"She (my god sister) indicated that you might explain some recent changes which have taken place in the movement. I would be interested in any information you might be able to share with me regarding this matter." Our responsibility is to use the Internet and email to elevate the consciousness of otherwise uninformed jiva souls who are seeking to exercise their free will and turn back to home, back to Godhead. That was my hope in this letter which summarizes recent events. Here was my reply:
Dear _______, Hare Krishna. All glories to Sri Guru and Gouranga. Sri guru is the spiritual master and Gouranga is Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Krsna appeared 5,000 years ago as Shyamasundar (blue tribanga (three fold bending) body (the speaker of Bhagavad-gita) and 500 years ago in Mayapura, Bengal He appeared again in a golden form to propagate the Sankirtana Movement (congregational chanting of the HareKrsna Mantra) and to introduce the highest conception of love of god called Krsna prema.
I am happy to correspond with you and let you know about ISKCON's recent history. I am not so happy to report events since the departure of our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada its founder-acarya in l977. After he departed from this mortal realm his organization was kept basically in tact. A GBC (Governing Body Commission) which had previously been appointed by His Divine Grace took over the reigns of management, much of which they had been doing during His Divine Grace's last 3 years.
Unfortunately for us all they decided to re enact history and adopt a similar path to the one that did much damage to our spiritual master's mother organization, the Gaudiya Matha. They also had a GBC but instead of allowing the next acarya (spiritual master) to manifest by dint of purity and self effulgence they broke into two camps and each selected an acarya of their choice. Later when one of these said elected acaryas rejected the teachings of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (Our gurudeva's spiritual master and the founder of the Gaudiya Math)the math was thrown into chaos. At that time (1940's) some of the disciples stayed to fight for territorial control of temples, etc. and others departed to open their own mathas and continue the preaching work according to their understanding of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's teachings.
Our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada, was one of the group that chose to form new mathas and he tried to establish one in Jhansi, India in the 1950's called the League of Devotees. Circumstances prevented its success and Srila Prabhupada joined one of his godbrothers, Srila Prajnana Kesava Maharaj in Mathura where he accepted the renounced order of life, sannyasa in l959. Srila Prabhupada lived and studied in relative poverty in Vrndavan until he traveled to America on a donated steamship ticket in l965. He founded ISKCON in l965 in NYC and established a constitution and by laws and corporate status for his institution. The gbc was formed some years later to relieve him of the burdon of supervisory managment so he could concentrate on his translation work of important Vedic literatures.
He instructed in his books and lectures to all of his disciples to become qualified to become spiritual masters in their own right and upon his departure the secretaries and gbc men appointed 12 successor acaryas. There is still an argument brewing (20 years old) between two groups of disciples that each see His Divine Grace's instructions on this matter differently. One group (ritvik camp) believes His Divine Grace wanted to initiate disciples after his departure by proxy, and the other group (the gbc) thought they could continue to appoint acaryas and designate some devotees as spiritual masters, by legislative appointment. There have been a large number of spiritual fall downs of the original 12 appointees and the ritvik camp has largely sprung out of an over reaction to a 2+2=5 situation.
Both groups are incorrect and are not in line with our scriptures or His Divine Grace's desire. The idea of posthumous initiation is not and has not and will never be part of our theology and the second idea of election or rubber stamp of a spiritually potent guru is also bhogus. Both conceptions are ill founded and do not emphasize the real point of spiritual life in Krsna consciusness, which hinges on the direct associaton and guidance of a pure devotee, maha bhagavata, rasika, devotee of Lord Krsna.
Even mundance scholars have acknowleged that the "Bhakti cult" only manifests in the association of a great bhakta. One cannot immitate the position of acarya. Disciples can be initiated by a bona fide disciple of a departed guru. Even if they are not yet fully realized they can still give shelter and instructions on Krishna Consciousness up to their own realization, but not beyond. This will increase our line but an acarya is a very special fully realized guru and his position cannot be imitated cheaply. To accmodate the contradictions of having acaryas that are less than qualified these two groups have been fighting a useless war of polemics which has and will never come to any solution.
The result of this deviation in "guru tattva" (truth about the spiritual master) is that ISKCON has become dominated by devotees who have an agenda that places them in the forefront of management and control of assets and also simultaneously appoints them as acaryas. Their disciples populate most of the temples, and the godbrothers who do not initiate have been systematically edged out of any institutional facility or even bare minmum living conditions. The philosophical position that uncompromising disciples have taken parallels the third group of the Gaudiya Matha, that Srila Prabhupada decided to participate with when he founded ISKCON.
Since godbrothers are not respected, facilitated or even heeded they are too much trouble to have around, since they are aware of the philosophical deviations. Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) is now taught in the iskcon temples in a watered down version, called karma-misra bhakti or prakrta bhakti. The teachings of our predecessor acaryas who were the preceptors and mentors of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and others are ignored or rejected. What was under the leadership of our gurudeva a vibrant and dynamic preaching effort has over time, degraded into a non particapatory sectarian and often fanatical group.
Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master, wrote an essay about organised religions which I am including for you to read as an attached text. His language is complicated, and you must remember that he wrote in literal English, influenced by the British occupation of India, and was in part addressing the intellectual imperialists that dominated India politically. His realization is dynamic, pure and flawless. Srila Prabhupada wrote in simpler language, as did Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, (Bhaktisiddhanta's father and our spiritual great grandfather) so that we might understand their message of transcendence slightly easier. However you will get the gist of his article if you read it carefully. I can clarify any points in it you might not fully understand.
These issues are not new. Mostly every religious group in history has gone through transformatoins due to the influence of time. ISKCON started out as one thing and had become another in the absence of its founder. His 10,000 initiated disciples have become scattered and disjointed and it remains for anyone to reunite them under a common flag of unity of purpose.Many have abandon their spiritual practices and many are still faithful to the order of their preceptor and are doing what they can individuallly and in some smaller groups to continue the preaching mission according to the real guidelines that Srila Prabhupada taught, guru (spiritual master), sadhu (saintly teachers) and shastra (scripture).
I hope that explains it to you. It is a complicated issue and I have several books available on the subject, if you are interested.There have been many abuses on the part of iskcon managers. They are guilty of many offenses to sincere disciples and their mixed conception of a pure religious system is actually dangerous to serious devotees, both spiritually and even physically. Some violence has manifested and the details are not pleasant or palatable, however accurate. My godsister herself was victimized by one of these managers in Africa. She has not found an open ear or any justice in present day iskcon and her former authority assumes a position in the iskcon society of respectability and political control. I call these men naked emperors, "The Emperor Has No Clothes," but they are somewhat successful in cheating and deluding their followers with institutional cult dynamics.
One of my godbrothers, Kundali Prabhu, has written three books on the subject, called the Our Mission Series. You can access two of them at the following url sites, or I can provide hard copies of OM2 and OM3. The books are $10.00 each. He has written quite comprehensively in explanation of what has happened and there is no need for me to reiterate his writing. I have tried to lay an historical and philosphical perspective for you. He can supply many details, and some rather graphic illustrations, as well as some hilarious cartoons. I reccommend his books.
Our Mission 1
Our Mission Two: The Varieties of Dysfunctional Experience
Several of his essays as well:
this one leads to the others if you are interested.
He is a wonderful, pure hearted
If you would like to speak with me personally I am generally avaialable at 718/961-7409 evenings or before 3 pm. Feel free to visit anytime. I have a lot of literature on the subject of Krishna Consciousness if you want to read. My email address is ***. I hope this letter sparks your interest in spiritual subject matter. There are more vastly important topics about spiritual life, other than the unfortunate events in the degradation of a preaching mission. The science of bhakti yoga is eternal and its practice is not affected by temporary upheavals, which are inevitable in this material world.
Very truly yours,
Puru Das Adhikari
The Bhaktivedanta Memorial
Museum & Library Ashram
[Originally published 01/20/99 on VNN]