The Path of the Mahajanas.
In the Mahabharata, King Yudhistira was asked different questions by a Yaksa. One of them was: "What is most amazing in this world?" To which he answered that although one has seen so many people die before him, still he acts as if he was thinking that this will never happen to him personally.
So, how amazing it is, that although the Gaudiya Math had tried to artificially create an acarya and Srila Prabhupada had warned against the same thing happening in ISKCON, as soon as he disappeared the GBC Body officially endorsed eleven devotees as acaryas! The Gaudiya Math had started with making one "acarya" and we were "blessed" with eleven!
How amazing it is that, although Srila Prabhupada warned not to become a diksa-guru prematurely, many devotees became diksa gurus without any consideration of their aptitude on the basis of sastric injunctions!
And how amazing that in spite of many "gurus" falling down, more kept on taking that position, and others act as if they're thinking it can't happen to themselves!
Another question of the Yaksa was: "What is the path?" To which Yudhisthira Maharaja gave the famous answer "Mahajano yena gatah sa panthah: The path of dharma is to follow the Mahajanas."
So, how amazing it is that although Srila Prabhupada Mahajana has spoken at length and with an amazing wealth of detail on the topic of the spiritual master, still, in the name of practicality, the path of diligently accepting ALL his instructions was not strictly followed!
How amazing it is that, although from the very beginning of the institutionalization of successor zonal acaryas there were legitimate protests against it, including in the Pyramid House Talks in 1980, where the fallacies of the acarya-appointment and zonal acarya theories were rightfully denounced, and this time by one of the eleven, we had to go through 6more years of the worse before it was officially abolished!
Misconception is poison
The first misconception surfaced as the so-called appointment of successor acaryas by Srila Prabhupada. As all devotees knew that a conditioned soul cannot be a sad-guru, a prerogative of the self-realized souls, the devotees were told that the eleven were very advanced and, the second misconception, that Srila Prabhupada gave them by kripa whatever they were missing to achieve the perfect stage, making them kripa-siddhas.
The third misconception was that each of these so-called kripa-siddha acaryas had an exclusive prabhu-datta-desa as their territory. As the devotees refused to follow blindly and listened to the intelligence (guru-sastra-sadhu), protests came one after another, countered by more misconceptions such as the Mahajanas themselves losing occasionally sight of Krishna. When more and more devotees started to see the situation for what it was and refused to listen any longer, they insisted on reform. But the reform didn't go deeply into the philosophy, and new misconceptions surfaced, such as:
A sad-guru doesn't have to be a self-realized liberated pure lover of Krishna, or:
Anyone who is about on the same level than those already in place can also become a guru.
Any approved guru should be respected, whatever his level may be, as saksad-hari, etc.
But we have to understand that these are all adjustments. When Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that spiritual life means constant adjustment, fine tuning, he means adjusting oneself to the philosophy, not adjusting the philosophy! The original standard for guruship has been put aside; the obvious has become obscured, and the problems are patched up with concocted adjustments. And, as all these misconceptions have, in the ultimate issue, only a semblance of truth, they do not work.
What is the root cause of this poison? The misconception that one doesn't need to be under anyone, that one doesn't need to approach a sadhu and accept him as siksa guru, oneself being advanced enough.
After the departure of a great acarya there usually is a cloudy period during which the teachings become obscured, witness what happened to the Gaudiya Math after the departure of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. In Sajjana Tosani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura also wrote that, "If one tries to establish the truth, so many lies will crop up in attempting to cover it. It is the will of the Lord, for, without darkness, how will the light be appreciated? Without opposition, how will the truth be glorified?" Trying to see the bright side, let's take it that this dark period of our history has simply been Krishna's plan to teach us valuable lessons, that this is all for the glory of pure devotion, which is not a cheap thing, and of the pure devotees, which are rare, and not a dime a dozen.
Everyone in 1978 still understood that the guru could only be on the topmost level, on the basis of the tad viddhi pranipatena verse of the Gita. It was a strict teaching in ISKCON that a guru is never subjected to the illusions of the common man. That is why, when the eleven rittviks Srila Prabhupada had named to initiate on his behalf, and this only for the remaining period of his physical presence with us, were presented as his exclusive appointed successors, they had to be rubber-stgmped as "pure devotees", "uttama-adhikaris", "kripa-siddhas", etc.
A new conception is introduced
The first inkling of a different understanding of the necessary qualifications to be recognized as a bona fide diksa-guru after Srila Prabhupada physically left, can be traced again to the Pyramid House Talks. There it was correctly mentioned about "opening up this point of initiation, the guru, to whoever is qualified." Unfortunately there was no mention of the definition of "qualified". Although a bona fide spiritual master is a rare thing ("durlabha sadgurur devi" says the Padma Purana), we read: "There would be 79 or 122 gurus instead of eleven where you have to show some super-excellent qualifications."
During the attempt for reform of the mid-eighties, this new idea that after all the guru doesn't have to be highly qualified surfaced again, this time in full force, to adjust to the situation, instead of adjusting ourselves to the scriptures. Thus unfortunately this new idea became officially accepted: the "Non-liberated Guru Theory".
Yes, one can be a kind of guru without showing "super-excellent qualifications": a vartma-pradarshaka-guru, (in the sense we usually use this word, meaning the first devotee who preached to someone and convinced him of Krishna Consciousness), or a siksa guru of sorts (also in the casual sense of the term). But even if in an exceptional circumstance one has become a diksa guru, clearly one should not automatically be considered the sole guru nor the eternal spiritual master of those one initiates unless one has achieved those qualifications that are the hallmark of an uttama adhikari (coming down to the madhyam platform), since it is said that even a madhyam-adhikari can only give insufficient guidance. There is no sastric evidence that no matter what is the guru's level of advancement, he is supposed to be given absolute faith and surrender, and worshipped as "saksad hari".
This "new philosophy" has different variations, therefore different devotees under this misconception have distinctly different understandings of the philosophical basis of the qualifications for guruship, unfortunately not based on sastra. The following five categories, representing different variations of the same misconception, delineate the most common understandings, and, while sometimes more than one of these theories are held in combination, they are not all mutually compatible:
1- The Rittvik-to-Guru-Appointmen
2. The Whoever-Initiates-is-a-Par
3. The Nistha-Bhakta Theory: The ISKCON diksa gurus are pretty much all nicely qualified as madhyam adhikaris. In any case, no one can really tell for sure. They may fall down but the risk of it is small. Because there are so many, the overall risk is minimized.
4. The as-good-as-liberated guru Theory: Any good preacher can serve as diksa guru, as he is as good as liberated. He doesn't have to be factually liberated or otherwise specifically qualified. No one is truly qualified according to the sastric definitions anyway.
5. The Monitor-Guru Theory: Whatever is necessary for the disciples to receive somehow or other comes from Srila Prabhupada through him. If the guru falls down, never mind, ISKCON is giving everything, it's a family affair, take another one.
Although having some apparent validity with its seemingly practical solutions to the problems of how to deal with reality in the post-zonal-acarya world, this theory, upon close scrutiny, could be called "covered rittvik-vada". The ISKCON leaders dutifully hammered down the VVR and IRM brands of rittvik-vada, which erroneously claim that Prabhupada being the only bona fide guru one can be sure of, is therefore the only guru of ISKCON, and everyone giving diksa is just a priest. But the new philosophy contains very similar ideas, such as the idea that the diksa-guru connects one with Prabhupada, who is therefore the most important factor in the disciple's ultimate success, or the concept that one initiates on Prabhupada's behalf, or on the GBC's behalf.However, Srila Prabhupada never taught any of these conceptions. He clearly defined the guru's qualifications, and not in these terms at all.
Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja told me that Prabhupada had asked him to "cooperate, cooperate, tolerate, tolerate". When I asked him in late 1995 when does it become intolerable, he answered with sadness, "When the Vaisnava siddhanta is baffled. This is the case now. Their view on jiva-tattva is wrong as they say we fell from Krisna-lila out of envy, and the most holy guru-tattva is reduced to "prachanna rittvik-vada", covert rittvik-vada."
Great damage, the spiritual ruination of the Society was made by the bogus Successor-Acarya theory when a few devotees appointed themselves after a mere ten years of sadhana bhakti to the lofty position of guru. Not only of gurus, but of exclusive successors. Not only of exclusive successors, but of uttama adhikaris! They didn't consider that there could be other devotees as advanced or more advanced than themselves in the Society or outside of it. They took prematurely the position of diksa gurus, instead of petitioning Krishna and Prabhupada for help and submitting themselves for humble tutelage under a siksa guru, and thereby failed to show a good example. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura teaches:"sada-sisya-taki, always remain under discipline."
But shouldn't there have been gurus after Srila Prabhupada?
Yes, but not a rush to take his place. That's what Prabhupda called "killing the guru"!
It should be clearly understood that to initiate while one is only on a low level of madhyam adhikara is an emergency measure, an exception, not the regular norm, and that many kanistha-adhikaris have become diksa-gurus by error. But one shouldn't disrespect a guru even if he happens not to be on a very high level. According to the advice given in sastra, his disciples should pray and look for a self-realized pure devotee to take siksa from. They should never be discouraged or intimidated from doing so. It is not sastric that "guru is guru, so he deserves absolute faith and worship whatever his level." Faith and worship are one thing, respect is another one. As we said earlier, even kanistha or madhyam-kanistha gurus should be given respect. Anyone who gives instruction based on sastras is accepted as a guru, and, as such, greatly respected: "Maybe of different degrees, but anyone who opens the spiritual eyes, he is guru." (Lecture 3,12.72) Srila Prabhupada taught us to address all devotees as prabhu, master. Trinad api sunicena is the motto of the Rupanuga line to which we belong.
But wasn't it right to fill the void after Srila Prabhupada left?
The void was there but it was to be taken advantage of by developing service-in-separation and crying to Krishna to help us.
Aren't there genuine gurus within ISKCON?
The qualification to be guru has nothing to do with an appointment by Srila Prabhupada, as there never was such appointment. Appointments or votes have no jurisdiction on Transcendence. One is guru by qualifications only. One should apply the formula himself to evaluate, fully dependent on Krishna for His confirmation. There was at least one fully qualified one, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja, whom Krishna finally took away, not tolerating his pure devotee being harrassed year afteryear by so-called Godbrothers envious of his obvious superiority.
The guru is the most holy Vaisnava institution, said Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja. Guru tattva is one of the deepest tattvas. By keeping the issue of the actual position of the guru unclear, by not giving later the necessary explanation that the original eleven had become diksa gurus out of a misunderstanding, and by eventually allowing so many more devotees to take similar positions, the institution has become nearly unrecognizable. A sad-guru is rare, but since there are so many gurus in ISKCON, some explanation of this phenomenon had to be found. The words "pure devotee", "liberated", and "guru" have been redefined by culling quotations from Srila Prabhupada's most broad statements on the subject, (and even that is shallow if these so-called liberal quotes are thoroughly analyzed). In 1987, instead of going to the root, the allopathic medicine path of dealing with symptoms was followed, not the ayurvedic path of going for the root cause. And it was a question of time only before the untreated cause produced new symptoms.
If ISKCON wants to really apply the sastric teachings and its own law, to be accepted as a bona fide guru one must be free from all anarthas such as kamini, kancana, nisiddhacara, puja, kutinati, lobha, and especially pratistha. The fact that 50% of their diksa-gurus have fallen down (and that's the official rate) speaks by itself...
What about the faith of the disciples?
A situation has been created without deeply considering the consequences. But all the members, especially the initiated disciples, have the right to know the history of their Movement. Prabhupada never made a mystery of what had happened in the Gaudiya Math, nor why he had to disassociate himself from most of his godbrothers at a certain time. The disciple's genuine faith shouldn't be shattered. To know the truth will reinforce their faith. It will create real faith. If one loses faith, it means it was artificial or sentimental. Srila Prabhupada didn't teach us anything impractical that we can alter and adjust for the sake of practicality. By cheapening the position of guru, one risks killing the very spirit of authority in its most sacred form. We should always make sure that the guiding force in our life is guru-sastra-sadhu. One will benefit from being warned against philosophical deviations. There is siddhanta, proper conclusive understanding of sastra and there is always apasiddhanta, wrong understanding. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura even said that the preacher's first duty is to expose apa-siddhantas. Srila Prabhupada also said that the Acarya's first business is sampradaya raksana, to save the sampradaya from apasiddhantas.
Prabhupada obviously wanted all his disciples to become guru but only when qualified to be so. What is implied by becoming a diksa guru before being fully qualified? What are the limitations implied by accepting such a devotee as one's spiritual master? This is a current case in the present-day ISKCON.
Although there are indications that Srila Prabhupada envisioned his disciples initiating after his departure even before having reached the required level of uttama adhikara, still, he certainly gave stem warnings, such as: "Anyone, if he is a pure devotee, he can deliver others, he can become spiritual master. But unless he is on that platform he should not attempt it. Then both of them will go to hell, like blind men leading the blind." (Letter to Tusta Krishna) Pure devotional service, as it was developed in the Part one, truly begins in the full nistha stage, or ruci.
There has been more than one hundred forty devotees initiating in ISKCON, and not all were on the same level. Can one be a diksa-guru if not self-realized? It's not recommended, but it's going on. The disciples of non-self-realized masters can't make much advancement due to insufficient guidance (Upadesamnta 5,end of purport). Srila Prabhupada saw that the world badly needed Vaisnava gurus, but that almost all his disciples were far below the mark of uttama adhikari, the standard level of a guru, so he made an emergency concession: madhyam adhikari. Madhyam adhikara, beginning at nistha, is the level where the uttama adhikari comes down anyway to preach, (although he comes down on the uttama level of madhyam-adhikara, madhyam-uttama, or asakti). Since Prabhupada didn't write his books just for us but for the next ten thousand years, he indicated the standard of guru: uttama adhikara, beginning at bhava,but he made a concession out of expediency because he wanted things to go on. He gave strong warnings, though, not to venture initiating as a kanistha adhikari. And even for madhyam adhikaris he gave many indications that it's risky, that one should not start to initiate just at the threshold of the madhyam adhikara (madhyam-kanistha), barely coming out from anartha nivriti, the end of kanistha adhikara, but should wait to achieve a higher standard (madhyam-madhyam) forgiving more than siksa, instruction.
Srila Prabhupada: There are three classes of devotees and the guru must be accepted from the topmost class.... When one has attained the topmost position of mahabhagavata, he is to be accepted as guru. Only such a person is eligible to occupy the post of guru " (CC Madhya 24 330)
It is indeed rare to find a pure liberated guru, a lover of God, but it is always available for a sincere seeker. It is most recommended and you should aspire for that and pray for it.
Of course, there is always a class of devotees who will find some excuse for criticizing. They actually don't want to surrender. They take the pretext of wanting higher things, but they are compared by Bhaktivinode Thakura to someone who wants to get fruits without making the necessary efforts to climb in a tree. Such a fellow jumps from the ground, trying to grab some fruit. But all what he gets is sour or rotten fruits. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura called them pukkur-curi wale, pond-thieves. You cannot steal a pond. It's a hole filled with water. How can you steal it? Similarly one who thinks he can enter the higher realm of bhakti without having the adhikara or eligibility is a self-deceiver.
Food for thought
"A preacher's constant function is to directly and frankly oppose anyone who is hurting himself or others by misrepresenting the truth, either due to malice or to genuine misunderstanding, by preaching in the most unambiguous and unequivocal manner.... He shouldn't keep any partiality towards untruth." (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati)
"May we ever be ready to brush away from our hearts, by the rough application of hundreds of pointed broomsticks, the wicked design of being honored above other persons by the devotees of God. God will be merciful to us and we shall be blessed with the gift of devotion to His Divine Feet the very day that we are delivered from the evil desire of seeking advantages and honors from others. The ambition to lord it over others, to be great, is brought about when we allow ourselves to fall a victim to the temptations of the deluding energy of God. Those who aspire to be masters of the devotees are indeed most culpably arrogant. The idea that one should be master of God's devotees leads to inferno. 'Let the devotees serve me'. If 'we dont get deliverance from that bad attitude, there will be no benefit to us. To follow the devotees of God is the only path that leads to one's real good. Let there be birth after birth for us that we may walk in the path of the followers of Sri Rupa Goswami by being the particles of dust at the feet of the devotees of God. We are nurturing a desire to dedicate this good-for-nothing body in the Sankirtana sacrifice of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates." (Srila Sarasvati Thakura)