Chapter 12 of Prabhupāda Vijaya, 'Substance Over Form'. The intensity of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s appreciation for Śrīla Prabhupāda may come as a surprise to those unfortunate souls who have been, or still are, subject to the institutional aparādha. The conception of ‘substance over form’ is quintessential to understanding our guru-varga and is worth paying attention to.
Who is a follower of Śrīla Prabhupāda and who is only a worshipper of his form? Are the worshippers of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s form and his institution actually following Śrīla Prabhupāda or are they simply giving lip service to his name? The issue is an argument of substance over form (vāṇī versus vapu).
The following is a conversation between Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja and a leading devotee from Iskcon on March 6th, 1982, at Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha, Navadvīpa-dhāma. In this conversation Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja concludes that the leaders of Iskcon are simply taking the name of Prabhupāda without entering into a substantial understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. His concluding words are devastating:
“Whatever you say, that will be superficial to me – that won’t reach to the depth of my knowledge and experience of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Whatever you will see, what all of you will see, that won’t reach the depth of my knowledge about Iskcon, that is, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Who is Kṛṣṇa? You are all primary students. I think you so.”
Now, many years have passed, but unfortunately the position of our Guru Mahārāja’s institution has gone from bad to worse – nothing has changed for the good. A new generation of devotees is now taking the challenge to bring about change for the better, but they will meet with the same mentality (or worse) that the previous generation met with fifteen years ago – and all in the name of ‘Prabhupāda.’
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: So, you united yourselves and joined Swami Mahārāja what for?
Devotee: For spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Yes, that is all-important, is it not? Sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja – not only non-religion, but all faiths of religion. We must forsake, abandon them only for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so valuable and so accommodating. So, we shall take all risk for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Sarva-dharmān parityajya.
sva-dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ para dharmo bhayāvahaḥ
“It is better to die while performing one’s own duties, for executing the duties of others is fraught with uncertainty.” (Gītā 3.35)
When I was young, I was a student of Bhagavad-gītā. When I used to come to this line, sva-dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ – I felt discouragement. Where I am, my immediate duty, I must die for that, for discharge of duty. But whenever I would come to sarva-dharmān parityajya, I got some strength of infinite character.
Risk everything for Him. So everything is laudable as long as it is in connection with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, for which Swami Mahārāja went there empty-handed.
I do not know less than you about Swami Mahārāja. I knew him from before he joined the mission, until the last day of his life. He asked me from America, he wrote one letter – “I don’t feel well, I may die. Should I die here working for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or shall I go back to India?” I told him, “I feel that Prabhupāda (Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) has given you that land for propaganda work. It is in my mind, so I shall say, ‘You give your life up there, working.”’ And he took it up.
I knew him best. When this Iskcon was first conceived perhaps twenty years ago, he began his actual life in preaching from a hired house in Calcutta. The Back To Godhead was published, and my article was there, and at that time he thought of the name Iskcon. But you have sacrificed so much. We have got also some experience of sacrifice in our mission in the time of our Guru Mahārāja. And what for? That is all-important, and that is not a very cheap thing. Kṛṣṇa consciousness proper is not a very cheap thing.
anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna karmādy-anāvṛtam
ānukulyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“The highest form of bhakti develops when one is devoid of all material desires, jñāna and karma. One must constantly serve Kṛṣṇa favourably.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11)
muktānām api siddhānāṁ nārāyaṇa-parayanaḥ
sudurlabhaḥ praśāntātmā koṭiṣv api mahā-mune
“O great sage, even amongst many millions that are liberated and have achieved perfection, one may be a devotee of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Such devotees are fully peaceful and very rare.” (Bhāg. 6.14.5)
What is Kṛṣṇa consciousness proper is all important. Only in human life is it possible to begin, and that is also very uncertain. So, once connected, one should try his best to attain, to work towards that goal as far as possible. The spirit of the thing should be kept, as much as it is possible, and then unity, and management, administration, everything is well and good.
He came here at least five or six times after he began his preaching. Before that also, he came here numberless times; I also used to live by his side, next door. His laboratory was on the ground floor; I was on the first floor for a long time. Anyhow, when he began his translation of the Bhagavad-gītā, it was in consultation with me in a very deep way. Anyhow, he requested me many a time that, “Please look after them; I am taking them this side. You have got some responsibility to look after them.” In this way, my nature is to avoid; not very inviting, but still, he repeatedly came to me and requested me. In the first batch of devotees that he brought here to India, he kept here in my care. And it was I who suggested to purchase land where Iskcon is standing now. Anyhow, I was also friendly. Now also I am so. But things are being turned opposite. When I heard that many dissatisfied souls are going astray, away from Iskcon, and some of them I knew personally, then I felt some pain in my heart, “Such good souls are going away?”
I gave some proposal to them that these persons should be accommodated, but they did not care to hear in the beginning. After a time, three important persons in the management were rudely treated. Then both the parties were aggrieved and came to me and I effected some compromise and they accepted and things went on well. Even so, I find now and then, some persons are going away, and those persons that are in power, their power is growing; the men and money are coming in their hands. It is generally a trial for the ācārya. I have got experience of at least fifty-five years, about the mission; so many split and I also tried to make a compromise and did a little something also. In this way, I am staying, passing my days.
I am of a little different character. I do not like any big company. Rather, I like more to read the śāstra and to understand the meaning from it in different ways. I have written some poems in Sanskrit; some books also in Sanskrit and my mind is almost always busy to find out the real meaning to the śāstrika scriptures – the mantram or the sūtram or anything. That is my nature generally. But when such things were occurring amongst some of them, some offended persons came to me and requested me to intervene in the matter, because Swami Mahārāja said many things about me within his mission to his disciples. So, some of them knew it and they asked me to intervene. Then when I gave some proposal, but they showed deaf ears. Then I asked them, “Try to help in my name in a relieving way.”
Devotee: Who did you ask, and in which case?
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Pradyumna came first with eighteen points of dissatisfaction. I reported it to Tamāla-Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja. He was busy in his propaganda work. Then he told me, “Things are going on very well. I can’t go now. When I shall go during Gaura-Pūrṇimā, I shall try to meet you.” Then he came and went away, but did not care to meet with me. “Things are going on very well.” Then one devotee came – he was in charge of Vṛndāvana gurukula perhaps. I saw he was a good man, but I heard that he has become indifferent…an important man has become indifferent. Then next they came saying that, “Three gurus, they are unfit and they should be discharged and punished.” They came to punish three gurus who had direct appointment of Swami Mahārāja including Tamāla-Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja also. Anyhow, I intervened, and some compromise was effected. In this way, so many came and I am hearing and I told, “Go on with some relief work.”
Devotee: I am here, as you say, for unity. This is a unity effort only. “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: I differ from you. Unity for what? Unity for a bad thing – that can create havoc.
Devotee: Well, how can it be a bad thing? Iskcon is meant for Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: I say that the ideal is all-important, and next, unity. Administration is the position of the kṣatriya. And the ācārya’s work – that is for the brāhmaṇa who does not care for this worldly achievement. That is for the brāhmaṇas, and administration is with the kṣatriya, finance with the vaiśya. This should be the general conception. So, those with brahminical temperament, they should be concerned about śāstrika knowledge; that is their lakṣaṇa (symptom).
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ
“The qualification of a spiritual master is that his faith is fixed in the Lord and the śāstra.” (Bhāg.11.3.21).
tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ
“Just try to understand this knowledge by approaching a self-realised person who has seen the truth. Make submissive inquiry and render service unto him. The tattva-darśi, the seer of the truth, will instruct you and give you initiation into this sacred path.” (Gītā 4.34)
tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreyaḥ uttamam
“One should thus take shelter of a spiritual master and inquire about the highest goal of life.” (Bhāg.11.3.21)
tad vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet
samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyaṁ brahma-niṣṭham
“In order to learn the transcendental knowledge, one must submissively approach a spiritual master who is fixed in the Supreme Truth.” (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1.2.12).
That should be the criterion of the ācārya. Not a man who can conduct good administration, make money and recruit more men. That is not the criterion of an ācārya. So, the dissatisfied, to help them, that was my advice to the discontented, and before this, there is one thing I should say – anyone who came to me and asked anything, they took it on tape, and that tape may be propagated anywhere and everyone. Whoever comes, whatever I say, they take a tape of that. And they began to preach in their own way. In this way, I heard that Dhīra-Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja took some tapes of me and has copied them and he is spreading it amongst the public. I was told that this was appreciated. Those that came to hear that tape, I am told that they had got some sympathy for me. In this way perhaps, some persons were attracted towards me through the tapes, and that is the cause of all this trouble. Those that can hear from me through the tapes, they are having some sympathy towards me, and they come to me seeking for help. I am here and I speak to those that are coming to hear from me, irrespective of anyone. In this way, the trouble has arisen here. Some are more attracted towards my tape. Have you heard?
Devotee: Yes, I very much appreciate, I had heard with him also last year. Only thing, that their point is that by hearing your…
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Yes, I also like . . . all of us are proud, those that have faith in Mahāprabhu, they cannot but be proud that Swami Mahārāja has done such wonderful work in his propagation. It is inconceivable to so many. And that his position and prestige will be diminished – that will be almost death to us! We want that Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism should have a spacious field. But still, justice should be there.
Devotee: Now, their point is that by hearing your tapes…
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: I have heard their point. They say that whatever will be the majority of the committee (GBC) is absolute. I differ there. I consider that you are all students in the line of truth – so don’t think that you are all perfect! You are students. So try to be accommodating, and strive to keep the standard.
Devotee: One thing they say is that by hearing your tapes, the determination to serve in Iskcon should increase, but instead they are finding fault.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: One doctor (a Ph.D. in neurophysiology) was sent to me for initiation. He was sent by one of the zonal ācāryas, and perhaps he heard my tapes. Anyhow, he got some faith in me and I initiated him. I have written one book, Prapanna-jīvanāmṛta, a compilation from many sources, and I have also composed some poems in Sanskrit. That doctor said that, ‘‘Your writings are helping Iskcon in an inestimable way – making Iskcon more deeply rooted, and it is also enlivening.” That remark came to me and it is not impossible. Swami Mahārāja spread Mahāprabhu’s instructions very widely and what I collected in that book, many very selected passages from many higher devotees, that can help the movement. In this way, my connection was to consolidate and make it deep-rooted. But unfortunately, things are going in such a way as if I am standing in the opposite party. But I don’t think so. I think that my inclination, my advice and my friendship with Swami Mahārāja can help you a great deal on both sides – on the constitutional, as well as the spiritual ideal. This is my simple conviction. For my whole life, I had no ambition, and in my old age I am not such a fool that this time, at the cost of Iskcon, I will try to improve my position.
Devotee: They have always had great reverence for you.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Only when they did not differ with me.
Devotee: The only thing that they are a little bitter about now is that some of the people who have some criticism against the movement have…
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Reverence formally. What sort of reverence do they have towards me? Formal or material? Substantial? Spiritual?
Devotee: Well, I think that for your knowledge…
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: No, no, their reverence for me is in a formal way, I think. At least now they have proved like that. They are more particular with form management, and they want formal help from me. But I am not a man who is concerned with form only. I like spirit more than form. Rather, I like to be a form-breaker than a form-maker, if it is necessary for spiritual upliftment.
Devotee: That’s pretty heavy.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: And it is there – sarva-dharmān parityajya. What is that? What is the ideal and the highest goal?
āsām aho caraṇa-reṇu-juṣām ahaṁ syāṁ
vṛndāvane kim api gulma-latauṣadhīnām
yā dustyajaṁ sva-janam ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā
bhejur mukunda-padavīṁ śrutibhir vimṛgyām
“O, let me become a bush, a creeper or a plant in Śrī Vṛndāvana, so that I may attain the dust of the feet of the gopīs. They have given up those things that are most difficult to renounce such as the association of their family members and the laws of society in order to take shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, which are searched for by the Vedas themselves.” (Bhāg.10.47.61)
Are you acquainted with this śloka of Bhāgavatam which is spoken by Uddhava about the gopīs of Vṛndāvana, about their qualification? Are you acquainted with this śloka of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam?
Devotee: No. Kindly tell me.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: So you should have connection with the highest ideal in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Where to go? What is our destination? For what have we come to Iskcon? Swami Mahārāja has given a general call to so many, crushing the pride of the present scientific civilisation. But what for? What is our highest aim? You must be conscious of that. For what have you come? You soldiers, you are arrayed to fight with māyā, but what for? What is your aim? What is the conception? There are so many conceptions – the Islamic conception, the Christian conception, the varṇāśrama conception, the Buddhist conception, Śaṅkara’s conception – so many. But what is the Kṛṣṇa consciousness that Swami Mahārāja gave to you?
Devotee: Our thinking is that we do not know Kṛṣṇa. We have no qualification to know Kṛṣṇa. But we know Prabhupāda, therefore we want to serve him.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: What is your Prabhupāda? There are so many spiritual masters in the world. What is the peculiarity of your Prabhupāda?
Devotee: He is putting us at the feet of Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Then what is Kṛṣṇa? Did he not preach about Him? He preached about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And what is that Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
Devotee: Surrendering to Prabhupāda means preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: He captured your mind through preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: And what do you find peculiar to Kṛṣṇa consciousness that you left your previous religious ideas and joined Swami Mahārāja? You took so much risk – what is that great Kṛṣṇa consciousness? You must know that.
Devotee: Yes, yes, we know – whatever Prabhupāda has taught us!
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Not hazy – you are simply taking the name of Prabhupāda!
Devotee: Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord – that is a vague word. Someone else will say that Allah is the Supreme Lord, another will say that Jesus is the Supreme Lord…
Devotee: Well, He has His name, form, paraphernalia, pastimes – they are non-different from Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: You have to know what is the Kṛṣṇa conception. Back to Godhead – what is that Godhead?
Devotee: We are being educated in our Iskcon society about that.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: That education is not a mere fashion. That is reality.
Devotee: Our Guru Mahārāja – he was there guiding this mission for 13 years…
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: I know your Guru Mahārāja more than you do. I knew him from the beginning to the last days of his life. So much so, that once he proposed to me to become the president of Iskcon. I refused. In his last days, he wanted me to live along with him in Iskcon, to have my constant association.
Devotee: If I say something representing their side (the GBC), you please do not mind it.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Whatever you say that will be superficial to me. That won’t reach to the depth of my knowledge and experience of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Whatever you will see, what all of you will see, that won’t reach the depth of my knowledge about Iskcon, what is Kṛṣṇa consciousness, who is Kṛṣṇa. I think you are all primary students.
As I mentioned in my opening statement, “The position of our Guru Mahārāja’s mission has gone from bad to worse – nothing has changed for the good.” Bad to worse means that previously they had only a slight necessity for adjustment in areas such as Vaiṣṇava behaviour and philosophy. Now, the philosophical misconceptions have increased a thousand fold. What to speak of Vaiṣṇava behaviour, vaiṣṇava-aparādha has become their food and drink!