Srila Giri Maharaja “Srila Acharya Maharaja’s Letter: What Is He Saying?”

Srila Bhakti Kanan Giri Maharaja

After almost a year of publicly positing his opposing view of Srila Govinda Maharaja’s directions regarding his successor Acharyas, I am happy to see Srila Acharya Maharaja’s recent statement on his website that he now joins with me in encouraging the other Acharyas named in Srila Govinda Maharaja’s Will to assume their proper roles as full successor Acharyas of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

I have seen a tendency to regard this statement of Srila Acharya Maharaja as an admission that his previously held idea was wrong. A careful reading of his letter of 3/23/11 leads me to conclude the opposite. He is stating his previous view was correct, but the present circumstances prevent him from continuing the same course, for now.

One friend suggested this was appropriate because a direct acknowledgement of wrongdoing was undignified for an Acharya. I disagreed. Under some circumstances I might agree, but not this one, which could generously be characterized as following bad advice from one he had reason to expect would be giving him good advice, namely Sripada Goswami Maharaja, who led the way in promoting the single Acharya theory, that single Acharya being Srila Acharya Maharaja.

I am also left to wonder if it might be Sripada Goswami Maharaja’s tendency to move in erratic ways, coupled with his ability to persuade others to follow him along to the next fad, that caused Srila Govinda Maharaja to exclude his name from the Will as an Acharya.

An Acharya Sabha formed in accordance with Srila Gurudeva’s direction, comprised of the initiating Acharyas named in his Will, would certainly be very different from the International Acharya Board currently “headed” by Srila Acharya Maharaja, but actually being directed by Sripada Goswami Maharaja.

Goswami Maharaja’s insistence that the International Acharya Board continue to masquerade as the Acharya Sabha of Gurudeva’s Will, simply to continue the illusion that he is some sort of quasi Acharya, should tell us all we need to know about it.

An Acharya Sabha, however, consisting of the six initiating Acharyas specifically named by Srila Govinda Maharaja, might be able to resist the temptation to radically deviate from Srila Govinda Maharaja’s Will, since they would be at least somewhat insulated from the tempting deviations called for by Sripada Goswami Maharaja who would, at least, not be seated as a member of such a Sabha.

Certainly it should be clear to everyone by now that the single Acharya theory, or the one successor idea, so popular a year ago has now fallen into disrepute, at least partially. Sentiment still seems to be overriding siddhanta and Gaudiya Math tradition. The Acharyas who were once insisting that only Acharya Maharaja’s photo should be added to the paramparas, in the regions where they were the only ones named by Srila Govinda Maharaja to be Acharyas, are still reluctant to replace Acharya Maharaja’s photo with theirs alone in accordance with Gaudiya Math tradition. At least they are now adding their own photos to the parampara alongside that of Srila Acharya Maharaja.

This arrangement of the pramampara photos will tend to misguide those who see it.
SGM: If they will show in altar Srila Swami Maharaja’s photo, that will be misguide to others. That is, it is not ashram of Srila Swami Maharaja, not his disciple. Disciplic succession. Altar means disciplic succession you will show…”—Srila Govinda Maharaja “Hapaniya Morning Lecture (12/26/93)” @47:45

Just as people will wonder why Srila Swami Maharaja’s photo would appear in the parampara of Srila Sridhara Maharaja Maths, they will wonder why the photo of the Acharya for the Indian group is in the parampara of our Soquel Math, for example, where Srila Govinda Maharaja stated that Srila Janardana Maharaja would be the Acharya and Sevaite.

Different excuses will be made for arranging things in this way. “It is necessary to keep the unity of the Mission.”, for example, the same excuse given for promoting one Acharya over all the others.

I have yet to be convinced that deviating from Srila Govinda Maharaja’s instruction will do more to maintain the unity of the Mission, as was Sripada Goswami Maharaja’s contention, than simply following the clear instructions Srila Govinda Maharaja left us in his Will, which, one would think, were his ideas, the previous Acharya’s ideas, for keeping the Mission unified.

So, back to the question of whether or not an apology would be in order, not only from Srila Acharya Maharaja but from the entire International Acharya Board, for misdirecting the devotees of our Mission into believing Srila Gurudeva intended only one successor Acharya rather than the six he named. I believe such an admission, that mistakes were made, is the best way to get out of the mess they created, and begin anew.

There are many examples in our history where great personalities admitted and repented for their mistakes.

Many years ago Sripada Madhava Puri Maharaja said something to Srila Sridhara Maharaja regarding him and the ISKCON GBC which is very memorable. “Because they think they are Absolute, I see them as relative. But you regard yourself as relative, therefore I see you as Absolute.”

It was Srila Sridhara Maharaja who firmly admonished us “If one thinks that he is finished, that he has attained perfection—we hate it! Even an acharya should consider that he is a student, and not a finished professor who has everything.”

When Sri Narada chastised his disciple Srila Vyasadeva for mahan vyatikramah, doing a great wrong by advising the people to do something in the name of religion, dharma-krte, that was jugupsitam, very condemnable, it was not enough for Vyasa to simply change course. According to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, Vyasa was told by Sri Narada that he must declare openly to the public “So far, what I have given you is more or less of a negative character. Now I have come to give you something positive.”

Srila Saraswati Thakura said many times regarding his disciples “Oh, Bhakti Vinoda Thakura was trying to tell me something but I could not catch it.” He was, thereby, showing himself as one in search of the Absolute rather than one who had Him confined within the clutches of his fist.

If Sripada Goswami Maharaja, Srila Acharya Maharaja, and the other members of the International Acharya Board, would just admit they made a mistake and now wish to correct it by proceeding in the proper fashion, coupled with the formation of an Acharya Sabha, as the proper forum to discuss the spiritual matters of concern to our devotee community, we might get some hope that our Mission could follow the guidelines Srila Gurudeva left for us.

Seeing the Acharyas following Srila Govinda Maharaja’s directions is the best way to unite the devotees of our Mission.

While we are naturally reluctant to criticize others, it is worthwhile to note that while I may offer some critique of a fellow Acharya, a Godbrother, a peer or a junior devotee, we all have some responsibility in that regard when we see something wrong. We may offer our observations in the hope that either we will be set right or they will be. One who is truly my well-wisher, no matter how junior he may be in relation to me, seeing I am about to go out in public without tilaka, will inform me of this fact to spare me embarrassment.

We should not be “drain inspectors” has a different meaning than notifying the proper person when I see “The toilet is overflowing!” so that corrective action can be taken. Common sense should not to be disregarded except in extraordinary cases where faith must take precedence, and we are always advised to follow our conscience.

I intend to explore the above points further in an upcoming article offering a perspective on the Bhagavad Gita verses api cet su-duracaro and ksipram bhavati dharmatma.

Retuning again to Srila Acharya Maharaja’s letter to the devotees dated 3/23/11.

Almost a year has now passed since I stood as a lone voice against Sripada Goswami Maharaja’s insistence that all the Acharyas defer to Srila Acharya Maharaja.

I alone did not defer to him or act as his rtvik for the most simple and basic reason which I expressed then, at the April 7, 2010 meeting of the International Acharya Board (IAB). I shall repeat here what I said then, “Srila Govinda Maharaja named six Acharyas. I do not know why he made that decision but we should follow it.” And, as you might expect, I also insisted “We should form an Acharya Sabha in accordance with Srila Gurudeva’s direction.”

Unfortunately, Sripada Goswami Maharaja continued to insist that there should only be one Acharya for the worldwide mission and, as he told me, “If you do not accept this it will be very dangerous for you. You will not get any support whatsoever from Srila Acharya Maharaja or the Central Math. You will be on your own and should not expect any cooperation from anyone.” I assume Goswami Maharaja did not find it necessary to issue similar threats to bring the other Acharyas in line because they agreed to go along with his scheme.

Sripadas Goswami Maharaja, Janardana Maharaja, Acharya Maharaja and Avadhuta Maharaja were extremely insistent that the International Acharya Board would be the only “Acharya Board.” There would be no Acharya Sabha, as directed by Srila Govinda Maharaja in his Will, consisting of all of the six Acharyas he had named therein.

Instead, they decided to promote Srila Acharya Maharaja as far as they could by making him the “Head” of the rogue board called “International Acharya Board”, which has come to be referred to only as “Acharya Board.”

Afterwards all the Acharyas returned to their various zones to install the photo of Srila Acharya Maharaja in their paramparas, instead of their own photo. I, with the full support of the devotees here, saw my own photo placed in the paramparam following the tradition of Sri Chaitanya Saraswati, and the instructions I heard directly from Srila Govinda Maharaja.

The others then began promoting the idea that Acharya Maharaja was the singular Acharya of the worldwide Mission. As Sripad Ashrama Maharaja put it “…all the initiations and results of the centres… must go to Acharyya Maharaj exclusively and not to [me].” He further declared that he desired to continue as a ritvik of Acharya Maharaja, completely deferring to him.

Although, from that first meeting in April 7, 2010, I have consistently, almost relentlessly, been encouraging the other Acharyas to accept the post of Acharya as Srila Gurudeva directed them to do, they thought it best to follow the direction of Goswami Maharaja, who they thought knew better how to maintain the unity of the worldwide mission than Srila Gurudeva himself.

Now I am happy to report, finally, one Acharya has broken out from the pack and joined me with his own encouragement to the others to do what Gurudeva directed them to do. While the timing is curious, I nonetheless commend him for taking the decision to do this.

Letter of 3/23/11 from Acharya Maharaja to the devotees. Posted on his website.

“I now wish to make clear my approval, insistence, and support of their fully assuming their roles as Acharyas in their respective regions. This is the divine wish of Sirla Gurudeva, as expressed by him personally, and as written in his will. This will be most beneficial for the worldwide mission.”

As with all such communications thus far presented from his website, it leaves us with more questions than answers. He is giving his “approval” so that the other Acharyas may now do what they had been directed to do a year ago by the one true Worldwide Acharya of our Mission, Srila Govinda Maharaja. Why is such “approval” needed from Srila Acharya Maharaja? Superiors offer approval to the actions of their inferiors. Is that his point?

Of course, when the other Acharyas are behaving as if they were his inferiors, who would, thereby, need his approval, we should not blame him too much for displaying this attitude.

He says, “This will be most beneficial for the worldwide mission.” Why is it beneficial for the other Acharyas to fully assume their roles now, but not a year ago? Conversely, if supporting Acharya Maharaja as the sole worldwide Acharya was the right thing to do then, why would it not be so now?

Perhaps we will get some clues from another part of Acharya Maharaja’s letter.

…”I must also express my genuine appreciation and indebtedness to my fellow Acharyas, as in the last year they have deferred to me to help establish me and maintain the stability of the Mission.”

If deferring was the correct behavior for the other Acharyas, then why stop now? They told us they deferred because Acharya Maharaja was the superior Acharya, therefore, we were all expected to defer to him. I was presumed to be a heretic, an anti-party, a faithless person, for not doing so. What has changed?

Are the others now faithless if they choose not to defer as I did? Am I now back in their good graces for having followed the correct course all along? I suspect their answer to both questions would be a resounding “NO.”

The proof offered of Acharya Maharaja’s superiority was that Gurudeva spoke more of him in his Will than any other. He was the only one referred to directly with the word “successor”. Gurudeva made the famous public statement on his appearance day in the Natha Mandira “I have chosen him as the next Acharya of this Math.” “this Math” supposedly meant all the Maths Worldwide. The Navadwipa Math is the “central Math”, the seat of Srila Guru Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja, therefore, Acharya Maharaja’s position is above all others, etc. etc. Sripada Goswami Maharaja was demanding, as recently as a month ago, that I accept Acharya Maharaja’s position above all others. Will his demands now cease?

Why is there no explanation for this sudden reversal? Did they make a mistake? Did they learn anything from it? If so, why not tell us? If not, then what has changed?

Srila Acharya Maharaja writes …”I must also express my genuine appreciation and indebtedness to my fellow Acharyas, as in the last year they have deferred to me to help establish me…”

Why does he not finish the thought? If he did, it would look something like this:

‘I must also express my genuine appreciation and indebtedness to my fellow Acharyas, as in the last year they have deferred to me, at the insistence of Sripada Goswami Maharaja, to help establish me as something Srila Govinda Maharaja never intended, the only Acharya of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, or the only “Successor” of Srila Govinda Maharaja, or the only “Worldwide Acharya”, or the only “Supreme Acharya,”‘ or, whatever.

I was as eager as anyone to support Srila Acharya Maharaja as the Acharya of Navadwipa, the Indian group and so forth. That was Gurudeva’s clear desire. He never expressed any desire beyond that.

We are also left to wonder if this sudden reversal is just temporary, due to the present circumstances in which Acharya Maharaja finds himself.

“As my duties demand that I remain in India to oversee the affairs of the Math and Mission, I now wish to make clear my approval, insistence, and support of their fully assuming their roles as Acharyas in their respective regions.”

When his duties no longer demand he remain in India, will he pick up again where he left off as the single Worldwide Acharya, as he has been advertised to be? Below is an example of one such advertisement from the Soquel Math Newsletter: “Srila B.N. Acharya Maharaj, Successor-President-Acharya…of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math in Nabadwip and Worldwide.

If, following Goswami Maharaja’s idea of deferring to Srila Acharya Maharaja was the best way for the other Acharyas to “establish” him, shouldn’t Acharya Maharaja now return the favor by observing a period of time during which he defers to them? Wouldn’t this be the best way to “support” them?

Instead, he is finally doing what I have done consistently from the very beginning, simply encouraged and supported each of the other Acharyas in the position Srila Gurudeva gave them.

From my article of July 18, 2010, “Srila Govinda Maharaja did not choose a single Acharya“:

I also pledge my full support to each of the other acharyas named by Srila Govinda Maharaja and expect the devotees working in each of their respective areas will follow them with full faith and a willingness to support them as initiating gurus knowing that to be the expressed desire of His Divine Grace.”

I had already expressed my full support and encouragement for Srila Acharya Maharaja as the next acharya of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Navadwipa, immediately following Gurudeva’s announcement in the Natha Mandira on his Vyasa Puja day. I followed that up publicly on numerous occasions while in Navadwipa following Srila Gurudeva’s disappearance.

Then, in my first public article addressing the Acharya issue, I again pledged my full support for Acharya Maharaja, as evidenced by another quote from the same article mentioned above.

“Srila Govinda Maharaja expected, as do I, that Srila Acharya Maharaja will faithfully manage the Maths in India, initiate sincere seekers there and guide the spiritual lives of the devotees under his care. To this end he has my full support.”

And, what about this section of Srila Acharya Maharaja’s letter, “in the last year they have deferred to me to help establish me and maintain the stability of the Mission?” The unmistakeable inference is that, rather than fully assume their roles as Acharyas, as Srila Gurudeva directed them to do, it was better to follow Goswami Maharaja’s demand to defer to Acharya Maharaja as this would “maintain the stability of the Mission.”

If having all the Acharyas defer to Acharya Maharaja was instrumental in maintaining the stability of the mission, shouldn’t they continue to do so? We don’t want the Mission to wobble out of orbit do we?

How does doing the wrong thing, disregarding Srila Gurudeva’s instructions by deferring their Acharyaships, behaving as if they were the subordinates (rtviks) of Acharya Maharaja, pronouncing a single world-wide Acharya, and so forth, offer stability to the mission? I contend it did exactly the opposite. To see the Acharyas of our Mission disregard Srila Gurudeva’s direction in favor of their own can only do what it did. Cause confusion and instability.

I hope the four Acharyas who have now received Srila Acharya Maharaja’s approval, Srilas Ashrama Maharaja, Janardana Maharaja, Avadhuta Maharaja and Trivikarama Maharaja, will indeed fully assume their roles in their respective regions.

This may also help each of them to realize the need to form the Acharya Sabha.

As I wrote to each of them, most recently in a letter to Sripada Avadhuta Maharaja and copied to each of the other Acharyas:

Excerpt of my letter to Sripada Avadhuta Maharaja, March 11, 2011

You asked me to send you my ideas as to how we should proceed to follow Srila Gurudeva’s direction to form an Acharya Sabha. I will do so in the near future.

Above all, Maharaja, I want to stress that speaking to you caused me to think that we will not be fully successful in carrying out Srila Gurudeva’s desires until all those named as Acharyas accept the responsibility he has given us.

The words in Gurudeva’s Will, “shall be Acharya” or “will be Acharya” mean as much regarding you and Trivikrama Maharaja, Janardana Maharaja, etc., as they do for Srila Acharya Maharaja. These words are not suggestions that you “can be Acharya if you want to”, or you can be half Acharya, half rtvik for another Acharya, nor do they imply in any way that you should defer to another Acharya. No. The words mean “I order you to be Acharya.” As I told you some months ago, Srila Gurudeva named you as the Acharya for Russia, he did not name anyone else to be Acharya there.

I understand out of humility and feeling unqualified and that others may be seen by you as more qualified, that you have a healthy reluctance to accept the position of Acharya. But Srila Govinda Maharaja wants this service from you, and each of those he named, otherwise he would not have directed us to do it. You must believe that you will get his full blessings, support and backing if you will only do what he wants you to do.

You sent me a copy of “Be humbler than even a blade of grass.” which I have read many times over the last 30 years or so (and has been posted on our website for several years). But I think the meaning I get is very different from the one you understand. What is said in this quotation from BSST’s speech, especially in light of Srila Govinda Maharaja’s direct instruction to us, seems very clear:

“I have no fear. My Gurudeva has heard this from his Gurudeva. And it is for this reason that Gurudeva has accepted even such a great sinner as myself and has told me: ‘ By My command being Guru save this land. ‘It is only those who have never heard these words of Gaursundar who say ‘How odd! to listen to one’s own praise! ‘While the Guru is instructing his disciple in the eleventh Skandha of the Bhagavatam what a great sin, in their opinion, is he not perpetuating! What is the Acharya to do when he has to explain the Shloka Acharyan Mam Vijaniyat: Never disregard the Acharya; never entertain the idea that the Acharya is your equal in any sense.’ These are the words of Sri Krishna Himself by which the jiva is to be benefited. Is the Guru to take himself off, to desert his seat — the seat of the Acharya from which these words are to be, explained? That office his Gurudeva has conferred on him. If he does not act up to its requirements he is doomed to perdition by reason of his offense against the holy Name in the shape of disrespect towards the Guru. He has to do it in spite of the fact that such procedure is apparently open to the charge of egoism.”
Do you get a different meaning from reading this than what I have been saying to you?

And, in my phone conversation with Sripada Avadhuta Maharaja on March 20, 2011:

I encouraged him to accept the position of Acharya of Russia. I mentioned it was not proper to be a member of an “Acharya Board” if one is not willing to accept the responsibility of Acharya. But all the members of the “Acharya Board” had in fact deferred to Acharya Maharaja, suggesting the question, is an Acharya an Acharya if he defers to another? Since they all deferred to Acharya Maharaja, how is it they are Acharyas and entitled to sit on any Acharya Board?

I sincerely hope the other Acharyas will also join with Srila Acharya Maharaja and myself to encourage and support one another after fully accepting their roles as Acharyas of their respective regions around the world.

I am very encouraged to hear that Srila Acharya Maharaja is now embracing the idea I first made public in July of last year in the article “Srila Govinda Maharaja did not choose a single Acharya“:

…I also pledge my full support to each of the other acharyas named by Srila Govinda Maharaja and expect the devotees working in each of their respective areas will follow them with full faith and a willingness to support them as initiating gurus knowing that to be the expressed desire of His Divine Grace.”

When all six Acharyas have become established in their posts I think we will better see the wisdom of Srila Govinda Maharaja’s decision to choose six Acharyas and instruct them to form an Acharya Sabha.

It will also become clear that that this decision of Srila Govinda Maharaja, to name six Acharyas, has the effect of naming six successors, not one, with each having his own unique sampradaya and mission. I will comment further on this in an upcoming article, “Six Acharyas, Six Successors, Six Sampradayas, Six Missions.

May Srila Govinda Maharaja bestow his blessings upon us all to strictly follow his Divine Will with faith and determination.

His humble servant,

Giri Maharaja