Don't imitate guru, or one will eventually become degraded
THE PARADE OF THE ZONAL ACARYAS AND
THE PADA PHENOMENON
In my short time living at 340 West 55th Street, six of the eleven original "zonal acaryas" visited and gave lectures. They were Bhagavan Goswami, Bhavananda Goswami, Kirtanananda Swami, Ramesvara Swami, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami (New York's Zonal Acarya), and Tamal Krsna Goswami.
I was hoping to write something meaningful concerning these original "zonal acaryas" who regularly made pilgrimage to the Hare Krishna Center in Manhattan, New York City during the period that I was a resident of that Maha ISKCON temple, in 1978 and 1979.
Then I realized, what could a lowly worm, a bottom feeder, have to say of any significance about Srila Prabhupada's early disciples? The line of sight of a maggot is lower than low and appallingly limited. But even the lowest of the low is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and is capable of appreciation, though in a very limited way, of the causeless transcendental mercy and the purifying effect on body, mind and soul in the blessed association of the pure devotee son of God.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, out of compassion for all the fallen conditioned souls, rescued those initial followers from the dung heap of the material world. He picked them up with his lotus hands and lovingly placed them under his swan-like transcendental wings. He adopted them. He made them his spiritual sons. He bestowed upon them the exalted responsibility of directly assisting him in carrying out the order of his spiritual father, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in spreading the holy names – HARE KRSNA HARE KRSNA KRSNA KRSNA HARE HARE / HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE – in every town and village.
He gave them his nectarean love, his heart cleansing association, his perfect absolute instructions and his empowering blessings. They were made of his mercy. He generously supplied them with his personal transcendental literary ecstasies, his divine purports to the original Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, to guide them unerringly, provided they followed those instructions. He did everything humanly and more-than-humanly possible for their, and the world's, eternal benefit.
All that a worm can do is envy them their immense other-worldly good fortune of being so inconceivably blessed. They were chosen by the Jagad-Guru Maha-Bhagavata Saktyavesa Avatara pure devotee of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Sri Radha Govinda to personally assist him in distributing Love of God to the world.
So I must necessarily wriggle cautiously, like the lowly grub that I am, among the surviving baby sprouts of my diminutive garden of devotional memories, and avoid offense – for the sake of Srila Prabhupada because he is their spiritual father, for their sake because they are his spiritual children, for the sake of any of Srila Prabhupada's siksa disciples who may still be following and worshipping the Zonals today, and for the sake of my own worthless bug-like self.
Although the subject matter herein is focused on the "zonal acaryas", all of Srila Prabhupada's early disciples were similarly blessed by him to take up the Sankirtana Movement of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Prabhupada's mercy was available to all the boys and girls, who were sent to him by Krsna to chant the Holy Names, chant the Holy Names, chant the Holy Names. So although I am speaking of the "zonal acaryas", I know for a fact that they were not the only fortunate souls to have the intimate association of the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON at the beginning of the movement.
My envy is not limited to the mercy received by the Zonals. In my enviousness I do not discriminate. I envy the unlimited mercy received by all the rest of you early disciples too! You were there right next to Srila Prabhupada, hearing the spiritual sound vibrations directly from his lotus mouth, chanting and dancing in kirtana with His Divine Grace, directly serving him, worshiping him, cooking for him, honoring the remnants of his foodstuffs.
Envy, envy, envy! That is why I am stuck in a material body in the material world – envy!
I met some of you way back in the late 1960's when I was a boy of 14. I was attracted to you when I saw you performing harinama sankirtana, chanting and dancing on a sidewalk in Manhattan. I just stood there staring. I will never forget it. Why didn't you kidnap me and place me at Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet when you had the chance?
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami was seated on a small vyasasana next to the much larger, more prominent (as it should be) vyasasana of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. That was SDG's vyasasana in the New York Temple. When he was not present in the temple there would be a framed garlanded photograph of him placed there. Visiting "zonal acaryas" sat on a similar minor vyasasana on the other side of Srila Prabhupada's vyasasana.
If one of the zonals arrived in the afternoon, there would be a big kirtana to welcome him and he would give an arrival address to the assembled devotees. The following morning he would give the Bhagavatam class. We are all individual spirit souls with unique personalities, experiences and realizations. Likewise, each of the zonals had their own personality and their own experiences and realizations in Krsna consciousness and preached accordingly.
Since 340 West 55th Street was in SDG's zone, all of the new devotees were expected to surrender to him as their spiritual master. It was an unwritten rule. There was no real choice in the matter. SDG was the guru for that zone and anyone aspiring for initiation had to surrender to him.
Unless an individual was strong-willed and independent in thought and very knowledgeable in sastra, which I was not, there was no other choice. If someone desired initiation from another "zonal acarya" they would possibly have to wait longer than the standard six to twelve months for diksa. There was possible verbal criticism from authorities and fellow bhaktas for not following the zonal way.
There was possible isolation from the SDG aspirants who comprised a 100% majority of the uninitiated devotees. There was even the possibility of being required to move to another temple in another zone. You were swimming against the tide. You were definitely not encouraged to investigate the other "zonal acaryas" to see if you were more attracted to them or more enlivened by their preaching and association.
Here is how it was presented to me.
After living in the temple for a few months, I was asked by my bhakta leader, Niranjana dasa, if I had thought about initiation. Up to that time I was under the impression that Srila Prabhupada was my spiritual master. Everything I had learned was directly from the teachings of His Divine Grace. Not being a particularly inquisitive person, I assumed that Srila Prabhupada was my spiritual master.
I HAD NO IDEA THAT SRILA PRABHUPADA WAS NO LONGER PHYSICALLY PRESENT!
As I have mentioned previously, everything was Prabhupada, Prabhupada, Prabhupada, Jaya Prabhupada. Prabhupada did this. Prabhupada did that. Prabhupada said this. Prabhupada said that. All the books we read and studied and quoted and followed were Srila Prabhupada's original unchanged books. We worshipped Srila Prabhupada in Guru Puja every morning.
All the kirtanas either began with or included Srila Prabhupada pranams. As far as I knew, everyone was a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. I never went around asking devotees who was their guru. I assumed it was Srila Prabhupada. No one ever mentioned that Srila Prabhupada had passed away – not in the Bhakta Program, not in Bhagavad-gita class and not in Srimad-Bhagavatam class. I never thought to ask either. Why would I?
I had yet to see or hear SDG in New York. So when Niranjana prabhu showed me a picture of this very young devotee sitting on a vyasasana, holding a very large bead bag in his right hand and a danda in the other with a stern look on his face, and told me that he was going to be my guru, I felt disillusioned.
That's not Prabhupada. Who is that? He looks too young to be a guru. I felt so ignorant. Not that that was a new feeling. The feeling of ignorance has been a constant one in my life. How could I not know that the Founder-Acarya was no longer on the planet? Even though there were all these zonals passing through I never put two and two together. Talk about being dumb as a rock. This is a stark example of the necessity of inquisitiveness in life in general, and spiritual life in particular.
After that initial feeling of disappointment I followed the instructions of my authorities and the unwritten rule and accepted SDG as my spiritual master. ISKCON was following the Zonal Acarya System and this was SDG's zone, so I accepted that I should aspire to take initiation from him. I was trained to follow orders from a very early age. My father was a Marine who demanded absolute obedience. When I was in the Navy I followed orders without question. It was in my blood to obey authority. So I surrendered and eventually, after a few letters exchanged and two darshans, I received hari-nama initiation, diksa, from SDG.
I surrendered of my own free will.
I will relate one more incident here concerning my personal experience with the "zonal acarya" system.
Adi Kesava Swami held an Istha-ghosti in the temple room with all the devotees in attendance a few weeks before I was initiated. The theme of the Istha-ghosti was pleasing the spiritual master. At first he brought up the subject of the current attempt by the authorities to arrange a marriage between Vakresvara Pandita dasa and a brahmacarini. She had a white body and he had a black body. There were rumors being spread of improper behavior and other such things between them. The source of the rumors was not mentioned by name but by inference.
Adi Kesava asked the general audience of devotees "Is this pleasing to Srila Prabhupada, the spreading of malicious rumors about his disciples? How is it pleasing to our guru when we malign the character of our god-brother and god-sister?" There was no response from the assembled devotees.
Adi Kesava went on. "Ramabhadra, how would you like it if I told your god-brothers and god-sisters all the crazy things that you have revealed to me in confidence? Would that be pleasing to Srila Prabhupada?" Ramabhadra prabhu sat there and shook his head indicating no, it would not.
In hindsight, it may be said that Adi Kesava also was not pleasing Srila Prabhupada by making that embarrassing remark about Ramabhadra before the assembly of devotees. Adi Kesava paused while that sunk in to everyone's consciousness. The inference was obvious even to my dull brain. Then he said my name. "What about bhakta John?"
My heart sank and I wanted to run right out of the temple room. Me? What did I do? First rumors of impropriety, then crazy consciousness and now the finger is pointing at me. What heinous offense did I commit to displease my guru and have it revealed before the entire community of Vaisnavas? This is not good.
"In his initiation letter to Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, this is one of the reasons that bhakta John gave for accepting Satsvarupa Maharaja as his spiritual master. 'My body took birth in New York City. New York City is part of your zone. I therefore surrender unto you, O Gurudeva, and accept you as my spiritual master.'"
Adi Kesava continued. "Srila Satsvarupa Maharaja was very pleased with that response. We were on the plane traveling and as he read that he showed it to me and he was quite pleased. So bhakta John pleased his spiritual master."
I was pleasantly surprised to be held up as an example of pleasing the spiritual master and also relieved. Unfortunately for my spiritual life and SDG's it was a concocted system that was perpetrated on the devotees after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance. The Zonal Acarya System was bogus. I, and so many other unfortunate souls fell for it hook, line and sinker.
[PADA: Brahmananda once confided to me that Satsvarupa actually did not really want to sit on a Vyasasana seat. SDG sort of knew this was way over the top and ostentatious, but Brahmananda told him "its your duty to sit in a Vyasa seat and take worship from your followers." And so Brahmananda encouraged SDG to sit there.
Thus there were many people who fell for this bogus "Zonal Acharya" process, the "big lie" including a lot of our God brothers. Of course, some of us including myself, Jadurani, Yasodananda, Giriraj, Pradyumna, Mahamsa -- and others -- right away questioned: how we could offer bhogha to conditioned souls, and then call that prasadam? Where was this Zonal Acharya process set up by Srila Prabhupada? Hee hee, of course all of them still have zones even today.
Anyway, many of our own senior God brothers fell for the "appointed Zonal Acharyas" project big lie -- "hook, line and sinker." Meanwhile, people like me were being denied, and not being given the alleged "guru appointment tape," because "its not for the rank and file devotees to bother their brains with these details."
Some of our other God brothers are even today still falling for this bogus living guru program deviation, hook, line and sinker, including people like Rocana. Rocana still says we need the GBC's to vote in more and more of their living gurus, and these living gurus simply need better "rules" and "tightened enforcement" over their misbehaviors, and voila, all will be well!
Read: Rocana and his ilk are saying their voted in acharyas are often deviants and debauchees, and their system's whole problem is that the GBC is not acting more forcefully to contain the deviations of their "appointed" acharyas. That means Rocana is basically a follower of Sridhara Maharaja, who says acharyas will deviate and the GBC needs to contain these deviations.
And if they cannot fix their broke messiahs, because their acharyas are too degraded, they should vote out their gurus. These people still think that acharyas are often debauchees and sinners, who can be censured, suspended, fixed, repaired, reformed -- and if that does not work, removed.
In other words they think they are authorized to appoint bogus people as gurus, and then review, censure, suspend, monitor, chastise, expel and excommunicate their gurus, because gurus are ordinary mundane men subject to these concocted mundane regulations and reviews, like the CEO of a factory. This is why the Sri Isopanisad says -- fools will select another fool as their acharya, and all of them are gliding to hell. In sum, these people have relativized the acharyas to be ordinary mundane men, which is among the ten offenses to the holy name -- to consider guru as an ordinary man.]
Temple Room Fire Sacrifice, 340 West 55th Street - 1979
In my humble opinion, that is the preeminent cause of all the current problems in ISKCON. The root problem officially manifested in March of 1978 with the monumental hoax of eleven conditioned souls masquerading as Maha-Bhagavata pure devotees, although the roots began not-so-subtly manifesting years before. They were not qualified to become diksa gurus and they were not ordered by Srila Prabhupada to become diksa gurus.
[PADA: That is really the first thing everyone should have asked, where is the evidence that 11 gurus were appointed? Why was this appointment not announced until after Srila Prabhupada departed? Why would Srila Prabhupada condemn the Gaudiya Matha for appointing gurus, then make the same error? Why would an acharya appoint conditioned souls as his successors? Why did Srila Prabhupada say we need to suspend sannyasa in January of 1977 -- because they are falling down left, right and center, then appoint the same falling down people as his guru successors in May of 1977? And so on and so forth ...]
That weed has never been fully uprooted. It spread with the "guru reform" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) movement, and then further expanded with the spurious "voted in" guru system, wherein apparently unqualified conditioned souls are "voted in" as diksa gurus for the institution by a group of similarly unqualified conditioned souls. Today there are more than a hundred of these unqualified conditioned souls in ISKCON posing as diksa gurus. What we have today may be called pseudo-ISKCON.
[PADA: The weed has grown and has been supported. Now they are openly saying that Krishna's successor gurus are commonly flawed, failing, and even debauchees. They gave up trying to say their acharyas must be pure, now they say acharyas in general commonly are not pure.]
I was not there when Srila Prabhupada's manifest pastimes concluded. There are so many differing versions of the events of his last days. He appointed eleven. He didn't appoint eleven. He was poisoned. He wasn't poisoned. He wanted all of his disciples to come to Vrndavana to see him. He didn't want all of his disciples to come. Some disciples say they were prevented from going to see him. Others say that never happened. There are so many sides and versions of that crucial time in ISKCON's history, that a fallen conditioned soul like me cannot say, with complete conviction or indisputable evidence, what the truth is. I only offer my insignificant opinion. Except for Srila Prabhupada, only Krsna knows the truth because He is the Absolute Truth.
[PADA: What is factual is that most people now doubt the whole appointed zonal guru "story" put out by the GBC. And it is clear that many bad things have evolved under the "management" of these GBC "living gurus." Many suspect that Srila Prabhupada's poison complaint is valid, and this poison root evolved as the living guru program's giant toxic tree, and so on and so forth. As one devotee told me recently, since most of the victims of the GBC's guru program are not satisfied customers, there is clearly something wrong with their product, and almost everyone now agrees to that. In other words its taken since 1978 for many people to finally agree with what we said back then, that these gurus are not authorized.]
What I can say, and I speak only for myself based on my own personal experience, is how unlimitedly fortunate I was to have lived in the temple at 340 West 55th Street even though Srila Prabhupada was no longer physically present. In 1978 and 1979, unlike today, the vast majority of devotees who lived in the temple and who charitably gave me their Krsna conscious association, were his direct disciples.
[PADA: An older God brother of mine said he was living there when the 55th street temple was sold and "almost all of the devotees were dispersed into the wind, never to be seen again." And he said furthermore, "There were many tragic stories of devotees being practically homeless and in very dire situations, and in some cases there were actual horror stories of how these devotees suffered after being removed from their temple and service. And worse, some of the devotees were so shocked after being removed from their service to Krishna, they died prematurely."
That is what Srila Prabhupada warned about, do not sell this 55th street temple or it will mean the devotees will have no home to live in, and they will scatter. Same basic program as here in San Francisco temple, it was closed and the devotees pretty much vanished. And now the current New York temple is also being sold, and once again its destabilising the devotees there.
So it almost seems like a plan -- to remove devotees left, right and center, and then close or sell the temples. And where does all the money go from the sales of all these temples, farms, houses and properties? Yet another devotee says, this is exactly what Kamsa was doing, he was shutting down all the ceremonial places where Krishna was being worshiped, and the GBC has done the same thing. Cannot really argue with that can we?]
It was a great blessing for me to live in the brahmacari ashram when there were still fresh remnants of the purifying dust of Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet in the hearts of his disciples. Traces of his transcendental footprints were still visible on the altar, in the temple room, in the kitchen, in the prasadam hall and everywhere else in the temple he established for Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Govinda on 340 West 55th Street, Manhattan, New York City.
I learned the true unchanged basics of bhakti yoga from the original teachings of His Divine Grace. The day-to-day continuous consistent example of his disciples' spiritual humility and loving behavior, and their eager willingness to educate and enlighten this fallen fool, set me on the proper path back to home, back to Godhead.
They weren't forced; it was part of their voluntary service, in separation, to Srila Prabhupada. By their selfless actions, they exhibited their sense of duty to their spiritual master to freely give Krsna consciousness to the fallen conditioned souls.
I will forever be in their debt.
As for the "zonal acaryas" who visited and gave arrival addresses and Srimad-Bhagavatam class, I will give my inconsequential impressions of their differing styles of preaching.
Bhagavan Goswami was the first of the Zonals I witnessed giving Srimad-Bhagavatam class. I had been a resident for about a week or so. He was soft spoken and appeared to be humble.
Bhavananda Goswami was a bit theatrical, sometimes soft spoken and sometimes loud and brash to make a point. I had the impression that his lectures were somewhat rehearsed. He would stop sometimes in the middle of a sentence, repeat the words he just spoke as if he were remembering his lines, and then he would continue. You could tell he enjoyed putting on a performance. I recall in the 80's in the Brooklyn temple, he gave a Sunday Feast lecture, and more than once he stopped speaking in mid-sentence to pose with a big smile for the devotees in the class who were taking pictures of him.
Kirtanananda Swami gave off a wise grandfatherly vibe. He spoke softly and authoritatively. Grandpa had seen it all and done it all and knew it all.
Ramesvara Swami was fired up about book distribution. Preach, preach, and preach. His style was definitely not soft spoken. Even when he spoke in a normal voice and volume, it seemed as if he were yelling at you. And then he would yell at you. You did not fall asleep in his class.
Tamal Krsna Goswami was not-so-affectionately called Turmoil Krsna by some of his god-brothers. I recall one lecture he gave when there was a young man with long blond hair and typical hippie attire in the class. TKG spent almost the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam class attempting to convince the young man to surrender. He was not successful. I was disappointed because he had claimed in a previous lecture that his only opulence, if he had any, was that he could convince people to surrender to Krsna.
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami was also soft spoken in his lectures. In one class, after a few of his "zonal acarya" god-brothers had visited and gave well-received classes, he made a point of stating that he was not there to "put on a show". "It's not a competition."
Once he mentioned that it wasn't a competition it seemed as if there was a bit of a competition, at least in New York, to "put on a show". After all, the news would spread quickly to the other temples if so-and-so maharaja fired up the devotees in New York to preach. There were disciples to be made and guru daksina to accumulate and power to consolidate. It didn't hurt to make a good impression in a Maha temple and enhance your reputation as an advanced devotee, which might increase your popularity and the number of your disciples.
Spiritual competition is transcendental, as long as it is actually spiritual.
The Pada Phenomenon
"Indeed, the advanced uttama-adhikari Vaisnava devotee should be accepted as a spiritual master. Everything one possesses should be offered to him, for it is enjoined that one should deliver whatever he has to the spiritual master. The brahmacari in particular is supposed to beg alms from others and offer them to the spiritual master. However, one should not imitate the behavior of an advanced devotee or Maha-Bhagavata without being self-realized, for by such imitation one will eventually become degraded." (The Nectar of Instruction, text Five, page 58)
As far as I understand, the title Prabhupada means the master at whose feet all other masters sit. All eleven "zonal acaryas", in apparent imitation of their spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, took similar honorific titles such as Gurupada, Visnupada, Bhaktipada, Bhagavatpada, Acharyadeva and so on.
Prior to the all-merciful intervention of the authentic Maha-Bhagavata devotee of Lord Krsna, those same eleven disciples of Srila Prabhupada had spent their lives as mlecchas, engaging in illicit sex, meat eating, gambling and intoxication.
Since His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami accepted the honorific title of Prabhupada from his disciples, those original eleven, who now apparently saw themselves as equals to their spiritual master, felt that they should also have similar honorific titles. One justification they offered was that their disciples would see them in a similar light as the Founder-Acarya. It would be good for the faith of their followers and ISKCON as a whole.
I fear that Maya covered them all with a cloak of forgetfulness. They forgot about their recent past spent on the mundane platform of existence and began mistakenly promoting their ostentatious worship as Maha Bhagavatas. It is tragic that their actions caused so many of their god-brothers and god-sisters to leave Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON. The mass exodus of Srila Prabhupada's disciples did not seem to matter to them once their opulent lifestyles were established.
In my humble opinion, what mattered most was the swift consolidation of power over all of ISKCON. They were transformed by Maya into mad elephants trampling their devotional creepers. They similarly crushed anyone who opposed their narcissistic hegemony. If you didn't bow down at their feet you would feel those feet kicking you out the door.
Becoming a "pada" was just part of the process of diminishing the paramount spiritual stature of the Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhupada, forcing their god-brothers and god-sisters to accept their fabricated elevated position and worship them or leave, and taking complete control of all the assets of Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON.
I apologize if some of my words were harsh. I really tried to be inoffensive but what I believe to be the truth got the better of me.
(To be continued…)
[PADA: Very good, the citizens are waking up, that's all there is to it. And the living guru project will go down in history as one of the most serious vaishnava aparadhas ever promoted. And according to shastra, the people promoting these false guru deviations will go to the lowest regions of the universe after they finish this guru business. Sounds like a fitting end to their story. ys pd]