Response to VNN Guru-tattva article
Posted December 3, 2004
Over the course of the last few years, the editors of VNN.org have refused to post six different articles that I have submitted to them for publication. This pattern is a particularly obvious one, given the fact that between 1996 and 2000, VNN published at least 20 of my articles and never declined to print anything I submitted to them. Having asked for an explanation from VNN but never receiving one, I can only speculate on the reasons for their editorial position. It appears to me that their unexplained change of policy regarding my writings is due the fact that I have increasingly focused on the issues surrounding Srila Prabhupada's elevated status, particularly in relationship to his Godbrothers in the Gaudiya Matha.
I am most appreciative that Chakra.org has taken an open-minded and non-sectarian stance, and continues to be willing to consider my articles for publication on their site. A number of my papers can be found at www.harekrsna.com/philosophy/vada/writings/writings.htm. Included here are some of the articles VNN published over the years, but has since apparently deleted from their site database. (I count at least eight in this category, many of which speak to the above-mentioned subject.)
Supporters of BV Narayana Goswami Maharaja recently published an article on the VNN website entitled "Guru Tattva and the Real Disciple". This article, while just published on November 15, 2004, was actually a lecture given by Narayana Maharaja for Srila Prabhupada's Disappearance Day, November 11th, 1996. The complete text of this lecture can be found on the VNN website at www.vnn.org/world/WD0411/WD15-8768.html.
Having spent the last few years thinking and writing about the topic of Sampradaya Acarya, I was interested to note that in his lecture, Narayana Maharaja uses the term "bhagavata parampara" synonymously with my use of the term "Sampradaya Acarya". Narayana Maharaja also uses the term "guru parampara" to refer to diksa lineage.
Narayana Maharaja acknowledges here that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur followed the bhagavata parampara. He goes on to say that the guru parampara is included in the bhagavata parampara. While Narayana Maharaja unfortunately does not offer any clarification as to what the specific difference between these two lines is, he clearly indicates that there is a difference. The essential question that goes unanswered is what exactly is the difference between the two.
Vaisnava history tells us that after Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's departure, His senior disciples decided to reinstate the guru parampara. Narayana Maharaja's own Spiritual Master, along with his fellow Gaudiya Matha spiritual masters, re-instituted the concept of guru parampara but they did not do so on the authorization of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. In fact, they reinstated a guru parampara system that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had essentially rejected.
Narayana Maharaja states that the guru parampara is part of the bhagavata parampara. At the same time, he gives many examples in the bhagavata parampara where the guru parampara line is not followed. If we look at the continual history going back to Lord Brahma, we see that the bhagavata parampara is transcendentally independent of the guru parampara.
What is most questionable in Narayana Maharaja's presentation is his insinuation that everyone who is strictly following the guru parampara from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur is also, by nature, part of the bhagavata parampara.
I agree with Narayana Maharaja's description, in paragraphs three and four of his lecture, of all the personalities who are considered part of the bhagavata parampara, but who don't follow the strict rules of the guru parampara.
Narayana Maharaja makes the point that anyone who understands and accepts the teachings that are enunciated by the bhagavata parampara is essentially initiated, saying, "Initiation is a matter of heart and mood."
Narayana Maharaja also says that a disciple can't fall down. This statement has no real meaning in the absence of an explanation of what "falling down" means. Who is going to determine who is directly in line with the siddhanta, behaviour and moods of the true bhagavata parampara, or the Sampradaya Acaryas? Naturally, all gurus are expected to promote the idea that they are qualified, but how does the neophyte disciple or follower actually know who's in line and who isn't? If one who is in the guru parampara falls down, is he no longer in the guru parampara?
Narayana Maharaja writes:
"Guru-parampara is included in bhagavata-parampara. Those disciples who are fully following Gurudeva's mood and teachings are in the bhagavata-parampara."
Narayana Maharaja likes to include Srila Prabhupada and his own guru as both being in the bhagavata parampara, and there's much innuendo that all of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's disciples who didn't fall down are also members of the bhagavata parampara. Yet our Srila Prabhupada went so far as to call many of his Godbrothers useless, and certainly indicated that he did not accept them as being in the bhagavata-parampara. And this is the real point of contention. If Srila Prabhupada had not made those statements not only in letters and conversations, but right in the purports of his books -- then one may be inclined to just accept assertions like Narayana Maharaj's. But the fact of the matter is Srila Prabhupada clearly chose to make such distinguishing points.
This means that Srila Prabhupada did not place these Godbrothers in the same category as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and all the others who Srila Prabhupada listed in the bhagavata parampara. Narayana Maharaja, on the other hand, is not clear about which one of his Spiritual Master's Godbrothers should and should not be included in the bhagavata parampara.
The fact that Narayana Maharaja differs from Srila Prabhupada in his categorization of who is a member of the bhagavata parampara distinguishes him and his teachings on guru-tattva from Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada never, ever made the statements that Narayana Maharaja has made in this article, namely that he considered that Narayana Maharaja's Spiritual Master, who was Srila Prabhupada's Godbrother, is a member of the bhagavata parampara.
While Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa initiation from Kesava Maharaja, from the time that he started ISKCON onward we find no reference to the fact that Srila Prabhupada considered Kesava Maharaja to be in some exalted position as the other Sampradaya Acaryas and bhagavata parampara members. For that matter, Srila Prabhupada never mentioned the fact that Narayana Maharaja was his siksa disciple, that he accepted him as such, and that such a relationship existed.
So much is revealed in this presentation by Narayana Maharaja that distinguishes how different his vision of the bhagavata parampara is from Srila Prabhupada's own vision. Those who choose to follow Narayana Maharaja as either their diksa or siksa guru and especially those who had accepted diksa from Srila Prabhupada and siksa from Narayana Maharaja -- should make careful note of the fact that their diksa guru and their siksa guru differ in this very significant way.
Regardless of the sweet words spoken by Narayana Maharaja and his seeming glorifications of Srila Prabhupada, he avoids discussing the differences between them. In fact, he insinuates that there is no difference, that he and Srila Prabhupada were in agreement on these points. Yet Srila Prabhupada publicly admonished his Godbrothers for not following the mood of the bhagavata parampara, or as Narayana Maharaja says, the "siddhanta, behaviour and moods". That was the reason Srila Prabhupada concluded that they were not part of the bhagavata parampara.
In the concluding remarks of his lecture, Narayana Maharaja states that if you're not directly initiated by Srila Prabhupada, but are initiated by one of his bonafide disciples, then you're fortunate to be in his line. Again, he's not stating who is a bonafide disciple of Srila Prabhupada. In fact, he says that those who fall down are NOT disciples.
We know there are many so-called bonafide gurus in ISKCON, including those who have taken many disciples. The gurus are promoting the idea that they are in disciplic succession, and that consequently their disciples are in disciplic succession. At the same time, these gurus outwardly criticize Narayana Maharaja and don't consider him to be part of the guru parampara. This begs the question: is criticizing Narayana Maharaja a form of falldown? And if so, does Narayana Maharaja therefore conclude that these disciples are actually not initiated by someone who's bonafide, and therefore they are not in the guru parampara?
It's obvious that Narayana Maharaja wants his audience and followers to think one thing namely, that Srila Prabhupada is part of the bhagavata parampara, Narayana Maharaja's guru is equally part of the bhagavata parampara, and Narayana Maharaja himself is therefore also part of the bhagavata parampara. But the question remains… who else is in the bhagavata parampara? What of Srila Prabhupada's Godbrothers? How many of those does Narayana Maharaja consider have fallen down? Does Narayana Maharaja consider that ISKCON gurus are in the bhagavata parampara?
These are all legitimate questions that we'd like to have answered by Narayana Maharaja, but I doubt we'll ever get straightforward answers on this subject. And neither will Narayana Maharaja's followers.
November 21, 2004