“This is Heart’s Feeling-Sentiment” — a Letter from Srila Giri Maharaja

BKG1983November 20, 2014

Dear ___________,

Please accept my humble obeisances and well-wishes in remembrance of my Divine Masters.

I have carefully read your four emails attached below and felt the need to give attention to them, even though you have suggested it is not necessary.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja has told us that every serving unit is an important player in the pastimes of Sri Krishna. You are one of those serving units and deserve encouragement in your difficult task of marching ever forward toward the supreme goal of life.

The problems, confusion and difficulties you mentioned in your emails are not trifling matters and occur with regularity in varying degrees with many persons in the line of Krishna Consciousness. As such, they have been dealt with extensively by our Sri Guru Varga. Reading your emails I was reminded of one quotation that addresses many of your concerns. Please read it carefully and give it due consideration.

“If one develops love for Krsna by Krsna conscious activities, one can know the Supreme Absolute Truth, but he who tries to understand God simply by logical arguments will not succeed, nor will he get a taste for unalloyed devotion. The secret is that one must submissively listen to those who know perfectly the science of God, and one must begin the mode of service regulated by the preceptor. A devotee already attracted by the name, form, qualities, etc., of the Supreme Lord may be directed to his specific manner of devotional service; he need not waste time in approaching the Lord through logic. The expert spiritual master knows well how to engage his disciple’s energy in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, and thus he engages a devotee in a specific devotional service according to his special tendency. A devotee must have only one initiating spiritual master because in the scriptures acceptance of more than one is always forbidden. There is no limit, however, to the number of instructing spiritual masters one may accept. Generally a spiritual master who constantly instructs a disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on.

One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. One who is not properly initiated may present himself as a great devotee, but in fact he is sure to encounter many stumbling blocks on his path of progress toward spiritual realization, with the result that he must continue his term of material existence without relief. Such a helpless person is compared to a ship without a rudder, for such a ship can never reach its destination. It is imperative, therefore, that one accept a spiritual master if he at all desires to gain the favor of the Lord. The service of the spiritual master is essential. If there is no chance to serve the spiritual master directly, a devotee should serve him by remembering his instructions. There is no difference between the spiritual master’s instructions and the spiritual master himself. In his absence, therefore, his words of direction should be the pride of the disciple. If one thinks that he is above consulting anyone else, including a spiritual master, he is at once an offender at the lotus feet of the Lord. Such an offender can never go back to Godhead. It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.”

Bhaktivedanta Swami, Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi lila 1:35

I am not aware of the specifics of your situation or those of the relationship between Sripadas Keshava Maharaja and Trivikrama Maharaja. Generally such devotees should be regarded as being in the rank of your Guru Varga and afforded the respect due to the transcendental devotees of the Lord.

Godbrothers often have differences of opinion, sometimes mild and sometimes severe. To protect our devotional creeper, and especially our faith in Sri Gurudeva, we disciples have been advised to strenuously avoid considering such differences to be of a mundane character. We must try to see them, as far as possible, to be expressions emanating from the adhoksaja plane, that plane which is beyond our knowledge and understanding.

The appropriate example is found in the very different delineations of Sri Krishna’s pastimes by Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana Goswamis. In one case they ended in Sri Dwaraka Dhama and in the other, Sri Mathura Dhama, respectively.

I asked Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada about this difference between Rupa and Sanatana. He simply said, “It is adhoksaja, beyond our understanding.” So krsna-lila is “un-understandable” (acintya). Everything is not bound to come within our fist. The Supreme Lord has “All Rights Reserved.” This must be understood if we at all want to be in connection with that plane of reality. — The Golden Volcano of Divine Love

A Godbrother will generally see his Godbrother guru, not from the Absolute Plane, but from a relative plane. In that relationship there is much room to differ on how to best serve Sri Sri Guru and Krishna, assuming both Godbrothers are of similar adhikara, spiritual standing.

A disciple, on the other hand, must always try his best to push such a relative vision of his guru to a very distant quarter. He must try his utmost to see his guru as standing firmly on the Absolute Plane. It is an offense to the Holy Name to consider a qualified guru to be an ordinary man.

To leave one’s guru, after once accepting him as one’s eternal guide and master, is, as Srila Sridhara Maharaja said, “very unhappy.” It should only be considered in such cases where a guru has clearly departed from the teachings of his own guru or cannot maintain the dignity of the position due to moral shortcomings that appear to be irreversible. Even then, it is advisable to only take such a decision after consultation with advanced devotees of good standing in positions superior to one’s own.

In my opinion Srila Govinda Maharaja made it very clear who should initiate within Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. He named six sannyasis in his Last Will and Testament who were to serve this function.

At the same time, he made allowance in his Will that others, who were not named, could initiate outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math with these caveats:

“But if one becomes “Rtvik” on his own, then it’s a different matter. I will not take their responsibility.”

“If anyone wishes to give initiation outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, they can do that, but will be considered an outsider from Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.”

These statements are subject to many interpretations. I tend to favor strict interpretations while others take a broad license with them.

Immediately after reading Srila Gurudeva’s Will I characterized Srila Govinda Maharaja’s decision to name six acharyas to succeed him in this way: “Six acharyas means six sampradayas and six missions.” I believe time has shown this statement to be a correct one.

My statement was based on historical precedent, common sense, the meaning of acharya and his function and duties.

Looking to the missions of Srila Saraswati Thakura, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami, Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja there was a single acharya. No one other than that single acharya sought to initiate their own disciples. Neither was there any thinking to do so, nor was it considered permissible.

After Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance Srila Sridhara Maharaja struggled to find a means to accommodate the situation in ISKCON that resulted from Srila Prabhupada naming eleven of his disciples to perform the function of guru after his disappearance. Srila Sridhara Maharaja often referred to these eleven devotees as acharyas or gurus and he dealt with them and their disciples, as far as possible, in a manner respectful of this status. At the same time he saw them in the rank of students of his fellow spiritual master and intimate friend, Srila Prabhupada. As such, he expected them to accept his advice on a par with that of Srila Prabhupada.

Many of my opinions of events following Srila Govinda Maharaja’s disappearance derive substantially from Srila Govinda Maharaja’s Last Will and Testament and the following conversation, which I invite you to read:

Srila Sridhar Maharaja “Conversation With The GBC March 1978″

The plane of Krishna Consciousness is a dynamic one. That said, the problems encountered by disciples, as they progress along the path of devotion, are consistent and predictable. Therefore, our gurus have spent a great deal of time addressing these problems and have given us a wealth of instruction and guidance, such as that above, intended to help succeeding gurus and disciples. Understanding these instructions makes for straight forward solutions to these problems. Speculation, doubt and confusion are eliminated for those who accept and follow the directions of our predecessor acharyas.

In addition to the two sources referenced above I have had the good fortune, over many years, of hearing many instructions about these matters from great devotees who have imparted their teachings to me personally and through the media of guru, shastra and sadhu. I try my best to draw from all of these when offering advice to anyone.

While the knowledge available to us is infinite, our ability to assimilate it is meager. We must therefore act not only with enthusiasm and eagerness, but also with diligence and patience.

I believe Srila Govinda Maharaja, following in the footsteps of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, succeeded in outlining in his Will a structure for Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and his successor acharyas that, if followed, allows for multiple acharyas (six) under the banner of a single general mission, Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, who each maintain a position of exclusivity and autocracy with their disciples and within their particular preaching missions.

Srila Govinda Maharaja, although naming six acharyas to succeed him, wrote this in his Will:

There will be one single Acharya, Sevaite and President of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math [Navadwipa and the Indian group of temples]. That will be Sri Bhakti Nirmal Acharyya, because he has been rendering service, taking all trouble and responsibility upon himself. No one else will be entitled to do the same.

He made a similar statement with regards to Sripada Avadhuta Maharaja:

The devotees of Russia shall follow Sripad Avadhut Maharaj completely. If one hundred percent is not possible, at least all concerned will respect and regard him, because Sripad Bhakti Bimal Avadhut Maharaj has taken the leading role in the propagation of the Mission in Russia since the beginning.

Is it not clear that Srila Govinda Maharaja was directing these two acharyas and, by implication, the other four, along with all those to whom his Will is directed, that each acharya would be the autocratic authority of a mission he would head, just as Srila Govinda Maharaja and his predecessor gurus had done with respect to their preaching missions?

Srila Govinda Maharaja was always very clear that Srila Sridhara Maharaja was the absolute authority within Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. Srila Sridhara Maharaja never shirked from asserting himself as such, “Acharya means he holds all the assets but none of the liabilities.” And, in turn, neither did Srila Govinda Maharaja, who expected to see this position of acharya maintained by his successors;  “therefore as successor he will get absolute power to do the same subsequently.” (LWT)

Therefore, six acharyas, six sampradayas and six missions.

At the same time, although naming multiple successors, Srila Govinda Maharaja made no mention whatsoever of increasing the number of acharyas within SCSM beyond the six he named in his Will. He and he alone held the power to name an acharya or acharyas to succeed him and he did not delegate that power to anyone else, including the Acharya Sabha he directed to be formed.

Certainly other disciples or Godbrothers may initiate, but outside SCSM; just as Srila Sridhara Maharaja, during his time, encouraged others to initiate, but only outside SCSM. Even though he offered recognition to others as acharyas and maintained friendly dealings and relationships with them, he would not tolerate them initiating disciples within his mission, or even on the premises of his Maths.

A bonafide acharya will not feel much inclined towards restraint by anyone except his own predecessor acharyas. Except for them he is an independent agent with his only allegiance being to that of the fully independent Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna.

He will respect other devotees but weigh their opinions as he judges them by the proportion of their adherence to the instructions of his guru, the shastras, etc.

He may consult and fraternize extensively with his Godbrothers, other acharyas and so forth or, he may not. The histories offer examples of both types of behavior. It is all part of the extensively variegated nature of the play of the Sweet Absolute.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja referred to this when his advice was being sought by the ISKCON GBC (See above link.) shortly after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance:

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: In our system-both the autocracy and democracy-it cannot go together, cannot go together. But ours is a autocratic thing, extremely autocratic. Guru is all in all. As you will do and experience yourself, the guru, our submission to guru is unconditional. We’ve felt a great difficulty. Submission to guru is unconditional. So, when I shall see that my guru’s powers are being pressed by other guru, another Vaisnava, it will create a great disturbance in the mind of the sisya.

Now you are feeling this disturbance, as many others do, as a result of the unwise and unhealthy imposition of a pseudo “Acharya Board” upon the members of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math which has delegated unto itself powers and authority Srila Govinda Maharaja never intended. He did not grant them the power to make acharyas or unseat an acharya. Yet they suppose themselves to have this authority and act recklessly in asserting it.

In doing so they have disrupted and corrupted the relationship between guru and disciple that is of primal importance and significance, that the sishya’s faith in his guru will not be disturbed and, for that, the guru must be seen by the disciple to hold a position of autocracy, to the extreme degree: “But ours is a autocratic thing, extremely autocratic. Guru is all in all.”

Srila Sridhara Maharaja tried to soften the blow a bit by offering a solution to the difficulty of working in a combined way in an organization where there are multiple gurus.

But, our Krsna conscious conception of Godhead has come to relieve you. Whom we think the Supreme-most Krsna, Yasoda is whipping Him and Nanda’s paduka (shoes), He is taking on the head-the Supreme-most devata, Deity. So, in this way also, we can adjust-both the absolute faith and the relative position of the non-absolute. These two things should be harmonized.

The solution works in situations where an acharya perceives the advice or wisdom of another, or others, to be superior to his own. Absent that, he may submit, believing his submission to be in furtherance of the will or direction of his guru, or other superior Vaishnavas. It is sure to fail, however, when those perceived as equals, or less, attempt to impose their decisions forcefully upon him. He may even forcefully oppose such impositions when they are seen as being in direct opposition to the clear direction of his predecessor gurus and acharyas.

The harmony Srila Sridhara Maharaja refers to (“These two things should be harmonized.”) must come for both the gurus and the disciples. But it is the gurus, acharyas, who hold the principal responsibility for establishing this harmonious relationship between the “absolute faith and the relative position of the non-absolute.” The disciple should simply follow his guru without inserting himself into the decision making process carried out between his guru and his Godbrothers or other acharyas. That will bring the ultimate harmony for the disciple.

“But if one becomes “Rtvik” on his own, then it’s a different matter. I will not take their responsibility.”

A reasonable interpretation of this statement will show that Keshava Maharaja did not become “‘Rtvik’ on his own” if, as you have stated, he assumed the responsibility of initiating disciples after taking permission from his sannyasa guru, who is one of those named by Srila Govinda Maharaja to succeed him. Following that line of thinking it may be assumed that the blessings of Srila Govinda Maharaja are also with Sripada Keshava Maharaja.

Now let us consider the ramifications of this portion of Srila Govinda Maharaja’s Will:

“If anyone wishes to give initiation outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, they can do that, but will be considered an outsider from Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.”

First, “outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math”, the legal organization, does not necessarily mean apart from Srila Sridhara Maharaja or Srila Govinda Maharaja. I wrote something previously that touches on this subject. It is titled “Who’s allowed to initiate in my line?” and may be found here: https://scsmathglobal.com/?p=6787

For the sake of discussion, let us consider, in accordance with my opinion “Six acharyas means six sampradayas and six missions.”, that Trivikrama Maharaja now has his own sampradaya and his own mission. On its face, this does not mean his mission is “outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math”. Rather, the opposite is true. Srila Govinda Maharaja intended that all six of the acharyas he named would initiate within Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, although six (missions) in number, and each distinct, being directed by its particular acharya.

In this regard we may consider the view of Srila Sridhara Maharaja towards ISKCON, his own Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and the Maths and missions of many of his Godbrothers. To the extent they adhered to the philosophy and precepts of Srila Saraswati Thakura, he considered all of them as parts of “Sri Gaudiya Math”, his Guru Maharaja’s institution, in the same manner as we consider many acharyas, although heads of their own sampradayas, to be within the same Sri Gaudiya Sampradaya of Sriman Mahaprabhu.

As if to draw attention to this conception of unity in diversity, Srila Sridhara Maharaja went so far as to challenge the leaders of ISKCON, who were attempting to oust him from ISKCON, saying “We shall see who is thrown out of ISKCON.”

Although he was the head of his own mission, he did not believe this excluded him from being regarded as a member of ISKCON due to his intimate relationship with Srila Prabhupada who invited him into ISKCON, an invitation he could not resist; “By affection’s force I was drawn into ISKCON.” He was, thereby, and quite naturally, the well-wisher of ISKCON and its members, despite false propaganda to the contrary.

We know the principal of acintya bhedabheda tattva allows for contradictory elements to live harmoniously under the umbrella of vaikuntha vrtti, the all harmonizing plane of the Supreme Absolute Truth.

Those who adhere strictly to the teachings of our Sri Guru Varga, following in the line of our predecessor acharyas, will be accepted as bonafide practitioners by all Gaudiya Vaishnavas regardless of the name attached to a particular organization or mission which includes them as a member. An acharya’s mission lives with the acharya. However, a mission that deviates from the acharya lives on its own, separate from him and is his mission in name only.

I joined and received first and second initiation within ISKCON, during the time of Srila Prabhupada. After our Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance many of my Godbrothers and Godsisters admonished me and others, who took shelter of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, that if we left ISKCON we would be leaving Srila Prabhupada. They thought we could only be faithful to him by keeping our faith in ISKCON. To prove their point they offered a quotation from Srila Prabhupada in which he says “I am ISKCON.”

I considered that statement to have been misunderstood by them in the same way the mayavadis misunderstand the statement “aham brahmasmi” (I am brahman, spirit). The brahmavadis take it this way: “I am brahman, God is brahman. Therefore, I am God.” They are spirit. God is also spirit. But there is a difference between them and God. That difference is explained in the verse nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām, eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13). There are unlimited eternal spiritual entities. I am one of them. God is also one of them. But there is a difference. One, God, is independent of all the others; and all others, such as myself, are dependent upon Him.

So, Srila Prabhupada is ISKCON, that is alright, but ISKCON is the dependent entity and Srila Prabhupada is the independent entity. Just as he created ISKCON, he may dissolve it, as he did the League of Devotees. Likewise, he will decide who is within and who is outside of his ISKCON.

Soon after I received sannyasa from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the leaders of ISKCON insisted that I discard my sannyasa and my connection with him. After refusing to comply, they declared that I, and others of similar disposition, were no longer to be considered members of ISKCON, should not be allowed to preach in ISKCON and ISKCON devotees should not associate with us. They even went so far as to declare me a poisonous snake, an offender to Srila Prabhupada and many other things.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja took a different view. They both considered me to be a chaste and loyal disciple of Srila Prabhupada, as they did all his disciples who were faithful to his direction, teachings, philosophical positions and siddhanta.

Now to directly address the point of whether or not Sripada Keshava Maharaja is in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math or outside it. In my opinion, if he is initiating his own disciples, he must do so outside Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, as Srila Govinda Maharaja directed in his Will.

That does not mean he cannot be welcomed to associate with the devotees of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, maintain friendship with them and even render valuable service to Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja or his successor acharyas and to Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

As an example, during the time of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, Sripada Goswami Maharaja was initiating his own disciples and had his own mission. At the same time he maintained a close connection with Srila Sridhara Maharaja and produced some important books derived from his informal talks. Srila Sridhara Maharaja was very pleased with this, as was Srila Govinda Maharaja and it was accepted as very important service to Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

I have heard the argument being made that since Srila Govinda Maharaja named a particular person to be an acharya, then that person, because he is an acharya, is free to decide if other gurus will also be allowed to initiate within his zone or mission. Yes, he may do so, following the ISKCON model, but at the risk of disobeying Srila Govinda Maharaja’s directions to us, which preclude multiple gurus from initiating within the mission of any one of the six acharyas he named.

The other very notable and substantial risk of such an action, as mentioned earlier, is to the faith of disciples who, like you, will find such arrangements confusing, which in turn leads to one’s diminished faith in his guru. Srila Sridhara Maharaja warned us to be very cautious about this (From the link above):

You see, after the departure of our gurudeva, it was thought that one acarya should be made-then, naturally, different acaryas came. Then, when some of us proposed many acaryas, then I told one thing. “If you want, if anyone marries, a separate room is necessary.” Do you follow? When, so long as you do not marry, you may not have any separate room, but as soon as you will marry, you want a separate house to, to… Whenever a Vaisnava does not initiate he does not want any special place or special respect, but whenever he initiates, he is absolute in the eyes of his disciple. From the corresponding impression [that guru is absolute] he [the disciple] will be carried out [from the mundane plane]. And the sisya will, cannot tolerate that other, any other Vaisnava will come to disturb the absolute position of my guru. This is heart’s feeling-sentiment. How to adjust, very difficult thing.

You see, guru is like a father and we must think, although there are many fathers, (Paraphrasing Srila Govinda Maharaja) “My father is my father. He may be big or he may be small, but he is my father.” My father is my guardian, guide, protector, provider and so forth. I must live in my father’s house and I must follow his direction, even if the direction of other fathers differs with his. Furthermore, those who are really my well-wisher will encourage me to live my life in that way. They will not suggest I disobey my father’s rules or direction.

It is very difficult in this world to place one’s full faith in his guru, but we must have such faith if we are to make sure progress. It is therefore advised that we avoid those who would speak badly about our guru, feel unrestrained to criticize him in our presence or attempt to diminish our faith in him. It may be impossible to entirely avoid such persons or remarks, but we should pay them no mind. Or, if we are strong enough, challenge and defeat them.

We must try to see Sri Krishna represented in the person of our Gurudeva and we must believe that if I will sincerely surrender to Krishna, seeking His mercy and shelter, He will be with me, guiding me in all circumstances so that I may return to my eternal home where He is the Loving Lord of all. To reassure us about this fact Krishna told Arjuna “Declare it boldly, my devotee will never perish.”

“And the sisya will, cannot tolerate that other, any other Vaisnava will come to disturb the absolute position of my guru. This is heart’s feeling-sentiment.”

I pray this finds you well in health and spirits.

With affection,

Swami B.K. Giri