“To Err is Human…” – A Reader Responds (V. Das)

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Dear Maharaja,

Please accept my dandavat pranams. I apologize for not replying sooner to your e-mail.

I just want to take a moment to thank you for your recent “To err is human” post.

Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada knew that many of his disciples would be tempted to revert to their “hippie” samskaras. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada similarly warned, “When our men will become sahajiyas, they’ll be more dangerous.”

Under the shelter of a mahabhagavata, a disciple may mask still-latent tendencies in order to have his seva accepted, and a merciful guru may for the disciple’s benefit accept seva even when it is tinged with material motivations. However, when the acharya departs, a new time of testing begins. Without having to face the reality of correction coming from the bodily form of Srila Gurudeva, the disciple may far more easily misidentify his heart’s tendencies as the promptings of caitya-guru.

No doubt, ours is a “religion of the heart.” But, whose heart? We who are in the conditioned state should not assume that our own hearts are pure enough to serve as a guide. Our concern is with the heart of Sri Guru, knower of the heart of Srimati Radharani. And what is one of the chief qualities of the “heart” of Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami? Srila Guru Maharaja acknowledged that, in some ways, he was even “a little more strict” than his own Guru Maharaja, his Srila Prabhupada. If anything, we who are coming in his line should be MORE discreet than our Guardians about any “realizations” or “heartfelt inspirations” that we might presume to have received.

In his “One Channel” talk, Srila B.S. Govinda Maharaja famously said:

“I do not want to mix with the mood of others. Someone is giving sahajiya-sankirtan in their math, but it is not possible for me to do like this in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. That is the exclusiveness of Srila Guru Maharaja in his service to the Rupanuga-sampradaya, and I cannot break it. I must follow the instructions of Srila Guru Maharaja, and that is my opinion.”

Also in that talk, he said:

“They are saying, ‘Guru Maharaja is siddha-purusa, he is very intelligent, this, that, this, that,’ and telling that Guru Maharaja is supreme, but I cannot agree that his opinion is not supreme.”

Srila Govinda Maharaja, in his Will, expressed very clearly that Sripad Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaja was to serve as Acharya over the Indian Mission, and was to be respected worldwide, though other stalwarts would be in a higher position in the lives of the Western disciple section, such as Sriman Mahananda Das Bhakti Ranjan, described in the Will as one who “will be the head in respect to spiritual matters of the devotees…. Specially the foreign devotees will respect and obey him and not cross over him.” Perhaps surprisingly, despite receiving such high recognition, this stalwart devotee was not named as an acharya. Srila Govinda Maharaja gave the duty of acharya to six devotees — one of his siksa-disciples, three of his harinama-disciples (to whom he had given sannyasa), and two of Srila Guru Maharaja’s sannyasa-disciples (including Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s first Western sannyasi, Sripad Bhakti Kanan Giri Maharaja).

How, then, are we to understand disagreements among those to whom Srila Govinda Maharaja gave the charge to serve as acharyas? One obvious measure is their fidelity to the heart of Sri Guru. And how can we recognize the heart of Sri Guru? For those of us who are not prepared to advertise ourselves as possessing pure ruci, one clear sign of Sri Guru’s heart can be found in the words of Srila Govinda Maharaja:

“They are saying, ‘Guru Maharaja is siddha-purusa, he is very intelligent, this, that, this, that,’ and telling that Guru Maharaja is supreme, but I cannot agree that his opinion is not supreme.”

It is no small thing to assert, “Srila Govinda Maharaja messed up. His Will doesn’t mean what it says.” Just as a chaste disciple would shun sahajiya-kirtan coming from the “heart” of a successor-acharya, so too would a chaste disciple run away from a “successor” who dared to assert, “The opinion of Srila Govinda Maharaja is not supreme.”

In the past, some former followers of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada decided that their guru had “made some mistakes,” and in the name of correcting those mistakes they followed their “hearts” straight to the banks of Radha Kunda and the embrace of the sahajiya section. Some others retained much of the external “form” of Gaudiya Math but internalized significant “substance” from the sahajiya camp. It was in stark contrast to this that Srila Sridhara Maharaja maintained his “strict” policy:

pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange

Despite decades of training by their guru-varga, will the devotees of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math now allow themselves to be duped into following the “heart” — thus cutting themselves off from the halo? Will they accept a simulacrum of devotion that upon closer inspection is little more than “Putana-bhakti”? For those who put their faith in institutions, this is a dark hour. Thankfully, Srila Guru Maharaja was not so much keen on the external form of an institution, and he told us:

“Our importance is to the substance and the form is secondary. Perhaps the reality of this formality we shall try to preserve, but the substance is all-important. Form is only important according to the substance it is carrying, according to that.”

Thankfully, we know that Sri Guru will guide sincere sadhakas to find the true substance wherever it may be found, even if the form of their institution is being shaken to its core. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful essay calling attention to the grave danger now facing the supporters of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

Dandavat,

V. dasa