To the Executive Committee of the GBC
Please accept our humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
On 3 July 2005, the EC asked the Sastric Advisory Committee (SAC) to offer some assistance in the GBC’s consideration of the request that Sukadeva Maharaja be allowed to initiate disciples. Sukadeva Maharaja received all of his initiations from Kirtanananda Svami, the former ISKCON guru and sannyasi. Here is the letter from Lilasuka Das requesting SAC’s assistance:
“On request of the GBC Executive Committee, I am presenting you the following issue: HH Sukadeva Swami has approached the South Indian Divisional Council for approval as an ISKCON initiating guru. He is originally from Andhra Pradesh, joined in Bombay in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and took initiation as well as sannyasa from Kirtanananda. He was in charge of Kirtanananda’s center at Kurukshetra in the late 80’s or early 90’s. He was welcomed back in ISKCON around the same time as the Chowpatty devotees, but he did not take reinitiation subsequently. He still preaches in Kurukshetra in cooperation with the ISKCON temple there and is also preaching in some previously undeveloped areas of Andhra Pradesh.
“The South Indian Divisional Council was reluctant to consider his application until it was clarified whether there would be any future objection on the technical grounds that he could not submit a letter from his diksa-guru directing him to go through the authorization process. The matter came to the India RGB. Jayapataka Swami gave an undertaking to the RGB that he would approach the GBC Body for clarification on this point. I am assisting him in this regard.
“First, for your reference, here is the entire current ISKCON law section on eligibility to be a guru, updated to include the change made in 2002:
6.3 Eligibility of Devotee to Be Guru in ISKCON
6.3.1 All Devotee’s Initiations From ISKCON Gurus
1. No devotee shall be eligible to become a diksa-guru in ISKCON unless he has received all of his initiations from ISKCON-approved gurus in good standing.
2. A devotee initiated by a bona fide Gaudiya Vaisnava guru before joining ISKCON may be considered as a special case by the GBC body.
6.3.2 No One Can Give Diksa While Guru is Present
As taught by Srila Prabhupada, the etiquette of not initiating in the presence of one’s diksa-guru will be upheld in ISKCON. However, Srila
Prabhupada and historical precedents also teach us that disciples may sometimes initiate in the physical presence of their diksa-gurus. If a diksa- guru desires for this to happen, he can direct his disciple to go through the normal GBC procedure for initiating.
6.3.3 Requirement for Consent of Mantra Guru
Devotees who have received first initiation from Srila Prabhupada and second initiation from one of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples may, with the
written consent of the mantra-guru, be accepted as candidates for initiating spiritual master like any of Srila Prabhupada’s other disciples.
“Could the Sastric Advisory Council discuss this problem and inform the GBC EC how they see a solution through sastric references?”
The SAC has decided to accept the request to consider the specifics of this case.
Upon careful study, we believe that the following ISKCON law needs to be revised:
“6.3.1—All Devotee’s Initiations From ISKCON Gurus: (1) No devotee shall be eligible to become a diksa-guru in ISKCON unless he has received all of his initiations from ISKCON-approved gurus in good standing.”
This law appears to be in conflict with the GBC paper on reinitiation. That paper gives the circumstances in which it is necessary for a devotee to retake mantras.
That law, based on Sastric evidence, says that one should retake mantras if the guru is not a Vaisnava or has become something other than a Vaisnava (e.g. a Mayavadi) or if he becomes inimical to Vaisnavas.
The basic definition of a Vaisnava is given in Hari-bhakti-vilasa and its commentary (1.55) verse as follows:
grhita-visnu-diksako visnu-puja-paro narah |
vaisnavo’bhihito’bhijnair itaro’smad avaisnavah ||
avaisnava ity uktam | tatradau samanyato Vaisnava-laksanam likhan tad-itaratvenavaisnavam laksayati—grhiteti | asmad vaisnavad itaro bhinnah ||55||
“After having taken Vaisnava initiation, a person should involve himself seriously in worship of Lord Visnu. Such a person is designated a Vaisnava by those who are learned, while a person who is different than this is called a non-Vaisnava.” The term ‘non-Vaisnava’ has been spoken. ‘Non-Vaisnava’ is herein defined by first listing the general characteristics of a Vaisnava and then stating that a non-Vaisnava is someone who is different from that.”
Thus far, our definition of a Vaisnava is one who has taken Vaisnava initiation and is seriously worshipping the Lord. Therefore, a devotee who has these basic symptoms is a Vaisnava even though he may be having difficulty in his spiritual life.
The GBC paper also addresses the question of a fallen Vaisnava guru. The indications from Sastra are that a disciple should not reject a guru or his mantras who remains a Vaisnava although fallen. The Sastric recommendation is that the disciple should see if the guru can be reformed somehow. In Sri Krsna-bhajanamrta (verse 59-61) it is stated:
“If the spiritual master commits a wrongful act breaking Vaisnava relative principles then one should, in a solitary place, confront him for his rectification using logic and appropriate conclusions from sadhu, Sastra and guru references, but one is not to give him up. One should not be hesitant or fearful because one is confronting or challenging a spiritual master. For it has been prescribed that one must appropriately discipline even a spiritual master who is (1) bewildered about what he should or shouldn’t do (2) who is inexperienced or ignorant (3) who has deviated from the Krsna conscious path or (4) who is bewildered by false pride. This statement of the revealed scriptures is applicable at all times and under all circumstances.”
However, according to Srila Jiva Gosvami and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a guru is also considered a “non-Vaisnava” if the he refuses to be reformed and (1) becomes a Mayavadi or (2) becomes envious of Vaisnavas or (3) preaches against the truth or (4) acts immorally and sinfully such as running after women for illicit sex or (5) is bereft of devotion to Sri Krsna. In these cases one should also retake one’s mantras from a Vaisnava who displays Vaisnava qualities. These statements are in context with the Narada Pancaratra verse that orders one to retake one’s mantra (avaisnavopadistena).
In Bhakti-sandarbha (anuccheda 238) it is stated:
Sri-gurv-ajnaya tat-sevanavirodhena canyesam api vaisnavanam sevanam sreyah. anyatha dosah syat, yatha sri-naradoktau,
gurau sannihite yas tu
pujayed anyam agratah
sa durgatim avapnoti
pujanam tasya nisphalam
“It is for one’s ultimate good to also serve other Vaisnavas, by the order of one’s divine spiritual master and not in conflict with one’s service to him. By acting otherwise one will accrue fault, as is stated by Sri Narada: ‘If one in the presence of one’s guru worships someone else first, he will obtain an evil destination and his worship will bear no fruit.’ ”
yah prathamam sabde pare ca nisnatam ity-ady-ukta-laksanam gurum nasritavan, tadrsa-guros ca matsaradito maha-bhagavata-satkaradav anumatim na labhate, sa prathamata eva tyakta-sastro na vicaryate. ubhaya-sankata-pato hi tasmin bhavaty eva. evam-adikabhiprayenaiva,
yo vakti nyaya-rahitam
anyayena srnoti yah
tav ubhau narakam ghoram
vrajatah kalam aksayam
“It may happen, however, that one has failed to take shelter initially of a guru who fits the description of words such as ‘fully absorbed in the sound form and the personal form of the Supreme (Bhagavatam 11.3.21) and has not received permission to show proper respect, etc. to great devotees from his guru due to the guru’s envy and so on. Such a prohibition (from the guru) is fundamentally against the order of revealed scripture and should be disregarded. Indeed, to follow that order would endanger both the disciple and the guru. With this and other considerations in mind it has been said in Sri Narada Pancaratra, ‘One who speaks unjustly and one who hears unjustly both go to a fearful hell for an immeasurable duration of time.’ ”
ata eva durata evaradhyas tadrso guruh, Vaisnava-vidvesi cet parityajya eva,
guror apy avaliptasya
iti smaranat, tasya Vaisnava-bhava-rahityenavaisnavataya avaisnavopadistena ity-adi-vacana-visayatvac ca. yathokta-laksanasya sri-guror avidyamanatayam tu tasyaiva maha-bhagavatasyaikasya nitya-sevanam paramam sreyah. sa ca sri-guru-vat sama-vasanah svasmin krpalu-cittas ca grahyah,
yasya yat-sangatih pumso
mani-vat syat sa tad-gunah
sva-kularddhyai tato dhiman
sva-yuthyan eva samsrayet
iti sri-hari-bhakti-sudhodaya-drstya, krpam vina tasmin cittaratya ca.
“Therefore such a guru should be worshiped only at a distance, and if he is inimical to Vaisnavas he must simply be rejected, according to the statement of smrti, ‘It is enjoined that a corrupted spiritual master who cannot distinguish what should be done and what should not be done, who has gone astray from the right path, must be abandoned.’ (Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva 178.24) After all, he is not a Vaisnava because he is devoid of the mood of Vaisnavas, and he is described in such words as the verse beginning avaisnavopadistena (Narada Pancaratra). In the absence of the kind of divine spiritual master defined previously, the best thing to do for one’s ultimate benefit is to regularly serve an advanced devotee (maha-bhagavata). A devotee should be selected who is sympathetic as Sri-guru should be and whose heart is inclined to showing one mercy. Or, in the view of Sri Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, ‘Whatever a person associates with, he will acquire its qualities just as a gem reflects ambient light. Thus one who is intelligent should for the prosperity of his community take shelter of those who belong to his own flock.’ One more point is that unless a guru shows mercy the disciple’s heart will not form attachment to him.”
And in Jaiva-dharma, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written,
Vijaya, “The scriptures forbid giving up the diksa-guru. However, if he is incapable of imparting proper knowledge of devotion and of Vaisnava etiquette, how can he be in a position to teach?”
Raghunatha dasa Babaji, “Before a person accepts formal initiation from a guru, he must test the guru as to whether he is well-versed in the Vedas and in the science of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Only such a bona fide guru is indeed able to instruct his disciple in all matters. It is true that the diksa-guru should not be rejected, but there are two bona fide reasons to give him up.
“First, if for some reason or another at the time of initiation the disciple did not recognize the devotional caliber of the guru and later found out that the guru was neither conversant with the conclusions of Sastra, nor a Vaisnava, so that he, the disciple, could not make any spiritual progress, then the disciple should reject the unqualified guru. Many scriptural sources support this course of action. For example, the Narada-pancaratra, as cited in Hari-bhakti-vilasa, 1.62, states:
yo vyakti nyaya rahitam
anyayena srnoti yah
tav ubhau narakam ghoram
vrajatah kalam aksayam
“‘Any person posing as an acarya, but speaking unauthorized philosophy contrary to the teachings of the sastra and any one who claims to be his disciple and hears such, thereby lending credibility to such nonsense, both of these are bound for Hell.’
“The Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva, 179.25, explains in the story of Amba:
guror apy avaliptasya
“‘A person who is wallowing in carnal pleasures and material comforts, who is confused about the human goal of life and is devoid of bhakti, and who poses as a guru, such a depraved charlatan must be rejected.’
“Another quotation from the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, 4.144:
mantrena nirayam vrajet
punas ca vidhina samyag
grahayed vaisnavad guroh
“‘If one receives mantra-diksa from a non-Vaisnava who runs after women and is bereft of devotion to Sri Krsna, one is certainly doomed to Hell. Therefore, one must immediately act according to scriptural injunctions and take re-initiation from a real, properly qualified, Vaisnava guru.’
“The second reason is that if a guru who was a Vaisnava and knowledgeable in Krsna consciousness at the time of initiation becomes a Mayavadi and a Vaisnava-hater as a result of bad association or otherwise, or he behaves immorally and sinfully, then the disciple must give him up.
“However, if the guru is neither inimical to Vaisnavas, nor a Mayavadi, nor addicted to sinful activities, but however lacks knowledge of the scriptures, then his meager scriptural understanding should not be a cause for rejection. In this case, the disciple may approach his guru with due deference to procure his permission to receive spiritual knowledge and instructions from an advanced, pure Vaisnava, and thus engage in serving and learning from the knowledgeable Vaisnava.”
Under these sastric understandings, it is possible for an ISKCON guru not to be in good-standing and still be considered a Vaisnava. And therefore his disciple would not have to retake the mantras he received from him. In other words, the guru could be still a member of ISKCON—and still a Vaisnava—but not in good-standing because of a temporary fall-down or difficulty. An example of this could be that of a fallen guru who is under a program of rectification by the GBC and only temporarily suspended from giving initiations. Therefore, under the GBC’s 1989 reinitiation paper and its sastric support, the disciples of such a guru should not reject their guru or retake the mantras they received from him. Thus the law that states that a guru must have all his mantras from a guru in good-standing in ISKCON appears to be in conflict with the reinitiation paper and related sastric injunctions.
This contradiction could be resolved if the guru-authorization law were rewritten in the following way:
“In order to be a ISKCON guru, a devotee should have all of his mantras from a guru who is an ISKCON member and has maintained at least minimal Vaisnava qualifications and can thus still be considered a Vaisnava according to the relevant definitions given by guru, sadhu and sastra.”
This would bring the two laws into harmony. Under this new law, it would be possible for a prospective guru to have his mantras from a living Vaisnava guru who is not in good-standing in ISKCON. For example, a fallen guru who accepted a program of rectification and temporary suspension of the right to give initiation may still considered a Vaisnava.
We have given some relevant sastric evidence for what constitutes being considered a Vaisnava. If there are doubts about whether or not a guru is a Vaisnava in any particular case, the GBC should decide. But that decision should be taken after the disciple has first formed his own opinion. We believe that in the first instance it is the disciple who should make this judgment. If the close associates of the devotee or his local authorities believe he has made a wrong decision, they should try to educate and reason with him in an informal matter. A wrong decision occurs if one prematurely decides to retake mantras from another guru when one’s existing diksa-guru remains a Vaisnava despite a temporary fall-down. A wrong decision also occurs by not retaking mantras in a timely fashion from another guru when one’s existing diksa-guru has become a non-Vaisnava.
How does this apply to the current case? Kirtanananda Svami has been expelled from ISKCON, but the GBC law provides an exception for devotees who have received mantras from Vaisnava gurus outside ISKCON. So the real question here is the status of Kirtanananda Svami as a Vaisnava. The GBC should decide if he has become a non-Vaisnava according to the definitions given above.
Perhaps the first step should be for the EC to show Sukadeva Maharaja the relevant ISKCON laws and paper about reinitiation, and then ask him how he sees his position in relation to the specific matter of retaking mantras. As we have seen, the evidence from guru, sadhu, and sastra tells us that mantras should be retaken (1) if the guru was not an initiated Vaisnava when he gave the mantras, or (2) if the guru has since become an non-Vaisnava by becoming a Mayavadi or atheist after giving the mantras, or (3) if the guru has become an non-Vaisnava by becoming addicted to sense gratification or worse, (4) an offender or hater of Vaisnavas. Having considered this, Sukadeva Maharaja should express his opinion about whether or not he should retake the mantras he received from Kirtanananda Svami.
If he feels that Kirtanananda Svami is still a Vaisnava according to the relevant considerations, this will explain why he has not retaken the mantras he received from him. In this case, the GBC would have to decide whether or not to accept his opinion.
If the GBC does accept this, then Sukadeva Maharaja would require permission from Kirtanananda Svami in order to start initiating disciples of his own. The normal system is that a disciple should not initiate in the presence of his living diksa-guru. That is considered an offense unless the diksa-guru gives the disciple the order or permission to do it.
If Sukadeva Maharaja considers Kirtanananda Svami to be a non-Vaisnava according to the relevant definitions given above, then he is obligated to retake the mantras he received from him. Consequently, to start initiating his own disciples, he would require the order or permission of the new diksa-guru.
Signed by SAC members:
Urmila Devi Dasi