Credit Where Credit's Due
BY: ROCANA DASA
Jul 06, CANADA (SUN) Here at the Sun we have received, of late, a few submissions by none other than Puranjana dasa of PADA fame. It appears that my article "Practical Siddhanta" has sparked his interest. In his usual 'style', he has clipped out and commented upon various aspects of the article, providing me with a long page of his predictable rhetoric.
Admittedly, I have declined to post most everything submitted by him over the last two years, and I continue to hold that position. We have set certain editorial boundaries for the Sun, and they reflect our unwillingness to promote fanatics or writers who regularly rant. So you'll not find Puranjana dasa's submission on this site. If you really want to read it, you can find your way to his Blog.
That said, I do feel moved to comment on some of the content Puranjana recently sent me. In the spirit of a swan taking some milk from the water, I did find some of the points he's made to be valid, once I filtered out of the vociferous mantras he's become so renowned for. In my opinion and the opinions of many others - including his associates who believe in the Rtvik position - Puranjana prabhu's fanatical verbiage is found to be quite counter-productive. Still, one has to admit that he is one of the pioneers of the protest movement. He claims he goes back to 1978. While I can't verify that, as the saying goes: you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their back. Puranjana has, from a psychological point of view, probably been severely impacted by his experiences, particularly when his good friend Sulocana was murdered.
Not surprisingly, Puranjana took great objection to my "Church of Rtvik" paper, as did his Rtvik colleagues. Somehow or other, he came up with the uniquely strange conclusion that in the distant past, I was adversely influenced by Kundali dasa. Frankly I've never agreed with Kundali's position, and particularly his methodology, although I hosted him for a few days in my home. We had some interesting discussions… when I could get a word in edgewise. I've also published a fair bit of Kundali's material in the past in HareKrsna.com, and I certainly agree with some of what he has to say. Over the last ten years he seems to have dropped off the map, so I'm not sure if his position remains the same today. I can say that he never did convince me of anything, and that my Sampradaya Acarya position now is not at all inline with his philosophical conclusions, as I understand them.
Since we're talking of the past and what my influences have been I'm happy to admit here, as I've done in my paper, just what some of these influences have been. My association with Yasodanandana dasa, who is a very close associate of Puranjana's, certainly helped me to sharpen my ideas on guru tattva, and this association helped me come to some of the conclusions I have today. The problem I had with Yasodanandana and Puranjana, and that whole faction of the Rtvik movement, is that when I wanted to discuss/debate with them some of the philosophical aspects of their Rtvik-vada, I was shut down and shunned immediately. I was never given the opportunity to discuss the differences I had with them philosophically. They, like all fanatics, wouldn't ever consider that what they believe in has any degree of untruth or could possibly be asiddhantic. As I make clear in Church of Rtvik, I don't accept their Rtvik-vada position except to the degree that they emphasize putting Srila Prabhupada firmly at the center.
The gist of what Puranjana dasa had to say to me recently is that I stole some of their thunder, i.e, that I used some of "their" philosophical points in my Sampradaya Acarya theme. Puranjana points to my use of the term "Sampradaya Acarya", which he says was first coined by his camp in the years immediately following Srila Prabhupada's departure. In fact, the term was coined by Srila Prabhupada himself, not by any of us followers. Upon keyword searching the early papers published by Yasodanandana and company that we have in hand, we discover three instances of their use of the term "Sampradaya Acarya", as follows:
"One of the members of the self-appointed acarya party declared "Who cares for Madhva and Ramanuja! We are followers of Srila Prabhupada's" sampradaya acarya and how their new status had to be accepted by all of the other members of the Acarya's mission."
The Tradition of Debate, Part 3, by Yasodanandana dasa, 1996
"4) changes the sacred Bhagavad-gita purports of the Acarya, Srila Prabhupada, then what kind of spiritual master is he? Does he truly represent the pure and original teachings of the Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada? We suggest that such a guru does not represent the original acarya and any devotee should exercise utmost caution about hearing from such a person.
And sastra has to be understood for its practical application according to the order of the Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada. Thus, it is the duty of Srila Prabhupada's disciples to act as humble ritvik representatives of the actual Acarya, Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada is the actual current link and actual authority for the true followers of the Krsna Consciousness movement."
Mythology Revival by Yasodanandana dasa, Nov 17, 1994
In the first quotation above, the term "Sampradaya Acarya" was actually quoted as having been used by an ISKCON authority. In the next two instances of use, the author certainly refers to Srila Prabhupada as a "Sampradaya Acarya", but there is absolutely no explanation of what he understands that to mean. We must therefore assume that he uses the term in the same way Srila Prabhupada had used it in the past. Aside from that, there is nothing to characterize a position regarding the Sampradaya Acarya designation. In my paper, on the other hand, I have offered a great many supporting statements for my positions, and have approached the Sampradaya Acarya designation from a variety of angles, both philosophically and practically. Granted, there may be other papers published by Yasodanandana, Puranjana or other early Rtviks that I'm not aware of. If so, I trust Puranjana will call them to our attention.
As further evidence that I 'stole their ideas', Puranjana also points to my focus on the List of 32 Acaryas presented by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila Prabhupada, which can best be described as nitya-siddha shaktyavesa avatars. We all agree that Srila Prabhupada should be represented and worshipped as just such a personality. We also agree that Srila Prabhupada should be considered the most recent representative of this level of Acaryas. In Puranjana dasa's presentation, however, he claims that this List of 32 only goes back 5,000 years. But if he looks at the list again he'll see that Lord Brahma is included, along with other Acaryas who have been existing for uncountable years, back to the beginning of creation. So while he believes his position is absolute, Puranjana dasa himself makes mistakes in this regard.
While I understand Puranjana's wish that he and his Rtvik associates not be forgotten for their early contribution to the debate, I think it's clear that there is a gulf of difference between my assertion of the Sampradaya Acarya position and his own. But at the end of the day, what does it matter who 'coined the term'? In fact, Srila Prabhupada gets that honor, himself. So let us busy ourselves in trying to understand who the nitya-siddha maha-bhagavata Sampradaya Acarya is, rather than waste our time arguing over who had an idea first.
Puranjana mentions an interesting point on the question of the time gaps, which Srila Prabhupada himself said we should not be concerned about when we look at the List of 32 and the lineage. He notes that Krsna Himself made a point of saying in the Bhagavad-gita that there are time gaps and that He's come to reinstate the disciplic succession, and He has to come time and time again to do so. As I've said in my paper, this is essentially the definition, or one of the aspects of the Sampradaya Acaryas. In many cases, they did re-establish or reinforce the Sampradaya through various means, primarily through siddhanta.
Another interesting point Puranjana dasa makes that I agree has some validity is what he calls "Rtvik through the backdoor". This term refers to ISKCON's policy wherein they say that if you become initiated by one of their voted-in gurus, it means that simultaneously one has to develop the consciousness that they're the property of ISKCON or Srila Prabhupada. So the disciples have to somehow or other reconcile this philosophical dilemma and try to figure out where their absolute loyalty lies - with their supposedly eternal diksa guru, or with the GBC/ISKCON and ostensibly Srila Prabhupada?
Of course, ISKCON's policy on the guru issue is that they give no guarantees, even though the guru is given their 'rubber stamp' authorization, albeit with the disclaimer that they can't guarantee the guru isn't going to fall down. But in the event they do, the disciple still has Srila Prabhupada as a 'safety net'. And from their point of view, of course, you'll still be part of ISKCON, who will strongly encourage you to get re-initiation… just to hedge your bets. So in a sense Puranjana dasa is right… this is really a form of Rtvik-ism.
Of course Puranjana dasa and his particular camp of Rtviks have certain distinguishing characteristics when it comes to their preaching of the Rtvik siddhanta, namely that they like to point to the similarities between what happened after Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati departed and what happened in ISKCON after Srila Prabhupada left. Granted, there are many similarities and some of their points are well taken in that regard. I haven't made the effort to carefully study Gaudiya Matha history enough to come to the same absolute conclusions they have, but basically my position is that in both cases, the Gaudiya Matha and ISKCON re-established the concept of the diksa lineages, which in itself does not siddhantically line up with the concept of the Sampradaya Acarya level of parampara. In the case of both institutions, they didn't make the clear distinction between the parampara concepts which they were preaching and that of the parampara being maintained by Sampradaya Acaryas throughout the ages. They did not emphasize how or why we should make a clear distinction between a diksa lineage that is branching out from these Sampradaya Acaryas, and the actual branch or level that is constituted by the Sampradaya Acarya himself, i.e., those you find on this List of 32.
Another aspect of the diksa lineage concept promoted in both groups of disciples (Gaudiya Matha and ISKCON), is that they made some glaring mistakes in the sense that they voted in or appointed personalities who in short order, completely exposed themselves as being imitation or fallen personalities. These mistakes undermined the whole principle that both Sampradaya Acaryas tried to establish and arrange to have held in place during their post-samadhi period -- in other words, the cooperation of the sadhana-bhaktas under the concept of a GBC, so that their missions would not be undermined and diluted.
Puranjana dasa often makes statements I find quite humorous, and the follow statement struck me as being both funny and accurate. He referred to the fact that the GBC are now forming a committee to discuss who is Srila Prabhupada, saying they're: "only just now opening a discussion called, "Who Is Srila Prabhupada -- Actually"? So they have been imitating him for 30 years, but just now they are trying to figure out, who are they imitating? "We have been printing counterfeit money for 20 years, maybe we should try to understand: what is real money, and why is everyone so upset at our counterfeit gurus"?"
Of course, Puranjana dasa has many themes that he harps on, one of them being the voting-in of gurus. We both agree this is asiddhantic. That was also a Gaudiya Matha idea. Puranjana claims that a lot of these ideas -- whether it's voting in gurus or re-initiation -- have been implanted in ISKCON on account of their association with various Gaudiya Matha personalities. This may be true. He doesn't give any real evidence one way or the other. Granted, it is suspicious that this happened in both eras, but at the same time after the departure of personalities who are Sampradaya Acaryas or maha-bhagavatas, in our tradition or other traditions, we see the phenomenon of religiosity replacing pure spirituality established by advanced devotees. Whether or not that can be prevented entirely is another matter, because until and unless someone of siddha status defeats the religionists, it's hard to hold back the tide.
In our circumstances today, we still have an opportunity, as individuals at least, to make the discernment between what is contaminated siddhanta and what is the pure siddhanta coming from Srila Prabhupada. So long as we're ready to seriously study Srila Prabhupada's teachings and be able to humbly extract from our own consciousness any contamination that has already been planted on account of impure association, we can develop that degree of discernment.
Although Puranjana dasa in his presentation tries to avoid it, the real difference between my understanding and his is essentially the heart of Rtvik-vada - the concept that we have been given permission by Srila Prabhupada to actually take diksa initiation from him, post-samadhi. I say that this concept is not supported by direct evidence from Srila Prabhupada, nor is there anything in the past teachings of the Sampradaya Acaryas to support this idea. Nor do I feel it is necessary or absolutely essential in order to carry on the parampara or Srila Prabhupada's spiritual mission. According to my position, to be connected to the Sampradaya is the main point, and to deny or restrict Krsna is impossible. After all, it's up to Krsna to empower a guru to purely represent the Sampradaya Acaryas, and to say that Krsna cannot empower someone to be a diksa or siksa, or to empower them through the heart as Caitya Guru is, in itself, an asiddhantic concept. You cannot restrict Krsna.
In today's circumstances, from my personal experience, I haven't detected anyone that I would consider an absolutely pure representative of Srila Prabhupada or any of the previous Acaryas. I do admit and concede that there are a lot of very sincere sadhana-bhaktas who are attempting to follow the process and understand the siddhanta to the best of their abilities. And to that end, Krsna is reciprocating with them. Given that I haven't been traveling extensively over the last ten years, there are undoubtedly many more such individuals than I'm aware of.
My position is that in this day and age, one of the ways we can protect ourselves individually or institutionally from going astray is that we humbly open ourselves up to being challenged by other sincere followers of the Sampradaya Acaryas. In a spirit of humility, we must be ready to discuss and defend our position or perspective and be open to the fact that we have not reached perfection, therefore we may be making mistakes through contamination. Whether it be hard-core Rtviks, hard-core ISKCON-ites, or fanatical disciples from any of the various camps that have manifested today, we don't find this humble spirit. And that goes for Puranjana dasa, as well. I've made numerous attempts to debate guru-tattva with the Rtviks, but they have never been willing to engage in a debate with me. And that includes the Rtvik camp Puranjana and Yasodanandana prabhus associate themselves with. I have posted a lengthy exchange I had with them regarding my challenge to debate. Perhaps one day in future they'll come forward and respond, upholding the Vaisnava tradition of debate that Yasodanandana himself has so eloquently described in the past.