We cannot approach Krishna directly!
Bhima das: Some years ago, an older godbrother who had been initiated at the same time as myself by Hansadutta in 1978, came to visit from Vrindaban, where he had been residing (and he resides there still). After Hansadutta was ousted from ISKCON, and since the falldown of many ISKCON gurus ever since, for a time this devotee took shelter under a babaji there in the Holy Dham.
Over the years he mixed with ISKCON's gurus and their devotees and those outside ISKCON as well, including Gaudiya Math devotees. When we were visiting Vrindaban, we wanted to place an order for deity dresses, and he came highly recommended for his beautiful designs, so we renewed our acquaintance with him in this way, and some time later, after we had relocated to a new address in Singapore and were preparing to worship Sri Sri Radha Govinda Gopal, he announced that he would be coming to Singapore for a visit and that he would perform a special fire sacrifice for our center.
So it was that he then came to Singapore. One day, while we were offering aratrik, he pointed out that we were offering out of proper sequence. He remarked that this was also done all wrong in ISKCON, and that we should follow how it is done in the Gaudiya Math's temples: first to Krishna, then to Radha, then to Lord Chaitanya, then to Nityananda, then back down through the parampara and finally to the spiritual master. Their idea, he said, was that we cannot offer bhoga to the spiritual master; everything must be offered first to Krishna, and then after it has become prasadam, then only it is offered to the spiritual master.
[PADA: ISKCON adopted this system in many temples under their "Shastra Advisory Committee" (SAC) because it was argued, that if the guru is fallen at the time of the offering, at least it was offered to Krishna first. So Krishna was used as a sort of back up process, to collect up the offering in case it was contaminated by offering to a bogus guru. The problem is that Srila Prabhupada says that unless the offering is made first to the pure devotee, its not accepted by Krishna. There is no such thing as offering first to Krishna and then offering to a contaminated person afterwards either. All this was concocted to keep their bogus gurus bhogha offerings going on.]
We could not accept his advice, however, understanding from Srila Prabhupada’s books and instructions that in deity worship, as in everything that we undertake in devotional service, we have to remember and ask for the blessings of the parampara, beginning with the spiritual master, on up to his spiritual master, then to his spiritual master, all the way up to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. How is it posssible for us to directly approach Krishna? That idea goes against the basic principle of spiritual life, as taught by Srila Prabhupada.
Here are citations from Srila Prabhupada’s letters and lectures, showing what Srila Prabhupada taught:
Letter to Tamal Krsna, Los Angeles, 15 May 1970
So Krsna when He is with His brother and sister, He is Jagannatha, and when He is with His village girl-friends that is Radha-Krsna with Gopis. So Whomever you worship, it is the same, but if you like to worship Jagannanth you can continue it and it is as good as worshiping Radha-Krsna. Krsna has so many forms, and which ever form you worship it is all the same, but you should worship that form which you like most.
Regarding the means of worship, our Vaisnava process is first offer respects to the Spiritual Master, then Lord Caitanya, and then Lord Krsna. Vyasa is the Spiritual Master, therefore the Spiritual Master is the representative of Vyasa. Therefore the Spiritual Master’s seat is called “Vyasasana.”
Letter to Himavati, Los Angeles, 1 April 1970
Regarding taking Lord Jagannatha to your next center, that will not be very good because you already do not have enough devotees to engage in Arcana. Unless there is a Deity worshipper available, we may worship Panca-tattva and Guru. That can be done by all initiated students whether they are once or twice initiated. Before an altar with pictures of Lord Caitanya, Pancatattva and Acaryas, everyone can offer Aratrik and Bhoga.
Yes, it is nice that you are worshiping Lord Caitanya along with Radha Krsna. That is alright. Lord Caitanya should be placed to the right side of Krsna. There is nothing special for His worship, but you may continue as you are doing now. The order of worshiping is first Spiritual Master, and then Lord Caitanya, then Radha Krsna (as in the mantras or Bunde aham prayer).
Your confidence to do whatever you are instructed by the Spiritual Master is very encouraging. Yes, this is the method of the Vedic injunction, staunch faith in Spiritual Master and Krsna makes one perfect in spiritual understanding.
lecture, Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.10, Los Angeles, Jun 23, 1975
Therefore our first duty is to worship Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We keep the Deity. In the first we offer our obeisances to Caitanya Mahaprabhu along with His associate, and then, Guru-Gauranga, then we offer Radha-Krishna or Jagannatha.
lecture, Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.2, London, Aug 10, 1971
We begin from our first disciplic succession. Vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaishnavamsh cha. Vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam. “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of my guru, spiritual master.” Vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaishnavamsh cha. And then, his guru, his guru, his guru, they’re all Vaishnavas.
Vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaishnavamsh cha. Sri-rupam. Then we offer respect to Sri Rupa Gosvami. Rupa Gosvami. Vande rupa-sanatanau raghu-yugau sri-jiva-gopalakau. All the Gosvamis, six Gosvamins. Vande rupa-sanatana… Sagraja. Sa agraja. Agraja means elder brother. Sanatana Gosvami was the elder brother of Rupa Gosvami, and Rupa Gosvami accepted him as his spiritual master.
Sri-rupam sagrajatam saha-gana-raghunathanvitam. Associated by Raghunatha. There are two Raghunathas: Raghunatha dasa Gosvami and Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami. Sa-jivam, with Jiva Gosvami. This is the process. Vande ‘ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaishnavamsh cha sri-rupam sagrajatam saha-gana-raghunathanvitam tam sa-jivam. Then we go to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s status: sadvaitam savadhutam.
That is also… First of all, Advaita Gosañi, then Nityananda Mahaprabhu, Prabhu. Mahaprabhu is applicable only to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Others, all prabhus. Ekale ishvara krishna ara saba bhritya [Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi 5.142]. Krishna, and He has got innumerable servants. Krishna is Mahaprabhu, and all others, they are prabhus. And the spiritual master who has got many prabhus to abide by his order, he is addressed as Prabhupada. This is the system.
So sadvaitam savadhutam parijana-sahitam krishna-chaitanya-devam. After offering all these obeisances to Gosvamis, to guru, and Advaita, Nityananda, then you come to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Then Sri Radha. Not Krishna directly. Sri-radha-krishna-padan saha-gana-lalita-sri-vishakhanvitamsh cha. Radha-Krishna means they are always associated by the gopis, of whom Lalita-Vishakha are the chief out of the ashta-sakhis.
So this is the parampara system.
lecture, Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.4, Rome, May 28, 1974
This is the parampara system. As you get knowledge, step by step… Krishna is the original spiritual master, and then from Krishna, Lord Brahma learned the Vedic knowledge. Tene brahma hrida adi-kavaye[Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.1]. In the Bhagavata it is said that “Wherefrom Brahma got his knowledge?” Because whenever we want to get knowledge, we must approach a superior person to get knowledge.
Tad-vijnanartham sa gurum eva abhigacchet [Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12].Guru means superior. So who was the superior person when Brahma got knowledge? Because there was no other creature. He is the first creature. Therefore it is said, “The superior person was Krishna, but He was not present.” We see, Krishna was present before Arjuna, but nobody was present before Brahma. Therefore it is said, tene brahma hrida adi-kavaye, hrida: “through the heart.” Because Krishna is situated in everyone’s heart.
Actually, He is the spiritual master, chaitya-guru. So in order to help us, He comes out as physical spiritual master. And therefore -- sakshad-dharitvena sama… Spiritual master is representative of Krishna. Krishna sends some sincere devotee to act on His behalf, and therefore he is spiritual master.
So this is the parampara system. As you receive knowledge step by step… Narayana, Krishna, instructed Vyasadeva. Brahma, Brahma instructed Narada. Narada instructed Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva instructed his disciple Madhvacarya. In this way we have to go through also, in the same way.
First of all, offer respect to the spiritual master, as he has done to Shukadeva Gosvami. Tam vyasa-sunum upayami gurum muninam. So then his spiritual master, then his spiritual master, then his spiritual master, then his spiritual master. Just like you have got the pictures. First of all, your spiritual master, then his spiritual master, then his spiritual master, his spiritual master, his spiritual master – ultimately Krishna. This is the process. Don’t try to approach Krishna directly, jump over. That is useless. As you receive knowledge through the steps, paramparasystem, similarly, we should approach Krishna through these steps.
Caitanya-Bhagavata Madhya Kanda, Ch 20, Text 6-9
TEXT: At that time Murari Gupta came there and offered obeisances at the lotus feet of the Lord. The greatly effulgent Murari Gupta next offered obeisances to Nityananda and then stood before Them. The Lord was very pleased with Murari, so He spoke to him without duplicity, “O Murari, what you have just done is not proper. You have transgressed etiquette while offering obeisances.
PURPORT: Murari Gupta offered obeisances first to Lord Gaurasundara and then to Lord Nityananda Prabhu. Objecting to the sequence of Murari Gupta’s obeisances, Mahaprabhu told him, “You have a misconception regarding Baladeva’s senior position and My own junior position. Especially since you are a devotee of Sri Balarama. The conclusion is that if the Supreme Lord is worshipped without first worshiping Sri Guru and Jagad Guru, the proper sequence is broken.” In common language there is a saying: ghoda dingaiya ghasa khaite nai—”One should not jump over the horse to eat the grass.”
Without the mercy of Sri Guru, no one is qualified to serve the Supreme Lord.
Now, so many years later, we see that ISKCON centers have changed the process of deity worship, adopting the sequence that is practiced in Gaudiya Math temples. Not all ISKCON temples. Apparently ISKCON in Los Angeles is still offering in the order beginning with Srila Prabhupada on up through the parampara to Lord Chaitanya and then to Sri Sri Rukmini Dvarakadisa.
Lately one Gaura Keshava das (SAC advisor) claims credit for ISKCON’s change in deity worship. He’s a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and supposedly ISKCON GBCs and gurus have recognized his knowledge of shastra, and have called on him to help counter rittvik propaganda and also to perform ghost-busting yajnas for ghostly-haunted gurus, among other duties. We received this email (dated 29 March 2009) in which Gaura Kesava mentions his role in ISKCON’s switcheroo:
…do we follow Srila Prabhupada’s personal example or the sastra that he gave us???
My contention is that we must follow the sastra that he has given us, and we must not imitate his personal example when it does not technically follow sastra.
So the system of arotik in all Gaudiya Vaisnava temples is to first pay obeisance to the guru and take his permission for worshiping Lord Krsna. Then worship Krsna first and then Radha then Mahaprabhu and the guru parampara in descending (senior to junior) order, lastly the arotik items are to be offered to the assembled devotees.
In ISKCON Srila Prabhupada instituted another order offering the items to the guru first. In this case the item cannot technically be offered afterwards to the Lord having first been enjoyed by the guru. This is technically not correct. Therefore we must in this case follow sastra and adapt our worship method to the one followed by all Vaisnava sampradayas. The doctrine or principle of worshiping the guru first is correct but the technicality of HOW that is to be done is incorrect.
By the way this system is followed in most temples in Europe where I standardized the deity worship in the 1980’s. It is not followed in some temples like LA because some Prabhupada disciples find it difficult to accept and they have no experience of the correct technical details as practiced in India.
Gaura Keshava das
This is wrong. The guru does not “enjoy” the item for himself. We offer to him, because he is the via medium. The entire parampara is the via medium, transparent window to Sri Krishna. We cannot go before Krishna face to face and hand over directly to Him whatever it is we are trying to offer Him.
We offer to the spiritual master, who passes it on to his spiritual master, who in turn passes it to his, and so on, all the way back up through the line of disciplic succession to Sri Krishna. If the spiritual master is a liberated person – and this is the verdict of shastra – then he is always situated in the mode of service, not enjoyment; he is free from desire for personal sense gratification or enjoyment, thinking only how to please his spiritual master and the Supreme Lord.
Moreover, we are confident that Srila Prabhupada has not contradicted shastra. His scholarship was unparalleled – throughout his books and lectures and conversations he freely cited passages from so many different sources – the Upanishads, Puranas, Vedanta Sutras, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, Brahma-samhita, Chaitanya-charitamrita, Chaitanya Bhagavata, the writings of the Six Gosvamis – all of which were known and familiar to him. So to suggest that he did not know what was in shastrais ridiculous and impudent.
And then too, we have to bear in mind what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati has said:
“Thakur Bhaktivinode” by His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur
What are the Scriptures? They are nothing but the record by the pure devotees of the Divine Message appearing on the lips of the pure devotees. The Message conveyed by the devotees is the same in all ages. The words of the devotees are ever identical with the Scriptures. Any meaning of the Scriptures that belittles the function of the devotee who is the original communicant of the Divine Message contradicts its own claim to be heard.
Those who think that the Sanskrit language in its lexicographical sense is the language of the Divinity are as deluded as those who hold that the Divine Message is communicable through any other spoken dialects. All languages simultaneously express and hide the Absolute. The mundane face of all languages hides the Truth. The Transcendental face of all sound expresses nothing but the Absolute. The pure devotee is the speaker of the Transcendental language. The Transcendental Sound makes His appearance on the lips of His pure devotee.
We confess that we are not familiar with the shastra which Gaura Keshava thinks Srila Prabhupada has contradicted or has not followed. But we are familiar with Srila Prabhupada’s warning that the disciple should not think himself smarter than the spiritual master, that he should remain a fool before him. We wonder if Gaura Keshava is not fallen into the category of the smarta-brahmanas, those who are attached to the rules and regulations and flowery language of the Vedas but miss the principle of humble obedience and service to the pure devotee.
Morning Walk, Mayapur, Apr 8, 1975
A disciple is always in deficiency before his spiritual master. Just like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, guru more murkha dekhi karila shashana[Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi 7.71]: “My spiritual master saw Me a fool number one. Therefore he has chastised Me.” So disciple should be always ready to be chastised. He should not think that he has become perfect.
That is perfection. So long he thinks that he is not perfect – he’s to be chastised – then he’s perfect. And as soon as he thinks that he has become perfect, he’s nonsense immediately, nonsense number one. [Break] …always to be chastised by the spiritual master for perfection. And if he thinks that now he has become perfect, then he’s a foolish. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said, guru more murkha dekhi: “My spiritual master saw Me a fool number one.” Was He fool number one? He’s God Himself. But that is the position. He should remain always a fool number one, ready to be chastised. Then he’s perfect.
A disciple’s position is to simply accept Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and teachings as the yardstick for everything, and reject anything and anyone who does not agree with what Srila Prabhupada has spoken. If Gaura Keshava does not accept the absolute authority of Srila Prabhupada, but only that ofshastras, then we have to conclude that he presumes to be more intelligent and more knowledgeable than Srila Prabhupada.
We are not going to follow such a person, for where he’s going is not where Srila Prabhupada is. As for ISKCON GBCs, who have implemented Gaura Keshava’s recommendations, either they have not read Srila Prabhupada’s books and letters or heard his lectures, or they do not have faith in them.
But then, we have to remember that all this talk of changing the deity worship took place around the time when Bhavananda was outed for having homosexual relations with various consenting adults as well as with gurukuli boys. Naturally the question came up whether his disciples should offer first to him or to Krishna and then to him, and it was decided (by ISKCON GBC) that he should not be offered bhoga, but only prasadam, for his own good. Later Bhavananda was demoted from guru status, but the policy remained for the other ISKCON gurus, just to keep them “safe”. So much for all that advertisement and self promotion about them being pure devotees and liberated souls.
We agree that the ISKCON gurus are not in a position to receive and pass on the offering up theparampara. Especially in light of their neglect and defiance of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions given in his letter of July 9th, 1977, wherein Srila Prabhupada designated eleven rittvik representatives of the Acharya to initiate disciples on his behalf “henceforward”.
Srila Prabhupada did not appoint any of his disciples to become gurus or acharyas. So none of the ISKCON gurus were authorized by Srila Prabhupada to become gurus and take on disciples. How, then, can they represent Srila Prabhupada and the entire disciplic succession? How can they connect us to Srila Prabhupada when they have disregarded his arrangement and have not received the order from him to initiate?
But this does not mean that the process of deity worship must be changed. It means that devotees must get it straight who is representing the parampara. It means that devotees should be offering first to Srila Prabhupada.