Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

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Time and again his trust was betrayed. Śrīla Prabhupāda was disappointed in the lack of Vaiṣṇava spirit exhibited by his spiritual-family members.(6) Prabhupāda noted that a carte blanche policy of śīkṣā was counterproductive to its very purpose: spiritual advancement. Instead of his disciples becoming enlightened, faith in their guru fortified, Prabhupāda saw them confused, deviated and implicated in offences against him.

PART FOUR - Summary and Conclusions
Śikṣā for ISKCON

When Śrīla Prabhupāda began preaching in the West in 1965, he was already aware of the dangers posed by other Vaiṣṇava and even Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava organizations. Yet out of respect for his spiritual master’s institution, Prabhupāda hoped that Vaiṣṇavas of the Gauḍīya Maṭha could be śīkṣā-gurus for His disciples(5)

Thus, Śrīla Prabhupāda “built a wall”(7) around ISKCON; he forbade his disciples to take instruction outside the Society.(8) Though Prabhupāda considered some Vaiṣṇavas outside to be faultless,(9) toward others he expressed affection,(10) and still another he called his śīkṣā-guru,(11)1 he did not change his policy restricting his disciples’ associating with them, a policy on which he insisted to his very last days.

It is truly unfortunate, and no doubt a loss for members of ISKCON, that they cannot benefit from outside association. However, experience has it, and Śrīla Prabhupāda rightly observed, that the liabilities of such contact much outweigh the benefit.

And the twenty-four years since Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure have only confirmed that experience. The situation has not improved, rather, has taken many turns for the worse. ISKCON is literally under siege, and the veiled diplomacy of Prabhupāda’s time has been replaced with open warfare. Godbrothers, bābājīs, and sādhus continue to besiege the Society for their own purposes, with no sign of a truce.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers, due to their isolation, may be slower to understand certain points of siddhānta and Vaiṣṇava culture. Still, the root of their spiritual success — unflinching faith in the words of guru — will stand them in good stead and prove to be the spiritual touchstone to transform their iron-like defects into gold-like perfection.

Some Vaiṣṇavas fault ISKCON’s isolationist policy. I recommend a different perspective, one that reflects the unfortunate state of the general Vaiṣṇava community. By Kali’s influence, devotees have turned against each other, and institutions that were established for serving Lord Caitanya’s mission are now palisades to protect their members from marauding bands of śīkṣā/dīkṣā-happy Vaiṣṇavas. How sad!

True, ISKCON, its leaders and members have, in their immaturity, made mistakes. Nonetheless, a benevolent, experienced, and mature Vaiṣṇava community should not have reacted to ISKCON’s follies like predators, but like sādhus.


NOTES

5I say this based upon Prabhupāda’s attempts, in the early years of ISKCON India, to secure with his Godbrothers suitable shelter for his disciples.
6On a morning walk Prabhupāda said, “But they are not even Vaiṣṇava.” (Walk, Nellone, January 4, 1976)
7There is an unrecorded though reliably witnessed statement that Prabhupāda said that he had “built a wall around ISKCON.”
8About a son of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote, “There is no need whatsoever for any outside instruction.” (Letter, Los Angeles, December 25, 1973) About the Gauḍīya Maṭha he wrote, “We shall be very careful about them and not mix with them. This is my instruction to you all.” (Letter, Tirupati, April 28, 1974) And about bābājīs he said, “Therefore I say don’t follow these so-called Rādhā-kuṇ ̈a bābājīs.” (Conversation, Vṛndāvana, September 6, 1976)
9See Letter, Bombay, December 2, 1970.
10Prabhupāda dealt affectionately with his Godbrother Niṣkiñcana Kṛṣṇa dāsa Bābājī. See Conversation, Vṛndāvana, November 10, 1977.
11See Letter, Los Angeles, January 31, 1969.
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