When I joined I was given to the care of a senior mataji. She introduced me to Srila Prabhupada the way people do when they want two persons to have a relationship. She was expert at bringing Srila Prabhupada alive in my life. She taught me how truly and comfortably I could go to Srila Prabhupada in any of his manifested forms for shelter. I brought anything to him; mental problems and speculation, shame and desire. He taught me and cared for me from the very beginning. He has been present in my life ever since and I can always count on him. He won't disappoint me.
My attachment for Srila Prabhupada and for following his instructions grew and I had no particular desire to take initiation from anyone, although I understood that it was part of the protocol. When the external pressure to be initiated became strong I approached Srila Prabhupada on the topic and prayed for his guidance. I believe that his answer was that I needed to take initiation. Although I was asked and somewhat pushed to take shelter from a particular influential "ISKCON guru", I listened to my heart and asked someone else, from whom I was getting the most inspiration, to give me formal initiation. At the time of my request for initiation this pure Vaisnava acknowledged that he and I did not have a deep relationship but that he was confident giving me formal initiation because of my attachment for Srila Prabhupada. For the three following years I mainly stayed under the shelter of my mataji well-wisher and continued hearing from and about Srila Prabhupada. I thank her and she will always hold a special place in my heart.
As years passed I learned to understand and follow this Vaisnava Guru who gave me initiation. His mood in service, attitude towards other Vaisnavas, and his genuine compassion are a great inspiration for me. I thank him very much for his guidance and for having placed Srila Prabhupada in the center of our relationship. All his letters give me direct quotes from Srila Prabhupada and the instruction to follow what Srila Prabhupada gives. Basically my perception is that he trained me to see Srila Prabhupada as the prominent link to the parampara. This is the greatest gift one can give, and it demands a great deal of humility and advancement to take this position.
From the time I joined the Hare Krsna movement, my ultimate point of surrender has been Srila Prabhupada. This understanding has not negated for me the importance of surrender to other Vaisnavas. For example, when I was a bhaktin, I fully submitted myself to the temple president. Simultaneously I was submissive to the spiritual authority and shelter of the senior mataji mentioned above. A person who is sincere about advancement in spiritual life will naturally seek the shelter and guidance of others who are more advanced on the path, and who can cut the bonds of material entanglement. In the one who gave me initiation I found a person whom I could trust to guide me in Krsna consciousness. Naturally I submitted to him and surrendered to his compassionate guidance. This does not conflict with my realization that Srila Prabhupada is my ultimate point of surrender, and my primary connection to the disciplic succession.
That Srila Prabhupada is my main guru and direct link to the parampara does not minimize my love and connection with the Vaisnava who performed my initiation ceremony. The advancement and glory of this Vaisnava is in no way minimized by Srila Prabhupada's preeminent position in my life.
When in contact with other "second generation devotees" who were manifesting a different experience from mine, some doubts developed. What they seemed to express through their actions or words was that the most important relationship is the one with the initiating guru. How that could be, I did not know, but I felt alienated because I did not fit in. I tried and even faked it at times, and then I would find myself performing painful mental gymnastics at guru-puja. I would be looking at Srila Prabhupada's mürti and saying "The lotus feet of our spiritual master are the only way by which we can attain pure devotional service. . . ." and my mind would be doing acrobatics, attempting to adapt the meaning of this offering to the model I was thinking I needed to follow. I would think: ‘"It must be that I'm not supposed to be saying the prayer directly to Srila Prabhupada. I must say it to my initiating guru. I need to bring a picture inside my head and sing to my initiating guru." But then doubts came again. "If I'm here in front of Srila Prabhupada, then am I a hypocrite, or impersonal, if I'm speaking those words of praise to someone else? It doesn't make any sense!" Certainly something was wrong with me to think like this. Either I was deceptive or I was truly, personally speaking those words to Srila Prabhupada, and acknowledging his position as my spiritual master above all spiritual masters, and as the Vaisnava who is directly giving me the most transcendental knowledge. If the Prominent Link Model is not acceptable, then I suggest that we be true to ourselves and remove guru-puja to Srila Prabhupada from the morning program.
Reading the essay Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link helped me to put everything in place and become faithful to my experience and to myself. It helped me understand my relationship with my Guru Maharaja and with Srila Prabhupada. Before that I had doubts and I had to constantly adjust my mind to fit into the generally accepted model. It wasn't complete or realistic to me. I remember years of mental exercises at guru-puja and maìgala-arati. Now I'm peaceful in my practice and genuinely grateful for the one special Vaisnava who performed my initiation. I deeply appreciate his dedication to helping other Vaisnavas and I on the path back to Godhead. My realization of his position in my life seems more authentic since I have read The Prominent Link.
Initiation is a process (e.g., SB3:33:6 purport; 4:12:48 purport) that begins when one contacts with the Holy Name of Krsna, given by the spiritual master directly or through his devotees. In my case Srila Prabhupada made the arrangement that I met some devotees in a remote, tiny island in the Caribbean. One continues the process by hearing through lectures, association, and reading. Naturally one gets a taste and the desire to take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. I desired to take shelter of Srila Prabhupada and his representatives. This stage is manifest by the need to follow the instructions of the spiritual master, and I became increasingly enthusiastic to follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions. By continuing hearing and following instructions one may come to be ready to receive formal initiation. The formal initiation ceremony is an important event that is a part of the process of initiation. At the initiation ceremony the initiate commits to following vows and to adhere to the process of Krsna consciousness, and this is done in front of the Deities, Srila Prabhupada, an officiating acarya who acknowledges the vows, and the assembled Vaisnavas. Initiation is not merely a ceremony or an event, it's a process. With this understanding we can clearly see who is the spiritual master. The main spiritual master is the Vaisnava in whom we take primary and direct shelter, and for me that has always been Srila Prabhupada.
The main person from whom I receive transcendental knowledge is Srila Prabhupada. He is my ultimate point of surrender. If this is not so, then, I ask, "What am I doing at 7:20 AM, singing in front of Srila Prabhupada's mürti?" I sing "He opens my darkened eyes and fills my heart with transcendental knowledge. He is my Lord birth after birth." An essential, tangible reality for me is the knowledge that, if I again take birth, Srila Prabhupada will be available to continue to directly guide me in spiritual life. I will have the opportunity to again take shelter at his lotus feet and continue to serve him.
Please look inside, beyond your accepting and rejecting mind, beyond your social status and philosophical conditioning. Look in your heart, where you, Krsna and all knowledge reside. See if you have the knowingness of Srila Prabhupada's direct and primary presence in your life. Do you experience Srila Prabhupada as the spiritual master who is your ultimate shelter, the ultimate point to resolve your doubts and direct you on your path of Krsna consciousness? If so, then let's agree that Srila Prabhupada is the prominent link to the parampara. And let's accept that the model proposed by The Promninent Link compensates the instituted model that may even be burdening the movement.
This article appears in the second printing of Srila Prabhupada: The
Prominent Link. To discuss this article or to order a copy of Srila
Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, please write to PL@satvatove.org