Harmony In Diversity
Posted July 13, 2006
"Faithfully distributing that which another has drawn down from the infinite should in time bear the fruit of enabling such a distributor in time to draw down something himself. This is the fruit of the seed that Sri Guru plants in the heart of the disciple." (Swami B. V. Tripurari)
In a recent article, Udayananda prabhu attempts to establish that Swami B.V. Tripurari is displeasing his Guru, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and that his deviations from the guru-parampara make him not only unfit to be a spiritual master but dangerous to the society of devotees. This article will show how the various quotes Udayananda prabhu uses to establish his points are misapplied and how his allegations are false. It will establish that Swami B. V. Tripurari is a faithful and dedicated follower of Srila Prabhupada and the guru-parampara.
Udayananda prabhu asserts that Swami B. V. Tripurari "whimsically renounced" his service of book distribution for "his own concocted program." He quotes from a letter that Srila Prabhupada wrote to Ramesvara to establish that Tripurari Maharaja has left his service: "I have asked Tripurari to dedicate his life to distributing my books and he has turned out the most expert of all our sellers." Although distributing Srila Prabhupada's books is an important service given to not only Tripurari Maharaja but all disciples of His Divine Grace, the service that Srila Prabhupada gave to Tripurari Maharaja is not limited to this. The particular instruction from Srila Prabhupada that Tripurari Maharaja has taken as his life and soul is one that Srila Prabhupada wrote to him personally: "So you organize freely. You are the incarnation of book distribution. So take the leadership and do the needful." Tripurari Maharaja's service to Srila Prabhupada has expanded not decreased. Udayananda may not personally agree with Tripurari Maharaja's organization and leadership; however, Srila Prabhupada had faith in him and it is not really Udayananda prabhu's place to judge how well others are serving their spiritual master. Tripurari Maharaja has certainly fared better than many. If Tripurari Maharaja's deviations are as severe as Udayananda prabhu alleges, why has he not fallen away from the path long ago? Where is his power to attract people to Krsna consciousness coming from, and why is it that his students are progressing nicely in Krsna consciousness? Furthermore, how many leaders, or devotees in general for that matter, are going out to the streets to distribute books full-time? Is Udayananda himself practicing what he preaches?
Srila Prabhupada awarded Tripurari Maharaja sannyasa, with the duties and responsibilities that accompany this. In the letter that Udayananda prabhu quotes, Srila Prabhupada did not want to give sannyasa to Tripurari Maharaja because "if he takes sannyasa he may not be able to constantly assume so many disguise in public and employ so many tricks for selling books to persons, as it is not in accord with some of the etiquette for sannyasa." Therefore the fact that Srila Prabhupada later gave Tripurari Maharaja sannyasa implies that Srila Prabhupada's thinking on the matter changed and that he saw that Tripurari Maharaja could expand his service as a sannyasi. Srila Prabhupada says, "Vaisnava sannyasi means anyone who gives up everything and devotes simply his time for pushing on Krsna consciousness movement." Tripurari Maharaja is certainly doing this, so who are we to say that he is not following his spiritual master? Does Tripurari Maharaja have to die in an airport for Udayananda prabhu to recognize that he is trying to serve his spiritual master?
Left or Pushed Out?
Udayananda prabhu accuses Tripurari Maharaja of making Srila Prabhupada cry by leaving Iskcon. If Udayananda prabhu wants to blame anyone for making Srila Prabhupada cry, it should be those GBC leaders who pushed Tripurari Maharaja out by their policies. Udayananda prabhu may recall the days in which Tripurari Maharaja left, the days of the oppressive reign of the original eleven gurus. As a highly respected devotee in Iskcon (Srila Prabhupada himself called Tripurari Maharaja one of the pillars of Iskcon), Tripurari Maharaja was one of the first devotees to hear about the outrageous corruption of some of the original eleven gurus. As Tripurari Maharaja started to make plans with other godbrothers how to address the problem, word of his disloyalty to the local zonal acarya got out. He was threatened by the "acarya" to be pushed down the stairs and beaten. He then escaped to another zone.
Soon after coming to a new zone, he started hearing stories from concerned godbrothers about the guru in that zone. In this distressing atmosphere, Tripurari Maharaja had a turning point in his life. While out on book distribution, someone who purchased a book asked him where he could go to find out more. Stunned, Tripurari Maharaja realized that he didn't know where to send the person-in other words, which of the gurus he felt like he could send new people to with a clear conscience. Tears came to his eyes thinking about how the movement had digressed since the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada.
It was in this frame of mind in which Tripurari Maharaja was given a book of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. However, by this time the GBC had already begun their campaign of using Srila Sridhara Maharaja as a scapegoat for the problems in Iskcon. This has been documented in B.B. Visnu Maharaja's book Our Affectionate Guardians:
"The GBC's negative attitude toward Srila Sridhara Maharaja was primarily due to three reasons: He clearly pin-pointed their deficiencies, wrongdoings and shortcomings and advised proper courses of action, to which the GBC continuously turned a deaf ear. Many devotees, dissatisfied and discouraged by the ISKCON GBC's style of management, approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja for advice. His wonderful advice evoked a higher more mature perspective in these devotees which many times also included more tolerance and compassionate dealings in regards to the ISKCON leaders. His expert advice and comforting words which revived many a devotee's faltering faith, earned Srila Sridhara Maharaja a fast rising popularity which the GBC feared would diminish their position and control."
Tripurari Maharaja became convinced that Srila Sridhara Maharaja's guidance, rather than that of the eleven original gurus, was the answer to Iskcon's problems, and more than twenty years ago he stood up against the spiritual corruption of Iskcon, corruption that many devotees are just beginning to recognize and speak up against today. However, when the local GBC caught wind of Tripurari Maharaja's disillusionment and unwillingness to tow the party line, he was banned from every temple in America in one day, labeled as a traitor to Srila Prabhupada, and found himself on the street with nothing but an undeserved bad reputation. The BBT refused even to sell him Srila Prabhupada's books. This, by the way, is how he came to write books himself.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja
Udayananda may disagree with Tripurari Maharaja's assessment of the competence of Srila Sridhara Maharaja to serve as a siksa guru to Iskcon, but tossing an off-hand misquote like "Me and Swamiji, we do not see eye to eye on all things" is hardly convincing to the discriminating devotee who has taken the time to thoroughly research this matter. It does little to further the debate. Nor does his alleged quote from Srila Prabhupada about his godbrothers that "if they say one thing differently, your whole spiritual life will be spoiled," which is not found in the Bhaktivedanta Vedabase other than in three Vyasa-puja articles starting in 1982 (not surprisingly one year after the GBC made a resolution that no one in Iskcon could hear from Srila Sridhara Maharaja).
The debate is furthered by carefully weighing all of Srila Prabhupada's statements about Srila Sridhara Maharaja that can be verified. This is what B. B. Visnu Maharaja has done in Our Affectionate Guardians:
Instead of carefully considering the evidence with an open mind, some devotees take it as a forgone conclusion that Srila Prabhupada, as Udayananda said, only wanted his disciples to hear from him. Others too easily latch on to one statement and don't bother to investigate the issue deeply. The following story shows that Srila Prabhupada was rightfully cautious about his disciples hearing from others but expected that in time they would be able to take advantage of the association of others:
"Dr. O.B.L. Kapoor (Adi Kesava dasa), a dear Godbrother of Srila Prabhupada who assisted him in Vrindavana and contributed articles to "Back to Godhead," once expressed concern that Prabhupada's disciples might eventually suffer from insularity by not taking advantage of the association of other advanced devotees and the entirety of the Gaudiya scriptural cannon. Furthermore, he suggested, they might succumb to offensive thinking toward other advanced devotees, thinking only Srila Prabhupada as worthy of hearing from. Srila Prabhupada replied that he looked at his disciples as young trees around which he had built a fence to protect them in their early stages of growth. However, he said that as they grew to maturity they would naturally reach beyond that fence."
It is also important to consider that three years after Srila Prabhupada said that it was better not to mix intimately with his godbrothers, he requested that Srila Sridhara Maharaja live with him in Mayapur. He said, "This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you... 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. 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." Does it sound like Srila Prabhupada was afraid that his disciples would associate with Srila Sridhara Maharaja? Further, when Srila Prabhupada was asked who his disciples could get advice from after his departure, his answer was, "For philosophy, you can see my godbrother B. R. Sridhara Maharaja of Navadvipa." This was said to Tamal Krsna Maharaja when Tripurari Maharaja was personally massaging Srila Prabhupada's feet. Therefore, far from being evidence of Tripurari Maharaja's disobeying the orders of his spiritual master, as Udayananda prabhu has suggested, Tripurari Maharaja's taking siksa from Srila Sridhara Maharaja is perfectly in concordance with Srila Prabhupada's instructions.
Udayananda prabhu would do well to consider even the critique of Srila Sridhara Maharaja by Srila Prabhupada--that he didn't understand preaching and that he recommended someone to become the acarya who later proved to be a failure-and contrast this with the failures of Srila Prabhupada's disciples after his departure: drugs, sex, guns, smuggling, abuse, aparadha, the list goes on and on. These failures have done more to run a thriving spiritual organization into the ground than anything else. In light of this, it would be good to reconsider how harshly we want to judge others: as we have judged, so shall we be. If there is anyone we should be afraid of, it is ourselves.
Obviously Srila Prabhupada didn't consider Srila Sridhara Maharaja's mistakes in Gaudiya Math to be something to hold against him forever. He said, "Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Matha, I wanted to organize another organization, making Sridhara Maharaja the head." (March 1973) As Bhakti Caru Swami said in 1982, "Maharaja, time will prove that they [Iskcon leaders] are wrong, and you are right."
As further evidence for Tripurari Maharaja's deviation, Udayananda prabhu turns to his "disgusting" description of Krsna's rasa-lila. Please compare Tripurari Maharaja's translation to the BBT translation.
"Krsna stretched out his arms and embraced the gopis. He further aroused their passion and enjoyed with them by touching their hands, hair, thighs, belts, and breasts, as well as by playfully scratching them with his fingernails, joking with them, laughing with them, and glancing at them. In this way, he engaged in erotic sport with them as prescribed in the Kama-sutra."
"There Krsna threw His arms around the gopis and embraced them. He aroused Cupid in the beautiful young ladies of Vraja by touching their hands, hair, thighs, belts and breasts, by playfully scratching them with His fingernails, and also by joking with them, glancing at them and laughing with them. In this way the Lord enjoyed His pastimes."
Udayananda prabhu may want to reconsider his harsh admonishment.
Udayananda prabhu has also made much of Tripurari Maharaja's use of the term erotic, highlighting it with ALL CAPS twice. He would do well to acquaint himself with the history of the use this term in our disciplic succession. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur wrote the article "The Erotic Principle and Unalloyed Devotion" in which he states, "The worship of Sri Radha Krsna is held by some modern thinkers to be dangerous, and even immoral. They apparently take exception to the EROTIC element, which is the prominent aspect of the highest worship of Sri Radha Krsna. Sri Krsna Caitanya teaches us that it is obligatory for everyone to pay homage to spiritual amour which characterizes the highest service to the divine person. This is the central topic of Srimad Bhagavatam...Amour is a hard fact of life. It is probably the controlling fact. Why should it be capable of doing harm? Or, should it be checked because of the inopportune character of our present organs and environment? Can a policy of repression of a really good principle be healthy in the long run?" One can't help but wonder how outraged Udayananda prabhu would have been if Tripurari Maharaja had written this and not his param-guru.
A search of the term erotic in the Bhaktivedanta Vedabase reveals that it is a term that Srila Prabhupada himself uses extensively, following in the footsteps of his own guru. In Caitanya-caritamrta he writes, "The Lord is so merciful that he appears to take back the fallen souls to home in the Kingdom of Godhead where EROTIC principles of love of Godhead is eternally relished in it real form," "All these fair-complexioned associates of Srimati Radharani, the Queen of Vrndavana-dhama, are expert artists in evoking EROTIC sentiments in Krsna," and "The EROTIC principles of amorous love reflected in mixed material values are perverted reflections of the reality of spirit." Tripurari Maharaja's statement, "Godhead enters humanity to celebrate his sensuality, thus confirming the feeling in all of us that our drive for the erotic is not something to be abolished," is therefore perfectly in line with his Guru and Param-Guru. Note, however, that Udayananda prabhu has omitted the following sentence, which qualifies the statement: "It is to be redirected away from the illusory and toward the Absolute." Tripurari Maharaja was once asked if there is any "real sex" in the spiritual world to which he replied that there is no real sex in the material world.
In response to Udayananda prabhu's quote that we must study the first nine cantos before reading the tenth canto, we can only point out that Srila Prabhupada himself first wrote Krsna book, a summary of the tenth canto, and recommended it as good introductory reading material. There is no possibility that one can read Tripurari Maharaja's Aesthetic Vedanta and come away from it thinking that it is a sex manual or that Krsna's rasa-lila is on the level of mundane sexual relations. Udayananda would do well to actually read the book he is critiquing.
As for Udayananda's objection about Krsna following the Kama-sutra, Tripurari Maharaja has already answered this objection in his Sanga newsletter:
"Actually, Krsna employed the Kama-sutra in rasa-lila, as did Balarama in his rasa-krida. About Balarama's rasa-lila, Sanatana Goswami says in his Vaisnava Tosanai commentary, 'Because he is ramah, he is expert in conjugal affairs. He is also the Supreme Lord, so he is very expert in the various types of conjugal pastimes mentioned in the Kama-sutras.'
"The author of Kama-sutra was a disciple of Gauttama, a very sober sage. The sutras are concerned with the art of love-making. Krsna employed this art without any material selfishness. This is rasa-lila, and this is the difference between mundane and spiritual life. However, one cannot remain in the bodily conception of life and experience the full measure of selflessness, and I don't think many people today properly understand the Kama-sutra."
Udayananda prabhu next points out that "If you want to be a spiritual master, you must repeat what the spiritual master says and does without any alteration or addition." He then names specific things that Tripurari Maharaja doesn't do in his temple like daily guru puja, Narasingha prayers, etc. It is obvious from his statement that Udayananda has never participated in any of Tripurari Maharaja's morning temple programs, where guru vandanam and glorification of Bhagavan Narasingha are conducted daily. However, even if his allegations were accurate, by Udayananda's logic Srila Prabhupada isn't a spiritual master either because all the things Udayananda mentions were not done in the temples of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Obviously, when Srila Prabhupada says there should be no alteration or addition, he means no alteration in substance and not in regard to details.
As Srila Prabhupada taught us, an acarya need not conform to a stereotypical presentation of Krishna consciousness (Adi 7.33) because the real principle behind any presentation of the philosophy is to spread the Krishna consciousness movement (Madhya 14.6). In other words, Udayananda's application is faulty. Srila Prabhupada also writes in Nectar of Devotion: "a basic principle is that one has to accept a spiritual master. Exactly how one follows the instructions of his spiritual master is considered a detail. For example, if one is following the instruction of his spiritual master and that instruction is different from the instructions of another spiritual master, this is called detailed information. But the basic principle of acceptance of a spiritual master is good everywhere, although the details may be different."
As for initiation vows, the GBC itself has exercised its wisdom to deal with this issue dynamically in the absence of Srila Prabhupada. In recognition of the fact that most of the initiated householder devotees have not been able to strictly follow the vow of no illicit sex, the GBC issued the following statement:
The GBC Body wishes to clarify that according to Srila Prabhupada's teachings, sex life according to religious principles followed by Gaudiya Vaishnavas is for the propagation of children...While Srila Prabhupada's definition of illicit sex is clear, it is also clear that some devotees have difficulty maintaining this initiation vow. The GBC recognizes this, and suggests that rather than trying to adjust Srila Prabhupada's definition we should go on with devotional service and humbly and sincerely keep endeavoring to reach the proper standard. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada writes, "In the beginning of Krishna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krishna consciousness." (BG 3.32, purport)
Although Tripurari Maharaja has made adjustments in relation to the number of rounds he asks some initiates to chant, in recognition of the fact that many devotees are not able to follow the standard Srila Prabhupada set and also with the solid support of predecessor acaryas, many Iskcon gurus have actually added a regulative principle with no precedent in sastra or guru vani: new initiates are asked to take a pledge of allegiance to the institution of Iskcon! Where is the outcry for that change from what Srila Prabhupada established?
In relation to the he-said-she-said story about the devotee in Chicago, it is an absurd tale. Tripurari Maharaja doesn't send anyone books or tapes. Order fulfillment is done by his disciples. Secondly, he-or any of his disciples for that matter-don't cold call individual devotees trying to sell things.
Lastly, Udayananda prabhu didn't understand Tripurari Maharaja's meaning when he said that Iskcon is suffering from over-glorification of Srila Prabhupada. By over-glorification, he was referring to ritvik philosophy in both its hard and soft forms. To glorify Srila Prabhupada for his actual accomplishments is glorious; to distort the philosophy in the name of glorification is folly. In this regard, please note that Caitanya Mahaprabhu had all submissions of poetry or writing checked by Svarupa Damodara because he couldn't tolerate reading glorification that didn't conform to philosophy.
Here is a more complete excerpt of Tripurari Maharaja's statement written to the GBC in 1995 about over-glorification, which gives a context to the statement (note that he never got any reply from the GBC):
Iskcon is suffering from, of all things, over-glorification of Srila Prabhupada. Of course we cannot glorify him enough, but when glorification is not founded in philosophy it turns to fanaticism. I realize that in bringing this out I may have lost the interest of many of you. These days practically anyone who waves the banner of "All Glories to Srila Prabhupada" is, in the minds of many, beyond reproach. Our Prabhupada, however, taught us much differently, rupanuga viruddhapa siddhanta dvanta harine. Padma Purana states, sruti smriti puranadi pancarartra viddhim vina aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatya eva kalpate. In Prabhupada's words, "Religion without philosophy is fanaticism." That philosophical issues such as the origin of the jiva soul, its "fall down," the principle of accepting a siksha guru, etc. are major controversies in Iskcon stems from this fanaticism, which results in quoting and understanding Srila Prabhupada out of context. This threatens the very foundation of Iskcon. Statements like, "Prabhupada siddhanta," "Prabhupada's sampradaya," "Prabhupada is greater than Rupa Goswami," and so on at some time and place may be remotely appropriate, yet when institutionalized, they are Prabhupada's greatest nightmare. We cannot embrace this mood of fanaticism, yet we would like to embrace all of our Godbrothers in Iskcon on the basis of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy and the true love that its application gives rise to. We would like to cooperate and learn from you, but we also feel strongly that you also have something to learn. The world is not revolving around Iskcon, and if this fanaticism continues, it is questionable if even Srila Prabhupada will remain in Iskcon. I realize that these are strong statements, yet if further discussion ensues I assure you that you will find that they are not easy to dismiss.
In conclusion, Swami B. V. Tripurari, far from being a demon who should be
avoided by cautious devotees, is a staunch follower of His Divine Grace A.
C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and has given his life to the service of
Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga. The present acaryas of every branch of our
Bhaktivinoda Parivara, including many Iskcon gurus, recognize him as a bona
fide preacher and advanced Vaisnava. His presentation of Krsna consciousness
may not be to the liking of every devotee, but then again harmony is not
everyone playing one note but rather many people playing different notes in
a pleasing way (in this case, in accordance with sastra). May the community
of devotees appreciate the beauty of diversity, the beauty of different
expressions of devotion that conform to siddhanta. May Srila B. V. Tripurari
Swami and all the selfless preachers of our golden Lord Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu be glorified and may harmony and cooperation rather than
bickering and discord reign.