'GURU REFORM' IN ISKCON: DO WE NEED A GURU APPROVAL SYSTEM?
A couple of years ago a paper by Ravindra Svarupa prabhu entitled 'Cleaning House and Cleaning Hearts: Reform and Renewal in ISKCON', which originally appeared in two parts in the ISKCON Communications Journals of January and July 1994, was widely circulated amongst ISKCON members. As a 'second generation' devotee who came to ISKCON in 1979, I read with interest this paper, which basically chronicled many of the difficulties ISKCON has undergone since its inception. Amongst the issues covered was that of the guru in ISKCON, an area which I can testify from personal experience has certainly been problematic. I have taken initiation from two now fallen gurus and seen our ISKCON guru policies undergo some serious reforms in my time.
At the end of his paper Ravindra stated that 'our work of reform and renewal continues' and that 'only by (this work) can ISKCON have a viable and progressive future.' In response to this I would therefore like to continue the discussion he began in his paper, looking particularly at the area of 'Guru reform'.
I would like to argue here that in order to really progress with Guru Reform in ISKCON we need to change the paradigm under which we view the guru in ISKCON. I feel that we presently have an institutionalised post of 'Initiating Spiritual Master' in ISKCON which I feel, because of the many problems it creates, we need to remove from the institution. I suggest a non-institutional guru would be more compatible with our scriptural instructions. I also suggest we can maintain the integrity of ISKCON by other managerial methods than that of controlling gurus, disciples and initiations by legislation, which is our current system.
IS THE GURU INSTITUTIONALISED IN ISKCON?
Even after the demise of the 'zonal acharya' in ISKCON, described by Ravindra prabhu, it seems the phenomenon of an institutional guru has continued. The 'Guru Reform' movement of 1987, which led to the present guru system in ISKCON, did not reject the very idea of an institutional guru, or one who carries the weight of an institutional appointment to the position of 'guru'. In fact anyone wishing to be a guru still requires approval by the GBC body. The GBC need to give what is called a 'no objection' to an individual before he (or, in theory at least, she) may assume the role of initiating guru. There is a local process where a person's name will be put forward to the GBC body and they will consider for six months whether or not the person is fit to be a guru. If there are no objections then the 'no objection' certification is given and the person is then authorised to give initiation.
Although the 'no objection' system is not meant as an appointment to the position of guru (I assume), it still effectively amounts to as much. Unless one receives the 'no-objection' validation then they cannot give initiation according to ISKCON laws. Nor indeed can one even be a siksha guru, or instructor. Once one does have the 'no-objection' he is then viewed as a bona-fide guru, his name is added to the list of already authorised gurus and he can give initiation to any new devotees anywhere in ISKCON. There is no doubt that in ISKCON today such authorised gurus are set quite apart from the other devotees. When the question of initiation arises, then new devotees will inevitably begin considering the possibilities from amongst the list of authorised gurus, and this in fact is the procedure required by ISKCON Law. The general conception in ISKCON is that there are a certain number of gurus. Reinforcing this conception, the GBC Journal, Fall 1995 issue, stated the 'ISKCON Fact' that there are now '69 Initiating Spiritual Masters' in ISKCON.
THE ISKCON 'GURU LAWS'
There is much legislation in ISKCON covering the area of gurus and their disciples. In fact there is a manual available entitled 'Gurus and Initiation in ISKCON: Laws of ISKCON'. This manual contains all the GBC resolutions on how a devotee becomes authorised to give initiation as well as the 'responsibility of the initiation candidate', 'procedure of recommendation' etc. Basically, it is not possible to be initiated by a guru and be accepted by ISKCON unless one undergoes the process described in this manual, and unless one's guru has been approved by the GBC body. There is no place in ISKCON for one who does not follow these laws, as, for example, the following laws make quite clear:
"2.5. INITIATION ONLY FROM APPROVED GURUS
Devotees who live or serve in ISKCON may take initiation only from ISKCON-approved gurus [see Section 1.3. for approval process.]
220.127.116.11. First initiation by outside ISKCON gurus.
ISKCON members who, in violation of ISKCON law, take initiation from gurus who have not been approved to initiate in ISKCON shall not be permitted to serve within ISKCON. If the non-approved guru has an institution or asrama outside ISKCON, then according to standard etiquette, his disciples should serve within the institution of their guru and should not serve within ISKCON. " (2)
The choice and selection of one's initiating spiritual master is therefore constrained to the list of authorised ISKCON gurus if one wants to retain the opportunity to 'serve within ISKCON'.
Other laws require disciples to seek a recommendation from an ISKCON temple president before being initiated. And there are numerous other laws covering all kinds of eventualities in regard to guru disciple realtionships.
It should therefore be clear that we have a post of 'Initiating Spiritual Master' in our Society, referred to in ISKCON Laws usually as 'Approved or Authorised ISKCON Guru'.
WHY IS THE GURU INSTITUTIONALISED?
On the face of it, it does seem we need to have some institutional control over gurus. The position of the guru in spiritual life cannot be over-estimated. It is of paramount importance. So how do we deal with it in a spiritual institution? Ravindra puts it very nicely:
"How do gurus, who are God's direct representatives and according to fundamental vaisnava theology to be worshiped by their disciples 'on an equal level with God', fit within an organisation functioning through modern rational and legal modes under the direction of committee?" (3)
However, I feel there are certain unwarranted fears and mistaken assumptions underlying our attitude towards the guru in ISKCON. Firstly, as Ravindra indicates in his above statement, the guru is viewed as a powerful figure 'on an equal level with God'. Thus it is assumed that if this power of the guru is not institutionally controlled then gurus may undermine the authority of the institution.
Secondly, there is an underlying assumption that prospective disciples will not have sufficient discrimination to properly select a bona fide guru. This should be apparent from the following ISKCON Law:
ISKCON LAW, 2.2 states:
"Receiving official ISKCON guru approval signifies that the devotee has successfully completed the authorization process set forth in ISKCON law, and that in the judgment of certain senior devotees the candidate measures up to the standards and guidelines given in ISKCON law. (4)
Although this law goes on to say that it is not meant to be taken "as a statement about the degree of God-realization of the approved guru, and it is not intended to replace the intelligent discrimination of the candidate", it is clear that the intelligent dicrimination of the disciple is not felt to be sufficient. From looking at other guru legislation it is also clear that the GBC are indeed making a statement about the guru's spiritual position.
1.1. QUALIFICATIONS OF GURUS IN ISKCON
1.1.1. MANDATORY QUALIFICATIONS
The following are the minimum qualifications necessary to be
approved as a diksa or siksa guru in ISKCON.
18.104.22.168. Free from six undesirable qualities
Must be free from the following undesirable qualities:
a) attachment to kamini-kancana, "the devil" in the form of sex
objects and wealth;
b) pratistha, false prestige and personal ambition;
c) nisiddhacara, behavior contrary to vaisnava principles;
d) kuti-nati, diplomatic or duplicitous behavior;
e) puja, the desire for personal worship;
f) labha, mundane profiteering.
22.214.171.124. Excels in preaching
Must have excelled in preaching activities
126.96.36.199. Proficient in scripture
Must exhibit proficiency in knowledge and understanding of sastra. (4)
The above are a few of the statements that the GBC are effectively making about those individuals who receive the 'no objection' certification.
A third assumption is that the guru will not be able to properly ascertain whether or not the prospective disciple is properly qualified. He must accept the opinion of an ISKCON authority, as we see from the following:
188.8.131.52. Guru receives recommendation in writing. Before a candidate can receive first initiation, his prospective guru must receive a formal written recommendation from the appropriate ISKCON spiritual authority, as determined by the candidate's situation
184.108.40.206. Contents of recommendation
The recommendation of the recommending ISKCON authority must certify that the candidate has fulfilled the qualifications for initiation to the best of his understanding. (5)
I would like to address these assumptions, comparing them to instructions found in our scriptures, but before I do so, I would first like to present what I perceive as being some problems caused by the institutionalisation of the guru in ISKCON.
AN INSTITUTIONAL ANOMALY?
My feeling is that ISKCON creates an institutional anomaly by conferring upon an individual any institutional power simply due to the fact that the individual is someone's guru. In other words, if the guru disciple relationship was to be viewed only as just that, i.e. a relationship between one person and another, then the scriptural authority of guru is simply limited to a few people who choose to enter into that relationship. For example, husband and wife is a relationship between two people and the authority given to a husband by scripture is meant only for his family. But if we made a post of 'ISKCON Husband' then we could expect problems. Similarly, by effectively making a post of 'ISKCON Guru' I believe we are creating problems. Bearing in mind the fact that the guru is so highly glorified in our scriptures, 'on an equal level with God', then by putting any institutional weight behind a guru we have made him a very powerful figure indeed. The need to enact so much legislation in an effort to control the gurus is itself evidence of the institutional power they hold.
A second problem is that the faith of prospective initiates is institutionally directed towards certain devotees who they feel must be qualified, as those devotees have received institutional approval. The very fact that the GBC body, our highest authority, have 'no objection' to someone acting as guru clearly indicates that this guru must have the necessary qualifications, which I show above from ISKCON Law. If not then surely the GBC would have objected. And in any event, the term 'approved ISKCON guru' is found numerously in ISKCON laws, as I also show above. The effect is thus to take from the prospective disciple the very important duty of carefully examining his prospective guru for the many qualifications mentioned in scripture. After all, the would-be guru is already 'approved'. Therefore the criteria for a disciple selecting a guru can become quite subjective and we become somewhat prone in our Society to 'personality cults'. Especially as we have only a small number of approved ISKCON gurus all around the world and it is made quite clear to new devotees that these are the only persons who they can approach for initiation. Admittedly, in ISKCON law it does state that the fact a particular person has been given the no objection is not meant to 'replace the intelligent discrimination' of the disciple; but how could it do anything but? One can only look towards the approved gurus for initiation as the law makes clear:
"Any uninitiated devotee in ISKCON has the right to read the publications, hear the recorded talks and bhajanas, take darsana of, correspond with, or associate in other various feasible ways with any authorized ISKCON guru." (6)
A third problem is that we set ourselves up for institutional embarrassment. There can of course never be any guarantee that a particular devotee will not fall down or experience difficulties, as we have sadly seen many times. And again, in all fairness it has to be pointed out that ISKCON Law states that the 'no objection' should not be taken as 'a statement about the degree of God realisiation of the guru'. But by giving an institutional approval to a guru we offer an assurance, at least partially, that the institution finds this person qualified. There is a six month period of deliberation undergone by the entire GBC body. They have published in their resolutions a list of qualifications to be expected from gurus. The law itself, quoted above, states that the guru "measures up to the standards and guidelines given in ISKCON law". It is difficult for them to therefore 'approve' a guru and then also say 'we are not saying he is qualified'. If not then why say anything at all? If a guru who is approved by the GBC later proves to be unqualified, it will certainly reflect adversely upon the institution, at least to some degree.
The above problem is made particularly acute by the fact that problems with individuals may take some time to register on an institutional level. In other words, if a guru experiences spiritual difficulties it may be some time before he loses his institutional backing or 'post' (which is another embarrassing problem in itself, i.e. how to announce to the Society that this person is now not qualified?). We have seen many times in ISKCON that it was not until a guru became flagrantly unqualified that the institution finally had to denounce him. Meanwhile, however, individual disciples, who may have their doubts about the guru, are faced with the dilemma of wondering if something is wrong with their guru, while at the same time the institution continues with its support . By questioning his guru the disciple effectively questions GBC authority. But it is hardly possible for the institution to intervene in such a private matter of faith. A disciple may feel that the specific instructions given him by his guru are just not proper, given the particular situation. Bali Maharaja rejecting his guru, Shukracarya, is a good example. Bali quite rightly rejected Shukracarya on the basis of one particular instruction he gave to Bali. In fact Shukracarya was not grossly fallen and was not rejected by his other disciples. The disciple has a God given individual right to accept or reject a guru; after all it is that disciple who will accept the consequences of either decision, good or bad.
A graphic example of this problem is seen here in the UK, and indeed in many other parts of the world. We are experiencing quite some difficulties in ISKCON with detractors who point to the now fallen 'ISKCON gurus' and thereby find much fault with our Society. 'How could ISKCON have authorised such fallen persons?' they ask, comparing these persons to the many highly exalted descriptions of gurus given in our scriptures. It is undoubtedly embarrassing.
A fourth and, in my view, far more serious institutional problem, is the disparity we create amongst devotees. If some devotees are given the 'no objection' certification to be gurus in ISKCON (and again it should be noted that according to ISKCON Law this no objection is required if one wishes to be a siksha or instructing spiritual master even without giving initiation), then the clear inference is that there must actually be some objection to others without the certification. In fact there is presently no objective measurement made of any approved gurus; no training or examinations are required, it depends entirely upon the subjective analysis of a number of devotees. There are over 5000 direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada who could all potentially be spiritual masters. However, as at the time of writing there are only 69 who have been approved by ISKCON. The other 5000 or so are just not validated as preachers by the institution for no apparent reason. This effectively disempowers a very large part of our potential senior manpower in ISKCON.
In fact we effectively disempower any devotee who is trying to preach but is not an approved guru. As this approval is required before one can even be seen as a siksha guru, then the institutional position is that even though new devotees may be forming a relationship with a preacher in their locality, if that preacher is not approved then the new devotee will at some point think, 'Now I need to find a bona-fide guru.' He or she will then begin contemplating the possibilities from the list of authorised gurus given by the institution. The existing relationship with the devotee who actually is acting as a guru, being not 'authorised' by ISKCON, will not be seen as being sufficient. It is hardly encouraging for 'non-authorised gurus' to preach. to say the least. Not being empowered by ISKCON to even give instructions to others, it seems to be a waste of time trying to preach as ISKCON's representative, as by doing so one immediately falls foul of ISKCON law.
WHAT DO OUR SCRIPTURES SAY?
I believe that our assumptions and practices regarding the guru in ISKCON are not compatible with our scriptural teachings, and are therefore giving rise to the above problems. Returning to my three assumptions stated above. The first assumption made about the power of the guru need not be a consideration at all. Looking again at Ravindra's statement
"How do gurus, who are God's direct representatives and according to fundamental vaisnava theology to be worshiped by their disciples 'on an equal level with God', fit within an organisation functioning through modern rational and legal modes under the direction of committee?" (7)
I would suggest that, even within his statement here, Ravindra provides us with a critical clue as to how we can deal with the problem. He states that gurus are worshiped on an equal level with God 'by their disciples'. They are not so worshiped by others who are not their disciples; at least there is no scriptural injunction that they should be. As I have discussed above, 'Initiating Spiritual Master' is not a post which carries with it any universal power. The only legitimate power of a guru, conferred on him by virtue of his guruship, is that over his own disciples, or in other words, it is over those who choose to accept him as guru. In that sense then, it was quite natural that Prabhupada should have had all institutional power; after all, during his time all the members of ISKCON were his disciples. (Although we also find that even Prabhupada himself humbly submitted to GBC authority in the latter part of his time with us). Thus Srila Prabhupada was and is the only genuine 'ISKCON Guru'.
With a plurality of gurus the situation is quite different. The mere fact of being a guru now cannot give one pervasive institutional power; any power applies only to the guru's own disciples. In fact we create the problem of institutional power by giving institutional approval. Thus we need to write disclaimers in our laws which state that ISKCON gurus have no managerial power simply by virtue of their being gurus.
A PERSONAL AFFAIR
Regarding the second and third assumptions I mention; choosing a guru and accepting a disciple are, according to scripture, entirely the responsibility of the parties involved, i.e. guru and disciple. Here's the famous and seminal statement given by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad Gita:
'Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Enquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realised soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth' (8)
This statement is asking us to find a self realised soul and approach that soul in the mood of a disciple. There is a method to that approach given here by Krishna. This means that in this instruction there is guidance to both guru and disciple in regards to both how the relationship should be formed as well as the qualification of guru and disciple. The guru should be self realised and the disciple submissive. However, it is clearly a two way relationship. In his purport Srila Prabhupada makes this very clear:
'One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding" (9)
It is not indicated either in the verse or in the purport that any third parties need to be involved in this relationship.
This point is given further elucidation by Lord Chaitanya who says:
"guru lakshana sishya lakshana donhara parikshana"
"In your book there should be the characteristics of the bonafide guru and a bona fide disciple. Then, before accepting a spiritual master one can be assured of his position. Similarly, the spiritual master can be assured of the disciple's position" (10)
Again, it is clearly enjoined here that the testing should be done by guru and disciple, not by any third party. If we read the purport to this verse we find Srila Prabhupada giving us much guidance in the matter. If he was expecting that we would not be able to properly select a guru due to our poor discrimination, then this is where we might expect to find some instructions to that effect. But there is not any slight indication anywhere in this purport that the disciple should even seek advice, never mind that he must, institutionally, depend upon a third opinion.
Indeed, we are speaking about faith here. The faith of the disciple in his guru and the faith of the guru in the sincerity of his disciple. Faith is a personal affair. It cannot be institutionalised or legislated; i.e. we cannot say that you 'must' have faith in a given person, or list of persons. Conversely, we cannot say 'now you must give up your faith in this person', which is another thing covered by our present laws - i.e. when one 'must' reject his guru. It is our personal choice as the scripture clearly indicates. I may see in a particular person the qualities of a guru as they are described in the scripture, but someone else may think my vision is completely wrong. But it is my choice. I am the one who is going to accept that person as guru, so it is me and nobody else who needs to be satisfied of his qualifications. And for the guru it is his prerogative to accept or not accept the disciple, as he is the one undertaking the responsibility to act as guru.
The assumption that disciples may lack sufficient discrimination to properly select a bona fide guru is also challenged by the following:
Krishna helps a sincere person; as stated in the Caitanya Caritamrita: guru-krsna-prasade: by the mercy of the spiritual master and Krsna one attains the path of salvation, devotional service. If one sincerely searches for spiritual salvation, then Krishna, being situated in everyone's heart, gives him the intelligence to find a suitable spiritual master. (11)
In this connection also the scripture indicates that, rather than an uninitiated devotee finding someone from amongst the list of 'authorized ISKCON gurus' and beginning a relationship - as is practiced in ISKCON - the procedure should be the other way round. In other words one will first develop a relationship as disciple with someone and then later receive initiation from that person:
"Generally, a spiritual master who constantly instructs the disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on" (12)
The instructing of new devotees by those older is a daily business which is critical to the life of ISKCON. Practically everyone is acting as a siksha guru to someone else. This is quite in accord with our scriptures:
There are two kinds of instructing spiritual masters. One is the liberated person fully absorbed in meditation in devotional service, and the other is he who invokes the disciples spiritual consciousness by means of relevant instructions. (13)
Even if we accept that siksha guru is something we cannot institutionalise, we are still left with the following problem:
There is no difference between the shelter giving Supreme Lord and the initiating and instructing spiritual masters. If one foolishly discriminates between them he commits an offense in the discharge of devotional service. (14)
I would question whether any institutional system can ultimately succeed if it is not aligned with scriptural instructions.
CAN WE DE-INSTITUTIONALISE THE GURU IN ISKCON
I feel that the problems I describe above will largely disappear, along with the need for all the guru disciple legislation, if we deinstitutionalise the guru, or cease having any system which effectively creates a separate class of devotee known as 'ISKCON gurus'. For example, the question of bogus gurus giving initiation. Speaking from my personal experience I am now very much more discriminatory in my search for a spiritual master. I have studied the scripture carefully and I know what to look for; at least I have a much better idea than when I was initiated by either of my other two 'gurus'. I now realise that the institutional approval of those gurus meant very little. Perhaps if I had thought more carefully and known more scripture I might not have accepted either of them. Certainly with number two I would not have taken initiation. I had no relationship at all with the guru, as it is described in scripture. But, after some argument with ISKCON authorities who practically pushed me into it, I finally accepted the institutional stamp of approval. If we stop the institutional approval of gurus the first effect will be that new devotees will be forced to use their discrimination much more carefully. They will carefully study scriptural references about the qualifications of a guru. They will look for a natural relationship rather than trying to create one with an institutional guru who they may have never known. They will obviously be very careful before surrendering to a guru - and that is the instruction of scripture.
De-institutionalising the guru would not mean that the GBC, or anyone else for that matter, could not be consulted on the question of whether or not a guru or his disciple are qualified. But, in accord with scripture, it must remain the decision of the parties involved whether or not they seek advice and whether or not they want to take it seriously.
The fear that unqualified gurus will create havoc need not be entertained, in my view. What institutional charisma or influence will any guru have if there is no institutional approval? Gurus will only be able to attract disciples on the strength of personal qualities and by their own personal preaching. ISKCON can offer education to instruct devotees in what are the qualities of a bona fide guru. It is then up to the disciple to make his own informed decision. If someone is foolish enough to accept an unqualified rogue posing as a guru then what can be done? That is going on anyway. The worst thing is when it appears to be going on with the approval of the ISKCON institution, as it does now with our present system when gurus fall down. With a deinstitutionalised guru there is no fear that the institution will be in any way implicated if gurus fall down or do anything abominable. It is entirely the decision of the disciple who he or she accepts as guru and thus the consequences of that decision belong entirely to the disciple. The institution makes no judgement in regard to whether or not any guru is qualified.
And as far as the huge scriptural power of the guru not being harnessed; again, without the institutional charisma lent by approval what institutional power will they have? Of course, the guru is all important in a disciple's life, but that does not preclude the acceptance by the disciple of other authority. To work within ISKCON we have to accept GBC authority no matter who our guru may be. That is the case now and it will remain the case if we de-institutionalise the guru. In fact ISKCON Law already clearly states that the GBC authority supercedes that of gurus with the following:
220.127.116.11. Follows and upholds the GBC
(ISKCON Gurus) Must recognize the GBC as the ultimate managing authority in ISKCON, support the GBC system, and follow the GBC. (15)
CAN WE MAINTAIN OUR STANDARDS?
Of course, maintaining standards in ISKCON is a very important consideration, and no doubt one which was a prime mover in the creation of our guru laws in the first place. But let's think about it carefully. When is initiation and the qualification of guru and disciple an issue in regard to standards? There are certain times when it is important to know if a person is actually properly initiated. For example, deity worship. Before one can perform deity worship one must be twice initiated by a bona fide guru. Also leadership. Here in the UK our constitution requires that before one can be accepted on our management bodies he must be properly initiated. And one should not give classes in ISKCON centres unless properly initiated. Perhaps there are other institutional instances where initiation is an issue. But does our present system do anything to help in this regard? If someone desires to occupy an institutional post which requires that they are properly initiated, then before they are offered the post there will be a selection process undergone by ISKCON authorities. This will undoubtedly involve references for the applicant. Amongst the various consideration may be the question of who is the applicant's spiritual master. But still, whoever is the applicant's guru will not be any guarantee at all that the applicant is properly qualified for the job. Nor is there any guarantee that the spiritual master himself is qualified. As ISKCON law itself states, 'the 'no objection' is not a statement about the degree of God realisation of the guru'. In other words, it will be up to the careful discretion of the ISKCON authorities as to whether or not they accept the applicant. Our lines of accountability can provide protection for everyone, institution and individual. The identity of the applicant's guru is hardly relevant, whether they are 'approved' or otherwise. Even if someone is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada he may well be disqualified on so many other counts. Obviously the decision of the ISKCON authorities will be influenced if they discover that the initiating guru of the applicant is a rogue or rascal of some sort, but it is ultimately all down to the careful discretion of those authorities as to who they accept for any position or responsibility.
This is also the case when it comes to giving classes in ISKCON, obviously another major concern in ISKCON. We do not want to have classes given in our temples that are against our philosophy. But again, the discretion of the ISKCON authorities in our centres must be exercised in determining whether or not a person should be allowed to give class. The person's initiating spiritual master is a secondary consideration. Just because a person is initiated by a certain guru does not mean they are necessarily going to speak good philosophy. Again, the institution has offered no guarantee of the guru's God realisation, what then to speak of his disciple?
Basically then, I would suggest that, rather than legislating relationships, it is strong and vigilant management that is required to maintain the integrity of ISKCON. I am suggesting a change of paradigm, where we view the term guru simply as a relationship one person has with another, not with the institution. How we relate with the institution should be defined by our management structure, in which there should be no such thing as a post of 'guru'. Ultimately, we need a constitution which sets forth the rights and responsibilities of all individuals who partake of the institution of ISKCON. Here's Srila Prabhupada himself speaking:
Bhavananda: There will be men, I know. There will be men who want to try and pose themselves as gurus.
Tamal Krishna: That was going on many years ago. Your Godbrothers were thinking like that. M.Maharaja...
Bhavananda: Oh yes. Oh,ready to jump.
Srila Prabhupada: Very strong management required and vigilant observation. (16)
For maintaining our standards we can use control and management, i.e. legislation, but I feel it is inappropriate to apply control directly to relationships. Returning to my 'ISKCON Husband' example: we have made some legislation in ISKCON which is aimed at protecting the integrity of the institution, by preventing persons guilty of irresponsibility towards their spouses from occupying leadership posts. But if we tried to protect ISKCON's integrity by imposing laws which laid down who was a qualified spouse ('Authorised ISKCON Husband/Wife') then quite likely we would soon have a very chaotic and quite unmamageable situation. But laws are there which make it clear that the consequences of irresponsibility in marriage are that one cannot be an ISKCON leader.
Similarly we can protect ourselves from irresponsible guru disciple relationships by having, if we so decide, legislation which makes it clear that a person initiated by a fallen guru, or one outside parampara, may be disqualified from occupying certain positions in ISKCON. And so on. It simply requires a little thought.
In other words, we can protect ourselves from the consequences of bad decisions made by individuals, rather than try to control the decisions they make right from the outset. We can make it clear to devotees what will be the consequences of their decisions in terms of their relationship with the institution. We can say what are our acceptable standards. Then, if one wishes to serve within ISKCON, one can carefully take this into account when making decisions. But attempts to control people's decisions are fraught with problems, as we can see from the sheer volume of ISKCON Laws dealing with guru disciple relationships. In any event, is it even desirable to take away an individual's free will in making his own important life decisions? Will this create independently thoughtful people, which Srila Prabhupada made clear is the aim of ISKCON?
(The) Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled. (17)
Of course some beaurocracy is unavoidable in managing an institution. Laws are required, but by moving into the tricky area of personal relationships we tend towards over-legislation.
Obviously with any system of management there is a certain amount of underlying trust required. Discretionary decisions are always inevitable and, as I say above, the best protection for everyone is found in having an equitable constitution which provides adequate lines of accountability, with lines of recourse and appeal for any aggrieved parties.
Bearing in mind all the above, I would therefore argue that, based upon certain assumptions which are incompatible with our scriptural teachings, we have institutionalised in ISKCON the post of 'Initiating Spiritual Master'. By so doing we have simply created problems. It is clear that we need lines of accountability in order to maintain the standards and integrity of ISKCON, but the post of guru is an unecessary creation and does not fit into those lines. I suggest that the only 'ISKCON Guru' who can be universally accepted as such is Srila Prabhupada. ISKCON can and I believe should provide systematic education so that, as far as possible, we may not be bewildered by any bogus gurus. But it should not present certain individuals as bona fide gurus. It should have effective managerial procedures which ensure the integrity of all its representatives, and allows for the possibility of any of them taking the responsibility of guru, whether siksha or diksha.
I present this only as a discussion paper from another perspective from that generally seen by the GBC and ISKCON law makers. Being in the position of having to carefully search for a guru in ISKCON, I have become convinced that institutionalising the guru is not necessary and does nothing to assist the prospective disciples. I would like to see all institutional controls in this regard lifted and much more education in the matter of gurus and initiation offered by ISKCON. I think ISKCON would only gain from such a move, but perhaps there are problems which I cannot see from my perspective and maybe in response someone might like to point to those.
'Siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa
iha haite krsna lage sudrdha manasa
A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, thinking them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one's mind becomes attached to Krishna (18)
Krishna Dharma das 1995 All Rights Resserved
1) Srimad Bhagavatam 4.22.24
2) ISKCON Law Revised and Approved 1995
3) 'Cleaning House and Cleaning Hearts'. Ravindra Svarupa das
4) ISKCON Law Revised and Approved 1995
7) 'Cleaning House and Cleaning Hearts'. Ravindra Svarupa das
8) Bhagavada Gita 4.34
9) Ibid (purport)
10) Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya Lila 24.330
11) Srimad Bhagavatam 3.20.4 purport
12) Ibid Adi Lila 1.35 (purport)
13) Ibid Adi Lila 1.47 (purport)
15) ISKCON Law
16) Srila Prabhupada Conversation May 27 1977
17) Srila Prabhupada letter to Karandhara 22 December 1972
18) Caitanya Caritamrita Adi Lila 2.117