Question: A sannyāsī/guru/GBC of ISKCON, ________Gosvāmī says in an interview on 24th June, 2017 that Śrīla Prabhupāda had invited all his godbrothers to join with him in his preaching in western countries, even offering to give them everything – free flights around the world to preach, a nice car – anything they wanted, but “they all refused, all the time.” __________Gosvāmī says that their reply to Śrīla Prabhupāda was that:
“We don’t want to give up our positions. Like in my own maṭha, I am the ācārya and I’d rather, basically be a ‘big fish in a little pond’ and not a ‘little fish in a big pond.’”
________Gosvāmī says that Śrīla Prabhupāda told him like that many times. Is this really cent-per-cent true?
Swami Narasiṅgha: Hearing this kind of bigoted statement towards Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. There is, of course, some truth in __________Gosvāmī’s statement, but it runs along the lines of a half-truth, a half-baked potato, rather than an accurate representation of the facts.
Make no mistake about it, Śrīla Prabhupāda did request some of his godbrothers to join him in his preaching mission in the west, even inviting them to be in charge of the temples, which would have become branches of the Śrī Māyāpura Caitanya (Gauḍīya) Maṭha.
Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to his godbrother, Śrīla Bhakti Vilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja, offering respects at his lotus feet and offering him the charge of the future temples in America. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja on October 8th 1965, scarcely one month after his having arrived in the USA.
Śrīla Prabhupāda made it clear in his letter that he did not wish to be in charge. He wanted only to preach for the satisfaction of their spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Thakura, and to that end alone, he invited his godbrother. Here are some relevant excerpts from that letter as follows:
“Pūjanīyā Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja, Kindly accept respectful obeisances at your lotus feet”
“But I think for establishing maṭha and temples here (America) you may take the charge and I shall be able to make them self-independent. “
“If you agree then take it for granted that I am one of the workers of the Śrī Māyāpura Caitanya Maṭha. I have no ambition for becoming the proprietor of any maṭha or mandira, but I want working facilities.”
It may also be noted that in that letter to Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda requested him to send ten lakhs of rupees via foreign exchange to start the New York temple – which was $150,000 in those days, or the equivalent of 1.5 million dollars by today’s standard.
“The Calcutta Marwaris are in your hand by the Grace of Śrīla Prabhupāda. If you like you can immediately raise a fund of Rs 10,00,000/- ten lacs to open a centre in New York. One centre started, I shall be able to start many others also. So here is a chance of cooperation between us and I shall be glad to know if you are ready for this cooperation.”
Now can you imagine what the response would be if I, Swami Narasiṅgha, were to write such a letter to the GBC at Māyāpura/Kolkata requesting co-operation, asking them to send me 1.5 million dollars so that I could open a preaching centre in Mexico City?
“The Calcutta Marwaris are in your hand by the Grace of Śrīla Prabhupāda. If you like you can immediately raise a fund of 1.5 million dollars to open a centre in Mexico City. One centre started, I shall be able to start many others also. So here is a chance of cooperation between us and I shall be glad to know if you are ready for this cooperation.”
I think the response to such a request is obvious – in fact, I doubt that I would even receive a reply. More likely than not, it would simply raise one hell-of-a-laugh! Factually, let us imagine if Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja had actually accepted our Guru Mahārāja’s request back in 1965, then there would be no ISKCON! There would simply be no ISKCON! Can you imagine? Yes, that is what would have happened. All the centres in America and around the world would all be branches of Śrī Māyāpura Caitanya (Gauḍīya) Matha and we would all have become disciples of Śrīla Bhakti Vilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja and not disciples of Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda.
These generous offers that Śrīla Prabhupāda made to his godbrothers were indeed declined, but when ________Gosvāmī says that the godbrothers responded by saying, “We don’t want to give up our positions. Like in my own maṭha, I am the ācārya and I’d rather, basically be a ‘big fish in a little pond’ and not a ‘little fish in a big pond,” he is simply putting words in the mouths of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers that they never said.
In fact, the phrase ‘big fish in a small pond and little fish in a big pond’ was not actually in the vocabulary of Śrīla Prabhupāda or his godbrothers. It is purely an American phrase that first came into use in the late 19th century. I doubt that even one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers, or anyone in Gauḍīya Maṭha, ever used that phrase – especially in reply to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s offer of preaching in the west.
So rather than fault Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja for not accepting our Guru Mahārāja’s invitation, I think the proper understanding would be to see it as Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement. Lord Kṛṣṇa wanted all the glory of spreading Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana movement throughout the world in every town and village to go to His empowered devotee, our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svami Prabhupāda. We should thank our lucky stars for that and not criticise the divine arrangement of Kṛṣṇa.
Another example of Śrīla Prabhupāda requesting a godbrother is that of Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja. On numerous occasions Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to arrange for Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s preaching.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “He (Śrīdhara Mahārāja) lived in my house as a sannyāsī for a few years. So naturally we had very intimate talks and he was my good advisor. I took his advice and instruction very seriously because from the very beginning I know he is a pure Vaiṣṇava devotee and I wanted to associate with him, and tried to help him. And he also tried to help me – so our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, I wanted to organise another organisation making Śrīdhara Mahārāja the head.” (Opening Ceremony of ISKCON Māyāpura Candrodaya Mandira, 17th March 1973, while Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja were sitting together on the vyāsāsana)
Another occasion occurred when Śrīla Prabhupāda went to Navadvīpa to visit Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja:
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “I very much want, Mahārāja, that you come and stay at Māyāpura. Because Prabhupāda (Bhaktisiddhānta) always desired that you preach. He told me quite a few times, “Why don’t you pull him out?” You know, I also tried to some extent before, but somehow or other it did not work out. Now, why don’t you come and stay at Māyāpura?”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “At last Prabhupāda told me that, ‘You are an ease lover.’ The qualifications that you have.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Yes, that’s true. He (Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) told me also, ‘He is such a qualified person. Śrīdhara Mahārāja is one of the finest preachers.’ I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Māyāpura, people are coming from all over the world. Why don’t you come and stay there? What is your objection to staying in Māyāpura? If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me, so both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here (to your maṭha).”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfil Prabhupāda’s (Bhaktisiddhānta’s) desire.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. I shall make that arrangement. If you stay, then it will be very helpful to me also. Sometimes I need to consult with someone but there is no one. There is no one that I can consult. I feel this deficiency very greatly.”
Devotee: “If he stays in Māyāpura, then, all kinds of people will get to hear from him.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Yes, that’s right.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Yes, they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won’t have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won’t even have to move a step yourself. I’ll make arrangements for a car and a lift. Jayapatāka Mahārāja is telling me that he will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am just traveling around, so if you are there, then they can get some guidance. So, Mahārāja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you.” (Room Conversation in Bengali, Navadvīpa, Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha, 10th February 1977)
Only days after this room conversation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in 1977, our Guru Mahārāja began to manifest his illness and disappearance pastimes. Had Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja come to stay on ISKCON property during those times and during the days of the ‘Magnificent Eleven’ who usurped the position of the ācārya of ISKCON after the departure of Śrīla Prabhupāda, it is unimaginable to think what horrendous offenses the leaders of ISKCON would have made to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. As it was, even while staying in his own matha, ISKCON leaders mortified Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja by their uncivilised and un-Vaiṣṇava like behaviour –
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “I am an old man, I am tired, excited, I am very, very sorry, (crying) really I say with folded palms that you are ill-treating me. I am very sorry. Swami Mahārāja (Śrīla Prabhupāda) was so affectionate, I also treated with such affection to him. And rudely you are behaving towards me. I am very much mortified for that, but what can I do? I am a small man…. If you give so much stress to his (Śrīla Prabhupāda) words, then he wanted to make me president. Of course, I remember that. Once, he came and proposed to me, requested me to become president of ISKCON. That he did. But it is very deplorable to me to think that the so-called ISKCON committee is so eager to go away from me. In other words, I see that they are digging their own grave.” (Conversation with ISKCON GBCs, Navadvīpa, Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha, 5th March, 1982)
Again I will mention that if Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers had accepted his offer, beginning with Śrīla Tīrtha Mahārāja in 1965 and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in 1973 and 1977, or even before when Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to start another organisation after the breakup of Gauḍīya Maṭha, making Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja the head, then there may have never been an ISKCON or even disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
From my perspective, it appears that the statement of _______Gosvāmī and others of a similar mentality echoes the Judeo-Christian way of thinking. It is ‘judeo’ in the sense that ISKCON leaders are, step by step, turning Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ISKCON into a messianic personality cult. Christians accept that Jesus was crucified to die for their sins, resurrected on the third day and ascended to heaven to sit on the right hand of God, but they reveal their hypocrisy by condemning the Jews for the death of Jesus – without who’s death there could never have been salvation for Christians. Similarly, ISKCON’s present leaders like _________Gosvāmī glorify Śrīla Prabhupāda as a pure devotee from birth who singlehandedly, by the desire of Kṛṣṇa, spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness around the world, yet at the same time condemn Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers for not accepting his offer to be the ācārya or president, for not accepting the preaching to be done under Śrī Māyāpura Caitanya (Gauḍīya) Maṭha, and for not cooperating with Śrīla Prabhupāda.
The fact is that some godbrothers did cooperate with Śrīla Prabhupāda – especially Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. A small, but significant example of the cooperation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, and the high esteem in which Śrīla Prabhupāda held Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, can be shown in the following incident.
During the foundation laying at Māyāpura Candrodaya Mandira in 1972, Śrīla Prabhupāda invited Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to attend. When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja arrived, Śrīla Prabhupāda came out to greet him and holding Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s hand, took him to his room and sat him down on his bed. Prabhupāda then arranged for some tender coconuts and the two talked briefly. Then, leaving Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja sitting on the bed, Śrīla Prabhupāda went down to the field to attend the function. Having completed the bhūmi-pūjā, Śrīla Prabhupāda returned to his room. At that time, Govinda Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, asked, “You invited Śrīdhara Mahārāja to the function, but you left him in your room and went to the field to do everything yourself? What is the meaning?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “Śrīdhara Mahārāja should not be bothered with such details. The fact is that simply by his presence here at our temple, everything is auspicious, by his grace! There is no need for him to walk down to the field.” After this, Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja sat together on Prabhupāda’s veranda and honoured prasādam.
It is a fact that Śrīla Prabhupāda went many times to see Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples (such as Acyutānanda Prabhu) were sent to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s āśrama to learn from him. There they learned how to perform guru-puja and they also learned how to perform Vyāsa-Pūjā when Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples attended the Vyāsa-Pūjā of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in 1967:
“Yesterday we have all come to Navadvīpa. This place is another establishment of one of my godbrothers. It is very nice and extensive place and my godbrother, B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja has spared one entire nice house for my stay. He has also agreed to cooperate with our society. We shall observe his birthday ceremony tomorrow and the brahmacārīs shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master’s birthday.” (26th October, 1967 – Letter to Satsvarūpa Dāsa)
By faulting Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers in the way that ________Gosvāmī has done, many of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples fail to see the arrangement of Kṛṣṇa. Thus, they reveal themselves to be hypocrites and remain kaniṣṭha devotees, or worse still, aparādhīs.
Furthermore, a consideration that these devotees are self-condemned kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs is the fact that anyone, after fifty years of devotional service, who continues to think that all the living entities in the material world, in countless numbers of universes, were once pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa absorbed in love of God eternally in Goloka Vṛndāvana one day were overcome by lust and became envious of Kṛṣṇa, and were thus cast down to the worlds of birth, death, old age and disease is clearly a kaniṣṭha, despite their having achieved a PhD in Sanskrit and risen to the heights of leadership in ISKCON.
Yes, you heard me correctly! They cannot understand, due to their Vaisnava aparādha and kaniṣṭha mentality, where the soul comes from. It is similar to what Lord Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā regarding the nature of consciousness:
āścarya-vat paśyati kaścid enam āścarya-vad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ
āścarya-vac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti śrutvāpy enaṁ veda na caiva kaścit
“Some look at the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Bhagavad-gītā 2.29)