The Prominent Link

Although some valid points and suggestions can be found in the booklet Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL), we have discovered that a number of the premises and conclusions presented there oppose not only Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for ISKCON but also the basic principles of the Gaudiya sampradaya, Vaisnavism in general, and Vedic tradition.

A devotee may say that Srila Prabhupada is his prominent guru, and that he receives guidance from him in several ways. This claim needs to be tested, however, by the devotee’s willingness to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, including instructions about the forms and formalities of becoming a disciple and connecting with the Vaisnava parampara. Such following, in a humble spirit, with willingness to be corrected, is the true mark of discipleship. When a devotee has such a humble attitude, then he is a disciple not only of his own diksa- and siksagurus but of the whole disciplic succession.

To be fair, we should acknowledge that we found several useful ideas in the PL booklet. Some of these positive contributions are as follows: (1) The importance of devotees’ accepting responsibility for the advancement of other devotees, especially those junior to themselves; (2) The need to have a realistic appreciation of one’s guru based how much the guru helps one progress on the path of bhakti, not just on his institutional position. Despite the faults in its arguments, PL points towards a realistic approach: Someone is factually a guru to the degree that he properly functions as a guru; (3) The need for ISKCON leaders to make it known that all devotees can be inspired by Srila Prabhupada and thus attain enlightenment and spiritual strength; and (4) The advisability of having Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja ceremony the primary Vyasa-puja for all ISKCON members.

Nonetheless, the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) found the PL booklet to be lacking in scriptural support and divergent from correct siddhanta on several important points. For example, its attempt at re-defining the word diksa is clearly unacceptable. Also, the suggestions made in the booklet that devotees can forego all worship of their diksa-gurus contradict standard teachings and practice. Such an innovation will not help anyone establish a better spiritual relationship with Srila Prabhupada. To properly connect with Srila Prabhupada or any acarya in our guru-parampara, devotees should follow the directions of Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu—beginning with the first step of taking shelter of the lotus feet of a bona fide guru—rather than following instead some artificially manufactured process. But be that as it may, the SAC thanks Dhira Govinda Prabhu for his attempt in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL) to search out ways to improve guru-disciple relationships in ISKCON, although we cannot endorse the overall understanding expressed in the booklet and the means of rectification its author recommends.


As the years increase since Srila Prabhupada’s departure and the number of devotees accepting disciples also increases, as Srila Prabhupada’s grand-disciples begin to accept disciples, as some gurus have fallen, and as ISKCON’s devotees become more mature in their understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s position, Dhira Govinda Prabhu now has presented Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (PL). Surely the primary issue he raises is an important one—the question of Prabhupada’s position, influence, and responsibility in relation to each member of his Society. The GBC have given much attention to addressing philosophically and practically what it means that Prabhupada is our founder-acarya. Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s questions and his attempt to suggest solutions are therefore welcome.

And his questions are also raised among ISKCON leadership. For example, in his upcoming book, H.H. Bhaktitirtha Svami writes, “The disciple has an awesome task. How should we understand our connection with the present day gurus when we have our founder-acarya? How do we keep our founder-acarya in the center, understanding that his standard is topmost and that we should try to rise to this standard?”

Although there is room for improvement and clarification in our present understanding of how Srila Prabhupada is the founder-acarya for ISKCON and the foundational guru individually for all its members, our understanding has to remain within the boundaries of Prabhupada’s teaching. How can we claim him to be our prominent guru if we disregard his instructions and re-define his teachings? But the PL booklet oversteps the bounds of guru, sadhu, and sastra.

Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to Jayagovinda, Los Angeles July 4, 1969, “You have inquired why Caitanya Mahaprabhu has not mentioned anything about accepting a Spiritual Master in His Siksastaka. But perhaps you have missed the point that He says amanina manadena kirtaniya sada hari. This means one has to chant the Holy Names of Krsna, becoming humbler than the straw, and more tolerant than the tree. So who can become humbler than the straw unless he accepts a Spiritual Master? …But if anyone becomes humbler than the grass and more tolerant than the tree, it is understood that he has accepted a Spiritual Master.”

Certainly we are all linked to Srila Prabhupada, either directly as his diksa disciples, or through his representatives in the ISKCON parampara. The mystery of Vaisnava parampara is that while one goes “through” one’s guru, one is also directly connected with the previous gurus and with Krsna Himself. Prabhupada writes in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 18.75, “Vyasa was the spiritual master of Sanjaya, and Sanjaya admits that it was by Vyasa’s mercy that he could understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This means that one has to understand Krsna not directly but through the medium of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is the transparent medium, although it is true that the experience is still direct. This is the mystery of the disciplic succession. When the spiritual master is bona fide, then one can hear Bhagavad-gita directly, as Arjuna heard it… Narada is the direct disciple of Krsna and the spiritual master of Vyasa. Therefore Vyasa is as bona fide as Arjuna because he comes in the disciplic succession, and Sanjaya is the direct disciple of Vyasa. Therefore by the grace of Vyasa, Sanjaya’s senses were purified, and he could see and hear Krsna directly. One who directly hears Krsna can understand this confidential knowledge. If one does not come to the disciplic succession, he cannot hear Krsna.”

Yet one cannot correctly call Srila Prabhupada, or even Sri Krsna, the “current” link. We cannot approach Krsna without a mediator as did Arjuna, though the Lord is present in our heart, as the Deity, as His Holy names, and in every atom. The fact that Prabhupada lives in his books and murtis does not mean devotees can avoid the authorized process of linking with him, which includes, if one is not Prabhupada’s direct diksa disciple, taking diksa from one of his followers. At the same time, no matter who are one’s diksa– and siksa-gurus, Prabhupada’s instructions remain the basis, the standard and foundation for all individual devotees and the Hare Krsna Society as a whole. The GBC has already acknowledged the genuine desires and needs of many devotees to have Prabhupada as their prominent guru, whether or not they are his direct diksa disciples, and the GBC should continue to reconfirm and better clarify this.

But as Dhira Govinda Prabhu asserts, not without good reason, there are many devotees, including himself, who are not satisfied with only this much. They want to think of Srila Prabhupada as their main guru, feeling that their inspiration and advancement come directly from their relationship with Prabhupada anyway and so it’s just a matter of acknowledgement. They don’t want to be denied being considered Prabhupada’s disciples.

These devotees run into practical difficulties because they believe that Srila Prabhupada is their main guru. For example, ISKCON devotees generally consider the diksa-guru “the” guru and expect the name of the diksa-guru when they ask, “Who is your guru?” If someone who considers Prabhupada as his prominent or only guru answers, “Prabhupada” when he hasn’t received diksa from him, he may be rejected as a rtvik proponent; his social and vocational positions may be jeopardized, or at least he’ll have to give an entire explanation.

Furthermore, although the GBC has said that Srila Prabhupada may be considered one’s main guru (as siksa-guru), placing the diksa-guru in a subordinate or peripheral role, still because the resolutions use words such as “can” and “may,” the desires of devotees to have Prabhupada as their main guru may be viewed as deviant or at least as not very desirable.

There are also those who want only Prabhupada as their guru, and do not want to identify the others who gave them diksa and Siksa with the name “guru.” This tendency is notable in the PL booklet, where the author consistently refers to a diksa-guru as “the devotee who performs the formal initiation ceremony.”

The author of PL objects to what he perceives as a presumption prevalent in ISKCON that one’s diksa-guru is automatically one’s prominent guru. He attempts to establish that one’s diksa-guru may have relatively much less influence than does Srila Prabhupada. This much we can agree with. But he then proposes that Srila Prabhupada is every ISKCON devotee’s diksa-guru in the “transcendental sense,” thus affirming the very assumption he sought to discredit.

Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s solution is to redefine diksa so that Prabhupada is his diksa-guru and therefore not only his primary but his only guru. ISKCON devotees tend to identify only one’s diksa-guru as guru. So, with the help of The Prominent Link’s new definition of diksa such devotees’ feelings and relationships will be acceptable according to ISKCON standards; These devotees can keep only Prabhupada’s pictures, worship only him, and so forth.

To solidify this position, Dhira Govinda Prabhu wishes the GBC to declare his understanding as the standard, leaving those who define diksa in the traditional way and think of the guru who gave them formal diksa as primary to be tolerated as abnormal. He couches this presentation in inclusive and broad-minded terms, saying that many understandings of guru are possible, while he simultaneously posits his understanding and position as superior with others in need of rectification. (see PL pamphlet pages 9, 17 and 39)

But we should not take the liberty of redefining diksa and diksa-guru, and we should avoid understanding them too narrowly. To define diksa, as Srila Prabhupada sometimes does, as the transmission of transcendental knowledge, does not mean that the formal aspects of diksa can be completely neglected. We need to consider carefully what transcendental knowledge is and how it is transmitted. Such knowledge is not just information, or skills, or even values, as in ordinary learning, though these are also taught in the course of diksa and Siksa. Rather, spiritual knowledge is realization and wisdom. This knowledge comes primarily through chanting Hare Krsna and the Gayatri mantras, coupled with following a way of life that supports the chanting. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura wrote, “The holy name will manifest in your heart as you go on serving the holy name with body, mind, and words. Hearing and reciting Sastras helps to confirm the realizations one attains by chanting the holy name.” Later he writes, “Initiation by the spiritual master gives one enthusiasm and inspiration to chant the holy name.” (excerpts from Bengali letters, appearing in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, pub. Shree Gopinatha Gaudiya Math, trans. B.S. Damodara Maharaja)

There aren’t two kinds of diksa, one “transcendental” and the other a mere formality. Diksa is simply transcendental, except when the rituals are followed simply for show, like a marriage done to acquire a visa.

To solve the very real problems Dhira Govinda Prabhu addresses, we thus need a complete understanding of the principle of diksa. There are also practical steps to take that would help us, including changing the wording of the GBC statement to eliminate the words “can” and “may”; this step would establish that having Prabhupada as one’s prominent guru is not only acceptable but at least equally desirable to any other situation.

We also need practical guidelines for devotees who feel that Prabhupada is their prominent guru, so they can answer in a bona fide and truthful way the question, “Who is your guru?” There should be guidelines for worship of Deities and gurus’ pictures, and so on, for devotees who understand their primary guru relationship to be with Srila Prabhupada as Siksa-guru. The GBC has delineated a number of specifics in this regard, but often without explanations. It would be helpful, for example, to explain why a devotee who accepts Prabhupada as his prominent guru should have his diksa-guru’s picture present when worshipping the Deity. And since the general guidance for one whose diksa-guru has fallen is to simply “worship Prabhupada,” one whose diksa-guru is in good standing but with whom he or she has little relationship may question why he can’t also worship Srila Prabhupada exclusively.

Certainly the leaders of ISKCON need to support the GBC’s conclusions about relationships to Srila Prabhupada and diksa and Siksa-gurus. At least verbally in public, what to speak of in print, leaders should not denigrate existing policies, labeling them as demeaning to our diksa-gurus or to Srila Prabhupada. It is a fact that prominent members of the GBC as well as other leaders, write and speak in public forums about the deficiencies in the GBC guru policy. It is not, therefore, surprising, that ISKCON members are publishing calls for drastic reform.

Scripture, tradition, and ISKCON law indicate that guru-disciple relationships are individual and cannot be mandated, as long as they fall within the boundary of guru, sadhu, and Sastra. Whom an individual considers as his prominent guru is a matter of the heart. It should not be dictated to a devotee what faith he must have in his diksa-guru simply on the basis of institutional status. There is etiquette to be maintained, but faith is ultimately a private matter.

            Dhira Govinda Prabhu, after extensive discussion, was unwilling to modify the position he took in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, while claiming that his ideas were exploratory, aimed only at sparking discussion, investigation, and understanding. We invited him to author this paper with us, to work with our team step by step in order to arrive at conclusions with which we all could agree. Sadly, he refused.

Responses to Excerpts of Srila Prabhupada, The Prominent Link

Of central importance in this discussion is that Srila Prabhupada is, or at least is meant to be, the primary spiritual master for all members of his movement. In realizing this it is important not to become distracted by appellations such as “diksa guru”, “initiator”, and “officiating acarya”, although for communicative purposes such designations are sometimes necessary.  (p. 2)

We cannot dispense with the distinction of diksa- and Siksa-guru without running into serious difficulty. Many of our acaryas have gone out of their way to explain this distinction, including Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in the first chapter of Caitanya-caritamrta and Srila Jiva Gosvami in his discussion of guru-tattva in Sri Bhakti-sandarbha. One’s “primary” spiritual master may sometimes be a siksa-guru rather than the Vaisnava who gave one initiation. Such is the case for many devotees in ISKCON who didn’t receive initiation from its founder-acarya. But still the role of diksa-guru is special. The diksa-guru accepts a special responsibility for his disciples, and therefore his disciples owe him special gratitude, even if he is only a representative of the primary spiritual master.

Just what kind and how much worship the diksa-guru should be given may be debatable, but at least he should be allowed the honor of being considered one’s guru. As Krsnadasa Kaviraja has indicated in his mangalacarana verse vande gurun, “I offer respect to my gurus,” a devotee can have more than one Vaisnava guru, and he can and should worship them all. The diksa-guru may be the last and maybe least link in the parampara, but isn’t such “indirect” connection to Krsna the very idea of parampara? Krsna is eternally enjoying with His pure devotees and has nothing to do with the suffering of this material world. We are here suffering only because we chose to reject Krsna. We want to try to control and enjoy separate from Him, and Krsna respects this desire. He will never interfere with our misuse of free will. He will never force us to surrender to Him. But His representatives take the risk of interfering, and so the only practical way to regain our lost connection with Krsna is through the parampara. One who claims a direct connection with Krsna is most likely ignored by Him. But a humble devotee who follows Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s example of considering Himself dasa-dasanudasa has the best chance of attracting Krsna’s attention. If our diksa-guru is a servant of Krsna’s dearest devotee, we are all the more fortunate to be connected through that additional link.

The diksa-guru is his disciple’s immediate link, the one who takes personal responsibility for delivering his disciples to Krsna. He may be able to do this only on the strength of those he represents, those who empower him, but still the personal responsibility is his. This is what makes diksa something more than just a formal ceremony. In the same way that a child’s parents are personally responsible in a way no one else is, not even the grandparents and more distant forefathers, so also the diksa-guru takes special trouble and risk for his disciples. For the disciples to not honor him for this is indecent.

Srila Jiva Gosvami writes in Bhakti-sandarbha (207) about the obligation of respect for one’s diksa-guru:

mantra-gurus tv eka evety aha,


labdhvanugraha acaryat

 tena sandarsitagamah

maha-purusam abhyarcen



anugraho mantra-diksa-rupah, agamo mantra-vidhi-sastram, asyaikatvam eka-vacanena bodhyate.


bodhah kalusitas tena

 dauratmyam prakati-krtam

gurur yena parityaktas

 tena tyaktah pura harih


iti brahma-vaivartadau tat-tyaga-nisedhat. tad-aparitosenaivanyo guruh kriyate. tato ’neka-guru-karane purva-tyaga eva siddhah.


“The mantra-guru, however, is only one, as is stated: ‘Having obtained the mercy of his spiritual master, who reveals to the disciple the injunctions of Vedic scriptures, the devotee should worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the particular personal form of the Lord the devotee finds most attractive.’ (Bhag. 11.3.48) This mercy is in the form of initiation into the mantra. The agama is the scripture giving the regulations of chanting the mantra. That this guru is one can be understood from the use of the singular number [in the word acaryat]. Indeed, the Brahma-vaivarta and other Puranas forbid rejecting him: ‘One who rejects his guru must have polluted intelligence. He reveals his own wickedness by this act. Even before this, he has already rejected Lord Hari.’ Dissatisfied with his guru, he takes another one; his taking more than one guru proves that he has previously rejected [Krsna].”

Srila Prabhupada described initiation as a process, with the essence of this process being the delivery of divya-jnana, or transcendental knowledge, from the spiritual master to the disciple.  (p. 3)

Initiation, as described above, is a process. Components of this process include receiving and implementing the instructions to wear kanthi mala and Vaisnava tilaka, and receiving a Vaisnava name. The most essential aspect of initiation is receiving transcendental knowledge from a realized spiritual master.  (p. 5)

Dhira Govinda Prabhu is attempting here to identify the essence of initiation as the transmission of spiritual knowledge rather than the mere ceremony of officially receiving one’s mantra and new name. He cites (without the Sanskrit) a verse that has been given as authoritative by Srila Prabhupada, and indeed was cited by the Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas Sanatana Gosvami, Narahari Sarakara, and Jiva Gosvami in their foundational explanations of diksa:

                                                divyam jnanam yato dadyat

             kuryat papasya sanksayam

tasmad dikseti sa prokta

 desikais tattva kovidaih


Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity. A person expert in the study of the revealed scriptures knows this process as diksa.” (Srila Prabhupada’s translation from Caitanya-caritamrta). But does this actually mean that the essential definition of “initiation” should be “the transmitting of transcendental knowledge”? If that were so, then there really would be no difference between siksa and diksa.

Maybe, however, we should look more closely at how our acaryas presented the statement of this verse in context. This verse is cited by Srila Sanatana Gosvami in Hari-bhakti-vilasa (second vilasa), and Srila Jiva Gosvami in Bhakti-sandarbha (283), and Srila Prabhupada in his purport ot Caitanya-caritamrtya, Madhya-lila 15.108. All three of these presentations incorporating the verse are very similar. Let’s examine one of them, the passage of Bhakti-sandarbha:

yady api sri-bhagavata-mate pancaratradi-vad arcana-margasyavasyakatvam nasti, tad vinapi saranapatty-adinam ekatarenapi purusartha-siddher abhihitatvat, tathapi sri-naradadi-vartmanusaradbhih sri-bhagavata saha sambandha-visesam diksa-vidhanena sri-guru-carana-sampaditam cikirsadbhih krtayam diksayam arcanam avasyam kriyetaiva,


“In the opinion of Srimad-Bhagavatam there is no absolute necessity of following the process of arcana, just as there is no need to follow the methods of the Pancaratra, since it is specifically stated that one can achieve the full perfection of life even without them, just by practicing even one of the methods of Saranapatti and so on. But nonetheless if those who follow the paths of such authorities as Sri Narada want their special relationship with the Personality of Godhead, which is to be achieved at the feet of their divine spiritual master by his giving them diksa, they must necessarily take diksa and then perform the process of arcanam. This is as is stated in the Agama [Pancaratra]:

divyam jnanam yato dadyat

  kuryat papasya sanksayam

tasmad dikseti sa prokta

  deSikais tattva kovidaih

ato gurum pranamyaiva

 sarva-svam vinivedya ca

grhniyad vaisnavam mantram

 diksa-purvam vidhanatah


ity agamat. divyam jnanam hy atra Srimati mantre bhagavat-svarupa-jnanam, tena bhagavata sambandha-viSesa-jnanam ca, yatha padmottara-khandadav asTaksaradikam adhikrtya vivrtam asti.


“ ‘Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity. A person expert in the study of the revealed scriptures knows this process as diksa.

“ ‘Therefore one should first bow down to his guru, offer everything he possesses to him, and should accept a Vaisnava mantra by properly carrying out the process of diksa.

“ ‘Transcendental knowledge’ here means knowledge of the identity of the Personality of Godhead within one’s divine mantra, and also knowledge of one’s individual relationship with the Supreme Lord, as has been elaborately described in the Uttara-khanda of the Padma Purana, in the discussion of the eight-syllable and other mantras.

diksa yathagame,

dvijanam anupanitanam


            yathadhikaro nastiha

  syac copanayanad anu

tathatradiksitanam tu


nadhikaro ’sty atah kuryad

 atmanam siva-samstutam


Diksa is as is described in the Agama: ‘When they have not been initiated, brahmanas have no authorization to engage in their prescribed duties of studying the Vedas and so on, but after taking initiation they are authorized.’

“ ‘Similarly those who have not taken diksa are not authorized to perform such activities as chanting mantras and worshiping the Deity of the Lord. Therefore one should make oneself auspicious and reputable [by accepting initiation].’ ”

[end of the Bhakti-sandarbha section]

It should be obvious from having read this that diksa is here being described as basically a process of receiving a Vaisnava mantra so that one can begin the formal methods of Deity worship and mantra chanting, the standard practices of Pancaratrika devotional service. The identification of diksa with the transmission of transcendental knowledge is only mentioned in a secondary way, and as part of a two-verse statement from an anonymous Pancaratra that goes on to define diksa as the official receiving of a Vaisnava mantra. There is no way it can be justified, therefore, in citing this verse out of context as proof that the transmission of knowledge is the svarupa-laksana (essential definition) of diksa. It is rather only a tatastha-laksana (secondary characteristic).

This is also shown in Srila Sanatana Gosvami’s equivalent presentation in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. He cites the same two verses beginning divyam jnanam, preceding them with the heading: atha diksa-mahatmyam (“Now the glories of diksa.”) In other words, Srila Sanatana cites the two verses to highlight the importance of diksa, not to give its essential definition. As Srila Prabhupada also pointed out when he also cited and explained the first words of these verses in several different initiation lectures, the first two lines are giving a poetic analysis of the syllables di-ksa. The syllable di alludes to divyam jnanam, and ksa figuratively indicates ksapayati (“it eliminates [ignorance]”). Such poetic explanations, known in the Vedic tradition as artha-vada, are often given by scriptures and their commentators to evoke appreciation of facts that have been already established by more scientific methods, but they are not meant to be taken as the essential definition or literal proof of anything, even according to the strict rules of grammar. The syllable di in diksa is not actually derived from the same root as divyam, nor is it necessarily connected with the noun jnanam, nor does the bare syllable ksa necessarily mean ksapayati, nor is the object of that verb necessary “ignorance.”

Of course, the properly observed vows of initiation do lead to the gain of spiritual knowledge and defeat of ignorance, but these are secondary characteristics. Properly speaking, diksa is a specific Pancaratrika method of mantra initiation, which Srila Rupa Gosvami has stipulated as one of the required elements of vaidhi sadhana-bhakti.

Srila Prabhupada is giving transcendental knowledge, and thus he is performing the most important element of the process of initiation. He is the main Vaisnava doing this for members of his movement.  (p.6)

Yes, Srila Prabhupada is our prime source of transcendental knowledge. Whatever we may know about Krsna consciousness, Vedic civilization, and anything else worth knowing we know only by his divine grace and in terms of his understanding and attitudes. So yes, he is our most important link to the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, and without his blessings we will never be able to receive the full mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But still there is the practical distinction of diksa and siksa, which we cannot ignore without falling into confusion. Diksa is not exactly the same as siksa. It is a specific function, which according to all known sastras and practice is always performed by a current representative of one’s sampradaya. Srila Prabhupada is the principle siksa-guru for anyone who wants to accept him as such, but he is not the diksa-guru of all of his followers, any more than he is their biological father. This fact does not diminish his supremacy in ISKCON, nor should it be a reason for his representatives to foolishly imitate him.

An authorized diksa-guru in ISKCON should be considered Srila Prabhupada’s empowered representative, and deserves the respect of his disciples. If we cannot believe that Srila Prabhupada can empower his disciples despite their imperfections, then our faith in him is not as strong as it should be.

Someone may assert “If transcendental knowledge is given by someone other than the Vaisnava who performs the initiation ceremony, then that transcendental knowledge can only be called siksa, not diksa. Therefore it cannot be rightly said that Srila Prabhupada is giving diksa. He is giving siksa.” In the framework of The Prominent Link (PL), the essential focus is on the process of initiation, which is founded on the transmission of transcendental knowledge. Terminology and labeling is not a chief concern. Whomever is labeled “siksa guru”, “initiator”, or “diksa guru”, the heart of the PL understanding is that Srila Prabhupada is the primary Vaisnava directly giving transcendental knowledge. For devotees who are receiving divya-jnana directly from Srila Prabhupada, more than from any other Vaisnava, it can rightly be said that Srila Prabhupada is their direct, current, and prominent link to the parampara, with “direct, current, and prominent link” defined as “the Vaisnava who directly gives transcendental knowledge more than any other devotee.”  (p. 7)

We can agree without hesitation that Srila Prabhupada is the most prominent link to the sampradaya for all of his followers, and that he is directly their siksa-guru, at least to the extent that they are interested to hear from him. But he is not the last link in the chain for his grand-disciples. He is alive in his instructions, in his murti, and in the living institution ISKCON. We shouldn’t be disappointed that his legacy “can only be called siksa,” since history will show how that Siksa transformed the world. But, unfortunately for all of us, he is not physically present and so is not giving diksa to anyone currently; instead he has taken the usual measure of authorizing his disciples to initiate in the parampara. There is no definite evidence available that Srila Prabhupada ever gave instructions to contravene this age-old tradition of parampara. And in accordance with the ancient tradition, the devotees currently serving as the representatives of the founder-acarya in giving diksa are personally responsible for their disciples and have a special spiritual relationship with them.

When someone first contacts ISKCON, at least in most parts of the organization, for a few months he is encouraged to directly accept Srila Prabhupada as his guru. We suggest that once someone has done this, as evidenced by accepting Srila Prabhupada in his heart as his spiritual master and following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, the newcomer does not need to search for another Vaisnava to connect him with Srila Prabhupada.  (p. 9)

Sorry, but this amounts to saying that newcomers to ISKCON do not need to take diksa, or else that Srila Prabhupada is their diksa-guru. One who is wary about accepting any current ISKCON guru is still preliminarily connected to Srila Prabhupada by whatever faith he has developed and by however he can follow Prabhupada’s instructions, but if he wants to become a full member of the sampradaya he needs to take diksa. Some may elect to avoid diksa, but still we should not discourage newcomers from doing what Srila Rupa Gosvami asked them to do. It is certainly appropriate for new bhaktas to worship Srila Prabhupada as their guru, because of course he is their guru, and they should continue to do so, but that does not mean that they are never going to take diksa from one of his representatives.

The Vaisnava conducting the initiation ceremony does not become the connection between the initiate and Srila Prabhupada. The direct link between the initiate and Srila Prabhupada already exists. The connection does not become indirect at the time of the ceremony.    (p. 10)

Is the Vaisnava conducting the ceremony his disciple’s guru or not? If so, then why not let him be called guru? If not, then the intended idea is that Srila Prabhupada must be the new disciple’s one and only guru, because anyone else standing between the Prabhupada and the disciple would degrade the connection. But the actual principle of paramapara works in just the opposite way: The more a devotee becomes servant of the servant of the servant, the more likely it is that the parampara and Krsna will recognize him.

Srila Prabhupada is transmitting transcendental knowledge, and we are confident that he will continue to do so for many generations. In this transcendental sense, Srila Prabhupada is initiating sincere followers. In fact, we propose that accepting divya-jnana, or initiation, from Srila Prabhupada, and thereby directly connecting with him, is the qualification for one to become formally initiated in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Again, the official initiation ceremony is a formal acknowledgement that the devotee has directly connected with Srila Prabhupada.  (p. 10)

Granted, without accepting Srila Prabhupada as one’s guru, there is no meaning to thinking oneself a devotee in ISKCON. Diksa, however, is not only a formality of acknowledging one’s already established connection with Srila Prabhupada. It is act of obeying Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors by reposing one’s faith in one of his representatives. We show the extent of our trust in Srila Prabhupada and his ability to empower others by entrusting ourselves to his disciples.

Srila Prabhupada’s followers who assist him in helping to connect a devotee directly to him, are not the point of unconditional surrender.  (p. 17)

When a devotee surrenders himself to any guru, that surrender is not “unconditional.” There are conditions, namely that the guru should be bona fide (literally, “in good faith”), a faithful representative of the sampradaya. It is not because of a guru’s own absolute status, because of his mystic powers, or erudition, or good looks or sweet voice, that one should surrender and become his disciple. The main qualification of a guru is his surrender to his guru and to the parampara. In that sense, surrender does have its conditions. The main strength of ISKCON is Srila Prabhupada’s power to attract faith. That power, however, comes from above, and it is still active even in Srila Prabhupada’s physical absence. Those who could not take initiation directly from Prabhupada can still become fortunate if they meet someone empowered by Prabhupada to carry on the parampara. If there are no such qualified gurus in ISKCON, then ISKCON is finished or will have to be dormant for some time, and declaring Srila Prabhupada to be everyone’s initiator will not change the situation. But if there are qualified gurus, then the same mercy is available as much as it was in Prabhupada’s presence, without having to imagine that Prabhupada is still giving diksa.

Devotional service is not linear in the sense that when we surrender to a guru we are giving ourselves up only to a single “point.” Initiation means joining the company of the sampradaya, which includes the founder-acarya and his representatives. The diksa-guru is not the only point of surrender, but he is the one closest point with whom his disciple makes immediate contact, at least as far as the diksa process goes. Even if connection with that point is disrupted, however, a devotee’s connection with his siksa-gurus can still easily save him. In some cases a disciple may receive little instruction from his diksa-guru and have more faith in a siksa-guru, but as long as the diksa-guru is a faithful Vaisnava his disciple should always show him respect.

…for all members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement the worship of Srila Prabhupada is sufficient. No one else needs to be worshiped as the link to the parampara, because Srila Prabhupada completely fills this role, though of course he accepts assistance from his followers.  (p. 19)

Is it actually sufficient, or more to the point, is the Supreme Lord satisfied, by ISKCON devotees who worship Srila Prabhupada but do not want to worship their diksa-gurus? To answer this we first have to decide what we mean by worship, which could mean anything from a minimal show of respect, of at very least acknowledging that one’s guru is some sort of guru, not just an totally ordinary person, to the extreme fanaticism of being ready to reject Prabhupada and Krsna in the name of following the guru. Starting at the one end of the scale, it is clear from Krsna’s instructions to Uddhava that He is not pleased by complete neglect of one’s guru:


Some devotees may choose to worship a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, such as the Vaisnava who performed the initiation ceremony, as the link to Srila Prabhupada, or in some other philosophical capacity. The PL framework does not directly address this, though it does contend that any member of Srila Prabhupada’s movement who accepts Srila Prabhupada as the guru to be worshiped as the current link to the parampara must be permitted to do so.  (p. 19)

Given what we have discussed above, it is not advisable to recommend to devotees that they ignore their diksa-gurus, unless the gurus were never proper Vaisnavas or else have seriously deviated from Vaisnava principles. Some ISKCON devotees may repose most of their faith only in Srila Prabhupada and little faith in their initiating gurus, but still to satisfy the parampara and Krsna the prescribed etiquette should be maintained. The Pancaratrika methods of Deity worship prescribe that worship be offered with authorized mantras, and every item offered should first be offered to the guru who gave the worshiper his mantras. The etiquette in formal worship is that the disciple offers to his guru, and the guru asks the Lord being worshiped to accept the offering (or rather, that the guru gives the offering to his guru and it is passed up the line). Because the guru is a dear devotee of the Lord, the Lord does not refuse the offerings of imperfect disciples. Since this is the formal pancaratrika method, the guru who is given the offering first is normally the pancaratrika diksa-guru. There may be exceptions; the guru-parampara given to us by Srila Prabhupada for worship in ISKCON, for example, includes Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s siksa-guru, Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji, rather than his diksa-guru. But still offering puja first to one’s diksa-guru is the norm practiced in all sampradayas. Whatever may have been the actual relationship between Srila Bhaktivinoda and his diksa-guru, and we hear different stories about this from different sources, it is known that Srila Bhaktivinoda never behaved disrespectfully toward him.

Many great Vaisnavas are not formally worshipped. Consider the case of Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, the speaker of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Undoubtedly he is our guru. Clearly he is situated at the topmost platform of devotional service. We honor, glorify and revere him, though we don’t formally worship him. For example, we don’t recite his pranam mantras when we enter the temple room and his picture is not on the ISKCON altars. Are we minimizing the great saint Srila Sukadeva Gosvami? No, because Srila Prabhupada instructed how to properly honor Srila Sukadeva Gosvami according to our particular circumstance, and this does not include formal worship as described above. Similarly, to not formally worship the devotee who performs the initiating ceremony is not an inherent minimization of that devotee. The Prominent Link (PL) model contends that worship of Srila Prabhupada as the direct connection to the disciplic succession, without worship of anyone else as the link to Srila Prabhupada, should be accepted as a valid practice in Srila Prabhupada’s movement, though the PL model does not maintain that worship of others as the connection to Srila Prabhupada should be prohibited in the movement. (p. 22)

Sukadeva Gosvami is honored as gurum muninam, the spiritual master of the great sages. When he spoke to Pariksit, Sukadeva’s own guru Vyasadeva and parama-guru Narada were happy to sit in the audience and listen. It is commendable that ISKCON devotees sometimes worship Sukadeva Gosvami in their personal chanting and meditation. But we do not make formal offerings to Sukadeva in our regular puja because he is not in the line of initiators of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya. The diksa-guru of a properly initiated devotee in ISKCON, however, is the immediate link in the diksa-parampara for his disciple. If the disciple wants to participate in the devotional method of arcanam, which in our line is practiced according to pancaratrika principles, he should offer at least a minimum of worship to his diksa-guru. In his heart he may spend day and night worshiping only Srila Prabhupada, and he may spend hours every day reading Prabhupada’s books and speaking his glories, but still there are standards he should follow in showing appropriate respect, including worship, to his diksa-guru.

Even if one conceives of the devotee who conducts the initiation ceremony to be in the absolute position and the current link to the parampara, that devotee could legitimately instruct the initiate to worship Srila Prabhupada rather than himself. For the sake of unity of the movement it would seem that such directives from devotees who perform initiations would be warranted. Many observers have commented that overemphasis by the initiate on the Vaisnava performing the initiation ceremony, in terms of worship, celebration of Vyasa-puja, and other practices, at the expense of an appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s proper place in the life of the initiate, has caused the movement to degrade to a matha mentality.  (p. 23)

Fanatic guru worship does degrade ISKCON. It did in the past, when the Mayapura temple room was encumbered by eleven extra vyasasanas during the Gaura-purnima festivals. It continues to do so in defiance of ISKCON law in some places, including established ISKCON temples. But is it an act of fanaticism to have a picture of the pujari’s diksa-guru temporarily on the altar, or to observe the diksa-gurus’ Vyasa-puja once a year? Does it have to be a question of worshiping either Prabhupada or the diksa-guru, or can both be accommodated fairly? In a healthy guru-disciple relationship in ISKCON, the representative of Prabhupada (diksa– or siksa-guru) would constantly direct the disciple in serving Prabhupada’s instructions and his mission. In exchange for this, the disciple would naturally feel gratitude and want to express it. So the useful questions to ask are: How much is this healthy norm established in ISKCON? Where it isn’t—why? And how to rectify the situation? We don’t think that, on carefully examination of what is actually going on in ISKCON, we will find the situation either all black or all white. And we don’t think we will find that the cause of all our evils is that disciples worship their diksa-gurus.

However, even if someone doesn’t view Srila Prabhupada as the current link, whomever is regarded as the link can instruct the initiates to worship the same altar that Srila Prabhupada gave us, to recite only Srila Prabhupada’s pranam mantras, and to celebrate Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja ceremony as the primary Vyasa-puja ceremony.

By retaining the worship practices Srila Prabhupada established, no one in Srila Prabhupada’s movement will ever experience that the Vaisnava perceived and worshipped as the current link to the parampara will experience difficulties in spiritual life.  (p. 24)

Although elsewhere this paper claims that its model is not meant to be adopted as the only allowable viewpoint in ISKCON, here it is definitely implied that if a guru does not forbid his disciples to worship himself, he is deviant. It is proposed that no pictures of any guru after Prabhupada should be on ISKCON altars, and that disciples should not recite pranama-mantras for their diksa-gurus. These proposals, as already discussed, are against the principles of pancaratrika worship and the practice of Vaisnavas and others in all sampradayas. There is nothing wrong with the suggestion that the most important observance of Vyasa-puja should be for Srila Prabhupada, as long as disciples are not discouraged from also celebrating their diksa-gurus’ appearance days.

It is not a practical proposal that by retaining the eternal appearance of worship as it was in Srila Prabhupada’s presence the tragedy of guru falldown will never again be experienced in ISKCON. Naturally and unavoidably, new devotees will tend to place their trust in those who personally guide them, whether the guides are allowed to be called gurus or not, and if the guides deviate their followers will naturally suffer. Artificially elevating Srila Prabhupada to the imaginary status of perpetual diksa-guru is no substitute for fulfilling the actual need of his representatives becoming purer in Krsna consciousness.

Using qualifying terms, such as “preeminent siksa guru”, to describe Srila Prabhupada’s standing in his movement and the role he plays in the life of the members of his movement, distracts from Srila Prabhupada’s status as “the spiritual master”, the guru who is referred to when we refer to the singular spiritual master.  (p. 26)

If there can only be one guru in ISKCON, and he cannot be categorized as guru in any specific sense, then yes, we should choose Srila Prabhupada. And, accepting this premise, we should furthermore correct his title to just acarya, instead of founder-acarya since this would clarify that no others could ever be called an acarya. But the premise that ISKCON can only have one guru is not correct. Rather, Prabhupada is the first among many gurus, which is one meaning of the epithet prabhu-pada. He is pre-eminent, and he is siksa-guru for everyone who wants to hear from and follow him, and the fact that he can empower his disciples to also be gurus only adds to his glories.

In 1999, just after the GBC passed a resolution designating Srila Prabhupada with terms such as “the preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution” and “the preeminent and compulsory siksa-guru”, the GBC body was discussing aspects of worship. The idea that Srila Prabhupada would be the sole object of worship in ISKCON was mentioned and discussed. A prominent GBC who conducts initiation ceremonies emphatically declared “But disciples must be able to worship their guru! They have to be allowed to worship their guru!” Clear from his statement was that, despite the resolutions from moments before that all members of Srila Prabhupada’s movement must place their faith, trust and allegiance first and foremost in Srila Prabhupada, who is the preeminent siksa guru for every member of the institution, the conception that continued to be maintained by this GBC, and most of the leaders present, was that the real guru, notwithstanding whatever official glorification may be afforded to Srila Prabhupada in resolutions, is the Vaisnava who performs the formal initiation ceremony. In support of this minimization of Srila Prabhupada’s role in his movement, one of the themes of a keynote speech at the 1999 GBC meetings was specifically that Srila Prabhupada is not the direct and current link to the disciplic succession for devotees who did not receive formal initiation from him.  (p. 27)

Srila Prabhupada, his disciples who give initiation, and his many followers who give valuable instruction, are all real gurus. Srila Prabhupada is the founding acarya of ISKCON, the original light from which all other lights in ISKCON are lit, and of course he is the representative of the Gaudiya sampradaya going back to Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Advising disciples to worship their diksa-gurus does not diminish Srila Prabhupada’s position but only glorifies it more, as long as the diksa-gurus represent Prabhupada faithfully and direct their disciples to his teachings

Srila Prabhupada continues to accept disciples who sincerely dedicate their lives to following his instructions and who willingly receive the transcendental knowledge that he imparts. Accepting these disciples means that Srila Prabhupada takes responsibility to guide these souls back to Godhead.  (p. 30)

This is a thinly veiled declaration of the rtvik doctrine, that Srila Prabhupada is the current diksa-guru of ISKCON. The only way to make this statement agreeable to the our actual siddhanta is to interpret it as meaning that Prabhupada is accepting disciples on behalf of the sampradaya through the agency of his disciples, who are initiating on his behalf.

Suppose a book distributer gives a book to someone. When that person visits the temple the book distributor, if he is in proper consciousness, will naturally be eager to serve the advancement of the newcomer in any way he can. Years later, when the former newcomer is now initiated and situated in service within Srila Prabhupada’s movement, and has accepted guidance from any devotee mentors, the book distributor continues to be actively concerned about the progress of the devotee to whom he distributed a book. A similar mentality should exist in the temple president, the senior congregation member preached to the newcomer at the Sunday Feast, and the Vaisnava selected by the new initiate to conduct the initiation ceremony. (p. 31)

This explanation equates the role of the diksa-guru with that of any preacher. In other words, it denies that diksa is anything at all separate from siksa. But diksa is a separate, special function according to our scriptures and acaryas. It involves the acceptance of vows, the giving of mantras and the taking of special, personal responsibility that deserves special reciprocation from its recipients.

For followers of Srila Prabhupada, for the duration of his movement, there is profound security in knowing that the mahabhagavata A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, a spiritual master at the topmost stage of Krsna conscious realization, is taking responsibility for their spiritual life, though this does not nullify the individual responsibility for one’s advancement in Krsna consciousness. With this understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s absolute position and the relative position of other members of his movement, there will be less disturbance caused, on an individual and institutional level, when devotees who serve as guides and mentors have difficulty. (p. 33)

Here it is proposed that in ISKCON Srila Prabhupada’s position is absolute and everyone else’s position is relative. But this is not exactly what our acaryas teach us. Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja says, ekale iSvara krsna, ara saba bhrtya: “Lord Krsna alone is the supreme controller, and all others are His servants.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 5.142) Only the Supreme Lord is absolute. Srila Prabhupada’s position as the founder-acarya of ISKCON is relative, based on his empowerment by his predecessor acaryas. To deny this is means to claim that Srila Prabhupada is God. The position of an empowered representative of Srila Prabhupada is relative in the same way, even if the empowered disciple is nowhere near equal to Prabhupada. The diksa-guru takes responsibility, and Prabhupada and his predecessors kindly share that responsibility.

In another scenario, devotee A mentors devotee B, and devotee B receives formal initiation from devotee A. Devotee B is truly dependent on devotee A for his spiritual life. Devotee B does not have much direct understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. His knowledge about Krsna consciousness and Srila Prabhupada is almost entirely through devotee A.

Devotee A in the above scenario has brought devotee B to Krsna consciousness and is serving as his main spiritual master. From the viewpoint of the PL model, devotee B is not yet initiated in the essential, transcendental sense. He has not properly connected with the current link to the parampara, because he is not receiving most of his direct divya-jnana from Srila Prabhupada. (p. 35)

Look at the situation of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. They are grand disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but received their basic understanding of Krsna consciousness from Srila Prabhupada instead. Srila Prabhupada wanted it to be this way, and he wanted himself to be the siksa-guru directly teaching future generations of ISKCON in a way in which Srila Bhaktisiddhanta has not been a directly accessible main teacher for most of us.

But in the special case The Prominent Link presents above, devotee B apparently cannot understand Srila Prabhupada directly, and gets his teachings indirectly through devotee A. When despite Srila Prabhupada’s efforts to make his teachings universally understandable such a case arises, the potency of the parampara can nonetheless convey itself fully intact. Srila Prabhupada should be able to empower devotee A to pass on his teachings in devotee A’s own words. So why can’t devotee B be properly connected with the parampara and its links, current and past? He can receive the knowledge he needs, if not directly from Prabhupada, then indirectly from Prabhupada’s representative.

Sri Krsna and Srila Prabhupada could arrange for another Vaisnava to assume the role of the current and direct link at some time. What is clear is that Srila Prabhupada is doing this at present, and there is no need for others to aspire for this role. (p. 38)

This makes sense if we understand “current and direct link” to mean the universal, permanent Siksa-guru of ISKCON. Just as our Srila Prabhupada is what his Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada was for the Gaudiya MaTha, and Srila Jiva Gosvami Prabhupada was for his generation, so theoretically some one else might become the Prabhupada of a distant future. There is certainly no need for anyone to aspire for that role yet within ISKCON

This paper describes devotees who genuinely experience Srila Prabhupada as the direct, current, and prominent link to the parampara, by dint of Srila Prabhupada being the primary Vaisnava who gives direct transcendental knowledge. Of course this can be misused by someone claiming “I’m directly connected with Srila Prabhupada, so I don’t listen to anything anyone else says,” and as an excuse for arrogance. If someone is actually connected with Srila Prabhupada then he won’t exhibit such behavior. (p. 45)

Fanaticism tends to be endemic among neophytes, and can be focused on any authority, not just Srila Prabhupada. There are plenty of young devotees who take pride in their relationship with their guru and won’t listen to what other Vaisnavas have to say. So maybe the problem is not only neglect of Prabhupada, but also neglect of Vaisnavas in general in the name of guru worship. How does declaring Srila Prabhupada the prominent link solve this problem? By reducing the possible objects of fanaticism to just one? The proposition “If someone is actually connected with Srila Prabhupada then he won’t exhibit such behavior” is logically troublesome. It implies that someone who exhibits fanaticism has no real connection with Srila Prabhupada, which isn’t true. A devotee may be sincerely trying to dedicate his life to Prabhupada’s service, which must mean that he has some real spiritual connection with Prabhupada, but at the same time he may still be immature. It’s possible to be connected to Prabhupada but fanatic, or not properly connected to Prabhupada and fanatic. Thus there’s no causal relationship between being connected and avoiding fanaticism.

We present this model as a valid way to conceive of Srila Prabhupada’s position. Though we don’t contend that it is the only legitimate view of Srila Prabhupada, we request that the ideas and proposals described herein be accepted and implemented. This does not necessarily mean supplanting other systems and conceptualizations, though it does mean that this model be allowed to at least coexist with other methods and systems for conceiving of and implementing the continuation of the parampara. (p. 51)

As members of the Gaudiya sampradaya, we have to represent the sampradaya’s siddhanta, and so cannot endorse the erroneous opinion that Srila Prabhupada is the one current initiating guru of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada himself did not favor the kind of pluralism The Prominent Link promotes. The Vaisnava sampradaya is not meant to be a forum for alternative systems of belief, but rather the institution for preserving of the unchanging philosophy of the sampradaya’s founder, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This does not mean that there cannot be room for individual variety in relationships. Historically, there has been a great deal of such individual expression in our sampradaya, going back to the original associates of Lord Caitanya. A devotee’s choice of spiritual guides is a matter of the heart, and should never be forced by legislation or intimidation. To the extent that such force and intimidation exist today in ISKCON, they need to be identified and corrected. The author of PL has made a sincere attempt to address these real problems, but unfortunately he has proposed a philosophically unsound solution.


Dhira Govinda Prabhu last year asked the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON to consider the proposals that he made in his booklet Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link. At its Mayapur 2002 meeting, the Governing Body Commission issued a preliminary statement and then delegated the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) to carefully evaluate Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s booklet and proposals in light of guru, sadhu and sastra. Although the SAC members were aware of the negative preliminary statement by the GBC, they were not bound by it. Our mandate was to search not only for any possible defects in Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s presentation but also for any good points. Over the past year, the SAC members devoted hundreds of hours to fulfilling their obligation to consider Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, with due Vaisnava respect for both the work and its author. To this end, Dhira Govinda Prabhu was made a party to SAC’s deliberations for several weeks, and had a chance to extensively discuss his views with the SAC members.

All of the SAC members have a history of friendly relations with Dhira Govinda Prabhu and all share a deep appreciation for his many contributions to our Society. We share many of his concerns about the guru question in ISKCON. In the introduction to this paper, we have mentioned some of the good points in PL. But after much careful study, we concluded that Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s presentation of Srila Prabhupada’s relationship to ISKCON members who took initiation after his physical departure significantly contradicts the understandings given to us by Srila Prabhupada and his predecessor acaryas.

A surface reading of PL suggests that Dhira Govinda Prabhu is just saying “let’s put Srila Prabhupada in the center,” which is, of course, something everyone in ISKCON will support. He talks about Srila Prabhupada being the prominent link to the parampara. And that again is something few will disagree with. Perhaps this is why some ISKCON members have wondered, “What is all the fuss about? Why are they on Dhira Govinda’s case? All he is saying is that Prabhupada is everyone’s topmost guru, and the other gurus should adopt a lower profile.” If that were all he was saying, then, of course, few would object. After all, that is the meaning of the title Prabhupada—among all prabhus or masters (including spiritual masters), he is supreme, and these other masters, especially in his Society, exhibit their subordination to him by remaining at his feet.

Unfortunately, that is not all that Dhira Govinda Prabhu is saying. This fact may not be apparent, however, to those who do not read PL carefully. In our deliberations, we found that because Dhira Govinda Prabhu consciously avoided using the standard siksa- and diksaguru terminology, a terminology given to us by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas, it was difficult to understand the full implications of his statements in PL. For example, by identifying Srila Prabhupada as a “link” and today’s diksagurus as “those who perform initiation ceremonies,” it was not easy to see exactly what he was saying in terms of the traditional Vaisnava understanding of actual guru-disciple relationships.

Many questions arose. But here is the main one. According to PL, are the devotees who are now conducting initiation ceremonies the diksagurus of their disciples or not? Is Srila Prabhupada the one diksaguru of those getting their initiation ceremonies today or not? It took a great deal of questioning of Dhira Govinda Prabhu to get a clear understanding of his intended meaning.

Dhira Govinda Prabhu himself is in the position of having received his initiations after Srila Prabhupada’s departure. When asked by a SAC member to identify his one diksaguru, Dhira Govinda Prabhu said that if he were to answer according to the PL understanding, he would have to say that Srila Prabhupada was his one diksaguru. We assume the same would be true for all ISKCON members who received initiation after Prabhupada’s departure and who agree with the PL position.

Nowhere, however, is this conclusion prominently and clearly stated in PL. Occasionally, this implicit conclusion does come close to being stated explicitly. It is there in statements such as, “Srila Prabhupada continues to accept disciples who sincerely dedicate their lives to following his instructions and who willingly receive the transcendental knowledge that he imparts.” (PL, p. 30)

This conclusion can also be found in the practical proposal that Dhira Govinda Prabhu sent to the GBC in advance of its 2002 Mayapur meeting, wherein he suggests the GBC should endorse the statement that “it is legitimate to consider that Srila Prabhupada is initiating devotees who genuinely, directly connect with him by serving his vani and accepting that vani as the guiding force of their life. This understanding is applicable regardless of who conducted the formal initiation ceremony for the devotee.”

So members of ISKCON should ask themselves, “Do I agree with Dhira Govinda Prabhu that Srila Prabhupada is the one diksaguru for all members of ISKCON, including those who took initiation after his departure?” If any ISKCON devotees do agree with that statement, then they have to seriously consider why Srila Prabhupada himself did not promote this understanding. They have to seriously consider why Srila Prabhupada established another system, whereby his disciples would give harinama- and gayatri mantradiksa.

For our part, for the reasons given in the body of this paper, we do not agree with Dhira Govinda Prabhu that Srila Prabhupada is the one diksaguru for all members of ISKCON, including those who took initiation after his departure.

If the conclusion of PL is wrong, it is possible that the method of arriving at the conclusion was also wrong. In his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.4.1 Srila Prabhupada gives some guidelines for one presenting conclusions to the society of devotees according to one’s realization: “The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it.” As an explanation of diksa, PL fails this test. In his presentation, the PL author fails to maintain Srila Prabhupada’s original intention, stated in the texts of his books, lectures, conversations and letters, that his disciples would one day become diksagurus, initiating spiritual masters. Instead, he manufactures another system from his interpretations of some statements Srila Prabhupada made about divya-jnana and diksa.

The author of PL concludes that the essence of initiation (diksa) is the transmission of transcendental knowledge (divya-jnana). Although the transmission of transcendental knowledge is connected with diksa, it is not its defining characteristic, as this would eliminate the distinction between siksa and diksa. Srila Prabhupada had another idea. This is readily apparent when we look at how Srila Prabhupada himself discusses divya-jnana and initiation, in the context of an actual initiation ceremony (Auckland, February 22, 1973):

Devotee (2): How important is formal initiation?

Prabhupada: Formal initiation means to accept, officially, to abide by the orders of Krsna and His representative. That is formal initiation. Officially accept, “Yes, sir, I shall accept. I shall do whatever you say.” This is initiation, official acceptance of the job. That’s all. Now, you formally accept, and if you do not do the duties, then where is the question of other function? There is no question. Initiation means this is the beginning of accepting the orders of Krsna and His representative to carry out. This is the beginning. That is initiation. Just like if you enter in an office establishment, so you accept the terms of service. That is initiation. Then you go on serving, you become promoted, you get salary increase. You become recognized. You become officer. You become big officer, like that. That very word initiation suggests, “This is the beginning.” Diksa, diksa. Di… divya. There are two words, divya-jnana. Divya-jnana means transcendental, spiritual knowledge. So divya is di, and jnanam, ksapayati, explaining, that is ksa, di-ksa. This is called diksa, diksa, the combination. So diksa means the initiation to begin transcendental activities. That is called initiation. Therefore we take promise from the disciple that “You chant so many times,” “Yes, sir.” “You observe these rules and regulations,” “Yes, sir.” That is initiation. He has to observe; he has to chant. Then everything comes automatically. In the beginning he is faulty; then how he can make progress?”

In terms of practical understandings spoken in connection with the practices he established, Srila Prabhupada indicated that the formal agreement between guru and disciple ratified by the initiation ceremony is the substance of diksa. By this formal acceptance one is linked to the disciplic succession, one becomes qualified to get the full benefit of chanting the holy name, one becomes qualified to receive the full benefit of divya-jnana, one gets a second birth, one is freed from previous sinful reactions, and one is accepted as a bona fide servant of Krsna. In short, connecting the disciple properly with the disciplic succession is the distinguishing characteristic of diksa and the diksaguru.

The correct understanding of the diksa function as distinct from the Siksa function is given by Srila Prabhupada in his purports to the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 1.47): “Srila Sanatana Gosvami is the ideal spiritual master [diksaguru], for he delivers one the shelter of the lotus feet of Madana-mohana. . . .  Sri Govindaji acts exactly like the siksaguru [instructing spiritual master] by teaching Arjuna the Bhagavad-gita. He is the original preceptor, for He gives us instructions and an opportunity to serve Him. The initiating spiritual master is a personal manifestation of Srila Madana-mohana vigraha, whereas the instructing spiritual master is a personal representative of Srila Govindadeva vigraha. Both of these Deities are worshiped at Vrndavana. Srila Gopinatha is the ultimate attraction in spiritual realization.”

So after one has through some initial faith attained the association of devotees, the next important step in devotional life is to formally accept the shelter of Krsna. This happens in our Society at the time of harinamadiksa. And the guru who gives us that formal shelter is the diksaguru. The diksaguru is here defined not as the one who over time gives us a certain quantity or quality of transcendental knowledge relative to others, but as the one who on behalf of Krsna grants us His shelter, thus establishing our actual connection with Krsna, with His service, and with the disciplic succession. Once this connection has been established, then the disciple can properly receive, and benefit from, the transmission of instructions, i.e. transcendental knowledge (siksa), about how to function as a servant of Krsna.

If we subtract from PL the incorrect doctrine that Srila Prabhupada is still giving diksa today, what is left? The other principal point is the recommendation that no one except Srila Prabhupada should receive any formal worship or respect as guru.

Of course, this recommendation contradicts the many statements in Srila Prabhupada’s books that a disciple should offer worship to his gurus. Some will say that those statements do not necessarily apply to Prabhupada’s disciples who are functioning as gurus. But Srila Prabhupada never said that his disciples should not accept any worship when the time would come for them to become gurus. In fact, he gave indications that he did expect that they would receive formal worship. The topic comes up in the following exchange between Mr. Malhotra and Srila Prabhupada (Room Conversation, December 22, 1976):

Prabhupada: These, my disciples they are part and parcel of me. Whole mission is going on with their cooperation. But if he says that I am equal to my Guru Maharaja, then that is offense. . . . They will never say that they have become equal to me. “I have advanced to be my guru.” Never say. Just like this boy, he is offering obeisances. He may be expert in preaching more than me, but he knows that “I am subordinate.” Otherwise how he shall offer obeisances? He can think, “Oh, now I am so learned. I am so advanced. Why shall I accept him as superior?” No. That continues. Even after my death, after my disappearance, he will offer obeisances to my picture.

Mr. Malhotra: But amongst his disciples he will be worshiped…

Prabhupada: That’s all right, but he remains a disciple of his guru. He will never say that “Now I have become guru, so I don’t care for my guru.” He will never say. Just like I am doing, but I am worshiping my guru still. So I remain subordinate to my guru, always. Even though I have become guru, still I am subordinate to my guru.

So Srila Prabhupada expected that his disciples would someday be gurus and receive worship from their disciples. But he also expected that all of these gurus would continue to remain subordinate to him. It is up to the GBC to decide what levels of worship will maintain the two things that Prabhupada expected: (1) that gurus would accept worship from their disciples and (2) that simultaneously they would continue to worship him in such a way that their subordination to him would be clear to both them and their disciples. If there is some further adjustment required in today’s ISKCON practices, the GBC should give attention to that. But the adjustment cannot be that today’s gurus should accept no worship from their disciples, as doing this would violate Srila Prabhupada’s expectation.

Once we have subtracted from PL not only the incorrect idea that Srila Prabhupada should be the one diksaguru for all members of ISKCON but also the idea that no one except Prabhupada should receive any worship or public recognition as guru, are there further points?

What remains is an appeal to the desires of devotees who wish to feel that somehow or other Srila Prabhupada is their guru, and that they have some connection with him. Is it acceptable for a devotee not initiated by Prabhupada feel that Prabhupada is his or her guru? The answer is yes; by disciplic connection such disciples do have a real connection with Srila Prabhupada. The GBC has already recognized this fact. Srila Prabhupada himself characterized his relationship with such devotees by saying they are his grand-disciples. To be a grand-disciple of Srila Prabhupada is no less a position than being a direct disciple. Grand-disciples have just as much opportunity to receive the instructions, mercy, and love of Srila Prabhupada as any of his directly initiated disciples. But they also have an obligation to assist Srila Prabhupada in propagating the disciplic succession by accepting diksagurus in the line coming from Srila Prabhupada and giving proper respect to those gurus in harmony with the principles established in the Society he created.

In short, we conclude that:

(1) The proposal in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link that Srila Prabhupada is the one diksaguru for all members of ISKCON, including those who underwent initiation ceremonies after his departure, is incorrect because (a) it is based on an incomplete definition of diksa, (b) it confuses the distinct functions of diksa– and siksagurus, and (c) it contradicts the expressed intention of Srila Prabhupada who, following Vedic tradition, generally expected that his disciples would in turn become initiating (diksa) gurus;

(2) The proposal in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link that no one except Srila Prabhupada receive worship as guru is incorrect because it (a) goes against directions given by Lord Caitanya’s prominent followers such as Srila Jiva Gosvami in his Bhakti-sandarbha, and (b) contradicts Srila Prabhupada’s expectation that his disciples would accept appropriate worship when it became time for them to become gurus.

(3) It is legitimate for a disciple of a current ISKCON guru to also feel that he or she is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, but only if this feeling is expressed in such a way that does not confuse the function of diksa– and siksagurus.

Finally, we feel that Dhira Govinda Prabhu was sincere when he placed his proposals to the ISKCON world for consideration. We hope that he will consider the points we have made.

SAC Members: Gopiparanadhana Dasa, Drutakarma Dasa, Urmila Devi Dasi, Purnacandra Dasa, Krsna Ksetra Dasa and Mukunda DaTTa Dasa