Ravindra Svarupa's Role in the Guru Reform Movement
BY: ROCANA DASA
Sep 12, CANADA (SUN) This is in response to Kurma dasa’s recent article, "Monstrous Hoax Continues". We appreciative of the fact that Kurma dasa has been contributing articles to the Sun for some time now, although we find that in this particular article, some of the historical facts he presents are incorrect, particularly with respect to Ravindra Svarupa dasa. Of course, Ravindra Svarupa has made a great effort over the years to paint his own unique myth, and it's understandable that Kurma dasa has accepted some of that as the truth. Ravindra Svarupa has particularly emphasized his role in the Guru Reform movement, painting himself as a key personality, if not the actual architect responsible for bringing the Zonal Acarya system down.
Those of us who were closely involved with the Guru Reform movement, myself included, know that Ravindra Svarupa did attend the meetings and he was vocal. Because of his academic background he was very adept at writing articles, as were Bahudak dasa and other personalities attending the various meetings that took place at the Towaco NJ temple over a period of about a year. These devotees wrote numerous articles and put pressure on the Zonal Acaryas to consider the errors of their ways.
Of course, we didn’t have a concrete idea at that time of what should actually replace the Zonal Acarya system. We only knew that it was wrong, as evidenced by the results it was getting, and we certainly knew that the many nefarious activities of some of the Zonal Acaryas were wrong.
There were two main groups involved in the Guru Reform effort: those who wanted to genuinely reform ISKCON for the sake of Srila Prabhupada, and those who were there to secure their own opportunity to become gurus. With some of the sannyasis, like Bir Krishna and Ravindra Svarupa, we weren’t sure until well into the process just what their personal motivations were. But time made it clear that Ravindra Svarupa was ambitious to get his own piece of the pie.
The real history of the Guru Reform movement is that there was a big culmination of events which took place at the biggest meeting, held at New Vrindaban in the summer of 1985. I was there in the room when a communiqué, which I recall was a notarized document faxed from Atlanta, wherein a devotee made a formal statement to his Temple President explaining how Bhavananda had seduced him. He happened to be a very handsome black devotee, who explained in detail how in Vrindavan, Bhavananda had engaged him in homosexual activities, practically forcing him to do so. The arrival of this report was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Zonal Acaryas, primarily Tamal Krishna Goswami, Ramesvara and some of the others, knew the gig was up at that point, and they had to ‘work something out’. From that point on, their mood was, 'OK, we’re going to change, but how are we going to change?'
They then met with Ravindra Svarupa, who was cast in the role of a Benedict Arnold. The Zonal Acaryas figured out that he was the weak link, whereas the others, like Bahudak and myself, were too radical. We wanted changes that they just weren’t willing to accept. For example, we wanted them to adopt the understanding that their disciples, who had been forced to accept as a Spiritual Master whatever Zonal Acarya happened to be nearby, should be told that they weren’t really genuine disciples because that’s not how the process works. Yes, it works in the case of a Sampradaya Acarya like Srila Prabhupada, who founded and established the movement, and who was the only Spiritual Master to choose from at the time. But we wanted them to essentially inform all their disciples that the whole process had been bogus and they shouldn’t consider themselves disciples of that guru any longer. Instead, they should be free to choose whoever they wanted as a diksa guru.
Of course, the Zonal Acaryas were completely unwilling to take such an action. People like Harikesa and Jayapataka and Bhagavan they threatened to leave the movement if this policy was instituted, and they were very adamant about that. So they went to Ravindra Svarupa and convinced him that he would be cause of dissolving Srila Prabhupada's movement if he don’t go along with an arrangement that suited them.
So Ravindra Svarupa didn’t come up with the successful Reform plan… the Zonal Acaryas themselves came up with the plan. They articulated exactly how it was going to be, and Ravindra Svarupa was their mouthpiece. First and foremost, they would keep their disciples. There would be no announcement for them to change. They’d also keep their zones, except now the uninitiated devotees would be informed that they didn’t have to get initiated by the Zonal Acarya. Instead, there would other persons authorized to give diksa, like Ravindra Svarupa and Bir Krishna -- the ones who “cooperated” with them, who were not radicals, they would be allowed to initiate first and foremost. And basically, that was the program from there on in.
Of course, it was easy to understand how such a program would work. The Zonal Acaryas had a bunch of fanatical disciples, because that’s how the Zonal Acarya’s did it… they trained and cultivated the devotees to be fanatical disciples. And these disciples had been put in charge of temples and programs. The Zonals knew that they were going to put pressure on the newcomers to get initiated by their gurus, which was the case then just as it is today. So the newcomer gurus got to have some disciples, and as long as they stayed in their own little zones, like Ravindra Svarupa and Bir Krishna did, they could collect disciples without infringing the promotional activities of the big Zonal Gurus.
For the most part, the Zonal Acaryas who survived, who managed not to fall down, such as Jayapataka, are essentially still Zonal Acaryas to this day. Today we have some new Zonal Acaryas who have evolved up the ranks, but they accomplished this not on their own spiritual potency, but as a result of being lieutenants of the other Zonal Acaryas. They inherited disciples, or there was pressure put on disciples to get re-initiated by them. For example, Radhanath was Kirtanananda's close associate, so he and Bhakti Tirtha Swami got to split the take-over of Kirtanananda's disciples. Sivarama and Indradyumna were close associates of Bhagavan and Jayatirtha, etc. You can go right down the list and identify all the Princes of the Zonal Acarya Kings.
It's a fact, as Kurma dasa writes, that this system of voted-in gurus is nonsense. Of course, Kurma prabhu is trying to make out that Srila Prabhupada’s original program, which he thinks is synonymous with the current Rtvik system, should be put in place now. That’s where he and I have a different understanding. I don’t think you can introduce a system that has no verification in sastra. The diksa guru phenomenon has existed since time immemorial. Although very few of the millions and millions of diksa gurus throughout time were Sampradaya Acaryas, those who were sufficiently potent, who did proper service and who did not become contaminated as a result of falsely or immaturely taking disciples, they were the ones who closely followed and aligned themselves with the Sampradaya Acaryas in our Disciplic Succession. I’ve explained this in far more detail in my "Sampradaya Acarya" paper.
So while Kurma dasa and I differ on the essential guru issue, when it comes to his conclusions about the bogus systems that ISKCON has put in place, and particular the Zonal Acarya system, he and I are certainly on the same page. However, he is apparently carrying around some misconceptions of the historical realities of the Guru Reform movement of the mid-1980's, and Ravindra Svarupa's involvement in it. Hopefully this will help him to adjust his understanding of this important element of ISKCON history.