Keeping the Vision

Jan 9 2021 - Krishna Talk 228

A continuation to the article "The Vision of Govindaji Gardens" published on Aug 15th 2020.

(This article has been adapted from an informal conversation at Saraswatipuram, Mysore, in the year 1996)

Kṛṣṇa is an autocrat. We're into monarchies. Actually, the idea of government is not a democracy but a monarchy. If Kṛṣṇa came and established a government again, he would establish a monarchy, not a democracy. Democracy is 'demon crazy.'

The guru has the supreme position—not a voting committee position. For the disciples, the guru has the highest position. Guru is our highest authority. Anything that comes in a clash with our present understanding of the guru may be rejected by the disciple in a bona fide way. However, Śrīla Puri Mahārāja has explained in his book, and I've heard from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja also that sometimes when the higher conception comes, we oppose that also. We are trying to approach Kṛṣṇa, and when the higher agent of Kṛṣṇa comes, the neophyte will oppose that because neophytes are limited. So many people try to oppose the words of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. Those words are coming from a higher agency beyond their present understanding. Therefore they're unable to accept it and deal with it.

Faith is a living thing, but sometimes neophyte devotees don't have faith in anybody. They say that they have faith in Prabhupāda, but that may be questionable. They don't follow what he says. Many won't even read his books every day. The reality is, their faith has been lost or at least stymied, stifled and crippled. They're not strong in the world of faith. If they were strong, they would be alive, and that faith would have taken them in some direction, into some association. Instead, they come in touch with something, and they find fault with it, they criticize it, and they become satisfied. Well, then you missed the whole point! You're not supposed to be satisfied. You're supposed to become like a mad man for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda says one should become mad. He cites Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who became mad for Kṛṣṇa, and not satisfied, not pacified. There wasn't a time when He sat in His gambhīra saying, "I'm so happy! The days are fine. Chant and be happy!" On the contrary, He was mad with the feelings of separation. So many things of a deeper nature are found there.

Sometimes we come in touch with something very high, or very sublime, we're attracted to it, we even sacrifice so many things to get to it, but after getting to it, we don't really partake of it. We saw a good number of people who came in touch with Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in his living time, but later, they really got distracted. They gave up so many things for Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, including their association with ISKCON, their positions, their service, and so many things. But after a few years, some were just doing some mundane activity. No 'Die to live' consciousness. No substantial thinking. Some are even going backwards, giving up the holy name — going from sixteen to four to zero rounds in the name of service, which ends up in no service!

Keeping the Vision

You must have a leader who can keep the vision. I wrote a little brochure which was a mock conversation with a Godbrother. I was addressing a certain mentality and then pretending there was some Q&A on the minimum requirement for a Guru. Mahāprabhu said, "On my order, become guru"— this is a very generous statement. Therefore, some are becoming very generous. Whereas, some say that one must be an uttama adhikārī, or that one must be a śuddha bhakta, pure devotee, etc. But the angle of vision I took in that particular essay was to focus on the bottom line (basic requirements) that is not just the generous aspect — Yes, become a guru on my order, but with some qualifications.

Two things are required—One is that one must have guru-niśṭhā, that is, one must be fixed in the order of his spiritual master. This is a whole topic based on faith and the ability to follow, and so forth. The other is, niśkāma-bhakti, one's devotional service should not be influenced by lusty material desires—that means one should not accept the post of guru for any kind of gain whatsoever. If the disciple can put together these two qualifications, he can successfully execute that service and go on advancing Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Without those two things, the cap of guru will drive him into the mud, as he has nothing to stand upon. If one is motivated to enjoy his position, he'll be driven down. And if one is not firmly fixed in the order of his guru and the service of his guru, then he'll become enamored by so many things and get carried away.

So, when we're looking for a community or something, we look for spiritual leadership. These are two essential qualifications. We should see how far the person is fixed, able to follow, and how far they're free from material desires and endeavors for their personal benefit.

An organization is only as good as its topmost leader. It can't be anything better than that. Any Vaiṣṇava saṅga is only as good as its leader. Śrīla Prabhupāda says that the disciple can only go to the level of the leader, the guru. If the guru is unqualified, the disciple will be unqualified. There is no going around it. They might be nicer and more sociable and this and that. But when it actually gets into the realm of self-realization, they will not go any further, as they don't have the connection. There's no one to help them there. Every step is by invitation. If you have no invitation to the higher level, then how do you go there? You have to have an introduction there, and that has to be by your guru.

Substance over Form

Some people are looking for a leader who has to be exactly like Śrīla Prabhupāda, practically to the point that he should walk like him. Although, when you ask them to describe his glory or express really what he was, it is very hard for them to go beyond saying, "He was pure." What does that mean? They don't analyze Śrīla Prabhupāda's life—that he had five children, and he was into business, etc. Instead, they just say, "He was a śaktyāveśa avatāra." What does it mean? They don't know what it means, but they just state so many things. Therefore, when they look for a leader, they don't know what they're looking for. They're looking for a śaktyāveśa avatāra, according to what they think one is. Therefore, they have problems. Consequently, they become ṛtviks.

Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja were very different people completely. Śrīla Prabhupāda was always in a fighting mood, challenging mood. We've heard that from his earliest days, he was always in a pushing mood. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was always in the harmonizing, compromising and withdrawn mood — a different mood of a vaiṣṇava. Both are there. Hanuman's tail was lit on fire, and he dragged it through Lanka to burn the place to the ground. Whereas another devotee has got another mood, a different mood. But the thing that makes the Guru one, when we say that there's no difference between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, it means there is no difference between them on the absolute platform that we can see or find.

Therefore, when you have more than one leader, they may be different in so many external ways, but how one are they spiritually, in substance, in siddhānta, and so forth? Where's their heart? Their opinion and style may be different, but where's their heart really at? Even Śrīla Bhaktivinod Thakur and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta disagreed on external considerations. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja once disagreed with Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta. Disagreed in the sense that they offered some other opinion of which Bhaktisiddhanta did not affirm. He gave them his opinion, and then they came in line with that. So, if the plurality of leaders is together substantially on a spiritual level, then that's very good. And if they're not, then that's very dangerous. With big institutions, you obviously get some problems. So Śrīla Prabhupāda was for decentralization. Decentralization allows you to preserve unique situations. Even though you're working with greater numbers, because you're decentralized, if one unit goes wrong or has a problem, it doesn't affect the other.

Leadership and Humility

We can't lump it all on the leader, but without a leader, we can't get it together anyway, unless we become the leader. The leader must always be there. Either you follow the leader, or you be the leader. There's no other alternative. When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja says 'Forge on,' he means you become the leader. 'Forge on' doesn't mean we live in our own little world. We're not supposed to live in our own little world. We're supposed to live in the greater world of consciousness, surrounded by the vaiṣṇavas. And just as a person who knows how to follow the compass, we have to know where the vaiṣṇavas are and be in touch with the living conception.

But the nature of the Vaiṣṇava is that he doesn't want to become the leader. If he does, then some pratiṣṭha is mixed in that. The leader of the Vaiṣṇavas is usually selected by the Vaiṣṇavas. Śukadeva Goswāmī didn't say, "I'm here, where's the seat?" He was chosen by the Vaiṣṇavas, by the ṛṣīs. He was appointed. That has always been the way—selected, chosen, appointed. You read nice prayers about Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. He was recognized by the saintly and honest devotees. He was selected by them as an ācārya. Of course, he had his recognition from his guru. That is the recognition from above. Then there's also recognition from the plane of the Vaiṣṇavas. Recognition, acceptance, and not self-appointment. Like in finding a guru, we have to accept the guru, then the guru accepts us. Not the other way around. We should have faith.

Ṛtvik Initiation Proper

According to our heart, we accept our guru, sometimes even before our guru knows who we are, where we are, or what we are. We join, we accept, and then wait. We shouldn't wait years upon years, but at least a year or two before getting initiated.

There was a devotee couple in South America. They came in connection with Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. They were from a poor country and could never get to India just because of their financial situation. Finally, they got it together and reached India just around the time when Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja left the world. They came and were broken-hearted because Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja had left the world. But they had accepted him already. They had already chosen their guru, but their guru hadn't accepted them. Then they were given ṛtvik initiation by Govinda Mahārāja. That is based on a fine assessment of faith and the presence of the guru and so forth. On that principle, they were accepted, but that won't work if six, seven, eight, nine years after his disappearance, somebody decides that they accept Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as their guru by reading his books. It's a different connection altogether. Part of the acceptance was they knew he's right there at Navadvīpa. He's our guru. It's based on a different assessment. The ṛtvik philosophy of today is based on the assessment that there's nobody qualified. It's not based on the evaluation of the quality of their faith. It's based on the negative thing that there's nobody, and it has a bunch of things that go along with it.

During the final years of Śrīla Prabhupāda, many devotees were waiting. Some had been in the temple for one year but hadn't got their harināma initiations yet. There were Śrīla Prabhupāda's disciples who had their first initiation, and they were waiting for a long time for brāhmaṇa initiation. Suddenly, Śrīla Prabhupāda left the world. After that, they became initiated by other gurus, and they got the mantra. They were told that they're the disciples of their Godbrothers now! The whole thing became just a grab bag for power. There was some sincerity there, but the system was heavily structured towards power—controlling people's lives and things like that. Many of those people could have been given an initiation on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Re-initiation and Śraddha

Actually, many people are all up in arms about re-initiation, but actually, re-initiation is there even in Caitanya Caritāmṛta wherein Gadādhara Paṇḍita was reinitiated by Punḍarīka Vidyānidhi. When Gadādhara Paṇḍita gave initiation to Vallabhācārya, he found that he lost his potency by doing so. He went to Mahāprabhu and told him that "I have become bankrupt since giving the mantra to Vallabhācārya." Mahāprabhu told him, "Your guru Punḍarīka Vidyānidhi is coming to Purī soon, he will reinstate you with the mantra." And when Pundarika Vidyanidhi came, he reinitiated Gadādhara Paṇḍita. So sometimes the re-initiation is there.

Without faith, one shouldn't be initiated in the first place. That's what happens to people when they take initiation when they don't really have any faith. Nothing ever happens. In some groups there's no emphasis on faith, but faith is the thing that connects us to Kṛṣṇa. The guru is called the āśraya-vigraha. He is the shelter of that faith. Faith has to have some shelter. Otherwise, it can't maintain by itself. It needs that shelter. And that āśraya is the agency of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī, and her associates are giving this āśraya — the shelter.

Guru and the Community

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja used to say that the guru can do absolute good or absolute bad because he has the final word, he has the highest word. In a community, there are not just godbrothers and friends. There's also a guru. It is a critical balance. It's like an ecosystem. You just can't do anything you want or say anything you want. There is a proper dignity to be maintained from both sides.

There's a tape where Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja speaks about the position of the guru amongst the godbrothers. And how they must be very careful not to challenge him or embarrass him in front of his disciples. And then in the same breath, he says, the gurus must be sensitive to the feelings of the Godbrothers, and they must do what is required to adjust themselves. They (the gurus) can't be told what to do. They have to see that themselves, "Oh my God! I'm standing on your foot, Prabhu. Please, I'm sorry."

When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja said that the position of the guru cannot be challenged publicly, he was giving some words according to the necessity of the group he was speaking to. That the onus will be on the guru to be aware of the situation and harmonize accordingly. But they didn't care about that. When that statement came out, it was interpreted as, "You can't challenge the position of the guru." That's the way they came out. Just like, "Shut up or get out." They forgot the harmonizing part, and the proof they didn't listen to it is, they didn't put it into practice. Even if they heard it, they were like, "We've got better things to do."

The Shelter of the Guru and Independence

The last word doesn't have to be spoken very often. But sometimes, it just has to be. Otherwise, it's anarchy. Everyone has a different opinion, and voting means politics. "Bring it to a vote, and when I figure I've got enough on my side, I'll do this," and then it all goes to hell. What's the solution? Kṛṣṇa consciousness — people have to be humble. They have to be generous, kind, respectful of others' feelings, dealings, and so many things. Someone may say, "Then why did Prabhupāda ask for a vote?" That's just because he wanted it that way, and they voted. But that doesn't mean it always works by voting!

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's group didn't vote. He was the last word. In my āśrama, brahmacārīs are not allowed to leave the property unless they ask me. They can't walk out and just go somewhere. That's actually the standard for a disciple living with the guru, who is to report to the guru, especially the brahmacārīs. Always moving under the authority and the shelter of the guru. No independent movement.

The Balancing Act

There are high ideals, but we can't be too rigid on some point. Sometimes it has to bend. That is also there. When you get into the subject of absolute authority and relative view, it's like the Northwest Passage [1] — It's dangerous. How to keep the balance, that was Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja's expertise. We're working with God Brothers, their disciples, there are neophytes, there are older devotees, and we're keeping a balance. Sometimes things get a little intense, but we've been maintaining the balance, and we haven't voted. Some people say, "That's because you are small." So then we say, "Ok, let's just keep it small and keep the balance. Why waste it off going big where it all falls apart?"

Ultimately, everyone is looking for affection wherever one can find it. That's the nature of the soul. If we feel that there's affection coming from our leaders, our guardians, the autocrats, then we're happy to be under their order. But if we feel that we're being exploited, that's the opposite, then we resent the order. We don't want that. Again, in a small group of devotees, that type of affectionate dealings can be the standard. In a big society, that is very difficult.

Nostalgia, Knowledge, and Transcendence

Affection doesn't mean to be without some sentiment, but sometimes we boldly say that love for Śrīla Prabhupāda has become just some sentiment because that sentiment is just nostalgia. I've been to some of these Prabhupāda gatherings. I witnessed a couple of them from a distance and found so much nostalgia—just living in the past. It's like, your son weighs a hundred and eighty-five pounds, he has two kids of his own, and you're looking at his baby-shoes saying, "Don't you remember when he was just such a little thing?" The family album is just like a brainwashing center. There you are on your bicycle. When affection becomes like that, then it is only some mundane sentiment.

Knowledge is our guardian. There has to be some higher knowledge. In the family, you have to remember that seven-year-old kids were somewhere else eight years ago. They didn't just come into existence. They're seven now, but where were they ten years ago? You were somewhere ten years ago, and so were they. According to the Vedic knowledge, they were in this brahmānḍa. They might have been some old man or old lady somewhere, or even in a non-human body. But we know there is the spirit soul — a higher knowledge that transcends the affection for the person, which is only a natural family affection. The higher knowledge and intelligence should govern a little.

There is a process for that. Someone may say, "You're on the mental platform. Just give it up." But how to give up the mental platform? You've to get on to another platform before you can give up the mental platform. The process is based on hearing and chanting. If we just sit together and read these books, Śrīla Prabhupāda's Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Brahmasaṁhita, the lectures of our param-gurus and so forth. If we read and discuss these things, we'll find ourselves going into the plane of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which ultimately even transcends knowledge.

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja used to say that he was often told that his talks were like Sarasvatī Ṭhākura's. He was saying how his Godbrothers had always praised his ability to deliver Kṛṣṇa conscious talks. He said, "I think my habit is to explain things from beyond the plane of knowledge." So, what is that? That is the plane of faith and surrender. When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja takes a view of something, it is always from that higher plane, beyond knowledge. By the constant process of hearing, chanting, and associating, we will grow more and more to that more substantial plane where faith is the most important thing. And where we find ourselves always in the position of surrender and catching everything coming from above instead of just struggling up the ladder. That should be the bit as far as any of us (God-siblings) are concerned about being together. That's how we got together by having a saṅga, Kṛṣṇa consciousness meetings and talks, trying to discuss something and relate something about the substantial plane of consciousness. Not just, "You're not the body, Prabhu!", "Make sure you chant your 16 rounds," etc. That's all well and good. But we discovered there was something more or if not more, at least there was something that we had overlooked, where we could go back and get a new lease on our prospect of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

[1] The Northwest Passage is a famed sea route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through a group of sparsely populated Canadian islands known as the Arctic Archipelago. European explorers first began to search for the Northwest Passage in the fifteenth century, but treacherous conditions and sea ice cover made the route impassable, foiling many expeditions. [Source:]