Joining ISKCON or Becoming a Disciple?
How many times have we heard Srila Prabhupada use the term joining ISKCON or joining the society? Well, I am not going to attempt to count every time Srila Prabhupada has used this term, but we can easily see that he has used this term many, many times in his books, letters and lectures. For the sake of discussion lets take a look at just one small book, The Nectar of
Srila Prabhupada starts the book in the preface with “This Krsna conciousness movement is conducted under the supervision of Srila Goswami”. So, from the very onset the very first idea that Srila Prabhupada is promoting is the concept of a “movement” or society of devotees which we must approach and join if we indeed seek the cultivation of Krsna conciousness under his guidance and the guidance of Srila Rupa Goswami. Conspicuous by it’s absence is the terminology “becoming a disciple of a guru” or “accepting a guru”. Quite contrary to the notion of accepting one person or one guru as one’s shelter and guide, Srila Prabhupada is clearly and unambiguously advocating the concept of “joining the society” or “joining the Krsna conciousness movement”.
The endless debate over the “rtvik” or “guru” issue has yet to be resolved by debating the “the final order” and all such directives and instructions of Srila Prabhupada. Debating the issue of whether “they are his disciples” means they are the rtvik’s disciples or Srila Prabhupada’s disciples has yet to be conclusively proven due to the problem of interpretation and jugglery of meaning. In the so-called “appointment tape” Srila Prabhupada’s intentions are clearly ellucidated in the very beginning where he responds to Satvarupa Maharaja’s question “Then our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you are no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiations would be conducted“. Srila Prabhupada replies “Yes, I shall recommend some of you after this is settled up. I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acharyas.” Tamal Krsna Goswami asks “is this called rtvik acharya?” and Srila Prabhupada corrects him and says only “rtvik, yes“. We can see here that Srila Prabhupada left off the “acharya” from the “rtvik acharya” suggestion of TKG.
Now, this is clearly and unquestionably a statement where Srila Prabhupada says that the rtvik system will continue after his departure. Though Srila Narayana Maharaja adamently rejects both the term and concept of rtvik, we have documented evidence that Srila Prabhupada acted quite to the contrary and undoubtedly advocated and established the rtvik system for ISKCON. The confusion comes with the interpretation and extrapolation of meaning of his subsequent statements as his secretaries attempt to manipulate the conversation to arrive at the conclusion they wanted to hear rather than the clearly definitive conclusion Srila Prabhupada enunciated to them. In an effort to actually pressure Srila Prabhupada into saying what they wanted to hear, despite the fact that he just gave a clear and defintive answer to their inquiry, they pressed the issue further as Satavarupa Maharaja says “Then, what is the relationship of the person who gives the initiation?” and Srila Prabhupada says “he is guru, he is guru!”
Now, this is where the “guru” proponents begin to interprate and and construe that the rtviks will be the guru of the initiate. Though we can look back to course of the discussion and see that Srila Prabhupada was speaking in terms of a rtvik officiating on his behalf and easily see that the initiator is Srila Prabhupada and the appointees are rtviks, the “guru” proponents interprate this as Srila Prabhupada saying that the initiates will be their disciples and not disciples of Srila Prabhupada. However, when Srila Prabhupada answers SDG’s question he is speaking in terms of himself being the initiator and the rtvik being an officiator. So, the answer to question “What is the relationship of that person who gives the initiation?”, is that since Srila prabhupada is the one actually giving initiation, the answer to the question that “he is guru, he is guru” is referring to Srila Prabhupada and not the officiating person. However, by some wild stretch of the imagination the “guru” proponents interprate this statement by Srila Prabhupada to mean that the initiate will be disciple of the rtvik. This is clearly a jugglery of meaning and misinterpretation of Srila Prabhupada’s direct and concise pronouncement concerning this issue.
The course of the conversation then turns to SDG again who says “So, then they may also be considered your disciples?” and Srila Prabhupada replies “Yes, they are disciples“
“but why consider who?” Srila Prabhupada clearly says again here that the initiates would be his disciples and in essence chastises SDG for even questioning even further whose disciples they would be. Srila Prabhupada just said directly that he would appoint rtviks who would initiate disciples on his behalf and he is clearly getting disturbed by any further questioning about whose disciples future initiates would be.
Now, it seems that Srila Prabhupada’s statements are very clear, concise and self-explanatory on this issue, right? Well, it seems so, yet Tamal Krsna Goswami seems to be confused and unable to absorb what Srila Prabhupada is saying so he presses the matter further in pursuance of an extended explanation when he says “NO!” He is asking that these rtvik-acharyas (even though Srila Prabhupada already corrected him by leaving off the acharya part of rtvik-acharya), they are officiating, giving diksha, the people they are giving diksha to…………. who’s disciples are they?
Now, wait a minute! Did not Srila Prabhupada just answer that question when SDG posed it? Yes he did! The whole subject of the conversation was Srila Prabhupada appointing rtviks to initiate on his behalf after his departure, so why is TKG asking Srila Prabhupada whose disciples they would be?
Could it be because he was trying to coerce Srila Prabhupada into saying what he wanted him to say( which is that the initiaties would be the disciples of the rtvik). Srila Prabhupada replies “They are his disciples“. TKG again expresses his confusion and dissatisfaction by saying “They are his disciples?” and Srila Prabhupada says “Who is initiating, his grand-disciples”.
Now, we get to the crucial point here in this conversation (a conversation that TKG is having problems understanding or accepting) with the interpretation of these words of Srila Prabhupada. Even though the whole discussion was about Srila Prabhupada appointing rtviks to initiate after his departure, TKG has managed to lead the conversation to a point to where he might be able to confuse the issue and get Srila Prabhupada to say what he wanted him to say. However, here again Srila Prabhupada says in clear terms “Who is initiating, his grand-disciple”. The meaning of this statement is quite clear. The initiates will be the grand-disciples of “who is initiating”. Who is initiating is Srila Prabhupada and that has been well established by the course of the entire discussion which was about Srila Prabhupada appointing rtviks to initiate on his behalf after his passing away. In an effort to ease the disturbance that TKG is clearly showing towards the whole issue of the post-samadhi rtvik system, Srila Prabhupada has tried to appease his disciples by referring to future initiates as “grand-disciples”, though it is clear from the course of the whole conversation that they will be formally considered disciples of Srila Prabhupada. In this sentence Srila Prabhupada goes to make a distinction that post-samadhi initiates will be considered “grand-disciples” of “who is initiating”. This slight compromise that Srila Prabhupada enunciated could very well have been just a measure meant to appease his direct disciples who might feel some sense of dis-satisfaction with the idea that future initiates would also be considered his disciples. Under pressure from TKG, who was showing some confusion and dis-satisfaction with Srila Prabhupada’s rtvik instructions for the future of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada coined future initiates as “grand-disciples” though it has been conclusively established that the rtvik system was to continue in the future of ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada ended this topic by saying “When I order you to become guru, be becomes regular guru, thats all. He becomes disciple of my disciple thats it. Just see!”
Here Srila Prabhupada is being somewhat sarcastic as says “just see!” He says “he becomes disciple of my disciple, thats it!” What did Srila Prabhupada mean by saying “thats it”? Could he have been seeing that if he becomes disciple of my disciple in ISKCON, thats it……………. the end of ISKCON?
Where is the evidence that Srila Prabhupada ordered anyone to be guru in ISKCON after his departure? There is not one authoritative statement where Srila Prabhupada authorizes anyone to be diskha guru in ISKCON after his departure. There are however several statements where Srila Prabhupada says that he would appoint rtviks to officate on his behalf after his departure. Which system do we have the most evidence for? Clearly, the only indications we have for how Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON to continue was the rtvik system and not one iota of evidence that he wanted the rtviks to become diksha gurus after his departure. And, to think that Srila Prabhupada gave the GBC authority to appoint diksha gurus in ISKCON goes against everything we have been taught about the true nature of a real acharya, whom is never appointed by committee.
No real acharya has ever been appointed by committee, however Srila Prabhupada did authorize the GBC to appoint more rtviks as necessary from the senior sannyasis of ISKCON.
The brings us back to the orginal theme of this essay which is the question of whether devotees are being taught by Srila Prabhupada to sell out to one person in the form of a diksha guru, or to join ISKCON and the Krsna conciousness movement and learn how to serve a whole society of devotees. Everyone can do their own research on this issue, but for the sake of completness I will include a few references from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and writings. (1)A follower of the Krsna conciousness movement should become a perfect goswami. (Upadeshamrita, preface.) Here Srila Prabhupada says we must be followers of “The Krsna conciousness movement”. He does not stress the idea of accepting one particlular guru, rather of accepting the movement, the society of devotees.
(2)This spiritual association offered by our ISKCON movement is increasing day by day. Many people from different part of the world are joining this society to awaken their dormant Krsna conciousness.(Upadeshamrita text 2 purport) Notice how Srila Prabhupada is using the term “joining this society” rather than “becoming my disciples” or “becoming disciples of my disciples“. (3) This Krsna conciousness movement offers a spiritual community that can bring about a peaceful condition in the world. Every intelligent man should purify his conciousness and rid himself of the above-mentioned hindrances to devotional service by taking wholehearted shelter of this Krsna conciousness movement.(Upadeshamrita text 2, purport). (4) The International Society for Krsna conciousness is opening many centers just to invite people to live in the company of devotees and practice the regulative principles of life.(Upadeshamrita text 2, purport) (5) Many interested people come to honor prasada, and whenever possible they invite members of the society to their homes and feed them sumptuously with prasada. In this way both the members of the society and the general public are benefitted. (Upadeshamrita text 4, purport) Notice how Srila Prabhupada is referring to devotees as “members of the society” as opposed to “my disciples” or “their disciples”. (6) Everyone is invited to join this movement , sit with us, take prasada and hear about Krsna. When we see that someone is actually interested in Krsna conciousness and wants to be initiated, we accept him as a disciple for the chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord.(Upadeshamrita text 5, purport).
Such references in the books, letters and lectures of Srila Prabhupada are numerous and plentiful. Srila Prabhupada clearly advocated the concept of “joining ISKCON” or “joining the Krsna conciousness movement“. Here in just the first six verses of Upadeshamrita we find several such references and such references are many throughout the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. We find not one statement where Srila Prabhupada says that any of his disciples would become diksha gurus in ISKCON after his departure. However, there is very profound and significant evidence that Srila Prabhupada did want the rtvik system to continue after his departure.
The current condition of ISKCON is a clear indication that something is awry, something is seriously amiss. The overwhelming majority of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have all left ISKCON or been excommunicated or driven out to make room for the disciples of the initiating gurus.
Is this what Srila Prabhupada wanted? Did he want that a select group of disciples would take over ISKCON and accept their own disciples to displace hundreds of Srila Prabhupada’s own disciples that gave the best years of their lives to help Srila Prabhupada build ISKCON? The answer is no! Srila Prabhupada wanted that ISKCON would be a welcome home for all his dedicated devotees and not overrun by a generation of so-called grand-disciples in “guru-wars”. The rtvik system was the only hope to keep ISKCON a unified and united society dedicated to distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books all around the world, and anyone that can’t see that does not understand that Srila Prabhupada IS ISKCON and ISKCON IS Srila Prabhupada. What is more important, blindly hanging on to so-called tradition and formality, or keeping ISKCON united and flourishing in the spirit of dedication to Srila Prabhupada? The current guru system will never lead to a unified and united ISKCON, rather it will only splinter further and further a movement that was founded exclusively on the leadership of Srila Prabhupada.
My name is Ksamabuddhi das and I am a twice initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupada since 1975.