Acharya Creates the Tradition
“Except for God, no one can establish the principles of religion. Either He or a suitable person empowered by Him can dictate the codes of religion.” (purport, Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.43)
Many things were never done before. Ramanujacharya engaged dacoits for collection, then had them killed. Madhvacharya pummeled his opponents. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu sang and danced in public—never done before by sannyasis. Buddha rejected the Vedas. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada created a GBC to manage his preaching mission, leaving no successor acharya, as was traditionally done. Srila Prabhupada made the same arrangement. In both instances, the order was disobeyed, and in both instances the result was the same—chaos, confusion and disintegration of the Acharya’s mission. Great acharyas like Srila Prabhupada do establish the principles of religion according to time, place and circumstances.
In Ravindra Svarupa’s “Cleaning House and Cleaning Hearts, Reform and Renewal in ISKCON,” he admits that both Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila Prabhupada broke the Vedic tradition of appointing a successor acharya to take charge of their missions after their disappearance in favour of a modern institution of management known as the GBC (Governing Body Commission), a term and concept borrowed directly from the British management of the Indian railway system. Ravindra writes, “With its corporate form of organization, ISKCON thus represents a modernization of a religious tradition.” Ravindra then writes:
Upon the demise of his predecessor, the successor acharya would take the seat at the head of the institute. That successor acharya would be ritually elevated over all other disciples of his guru (his god-brothers), and all of them would bring new members to him for initiation.
ISKCON, however, represents a departure from this archaic form of organization. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stressed his intention that ISKCON would not, after his departure, be managed by a single acharya, but rather by the board of directors, the Governing Body Commission that he formed and began to train in 1970. Srila Prabhupada’s intention and his departure from the tradition of the
institutional acharya is shown in a striking way in his will. Traditionally, it was in the first article of his will that an acharyanamed his successor, passing on his institution to his heir, as if it were his personal property. The first article of Srila Prabhupada’s will reads: “The Governing Body Commission (GBC) will be the ultimate managing authority for the entire International Society for Krishna Consciousness.”
Ravindra next writes the various suggestions and proposals for “Guru Reform” made in 1986. By that time it had become abundantly clear that the guru-acharyas and GBCs simply could not resolve the two conflicting concepts of absolute authority to which each felt they were entitled. The GBC, as ultimate managing authority of ISKCON, felt they should be the authority, and the guru-acharyas felt they were the absolute, divine authorities over not only their own disciples, but even over the god-brothers, including the GBC. The institution was disintegrating over the clash of absolute power each group claimed as its right.
It was my conviction that we could retain in ISKCON the full-fledged position of guru as delineated by the scriptures, a position that did not essentially involve being the autonomous, autocratic head of an institution, did not essentially disallow discussion, consultation, revision and adjustment and did not forbid collegial decision-making as a kind of lese majeste.
Does anyone know what lese majeste means? My guess is it means “to have your cake and eat it too.” I’m open for reader response.
The zonal acharyaposition had asserted it was intrinsic to the position of guru to be absolute, and it professed that the gurus would voluntarily sacrifice that position for the sake of the movement. This implied that by working with a GBC the gurus were doing something unnatural or artificial, and of course their “voluntary sacrifice” seemed increasingly pro forma. To counter this conception of the guru I argued that there was a significant way in which it was essential for the bona fide guru to be relative. After all, that there was a significant way in which it was the essential qualifying characteristic of a guru is that he strictly follow the order of Srila Prabhupada, who had decreed that all of us must serve co-operatively under the authority of the GBC. Accepting the authority of the GBC board was not a voluntary option. Because it was Srila Prabhupada’s order, it was necessary to guru-hood itself.
What is guru-hood? Is it something like Robin Hood? Steal from the rich and give to the poor? Reader response requested. Help!
If Srila Prabhupada broke the traditional arrangement of appointing a successor acharya (as Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu has so clearly pointed out) by establishing a board of management (GBC) as the ultimate management authority of ISKCON, then it just stands to reason and is plain common sense that Srila Prabhupada would not create a competitive authority to clash with his ultimate managerial authority, the GBC, by appointing eleven guru-acharyas. If he did not want a single acharya, why would he appoint eleven acharyas? Rather, he again broke with tradition and appointed eleven rittvik representatives of the Acharya, who would continue initiating new disciples after his departure under the authority of the GBC (ultimate managing authority of ISKCON), just as they did for years in the presence of Srila Prabhupada and the GBC. Instead of accepting this completely self-evident, logical and authorized arrangement, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu and other ambitious devotees continue to juggle words like “reform” and “renewal” in an attempt to maintain their mistakenly assumed postures and prestigious titles of “guru-hood”.
In other words, the fact that Srila Prabhupada so strongly stressed the GBC as the ultimate managing authority of ISKCON proves that Srila Prabhupada intended his rittvik arrangement to continue functioning after his departure exactly as it functioned so successfully under himself and the GBC while he was present.
This formula—Srila Prabhupada as the Sampradaya Acharya, the GBC as the ultimate managing authority of ISKCON and the rittvik representatives as initiators on behalf of Srila Prabhupada (Sampradaya Acharya)—is clear and perfect. It can be confusing only to those who have mistakenly assumed that after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance ISKCON leaders must automatically become guru-acharyas in imitation of Srila Prabhupada (which is exactly what happened). Seventeen years later, everyone admits that this assumption was a colossal mistake. Instead of seeing the simple truth in Srila Prabhupada’s personal letter of July 9th, 1977, wherein he appoints eleven rittviks to initiate on his behalf, Ravindra Svarupa et al are still trying to find a way to “have their cake and eat it too”.
Ravindra Svarupa plainly admits Srila Prabhupada departed from the Vedic tradition. Why not simply surrender to the order of the spiritual master and stop all this wrangling, speculation, reform and renewal, which aims at nothing more than maintaining the mistakenly assumed posture of guru-acharya by men whom Srila Prabhupada authorized to act as rittvik acharyas? The Vedic tradition is created by the acharyas, and therefore Srila Prabhupada’s (the Sampradaya Acharya’s) arrangement for the GBC to act as head of the institution and consequently rittvik representatives of the Acharya for continuing the disciplic succession is perfectly in keeping with Vedic tradition. It is the acharyas who set the precedents which become the tradition, or it is the acharya who creates the Sampradaya; not the Sampradaya which creates the acharya. Just as the king creates the kingdom; not the kingdom creates the king. And the king can do no wrong.
The conclusion is if we accept Srila Prabhupada as the Sampradaya Acharya, pure devotee, shakti-avesha avatar and his writings as the law books for the next 10,000 years, then we should have no difficulty in accepting his arrangement of rittvik representatives, initiating on behalf of the Acharya, Srila Prabhupada.