The Reality Of Guru-Parampara And The Myth Of "The Final Order"
by Tridandi Swami Bhaktivedanta Nemi [previously Jnana dasa (ACBSP)]
The following paper is the third in a series of articles examining some serious (indeed fatal) weaknesses in the Ritvik scenario, and pointing out some essential aspects of guru-tattva. It is meant for those who are trying to make sense of the current ISKCON GBC / Ritvik/ Gaudiya Matha polemic.
[Part One Part Two Part Three]
The Ritvik system prescribed by IRM in The Final Order is based on the supposed evidence of the "henceforward" letter of July 9th. IRM claim that this letter instructs us that the Ritvik system should be continued after Srila Prabhupada's physical departure. However, this is quite untrue, because the direct meaning of the letter is quite different from IRM's artificial interpretation. (See Part Two).
IRM are ignoring the rules for understanding evidence. In a court of law the first rule for interpreting evidence is that one accepts the direct meaning. Srila Prabhupada and our acaryas have also instructed us that we should take the direct meaning of sastric statements, and that we should avoid indirect interpretations wherever possible. IRM have said that we should not deviate from Srila Prabhupada's guidelines by even a millionth of a hairsbreadth, so they should accept this principle: "Accept the direct meaning of sastric statements." We have to choose between on the one hand this principle that Srila Prabhupada gave us and on the other hand the Ritvik conclusion. To accept one is to reject the other.
IRM try to justify their unprecedented system by saying that it does not conflict with higher sastric principles, but this assertion is false. The key point here is the physical presence of the guru. SP said over and over again that we have to approach a spiritual master. Having approached him, one should inquire from him, and hear from him submissively in order to get a clear understanding.1 The direct meaning of this is that one comes into his physical proximity, but IRM avoid this direct instruction with remarkable ingenuity: "Srila Prabhupada never taught … that this physical guru must also be physically present in order to act as guru."2 They then say that the purpose of approaching the guru is to get transcendental knowledge, but we can get that from books, so no need for the physical presence of the guru. This is an example of avoiding a direct instruction in favour of an indirect interpretation.
Now, the whole Vedic tradition depends on the direct personal guidance of the guru. Great personalities such as Vidura, Arjuna, Maharaja Pariksit, Sanatana Gosvami, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Krsna (and what to speak of Srila Prabhupada himself) all physically approached their spiritual masters. Hence, we cannot doubt that the natural and standard process is for disciples to be in physical proximity with their guru. However, IRM have literally rushed in where angels fear to tread, and have tried to abolish this eternal process on the strength of their artificial, indirect interpretation of a single letter.
It is true that Srila Prabhupada adjusted the standard process, sometimes dealing through representatives, and even giving the diksa mantras by tape recorder. However, he has never instructed or even suggested that we should do the same. Therefore, we should follow the eternal process that he describes in his books, which is that the disciple has the physical association of the guru.
SP often used the expression "go to" the spiritual master, which is a direct translation of the word abhigacchet. The direct meaning of this word abhigacchet is that one has to physically approach the spiritual master, which naturally requires his physical presence.
One may say that one can "approach the spiritual master" by reading SP's books. However, this is an indirect interpretation, and not the direct meaning. The word abhigacchet does not mean "to read books". SP certainly said that we should read his books, but he also said that reading books by oneself is not enough. "Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge."3 "One should not proudly think that one can understand the transcendental loving service of the Lord simply by reading books."4 One cannot study medical books at home "by one's own intellectual capacity. …. Similarly, Srimad-Bhagavatam, the postgraduate study of the science of Godhead, can only be learned by studying it at the feet of a realized soul like Srila Vyasadeva."5
SP emphasized the actual physical interaction between the guru and disciple by comparing it to going to a physician,6 or going to a technician with a machine that requires repairing.7 The direct mening of "going to" a physician or a technician is to physically approach them. SP also explained that one must establish a direct, personal relationship with the spiritual master, as one would do with an instructor in an academic establishment.8 SP many, many times said that we have to hear "from the lotus mouth" and "from the lotus lips" of the pure devotee.9 He often used the phrase "aural reception". "Vedic knowledge is called sruti, learning by aural reception."10 "One must learn the transcendental subject by submissive aural reception from the right sources."11 "There is no other way."12
One may say that reading is equivalent to hearing, but SP many times emphasized the specific importance of the ears as receptive senses.13"Therefore one is required to approach the proper spiritual master with receptive ears only, and thus divine existence is gradually realized.14 "The favor of the spiritual master is not received through any other part of the body but the ears."15 The word "hearing" literally means that we should actually hear. SP is not just talking about reading transcendental literatures.
Of course, we should read Srila Prabhupada's books, but we should also understand that the original Vedic process is to hear directly from the self-realised soul. SP many times said that we have to hear the book bhagavata from the person bhagavata.16 This is the direct meaning of SP's statements, so it is useless to try to institute a system that dispenses with the physical presence of the guru.
One may object, "We can use aural reception to hear from tape recorders." However, SP emphasizes over and over again that we have to hear from the spiritual master's mouth and from the spiritual master's lips. He said, "From his mouth one has to hear,"17 but not, "From his tapes we have to hear." SP himself contradicted the idea that the physical recordings of the pure devotee is as spiritually potent as the pure devotee's original sound vibration. "A gramophone machine will not do."18 "A gramophone will not help. …. If you want to read Srimad-Bhagavatam, you must approach a person who is life living Bhagavata."19 "Gramophone or tape record speaker, that will not be [effective]."20
SP explained that recorded sound vibration is not as spiritually potent as the sound vibrated directly by the pure devotee because the recording is his "separated energy".21 "The separated energy can be understood from a practical example. I compose books by speaking into a Dictaphone, and when the Dictaphone is replayed, it appears that I am speaking personally, but actually I am not."22 SP said directly, "When you play back it will speak just like I am speaking, but I am not there."23 "And when I speak directly, that is not separated energy."24 Hence, the recording of SP is not as spiritually potent as when SP spoke directly and personally.
IRM maintain that it is sufficient to read SP's books and hear his tapes, but the direct meaning of SP's own statements nullifies this idea. IRM point out that SP often gave initiation through representatives or by tape. This is true, but SP does not give this in his books as a procedure that we should follow. We have to accept the direct meaning of his statements to find out the process that is meant for us.
SP describes other aspects of the guru-disciple relationship that absolutely require the physical presence of the guru. The spiritual master has to give the disciple personal instructions and guidance regarding service, according to the disciple's individual situation and stage of life.25 The spiritual master also has to be expert in engaging different devotees according to their propensities.26 "Every one of us has got a certain amount of good energy derived from Krishna, and when that energy is employed under the expert direction of Spiritual Master, one's life becomes successful. That is the secret of Krishna Consciousness."27 Mantras are to be heard directly in the ear from the spiritual master, which also requires his physical presence.28 It is true that SP gave initiation through tape recordings, but he never describes this process in his books. SP could use tape recorders when he was physically present, but that does not mean that we can use his tapes to the same effect when he is physically absent. SP was empowered to adjust the process for practical purposes when he was present, but he never says in his books (or even in the "henceforward" letter) that we can adjust the process that he has given in his books.
The guru has to chastise the disciple, because we cannot see the material attachments that we have to give up. "If we actually want detachment from this material world, we should be prepared to accept such cutting words from the spiritual master. Compromise and flattery have no effect where strong words are required."29 This is the natural position of the teacher,30 and it requires his physical presence and physical communication.
IRM points out that many of SP's disciples had little if any direct contact with him. This is true, but they were supposed to get guidance from disciples who had more association, so in any case, the principle of association was being followed. SP was physically present, and devotees were supposed to cooperate with their authorities, who were supposed to get direct guidance from SP.
IRM, in a reply to my first article, wrote, "When trying to understand an instruction one will naturally consider the purpose behind it." Now, what is the intention behind all these statements that Srila Prabhupada has made? It is clearly that the disciple should have the physical association of the guru.
SP instructed us that we should take the direct meaning of sastric statements, and reject indirect interpretations. IRM have tried to justify their interpretation of the "henceforward" letter by "proving" that there is no need for a guru who is physically present. However, their attempt depends on indirect interpretations throughout. Hence, according to SP's instructions, it should be rejected.
IRM themselves are living proof that their manufactured process does not work. They are using a process that is fundamentally flawed to try to justify an original thesis (their interpretation of the "henceforward" letter) that is fundamentally flawed. Naturally, then, every step of their argument is also flawed, as we will show. Their "logic of the final order" is invalid, and their conclusions about diksa show that they are clueless about the Gaudiya process for passing on the essence of our sampradaya. All this can only be rectified by sadhu-sanga, but IRM are unwilling to accept either sadhu-sanga, or the conclusion that it is necessary. The cause of IRM's confused conclusions is that they have dispensed with the association of living bhagavatas.
My next paper will point out IRM's spectacular misunderstanding of the diksa process.