A Letter – From Disciple to Guru

Apr 3 2018 - Krishna Talk 205

(The following is a letter written by a disciple to her guru in ISCON regarding Srila Sridhara Maharaja and the inspiration and clarity that she has found in the siksa of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. We find this to be a worthwhile read for all seekers of Krsna consciousness as this sincere appeal from a disciple to her guru has both moved and inspired us. Names have been redacted to protect the innocent and the guilty.)

Dear Guru Maharaja,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada, and all the Vaisnava devotees of the lord. All glories to your service, Gurudeva.

I would like to express my deep appreciation for the service opportunity you so kindly gave me, and for your valuable time sharing on such a personal level, your wonderful discourses and illuminating kirtanas. I am always in your debt.

I would like to humbly request a clarification on what you said to me. It was hard to understand exactly what you were saying just before you left due to the kirtana in the background and the pressure of you leaving in the midst of so many devotees who wanted a last glance from you. I think I understood the gist, which was that you do not have a problem with me taking siksa of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, but that due to some opposition, you would rather not have me distribute (Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s) books anymore?

I am now making an attempt to open my heart to you in which the goal is to bring about clarity on the issue and on trying to understand where my place is in this matter. Please forgive me if I am overstepping any boundaries, but I am trying my best to make sense of it all. A wise man told me once that discussing philosophical points makes us strong.

I am sincerely sad about what happened. I understand that XXX Prabhu's character could sometimes be perceived as somewhat confronting and perhaps a bit brash in presentation, but nonetheless that is just an external mood and it is more about what is in the heart that counts. I am sorry if you were put in an awkward position, and I am sorry to hear that someone had an issue with me giving them a book in the past. I sincerely do not want to be a disturbance for you, nor for anyone else. My goal is to connect deeper to Srila Prabhupada's mood and mission, and become an instrument of my Guardians. I feel in my heart that I have been mostly very careful about the way I have presented Srila Sridhara Maharaja in the past, and from my perception I received positive reciprocation from devotees. Even after the evening at the house one couple came the next day and thanked us for the wonderful program, and a Godbrother asked if he could make a painting of Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada for our altar. A number of persons within our God family also enjoyed the evening and did not express any negativity regarding the program. I do talk about Srila Sridhara Maharaja and I do quote him, how can I not? He is fully present in my heart, just like our Srila Prabhupada, and I feel it is natural to give credit where credit is due. In the past no one has expressed any concerns. In fact, many are inspired and enlivened by reading the (his) books and are not leaving ISKCON, but instead feel more encouraged. Our culture is so rich, how can we not appreciate what the teachers in our line have given to us?

The opposition that seems to have arisen has interestingly come from XXXX. Only after bringing up the subject of Srila Sridhara Maharaja myself, did I come to know that they had decided to discourage people from coming to our ashram. I felt disappointed by the fact that they did not approach me directly to have some discussion about their apprehension towards Srila Sridhara Maharaja before making a decision on the matter. I thought our relationship was such that we could at least have an open and honest resolve. XXX Prabhu attempted to invite them for a discussion, however it did not manifest. I feel sad of this outcome since they have always meant a great deal to me due to their bringing me into Krsna Consciousness, for which I am always grateful and indebted. This conception seems to have influenced the attitude of some of the ashram devotees in a negative way. It is my understanding that some of them feel they can't disagree because of fear. Thus, I feel clarity within ISKCON is needed as this mood appears to be latently pervasive within our society. I thought our process is to approach the saintly persons, not to turn away from them. It seems that having no philosophical background can possibly lead to fanaticism? How to become philosophically sound?

Over the last few years I have listened to many young devotees expressing their personal struggles concerning the apparently controlling atmosphere existing within our society. One of the complaints seems to be that overprotection is a way of dealing that does not work nor is liked. The youngsters nowadays seem to be more individual thinkers; they feel information has been kept from them or misconstrued, which brings confusion and distrust. The desire seems to be for a free flow of honest dealings and information within the society. There are so many misconceptions and no unified public clarity. Could this be something that needs to be attended? Misrepresentation can lead to confusion and then a possibility for vaisnava aparadha. Is there a fear that devotees might know the whole truth about the history of ISKCON? Could we be bold enough to look at our mistakes, learn from them and move on?

There was a law implemented that ISKCON devotees should strictly avoid hearing or speaking any criticism of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, but to my knowledge there has been no public encouragement to do so, nor has there been any clear understanding of his position presented by prominent leaders within the society.

What is the fear? We understand that certain people have used Srila Sridhara Maharaja to extract devotees out of ISKCON or speak against ISKCON, and therefore there is a defensive mechanism. If there would be understanding of who he was and his intimate relationship with our Srila Prabhupada, and how Srila Prabhupada directed us to him as an advisor for our society. Could it be that we could stop this attitude of Vaisnava aparadha and bring about a wholesome understanding of the history? If there is a right understanding, why would people want to leave ISKCON if they would be able to see him as an advisor, a well wisher and intimate friend of Srila Prabhupada? Srila Prabhupada wanted us to take Srila Sridhara Maharaj's siksa on the topics of vaisnava etiquette and siddhanta. Could he be recognised as a great benefactor?

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada said about Srila Sridhara Maharaja's writing of a ten stanza poem describing the ontological position of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and the line stemming from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu:

"Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura has written this through him. Now I am satisfied that after me that what I came to say, that will stay, that will remain, I find it in these slokas the siddhanta".

Also he mentioned:

"If you include articles of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the qualities of your publications will be greatly improved".

To be recognised by Srila Bhaktisiddhantha Sarasvati Thakura, should we not thus put importance on Srila Sridhara Maharaja's valuable works?

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada conveyed to our Srila Prabhupada of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:

"In the future he would save the bhakti process".

This comes from a tape recording recently found in the archives from 1973 in Navadvipa that had not been translated from Bengali. On the tape Srila Prabhupada is relating this statement to Srila Sridhara Maharaja. If Srila Prabhupada did not trust him, why would he tell him that?

My question is: If most of our leaders read Srila Sridhara Maharaja's books, and are in favor or in agreement with his teachings and even quote him regularly (yet not mentioning his name), then why is it such an undiscussed issue, and why is there no public support for him by our leaders?

Does faith in Prabhupada get diminished by presentation of Srila Sridhara Maharaja? By reading Srila Sridhara Maharaja's books, do people become more or less strong? Does devotion diminish or increase?

When Srila Sridhara Maharaja came into my life it was like a celebration, just like when I found Srila Prabhupada. I feel it has enriched my life in so many ways. My faith and dedication for Prabhupada has not diminished, it has only increased and I like to think that my conceptions have become more clear as a result. After finding out more about their transcendental relationship I felt deeply encouraged. I was reading passages about how they lived together for many years (over five years), and discussed Bhagavad-gita for five to seven hours daily. Srila Prabhupada considered Srila Sridhara Maharaja his siksa-guru, and Srila Sridhara Maharaja in turn recognised Srila Prabhupada as the acarya. Srila Sridhara Maharaja was proud of Srila Prabhupada, and defended him on various occasions of discord with their God brothers.

Srila Prabhupada stated:

"By age and experience, he is senior to me"

"I was fortunate to have his association since a very long time, perhaps 1930"

"We had intimate talks and he was my good advisor"

"From the very beginning I knew. He was a pure Vaisnava, a pure devotee, and I wanted to associate with him and I tried to help him also. Our relationship is very intimate"

"Krsna and Prabhupada (Bhaktisiddhanta) liked him to prepare me"

"Please look after them. I am taking them this side. You have got some responsibility to look after them."

"Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Matha, I wanted to organize another organization, making Srila Sridhara Maharaja the head."

- And this is just a few of many quotes.

Srila Prabhupada did not consider Srila Sridhara Maharaja a threat, he pointed us to him and tried to establish him in our movement on several occasions. When difficulties came after Srila Prabhupada left his body, Srila Sridhara Maharaja attempted to give relief. Srila Sridhara Maharaja served Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON selflessly, and continued to encourage against all obstacles. He humbly served even after great disturbance, misunderstandings and Vaisnava aparadha's committed against him. Srila Sridhara Maharaja did also chastise, as a senior most advisor, that is logical? He never misrepresented the philosophy and in his words there is no deviation found. He was astute and perfectly situated in the finer aspects of Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta, a well-wisher to all, an associate of Srila Prabhupada, a pure Vaisnava, and a great preacher coming down to us from the inner circle of the spiritual realm to guide us and spread the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He was never a threat, and to me he is the personification of sweetness. He would often say "On the spiritual plane there is no calculation, only dedication...only help, help, help".

From my perception I feel opposition is always present, but that despite it a positive dedication could be brought out within both parties. It could further help us to seek out the deeper truth within ourselves and dive deeper into the reality of our own individual experience. Trying to suppress seems so unreasonable as it could potentially stop the natural flow of our inner heart.

Please guide me Maharaja. I am just a fallen soul trying to make sense of it all. Please forgive me if I have offended anyone, if I did please tell me so I can adjust myself.

It would be unnatural for me not to distribute Srila Sridhara Maharaja from my house, since our ashram is a celebration of both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja who were working in harmony. It is only by their blessings that this ashram exists, and I am trying to become a servant. I continuously pray that we can find harmony and become a strong society, wherein we can celebrate the lives of great personalities and follow in their footsteps. To those great personalities that connect us to divinity.

With affection,

Your servant,
XXX Devi Dasi

– There is an unabridged, unpublished version of "Our Affectionate Guardians" in which there was a deep research into the mood of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja, their relationship to one another, glorification of each other and about accusations made. Many points from that book are an inspiration to this letter I have written to you.