Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

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A few years ago, I compiled a book for members of ISKCON entitled The Śikṣā-guru. In it, I examined Śrīla Prabhupāda’s intention regarding śīkṣā-guru in our Society and presented tattva according to my realisation. In this paper, I summarise that book’s contents. I address questions of its application in the Vaiṣṇava world, a world in which ISKCON is but one of many societies.

Some of these questions are: Who can be a śīkṣā-guru for ISKCON’s members and what are that person’s qualifications? What is the śīkṣā-guru’s relationship to the dīkṣā-guru and to Śrīla Prabhupāda? Can Vaiṣṇavas outside ISKCON act as its members’ śīkṣā-gurus? If so, how? If not, why not? I address these concerns based upon the principles of guru-tattva, in light of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions, and considering the Society’s 35 years of experience.

While the primary doctrines of guru-tattva, like those of any spiritual science, are found in śāstra, many of its principles (and the details of their implementation) are not. These principles have descended through Vaiṣṇava tradition, a form of evidence rooted in the ways(1) of the ācāryas.

If understanding the principles of guru-tattva poses a challenge to some of ISKCON’s members, the integration of these principles within an institution — a novel idea in the history of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism — may pose an even greater challenge to the Society.

This paper is written in four parts. The first part describes the tradition of śīkṣā-guru. The second part relates the history by which this tradition developed in ISKCON and concludes with Prabhupāda’s directive prohibiting śīkṣā outside the Society. The third part is a list of doubts challenging the thesis of this prohibition and my answers to those doubts — based on Part One and Part Two. Part Four is a summary of the first three parts.

At the outset of this paper, my submission is: the conclusions of both śāstra and the guru-paramparā must be seen through the eyes of Śrīla Prabhupāda.(2) In other words, Śrīla Prabhupāda best understands the teachings of Vyāsa and his representatives.(3) Therefore, in all circumstances, on all subjects, we must defer to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s conclusions. This, I believe, is in essence the constitution of ISKCON and the vision of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s bona fide followers.

What is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s understanding of śīkṣā for his followers? This paper offers the following answers:

  1. The association of Vaiṣṇavas, and the instructions they impart, śīkṣā, are the assured means of success for spiritual practitioners. This is the injunction of sāstra.(4)
  2. However, Śrīla Prabhupāda observed that when his followers received instructions outside ISKCON, their devotional practices, for various reasons, became impaired.
  3. Therefore, Śrīla Prabhupāda directed his followers to take śīkṣā solely from ISKCON’s members.


1While scripture is Vaiṣṇavas’ foremost evidence, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura declares that self-realised souls “... have already attained the perfect spiritual knowledge that is the root from which the scriptures have grown” (Tattva-sūtra 5.42); therefore, the tradition they pass on is no less than Vedic evidence.
2As will be seen later, Śrīla Prabhupāda, as the founder-ācārya, is the ultimate authority for ISKCON. Prabhupāda writes, “In that trust ... my name is registered there as the founder-acarya and that I am to be the ultimate authority. In ... case of necessity of cancelling any decision ... my decision should over-rule all the other trustees combined.” (Letter, Bombay, December 28, 1974)
3Śrīla Prabhupāda often explained the process of seeing ‘through’ the sequence of one’s predecessors. He quoted Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura’s rūpa-raghunātha-pade haibe ākuti/ kabe hāma bujhaba se yugala-pīriti as the formulation of this principle, repeatedly emphasising that one should go “through the paramparā system.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 25.271, purport)
4Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.54
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