Srila Prabhupada's Regard for Srila Sridhara Maharaja
Shortly before he left us in 1977, Srila Prabhupada advised his disciples that they should go to Srila Sridhara Maharaja if they had questions about philosophical matters. This instruction was accepted by the entire GBC at that time and from 1977 until 1981 they did approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja with many important questions. A major portion of this presentation is composed of excerpts from recordings and transcripts from these question and answer sessions with the GBC members.
The GBC Guru Position Paper of March 1978, the GBC's official statement published after their initial question and answer session with Srila Sridhara Maharaja is taken directly from Srila Sridhara Maharaja's instructions to the GBC, with a few noteworthy additions and subtractions.
That it was actually the instruction of Srila Prabhupada to approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja for spiritual instruction is corroborated by taped statements in our possession of Jayapataka Maharaja, Satsvarupa Maharaja, Bhakti Caru Swami, Tamal Krsna Maharaja and many other GBCs [some of whom later changed their minds regarding the validity of their previous statements], as well as by Tripurari Maharaja who was personally massaging Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet when he heard this instruction directly from Srila Prabhupada. Over the years we have seen various facts mysteriously change overnight, according to the political climate, so we have taken the trouble to substantiate our statements with hard copy, taped transcripts and similar irrefutable evidence. Understandably one may change his opinion regarding certain things, but this does not change the essential facts, the actual truth—satyam param dhimahi. "This word [satyam] means that one should not distort the truth for some personal interest." (Bg. 16.3, purp.) Let us not forget that there is an overseer—hrdi sannivisto (Bg. 15.15) and He witnesses our every activity-upadrastanumanta ca (Bg. 13.23) and will give us our just do-karmana daiva netrena (Bhag. 3.31.1). Better to be daivim prakrtim asritah (Bg. 9.13), under the shelter of His divine embrace. One's position in devotional service is after all classified according to one's faith-sraddha-anusari (Cc. Madhya-lila 22.64) and ones ultimate fate is indeed dependent upon qualifying ourselves for the Lords mercy.
Logically speaking, on the basis that this was the last instruction in regards to Srila Sridhara Maharaja and considering that Srila Prabhupada was always very careful, fully aware of what he was doing and that these were his final days with his disciples, this must be regarded as the most authoritative or substantial statement made by Srila Prabhupada in regards to Srila Sridhara Maharaja.
Most Highly Competent of My Godbrothers
Despite Srila Prabhupada's final and conclusive statements regarding Srila Sridhara Maharaja, some take Srila Prabhupada's letter to Rupanuga in 1974 as the conclusive statement about Srila Sridhara Maharaja. In this well-known letter, Srila Prabhupada said that Srila Sridhara Maharaja was responsible for selecting an acarya who proved to be a failure. Srila Prabhupada then warns not to make the same mistake in ISKCON. Then Srila Prabhupada warns that his disciples must be careful in mixing with his godbrothers. That ISKCON did in fact make the same mistake that Srila Prabhupada warns about in this letter to Rupanuga (unauthorized acarya appointments) has been documented by Ravindra Svarupa, a prominent and respected member of the GBC and initiating guru, [known for being one of the deep thinkers of ISKCON] in his paper, "Under My Order," portions of which are presented below in the section entitled, Is Srila Sridhara Maharaja's Mood different than Prabhupada's.
The above mentioned personal instruction of Srila Prabhupada to approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja for philosophy was given three years after the Rupanuga letter was written. This letter of Srila Prabhupada's must be harmonized with the other statements by Srila Prabhupada in order to get an accurate picture of Srila Prabhupada's feelings about Srila Sridhara Maharaja. In addition to Srila Prabhupada's final statements about Srila Sridhara Maharaja (above) there is Srila Prabhupada's letter to Hrsikesa (1969):
Srila Prabhupada repeatedly tried to get Srila Sridhara Maharaja to come to his temple in Mayapur (see letter to Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1976 and Room Conversation in 1977--excerpts in chapter one). In the 1977 Room Conversation, Srila Prabhupada offers to build Srila Sridhara Maharaja a house at the Mayapur temple so Srila Sridhara Maharaja can preach to Srila Prabhupada's disciples-imploring Sridhara Maharaja six times to please do so.
One Important Godbrother, He's Sincere
In his July 7, 1975 letter to Bon Maharaja Srila Prabhupada related Srila Sridhara Maharaja's praise, "Sripada Sridhara Maharaja also appreciated my service. He said that 'Caitanya Mahaprabhu's prediction: prthivite ache yata nagaradi-grama, sarvatra pracara hoibe mora nama; would remain a dream only,' but he congratulated me that I 'have done it practically.'" A year and a half earlier, during a morning walk in Los Angeles on December 14, 1973, Srila Prabhupada had also narrated how Srila Sridhara Maharaja has said that he had done the impossible: mukham karoti vacalam pangum langhayate girim. "That one of my important godbrothers says. He's sincere. All others, [not]. He says that, 'In the Caitanya-Caritamrta it is said prthivite ache yata nagaradi-grama. So we were thinking that this is imagination, that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's cult would be spread all over the world, every one will chant. So you have done it.' So, he's appreciating in that way. 'But we are simply thinking that it is not possible, it is simply imagination. But that you have made it possible.' So that is his appreciation."
When there is a conflict between opposing statements, they must be reconciled. Since we, the disciples, take the instructions of our Srila Prabhupada as nondifferent from sastra, we may resolve his apparently conflicting statements as Rupa Goswami did for sastra.
yathaviruddhata ca syat tatharthah kalpyate tayoh
When two scriptural statements contradict each other, one is not taken as inauthentic. One should give the meaning in such a way that the contradiction is removed. (Laghu-bhag. 1.212) To harmonize this in an impartial way, we may consider that in the Rupanuga letter Srila Prabhupada was using the apparent activities of Srila Sridhara Maharaja to make a particular point to us, namely that "to elect an acarya" was not an authorized activity of the Governing Body of the Gaudiya Math and that it was contrary to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura's expressed desire. In Srila Prabhupada's own words, "Therefore we may not commit the same mistake in our ISKCON camp." Srila Prabhupada was also warning us that at least four of his godbrothers had on occasion tried to pollute and steal his disciples, so we must be very careful about them. He made it easier for us by simply saying, "all godbrothers." Although Srila Prabhupada may have in his intense preaching campaign criticized some of his godbrothers, in light of proper sastric vaishnava etiquette, it is improper for his disciples to criticize them, what to speak of publishing criticisms, thereby creating opportunity for repeated vaisnava-aparadha--for which one will be held accountable. Srila Prabhupada also did say that, "the war is over now." Still we see that certain ISKCON devotees have the habit of openly and freely criticizing any and all of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers as they like. We feel that this is very unhealthy spiritually for them.
The overemphasis on Srila Prabhupada's letter to Rupanuga and minimizing of substantial statements to the contrary merely makes Srila Prabhupada out to be duplicitous-to Srila Sridhara Maharaja he showed great respect but behind Srila Sridhara Maharaja's back he really did not trust him.
Please refer to chapter one, A Transcendental Friendship, for a detailed account of the long and intimate association of these two great devotees. A Transcendental Friendship was originally published in another form as The Guardian of Devotion. An account of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's activities in the Gaudiya Math has been given in chapter three, A Short History of Srila Sridhara Maharaja and the Gaudiya Math. A careful reading of these documents will greatly help us clarify our understanding of these dealings between godbrothers. When we take into account all of Srila Prabhupada's loving exchanges with his dear godbrother Srila Sridhara Maharaja it becomes evident that this letter to Rupanuga is completely inconsistent with their actual relationship and thus must be seen as a warning only.
We point out here that the mistakes made by the leaders of ISKCON were much graver than the alleged apparent mistakes of Srila Sridhara Maharaja [ supposedly incorrect advice and desires to control ISKCON], and they have been forgiven easily whereas Srila Sridhara Maharaja is still to this day maligned. In light of an unbiased look at Srila Prabhupada's letters, room conversations, etc. it can be concluded that Srila Prabhupada did not discourage his disciples from receiving instruction (siksa) from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, on the contrary he encouraged it.
Our Swami Maharaja Has Done a Miracle
When told of the Rupanuga letter, Srila Sridhara Maharaja replied,
When we examine the hearts of these two Vaisnavas we see the real intentions of these pure devotees of the Lord, fully absorbed in devotional service. One must examine all the facts impartially, not just make a superficial estimation based on one letter and general statements and pass a decree for all time. Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.3 warns us of this sort of thing, that to forcibly justify one's actions by one's strength is in the mode of passion and thus leads to misery.
Srila Prabhupada many times mentioned that his godbrothers were envious. A scan of the Srila Prabhupada Folio shows that he mentions the names of certain godbrothers repeatedly as envious, consistently excluding the name of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. That Sridhara Maharaja is nonenvious is self-evident (for example) upon listening to the recording of their meeting in 1973 after Prabhupada's triumphant return to India from his successful preaching in the West:
In the same conversation Srila Prabhupada revealed his thoughts at the time,
In the Lilamrta, Vol. 3, page 203, Satsvarupa Maharaja writes of events six years earlier, "In fluent English he [Sridhara Maharaja] began praising Prabhupada's preaching in America, repeatedly using Prabhupada's phrase 'Krsna consciousness.' Swamiji's work, he said, was the fulfillment of Lord Caitanya's prophecy that Krsna consciousness would one day spread all over the world. He laughed and smiled and praised the Krsna consciousness movement with no trace of jealousy." [Room Conversation~October 1967]