Chakra Discussions

Hundredfold hairsplitting cannot save Rtvik theory

by Ananda das

Posted June 28, 2003

ABSTRACT: Deepak Vohra declared that, absent proof, he would not approach an accessible, living guru, but attempt a theoretical relationship with a departed guru. Ananda das suggests that, even without specific words from Prabhupada requiring aspirants to approach a living guru, such is the clear intent of past practice, as well as of Prabhupada's books and numerous lectures. Potential gurus possess the 26 qualities of a devotee and are identified by aspirant disciples. Book-initiation is a meaningless pretense, he says; one must apprentice with a guru capable of administering correction. Even though Prabhupada can take no more disciples, one may still join the parampara.

Mr. Vohra persists in attributing great importance to the term "current link", declares that it must, a priori and forever into the future, only refer to the ISKCON Founder-Acharya Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, then "challenges" us to find in the "Vedabase" a sentence he himself invented. A wily barrister will only ask, in the courtroom, questions to which she already knows the answer, because she does not want to lose control of the examination-in-chief. Trying to burn a lamp without oil is an impossible task; obviously, Deepak prabhu knows that the sentence he seeks did not exist before he himself formulated it.

If someone sets out a dish of curds and asks his servant to ensure the crows do not spoil it, the servant should honour the intent, not merely the words. It is a very poor servant indeed who lets a dog at the curds, saying to himself, "Well, a dog is not a crow, and since my master gave no instructions respecting dogs, I will do as I like."

To demand, post facto, a certain phraseology from a departed spiritual master before one will surrender to the clarity of his siksa guidance and seek out a guru, as Prabhupada recommended in nearly every lecture he ever gave, is an example of the argumentative stance known as tarka-pantha, which is generally a hindrance on the path of devotion.

Srila Prabhupada delivered thousands of lectures explaining the process of self-realization, and brought to the West, and then to the world, a movement which he hoped and believed would survive his physical departure. This movement had previously continued for thousands of years, being transmitted from a guru to his or her disciples in a chain of spiritual transmission which Prabhupada likened to the passing down of a mango from hand to hand, so that the fruit might arrive at its destination unbruised.

The ultimate recipients, however, must not hoard that mango. Just as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu plundered the storehouse of love of God to distribute it to everyone, it is the responsibility and joyful duty of all those to whom a portion of that love-mango has been distributed to pass it on undiminished to those we chance to meet. In executing this duty of preaching, or of faithful marriage, or of responsible parenthood, we act as a sort of guru.

Srila Prabhupada made it clear on numerous occasions that he wanted all of his disciples -- "all my spiritual sons and daughters", as he put it -- to take up the mantle in due course to teach the timeless science to others. As long as he remained among us in his "vapu" physical form, however, the convention of etiquette required that devotees should bring any new aspirant devotees to Prabhupada for initiation. After his departure, he clearly envisioned that his disciples would gradually rise to the challenge and responsibility of serving as gurus in their own right.

Prabhupada warned us that being a guru must be taken very seriously. He once told me in Vancouver that a particular disciple wanted to marry because he had sexual desire and because he wanted to be waited on and catered to by a wife. "That will not be very successful," he said. "Marriage is for curbing sex desire, not for increasing it. But he must marry, because he cannot be a brahmachari, so if he is to marry, he must marry a strong devotee woman who can be a very good example for him." Then he related the story of Chintamani Goswamini who rebuked Bilwamangal Thakur for his heroic, crazy efforts to see her on a very stormy night, saying that he ought to devote that sort of energy to seeking Krishna instead, and how Bilwamangal then accepted her as his guru.

"Being guru is like being a husband or wife, or a mother or father," he continued. "None of my boys and girls should be guru until they can know that they are able to deliver their dependents from repeated birth and death. Sometime, people will come to you and try to touch your feet and say, 'Please accept me as your disciple.' You must not let them touch your feet. And you must be very reluctant to take disciples. At that time, when they ask you, you should think, 'Am I qualified? Am I ready to be a guru? Can I really represent Krishna and my spiritual master to this person without deviation?' Guru," he said, "means 'heavy', and one must be very grave -- heavier than the world -- to accept the task."

He related how Srila Gaur Kisora das Babaji Maharaja had thrice rejected Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati as a disciple, to test his determination. "If you remain always humble in serving mood, then you can be guru. Read my books; first be good disciple, then be guru. Simple process. You don't need to know everything. Faith in Krishna, faith in spiritual master, that's all. Krishna will reveal to you. If you can control the senses, you can be guru; don't let the senses control you. Also, do not take many disciples. I had to do so for the sake of this movement, but you should take only as many disciples as you can reasonably instruct."

Finally, he said, "Don't be guru in name only. Not for name or fame, for pride and pelf. India has so many like that. 'Give me some money, and I will tell you what a good man you are.' That's all nonsense. Sit and drill the respiration, and tell people that they are God. All nonsense."

Unfortunately, a group of prominent devotee managers decided, upon Prabhupada's passing away, prematurely to assume the role of guru, a post for which at least a few, as it turned out, were manifestly not yet qualified. Prabhupada had not planned for the zonal guru heresy or the multiple-vyasasana folly. His plan had been that all his disciples would cooperate, and would gradually purify themselves over a lengthy period of time before beginning to accept their own disciples. Several times he said, "It took me thirty years to perfect my chanting." If that was an average length of time for a jiva to achieve perfection, a reasonable assumption is that, among steady devotees who joined the movement about 1965, the first ISKCON gurus would have begun to be qualified about 1995.

That some unqualified guru candidates appeared in the movement earlier and canvassed for disciples, only to disappoint those disciples terribly in various ways, was extremely unfortunate. Simple nostalgia for "the early days", as well as widespread disenchantment with unqualified gurus, incompetent financial managers and overbearing temple leaders, played no small part in the growth of the unscriptural Rtvik movement.

Although their yearning for simpler times was understandable, and their rebellion against premature assumption of undeserved mantles was probably justified, the solution arrived at by the so-called Rtviks only created new problems and divided the movement to no purpose. With their stubborn and nonsensical insistence on arrogating more importance to two words interpreted according to the light of their dim, guttering candles, or to a single letter sent on a certain date to a few disciples, than to the comprehensive intellectual unity of his 12 years of lectures and books, the Rtviks deliberately attempted to put Prabhupada in an impossible position. No reasonable person, even a far-seeing one, and I definitely include Srila Prabhupada among the company of the reasonable and far-seeing, could have imagined every possible way in which a latter-day motivated spiritual dilettante could screw out some pretended meaning from Srila Prabhupada's and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's plain words, and then acted in advance exhaustively to prevent and forestall them all. Therefore argumentative "challenges" to produce a certain phrase, as a sort of acid test, can never be met.

For Srila Prabhupada's initiated disciples, and for those who met or knew him, he remains permanently alive in their memories. For those who never knew him during his manifest pastimes, he cannot be alive to them in any ordinary usage of the word. Just as Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Narottama das Thakur and Sripad Madhvacarya have all disappeared from our view, so has Srila Prabhupada. Naturally, his published books -- particularly his Bhagavad-gita and multi-volume Srimad Bhagavatam, with their brilliant and detailed synthesis of the commentaries of Srila Visvanath Cakravarti Thakur, Srila Sridhar Swami, Srila Jiva Goswami and other standard Gaudiya Vaisnava commentators -- remain, as do the Govinda-Bhasya of Baladeva, the bhajans of Narottama and the commentaries of Madhva on the Gita and Upanisads. But no one can lick molasses from his elbow, or take initiation from a book.

Srila Prabhupada often related the parable of the medical student and the law student who have learned much from volumes of books. Nevertheless, unless they study with recognized medicine or law professors, then serve a period of apprenticeship as a resident intern or a law clerk, and pass stringent wRten and oral exams administered by qualified persons, they cannot be accepted as a doctor or lawyer simply on the basis of even very considerable book learning.

As a seeming master of word jugglery, Deepak prabhu expertly seeks out readings of the words of sadhu, sastra and guru, to buttress within his mind what are in fact shaky, unsound and unscriptural theories. Armed with the "Vedabase", which he uses more as a cudgel than as a source of inspiration, he minutely examines its entrails for apparent support for his preconceived notions. This is the way of the barrister, not the devotee: such an approach to the instruction of Srila Prabhupada verges on being arrogant, impious and unsurrendered.

Rtviks seem willing to throw away the spirit of 12 years of heroic preaching, in which Prabhupada time and again exhorted his followers that each of them should live up to his or her potential and, like him, eventually accept the commission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to serve as diksa- or siksa-gurus in their own right. Instead of noticing this obvious, emphasised and repeated message in Prabhupada's books and transcribed lectures, Deepak prabhu seems to be looking assiduously for donkey-wool, intently seeking out nonce-phrases susceptible of motivated misinterpretation.

For those who were not able, between 1965 and 1977, to sit at Prabhupada's feet, to hear his elucidation of Gaudiya-Vaisnava siddhanta, to ask questions, to have their doubts resolved, to have darshan, to serve him with love and attention, to correspond with him, to approach him for initiation and be accepted by him, to obtain personal guidance, to be examined and corrected by him, he will ever remain a great historic personage, the Founder-Acharya of his great ISKCON organization, the siksa-guru of every person who respects him, but utterly, forevermore unavailable for diksa initiation.

I am sure Deepak prabhu has sincerity of purpose, and is not given to mere monkey-like mischief-making. As such, it would be best if he were to study Srila Prabhupada's writings, no more as a barrister, but in humble gratitude. His progress would be most rapid if he were to minimize his writing for at least six months; attend regular programs at a nearby temple, or otherwise associate with surrendered devotees of Sri Krishna; whilst offering to perform simple devotional service like cleaning, sweeping, cutting vegetables, or washing pots. In Prabhupada's books appears a list of 26 qualities of a guru; those devotional qualities manifest gradually, by Krishna's grace, in the heart of the devotee who willingly seeks out devotional service opportunities. The same 26 qualities that make one an excellent disciple are also the qualities to look for in a potential guru. As devotional service is not restricted to any varna, ashram or gender, such a guru can be also of any varna, ashram or gender.

If so impelled, he could investigate the spiritual qualifications, mood, temperament, depth of shastric knowledge and other attributes of particular devotees whom he admires, and, after sufficiently satisfying himself, meekly and submissively approaching one of these many humble disciples to request mantra initiation. (There is water in the well, but one must send down the bucket; there is honey in the jar, but one must open the lid for a taste.) Whatever humble service he offers to such a surrendered disciple (as opposed to a self-proclaimed, aggressively lionized or otherwise widely advertised person), that qualified disciple-guru will, in his or her turn, offer to his or her own gurudeva. In this way, Srila Prabhupada will be pleased with both the disciple and the grand-disciple, and thus Mr. Vohra can genuinely join the parampara, with Srila Prabhupada as his respected param-guru.