Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Sri Guru and His Grace

February 12th, 2003 | No Comments

Q. I read with great interest your Sanga entitled: Receiving Mantra Diksa By Tape Recording.

In it you quoted Srila Sridhara Maharaja as saying, “The will of the Vaisnava is the heart of the affair. If his will is in place, if he gives his consent, the connection is complete and everything else surrounding initiation is secondary.”

Based on the following conversation with Prabhupada should we understand that the rtvik initiation system now promoted by certain disciples of Prabhupada is valid since Srila Prabhupada has given his consent?

Satsvarupa: Our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you’re no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiation would be conducted.

Prabhupada: Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acaryas.

Tamala Krishna: Is that called rtvik-acarya?

Prabhupada: Rtvik, yes.

A. In spite of what the excerpt from Srila Prabhupada’s conversation seems to say, he did not desire or authorize a rtvik system of initiations with himself being the guru of those initiated after his departure from the world. Careful study of all the conversations he had with his leading disciples in the months preceding his departure in conjunction with all that he wrote as well as the entirety of the Gaudiya philosophy makes it clear that he expected his disciples to succeed him by qualifying themselves to serve in the capacity of guru.

Q. When is rtvik initiation okay and when is it not? Is it only acceptable when the guru is still living and can give his official acceptance but cannot be there in person for the initiation?

A. The essential element of initiation is the will of the guru. If this is in place, everything else is a detail. Those who had been accepted as disciples by Srila Prabhupada but were waiting for the actual initiation ceremony to take place when he passed from the world were still considered his disciples. The initiation function was conducted appropriately by a rtvik representative of His Divine Grace after his passing. ISKCON’s decision to proceed in this manner was determined in consultation with Om Visnupada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja.

In general, the rtvik is a representative functioning in the guru’s absence but not after his passing from the world. With the guru’s passing another takes a place after him in disciplic succession. This is the meaning of guru parampara, “one guru after another.”

Q. What is the position of a devotee who rejects one Gaudiya guru to accept another and then rejects the second guru and goes back to the first?

A. This is a difficult question because unknown factors are involved. Srila Sridhara Maharaja said that in the matter of choosing a guru it is important that an atmosphere allowing for the free flow of faith prevails and that the individual’s choice of guru be respected and his guru honored appropriately by others. He also said that a devotee should not whimsically accept or reject his guru. Presently many devotees are confused about the role of both guru and disciple and in such confusion it is hard to make an offense or to establish much of any real connection. In any case, if a devotee is sincere, over time his guru or gurus will manifest to him according to his faith and eligibility.

Q. Could you please explain the following quote from Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s book “Sri Guru and His Grace”? Some devotees say that in this passage Srila Sridhara Maharaja was questioning the validity of female gurus.

“We have to follow the spirit; otherwise after Jahnava devi, the wife of Lord Nityananda, up to Vipina Goswami, from whom Bhaktivinoda Thakura took initiation, there are so many unknown lady gurus. Through them, the mantra came to Vipina Goswami, and from him Bhaktivinoda Thakura received the mantra. We accept Bhaktivinoda Thakura, but should we count all those ladies in our disciplic succession? What was their realization?”

A. Srila Sridhara Maharaja told us that the question of women serving the Krishna consciousness movement in the capacity of gurus would arise one day and stated that he was personally not opposed to this idea. His apparent criticism of women that you have cited was not a criticism of women at all, but rather a criticism of the idea that the spiritual current of the parampara is tied exclusively to birth and family connection.

In particular the family lineage known as Nityananda vamsa abused their family ties to Sri Nityananda Prabhu to the extreme at one point. After the disappearance of Nityananda his wife Jahnava Mata became a prominent guru in this lineage in which manjari bhava is cultivated. After Jahnava Mata, because of her prominence in this succession, many unqualified women members of this seminal lineage were inappropriately held in high regard. These women without consideration of spiritual qualifications were promoted as representatives of Jahnava Mata merely on the basis of being born female in a family originally connected to her. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was against this policy and voiced criticisms of this seminal lineage in his commentary on the eleventh canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srila Sridhara Maharaja was referring to those criticisms.

Apart from his criticisms of this seminal lineage, the opinion of Srila Sridhara Maharaja was that any woman qualified to serve as guru can give diksa and siksa and that she should be honored appropriately.

Editor’s note: Sri Guru and His Grace, by B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, has been described as contemporary Vaisnavism’s most definitive and enlightening book on the topic of guru. This book answers questions on both the relative and absolute aspects of guru as well as addresses the issue of personality cults and fanaticism in the name of guru. It also describes both traditional and modern conceptions of guru according to different schools of Indian theism and explains the meanings of various mantras, their importance, and their effects. Information on obtaining this important book can be found here.

Q. I don’t believe that the rtvik system Prabhupada recommended was to make him the initiating guru of devotees who surrendered after his departure, but what I sense he meant is that he desired to remain the central figure of ISKCON. In that way Prabhupada would forever act as sort of a beacon light that all initiating gurus would bring their disciples to when pursuing the mission for which ISKCON had been created. This way others could very well initiate but the disciple’s sense of service would be directed at pleasing Srila Prabhupada. How does this compare with your understanding?

A. I do not see how Srila Prabhupada could be anything less than the central figure of his institution in terms of any acarya. In another sense, of course, its central figure is Krishna/Mahaprabhu. In the sense that Srila Prabhupada is a follower of Krishna, his mission must include after his departure a successor(s), as Krishna calls for a parampara (lit. one after another) system of disciplic succession.

Ideally such successors should be as qualified as the institution’s founder. However, should they be less qualified, this does not preclude their being successors in the full sense of the term. That is, even if they are less qualified, as long as they meet the minimum standard of qualification they should be fully honored in terms of the service they have accepted.

Any shortcoming on their part will be made up for by Mahaprabhu himself—the samasti (macrocosmic) guru whom they represent as vyasti (microcosmic) manifestations of the principle of guru—as well as by a more qualified siksa guru to whom they should be open and reverent while carrying on in their service. Such a siksa guru should encourage them in their service of preserving the mission of Srila Prabhupada while helping indirectly to energize his mission. Certainly Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja’s example stands out in this regard.

I think it is important to remember that Mahaprabhu himself is the founder of our sampradaya and its samasti guru. While prominent acaryas may form institutions and render empowered service, they remain the founders of their institutions and do not replace Mahaprabhu as the samasti guru. While Ramanuja and Madhva may be seen as the samasti gurus of their sampradayas by their followers, without commenting on the correctness of this, it should be clear that in our sampradaya this position is held by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is none other than svayam bhagavan Sri Krishnacandra himself.

It is also important to note that “pleasing Srila Prabhupada” involves embracing the teachings of Mahaprabhu as much or more than it does doing things that were personally pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. Indeed, the latter is almost meaningless without the former, and the latter is also subject to time and circumstance considerations. While Srila Prabhupada formed the most influential Gaudiya Vaisnava institution and would no doubt like to see his followers preserve it, this should not be done at the cost of embracing the teachings of Mahaprabhu for which the institution was formed.

I think your idea borders on seeing Srila Prabhupada as the samasti guru of his institution and perhaps that of the entire sampradaya. While I may have read this into your question, it should be clear from the above that I do not agree that Srila Prabhupada should be seen as the samasti guru of either his institution or the Gaudiya sampradaya. In his own words he is the “Founder-Acarya of ISKCON,” no small position of service.

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