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"Guru, Sadhu, Sastra"

We are all familiar with the refrain Guru, Sastra, and Sadhu as being the spiritually scientific methodology utilized in order to authorize every aspect of the Krsna Consciousness process. Much heated discussion has taken place within the Vaisnava community regarding the clarification of the position and pre-requisite qualifications of a "bona fide" diksa/siksa guru. Each person, group and/or institution consults the Sastra as well as the recorded statements of the Guru (Srila Prabhupada) and the writings of the Sadhu (past Acaryas) so as to give weight to their opinions on this subject.

Of course, there are many Vaisnavas who do not hold Srila Prabhupada in as much esteem as do those within ISKCON, or those who are on the same disciplic “branch”. The modern day landscape now includes Godbrothers of Srila Prabhupada and their disciples who expound different perspectives on this subject than do the living representatives of Srila Prabhupada. I’m focused on the latter group in this article, however, as there is enough controversy to address just within this circle.

Our siddhanta emphasizes the significance of the complete individuality of both Visnu tattva personalities and the jiva-tattva. The relationships between the individual jivatma’s are all unique, what to speak of the Jivatma’s relationship with the Lord. The jivatma who assumes the position of the living Guru is simultaneously acting and speaking on behalf of the Lord (Caitya Guru/Paramatma) as well as the Past Acaryas within the disciplic succession (Sadhu), for which his own Spiritual Master is the most recent representative. The Guru, by definition, agrees to have an intimate relationship with any and all whom he accepts as disciples. The nature of that relationship is first and foremost unique, but must also fall within the boundaries of Guru, Sastra and Sadhu.

Our present circumstances are somewhat extraordinary, primarily due to the exalted spiritual position of both AC Bhaktivedanta Swami and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. As I have described in my "Sampradaya Acarya" paper, which discusses the issue in great detail, I am referring to what is commonly accepted as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s list of 32 “bona fide” Acaryas going back to Lord Brahma. The disciples of Srila Prabhupada accept the fact that he has included his own name on that list.

One of the symptoms of a Sampradaya Acarya is that those within their disciplic succession consider the Acarya’s commentaries on sastra to be as authoritative as those commentaries made by the other previous Sampradaya Acaryas, i.e., the previous top-most authorities on the original sastra. This is certainly the case with Srila Prabhupada’s writings. When we consider the Sampradaya Acarya, the process of judging according to the principle of Guru, Sastra and Sadhu is much different than when we are appraising the “regular” guru who is held to the test of the past Guru, Sastra and parampara authorities. In the case of Sampradaya Acaryas, they essentially stand as both Guru, Sastra and Sadhu.

In Srila Prabhupada’s case, we have much more archived content to consider as authoritative than was typically the case with predecessor Acaryas in our line. I’m referring, of course, to all the transcribed recorded lectures, conversations, talks, walks, letters, and so on. This degree of voluminous and variegated information is very unique amongst the Parampara Acaryas. While there is no doubt that it is a tremendous blessing to all present and future followers, it does pose certain problems for those of us trying to resolve differences of opinions amongst self-confessed conditioned souls based on the principle of Sastric verification. We add to this mix the indispensable electronic search engine commonly known as the Vedabase, which allows any neophyte with access to a computer to quote endless authoritative statements originating from the lotus mouth/mind of Srila Prabhupada in order to back up their personal thoughts.

Srila Prabhupada translated and purported many Vaisnava scriptures, which we all hold as absolute truth. Srila Prabhupada’s various statements pertaining to the Guru, Spiritual Master, Acarya, representative of Krsna, devotees, Vaisnavas, etc. are exactly what we are now debating. As is the custom, we turn to the search results of the Vedabase. It is most interesting to note the glaringly obvious use of the words “bona fide” preceding most of the terms Srila Prabhupada uses to describe a Vaisnava spiritual teacher. In fact, when we query the term “bona fide”, there are over 2,000 hits in the Vedabase. In most cases, the term “bona fide” is being used in very close context to a description of one of the above-mentioned Vaisnava authorities: Guru, Spiritual Master, Acarya, etc. Even though there are many more “hits” for these words themselves (Guru, Spiritual Master, etc.), if we study the references to those terms we find that the term “bona fide” is nearly always used at least once in close context to the other terms. So basically, what we are all debating is Srila Prabhupada’s meaning of the term “bona fide”, which is used synonymous with authentic, genuine, or real.

Obviously Srila Prabhupada felt it was necessary to repeatedly clarify that a student, disciple, seeker of truth be able to distinguish between a bona fide and an un-bona fide Authority. The knowledge and insight, therefore, must come from Sastra and Caitya Guru, the Lord in the heart. Naturally, the neophyte also judges the authenticity of the Guru by the qualities, actions and words of his or her senior disciples, as well as by the succession of past Acaryas within the disciplic succession. The great blessing that all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples enjoyed was that there was no risky gambling or guessing involved in accepting him as their Spiritual Master. Srila Prabhupada himself was so aware of his exalted qualifications as the present Sampradaya Acarya that he could encourage newcomers to become initiated with very little training, knowing they would be empowered due to the nature of the lila. Srila Prabhupada recruited as many able bodied souls as possible in order to fulfill, to the greatest degree possible, his pre-determined mission as a nitya-siddha, Shaktavesa Acarya.

Srila Prabhupada provided his young disciples with copious volumes of purported sastra wherein he gave detailed descriptions of the characteristics and symptoms of advanced authorities. Alas, his recruited disciples couldn’t fully comprehend his super-exalted spiritual position nor the transcendental nature of the lila. After his disappearance, his senior disciples simply and foolishly adopted a very similar pre-initiation program, which only goes to show that even the most senior men were lacking the realization of Srila Prabhupada’s greatness. After this failed venture into Pundraka-like absurdity finally came to a close, the re-empowered GBC resumed giving diksa initiation to any disciple who met their approval, with the proviso that there was no GBC guarantee that these ‘pre-approved’ diksa gurus were actually bona fide according to Srila Prabhupada and the other Sampradaya Acaryas. Consequently, all newcomers must understand and fully adopt the age-old principle of Guru, Sastra and Sadhu, according to time, place and circumstance. That requires thoroughly studying all of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings -- in other words, establishing an intimate relationship with Srila Prabhupada, and knowing him to be the truly bona fide representative of Caitya Guru and all the past Sampradaya Acaryas. If and when a sincere seeker is convinced they are being introduced to their eternal bona fide diksa guru through the sublime direction of Srila Prabhupada, Caitya Guru and divine providence, then and only then should they take initiation.

Rocana dasa

Replies: 3 Comments

Posted by Ray @ 12/01/2005 07:14 PM PST

What is distressing is the fall down of a number of the swamis who were invested with 'guru' status. I was a devotee in the temple at the time of the Los Angeles Gurukula as well as the Rameswara scandals. The Prabhupada-said's, the demands for submission, surrender and all of the tactics that "cultist experts" warn us about are still being applied by all factions.
Chaos and strife are NOT spiritual qualities. They are, if I'm not mistaken, the characterstics of demons. For the time being I will listen to the Guru in my heart who saved me from being initiated by Rameswara, or I should say Robert Grant.
It is now even a difficulty to find appropriate association, let alone a diksa guru.

Posted by Rocana dasa @ 07/11/2005 11:48 PM PST

Dear Uddharana daa,

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful, enlightened response and encouragement. I have pondered and written on this dilemma you speak about. It is one of the major themes in my Sampradaya Acarya thesis. Basically, we have to comprehend the profound differences between Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON lila pastimes and the post-samadhi period.

We have sufficient knowledge from the sastra on the difference between Lord Sri Krsna’s Appearance and the pastimes of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This includes a clear explanation of the periods after Their eternal pastimes were wound-up, or became un-manifest. Although the Sampradaya Acaryas are not Visnu-tattva, they are for the most part nitya-siddha, Shaktavesa avataras. When such a divine personality has departed and is no longer physically in-charge and overseeing the preaching mission, it requires very deep thought and the application of our super-excellent philosophy in order to adjust, adapt and put into practice a program to oversee the preaching mission. If the leaders of such a movement do not even realize the spiritual position of their Guru, Founder-Acarya, and spiritual father, then how is it possible for a community of Srila Prabhupada’s followers to function properly within such an environment?

Since coming to the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada is a Sampradaya Acarya and contemplating what that means, I have had to seriously reflect on my own experiences during Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON lila period (7 years), and the more than 10 years afterward when I “hung-in–there” as part of ISKCON’s management. Then there is an equal amount of time spent detached from the institution, but equally attached to Srila Prabhupada’s mission. For the last ten years, I have made a conscientious effort to sort out what exactly happened during those 17 years. There are plenty of life experiences to work-out, enough to last for the remaining time I have in this body. I feel I’m just getting started and there is so much left to improve upon.

I sometimes think back on how I imagined my life would unfold when Srila Prabhupada was present, and all that has actually happened since then. It’s all inconceivable, beyond my wildest imagination, but somehow or other I have to accept all that has happened as being the causeless mercy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu on the most fallen. Of course, we have to take the mercy and make something of it. We have to realize this amazing siddhanta by applying it to our lives -- not simply, doggedly sticking to the sadhana process, but studying Srila Prabhupada’s teachings looking for answers, clues, truth, that will help us make sense of all the seemingly bewildering events that have impacted our existence.

The whole phenomena of ISKCON and how it has morphed into what it is today is really interesting and instructive when looked at from a detached, philosophical perspective. Ranting, raving, blaming and finger-pointing is an unproductive waste of human life. There is nothing any of us can do to change the course of history. Not even those occupying the seats of power within the institution are capable of making the required monumental changes. They are just institutional fire-fighters with endless blazes springing-up everywhere. They won’t or can’t see that most of their problems are rooted in a philosophical misunderstanding that begins with not understanding who their Founder-Acarya actual is as -- an advanced spiritual entity beyond their present understanding (the Sampradaya Acarya).

    But it does beg the question, surely Srila Prabhupada understood that he was bequeathing a movement that obviously none of his followers were capable or qualified to carry on. What are we to understand from this?

As for Srila Prabhupada understanding the complexities and difficulties of disciples such as us taking over his movement and actually maintaining it, there’s no question he understood the dynamics very clearly. Even if he thought the likelihood of our succeeding was slim to none, what else could he do? In fact, this is the reasoning behind my hypothesis that just before his departure, Srila Prabhupada was purposefully vague on the issue of appointing a successor(s). He didn’t sanction anyone to become any kind of authority after his departure, he just left it open for us to do the best we could with whatever intelligence or consciousness we had developed. And, we see the results. Whether or not these exact results could have been predicted by anybody -- even someone of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual status -- is hard to speculate on.

The historical facts speak for themselves. There has never been a spiritual movement within our history that has been managed nicely by neophyte devotees after the departure of the great Acarya. The only real hope we had of maintaining some aspects of the movement was a spirit of cooperation and humility amongst the senior leaders and GBC. In reality, the GBC was mothballed for ten years, then reconstituted into something like we see today. It is not being modeled on what Srila Prabhupada intended.

What else could he do? He basically left it up to Krsna.

Rocana dasa

Posted by Uddharana das @ 07/11/2005 10:41 AM PST

Dear Rocana prabhu,

Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and realizations about Prabhupada, Guru, shastra and sadhu. I always get spiritual strength from them. A thought, don't you - and all of us - have the luxury of 25+ years of hindsight in all of this? At the time, in the trenches, post Nov. 14, 1977, it was a different matter. Everyone from top leadership on down did what they thought was the right thing at the time. Who objected? The guru/leadership model came out of the same organizational culture that gave birth to organized cheating book distribution/collecion methods, abusive marriage and family attitudes, institutional abuses toward women, children and dissidents, unethical business practices, mundane politics at all levels of management - to name just the most egregious. I am not blaming Prabhupada at all for any of these problems. It is not his fault that so many unqualified followers joined the Krishna consciousness movement - and I include myself in that undoubtedly. But it does beg the question, surely Srila Prabhupada understood that he was bequeathing a movement that obviously none of his followers were capable or qualified to carry on. What are we to understand from this?

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