Chakra Discussions

Rogue anti-ISKCON flyers disrupt L.A. Rathayatra

by Brahma das

Posted September 8, 2003

ABSTRACT:That ISKCON management still feels it imperative to maintain a blanket prohibition against association with Gaudiya Math acharyas is in my opinion a serious mistake that needs to be rectified. Apparently many others feel this way as well because Prabhupada's disciples even those in ISKCON largely ignore this ban. But any positive change from ISKCON leaders on this issue will be a long time coming if aggressive acts like handing out anti-ISKCON fliers at Rathayatra and the ISKCON Sunday Feast continue to be accepted and encouraged by certain devotees now connected to Gaudiya Math.

Two flyers circulated at the recent Rathayatra Festival in Los Angeles and put on car windshields of guests attending the ISKCON Sunday feast were entitled "ISKCON Bans Sadhus" by Jadurani dasi, the famous disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and "The Empowerment of the Acharya" by Saunaka das, a disciple of Srila Narayana Maharaja. I believe the practice of handing out such flyers is counterproductive to spreading the Krishna consciousness movement and everyone with whom I discussed the matter, including ISKCON dissidents, thought handing out such propaganda to the uninitiated public was, in the words of most, "simply ridiculous."

Members of the public or Hindu community attending ISKCON festivals do not do so to become embroiled in Hare Krishna internal disputes. People attend Vaisnava festivals, ISKCON or otherwise, because they have a spark of appreciation for Krishna consciousness. If devotees picket or hand out negative propaganda at those festivals it gives the impression of a Vaisnavism beset by bickering and feuding.

Public festivals are meant to ignite interest in Krishna consciousness; that goal is daunting enough, and is hindered when devotees go there to make propaganda against one another. This propaganda does not impress attendees and most do not understand it at all. Rather than become inspired, people who receive these flyers are more likely to become influenced by their negativity. Why should anyone witnessing devotees posture against one another at festivals, that were organized to help the public appreciate Krishna consciousness, want to become affiliated with the movement at all?

Moreover the flier written by Saunaka das is both inaccurate and in poor taste. He writes that, near the time of Prabhupada's departure, Srila Narayana Maharaja wanted nothing to do with ISKCON leaders. Nevertheless, he was given an order he never wanted to hear: to train the "monkeys" Prabhupada had collected. Furthermore, Saunaka das implies that because Prabhupada asked his guru to instruct his disciples and conduct his samadhi ceremony that this means "he was the only one appointed by Srila Prabhupada to act as acharya."

I never read any of this per se in Narayana Maharaja's lectures; indeed Saunaka das writes that his guru does not openly state these things, but I have read in places where Srila Maharaja talks about ISKCON in a universal sense rather than an institutional one. Saunaka das does not make this distinction and refers to the last conversation between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Narayana Maharaja as "the final order." A transcript of that conversation is at:

But nowhere in that transcript or anywhere else have I found anything to indicate that Srila Prabhupada appointed Srila Maharaja or any Gaudiya Math leader as acharya of ISKCON. Authorities in ISKCON also documented that Prabhupada in the last days of his manifest lila said that, after his departure, his disciples could approach his godbrother B.R. Sridhara Maharaja of Navadwipa for philosophical inquires. The GBC during their first official meeting with Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1978 mention this fact and a transcript of that meeting is at:

Also Srila Prabhupada in 1977 asked Srila Sridhara Maharaja to stay with him at Mayapura so that his disciples "can get some guidance" as well as to serve as his consultant. Srila Prabhupada said to Sridhara Maharaja, "Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. . . . There is no one with whom I can consult. I feel this deficiency very greatly." Had it not been for Srila Sridhara Maharaja's instructions on the matter one could just as easily conjecture that Prabhupada wanted him and his successor Srila Govinda Maharaja to be the next acharyas of ISKCON. A transcript of the aforementioned conversation between Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja is at:

Disciples of Srila B.V. Puri Maharaja also maintain that Srila Prabhupada asked their guru to instruct his disciples and to substantiate their friendship point to a letter Prabhupada wrote to Puri Maharaja that states: "Perhaps you are my only godbrother who has appreciated my humble service to the cause of Guru Gauranga. All my other godbrothers are very much envious, as I can understand from their behavior."

Prabhupada requested many of his godbrothers to help his disciples but, in general, was disappointed about the lack of cooperation. That he asked some to instruct his disciples does not mean that he wanted any of them to be acharya for his institution. In many cases, his godbrothers were more hindrance than help and thus Prabhupada restricted association with them. Only in the final days of his manifest lila did Srila Prabhupada carefully re-open the door to association with Gaudiya Math through these few but important words to his disciples: "For philosophy, my godbrother B.R. Sridhara Maharaja of Navadwipa."

The overall result was that many of Prabhupada's disciples found the spiritual help they needed to weather the storm after his departure and many continue to be inspired by the teachings of various Gaudiya Math acharyas. That ISKCON management still maintains a blanket prohibition against association with Gaudiya Math acharyas is I believe a serious mistake that needs to be rectified. Others feel this way as well because Prabhupada's disciples -- even those in ISKCON -- largely ignore this ban. Any positive change from ISKCON leaders will be a long time coming if devotees now connected to Gaudiya Math accept and encourage aggressive acts like handing out anti-ISKCON flyers at Rathayatra and the ISKCON Sunday Feast.

Regarding Srila Prabhupada's samadhi, that Srila Narayana Maharaja conducted the ceremony does not prove that he was to be the next acharya of ISKCON. Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja gave sannyasa to Srila Kesava Maharaja and was intimately involved with his samadhi ceremony as well but that does not indicate that he was supposed to be the next acharya of Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti. As to the future of his institution, Kesava Maharaja made his intentions clear, as did our Srila Prabhupada about ISKCON.

In his will, Prabhupada states that ISKCON's Governing Body Commission was to be "the ultimate managing authority" for ISKCON. Prabhupada mentions his will to disciples even in the above-mentioned conversation with Narayana Maharaja, where he says, "Don't fight among yourselves; I have given you my will." Like it or not, and for better or worse, Prabhupada clearly established his intention that the GBC should govern ISKCON to the best of their ability.

In the Bhaktivedanta Vedabase there are a number of references to Gaudiya Math leaders but none of them indicate that Prabhupada wanted any of them to be the next acharya of ISKCON. On the other hand there are over 800 references that show in letters and conversations how Prabhupada trained his handpicked GBC for the task that lay ahead. Many devotees now feel that GBC mistakes and the exodus of capable disciples from ISKCON show that Prabhupada's efforts to form a spiritually credible Governing Body for his institution ended in failure. Other devotees, myself among them, feel that the test is ongoing and the fact that ISKCON is still the largest Gaudiya Vaisnava preaching organization show that ISKCON is still spiritually vital. Indeed, the vast majority of western devotees who eventually joined other Gaudiya Vaisnava groups were once affiliated with ISKCON.

Finally, there is nothing to indicate Srila Prabhupada or Srila Narayana Maharaja had the contempt for Prabhupada's western disciples as was conveyed in the flyer. In that transcript Srila Prabhupada said, "I have brought these mlecchas and yavanas. Accepting those who were sent to me, and considering their qualifications and disqualifications, I tried educating them, just to get things going. They learned to their capacity. Things can be done in good cooperation. There is enough land, big, big temples, and no shortage of money.

In response Srila Maharaja remarks, "It's proper for everyone to help in this matter. . . . Whenever they will call me, any advice they will want, wherever they may want me to go, although my qualification is limited, I will try to help." Referring again to Prabhupada's disciples, Srila Maharaja remarks, "Please do not worry about these matters anymore. They are qualified and they know your desires."

Contrary to the impression presented in the flyer, this conversation does not show that Prabhupada was disgusted with his disciples and had to force those "monkeys" on Srila Maharaja against his will. Yes, the words "mlecchas and yavanas" do refer to degraded people born outside Vedic culture, but Prabhupada consistently said that his disciples were transcendental to designations and condemned anyone who said otherwise.

"Therefore they are thinking, 'These American, they are mlecchas and yavana. How they can become sannyasa?'. . . One who is engaged in Krsna consciousness, does he remain a yavana, a sudra? What is this nonsense? But this propaganda is going on against this Krsna consciousness movement, that Swami Bhaktivedanta is giving sannyasa to the yavanas, to the mlecchas. They are all fools; I can challenge." (Prabhupada lecture 3.7.72)

"In India the caste brahmanas have become enemies of the Krsna consciousness movement because we elevate foreigners, who are supposed to be mlecchas and yavanas, to the position of brahmanas. We train them in austerities and penances and recognize them as brahmanas by awarding them sacred threads." (Bhag. 6.5.39)

In the transcript of the conversation between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Narayana Maharaja the word monkey is not used, but what does it matter if Srila Prabhupada did refer to his disciples at one time or another as monkeys? Though he occasionally referred to his disciples as "hippies", when his godbrother during the first Mayapura-Vrndavana festival did so, Prabhupada was outraged.

I searched the record to see how often Prabhupada referred to his disciples as monkeys but to my surprise I found no such references. In one letter, Prabhupada did refer to his godbrothers as monkeys but, throughout the written record, Prabhupada, much more often than not, affectionately praised and acknowledged the sincerity of his disciples.

"Of course I excuse my disciples always, but they should not take advantage of it. . . . If you are serious to be an important assistant in our Society you should fully engage yourself in translation work, and do not mix yourself with my so-called god-brothers. As there are in Vrindaban some residents like monkeys and hogs, similarly there are many rascals in the name of Vaisnavas; be careful of them. (Prabhupada letter to Niranjana, 11-21-72)

"My Spiritual Master knew that, alone, I could not do this great work. Therefore, he has very kindly sent you all to help me in this task. I accept you therefore as representatives of my Guru Maharaja playing as my affectionate disciples. It is said that child is father of man. Kindly therefore continue your help in this great task and act as my young father and mother in my old age. (letter, 7-26-72)

Regardless of negative things Prabhupada wrote or said about Gaudiya Math, he never told his disciples to go to their functions or stand outside their doors and distribute propaganda against them. To go to a religious festival financed and sponsored by another sect, church, or temple for the purpose of distributing propaganda against that group is not acceptable behavior by any civilized standard. There now co-exist a number of legally separate worldwide Vaisnava societies. These societies should try to co-operate for the common cause. In regards to festivals, especially Rathayatra, cooperation requires that devotees affiliated with different groups put aside differences in a spirit of fellowship and greet each other as friends, rather than use the opportunity to distribute propaganda against one another. This would be, in Prabhupada's words, "a positive contribution we can produce for pushing on the message of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world."

In spite of differences we should always remember, "Anyone who is connected with our movement is not an ordinary living being. Actually, he's a liberated soul." (Prabhupada lecture 8-22-73)