. Persons like all of the Gosvamis wrote so many books, Visvanatha Cakravarti and all the acaryas wrote books, and still I am writing books. Similarly, also, my disciples will write." (Srila Prabhupada letter, February 15, 1972)
5. Tripurari Swami's book Aesthetic Vedanta is labelled as "disgusting," and general criticisms about the discussion of rasa-lila in the book are offered.
Udayananda fails to point out that Aesthetic Vedanta's description of the Rasa-lila is sandwiched between two chapters of philosophy, which enable the reader to understand the lila properly. For example, the first chapter states, "Love directed to Krsna is love properly centred, while worldly love is no more than the demands of the material senses and mind driving the soul to relate with another's outward appearance. In worldly love, the inherent drive or potential for love are categorically different...While reality is Krsna-centred love, the illusory life in the material world is love in the shadow, illicit by way of its being off-centre...One must become a Vedantist to appreciate the aesthetic reality described in these chapters. Without doing so, one runs the risk of misinterpreting the divine lila of Radha-Krsna, equating it with the mundane experience of amorous love....
Srila Prabhupada personally told Tripurari Swami that his Krsna book was excellent introductory material and many book distributors must remember selling quite a few of them to the general public. Here is an excerpt from Krsna book removed from its context in the same manner Udayananda has done with Aesthetic Vedanta:
"They became filled with attraction for Him, and they began to kiss Him. Some gopis touched Krsna cheek to cheek, and Krsna began to offer them chewed betel nuts from His mouth, which they accepted with great pleasure by kissing... Krsna was dancing beside them, and to alleviate their fatigue they took Sri Krsna's hand and placed it on their raised breasts. Krsna's hand, as well as the breasts of the gopis, are eternally auspicious; therefore when they combined, both of them became spiritually enhanced...Srimad-Bhagavatam thus describes the beauty of the gopis while they were rasa dancing with Krsna...When Krsna touched the different parts of their bodies, the gopis felt surcharged with spiritual energy. They could not adjust their loosened clothes, although they tried to keep them adjusted properly. Their hair and garments became scattered, and their ornaments loosened as they forgot themselves in the company of Krsna. "(Krsna book, chapter 33: Description of the Rasa Dance)
Praise for Aesthetic Vedanta from scholars:
"Like his learned predecessors in the Gaudiya tradition, he amply demonstrates that love need not be irrational, merely pure." Georg Feuerstein, author of Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga.
On the back cover, Klaus K. Klostermaier, University Distinguished Professor, Chairman, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Manitoba, states: "Aesthetic Vedanta's beautiful and sensitive language will make the classic rasa-lila accessible to students of spirituality who have no specific background in Indian religions and philosophies. Its reverential approach makes it a religious classic in its own right."
Obviously Swami's audience is able to understand that what he is talking about is sacred, not profane.
6. "Tripurari Swami's temple/ashrama does not do daily guru puja to Srila Prabhupada; they do not daily chant the Nrsinghadeva prayers..."
As Tripurari Swami is not part of ISKCON, he has some liberty in deciding how he would like to conduct his sadhana program. This should not be an issue of contention if, in essence, the philosophy remains unchanged. This idea of following the letter of the law and not the spirit is an enormous obstacle in progressive spiritual pursuit. It is referred to in our philosophy as kanistha mentality. We must move beyond this.
After all, Prabhupada's morning program developed over the course of his ISKCON lila. At one time there was no Nrsimha prayers. For some time there was no daily guru puja... If you can present some evidence of how Tripurari Swami's sadhana program is philosophically deviant we will gladly present a reply. Until then, we will continue to advance our Krsna bhakti through his guidance and with appreciation of how ISKCON conducts its program. What is wrong with some variety?
"The bona fide teacher of religion is neither any product of nor the favourer of any mechanical system. In his hands no system has likewise the chance of degenerating into a lifeless arrangement. The mere pursuit of fixed doctrines and fixed liturgies cannot hold a person to the true spirit of doctrine or liturgy." (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur)
7. He gives initiations and does not ask all initiates to chant 16 rounds daily, but asks some to chant only 4 rounds.
In North Carolina, Swami recently gave initiation to a young woman and asked her to chant 4 rounds. The context in this instance is also important. This woman is a mother of two young children. Her time is consumed with the duties of mothering. She was born into ISKCON and chanted 16 rounds for many years before becoming a mother. This is another issue of substance. A preacher, whether on book distribution or in the position of guru, must fan the spark of bhakti in the faithful. Too many demands at an unreasonable time can kill that most precious faith which is the foundation of bhakti. As guru, Swami is taking responsibility for the jiva's spiritual progress. He would never do something counterproductive to that development.
What was Prabhupada's example in this regard? He asked that his followers chant 64 rounds when he started his preaching mission. When they said they could not do it, he reduced the number to 32. When they said they could not do that also he reduced the number to 16 and gave them preaching service to absorb their minds. Really, he wanted constant chanting: Krsna consciousness. The number is not what is important, but the faith in Krsna nama and connection to it through the guru.
Swami asked the other two initiates to chant 16 rounds, and he expects that, as her mothering duties lighten up, the devotee spoken of will increase her chanting.
"In the Naradiya Purana it is directed, 'One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service.' The purport is that one should not neglect following the principles of devotional service, nor should one accept the rulings of devotional service which are more than what he can easily perform. For example, it may be said that one should chant the Hare Krsna mantra at least one hundred thousand times daily on his beads. But if this is not possible, then one must minimize his chanting according to his own capacity." (Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 7. Accepting only what is necessary)
"One must diligently complete the chanting of the daily prescribed number of holy names according to one's vow. But another kind of distraction occurs when one is too eager to complete the fixed number of holy names even at the sacrifice of quality. One must therefore always ensure that he chants his rounds sincerely. Also, one should better improve the quality of his chanting rather than try to increase his daily number of rounds for show." (Harinama Cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur)
"By a special stroke of good fortune, a jiva develops enough sraddha to take shelter of the holy name. By regularly chanting a fixed number of holy names with special care and attention, he may, by degrees, progress to anuraga, or spontaneous attraction for the Lord's name. He should chant his prescribed number of rounds on a Tulasi-mala and increase his rounds with time." (Harinama Cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur)
8. Swami Tripurari supposedly sent a devotee some tapes and literature, saying to her: "My Bhagavad-gita is deeper than Prabhupada's."
This third-hand story cannot be debated without some verification of its validity.
Here is a reference from Swami's own words in his Gita: "The most influential Gaudiya Vaisnava edition was written by my own spiritual master, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose Bhagavad-gita As It Is has sold more copies than any other edition to date." (Introduction to Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy).
9. ISKCON is said to be suffering from over-glorification of Srila Prabhupada.
Over-glorification of Prabhupada becomes a fault when philosophy is overshadowed by sentiment. This is the case in much of Udayananda prabhu's argument. Holding to the letter of the law while not understanding the spirit is a fault caused by over-glorification of Prabhupada. Taking his words out of context and risking aparadha to his godbrothers, to other Vaishnavas and to people in general is a fault caused by over-glorification of Prabhupada.
The problem with over-glorification of Prabhupada is indeed rampant. The result is that people pick and choose their quotes and justify whole new philosophies in the name of Prabhupada's desire. Is the ritvik conception not the result of over-glorification? What truly glorifies Prabhupada is someone who reads, absorbs and understands his message and not just shouts out loud glorification (or sometimes, villification of Vaishnavas).
We should all glorify Prabhupada to the utmost by becoming that moon
that he wanted, full of Krsna-conscious light -- not many shooting
stars. I would argue that Tripurari Swami has shone like the moon in
his service to his gurus, and I request that devotees of every camp
should at least honor that, and also honor the descent of bhakti that
he has facilitated in his disciples' lives.