The New ISKCON Guru System

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With the “zonal acarya” system in tatters due to the fall of many of the so-called acaryas the GBC established a new system allowing any disciple initiated by Srila Prabhupada to apply to become a guru. This considerably increased the number of gurus in ISKCON, but did nothing to solve the problems resulting from the “zonal acarya” days.

The qualification for becoming a guru in ISKCON now seems to be something of a political matter between the local temple authorities and the GBC.

"Another examination will be held in 1971 on the four books, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who passes this examination will be awarded the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want all my spiritual sons and daughters to inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. That is my program. So we should not simply publish these books for reading by outsiders, but all of our students must be well-versed in all of our books so that we can be prepared to defeat all opposing parties in the matter of self-realization." (to Hansadutta 3 Dec, 1968)

It is obvious Srila Prabhupada wanted his students to take Krishna consciousness very seriously and advance to the stage where they would be capable of becoming spiritual masters in their own right and initiating their own disciples. However, guru, means literally ‘heavy.’ So to become guru is no small matter.

"Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bona fide guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But there's a matter of etiquette. It is the custom that during the lifetime of your spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bona fide spiritual masters and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy." (to Tushta Krishna Swami, 2 Nov 1975)

Unfortunately, after Srila Prabhupada left his body ISKCON institutionalized the concept of guru and rubber-stamped some unqualified men as guru. This appeared to work for some time, but such unqualified men have no ability to actually spread Krishna consciousness. They succeeded in attracting some sentimental disciples and some envious ones as well who wanted to take their position. However, sincere devotees found it very difficult to stay in the new ISKCON built around the false idea that the new “acaryas” were on the same level as His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

If there is no one qualified to take the position of guru or acarya you can’t rubber-stamp unqualified men and expect success. Srila Prabhupada, of course, knew where his disciples were situated spiritually, so he established a system which would allow his disciples to go on initiating new devotees, however the new devotees would be disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada did not say that the eleven he named were acaryas or that they could take disciples on their own behalf. This idea came from the Gaudiya Math after Srila Prabhupada left his body.

Although this issue has been the subject of rather heated debate over the past years between groups who have their own vested interests to protect within ISKCON, any impartial observer can see that there is no point of justifying the “zonal acarya” system when most of the so-called acaryas have fallen down from spiritual life.

The current system is not different from the “zonal acarya” system. The only real difference is there are more “acaryas.” The new gurus still want worship on the level of Krishna from their disciples… everything is the same… nothing has changed. So if the “zonal acarya” system is not bona fide, the current guru system is equally un-bona fide. It is sure to collapse in the same way the “zonal acarya” system collapsed.

An acarya is not a cheap thing. Simply by GBC approval one doesn’t become an acarya. This is similar to the Mayavadi concept of taking sannyasa. The Mayavadis think that by taking sannyasa they become equal to Narayana or Krishna. Similarly, it seems, that ISKCON devotees think that they become equal to Srila Prabhupada by GBC approval. However it is not GBC approval that makes a devotee a qualified acarya. It is his sincere desire to please Srila Prabhupada and Krishna, and such an acarya does not have to be approved by anyone, he is self-effulgent. The whole world will accept him as a spiritual authority, as they did with Srila Prabhupada. He certainly won’t need GBC approval, any more than Srila Prabhupada needed the approval of the Gaudiya Math. In fact the Gaudiya Math never approved of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching and they still refuse to accept that Prabhupada is even entitled to be called Prabhupada (they call Srila Prabhupada “Swami Maharaja”–even now!) So as the Gaudiya Math was left behind by Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON may be left behind by the next self-effulgent acarya.

"Almost all the conditioned souls within the material world are envious. Jealous people generally turn against one who automatically attains some reputation. This is natural for jealous people. Consequently, when a devotee is fit to receive worldly reputation, he is envied by many people. This is quite natural. When a person, out of humility, does not desire fame, people generally think him quite humble and consequently give him all kinds of fame. Actually a Vaisnava does not hanker after fame or a great reputation."(CC Mad 4.147)
"This is the function of the GBC, to see that one may not be taken away by maya. The GBC should all be the instructor gurus. I am the initiator guru, and you should be the instructor guru by teaching what I am teaching and doing what I am doing. This is not a title, but you must actually come to this platform. This is what I want." (to Madhudvisa 4 Aug, 1975)
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1 Comment on "The New ISKCON Guru System"

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  1. Richard says:

    I read what you have said and I agree with the content. I was initiated by one of the gurus in the Philippines after Prabhupada. I came back to the States and followed him through his writings for a while but became disappointed with some of the stuff going on and slipped away. However, the seed was planted and I continue to study all the translations of Prabhupada as that more then anything or anyone else in the organization was significant to me. Through those works i still have the voice of the founder and the guru i believe to actually hold the designation. All people are always known by their work in this world and if they have something of value to contribute they will and it will last.

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