ABSTRACT: The GBC's Sastric Advisory Council thanks Dhira Govinda das for his contributions to ISKCON, but objects to his booklet "Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link" because it glosses over the distinction between diksa- and siksa-guru, redefines "diksa" and deprecates the initiating guru. While acknowledging "valid points and suggestions," the SAC says the booklet "oversteps the bounds of guru, sadhu, and sastra" and contains errors of logic. The SAC cites Srila Jiva Goswami and Srila Sanatan Goswami to support its conclusions that diksa is an essential formal step to joining the parampara, and that the diksa guru must be properly respected.
This is an abridged version of the detailed SAC response to the booklet "Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link". The complete report is posted at http://www.vnn.org. Another version, with diacritics intact, is located at http://www.dipika.org.
By Drutakarma das, Gopiparanadhana das, Krsna Ksetra das, Mukunda Datta dasa, Purnacandra dasa and Urmila dasi (ISKCON Sastric Advisory Council)
Although valid points and suggestions can be found in the booklet Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL) by Dhira Govinda prabhu, a number of its premises and conclusions oppose basic principles of the Gaudiya sampradaya, Vaisnavism in general, and Vedic tradition.
We found several useful ideas in the PL booklet: (1) Devotees should accept responsibility for the advancement of other devotees; (2) There is need for a realistic appreciation of how much one's guru helps one progress on the path of bhakti; someone is factually a guru to the degree that one properly functions as a guru); (3) All devotees can gain inspiration, enlightenment and spiritual strength from Srila Prabhupada; and (4) Srila Prabhupada's Vyasa-puja should be the primary Vyasa-puja ceremony for all ISKCON members.
Nonetheless, the PL booklet lacks scriptural support and diverges from correct siddhanta. Its attempt at redefining the word diksa is unacceptable, and the booklet's suggestion that devotees forgo worship of their diksa-gurus contradicts standard teachings and practice. To properly connect with Srila Prabhupada or any acary, devotees should follow Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu -- and take shelter of a bona fide guru -- rather than manufacture a process. While acknowledging Dhira Govinda's attempt to improve guru-disciple relationships, we cannot endorse his overall premise or his recommended means of rectification.
Introduction Although there is room for improvement and clarification in our present understanding of how Srila Prabhupada is the founder-acarya for ISKCON and the foundational guru individually for all its members, our understanding has to remain within the boundaries of Prabhupada's teaching. Srila Prabhupada: the Prominent Link oversteps the bounds of guru, sadhu, and sastra.
That Prabhupada lives in his books and murtis does not mean devotees can avoid the authorized process of linking with him, which includes taking diksa from one of his followers. The GBC have acknowledged the desire and need of many devotees to have Prabhupada as their prominent guru, whether or not they are his direct diksa disciples, and should continue to reconfirm and better clarify this.
Some devotees want only Prabhupada as their guru and do not want to identify others who gave them diksa and siksa with the name "guru." This tendency is notable in the PL booklet, where the author consistently refers to a diksa-guru as "the devotee who performs the formal initiation ceremony."
Dhira Govinda objects to a presumption that one's diksa-guru is automatically one's prominent guru. One's diksa-guru may have relatively less influence than Srila Prabhupada, but he proposes that Srila Prabhupada is every ISKCON devotee's diksa-guru in the "transcendental sense," thus practicing in a different way the very methodology of assumption he sought to discredit.
Srila Prabhupada's followers do not have the liberty of redefining diksa and diksa-guru or understanding them too narrowly. To define diksa, as Srila Prabhupada sometimes does, as the transmission of transcendental knowledge does not mean neglecting its formal aspects. Transcendental knowledge is not just information, skills, or values, though in the course of diksa and siksa these are taught, but realization and wisdom. Knowledge comes through chanting Hare Krsna and the Gayatri mantras, as given by the initiating spiritual master, coupled with a way of life that supports the chanting. Diksa is always transcendental, except when the rituals are followed simply for show, like a marriage undergone to acquire a visa.
To solve the real problems the author addresses, we need a complete understanding of the principle of diksa. Practical, helpful steps include changing the wording of the GBC statement to establish that having Prabhupada as one's prominent guru is quite acceptable. Guidelines for worship of Deities and gurus' pictures would help devotees who understand their primary guru relationship to be with Srila Prabhupada as siksa-guru. It would be helpful for the GBC to explain why a devotee who accepts Prabhupada as his prominent guru should have his diksa-guru's picture present when worshiping the Deity.
Leaders of ISKCON should support the GBC's conclusions about relationships to Srila Prabhupada and diksa and siksa-gurus, and should not, in public or in print, denigrate existing policies. When GBC members and other leaders write and speak in public forums about deficiencies in the GBC's guru policy, it is not surprising that ISKCON members publish calls for drastic reform.
Specific Criticisms We cannot dispense with the distinction of diksa- and siksa-guru without running into serious difficulty. Many of our acaryas have gone out of their way to explain this distinction, including Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in the first chapter of Caitanya-caritamrta and Srila Jiva Gosvami in his discussion of guru-tattva in Sri Bhakti-sandarbha. One's "primary" spiritual master may sometimes be a siksa-guru rather than the diksa-guru, as is the case for many devotees who did not receive initiation from ISKCON's founder-acarya. Still, the role of diksa-guru is unique. The diksa-guru accepts responsibility for disciples, and therefore disciples owe special gratitude, even if he is only a representative of the primary spiritual master.
Krsna will never interfere with our misuse of free will, or force us to surrender to Him, but His representatives take the risk of interfering; the only practical way to regain our lost connection with Krsna is through the parampara. One who claims a direct connection with Krsna is most likely ignored, but a humble devotee who considers himself dasa-dasanudasa has the best chance of attracting Krsna's attention.
As a child's parents are more personally responsible than are grandparents and more distant forefathers, so also the diksa-guru takes special trouble and risk for his disciples. For disciples not to honor him is indecent. Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in Bhakti-sandarbha (207) about the obligation of respect for one's diksa-guru:
"The mantra-guru, however, is only one. As it is stated: 'Having obtained the mercy of the spiritual master, who reveals to the disciple the injunctions of Vedic scriptures, the devotee should worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the particular personal form of the Lord the devotee finds most attractive.' (Bhag. 11.3.48) This mercy is in the form of initiation into the mantra. The agama is the scripture giving the regulations of chanting the mantra. That this guru is one can be understood from the use of the singular number [in the word acaryat]. Indeed, the Brahma-vaivarta and other Puranas forbid rejecting him: 'One who rejects his guru must have polluted intelligence. He reveals his own wickedness by this act. Even before this, he has already rejected Lord Hari.' Dissatisfied with his guru, he takes another one; his taking more than one guru proves that he has previously rejected [Krsna]."
Initiation as the "process of divya-jnana" The author attempts to identify the essence of initiation as the transmission of spiritual knowledge rather than the mere ceremony of officially receiving one's mantra and new name. He cites a verse given as authoritative by Srila Prabhupada, and which was cited by Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas. This verse is cited by Srila Sanatana Gosvami in Hari-bhakti-vilasa (second vilasa), Srila Jiva Gosvami in Bhakti-sandarbha (283), and Srila Prabhupada in his purport of Caitanya-caritamrta. All three presentations of this verse are similar. Let's examine the passage of Bhakti-sandarbha:
"In the opinion of Srimad-Bhagavatam there is no absolute necessity of following the process of arcana, just as there is no need to follow the methods of the Pancaratra, since it is specifically stated that one can achieve the full perfection of life even without them, just by practicing even one of the methods of Saranapatti [surrender], and so on. Nonetheless, if those who follow the paths of such authorities as Sri Narada want their special relationship with the Personality of Godhead, which is to be achieved at the feet of their divine spiritual master by his giving them diksa, they must necessarily take diksa and then perform the process of arcanam. This is as is stated in the agama [Pancaratra]:
"Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity. A person expert in the study of the revealed scriptures knows this process as diksa. Therefore one should first bow down to his guru, offer everything he possesses to him, and should accept a Vaisnava mantra by properly carrying out the process of diksa. 'Transcendental knowledge' here means knowledge of the identity of the Personality of Godhead within one's divine mantra, and also knowledge of one's individual relationship with the Supreme Lord, as has been elaborately described in the Uttara-khanda of the Padma Purana, in the discussion of the eight-syllable and other mantras."
"Diksa is as is described in the agama: 'When they have not been initiated, brahmanas have no authorization to engage in their prescribed duties of studying the Vedas and so on, but after taking initiation they are authorized. Similarly those who have not taken diksa are not authorized to perform such activities as chanting mantras and worshiping the Deity of the Lord. Therefore one should make oneself auspicious and reputable [by accepting initiation].' "
Here diksa is described as a process of receiving a Vaisnava mantra so that one can begin the formal methods of Pancaratrika devotional service such as Deity worship and the chanting of mantras. Identification of diksa with the transmission of transcendental knowledge is only mentioned in a secondary way, and as part of a two-verse statement from an anonymous Pancaratra that defines diksa as the official receiving of a Vaisnava mantra. Citing this verse out of context does not prove that the transmission of knowledge is the svarupa-laksana (essential definition) of diksa, as the PL author postulates. It is rather only a tatastha-laksana (secondary characteristic).
The same conclusion is also shown in Srila Sanatana Gosvami's equivalent presentation in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. He cites the same two verses beginning divyam jnanam, preceding them with the heading: atha diksa-mahatmyam ("Now the glories of diksa.") Srila Sanatana cites the two verses to highlight the importance of diksa, not to give its essential definition. As Srila Prabhupada also pointed out when he also cited and explained the first words of these verses, the first two lines give a poetic analysis of the syllables di-ksa. The syllable di alludes to divyam jnanam, and ksa figuratively indicates ksapayati ("it eliminates [ignorance]"). Such poetic explanations, known in the Vedic tradition as artha-vada, are given by scriptures and their commentators to evoke appreciation of facts already established by more scientific methods. They are not meant as an essential definition or literal proof, even according to the rules of grammar. The syllable di in diksa is neither derived from the same root as divyam, nor necessarily connected with the noun jnanam. Nor does the bare syllable ksa necessarily mean ksapayati, nor is the object of that verb necessarily "ignorance."
While properly observed vows of initiation do lead to the gain of spiritual knowledge and defeat of ignorance, these are secondary characteristics. Properly speaking, diksa is a specific Pancaratrika method of mantra initiation, which Srila Rupa Gosvami has stipulated as one of the required elements of vaidhi sadhana-bhakti.
Diksa and pre-eminence of Srila Prabhupada. Diksa is a specific function, always performed by a current representative of one's sampradaya. Srila Prabhupada is the principal siksa-guru for anyone who wants to accept him as such, but he is not the diksa-guru of all his followers, any more than he is their biological father. This fact does not diminish his supremacy, nor is it a reason for his representatives foolishly to imitate him.
An authorized ISKCON diksa-guru is Srila Prabhupada's empowered representative, and deserves respect. If we think Srila Prabhupada cannot empower his disciples despite their imperfections, how strong is our faith in him?
While Srila Prabhupada is the most prominent link to the sampradaya for all his followers, and directly their siksa-guru, to the extent they hear from him, he is not the last link for his grand-disciples. Being not physically present, he is no longer giving diksa, but has taken the usual measure of authorizing his disciples to initiate in the parampara. One who is wary about accepting any current ISKCON guru is still preliminarily connected to Srila Prabhupada by whatever faith he has developed and by how well he can follow Prabhupada's instructions. One who wants, however, to become a full member of the sampradaya needs to take diksa.
Initiation ceremony and direct connection Is "the Vaisnava conducting the initiation ceremony" the initiate's guru? If so, then why not let him be called guru? The more a devotee becomes servant of the servant of the servant, the more likely it is that the parampara and Krsna will recognize him. In the Adi Purana Lord Krsna addresses Arjuna: "My dear Partha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee."
Diksa is not only a formality of acknowledging one's already established connection with Srila Prabhupada, but an act of obeying Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors by reposing one's faith in one of his representatives. We show the extent of our trust in Srila Prabhupada and his ability to empower others by entrusting ourselves to his disciples.
When a devotee surrenders himself to any guru, that surrender is not "unconditional." The guru should be bona fide (literally, "in good faith"), a faithful representative of the sampradaya. It is not because of a guru's own absolute status, mystic powers, erudition, good looks or sweet voice that one should surrender and become a disciple. The main qualification of a guru is surrender to his guru and the parampara.
Surrender does have its conditions. The main strength of ISKCON is Srila Prabhupada's power to attract faith. That power, however, comes from Krsna through the parampara, and is still active even in Srila Prabhupada's physical absence. Those who could not take initiation directly from Prabhupada can still become fortunate if they meet someone empowered by Prabhupada to carry on the parampara. If there are no such qualified gurus in ISKCON, then ISKCON will have to be dormant, and declaring Srila Prabhupada everyone's initiator will not change the situation. On the other hand, if there are qualified gurus, the same mercy is available as much as it was in Prabhupada's presence, without having to imagine that Prabhupada is still giving diksa.
By surrender to a guru we are not giving ourselves up only to a single "point." Initiation means joining the company of the sampradaya, which includes the founder-acarya, predecessors and representatives. If connection is disrupted, a devotee's connection with siksa-gurus can still easily save him. A disciple may receive little instruction from his diksa-guru and have more faith in a siksa-guru, but as long as the diksa-guru is a faithful Vaisnava his disciple should always show him respect.
Prabhupada and the parampara Considering one's acarya an ordinary person, imperfect like everyone else, means to envy him (asuyeta), and Krsna disapproves such an attitude. Many, however, are of the opinion that Srila Prabhupada is our only acarya in ISKCON. In the current atmosphere of ISKCON it is taboo to give the title acarya to anyone but Srila Prabhupada, though he specified that he be designated the founder-acarya, a particular kind of acarya, implying that there may be other acaryas in his institution. Here is the opinion of a previous acarya, Srila Jiva Gosvami:
"Thus the mantra-guru is all the more so required. One must take shelter of a transcendental guru even if it means rejecting a worldly guru or other authorities; with that idea in mind it is said: 'One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.' (Bhag. 5.5.18) by whose help imminent death (material existence) [is avoided]. Thus Sri Narada makes such statements as, 'The people in general are naturally inclined to enjoy, and you have encouraged them in that way in the name of religion. This is verily condemned and is quite unreasonable. Because they are guided under your instructions, they will accept such activities in the name of religion and will hardly care for prohibitions.' (Bhag. 1.5.15) In other words, one should treat such persons as gurus and so on only until one can take shelter at the feet of a divine spiritual master who can deliver one from death." The verse under discussion was spoken by Sri Rsabhadeva to his sons.
"In other circumstances even karmis should see their spiritual master as God, as is stated: 'One should know the acarya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.' (Bhag. 11.17.27) This statement is included in the description of a brahmacari's duties. It was spoken by the Personality of Godhead." (Bhakti-sandarbha 210-11)
To enter the pure devotional service of Krsna one needs to accept initiation from a bona fide guru in the line of pure devotion. If one was previously initiated by a "worldly guru" into something other than pure krsna-bhakti, one should find a proper Vaisnava guru instead. Even a materialistic initiator into an impure method of worship is to be considered and respected as acarya and never neglected and disrespected. What then of an initiator who is a proper Vaisnava in the line of pure devotion? Can a devotee expect to satisfy Krsna by considering his guru an ordinary person and refusing to let him be called guru?
At the other end of the spectrum of worship, it becomes debatable how much and what kind of worship is suitable. This controversy cannot be safely solved by legislating a simplistic norm, but we have to distinguish between public and private puja, and between puja and bhajana, and measure in each separately the appropriateness of various kinds of guru worship.
Etiquette towards the diksa-guru Devotees ought not ignore their diksa-gurus, unless the gurus were never proper Vaisnavas or have seriously deviated from Vaisnava principles. Some ISKCON devotees may repose most of their faith only in Srila Prabhupada and little faith in their initiating gurus; still, to satisfy the parampara and Krsna, etiquette should be maintained. The Pancaratrika methods of Deity worship prescribe worship with authorized mantras; every item should first be offered to the guru who gave the worshiper his mantras. The guru then gives the offering to his guru, and so on until the offering reaches the Lord Himself. Because the guru is a dear devotee of the Lord, the Lord does not refuse the offerings of imperfect disciples. Since this is the formal pancaratrika method, the guru who is given the offering first is normally the pancaratrika diksa-guru.
There may be exceptions; the guru-parampara given to us by Srila Prabhupada for worship in ISKCON, for example, includes Bhaktivinoda Thakura's siksa-guru, Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji, rather than his diksa-guru. Nonetheless, offering puja first to one's diksa-guru is the norm in all Vaisnava sampradayas. Whatever may have been the actual relationship between Srila Bhaktivinoda and his diksa-guru, Srila Bhaktivinoda never behaved disrespectfully toward him.
Sukadeva Gosvami is honored as gurum muninam, the spiritual master of the great sages. When he spoke to Pariksit, Sukadeva's own guru Vyasadeva and parama-guru Narada were happy to sit in the audience and listen. ISKCON devotees sometimes worship Sukadeva Gosvami in their personal chanting and meditation, but we do not make formal offerings to Sukadeva in our regular puja because he is not in the line of initiators of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya.
The diksa-guru of a properly initiated devotee in ISKCON, however, is the immediate link in the diksa-parampara for his disciple. If the disciple wants to participate in the devotional method of arcanam, which in our line is practiced according to pancaratrika principles, he should worship his diksa-guru. In his heart he may spend day and night worshiping Srila Prabhupada, and he may spend hours every day reading Prabhupada's books and speaking his glories, but still there are standards of appropriate respect, including worship to his diksa-guru.
Fanaticism vs. healthy respect Fanatical guru worship does degrade ISKCON, as, in the past, when the Mayapura temple room was encumbered by eleven extra vyasasanas during Gaura-purnima festivals. It continues to do so in defiance of ISKCON law in some places, including established temples.
But is it an act of fanaticism to have a picture of the pujari's diksa-guru temporarily on the altar, or to observe the diksa-gurus' Vyasa-puja once a year? Does it have to be a question of worshiping either Prabhupada or the diksa-guru, or can both be accommodated fairly? In a healthy guru-disciple relationship in ISKCON, the representative of Prabhupada (diksa- or siksa-guru) would constantly direct the disciple in serving Prabhupada's instructions and his mission. The disciple would naturally feel gratitude and want to express it.
Useful questions to ask are: How much is this healthy norm established in ISKCON? Where it isn't -- why? And how to rectify the situation? We do not believe that the cause of all our problems is that disciples worship their diksa-gurus.
Although the author claims his model is not meant to be adopted as the only allowable viewpoint (p. 51), he definitely implies that if a guru does not forbid his disciples to worship himself, he is deviant (p. 24). It is proposed that no pictures of any guru after Prabhupada should be on ISKCON altars, and that disciples should not recite pranama-mantras for their diksa-gurus. These proposals are against the principles of pancaratrika worship and the practice of Vaisnavas and others in all sampradayas. While the most important observance of Vyasa-puja should be for the founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, this should not restrain disciples from celebrating their diksa-gurus' appearance days.
Retaining the external appearance of worship as it was in Srila Prabhupada's presence will not prevent the tragedy of guru falldown in ISKCON. New devotees will place their trust in those who personally guide them and, if the guides deviate, their followers will suffer. Artificially elevating Srila Prabhupada to the imaginary status of perpetual diksa-guru is no substitute for fulfilling the actual need of his representatives to become pure in Krsna consciousness.
One may have many gurus The premise that ISKCON can only have one guru is incorrect. Prabhupada is the first among many gurus, which is one meaning of prabhu-pada. He is pre-eminent, and he is siksa-guru for everyone who wants to hear from and follow him. That he can empower his disciples also to be gurus only adds to his glories.
Srila Prabhupada, his disciples who give initiation, and his followers who give valuable instruction are all real gurus. Srila Prabhupada is the founding acarya of ISKCON, the original light from which other lights in ISKCON are lit, and is the representative of the Gaudiya sampradaya from Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Advising disciples to worship their diksa-gurus does not diminish Srila Prabhupada's position but glorifies it, as long as the diksa-gurus represent Prabhupada faithfully and direct disciples to his teachings.
Dhira Govinda prabhu proposes that Srila Prabhupada's position is absolute and everyone else's position is relative (pp. 33, 35). But Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja says, "Lord Krsna alone is the supreme controller, and all others are His servants." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 5.142) Only the Supreme Lord is absolute. Srila Prabhupada's position as the founder-acarya of ISKCON is based on empowerment by predecessor acaryas. The position of an empowered representative of Srila Prabhupada is understood in the same way, even if the empowered disciple is nowhere near equal to Prabhupada. The diksa-guru takes responsibility, and Prabhupada and his predecessors kindly share that responsibility.
Srila Prabhupada's disciples are grand disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but received their basic understanding of Krsna consciousness from Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada wanted it to be this way, and he wanted himself to be the siksa-guru directly teaching future generations of ISKCON. Thus Srila Bhaktisiddhanta has not been a directly accessible siksa-guru for most of us.
Fanaticism tends to be endemic among neophytes in any religious tradition and can be focused on any authority, not just Srila Prabhupada. There are plenty of young devotees who take pride in their relationship with their guru and will not listen to what other Vaisnavas say. Perhaps the problem is not only neglect of Prabhupada, but also neglect of Vaisnavas in general in the name of guru worship. How does declaring Srila Prabhupada the prominent link solve this problem? By reducing the possible objects of fanaticism to just one? The proposition "If someone is actually connected with Srila Prabhupada then he won't exhibit such behavior" (p. 45) is logically troublesome. It's possible to be connected to Prabhupada but fanatic, or not properly connected to Prabhupada and fanatic. There is no causal relationship between being connected and avoiding fanaticism.
We have to represent the Gaudiya sampradaya's siddhanta, and so cannot endorse the erroneous opinion that Srila Prabhupada is the one current initiating guru of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada himself did not favor the kind of philosophical pluralism The Prominent Link promotes. The Vaisnava sampradaya is not meant to be a forum for alternative systems of belief, but rather the institution for preserving the unchanging philosophy of the sampradaya's founder, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. There is, however, much room for individual variety in relationships. Historically, there has been a great deal of such individual expression in our sampradaya, going back to the original associates of Lord Caitanya. A devotee's choice of spiritual guides is a matter of the heart, and should never be forced by legislation or intimidation. If such force and intimidation does exist somewhere in today's ISKCON, it needs to be identified and corrected. The author of PL has made a sincere attempt to address such problems but, unfortunately, has proposed a philosophically unsound solution.
Conclusion In 2001 Dhira Govinda prabhu asked the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON to consider the proposals that he made in his booklet Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link. The GBC issued a preliminary statement and delegated the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) to carefully evaluate the booklet and proposals in light of guru, sadhu and sastra. Although we were aware of the negative preliminary statement by the GBC, we were not bound by it. Our mandate was to search not only for possible defects but also for good points, and to consider Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, with due Vaisnava respect for both the work and its author. The author was made a party to our deliberations, and had a chance to discuss his views with us.
All of us have a history of friendly relations with the author and share a deep appreciation for his many contributions to our Society. We share many of his concerns about the guru question in ISKCON. In the introduction to this paper, we have mentioned some of the valid points in PL, but the author's presentation of Srila Prabhupada's relationship to ISKCON members who took initiation after his physical departure significantly contradicts the understandings given to us by Srila Prabhupada and his predecessor acaryas.
A surface reading of PL suggests that the author is just saying "let's put Srila Prabhupada in the center," something everyone in ISKCON will support. If that were all he was saying, few would object. After all, that is the meaning of the title Prabhupada -- among all prabhus or masters (including spiritual masters), he is supreme, and other masters exhibit their subordination by remaining at his feet.
Unfortunately, that is not all that the author is saying. This fact may not be apparent to those who do not read PL carefully. Because the author consciously avoided using the standard siksa- and diksa-guru terminology, it was difficult to understand the full implications of his statements. By identifying Srila Prabhupada as a "link" and today's diksa-gurus as "the Vaisnava who performs the formal initiation ceremony," it was not easy to see exactly what he was saying in terms of the traditional Vaisnava understanding of actual guru-disciple relationships.
According to PL, are the devotees who are now conducting initiation ceremonies the diksa-gurus of their disciples or not? Is Srila Prabhupada the one diksa-guru of those receiving their initiation ceremonies today or not? It took much questioning of the author to get a clear understanding of his intended meaning.
Dhira Govinda himself received his initiations after Srila Prabhupada's departure. When asked to identify his diksa-guru, Dhira Govinda prabhu said that if he were to answer according to the PL understanding, he would have to say that Srila Prabhupada was his one diksa-guru. We assume the same would be true for all ISKCON members who received initiation after Prabhupada's departure and who agree with the PL position.
Nowhere, however, is this conclusion prominently and clearly stated in PL. Occasionally, this implicit conclusion does come close to being stated explicitly, in statements such as, "Srila Prabhupada continues to accept disciples who sincerely dedicate their lives to following his instructions and who willingly receive the transcendental knowledge that he imparts." (p. 30)
This conclusion can also be found in the practical proposal that Dhira Govinda Prabhu sent to the GBC in advance of its 2002 Mayapur meeting, wherein he suggests the GBC should endorse the statement that "it is legitimate to consider that Srila Prabhupada is initiating devotees who genuinely, directly connect with him by serving his vani and accepting that vani as the guiding force of their life. This understanding is applicable regardless of who conducted the formal initiation ceremony for the devotee."
Members of ISKCON should ask themselves, "Do I agree with the PL understanding that Srila Prabhupada is the one diksa-guru for all members of ISKCON, including those who took initiation after his departure?"
If any ISKCON devotees do agree with that statement, then they have to seriously consider why Srila Prabhupada himself did not promote this understanding. They have to seriously consider why Srila Prabhupada established another system, whereby his disciples would give harinama- and gayatri mantra-diksa.
We do not agree with the PL understanding that Srila Prabhupada is the one diksa-guru for all members of ISKCON, including those who took initiation after his departure.
If the conclusion of PL is indeed wrong, the method of arriving at the conclusion may also have been wrong. In his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam (1.4.1), Srila Prabhupada gives some guidelines for one presenting conclusions to the society of devotees according to one's realization: "The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it."
In attempting to explain diksa, PL fails this test, failing to maintain Srila Prabhupada's original intention, stated in the texts of his books, lectures, conversations and letters, that his disciples would one day become diksa-gurus, initiating spiritual masters. Instead, he manufactures another system from his interpretations of some statements Srila Prabhupada made about divya-jnana and diksa. Although the transmission of transcendental knowledge is connected with diksa, it is not its defining characteristic, as this would eliminate the distinction between siksa and diksa. Srila Prabhupada had another idea:
"Formal initiation means to accept, officially, to abide by the orders of Krsna and His representative. . . . This is initiation, official acceptance of the job. . . . Just like if you enter in an office establishment, so you accept the terms of service. That is initiation. Then you go on serving; you become promoted; you get salary increase. You become recognized. You become officer. . . . Divya-jnana means transcendental, spiritual knowledge. So divya is di, and jnanam, ksapayati, explaining, that is ksa, di-ksa. . . . So diksa means the initiation to begin transcendental activities. That is called initiation. Therefore we take promise from the disciple, 'You chant so many times'. 'Yes, sir'. 'You observe these rules and regulations'. 'Yes, sir'. That is initiation."
The formal agreement between guru and disciple ratified by the initiation ceremony is the substance of diksa. By this formal acceptance one is linked to the disciplic succession, one becomes qualified to get the full benefit of chanting the holy name, one becomes qualified to receive the full benefit of divya-jnana, one gets a second birth, one is freed from previous sinful reactions, and one is accepted as a bona fide servant of Krsna. Connecting the disciple properly with the disciplic succession is the distinguishing characteristic of diksa and the diksa-guru.
In his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 1.47), Srila Prabhupada gives the correct understanding of the diksa function as distinct from the siksa function:
"Srila Sanatana Gosvami is the ideal spiritual master [diksa-guru], for he delivers one the shelter of the lotus feet of Madana-mohana. . . Sri Govindaji acts exactly like the siksa-guru [instructing spiritual master] by teaching Arjuna the Bhagavad-gita. He is the original preceptor, for He gives us instructions and an opportunity to serve Him. The initiating spiritual master is a personal manifestation of Srila Madana-mohana vigraha, whereas the instructing spiritual master is a personal representative of Srila Govindadeva vigraha. Both of these Deities are worshiped at Vrndavana. Srila Gopinatha is the ultimate attraction in spiritual realization."
Thus after one has through some initial faith attained the association of devotees, the next important step in devotional life is to formally accept the shelter of Krsna. This happens in our Society at the time of harinama-diksa; the guru who gives that formal shelter is the diksa-guru.
The diksa-guru is defined not as the one who over time gives us a certain quantity or quality of transcendental knowledge relative to others, but as the one who on behalf of Krsna grants us His shelter, thus establishing our actual connection with Krsna, with His service, and with the disciplic succession. Once this connection has been established the disciple can properly receive and benefit from the transmission of instructions, i.e. transcendental knowledge (siksa), about how to function as a servant of Krsna.
If we subtract the incorrect doctrine that Srila Prabhupada is still giving diksa today, what is left in PL? The other principal point is the recommendation that no one except Srila Prabhupada should receive any formal worship or respect as guru. This recommendation contradicts the many statements in Srila Prabhupada's books that a disciple should offer worship to his gurus.
Srila Prabhupada expected that his disciples would someday become gurus and receive worship from their disciples, but all these gurus would continue to remain subordinate to him. It is up to the GBC to decide what levels of worship will maintain the two things that Prabhupada expected: (1) that gurus would accept worship from their disciples and (2) that simultaneously they would continue to worship him in such a way that their subordination to him would be clear to both them and their disciples.
If further adjustment is required in ISKCON practices, the GBC should give attention to that, but the adjustment cannot be that today's gurus should accept no worship from their disciples, as this would violate Srila Prabhupada's expectation.
Once we have subtracted from PL the incorrect ideas that Srila Prabhupada should be the one diksa-guru for all members of ISKCON and that no one else should receive worship or public recognition as guru, what remains is an appeal to the desires of devotees who wish to feel that Srila Prabhupada is their guru, and that they have some connection with him.
Is it acceptable for a devotee not initiated by Prabhupada to feel that Prabhupada is his or her guru? The answer is yes; by disciplic connection such disciples do have a real connection with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada himself characterized his relationship with such devotees by saying they are his grand-disciples.
To be a grand-disciple is no less a position than being a direct disciple. Grand-disciples have just as much opportunity to receive instructions, mercy, and love of Srila Prabhupada as any of his directly initiated disciples, but they also have an obligation to assist him in propagating the disciplic succession by accepting diksa-gurus in his line and giving proper respect to those gurus in harmony with the principles established in the Society he created.
We conclude that: