Delivery of transcendent knowledge is key to initiation process
Posted November 5, 2003
Clarification of PL Principles and Dialogue with SAC
We would like to clarify some points in PL that may not have been accurately represented in the SAC's paper. The Prologue to the Second Printing of PL explains that the principles of serving, honoring, and glorifying Vaisnavas, including the devotee who conducts the initiation ceremony, are presented about twenty times in the PL essay. "Still," the Prologue continues, "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."
In some places the SAC paper gives an impression that PL is averse to respecting and venerating Vaisnavas other than Srila Prabhupada. The SAC states that the initiator should be allowed the honor of being considered one's guru. This is clearly stated in PL, though PL also emphasizes that Srila Prabhupada is, for many and perhaps most members of his movement, the main guru, directly, and this must be recognized. The SAC paper states that ISKCON gurus deserve "the respect of his disciples", apparently implying that PL opposes this idea. A reader of PL can ascertain that PL fully supports this concept.
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, which it doesn't. The SAC rhetorically asks, "If we think Srila Prabhupada cannot empower his disciples despite their imperfections, how strong is our faith in him?" Obviously Srila Prabhupada is empowering his followers in amazing ways. This is consistent with the principles in PL.
In correspondence with the SAC, this author wrote, "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."
On the same topic of plurality of spiritual teachers, I expressed to the SAC,
There is the telescope analogy, wherein we understand that, just as the more finely crafted lenses possessed by a telescope, the more our eye has a direct relationship with the stellar bodies, so similarly, the more transparent servants between us and Krsna or the spiritual master, the more our direct relationship with Krsna and the spiritual master is enhanced. We all accept this important point about the acintya-bheda-bheda-tattva mystery of the disciplic succession.
Still, there is another point about our direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada. That is, all members of Srila Prabhupada's movement have, or should have, a direct relationship with him not mediated by other followers of Srila Prabhupada. That direct relationship is the prime focus of PL. This is not to minimize the extent to which the direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada is enriched and enhanced through the process of serving the servants of Srila Prabhupada. But there is also the unmediated direct relationship, and PL proposes that that unmediated direct relationship is for many, including those who did not receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada, the most prime and essential unmediated direct relationship in their spiritual life.
The SAC article states: "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."
What I wrote to the SAC is: "If initiator is defined in terms of the conductor of the first initiation 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). . . . 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)."
Many concepts in this response article, about which readers may have questions, are addressed in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, especially in the Questions and Answers chapter. Issues addressed include: Pure devotees in Srila Prabhupada's movement; discussion of how initiates will practically conduct their spiritual life in the PL model; the question of acceptance of acaryas such as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura as the direct link to the parampara; and the topic of "Whose disciples are they?"
After the GBC meetings in 2002 I contacted the Chairman of the SAC, as the GBC requested. In Vrndavana we had a friendly conversation and touched on some of the points in PL. 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 more than three months.
After completing the day's Vaisnava Life Skills course that I was teaching in Radhadesa (Belgium) in early November 2002, a member of the GBC phoned. He had heard that I was planning 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 I was doubtful that the SAC would consent.
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. I remain eager for that correspondence to be made available, and for anything I've written therein to be scrutinized.
Regarding my cooperation with the SAC, I wrote to them on August 31, 2002:
I am appreciating and absorbing the comments and reflections of the members of the SAC, and, whatever further realizations you have to share, I'll be glad to hear and study. If the SAC would like me to contribute to some paper (probably primarily exploratory rather than conclusive) in collaboration with the committee members, that sounds like a productive, albeit long-term, project. For the more immediate future perhaps the SAC can make some specific recommendations and proposals to the GBC, based on our discussions. I'll help out with this if you'd like.
I remain open and enthusiastic to hear from and discuss with Vaisnavas, including members of the SAC, about elements in PL, as well as other topics of interest to them.
When a person contacts Srila Prabhupada's movement, he has found a spiritual master. He doesn't need to continue looking for a guru, in the sense of the guru who is his primary link to the parampara and main inspiration in spiritual life. By establishing a connection with Srila Prabhupada he has linked with a bona fide spiritual master on the absolute platform in whom he can place unconditional faith and to whom he can securely and completely surrender and render service.
Naturally, during the course of his devotional life, other Vaisnavas will inspire, guide and teach him. The relationships with and depth of faith in these devotees will be varied, though all will be characterized by respect and gratitude. The formal initiation ceremony is a transcendental event that officially acknowledges that the initiate has already connected with the parampara via a direct service relationship with Srila Prabhupada.
That relationship does not become indirect at the time of the official initiation, though of course the initiate's connection with Srila Prabhupada will continually be enriched by the mentoring of many devotees. We suggest that throughout Srila Prabhupada's movement initiations based on the understanding that Srila Prabhupada is the direct link to the disciplic succession for the initiate be made available.