Chakra Discussions

The Vaishnava Etiquette Difference

by Aniruddha das

Posted April 14, 2006

I read Jadurani Prabhu's recent posting on Chakra, entitled "The Best Evidence for Capitalization," and this is an open response to her statement: "In my experience Srila Prabhupada and Srila Narayana Maharaja are always in accord."

To quickly introduce myself, this is Aniruddha das Brahmacari. Jadurani prabhu probably remembers me running around as a kid, and certainly knows my parents, Pradyumna and Arundhati prabhus. (However, I'm obviously no longer a kid.)

To begin, I think that Jadurani prabhu is a person who devotees look to as a guide and as someone who can be trusted to not put up with any nonsense. I know that she spoke out and suffered and was basically evicted from the Movement during the Zonal Acarya period. Essentially, as I'm sure she's aware, much the same thing happened to my father -- even before herself -- as well as my mother and me along with him.

However, there is now a question as to whether she is turning a blind eye to misconduct by Narayana Maharaja. What misconduct? I will explain.

What I now relate are some of my own experiences with Maharaja, as well as those of my parents. The importance of these incidents is that I believe they all diverge from how Srila Prabhupada would have conducted himself, and that they are actually violations of proper Vaishnava etiquette.

My first account concerns my mother, and is, in my humble opinion, the incident which is the most serious breach of Vaishnava conduct. As a very brief intro, my mother has had very little to do with ISKCON since leaving along with my father -- and she can hardly be blamed for this. ISKCON has publicly admitted its fault in the matter in GBC Action Resolution 403, where the GBC states that it "wishes to express its deepest apologies to, and beg the forgiveness of, the followers of Srila Prabhupada who were offended or hurt by our past decisions resulting in the excesses and abuses of the zonal acharya system and its ongoing ramifications." Moreover, they specifically apologize to my father for "offences."

So my mother has been on her own for many years, surrounded, of course, by non-devotees, but carrying on her Krsna conscious progress as best she can. It was in this context that she went to take darshan of Narayana Maharaja.

The story has been told to me by both my mother as well as other witnesses (and all conversations are from memory and not claimed to be verbatim). I don't remember the specific event that my mother went to, but it was described to me as a large gathering of devotees. At this gathering, Jadurani prabhu spoke to my mother and brought her before Maharaja. I was told that she introduced my mother as a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada who had received much association.

Apparently, Maharaja immediately challenged her in front of this great crowd of devotees, loudly asking, "Are you still chanting your Gayatri?" As my mother related this event for me, she looked down as she hesitantly replied, "No, Maharaja."

Maharaja then proceeded to loudly criticize all the disciples of Srila Prabhupada who had fallen away from strictly following. He then offered to re-initiate my mother in the Gayatri Mantra (which my mother agreed to consider, but never actually did). So this is the story which I was told.

Now we all know that Vaishnavas are specifically supposed to avoid finding fault. As Srila Prabhupada states in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.33: "A devotee never finds fault with others, but tries to find his own and thus rectify them as far as possible."

He also writes in a letter to Sivananda prabhu, dated 12/31/68: "Don't be disturbed in mind. Whatever irregularities you have and with chanting your rounds or with Gayatri Mantra, Krishna will forgive you."

Even Narayana Maharaja states, in his talk, dated 2/7/05, entitled About Criticism: "Be very careful. Don't criticize devotees -- or non-devotees. First look at your own condition, and try to purify yourself." He also mentions that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur has specifically prohibited such criticizing.

So from this incident it appears to me that Narayana Maharaja's conduct is quite different from Srila Prabhupada's: he finds fault, and he disturbs the minds of the devotees instead of leaving forgiveness to Krsna. He cannot even follow his own advice and practice what he preaches, which is the most basic definition of the word acarya. And, of course, all of this happened right in front of Jadurani prabhu; so a difference between Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja certainly is within her experience.

To be honest, I believe that Maharaja has committed vaishnava-aparadha against my mother, although she will doubtless humbly deny any such thing. The story is told of a sadhu who laughed while in samadhi, just as one lame babaji was approaching. The babaji left, his feelings hurt, which immediately snapped the sadhu out of samadhi. The misunderstanding was resolved; but if such a slight accident is a vaishnava-aparadha, how much more so is an incident like the one I have related, where my mother was purposefully put on the spot and embarrassed in front of so many Vaishnavas.

The Vaishnavas look to Jadurani prabhu for either a satisfactory explanation or remedial action. Now I will move on.

After the event with my mother, I really had no desire to see Maharaja. But about a year ago, through some incredible coincidences, a special private meeting was arranged; so I accepted it as Krsna's arrangement.

Maharaja opened by saying, "I know your father very well. He was the very first to come to see me, long before Tamala Krsna and all the rest." (As some of you may know, my father had been specifically authorized by Srila Prabhupada to approach those in the Gaudiya Matha for the sake of his studies.)

Maharaja went on, "I stayed with your father not so long ago and I asked him to come and help me." But then he also said, kind of off to the side to his secretary, "Actually, he was not really following strictly."

So let's halt a moment. My father, who has always lived fairly humbly, hosts Maharaja with his great wealth. Then it appears Maharaja has also interrogated my father, his host, and feels free to later fault-find in front of his son. Vaishnava-aparadha? Well, I believe it will be, once my father reads this, although he will doubtless humbly deny any such thing.

Now on with my story. I certainly noticed what Maharaja had said, but needed time to absorb it and think how to respond. I actually replied to Maharaja that I was very pleased to hear that he had made some effort to engage my father.

Then Maharaja asked what I was doing. Without getting into great detail, I should explain that I've actually been living rather like a sannyasi, living very simply, being moved by the arrangements of Krsna, performing much tapasya and svadhyaya-yajna, and accepting service arranged by Krsna. Currently, I'm very seriously studying Srila Prabhupada's books. So I simply replied, "I am living according to the arrangements and guidance of Sri Krsna."

Then Maharaja looks at me intensely, points his finger in the air and declares: "I say that you are simply wasting your time."

After a moment, I questioned, "Why do you say that?" Maharaja apparently did not understand me. But when his secretary repeated my question, he replied: "Because you are not in the association of the Vaishnavas."

I could not respond immediately. But after I left, my mind was racing, and I suddenly realized that Maharaja's statement was completely false. I immediately thought of three different arguments to support my position, and suddenly felt myself moved by Sri Krsna to return to Maharaja.

I knocked and he agreed to speak with me again. I opened by saying that sometimes Krsna puts the devotee on his own so that he learns to be completely dependant on Krsna, and I specifically mentioned that Srila Prabhupada had been alone when he came to America. But Maharaja replied that Srila Prabhupada was a pure devotee. I accepted this at the time, but I would really like to see some shastric evidence saying only pure devotees can be alone without wasting their time.

Then I mentioned Bharat Maharaja living in the forest. But Maharaja replied only by saying, "That is wrong," and he quoted some Sanskrit verse. By the way, people always expect me to be as expert in Sanskrit as my father -- but I'm not. So I could not reply to Maharaja.

I was going to mention my third argument, from Bhagavad-gita, but then I noticed that Maharaja was looking at me rather intensely as though my presence pained him and I was intruding on him. The other Swami with him had also moved as though to escort me out. So I left at that point. But I was not satisfied with Maharaja's answers, and was quite positive he was incorrect.

Just to mention the Bhagavad-gita evidence, Krsna states in 6.10: "A transcendentalist should always try to concentrate his mind on the Supreme Self; he should live alone in a secluded place and should always carefully control his mind."

Srila Prabhupada also states in Krsna Book II, Chapter 30: "A person who can draw out the spiritual portion from this material world and who can live alone, depending only on the Supreme Spirit, not on the material world, is called paramahamsa."

Actually, everyone knows about retiring to live alone in the forest, or going into the Himalayas to perform austerities. The impression I now have is that Narayana Maharaja tries to find fault with persons that come to him so as to make out that he is better than them. And if he can't interrogate people about their sadhana, he will just make up something to find fault.

I claim no aparadha with regard to myself. But there is no doubt in my mind that Narayana Maharaja was mistaken. While on my own, I've been studying Srila Prabhupada's books, and I'm quite sure that my time has not been wasted.

Actually, I believe that pretty much everyone who was separated from the Movement, including Jadurani prabhu and my parents, has been alone and out of the company of Vaishnavas for some period. But I do not believe that this time was wasted: Krsna was still helping them to progress.

Going back to Maharaja's criticisms of my parents for a moment, he should completely cease such interrogations and humbly beg the forgiveness of the Vaishnavas. When Srila Prabhupada was so much needing help back at the beginning, he was requesting help from India, but no help was forthcoming, including from Maharaja. Instead, it was people like my parents who were devoting all their efforts to assisting His Divine Grace. Now Maharaja wants to come and "help" Srila Prabhupada's mission, but first he should give credit where credit is due, and relate to the other Vaishnavas in the proper mood.

I have heard that when Hayagriva prabhu returned to Srila Prabhupada, rather than interrogating about Gayatri, Srila Prabhupada, with tears falling from his eyes, was crying out, "My Hayagriva! My Hayagriva has returned to me!"

Actually, it is okay to mention real faults of persons who are trying to make themselves out to be better than everyone else -- persons acting like Maharaja -- just as my father and Jadurani prabhu did with regard to the "Zonal Acaryas." But it is completely prohibited with regard to humble devotees such as my parents, who have no great position, and who are simply striving for some sadhu-sangha.

Maharaja claimed that I was wasting my time. But really I believe that it is Maharaja who is wasting his time as long as he continues to commit these offences at the feet of the Vaishnavas.

I will leave it there. There are certainly differences between Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja, and I hope that there will be some response from Jadurani prabhu to address these serious differences.