February 10, 2002
Dear Brahma dasa and Mela friends,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Brahma dasa stated at the end of his second to last post, “Even my friends and supporters are sending me emails to 'give it a rest'.” That said, in this post and the one following he exposed an entirely new perspective on his argument, which begs for a reply. In fact, it may be offensive to Srila Prabhupada for me not to give further comment to Brahma’s post.
I confess that this exercise would have been a lesson in futility if my objective were to convert Brahma dasa and any of his supporters over to my way of thinking. A while back, the opportunity presented itself in the Dharma Mela for me (and hopefully others) to gain a more complete understanding of the unfolding phenomenon of the migration of Srila Prabhupada's disciples and followers to the Gaudiya Matha world. We are all aware of the activity surrounding the Maharaja of the week, the handsome Narayana Maharaja, but Brahma dasa was a true pioneer. He and Tripurari were the Vaisnava equivalent of Lewis and Clark as they bravely headed across the river to the Sridhara Maharaja Camp. The trail they originally blazed has now become a superhighway. The exodus to Gaudiya Matha loka we are witnessing these days is due, in part, to Tripurari and his troop of spiritual adventurers who explored uncharted territory some twenty years ago. Who better to explain to us all their discoveries along this path?
According to our Gaudiya guides, the first requirement for one traveling in this direction is to get past the 'outdated' warning sign set up by Srila Prabhupada. During the course of this discussion, Brahma dasa, Audarya lila dasa and company have laid out for us all the convincing quotes, arguments and historical facts needed for the determined traveler to move beyond this obstacle. With this obstacle behind you, the fast flowing river of faith will sweep you past the mountains of logic and the canyons of reason. You will soon reach the majestic ocean of experiential feelings.
It seems that Brahma dasa has now revealed his true beliefs. Prior to these latest postings, Brahma contended that he was a faithful disciple of both Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja. It was a 50/50 split of love and faith. But judging by his most recent reactions, it seems that his true colors are revealed for all to see. Perhaps Sridhar Maharaj’s involvement in the establishment of the Zonal Acarya system was the catalyst to his confession? Accusations about Sridhara Maharaja’s implication were based on the ratification statements contained in GBC documents. The weight of these statements was due to the GBC’s verification that Sridhara Maharaja’s Siksa status had Srila Prabhupada's approval. Brahma has been repetitively consistent in his insistence that Sridhara Maharaja was approved and appointed by Srila Prabhupada to give Siksa instruction. The GBC acted on that bonafide authorization, seeking instruction on how to re-organize the society, and Sridhara Maharaja gave his Siksa nod to the Zonal Acarya system.
To counteract our accusation of complicity, Brahma dasa audaciously tries to shift the blame away from Sridhar Maharaja to the already departed Srila Prabhupada. Craftily but transparently, he makes a very weak argument by stating, “following your logic it was entirely Prabhupads fault”. How is it that my logic has put the blame on Srila Prabhupada? It is quite the contrary. Prior to leaving his body, Srila Prabhupada approved of the establishment of the Zonal Acarya System? No one before Brahma dasa has ever claimed this, let alone proved it! Even the original “misguided” Zonals finally admitted after eight years they had made the wrong decision. Granted they tried, as do the Rttvik advocates, to highlight the July 9th letter wherein Srila Prabhupada authorized a Zonal GBC to be his proxy as it pertained to the initiation ceremony. Nowhere in the body of that letter is there any mention that this system continue after Srila Prabhupada’s departure or that it be used as a blueprint for the Zonal Acarya system.
And Brahma dasa doesn’t just leave it at that. He slides down the slippery slope of guru fault-finding by specifying exactly the degree of blame which should rightfully be assigned to Srila Prabhupada as the true source of post-samadhi problems. Brahma’s aparadhi blame-fest is all in the spirit of deflecting reproach away from Sridhara Maharaja, the repository of his complete faith and affection. According to Brahma, poor Sridhara Maharaja was himself a hapless victim of Srila Prabhupada’s vagueness as well as being a victim of his ill-trained, deceptive disciples.
Brahma forgets that as Siksa guru, Sridhara Maharaja had other options. He could have excused himself on the grounds that he didn’t really know the true intentions of these foreign disciples, nor was he informed directly by Srila Prabhupada as to his post-samadhi continuance plan for his preaching mission. In organizational matters, we have to logically conclude that Srila Prabhupada was well aware this was not Sridhara Maharaja’s strong point, so why would he wish his disciples to approach him for this advice? It’s almost inconceivable to imagine that Sridhara Maharaja didn’t even suspect something suspicious was taking place. After all, he had a front row seat in the 1937 debacle.
Brahma can’t deny the facts, so instead he scapegoats Srila Prabhupada even though he had already passed away. I don’t recall Srila Prabhupada or Sridhara Maharaja faulting their Spiritual Master for being vague, or for not throwing out Tirtha and Bon Maharaja before he left. The whole idea of the GBC was Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s idea, as I seem to remember. I do recall Jagat tell me that Vasudeva, the appointed Acarya of Sridhara Maharaja’s Camp, did end up faulting Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura after he dismantled the GBC. Deja vue.
Brahma dasa wrote:
Srila Prabhupada gave insufficient directions regarding future management of acharyas as well as how initiations in Iskcon were to go on after his departure.”
Brahma dasa claims that all his offensive speculating is a natural expansion of my logic, not an expose of his inner feelings. It’s no small wonder he renounces logic with deductive reasoning like that. Brahma sees me as the fanatic Srila Prabhupada follower, the one who is incapable of rising above and beyond mundane logic and reason to the rarified realm of faith-filled feelings toward Sridhara Maharaja, where Brahma resides. For him, expressing his faithless feelings towards Srila Prabhupada is the most 'logical' conclusion.
Brahma dasa wrote:
“Sridhar” is just a small player on a great tragic stage that was previously arranged by Prabhupad.
Brahma reveals the tip of his iceberg of nagging doubts that drove him to seek out Sridhara Maharaja in the first place: "why did Prabhupads hand picked GBC who had the real power allow the movement to go in the direction it did?"
Good question on a seemingly illogical move on Srila Prabhupada’s part. Of course, the faithful can offer a number of compelling and convincing answers. The superficial and most commonly used response is that Srila Prabhupada “gave them enough rope to hang themselves”. Another standard explanation is that Srila Prabhupada just followed in the footsteps of his Spiritual Master. Personally, I don’t feel these simplistic reasons stand-up in the light of day.
First and foremost, both Acaryas (Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura) were heading-up their traditional “Acarya in charge” preaching mission. They both hoped and wished that these valuable preaching tools would not go the way of many past powerful Acarya-led movements after the leader departed. Undeniably, they were fully aware of the vaulting ambitions and arrogance of their appointed institutional higher-ups. They also understood the temptation of these unqualified up-starts to revert back to the “old-ways”, euphemistically dubbed “traditional”. In other words, they could foresee these unqualified neophytes enthroning their pretentious Godbrothers simply on the strength of their position within the institution and adoption of the status symbol of sannyasa.
This microcosmic phenomena found within spiritual groups was in the context of the macrocosmic practice known as the Caste system. For centuries in India, one’s social status was exclusively based on which family you were born into. The spiritual lineages also tended to mirror these types of social practices. Both Acaryas introduced many improvements of a foreign origin into the traditional model, beginning with the institutional organizational paradigm rather than the ashram -- what to speak of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s radical modernization of the sannyasis lifestyle. On his instructions, Srila Prabhupada broke the shastric prohibition of journeying to the western countries. These are just a few examples of the many we could mention. These Acaryas were prepared to break with tradition in order to enhance their preaching opportunities. The eventuality of their missions being broken up due to a continuation of the Acarya system, with the appointment of unqualified replacements, was predicted.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura tried to prevent this from happening by introducing the GBC idea. The Board of Directors, who oversee companies and organizations, was borrowed from the western model where it's an essential component of the business structure. In fact, Srila Prabhupada’s original GBC description of responsibilities was far closer to the western business model than what later morphed into a 'merger' of the chief executives with the board members, which is what we find today.
The Acarya's main motivation was to establish a system that not only functioned smoothly and produced great preaching results while they were present, but continued on after their eventual departure. As long as they were fulfilling the Acarya role there was no problem, but unless they could be replaced with an equally empowered personality, a different type of organizational model was required after their departure.
The western model naturally works well if there is good leadership, but it isn’t based on the principle that the leader is an absolute personality beyond accountability. There are methods in place to replace those who are not performing their duties to the 'shareholders'. In our circumstance, the shareholders were the dedicated members who had voluntarily sacrificed their lives to serve the founder-Acarya, who is the via media to Lord Sri Krsna. That’s how the system works. That is the direction I feel the Acaryas hoped their disciples would take. Considering the framework they had set in place, the requirement was for it to keep functioning once the Acarya vacated his absolute position. Srila Prabhupada was expecting and hoping that the westerners, who were culturally accustomed to this type of system, could successfully make the transition. But, as history reveals, they succumbed to the temptations of being small time absolutists by adopting the Indian model. How they would elect the different executives is obvious, as they had used the democratic voting system in GBC meetings. While the Zonal Acarya program was operating it dominated the GBC, so in reality there was no GBC. It was simply used as a tool for their selfish purposes.
Brahma’s doubts as to Srila Prabhupada’s institutional arrangements, particularly his apparent loyalty to certain questionable characters, have encouraged many followers to leave the service of Srila Prabhupada. Many of these disillusioned individuals have abandoned every aspect of the spiritual process. At least Brahma found somewhere within the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya to re-situate himself after the shock and confusion of discovering his previously revered institutional leaders were actually great rascals. Using Brahma’s 'free flowing faith' analogy, once the faith in Srila Prabhupada has been shattered it is a humpty-dumpty situation. The pieces are hard to put back together.
The atheists find fault in the concept of God because they can’t imagine a God who could/would create such a miserable place as the one we all exist in, where so many supposedly innocent souls are suffering for no apparent reason. There are some within our own tradition who can’t work out in their minds why Lord Sri Krsna is considered an incarnation if he stood by and allowed the Battle of Kuruksetra to take place, or allowed his closest friends to be cheated, persecuted and unfairly exiled. Then there is the whole “dancing with the married gopis in the middle of the night” pastime, which bewilders so many moralists. Many mysterious births, activities and deaths of the incarnations have to be carefully explained by a bonafide guru to a faithful disciple before they begin to make sense. In Srila Prabhupada’s case, I certainly don’t feel that the degree of plausible explanation supported by sastra has been properly presented, especially by the shadow-ISKCON authorities in their Lilamrita novel. The Gaudiya Matha's faithless depiction of Srila Prabhupada is also tainted and flawed, but is more tolerable and understandable, at least to me.
What bothers me more than anything is the deceptive practice of claiming to be very loyal and loving toward Srila Prabhupada, speaking so many flowery and poetic words that are all for show. Most publicly pontificate on the qualities and glories of Srila Prabhupada only because it’s the “thing to do” and it makes them appear so saintly, but in their heart of hearts they don’t really believe their own words. In fact, now it has become almost vogue to have a more “human” perspective of Srila Prabhupada. This is something along the lines of the academic’s version of Jesus compared to the faithful's New Testament depiction.
Brahma has already dismissed me as far too foolish and unqualified to be respected as the “official” presenter of Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes. He's probably right. I’m only sharing with the reader my thoughts on the subject after a great deal of research, thought, discussion and writing. Unquestionably, I could use far more purification, inspiration, association and serious application of the process of Bhakti Yoga. But more and more, I am convinced that I must sort out for myself the apparent mysteries and contradictions surrounding Srila Prabhupada’s birth, pastimes and death. Once I’m clear on these issues, the many spiritual alternatives for spending my limited time become more attractive.
Basically, that is the reason I have directed so much of my time and energy to going back and forth in the Dharma Mela with Brahma dasa. Unwittingly, he has assisted me in unraveling some nagging dilemmas that have bothered me for a long time. It is easy enough to casually dismiss those who re-enter their karmic lifestyle on account of their faith being eroded by doubts concerning Srila Prabhupada. I recall hundreds of previous acquaintances over the last thirty years who have faded in varying degrees into the modes. Today there is an upsurge of interest among those who were previously identified as strong Srila Prabhupada followers, who are now dedicated to the “latest and greatest” Gaudiya Matha manifestation, Narayana Maharaja. Surely this phenomena deserves our examination!
Conversing with a well-seasoned Gaudiya Matha convert like Brahma dasa was a golden opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It isn’t that I particularly enjoy sparing with the likes of Brahma. I would rather just take prasadam and enjoy kirtan with he and his pals, and let bygones be bygones. Once I understand the reality of this phenomenon, it will be a lot easier to associate on the basis of “agree to disagree”. The prerequisite for me to come to this point of acceptance is to accurately know what we all are disagreeing about.
Brahma dasa quoted in his latest post from a 1972 letter to Upendra where Srila Prabhupada says, “There is no reason why acharyas cannot have different opinions." Who can argue with Srila Prabhupada’s statement? But Brahma had previously stated that he fancies himself a sort of 50/50 hybrid of Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja. We can only scratch our heads after reading his most recent revealing, doubt-laden, accusatory outbursts directed squarely at Srila Prabhupada. We have all had a chance to witness exactly which side of the differing opinions between Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja Brahma is on. So much for his hybrid disciple claim. It took a lot of “hitting his hot buttons” before he blurted out the truth of where his fluid faith has flowed.
I wonder whether we can get a truthful admission from Brahma as to when he last actually read one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, or how many of Prabhupada's books he reads compared to Sridhara Maharaja's, Tripurari’s, or some other past Acarya's writings. I agree that Srila Prabhupada didn’t categorically forbid us from reading other writings, by the Six Goswamis for instance. Keep in mind, however, that most of these texts had to first be translated into English by someone other than Srila Prabhupada and many of them have added commentaries by other Acaryas who, as Brahma dasa points out, had “other opinions”. So, doesn’t it seem logical that Srila Prabhupada was concerned about his disciples becoming bewildered by doubts due to being exposed to these “other opinions”? Don’t say that this hasn’t been a problem! We all know about the origin of the Jivatma issue. The bottom line is that the unalloyed quality of one’s faith in Srila Prabhupada directly effects the manner with which we read Srila Prabhupada’s writings, especially his purports. Even the attraction to read Srila Prabhupada's books rather than some other Vaisnava literature is proportionate to the quality and quantity of one’s faith.
Personally, I not only want to play it safe, I also wish to keep my spiritual life simple by not introducing all these inevitably “differing opinions”. I am not going Guru shopping, and don’t even want to put such temptation in my way. I don’t think for a moment that the grass is greener or I’m missing out. Brahma and Tripurari make the claim that their spiritual life has immeasurably increased on account of taking shelter of Sridhara Maharaja. They also like us to believe that their motives for making this move are based on the principle of seeking beneficial spiritual association, as decreed by shastra. Now we can all see that Brahma’s doubts in Srila Prabhupada were a contributing factor to his crusade to holier lands.
No doubt Brahma dasa and Tripurari have radically changed as a result of this association, but whether or not it was a big spiritual improvement is debatable. None of us will ever know for sure what the spiritual results would have been if they (and others like them) had stuck exclusively with Srila Prabhupada and devoted the same amount of energy in Srila Prabhupada’s service as they did to Sridhara Maharaja. All they can provide as proof is a testimonial to the quality of their feelings, which to me is totally meaningless.
Brahma dasa wrote:
One Guru or many Guru’s is not the in problem 1937 and 1978. It is that those who accepted the post of Guru were unqualified. If they had been selfless highly qualified Vaisnavas than one or many would not have mattered.
Well! The above “stroke of genius” declaration by Brahma makes everything so crystal clear. It is the equivalent of saying that if the material world were only of the same nature as the spiritual world, we wouldn’t have any problems. Are you saying that if only Sridhara Maharaja were appointed Acarya in 1937, and Tripurari Swami in 1977, our problems wouldn’t have manifested? If yes, then end of story. If no, then essentially you are agreeing with my “hypothesis” -- namely, that if there wasn’t anyone spiritual qualified enough to fill the position of Acarya, then it would be best to introduce a governance system which doesn’t rely on there being a nitya-siddha at the helm. How do you think the present democracies emerged from of the failure of the “ordained by God” absolute monarchs? Are these democracies functioning well compared to the alternatives? Unquestionably yes! Why can’t we learn from these many success stories? We can, as long as we don’t have to deal with all these competing absolute Acaryas, fighting ruthlessly over power. Their outcries cite precedent, tradition, ancient wisdom, the way of our forefathers... a whole chorus is coming from those most fearful of losing their personal power. There was/is absolutely no consideration for the preservation of the preaching mission or the shattered lives of the hardworking grassroots members. These pretentious tribal lords only thought was about self-preservation of power. Kind of reminds me of what is taking place in Afghanistan, as we speak.
My observation of the remarks made by Brahma dasa are that if one takes the stand that it is perfectly acceptable to apply objective analysis to judge 'other' Gurus, then one should have no problem using the same criteria for judging his own guide. His presentation seemed to be pointing out the faulty argument of Rocana or anyone else who feels they can hide behind the claim of 'objectivity' in order to justify their villification of great stallwart saints in our lineage.
I am quite sure that Brahma dasa does not feel that Srila Prabhupada was a conditioned soul or that he had any fault, and if you ask him I am sure that he will tell you that.
There is a BIG problem is the idea that My Guru is Jagat Guru and that is a large part of this 'debate' that has been going on. What happens with so many that believe this statement to be true of their guide is that they have a need to 'prove' that statement by finding fault with anyone and everyone else who functions in the role of Guru. Guru is more important to us than God because he is there as the medium for our entry into a divine relationship. Krsna manifests himself to us through Sri Guru.
I didn't find Jagat's statement to be offensive or faulty. In fact, I agree with it, although I might have stated it differently. Guru is human. He represents that which is our highest prospect - complete surrender and dedication.
His perfection lies in his complete dedication to service of his own Gurudeva. Does this mean he is incapable of making mistakes? In the highest sense yes, because his motivation is always to serve Krsna. But in a practical sense - no, he is human and will of necessity make mistakes. This is what Jagat was referring to and a mature disciple will have to not only realize it but come to terms with it and adjust his own beliefs and practices such that it incorporates this 'reality'. Just look at the examples that Brahma dasa brought up in his post above. Judged from the objective point of view it can be considered a mistake to have placed 11 men into the position that Srila Prabhupada placed them just prior to his departure. It is a well established fact that Srila Prabhupada was not very clear on succession issues and that is why there is so much misunderstanding. There are so many examples in the life of Srila Prabhupada and in the folio that show his clear humanity. It is not offensive to point this out. It would be offensive to suggest that he was motivated by anything other than his sincere desire to please his Guru Maharaja as has been suggested by Rocana of the motivations of all others except Srila Prabhupada. It is not offensive to point out the obvious historical facts.
What we all need is to be honest about ourselves and the objective history. Anyone can say, 'he backed a fallen soul and didn't see the real qualification or lack thereof of who he backed' and place that as a criticism of any and all of our Guru's. This is not an honest assessment however. Each of us has a great prospect and it is up to us to live up to it. We have free will. Guru will always see the bright side and encourage that. There is no fault in that. To say that Sri Guru never falls down is also incorrect according to our Gaudiya siddhanta. There is one type of Guru that doesn't fall, that is correct, but it is still possible and probable that there will be those devotees who function as Guru who will fall. This has been dealt with by the Goswami's in thier literature so to say that Guru cannot fall is to ignore the clear history as well as the writings of our lineages great Guru's.
Audarya lila dasa