Deconstructing barriers among Vaisnavas
by Visoka das
Posted February 18, 2003

ABSTRACT: Differences of opinion on guru tattva may lead some Vaisnavas into committing offences against others, outwardly appearing cordial while inwardly feeling contempt, writes Visoka das, who contends that the sway of logic and camp adherence is less important than "deconstructing barriers" among the groups, in the interest of mutual love and acceptance. When there is evidence supporting both points of view, we ought to accept that those who hold a different view are nevertheless honest.

Deconstructing barriers among Vaisnavas

Neither logic, nor the camps we align with, is as important as how we deconstruct barriers among the members of different camps within ISKCON. Coming to a unified agreement on guru tattva is less important than restoring mutual Vaisnava respect, love and acceptance.

Often, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, when certain Vaisnavas happen to meet, one Vaisnava will feel contempt for the other, though appearing cordial. This is Vaisnava aparadha; we can, and should, end this perpetuation of ill feelings, and live in harmony, as Srila Prabhupada intended us to do.

New devotees coming to our society are eventually confronted with this guru-tattva issue, and are almost forced to commit offenses to other Vaisnavas, who themselves worship Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. The Vaisnava who feels contempt for another Vaisnava, which is Vaisnava aparadha, is drying up his or her spiritual life. Our basic problem is not logic, but how we can bring about peace in our society and stop committing offences.

If devotees could stop the aparadhas and contempt, which cripple our society, most would certainly open their doors and minds to such discussions and try to "give peace a chance" in our Vaisnava community. Those devotees who refuse to consider such a movement for respecting other Vaisnavas appear as fanatical dogmatists, on the same level as extremists in other religions.

Devotees on both sides have valid points. When Srila Prabhupada says "grand-disciple", "he becomes disciple of my disciple", "you become guru" and so forth, most devotees see these as assertive statements, and are straightforward about it. When Srila Prabhupada writes a letter about "officiating acharyas," he is also making assertive statements, which other devotees see straightforwardly. The two sides may not agree fully, but they ought to admit that both sides are straightforward about the assertive statements that Srila Prabhupada makes on both sides. This is being broadminded, the essential quality of a Brahmana Vaisnava.

Some may insist, "Well, prabhu, you have to start with logical premise #1, then you progress to point #2, which connects to point #3, and, therefore, you can understand #4, our conclusion." Many devotees, however, have no taste for logical hoops set up only for the defeat of their opinion.

Each side is attached to its particular understanding, insisting that others must surrender to its arguments. Well, this just isn't going to happen; we have to deal with reality. The different devotee groups are set, but they all see the assertive statements of Srila Prabhupada straightforwardly. To see both sides is being broad-minded; to continue to hate is not broad-minded or Vaisnava behaviour, but fanaticism.

Offences arise because each side thinks that the other's position, not being supported by the words of Srila Prabhupada, is devoid of validity, can only be accepted by fools and rascals, is the product of a demented mind, and can only result in evil. We must deconstruct this false premise, this fanatic dogma, which is false, because it seems there is support from Srila Prabhupada's words for both sides. Our predicament is that each side has "reasonable cause" to think and believe the way it does.

Psychology suggests a way out. We need to examine how people think and why they think the way they do. ISKCON devotees see writings and lectures by Srila Prabhupada as assertive statements, ordering "regular gurus." The ritviks see that Srila Prabhupada made concrete statements at one time about a ritvik representation plan, and issued a letter about it. If we all admit that both sides have "reasonable cause" for their positions, we can start deconstructing barriers.

We may do well to read, with an open mind, Dhira Govinda's booklet, "Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link." While not opposing the current initiating system, the book glorifies Srila Prabhupada as the natural "current link" to the parampara, because his books and vani are perpetual sources of divya jnana, even though some will accept initiation from "regular gurus."

By applying this psychology, we can straightforwardly admit both the ISKCON view of "regular gurus" and the so-called ritvik view of "officiating acharyas". Through mutual acceptance of both positions we may live in harmony, in Srila Prabhupada's house which he made for everyone.