Q. I have heard that Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada is the samsthapaka-acarya for the Gaudiya sampradaya because the term “Founder Acarya” means samsthapaka-acarya and he called himself “Founder Acarya.” Is this accurate?
A. I believe the term samsthapaka-acarya is common to the Sri sampradaya. Although the term is not part of common Gaudiya vocabulary, if there is anyone in our sampradaya who best fits the description of a samsthapaka-acarya, it would be Rupa Goswami. The samsthapaka-acarya is one who founds the sampradaya—establishes its siddhanta, procedures, mantras, etc. In our sampradaya this was the work of the Vrindavana Goswamis, among whom Sri Rupa is the foremost. Therefore our Gaudiya sampradaya is often called the Rupanuga sampradaya. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was described as being rupanuga-viruddhapasiddhanta-dhvanta-harine, enraged at anything that deviated from the siddhanta of Rupa Goswami.
Although the term samsthapaka-acarya translates well into “Founder Acarya,” Srila Prabhupada did not have the implications of a samsthapaka-acarya in mind when he called himself ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya. What he meant was that he considered himself the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, not the entire Gaudiya sampradaya. This is what he told us repeatedly—that he was the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura called himself the Founder-Acarya of Gaudiya Math, and many of his disciples, like Srila Prabhupada, called themselves Founder-Acaryas of their respective institutions.
While there is no limit to how much the disciple can glorify his guru, such glorification should be accurate. Some may like to call Prabhupada the samsthapaka-acarya of the Gaudiya sampradaya, but this will not be universally accepted because it is not accurate. At the same time there is much we can say about the greatness of His Divine Grace that everyone will readily accept. What he did was extraordinary. Srila Prabhupada’s contribution was unique and unparalleled in our times. Srila Sridhara Maharaja compared it to the campaign of Nityananda Prabhu himself and considered Prabhupada to be empowered (avesa) by the sakti of Nityananda Prabhu. Thus he described him as saktyavesa—vando mui savadhana mate.
Q. What was unique about Prabhupada’s conception of a mission as opposed to Gaudiya Math?
A. I don’t think there was anything unique about Prabhupada’s idea of a mission other than his sense of its scope. He did what others did with greater success. He left the main mission when it was burdened by infighting and later started his own mission and within it he then formed a GBC consisting of his disciples. A number of his Godbrothers did the same thing. What he did do that others did not was innovative preaching. He was more flexible and had a greater passion for preaching. He was empowered in ways that others were not.
“Purity is the force.” This was Srila Prabhupada’s formula for success. Everything else is a detail.
Q. Could you explain why Sridhara Maharaja changed devotees’ names at the time of giving them sannyasa, whereas Prabhupada did not, and furthermore why did Sridhara Maharaja change the names of some sannyasa disciples of Prabhupada?
A. Prabhupada did change devotees’ names at the time of giving them sannyasa on several occasions. Bhakti Caru Swami was previously Gopinatha dasa. Panca Dravida Swami and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami also had different brahmacari names. Other examples are there as well. Prabhupada wrote that he did not change names when giving sannyasa because Sri Krishna Caitanya kept his former brahmacari name out of humility when taking sannyasa. However, although Caitanya is a brahmacari name, his sannyasa guru, Kesava Bharati, gave this name to him. Previous to his entering the sannaysa order he was known as Nimai Pandita and had no brahmacari name.
Furthermore, as evidenced from the name changes mentioned above, Prabhupada did not always follow the standard he wrote about concerning name changes for sannyasa, one in which he suggested that the brahmacari name should not be changed when taking sannyasa. Neither did he object when his own name was changed to Bhaktivedanta Swami at the time he took sannyasa.
There are details and there are principles. In my opinion, the details concerning Nimai Pandita’s sannyasa are less important. The principle that Prabhupada was concerned with was that his sannyasis remain humble and not become proud after taking sannyasa like those who think they have become God simply by accepting the renounced order. Prabhupada was correct in terms of the principle involved.
Sridhara Maharaja was known for making titular adjustments with regard to names. For example it was Sridhar Maharaja who adjusted the title Bhaktisiddhanta, which had been conferred upon our Prabhupada by one of his Godbrothers, to Bhaktivedanta when some other disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati Thakura complained.
When we came to Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s shelter, we learned of 108 sannyasa names employed by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakura and his system of name giving at the time of sannyasa initiation. After some new sannyasa candidates took initiation from Sridhara Maharaja and received beautiful names representing the system of Saraswati Thakura, others who were initiated by Srila Prabhupada and whose names were awkward in terms of sannyasa for various reasons asked if they could receive a sannyasa name from Sridhara Maharaja. Thus he gave them names out of affection, considering it a titular adjustment.
Jagad Guru Swami is an example. Being outside of ISKCON and preaching in India, where all Mayavadis are called Jagad Guru Maharaja, he felt that he wanted to be better identified with the Gaudiya Parampara. Thus he became Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha Maharaja by the grace of Sridhara Maharaja.
Further information on the relationship between Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja is available at www.gosai.com
Q. I am a Vaisnava and I would like to know the details of pusti marg.
A. As a Gaudiya Vaisnava I am familiar with the pusti marg of the Vallabha sampradaya, but not schooled in all of the details of their expression of Vedanta known as suddhadvaita. Both the Gaudiya and Vallabha sampradayas existed harmoniously during the time of Sri Caitanya. Our acarya, Srila Rupa Goswami, has said in his seminal book Bhaktirasamrita-sindhu that the maryada marg of the Vallabhas corresponds with the vaidhi marg (regulated devotional service) of the Gaudiyas, and the pusti marg of the Vallabhas corresponds with the raga marg (spontaneous devotional service) of the Gaudiyas.
Q. How does one properly observe Chaturmasya?
A. Most gurus teach their disciples to follow a modified form of this observance, and this modification varies from institution to institution. My Guru Maharaja did not place much emphasis on it even though his own guru followed it very strictly. Caitanya Mahaprabhu also followed this vow. Observance of Caturmasuya is not one of the limbs of bhakti mentioned in Bhaktirasamrita-sindhu, but you can find a discussion of it in the 15th vilasa of Hari-bhakti-vilasa. Citing the Skanda Purana, Srila Prabhupada states that “By following the regulative principles of Caturmasya one can very quickly be raised to the platform of devotional service.”
Q. I have been practicing chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra for a few years. Is it sufficient to serve the Lord with this mantra or do I also need to know about sanatana-dharma in detail and have a guru? Since I am abroad, if I must have a guru, how is it possible?
A. The maha-mantra is a nama-mantra. It consists of nothing other than names of God: Krishna, Rama, and Hari. The word Hare in the mantra can also indicate the sakti of Krishna (Radha) when taken as the vocative of Hara, rather than the vocative of Hari. In any case, Krishna-nama is independent of initiation being nondifferent from Krishna himself.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami says:
diksa-purascarya-vidhi apeksa na kare
jihva-sparse a-candala sabare uddhare
and Rupa Goswami says in Padyavali:
na diksah na ca sat-kriyah na ca purascaryah manag iksate
mantro ‘yah rasana-sprg eva phalati sri-krishna-namatmakah
The gist of these statements is that the holy name of Krishna is independent of initiation, purificatory rituals, etc. It has the power to deliver one regardless of what his or her past has been. Such is the position of Harinama.
The term “Krishna mantra,” as opposed to Krishna-nama, refers to the diksa mantra, which consists primarily of names of Krishna: Krishnaya, Govindaya, and Gopijanavallabhaya. However, these names are arranged in a particular way petitioning the Deity of the mantra for a specific position in divine service. Still, because the mantra consists primarily of Krishna’s names, it may also be considered independent of initiation. Jiva Goswami raises this point in Bhakti-sandarbha. Hari-bhakti-vilasa states, balitvat krishna-mantrenah samskarapeksanah na hi. “The Krishna mantra is so strong that there is no necessity of purification.” (Hbv. 235). However, Jiva Goswami explains in Bhakti-sandarbha that because this mantra has traditionally been received from the guru, it should be received in this way today as well. Indeed, although Krishna is independent of initiation, he chooses to reveal himself through this system. Thus we must follow this system and receive both Krishna-nama and Krishna mantra from a guru. Furthermore, we must learn from the guru about the nature of pure devotion in order to attain this ideal. One who realizes that Krishna and his name are nondifferent shares this insight with his disciple at the time of initiation when he imparts the mantra. He shares, that is, his faith, his standing in the land beyond doubt where life flows freely without hesitation.
The fact that you are abroad is of no consequence. There are gurus all over the world. Mahaprabhu Sri Caitanya has said adau guru-asrayan and Sri Rupa Goswami says adau gurvasraya. They instruct us that spiritual life formally begins when we take shelter of a guru.