Taking Shelter of Srila Prabhupada and Re-Initiation


Question

Some devotees urgently need to have a physically present guru in their life, even if it means repeatedly taking re- initiation, and there are those that feel enthusiastic, cherished and nurtured  by taking shelter of Srila Prabhupada even if they never met him in person. This however does not negate for some, the feeling of being “suspended”, not really properly situated. Maybe not properly connected.
I wonder how do you see the position of those who elected to take shelter of another guru or Prabhupada after their gurus fell down?

Answer

H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

You have raised an important issue and your discussion of it is reasonable and mature. Scholars of religion note that many new religious groups, perhaps most, suffer such problems in the immediate aftermath of the passing of their founding leader. Again, I think it fair to say that the first decade after Prabhupada’s passing, a majority of ISKCON devotees, certainly including myself, went through experiences we hope never to repeat.

After that little ‘preface’ I will directly address your questions.

1. The GBC made things up as they went along since none of us had ever been in that situation before, and search as we might, we could not find many clear, explicit instructions on this situation, either in Shastra or from Prabhupada. There was no manual.

2. Although I certainly don’t condone the pressure that was placed on some survivors of fallen gurus to choose another guru, the general idea, not the pressure, came from Acaryas like Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Jiva Goswami.

3. Those with fallen gurus who simply took shelter of Prabhupada can be seen in various categories. Some are good devotees who generally observe Vaishnava etiquette and thus benefit from senior association, even as they focus on Prabhupada. In fact, there are disciples of gurus in good standing who observe guru-etiquette but focus on Prabhupada. My general view is that as long as we observe proper etiquette, we are all free to honor those Teachers who most inspire us. In this case, proper etiquette begins with honoring Prabhupada as our Founder-Acarya. I admit that while I respect all sincere Vaishnavas, I do not see it as a trivial point to serve Prabhupada’s own mission. Prabhupada trained me that way, and I am simply unable to reject that training.

4. Devotees are unique and react in different ways to the guru issue. I believe that ISKCON offers extraordinary spiritual resources and we have to recognize that some devotees, however they respond to the guru issue, are simply not satisfied persons. Just as there are men and women who are not satisfied even with a good, faithful spouse, so some devotees are dissatisfied despite the many guru options in ISKCON. And as we know, some devotees have legitimate causes of dissatisfaction based on their personal history.

My conclusion: I am generally optimistic, but we have to accept that no matter what we do, we simply cannot satisfy some persons. Still, we should do all we can to help those willing to accept our help.