Clarification About the Prominent Link Model
Posted June 11, 2006
In "As Srila Prabhupada Said: 'Physician Heal Thyself'", Kaunteya Prabhu encourages me to examine my knowledge filters and biases. Certainly it is fair to ask me to turn the mirror on myself, *atmavan manyate jagat*, since in my article, The Weightiest Argument, I called attention to what I perceive to be a paradigm of *a priori* assumptions influencing decisions regarding the content of Srila Prabhupada's books. Also, I acknowledge that in The Weightiest Argument I neglected to mention that the recent revision to the first page of Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta demonstrates a humble willingness from the BBT to recognize mistakes and a dedication to the principle of editorial neutrality. In reading As Srila Prabhupada Said: 'Physician Heal Thyself', as well as other communications I've received, I sense that I have not been sufficiently clear in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL) and other writings, and I appreciate this opportunity for clarification. Kaunteya writes:
"The blatant omissions I am referring to concern direct, explicit statements by Srila Prabhupada himself on the specifics of disciplic succession in ISKCON, which Dhira Govinda appears to purposefully and consistently avoid or even discredit. When asked by an official delegation of GBCs, on 28th May 1977, about 'initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you're no longer with us,' Srila Prabhupada replied using expressions such as 'regular gurus' (to indicate the future initiating spiritual masters), as well as 'granddisciple' and 'disciple of my disciple' (indicating those who will take initiation from the future gurus). "These instructions by Srila Prabhupada are highly disagreeable with the views Dhira Govinda expounds in his Prominent Link..." The principles stated above are not contrary, or disagreeable, to the Prominent Link Model. Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link includes the following passage:
"*Can someone be called 'Srila Prabhupada's disciple' if he didn't receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada?*
"Suppose devotee B is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who received formal initiation from him. Devotee A, who didn't receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada, takes shelter of and serves under the guidance of devotee B. They develop a close teacher-student relationship that continues for years, perhaps even the duration of this lifetime. Devotee A certainly can be said to be a disciple, or student, of devotee B. This scenario is consistent with the principles of The Prominent Link. In the scenario, devotee A has the PL understanding, and he has no doubt that Srila Prabhupada is his direct, current, and primary link to the* parampara*. Srila Prabhupada is his primary guru. Devotee A is a student, or disciple, of devotee B, and thus devotee A is the disciple of the disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Devotee A is also a disciple, directly, of Srila Prabhupada, by dint of the fact that Srila Prabhupada is the Vaisnava who is giving devotee A more direct transcendental knowledge than any other Vaisnava, including devotee B. Without contradiction, devotee A is a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and a disciple of the disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Being directly linked with Srila Prabhupada does not negate, and in fact supports, the principle of being a servant of the servant of the Vaisnavas."
Of course, the essence of discipleship is service and the transmission of transcendental knowledge. It is not based on a formal ceremony. To the extent that these elements exist, there is true discipleship. Such genuine discipleship can exist between, to utilize the example above, devotee A and devotee B, with the simultaneous realization that Srila Prabhupada is the primary link to the disciplic succession for both devotee A and devotee B, by dint of Srila Prabhupada being the primary, direct deliverer of divya-jnana for both of them.
In PL I mentioned neither the conversation of May 28th, 1977 nor the letter of July 9th, 1977. All of Srila Prabhupada's words are important, so of course the May 28th conversation and July 9th letter are very important. An implicit assertion in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link is: "Whatever your views regarding that conversation or that letter, here are sastrically-based, logical philosophical principles that stand, and that serve as a platform for synthesis and resolution in Srila Prabhupada's movement." In this way PL endeavors to create a platform for synergistic resolution of this issue.
Regarding the conversation itself, Kaunteya asserts that it constitutes "weighty, conclusive documentation". I assume that he means that this conversation represents conclusive documentation supporting the current guru and initiation system in ISKCON. I've studied the conversation, including the commentaries of several learned devotees on the conversation. Honestly, and this may reflect my shortcomings in discernment more than anything else, the content of the conversation in itself doesn't appear definitive to me. The only section of it that, from my viewpoint, seems reasonably conclusive is the beginning, wherein Satsvarupa Maharaja expresses:
"...Then our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you're no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiation would be conducted."
And Srila Prabhupada responds: "Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acaryas."
It seems clear from this conversation that Srila Prabhupada wanted the Vaisnavas in his movement who conduct formal initiation ceremonies after his disappearance to be referred to as "officiating acaryas". I find it interesting that this term is not in wide usage within Srila Prabhupada's movement, including the ISKCON organization, to designate the devotees who conduct initiation ceremonies.
Still, I can appreciate the perspectives of those who don't accept the
"officiating acarya" designation that Srila Prabhupada indicates on May 28th.
In PL I utilize functionalist terminology, such as "...the Vaisnava who
performs the initiation ceremony..." Again, similar to the discussion about
discipleship above, the purpose is to convey that whatever terminology one
prefers, the principles of PL consistently and solidly apply. Detailed
exposition of those principles, in PL and several other essays, is available