Chakra Discussions

Prabhupada's instructions on godbrothers "misunderstood"

by Bhagavat das

Posted April 30, 2005

Rocana prabhu considers Aniha prabhu's response inadequate as accounts offered after Srila Prabhupada's departure are "suspect." I will answer using Srila Prabhupada's and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's verifiable actions and words -- books, lectures, articles, letters, and conversations.

Rocana writes: "Narayana Maharaja's own Spiritual Master, along with his fellow Gaudiya Matha spiritual masters . . . reinstated a guru parampara system that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had essentially rejected." I believe Rocana das has misunderstood Srila Prabhupada's instructions.

Srila Prabhupada wrote to Trivikram Maharaja, a disciple of Kesava Maharaja on 22/10/1968:

"I have a very close connection with Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti. . . . I am one of the three persons who founded Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti. . . even before Srila [Kesava] Maharaja accepted sannyasa. Respecting the order of [Kesava] Maharaja, I started writing articles for the Gaudiya Patrika regularly. Srila [Kesava] Maharaja greatly appreciated whatever I wrote . . . and many of my articles were published."

On receiving the news of the departure of Kesava Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada said in a lecture:

"He carried out the wish of my spiritual master and forced me to accept the sannyasa order. . . . My godbrother, Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, Krpambudhi, did this favor upon me because he was an ocean of mercy. . . . I am offering my respectful obeisances unto His Holiness, because he forcefully made me adopt this sannyasa order. . . . We are writing like this, 'Resolved that we, the undersigned members and devotees of International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., in a condolence meeting under the presidency of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, today the 21st of October, 1968, at our Seattle branch, express our profound bereavement on hearing the passing of His Divine Grace Om Visnupada Sri Srimad Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, the sannyasa guru-preceptor of our spiritual master. . . .' "

Srila Prabhupada's asking forgiveness from his godbrothers "was simply a gesture of genuine humility and magnanimity" and did not refer to "previous contentious critical comments," claims Rocana das. However, Srila Prabhupada's voice in this lecture is filled with emotion for his diksha-guru Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and for his sannyasa-guru Kesava Maharaja. To dismiss this mood in the above letter and lecture as insincere is unfair to Srila Prabhupada, whose statements are practically identical in both.

In a recorded Bengali conversation with Srila Narayana Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada directly asks forgiveness: "While preaching, many times we say things contrary to each other, or we cut each other's philosophical arguments. That happens. Please ask my godbrothers to forgive my offenses." It is not difficult to hear the remorse, forgiveness and love. Srila Prabhupada was genuinely sorry for having spoken harshly; to do so had not been a mistake, but he wanted to show the impropriety of speaking about them contentiously and, for us, offensively.

Also, in the letter to Trivikrama Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada writes: "If you have any nice photograph of [Kesava Maharaja], then kindly send it to me. I will get a life-size oil painting made of it and, along with a picture of [Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati] I will place it in my prominent centers, particularly New York, Hollywood, London and so forth."

If Kesava Maharaja had offended Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, why would Prabhupada start a preaching society with him? Why would Prabhupada do editing and writing, "respecting the order of Srila Kesava Maharaja," if he had been offensive to Bhaktisiddhanta? Why would Prabhupada take sannyasa from him and want his picture displayed?

In a biography of Srila Kesava Maharaja it states that after Bhaktisiddhanta left this world, some of his disciples, including Kesava Maharaja's brother Audulomi, opposed Bhaktisiddhanta's instructions. Kesava Maharaja uncompromisingly said: "I don't want to see the face of anyone opposed to Srila Gurupada-padma [Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati]. Audulomi Maharaja is my brother from my previous ashram and in paramarthika (spiritual) life he is my godbrother. Even so, from now on I have no connection or relationship with him whatsoever." Kesava Maharaja never saw or spoke to Audulomi again. Srila Prabhupada appreciated Kesava Maharaja's strict standards, writing to Sripad Trivikram Maharaja: "Srila Kesava Maharaja used to deal with these guru-tyagis (those who renounce their guru) and guru-bhogis (those who enjoy the property of their guru) with sword in hand."

Why would Kesava Maharaja renounce his brother if he himself were guilty of the same offense? The above letter, lecture, and the conduct of Kesava Maharaja contradict Rocana's claim that Narayana Maharaja's guru disobeyed Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's order. That Srila Prabhupada engaged in an intimate spiritual relationship with Kesava Maharaja proves that he could not have been an offender to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

Srila Prabhupada wrote Trivikrama Maharaja: "This desire of [Bhaktisiddhanta] was transmitted into his heart, and it was thus that my sannyasa was accomplished." In the lecture he states: "I am feeling very much obliged to [Kesava Maharaja] that he carried out the wish of my spiritual master and forced me to accept the sannyasa order."

According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, transcendental knowledge is transmitted from guru to disciple via the heart (tene brahma hrdaya). For Bhaktisiddhanta's desire to have been transmitted into his heart, Kesava Maharaja must have been a transparent via media and pure devotee himself. How could he have given sannyasa in the Bhagavat-parampara if he himself were not in the Bhagavat-parampara? For the ten thousand disciples of Kesava Maharaja, he is the preceptor who carried on the Bhagavat-parampara lineage.

Srila Prabhupada refers to Kesava Maharaja as his "sannyasa guru-preceptor" for having forcibly taught the lesson of renunciation. Prabhupada respected Kesava -- on whose order he regularly wrote articles for the Gaudiya Patrika -- and joined him in starting a Vaisnava society. Kesava Maharaja was Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's Yogapitha manager; he risked his own life to save Bhaktisiddhanta from an angry mob by changing clothes with him; he renounced his brother for his Guru Maharaja.

While Rocana das is technically correct that Srila Prabhupada made no direct statement about Kesava Maharaja being in the Bhagavat-parampara, Prabhupada recognized him as part of the guru-parampara by writing the letter and publicly declaring (21/10/1968) his gratitude for "forcing" him to accept sannyas. Unless Rocana disputes Prabhupada's words, I believe he will have to admit that Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja received transcendental knowledge in the Bhagavat and Guru-parampara.

In "Thakur Bhaktivinode," a 1931 article, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati writes: "Thakur Bhaktivinode's greatest gift to the world consists in this: that he has brought about the appearance of those pure devotees who are, at present, carrying on the movement of unalloyed devotion to the Feet of Sri Krishna by their own whole-time spiritual service of the Divinity." The use of the word 'appearance' proves that the pure devotees took birth by the order of Krishna and Guru [Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur], not as conditioned jivas who became sadhana-siddha pure devotees by the practice of sadhana. He is speaking of nitya-siddhas, eternally liberated souls who never took birth in the material world through ahankara and karma. By using the plural 'pure devotees,' he indicates there were many, not just him, and the word 'appeared' indicates they were eternally liberated.

In 1931 the Gaudiya Matha was preaching far and wide, spreading the sankirtan movement in India. Some leading devotees were Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, Srila Sridhar Maharaja, Srila Madhava Maharaja, and Srila Bhakti Pramod Puri Maharaja, to name a few. Bhaktisiddhanta said these devotees were rendering unalloyed devotional service not tinged by karma or jnana and solely for the satisfaction of the senses of Sri Sri Radha Krishna. The statements of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati are clear and unambiguous. Srila Prabhupada concurs: "There are many societies and associations of pure devotees, and if someone with just a little faith begins to associate with such societies, his advancement to pure devotional service is rapid." (Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 19)

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu established service in its highest form. Of the different limbs of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's pure devotional movement, the quote from Rupa Goswami's book could only be referring to the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

Srila Prabhupada expresses in the following letter to Bhagavat Maharaja (21/8/1969) almost the same sentiment as in his Srimad Bhagavatam purport (4.28.31)

"Practically there is no difference of opinion in our missionary activities, especially because we all are deriving inspiration from His Divine Grace Prabhupada Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja. I think all of our godbrothers are doing the same missionary activities without a doubt, but still the regrettable fact is we are doing all separately, not in conjunction."

Srila Prabhupada is not simply being humble and magnanimous when he appreciates his godbrothers; he sincerely means what he says because he has "indelibly enshrined [it] within his purports to divine scriptures," as Rocana das poetically states. Furthermore Srila Prabhupada is echoing the sentiments of his own Guru Maharaja, who wrote that Bhaktivinode Thakur's greatest gift was bringing about the appearance of pure devotees. If Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada recognize these devotees as unalloyed nitya-siddha devotees, how can we argue?

Nitya-siddhas are qualified to initiate and train disciples in the principles of pure devotional service. In the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, several persons are listed as carrying on the Sampradaya. However, Ramananda Roy, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Gadadhar Pandit and Srivas Thakur are not listed, yet are surely qualified and must be in the Bhagavat-parampara. Though his godbrothers did not preach as extensively nor make Prabhupada's profound impact, Bhaktisiddhanta and Prabhupada considered them pure representatives of the Sampradaya and recommended that one can receive siksha and diksha from them. Such exalted disciples as Kesava Maharaja, Sridhar Maharaja, Madhava Maharaja, and B.P. Puri Maharaja have demonstrated by their books, articles and preaching that they are also topmost teachers of the Sampradaya doctrine.

On January 14, 1975, Srila Prabhupada wrote Madhava Maharaja:

"I understand from the letter of Asita das that he has gone to your place in Jagannatha Puri. He has asked permission from me for taking [Gayatri mantra] initiation from you. I have given him my permission and you can initiate him if you like so that he may increase his devotional service there."

Srila Prabhupada addresses Madhava Maharaja with respect and indicates that he can, by the spiritual power Bhaktisiddhanta invested in him, increase the devotional service of Prabhupada's Hari Nam disciple; this is a guru's activity. Only nine months prior, Srila Prabhupada forbade us to associate with his godbrothers. His letter to Rupanuga das (28/4/1974) accused Madhava Maharaja of being part of a group including Tirtha Maharaja and Bon Maharaja trying to pollute his disciples and said they were unfit to be Acharya. Yet now he was offering his Hari Nam disciple to Madhava for Gayatri mantra initiation in tacit recognition of Madhava Maharaja's qualifications to be Guru or Acharya (these two are interchangeable terms, according to Srila Prabhupada's 1936 Vyasa Puja homage). Thus Srila Prabhupada countered his earlier letter to Rupanuga with new instructions; I believe it was his intention all along to work conjointly with the Gaudiya Matha when we were more mature in our devotional service.

To imply that Srila Prabhupada did not accept Madhava Maharaja as a guru but was just trying to encourage him would mean that Prabhupada was cold-heartedly sacrificing a Hari Nam disciple for political reasons. I believe Srila Prabhupada's criticism of his godbrothers was encouragement, similar to a teammate's chastising another for not performing to the utmost. Srila Prabhupada kept us from his godbrothers till we matured enough to deal with them correctly. His godbrothers were not in accord with his style of preaching but were one in Siddhanta and service, as his purports to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.28.31 and 4.30.8 declare. It is dangerous for us to weigh in on a controversy that Srila Prabhupada says is "not material" but "to be taken as spiritual." That is why Prabhupada often forbade their association. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati is of the same opinion, which is obviously where Srila Prabhupada gets it from:

"Those, whose judgment is made of mundane stuff, being unable to enter into the spirit of the all-loving controversies among pure devotees, due to their own want of unalloyed devotion, are apt to impute to the devotees their own defects of partisanship and opposing views." Brahma-samhita 5.37 purport (p.72, BBT edition)

We should beware of judging disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, even if we rationalize it as on behalf of and in defense of our guru. Srila Prabhupada writes Brahmananda das about this: "Even amongst our godbrothers we have misunderstanding but none of us is astray from the service of Krishna. . . . Even if there was misunderstanding amongst the godbrothers of my Guru Maharaja, none of them deviated from the transcendental loving service of Krishna."

Rocana would have us believe that Srila Prabhupada enshrined only criticisms of his godbrothers in his purports but the quotes from Srimad Bhagavatam, Nectar of Devotion, Bhaktisiddhanta's articles and Brahma-samhita recognize the godbrothers' pure devotion and the danger of criticizing them.

"The cult of Caitanya philosophy . . . has been taken up by some enthusiastic sages like Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja and his disciples. We shall eagerly wait for the happy days of Bhagavata-dharma, or prema-dharma, inaugurated by the Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu." -- Srimad-Bhagavatam, Introduction

Bhaktisiddhanta declared his disciples nitya-siddhas, Prabhupada accepted them thus, and both warn that pure devotees' apparent quarreling is an all-loving controversy only understandable by unalloyed devotees. The godbrothers of Srila Prabhupada do not deviate from unalloyed devotional service to Krishna even when they quarrel and, therefore, they never fall down.

That "all of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's disciples who didn't fall down are also members of the Bhagavata parampara" is not 'innuendo,' as Rocana claims, but is the teaching of both Bhaktisiddhanta and Prabhupada.

Finally, Rocana prabhu asks about ISKCON gurus.This article describes the standards for being in the Bhagavata parampara. If any ISKCON guru fulfils those standards he is in the Bhagavata parampara. Let readers make their own decisions.