Published on December 1st, 2015 | by Dhira Govinda dasa (David B. Wolf, Ph.D.) | Full size image4
Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link
Abstract: Many members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement who did not receive formal initiation from him experience Srila Prabhupada as the primary giver of direct transcendental knowledge. This empirical reality forms the basis of recognizing Srila Prabhupada as the prominent link to the parampara. Such a conception is supported by sastric descriptions of the essence of the initiation process, and by the delineation of the parampara described by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
This paper presents a framework for understanding Srila Prabhupada’s position that is derived from a comprehension of Srila Prabhupada’s direct and personal relationship with the members of his movement. The central idea is that Srila Prabhupada is the prominent link to the parampara by virtue of being the prime deliverer of transcendental knowledge. We present these ideas in a mood of open-minded discussion and ask that the reader approach the material with a fresh perspective and a willingness to reexamine the issues.
While we maintain that this model should be accepted in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, it is not necessarily the only model that is sastrically and philosophically valid. Many of the contentions herein, in regards to Srila Prabhupada’s relationship with members of his movement, may not apply to everyone in Srila Prabhupada’s society. They do, however, apply to many and are, we will demonstrate, legitimate in terms of sastra, philosophy and precedent. Thus, we ask that the principles presented be honored and respected in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Though we suggest that these conceptualizations are the preferred model for his movement, our firm recommendation is simply that the ideas and practices be validated and accepted, perhaps alongside other systems and understandings.
It is important to recognize that Srila Prabhupada is serving as the primary guru for his followers, including many who received formal initiation after Srila Prabhupada physically departed. Those who don’t experience Srila Prabhupada as the direct and primary guru may reference the above paragraph. The fact that Srila Prabhupada is factually serving as the direct and preeminent spiritual master obviates the need to establish that he is capable of performing this function. Still, herein we will philosophically support the assertion that he is the primary link to the parampara for those who contact his movement.
Of central importance in this discussion is that Srila Prabhupada is, or at least is meant to be, the primary spiritual master for all members of his movement. In realizing this it is important not to become distracted by appellations such as “diksa guru”, “initiator”, and “officiating acarya”, though of course for communicative purposes such designations are sometimes necessary.
In establishing Srila Prabhupada’s position we do not wish to imply that no one other than Srila Prabhupada is serving as spiritual teacher. All who instruct others in the tenets of bhakti-yoga are spiritual teachers. In this sense each devotee has many gurus who are inspiring him to progress in Krsna consciousness. These gurus are directly guiding devotees and establishing important, direct relationships with them that are invaluable in helping the devotees on their path back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada is the main spiritual master for devotees to whom he gives more direct transcendental knowledge than they receive from any other Vaisnava.
The Process of Initiation
Srila Prabhupada described initiation as a process, with the essence of this process being the delivery of divya-jnana, or transcendental knowledge, from the spiritual master to the disciple. When we refer to the spiritual master giving transcendental knowledge to the disciple, it is understood that transcendental knowledge originates with Sri Krsna and comes through the guru.
yatha kancanatam yati
dvijatvam jayate nrnam
“As bell metal, when mixed with mercury, is transformed to gold, a person, even though not golden pure, can be transformed into a brahmana, or dvija, simply by the initiation process” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4:31:10 Purport, quoting Hari-bhakti-vilasa 2.12). On June 17, 1976, during an initiation lecture in Toronto, Srila Prabhupada described initiation as follows: “So initiation means, the Sanskrit word is diksa. Diksa, divya jnanam ksapayati iti diksa. Divya-jnana.”
Though in the following quotes Srila Prabhupada describes “diksa”, the fundamental premise of this paper is not dependent on terminologies such as “diksa”, “siksa”, and “diksa guru”. This will be further explained later in this section.
In the purport of Madhya-lila, 15:108, Srila Prabhupada quotes Srila Jiva Goswami as follows. “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.” Also, in the purport to Madhya-lila, 4:111, Srila Prabhupada writes “Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge by which he becomes freed from all material contamination.”
In a lecture on July 29, 1968, Srila Prabhupada said “This is called initiation. Or initiation from the very beginning. This is called diksa. The Sanskrit term is called diksa. Diksa means… Di, divya-jnanam, transcendental knowledge, and ksa, iksa. Iksa means darsana, to see, or ksapayati, explain. That is called diksa.” In a lecture on February 22, 1973, in Auckland, Srila Prabhupada stated “There are two words, divya-jnana. Divya-jnana means transcendental, spiritual knowledge. So divya is di, and jnanam, ksapayati, explaining, that is ksa, di-ksa. This is called diksa,…So diksa means the initiation to begin transcendental activities. That is called initiation.” Similarly, on December 29, 1973, during a lecture in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada confirmed “Diksa means initiation.” From Srila Prabhupada’s lecture in New York, on July 11, 1976: “Divya-jnana hrde prokasito. What is that divya-jnana? Divya-jnana is that we are all servant of Krsna, and our only business is to serve Krsna…This is divya-jnana. Diksa. Diksa means from this divya-jnana.”
Initiation, as described above, is a process. Components of this process include receiving and implementing the instructions to wear kanti mala and Vaisnava tilak, and receiving a Vaisnava name. The most essential aspect of initiation is receiving transcendental knowledge from a realized spiritual master. Chapter Four of the Bhagavad-gita begins “I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.” Clearly, instructing the disciple in transcendental knowledge, rather than any formal element of the process of initiation, is the essence of the disciplic succession. Further, in Bhagavad-gita (4:34), the meaning of the word “upadeksyanti” is given as “they will initiate”, and in the verse this process of initiation consists of imparting knowledge from the spiritual master to the disciple.
Srila Prabhupada is giving transcendental knowledge, and thus he is performing the most important element of the process of initiation. He is the main Vaisnava doing this for members of his movement. While it may be asserted that others are also imparting divya-jnana, even this divya-jnana may be understood as coming indirectly from Srila Prabhupada, though some may opine that that transcendental knowledge is also Srila Prabhupada’s direct mercy. Leaving aside that issue, it is incontestably true that many devotees, including many who were officially initiated after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, and many for whom the Vaisnava who performed the initiation ceremony is in good standing in ISKCON, receive more direct divya-jnana, even by the most narrow definition of the term “direct”, from Srila Prabhupada than from any other Vaisnava, in the form of Srila Prabhupada’s books, tapes, and murti form. For these devotees Srila Prabhupada is performing the most essential part of the initiation process, as he is the primary giver of divya-jnana.
Someone may assert “If transcendental knowledge is given by someone other than the Vaisnava who performs the initiation ceremony, then that transcendental knowledge can only be called siksa, not diksa. Therefore, it cannot rightly be said that Srila Prabhupada is giving diksa. He is giving siksa.” In the framework of The Prominent Link (PL), the essential focus is on the process of initiation, which is founded on the transmission of transcendental knowledge. Terminology and labeling is not a chief concern. Whomever is labeled “siksa guru”, “initiator”, or “diksa guru”, the heart of the PL understanding is that Srila Prabhupada is the primary Vaisnava directly giving transcendental knowledge. For devotees who are receiving divya-jnana directly from Srila Prabhupada, more than from any other Vaisnava, it can rightly be said that Srila Prabhupada is their direct, current, and prominent link to the parampara, with “direct, current, and prominent link” defined as “the Vaisnava who directly gives transcendental knowledge more than any other devotee”.
Many Vaisnavas transmit transcendental knowledge to others. Srila Prabhupada, however, is the main giver of transcendental knowledge, and thus the main giver of divya-jnana. If we examine a typical scenario in Srila Prabhupada’s movement we find that many of the aspects of the initiation process, such as the instructions to wear tilak and neck beads, and to chant the Hare Krsna Maha-Mantra a prescribed number of times every day, are often provided by a devotee other than the Vaisnava who conducts the initiation ceremony. The Vaisnava who conducts the initiation ceremony gives the spiritual name, and at the ceremony the initiate declares vows. These are important aspects of the initiation process, though they are by no means the entire process, and therefore in many instances it is questionable whether the devotee performing the initiation ceremony can unambiguously be termed the “diksa guru”.
Even if “diksa guru” is defined solely in terms of the performance of the initiation ceremony, one’s prominent and current link to the disciplic succession, as delineated by Srila Prabhupada at the beginning of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, is understood in terms of reception of transcendental knowledge. To summarize this point, the most important aspect of the initiation process is the transmission of divya-jnana, transcendental knowledge, and this function is performed for many, if not most, members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement primarily by Srila Prabhupada. For those members of his movement, regardless of when they received formal initiation, Srila Prabhupada is the primary and direct link to the parampara.
We contend that Srila Prabhupada will continue to serve as the prominent link at least for the duration of his movement. Also, we suggest that all who contact his movement should arrive at the point where they do experience Srila Prabhupada as the primary giver of direct divya-jnana in their spiritual lives. If someone has not come to this point then, we propose, he is not ready to be formally initiated.
When someone first contacts ISKCON, at least in most parts of the organization, for a few months he is encouraged to directly accept Srila Prabhupada as his guru. We suggest that once someone has done this, as evidenced by accepting Srila Prabhupada in his heart as his spiritual master and following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, the newcomer does not need to search for another Vaisnava to connect him with Srila Prabhupada. The newcomer is already directly connected with Srila Prabhupada, who is his current link to the parampara. Of course, many Vaisnavas have inspired the devotee, and will continue to do so. These Vaisnavas are also serving as his guru because they are helping him to understand Krsna consciousness and Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, and to apply those instructions to his life. Still, by virtue of being the main giver of direct divya-jnana, Srila Prabhupada is the devotee’s prominent link to the disciplic succession.
The formal initiation ceremony is an official acknowledgement that the devotee has established a direct link with Srila Prabhupada. The devotee does not make the link with Srila Prabhupada at the time of the ceremony. If the devotee has not already directly linked with Srila Prabhupada at the time of the formal initiation, then he shouldn’t be participating in the initiation ceremony. The Vaisnava conducting the initiation ceremony does not become the connection between the initiate and Srila Prabhupada. The direct link between the initiate and Srila Prabhupada already exists. The connection does not become indirect at the time of the ceremony.
In a lecture in Hyderabad on December 10, 1976, Srila Prabhupada said “…from 1922 to 1933 practically I was not initiated, but I got the impression of preaching Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s cult. That I was thinking. And that was the initiation by my Guru Maharaja. Then officially I was initiated in 1933 because in 1923 I left Calcutta.” Thus, it seems that the essence of initiation is the acceptance of divya-jnana, and not the formal ceremony. In the Introduction to The Nectar of Devotion Srila Prabhupada explains “The connection with the spiritual master is called initiation.” This connection is what links the disciple with the parampara and with Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada is transmitting transcendental knowledge, and we are confident that he will continue to do so for many generations. In this essential sense, Srila Prabhupada is initiating sincere followers. In fact, we propose that accepting divya-jnana, or initiation, from Srila Prabhupada, and thereby directly connecting with him, is the qualification for one to become formally initiated in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Again, the official initiation ceremony is a formal acknowledgement that the devotee has directly connected with Srila Prabhupada.
In the essential sense of the term “initiated”, Srila Prabhupada is initiating the devotee by directly delivering to him transcendental knowledge. The initiate is primarily a student and disciple of Srila Prabhupada, in that he is embracing and assisting to spread the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. Through submissive service to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada’s followers the devotee receives transcendental knowledge. The devotee may also simultaneously be a student of other Vaisnavas to the extent that these other Vaisnavas are instrumental in the Krsna conscious educational process of the initiate.
Caitanya-caritamrta– Page 1
On the first page of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila, Srila Prabhupada wrote “The direct disciple of Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was Srila Narottama dasa Thakura, who accepted Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti as his servitor. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura accepted Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji, who initiated Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who in turn initiated Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji, the spiritual master of Om Visnupada Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja, the divine master of our humble self.”
It is of course noteworthy that Srila Prabhupada, following Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami’s song Sri Guru-parampara, lists a disciplic succession wherein several of the spiritual masters did not receive formal initiation from their spiritual masters. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that Srila Prabhupada uses the word “initiated” to describe parampara relationships where no official initiation occurred, in reference to the relationships between Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and between Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji.
In the recently published edition of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta the editors deleted the words “initiated” in the two cases cited above. A representative of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust explained that the weightiest argument in making this change to Srila Prabhupada’s words was the following: ”Leaving one or both ‘initiated’s will strongly imply that the use of the phrases ‘direct disciple’ and even ‘accepted [as his disciple]’ indicate formal initiation as we know it in ISKCON, which is far from the truth.”
Of concern is that the explanation for deleting the word “initiated” seems to be largely based on the understanding of the word “initiated”, “as we know it in ISKCON”. Perhaps when Srila Prabhupada used the word “initiated”, he did so deliberately, and the meaning of the term as it has come to be understood in ISKCON is incomplete. That is, instead of making changes in this passage based on what we think Srila Prabhupada may have meant, it may be fruitful to consider that the current conception in the organization of the word “initiated” is not perfectly consistent with Srila Prabhupada’s understanding of the concept.
One way that this could be true is by referring to the definitions of initiation provided above. Perhaps Srila Prabhupada was referring to initiation in the sense of “transmitting transcendental knowledge” when he used the word “initiated” to describe the relationship between Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Additional Perspectives on Srila Prabhupada’s Position
Srila Prabhupada is of course present and living through his vani. “The potency of transcendental sound is never minimized because the vibrator is apparently absent” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2:9:8 Purport). “However, the disciple and spiritual master are never separated because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vani (words)” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4:28:47 Purport). “…[A]lthough a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the spiritual master…” (Lecture by Srila Prabhupada, January 13, 1969). “So we should associate by vibration, and not by the physical presence. That is real association” (Lecture by Srila Prabhupada, August 18, 1968). “Therefore we should take advantage of the vani, not the physical presence, because the vani continues to exist eternally” (Letter from Srila Prabhupada, November 4, 1975). “Although according to material vision His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada passed away from this material world on the last day of December, 1936, I still consider His Divine Grace to be always present with me by his vani, his words” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, Concluding Words).
Sometimes it is asserted that one needs a “living guru”. This is true, and Srila Prabhupada is a living guru. He lives through his vani. Even with regards to his body, Srila Prabhupada never had a material body (The Nectar of Instruction, Text 6). “…[T]he spiritual master, those who are acaryas, their body is not considered as material” (Lecture by Srila Prabhupada, January 13, 1969). Srila Prabhupada is available to fully and directly reciprocate with his sincere followers through his vani and murti. Transmission of divya-jnana, and not physical presence, is the defining characteristic of the parampara, as described in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s song Sri Guru Parampara. Srila Prabhupada stated “I shall never die, I shall live forever in my books” (Science of Self-Realization, Foreword). Thus, sastrically and philosophically it is possible for a devotee to directly connect with Srila Prabhupada as the link to the disciplic succession, and this is factually happening for devotees who contact the sankirtana movement.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura wrote “yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado yasya prasadan na gatih kuto ’pi…”, which translates as “By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Krsna. Without the grace of the spiritual master, one cannot make any advancement.” Devotees have many gurus, or teachers on the path of Krsna consciousness. For a devotee who comes to the movement Srila Prabhupada is the primary spiritual master, the Vaisnava to whom the devotee fully and unconditionally devotes his life. This can be understood in terms of the “yasya prasadad…” verse.
Devotees receive mercy from many Vaisnavas, who all, in a sense, are serving as his guru.“ Gurun is plural in number because anyone who gives spiritual instructions based on the revealed scriptures is accepted as a spiritual master” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 1:34 Purport). For devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, however, the Vaisnava whose mercy without which we would not receive the benediction of Krsna and would not make advancement is Srila Prabhupada. This is evidenced by the fact that the mercy and grace of other Vaisnavas may be withdrawn, and the former recipient of that mercy continues to make advancement in Krsna consciousness and to receive benedictions from Krsna. This is possible because Srila Prabhupada continues to bestow his mercy and grace.
This can also be appreciated in relation to the verse:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed” (Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23).
Of all the gurus in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, Srila Prabhupada is the one in whom implicit faith must exist in order for the imports of Vedic knowledge to be automatically revealed. As the direct link, Srila Prabhupada is the person to whom the devotee surrenders absolutely. Many devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, including many who were formally initiated after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure, experience him in this capacity, as the primary guru who inspires full surrender. Srila Prabhupada’s followers who assist him by helping to connect a devotee directly to him, are not the point of unconditional surrender. From the model that is commonly practiced in the movement we can understand that not all gurus are expected to be the Vaisnava to whom the newcomer fully surrenders. For example, the book distributor is serving as a type of guru for the newcomer, as is the senior devotee giving Srimad-Bhagavatam class and the bhakta leader. We don’t expect, however, that the newcomer will fully surrender his life to all of these Vaisnavas, though of course they should always have a place in his heart. Srila Prabhupada, as the Vaisnava who is the devotee to whom all members of his movement are expected to unconditionally surrender, is the guru center as described in the verse yasya deve….
Srila Prabhupada is serving as the primary guru and point of unconditional surrender for many Vaisnavas. This demonstrates that he is capable of doing this although he is not physically present. When a new devotee joins Srila Prabhupada’s society he is expected to take direct shelter of Srila Prabhupada. Many Vaisnavas who did not receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada take direct and primary shelter of him. We maintain that Srila Prabhupada will continue to be the direct link to the parampara for his sincere followers for the duration of his movement.
Thus far it has been established that for many devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, regardless of when or whether they have taken formal initiation, Srila Prabhupada is the primary deliverer of divya-jnana, both directly and indirectly. He is the Vaisnava whose mercy is essential to advance in Krsna consciousness, and he is the guru center in the two-center model described in the verse yasya deve para bhaktir… . These attributes also establish Srila Prabhupada as the Vaisnava to whom the initiate must absolutely, unconditionally, and directly surrender. In this sense Srila Prabhupada serves as the direct and current link to the parampara. With this understanding we can appreciate that Srila Prabhupada can be the object of worship as the prominent link to the disciplic succession.
Srila Prabhupada is Qualified to be Worshipped
The title of this section surely seems obvious, and one might wonder why it needs to be stated. It has been chosen to illustrate that when discussing a guru’s qualification and position, the focus often turns to the qualifications and status of devotees who conduct initiation ceremonies in ISKCON. For the purpose of this model, discussion of that point is not relevant. Of importance are Srila Prabhupada’s qualifications, position, and relationship with the members of his institution.
Specifically, just as Srila Prabhupada is qualified to be the object of absolute surrender, and to directly give divya-jnana for the duration of his movement, he is similarly fully capable to be the Vaisnava to be worshipped as the primary link to the parampara by all of his movement’s devotees for the duration of his movement. This statement does not imply that some followers of Srila Prabhupada are not qualified to be worshipped. Rather, it expresses that for all members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement the worship of Srila Prabhupada as the prominent link to the parampara is sufficient. No one else needs to be worshipped as the link to the parampara, because Srila Prabhupada completely fills this role, though of course he accepts assistance from his followers.
Some devotees may choose to worship a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, such as the Vaisnava who performed the initiation ceremony, as the link to Srila Prabhupada, or in some other philosophical capacity. The PL framework does not directly address this, though it does contend that any member of Srila Prabhupada’s movement who accepts Srila Prabhupada as the guru to be worshipped as the current link to the parampara must be permitted to do so. As the main connection with the parampara, the prime giver of transcendental knowledge, and the Vaisnava whose mercy is essential to progress in spiritual life, Srila Prabhupada is naturally the spiritual master to be worshipped as the link to the disciplic succession.
Accepting Srila Prabhupada in this role may have many benefits in terms of unity for the movement and parsimony, in regards to future worship practices in the organization. Consider, for example, the following hypothetical dialogue, in which Devotee A advocates a system wherein Srila Prabhupada is recognized as the guru to be worshipped as the direct and prominent link to the parampara, and Devotee B believes that the Vaisnava who conducted the initiation ceremony must be worshipped in that capacity:
Devotee A: Your view, it seems, is that you should be worshipped and your spiritual master should not be worshipped.
Devotee B: What do you mean?
Devotee A: When your spiritual master passes away, then your disciples, or the disciples of some of the disciples of the devotee who conducted your initiation ceremony, will be worshipped. When your picture is worshipped, the picture of your spiritual master will be removed from the altar. Thus you will be worshipped and your spiritual master will not be worshipped. That doesn’t seem like a very humble position.
Devotee B: No. The picture of my spiritual master will remain on the altar.
Devotee A: Consider the scenario thirty generations from now. Every time an ISKCON pujari goes on the altar he’ll need a wheelbarrow to cart all the pictures of the links to the parampara. This seems very impractical. Why not just stick with the ISKCON altar that Srila Prabhupada gave us?
A similar analysis could be presented in relation to pranam mantras and other aspects of worship. Devotee A’s paradigm is that Srila Prabhupada, as the prime deliverer of divya-jnana for all members of his movement, is naturally the object of worship as the primary connection to the parampara. As our main spiritual guide and the guru from whom we directly receive most of our transcendental knowledge, Srila Prabhupada is the correct person to be worshipped as the direct link to the parampara.
This is not a position of negativity. There may be Vaisnavas in Srila Prabhupada’s movement who are pure devotees, mahabhagavatas, and worthy of worship. Regardless of the level of advancement of others, it is legitimate for Srila Prabhupada to serve as the object of worship as the current link to the parampara. Worship of him in this capacity, regardless of when or by whom the worshipper was officially initiated, should be honored and respected within Srila Prabhupada’s institution.
Many great Vaisnavas are not formally worshipped. Consider the case of Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, the speaker of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Undoubtedly he is our guru. Clearly he is situated at the topmost platform of devotional service. We honor, glorify and revere him, though we don’t formally worship him. For example, we don’t recite his pranam mantras when we enter the temple room and his picture is not on ISKCON altars. Are we minimizing the great saint Srila Sukadeva Gosvami? No, because Srila Prabhupada instructed how to properly honor Srila Sukadeva Gosvami according to our particular circumstance, and this does not include formal worship as described above. Similarly, to not formally worship the devotee who performs the initiation ceremony is not an inherent minimization of that devotee. The Prominent Link (PL) model contends that worship of Srila Prabhupada as the direct connection to the disciplic succession, without worship of anyone else as the link to Srila Prabhupada, should be accepted as a valid practice in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, though the PL model does not maintain that worship of others as the connection to Srila Prabhupada should be prohibited in the movement.
Even if one conceives of the devotee who conducts the initiation ceremony to be in the absolute position and the current link to the parampara, that devotee could legitimately instruct the initiate to worship Srila Prabhupada rather than himself. For the sake of unity of the movement it would seem that such directives from devotees who perform initiations would be warranted. Many observers have commented that overemphasis by the initiate on the Vaisnava performing the initiation ceremony, in terms of worship, celebration of Vyasa-puja, and other practices, at the expense of an appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s proper place in the life of the initiate, has caused the movement to degrade to a matha mentality. If worship practices were returned to the form they assumed when Srila Prabhupada was present, this may help restore unity to the sankirtana movement. Such practices include restoring the ISKCON altar, for offerings and aratis, to include only those pictures that Srila Prabhupada established, and ensuring that Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja celebration is more prominent in the life of all members of his movement than any celebration honoring any of the followers of Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada, as the direct and current link to the parampara by dint of being the prime deliverer of divya-jnana, is the natural guru to be worshipped as the connection to the disciplic succession. No other Vaisnava need be worshipped as a link to Srila Prabhupada. However, even if someone doesn’t view Srila Prabhupada as the current link, whomever is regarded as the link can instruct initiates to worship the same altar that Srila Prabhupada gave us, to recite only Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras, and to celebrate Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja ceremony as the primary Vyasa-puja celebration.
By retaining the worship practices that Srila Prabhupada established, no one in Srila Prabhupada’s movement will ever experience that the Vaisnava perceived and worshipped as the current link to the parampara will experience difficulties in spiritual life. Such difficulties have caused much disturbance, and to reestablish Srila Prabhupada’s system of worship, with regards to the altar he instituted in his movement, and to recognize Srila Prabhupada as the point of unconditional surrender and the current link to the disciplic succession, would avert the possibility of such disturbances in the future. This will be a great burden lifted from the institution. Of course it is a loss and disappointment when any Vaisnava, especially one who has mentored others in Krsna consciousness, deviates from the path of bhakti-yoga, but if that Vaisnava is perceived to be the link to the parampara and the object of absolute surrender, then the effects can be devastating. There is no need for any devotee to experience such calamitous effects. Srila Prabhupada is qualified to receive worship through his picture and murti from all followers who have received transcendental knowledge from him. He is already doing this, in the capacity of prominent link to the disciplic succession, for many devotees who did not receive formal initiation from him. This confirms that he can do it, and we recommend that the movement establishes Srila Prabhupada as the guru to be worshipped as the current link to the parampara.
Some comments regarding worship of pictures and murtis are appropriate herein. 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 paramparaacaryas, 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 ordinary aspiring Vaisnavas, are not able to reciprocate in their picture form in the way that the great acaryas do. We are not claiming that there are no Vaisnavas in Srila Prabhupada’s movement capable of doing this, though we are mentioning this important point for consideration.
By retaining the ISKCON altar that Srila Prabhupada gave, without adding other pictures, we can be assured that all Vaisnavas whose worship is institutionally approved are fully on the transcendental platform. A caveat in presenting this is that all devotees should be honored, glorified and respected in accord with their position. As described with regards to Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, to not formally worship a Vaisnava does not intrinsically minimize him.
Terms of Relegation
In Governing Body Commission (GBC) resolutions of recent years the body has described Srila Prabhupada with expressions such as “foundational siksa guru for all ISKCON devotees” (1994), “preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution” (1999), and “preeminent and compulsory siksa-guru for all Vaisnavas (gurus and disciples) in the Society” (1999). We suggest that terms such as these actually depreciate Srila Prabhupada’s position, rather than genuinely acknowledge and glorify it.
Srila Prabhupada is the primary guru for everyone in his movement. If one Vaisnava needs to be identified as “the spiritual master”, then that Vaisnava is clearly Srila Prabhupada. The scriptures sometimes refer to “gurus” in the plural, substantiating that we have many spiritual masters, and they also sometimes refer to “guru” in the singular. Using qualifying terms, such as “preeminent siksa guru”, to describe Srila Prabhupada’s standing in his movement and the role he plays in the life of the members of his movement, distracts from Srila Prabhupada’s status as “the spiritual master”, the guru who is referred to when we refer to the singular spiritual master. It also muddles the understanding of the direct and primary role that Srila Prabhupada plays in the life of all members of his society. There are many definitions of “guru” and “spiritual master” and, by some definitions, all members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement have many gurus and spiritual masters. Qualifying appellations for Srila Prabhupada convey the perception of relegating him to something less than the main guru for all ISKCON members. This is illustrated below.
In 1999, just after the GBC passed a resolution designating Srila Prabhupada with terms such as “the preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution” and “the preeminent and compulsory siksa-guru”, the GBC body was discussing aspects of worship. The idea that Srila Prabhupada would be the sole object of worship in ISKCON was mentioned and discussed. A prominent GBC who conducts initiation ceremonies emphatically declared “But disciples must be able to worship their guru! They have to be allowed to worship their guru!” Clear from his statement was that, despite the resolutions from moments before that all members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement must place their faith, trust and allegiance first and foremost in Srila Prabhupada, who is the preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution, the conception that continued to be maintained by this GBC, and most of the leaders present, was that the real guru, notwithstanding whatever official glorification may be afforded to Srila Prabhupada in resolutions, is the Vaisnava who performs the formal initiation ceremony. In support of this minimization of Srila Prabhupada’s role in his movement, one of the themes of a keynote speech at the 1999 GBC meetings was specifically that Srila Prabhupada is not the direct and current link to the disciplic succession for devotees who did not receive formal initiation from him.
In another instance in 1999, a few weeks after the GBC meetings, a prominent GBC who conducts initiation ceremonies was giving Srimad-Bhagavatam class. A discussion about the guru issue and recent GBC resolutions arose. A question was posed about various aspects of guru worship that, according to the 1999 resolutions, continue to be permitted for the follower of Srila Prabhupada who conducts formal initiations. The speaker exclaimed, “Yes, in ISKCON it is still permissible to worship one’s guru!” It was clear that, despite whatever qualified position statements were formally applied by the GBC body to Srila Prabhupada’s status, the unquestioned conception of the formal initiator as the predominant and actual guru remained.
It is important that Srila Prabhupada is recognized as the prominent, direct and current link to the parampara for all members of his movement, or at least those who do receive their primary, direct divya-jnana from him. By not acknowledging Srila Prabhupada’s role as the direct link, his relationship with many members of his movement is organizationally invalidated. This will cause many of Srila Prabhupada’s followers to distance themselves from the institution.
At its year 2000 meetings the GBC resolved “A duly initiated disciple in ISKCON can accept Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of ISKCON, as his principal siksa-guru. During his devotional life, he may experience that he derives more spiritual inspiration from Srila Prabhupada’s books and vani than from his own diksa-guru.”
The wording of this resolution implies that the default position for a duly initiated disciple is to derive more spiritual inspiration from “his own diksa-guru” than from Srila Prabhupada’s books and vani, though it is acknowledged that the disciple “can” accept Srila Prabhupada as his principle siksa-guru, and “may” experience more spiritual inspiration from Srila Prabhupada’s books and vani than from his diksa-guru. This resolution appears to be a regression from the 1999 GBC descriptions of Srila Prabhupada as “the preeminent and compulsory siksa-guru for all Vaisnavas (gurus and disciples) in the Society”, “the preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution”, and the first and foremost object of faith, trust and allegiance for every member of ISKCON.
Thus, we can see that describing Srila Prabhupada with qualifying terms such as “preeminent siksa guru” obfuscates his position as the primary guru and the most essential, active spiritual force for all members of his movement. This relegation of Srila Prabhupada is conspicuous in the contradictory connotations of the 1999 and 2000 resolutions. As a result, Srila Prabhupada’s rightful and natural place in the society of Vaisnavas is arrogated by others, as evidenced in the practices and conceptualizations of devotees in many sectors of the organization.
Srila Prabhupada continues to accept disciples who sincerely dedicate their lives to following his instructions and who willingly receive the transcendental knowledge that he imparts. Accepting these disciples means that Srila Prabhupada takes responsibility to guide these souls back to Godhead.
There may be concern that if Srila Prabhupada accepts this responsibility, then others, including those who conduct initiation ceremonies, could be disinclined to take responsibility for the spiritual advancement of the new initiate. The model presented in this article encourages all of Srila Prabhupada’s followers to demonstrate impeccable Vaisnava behavior and to take full responsibility for the spiritual advancement of others. Assuming responsibility does not negate the understanding that Krsna is the Supreme Controller.
Ideally, anyone in Srila Prabhupada’s movement who contacts a newly aspiring devotee should accept responsibility, regardless of the position or title of the mentor, for the advancement of the newcomer. Suppose a book distributor gives a book to someone. When that person visits the temple the book distributor, if he is in proper consciousness, will naturally be eager to serve the advancement of the newcomer in any way he can. Years later, when the former newcomer is now initiated and situated in service within Srila Prabhupada’s movement, and has accepted guidance from many devotee mentors, the book distributor continues to be actively concerned about the progress of the devotee to whom he distributed a book. A similar mentality should exist in the temple president, the senior congregation member who preached to the newcomer at the Sunday Feast, and the Vaisnava selected by the new initiate to conduct the initiation ceremony.
A supremely glorious example, albeit not to be imitated, is Vasudeva Datta, who took full responsibility to ensure that all living entities in the universe would perfect their lives, although he was not formally their diksa guru, temple president, or bhakta leader. Knowing that Srila Prabhupada takes responsibility for a sincere newcomer should increase our determination to help persons in their Krsna consciousness throughout their devotional lives, to constantly be attentive in our personal practice of bhakti-yoga, and to set an inspiring example. Additionally, each devotee is responsible to feel and demonstrate proper gratitude towards all the Vaisnavas who have assisted him in developing Krsna consciousness, the eternal gift of the soul.
Devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement who conduct initiation ceremonies have made tremendous sacrifices to guide and direct others in Krsna consciousness. These devotees deserve great commendation for their efforts to take responsibility for the spiritual advancement of others. All members of our Vaisnava communities, according to their capacity, should make similar efforts in the service of Srila Prabhupada. Without such endeavors to take responsibility for others on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf, instituting Srila Prabhupada as the direct and current link to the parampara can become an excuse for neglecting our own responsibilities to care for and nourish the Krsna consciousness of others.
We are not concerned with titles and designations. Our interest is in understanding the process of advancement for members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. By accepting Srila Prabhupada as his prime spiritual authority and serving in Srila Prabhupada’s society, a devotee advances in Krsna consciousness. Even within the model currently popular in ISKCON, when an initiating guru has difficulties, the society directs the initiate to take direct shelter of Srila Prabhupada. Also, when a devotee first contacts the movement he is encouraged to directly connect with Srila Prabhupada. Clearly there already is an understanding that Srila Prabhupada can and does take responsibility for sincere followers, although Srila Prabhupada physically departed more than two decades ago.
For followers of Srila Prabhupada, for the duration of his movement, there is profound security in knowing that the mahabhagavata A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, a spiritual master at the topmost stage of Krsna conscious realization, is taking responsibility for their spiritual life, though this does not nullify the individual responsibility for one’s advancement in Krsna consciousness. With this understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s absolute position and the relative position of other members of his movement, there will be less disturbance caused, on an individual and institutional level, when devotees who serve as guides and mentors have difficulties. Such disturbances will be decreased because it will be clearly understood that Srila Prabhupada is the direct link to the disciplic succession, and thus to Krsna, and this fact has not been altered by anyone’s deviation.
In the Prominent Link (PL) model, a devotee contacts the movement and directly connects with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada imparts divya-jnana to him, and the devotee accepts Srila Prabhupada as his spiritual master. This relationship is formalized with an initiation ceremony, which acknowledges that the initiate has directly connected with Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession. Throughout his devotional life the devotee develops close relationships with many of Srila Prabhupada’s followers who assist the devotee to deepen his direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada. In this section we analyze other scenarios in relation to this model.
A devotee adheres to the beginning part of the scenario described in the paragraph above. After the formal initiation ceremony, however, the initiate regards the devotee who conducted the initiation, who has been Srila Prabhupada’s primary assistant for the initiate, as the link to Srila Prabhupada, and as the absolute point of surrender. This seems a bit peculiar for the initiate, because for more than a year he had cultivated a direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada, worshiping Srila Prabhupada’s picture and reciting Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras, and celebrating Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja as the Appearance Day of his, the initiate’s, spiritual master. Now, the initiate no longer directly worships Srila Prabhupada’s picture, and Srila Prabhupada is no longer considered his direct connection to the parampara.
From the perspective of the PL model, the initiate in the above scenario may actually be connected with Srila Prabhupada and the parampara, and thus initiated in the essential sense. That is, despite post-formal initiation external manifestations, the link with Srila Prabhupada may be established. Effective, albeit unfortunate, means by which this could be determined would be if the Vaisnava who conducted the official initiation manifested deviations from the path of bhakti-yoga, and the initiate was required to again take direct shelter of Srila Prabhupada. The extent to which the initiate is successful in this, as evidenced by continuing in devotional service, would determine the degree to which direct connection with Srila Prabhupada had occurred.
In another scenario, devotee A mentors devotee B, and devotee B receives formal initiation from devotee A. Devotee B is truly dependent on devotee A for his spiritual life. Devotee B does not have much direct understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. His knowledge about Krsna consciousness and Srila Prabhupada is almost entirely through devotee A.
Devotee A, in the above scenario, has brought devotee B to Krsna consciousness and is serving as his main spiritual master. From the viewpoint of the PL model, devotee B is not yet initiated in the essential, transcendental sense. He has not properly connected with the current link to the parampara, because he is not receiving most of his direct divya-jnana from Srila Prabhupada. Devotee A’s responsibility is to bring devotee B to the point of directly linking with Srila Prabhupada. When devotee B has achieved this, then the actual connection with the disciplic succession and Sri Krsna has taken place.
For devotee B to directly connect with Srila Prabhupada would not be “jumping over”. That is, it would not be an offense to devotee A for devotee B to seek to directly know Srila Prabhupada by studying Srila Prabhupada’s books and following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. Naturally devotee B is deeply and eternally indebted to devotee A for introducing him to Srila Prabhupada.
This is a different relationship than, for example, the relationship between Srila Prabhupada’s followers and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Srila Prabhupada’s followers know Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati primarily through Srila Prabhupada. To try to make too much endeavor to know Srila Bhaktisiddhanta directly, without Srila Prabhupada’s guidance, is precarious for the spiritual lives of Srila Prabhupada’s followers. Devotee A, however, if he is properly situated, encourages devotee B to hear Srila Prabhupada’s tapes and read Srila Prabhupada’s books as much as possible, because devotee A wants devotee B to become directly linked with Srila Prabhupada, the current link to the disciplic succession.
As further explication, a follower of Srila Prabhupada may read the books of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura or Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, but if they read only those books, and not Srila Prabhupada’s books, for an extended period of more than a year, then we’d consider that devotee to be remiss in his relationship with Srila Prabhupada. Conversely, if a follower of Srila Prabhupada, at present or at any point in the future, regardless of who performed his initiation ceremony, were to dedicate 90%-100% of his study to Srila Prabhupada’s books, letters, conversations, and lectures, that follower would not be considered to be remiss because of his absorption in Srila Prabhupada’s mood and teachings. This illustrates a qualitative difference in the “jumping over” principle in regards to the personal relationship with Srila Prabhupada that all members of his movement should cultivate, compared with the relationship of Srila Prabhupada’s followers with other sampradaya acaryas.
Srila Prabhupada serves as the link between his followers and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. The prime responsibility of Srila Prabhupada’s followers towards their students is to assist them to directly link with Srila Prabhupada. These students, such as devotee B in the example above, may also know Srila Prabhupada through Vaisnavas such as devotee A, though devotee B’s relationship with Srila Prabhupada should, ideally and primarily, be directly with Srila Prabhupada.
Questions and Answers
Does the PL model assume that there are no pure devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement?
No. There may be hundreds of pure devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Being a pure devotee does not necessarily mean that one is the current link to the parampara. Regardless of the level of spiritual advancement of any member of the movement, the tenets of the PL model stand. Specifically, Srila Prabhupada is, or at least, ideally, should be, the direct and current link to the parampara and the prime deliverer of divya-jnana for all devotees in his society. Pure devotees will naturally be very pleased to help establish others in their direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada.
Will there be no further current links to the parampara?
The PL model asserts that Srila Prabhupada is qualified to be the current and prominent link to the disciplic succession for the duration of his movement. Apart from philosophic and sastric justification for this, the prime evidence is that he is doing it, even for devotees whom he did not officially initiate. Sri Krsna and Srila Prabhupada could arrange for another Vaisnava to assume the role of the current and direct link at some time. What is clear is that Srila Prabhupada is doing this at present, and there is no need for others to aspire for this role.
What if someone receives direct transcendental knowledge from another Vaisnava, more than from Srila Prabhupada?
Then that Vaisnava should guide and instruct his charge so that the dependent becomes directly linked to Srila Prabhupada. Till the ward has directly connected with Srila Prabhupada as his current link to the disciplic succession, he is not yet properly situated in the parampara, and shouldn’t accept formal initiation in Srila Prabhupada’s movement.
We ask that managerial entities in Srila Prabhupada’s movement accept the PL model as valid. Anyone who joins Srila Prabhupada’s movement should be encouraged to accept Srila Prabhupada as the link to the parampara. While we claim that this is the preferred model for the movement, we do not maintain that other understandings, such as the understanding that the devotee who performs the formal initiation ceremony is automatically the primary direct link to the parampara, must be rejected. If necessary, a plurality of models may coexist. However, we find no basis for the denial of the PL model, and we believe that it is important for the PL model to be accepted and honored.
Surely it’s accurate to say that Srila Prabhupada is giving siksa to all devotees, but is it correct to say that he is giving diksa?
In the purport to Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 4:111, Srila Prabhupada writes “Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge by which he becomes freed from all material contamination.” Also, in the purport to Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 15:108, Srila Prabhupada defines diksa as a “…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.”
Srila Prabhupada is directly giving transcendental knowledge to members of his movement, regardless of when they joined or who performed their initiation ceremony. Therefore, it may be asserted that he is giving diksa, in the essential sense of the term. Still, the PL framework accommodates definitions of “diksa” that rely on the formal component of the initiation process. With regards to the formal element of the initiation process, it might be said that Srila Prabhupada is not giving diksa.
Whether the transcendental knowledge that Srila Prabhupada gives is called diksa or not, and whether Srila Prabhupada is referred to as the diksa guru, is immaterial in relation to the gist of the PL understanding. This essential understanding is that Srila Prabhupada is the direct, primary, and current link to the disciplic succession by virtue of being the main Vaisnava through whom Sri Krsna imparts transcendental knowledge to the initiate.
The process of initiation, which is driven by transmission of divya-jnana, is the focus of The Prominent Link. The PL model is not primarily concerned with titles or labels.
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.
Aren’t the Vaisnavas in the movement other than Srila Prabhupada also giving divya-jnana?
Srila Prabhupada’s followers serve as his assistants. In this capacity they give transcendental knowledge to others. Transmission of transcendental knowledge is the essence of being a guru. Srila Prabhupada, by being the prime deliverer of transcendental knowledge, is everyone’s main guru.
A devotee may be inspired by and receive transcendental knowledge from many of Srila Prabhupada’s assistants. The Vaisnava who is most influential in this respect may be considered Srila Prabhupada’s primary assistant for the devotee. He, along with other assistants, helps the devotee to directly link with Srila Prabhupada. This does not negate the fact that the devotee in the role of student also has an important, direct relationship with the follower of Srila Prabhupada who is serving in the role of teacher.
Isn’t the devotee who performs the initiation ceremony the link to the parampara?
Conducting the formal initiation ceremony is not a necessary qualification to be the link to the parampara. There are many examples in our parampara where a Vaisnava who did not conduct the initiation ceremony is the point of absolute surrender and the link to the disciplic succession. Such examples include Srila Vyasadeva who, as far as we are aware, did not conduct the initiation ceremony for Srila Madhvacarya. Srila Narottama dasa Thakura did not perform an initiation ceremony for Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji did not formally initiate Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura did not officially initiate Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji.
In the PL model, how will the initiate know how to manage his devotional life?
Srila Prabhupada is his main guide, as his primary guru. Also, there are the sadhus in Srila Prabhupada’s movement from whom the initiate will naturally accept guidance. The initiate can choose where in Srila Prabhupada’s movement he wants to serve. He is then expected to cooperatively and submissively serve within the authority structure established by Srila Prabhupada.
Consider the situation in the mid-1970s, when Srila Prabhupada was physically present. A devotee who joined at that time accepted Srila Prabhupada as his spiritual master and link to the parampara, though he did not expect to receive personal training from Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada’s assistants personally guided and instructed the new devotee. Upon joining ISKCON the devotee chose where in Srila Prabhupada’s organization to serve. Once choosing, he was expected to cooperate with the authority structure that Srila Prabhupada set up in that particular temple and to appropriately respect and serve all the devotees with whom he associated. Many of these devotees actively assisted him in spiritual life. In a sense they were his gurus, though he understood that Srila Prabhupada was his connection to the parampara and primary guru. Perhaps one of Srila Prabhupada’s assistants served as a primary assistant for the new devotee, though it was understood that Srila Prabhupada, and not the primary assistant, was the point of absolute surrender. In fact, the devotee may have had different primary assistants throughout his devotional career, though Srila Prabhupada as the main guru and primary deliverer of divya-jnana was constant.
With the PL model the management would be handled as described above. Many devotees and groups of devotees have commented over the years how the present system, with the devotee who performs the initiation ceremony intrinsically involved in the managerial mix, has caused much disturbance. The PL model proposes that we return to the system of management that was in effect when Srila Prabhupada was physically present on the planet. A devotee will naturally consult senior devotees whom he respects when making important decisions such as which temple to serve in and what service to perform. In the PL model there is no managerial control explicitly or implicitly assumed by the Vaisnava conducting the initiation ceremony over the Vaisnava being formally initiated, though there may be a managerial relationship, depending on the volition of the involved parties.
The PL model encourages devotees to serve and accept guidance and shelter from Vaisnavas who are physically present. These Vaisnavas to whom the devotee subordinates himself, and with whom the devotee develops close relationships, are spiritual teachers, though none of them replace Srila Prabhupada as the most prominent direct link to the disciplic succession.
This paper describes devotees who genuinely experience Srila Prabhupada as the direct, current, and prominent link to the parampara, by dint of Srila Prabhupada being the primary Vaisnava who gives direct transcendental knowledge. Of course this can be misused by someone claiming “I’m directly connected with Srila Prabhupada, so I don’t listen to anything anyone else says,” and as an excuse for arrogance. If someone is actually connected with Srila Prabhupada then he won’t exhibit such behavior. Srila Prabhupada wants us to serve submissively under the hierarchical structure that he created, in loving cooperation with his followers. This doesn’t conflict with Srila Prabhupada being the direct link to the parampara for the members of his movement.
Srila Prabhupada is not physically present and the PL model claims that he can be the direct link to the parampara. Would it be acceptable, then, if a devotee accepted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura as the direct link to the parampara?
In the verse yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah, Sri Krsna specifies a two-center system, with the Lord as one center and the spiritual master as the other center. The spiritual master center must be the current link to the parampara. We maintain that Srila Prabhupada is the current link and suggest that he can remain in that role for the duration of his movement. As described at the end of the Scenarios section, Srila Prabhupada’s followers know Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and the other personalities who constitute the parampara primarily through Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada’s followers, however, notwithstanding when they joined his movement, are expected and encouraged to develop a primarily direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada. This direct relationship is naturally enhanced by the guidance and realizations provided by Srila Prabhupada’s followers.
All members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement do have direct relationships with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and other transcendental personalities. These relationships, however, are not primarily direct, but are primarily through Srila Prabhupada.
“Direct, current, and primary link to the parampara” is defined as the Vaisnava through whom Sri Krsna is giving the most direct transcendental knowledge. For many devotees, regardless of who performed the initiation ceremony, Srila Prabhupada fulfills the definition of direct, current and primary link. It is important for the institution to acknowledge that Srila Prabhupada is playing this role, and will continue to play it for many, perhaps even most, members of his movement, for the lifetime of his movement.
What if someone claims “By the definition given above, the direct link for me is Srila Rupa Gosvami [or Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura]”? The view of the PL model is that if someone did originally connect with the sankirtana movement through the books of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura or Srila Rupa Gosvami, then Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura or Srila Rupa Goswami would arrange to connect that person to Srila Prabhupada, because Srila Prabhupada is the current link for the present time. Still, we are open to hear and observe the experiences of others, and adjust our perspective accordingly. If someone claims to be directly connected with someone other than Srila Prabhupada, in the primary sense as enunciated in PL, we recognize that possibility, though we are cautious about accepting such claims.
Srila Prabhupada’s organization is for those who are directly connected with the parampara through Srila Prabhupada. Someone may be primarily linked to the parampara through someone else, and that is appreciated. However, that linkage is not necessarily part of Srila Prabhupada’s institution. For example, if someone is in the line of the Sri-sampradaya, Srila Prabhupada’s followers honor that, while recognizing that it’s not in Srila Prabhupada’s line.
Can someone be called “Srila Prabhupada’s disciple” if he didn’t receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada?
Suppose devotee B is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who received formal initiation from him. Devotee A, who didn’t receive formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada, takes shelter of and serves under the guidance of devotee B. They develop a close teacher-student relationship that continues for years, perhaps even the duration of this lifetime. Devotee A certainly can be said to be a disciple, or student, of devotee B. This scenario is consistent with the principles of The Prominent Link. In the scenario, devotee A has the PL understanding, and he has no doubt that Srila Prabhupada is his direct, current, and primary link to the parampara. Srila Prabhupada is his primary guru. Devotee A is a student, or disciple, of devotee B, and thus devotee A is the disciple of the disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Devotee A is also a disciple, directly, of Srila Prabhupada, by dint of the fact that Srila Prabhupada is the Vaisnava who is giving devotee A more direct transcendental knowledge than any other Vaisnava, including devotee B. Without contradiction, devotee A is a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and a disciple of the disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Being directly linked with Srila Prabhupada does not negate, and in fact supports, the principle of being a servant of the servant of the Vaisnavas.
What about the relationship between the Vaisnava who performs the initiation ceremony and the initiate?
As we practically experience in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, there is an expansive range of healthy, spiritually productive relationships between the devotee who performs the initiation ceremony and the initiate. The PL framework supports a wide latitude of relationships, the litmus test being whether the relationship assists the initiate to strengthen his direct link with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada, not the devotee who conducted the initiation ceremony, should be the center of the relationship. While not minimizing the importance of the relationship between the devotee who conducts the initiation ceremony and the initiate, this paper does not primarily address that topic. The Prominent Link concentrates on Srila Prabhupada’s position and role in his movement, and most importantly, Srila Prabhupada’s direct and personal relationship with all members of his movement.
Isn’t it sufficient to acknowledge that Srila Prabhupada is the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON?
“Founder/Acarya” describes Srila Prabhupada’s position, role and title in his institution. The Prominent Link emphasizes the personal relationship that exists between Srila Prabhupada and all of his followers. In this context, it is important to understand Srila Prabhupada not only as the Founder/Acarya of his organization, but also as the active, primary spiritual master and the current and prominent link to the disciplic succession for his followers, regardless of when and from whom they formally received initiation.
Summary and Conclusion
The fundamental thesis of this paper is that Srila Prabhupada is the prominent link to the parampara for members of his movement. In this capacity he is the primary spiritual master and the point of unconditional submission. Many members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement, irrespective of who conducted their initiation ceremony, experience Srila Prabhupada as their primary guru and direct link to the parampara. This experience is philosophically supported by sastra as valid and consistent with the principles of disciplic succession.
As the primary guru for all Vaisnavas who join his society, Srila Prabhupada is the guru without whose mercy we cannot advance in Krsna consciousness. With this understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s position, it is reasonable to conclude that Srila Prabhupada should be the Vaisnava to be worshipped as the current link to the parampara for members of his movement. This includes worship of pictures and recitation of pranam mantras. We suggest that the altar for ISKCON temples should remain as Srila Prabhupada established it, without the addition of other pictures.
We present this model as a valid way to conceive of Srila Prabhupada’s position. Though we don’t contend that it is the only legitimate view of Srila Prabhupada, we request that the ideas and proposals described herein be accepted and implemented. This does not necessarily mean supplanting other systems and conceptualizations, though it does mean that this model be allowed to at least coexist with other methods and systems for conceiving of and implementing the continuation of the parampara. Understanding and experiencing Srila Prabhupada as the most prominent direct link to the parampara is a viable approach to the relationship between Srila Prabhupada, the devotee who performs the formal initiation ceremony, the initiate, and Srila Prabhupada’s institution.
Clearly there are additional topics for study related to guru-tattva. Such topics include further explication of the criteria for the delineation of the parampara presented by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in Sri Guru-parampara, explication and differentiation of terms such as “guru” and “teacher”, and “disciplic succession” and “parampara”, and philosophical exploration of various levels and methods of knowledge acquisition. For example, Srila Prabhupada writes “There are different levels of acquired knowledge—direct knowledge, knowledge received from authorities, transcendental knowledge, knowledge beyond the senses, and finally spiritual knowledge” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4:12:19 Purport). Deeper understanding of these types of knowledge could enhance our appreciation of the kinds of pramanas potentially available from spiritual masters at differing levels of realization. Also, it may be fruitful to examine the meaning, with regards to the continuation of the parampara, of Srila Prabhupada installing his murti while he was physically present.
Our purpose in this philosophical project is to gain a deeper and more precise understanding of the essence of the guru-disciple relationship, and a better grasp on Srila Prabhupada’s personal relationship, in practice and ideal, with all members of his movement. We pray that this presentation represents a positive contribution to the discussion of these important topics. Further, we humbly request the Vaisnava community to consider the philosophy and recommendations herein, to instruct us where our understanding is incomplete or faulty, and to accept the ideas where they are consistent with Srila Prabhupada’s desires and the good of his movement.
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