Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

<< After Prabhupāda’s Disappearance >>

PART TWO - Application in ISKCON
After Prabhupāda’s Disappearance

1. History
By comparison to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s expressed desires, ISKCON’s history after his disappearance has not been entirely successful. This paper, however, is not meant to detail ISKCON’s successes or failures. Rather, it describes those pages of history, which, by their influence, diluted the principles of guru-tattva so well established by Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Almost immediately after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure, devotees he had requested to give dīkṣā fell down. (Of the eleven he named, only four have not fallen.) Other senior devotees, including sannyāsīs and temple presidents, also compromised their vows or gave up devotional service altogether. These fall-downs by the Society’s leaders, in the absence of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s reassuring guidance, ushered in an era of uncertainty.

Adding to the confusion, ISKCON’s official śīkṣā-gurus, the GBC, made grievous mistakes about the continuation of dīkṣā and śīkṣā.(25) Then, in the mid-eighties, attempting to rectify itself, the GBC submitted to a restructuring — with limited success. The GBC continues to ‘reform’ the understanding of guru-tattva with legislation, pleasing few critics and falling short of inspiring the Society.

The accumulated effect of the above has nurtured a widespread lack of faith in ISKCON’s leading devotees. Do these devotees really possess the ability to serve as śīkṣā- or dīkṣā-gurus?

As early as 1979, some members of ISKCON, lacking confidence in its leadership, began turning to gurus outside. This became a trend, which continued in varying degrees throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s. By the mid‘90s, what had begun as a trickle, despite GBC legislation to stop it, gradually became a major exodus. Ex-members are now affiliated with at least half a dozen Vaiṣṇava gurus outside ISKCON. Since GBC laws prohibit such devotees serving in the Society, these exiles have staffed and fuelled its rivals.(26)

That is the history in brief.

2. Complications with śīkṣā taken from outside ISKCON
The principles of guru-tattva described earlier require that a śīkṣā-guru properly represent the dīkṣā-guru and the founder-ācārya. As might be expected, devotees who have taken guidance outside ISKCON have met with contradictions to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings, his mission and indeed his spiritual position — though few admit it.

Here I feel obliged — though reluctantly, and only for the sake of clarity — to highlight two broad categories of Vaiṣṇavas who have canvassed ISKCON’s membership: (1) the Gauḍīya Maṭha,(27) and (2) all others.(28) Differences between ISKCON and the Gauḍīya Maṭha have been both philosophical and institutional. Philosophical differences have included the hotly contested origin of the jīva; institutional differences, the question of leadership by a GBC.

Perhaps such differences could be excused in the name of institutional diversity. But the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s unforgivable and unforgettable transgression has been the systematic minimisation of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pre-eminence as a fully realised, self-effulgent ācārya.(29) Some charge that Prabhupāda’s teachings are incomplete; others, that his Society lacks substance; and still others, that his knowledge of rasa-tattva is immature. And that is just part of it.

If the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s critique sounds brutal, the accusations of some Vaiṣṇavas outside the Gauḍīya Maṭha are even more scathing.(30) They condemn both ISKCON and the Gauḍīya Maṭha as deviant sects, incapable of delivering Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s message. In view of such absolute condemnation, there is little value in my pointing to differences between their teachings and ISKCON’s. Suffice to say that they themselves deny being representatives of Prabhupāda; in fact, they would be offended by the idea. Having heard the above, any honest member of ISKCON will conclude that accepting śīkṣā from outside the Society is an insurmountable obstacle to his spiritual life.

3. Summary
While writing of ISKCON’s detractors, I have avoided naming individuals; I have generalised. And, to be fair, the Society’s grievance is not with everyone in the Gauḍīya Maṭha, nor with all other Vaiṣṇavas outside ISKCON.

However, many Vaiṣṇavas openly find exception with the current leadership of ISKCON, its gurus, and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s legacy. And history has shown that whenever ISKCON’s members take śīkṣā outside the Society, there ensues, as Prabhupāda predicted, disruption of his mission.

Thus, to answer the question, Among which Vaiṣṇavas should members of ISKCON seek śīkṣā? the answer remains, Only among those within the Society.


NOTES

25In 1978, the GBC compromised its own authority by establishing a board of gurus, while simultaneously condoning an exploitative “zonal ācārya” system, making the bestowal of dīkṣā the inherited right of a few.
26In the past five years there has been a trend to turn to the bābājīs Śrīla Prabhupāda so criticised (and who criticised him).
27“Gauḍīya Maṭha” is used here to identify the many splinter groups that remain from Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s flagship institution of the same name.
28Other categories of Vaiṣṇavas include: the bābājīs, particularly of Rādhā-kuṇ ̈a; scholars in Vṛndāvana; and devotees of other sampradāyas.
29This was already a phenomenon during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time, as Prabhupāda writes, “Perhaps you are my only Godbrother who has appreciated my humble service to the cause of Guru Gauranga. All my other Godbrothers are very much envious, as I can understand from their behaviour.” (Letter, Bombay, December 2, 1970) And in his last year he said, “Just like our Godbrothers. They are envious. What I have done to them? I am doing my business, trying to serve my Guru Maharaja. But they are envious because I am so opulent.” (Conversation, Bombay, January 8, 1977)
30Some bābājīs and sādhus argue that both ISKCON and the Gauḍīya Maṭha are dysfunctional in communicating the siddhānta and practices of the sampradāya. Among their objections, they argue that Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura deviated from the teachings of the paramparā by ignoring the process of siddha-praṇāli and exchanging Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s gift of rāgānugā-bhakti with vaiddhī-bhakti.
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