This is an ISKCON Governing Body Commission position paper demonstrating that those who keep faith with Srila Prabhupada cannot follow H. H. Narayana Maharaja. Presented by the GBC Executive and Standing Philosophical Committees.
His Holiness Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja has recently begun his preaching tour of the West. His itinerary takes him exclusively to ISKCON temples, communities, and congregations. Before embarking from India, Narayana Maharaja met with a representative of the GBC and made the following statements regarding his tour:
1) He is a well-wisher of ISKCON. He is not ISKCON's enemy. He considers Srila Prabhupada as his siksa-guru.
2) When Srila Prabhupada was preaching in the West, he sent letters to Narayana Maharaja inviting him to preach there also. At that time Narayana Maharaja had no interest. However, now this tour has come about without his separate endeavor, and he considers it the arrangement of Srila Prabhupada.
3) Out of respect and veneration to Srila Prabhupada, Narayana Maharaja wants to visit the temples Srila Prabhupada established in the West. They are tirthas. If the ISKCON devotees bar him from entering, he will offer his respects from the gate and leave. But ISKCON allows everybody to visit its temples, even debauches, so why not him? If we turn him away, his own followers will take that as an offense.
4) When the question was raised whether Narayana Maharaja might voice disagreements with ISKCON/GBC philosophical understanding, policies, and so on, during talks to ISKCON temple devotees and congregation, he gave his assurance that he will not do such things. He said whether or not he speaks during his visits is up to us.
ISKCON's leaders do not doubt that many years ago Srila Prabhupada invited Narayana Maharaja to visit. They also recognize that since then Narayana Maharaja has often acted as ISKCON's well-wisher. Nevertheless, ISKCON leaders are now certain that Srila Prabhupada would no longer be willing to extend the same invitation to Narayana Maharaja. Further, although Narayana Maharaja may have once received some siksa from Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON leaders--the GBC and temple presidents--are convinced that Narayana Maharaja cannot properly represent Srila Prabhupada. Rather, Narayana Maharaja speaks and acts in ways directly contrary to Srila Prabhupada's instructions and example. Even though Narayana Maharaja may think of himself as a well-wisher of ISKCON, in fact his behavior towards ISKCON is such that it could cause ISKCON great harm. In short, ISKCON's leaders are thoroughly convinced that the differences that set Narayana Maharaja apart from Srila Prabhupada are so significant and bear such far-reaching implications as to make it impossible for sincere and faithful followers of Srila Prabhupada to intimately associate with him.
This conclusion has seemed strange to some followers of Narayana Maharaja. They say it is contrary to the scriptural advice that there is no better way to advance one's spiritual life than by association with sadhus. Moreover, recent testimony from some former ISKCON devotees who now associate with Narayana Maharaja seems to support his claim to be Srila Prabhupada's admirer and ISKCON's supporter. Why, then, have the leaders of ISKCON judged otherwise? They should provide the facts and, most of all, the scriptural justification for such convictions.
The GBC recognizes it is not in a position to tell Narayana Maharaja he cannot preach in the West. However, the GBC also recognizes that it has a duty to Srila Prabhupada to decide whether Narayana Maharaja preaches within ISKCON. Here lies the issue. If Narayana Maharaja were preaching to persons with no ISKCON contact, although the GBC might not agree with all he says or does, it would not object. However, someone who is not a member of ISKCON has no prerogative to work within ISKCON unless invited by its leaders to do so.
In Narayana Maharaja's own Gaudiya Matha organization--in any Gaudiya Matha for that matter--it is considered an outrageous breach of etiquette for an outsider to preach to the Matha's own members without the approval and cooperation of the Matha's leadership. Yet Narayana Maharaja's entire tour involves ISKCON: Arrangements are made by former ISKCON devotees at ISKCON congregational members' homes. His audiences are ISKCON's devotees, congregation, life members, and bhaktas. He is doing all this without the sanction of the GBC.
Consequently, the GBC, as Srila Prabhupada's designated representa- tives, has the right and the duty to inform ISKCON members of every sort about the differences between Narayana Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada. All who have taken shelter of ISKCON have the right to be protected from the danger of offending Srila Prabhupada, and the GBC has the obligation to protect them. They need to understand clearly that following Narayana Maharaja will lead them away from, not bring them closer to, Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON, and the progressive advancement of the sankirtan movement. This paper will provide the facts and scriptural evidence to support this conclusion.
ISKCON members first began to feel uneasy about Narayana Maharaja when he declared his intention to introduce the practice of raganuga-bhakti to ISKCON. He announced his intention at a number of ISKCON public functions to which he had been invited. Towards this end, he began to systematically instruct a number of senior ISKCON devotees who, dismissing the misgivings of many of their peers, regularly went to hear from him. Although Narayana Maharaja assured these devotees that the topics under discussion were not for public dissemination, those discourses were tape-recorded, and his followers eventually published them. The "confidentiality" turned out to be an illusion. ISKCON's leaders have now all come to recognize that Narayana Maharaja's singular emphasis upon raganuga-sadhana is directly opposed to the instructions given by Srila Prabhupada, who warns that such an emphasis will result in sahajiyaism.
It is true of course that previous acaryas explicitly discuss the prac- tices of raganuga-sadhana. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu imparted teachings on this topic to Srila Rupa Gosvami and others. However, seeing the fallen condition of human society in modern times, and understanding how raga- nuga-bhakti could be--and indeed already has been--misunderstood and mis- applied, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Prabhupada very strongly warned people against attempts to concentrate on the con- fidential topics of Radha and Krsna and enter the practices of raganuga- bhakti prematurely.
Some twenty years ago in ISKCON, a small group of Prabhupada's disciples began to meet for the purpose of cultivating higher spiritual sentiments. They became infamous as the "Gopi-bhava Club." Srila Prabhupada intervened personally to halt their improper activities. Surprisingly, the nearly identical phenomenon has been now reborn in the form of Narayana Maharaja and his followers. It will benefit us to therefore hear how Srila Prabhupada treated this matter. This account is taken from Hari Sauri dasa's A Transcendental Diary, Vol. Two (pp. 268-269):
[The leader of the "Gopi-bhava Club"] tried to reassure him [Srila Prabhupada] that they were not attempting to imitate the gopis' love of Krsna; they were simply studying the descriptions so they could develop such desires. Prabhupada flushed, his top lip quivering. "First deserve, then desire! There is a no question of desire unless one is actually liberated. Until that point you simply do whatever service you are given. So long as there is any pinch of material desire there is no question of desiring on the spiritual platform!" He said the intimate gopi-lilas were discussed by Lord Caitanya only among His three most confidential associates--Svarupa Damodara, Ramananda Raya, Sikhi Mahiti. Siddha deha is for liberated souls --no one else. [Another member of the group] said that they had thought it was all right because it was in Prabhupada's books, and they were only reading his books. Prabhupada told them that just because the drugstore has every type of drug it does not mean that one can get them without prescription. The doctor prescribes according to the disease. He said that from the beginning stages of devotional service up to the highest rasas, everything is there in his books, but they are not all to be immediately studied.
This incident reveals a significant difference between the ways in which Narayana Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada explain Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. On his part, Narayana Maharaja contends that even though one is still materially conditioned, one can hear advanced topics concerning Krsna's conjugal pastimes. Srila Prabhupada, on the other hand, has clearly emphasized that a devotee must be liberated from material desires to be qualified to hear such topics. The overwhelmingly clear understanding from Srila Prabhupada is that no one should delve into these topics as long as anarthas remain in the heart.
If devotees prematurely take interest in topics of Krsna and the gopis, what harm could come? Isn't Krsna-katha pure and purifying? Srila Prabhupada has answered this doubt. He explains that since the loving affairs between Krsna and the gopis resemble material exchanges between boys and girls, one's own lust may actually increase by concentrating on such topics, and thus one's spiritual advancement may be checked:
When one is liberated and hears of Lord Krsna's and Radha's loving affairs, he is not inclined to have lusty desires. One mundane rogue once said that when the Vaisnavas chant the name 'Radha, Radha,' he simply re- members a barber's wife named Radha. This is a practical example. Unless one is liberated, he should not try to hear about the loving affairs be- tween Radha and Krsna. If one is not liberated and listens to a relation of the rasa dance, he may remember his mundane activities and illicit connections with some woman whose name may also be Radha. In the conditioned stage one should not even try to remember such things. By practicing the regulative principles, one should rise to the platform of spontaneous attraction for Krsna. Then and only then should one hear about the radhakrsna-lila. Although these affairs may be very pleasing both to conditioned and to liberated souls, the conditioned soul should not try to hear them. (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.255, purport)
In the light of these unequivocal statements by Srila Prabhupada, one wonders how Narayana Maharaja can think it is his service to Srila Pra- bhupada to propagate rasa-katha. How can he serve Srila Prabhupada in a manner that violates Prabhupada's explicit instructions?
Some people, however, may prefer to think that we are putting too much emphasis on these statements of Srila Prabhupada. They may think that ISKCON's leaders are following Srila Prabhupada too narrowly and in so doing cutting ISKCON off from some Gaudiya "mainstream." To answer such people, we would like to cite some recent remarks by a senior sannyasi in the Gaudiya Matha, H. H. Bhaktipramoda Puri Maharaja, who is a Godbrother of Srila Prabhupada:
Rasa-katha is to be held only among devotees who have the adhikara [qualification] to discuss such topics. Before daring to indulge in free discussions about Krsna's intimate pastimes with the gopis, we have to honestly appraise the conditioning of our minds. Are we fully attentive to the Nam Prabhu? Or when we see a parrot fly into a tree while chanting japa, does our mind also fly into the tree? If that happens, the adhikara is not there. If we see a beautiful woman, does an attraction arise in the mind? If so, the adhikara is not there. If we hear that Krsna places his hand upon the breast of a gopi, what is the nature of our interest in that description? If there is the slightest taint, the adhikara is not there.
The guru who speaks openly on such topics may think he is giving his listeners the adhikara just by his association, but Puri Maharaja told a story of a guru with a beard who was speaking publicly of Radharani's love for Krsna. A woman gazing poignantly at the guru suddenly burst into tears. The guru thought to himself, "Ah, now she has acquired the adhikara." In reality, she was looking at the guru's beard as she remembered the beard of a goat she once had, to whom she had become quite attached. That goat, just recently deceased, was named Radha. Now, as that woman heard the guru speak of Radha's love, and as she gazed at his beard which resembled the beard of Radha the goat, she felt great separation from four-legged Radha, and could not hold back her inner lobha for Radha's association.
Puri Maharaja also remarked that he himself knew quite well the spiritual master of Narayana Maharaja, H. H. Keshava Prajna Maharaja. He said that Keshava Maharaja never spoke of such topics. "So," Puri Maharaja remarked, "it is a mystery where Narayana Maharaja is bringing these rasika topics in from."
Certainly not from Srila Prabhupada, as we have shown. Yet had there perhaps been some confidential interchanges between Narayana Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada? It seems not. When a senior ISKCON devotee asked Narayana Maharaja whether he had ever discussed any "rasika topics" with Srila Prabhupada, Narayana Maharaja confessed that they had never had such an interchange. He said that it was the policy in his own institution not to discuss such matters; they would instead speak of Dhruva Maharaja, Prahlada Maharaja, and the like. Narayana Maharaja has asserted to ISKCON leaders that he knows Srila Prabhupada better than they do, hinting at a confidential relationship. Yet this is undercut by his own admission that there were no confidential interchanges between him and Srila Prabhupada. So Puri Maharaja's pertinent question remains.
The policy in Narayana Maharaja's own organization is the same now as it was then. Even now, Narayana Maharaja's proclivity for openly discussing such topics--which seems to be increasing as time goes on--is viewed with disapproval and alarm by other senior leaders of his own institution.
We should, therefore, keep faith with Srila Prabhupada and follow his example. Anyone who studies Srila Prabhupada's lectures and conversations, especially those given in Vrndavana, will find that he spoke of Krsna's intimate lila sparingly and carefully, keeping those references within the context of basic philosophy. Furthermore, Srila Prabhupada often criticized speakers who focus exclusively on the rasa-lila, especially in presentations to neophyte audiences.
Narayana Maharaja's talks in Vrndavana present a study in contrast. He gives extended discourses about the very confidential pastimes of Radha-Krsna and the gopis (telling, for example, how Krsna dresses as a gopi in order to see Radha, inserting large flowers under His sari to make nice breasts, and so on). Such talks are given to anyone who may be present, including bhaktas and bhaktins. Did Srila Prabhupada ever dwell on these topics at length or make them the basis of his preaching? Quite the contrary, Prabhupada stressed the fact that Lord Caitanya Himself would discuss such subjects only behind closed doors and only with one or two of His most advanced followers. Yet it is not uncommon to hear even newly initiated followers of Narayana Maharaja speaking freely of these topics. How can we expect them to do otherwise, given the example set by their guru?
To summarize: Narayana Maharaja acts in opposition to Srila Prabhupada's direction by advocating the practice of extensive hearing about Krsna's conjugal pastimes by those who are still in the conditioned state. Increasingly, he is making such topics the focus of public discourse. Srila Prabhupada explicitly opposed these practices, and, whenever they began to occur in ISKCON, he smashed them. Therefore, one who wishes to remain faithful to Srila Prabhupada and to safeguard his legacy will not follow Narayana Maharaja.
There is another notable difference between the presentation of Narayana Maharaja and that of Srila Prabhupada. Narayana Maharaja hints at his spiritual identity in relationship with Krishna. He says that to be in the line of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha, one must be situated in madhurya-bhava. Narayana Maharaja has commissioned a set of paintings, one of which depicts Radha and Krishna together in a grove. Each of four companion paintings depict an attendant manjari. Narayana Maharaja's followers meditate upon him as one of these manjari maidservants--a copy of the painting that is supposed to picture Narayana Maharja's manjari form is seen on their altars--and they cultivate their desire to join him in a similar mood.
Furthermore, Narayana Maharaja has publicly announced his opinion that Srila Prabhupada is also a paliya-dasi (maidservant) of Srimati Radhika. There is an implication here that Prabhupada's followers can qualify to serve their own guru in his eternal form only if they are trained by a proper guide (such as Narayana Maharaja).
Srila Prabhupada, in contrast, neither made nor permitted any such pub- lic statement about himself. Rather, in a reserved mood, Srila Prabhupada presented himself simply as the humble servant of his spiritual master and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, although in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 1.46, purport) he instructs, "The spiritual master is always considered either one of the confidential associates of Srimati Radharani or a manifested representation of Srila Nityananda Prabhu." On appearance days and other celebrations, some Gaudiya Vaisnavas may refer to their spiritual master or to previous acaryas in terms of their eternal relationship with Krsna, but it was rare for Srila Prabhupada to do so. In fact, when one disciple questioned Srila Prabhupada concerning Prabhupada's own eternal relationship with Krsna, Srila Prabhupada replied that it is not proper for a disciple to ask such questions. We should be reserved in discussing such matters, just as Srila Prabhupada was.
This issue brings to light two fundamental differences. The first, as we have seen, is that Narayana Maharaja hints at his rasa with Krishna, something Srila Prabhupada never did. The second is that Narayana Maharaja stresses that only one situated in madhurya-bhava can ultimately be considered a true follower of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha. Prabhupada, on the other hand, emphasizes that anyone who gives his life to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mission is a follower of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha, regardless of his rasa.
Srila Prabhupada has encouraged all of us to hope that, in spite of our present disqualifications, we will one day be worthy of being called "Rupanugas," genuine followers of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha. Narayana Maharaja not only says that to be a real Rupanuga, one must be in madhurya-bhava, but he also teaches that one must have the guidance of a "rasika Vaisnava" to cultivate that state of bhava. Thus formula for becoming a follower of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha, as given by Narayana Maharaja, contains two main ingredients: One must be situated in madhurya-bhava, and one must have the association of a rasika Vaisnava.
In the first place, Srila Prabhupada would not have devotees spend time contemplating such matters as their rasa with Krsna until they were first qualified to do so. "First deserve; then desire." Moreover, according to Srila Prabhupada, becoming a preacher of Krishna consciousness is both the meaning and the method of becoming a follower of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha. Only by preaching Krishna consciousness can we enter the mood of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu, and only by Their causeless mercy, given in reciprocation with our service, do our hearts become purified of anarthas. This is what we learn from association with Srila Prabhupada. By associating with Narayana Maharaja, on the other hand, one is led to believe that real spiritual advancement is based not on preaching but rather on the practice of raganuga-sadhana.
Narayana Maharaja expounds on these themes in his book Sri Prabandha- vali:
Because Swamiji [Srila Prabhupada] had little time, he mostly empha- sized vaidhi-bhakti. There are so many stages of bhakti, but ultimately bhakti means only raganuga-bhakti. He also wanted to preach in Western countries that which Rupa Gosvami has given in the Ujjvala-nilamani, and that which has been written by acaryas like Raghunatha dasa Gosvami and Krsna dasa Kaviraja Gosvami, but he could not do it at that time. (p. 12)
There are two kinds of sraddha--vaidhi and raganuga. Swamiji gave only vaidhi-bhakti because at that time it was not appropriate for him to explain raganuga-bhakti. He had written something of it in his books, but because most readers were not qualified enough to learn it at that time, he did not explain it in detail. But by practicing vaidhi-bhakti we can eventually enter into raganuga-bhakti, which arises from that sraddha which is full of greed. (p. 13)
In a very short time he [Srila Prabhupada] accomplished all of this, but he really wanted to give manjari-bhava, so we shouldn't be satisfied merely with what we received from him at that time. I feel that if he were present here today, he would be instructing us on raganuga-bhakti. (p. 16)
Just before Swamiji departed this world . . . he said that since he was unable to give them [his Western devotees] everything in the short time he was present here, he wanted me to give them further instruction on bhakti and to always help them in any way I could. He also asked me to perform the ceremony to place him into the samadhi. (p. 16)
I consider him [Srila Prabhupada] my siksa-guru, and he always lives in the temple of my heart because I had such an intimate friendship with him. I think that he is always present here with us, and I pray to him that he will bestow mercy upon us so that we will all enter into raganuga-bhakti and prema-bhakti in this very lifetime. (p. 17)
The higher type of meditation will come in the morning time of sadhana, when the darkness caused by one's anarthas has completely disappeared. To reach that stage one must practice numerous varieties of sadhana and constantly chant nama-sankirtana. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that one who desires to be an exclusive devotee must engage in raganuga-bhajana. Without raganuga, the sentiment of exclusiveness will not come and one's bhajana will be included within vaidhi-bhakti. Then he will think, "Krsna is Narayana; there is no special difference between Them. He is also Ramacandra and Nrsimha." Beyond that he may think that there is no difference between Dvarakadhisa and Govinda. (pp. 142-143)
But at present that light is not lit in our hearts because the connection is not there. The bulb is in our hearts, and our guru is the one who makes the connection. The current comes through the medium of those devotees who practice lobhamayi-bhakti. When the guru presses the switch, at once the current of bhava begins to flow. (p. 144)
These extracts from Narayana Maharaja's book shows further how Narayana Maharaja's approach toward awakening the higher stages of Krsna consciousness differs from that given by Srila Prabhupada.
Narayana Maharaja stresses the necessity for one to acquire a raganuga-guru who will "press the switch" to turn on "the current of bhava." The first question that occurs to a follower of Srila Prabhupada is this: If having a raganuga-guru is so important a requirement for achieving spontaneous devotion, why didn't Srila Prabhupada himself practice raganuga-sadhana under the direction of a rasika guru? Some have theorized that Prabhupada did not do so because Srila Prabhupada was a maha-bhagavata, nitya-siddha, saktyavesa-avatara. Hence, he did not need to do it. But we do.
This argument is unsound. By this same principle, Srila Prabhupada should not have accepted a regular diksa guru either, having had no need to do so. We know, however, that even liberated souls accept gurus in order to set an example to ordinary people. Therefore, if accepting a raganuga-guru were necessary for ordinary people to advance to the higher stages of Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada himself would have accepted a raganuga instructing guru. Or if he had received such instruction from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, he would have mentioned it and recommended this process to his disciples.