BY: ROCANA DASA
Oct 26, USA (SUN) In his recent articles, Bhakta Wallace prabhu indicates that he has read and re-read my Sampradaya Acarya paper. Unfortunately, it seems that he was unable to wrap his head around my main themes. I will continue endeavoring to improve my written vision, until it is crystal clear to all readers.
I appreciate Bhakta Wallace's persistence as he pushes me forward into speculating as to how I would make changes in ISKCON. Unfortunately, I don't possess the divine power of a bona fide Sampradaya Acarya like Srila Prabhupada, nor do I have one of Bhakta Wallace's magic wands.
Part of what Bhakta Wallace fails to comprehend is that, more than anything else, I abhor the mentality of imitating a Sampradaya Acarya. The first pre-requisite in finding a solution is to embrace a humble attitude born from the realization that we are conditioned souls - sadhana bhaktas, at best. During Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON lila period, the social dynamic was one of neophytes being overseen by a genuine nitya-siddha Sampradaya Acarya. After Srila Prabhupada's manifest lila wound up in 1977, the blessed personalities (disciples and followers) who had voluntarily participated in Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan mission should have humbly admitted to their spiritual limitations, and re-organized ISKCON accordingly. Instead, over the last 27 years, accurate historical memory reveals that the so-called leaders took us all in the opposite direction. This true story of the royal road leading to hell is stranger than any fiction, and has not yet been told by ISKCON itself. It is not enough that individuals like myself record this history in a patchwork collection of stories. The institution must tell the story, honestly, philosophically, and in the mood of full disclosure. This is pre-requisite to reform.
Is it possible after 27 years to go back to the beginning and start over? The window of opportunity was open for a brief period in 1985. Unfortunately, ISKCON members were still not advanced enough at that point, and chose to continue sliding down the slippery path. Consequently, we blew our second opportunity to set the society right. There were some very minor alterations, but ISKCON continued on as before, wandering without direction in Zonal Acarya la-la land. The squandering of this opportunity, which was hard fought for, marked the beginning of the end for me personally. I witnessed mice-men merrily following after the pied pipers of pretension. I just couldn’t continue going along to get along. For ten long years, I had bought into “the predictable confusion surrounding the disappearance of a great Acarya” rhetoric. I gave the Zonals the benefit of the doubt, and learned the hard way. In hindsight, I see my departure from the institution as Krsna’s mercy. I can live with the knowledge that I gave Srila Prabhupada's original society all that I had to give, and I actively participated in the reformation movement, which could have and should have been a major revolution.
One of the questions facing us today is whether or not the post-samadhi historical events were unavoidable, predictable transformations from pure spirituality to mundane-ized religiosity. Considering that ISKCON's history essentially mirrors the Gaudiya Matha's, history simply seems to be repeating itself.
Srila Prabhupada went out of his way to warn us and prepare us for this eventuality: instituting policies, writing critical analysis, and establishing a management system which could be easily adapted to meet the needs of a society faced with a different social dynamic. Almost instantaneously after his departure, his senior disciples ignored all of Srila Prabhupada's preventative efforts, and we see the results today. Consequently, the individual followers of Srila Prabhupada have to assume full responsibility for their own spiritual journey without the shelter of Srila Prabhupada's society, because it no longer exists. It is a shadow and a mirage.
Despite all the chaos, I admit that the shadow ISKCON has managed to contribute to Srila Prabhupada's mission and legacy. My advice to individual seekers is that you hone your powers of discrimination in determining what is religiosity, and what little still remains of Srila Prabhupada's original spiritual movement. I fear that many a practitioner’s progress will be sidelined due to ISKCON’s steady decline into religiosity. Finding advanced association outside the Book Bhagavata is hard. Perhaps that was Srila Prabhupada's premonition, and one of the reasons he pushed book distribution.
If you are convinced that taking diksa within ISKCON or alternatively going to the Gaudiya Matha is the answer, I believe you will eventually become disillusioned. In all honesty, I am not aware of any modern diksa guru who has truly embraced their prescribed duties, as outlined in sastra. I don’t believe that diksa gurus need to have achieved Uttama-adhikary status, but they should certainly be dedicated to properly training their disciples in Vaisnava siddhanta, personally supervising them in the application of sadhana practices. Which diksa gurus are carrying out this divine duty as a full-time, focused occupation?
The ISKCON diksa gurus that I know are instead traveling around giving classes and darsanas to their initiated disciples while trying to attract more. They may return a few times a year, with little or no follow-up, that’s it. Most of them don’t even write or email their disciples regularly. Some send transcribed lectures out by email or maintain a tape ministry, but that’s not training. This irresponsible practice is, in fact, a perverted imitation of the bona fide Sampradaya Acaryas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami.
The aforementioned nitya-siddhas did indeed travel and preach, but unlike today's diksas, they simultaneously composed volumes of very advanced sastra. These unparalleled literary contributions were not only intended for their direct disciples, but for humanity at large for many years into the future. As sadhana bhaktas, our duty is to assimilate this knowledge and directly teach students and disciples. Proper instruction requires direct and personal association with the student. I think the diksa gurus should stay in one place, as is the tradition, and have their disciples come to them and stay for as long and as often as possible. Real reform in ISKCON would require that only those diksa gurus who actually perform their sastric duties be considered bona fide. In the event a diksa is unable to provide the disciple with a particular type of training, the diksa may arrange for the disciple to receive training from a qualified siksa guru.
The Sannyasi's traditional duty is to travel and preach. For this reason alone, they should not take on the responsibility for training diksa disciples. ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha have adopted the opposite approach, where it’s mostly traveling sannyasis who offer diksa. At the same time, siksa gurus residing within these organizations are not recognized, supported or encouraged by the all-powerful diksas, even though they are deputized to train-up new disciples. Plenty of highly qualified, under-utilized siksa gurus are situated throughout this planet. Unlike the diksas, the siksa gurus don’t enjoy the backing or the benefits of the “branded” institution originally established by the Sampradaya Acarya. Many or most of the siksa gurus are therefore obliged to financially fend for themselves by earning a living outside the realm of teaching Krsna Consciousness. The propaganda juggernaut and disciple-making machine of ISKCON and the Gaudiya Matha undermines and eclipses the humble “small-er-time” localized siksa gurus, who can and are expected to actually perform the duties of spiritual training of the initiates and candidates. Dismantling the structure which systematically exploits the neophyte’s predictable tendencies is nearly impossible, especially when that structure has been carefully crafted to resemble an original process introduced by the Sampradaya Acarya. Instituting a system that emphasizes and takes full advantage of siksa gurus would be pre-requisite to ISKCON reform.
By definition, conditioned souls enjoy being entertained by traveling road shows, particularly when it's done under the guise of the genuine Sankirtan Movement. Professional actors in saffron give their gullible audience the false impression that quick and easy advancement in Krsna Consciousness is possible by simply taking diksa, from them of course. This snake-oil redemption methodology guarantees the starry-eyed that all their accumulated sins will be instantly washed away. “Step right up” and discover your eternal spiritual name -- and that’s not all …you'll receive at no extra cost a lifetime membership card to ISKCON. Now where else can anyone get such a great deal?
How can a truly sincere and serious representative of a bona fide Sampradaya Acarya acting as a siksa guru compromise so as to participate in such a fool’s paradise? Not too many are able, as witnessed by the fact that 90% of the original disciples have bowed out. Consequently, a vast untapped resource remains sidelined and misused, all for the sake of the vain-glory of a few major players.
If we look at the reality, the vast resources that were generated by the Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada, were usurped by the false inheritors over 25 years ago. Rather than maintaining their Spiritual Master's assets, they continue to squander them today. An audit of these assets will reveal that other than the new gurus and their disciples, there is little left of the original assets and the treasury is empty. Pending lawsuits may soon take away what is left. The unappreciated, well trained Godbrothers of the “few”, who used to be among the most valuable jewels, are now long gone. This is all due to ISKCON having followed a failed policy of “all for number-one and none for all".
If ISKCON were to honestly disclose it's institutional history, one of the products of that history would be a detailed audit. We would then know exactly where Srila Prabhupada's assets are on the balance sheet. While it is important to fully understand the results of such a factual audit, let us keep in mind that we are involved in a spiritual movement based on the principle of unalloyed bhakti. As such, material assets are secondary. What everyone is really competing for is bhakti -- the highest pleasure. The love and affection, mind and hearts of the freshly recruited newcomers is the number one prize.
ISKCON’s present organizational model is comparable to the following, more mundane example: In most cultures, marriage is the bedrock institution. The usual courting procedure is that a man seeks out a suitable spouse. After he makes this connection, what happens if the King instead decides to marry the wife-to-be, rather than letting the local suitor marry her? After the marriage ceremony, the Monarch promptly leaves town, turning his new wife over to the previous fiancé for safekeeping, training, support, and association. Is such a system likely to succeed?
If we carry this analogy further, there is one of two likely outcomes: first, that the lovers have affectionate encounters wherein both become mutually attached. When the King is made aware of this “offense”, his mighty wrath descends upon them both. Another outcome is that the heart and mind of the woman goes with the rich and powerful Monarch. As a result, she is constantly comparing her commonplace surrogate ex-fiancé to the handsome, princely husband.
This fable analogy helps to illustrate a type of greed/lust taking place in the realm of guru/disciple affection as we witness it in ISKCON today. In many cases, the story ends with the intelligent wife/disciple growing-up and admitting that the ever-absent diksa/King cannot and will not fulfill his promise of affection and knowledge. In many cases, the original lover/siksa guru has disappeared, and the wife's spiritual spark gradually becomes dimmer and dimmer.
Of course, the more mature and intelligent seeker will still have the option of turning to God for guidance, in the form of Caitya Guru and his external pure representative, the bona fide Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada. Due to an unfortunate lack of spiritual training, however, only a few personalities are able to successfully make this transition. Many fledgling bhaktas who are convinced that they require a “living breathing” guru in order to make advancement become initiated or re-initiated by another diksa, ignoring the risks.
Despite rumors to the contrary, I’m not preaching against the conception of Guru. In fact, I’m calling out for more real gurus of all prefix designations, and particularly bona fide siksa gurus. By the power of the Sampradaya Acarya, Book Bhagavat, there are more followers than there are qualified persons to properly take care of their spiritual requirements. Many of today’s diksa gurus are overwhelmed, not only on account of the numbers of disciples, but because most diksas are also taking on managerial responsibilities. Consequently, systematic educational training along with the required devotional care and affection is not transpiring.
The majority of ISKCON diksa gurus are not taking seriously their primary duties. In fact, training their disciples is a last priority. Non-stop absorption in management, traveling, lecturing, and so on by diksa gurus is commonplace. These types of activities are not meant for diksa gurus or sannyasis. The lives of most diksa gurus have become a complex rasa bhasa concoction of conflicting mellows. Consequently, they are slowly but surely destroying their spiritual and material lives and depriving sincere disciples of the promised benefits.
As I said in my previous article, the majority of ISKCON's members have become very attached to their manifest “way of life”. Many of the disciples prefer that their spiritual authorities are absent. A committed diksa guru’s constant presence in their life would create too much pressure. The very studious atmosphere they should impose strikes at the heart of the embodied being, who is always trying to avoid surrendering their minute independence to a superior person. Educational systems that tend to challenge the “independent spirit” are not in high disciplic demand. Many disciples like to believe they are making steady progress, when in fact they are assimilating speculative half-truths that tend to stick due to a lack of testing and oversight by actual Gurus.
If the disciples of Srila Prabhupada who have assumed the responsibility for giving diksa would actually focus on training, teaching, and motivating their disciples in a realistic manner, and not simply try to imitate Srila Prabhupada, then we would witness a renaissance. Many of the diksa gurus embrace the easy and glorious aspects of being a "Jagat guru” such as traveling, lecturing, appearing at festivals, and giving darsanas. Srila Prabhupada, on the other hand, primarily focused on writing commentary on sastra. What is seen as the "fun part" for modern diksa gurus was a necessary chore for Srila Prabhupada. What does that indicate?
The secret to the phenomenal success during the early ISKCON-lila period is no big mystery. Temple authorities/siksa gurus pushed everyone to follow the morning program, go out preaching, and watched carefully and constantly to see to it that there was no nonsense or deviation. In other words, everyone was surrounded by empowered siksa gurus, supported and put in place by the Sampradaya Acarya. Siksa gurus were also free to challenge one another. Srila Prabhupada insisted that all temple members be obedient and respectful to his or her local siksa gurus. Granted, there was only one all-encompassing diksa, namely Srila Prabhupada, who was much more than simply a diksa guru, but an exalted Sampradaya Acarya.
As I have stated in my position papers, I believe that only siksa gurus should inhabit Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON. Diksa gurus should go forth into the world and start their own organizations, relying on their own potency to build their movement. Once they have done so, ISKCON's GBC can then determine whether or not a diksa guru’s matha qualifies for the ISKCON "stamp of approval" based upon how closely they follow Srila Prabhupada's siddhanta. ISKCON could engage in mutual cooperation with these affiliate mathas for preaching purposes, and the GBC could ensure that the affiliate diksa's mood and preaching methodology are not permitted to overshadow Srila Prabhupada's mood and methods within ISKCON. I believe that such an arrangement for separating the high profile, high powered diksa gurus from ISKCON is essential to reform.
Newcomers to ISKCON should be informed that there is no absolute requirement for them to enter into our Sampradaya exclusively by way of a diksa guru. Being an active, surrendered member of the Sampradaya Acarya’s mission and taking shelter of the siksa gurus qualifies one for “initiation”. This principle must be embodied in ISKCON policy in order for reform to take place.
In my view of a reformed ISKCON, siksa gurus can and should choose spiritual names, perform agni-hotra, chant upon sanctified beads, bestow brahminical initiation/gayatri, and engage in ceremonies such as marriage and/or sannyasa. Students of Bhakti who embrace Srila Prabhupada as the Sampradaya Acarya on account of a thorough understanding are officially "members of ISKCON". Henceforth, they identify themselves as such, which implies their dedication to following the original program set down by Srila Prabhupada.
If and when ISKCON bhaktas are moved to be initiated by a diksa guru, they do so knowing that they give up ISKCON membership and become members of their diksa guru’s society. Their diksa guru can then give them another name, in the same manner that sannyasis are re-named. From then on, they identify themselves as disciples of said diksa guru.
The very nature of the diksa guru is that they feel compelled to personalize their own matha. So, let them go forth into the wide world and tailor-make their own atmosphere, without it impacting Srila Prabhupada's original ISKCON. Then there is no harm, and we can all see how their style and adjustments improve the preaching. We have the example of Tripurari Swami and others, who have done this very thing. There are many diksa gurus originating from the Gaudiya Matha tradition who should really be judged individually, in terms of the degree to which they are in line with a Srila Prabhupada-centric ISKCON. Instead, we find today that ISKCON enforces a blanket ban on other Gaudiya Sampradaya diksa gurus, primarily because they don’t want any outside competition. Their cold shoulder attitude is not based upon siddhantic reasoning, as they would like us to believe.
There is a sub-section of diksa gurus within ISKCON today who are effectively acting like siksa gurus. My reformation plan would envision them reverting to the title of siksa guru and informing all their disciples that this is their actual position, and the disciples should now consider themselves siksa disciples.
Again, those diksa gurus who have built high profile power bases should regroup outside of ISKCON, taking their disciples with them. After breaking away, they could remain affiliated with ISKCON in a friendly, cooperative mood. I say Godspeed to these independent souls.
Granted, ISKCON would temporarily become a leaner organization with their departure, but I predict that once the dust clears, Srila Prabhupada's movement will soon take-off again and experience great growth. Many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples will be inclined to re-join, and many fence-sitters like Bhakta Wallace will become more committed.
This program of reform will naturally require reconstituting the GBC body. It should be transformed into a more representative body that is responsible to the overall membership. Writing a constitution should be the first act, introducing some form of democracy into the society. I could go on with more details, but for the present I'll leave it at that.
Bhakta Wallace has repeatedly challenged me to spell out my reformation plan. The reader should consider this to be representative of the foundation of that plan. Following is a summary of the changes I believe Srila Prabhupada would approve of, and which I see as being pre-requisite to ISKCON's reform:
- Devotees should embrace the humble attitude of sadhana bhakta conditioned souls, and stop imitating the Sampradaya Acarya.
- ISKCON should write their own history -- honestly, philosophically, and in the mood of full disclosure.
- ISKCON should emphasize and take full advantage of siksa gurus.
- Only those diksa gurus who actually perform their sastric duties should be considered bona fide by the institution, and all others should be treated accordingly.
- ISKCON should separate out the high-profile, high powered diksa gurus from the institution.
- Given the high level of difficulty associated with the above, a less-than-perfect compromise would be to allow diksas to stay within ISKCON, operating under a program of strict scrutiny based on pre-requisite #4 above.
- ISKCON should advise newcomers that diksa is not a requirement for entrance into the Sampradaya Acarya’s mission, but rather being an active member surrendered to Srila Prabhupada and taking shelter of siksa guru(s) also qualifies one for initiation.
- The GBC body must be reconstituted.
- A written constitution must be created, introducing some form of democracy into the society.
I have given a great deal of thought to the practical side of this reform problem, and have shared just a small slice of it here. As always, I’m open to detailed discussion and challenges. My ideas are not chiseled in granite. I have but a few absolute principles, such as the universal acceptance of Srila Prabhupada as the exalted nitya-siddha Sampradaya Acarya. Beyond that, there are a number of ideas that I feel rather strongly about, like the initiation issue.
As I have stated before, my conclusion is that to institute the above-mentioned changes at this point in time would require, at best, the direct intervention of Lord Sri Krsna. At the very least, we would need a magic wand. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, chanting, praying, reading, associating, and taking prasadam.