(April 16, 2003)
Dear Yogindra Prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you for your phone call earlier today. It has inspired me to begin to address the GBC's Sastric Advisory Committee's (SAC) paper on Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, at least a month or three before I was planning to do so.
Concerning the SAC's paper, I didn't find very much there that is not clearly, and sometimes repeatedly, addressed in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL), and especially the second printing of PL, which includes the Prologue to the Second Printing of PL. I believe that if one carefully reads PL and the Prologue, as well as the accompanying articles in the second printing, then most if not all of the points in the SAC paper are solidly addressed.
This somewhat reminds me of when I set about to respond to the GBC's Preliminary Statement on the PL. This preliminary paper from the GBC implied, amongst other things, that PL is not supportive of the concept of serving the servant of the Vaisnavas. So, in the Prologue I pointed out that the principles of serving, honoring, and glorifying Vaisnavas, including the initiator, are presented about twenty times in the short PL essay. The Prologue states "Still, some readers perceived that this point was not sufficiently emphasized in the essay, or even that the PL model is opposed to these principles. Herein we reiterate the essentiality for devotees in Srila Prabhupada's movement to submissively and cooperatively serve other devotees, and to learn from and take shelter in senior and advanced devotees. These principles are completely consistent with accepting Srila Prabhupada as the prominent link to the disciplic succession."
Similarly, in many places the SAC paper implies that PL is somehow opposed to principles such as honoring and respecting the Vaisnava who conducted one's initiation. The SAC paper states that the initiator should be allowed the honor of being considered one's guru. Yes, this is stated clearly in PL. The SAC paper states that ISKCON gurus deserve "the respect of his disciples", apparently implying that PL opposes this idea. In reality, as a reader of PL can easily ascertain, PL fully supports the idea. It would be easy enough to crush the concepts in PL if PL advocated things like disrespecting our gurus and neglecting to serve the servants of Srila Prabhupada. But PL doesn't advocate such things, and thus the task is not so easy.
The SAC rhetorically asks "If we think Srila Prabhupada cannot empower his disciples despite their imperfections, how strong is our faith in him?"
Yes, Srila Prabhupada clearly is empowering his followers in many wonderful ways. So we are in agreement with the SAC. How this question relates to anything in PL is unclear to me.
The SAC paper states "As Krsnadas Kaviraj has indicated in his mangalacarana verse vande gurun--'I offer respect to my gurus'--a devotee can have more than one Vaisnava guru, and he can and should worship them all."
The above point is clearly stated in PL, and to indicate otherwise is misleading. Additionally, in my personal correspondence with the SAC I reiterated the point, as in statements such as "I, and probably each of us, have many gurus, in the sense of devotees who have inspired and guided us in Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada is not my only guru, although, as described in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, if I had to identify one person as my main spiritual master, that would certainly be Srila Prabhupada."
The SAC writes "Whatever may have been the actual relationship between Srila Bhaktivinoda and his diksa-guru (and we hear different stories about this from different sources), it is known that Srila Bhaktivinoda never behaved disrespectfully toward him." This seems to imply that PL advocates disrespectful behavior towards one's diksa-guru, which it clearly does not do. In fact, it advocates the opposite, many times. Similarly, the SAC paper states "the diksa-guru takes special trouble and risk for his disciples. For disciples not to honor him for this is indecent." The PL fully encourages honoring one's diksa guru for the great trouble and risk he takes for his disciples. The great sacrifices made by these initiators are emphasized in the "Responsibility" section of PL, and to imply that PL doesn't emphasize, what to speak of even endorse, this important point, is misleading.
In the SAC paper it is written "There are no two kinds of diksa, one 'transcendental' and the other a mere formality. Diksa is always transcendental, except when the rituals are followed simply for show, like a marriage undergone just to acquire a visa."
It's encouraging to see that the SAC is in agreement with PL, which states:
"Does the PL model assert that the formal initiation ceremony is unimportant, or unnecessary?"
"The process of initiation is given to us by Sri Krsna. Thus, all components of that process contain potency and are transcendental. The most essential part of the process is the transmission of divya-jnana, transcendental knowledge. Srila Prabhupada is performing the most important part of the initiation process."
Thus, the SAC and PL both agree that the formal ceremony component of the initiation process is transcendental. There is no need to indicate or imply that the PL implies otherwise, because the PL is very clear on this point.
To repeat, I believe that a careful reading of PL and the Prologue and the other pieces in the second printing effectively address most of the contents of the SAC paper. If there is something specifically in the SAC paper that you'd like me to address, I'll be glad to do so. I humbly request that you read the second printing of PL to be clear on what it actually says, so as to avoid assuming, based on the SAC paper or other sources, that PL states things that it doesn't actually state. Below I'll address a few points that are presented by the SAC.
Consider the section of the SAC paper from "The author here attempts to identify the essence of initiation as the transmission of spiritual knowledge rather than..." to "...which Srila Rupa Gosvami has stipulated as one of the required elements of vaidhi sadhana-bhakti." As a general principle, we reference Srila Prabhupada to understand acaryas such as Srila Sanatana Goswami and Srila Jiva Goswami, not vice versa. In Srila Prabhupada's purports he clearly states "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" (Madhya-lila 15:108), and "Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge by which he becomes freed from all material contamination" (Madhya-lila, 4:111). There are many other similar quotes, as cited in PL and the Prologue to the Second Printing of PL. For me, Srila Prabhupada's meaning is clear. I suggest that the SAC's jumping over Srila Prabhupada with their linguistic analysis of the Goswami's literature contorts and distorts Srila Prabhupada's clear meaning, and also runs counter to the hermeneutic principles cited in the SAC paper itself:
"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.'"
Apart from the SAC's attempts to screw out meanings from Srila Prabhupada's purports wherein His Divine Grace clearly defines diksa without need of SAC's linguistic analysis, is the point that whatever definition of diksa we use, including the SAC's, the principles of PL stand. This is clearly explained in the second printing of PL on page 37, in the section entitled "The Process of Initiation."
In the SAC paper it is stated "He is alive in his instructions, in his murti,..." I believe that we should all commend the SAC for this conclusive realization. I state this in relation to an excerpt, included below, from a member of the SAC, presented during the correspondence between the SAC and myself:
[From PL, quoted by the SAC member in his correspondence] "Just as Sri Krsna, Srimati Radharani, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are non-different from Their Deity forms, and are fully capable to act and relate in Their Deity forms, the murtis and pictures of the parampara acaryas, such as Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, can similarly act non-differently from the acaryas. Obviously this requires special empowerment from the Supreme Lord. Ordinary persons, or even aspiring Vaisnavas, are not able to reciprocate in their picture form in the way that the great acaryas do (p. 49 second printing; p. 25 first printing).
[From the member of the SAC]- "This is a novel theory, or at least one I am not familiar with, that the murtis and pictures of specially empowered acaryas, are equally potent to the murtis of the Supreme Lord and His internal potency, while the images of less empowered Vaisnavas are impotent. The arca murti of the Personality of Godhead is a special incarnation, nondifferent from His original self, and manifests all His potencies to those who worship the Him with love. The murti or picture of one's guru is recognized as the proper place to make offerings in worship, but as far as I know the Vaisnava Sastras do not identify the guru's image as the same kind of arca-murti.
"I also have to ask why this special focus on the deity form of the guru? Yes, Srila Prabhupada did instruct us to install his murtis in our temples, even in his presence, but still he considered puja to his murti not as essential as worshiping him by understanding and carrying out his instructions. Maybe here this is an unconscious intention to deify Prabhupada, to turn him into an icon to be kissed for good luck, to kick him upstairs and deemphasize the necessity of understanding what he is actually teaching us, similar to the way he was once crowned and sceptered in New Vrindavan."
So, to me it seems that there is some basic doubt on the part of the SAC, or at least one of its members, as to Srila Prabhupada's full presence in his murti form. This presence is a "novel theory" for the SAC member. Ultimately, perhaps by a majority vote or some other method, the SAC arrived at the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada is present in his murti form. I am glad for that, but the doubt expressed by a scholarly SAC member above is disturbing, as even many new bhaktas, or perhaps even a pious, meat-eating Catholic, would seem to possess a firmer conviction and clearer philosophical understanding about the pure devotee's presence in his murti form than does the SAC member. There are many, many other points in the SAC's correspondence with me that leave me similarly unsettled.
Concerning that correspondence, please understand the following history. As the GBC requested me to do, I contacted the SAC Chairman a few days after the GBC meetings in 2002. The Chairman and I had a nice, personal discussion in Vrndavana at that time. He said that the SAC would contact me when they were ready to discuss PL in detail. That took a few months, and in July, 2002, the SAC and I began email correspondence. We corresponded for over three months. One evening, after finishing the day's Vaisnava Life Skills teaching in Radhadesa (Belgium) in early November, 2002, a member of the GBC phoned me. He had heard that I was about to publish a second printing of PL. He asked whether it would be acceptable for me if I included the full correspondence between the SAC and I in that second printing. He was under the impression that the SAC would likely agree to this. I readily agreed, though I cautioned him that I was doubtful that the SAC would agree. When I returned to Alachua a few days later I received correspondence from this GBC member and the SAC Chairman, confirming that the SAC wanted to keep our correspondence confidential and did not want it available to the devotee public. Please know that I am eager for that correspondence to be made available, and for anything I've written therein to be scrutinized.
The SAC wrote "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 practiced in all Vaisnava sampradayas. Whatever may have been the actual relationship between Srila Bhaktivinoda and his diksa-guru (and we hear different stories about this from different sources), it is known that Srila Bhaktivinoda never behaved disrespectfully toward him."
In addition to implying that PL advocates disrespectful behavior towards diksa-gurus, the SAC seems to imply that siksa links in the parampara are an exception. From my understanding, from the time of Lord Caitanya more than half of the links, as delineated by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, are siksa links. Thus, the "standard" parampara system as put forward by the GBC's SAC is apparently not so standard, and this, I believe, is an important consideration in discussions about guru-tattva.
With regard to the PL section "Srila Prabhupada is Qualified to be Worshipped", in connection with the passage concerning Srila Sukadeva Goswami (p. 47 second printing, p. 22 first printing), the SAC writes: "...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." The SAC seems to imply that being in the line of initiators in the diksa-parampara is the criteria for being formally worshipped in ISKCON. Clearly this is not the case, as can be concluded by the altar pictures that Srila Prabhupada gave us, which does not define a diksa-parampara. The criteria is transmission of transcendental knowledge, and not formal initiation. This is explained extensively in PL. The Sukadeva Goswami example in PL is provided to illustrate that the fact that we don't worship a particular Vaisnava does not indicate in any way that we are neglecting or disrespectful towards that Vaisnava.
The SAC wrote:
"Dhira Govinda Prabhu himself is in the position of having received his initiations after Srila Prabhupada's departure. When asked by a SAC member to identify his one 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."
This does not represent me accurately. What I wrote to the SAC was:"If initiator is defined in terms of the conductor of the first intiation ceremony, then my initiator is Bhagavan Prabhu. If initiator is defined in terms of the conductor of the second initiation ceremony, then my initiator is Danavir Maharaja. If initiator is defined in terms of the prime giver of transcendental knowledge (as Srila Prabhupada uses the term on the first page of the Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta), then my initiator is Srila Prabhupada. Whatever definition you are comfortable with, that's okay with me (not that acceptance by me need be relevant for any of the recipients of this posting). As described on page 7 [page 37 of second printing] of PL, the assertions in the essay are not dependent on this discussion of terminology, which isn't to say that this discussion of terminology isn't important (it is important)."
Interestingly, as far as I can tell, and perhaps I missed something, the SAC paper doesn't address the issue of the philosophical change to Srila Prabhupada's books on the first page of Sri-Caitanya-Caritamrta. Srila Prabhupada used the word "initiated" to describe some parampara relationships where no formal initiation ceremony took place. In the new version of CC, the BBT deleted Srila Prabhupada's words "initiated". I corresponded with the BBT about this. The BBT representative wrote that the weightiest argument for changing Srila Prabhupada's books in this way was that Srila Prabhupada's use of the term "initiated" is not consistent with our current understanding of the term in ISKCON today. So, Srila Prabhupada's books are being changed, including changes with important philosophical imports, because Srila Prabhupada's words are not consistent with the GBC's current understanding. It seems that the SAC paper, which purportedly addresses the points in PL, avoids this point. There is a section in PL devoted to this book change, and if you'd like the full correspondence between the BBT and myself on this topic, I'll be glad to send you a longer article that I wrote about this issue.
My unhumble conviction, worthless as it may be, is that Srila Prabhupada would not only want you to continue to take a stand to facilitate his followers to participate in and benefit from Vaisnava Life Skills/Personal Transformation courses, but he would also want you to express outrage, in a gentlemanly but firm way, that his books are being changed because his words don't conform with the GBC's agenda.
So, Yogindra Prabhu, thank you again for inspiring me to write this. Perhaps in the months to come I'll write a more formal response to the SAC paper. Please let me know if you'd like to discuss any points. I hope you are well. Hare Krsna.
Dhira Govinda dasa