Zonal Acarya System
Excerpt from first meeting of GBC with Srila Sridhara Maharaja (March 1978 ~ Full Transcript available):
Jayapataka Maharaja: The first question was, that some of the disciples of Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, his hari-nama initiates, then when they approach one of these eleven and take initiation then they would like to know who is the guru amongst the eleven.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: A disciple, he may like one-first or third or fourth or fifth, how to solve that.
Tamal Krsna Maharaja: That we must solve.
Free Guru Choice by Sraddha
Jayapataka Maharaja: He can take who he likes, he may take whichever one he wants?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: According to his sraddha.
Devotee: His faith.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: According to his sraddha a newcomer should be given some time. Who will come to be initiated, he should be given some time for a fair period of time to hear from different persons and then the sraddha, the faith . . .
Devotee: . . . will be awakened.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Ah, will be considered to whom he will submit. Do you follow?
GBC Assembly: Yes.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: After sravan, then varan, five stages there are; first is to hear. The first stage is to hear and the second stage, that is varan, that is, acceptance by the guru and the sisya, both the preceptor and the disciple. That is the second stage, varan dasa. Then the sadhana or the attempt for realization will begin. First stage, to hear openly, open field-fair field to hear-then the connection should come between the guru and sisya-preceptor and disciple, both sides. Then that should be better. Sravan dasa, then varan, then sadhana dasa, apan dasa, prapan dasa-five stages in sadhana in spiritual life.
Submission to guru is unconditional. So when I shall see that my guru is being oppressed by another guru, another Vaisnava, it will create a great disturbance in the mind of the sisya. But our Krsna conscious conception of Godhead has come to relieve you. Whom we think the Supreme-most Krsna, Yasoda is whipping Him and Nanda's paduka (shoes), He is taking them on His head-the Supreme-most devata, Deity. So in this way also, we can adjust-both the absolute faith and the relative position of the non-absolute. These two things should be harmonized. After the departure of our gurudeva, it was thought that one acarya should be made-then, naturally, different acaryas came. Then when some of us proposed many acaryas, I told one thing. If someone marries, a separate room is necessary. Do you follow? Whenever a Vaisnava does not initiate he does not want any special place or special respect, but whenever he initiates, he is absolute in the eyes of his disciples. The sisya cannot tolerate that any other Vaisnava will come to disturb the absolute position of my guru. This heart's feeling-sentiment. How to adjust, it is a very difficult thing.
Difficult to Manage Practically
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: So, it will be very difficult to manage practically the democratic, absolute characteristic. Difficult, but still we shall have to go on and make, according to the will of Krsna it will be adjusted.
Jayapataka Maharaja: So, the initiating gurus, then, it would be more practical for them to have a separate board to decide on addition of new gurus?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: No; what I came to conclusion with these experiences -- but how in this great universal institution that should be applied? At least one place should be there where the disciples can get their guru exclusively, but that will not be possible practically.. . . Go with fair feeling, go on with fair feeling, this utmost I can suggest to you.
Tamal Krsna Maharaja: Maharaja, we are so much grateful.
GBC Assembly: Jaya.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That will be fair for you, that you will extend it from the ritvik board. Who is already empowered, they will extend, their consideration. They can extend their scope. If you move in this way it will have spiritual characteristic. Do you follow?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: These eleven, they will extend themselves. From this point, it will be -- the area of the acaryaship will be extended. Then gradually twenty-four or more, but it will spread from this point, extend-bigger, bigger, bigger. That you may do, to keep the spiritual characteristic of the extension of the acarya board.
Commentary: Here Srila Sridhara Maharaja clearly gives sound advice. Although he mentions that in his experience and according to sastra the disciple requires freedom and space to properly worship his guru, he further indicates that this principle is very difficult to apply in such a large institution as ISKCON. He emphasizes that the management must have spiritual characteristic and this will be so if the number of gurus is extended. Further the ISKCON management must try to be fair and just in their decisions.
Free Guru Choice by Sraddha ~ Reiterated
Later, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke further:
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: It should be the duty of the godbrother, not holding the position of acarya, to show the disciples how to give special regard for their gurudeva. But, the acarya, he is obligated to teach the newcomers that they must respect their brother. Then only can it go in a harmonious way for some time. So you have to show some respect. They also have received grace of my gurudeva. My gurudeva's grace, if it is in me, it is in them also. So you must look at them with respect.
Devotee: But these acaryas, they are not teaching their disciples to show respect to their godbrothers. Sometimes the oppposite.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Then my suggestions to keep the unity are that a person of one zone may accept a guru of another zone. Free choice by sraddha. He who has preference for one acarya but is compelled to accept one whom he considers to be lower, that is an anomaly. That zonal arrangement is against free choice. Also, new appointments of acaryas from amongst the brothers who are considered fit, that sort of position should also be there. . . By sacrifice we come together. By serving attitude we come together. By assertion we part off, distance is created by self-assertion. By self-sacrifice we unite.
Did Srila Sridhara Maharaja Reinitiate Srila Prabhupada's Disciples?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja has been portrayed as eager to collect Srila Prabhupada's disciples, as several of his godbrothers were. The following section includes excerpts from various darshans of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. These excerpts reveal that Srila Sridhara Maharaja's mood was in fact just the opposite. Srila Sridhara Maharaja expressed many times, however, that he could not ignore those having a faith crisis-he felt it his duty to give them strength, to nurture them and in some cases connect them to the source of their newfound faith-a natural spiritual progression.
Many Came to Take Sannyasa
Darshan with Srila Sridhara Maharaja: August 19, 1980:
" Swami Maharaja had earlier approached me to train up some boys, but first he sent them to Bon Maharaja, disciples like Acyutananda, Ramanuja and some others. But Bon Maharaja, he took one away from your guru maharaja and made him into his own disciple and then he wrote to me in the name of Govinda Maharaja asking me to look after the boys. That letter I still have. So Acyutananda and Ramanuja came first and he wanted me to train them up. As he always had great trust in me that I will not make a disciple out of his disciple. For this reason he would come to me and also he knew me from earlier days. Pisima had taken hari-nama diska from Bhaktisiddhanta Srila Prabhupada and she had come to me for the second initiation. At that time I decided not to give any diksa because I thought myself unfit. But yet on the other side there was Bhaktisiddhanta Srila Prabhupada's order to give diksa pracar. So I was wavering between these two points. On one side, my guru's orders and on the other side I thought myself unfit and not to give diksa. But more the point that I did not want to give was more prominent. I went to Sripad Nityananda Prabhu's place and there I felt an urge to give diksa. And then reading Srila Jiva Goswami I came across a point where it said that I should give what I have. If I don't give what I have then I am a cheat, short. All these points, and Bhaktisiddhanta Srila Prabhupada was always in favor of kirtan and pracar. All these points, so when Pisima came I had to turn her away. Many people had come, many many nice people had come, but I had to turn them away, all of them. They all wanted me to become acarya. Madhava Maharaja, Goswami Maharaja and Kesava Maharaja would not have become acaryas if I had taken up this post of being acarya. They all wanted me to become the acarya and if I had become acarya then they would not have become. Especially Madhava Maharaja and Kesava Maharaja, and many others, even Jagjivan Maharaja. They started initiating because I did not want to initiate. So your Srila Prabhupada had great faith in me that I will not try to lure away one of his disciples. I did not want to become a big person. That is not in my nature. I did not want to move around with many people. I'm just satisfied with whatever I have. I am only concerned about my high thinking. That is my life. My spiritual thinking is my life. The conclusions of the scriptures, the advices of the mahajanas, to relish them and practice them, and to discuss them in a small confidential circle, that is the main goal of my life. That's why he used to trust me."
The following is from a darshan on 2nd October 1981:
"Many came to take sannyasa from me but I didn't give consent. I am told that Swami Maharaja came here with that view [to take sannyasa] but he hesitated to put it before me. Then I heard that he had taken sannyasa from Kesava Maharaja. And Kesava Maharaja himself, he took sannyasa from me. First, Goswami Maharaja, the founder of Gaudiya Sanga, he took sannyasa from me. And the third person to take sannyasa from me was Kesava Maharaja. And then many big men came to take sannyasa from me but my conscience would not allow me to give sannyasa to them."
We Will Be Responsible to Mahaprabhu
11th January 1982
"I told that so many good souls that came under the flag of Mahaprabhu through Swami Maharaja-they will fast and die? So, some relief work should be done, that was my intention, avoiding all possible clashes with the main distribution [preaching of ISKCON], no clash with the main distribution, but only relief work, that is my only concern-the big souls, the great souls, they are being aloof, and going away and becoming indifferent to Swami Maharaja and Mahaprabhu and our Guru Maharaja, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Krsna. And I shall stand and tolerate all these things-seeing that, I shall feel that I won't see. That is difficult for me. So, I ask my friends, 'Start some relief work, to save your own friends, those who are not encouraged by the present organizers.' It is obvious that they will rely more on the sons than on the brothers. It is a general thing, and we have the sad experience in our own distribution like that. So, I could conjecture that such things should occur, and indifferently we shall try to help them somewhat, otherwise we will be responsible to Mahaprabhu, although personally I am not fit to carry on with the responsibility of many devotees, especially in this old age.
It is very deplorable that that gentleman [former leading devotee] has turned into an atheist. He came so far and now suddenly bankrupt? No faith in Krsna? It was all just a show, mere show? Otherwise, how is such sudden degradation possible? Unless he has committed vaishnava-aparadha, such sudden degradation is not possible-almost atheist. Maybe some despair, dejection may come, he may suffer from dejection, despair, but atheist?"
"His sraddha bankrupt, and his sraddha was only a show? Only an imitative play-a dramatic show? Hare Krsna. He may quarrel with the institution as a whole, but separately he must go on in his own way. How can he live and he has become an atheist? It is all so inconceivable to me. Gaura Hari bol Gaura Hari bol. Nitai."
Prabhupada's Disciples Never Reinitiated
Srila Sridhara Maharaja never re-initiated any of Srila Prabhupada's initiated disciples. Some of Srila Prabhupada's disciples, out of their great love and affection for Srila Sridhara Maharaja, recognizing his unlimited grace, felt that they wanted some sort of affectionate connection with him. So, he gave a name or spoke a mantra to them-in the spirit of encouragement-hardly could this be called a re-initiation. We may recall that it was Srila Sridhara Maharaja himself who suggested the name 'Bhaktivedanta' for Srila Prabhupada-confirmed by the assembled godbrothers. This was after Srila Prabhupada's name had been changed to Bhaktisiddhanta Adhikari Dasa by another godbrother (see Jansi League of Devotees Registration certificate for two such signatures of Srila Prabhupada). So Srila Prabhupada had his name changed twice and the second time Srila Sridhara Maharaja adjusted Prabhupada's name in response to complaints of other godbrothers, that the guru's name was not proper for the disciple. Srila Sridhara Maharaja is also the sannyasa guru of Srila Prabhupada's sannyasa guru, so in this way, he is substantially connected to our parampara prior to Srila Prabhupada and as such his activities should not be questioned in this way. Many have wished to deny this essential truth. Our heart charmed we also requested our sannyasa guru [H H Bhaktigaurava Narasingha Maharaja] for a name change by Srila Sridhara Maharaja in a loving spirit of reciprocation and were happily accomodated.
Pisima Came For Initiation
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: Some people, they came to you and you were telling that you felt yourself unfit and you sent them away in the beginning?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, I sent some, Madan's mother, Swami Maharaja's sister [Pisima] came to me, she had harinama from Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta]. For initiation, she came to me, but at that time I was hesitating. I sent her to Goswami Maharaja. If I am not going to take up this duty, and he has taken up, if you have faith in me, I recommend that you go there. I did, and many I did.
Reinitiation: Grand Disciples Only
Those who were disciples of our godbrothers who had lost faith in their guru were sometimes given re-initiation. Srila Sridhara Maharaja was most careful in this regard. Many were refused. Mukunda Mala dasa, a first initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupada with diksa (gayatri) from a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, had lost all faith in his mantra guru and taken off his brahmana thread. In a disparaged state he had approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja. His faith in this divine process rekindled by the potent hearing sessions of Srila Sridhara Maharaja he requested diksa initiation. Srila Sridhara Maharaja then requested that his mantra guru be approached first for permission. Later he was initiated as Swami Bhakti Vidhan Mahayogi. Many within ISKCON, having lost their taste for Krsna consciousness, found great inspiration and renewed enthusiasm in the words of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. And subsequent to giving initiation to devotees whose faith had been rekindled, Srila Sridhara Maharaja sent them back to ISKCON with the instruction to continue their service there as before. The response of ISKCON to this was complete intolerance--the GBC issued an ultimatum that if these devotees wished to continue their service in ISKCON then they must reject their initiation. No proper attempt was made to approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja in a mature mood of trying to understand and work this out. Nor was consideration given to these devotees developed faith in their guru. These devotees then had no choice but to join completely with Srila Sridhara Maharaja. So, Srila Sridhara Maharaja's mood was that of relief work for the discouraged and in no way was he 'trying to collect ISKCON's devotees as disciples.'
Three disenfranchised ISKCON devotees left ISKCON to hear from Srila Sridhara Maharaja. After hearing from Srila Sridhara Maharaja for some time they were given sannyasa--a natural spiritual progression in their ongoing intimate relationship. This was interpreted by the ISKCON leaders as an intolerable attack--that he was stealing their men.