1996 Founder Ācārya

Category: Offerings to Prabhupāda by Śivarāma Swami

Title: 1996 Founder Ācārya

Upload date: 1996-09-06

1996 Founder-Ācārya

Please accept my humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to Your Divine Grace.

It is midday. I am standing on the roof overlooking Śrīdhāma Māyāpur. Your samādhi stands prominent in the foreground. Below, final preparations are being made to accommodate devotees coming from around the globe. It will be the celebration of the Centennial of your appearance. There are others with me, but we do not converse. We are waiting. While meditating on a Centennial contribution of my own I open the book in my hand and read.

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is saying, “The teachings left by the founder-ācārya of the sampradāyas are to be especially honored. Śrī Rāmānuja, Śrī Madhvācārya, Śrī Nimbārkācārya, and Śrī Viṣṇu Swami are the four original ācāryas of the four Vaiṣṇava lines. One should accept only their teaching and conclusions and not others.”

You are the founder-ācārya of ISKCON. That everyone knows today, although it was not so in the past. In 1970 devotees forgot your title on the new BBT building. You called it “a conspiracy.” There were other incidents, and each time you were emphatic that devotees not neglect your position.

Having of heard these events from a distance, I used to wonder, “Why was Śrīla Prabhupāda so insistent?” Even the breeze passing over pride never blew your way. You were the humble servant of your Guru Mahārāja. I thought, “It is a minimization of Śrīla Prabhupāda.” But I did not delve further into it. It was not clear to me what the founder-ācārya of a sampradāya is.

Here it states that the teachings of the founder-ācārya are to be especially honored. “Which teachings are especially honored? After all, Śrīla Prabhupāda is repeating the message of the disciplic succession.” But you were so emphatic. There must be more to it all. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda was not just the spiritual master of ISKCON or another great devotee. He was the founder-ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Yet “the teachings … are to be especially honored.”

I look up past the Jalangi to the large banyan tree. Behind it, unseen from my vantage point, is Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda’s house. Sounds of the meeting are behind me.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu had come to distribute spontaneous devotional service without discrimination. While touring South India He instructed that this unique gift be distributed worldwide. By His order devotional service was forever connected with its distribution. Sādhana and sādhya were wed with pracāra.

This unique blend of practice and teaching was put into practice by Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and re-emphasized with greater strength by Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Prior to their time Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism was generally dominated by bābājīs, their distinctive trait being solitary and secluded practice of nāma-bhajana. As a consequence, the dissemination of Lord Caitanya’s mission in India ceased. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura both desired to re-establish the course of the samparadāya. They wanted active, worldwide missionary activity. But at the disappearance of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura the great success of the Gauḍīya Math in serving these aims abruptly came to an end.

Yes, it was you, Śrīla Prabhupāda, who gave new life to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism by stressing preaching as well as practice. Although you did not introduce anything “new,” you redirected the disciplic succession, which in your own words had become asāra. Though others may have not deviated in their practices, they had neglected preaching. In your eyes they had “no brain” for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Thus by your efforts you once again established the integrity of the message and practices of the paramparā.

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura further states that one should accept only the teachings and conclusions of the founder-ācārya and not others.

Though the siddhānta may remain unchanged, there is methodology in its presentation. Preaching is not just a matter of transmitting knowledge. The founder-ācārya is empowered by the Lord to distribute the message according to time, place, and circumstance. You say, “An ācārya should devise means by which people may somehow or other come to Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. … In this connection deśa, kāla, patra should be taken into consideration.” Those not following the founder-ācārya are not qualified to criticize such methods.

By directing all members of ISKCON to preach, you set on course the direction of the paramparā. This instruction is your hallmark and bears its imprint on the Society up to the present day. To facilitate and protect this preaching on a worldwide scale, you have harmoniously expressed the teachings of Lord Caitanya in a unique way.

The system of siddha-praṇālī of the bābājīs was replaced by nāma-saṅkīrtana in the mood of the third śloka of Śrī Śikṣāṣṭaka. As a sannyāsī you performed marriage ceremonies to inspire the youth of the West. You emphasized that rāgānuga-bhakti as taught by Caitanya Mahāprabhu should not be imitated at the stage of śraddhā but would transform through grace after one practices vaidhi to the stage of āsakti. However, in order for a sādhaka to achieve sādhya, he must attract Kṛṣṇa’s attention and then His mercy, and to do that the sādhaka’s preaching activities must parallel his efforts to achieve rāgānuga-bhakti. Other practices that were conducive to preaching you adopted in the mood of yukta-vairāgya. Thus it was at your request that śāstra be made available for public distribution. You gave an institutional identity to Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana, and as a jet-age parivrājakācārya you traveled to the land of the cow-eaters.

A gentle breeze blows, and with it the sound of your amplified kīrtana. I look up. The meeting is still under way.

“One should receive spiritual initiation in one of these four sampradāyas and not others. A devotee must understand that the ādi-guru, original spiritual master of the sampradāya, is the śikṣā-guru, and only his teachings are to be accepted and not those of any other scholar or teacher.”

I received initiation but I did not understand the ādi-guru. How it was that only your teachings are to be accepted and not those of any other scholar or teacher? You are the śikṣā-guru, for you have established the tenor of the teachings and practice for all members of ISKCON. Being faithful to you means being faithful to your teachings. These teachings are the heritage of anyone who claims to be your true follower. Responsibility is with the devotee to “know” you by knowing your teachings. To fail to do so is negligence in one’s role as a member and disciple. Such a person will be easily distracted by other “teachers,” not being fixed in your śikṣā.

“Only a saintly devotee who has understood the teachings of the śikṣā-guru is eligible to be a dīkṣā-guru for others.”

You instructed that to serve the mission everyone should take responsibility for others and become guru. Although one may not be fully realized, by representing your teachings one would be empowered. Through the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness one would no doubt achieve perfection. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura emphasizes that all subsequent gurus in this line derive their authority by fidelity to the ādi-guru. A person may be conversant in the philosophy, but if he is not true to the teachings of the founder-ācārya he has no right to act as guru. Both spiritual master and disciple have equal responsibility to be your true follower, for you remain the śikṣā-guru for all subsequent generations of devotees.

Some time has passed, it is almost lunch time. We are called to return. It was an instructive break. I understand something I had not understood before. Behavior is connected to understanding, and understanding to revelation. By your grace I understand a little more the meaning of the founder-ācārya. By that understanding may I be more faithful to you, your mission, and your teachings. It is an insignificant offering for your Centennial. I offer my obeisances to those who are strict followers of your will. By their grace may I become more faithful to you still.

Your servant,
Śivarāma Swami