Our  Affectionate Guardians
Chapter Six

This chapter traces the course of ISKCON's activities with regard to Srila Sridhara Maharaja from when the GBC first approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja to the present. Srila Sridhara Maharaja's advice was much sought after by many prominent GBC members officially and privately, from even before the first meeting of the GBC with Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1978 until 1982 when the GBC decided that no one in ISKCON could hear from Srila Sridhara Maharaja. The GBC repeatedly sought answers to the many important questions confronting them in the absence of Srila Prabhupada and asked Srila Sridhara Maharaja to settle the disputes or controversies that they could not settle themselves.

In settling disputes, Srila Sridhara Maharaja would ask each devotee involved what he saw as the problem and possible solution, then he would give several sastric references, relate episodes from the Vedas of similar occurrences, and finally offer his advice, charged with his widely respected realization.

Many times he hinted that an all-encompassing solution would be difficult in such a grand and expansive society as ISKCON; thus his overall suggestion to the GBC was that they go forward with "fair feeling" and make adjustments as time revealed new details. His advice did not pertain so much to the details as it did to the spirit with which the mission should be conducted.

At first, the GBC members openly and enthusiastically expressed their satisfaction with Srila Sridhara Maharaja's advice, but gradually the feelings of the GBC members soured when they failed to understand and embrace that which Sridhara Maharaja suggested, and confidence in their leadership waned. Eventually, the GBC saw him as a threat to their sense of authority.

Their ultimate rejection of Sridhara Maharaja was not without good intention. It did however suffer from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the very spirit of spiritual life, and thus, as is the case with many well-intended roads, their course led them astray from their intention to protect the movement of Srila Prabhupada. Ironically, they themselves became the greatest nemesis to the natural progress of the mission.

A mission the size and scope of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON would be difficult to destroy. Its shear momentum at the time of Srila Prabhupada's departure ensured its continuation for some time. With the common sense of good management and wide-scale propaganda, such a movement was sure to increase its numbers. Yet we would be wrong to conclude that the mere increase in new numbers of the society is the sole barometer of its health. If such is at the cost of veteran members becoming discouraged and leaving, progress is questionable. Such is the case in ISKCON today, where as devotees advance they find it difficult to find siksa within the society that corresponds with the level of their interest.

Depth of inner realization is the real standard of progress, and such progress will certainly show itself in the form of regard for others, what to speak of senior Vaisnavas. It is precisely this lack of regard toward others, and advanced Vaisnavas in particular, however, that characterizes the ISKCON mission today. The vilification of Srila Sridhara Maharaja flows freely within the society even today. As recently as 1994, the GBC thwarted an effort led by several of its members to retract the resolution that banned ISKCON's members from associating with Sridhara Maharaja and any other senior Vaisnava outside of the corporate structure of the society. Yet rather than erase the resolution, they underscored it and punished those who rallied for the reform. [1]

Such a bewildering turn of events are the unhappy result of vaisnava-aparadha. Invited into the society by its founder, Sridhara Maharaja offered his siksa in the spirit described below, even as he was mistreated.

I was repeatedly requested by Swami Maharaja, "Look after them. I have taken them, brought some raw things [inexperienced and unqualified persons] to you, especially to you. Please look after them." I did not think at that time that he would pass away before me. I also have some affinity for the cause of Mahaprabhu. So if anyone is coming to seek Krsna consciousness but is going away frustrated, then naturally, some sympathy should come in my heart to help him-to give him relief. With that idea, I give help, whatever help I can, although it is very meager. I am simply sitting here. I am not running hither and thither to disturb the brains of the ISKCON followers, and those that are coming to me, how can I send them away? How can I sit tight without giving what I know, what I feel, without extending this sort of help to those persons? But the ISKCON administration has only some formal consideration. These few gentlemen, whom I consider to be students--students, not professors--speaking from my absolute consideration standpoint, I consider them to be students, not professors. And they have become self-made authorities, thinking that whatever they dictate, I shall have to obey that? I am not a person of that type. With my clear conscience to God; that is to Krsna, to Mahaprabhu, to my gurudeva, and to Swami Maharaja, what I am doing, I think it is justified. Let them capture the whole world. I'll be satisfied. I am not an enemy, because we have a common cause.

The First Darsana

In the spring of 1978 during the annual meeting of the GBC in Sridhama Mayapur, the GBC approached Sridhara Maharaja with questions regarding the nature of disciplic succession. They went to Srila Sridhara Maharaja following the advice of Srila Prabhupada. Sadly, Sridhara Maharaja's deep insights and generous heart were later misconstrued to be philosophically deviant and arising from evil intentions.

In the following darsana, the GBC's first official meeting with Srila Sridhara Maharaja after the departure of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja responds to a question asked by Jayapataka Maharaja as to how those who have harinama initiation from Srila Prabhupada should select their mantra guru:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: A disciple, he may like one-first or third or fourth or fifth [guru], how to solve that.

Tamala Krsna Maharaja: That we must solve.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: According to his sraddha, a newcomer should be given some time. Who will come to be initiated, he should be given a fair period of time to hear from different persons and then the sraddha, the faith

Devotee: will be awakened.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: He will consider to whom he will submit. Do you follow?

GBC Assembly: Yes.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: The first stage is to hear, and the second stage, varan, is acceptance by the guru and the disciple. Then the sadhana, or attempt for realization, will begin. The first stage is to hear openly-fair field to hear-then the connection should come between the guru and sisya-preceptor and disciple, both sides.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja goes on to explain the difficulties that can come to arise in the guru/godbrother, guru/disciple relationship. He said, "the sisya will be greatly disturbed if he sees any other Vaisnava disturbing the absolute position of his guru. At least one place should be there where the disciples can get their guru exclusively.That will not be possible practically in such a large and expansive society as ISKCON." The darsana concludes with this advice:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: We cannot reach a particular solution as all complete and perfect. Go with fair feeling, go on with fair feeling--this is the utmost I can suggest to you.

Tamala Krsna Maharaja: Maharaja, we are so grateful.

GBC Assembly: Jaya.

From this darsana we can see that Srila Sridhara Maharaja advised according to eternal spiritual principles. He emphasized that a disciple must have free choice in selecting a guru. Some initiating gurus did not follow this advice, however, and many devotees were forced to take initiation by a certain guru because they were in his "zone." Ironically, Srila Sridhara Maharaja was later blamed by some for the "zonal acarya" arrangement. It should be noted that the idea of zonal acaryas is not inherently bad--Srila Prabhupada himself designated the eleven gurus to initiate in the zone that they were in charge of as GBCs. When the problems that arose in the zonal acarya arrangement were brought to the attention of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, he replied as follows:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: My suggestion to keep the unity is 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 separate, distance is created by self-assertion. By self-sacrifice we unite.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja brought up another point that was not well-received by some of the eleven gurus: "new appointment of acaryas from amongst the brothers who are considered fit." The lack of this, along with other problems, was creating havoc in ISKCON. In suggesting the expansion of the number of gurus, Sridhara Maharaja's opinion concurred with that of Srila Prabhupada, who stated at the time he mentioned the first eleven gurus that other "senior sannyasis" could be added as the necessity arose. Sridhara Maharaja realized the vision of Srila Prabhupada without being told of his statement regarding a provision for expansion. He also represented the heart of Srila Prabhupada with regard to his generous spirit of encouragement.

Certainly Prabhupada sought to encourage the first eleven gurus, inspiring them to rise to the occasion of the service at hand. This spirit, however, was severely lacking in the eleven gurus with respect to their regard toward the qualified godbrothers. As a result, the movement was stifled, and it was not until considerable hardship and discouragement were suffered by sincere godbrothers of the eleven gurus that in 1982 three new gurus were added. Less well-known is that this was largely due to the insistence of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, who accurately read the environment and often suggested this change. It is significant that the three new gurus immediately went to Sridhara Maharaja for his blessings. The movement sighed a breath of relief, but soon after the entire GBC rejected Sridhara Maharaja, beginning their official campaign of vilification.

GBC Activities Intolerable

The GBC received much valuable advice from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, but when the many frustrated godbrothers similarly sought advice from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the GBC strongly advised against it and eventually forbade it. They did this because these godbrothers were seeking answers to the many problems of the leadership itself: guru expansion, excessive puja, disrespect of non-guru godbrothers, leader deviations, excessive control, and so on.

Those who did not agree completely with whatever the leaders wanted to do were made to feel left out of the mainstream of ISKCON and many times were exiled. Those who sincerely wanted answers to the many problems within ISKCON were consistently regarded as troublemakers. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada were frustrated that they had no voice. The GBC was maintaining tight control of ISKCON, refusing to expand the number of gurus, and discouraging the enthusiasm of many sincere devotees with their official policies. As a result, many devotees left ISKCON.

Acarya Godbrother Relations-A Slap to the Cheek

In the following transcription of the first official meeting with the GBC in 1978, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke about acarya relations with godbrothers:

If you think-in the tatastha vicar, absolute consideration-that the person who is doing the function of acarya, that his adhikara is lower than yours, still you should formally give special honor to him because he is in that position. For example, the son may be a judge and the father the lawyer, so the father is giving honor to the chair of the judge--nirodha. Like that you should do; otherwise, the social dealings will be disturbed, is it not? That kind of adjustment should be in the mission. When the acarya brother and the non-acarya brother are alone, they can mix freely. You can give a slap to his [the acarya's] cheek, but when publicly amongst his disciples, you must show respect.

Acarya Grandeur

Many disciples of Srila Prabhupada complained to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, from 1978 until 1985, about the excessive worship and grand arrangements for the ISKCON gurus. In view of the many falldowns (five GBC gurus of the original eleven), mounting frustration, and repression of so many devotees, excessive worship became a source of great irritation. It became even more irritating when nothing was done about it year after year. Srila Sridhara Maharaja addressed this problem of acarya grandeur on August 18, 1980:

According to my consideration, as I hear it, the grandeur of the acarya, the puja of the present acaryas, it is undesirable and too much and that will create some difficulty. It should be modified. The way in which the acarya puja has been established, that should be modified to suit the circumstances, and some adjustment with the godbrothers should be made. A protocol, a spiritual protocol, should be evolved which may not be very harmful to the body, to the association, the ISKCON organization. It is a very difficult thing tackling the fine point of divine sentiment. So, very carefully the adjustment in the spiritual protocol should be observed. Not only adjustment with the sentiment of the godbrothers of the acaryas, but this difficulty will continue also amongst the disciples of the acaryas themselves. So, a very sober and well-thought conception should be evolved by the help of the scriptures and the statements of the Vaisnavas and their experience-all these things must be considered. Adjustment may help the mission grow-adjustment such that it may not be detrimental to the missionary activity. It is a very difficult thing to adjust. When there is acarya puja--afterward they should also show some respect to all others, the godbrothers of the gurudeva. In this way, the respect will be shown--the guru with his parsada, with his friends (paricaraka sahitam).But puja in a gorgeous way whenever an acarya will come, that gorgeous puja that will create havoc and disembarkment in the mission, so much grandeur. And now another thing in the opposite. Mat guru si jagat guru--a newcomer, he should be given such understanding that my guru is not less in capacity of divinity. The newcomers should be given the highest attraction-to draw their maximum faith. Acaryam mam vijaniyan--sastra has got no small mantra for a small guru and a big mantra for a big guru. Guru should be looked at by the disciple with maximum reverence. To draw the maximum reverence or sraddha, faith, from the disciple, it is not a very easy thing. So, two things should be considered, and an intermediate process should be evolved.

A Fair Field Is Necessary

In March of 1981 Srila Sridhara Maharaja responded to the following question of a GBC guru:

Ramesvara Swami: So, I have some questions about the position of our gurus. Prabhupada named me also as one of the devotees who would begin initiating. So I have felt disturbed that the position of the gurus was raised above all of our godbrothers because of too much worship.It seems to me that many of my godbrothers, they are equal or even greater-they can give Prabhupada's teachings just as well as anyone, but they are not named as gurus, so there seems to be too much difference between them and the gurus. So this has been a big disturbance to me.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That is a very serious question. They are making much of the position of the acarya. They are misusing the position according to him. [Trying to imitate Srila Prabhupada.] That is a very serious question and on that point I have given my opinion many times. In brief, a system should be created or arranged for proper adjustment. From the relative standpoint, the disciple will see his guru to be the best, and he will think that the Lord has delegated him to come to me and to deliver me from the clutches of maya. He has some particular affinity there. And there are many acaryas, and what should be the behavior, the conduct of the disciples of different acaryas? How and what should be the behavior or conduct towards the non-acarya, godbothers of the acarya? That should be evolved.

If direction is not given by Swami Maharaja, there might be some signs, some hints. But if it is not found there, then we shall have to evolve some rules and regulations for a proper adjustment so that the mission may not suffer. Suffer from indifference or negligence or abhorrence of the non-acarya disciples of Swami Maharaja. As you say, there are more qualified disciples outside the acarya board, or GBC. It is not impossible, not impossible. So, we should sit together and try to see that valuable persons that came to serve Swami Maharaja with all their energy and sincerity will not go away. That would be very, very regrettable. We should try to save the mission from that great disaster. I hear that so many stalwarts are going away, becoming indifferent and going underground to the unknown quarter, depressed because they do not see a fair field. So these things should not be set aside but it must be taken in and they should be discussed. Some salient points, you should prepare a list-that this is a list of disadvantages, inconveniences. The disease has entered into ISKCON and how to treat it. This is our common cause, we are all interested in ISKCON, we are members, we have given our life, dedicated our life for this mission. We are interested and we don't like that our godbrothers will go astray dissatisfied with the management. So try your best to evolve some rulings or some sort of laws, rules which should guide us all, help us all. At the same time, it will push the cause of the mission of ISKCON. As dynamic as it is accommodative-comprehensive and dynamic mission we want to have.

We have a great field ahead. We must go to the length and the breadth of this world with the banner of our Guru Maharaja, your Guru Maharaja, and combined effort is necessary for that. We should collect all our energy, money, men, and we must go on with the banner of our Prabhupada. For this, unity and fairness in the field are necessary. This will strengthen the hearts of all the members of ISKCON. In this way, you may introduce your suggestions for reform-that such an accommodating and dynamic program we want to have, and without doing that, we won't allow you to end your meeting. You must come to such a conclusion and give us such a program. Otherwise, we won't allow you to go away from this matha. Make provision to feed all the members, such that all can be satisfied, have food, proper food. Everyone must have proper food to work on. Evolve such a program and give it to us. If you will consider yourself to be efficient, then give us this thing--that we can march on with the flag with our head erect. We have to go and capture the new, but the old is already going away. They are being driven away. The old, important members who received the grace of our Guru Maharaja, they are being discouraged and becoming indifferent, and we are going to recruit new persons? Is it not a farce? I am speaking a little strongly. But as a friend of your Guru Maharaja, I feel this in my heart, so I say, this worldwide grand mission will thrive like anything. It will touch the heaven and cover the world and other planets also. And what is this? That longtime devotees are leaving the mission? There may be one, a few exceptions, but generally people came with a good and sincere heart and they are feeling discouragement. Some encouraging program must be evolved, we want to have. So, let us evolve. Not just a formal meeting for two days, three days. But it must be a meeting to satisfy the real necessity of the day. That is a living committee, that we want. Living meeting we want. Not a formal meeting. After one year, a formal meeting and some resolutions passed, and everyone has gone to his own field and is doing as he likes.

Ramesvara Swami: I take it that Prabhupada is speaking to us through you.

The wisdom of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's advice is further shown in the following 1980 darsana. Hearing that many godbrothers were leaving ISKCON in frustration, unable to tolerate the mismanagement of ISKCON, Sridhara Maharaja advised non-GBC disciples of Srila Prabhupada not to be rash-to "wait and see." Further, he suggested that the godbrothers should "call for a meeting." He proposed that at this meeting the grievances of the godbrothers be presented to the GBC and hopefully resolved.

Excerpt from August 19, 1980 darsana:

Bhakti Caru Swami (Bengali): Maharaja, the main consideration is that many of Prabhupada's disciples are leaving the movement. They are quite unable to tolerate all this nonsense anymore. The main reason we came is because there are many devotees, those who are impatiently waiting to hear what you have to say. Now, if you just show us the way. It has come to the point where unless some rectification is made, then they all will get together to do something about this.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: If I have to say something formally from outside, then I have to say that among you the person who enjoys the greatest confidence of all the devotees, through such a man you call for a meeting in America or wherever the field is the most important. And in that meeting, those who are willing to boldly face the situation participate, the gbcs, those who you feel are dissatisfied inwardly, call them and call a few acaryas who are sympathetic. And in the meeting, record the feeling of different devotees. Then, with the strength of that resolution, call for their explanation, asking, "What are you doing in the name of Prabhupada? You are not absolutely infallible. Due to your activities, the mass of the disciples of Prabhupada have become very bewildered. They are becoming very disappointed and they can see that a great loss is going to be incurred by the ISKCON society. The ISKCON society is in danger. So now, you all reconsider yourselves and appeal to them to readjust themselves, and thus this disaster can be saved.

"So many devotees are leaving the movement. So many devotees have become half-dead, and so many devotees have already died. So many are lamenting, and we cannot just sit idly without trying to rectify the situation. We ourselves do not want any position, but what is going on is intolerable. It shows that the major portion is going to die. This must be thought out and accepted." So, with this idea, you form a committee, make a resolution, and then selectively invite people to come. In this way, you call for a meeting, pass a resolution, and then call for them and ask them to readjust their position and reconsider. Otherwise, we shall be in painful necessity to make progress independently. You can say this.

On another occasion, Srila Sridhara Maharaja gives further advice:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That will be fair for you, that you increase the number of designated gurus from those who are already empowered. Those who are empowered will extend their consideration, their scope. If you move in this way, it will have spiritual characteristic. 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 is obligated to teach the newcomers that they must respect his brother. Then only can it go in a harmonious way for some time. 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.

Bhakti Caru Swami: But these acaryas, they are not teaching their disciples to show respect to their godbrothers. Sometimes the opposite.

No, Only These Eleven Gurus

In March 1981 Srila Sridhara Maharaja was told that "guru extension" was to be voted upon in that year's GBC meeting:

Devotee: In Srila Prabhupada's last will he established the GBC as the supreme managing authority of ISKCON, but with the establishment of eleven spiritual masters the situation in the GBC has become that actually eleven people are making the decisions and not the full governing body. So the non-acarya section of the GBC is very discouraged and unable to fully execute their voice as GBC members.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: So, they are to take decision on that point in this meeting [1981 Mayapur GBC meeting], a very important meeting.

Sudhira Goswami: They will. Ramesvara Maharaja has proposed on this question of the extension of the acaryaship that the GBC come to take your advice.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: I told them right at the beginning [March 1978] that this should be made into a dynamic practice so that every year during Gaura Purnima some new gurus can be added. Then the other party, the non-initiating godbrothers, will have their confidence in the initiating godbrothers and give their support to them. Otherwise, if they maintain some rigid practice [not allow other godbrothers beyond the original eleven to become initiating gurus], then the relationship will be cracked. This was my suggestion but they did not care about that. Emphatically they said, "No, only these eleven."

Guru Non-extension: Injudicious, Unfortunate, and Faulty

At their annual Mayapur meeting in 1981, the GBC resolved that the number of initiating gurus would not be extended for an indefinite time period. After these GBC meetings, when Srila Sridhara Maharaja was queried on his opinion regarding the resolution not to expand the number of initiating gurus in ISKCON, Srila Sridhara Maharaja said:

Let us hope that their decision may help ISKCON, by the will of Krsna it may not bring any disaster to the organization. Let us hope and pray. ISKCON is a new-born child, a new-born child. There may be so many child-enemies, so we shall pray to the Lord that the child may grow to be a strong young man and do the desired service of its founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja. With good wishes we shall pray to him. It is a great campaign, the highest campaign the world has ever seen. Expansion of the creed of love of the Absolute in the religious sky. So its expansion, its happy movement is to be wished and prayed by all. Mahaprabhu's grace may reach to every unknown corner of the world. And so many souls may receive that nectar. Hare Krsna.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja repeatedly suggested for many years that the number of initiating gurus be increased. The moratorium was lifted in March 1982, when three gurus were added. More gurus were not added again until three years later in 1985, when godbrothers finally insisted on meeting with the GBC. At this meeting, it was recognized that the grandeur and excessive worship of the present gurus must be reduced and a process for guru extension implemented, as suggested for the previous seven years by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. By this time, however, the fact that such prudent advice had been offered by Sridhara Maharaja was long forgotten, if ever known by the assembly of devotees. By this time, three years of vilification of Sridhara Maharaja had saturated the consciousness of every member of the society.

The GBC officially rejected Sridhara Maharaja in 1982. Events leading up to this brought out the following sentiments and instruction of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: My aspiration is unchanged in all these long years. I haven't changed my position. So you may convey to them that I am not the man to fight with anyone. The fight will be one-sided.

Bhakti Caru Swami: They don't want to listen, Maharaja. They don't want to listen.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Then, they may go on in that way, but they will have to fight with their shadow. Isn't it? If there's no one to fight, then who will they shoot?

Bhakti Caru Swami: And the thing is, they are looking at the world, they're looking at everybody as feeling the same way they are feeling. Atmavat manyate jagat. Since they want to take over the whole world.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, that is laudable. In the name of Swami Maharaja, let them capture the whole of the world. But at the same time, they should not banish the very Deity of their worship. If I see that they are deviating, my heart will ache. Cannot but ache. But they can't see that they are deviating, that they are neglecting their own property, their own wealth. Swami Maharaja repeatedly requested, "I have taken them all, so many raw things [inexperienced and unqualified persons], you have to look after them."

Bhakti Caru Swami: And I have been seeing that for the last four years Maharaja, you have been giving them a chance. You are always taking their side. You are trying to support them.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: As far as possible. As far as possible.

Bhakti Caru Swami: I remember in 1978, you wrote a letter to Tamala Krsna Maharaja, because Pradyumna and Yasodanandana Maharaja had so many complaints, and you wanted to consult with them before you gave your opinion.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: But after all, this is their finding [that they will not listen to Sridhara Maharaja's advice]. I can't help. What can I do? They should try by their combined effort to solve any problem facing their mission, and whenever they are facing any difficulty, they should refer to me. I am affectionate to them; they do not have to apprehend anything from me. I am eager to serve you, to help you, but not against the principle, that which I understand to be the truth. In that case, I would be a traitor to my own cause, to my own master.

Later, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke more:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: I am not going anywhere to do anything against them. I am sitting here. People are coming, and according to my conscience, what I have to say to them I am saying. I am not an aggressor.

Sudhira Maharaja: This has disturbed many of the devotees who are appreciating your instructions.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Is it going against Swami Maharaja what I say?

Sudhira Maharaja: Not according to them, but there is a difference of opinion.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: But what I said was taped by you all. Was there anything which went against the preaching of Swami Maharaja? I don't think that is the case.

Sudhira Maharaja: No one thinks like that.

Bhakti Caru Maharaja: But it is going against them [the leaders' improprieties]. Actually many of the godbrothers started to see things from a different perspective.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Last time also I asked them what they wanted me to do-should I give ditto to whatever they will do. Then I asked them, "Do you think that I am under your committee." "No, no, that we don't think." Then the day before yesterday, again the same thing. "We had a meeting and in our meeting we accepted the principle that the number of acaryas may be increased, but we did not receive any inspiration this year for extension. But this was not told to you, so we have been told that you remarked that our decision is injudicious and unfortunate." Yes, I did remark in such a way because I want to clear my position to you now, that I am not wholly one with ISKCON and even not wholly one with Swami Maharaja. I have got my special consideration and inclination and thinking. With other godbrothers also I differ in many ways. So everyone has his special characteristic, and I also have such. So, what you think to be srota-pantha, your meeting, unanimous verdict, what you think the right thing coming down, I am not bound to pronounce the same thing-that it is infallible. The meaning is like that. According to my consideration, your combined decision was a faulty one, but I did not say so clearly.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja mentions that he has his own unique contributions to make and that these may sometimes even differ from Srila Prabhupada, a viewpoint that Srila Prabhupada himself supported in a letter to Upendra in 1972. [2] Many non-GBC devotees, dissatisfied and discouraged by the ISKCON GBC's overbearing style of management, also approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja for advice. His advice evoked a higher, more mature perspective in these devotees that many times also included more tolerance and compassion in regard to the ISKCON leaders. His expert advice revived many devotees' faltering faith and earned Srila Sridhara Maharaja a fast-rising popularity, which the GBC feared would diminish their position and control. In addition to examples presented in earlier chapters, an indication of the grave problems that confronted ISKCON is that the vast majority of disciples of Srila Prabhupada left the movement in a discouraged state of mind. A further strong indication is that, of the original eleven gurus only six remained in the mid-1980s.

Real Seekers of Truth Are Fearless

Devotee: They are afraid that the institution is breaking.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: If they are seekers after truth, they'll be fearless. It is His movement [Krsna's]. If He likes, He will keep it. It is spread by His will. So spacious and extensively, in such a small span of life, Swami Maharaja took it to the length and breadth of the world. It is by divine will.

Devotee: Their position is that now they are in so much difficulty that they are just looking for somebody to blame. They don't want to blame themselves. They are just looking for someone outside.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: It is human nature. General weakness of man.

Although officially ignoring the advice of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the GBC eventually implemented almost all of his suggestions, without giving him credit. Not until the New Vrndavana meetings in 1985, when they were forced by the overwhelming consensus of their godbrothers, did the GBC open up the guru extension. Many issues were at hand, as godbrothers throughout the movement demanded reform. In his September 21, 1985, Guru Reform Letter distributed to all his disciples, Satsvarupa Maharaja writes:

A near unanimous decision has been reached by the senior devotees, that the present system of zonal acaryas should be changed and it has become apparent that daily guru-puja is questionable.

These changes were recommended all along by Srila Sridhara Maharaja.

Acyutananda Swami's November 22, 1982 letter of apology to Srila Sridhara Maharaja provides us with a glimpse into the mood of the GBC just prior to severing their connection with Sridhara Maharaja:

Revered Sridhara Maharaja,

Please accept my humble obeisances and apologies for my remarks in a letter written some time ago. I am falling at your feet--you are my siksa guru, and I will not go back to Godhead without your blessings.

At the time I wrote the letter, there were many disturbances in ISKCON. People were losing faith in the leadership, and I feared that there would be a split in the society, due to internal dissension. The GBC were convinced that the preaching of ___ Swami and his presentation of your opinions was one of the chief causes of the trouble in the institution. It was also known that Jayatirtha Maharaja was involved with sahajiya activities, and I was told that he claimed his activities were endorsed by you.

In this state of confusion and concern for the welfare of the society so loved by my spiritual master, I allowed myself to be coerced into writing a letter that was meant to minimize your exalted position and question your credibility in the matter of management.

His Holiness _____ Swami and His Holiness ____ Swami urged everyone to make strong stands to support the views of ISKCON. Why did they want me to write? Because of my long time with you, whenever I lecture, I pray in my invocation to my guru Srila Prabhupada and sing your verse "nikhila bhuvana maya." Whenever there is a precedent to cite, I cite you; whenever there is a need for sastra interpretation, I refer to you; whenever there is a need to confirm a point in any matter, I quote you. So, they wanted the devotees to hear from me in the state of turmoil that was happening then. At least that is how they presented it to me.

I do not want any Vaisnava in the universe to curse me; please don't curse me. You may be knowing that I have written a book about my accepting Krsna consciousness. It is called Autobiography of a Jewish Yogi. In it, I explain how you saved me from the maya of nirjana-bhajana and certain Vaisnavas who were interfering with my faith in Guru. Three chapters are about you, and I think you are the hero of this part. Nothing changes that.

I think even the leaders and present acaryas of ISKCON also regard you with reverence and will show their real feelings as time goes by. In January I may go to India and I will see your feet personally.

Your servant, Acyutananda Swami

Sridhara Maharaja Used as Scapegoat

The final incident that lead to the offensive policy of the GBC regarding Sridhara Maharaja involved one of the original eleven ISKCON gurus and his deviation. Jayatirtha Maharaja had fallen from devotional standards and the GBC was unsuccessful in reinstating him in good standing. In fact their subsequent policy of forcing him out of ISKCON led to his further degradation. In spite of increasing public criticism of Sridhara Maharaja on the part of the GBC, its leader nonetheless had the sense that if anyone could help Jayatirtha, Sridhara Maharaja could. In 1982, Srila Sridhara Maharaja related the history regarding Jayatirtha Maharaja.

Sridhara Maharaja: Jayapataka Maharaja came to me saying that Jayatirtha Maharaja is showing much sentimentalism and saying that this is all transcendental ecstasy. He asked me, is it so? I replied, this cannot be transcendental sentiment. What is the proof? I showed him, these are the scriptural quotes and the facts, and therefore we can never accept it as transcendental sentiment.

Jayapataka Maharaja wrote a long letter to me, stating that such and such things have happened. He wrote that he had consulted with Bhavananda Maharaja who told him to consult with me. He asked me for my opinion about all the things that have happened in regards to Jayatirtha. I told him that I don't want to say anything before meeting Jayatirtha Maharaja. I want to know what happened. And I had some doubts. They told that Jayatirtha wanted sannyasa. Ultimately, we have not forced. Reluctantly we gave sannyasa. Still I told him that I would like to hear from him [Jayatirtha] first before making any remark. Then Bhakti Caru Swami brought Jayatirtha Maharaja here from Puri, leaving his wife and son in Calcutta, but I also wanted his wife and son to be here. Then they were also brought here and I consulted with them all. I had had some apprehension he might be thinking that Swami Maharaja had delegated him for acarya position as a grhasta and that ISKCON, the present managing committee, has thrust sannyasa upon him and in some uncareful moment he has accepted that. Then the sannyasa should not be continued--what Swami Maharaja has given, my gurudeva, I must stick to that. I inquired and found his son thinking like that. So, I told him the acaryas are mostly sannyasis, and anyway, once you have accepted sannyasa you should not go back formally. It was only an accidental fall; that is not everything. You must have courage. Your Guru Maharaja appointed you as a general to fight against maya, and you must not leave your position. To go back, that won't look good. So I gave my opinion, that once sannyasa is accepted, you must retain it. Otherwise, it will give a bad name to ISKCON; that is, to your Guru Maharaja, Prabhupada. Then he agreed. I also had to convince his former wife, Manjuali. She is a good lady. She also told in the tapes what happened. And I asked her, "Did you come [to Krsna consciousness] before your marriage?" "Yes." "You came to get the grace of Lord Krsna?" "Yes." "Then you are to sacrifice for Swami Maharaja, you are to sacrifice your best beloved object for the cause of Krsna consciousness, I think. Visnupriya devi she left Mahaprabhu for the good of the public. And Krsna will look after you. You sacrifice, give him up for fighting. He is a general. One of the big generals, fighters in Krsna consciousness. I heard that he has a good name in his propagation. It must not be taken back." In the beginning, of course, she wept, shed tears, but anyhow, she got encouragement through my words and advice. The boy also said yes-I also encouraged him and the mother. Finally they accepted my advice. Then I asked that Jayatirtha send a letter to his previous sannyasa guru Kirtanananda Maharaja stating that he has again taken up the sannyasa order given by him. Then I sent him to Katwa where Mahaprabhu took sannyasa. I sent him with Bhakti Caru Swami and Govinda Maharaja. After taking a bath in the Ganges, he again took his former sannyasa dress at the place where Mahaprabhu took his sannyasa. I tried my best to reinstate Jayatirtha Maharaja to the old role of a sannyasi to save the good name of ISKCON, and I also sent him to Katwa where Mahaprabhu himself took sannyasa, for his inspiration and impression that he can be firm in his future life. Afterwards he told, "Yes, I have got the strength. As if I have gotten from Swami Maharaja, I have got sannyasa." They asked me to touch the kaupina and the danda, and I did it. He said, "I have gotten strength from all those things, now I am strong." That is one thing. I also asked him to give a letter to his sannyasa guru Kirtanananda saying that I am again coming back to the role that you have given me. Please accept. But Jayatirtha is a very frank man, not diplomatic. So, what he felt in himself, he gave vent to that [he glorified Srila Sridhara Maharaja], and that created the trouble. I wanted to avoid that.

Devotee: But already I spoke to him and he said that he won't pursue that anymore. Just privately he'll have some appreciation but not publicly.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: And publicly he is connected to ISKCON. And that is what I wanted. That would be a smooth activity with ISKCON in harmony. Things are going otherwise.

After Jayatirtha Maharaja was secretly sent to Sridhara Maharaja, he reemerged with the miraculous effect of his return to sanity. In fact, his enthusiasm took him on an expansive preaching tour in which he did not hold back from informing all of the greatness of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. This public acclaim for Sridhara Maharaja voiced by one of the society's gurus was too much for the GBC to bear. In March 1982 the GBC insisted that either Jayatirtha remove Sridhara Maharaja from his heart or leave ISKCON. He chose with dignity the latter. Yet the GBC could not even honor his nobility, what to speak of his spiritual principle of acceptance of a siksa guru, one whom they themselves had sent him to, one that Srila Prabhupada had introduced to the mission.

Rather than allow Jayatirtha to peacefully follow their own policy, upon his leaving the society the GBC mounted a campaign to expose his deviations to all the devotees from whom they themselves had been hiding them. They thus implied that they had rejected Jayatirtha, while Sridhara Maharaja had sheltered him, and in effect sanctioned his avaisnava habits, habits that he had, while under the shelter of Sridhara Maharaja, given up. The force of public embarrassment and crude exposure of his deviations to all of Jayatirtha's disciples proved too much for Jayatirtha. He fell even from the association of Sridhara Maharaja. One wonders then to what extent the GBC is responsible for the untimely and disgraceful demise of Jayatirtha. Without dismissing his own deviations, there is certainly a shared responsibility for his sad story on the part of the GBC, for they failed to support him in a spiritual principle, that of taking shelter of a competent siksa guru. Instead, they tried their best to break his faith and that of his disciples. Such reprehensible action was characteristic of the GBC at that time.

Offenses against Srila Sridhara Maharaja increased exponentially. Rumors were circulated that Srila Sridhara Maharaja sanctioned the strange activities of Jayatirtha Maharaja, that he was trying to destroy ISKCON, and many more things. Derogatory publications of the GBC, such as Vaisnava Ke and Purity is the Force, were widely distributed in their vilification campaign. Sridhara Maharaja was labeled everything from a mayavadi to a sahajiya.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja Severed

Following a reversal of feelings towards Srila Sridhara Maharaja in early 1982, the ISKCON GBC legislative body decided during that year's Mayapur meetings that anyone seeking siksa outside ISKCON must leave ISKCON. This decision was directed toward those who wished to approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Srila Sridhara Maharaja, however, replied very generously to this disconnection:

Devotee: Martial law. Dictatorship, just like in Poland.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: No, not martial. They are not happy to do that, but on policy they are to do this for the time being; they are to test what effect it may have. They have some affection for me; but still, to save their institution from the present crisis, temporarily they are giving trial to this particular injunction.

Devotee: Temporary injunction.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: I think like that. I think like that.

Devotee: You are very gracious.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: They cannot forget me totally. The newcomers may think like that, but the older devotees that have seen me along with Swami Maharaja. It will be difficult for them to put such a rigid law between the two, for those older men have seen how intimately Swami Maharaja dealt with me. It will be very difficult for them, but still they have a policy to make a check.

If ever Srila Sridhara Maharaja misjudged the senior men he refers to above, it was on this occasion. He gave them far more credit for having a sense of not only Vaisnava etiquette, but even common sense and human decency. They had no difficulty whatsoever enforcing their policy of severance from Sridhara Maharaja. Moreover, their policy proved not to be a temporary one.

Invited by Affection's Force and Driven Out

Later, Srila Sridhara Maharaja commented:

Swami Maharaja very earnestly invited me with affection, and you are driving me out. Swami Maharaja had much affection for me, all throughout his whole life. He abused many of my godbrothers, with the exception of me alone, and he asked me several times, that you are to look after them. I was forcibly almost-by affection's force-taken into the connection of ISKCON, and now, I am being driven out of ISKCON. I give my good will, but I can't simply ditto their mandates. I am invited by your Prabhupada in his last days, and do you think that in my last days I am motivated by some mean interest? I differed from the gbc's opinion and they withdrew. Still I am their aloof well-wisher.

They are thousands of men on that side, and you are few: five, six or ten, twenty-five. And they are so much afraid of you? They have the spirit of conquering. No attitude of give-and-take learning. That, we may have to learn something yet. They have finished their learning, and they are ready only to distribute their own hoarded wealth. Hare Krsna. Alright, He is there. ISKCON does not belong to their committee, ISKCON ultimately belongs to Swami Maharaja, represents Swami Maharaja, in my opinion. I see that they are digging their own grave. This is my sincere feeling, but this hurts, and it is objectionable to a certain extent. If they are ISKCON properly, they are promised to a particular ideal.

Deviation from that ideal, that is but a shadow of the ISKCON that was created and designed by Swami Maharaja. It is a very lamentable thing. Those who are sincere, the victory will be with them: na hi kalyana-krt kascid, durgatim tata gacchati. (Bg. 6.40) Kalyana means sincere to their purpose; not power-seeker, coercive nature. Hare Krsna.

I Am Very Much Mortified

In an unfortunate conversation in March 1982, indicative of the intensity of the aparadha being committed, Srila Sridhara Maharaja was visibly shaken by the behavior of the GBC representatives:

I am an old man, I am tired, excited, I am very, very sorry (crying), really I say with folded palms that you are ill-treating me. I am very sorry. Swami Maharaja was so affectionate, I also treated him with such affection, and rudely you are behaving towards me. I am very much mortified for that, but what can I do?

Aparadha's Havoc

The fate of Ramacandra Puri, described in the Caitanya-caritamrta, provides a stern warning of the unfortunate consequences of vaisnava-aparadha. He disrespected his guru and as a result was rejected, further causing him to criticize many exalted Vaisnavas and even blaspheme Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In this regard, Lord Narayana states:

One's so-called prowess, when employed against the devotee, certainly harms he who employs it. Thus it is the subject not the object who is harmed. (Bhag. 9.4.69)

The incident of Daksa's offense to Maharaja Ambarisa also illustrates the severity of vaisnava-aparadha. Although Daksa apologized to Lord Siva for his offense, apparently it was not offered with proper remorse, for the effect of this aparadha resurfaced eons later in another manvantara, causing Daksa to commit additional vaisnava-aparadha to Narada Muni.

Those responsible for the ongoing ISKCON institutional aparadha are directly responsible for all further aparadha committed as a result. Indeed sastra states:

The most sacred assembly loses its sanctity and religiosity with the slightest vaisnava-ninda, and even a powerful assembly of sannyasis becomes bereft of religious purity if they indulge in vaisnava-ninda. In fact a drunkard's party is better than such an unholy assembly. A despicable drunk has still a chance someday to be excused for his unrighteousness, but a Vaisnava offender is bound for abysmal damnation. (Caitanya-Bhagavata, Madhya-lila 13.39­43)

Whenever an advanced devotee is insulted, for one man's fault the entire town or place is devastated-everyone in connection with him will suffer. (Cc. Antya-lila 3.164)

Blasphemy Must be Undone

The offensive attitude toward Srila Sridhara Maharaja directly opposes Srila Prabhupada's final instructions and desires with regard to Srila Sridhara Maharaja-the same desires that were understood and implemented by the GBC in 1978. Additionally, many of the GBC accepted Srila Sridhara Maharaja as their siksa-guru and later rejected him.

In The Heart of Krsna, Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja writes:

In spite of seeing and hearing about the fatal consequences of offending the Supreme Lord or the devotees, people refuse to become enlightened about it--such is the fearsome cloud of illusion that maya creates to delude everyone.

Insubstantial Apologies

Even in the mundane world one who slanders another must retract the slander in the same form that it was given. This was not attempted in the case of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. A Vaisnava easily forgives offenses, however the dust of his feet does not. The example of Gadadhara Pandita shows how seriously one must take atonement for an offense to a Vaisnava. Gadadhara Pandita only committed a mental offense to Pundarika Vidyanidhi, yet he was ordered by Mahaprabhu to take initiation from Pundarika.

Offenses must not only be undone, but undone with interest--that is, one must make a real and substantial effort to correct the damage done, to clarify publicly any misconception or misinformation. Some token apology has been given officially and individually, yet we see that the offensive attitude of most devotees in ISKCON toward Srila Sridhara Maharaja has not changed.

That apologies were in fact insubstantial has also been stated by Somaka Maharaja in his paper In Search of Harmony:

All kinds of offenses against H. H. B. R. Sridhara Maharaja were broadcast, but the apologies to Sridhara Maharaja were not at all publicized.

The insincerity of these apologies is further illustrated by the fact that the offenses continued and even escalated after apologies were made for previous offenses--something like the elephant's bath, which Srila Prabhupada was fond of quoting, or the Christian confessional. A public statement should be made in print, recognizing that forgiveness for these offenses will be proportional to the effectiveness of this public statement in terms of its correcting the offensive mentality in so many devotees' minds toward Srila Sridhara Maharaja.


Offenses to Srila Sridhara Maharaja constitute offenses to Srila Prabhupada as well. One can imagine how displeased Srila Prabhupada has been by his leading disciples' offensive dealings with his beloved godbrother. While Sridhara Maharaja, in the mood of a parama Vaisnava, did not acknowledge any offense, certainly Srila Prabhupada has been offended.

The intention of this publication is not to cause our godbrothers unnecessary embarrassment, but for the sake of clarifying certain vital points it has been necessary in certain instances to give as complete an explanation as possible. We are painfully aware of an unlimited number of embarrassing facts and unpleasant activities in great detail, but find no purpose in stating them herein. We are hoping that the illumination provided herein as to the supramundane position of the guardian of devotion of the Rupanuga sampradaya, Srila Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Deva Maharaja, will clear the many misunderstandings surrounding him, and individually and collectively aspirants will realize their grievous offenses to such a very dear devotee of Srimati Radharani and Lord Krsna.

Those who are not aware of the sequence of events that are clarified within this presentation may question the necessity of this book-that ISKCON management has changed, that things are better now. While we agree that some changes have been made individually and managerially, institutionalized aparadha must be given serious consideration, for otherwise members cannot make proper advancement, burdened by its lingering effects.

No doubt many factors have contributed to the present status of ISKCON. However, no one factor, nor any collective factors, have the potential to damage a spiritual institution more than Vaisnava aparadha. If the Vaisnava is a superlative devotee and the offense is blatant, disaster is eminent. Such is the case with regard to offenses committed by ISKCON against Sridhara Maharaja. They created an explosion like an atomic bomb that initially reeked havoc and had lingering effects in the form of bhrama-tattva (illusion regarding tattva) and the samskara for continued offenses to senior Vaisnavas which hover over the institution like radiation.

We hope that recognition of the purity of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's siksa will absolve many offenses. It is not expected that our godbrothers accept Srila Sridhara Maharaja as their siksa guru, nor is he amongst us at present. They must, however, develop a positive, non-offensive understanding and allow interested devotees under their care to study the books of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Further, they should teach others to appropriately honor those who have taken shelter of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. They would do well to read his books themselves, if not print them in an effort to undue their wrongs. If we are to believe in miracles, it is possible that such a policy could restore ISKCON to the vital institution it once was. For those who do not see the need for this rectification, let them continue to think that spiritual life is measured by external success, and let them be known as Kali-chela, disciples of Kali.

It is not in the interest of serious devotees to continue the offenses to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, for one who has not fully amended his vaisnava-aparadha can never achieve Krsna. This is confirmed by Vrndavana dasa Thakura in Caitanya-Bhagavata, Madhya 22.8, vaisnavera thani ya're haya aparadha krsna-krpa hoileo tare prema-badha:

If a person commits an offense at the lotus feet of a Vaisnava, even though he may have received Krsna's mercy, he will never attain divine love, prema.

We place this offering before the Vaisnavas, scholars, aspirants-whoever is a seeker of truth.


[1] Several GBC members, in the course of establishing the spiritual validity of their relationship with Narayana Maharaja, attempted to set the record straight with regard to those who were rejected from the Society because of their relationship with Sridhara Maharaja.

[2] SP Ltr Upendra February 19, 1972

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