In the nearly six months since the disappearance of our beloved Guardian, Srila Govinda Maharaja, several issues have sprung up which have caused some confusion and concern in our devotional community
This is to be expected,
“There may be disturbances. Rather we say there should be, there may even be fighting amongst devotees, but we should not leave the preaching of Mahaprabhu, despite all differences. Disturbance must come, because our most beloved guru has withdrawn from amongst us. Such a great curse has been thrown on our heads; should we like to live peacefully? In its wake, disturbances must come, and we must undergo them. Still, we must remain sincere; we must face the difficulty in a proper way. It has come to train us to go in the right direction.”
–Sri Guru and His Grace, Chapter 5., “God Consciousness vs. Society Consciousness”.
The first issue we undertook to explain was Srila Govinda Maharaja’s selection of six sannyasis to fulfill the role of Acharya in various parts of the world. There had been a misunderstanding that Srila Gurudeva intended only one Acharya for the worldwide mission. My article addressing this misconception in July of this year, “Srila Govinda Maharaja did not choose a single Acharya“ was received with some skepticism at first but now seems to be broadly accepted as clarifying that matter. This is now acknowledged by all six of the Acharyas named by Srila Govinda Maharaja, four of which (Srila’s Janardana Maharaja, Ashrama Maharaja, Acharya Maharaja, Avadhuta Maharaja) have stated their agreement publicly in a joint statement:
A similar acknowledgement was made in an email addressed to “leading devotees worldwide”.
I am optimistic that a similar broad acceptance of the following clarification of the role of the Acharya Boards will occur once the facts are explained in a logical and dispassionate fashion.
My primary reason for writing this article, as it was for the aforementioned one, is to help calm the minds of those who have become agitated and confused by contradictory opinions regarding the Acharya Boards.
I have, as with the previous issue, received numerous questions regarding these two Acharya Boards. Rather than continuing to answer each one individually I will attempt to clear the confusion herein for the benefit of all our readers.
There is one more note I would like to make before continuing. After addressing the previous matter of the flawed “Single Acharya Theory”, as I came to call it, some questions arose regarding my loyalty. To be clear, my loyalty is to the conception of Krishna Consciousness as it was preached and practiced by my Gurus, Srila A.C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Maharaja, Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja and Srila B.S. Govinda Maharaja. Next, my loyalty is to all those who are similarly attempting to pursue the ideals of that conception. When I perceive a clash such as those described in chapter five of Sri Guru and His Grace I will always try to pursue the Absolute consideration over the relative, and God Consciousness over society consciousness.
In 1982, a few months after receiving sannyasa from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, such clashes arose and I was pressed by the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to choose between the above pursuits. Without going into all the details, a long debate with a committee of six of the GBC ended with me telling them “If you cannot justify what you are saying on the basis of our philosophy, I will not follow you.” Soon afterwards I explained this to Srila Sridhara Maharaja who appeared very pleased and said “Yes, our philosophy is everything.” It has now been almost thirty years since I heard those words from His Divine Grace and still I remember them very clearly. I will do my utmost to give attention to them always. In this, I pray for the blessings and well wishes of you all.
Srila Gurudeva’s direction to create two separate and distinct Acharya Boards with different functions, members and terms has been widely misunderstood.
It is not surprising that such confusion would arise when the term “Acharya Board” is being used indiscriminately to refer to the two different “Acharya Boards” as if they were one and the same.
There are several instances of this. For brevity, I will only examine the most recent one here.
On Oct. 8, 2010 the following items first appeared on the Navadwipa Math website. The small “Acharya Board” photo (shown below) that appeared underneath that of Srila Acharya Maharaja on the homepage was a link. Clicking on this photo:
The Acharya Board of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.
took me here:
The above “Acharya Board” created March 7, 2010, consisting of the five sannyasis pictured above was actually given the name “International Acharyya Board” (IAB) by Srila Govinda Maharaja as is evidenced by the above attached document.
As this document specifies the formation of “Boards”, plural, there are obviously more pages outlining the formation of other Boards in addition to the International Acharya Board. This was corroborated by a trusted friend with knowledge of the matter. Although I have requested them, I have not, as yet, been able to obtain copies of the missing pages.
Something that appears in print tends to be accepted as authoritative and without sufficient knowledge of the matter we would think, after seeing the above, the International Acharya Board (IAB) is the one and only Acharya Board and that it has been given the responsibility and power to “regulate” the Acharyas and deal with other important matters.
The last sentence above the document reads (emphasis added), “Srila Sridhar Maharaj in earlier days pointed out that only those who are Acharyas can regulate Acharyas, and not that an Acharya is subject to the opinion of the non-Acharya section.”
The most glaring problem with using this idea of Srila Sridhara Maharaja to support the proposition that the IAB has the power to regulate the Acharyas is that one of the members of the five member IAB, Sripada Goswami Maharaja, actually belongs to the category of “the non-Acharya section”.
Sripada Goswami Maharaja is many things. He is a great preacher, learned scholar and recipient of much praise, recognition and affection from our gurus, our devotees and myself. But, he was not named as an Acharya in Srila Gurudeva’s last will and testament which supersedes any previously created wills, trusts, boards, committees, etc..
Srila Gurudeva did not specify five Acharyas, or four, or seven, he specified six. They are, as specifically named in his will, myself, Sripadas Janardana Maharaja, Ashrama Maharaja, Acharya Maharaja, Trivikrama Maharaja and Avadhuta Maharaja. Each is unique in his own way but Srila Govinda Maharaja did not state that any one of them was either superior to or inferior to any of the others, (another misconception). I therefore accept all of them as being on an equal footing, the Acharyas named by Srila Govinda Maharaja, to fulfill the role and function of an Acharya,
“It is said acaryam mam vijaniyan, the spiritual master is not to be differentiated. One thing is coming down from the Supreme Lord, so the oneness of continuity is not to be ignored. Guru can be here; guru can be in another body also. The same teacher may come in a different body to inspire us; he may come to give us new hope and higher education. The substance should always be given a higher value than the form.”
–Sri Guru and His Grace, Chapter 3.
I cannot accept that Srila Gurudeva established different ranks of Acharya for different regions of the world, meaning that one region would be favored by a higher Acharya while another is neglected by him designating a lower Acharya to serve there.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja used to joke about those that held the conception “little guru, little mantra, big guru, big mantra” (chota guru, chota mantra, para guru, para mantra). Srila Govinda Maharaja also laughed at the idea as do I.
When one of my good friends said he would defer the post of Acharya to another on the grounds that, “When higher seed is available, that should be distributed.”, I protested saying, “The seed (mantra) we are distributing is that of His Divine Grace Srila Govinda Maharaja. He has given that seed to each of the Acharyas to distribute. We should not think we are distributing our own seed. We are each distributing his seed. And that is being done, by his order, not independently.”
Apparently some may think Srila Govinda Maharaja made a mistake in naming some as Acharya while neglecting to name others. I do not think His Divine Grace made such a mistake. Anyone who thinks he did will find it difficult to maintain the proper faith in Guru.
To continue the analysis of the language used above that would appear to justify the International Acharya Board’s regulation of the Acharyas, “Srila Sridhar Maharaj in earlier days pointed out that only those who are Acharyas can regulate Acharyas, and not that an Acharya is subject to the opinion of the non-Acharya section.” I think it would be best to see the entire context from which I believe the idea was derived and also see the exact words used by Srila Sridhara Maharaja, found in the following conversation, presented in part below, which can be viewed or heard in its entirety by clicking HERE.
Jayapataka Maharaja: On his order. (Bengali) Can there be any restriction on the activities of the guru?Devotee: (Background): These are very complicatedHarikesha Maharaja: Because we are working within a government with. We have GBC, Governing Body, it’s a Governing Body of the whole society.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes.
Devotee: So, it is possible that even if some members of the Governing Body, they are not gurus, but can the Governing Body as a whole make a restriction on the activity of an individual guru.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: (Laughter) A most difficult thing, (more laughter), a non-guru comes to regulate the gurus. Is it not?
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Those who are not fit for guru, who are not considered to be fit for guru, he will come to guide the guru? So many gurus, is it? So, it would be better that the Governing, all the members of the Governing Body were guru, and they are all Acharyas.
Tamal Krshna Maharaja: They are all Acharyas.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: The assembly of Acharyas, they will consult with each other.
Tamal Krshna Maharaja: And make rules.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: The Acharya Sabha, the assembly of the Acharyas, they will perform the function about all the spiritual matters. Acharya board. There should be an Acharya Board to guide the whole thing from behind, without non-Acharya within the meeting. Then if anybody within the meeting, then if anybody is considered to be the most expert for the management, he will work under the Acharya Board. What he has said, you must carry out that at present, but I think gradually you will have to…
This brings us to the next “Acharya Board” which was named in Srila Gurudeva’s will dated March 26, 2010. (emphasis added)
For clarity I will refer to the Acharya Board of Srila Gurudeva’s will as “Acharya Sabha” and the previously discussed board as the “International Acharya Board” (IAB).
I do not detect any significant difference between the composition and function of the Acharya Sabha mentioned in the above quotation from Srila Sridhara Maharaja and that mentioned in Srila Gurudeva’s will. Therefore, I will henceforth use them interchangeably.
The document titled, “Formation of International Boards of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math” and dated March 7, 2010 reads as follows:
With effect from today, 7 March 2010, I have formed the following Boards so that Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Nabadwip, and its Indian and International spiritually affiliated Centres continue to follow the directives and desires of the Founder President Acharyya Srila B.R. Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj and myself his successor and Sevaite President Acharyya Swami B.S. Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj.With the formation of these new Boards, I hereby cancel any previous Committees, Trust Boards, etc. made in relation to the management of this Mission. International Acharyya Board
There can be no doubt of Srila Gurudeva’s intent when issuing this memorandum “I hereby cancel any previous Committees, Trust Boards, etc. made in relation to the management of this Mission.”
Whatever Boards were formed as directed by this memorandum would supplant any previously organized Trust Boards, etc.
Srila Gurudeva’s will has this same effect when applied to Boards formed under the memo “Formation of International Boards of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math” (FIB). That is, all of Srila Gurudeva’s previously stated desires for the governance of the worldwide mission by certain boards formed in accordance with the FIB are replaced with his stated desires for governance in his will.
As is customary and proper for any will, Srila Gurudeva states in the first paragraph of his will dated March 26, 2010,
“I…declare and state that this is my last will, notwithstanding any will made by me at any previous time. I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made. I declare that after my demise:”
What follows is about 7 pages of directives that he expects his followers to obey. Among them are extensive directives for the governance of the mission. Previously issued directives such as the Formation of International Boards and the subsequent International Acharyya Board, are superseded and canceled by Srila Gurudeva’s will of Mar. 26.
For example: “It is my desire that a new Trust Board,…”Primary Trust”, shall be formed…and the authority of this Primary Trust shall be supreme over any and all other Trusts.” (Gurudeva’s Last Will and Testament, p.1)
In the above example it is seen that “Trust Board” and “Trusts” (“all other Trusts”) are used interchangeably just as in the FIB where the terms “Committees”, “Trust Boards”, “etc.” are understood to mean all the various entities considered to be “in relation to the management of this Mission”. Thus the new Primary Trust, when established, as it has been, renders all previous Trusts, Boards, Committees, etc., irrelevant, superfluous, powerless and unnecessary. This includes the International Acharya Board and all other Boards formed as a result of the FIB memo.
All the other Boards derived from the FIB have, in fact, been disbanded and replaced by the Primary Trust. Only the IAB continues to linger, apparently as an association of a small number of our missions leaders, not as an official Board designated with any duties given to it in Srila Gurudeva’s Last Will and Testament.
Again, since the IAB contains both Acharya and non-Acharya members it cannot properly perform the function of the Acharya Sabha as directed in Srila Gurudeva’s will.
Since the “Primary Trust shall be supreme over any and all other Trusts [Boards]”, even if one thought the International Acharya Board was not revoked by the will and should survive going forward into the time governed by Gurudeva’s will, it would then be supplanted by the supremacy of the Primary Trust relegating the IAB to the dust bin.
Clearly, the International Acharya Board’s relevance was ended when the necessity to transition the society’s governance to the provisions of Srila Gurudeva’s will became apparent.
If, however, one still wanted to cling to the idea of some sweeping authority of the IAB such as that which would allow the regulation of the Acharyas, you would have to look at the purpose of the Boards to be created by the FIB:
“I have formed the following Boards so that Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Nabadwip, and its Indian and International spiritually affiliated Centres continue to follow the directives and desires of the Founder President Acharyya Srila B.R. Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj and myself his successor and Sevaite President Acharyya Swami B.S. Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj.”
In short, the purpose of the International Acharya Board is to insure we “continue to follow the directives and desires of the…Acharyya Swami B.S. Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj”.
Thus, if the IAB were to serve any function at all after Srila Gurudeva’s disappearance, it should be to usher in the will (the “directives and desires of the…Acharyya Swami B.S. Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj”), see that the Primary Trust is established, and then retire.
Instead, the IAB is portraying itself as its own version of the Acharya Sabha (“to consult with one another regarding all spiritual matters and to give guidance to all Trust Boards”) but with both Acharya and non-Acharya members, in violation of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s instructions.
Let’s look again at the direction in the will concerning the Acharya Sabha,
“An Acharya Board (Acharya Sabha) shall be formed, composed of initiating acharyas, to consult with one another regarding all spiritual matters and to give guidance to all Trust Boards.”
Technically the will is silent as to who should cause the formation of the Acharya Sabha. (I have requested all the Acharyas to meet for this purpose several times with no success). Neither does the will specify that every initiating Acharya should be on the Sabha. I was told by one Acharya (Sripada Janardana Maharaja) that only some of the initiating Acharyas should be members, not all the initiating Acharyas, as seemed obvious to me.
I then asked, “And who will decide which of the Acharyas will be on the Sabha?”. I was surprised by his quick response, “The [International] Acharya Board.”
No, the IAB with its combined Acharya, non-Acharya membership, should not decide who will be allowed on the Acharya Sabha and who will be excluded. All the Acharyas should be included so that they may all “consult with one another regarding all spiritual matters and to give guidance to all Trust Boards”.
And, as Srila Sridhara Maharja states it, “The Acharya Sabha, the assembly of the Acharyas, they will perform the function about all the spiritual matters. Acharya board. There should be an Acharya Board to guide the whole thing from behind, without non-Acharya within the meeting.”
After nearly six months time, there is still no Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math Acharya Sabha to “guide the whole thing from behind”.
Again, Srila Gurudeva did not establish any rank among the Acharyas that would have the effect of granting superior privilege to one over another or the power to decide who would be included or excluded from the Acharya Sabha. He simply named six Acharya’s for six different regions of the world. Some, he named for one city or Math, like Soquel (Janardana Maharaja) and others for an entire country such as Brazil (Trivikrama Maharaja).
Before the International Acharya Board dispenses more of its unsought blessings and superfluous decrees upon those already blessed and instructed by Srila Govinda Maharaja to do the work of Acharya, I pray they will give due consideration to what I have written here.
I believe it is unfortunate that after passing six months devoid of a true Acharya Sabha, I have begun hearing jokes such as this remark, referring to those making the superfluous decrees, as the “Acharya Fatwa”, rather than the Acharya Sabha. It is not pleasant to hear such joking but it is easy for one to conclude that the IAB have brought it upon themselves.
When a government, or other authority, oversteps its bounds, those subject to it lose their respect for such an authority and ignore it or rebel against it. An example of this can be found here in the USA in the 1920’s when the Federal government attempted to enforce a total prohibition of alcohol.
To borrow from Wikipedia: “While Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, it tended to destroy society by other means, as it stimulated the proliferation of rampant underground, organized and widespread criminal activity.” Otherwise law abiding citizens were simply pushed too far by what they saw as an overreaching government. Thus they ignored the mandate against alcohol and purchased it the only way they could, from those willing to deal in contraband.
Until the Acharya Sabha has met, with all six of the Acharyas named in Srila Gurudeva’s will being invited to participate, and the meeting arranged in such a manner as to allow that participation, I do not recognize the authority of any Acharya Board because, none exists. It would not surprise me if a large number of our members will soon come to the same conclusion, and rightfully so.
If a bonafide Acharya Sabha does not take shape in the near future it will be seen as a disregard for the final instructions left to us by His Divine Grace. As a result, we may lose the respect of many stalwarts in our mission along with many others.
Those of us from ISKCON who faced the disappearance of our Guru, Srila Swami Maharaja, should know that history tends to repeat itself. Fortunately, we were guided through the turmoil accompanying our Guru’s disappearance by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. We know what to expect when a mission’s management makes decisions that cannot be respected by the sincere souls serving in the mission.
As a reminder, here are some of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s comments I find relevant:
“In my personal opinion I think that the decision is unhappy and injudicious, the decision…is unhappy and injudicious, it seems to me. And the consequence will be that many independent Acharyas will spring up, will stand up as the result of this bigoted policy. This is my personal opinion.”
He also feared that many other sincere souls would leave the mission:
“So we should sit together and try to evolve, that valuable persons that came to serve Swami Maharaja with all their energy and sincerity, they will go away, it is very regrettable. We should try to save the mission from that great disaster. I hear that so many stalwarts, they are going to the unknown quarter. They are depressed because they do not see a fair field.”
Any group of people may meet to discuss any matter they like, whether they be Acharyas or anyone else. That is not a problem. However, when our devotees become confused, as they must, being told the International Acharya Board represents some official Board of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, it is too much to tolerate without attempting to correct the error, as I have done herewith.
I pray no one will take offense at my words, especially my Acharya brothers and nephews who I see as all being exalted devotees serving with faith and determination and who are really like so many suns compared to this insignificant glow worm, to borrow an example from Srila Sridhara Maharaja.
I have presented these same points on many occasions to the International Acharya Board as a group and to most of its members individually. For the most part they seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
If the International Acharya Board or any of its members believe I have written something wrong, I welcome their response and will see that it is published here with the same attention and prominence as this article of mine.
I further welcome any factual corrections or philosophical rebuttals whether they be from the IAB or any of the devotees of our mission.
We are all students. I am a student and welcome the chance to learn from my friends. I cannot learn or make progress if I do not expose my thoughts to criticism by others.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja- So in these last weeks I have insulted [scolded?] them permanently and the talk has been recorded? You caught me?”Dhira Krishna Swami- “I won’t distribute this recording. I will not distribute…”Srila Sridhara Maharaja- “Yes, you may distribute.”
Dhira Krishna Swami- “Then I will.”
Srila Sridhara Maharaja- “What I am within me, the people will know, and they will abuse me. But what I am, if I need to be abused, it will be well and good. Any offenses will be purged out.” – 82.02.25.E @ 31:45
Praying at the lotus feet of my Divine Masters and all the devotees of the Lord to be merciful to this humble jiva,
I am, Swami B.K. Giri
Copies of this article, with a request for comments, have been sent to Srila Janardana Maharaja, Srila Ashrama Maharaja, Srila Acharya Maharaja, Srila Avadhuta Maharaja and Srila Trivikarama Maharaja.