When someone starts a diet, or starts doing exercise, the first day is relatively easy. The problem is to continue long term. As soon as we try to do something that demands sacrifices, especially if for a long period, many obstacles, distractions, temptations, and difficulties appear, testing our determination. In book distribution, things are not different.
As Srila Prabhupada puts it, to try to follow spiritual life seriously, and especially to dedicate oneself to preaching activities, means to declare war against maya. When one declares war against a strong adversary, he shouldn’t expect that the opponent will stay still and not react. Similarly, book distributors are prime targets to the illusory energy, and she has a large repertoire of weapons that can be employed against us.
There are many cases of devotees who are enthusiastic in the beginning but have problems later due to a lack of deep philosophical understanding. Some succumb to material desires or mental speculation, others get burned out, some lose their faith in Srila Prabhupada's teachings, and therefore don't see a good reason to distribute or study his books, while others get attracted by some other group (Gaudiya math, babajis, caste goswamis, etc.) and leave ISKCON. Some get involved with Vaishnava aparadha by associating with ritviks or other similar groups, others get attracted to humanism or other progressive ideas, get too much involved with mental speculation or materialistic views, etc.
To be able to navigate through the difficulties and to be able to continue our service in book distribution, we must have not only determination but also a good deal of maturity. The goal of this chapter is to give some philosophical basis about common traps in our spiritual development, so we can understand the pitfalls and thus be able to avoid them.
Book distribution is probably the most demanding service and therefore is also the one who demands more spiritual strength. To be able to do it long term (and especially to be able to do it until old age), we have to remain fixed on the path. When we start to deviate in a philosophical way, our spiritual practice becomes lax and our spiritual health decays. When we start to lose our spiritual strength, book distribution is one of the first things that stops.
To keep our focus is essential not only for our own spiritual life but for the success of our whole movement. A group is only as strong as the sum of its parts. If our devotees are individually weak, the movement as a whole will also be weak. If we lose focus, our movement can fragment and degenerate into unbonafide sects. It happened in the past and can happen again if we are not careful. Krsna is in control, but He respects our free will.
This chapter deals with many issues that may be polemical. Still, I think these are important points that present risks for one trying to follow spiritual life seriously, therefore I did my best to present them. You can read, meditate about it and use this knowledge at your own discretion.
One essential aspect of our spiritual lives is to study the books of Srila Prabhupada. It’s through his books that we have access to the pure teachings that are the basis of our movement, which allows us not only to follow spiritual life seriously but also to not fall into the different traps that may appear on our path of devotional service.
There is no such thing as “all paths are equal”. Different paths lead to different results. Because of our conditioned nature, we have the tendency of lowering our spiritual standards and mixing the philosophy of Krsna consciousness with external concepts and philosophies. Once one starts to deviate from the path, the result is uncertain. We can understand the danger by studying the history of our own movement.
We all know that Lord Caitanya appeared in the Bengal region five hundred years ago to inaugurate the sankirtana movement. He traveled around India and with the assistance of His numerous associates and devotees, inundating the sub-continent with love of Godhead. He entrusted to His most confidential servants, the six Goswamis, the mission of writing books about the Vaishnava philosophy, excavating the holy places in Vrindavana and giving continuity to the movement He inaugurated. After the six Goswamis, there was a succession of acaryas, like Krsnadasa Kaviraja, Narottama dasa Thakura, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura and so on, that continued our line. The problem was that outside the parampara, everything started to degenerate quickly. The pure sankirtana movement inaugurated by The Lord began to degenerate in numerous apasampradayas, that started to grow uncontrollably, suffocating the original movement.
HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: "After Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s time what happened? Immediately Vaishnavism began to degrade. Of course, Narottama dasa Thakura, Shyamananda, Srinivasa Acarya, they came from Vrindavana and they actually formalized the Krishna consciousness movement in many ways, due to the writings they had been given from the six Gosvamis. They were sent over because the movement in Bengal was starting to deteriorate — immediately after Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s disappearance. So many different opinions were starting to come up and therefore the acaryas, many of whom were in Vrindavana, they saw, “Now there is a need, we have to get the actual teachings written down, then send these young men over, they can preach, they are self-realized souls, and they can establish the siddhanta, they can maintain the siddhanta properly.” So that’s what happened. They came over and they preached extensively.
But still the tendency was there right from the very beginning. And within a few hundred years, by the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, everything was finished. Almost. Vaishnavism was just a means... it was considered a sex-religion. Exactly what you were saying. Sex-religion. All sentiment, no philosophy. That means that whatever sentiment I have, whatever propensity I have for sense-enjoyment, now I just project that into so-called transcendental lila. Now I use Krishna and the gopis’ dealings as the rationale for me going off into the forest at night with three dozen women. This is what happened.
So many deviations and apa-sampradayas came about because there is this tendency to, rather than give up our material propensities and give up our material misconceptions, we rather try to change what the acarya has said to make it suit our present condition." (Seminar on Sri Isopanisad at MIHET, Mayapur, 31.01.06)
A sampradaya is a school, a tradition or line of devotional service, practices, and principles that are transmitted from generation to generation through disciplic-succession (“sam” means “connected to” and “pradaya” means “source”). An apasampradaya is a corrupted sampradaya, a non-bonafide school that follows some concoction. Just like if we mix milk with some poison: The pure milk is transformed into something corrupted. It still may have some nutritional value, but by drinking it one is risking his life. Similarly, an apasampradaya may have some degree of philosophy and spiritual practice, but at the same time mixes it with perversions and deviations.
"Utpata, simply disturbance. Yata mat tata patha: “I can manufacture my own way.” This rascaldom has been condemned by Srila Rupa Gosvami. He says that harer bhaktih… You will find many so-called bhaktas crying, falling down on the ground. But immediately after, he is smoking bidi. So why this is going on? Because they do not follow the injunction of Srila Rupa Gosvami. Chanting, dancing very loudly, and after the performance is finished—I have seen it—”Can you give me a bidi?” You see? “My throat is now dried up.” So this is utpata. Srila Rupa Gosvami has described this kind of so-called devotional attitude is simply disturbance. They imitate. Imitate. Therefore Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has condemned. There are so many apa-sampradaya going on in the name of Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s devotee. Who are they? Aula, baula, kartabhaja, neda, daravesa, sani, sahajiya, sakhibheki, smarta, jata-gosani. Then ativadi, cudadhari, gauranga-nagari, tota kahe ei tara sanga nahi kori: Tota Babaji, he says, “I do not associate with these classes of men.” So after disappearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, so many apa-sampradaya sprang up. So we should be very much careful that… Sampradaya means who are carefully following the Vedic principle." (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on CC Adi-lila 1.3, Mayapur, 27 March 1975)
These apasampradayas deviate in different ways. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura identified thirteen different movements claiming to have inherited the mission initiated by Lord Caitanya, despite not nurturing true Vaishnava qualities. They are called aula, baula, kartabhaja, neda, daravesa, sani, sahajiya, sakhi bheki, smarta, jata-gosani, ativadi, cudadhari, and gauranga-nagari. These groups are described in detail in the Book “Apasampradayas, deviation of the disciplic succession” by HH Suhotra Swami, and in the book “Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava” by HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami. These are just a few points:
One of the most well-known by devotees are the prakrta-sahajiyas, mentioned often by Srila Prabhupada. They try to follow spiritual life without accepting the principles and the proper process, taking it as something cheap. They want to speak about rasa-lila and other very confidential and esoteric subjects, but they don't want to go through anarta-nivriti, nor to follow regulated spiritual life. They normally justify their behavior on the basis of “love” and “spontaneous devotion”, giving the idea that rules and regulations are for neophytes. As a result, they frequently end up going into illicit sex, intoxication, and other sinful habits.
HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: We were in Vrindavan. Prabhupada was saying that those who are habituated to illicit sex are punishable, asat. “It is very very bad. And still, if somebody does like that he is punished”, he was saying. He is talking about people in Vrindavana. “This is going on, here illicit sex, the babajis, I’ve heard them saying, ‘Oh, what’s wrong there, it is love’. So they take like that, they take that ‘Oh, it’s gopis love’, they say that. “Oh, the gopis used to do that, they used to have illicit mixing and intermingling with Krsna. ‘So what’s the wrong?’ they will say. They get support from Krsna Lila. Such rogues they are, these sahajiyas”. (The Living Bhagavatam)
Sahajiyas want to be elevated to the level of sakhis and gopis, but they don't want to follow the principles or the proper devotional process. In essence, they confuse spiritual emotions with material lust, and therefore their hearing of the pastimes of Krsna with the gopis just increase their sensual attraction to the opposite sex, leading to illicit connections. Other pastimes, like Krsna in His different incarnations, Krsna killing the demons, etc. are not interesting to them.
“Vaishnava, devotees of Lord Krsna, use the term prakrta-sahajiya to refer to persons who imitate the signs of prema, pure love for God, while still addicted to the low-class pleasures of illicit sex and intoxication. The sahajiyas imagine that they feel the divine emotions of Krsna and His dearest devotee, Srimati Radharani. Yet they don't understand that before we can savor the pleasure shared by Radha and Krsna, we must rid ourselves of lustful desires for sensual pleasure.
The word sahaja means "easy." A prakrta-sahajiya wants the bliss of spiritual life without the struggle to attain it. And the word prakrta means "materialistic." Because the sahajiyas forgo the standard disciplines of bhakti-yoga, the divine love they apparently show never gets beyond material lust. The prakrta-sahajiyas mistake lust -the disease of the soul- for spiritual advancement. So instead of curing lust, they wind up cultivating it.” (Deviant Vaisnava Sects, Suhotra Swami)
The sahajiya community includes groups like the sakhi-bheki (where the men dress in saris and use make-up, in an attempt to imitate the gopis and attract Krsna) and cudadhari (where they dress like Krsna and try to imitate His pastimes with the first group). The sakhi-bheki think that by dressing like gopis they can attract Krsna, and similarly, the cudadhari think that by dressing like Krsna they can attract Radharani. Their philosophy is not based on love, but on enviousness. Instead of aspiring to serve the gopis or serving Krsna, they aspire to become the gopis, or become Krsna Himself. A sakhi-bheki can dress like Lalita sakhi, for example, and imagine that he became one with Lalita. Their philosophy is thus also contaminated by mayavada. The men of this sect can sometimes be found in Navadvipa, dressed like ladies and dancing in a vulgar manner.
Another sect prominent in Bengal is the gauranga-nagari. Externally they appear to be regular Vaishnavas, using tilaka, doing kirtana, following a vegetarian diet, etc. There is, however, a notable sahajiya contamination in their philosophy. They are not interested in Lord Caitanya’s mood as a devotee. Instead, they try to impose the mood of Krsna, as an enjoyer on Mahaprabhu, and see themselves as enjoyed by Him. They try to depict Mahaprabhu as a debaucher who had affairs with different consorts and support their philosophy with stories of their own invention. This offensive way of worship comes from material lust and is condemned by our acaryas.
After the mayavadis, the sahajiyas are probably the most criticized group in Srila Prabhupada’s books, lectures, and conversations. This tendency of taking spiritual life cheaply, to mistake material sentiment for spiritual bhava, to impose our mundane lust into spiritual rasa and so on, tend to be extremely common.
Sahajiyism is like a cancer that tends to appear in the Vaishnava society at different times and in different forms. What makes it so dangerous is that it can start as something very subtle, and grow into more gross contaminations. It’s a formidable trap to the aspiring transcendentalist. Our defense against this is to study and to train devotees in proper Vaishnava philosophy.
Another group is the caste goswamis, that fall into the idea of hereditary. We know that in other eras, the son of a great person would also normally become great, because all the purificatory processes would be rigidly followed. Still, even at those times, there would be exceptions, like Drona and Ashwathama, or king Anga and Venu, for example. In Kali-yuga, there is no such rigid observation of purificatory processes, therefore frequently the son of an advanced devotee is just an ordinary fellow. Therefore the injunction is: "In Kali-yuga everybody is sudra". Until the son can prove himself to be qualified, he can't be accepted as a great devotee just because he has a great father. Actually, one of the greatest problems in Kali-yuga is that in this era demons can take advantage of the lack of proper purificatory processes during the conception to take birth in exalted families and thus create havoc.
"At present, in the Age of Kali, it is very difficult to render service to the brahmana-kula, or the brahmana class. The difficulty, according to the Varaha Purana, is that demons, taking advantage of Kali-yuga, have taken birth in brahmana families. Raksasah kalim asritya jayante brahma-yonisu (Varaha Purana). In other words, in this age there are many so-called caste brahmanas and caste gosvamis who, taking advantage of the sastra and of the innocence of people in general, claim to be brahmanas and Vaisnavas by hereditary right. One will not derive any benefit by rendering service to such false brahmana-kulas." (SB 4.21.40 purport)
There are many clans of caste goswamis, both in Bengal and in Vrindavana. Most of the traditional families have a connection with some exalted Vaishnava in the past (usually through initiation), but over the centuries most of them degenerated into a caste of hereditary gurus who make a living by exerting a monopoly in the control of temples and initiation of members of lower castes. Even though frequently immersed in bad habits and worldly behavior, caste goswamis would claim to be renounced goswamis.
Sometimes, sentimental devotees may become attracted to members of the jata-gosany class just because they claim to have seminal descendance from some important acarya. It's interesting to note, in connection with this, that the high priest of the demons is Sukracharya, whose name means, literally, “seminal guru” or someone who declares the birth connection as the only way to transmit powerful positions to future generations. This makes it clear to understand where this idea comes from.
In any case, their claim of seminal descendance is usually false, as their connection with previous acaryas is usually through initiation, and not thorough family ties. In other words, in most cases, these families are not descendants of the claimed acaryas, but descendants of disciples. One group in Bengal, for example, claim to be descendants of Lord Nityananda, but their connection with him is through a disciple of his son, Sri Virabadra Prabhu, as proved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
In any case, even when seminal descendance is present, this doesn’t mean much. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati explains how the families of even incarnations of Krsna may become degraded over time. The central point, according to him, is that the son of Krsna is not Krsna, but a Vaishnava, therefore from the third generation there is no difference from a regular Vaishnava family. The sons of even a pure devotee are not always pure devotees, consequently, the lines initiated by powerful Vaishnavas continue through disciplic succession to their confidential followers, and not through seminal descendance.
“We may go on bragging that we are born in the seminal dynasty of a Vaisnava and we may exhibit lifeless limbs of devotional service, but unless we have firm faith in the service of Hari we will simply cheat ourselves and become enemies of society.
Acyuta-gotra is never a saukra gotra, or -seminal family, therefore Vaisnava vamsa does not refer only to the seminal dynasty. The spiritual Vaisnavas who belong to the Acyuta-gotra, or family of Krsna, entrust their respective authority only to their most confidential servants. The unqualified descendants can never claim to be successors just because they were born in that family. Even if they achieve such a position, they are unable to protect it. These facts are similarly applicable to the dynasties of Lord Visnu as well. Specifically, the Lord and His devotees appear in different dynasties at different times, and there are no obstacles for nondevotees and demons to take birth in such families. The son of Lord Visnu is not Lord Visnu, but a Vaisnava. So from the third generation there is no difference between the descendants of Visnu and the descendants of the Vaisnavas.” (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Sajjana tosani, Vol. 19, Part 7/8)
The main point is that advanced devotees may take birth in caste goswami families, just like they may take birth in any other family, but such Vaishnavas should be respected by their spiritual realizations and achievements and not by their seminal descendance.
“It is said, phalena pariciyate: one is recognized by the result of his actions. In Vaisnava society there are many types of Vaisnavas. Some of them are called gosvamis, some are called svamis, some are prabhus, and some are prabhupada. One is not recognized, however, simply by such a name. A spiritual master is recognized as an actual guru when it is seen that he has changed the character of his disciples. Haridasa Thakura actually changed the character of the professional prostitute. People greatly appreciated this, and therefore they all offered obeisances to Haridasa Thakura and glorified him.” (CC Antya 3.143 purport)
Although there was not yet a case of someone trying to implement hereditary guruship in our society, we may be tempted by more subtle jata-gosani deviations, like, for example, to use a temple or a deity as means of livelihood, or to try to maintain privileges or titles even when though one is not maintaining the proper standards demanded by such position. In other words, to use spiritual life as a means to attain and maintain privileges.
In one sense, the jasa-gosanis are the starting point for the other apasampradayas, for they were at a certain point the established tradition. Because of their degradation, people started to rebel and demand change, leading to the rise of other groups, which instead of improving the situation, just resulted in increasingly degraded practices. This is also a warning for us. If we don’t keep high standards in ISKCON, people are going to flock to other groups, which are also not going to provide any real improvement. Human tendency is towards degradation, and this is even more prominent in Kali-yuga. Different acaryas and Krsna Himself in His different incarnations come periodically to elevate the standards, but outside of this, human concoctions never introduce anything better. Just like we had our dose of problems in ISKCON in previous decades, but other movements that appeared in this period didn’t offer anything superior.
Continuing, this idea of hereditariety is also found in the smarta brahmanas, that try to follow the rituals, rules and regulations but leave aside the devotional aspects. The injunction of the scriptures is that we should always remember Krsna, and never forget Him. To this end, we have so many rules and regulations that help us to keep pure in consciousness and thus be able to remain fixed in Krsna consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of all injunctions of the scriptures. The smarta brahmanas invert the logic, remembering all the rules and regulations, but forgetting Krsna. Smartas are bogged down in an inveterate fruitive mentality: their sole goal is to get material piety and fame. Generally, smartas have a greater propensity to worship demigods, especially Durga devi, but even if they adopt devotional practices, like chanting the maha-mantra, visiting the holy places or fasting on Ekadasi, their idea is usually to just increase their material piety and sense of self-accomplishment. They just take all these as fruitive activities.
The smartas are a much older community, but according to Suhotra Maharaja, they adopted Vaishnava dress and habits from the 16th century, after Raja Narasimha surrendered to Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura.
This is a very interesting pastime. In the course of his preaching, Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura converted and initiated a number of illustrious members of the smarta community, including Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, Jagannatha Acharya, and other well known brahmanas. The smartas considered Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura a sudra, because he took birth in a kayastha family, therefore the fact that he was giving initiation to brahmanas of the community created a great stir. At some point, a large fraction went to complain to Raja Narasingha, the local king. With his support, they enlisted Sri Rupa Narayana, a famous digvijay, and proceeded to Kheturi, with the intention of somehow exposing Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura as a fraud.
On the way, they stopped at a small town called Kumara Pura to rest. Coming to know about the plot, Sri Ramakrishna Bhattacharya and Sri Ganga Narayana Cakravarti disguised themselves, one as a seller of clay pots and the other as a seller of betel nuts. In this way, they set up shops within the local market and waited. When some of the disciples of the panditas went to buy provisions in the market, they met the two Vaishnavas who, speaking perfect sanskrit, engaged them in a debate. Gradually, the teachers got involved, and soon Raja Narasingha himself arrived with the digvijay. In the presence of the king, the two Vaishnavas soundly defeated Sri Rupa Narayana and all other members of the group.
Surprised that a pan-walla and a potter could defeat such great panditas, the king inquired about their identities. Showing great humility, they answered that they were humble disciples of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura. Turning to the digvijay, the king exclaimed: If two of Narottama’s ordinary disciples can defeat you in debate, there is no need of going to see him! Later, Durga Devi herself appeared to the king and Rupa Narayana, and ordered both to go to Narottama and beg forgiveness for their offenses. Surrendering, both became initiated disciples of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura. From this point on, an increasing number of smartas adopted Vaishnava habits, mixing vaishnavism with smarta values.
Another famous clash between Vaishnavas and smartas happened in 1911, when a group composed of many of the most illustrious members of the smarta community were fully defeated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who proved that Vaishnavas are superior to ordinary brahmanas and that anybody can be elevated to a pure platform by executing devotional service, regardless of birth or social position. The arguments given by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati on this occasion can be found in detail in the book “Brahmana and Vaisnava”. He starts by quoting different passages from the sastra that glorify the exalted position of the brahmana, basically exhausting all the arguments that could be used by the smartas. He then expertly changes the subject and starts explaining why the Vaishnava is even more exalted than ordinary brahmanas, describes the wrong concepts and practices adopted by the smarta community, and explains how even the ones born in lower families can be elevated to the topmost platform by receiving spiritual initiation and practicing under the guidance of a bonafide spiritual master, again quoting extensive scriptural evidence. By the end of his lecture, the smartas could not put forward any plausible argument.
The smartas illustrate our tendency to take devotional service as a means to nurture our materialistic tendencies, using it as a fruitive endeavour to improve our existence in this material world, achieving fame, opulence and prestige or, on the other side, to become ritualistic, taking the rules and regulations as everything, forgetting that they are just means to achieve the real goal, that is love for Krsna. If we chant the maha-mantra, fast on Ekadasi or do different services with any other goal than to please Krsna and develop our love for Him, we may be already deviating in this way.
Another apasampradaya mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is the ativadi. This sect was started by a man called Jagannatha dasa at the time of Mahaprabhu. Initially, he was a follower of Haridasa Thakura, but later he broke connection with him and started spreading his own ideas. He created his own version of the Srimad-Bhagavatam with five new chapters that he wrote himself, told his followers to chant the second part of the maha-mantra before the first, and so on.
Once, he arrogantly directly approached Lord Caitanya, wanting to recite his version of the Bhagavatam, bypassing Swarupa Damodara and other associates who would screen visitors, preventing people with strange ideas from disturbing the Lord. To avoid him, Lord Caitanya said, "A fallen soul like Me is not worthy enough to hear the Bhagavatam composed by an author like you”. Jagannatha dasa then declared that Lord Caitanya was Krsna and he was Radharani. The Lord replied: "Sir, you have become too great (ativadi). An insignificant and fallen soul like Me can have nothing to do with you”. Blinded by his ego, Jagannatha dasa took the chastisement of the Lord as praise and continued spreading his ideas. Later he was imprisoned by Prataparudra Maharaja for indecent behavior in connection with his dealings with women, but his sect continued.
The ativadi became prominent in Orissa because of the popularity of the translations of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-Gita in the Oriya language written by Jagannatha dasa amongst the lower classes. The ativadi claim to be Vaishnavas but they are actually opposed to Vaishnava principles. While worshipping Lord Jagannatha, they accept the mayavada conclusion that God is ultimately impersonal and that they will merge into Him when liberated. They mix loosely with women, use intoxicants like ganja and opium, exploit their influence for political means, and so on. They claim to have a better understanding of the scriptures than Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates. Some are ascetics that start claiming to be incarnations after gaining a few mystical powers.
When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was serving as deputy magistrate in Jagannatha Puri, in the early 1870s, he had to deal with many disturbances caused by followers of this sect, that were very numerous in Orissa at that time. There was a lot of political agitation and even cases of false proclaimed incarnations, that were exploiting their followers. In his autobiography, he wrote:
“This atibari group is secretive and extends throughout Bengal as do the Bauls. This sect has many forged books wherein it is written that Chaitanya will reappear. In this group there are some wicked people who imitate Sri Chaitanya, Brahma, Baladeva, or Krishna. One person, known as Bisakishan, a scoundrel who had obtained a little yogic power, was celebrated as Mahavishnu Himself. He had started to establish a Temple at Chatira Krosa within the jungle near Saradaipur with the help of his followers.”
The ascetic Bisakisen, was a dramatic example. While claiming to be an incarnation of Maha-Vishnu, he was using his mystic powers to impress his followers and to seduce married ladies. He even tried to kill Bhaktivinoda Thakura using his powers after he was imprisoned by his order. In a dramatic event, after the yogi was sentenced, a British medical officer had the idea of cutting his hair, having read that yogis often store their power in the hair. This made Bisakisen lose his powers and collapse, which finally convinced his followers that he was not an incarnation of God. Falling into disgrace, he eventually killed himself by drinking poison while in prison.
The ativadi illustrates our tendency to become proud, thus contaminating our devotional service. Everyone in this material world is proud, even a dog or hog is proud of his position. This is just another symptom of our material fever. As soon as we get a little bit of learning, or seniority, or any other small opulence, our material fever may return if we are not careful. If we start to cultivate pride instead of humility and meekness, we may end up being evicted from the association of true Vaishnavas. We may then find our sanga amongst similarly arrogant persons, start to criticize sincere devotees, and thus open our path to complete ruination.
Another group is the kartabhaja. In our Vaishnava philosophy, we see the guru as representative of Krsna, and thus worthy of the same respect and worship as Krsna Himself. Not only the guru is the bonafide representative and recipient of Krsna’s mercy, but he conveys the same message given by the Lord, transmitted through disciplic succession. In other words, we accept the guru as good as God, but not as God. The kartabhaja, on the other hand, proclaims that the guru is God incarnated. For them, nobody is worshipable except the guru. If they chant the name “Krsna”, it is because they believe that their guru is Krsna, an idea derived from mayavada philosophy. Even if the guru performs immoral acts, still his activities are seen as divine.
A similar idea was propagated inside ISKCON for a short period, culminating in the incident of 1970 in the Janmastami festival of New Vrindaban. A small group of sannyasis were propagating that Srila Prabhupada was actually Krsna Himself and that he had left to India because they themselves and the other disciples failed to recognize it. This new philosophy was refuted by members of the newly formed GBC with quotes from the books. Srila Prabhupada was in Japan at the time and became very disturbed by the news of the incident, explaining that this is mayavada philosophy.
“Coughing intermittently and speaking with physical discomfort, Prabhupada explained the Mayavadis' dangerous misconceptions. The impersonalists held a cheap, mundane view of the guru, the guru's worship, and the guru's instructions. If one says that the guru is God and God is not a person, then it follows logically that the guru has no eternal personal relationship with his disciples. Ultimately the disciple will become equal to the guru, or in other words he will realize that he, too, is God.
Arguing from the Vedic scripture, Prabhupada refuted the Mayavadis' claims. The individual souls, he said, are Krsna's eternal servants, and this master-servant relationship is eternal. Service to Krsna, therefore, is spiritual activity. Only by serving the guru, however, can a disciple fully revive his eternal relationship with Krsna. The Vedic literature gives paramount importance to serving the spiritual master. He is the representative of God, the direct, manifest link to God. No one can approach God but through him. Lord Krsna says, "Those who are directly My devotees are actually not My devotees. But those who are devotees of My servant (the spiritual master) are factually My devotees."
For hours Prabhupada drilled his disciples. He would pose a Mayavada argument, then ask his disciples to defeat it. If they failed, he would defeat it himself. He stressed that the relationship between the spiritual master and disciple was eternal-not because the guru was Krsna, but because he was the confidential servant of Krsna, eternally. A bona fide spiritual master never says that he is Krsna or that Krsna is impersonal.” (Srila Prabhupada lilamrta, vol. 4, ch. 31)
Another source of apasampradayas and apasidhantas is syncretism: the mixing of Vaishnava philosophy with other philosophies and practices, like Buddhism, mayavada, tantric practices, etc. Five of the other apasampradayas enumerated by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura fall into this category.
The neda-nidi for example, follow a mixture of tantric Buddhism and Vaishnavism. It started when Sri Virabadra Prabhu converted a group of tantric Buddhists to Vaishnavism. He made them chant the maha-mantra and adopt general Vaishnava habits, and, to counteract their practice of tantric sex with different partners, he got them married. Soon, however, many started to fall down into their old practices, concocting a mixture of impersonal philosophy, tantric sex, and Vaishnavism.
The most disturbing example, however, are the bauls, that follow a mixture of tantra, mayavada, sufism and sahajiyism. The bauls can be divided into four sub-groups: aula, baula, sani and daravesa. The first are householders, the second are wandering artists that chant enigmatic songs in Bengali and play popular instruments, while the third and fourth are mendicants. It is interesting to note that Srila Prabhupada translated the word daravesa as “hippie” (CC Madhya 20.70), summarizing their appearance and behavior.
They have roots in the sahajayana community, a much older line, that mixes tantric yoga and buddhist philosophy. The bauls appeared from the mixing with islamic mysticism and other influences. Over the centuries, they assimilated and perverted different aspects of Vaishnava culture, giving birth to the final concoction. Another mutation is that they abandoned their ritualist roots and adopted tantric sex as their main practice. Their idea is that one can awaken his inner bliss through bodily union of male and female. This fixation in the material body and the acceptance of material lust as spiritual rasa is a trace similar to other sahajiya groups, but in the bauls the degradation reaches an extreme.
Different from the neda-nidi, that restrict their tantric practices to the wife, the bauls use “sadikas” that are frequently exchanged, and their practices go up to the consumption of human stool and urine. With the excuse of practicing a spiritual process, they live an unregulated lifestyle of drugs, illicit sex, and degradation. While they don’t present themselves as Vaishnavas, they claim to represent the true spirit of Mahaprabhu’s movement and enjoy a certain degree of influence over the general public, including in the west, where a few of them became famous artists.
These last examples can be taken as a warning about another tendency that we may have: to keep our previous concocted ideas and mix them with Vaishnavism, instead of giving them up and fully embracing the process of Krsna consciousness given to us by Srila Prabhupada. In other words, we have the tendency of changing Krsna consciousness to fit our mentality, instead of changing our mentality to fit Krsna consciousness. Because of this, so many speculations were introduced in our movement over the last decades, creating chaos and confusion, and this continues to this day.
The deviations introduced by the sahajiyas, jata-gosanis, smartas and other groups not only almost suffocated the sankirtana movement but also gave it a very bad reputation amongst the general population, especially in the educated circles. Due to the actions of these deviating sects, Vaishnavism became related to exploitation and moral deviation, a very sad situation.
To reinvigorate the sankirtana movement, and finally fulfill the prediction that the holy names would be chanted in every town and village, Lord Caitanya sent a succession of three acaryas: Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Prabhupada. Working in succession, they performed the miracle of not only re-establishing the original teachings, but spreading them all over the world.
Many have the idea that Srila Prabhupada took a well-established tradition and implemented it in the west in the form of our ISKCON society, but the truth is that almost all the lines at the time were deviating in serious ways. If it was not by these three powerful acaryas, the true teachings of Mahaprabhu would be lost. This also explains why ISKCON is so special: despite all the problems we face, our society is actually the one that has the true teachings, in the form of the books left by Srila Prabhupada. We remain bonafine to the proportion that we remain faithful to this knowledge. Although there is also sincere Vaishnavas outside ISKCON, nowhere else are the teachings of Srila Prabhupada being rigidly followed, and as a result different groups deviate in different ways.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura is the true successor to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Srila Prabhupada is the true successor to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. One may look, but he will not find anything superior outside.
The revival of our line started with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. He came first, and with a very difficult mission: to create the philosophical basis of our movement, defeating in the process the bogus ideas that were suffocating it. By his powerful preaching and spotless behavior, he denounced bogus practices and deviations and re-established the reputation of the Vaishnava culture, that had been ruined by the sahajiyas and other imitators over the previous centuries. He recovered the teachings of the Six Goswamis and successor acaryas, wrote many new books, explaining the philosophy in a modern way. He defeated many apasampradayas and other bogus philosophies and adopted new technologies, like the printing press, teaching that everything should be used for Krsna.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati took this philosophical base created by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and implemented the second part of the plan: he created the Gaudiya Matha, a preaching mission to spread these teachings all over India. He also wanted to preach abroad, therefore he sent a group of disciples to London. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at that time, but that was his idea: to expand the preaching to the west, fulfilling the predictions that the sankirtana movement would spread to all towns and villages.
Unfortunately, when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura left this planet, his disciples were not able to follow his instruction to create a governing body to direct the society in his absence. Instead of a single ruler or a divided society, with parts being separately governed by different acaryas, he wanted a unified mission, with a collegiate of senior disciples jointly deciding on important matters. As a result, the Gaudiya Matha was split first into two factions, and then in several smaller groups. The institution was not only fragmented, but the groups started to fight amongst themselves for control of properties and followers, each group with his own acarya. The preaching almost stopped and the printing machines were sold to pay for legal expenses. The sankirtana movement suffered a major setback.
Srila Prabhupada writes his view about this period in his purport to CC Adi 12.8:
“The words daivera karana indicate that by dint of providence, or by God’s will, the followers of Advaita Acarya divided into two parties. Such disagreement among the disciples of one acarya is also found among the members of the Gaudiya Matha. In the beginning, during the presence of Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split into two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were asara, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master. Despite the spiritual master’s order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gaudiya Matha, the two unauthorized factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.
Therefore, we do not belong to any faction. But because the two parties, busy dividing the material assets of the Gaudiya Matha institution, stopped the preaching work, we took up the mission of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Bhaktivinoda Thakura to preach the cult of Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world, under the protection of all the predecessor acaryas, and we find that our humble attempt has been successful.”
We can imagine how difficult it must have been for Srila Prabhupada to go through these troubled times, seeing the institution created by his Guru Maharaja being fragmented and many of his godbrothers descending into fratricidal disputes over properties. If we see through this perspective, the problems we may face nowadays are going to look much smaller indeed.
What is most significant, however, is the way that Srila Prabhupada was behaving during this period. Instead of joining the fray, taking the side of one of the groups, or trying to create his own faction, Srila Prabhupada was just printing his Back to Godhead magazine and supporting some of his godbrothers who were preaching. He simply kept the order that he received from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura: to preach in English. This is also a lesson for us, to stay away from political disputes motivated by the lower modes, and instead to be concentrated in our services and assist others who are doing preaching work.
When Srila Prabhupada finally came to the west, he first tried to cooperate with his godbrothers, tried to rally them around the common goal of spreading Krsna consciousness in the western countries. We can imagine how at this point Srila Prabhupada was confident about the importance of the mission given by his Guru Maharaja, but at the same time having to deal with the insurmountable difficulties of trying to implement Krsna consciousness in hostile territory. His attempts suggest that he was seeing the union of the remnants of the Gaudiya Matha, combined with the support from pious powerful people from India as the most probable way to successfully establish Krsna consciousness in the west. His initial idea was to bring resources from India to purchase a suitable house in Manhattan and thus establish a temple in a respectable location (probably inspired by a similar attempt by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati to establish a lavish temple in London in the 1930’s). However, just as the effort of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati proved fruitless, the efforts of Srila Prabhupada in rallying his godbrothers and getting resources from India were frustrated. Krsna had a different plan.
In the end, Srila Prabhupada had to create his own institution, counting only on the help of his first followers. He had to start from scratch. HG Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu did very extensive research on this topic, that resulted in a small book, called “The Founder Acarya”. In pages 52 to 67, he explains in detail why Srila Prabhupada created ISKCON instead of cooperating with the remnants of Gaudiya Matha, answering many questions that one could have on this subject. In pages 58-59, for example, he wrote:
"So it happened that in 1966 Srila Prabhupada gained an unwelcome realization: the spiritual defects that engendered the failure of the Gaudiya Matha remained robust three decades later.
All his hopes for cooperation from donors, government, and godbrothers shattered, Srila Prabhupada would be obliged to start from scratch—just himself, alone. Undeterred, he wrote Mangalniloy, “There is no need for help from any one else.”
This, then, is a major component of the context in which the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was born. The other element is the spiritual fulfillment afforded Srila Prabhupada by a steadily increasing number of young Americans who gave their earnest and eager attention to Lord Caitanya’s teachings.
What was Prabhupada to do? In his first plea for cooperation posted to Tirtha Maharaja in November of 1965, just after his arrival in New York City, Prabhupada had offered to work within his godbrother’s institution:
“So here is a chance of cooperation between us and I shall be glad to know if you are ready for this cooperation. I came here to study the situation and I find it very nice and if you are also agreeable to cooperate with it will be all very nice by the will Srila Prabhupada.... If you agree then take it for granted that I am one of the worker of the Sri Mayapur Caitanya Matha.”
The recipient—and many others—having proven themselves uncooperative, Srila Prabhupada then established his own Institution." (HG Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu, “The Founder Acarya”)
This is also an important lesson for us: rarely are things going to work on our first try. Many times, Krsna wants to first test our determination before He reveals His plan to us. By the example of Srila Prabhupada, we can see how even the most powerful acaryas have to go through this process before they can be fully empowered to accomplish their mission. Even though eternally perfect, great acaryas play the role of human beings, accepting material bodies and dealing with the same difficulties that we face, like hunger, thirst, cold, etc. They go through the struggles of human life, and frequently face much harder challenges than we do. The difference is that they remain always Krsna conscious and by their exemplary behavior they show us how to overcome difficulties on our spiritual path. Sometimes we minimize their achievements by thinking that since they are perfect souls and Krsna is in control, things just happen automatically for them, but that is not the real purport. Their stories are meant to show us the way, so we can be inspired to pass the severe tests on our spiritual path.
HG Hari Sauri Prabhu: “Atreya Rishi asked him if it was true that Krishna tests us every day. "No, just like if you want responsible post," Prabhupada told him, "then there is question of test. If you want to become a vagabond, remain vagabond. Where is question of test?" "No, for devotees," Atreya Rishi clarified. "Ah, for devotees, there is test," Prabhupada said. "We see from the devotee's life, Prahlada Maharaja, how much severe test he had to pass through. Bali Maharaja, Narada Muni." "And the most advanced the devotee is, the more severe the test is..." Atreya Rishi said. Srila Prabhupada reassured him. "No, after you pass the examination, there is no more test. But before coming to the post of recognized devotee, Krishna tests very severely. That one has to pass."
I recalled one of his Bhagavatam purports where he stated that maya is there to test the sincerity of the candidate and Prabhupada continued, "Yes, we see from the life of Bali Maharaja, how he was put into difficulty. Even his spiritual master cursed him. If a devotee is put into test and still he remains in his determination, then he's passed. That is very natural. There is a word, 'acid test,' for ascertaining real gold? the acid test one has to pass to become real gold." (A Transcendental Diary Vol 4)
In a deeper sense, Srila Prabhupada didn’t create a new institution. He replicated all the original ideas that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura instituted in the Gaudiya Matha. He just rebooted Gaudiya Matha, started it again in a rejuvenated state. The reforms introduced by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati were not easy to implement. They demanded a complete change of paradigm from the Indian tradition (where each acarya would have complete control over his small institution and transmit his position to his successor, with little cooperation between the different gurus) to a modern organizational approach, in which different spiritual masters and leaders would be able to cooperate and thus operate on a much larger scale. How large? Srila Prabhupada stated that he wanted “hundreds and thousands of spiritual masters”, which implies millions of disciples and followers. If we realize the scale of his plan, we can realize how the only way of achieving such a scale is through a very organized cooperative structure. This, in turn, demands a lot of maturity, not only from the leaders but also from their followers, who need to get along and cooperate with devotees with different mentalities, different cultures (and sometimes even different philosophical approaches), who share the umbrella of a single unified mission.
As soon as we speak about a worldwide spiritual institution, it implies the presence of people from different backgrounds, different levels of spiritual advancement, and different levels of commitment. In such an environment, the principle of being strict with oneself and tolerant with others become essential. One who does the opposite, being lenient with oneself but strict with others can create havoc. As Srila Bhaktivinoda explains (Jaiva Dharma, 8th chapter), one who is starting on the path of bhakti may show many misconceptions and materialistic tendencies, but by associating with pure Vaishnavas he can quickly progress. It’s important to be patient and to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
As in any other great structural change, the implementation of this new approach resulted in many difficulties. Not only was there the split of the Gaudiya Matha, but even in ISKCON there were many successional problems after Srila Prabhupada. What is significative, is not what went wrong, but the simple fact that somehow the institution held together despite all troubles. As a result, 40 years after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada we are still here; this time it worked.
As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-Gita, in this material world “every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault, just as fire is covered by smoke”. Even when Krsna Himself comes, the effects of His actions are not always free of negative repercussions, due to the intrinsic nature of this material world and the actions of conditioned souls. Lord Caitanya and the Six Goswamis, for example, made public a lot of details about Krsna’s pastimes with the gopis and details about rasa. This served as the basis for our sampradaya, with all our powerful acaryas, but also fuelled the sahajiyas and other apasampradayas, that at times practically covered it. Similarly, we had, have and will have numerous problems in our ISKCON society. Just as it is not possible to have fire without smoke, it is not possible to have a spiritual organization without problems. The ones who decide to leave because of the smoke will also lose the benefit of the fire.
When we hear about the unparalleled success achieved by Srila Prabhupada, creating a worldwide movement from 40 rupees and fulfilling the prophecy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we frequently forget about the enormous challenges he faced.
Srila Prabhupada was especially empowered by the Lord to fulfill His mission. No normal person could do what he did. In 1933 a group of senior preachers from Gaudiya Matha were sent to London to preach. They had all support from India, with money to maintain themselves and start their mission. The whole Gaudiya Matha was behind them, but still, they could not accomplish much. For a long time, the idea that somehow Krsna consciousness could be successfully implanted in the degraded western countries seemed like an impossible dream. Srila Prabhupada had to write and publish himself the books that he brought from India. He wasn’t preaching to the rich and in the educated circles, like others swamis did. He started in the Bowery, one of the most degraded places on earth. One of his first students was so disturbed that he attacked him. Still, Srila Prabhupada created such a powerful movement entirely by himself, without money or support from India. He taught how to cook, how to dress, even how to make garlands. Srila Prabhupada had to create by himself not only the philosophical but also the cultural bases of our movement.
HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: “Srila Prabhupada had his own plans, and of course history shows how successful he was. Not long after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, I heard about a conversation between two of Prabhupada’s godbrothers. One of them was Akincana Krsna dasa Babaji, who was a great friend of Prabhupada. He was very well known, in Gaudiya Matha and ISKCON, because he was a babaji, he was always chanting. If you spoke with him, then whenever you were speaking, he would be chanting. He would say something, and as he was getting the reply, he would immediately be chanting. He was always in a very jolly mood. When Prabhupada took sannyasa, in 1959, the very next morning he went preaching to Agra, and he took Akincana Krsna dasa Babaji with him. They were close.
So, he was having a conversation with Bon Maharaja and he challenged Bon Maharaja. He asked him a question: ‘What was the difference between you and Swami Maharaja? He was a learned scholar, you are a learned scholar, he was fluent in English, and you are fluent in English. He went to the West, you also went to the west. He was successful, you were not. Why?’. And then he answered his own question, he said: ‘Because he had great faith in the Holy Names’. That was a nice observation. If anybody knew about chanting, Akincana Krsna dasa Babaji knew”. (class at the Our Prabhupada festival in Moscow, 15 January 2016)
In the Caitanya Mangala, there is the famous verse from Lord Caitanya that predicts the descent of a very powerful preacher, the Lord’s Senapati Bhakta, to deliver the western countries. Studying a little bit about our history we can very easily understand that Srila Prabhupada is such a personality, who showed uncommon empowerment and successfully accomplished his mission. He is the perfect example of someone with perfect knowledge and realization, who wanted to use his knowledge to do good for others, without reservation. Everything that he was doing was to increase the preaching, to help more souls to become Krsna conscious.
He established the standard of having mangala-artik at 4:30 am for his disciples, but he himself used to wake up at midnight to write his books. He would sleep one, two or at most three hours each night. He would translate until morning and then preach, manage and do other activities during the day, usually going all the way until ten o’clock or eleven o’clock, sometimes not sleeping at all. Sometimes someone would come late at night to talk to him and still, he would give him all the attention.
HG Atma Tattva Prabhu recollects in his memories of Srila Prabhupada, that in the 1970s they had a preaching group in India that would go village to village on bullock carts. One day they came to visit Srila Prabhupada at eleven thirty at night. Prabhupada was already in his room, and of course, the servant didn’t want to allow them in. But somehow or other at exactly that moment, Srila Prabhupada went out to go to the toilet. He immediately saw and recognized them and invited them to come to his room, where he spent more than half an hour talking to them until it was past midnight. After a short nap, Srila Prabhupada was up again, doing his translation work. These devotees were preaching for a long time in very austere conditions, sacrificing their lives for Srila Prabhupada, and similarly, he was ready to sacrifice his own comfort for them. Every bit of energy that he had he was giving to others in one way or another.
A few days before passing away, when he didn’t have the energy to even move, Srila Prabhupada was still translating the 13th chapter of the 10th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, the last one that he completed. After that, he kept instructing his disciples, until practically his last breath. He wrote in his purport to SB 4.28.33-34 that in his last years the spiritual master retires with a few intimate associates to focus on his own spiritual practice, but Srila Prabhupada himself never retired; he was active until the last day, stopping only in the last few hours before passing away, teaching us his final instruction. If we study his books and his life, we can understand the love that he had for all.
Our challenge is to continue working together despite all difficulties and to keep following Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, preventing the degeneration of our movement into apasampradayas, like in the past. This tendency to deviate is always present, it’s human nature. The problem with deviations is that they start small, but like a cancer, they grow uncontrollably. It’s like a plane, it must go on a very precise direction to arrive at its destination. For this, the pilot needs to constantly make small corrections to keep the vessel on course, since if these small deviations would be allowed to accumulate, he could end up arriving on the wrong continent.
It may take time for one to realize how advanced the books from Srila Prabhupada are. One who is not sufficiently spiritually evolved, or not attentive, may be fooled by the simple language, thinking that something that is simple must be less advanced. The truth, however, is that only a true genius or divinely inspired person is capable of describing advanced concepts in simple language. Srila Prabhupada combines the teachings from previous acaryas with his own realization and thus reveals to us the meaning of pure devotional service in very simple words. He once said that actually he was not the one writing his books, that every day Krsna would come and personally dictate to him what to write.
These books are supplemented by all the recorded lectures from Srila Prabhupada, videos, all the letters with instructions, and then all the memories from Srila Prabhupada’s disciples that are nowadays easily available in the form of videos, recordings, and books. As HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja comments in a class, contemporary devotees have even more opportunities to truly know Srila Prabhupada than his own disciples in the seventies, because nowadays we have so much information available. Someone who really reads all the books, listens to the lectures, watches the videos, reads all the letters, listens to the memories of his disciples and so on, will have a very complete and clear understanding of the teachings, mood, and reasoning of Srila Prabhupada.
As long as we study the books of Srila Prabhupada and use them as guides in our own lives, having faith in them, understanding that everything written there is correct, and thus trying to understand each passage from different angles of view, it will not be very difficult for us to remain on the proper path.
When reading, we may not understand something at first, but we should keep a humble mentality: “I may not understand at first, but this must be correct, I just need to properly understand. The problem is with my understanding, not with the book”. From there we can ask different senior devotees until we can understand each particular point. Even if there is nobody to ask, a lot of times Krsna gives the knowledge from the heart, as Srila Prabhupada points out in his purport to Bg 10.10:
“A person may have a bona ﬁde spiritual master and may be attached to a spiritual organization, but if he is still not intelligent enough to make progress, then Krsna from within gives him instructions so that he may ultimately come to Him without difﬁculty. The qualiﬁcation is that a person always engages himself in Krsna consciousness and with love and devotion render all kinds of services. He should perform some sort of work for Krsna, and that work should be with love. If a devotee is not intelligent enough to make progress on the path of self-realization but is sincere and devoted to the activities of devotional service, the Lord gives him a chance to make progress and ultimately attain to Him.”
We need to continue this process until we can not only understand but also explain and defend any particular point that Srila Prabhupada makes in his books. If we do that, we will immediately notice that there is something wrong when someone appears with strange ideas. If most devotees follow this path, our society as a whole will become much more resistant to deviations. Devotees will understand the philosophy and will be able to apply it in a practical way.
For example, if someone would come with some hallucinogenic tea, saying that “Take this tea and chant Hare Krsna, you will see how much realization you will get, you will be able to see Lord Jagannatha! Come to my program, bring your friends, let’s see Lord Jagannatha!”, you would think: “What’s this? Lord Jagannatha is so cheap that He can be seen by some crazy person drinking tea?”.
This idea that one can get some kind of God realization by taking intoxicants will sound absurd, since it’s an idea that Srila Prabhupada smashes repeatedly in his books. But in Brazil, there is such a cult, and it’s popular amongst so-called devotees. Initially the followers of this tea-cult were using Christian elements in their cults, but eventually, some fallen devotees started to join, and now in many places they chant Hare Krsna and think that they are seeing Lord Jagannatha in their intoxication. It’s now a problem for our preaching, since now many people associate devotees with the use of drugs.
Why do some of our members get attracted to such cults? Because they don’t know the philosophy. In any yatra where devotees would understand at least the basics, such a cult wouldn’t be successful, but in places where devotees don’t study and simply follow on some sentimental basis, this kind of deviation can flourish very easily. Someone who is now sentimentally following Krsna consciousness may tomorrow be sentimentally following something else. Simple sentiment is cheap, it’s just something on the mental platform. Real spiritual life needs to be backed by knowledge and realization, otherwise it won't last. Any congregation where a significant percentage of devotees have this problem (no study and no real understanding of the philosophy) is very vulnerable to all kinds of bogus philosophies: ritviks, new age devotees, and all kinds of strange elements that may want to exploit others or to infiltrate strange ideas.
In his Vaishnava Ke, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gives a list of three prominent qualities of apasampradayas: anitya-vaibhava (hankering for material success), kaminira-kama (illicit sexual affairs) and mayavada (philosophical speculation).
Nowadays, there are different modern groups which manifest characteristics of different apasampradayas (and frequently attract people who don’t know the philosophy very well, or are interested in some lower standard of spiritual practice), but as ISKCON grows, there is also a growing tendency for deviations inside our own movement that, if not countered, may lead to the appearance of new apasampradayas in the future.
This tendency is understandable. Since our movement is becoming bigger, there is a general tendency to make things more liberal and accommodating. At the same time, with so many devotees, the leaders can’t be aware of everything that is going on. Also, the need to keep growing starts to conflict with the idea of maintaining purity. Srila Prabhupada alerts us to this tendency of diluting things with the excuse of reaching more people in many passages.
“So far the Road Show and the Yoga Village are concerned, these things should be stopped. Simply perform our kirtan. If we divert our attention in this way, the whole thing will gradually deteriorate. He is going far away. All these things are nonsense inventions. Such inventing spirit will ruin our this movement. People may come to see, some will become devotees, but such devotees will not stay because they are attracted by some show and not by the real thing or spiritual life according to the standard of Lord Caitanya. Our standard is to have Kirtan, start temples. What is this ‘Road Show’ and ‘Yoga Village?’ It will be another hippie edition. Gradually the Krsna consciousness idea will evaporate: another change, another change, every day another change. Stop all this. Simply have kirtan, nothing else. Don’t manufacture ideas.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Sudama, 05 November 1972)
In some groups, for example, it’s possible to see certain sahajiya tendencies. Two factors that are prominent in such sangas is a pervasive mood of enjoyment and the presence of illicit relationships and sexual affairs between the members. These are two prominent characteristics of the sahajiyas. A third factor is aversion to authority.
A sahajiya sees himself as the center and therefore he chants and does other activities with the purpose of enjoying, while a devotee sees Krsna as the center, and therefore conducts his activities with the purpose of giving pleasure to Him. A sahajiya sings a kirtana to enjoy the rhythms and melodies, while the devotee sings to give pleasure to the Lord, with a devotional attitude. In other words, the sahajiya sings to satisfy his own senses, while the devotee sings to satisfy Krsna’s senses. The result is that the sahajiya gets material satisfaction, while the devotee gets transcendental bliss. The kirtana of the devotee awakens devotion in the heart, while the sahajiya kirtana awakens material lust.
A second problem with this enjoying mentality is that it makes one likely to execute only some aspects of the process while dismissing others. One can be thus attracted to kirtanas and to discussions about confidential activities of Krsna with the gopis for example, but not very much into following the four principles, or in maintaining a proper sadhana. Because of this, not only the quality of the spiritual activities are lower (since the mentality is inappropriate), but the practice also becomes seriously unbalanced. This makes it very hard for one to control his senses, which leads to the second problem: illicit connections with members of the opposite sex (or even with members of the same sex). One thing leads to the next.
A consequence of these two problems is aversion to authority. One who understands that he has problems and needs to improve, will be naturally propense to hear superior persons, and by following their instructions he will be able to advance. One contaminated by a sahajiya mentality, on the other hand, will see himself as someone already very advanced and thus belittle others. Because his ego will remain too big, he will not be able to surrender to proper authorities, being thus unable to advance. He will follow similar fools, or try to become a leader himself.
Another characteristic is to mistaken material emotions with spiritual development. Material emotions are just on the mental platform, someone can laugh or cry, but that doesn't mean much: professional actors can do both without difficulty. Real spiritual advancement comes from chanting at least sixteen rounds, following the principles, studying the philosophy, maintaining a good sadhana, doing service and surrendering our lives to Krsna. There’s no easy way.
“One thing, if we are not very careful to always stick to the point of regulative principles and purest standards of high living, then everything will spoil very quickly and the whole show will be a farce. So impress this point in your preaching for training the younger devotees, they will follow your example in all respects.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Rebatinandana, 02 February 1972)
In other groups, one may find some strong materialistic tendencies. It usually starts by the infiltration of materialistic and humanistic values in the practice of devotional service and results in a growing deviation in the direction of pious life, material development, material relationships, and sense gratification, instead of pure devotion. In such groups, the dominant mood is to follow spiritual life as a means to be happy in this world, to make friends, to have a prosperous life and so on. The center of their lives is shifted from Krsna to material prosperity and social life. Even their idea of preaching changes from giving people Krsna consciousness to material welfare activities, and their meditation is shifted from our previous acaryas to pious persons like Gandhi or Mother Teresa, who dedicated their lives to help others, but ended being restricted to material philanthropy due to a lack of pure spiritual knowledge.
“Those who imitate an uttama-adhikari by flaunting a sense of oneness or fellowship but who behave on the bodily platform are actually false philanthropists. The conception of universal brotherhood must be learned from an uttama-adhikari and not from a foolish person who does not properly understand the individual soul or the Supreme Lord's Supersoul expansion, who dwells everywhere.” (Isopanisad, mantra 6, purport)
Naturally, to help others, even if in a purely material sense, is good, and someone who dedicates his life to philanthropy is surely a pious person, but as the saying goes, "the good is the enemy of the best." Different from ordinary teachers and religious reformists, our acaryas did not come to just make people more pious, but to give the unalloyed path of pure devotional service, that can bring one straight back to Godhead. The main difference of Vaishnavism to other, more mundane religious paths, is that the goal of our process is not merely to make us happy in this world by adopting a pious life, but to transfer us back to Godhead, away from any kind of material contamination.
Similarly, our goal when helping people is not to simply make them comfortable in this material world, but to make them understand that they are not this body, giving them spiritual knowledge and engaging them in devotional service as much as possible. Sometimes, we do this directly, by distributing books, performing kirtana, organizing public programs, distributing prasadam, etc., and sometimes we may use indirect ways, using different artifices to make the public interested, and them ministering spiritual knowledge in homeopathic doses. In both cases, by doing direct preaching, or some kind of bridge preaching, the goal must be the same. As Srila Prabhupada brilliantly defines in his purport to SB 1.4.1:
“The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.”
However, if at some point the goal becomes to just help people be comfortable in this world, instead of getting free from it, then we fall down into a mundane philanthropic level, that actually gives little (if any) real benefit to the people we are trying to help. In this case, we may commit the same mistake as Gandhi, who wanted to help people, but due to imperfect spiritual knowledge, ended up actually doing more harm than good, disseminating incorrect concepts, like the “daridra Narayana”, and directing people's attention towards political change, instead of spiritual cultivation. These were points opposed by both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, as it can be observed in SB 6.19.9 purport, the Vyasa-puja lecture from 17 August 1968, and many other references.
In other words, we get off-track when the object starts being the body and not the soul. This tendency may grow to the point that one gets interested in simply leading a pious life, doing rituals to improve his material situation and accumulating pious credits, instead of obtaining love of Godhead or achieving liberation.
Naturally, there is nothing wrong in making money and using it for Krsna, or in trying to help people in poor material conditions. However, if one falls into the idea of just taking religion as a means to live a pious life and thus improve his standard of material prosperity and sense gratification, or to simply do material philanthropy without spiritual support, then it's a serious problem. And if one starts to create some new philosophy based on that and starts to try to preach it to others, then it becomes some kind of apasampradaya.
Back to the original point, sahajiyism and most other philosophical discrepancies walk hand in hand with mayavada, not necessarily in the sense of impersonalism, but in the sense of mental speculation. One of the most notable characteristics of the mayavadis is their talent in twisting the meaning of the scriptures to milk-out the desired conclusion. Instead of studying the scriptures to find the real conclusion, they start with the conclusion that they want, and twist the meaning of the scriptures to fit it.
Similarly, we may have the tendency of twisting the philosophy and even statements from Srila Prabhupada to sustain our own speculations. In the past, this gave birth to the ritvik philosophy and other adventures, and in the present it continues to give birth to new philosophies, groups, and movements. Frequently, the leaders of such cults target weak yatras to recruit new members, and thus such groups prosper at the cost of the lack of philosophical understanding of many of our devotees. This lack of understanding of the essential points of our philosophy is one of the greatest dangers for the future of our movement.
One of the main characteristics of any bonafide acarya is consistency. By studying and understanding a good portion of Srila Prabhupada’s writings, one will notice that all the basic points of the philosophy are repeated in many different passages and adjusted to different contexts. The basic message is consistent. Once one understands this basic message, he will be able to easily spot dissonant ideas and passages taken out of context, and thus identify speculations and deviations.
As a rule, bogus philosophies are based on indirect interpretations or isolated passages taken out of context. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains:
“Baba! The Vedas have no shoreline and are unsurpassed. Their precise meaning can only be understood by studying each and every sloka of the Upanisads separately, and by deriving the meaning from all of them combined. If one singles out a particular sentence, he may always be diverted by some misinterpretation.” (Jaiva Dharma ch. 18)
Many times, devotees enter into battles of quotes but, as explained, just isolated quotes doesn’t necessarily lead to the right conclusion (frequently the opposite happens). It’s common that devotees would do a search in Vedabase, collect quotes that sustain their idea (ignoring other quotes that may suggest otherwise), and in this way try to use Srila Prabhupada as a hammer to try to impose their ideas on others. The mistake here is to start with the conclusion and then try to find quotes that support it, instead of trying to understand what is the real instruction, by studying Srila Prabhupada’s teachings as a whole. This comes from raja-guna, the desire for conquest. It’s not the proper approach to spiritual knowledge.
Even the mayavada philosophy is supported like that by its partisans: by using twisted logic and quotes taken out of context. To reach the right conclusions, one needs to have a deeper understanding of the philosophy and put things in the proper context. This comes after years of study and realization.
As stated in the Laghu Bhagavatamrta (5.327), “When contradictions are found in the Vedic scripture, it is not that one statement is wrong. Rather both statements should be seen in such a way that there is no contradiction.” There are different statements from Srila Prabhupada spoken in different contexts, and even cases of statements that may appear contradictory. If one goes deeper, however, it will be revealed that they are just applications of different principles in different contexts.
One should be able to understand and harmonize different quotes from Srila Prabhupada. It’s not about making a search in the Vedabase and counting the quotes that say “yes” and ones that say “no”.
There was a case when Srila Prabhupada authorized a disciple to divorce, answering a letter. The servant became confused, how could Srila Prabhupada gave him an instruction that contradicts his general stance? He voiced his question and Prabhupada answered that he would divorce anyway, therefore he was authorizing him, so he would, at least, not be guilty of disobeying his spiritual master.
We can see that in this example there is a conflict of two principles: a) to not divorce, b) to not disobey the orders of the spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada adjusted, and gave the instruction that was more beneficial to the disciple, according to the situation. One who would try to apply this letter in a different situation, using it to sustain that Srila Prabhupada authorized us to divorce would commit a grievous mistake.
One should first try to understand the principles and then the details. If one tries to apply the details without understanding the principles, or try to apply instructions outside of their context (especially instructions from the letters, that are mostly answers to particular situations, and thus often not applicable outside of that specific context), will certainly commit serious mistakes.
Only a few of us are completely pure, perfect devotees. This means that most of us have some particular problems or deficiencies. These may go from relatively minor transgressions, like eating food cooked by non-devotees, television, etc. to much more serious problems. This doesn’t disqualify one as a devotee: if we keep following the spiritual process and praying, Krsna will eventually help us to leave these bad habits behind. He even ensures in BG 9.30-31 that: “Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace.”
In chapter nine of the Sri Gitamrta (translation of HH Purnachandra Goswami) this point is explained in detail:
“Arjuna: You deliver only Your devotees and bring them to You, not the non-devotees. Does this mean that You also have attachment and aversion?
Krishna: No, I'm not partial, but My devotees are in Me, and I am in them. Actually I am in everything, and everything is in Me. My devotees are attached to Me, but others, have no dealings with Me. Practically speaking, for them I do not exist. Actually there are so many living entities and I maintain everyone therefore I am equal like rain. But some trees watered by the rain give sweet fruit and others give bitter fruit. That is not a defect of the rain. It is their nature, it is not My attachment and aversion. I am rewarding equally, but My devotee gets special treatment, so much so, that even if he commits the most abominable action --- if he's still determined to serve Me --- I do not reject him. Rather, he is still to be considered saintly.
Arjuna: Yes, I accept that he is a sadhu when he's worshipping You, but if he's doing nonsense, then he is not a sadhu.
Krishna: No Arjuna, in every regard he's a sadhu because he's properly resolved to serve Me. He's thinking that, "I am unable to give up this sinful activity and I'll probably go to hell, but I'll never give up devotional service to Krishna." Therefore I consider him a sadhu.
Arjuna: But how do You accept the service of such an irreligious man whose heart is polluted by lust, anger and greed? Aren't his offerings contaminated by these things?
Krishna: He very quickly becomes righteous and I accept him because he laments, remembering Me again and again. And because of lamentation his heart burns and he thinks, "Alas, Alas! there's no other devotee lower than me. I'm a black spot for devotees". Again and again he curses himself, and becomes purified due to this repentance. Or you can take it in this way, Arjuna. Such a person even when committing sins, his righteousness existed in him in a subtle form. He's taking the medicine of devotion although the fever remains. He is not afraid, for he knows that the fever of improper activities will go away by the power of devotion. The sinful acts are like snakes with the fangs removed. Thus he obtains eternal peace, for his lust will go away and never return.”
Devotees who are serious just keep a humble position. They just think: “Ok, I have this problem, I’m not strong enough, please Krsna, help me, I want to leave this behind”. When someone has this mentality, it’s just a matter of time, since his sincerity is the ticket for his advancement.
Someone who is not so sincere may become a finger-pointer, putting the blame for his faults on the shoulders of others, as if they were forcing him. Persons who are even less sincere will not admit that it’s their problem, and they may go far enough to create a whole new philosophy to justify and defend their position, inventing strange ideas. Finally, someone who is crooked, will not be satisfied with just doing wrong, putting the blame on others or even by creating a new philosophy. He will also want to spread it to others, to create his club, so he can have company. He will try to create his own three-and-half-principles sampradaya, bhoga sampradaya, nightclub sampradaya, etc. That’s how apasampradayas are started.
"There are many so-called followers of the Vaisnava cult in the line of Caitanya Mahaprabhu who do not scrupulously follow the conclusions of the sastras, and therefore they are considered to be apa-sampradaya, which means outside of the sampradaya." (CC Adi 7.48 Purport)
But when one tries to do that in an educated yatra, he will have a problem. Because devotees read Srila Prabhupada’s books, when he starts to preach bogus ideas, they will start to question and to smash his philosophy. For example, if someone comes with the idea of three and a half principles sampradaya, it’s possible to give many arguments and quote so many passages to prove that it’s wrong. Even if we are not able to follow strictly, this doesn’t change the philosophy. At least we need to understand that it’s wrong and try to improve from where we are.
We come then to a very noticeable symptom of most of this modern apasampradayas: they try to disqualify Srila Prabhupada or to diminish the importance of his books, in direct or indirect ways. For example, there was a particular group a few years ago that was propagating that Srila Prabhupada didn't give us the complete thing. According to them, he was actually from Vaikuntha, not from Goloka, therefore he could not explain the most elevated stages of devotional service. Naturally, their idea was to use this kind of criticism to attract new followers to their group where, supposedly, higher teachings were available. This mentality of criticizing other Vaishnavas with the idea of attracting followers is a very strong indicator of world-mindedness, and can be found in many apasampradayas.
A more subtle version of the same tendency can be found amongst members of ISKCON itself, who fall victim to modern and humanist values, commonly found in modern society. Sometimes, it may be that the individual brought these values from karmi life and therefore was never able to fully understand and accept Srila Prabhupada’s strong criticism towards materialist civilization, women's liberation movement, homosexuality, etc. and therefore kept himself in the middle, becoming a devotee, but maintaining his liberal views.
Other times, the contamination can come later, due to extended contact with non-devotees, because of too much time spent at work or in another situation that demands an extended presence in a materialistic environment, in contact with materialistic people. Although a graduation or post-graduation course at a university can be useful in many aspects of one’s professional life and service, it also brings risks, forcing one to study and memorize ideologies and philosophies that are contrary to the Vaishnava siddhanta. One may go to a university to get skills that can be used in Krsna’s service, but if one falls into the mistake of going to get knowledge and thus accept their views, he can be seriously misled. There are even cases of senior devotees and preachers, who used to preach a strong and uncompromising version of the philosophy to change almost 180 degrees after a long stretch at the university, not only adopting the same views, but actually coming back to implement the whole package of liberalism, humanism, etc. inside our society. As the saying goes: “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.” If a devotee spends too much time associating with mundane scholars, there is a risk that he may start thinking and acting like them.
In some cases, this tendency will just manifest internally. Such a devotee may look a little bit strange, but mostly harmless. The problem starts when he becomes a leader or mentor, and starts sharing his ideas with others. The need to justify his ideas will lead him to find excuses to justify statements from Srila Prabhupada that he can’t come to terms with, saying that Srila Prabhupada was not familiar with western culture, that he was grown-up in a society with different values, that he did not have proper advisors (to the effect that he didn't really know what he was saying) and so on. It’s a subtle contamination, but once affected, one will start to selectively dismiss statements from Srila Prabhupada which he can’t agree with, and accept only what he thinks is good, which basically allows him to do whatever he wants.
Certain points made by Srila Prabhupada may go against the general perceptions of our “enlightened” modern materialistic society, and even against our own convictions, but we should understand that Srila Prabhupada was writing from a transcendental and atemporal perspective, that goes much deeper than the ephemeral values of mundane society, that are always changing. That’s another reason why we need to study his books deeply, to not only understand, but also be able to explain these different points when preaching to others. In a seminar at Mayapur (31 January, 2006), HG Hari-sauri Prabhu speaks about this point:
HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: “Now, as far as some of the statements that Srila Prabhupada has made, some people say these are not axiomatic truths, they are not sastric. But rather they are products of the cultural milieu that Srila Prabhupada was brought up in–nineteenth century Bengal, early twentieth century morals and values, India society that suppresses women, keeps them in the home, makes them cook and wash and keep their mouths shut. Yes? Whereas in the West we have a different situation. That women are actually intelligent. They take on jobs–judges, high court judges, professors in universities — they have intelligence and they do the same jobs that men can do.
So therefore how do we deal with Srila Prabhupada’s statement, especially when we are preaching to the intelligent class of people in the universities? How do we deal with Prabhupada’s statement that women are less-intelligent? It’s become a big problem. There’s no doubt about it. But there is an answer.
First of all we have to not take the approach that there are two Prabhupadas. This is the approach that many are taking, that there is the scriptural Prabhupada and then there is the old Bengali gentleman Prabhupada; there is a spiritual Prabhupada and there is a material Prabhupada; there is a liberated Prabhupada and there is a conditioned soul Prabhupada. Or there is a Prabhupada that repeats certain things that the conditioned souls say, prejudices that the conditioned souls have, because of his upbringing. Because of where he was born and the age that he was born in. Limited by time, place and circumstance. So this kind of preaching is going on in our Society right now. Amongst some of the top people in our Society – they are affected by this.
My approach is that everything Srila Prabhupada said is true. That’s the first thing. That if Prabhupada said something, it is a fact, from a transcendental perspective, not from a material perspective.”...
“I once gave a Sunday feast lecture in Christchurch, NZ. As soon as I sat down this woman yelled out “Are you going to talk about women’s problems? Are you going to talk about women’s equality?” So everyone was, it was a packed house, there were a lot of people there, 100-120 people, and I sat down, and I said, “I am going to talk about everybody’s problems. Why just women? I am going to talk about not just women’s liberation, I am going to talk about everybody’s liberation.”
Everyone was satisfied with that but her. And because I wasn’t going to talk just specifically about women’s equality, then she jumped up and refused to stay. So I told the devotees, “Just give her some prasadam and let her go.” You can’t do anything with people like that. Because their intelligence is blocked. But if the person is a little open, if their inquiry is reasonable, not demanding or offensive, or challenging, then you can.”...
“On the spot, you only have a minute, you can give them that kind of answer and if they actually start following up on it, you can sit down and start unpacking the whole thing. You can’t do everything on the street that’s not possible. But you should at least know the truth of what Prabhupada is saying and not become an apologist for Srila Prabhupada; that is deadly for spiritual life.
People that are doing that are insulting Srila Prabhupada by saying that he was affected by mundane intelligence. I can tell you from living with Srila Prabhupada for a year and half: Prabhupada was entirely transcendental all the time. Everything that he spoke was from the transcendental viewpoint.
If we don’t immediately understand it, or if we find that some of the things that he said to be difficult to deal with, it doesn’t mean that they are not true and it does not mean that we should therefore look for some ‘work-around’, some way of passing it off because we are too embarrassed to actually speak out and say “Yes, what Prabhupada said is true.” That means that then we are in material consciousness – not Prabhupada.
So what these people are doing is that they are projecting their own material consciousness onto Srila Prabhupada. Then what is the use of saying that “Prabhupada is my guru.” If you actually don’t accept what Prabhupada said, then be honest and admit it. If you have some problem, “Oh, Prabhupada said women are less-intelligent, I can’t support this,” then be honest and admit it and then let’s talk about it. But don’t make excuses, or say “Well that’s just because Prabhupada was born in Bengal and that’s the way they treated the women in the first half of the twentieth century.” This is offensive, to take that kind of approach. We should be confident that Prabhupada was a transcendental, fully self-realized soul. And that he could see things that we can’t.” (Seminar on Sri Isopanishad -- Mayapur, 31 January, 2006 at MIHET)
Srila Prabhupada brought to us perfect teachings, carefully transmitted through disciplic succession all the way from Krsna Himself. Such teachings are largely incompatible with the modern way of thinking, which is based on the false premise that we are the body, that there is no God and that the goal of life is simply to enjoy our senses as much as possible. As Srila Prabhupada points out repeatedly, such ideas result in a demoniac civilization, that brings about anxiety and suffering for all involved. The Lord Himself describes it in the Bhagavad-Gita:
“Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them. They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust. Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneﬁcial, horrible works meant to destroy the world. Taking shelter of insatiable lust and absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige, the demoniac, thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent. They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable. Bound by a network of hundreds of thousands of desires and absorbed in lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratiﬁcation.” (Bg. 16.7–12)
Modern thinking is largely based on doctrines like humanism and scientism, that are mainly atheistic. Scientism proposes that science can explain everything, discarding any idea of God, a spiritual plane or life after death, while humanism systematically rejects religion in favor of empiricism and rationalism. The ideas of improvement of living conditions, education, freedom, and progress offered by the humanistic thinking are tempting, but the practical result of such atheistic thinking is that people become progressively destitute of higher goals in life, becoming more and more harsh, selfish, inconsiderate, merciless and individualistic, a phenomenon that is largely noticeable nowadays, especially in large cities.
Humanism leads to moral relativism, that progressively abolishes any concept of right and wrong, making people believe that what is right and wrong is just a matter of personal preference and that everyone is free to pursue sense gratification in any way they want. This leads to degradation and exploitation on an industrial scale. The spiritual and familial values are lost and children are educated by an atheistic and morally bankrupt educational system, making new generations progressively more degraded.
"Practically speaking, there is no education. The modern so-called education teaches you how to eat nicely, how to sleep nicely, how to have sex nicely, and how to defend nicely. And that is the business of the animals. They know how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, and how to defend. So the extra intelligence of the human being is making a deluxe edition of eating, sleeping, sex, and defense. The modern civilization is a deluxe edition of animal life. That’s all." (Srila Prabhupada, Morning Walk, 23 August 1976, Hyderabad)
Being born in this society, we are trained since childhood to believe in its values. We are trained to see western society as the apex of human evolution and all other societies as primitive and backward and to think that people should be free and do whatever they want in pursuit of “happiness”. Being programmed to blindly believe in such values, we tend to side with these ideas, even when confronted by the naked truth in Srila Prabhupada’s books.
The gap between modern western thinking and Srila Prabhupada is so huge that we are more or less forced to choose our side. The ones who choose to believe Srila Prabhupada will have to deeply study our philosophy to understand all subtle points and be capable to defend our philosophy when confronted with opposing elements (even the most controversial statements from Srila Prabhupada will be proven true if we make a deep philosophical analysis). Conversely, the ones who choose to keep their humanistic ideals may find plenty of excuses to reject Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and follow different materialistic philosophies, or their own minds.
A lot of times, Srila Prabhupada’s teachings are so far from our western culture and values that many simply can’t understand, what to say about accepting them. That’s why it’s so important to follow spiritual life strictly and to regularly study his books. By doing so, we get progressively purified and our view of the world starts to change. We start to see things as they really are and start to understand Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in a much deeper and practical level.
There are many polemical statements from Srila Prabhupada that many times even devotees fail to properly understand, and this serves as sustenance for the liberalism and aversion to authority that is gradually expanding within our movement. My experience is that only devotees who have a strong connection with Srila Prabhupada are able to continue on book distribution in the long-term. Such a connection is the foundation that keeps one strong. One who has this mentality, can see Srila Prabhupada, the initiating guru and the other members of the parampara in the proper context, seeing the parampara as an unbroken chain. The guru is someone who connects and reinforces his connection with Srila Prabhupada, a transparent medium, and not someone who replaces him. If this connection is shaken-up at some point, one’s determination is hampered, which will jeopardize his capacity to distribute books.
One example of an apparently unreasonable statement from Srila Prabhupada is his affirmations that women are less intelligent than men, mentioned by HG Hari-sauri Prabhu in the previous quote. Nowadays, most devotees come from liberal backgrounds, therefore it can be a difficult pill to swallow.
This is one example of a component in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings that demand a deeper understanding to be properly appreciated. Without this deepness, some will take it superficially, in a fanatical way, mix with their own prejudices and just start to oppress women, while others may become cynical, starting to interpret and selectively reject parts of Prabhupada’s teachings that go against their preferences or beliefs, leading to misunderstanding, speculation, loss of faith and other problems. Since this is one of the most misunderstood points from Srila Prabhupada, I will try to explain it as an example, even under the risk of being over my head.
The first point we face when discussing this topic is that when it’s stated that women are less intelligent, some men use this to humiliate them and put them down, in an effort to assess their own superiority. This is actually a tendency that comes from the lower modes, and is naturally not an acceptable behavior for Vaishnavas. As Srila Prabhupada explains in his purport to SB 8.3.7:
“This verse describes the qualifications for devotees or persons highly elevated in spiritual consciousness. Devotees are always equal to everyone, seeing no distinction between lower and higher classes. Panditah sama-darsinah. They look upon everyone as a spirit soul who is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. Thus they are competent to search for the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
As devotees, we are supposed to respect everyone and humbly try to help each and every soul to advance and get closer to the Lord. We can see examples of how Srila Prabhupada was applying this principle in connection with his lady disciples in the book “Five years, eleven months” by HG Visakha devi dasi.
As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita (18.21), “knowledge by which one sees that in every different body there is a different type of living entity you should understand to be in the mode of passion”. The soul living inside the male body is not different from the soul living in the female body, therefore both men and women are qualified for advancement in spiritual life.
The only question is that the female body presents a particular set of challenges for the spiritual advancement of the soul that needs to be properly understood and addressed. Just like men usually have difficulty controlling their eyes in the presence of the opposite sex, have problems with their false ego and are prone to fall down into gross sex, ladies face their own set of challenges. That’s why the traditional Vedic system prescribes different roles for men and women: the constitution of body and mind is different. While the soul is the same, the machine is different, therefore the type of activities and roles should also be distinct.
Just like if someone is driving a sports car and another one is driving a truck. The sports car is faster, but it can’t carry the same load as the truck. If the driver of the car becomes envious of the truck and wants to carry the same load, he will just break his car. Similarly, if the truck driver wants to go as fast as the car, he will just get into an accident.
When Srila Prabhupada speaks about differences between men and women, he is not speaking about the soul, but just about such differences in the body and in the proper roles according to the vehicle that one is driving. As devotees, our goal is to serve Krsna, and the body is a vehicle that allows us to do that. By understanding the qualities and limitations of our vehicle, we can serve better. Another important point is the potential for disrupture in the social structure when the roles for males and females are not properly followed, as we can see nowadays all over the world, especially in western societies.
Now that is stated about what we are talking about, we can continue discussing the initial topic.
In modern society, intelligence is measured according to the capacity of one acquiring technical skills, mundane information and manipulating the material energy with the purpose of enjoying one’s senses. In Vedic culture, however, intelligence means to be able to understand the scriptures, control one's senses, perform austerity and solve life’s real problems: birth, disease, old age, and death. The learned brahmana, living in simple conditions is considered intelligent, while the expert materialist, who may be very prolific in technical knowledge and social skills is considered foolish. Someone living under a bodily concept of life is not considered intelligent according to the Vedic standard.
When a soul gets a female body, he tends to become more firmly attached to his physical form and appearance. This can be exemplified in a simple manner: if you say to a man that he has an ugly face, he will probably not take it very seriously, maybe he will just say “so what?” and laugh, but if you do that to a lady, she will become seriously offended or depressed.
The female body also makes it harder for the soul to exert sense control, perform austerities, solve complex problems and understand fine philosophical points. The general idea is that a soul identified with a female body tends to have more difficulty in distinguishing spirit from matter, therefore, taking the Vedic criteria, men can be considered generally more intelligent than women, at least considering individuals from the same social or spiritual level.
An advanced lady will surely do better than a lesser man, but when we compare a man and a woman of similar stature, the man tends to do better in such areas. This is a point that Srila Prabhupada makes in his purport to SB 6.17.34-35 when commenting about the episode between Lord Shiva, Parvati, and Citraketu. Parvati devi is certainly much more elevated and qualified than any mundane man, but not when compared to Lord Shiva:
“Here is a difference between male and female that exists even in the higher statuses of life-in fact, even between Lord Siva and his wife. Lord Siva could understand Citraketu very nicely, but Parvati could not. Thus even in the higher statuses of life there is a difference between the understanding of a male and that of a female. It may be clearly said that the understanding of a woman is always inferior to the understanding of a man. In the Western countries there is now agitation to the effect that man and woman should be considered equal, but from this verse it appears that woman is always less intelligent than man.”
There is a reason material nature creates bodies with such differences: women are not created to compete with the men for supremacy, but to cooperate with them in the creation of a spiritually progressive society. Men are created to be better in their particular roles, and women to be better in their particular roles. The Vedic system offers us some advice on how we can have a peaceful life and advance spiritually. If we don’t want to follow, we can remain in this material world and just swap roles, following the laws of karma: the man can become a lady and deal with men similar to the one he is in this life, and the lady can become a man and deal with women similar to the one she is in this life.
Some people think that Srila Prabhupada makes his points about men and women out of chauvinism or cultural prejudices, but the truth is that he is just concerned about our welfare. Just like a concerned father warns his children about costly mistakes they can make in life, he similarly warns us. We do better when we listen and try to understand.
This brings us to the social implications. Ladies are normally physically weaker and more emotional than men, and therefore they demand a greater level of protection. They also need a certain level of comfort and sense gratification, therefore for them, it’s more natural to follow spiritual life in family life, which is the general recommendation from the scriptures (different from men, who are advised to, if possible, to live a renounced life).
The difficulty is that peaceful family life demands a certain mindset that is incompatible with the image of the independent lady that is propagated in western culture. No lady will want to be married to a weak and helpless man who will act more like a child than as a husband. Deep inside, every lady wants to get married to a strong and qualified man. The way to inspire such qualities in the husband is to take a submissive position, so he can be encouraged to fulfill his role and act like a man, taking responsibility for the family’s maintenance and giving physical and emotional protection, thus allowing the lady to fulfill her natural role as a wife and mother. When the lady plays her proper role, she empowers the husband to also play his proper role, and thus both are benefited.
Most men have the need of a lady to provide them with inspiration, so they can work with determination and thus be able to achieve their potential, both in material and in spiritual affairs. As the saying goes: “Behind every great man there's a great woman”. Only men who are situated on a high spiritual level are capable to work with determination without the inspiration of a woman. We can practically see that men (with the exception of the above mentioned ones who are spiritually advanced) who don’t have a wife tend to fall down into tama-guna. By acting in a proper way, a lady provides this needed inspiration to the husband, so he can fulfill his true potential. The lady is thus benefited with material facilities, social status, good spiritual example, etc. and the husband and children are benefited by the love and care offered by the woman. This is, by the way, one of the things women do much better than men: when their natural propensity is properly engaged, they are invaluable as caregivers. Without dedicated wives and mothers, there are no families, and without families, there is no civilized society. From here we can understand the crucial role of women in any progressive society. Vedic society prospered for millions of years while following this recipe; western societies, on the other hand, are already collapsing after just a few generations of modern values.
There are always struggles and difficulties in material life, but this traditional family model is the closest that a lady can get to a happy life in this world. As Srila Prabhupada phrases:
“Woman should remain dependent in childhood upon first-class father, in youthhood upon first-class husband, and in old age upon first-class son. Woman is never independent. If she becomes independent, her life is not very good. She must agree to remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband, and first-class son--three stages.” (Room Conversation, 5 July 1975, Chicago)
“Independent woman cannot be happy. That's a fact. We have seen in the Western countries, on, in the name of independence, so many women are unhappy. So that is not recommended in the Vedic civilization and on the varnasrama-dharma.” (Lecture, 5 November 1974, Bombay)
If the lady is arrogant and independent, she conflicts with the role of the husband, creating strife, dissension and other problems. It is all about roles: The scriptures prescribe certain roles for the husband, wife, children, etc. If we can follow such roles properly, our family life can work peacefully and everyone can be happy. Since most people need to go through family life (both men and women), we do better when we try to follow these roles. This is one of the meanings of intelligence: to be able to learn from the advice of the scriptures, and thus avoid having to learn the hard way, by committing costly mistakes. In the Bhagavad-gita, we learn how we can do our duties (play our role) with a detached mindset. A good reading in this connection is the book “Spiritual Culture – Krishna’s Divine System” from HG Devaki devi dasi.
Even secular ladies end up coming to these conclusions, usually after one or more failed marriages. One example is Kathy Murray, a lady from the United States who gave a famous interview to the BBC, describing how she learned to be, in her words, “a surrendered wife”. These are a few excerpts from her interview, where we can see how a lady who defines herself as a feminist came, after much struggle, to many of the same conclusions:
“The first time I married I was divorced by 26. I married for the second time at 32 but soon found myself sleeping in the guest room. My husband and I fought all the time”... “I didn't tell anyone I was in constant conflict with my husband. I was embarrassed, angry and resentful.”… “My husband often resorted to watching TV and snuggling with our pets as I'd rage at him over ignoring my needs.”... “I was about to end my marriage when I picked up a book called The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle. I mean, they don't teach us how to be successful in marriage in school and the women in my life didn't share the secrets either.”
“It was incredibly humbling to recognise that I had something to do with why my marriage was failing and perhaps even why my first marriage failed. But it was also empowering. I didn't know I'd been disrespectful to my husband or even that I'd been controlling and critical.”... “I'll never forget the day I first apologised to my husband for being rude for correcting him in front of the children, or the day I said "whatever you think" when I'd previously been extremely opinionated about what he should do.”
“I had trained my husband to ask my permission for everything. And then complained about it for a year in counselling that he couldn't make simple decisions! I relinquished control of my husband's life, choices and decisions and instead I focused on my own happiness. I was no longer acting like his mother.”... “My kids began to notice the change in our relationship too, and as a result, their behaviour improved and our home became peaceful and fun again.” (BBC, 100 Women 2016: I am a 'surrendered wife’)
In this context, it is easy to understand statements from Srila Prabhupada like this one:
“Woman Reporter: But you say women are subordinate to men.
Prabhupada: Yes, that is also natural. Because when the husband and wife are there or the father and daughter is there, so the daughter is subordinate to the father and the wife is subordinate to the husband.
Woman Reporter: What happens when women are not subordinate to men?
Prabhupada: Then there is disruption. There is disruption, social disruption. If the woman does not become subordinate to man, then there is social disruption. Therefore, in the western countries there are so many divorce cases because the woman does not agree to become subordinate to man. That is the cause.
Woman Reporter: What advice do you have to women who do not want to be subordinate to men?
Prabhupada: It is not my advice, but it is the advice of the Vedic knowledge that woman should be chaste and faithful to man.” (Television Interview, 9 July 1975)
Naturally, a lady doesn’t need to spend all her time taking care of the family (that’s the point where these traditional values can be harmonized with modern ones). Whatever talents she has, she should use in Krsna’s service. But the family works as a safe base from which she can operate. One time, HG Bhibavati dd asked Srila Prabhupada: “Should I live like in the Vedic times, and simply serve my husband and child?” Srila Prabhupada answered: “No, you have a talent as a writer, you should write articles for newspapers and propagate Krishna Consciousness”. Another time, he wrote to Jayatirtha: “It is not that women should only produce children, but they are meant for advancing in devotion.”
In fact, Srila Prabhupada was quite progressive regarding the roles of his lady disciples, Not only did he allow Vaishnavis to live in the temples and perform all kinds of services, including deity worship, but also engaged qualified Vaishnavis in giving classes, performing kirtanas, writing articles, painting, preaching and, on occasion, even accepted lady disciples as secretaries during his travelings. Even though criticized by some of his godbrothers, when asked years later if he would have preferred to establish the movement differently, Srila Prabhupada stated that he would do things in exactly the same way. From this, we can see that far from making ladies a subjugated class, he was eager to engage their talents in Krsna’s service. As he explains in the interview with reporter Sandy Nixon (Room Conversation, 13 July 1975):
“We give Krsna consciousness both to the woman and man equally. We do not make any such distinction. But to protect them from this exploitation by man, we teach something, that "You do like this. You do like that. You be married. Be settled up. Don't wander independently." We teach them like that. But so far Krsna consciousness is concerned, we equally distribute. There is no such thing that "Oh, you are woman, less intelligent or more intelligent. Therefore you cannot come." We don't say that. We welcome women, men, poor, rich, everyone, because in that platform equality.”
Srila Prabhupada would generally mention this point about ladies being less intelligent when confronted with feminist ideas. Feminism comes from bodily identification, which in the Vedic view is a symptom of foolishness. To live in family life demands a great deal of humility. Such humility is also essential for our spiritual advancement in general.
The argument that ladies can do most things that men can do and therefore they should just be like the men is not very sound. Children can also work and be independent, if the situation forces them to live like that. Children can even be trained to fight in wars, operating weapons and killing people (and sometimes be more effective than adults, as demonstrated by some unfortunate historical examples) but no one in a sane state of consciousness will argue that this is a good thing. Similarly, ladies are perfectly capable of working and taking care of themselves if they have to (a situation that is common all over the world nowadays), the question is not about if they can or cannot, but if this is positive for their spiritual advancement, or if it is something that is going to bring them happiness. This is an example of what Krsna explains in Bg 18.47: “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly.” Although qualified Vaishnavis can perform most activities in devotional life, when it comes to material activities and social organization, certain rules must be observed.
A lady who can accept a supportive role to a qualified man, can fulfill her natural tendency towards family life and be happy, which in turn allows her to follow spiritual life with a peaceful mind. We can see by historical examples that even great, exalted women, like mother Sita, Kunti, Draupadi, etc. were married to even greater husbands, like Ramacandra, Pandu, the Pandavas, etc. and would become even more dignified acting as dedicated wives and giving birth to exalted children. Naturally, nowadays the men are not like Ramacandra or Arjuna, just like the women are not like Sita or Draupadi, but the principle remains the same: a lady selects a man who she considers more qualified than herself and takes a submissive role, working in harmony with him. Srila Prabhupada gives a nice explanation about this in his purport to SB 9.10.27:
“Not only was mother Sita powerful, but any woman who follows in the footsteps of mother Sita can also become similarly powerful. There are many instances of this in the history of Vedic literature. Whenever we find a description of ideal chaste women, mother Sita is among them. Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, was also very chaste. Similarly, Draupadi was one of five exalted chaste women. As a man must follow great personalities like Brahma and Narada, a woman must follow the path of such ideal women as Sita, Mandodari and Draupadi. By staying chaste and faithful to her husband, a woman enriches herself with supernatural power.”
Feminism turns everything upside down, teaching ladies that they should be independent. The result is that they can’t be proper wives or mothers, which just creates a distressed condition for everyone: the ladies themselves, their husbands and their children. Worse still is that it creates additional obstacles for their spiritual development.
"As for behavior, there are many rules and regulations guiding human behavior, such as the Manu-samhita, which is the law of the human race. Even up to today, those who are Hindu follow the Manu-samhita. Laws of inheritance and other legalities are derived from this book. Now, in the Manu-samhita it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. Children are not given freedom, but that does not mean that they are kept as slaves. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life. She should be given protection by the father in her younger days, by the husband in her youth, and by the grownup sons in her old age. This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-samhita. But modern education has artiﬁcially devised a puffed-up concept of womanly life, and therefore marriage is practically now an imagination in human society. The social condition of women is thus not very good now, although those who are married are in a better condition than those who are proclaiming their so-called freedom. The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable." (Bg. 16.7 purport)
Nobody is independent. Everyone is dependent on different authorities. When a child is born, the authorities are the parents, and as one grows-up other authorities are added, like the teachers and mentors, the temple president, the instructing gurus and the initiating guru, senior devotees, the husband and so on. Some are authorities on a material level and others on a spiritual level, but all of them are representatives of Krsna, who are empowered by Him to give us direction, teaching us what is proper and improper to do, and thus advance.
To be able to advance in spiritual life (or even to advance in a material sense, becoming a civilized human being), it’s essential that one accepts this principle of authority. That’s why this particular point is emphasized in the scriptures. One is allowed to not follow an authority in cases where such authority gives unbonafide instructions (like when Bali Maharaja rejected Shukracharya) or falls from the regulative principles, but the general rule is that we should respect and follow authority.
In fact, we are for so long in this material world exactly because we don’t want to accept our dependent position. We want to be separate enjoyers, masters of everything that we see. Feminism just feeds this diseased condition of the soul, leading one to rebel against the principle of authority, which is essential for a progressive life. A lady strongly influenced by these ideas will not only have difficulty in accepting a submissive role to her husband, but also to her spiritual master, to Srila Prabhupada and ultimately to Krsna, making it harder for her not only to have a proper family life, but also to advance in spiritual life. The result is just bitterness and frustration. Real intelligence means to be able to understand Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and to surrender to Krsna.
A different angle in this connection is that all this talk about duties, different natures, roles in society, etc. are in the context of the varnasrama teachings that Srila Prabhupada was emphasizing in his later teachings. In the beginning, Srila Prabhupada was teaching in a more liberal way, encouraging his followers to simply use their natural tendencies in Krsna’s service, which is actually a higher principle: all these different bodily and cultural differences are temporary. As Srila Prabhupada explains, on the material platform there are so many designations, but on the spiritual platform, there is equality.
One example is that in the first years, Srila Prabhupada was teaching his disciples that both men and women should be called “Prabhu", without distinction. He himself was adopting this standard, referring to his female disciples as "Prabhu" on several occasions, including letters, like the ones to Ranadhira, on 16 February 1971, Rsabhadeva on 25 March 1971, Mukunda on 13 April 1971, Tribhuvanatha on 4 July 1971 and Kirtanananda on 6 November 1971.
Later, however, seeing many cases of broken marriages, illicit affairs, and irresponsibility from the part of some followers, he started to speak more about daiva-varnasrama, emphasizing the point about different roles for men and ladies. At this point, he started to stress that except for his wife, men should see every woman as mother or Mataji. In western society, we tend to treat our mothers quite poorly and maybe because of that, the term “Mataji” is sometimes used in a derogatory way inside ISKCON, but in Vedic society the mother is deeply respected and highly honored, and thus the term “Mataji” is a very respectful form of address.
In short, when one is on the paramahamsa stage, he may act in a spontaneous way (although even paramahansas are advised to perform their social duties to set a good example for others), but for one who is still in an immature stage, rules and regulations are essential. Without them, we tend to just become sahajiyas, speaking high philosophy, but behaving in immoral ways.
“Therefore, the common moral teachings and the Vedic civilization is to accept any woman except his own wife as mother. Matrvat para-darenu. Para-darenu. Everyone is supposed to be married. Dara means wife. Para-darenu, other’s wife. It doesn’t matter if she is younger or older, but she should be treated as mother. Therefore it is the system in Vedic culture, as soon as one sees another woman, he addresses her, “mother,” Mataji. Immediately, “mother.” That makes the relationship. The woman treats the unknown man as son, and the unknown man treats the unknown woman as mother. This is Vedic civilization.” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 1.3.13, Los Angeles 18 September 1972)
Without following these roles, it’s very difficult to have a peaceful family life, which is the basis for any kind of progressive society. A man may be irresponsible and a lady independent as long as he or she is satisfied in staying alone in the forest. As soon as the lady needs a man and a man needs a lady, there is a need for the marriage institution, and as soon as we talk about marriage and family, it’s essential that both follow their proper roles, so the relationship can work. Irresponsible males and independent females don’t work well in a family context.
This is a topic that tends to make people defensive, since most ladies have experience of being exploited or neglected by unqualified men, therefore when someone speaks about chastity or submissiveness, an image of exploitation comes to the mind. That’s the other side of the question: men need to be trained to be responsible and respectful toward ladies, especially his own wife.
As Srila Prabhupada emphasizes in his purport to SB 7.11.28: “It is not that a chaste woman should be like a slave while her husband is naradhama, the lowest of men. Although the duties of a woman are different from those of a man, a chaste woman is not meant to serve a fallen husband”. On the one hand, the wife should be supportive and chaste, but on the other, the husband should be qualified and act properly.
A woman will feel naturally inclined to follow a man who has good qualities and takes good care of the family. If the man is respectful and responsible and the lady is supportive, a very deep and peaceful relationship can be established. If the relationship is not deep, it will break easily when problems appear. As Srila Prabhupada writes a little later, in the same purport: “The conclusion is that a husband should be a pure Vaisnava and that a woman should be a chaste wife with all the symptoms described in this regard. Then both of them will be happy and make spiritual progress in Krsna consciousness.”
Married life demands commitment, patience, and sacrifices. A man who is not willing to do so, will not be successful in his family life, which will also have a very negative impact on his practice of Krsna consciousness. One of the main prerequisites to have a working daiva varnasrama system is to train men to be proper husbands. Sometimes, we speak too much about the rules and regulations and forget that the most essential component of the daiva varnasrama system is to give people the proper training. When training is neglected and the rules and regulations are applied in an inflexible way, the system quickly degenerates into asuric varnasrama.
If we insist that the ladies must be chaste wives, but not train the man to be proper husbands, it just becomes an oppressive system. In this case, we may end up implementing asuric varnasrama instead of daiva varnasrama.
Srila Prabhupada explains that the most sinful thing is to exploit someone who has taken shelter of us (memories, Hridayananda dasa). A man who exploits a lady who gives her heart to him commits a most grievous sin. It is already bad enough if a man mistreats an ordinary lady, but if he does that to a Vaishnavi, he should expect a very heavy reaction.
Another essential component of the daiva varnasrama system is that people should be engaged according to their natural tendencies. In other eras, people used to have a straight forward nature (ladies would have a feminine nature, men would have a masculine nature, brahmanas would have a brahminical nature and so on), therefore it would be easy to identify and engage people in their proper roles. In Kali-yuga, most people have mixed natures, therefore to engage them properly is sometimes tricky. In such cases, we should be careful to take into consideration that the main principle is to help people to advance in Krsna consciousness and to engage their natural talents in His service.
There are also cases of advanced Vaishnavas who may act in unconventional ways, being serious in their practice of their Krsna consciousness and successful in executing their services and helping others to also become Krsna conscious, but may not rigidly follow social conventions. There are, for example, cases of unusual marriages between advanced Vaishnavas, where the lady may take a leading role, distributing books, writing transcendental literature, or preaching, and the man may assume a more supportive role, working to maintain the family financially, and giving her emotional support, for example. If both are advanced Vaishnavas, it’s possible for them to cooperate harmoniously in such ways. There are even a few cases of ascetic women in our line, like Krishnapriya and Vishnupriya, the daughters of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, and Sri Gangamata, who was a lifelong celibate. Albeit few, such cases illustrate the point that a few elevated souls, who ascend to a level where they are not identified with their bodies, may sometimes break with social convention, although the general rule is that we should follow the guidelines of the daiva varnasrama system.
As Srila Prabhupada explains, one who is situated in an advanced platform of devotional service becomes transcendental to the modes of the material nature, which is the goal of the different rules and regulations from the scriptures.
"These instructions of Prahlada Maharaja stress the transcendental position of devotional service. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (14.26): mam ca yo ’vyabhicarena bhakti-yogena sevate sa gunan samatityaitan brahma-bhuyaya kalpate “One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” One who fully engages in the devotional service of the Lord is immediately raised to the transcendental position, which is the brahma-bhuta stage. Any education or activity not on the brahma-bhuta platform, the platform of self-realization, is considered to be material, and Prahlada Maharaja says that anything material cannot be the Absolute Truth, for the Absolute Truth is on the spiritual platform. This is also confirmed by Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita (2.45), where He says, traigunya-visaya veda nistraigunyo bhavarjuna: “The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them.” To act on the material platform, even if one’s activities are sanctioned by the Vedas, is not the ultimate goal of life. The ultimate goal of life is to stay on the spiritual platform, fully surrendered to the parama-purusa, the supreme person. This is the object of the human mission. In summary, the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies and injunctions are not to be discounted; they are means of being promoted to the spiritual platform. But if one does not come to the spiritual platform, the Vedic ceremonies are simply a waste of time.” (SB 7.6.26 purport)
That’s another facet of our philosophy: advanced personalities can sometimes act in unusual ways, for they operate under higher principles. The highest principle and the goal of all rules and regulations is to love Krsna, therefore one who achieves such a platform, may not follow the minor rules that are intended to elevate one to such stage. Such great personalities are exceptions to the general rule. As long as we are in a lower stage, however, we have to be more careful in following the traditional rules of the daiva varnasrama system, since we tend to easily commit serious mistakes when operating outside of it. We have to be attentive to follow the rules ourselves and act in a proper way (play our role), according to our place in society, but at the same time understand that the highest principle is to advance in Krsna consciousness and to serve the Lord by distributing transcendental knowledge.
Varnasrama by itself is a system tainted with materialism, mixed with the idea of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha: religiosity, material development, sense gratification, and impersonal liberation. This is the type of varnasrama that is rejected by Caitanya Mahaprabhu in his talks with Ramananda Raya.
As Vaishnavas, we follow daiva varnasrama, which is the varnasrama system in its pure form, where all duties are executed for the satisfaction of the Lord, as a foundation to our devotional practices. In the daiva varnasrama system, the stages of artha and kama are accepted only to the degree they are useful for our service and spiritual practice, and the ultimate goal of moksha is replaced by the idea of achieving pure devotional service. A Vaishnava may acquire riches, but he engages such resources in the service of Krsna, therefore he doesn’t become entangled. He may build a family, but he doesn't see himself as the proprietor or enjoyer, it’s not “his” family, but Krsna’s family who he is maintaining. In essence, in the daiva varnasrama all of our activities are executed for the satisfaction of the Lord, and with the purpose of advancing spiritually. As the service and spiritual practice have primal importance, sometimes part of the rules and regulations of the varnasrama system may be adjusted if they are not favorable for the performance of one’s service.
This divine system is explained in the Srimad Bhagavatam:
"The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world. The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead. All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification. Life's desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one's works." (SB 1.2.6-10)
Sometimes, we may not be able to distinguish the materialist varnasrama (or asuric varnasrama) from the pure daiva varnasrama, and this can lead to many misunderstandings. We should not forget that the four original principles of our mission, as transmitted by Lord Caitanya to Sanatana Goswami (CC Antya 4.80) and adopted by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Prabhupada are to teach the principles of pure devotional service to the public, to open centers for the cultivation of Krsna consciousness, to cultivate service to the holy dhama, and to teach people about how to practice renunciation. We practice daiva varnasrama as a support for these principles, not as a substitute for them.
“ ‘Krsna is the origin of Lord Visnu. He should always be remembered and never forgotten at any time. All the rules and prohibitions mentioned in the sastras should be the servants of these two principles.’ (CC Madhya 22.113)
As you can see, we could continue discussing this same topic for years. The reason I decided to touch such a complicated issue here is to call your attention to the potential complexities of even some apparently simple philosophical points. We need to seriously study the books, lectures, and letters left by Srila Prabhupada to be able to examine each topic from different angles and thus understand and reconcile different injunctions by the sastra in the light of Vaishnava philosophy.
To try to discredit Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, considering them “antiquated” is an unacceptable blunder. Devotees who do that should seriously reflect on where their allegiance is. On the other hand, if we just try to apply the rules of the varnasrama system (which includes roles for men and women) in an inflexible way, without adjusting to higher principles and exceptions, we deviate from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in a different way, becoming some kind of orthodox Hindu sect. There are cases of devotees who, under the pretext of following Srila Prabhupada, try to push some kind of right-wing fundamentalism. This can be even more dangerous than someone who just rejects his teachings.
Going back to the initial topic, about dangers on the path, there is another phenomenon that is, unfortunately, extremely common. Many people intentionally cast doubts into devotees’ minds by criticizing leaders or practices within our society with the intention of breaking people's faith and thus tempting them to switch to their camp. This may go from older devotees who had bad experiences in the past, developed a negative mentality, and have a tendency to share their views with others, trying to get some friends or followers, to more dangerous cases, like ritviks and other deceitful people that intentionally want to attack our movement by means of spurious arguments.
One may say, for example: “The books have been changed, it’s not Prabhupada’s words!”, “They hijacked ISKCON and corrupted his mission, changing the books to fit their agenda”, “You are being cheated!” Then, once the doubt is cast on one’s mind, he becomes much more susceptible to hear their discourse and join their group. Actually, many times their philosophy is “Don’t listen to what these books say, listen to me!”
It is a fact that there was editing and corrections on a number of our books after Srila Prabhupada left, especially in the Bhagavad-Gita, to which many devotees object. That’s a complicated matter that I don’t feel qualified to discuss, but whomever is uncomfortable with this, can just read the original editions of the books, which are available from different sources, including the Vedabase. We should try to understand the message and apply it, and not become entangled in senseless disputes on subject matters that we don’t have control over.
Another symptom that can be found is an effort to distort Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to fulfill some particular agenda or to introduce some mental speculation, as the ritviks do. They take Prabhupada’s words and twist them in such a way that they give the opposite meaning. Prabhupada says: “He will be his disciple.”, but they say that “Actually when Prabhupada said ‘his’, he was not saying ‘his’, he was saying ‘mine’...”. They take the whole text and start to change the meaning of the words to fit their agenda. “This actually doesn’t mean this, it actually means that…”, word jugglery. That’s the same problem that the mayavadis have: they take the Bhagavad-Gita and twist the words to say that “it’s not to Krsna we should surrender, but to the impersonal unborn inside Krsna”.
HH Sivarama Swami: Ritviks try to break devotees’ faith by citing examples of some ISKCON leaders’ fall-downs, which although sad history, is irrelevant to their real argument. However by use of such information they paint a false picture of ISKCON, a picture of doom and gloom by which they attempt to disrupt devotees’ faith in the Society, its leaders, and its teachings. Then, when devotees’ faith is weakened or uprooted, they implant their doctrine by means of spurious arguments based on distorted and false information. (Open letter: "Ritvik-vada")
The ritvik philosophy is one example of philosophy that, in the name of maintaining Srila Prabhupada's legacy, propagate a conclusion that is opposite to his teachings and is thus offensive to him. Anyone who studies Srila Prabhupada's books will understand the concept of parampara and the importance of learning the spiritual science from a living spiritual master. Just like Srila Prabhupada connected his disciples with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and the other members of the parampara, one needs to be connected to Srila Prabhupada through one of his qualified disciples or grand-disciples.
The allegation that there are no pure and bonafide gurus after Srila Prabhupada is a direct offense to him. It means that Srila Prabhupada was not competent enough to train his disciples to become pure devotees, that the process given by him doesn't work, or that he wasn't successful in his mission. It’s a ridiculous statement.
The ritvik movement appeared in the 1980s, during the zonal acarya period, a time of confusion when there were excesses from the part of many. Seeing that some of the gurus were acting in questionable ways, a few devotees went to the other extreme, coming to the conclusion that there would be no bonafide spiritual masters after Srila Prabhupada. It is just a polarization phenomenon, where some go to one extreme and others end-up going to the opposite extreme. Since that time, many things were corrected and our collective understanding about the role of the spiritual master matured.
The ritvik philosophy was not based on sastra, but merely on supposition and interpretation of a few of Srila Prabhupada’s last statements. It was discussed for some time between the leaders of our society, but the lack of philosophical consistency led it to be quickly discarded. Most of the devotees that were initially pushing it, abandoned it over the years. What happened is that some unscrupulous persons took it and started using it to attack our society. Most of them are envious persons that don’t follow principles or chant. Their sadhana is simply to post offenses over the Internet.
One more deviation that one may find is to discredit the GBC and follow some charismatic personality. As I presented before, the creation of a governing body is one of the main instructions from Srila Prabhupada, and from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura before him. This is another deviation, because it leads to the creation of separate institutions, sabotaging the very unity of the mission, which is one of the most important factors for the potency of our preaching. Once it starts to fragment, then it’s not ISKCON anymore, it’s not Srila Prabhupada’s movement, it’s something else. Then the potency is lost, the purity is lost and very soon everything is lost.
It’s rare to find in this world a completely liberated person who has a perfect vision, like Srila Prabhupada. The idea is that it’s much safer to accept the decision of a group of senior Vaishnavas than to accept the decision of a single person. A group may still commit mistakes, but they tend to be much less frequent and less severe than the ones committed by a single imperfect individual.
Without a GBC, the institution would fragment, just like the Gaudiya Matha in the past, with different camps fighting for power, each with its particular acarya. Both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura could see this, therefore they wanted a governing body. There is a very clear reason. Naturally, the final goal is not just to merely follow the GBC in an official way, but to keep the purity and potency of our movement. However, the GBC is an essential part of the apparatus necessary to achieve that end.
In the second volume of “A Transcendental Diary”, HG Hari-sauri Prabhu narrates in detail the reaction of Srila Prabhupada to the appearance of the “The Gopi Bhava Club” in 1976, which is considered the first sahajiya movement within ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada saw it as a great danger to our movement and dealt very swiftly and strongly with all those involved. This episode serves as an example of how subtle the sahajiya influence can be, and how dangerous it is, not only to ourselves but to our movement as a whole.
“Prabhupada had just sat down in the middle room for breakfast when Pradyumna came in, obviously quite disturbed. Prabhupada allowed him to come up to his small table, already set out with his silver thali of cut fruits, puffed rice and fried cashews. Pradyumna began to complain about the study group Radhaballabha mentioned yesterday. He told Prabhupada one devotee was reported to have said that the Gita was too bodily conscious and "external" and that he became inspired only by reading about Krsna's confidential, internal dealings, especially those of the gopis in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.
Srila Prabhupada was so disturbed by this news that the piece of fruit he held in his hand never made it into his mouth. Abandoning breakfast, he went back into his darsana room and called for all GBC men and sannyasis, as well as for several members of the study group. He demanded to know who was involved”...
“By this time the men were in his room and for almost three quarters of an hour he strongly rebuked the group, angrily refuting its reasoning. He compared their exclusive focus on the gopis to "jumping like monkeys."
Puranjana said their intention was to simply scrutinize the activities of the gopis and develop the same aspirations because this was recommended by Lord Caitanya.
Prabhupada got even angrier. He was in no mood for being mollified. "You want to scrutinizingly study Caitanya Mahaprabhu's instructions, but why just the parts about the gopis? Why don't you scrutinizingly study where Caitanya Mahaprabhu says guru more murkha dekhi' karila sasana, that His guru found Him to be a fool and told Him he was not fit for anything but chanting Hare Krsna? Why don't you scrutinize that part? First become a fool like Caitanya Mahaprabhu before jumping over like monkey!"
Puranjana tried to reassure him that they were not attempting to imitate the gopis' love of Krsna; they were simply studying the descriptions so that they could develop such desires.
Prabhupada flushed, his top lip quivering. "First deserve, then desire! There is no question of desire unless one is actually liberated. Until that point you simply do whatever service you are given. So long as there is any pinch of material desire there is no question of desiring on the spiritual platform!"
He said the intimate gopi-lilas were discussed by Lord Caitanya only among His three most confidential associates—Svarupa Damodara, Ramananda Raya, and Sikhi Mahiti. Siddha-deha is for liberated souls—no one else.
Sulocana said that they had thought it was all right because it was in Prabhupada's books, and they were only reading his books. Prabhupada told them that just because a drug store has every type of drug it does not mean that one can get them without prescription. The doctor prescribes according to the disease. He said that from the beginning stages of devotional service up to the highest rasas, everything is there in his books, but they are not all to be immediately studied.
He ordered them not to hold any more meetings and to disband the "club." He directly linked this sahajiya tendency to devotees meeting with the babajis in Vrndavana, and he strongly criticized Jagannatha dasa (although he is not one of the study group) for even leaving his ears unblocked while the man spoke to him about so-called siddha-deha.
After sending them out duly chastened, Prabhupada explained to us that this sahajiya philosophy means the preaching will be finished. "So try to save them," he advised the GBC men. "In Vrndavana many sahajiyas would ask, 'Oh Svamiji, why are you bothering to preach? Why not just be content to stay in Vrndavana and do your bhajana?'”. (A Transcendental Diary, vol. 2. Hari Sauri Prabhu)
On the next day, Srila Prabhupada continued discussing the issue during his morning walk:
"Going out in the car for his morning walk Prabhupada gave further warnings to Tamal Krishna and Ramesvara Maharajas on the dangers of the sahajiya tendency spreading in ISKCON. Tamal Krishna is returning to New York a little early because he is concerned that it might be spreading there also. Pradyumna prabhu's ongoing investigation has discovered that the gopi-bhava group have been transmitting their ideas to other temple communities by some sort of unofficial newsletter.
Tamal Krishna told Prabhupada that one of the symptoms he has noticed about these people is that they don't go out on sankirtana.
As soon as he said that Srila Prabhupada cut in. "Then everything will be finished. Preaching will be finished. In this sahajiya party, then preaching will be finished." Declaring the siddha-pranali process as nonsense, Prabhupada told us where the whole thing was coming from. "They have learned it from these Radha-kunda babajis."
"From Radha-kunda babajis?" Tamal Krishna asked.
"Babajis, yes," Prabhupada reasserted. "After all, they're fool, rascals, so whatever they say..."
Ramesvara said he felt that the danger lay in their use of Prabhupada's own books for authority. But Prabhupada told him it was all right that they are taking some authority, the problem is that they are not taking all the instructions in his books. "That I've already explained. Why these rascals do not take the lessons of Caitanya Mahaprabhu that we are all rascals, fools? No. That they will not take. They'll take the Radharani's bhava. What Caitanya Mahaprabhu is teaching by His practical life, that we have to take."
Ramesvara repeated one of the statements from their newsletter. "Regarding service in a reverential mood; so they have found some quote, that reverential devotional service is an impediment toward developing pure love."
Tamal Krishna added another. "They quote that regulative principles are a hindrance on the path. There's a statement somewhere in one of your books that when one attains the highest platform..."
"Then where is that highest platform?" Prabhupada interrupted.
"One must go through stages," Ramesvara said. "You gave the example of trying to get an M.A. degree."
"Yes," Prabhupada agreed. "One has to come to that highest stage. It is not forbidden. That may be ideal, but not for the neophytes. One who does not know ABCD, what he will know about M.A. degrees? That they do not know. They think that they have already passed M.A. degree. That is their fault."
Tamal Krishna Maharaja brought up another item from the newsletter. "There's another statement, I saw them, where it says, it's a quote, that you can treat Krsna as your lover and Krsna will reciprocate."
"And they underlined the two words 'you can' treat Krsna as your lover," I added. "In this way they're taking your quotes out of context."
"This is one of the main ideas in their philosophy, that the living entity can desire to have any relationship he wants with Krsna," Ramesvara said.
"That's all right," Prabhupada told us, "he can desire. I already explained: first deserve, then desire. You are rascal, how you can desire? You have no qualification, you desire to be High Court judge. What is this nonsense?"
Ramesvara was keen to get Srila Prabhupada's response to every possible argument. "But then they have an answer."
Prabhupada obliged him. "What is that answer?"
"Let me just try it anyway, to keep my mind thinking..."
"How you can try it?" Prabhupada challenged. "First of all, be qualified, a big lawyer, then you become High Court judge. Where is that qualification? You are after illicit sex and bidi, and you want to be associated with the gopis."
"They say that 'In ISKCON, we do not...'"
"Let them say all nonsense," Prabhupada replied. "They are disqualified. Sahajiya babajis, that's all." (A Transcendental Diary, vol. 2. Hari Sauri Prabhu)
Later, it was revealed that some members of the group were not properly following the four principles. There were cases of unmarried ladies getting pregnant and even one case of abortion. To this, Srila Prabhupada answered: "That is their fault. They want to utilize the love affairs of Krsna and gopis for their debauchery. That is a support for their debauchery. That is sahajiya."
These views are also expressed in a letter to Visvambhara (14 December 1972):
"So far your question about the gopis, in the beginning there is no such question. In the beginning we have to follow the principles of devotional service rigidly, like chanting 16 rounds, regularly following the instructions of the Spiritual Master, which includes study, temple worship, sankirtan, like that.”
“Going to girls and making them pregnant, then talking of gopis, that is going on, that is nonsense. Without coming to the perfectional stage, if anyone tries to understand the gopis he becomes a sahajiya."
Apart from breaking the principles, one more symptom of the members that was described was a lack of interest in preaching activities. This is another symptom of a sensual mentality, since material consciousness leads to selfishness. At the time, Srila Prabhupada warned that if these ideas would spread inside ISKCON, our preaching would be finished. As Srila Prabhupada warns us: “Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, he said that ‘When our men will be sahajiya, oh, they'll be more dangerous.’” (Room Conversation, 24 January 1977)
In his purport in SB 4.24.45-46, Srila Prabhupada further elaborates, making the point that without following the principles of pancaratrika-vidhi, it’s not possible for a neophyte to make advancement. It’s true that, due to intimacy, on a pure platform there is no question of offense in service, but to get there we need to first treat our disease of material lust and enviousness of Krsna, which is done by serving Him according to the rules and regulations:
“Without serving Krsna according to the vidhi-marga regulative principles of the pancaratrika-vidhi, unscrupulous persons want to jump immediately to the raga-marga principles. Such persons are called sahajiya. There are also demons who enjoy depicting Krsna and His pastimes with the gopis, taking advantage of Krsna by their licentious character. These demons who print books and write lyrics on the raga-marga principles are surely on the way to hell. Unfortunately, they lead others down with them. Devotees in Krsna consciousness should be very careful to avoid such demons. One should strictly follow the vidhi-marga regulative principles in the worship of Laksmi-Narayana, although the Lord is present in the temple as Radha-Krsna. Radha-Krsna includes Laksmi-Narayana; therefore when one worships the Lord according to the regulative principles, the Lord accepts the service in the role of Laksmi-Narayana. In The Nectar of Devotion full instructions are given about the vidhi-marga worship of Radha-Krsna, or Laksmi-Narayana. Although there are sixty-four kinds of offenses one can commit in vidhi-marga worship, in raga-marga worship there is no consideration of such offenses because the devotees on that platform are very much elevated, and there is no question of offense. But if we do not follow the regulative principles on the vidhi-marga platform and keep our eyes trained to spot offenses, we will not make progress.” (SB 4.24.45-46 purport)
All these heavy statements from Srila Prabhupada regarding the Vrindavana babajis may look unreasonable for many. However, one can understand the practical results by studying the history of different yatras. The mixing of ISKCON devotees with babajis tends to create sahajiya waves that affect each different yatra at a certain point of its evolution. The pattern tends to be always similar: a few devotees go to Vrindavana, they become attracted to certain ideas or practices, they start to share their new-found “realizations” with their friends and it starts to spread in an ad-hoc manner, sometimes surprisingly quick. Soon, sadhus from Vrindavana start to visit. Devotees in the group start to feel and act as if better than others, and many become offensive. They decide to start separate programs and continue to grow by attracting more devotees from the local ISKCON center. Eventually, the group starts to wither, reducing in size, or disappearing, but the devotees involved rarely come back. The combination of philosophical misconceptions, exploitation, and offenses takes its toll on their spiritual life.
The Gopi-bhava club was the first of such waves, and it affected temples in North America. At the time, the question was quickly solved due to the personal intervention of Srila Prabhupada. Later waves affected Europe, Brazil and other countries of Latin America and so on, always causing serious problems. As I’m writing this, another wave is starting in Russia, and soon we are probably going to see one in China.
By seeing the results, it’s not difficult to understand why Srila Prabhupada was so alarmed by the episode of the Gopi-bhava club. Having spent many years living in Vrindavana, he understood the problem and the risk it represented for his movement. I personally saw cases of determined book distributors who had their devotional lives (what to say about their book distribution) ruined because of such association. I saw communities divided, families separated, serious cases.
Even if compared with other problems discussed in this chapter, the influence of the babajis and their philosophy seems to be especially dangerous. Not only it may start as something subtle, and thus difficult to spot, but it also deals with particular aspects of our psychology and certain philosophical points that can be difficult to address. This topic is my humble attempt to clarify this complicated issue.
By the time of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, most of the reminiscent Vaishnavas in the line of Mahaprabhu were babajis, following a process of raganuga bhakti based on solitary meditation. When a disciple would be qualified enough, the guru would reveal to him the eleven characteristics of his eternal spiritual form in Krsna lila (ekadasa bhava), including one’s name, parents, dress, service, and so on. In other words, the guru would reveal the disciple’s eternal identity (siddha-deha). By meditating in this way (smarana dasa) the qualified disciple would be able to serve Radha-Krsna using his spiritual body. By the end of his life, he would take birth in Vraja, in the universe Krsna is currently executing His pastimes and from there continue his service eternally. For it to work, it’s not only necessary that the guru is realized enough to know such details, but also that the disciple is advanced enough to peacefully sit and chant two or three lakhs, 128 or 192 rounds daily, faithfully meditating and following the process given by the spiritual master.
In other words, not only is this a process for bhajananandis, who need to be fully dedicated to their sadhana, but it can be performed only by someone who is already in a very advanced stage. This is a process for uttama adhikaris, that can only be truly practiced by very advanced Vaishnavas (CC Madhya, 22.149), definitely not for neophytes.
Only someone who is already in a high stage of bhakti, free from material desires, has a chance of successfully practicing it. Anyone at a lower level than that will not be able to control his agitated mind and will fall down into sinful practices.
This particular path was practiced at a certain time, place and circumstance, by a few advanced personalities. Nowadays, it is not only difficult to find in its true form, but also not very practical for us, modern people, with our agitated minds. This explains why, despite describing the process of ekadasa bhava in a few of his works (like the Jaiva Dharma and Harinama Cintamani), Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura emphasized the chanting of the holy names and the practice of regulated devotional service in his writings and preaching, especially in his highly successful nama-hatta program. The practice that goes on nowadays, in which a sahajiya babaji gives “siddha-pranali” to neophyte Vaishnavas is just a mockery of the orthodox practice.
As the preaching of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura became popular, many pretenders jumped in and started claiming to be followers of Bhaktivinoda. They misunderstood his teachings and adopted the concocted, false version of siddha-pranali, adding to the growing number of deviant sects. Such imitators tend to just superficially imitate some of the external practices, without reaping the fruits.
The main difference between the bonafide practice and the concocted imitation is that in the orthodox practice the guru would be a truly liberated paramahamsa and the disciple would be an advanced Vaishnava, ready to strictly follow a very difficult sadhana. The disciple would be already a liberated soul when the guru would reveal his spiritual identity, and from there he would perform his service in the lila using a spiritual body, not his material mind.
The concocted practice, on the other hand, is based on imagination and superficial imitation. Neither is the so-called “guru” liberated, nor is the disciple up to the standard. The “guru” thus gives the disciple some imaginary identity, and the disciple thinks that he is liberated just by imagining that he is participating in Krsna lila. Everything is just a mental concoction, without any spiritual substance. Srila Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji compared such imitation to a woman who goes to a hospital, lays in a bed and moans as if she's about to give birth, although she is not even pregnant. She will never give birth that way.
As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his Kalyana-kalpataru (Upadesa 18):
"Ecstatic love for Krsna which is completely freed from the propensity to cheat is just like spotlessly pure gold, and the fruits of such pure love are rarely found in this world. However, my dear mind, your cheating process of imitation so-called love is simply a fraud. To get the real pure love, you have to first make yourself a fit candidate, and then true transcendental love will become very easily obtainable for you."
Not being able to control their senses, such practitioners frequently fall down into sinful activities, becoming sahajiyas or worse. Such imitators became common and to this day can be easily found, especially in the region of the Radha Kunda, therefore the warnings from Srila Prabhupada. Over the previous decades, this group was augmented by many disenfranchised members of different Gaudiya maths and from ISKCON, creating a lot of confusion. Most of them have an offensive mentality towards ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and even Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself. The most outrageous fabrications can be heard from them, or read in their literature. They consider themselves the true followers of the Six Goswamis, but in reality, it’s more like an apasampradaya. They understand the goal, but don’t have the process to attain it.
Different from the authentic practice, mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, these artificial imitations are not in our culture, they are just deviations. In fact, when asked about siddha-pranali, Srila Prabhupada bluntly answered that “Siddha-pranali is nonsense. They have manufactured a siddha-pranali.” (Morning Walk, 7 June 1976), illustrating how the process had been corrupted by the sahajiyas. As he explains in the Nectar of Devotion (chapter 16):
“A devotee who is actually advanced in Krsna consciousness, who is constantly engaged in devotional service, should not manifest himself, even though he has attained perfection. The idea is that he should always continue to act as a neophyte devotee as long as his material body is there. Activities in devotional service under regulative principles must be followed even by the pure devotee. But when he realizes his actual position in relationship with the Lord, he can, along with the discharging of regulative service, think within himself of the Lord, under the guidance of a particular associate of the Lord, and develop his transcendental sentiments in following that associate.
In this connection, we should be careful about the so-called siddha-pranali. The siddha-pranali process is followed by a class of men who are not very authorized and who have manufactured their own way of devotional service. They imagine that they have become associates of the Lord simply by thinking of themselves like that. This external behavior is not at all according to the regulative principles. The so-called siddha-pranali process is followed by the prakrta-sahajiya, a pseudosect of so-called Vaisnavas. In the opinion of Rupa Gosvami, such activities are simply disturbances to the standard way of devotional service.”
An acarya is capable of understanding the time, place and circumstance, being qualified thus to make adjustments, putting the path of Krsna consciousness back on track. He is like a physician who is capable of prescribing different treatments to different patients, according to their condition, since what is good for one may be fatal to another.
Understanding that this cheap imitation of raganuga-bhakti was the root cause of the sahajiyism that was destroying the Vaishnava community, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura advised against the process of solitary meditation and instead taught a process for gostianandis, emphasizing regulated practice and missionary activities. He defended strongly the idea that siddha-deha is for liberated souls, free of any tinge of material desires, and that neophytes that try to jump prematurely into it will just become contaminated. In other words, that one should first become a siddha before talking about siddha-deha, otherwise it will be poisonous to him.
Even being a paramahansa himself, he accepted the position of a sannyasi (that is part of the varnasrama system), instead of accepting the position of a babaji (that is above the four ashramas). By putting himself in a position lower than previous acaryas, he gave us the example: to work inside the daiva-varnasrama system, executing the process of vaidhi sadhana-bhakti and working to spread Krsna consciousness, instead of trying to imitate the position of previous acaryas, who are above us. Following his example, Srila Prabhupada also accepted sannyasi, maintained this position until the end of his life and instructed his disciples to do similarly.
Some misunderstood, thinking that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was limiting his disciples to the path of vaidhi-bhakti (the path based on scriptural injunctions), instead of giving them raganuga-bhakti (the path of spontaneous love). This is naturally an incorrect assumption, since he just gave a safer process to attain the same goal. According to him, we can achieve perfection by practicing regulated devotional service and doing nama-sankirtana, without the need for any separate process. As he explains:
"Sri-nama-sankirtan is the best sadhana. If other sadhanas help us in krsna-sankirtana, then they deserve to be called sadhana: otherwise there are simply impediments to sadhana. Sri Krsna nama sankirtana is the emperor of sadhanas. It is the only infallible sadhana capable of bringing us to siddhi. Sriman Mahaprabhu did not speak of teaching arcana, but in siksastaka he taught nama-bhajana. Although in kali-yuga other limbs of bhakti should be performed, they should be accompanied by bhakti denoted by kirtana. Krsna and krsna-nama are not two entities. Krsna is His holy name, and the holy name is Krsna. Krsna-nama is the son of Nanda, Syamasundara. Our only devotional service and duty is sri-krsna-nama-sankirtana. This understanding is auspicious." (Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava)
In a letter entitled “The True Nature of the Holy Name”, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura describes in more detail the process of attaining perfection through the chanting of the holy name:
“I am overjoyed to hear that your enthusiasm for chanting is increasing. All our contaminations are removed by chanting, the Lord’s form, qualities and pastimes will be revealed to us in the holy name. There is no point in making a separate effort to artificially remember the Lord’s form, qualities and pastimes. The Lord and His name are one and the same. This will be understood clearly when the coverings in your heart are removed. By chanting without offenses you will personally realize that all perfections come from the holy name. Through chanting, the distinction that exists between the self, and the gross subtle bodies, is gradually effaced and one realizes one’s own spiritual form. Once aware of the spiritual body as one continues to chant, one sees the transcendental nature of the Lord’s form. Only the holy name reveals the spiritual form of the living being and then causes him to be attracted to Krishna’s form. Only the holy name reveals the spiritual qualities of the living being and then causes him to be attracted to Krishna’s qualities. Only the holy name reveals the spiritual activities of the living being and then causes him to be attracted to Krishna’s pastimes. By service to the holy name we do not mean only the chanting of the holy name; it also includes the other duties of the chanter. If we serve the holy name with the body, mind, and soul, then the direction of that service spontaneously manifests like the sun in the clear sky of the chanter’s heart. What is the nature of the holy name? Eventually all these understandings spontaneously appear in the heart of one who chants the holy name. The true nature of hari-nama is revealed by listening to, reading, and studying the scriptures. It is unnecessary to write anything further on this subject. All these things will be revealed to you through chanting.” (Srila Prabhupadera Patravali, Volume 1)
When one chants purely, he personally associates with Krsna, therefore nothing else is left to be achieved. To come to the stage of pure chanting, we need to follow the process of regulated devotional service, cleaning our hearts and thus gradually ascending to the stage of inoffensive chanting.
This point that the holy name alone is sufficient to achieve all perfection is repeatedly corroborated in many passages of the scriptures, including the Caitanya Caritamrta, Srimad Bhagavatam and Brhad Bhagavatamrta:
”Simply by chanting the holy name of Krsna one can obtain freedom from material existence. Indeed, simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one will be able to see the lotus feet of the Lord.” (CC Adi 7.73)
“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” (CC Antya 4.71)
“O King, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord after the ways of the great authorities is the doubtless and fearless way of success for all, including those who are free from all material desires, those who are desirous of all material enjoyment, and also those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge.” (SB 2.1.11)
“Dear mother, you as well should always worship this young cowherd boy. He is the ocean that yields the nectar of the rasa dance, in which divine gopis fully surround Him, entranced by pure love. You should cherish the desire to be a servant of these gopis, you should constantly worship Him in pure love as they did, and you should dedicate yourself to the sankirtana of His names.” (Brhad Bhagavatamrta, 1.7.154-155)
As corroborated in many passages, nama-sankirtana is the main component of raganuga-bhakti, and when practiced under the supervision of a bonafide spiritual master, is sufficient for achieving perfection. In fact, the chanting of the holy names is the essence of the practice of raganuga-bhakti itself. In other words, we advance by following the process and by spreading Krsna consciousness, and not by trying to jump stages. For us, raganuga-bhakti is achieved by sincerely chanting, fully surrendering and being engaged in service.
In his Tattva-sutra (verse 34) Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura speaks about paranusilana and pratyahara, the two limbs of upaya-bhakti (or sadhana-bhakti). This describes how sadhana-bhakti has an internal and an external aspect. Raganuga-bhakti is the sweet inner pulp, and vaidhi-bhakti is the protective outer skin that protects it. As in any fruit, the outer skin must be developed first, and from there the fruit can be filled with the sweet pulp. Even when the fruit is fully formed, the outer skin remains the only visible part. The pulp continues to be carefully hidden inside.
One who is not envious can easily see how many devotees in ISKCON are indeed executing their services on the platform of spontaneous loving service. Externally, they may look just like ordinary Vaishnavas, following the rules and regulations of vaidhi sadhana-bhakti, but internally their activities are full of ecstatic love. If one can get the association of such pure devotees and execute devotional service under their supervision, he can achieve all perfection. The priority for us is to get rid of our envy, the poison that takes away our vision and prevents us from recognizing such pure devotees.
Just like many criticized Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and the Gaudiya Math at the time, accusing its members of being just neophytes, without access to higher realms of devotional service, many similarly accuse ISKCON devotees and Srila Prabhupada. As in the past, such criticism comes from misunderstanding or, at times, is due to malice and enviousness.
One example of a philosophical point that is understood differently in our line than by most babajis is the connection of the jivas with Krsna. Srila Prabhupada explains that the jiva has an eternal relationship with Krsna, that is simply forgotten by the jiva. The relationship just needs to be revived, and the process to revive it is to practice devotional service under the guidance of a bonafide spiritual master. This idea actually comes all the way from Lord Caitanya, who prays:
“O son of Maharaja Nanda [Krishna], I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet.” (Siksastakam, verse 5)
This is more elaborately described in the 4th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, chapter 28. There, the Lord Himself (in the form of a brahmana) tells King Puranjana, now in his next life, as the daughter of King Vidarbha:
“My dear friend, even though you cannot immediately recognize Me, can’t you remember that in the past you had a very intimate friend? Unfortunately, you gave up My company and accepted a position as enjoyer of this material world.
My dear gentle friend, both you and I are exactly like two swans. We live together in the same heart, which is just like the Manasa Lake. Although we have been living together for many thousands of years, we are still far away from our original home.
My dear friend, you are now My very same friend. Since you left Me, you have become more and more materialistic, and not seeing Me, you have been traveling in different forms throughout this material world, which was created by some woman.” (SB 4.28.53-55)
In his purports to these three verses, Srila Prabhupada explains this subject in a very simple way. In his purport to verse 54, for example, he writes:
“The original home of the living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the spiritual world. In the spiritual world both the Lord and the living entities live together very peacefully. Since the living entity remains engaged in the service of the Lord, they both share a blissful life in the spiritual world. However, when the living entity wants to enjoy himself, he falls down into the material world. Even while he is in that position, the Lord remains with him as the Supersoul, his intimate friend.”
The view of the babajis is different. The nitya-baddha jivas in this material world don’t have any true relationship with Krsna, apart from being created from His energy. They are created at some point in the border between the material and spiritual world, and from there some of the jivas fall into the clutches of material energy in a more or less random fashion. In essence, Krsna doesn’t actually care. In their understanding, the only way to establish a relationship with Krsna is to receive siddha-pranali from a babaji. In other words, the relationship with Krsna is created, by the power of the granting part, at the moment of the so-called initiation. This idea is refuted by Lord Caitanya Himself:
"Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens." (CC Madhya 22.107).
Still, devotees who don't know the philosophy, or don't have faith in Srila Prabhupada’s words tend to get confused, thinking that they will not be able to have a relationship with Krsna unless they receive siddha-pranali from a babaji, and thus the business is going on.
One important part of our spiritual journey is to be able to admit that it's because of our own fault that we fell into this material world. We are here because we wanted to be here and to go back we need to rectify our consciousness, become humble and beg Krsna forgiveness for our offense. If one puts the blame of his fall down onto some external factor, there will always be problems in his attitude towards Krsna.
The fall of the jiva is an extremely complicated subject, because it deals with the intrinsic differences between the spiritual reality and our conditioned reality in the material world. Not knowing anything different, we try to understand this difficult topic on the basis of the linear time of this material world, not understanding that such linear time doesn’t apply to the spiritual world. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains:
“Please avoid the misleading question ‘When were these jivas [living beings] created and enthralled?’ The Mayik time has no existence in spiritual history, because it has its commencement after the enthrallment of jivas, and you cannot, therefore, employ Mayik chronology in matters like these.” (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, His Life and Precepts)
The souls don’t even have an origin, since Krsna clearly explains in the Bhagavad-gita that they are ever existing. The concept of creation exists only inside the material world: all spiritual beings, including ourselves, are simply ever existing, without beginning. This alone is an idea impossible to fully understand with our material brains. Srila Prabhupada explains that although many passages in the scriptures appear to suggest that the souls and different expansions of Krsna are created at a certain point, this is just to make us understand the point that Krsna is the supreme origin. In reality, they are ever existing. Just like it’s sometimes explained that Krsna wanted to enjoy and thus He divided Himself, as Radha and Krsna. There is not such a historical episode when such a division occurred, it’s explained in this way just for us to be able to understand Their relationship. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains this intricate idea in more detail in the 15th chapter of his Jaiva Dharma:
“Vrajanatha: You said earlier that the cit world is eternal, and so are the jivas. If this is true, how can an eternal entity possibly be created, manifested or produced? If it is created at some point of time, it must have been non-existent before that, so how can we accept that it is eternal?
Babaji: The time and space that you experience in this material world are completely different from time and space in the spiritual world. Material time is divided into three aspects: past, present and future. However, in the spiritual world there is only one undivided, eternally present time. Every event of the spiritual world is eternally present.
Whatever we say or describe in the material world is under the jurisdiction of material time and space, so when we say "The jivas were created", "The spiritual world was manifested", or "There is no influence of maya in creating the form of the jivas", material time is bound to influence our language and our statements. This is inevitable in our conditioned state, so we cannot remove the influence of material time from our descriptions of the atomic jiva and spiritual objects. The conception of past, present and future always enters them in some way or another. Still, those who can discriminate properly can understand the application of the eternal present when they comprehend the purport of the descriptions of the spiritual world.”
If the relationship of the jiva with Krsna would have to be established, it would mean that it has a beginning, and as we learn from the Gita, everything that has a beginning also has an end, and thus is temporary or illusory. As He explains in BG 2.16, nasato vidyate bhavo; nabhavo vidyate satah: “For the nonexistent there is no endurance, and for the eternal there is no change”. The relationship of the jiva with Krsna is real, and therefore it must be eternally existing, just as Srila Prabhupada points out repeatedly in his teachings.
In the 3rd chapter of his Harinama Cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (quoting Srila Haridasa Thakura) describes sambandha-tattva, the basic facts concerning the jiva, God and the material nature:
“Krishna is the eternal Lord, and the living entities are His eternal servants, linked to the Lord by the bond of love (prema). This relationship of jiva to God in prema-bhakti is also eternal. This is the living entity's constitutional nature, which has only to be uncovered.”
Later, in the 15th chapter, when describing the process of smarana-dasa, he states that:
"If these stages are followed progressively in smarana, one will quickly come to the stage of apana (possession), where the eleven items are realized as one's constitutional state. However, if one is busy making an exterior show, but does not cultivate fixing one's identity within, he cannot perfect this stage. But fixing one's identity is natural, since the jiva has simply forgotten his perfect stage when entering the material realm and body, desiring his own pleasure, and proportionately as one increases his practice of remembering his natural state, material designation and identification will decrease.”
Naturally, the question of how we can have an eternal relationship with Krsna and still be in this material world at present is the inconceivable part, since it is stated that nobody falls from Krsna’s personal abode. That’s the part that Srila Prabhupada told us to not waste time discussing. Not only is the full explanation not given, but even if it was, we would not be able to really understand, for the reasons I explained previously. Srila Prabhupada gives a few simple explanations on this point in his article “Crow And Tal-Fruit Logic” (originally part of a letter from 16 May 1972 to Madhudvisa Swami and the devotees in Australia), emphasizing the free will of the soul and comparing the conditioned stage to a dream. There he explains:
"We never had any occasion when we were separated from Krsna. Just like one man is dreaming and he forgets himself. In dream he creates himself in different forms: now I am the King discussing like that. This creation of himself is as seer and subject matter or seen, two things. But as soon as the dream is over, the "seen" disappears. But the seer remains. Now he is in his original position.
Our separation from Krsna is like that. We dream this body and so many relationships with other things. First the attachment comes to enjoy sense gratification. Even with Krsna desire for sense gratification is there. There is a dormant attitude for forgetting Krsna and creating an atmosphere for enjoying independently. Just like at the edge of the beach, sometimes the water covers, sometimes there is dry sand, coming and going. Our position is like that, sometimes covered, sometimes free, just like at the edge of the tide. As soon as we forget, immediately the illusion is there. Just like as soon as we sleep, dream is there.
We cannot say therefore that we are not with Krsna. As soon as we try to become Lord, immediately we are covered by Maya. Formerly we were with Krsna in His lila or sport. But this covering of Maya may be of very, very, very, very long duration, therefore many creations are coming and going. Due to this long period of time it is sometimes said that we are ever-conditioned. But his long duration of time becomes very insignificant when one actually comes to Krsna consciousness. Just like in a dream we are thinking very long time, but as soon as we awaken we look at our watch and see it has been a moment only. Just like with Krsna's friends, they were kept asleep for one year by Brahma, but when they woke up and Krsna returned before them, they considered that only a moment had passed." (Srila Prabhupada, “Crow And Tal-Fruit Logic”)
This subject is also explained by Srila Prabhupada in other lectures, conversations, and letters, but it is beyond my scope here. The real point we should keep in mind is, how to cast off our material contamination and regain our original position as servants of the Lord. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains:
“The independent jiva is a beloved servant of Krsna, and thus Krsna is kind and compassionate towards him. Seeing the misfortune of the jiva, as he misuses his independence and becomes attached to maya, He chases after him, weeping and weeping, and appears in the material world to deliver him. Sri Krsna, the ocean of compassion, His heart melting with mercy for the jivas, manifests His acintya-lila in the material world, thinking that His appearance will enable the jiva to see His nectarean pastimes. However, the jiva does not understand the truth about Krsna’s pastimes, even after being showered by so much mercy, so Krsna then descends in Sri Navadvipa in the form of guru. He personally describes the supreme process of chanting His name, form, qualities and pastimes, and personally instructs and inspires the jivas to take to this path by practicing it Himself. Baba, how can you accuse Krsna of being at fault in any way when He is so merciful? His mercy is unlimited, but our misfortune is lamentable.” (Jaiva Dharma, ch. 16)
Another point is that the journey of the jivas is long and has many stages. We all stayed in the viraja river, entered in the body of Maha-Vishnu, went through numerous cycles of creation and annihilation in different material universes, possibly went all the way to the brahmajyoti and back, and so on. This journey is so long that it is not possible to trace back when it began. This explains the apparent contradictions in the explanations of different acaryas (and even amongst different passages from Srila Prabhupada himself) on this matter, since different explanations can be given, in different levels of detail, according to the understanding of the audience. At one instance, it may be said that the jivas came from the glance of Maha-Vishnu, in another that they came from the viraja river, or emanated from the personal effulgence of the Lord, or even just said that the jivas have been in this material world for as long as it can be traced back. These are just explanations that narrate different stages in the jiva’s journey, according to what is relevant in the context, since this is ultimately a subject matter impossible to be fully understood for a conditioned soul. For example, Srila Prabhupada explains that the brahmajyoti is already a fallen position and therefore it is not the origin of the soul, and that “nitya-baddha” means just that the soul is conditioned for such a long period that the beginning can’t be traced back.
One example that can be given is that nowadays most apples come from China. Someone planted a seed, that became a tree, that gave fruits. Someone picked the apple, put it in a box, and shipped it. After more stages, it arrived in a supermarket, where someone bought it. If we would want a more complete explanation, it could be added that the seed came from a lineage of trees, that goes all the way to a Prajapati, who was created by Lord Brahma, who in turn came from Garbhodakasayi Vishnu and so on. One could write volumes about the origin of the apple.
If one asked: “From where the apple came?”. One could answer that it came from the supermarket, another that it came from China, another that it came from a tree. All these answers would be correct, but individuals with a limited understanding could take these partial answers literally and quarrel about where the apple came from, not understanding how the apparently contradictory answers fit together.
Sometimes, particular devotees research a little bit on this subject, find a few isolated quotes, talk with someone and come to the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada was teaching differently than previous acaryas, or that he was deliberately telling white lies with the goal of making his preaching sweeter for the western audience. This is a very dangerous conclusion. Srila Prabhupada studied the writings of previous acaryas much more deeply than we (and, apart of being a self-realized soul, he had the advantage of understanding both Bengali and Sanskrit, instead of depending on imperfect translations, as we do). After all this study, at the peak of his realization, he was teaching the way he was teaching, so we must understand that his conclusions are the result of a superior understanding. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura wrote (Sri Brahma-Samhita 5.37), commenting on a similar issue:
“What the unalloyed devotee of the Supreme Lord says is all true and is independent of any consideration of unwholesome pros and cons. There is, however, the element of mystery in their verbal controversies. Those, whose judgment is made of mundane stuff, being unable to enter into the spirit of the all-loving controversies among pure devotees, due to their own want of unalloyed devotion, are apt to impute to the devotees their own defects of partisanship and opposing views.”
In any case, as Srila Prabhupada points out:
“On the top of the tree there is a nice tal-fruit. A crow went there and the fruit fell down, Some panditas, big big learned scholars saw this and discussed: the fruit fell due to the crow agitating the limb. No, the fruit fell simultaneously with the crow landing and frightened the crow so he flew away. No, the fruit was ripe and the weight of the crow landing broke it from the branch, and so on and so on. What is the use of such discussions? So whether you were in the Brahmasayujya or with Krsna in His lila, at the moment you are in neither, so the best policy is to develop your Krsna consciousness and go there, never mind what is your origin.”
Srila Prabhupada gave us the goal and also the process to attain it. As much as we practice the process, to that degree we come closer to the ultimate goal. To get so-called siddha-pranali from an imitator will not help.
Instead of trying to find Krsna in a bush in Vrindavana, or imitating esoteric practices we can’t properly understand, we can find true perfection by simply following the process of devotional service and chanting the holy names attentively. Our siddha-mantra is “trinad api sunicena taror api sahishnuna amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harihi” and our svarupa is “jivera ‘svarupa' haya -- krsnera ‘nitya-dasa”.
Real siddha-deha manifests when we follow the correct process, it comes by sincerely following the process of Krsna consciousness. We can study about that in the story of the previous birth of Narada Muni, in SB 1.6. After chanting and remembering the Lord’s pastimes throughout all his life, he attained a transcendental body at the time of death.
Another example is mentioned in the book “The Glorious Life of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura” by HG Sitala dasi. Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura had his eternal spiritual identity revealed to him by Srimati Radharani Herself after practicing for years in Vrindavana. Similarly, our spiritual form will be revealed to us when we are mature enough. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati used to say, “First deserve, and then desire”.
Srila Prabhupada teaches us that one should not even begin meditating extensively on the confidential conjugal pastimes of Radha and Krsna until one is completely free from sex desire, which is in accordance with what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was teaching. Both had deep confidence in the power of sankirtana and had an immense eagerness to spread Krsna consciousness and to save fallen souls. By the result of their preaching, we can see how both were correct.
It is said that the qualification to enter Krsna's confidential pastimes is greed, or lobha, but the greed we see in them is the greed to bring the fallen souls back to Godhead. It is also said that the activities of the Gopis are the most confidential service, but in his books, Srila Prabhupada describes the most confidential service as saving others from material existence. In his purport to SB 1.1.15, for example, he writes:
"Anyone, therefore, who takes shelter of the lotus feet of a pure devotee by accepting the pure devotee as his spiritual master can be at once purified. Such devotees of the Lord are honored equally with the Lord because they are engaged in the most confidential service of the Lord, for they deliver out of the material world the fallen souls whom the Lord wants to return home, back to Godhead."
As we saw in the first chapter, he even said that "The book distributors are in the mood of the gopis because they are trying to bring others back to Krsna". The essence of raga-bhakti is the propensity of selfless service. To propagate Krsna consciousness, one is forced to develop an all-consuming dedication to his service and a spirit of self-sacrifice, which works as a powerful, and at the same time safe way to purify the mind and to awaken spontaneous devotion.
As neophytes, we tend to resent the discipline demanded by our process, and try to find shortcuts. We sometimes think that we know better than Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and with a prostitute’s mentality, we want to find greener pastures amongst practitioners of other lines, who are frequently quite critical of both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. The result is often that people get cheated and fall down into sahajiyism. Instead of real gold, they get fool’s gold. Instead of nurturing their bhakti plants, such practitioners end up developing pride, material desires and offensive mentality, a combination that is deadly to one’s spiritual advancement.
In the Portuguese language, there is an expression that illustrates this: “conto do vigário”. This refers to a situation where a con man uses the greed of members of the public to cheat them. In a classical example, the con man would pass as an uneducated person asking about how to exchange a winning lottery ticket. An honest person would just send him to the bank, but a greedy person would bite the bait and try to deceive him by buying the ticket for a fraction of the prize, and thus would end up being cheated by the con man.
Similarly, due to our lazy nature, we conditioned souls have a tendency to try to cheat in spiritual life, finding shortcuts or adopting a cheaper, easier process. When we misuse our minute independence to try to cheat the devotional process, we end up being cheated by such imitators. Our own cheating tendency is used against us.
In short, there are serious risks in associating with babajis. In any case, it is problematic. If one starts to associate with an imitator, he will hear all kinds of concoctions or even offenses to our acaryas and other pure Vaishnavas, which is naturally mostly dangerous. This disease of enviousness and critical mentality is ubiquitous amongst the sahajiyas imitators. One who associates with them will surely get sprinkled by it sooner or later.
Naturally, not all babajis are sahajiyas, there are also a few sincere souls amongst them. However, their association is also problematic for us, because of the great philosophical differences between the gostianandi model of our sarasvata line, that is focused on regulated practice and missionary activities (which is appropriate for us) and the bajananandi process of the babajis, that is ultimately impractical for anyone who is not a liberated soul. Unless one has a very deep philosophical understanding and realization, these differences are going to lead to confusion and offenses.
Even if one develops a serious desire of attaining love for Krsna, association with babajis will not be helpful, because their process is not feasible for us. One will be left with a high goal, but with no means to achieve it, which will lead to frustration, or to sahajiyism.
Between these two extremes, the sahajiya and the sincere soul, there is a huge gray line, that includes numerous personalities who mix characteristics of these two groups. Association with them is most problematic, since on the one hand they may appear to be advanced Vaishnavas, not showing obvious symptoms of sahajiyism or other serious deviations, but on the other hand, nurture an envious or even offensive mentality towards other Vaishnavas. One may preach about bhakti and glorify the achievements of Srila Prabhupada in the front, but criticize him from the back, saying that he was only giving the ABCD, that he was just teaching vaidhi-bhakti, that ISKCON devotees are all neophytes, and so on. This will inevitably lead to serious confusion, since one may start respecting him because of his seniority and other qualities, but at the same time not know what to do with these poisonous ideas.
One time, for example, I was researching about chanting and came across the recorded classes of a senior person, an ex-ISKCON devotee who was living by Radha Kunda and dedicating himself to chanting. At first, I thought I could get a few tips from him, since he was spending so much time chanting and his personal behavior seemed good, but very soon, after scratching the surface I noticed that his main business was to criticize ISKCON gurus and repeat invented stories from the ritviks that he did not even bother to check the veracity. In short, he was converted into an envious person who was after followers. Unfortunately, that is the fate of many devotees who start to associate with the wrong personalities.
We can take some important lessons from the behavior of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura towards Vamsidasa Babaji, an exalted paramahansa who lived as a completely renounced avadhuta. Although extremely appreciative of his high devotional standard, and respectful towards him, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would instruct his disciples to pay their respects from afar, thus avoiding confusion and offenses. As he said: “you are not able to understand his bhava. So stay away”.
Another meaningful detail is the way Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was instructing his babaji disciples. Despite preaching in the mood of a gostianandi, he also gave babaji initiation to a few advanced disciples who had this tendency. However, he gave some very specific instructions to them: although they would live in the mathas and attend all morning programs and classes, they would not give classes themselves, nor associate much with other devotees, making clear that the path accepted by them was different from the general path he recommended for us.
If we put together all these different instructions from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and from Srila Prabhupada, the subject becomes very clear. Sahajiya babajis should be strictly avoided, and sincere souls should be respected, but at a distance. We should keep a humble attitude, understanding that the path adopted by the babajis is reserved only for paramhansas, like our previous acaryas. Understanding our own position, we should be steady on the path prescribed to us, instead of trying to jump like monkeys, as Srila Prabhupada put it.
To get free from the influence of the material energy is not an easy task. Maya’s service is to look over the jivas entrapped in this world, offering them different illusory material conditions, according to their desires and their karma. We want to live the illusion of being enjoyers, and, according to our merits, the material energy offers ways to satisfy that. It’s amazing how under the spell of illusion, the jiva is ready to accept any position (up to a hog or a worm in the stool), except his true position as a servant of Krsna!
When we turn towards spiritual life, we tend to conserve this enjoying spirit to some extent, using spiritual life as a means of achieving our sense gratification. That’s how so many get attracted to mayavada philosophy, for example, since it tempts the conditioned soul with a way to achieve liberation from material captivity without having to accept service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is no greater ambition for a conditioned soul than the idea of becoming God. That’s basically what all of us are trying to achieve in this material world since time immemorial. We came here with the goal of becoming the enjoyers, becoming God, and mayavada philosophy allure so many conditioned souls with the promise of fulfilling that.
There are also different mundane religions, that are basically fruitive, offering a path of pious enjoyment, where the soul accepts God’s supremacy and agrees to follow certain rules and regulations in exchange for the promise of a higher standard of sense enjoyment. The karma-kanda path offered in the Vedas also falls into this category.
Even when one finally arrives to the path of Krsna consciousness, there are different dangers on the path. One may start sincerely, but later fall down into sahajiyism, being attracted by the promise of an easy way to achieve spiritual perfection, and thus end up nurturing his material contamination instead of reducing it. Others may get allured by the possibility of obtaining fame and power, become corrupted by a sense of superiority, or even getting stuck by a lack of determination in clearing their anartas and advancing on the spiritual path.
Someone who just wants to make a little bit of advancement and come back in the next life to continue, may just chant a little and take prasadam. This may be already sufficient to take birth again in a rich or pious family. With a little bit more effort, even birth in the higher planets may be in reach. On the other hand, one who really wants to achieve pure devotional service and go back to Godhead will have to be much more serious in avoiding the diversions and allurements of the material energy. It’s Maya’s duty to test us until we prove that we are ready to again accept our position as eternal servitors of Krsna, to not allow us to get out until we become pure of material contamination. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the Lord compares the material world to a gigantic tree, in which we are entrapped. As He says on BG 15.2-3:
“The branches of this tree extend downward and upward, nourished by the three modes of material nature. The twigs are the objects of the senses. This tree also has roots going down, and these are bound to the fruitive actions of human society. The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment.”.
The only way for us to be able to get free of this tree is to develop this weapon of detachment. Such a weapon comes from the cultivation of spiritual knowledge and serious practice of spiritual life.
One difficulty with spiritual knowledge, however, is that it can be easily misunderstood. All the numerous apasampradayas and deviations on the path started with someone misunderstanding some important point. The scriptures are written in enigmatic language, that can be interpreted in limitless ways. One can just see how many commentaries on the Bhagavad-Gita were written by mundane personalities just in the past century, and how diverse their conclusions are. In fact, Srila Prabhupada wrote that the thousands of different commentaries of the Gita in English failed to bring even one soul to the path of Krsna consciousness. Even when we go to the works of our previous acaryas, it is still possible to misunderstand due to our lack of familiarity with the context and the language.
The books written by Srila Prabhupada stand out by offering the conclusions of the sastras in a direct and easily understandable way. One may not like what Prabhupada writes, may not agree with his conclusions, may not like his style, and so on, but it is very difficult to misunderstand. At every page the philosophy and goals of Krsna consciousness are repeated, it’s practically impossible to miss it. By studying his books, we can get the proper transcendental knowledge, that will help us to identify dangers on the path, and to develop the weapon of detachment, which will free us from the banyan tree of this world. One who is sloppy in his studies, will be very prone to deviate from the path at some point, and thus it is probable that he will not be able to achieve the ultimate goal. Lack of study on an individual level will lead to our personal misfortune, and lack of study on a collective level may lead to the failure of our movement.
Srila Prabhupada was emphasizing that devotees should study his books at least one to two hours a day. Just to distribute his books is not sufficient, we need to also study them deeply:
"I am very much stressing at this point that all of my students shall be very much conversant with the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness, and that they should read our books very diligently at least one or two hours daily and try to understand the subject matter from varieties of angles." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Madhudvisa, 16 June 1972)
"So if you study my books very carefully, then I am sure you will find out the means for applying this Krsna Consciousness philosophy in all spheres of life. There is no limitation. Simply it requires a little common sense practicality." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Amarendra das, 31 January 1973)
"So I am requesting all of my students to read my books very seriously every day without fail. In this way, if your mind becomes absorbed at least one or two hours daily in the transcendental subject matter of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other books then very easily you will make your advancement in Krishna Consciousness."...
"Therefore, I recommend you to read our books more and more and try to understand the subject matter from different angles of vision and be always discussing it with your god brothers even while you are working at the press, and when you are working and you cannot read, then listen to the tapes of my lectures and hear in that way." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Bhargava, 13 June 1972)
"You should be always alert in understanding the sastric conclusions that will help you, otherwise we can be misled by bogus philosophies. I am very pleased that you are studying the books. This will make you happy and successful." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Ayodhyapati, 22 September 1976)
"And you must all study very scrutinizingly all of the books so that when the need arises you can repeat in your own words their purport. Also I will be very pleased if you contribute articles to BTG. By writing regularly, what you read will become realized. As much as possible read, chant, and preach. This is our life and soul. If we keep to this simple formula then there is no doubt that we will be victorious wherever we go and very soon we shall become the only religion in the world." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Hrdayananda, 06 January 1972)
"Regarding your question about instruction, spiritual life is different from material life. The instruction given in my books is supposed to be personal instruction. When we read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, it is understood that we are receiving personal instructions of Krsna. No physical barrier is there in the case of spiritual affairs." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Dhristaketu, 14 October 1973)
"In my books the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness is explained fully so if there is anything which you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By reading daily the knowledge will be revealed to you and by this process your spiritual life will develop." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Bahurupa, 22 November 1974)
"Regarding your questions. I have already answered the most important question. "How to please Krishna?"—by following all the regulative principle that I have given you, chanting 16 rounds and reading my books scrutinizingly. Everyone must do these things, otherwise they cannot understand Krishna Consciousness." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Adi-kesava, 16 January 1975)
“You should read all this. You don't read. In the first volume of Bhagavata these things are explained. But I don't think you read all these things. Do you read? So if you don't read, then you will feel restless: "Oh, let me go from Japan to India, from India to Japan." You are restless because you don't read. I am laboring so hard for you, but you don't take advantage. Don't take advantage of eating and sleeping. Take advantage of these books. Then your life will be successful. My duty—I have given you so valuable things, day and night trying to convince you, each word to word. And if you don't take advantage of this, then what can I do for you?” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 2.9.6-14, 2 May 2 1972)
"I am therefore so much laboring hard that we, before my leaving this body, I may give you some books who you can enjoy after my death. So utilize it. Utilize it. Read every sloka nicely, try to understand the meaning, discuss amongst yourselves." (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 1.1.1, 6 July 1972)
“Unless we take care of the books and preach and read ourself, understand the philosophy, this Hare Krsna will be finished within few years. Because there will be no life. How long one can artificially go on, "Hare Krsna! Haribol!" That will be artificial, no life.” (Srila Prabhupada, Morning Walk, 12 December 1973)
“You must read. Why I am writing so many books? Not a single moment waste. If you want to become successful in Krsna consciousness, don't lose even a single moment. That should be the first determination.” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 1.16.24, 20 January 1974)
We can practically understand that gold is not a cheap thing. If one wants gold, two things are needed. First, he needs to understand what gold is, otherwise someone will cheat him. Second, he has to be prepared to pay for it, since gold is expensive. To be able to recognize the pure teachings, we have the threefold guideline in our lives: guru, sastra, and sadhu. For us, sastra means mainly the books of Srila Prabhupada. Usually, when we start in the movement we start by reading his books, and by that, we can understand the philosophy, and thus find guru and sadhu.
The guru represents his instructions, he transparently gives the same message. A bonafide guru should be like a postman, like Srila Prabhupada used to define himself. Numerous times he stated that he was not inventing anything new, he was just delivering the same message that he received from his guru maharaja. That’s the meaning of disciplic succession: transparent. When one finds such a person, who is delivering the same message and helps to understand and appreciate this knowledge, that’s guru. And when one finds others who are also following sincerely and trying to teach others, that’s sadhu.
"Srila Narottama dasa Thakura advises, sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, hrdaye kariya aikya. The meaning of this instruction is that one must consider the instructions of the sadhu, the revealed scriptures and the spiritual master in order to understand the real purpose of spiritual life. Neither a sadhu (saintly person or Vaisnava) nor a bona fide spiritual master says anything that is beyond the scope of the sanction of the revealed scriptures. Thus the statements of the revealed scriptures correspond to those of the bona fide spiritual master and saintly persons. One must therefore act with reference to these three important sources of understanding." (CC Adi, 7.48 Purport)
However, even after finding a bonafide guru, we still need Srila Prabhupada’s books. It’s very difficult for anyone to be like Srila Prabhupada: he was showing exceptional empowerment; showing all the qualities and knowledge in full. Prabhupada had the complete thing, and different disciples and grand-disciples have fractions of his qualities and potency. Also, they tend to emphasize different aspects of the philosophy and practice. Therefore, if one understands the general philosophy from the books, he will be able to appreciate the way that his guru is applying the philosophy and emphasizing a few particular aspects that he sees are more essential for his disciples. He will be able to see everything in the proper context. There will be no mistake: he will be able to appreciate fully what his spiritual master is teaching. As Srila Prabhupada once said: "If you go to school and if you don't read books, you'll fail in the examination."
On the other hand, if someone doesn’t have this knowledge; if he does not study, he may not actually understand what his spiritual master is trying to teach. For example, a particular guru may dedicate himself to organize huge festivals for preaching, with artistic exhibitions and so on, as a way to engage his disciples’ artistic abilities and attract the masses to Krsna consciousness, but some immature disciple, who doesn’t have proper understanding, could understand that spiritual life is all about partying and enjoying. Another guru may emphasize fasting on ekadasis, austerities and so on, and some immature disciple could get the message that spiritual life is all about asceticism. In some cases, the disciple may even start to see the guru as all in all, as some kind of separate deity, failing to realize that the guru is the representative of Krsna and of the parampara, that he is a messenger who delivers us the same message as the predecessor acaryas, connecting us thus with the parampara.
In fact, Srila Rupa Gosvami writes in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.2.101) that "Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanisads, Puranas and Narada Pancaratra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society". Without guidance from the sastra, understood through our previous acaryas, we tend to start concocting our own philosophies, that deviate more and more over time, up to the point of creating whole new apasampradayas. Despite being augmented by the contributions of different disciples, grand-disciples and grand-grand-disciples, the teachings of Srila Prabhupada remain the backbone of our understanding of Vaishnava philosophy and practices, and they will remain like that for as long as the sankirtana movement remains active on this planet.
His books are actually the main component of our movement. Revolutions are not caused by buildings or even by followers: they are caused by ideas. As long as these ideas are available, new revolutions can start at any time. In one passage, Srila Prabhupada said that it was too late to stop his movement, since so many books have already been distributed. He said that even if ISKCON would completely fail, at some point in the future someone would find his books, and from these books, he would get all the information he would need to restart the Krsna consciousness movement. As long as we keep the philosophy and values of our movement intact, it can spread and take the world at any time. Even if we deviate, this knowledge by itself is sufficient to start a revolution. The only difference, in this case, is that we are not going to be a part of it.
A final point is the need to integrate the idea of the guru and of the Founder Acarya. The title “Founder Acarya” adopted by Srila Prabhupada is very meaningful, to the effect that he continues to be the guide even after leaving this planet. There are many gurus and acharyas after Srila Prabhupada: his disciples, grand-disciples and so on, but Srila Prabhupada remains the founder, like an umbrella that protects us all. He remains the main siksa guru for all ISKCON society, regardless of who’s diksa disciple we are.
This is what keeps ISKCON as a unified movement: everybody is studying the same philosophy, and sharing the same fundamental values. When there is disagreement, it can be solved by going to the books and seeing what instructions Srila Prabhupada left about each specific point. And when someone starts to deviate, he can be corrected, because we have the guidelines.
But if we take Srila Prabhupada and his books out of the picture (which is what different modern apasampradayas have to do to attract followers and flourish) then everybody who wants to deviate receives a green light. From there, anybody can say anything, there will be no protection, no philosophy. As Srila Prabhupada said to HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja, shortly before departing from this world:
“Your love for me will be tested how after my departure you maintain this institution. We have glamour, and people are feeling our weight. This should be maintained. Not like Gaudiya Math. After Guru Maharaja's departure so many acaryas came up”. (TKG’S diary, May 23,1977)
Srila Prabhupada gave a brilliant sketch of a plan of management to protect ISKCON from deviation in a letter to Karandhara, from 22 December 1972:
“I am little observing now, especially in your country, that our men are losing their enthusiasm for spreading on our programmes of Krishna Consciousness movement. Otherwise, why so many letters of problems are coming, dissatisfied? That is not a very good sign. The whole problem is they are not following the regulative principles, that I can detect. Without this, enthusiasm will be lacking. Even mechanically following, and if he gets gradually understanding from the class, he will come to the point of spontaneous enthusiasm. This spontaneous loving devotional service is not so easy matter, but if one simply sticks strictly to the rules and regulations, like rising early, chanting 16 rounds, chanting gayatri, keeping always clean—then his enthusiasm will grow more and more, and if there is also patience and determination, one day he will come to the platform of spontaneous devotion, then his life will be perfect. All of this I have told you in Nectar of Devotion. So I do not think the leaders are themselves following, nor they are seeing the others are following strictly. That must be rectified at once. Each centre remain independent, that's all right, but the president and other officers must themselves follow and see the others are following the regulative principles carefully, and giving them good instruction so they may understand nicely why this tapasya is necessary. And GBC and Sannyasis will travel and see the officers are doing this, and if they observe anything lowering of the standard, they must reform and advise, or if there is some discrepancy I shall remove it. Of course, if new men are coming, they may not be expected immediately to take to our regulative principles cent per cent. Therefore we should not be so anxious to induce them to live in the temple. Anyone who lives in the temple must agree to follow the rules and regulations without fail. So if some new man moves in with us he may become discouraged if he is forced in this way. Therefore let them live outside and become gradually convinced in the class why they should accept some austerity, then they will live with us out of their own accord and follow nicely everything. It is very difficult to give up very quickly so many bad habits as you have got in your country, so educate them gradually, first with chanting, and do not be so much anxious to count up so many numbers of new devotees, if such devotees go away later being too early forced. I want to see a few sincere devotees, not many false devotees or pretenders.
So my point is that the regulative principles must be followed by everyone. Otherwise their enthusiasm dwindles and they again think of sex and become restless, and so many problems are there. There is some symptom of missing the point. The point is to be engaged in doing something for Krishna, never mind what is that job, but being so engaged in doing something very much satisfying to the devotee that he remains always enthusiastic. He will automatically follow the regulative principles because they are part of his occupational duty—by applying them practically as his occupational duty, he realizes the happy result of regulative principles. So the future of this Krishna Consciousness movement is very bright, so long the managers remain vigilant that 16 rounds are being chanted by everyone without fail, that they are all rising before four morning, attending mangal arati—our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try always to generate some atmosphere of fresh challenge to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. That is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna. But where are so many expert managers? All of us should become expert managers and preachers. We should not be very much after comforts and become complacent or self-contented. There must be always some tapasya, strictly observing the regulative principles—Krishna Consciousness movement must be always a challenge, a great achievement to be gained by voluntary desire to do it, and that will keep it healthy.”
As in many writings by Srila Prabhupada, the instructions in this letter are much deeper than it may seem at first glance. In his book “Apasampradayas, deviation of the disciplic succession”, Suhotra Maharaja makes an in-depth analysis of this letter, detailing the ideas given:
“I. To avoid the creation of "mad false devotees or pretenders:"
A. Recognize that bad habits are difficult to overcome.
B. New devotees should therefore be carefully educated, 1. First by getting them to chant the holy name, 2. and then by getting them to follow the regulative principles. 3. Unless one is prepared to follow the principles, he cannot live in the temple. 4. Attention should be paid to train a class of men, not a mass of men.
II. To avoid the defection of older devotees from the ISKCON camp:
A. The leaders must strictly set the example, and be vigilant to insure that everyone is: 1. chanting 16 rounds daily. 2. rising by 4:00 AM daily. 3. and attending mangala arotika.
B. The "art of management" is to draw out the spontaneous loving spirit of sacrifice for Krishna. 1. Leaders should be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is: a. individual, b. spontaneous, c. voluntary. 2. Leaders should always try to generate an atmosphere of fresh challenge to the devotees so that they will agree to enthusiastically rise and meet it.
C. As long as the regulative principles are followed by one and all, the future of the Krishna Consciousness Movement is very bright. 1. "Otherwise their enthusiasm dwindles and they again think of sex and become rascals and so many problems are there." 2. In order to maintain their enthusiasm to follow the principles, the devotees must be engaged in satisfying occupations. 3. They should understand the principles to be part of the occupation; they will thus follow them automatically, realizing the "happier side of regulative principles."
D. The mood of tapasya is vital to the health of ISKCON. "We should not be very much after comforts and become complacent and self-contented."
Another reference is the Seven Purposes of ISKCON, a sketch for the goals of our society that Srila Prabhupada included in ISKCON’s incorporating document:
(1) To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
(2) To propagate a consciousness of Krishna as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
(3) To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and thus to develop the idea, within the members, and humanity, at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
(4) To teach and encourage the Sankirtan movement of congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
(5) To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
(6) To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
(7) With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
As preachers, we should be very careful about not changing the philosophy and standards of our movement when teaching. We may explain the philosophy in our own words, create new modalities of preaching according to our particular talents and the interests of the public, and allow people to follow and evolve at their own pace, but we need to be careful to not change the philosophy. In other words, the presentation may change according to the circumstances, but the message must always be preserved. Srila Prabhupada emphasizes this point in his purport to SB 1.4.1, where he summarizes the qualities of a preacher:
“Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous acarya. He must have full confidence in the previous acarya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.”
A similar idea is given in his purport to CC Adi 7.31-32, where he explains that an acarya, an especially empowered preacher, must find the ways and means by which Krsna consciousness can be expressed, without fitting in trends or stereotypes. Being empowered by Krsna, an acarya may frequently break the established tradition and find new and revolutionary ways to spread Krsna consciousness:
“Here is an important point. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to invent a way to capture the Mayavadis and others who did not take interest in the Krsna consciousness movement. This is the symptom of an acarya. An acarya who comes for the service of the Lord cannot be expected to conform to a stereotype, for he must find the ways and means by which Krsna consciousness may be spread. Sometimes jealous persons criticize the Krsna consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticize the boys and girls in Krsna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community's social customs. However, since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krsna consciousness. Therefore, to engage both boys and girls in fully transcendental activities is a policy intended to spread the Krsna consciousness movement. These jealous fools who criticize the intermingling of boys and girls will simply have to be satisfied with their own foolishness because they cannot think of how to spread Krsna consciousness by adopting ways and means that are favorable for this purpose. Their stereotyped methods will never help spread Krsna consciousness. Therefore, what we are doing is perfect by the grace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, for it is He who proposed to invent a way to capture those who strayed from Krsna consciousness.” (CC Adi 7.31-32)
On the one hand, we should be able to adapt our presentation according to the culture and mentality of the people to whom we are preaching, but on the other, we must be able to do it without changing the message. That is actually the main principle.
While empowered acaryas may frequently institute reforms with the purpose of steering the mission back on the right track, ordinary preachers should be much more careful in introducing changes, since it’s due to the deviations instituted by ordinary preachers over time that empowered acaryas have to come from time to time to straighten things out.
Inexperienced preachers can create havoc by changing or diluting things with the excuse of trying to reach more people. One particular thing that I started to understand only after many years in the movement is that our particular notions about Krsna consciousness frequently have very little to do with what Krsna consciousness really is. Only a self-realized soul can understand Krsna consciousness in its totality. As conditioned souls, we are frequently just like the blind fellows trying to understand what an elephant is. One was touching the leg and came to the conclusion that the elephant is just like a pillar, the other was touching the tail and concluded that the elephant is just like a rope, another one was touching the ears and concluded that the elephant is just like a fan.
Similarly, someone could think that Krsna consciousness is all about following rules and doing different rituals, another may think that it’s all about being clean and dressing in a specific way, another that it’s all about doing austerities, another that it’s all about doing festivals and having fun, another that it is all about being celibate and not having wife and children, while another could think the opposite, that it is all about family life.
That’s why it's injuncted that only an acarya can change the practices of spiritual life, adjusting standards according to time, place and circumstances. As neophytes, we tend to corrupt the process, by adjusting the standards to suit our limited views. Still, Lord Caitanya is so merciful that despite our limitations He ordered us to preach, but we should be careful, humbly understanding our limitations. Most of the time we do good to ourselves and to others by following the instructions and precedents set by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas, instead of trying to concoct new things based on our limited understanding about spiritual life.
Another point is that we need to be careful to really understand the reasons why we do different things in spiritual life. We need to understand why we dress in a particular way, why we worship the deity and the reason different standards of cleanliness and worship exist, why we grow Tulasis, what is the significance of the different items offered in pujas, why we use particular melodies for the different aratis of the day, why we use tilaka, why we adopt different cultural aspects of Vedic culture and so on. Everything that we do in our spiritual practice has a meaning and such meaning must be understood. We should not do things just because others do, but because we understand their reason and importance.
Sometimes, certain personalities say that people are driven away because of devotees using dhotis, saris, tilaka, worshiping the deity and so on, but in reality the problems are not in the clothes or the practices, but in the fact that frequently we fail in presenting them in the proper way, and explaining to people so they can also appreciate. Other times we may preserve something in a superficial or external way, but twist the meaning, creating some corrupted practice. For example, sometimes ladies dress in saris in ways that show most of their bodies, failing to understand that the main purpose of the sari is to make a lady look chaste and elegant. If at one point this would become the norm, new ladies would learn that to dress in sari means to dress in a sensual way, and thus the essence would be lost.
“I have seen your advertisements as shown to me by Shyamasundar, and I think you have made the thing less important. This kind of ad is not good, it is not grave. Our process is to show Krsna consciousness as it is, not as others want to see it. By showing Krsna consciousness in this way, you are making the thing less important. It is not that we should change to accommodate the public, but that we should change the public to accommodate us.” ...
“These books are the best advertising, they are better than advertising. If we simply present Krsna consciousness in a serious and attractive way, without need to resort to fashionable slogans or tricks, that is sufficient. Our unique asset is our purity. No one anywhere can match it. That will be noticed eventually and appreciated, as long as we do not diminish or neglect the highest standard of purity in performing our routine work, not that we require to display or announce ourselves in very clever ways to get attention. No, our pure standard is enough. Let us stand on that basis.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Yogesvara, 28 December 1971)
When we start to do things without understanding their meaning, two problems quickly appear. One is that we inadvertently start making changes. Another is that we start to do things in a corrupted way, that looks strange and without purpose. We start to look increasingly strange to the eyes of the public, looking more and more like a cult. Then, when we eventually start to realize this, we tend to lose confidence in our own practices and culture and merge back into the dominating materialistic culture.
For example, in Brazil there is a group of Christians where the ladies dress in a particular type of skirt, that is very tight, made from jeans and that goes only to the knees. This type of skirt is far from being chaste and looks low-class, but still, almost all ladies of this group use it, as if it's a symbol of their faith. There is a passage in the Bible that says that ladies shouldn’t use men's clothes (which is usually taken in the sense that they should use dresses and skirts), but nowhere is it said that they need to use tight and short skirts made from jeans. Someone created this idea at some point and then all the ladies started using it, without questioning why. Such cultural fetishes can start at some point and then become standard practices in the group for many generations, up to the point that nobody understands why it’s done, or why such standards were established in the first place. It’s simply human nature to follow the particular cultural traces of the group, even without understanding them.
There is a description of an experiment on monkeys about conditioning that illustrates this point. There was a cage with a group of monkeys, where the scientists would put a bunch of bananas on top of a ladder. When one of the monkeys would try to go up the ladder to take it, the experimenter would knock him down with a stream of cold water and then proceed to splash all the other monkeys. After this was repeated a few times, the monkeys started to hold and beat-up the ones that would try to catch the bananas, until finally none of the monkeys would dare to try to get the bananas. Then, one of the old monkeys was removed and a new monkey was put in the cage. The new monkey quickly tried to get the bananas, but he was held and beaten by the others. When a second monkey was changed by a new one, this first new monkey helped the others to beat him when he tried to grab the bananas. Then, one by one, all the old monkeys were removed, until only new monkeys remained. None of these new monkeys had ever got splashed by the cold water, but still, when a new monkey would be put in the cage, they would all jump and beat him up when he would try to grab the bananas, even without knowing why. It became a tradition.
While the experiment with the monkeys may or may not be real, this description gives us an important lesson. As devotees, we are supposed to be the most intelligent class, higher even than brahmanas. We need to understand the reason and purpose behind all the aspects of our spiritual practices, otherwise, we risk becoming just some sect, blindly following some kind of corrupted version of the Vaishnava culture.
Babajis and siddha-pranali