Preparing for the Time of Death
A talk by Giriraj Swami on Srimad-Bhagavatam,
Canto One, Chapter Nine,
"The Passing Away of Bhismadeva" SB 1:9:Text 22 http://www.vaisnavascare.com/lectures.htm#preparing
This class was given on January 8th,
2004 in Houston, Texas
yan me 'sums tyajatah saksat
krsno darsanam agatah
Yet, despite His being equally kind to everyone, He has graciously come before me while I am ending my life, for I am His unflinching servitor.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
The Supreme Lord, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, although equal to everyone, is still more inclined to His unflinching devotee who is completely surrendered and knows no one else as his protector and master. Having unflinching faith in the Supreme Lord as one's protector, friend and master is the natural condition of eternal life. A living entity is so made by the will of the Almighty that he is most happy when placing himself in a condition of absolute dependence.
The opposite tendency is the cause of falldown. The living entity has this tendency of falling down by dint of misidentifying himself as fully independent to lord it over the material world. The root cause of all troubles is there in false egotism. One must draw towards the Lord in all circumstances.
The appearance of Lord Krsna at the deathbed of Bhismaji is due to his being an unflinching devotee of the Lord. Arjuna had some bodily relation with Krsna because the Lord happened to be his maternal cousin. But Bhisma had no such bodily relation. Therefore the cause of attraction was due to the intimate relation of the soul. Yet because the relation of the body is very pleasing and natural, the Lord is more pleased when He is addressed as the son of Maharaja Nanda, the son of Yasoda, the lover of Radharani. This affinity by bodily relation with the Lord is another feature of reciprocating loving service with the Lord. Bhismadeva is conscious of this sweetness of transcendental humor, and therefore he likes to address the Lord as Vijaya-Sakhe, Partha-Sakhe, etc., exactly like Nanda-nandana or Yasoda-nandana. The best way to establish our relation in transcendental sweetness is to approach Him through His recognized devotees. One should not try to establish the relation directly; there must be a medium which is transparent and competent to lead us to the right path.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
Grandfather Bhisma has been explaining that Krsna is the Absolute Personality of Godhead. Although He played the role of the Pandavas' cousin and acted as their friend, advisor, messenger, and charioteer, He was actually the transcendental Lord beyond the material modes of nature. He was the Supersoul within the hearts of all living beings, and thus He is equal to all living beings. Yet although He is beyond the material modes of nature, beyond the dualities of friends and enemies, relations and non-relations, those who praise and those who blame, and so on, still He takes special care of His devotees who have full faith in Him and depend completely upon Him.
Srila Prabhupada has given the example of the father and his children. The father loves all of his children equally, but the youngest child, who is more dependent on the father's care and protection, gets more attention from the father. For example, if a parent is crossing the street with a number of children and suddenly a car appears, the parent will naturally think first of the youngest child, who is the most vulnerable, to protect him or her.
Srila Prabhupada said the same principle applies to Krsna. In Srila Prabhupada's example, the youngest child, who depends fully on the Lord's protection, is the preacher. Although the Lord loves all of His devotees equally, He gives special attention to preachers, who risk everything to broadcast the glories of the Lord, depending as they must on the Lord's protection. Preachers give up all personal comforts and secure positions in order to preach. Therefore, the Lord pays special attention to them.
The natural position of the living entity is to have full faith in the Lord and to depend completely upon Him. In fact, two of the divisions of surrender to Krsna are to be convinced that Krsna is my only protector--that only Krsna is capable of protecting me--and that Krsna will in fact extend His protection to His surrendered devotee (raksisyatiti visvaso goptrtve varanam tatha).
Therefore, devotees are like small children. Children don't depend on their own strength. Rather, they depend on the strength of their parents. A small child may be too young and weak, too immature and inexperienced, to walk properly on his own, but when his parent takes him by the hand and helps and leads him, then he can walk.
So, surrendered devotees do not place their faith in their own independent abilities or powers. Rather, they place their faith in the Lord--in the care and protection of the Lord--and the Lord never disappoints such devotees.
Srila Prabhupada further comments that the opposite tendency, to artificially imagine, "I am independent of the Lord," is the cause of falldown, because in fact we are weak, and we do need support. As long as we acknowledge our weakness and dependence on the Lord, He will uplift us and carry us. And as soon as we imagine that we are capable by our own strength and powers, we fall down. Actually, we are in illusion when we have such thoughts.
Here is another way to explain the same principle: By nature we are dependent, and we can either depend either on Krsna or on maya. When we depend on Krsna, He helps us become free from our false dependence on maya, and when we reject Krsna's shelter, we have no alternative but to take shelter of maya. Therefore, we should bow down to Krsna and take shelter of Him.
Once, the famous singer Boy George went to Vrndavana and spent some time at our temple there. His previous experience of Krsna consciousness had been with devotees in ISKCON, and he saw that the devotees in ISKCON always bowed down before the Deities. But he saw in Vrndavana that many of the pilgrims who came to the temple didn't bow down to the Deities. So he wrote the song, "Bow Down, Mister."
When Srila Prabhupada was first preaching in America, a young man told him, "I don't feel that I have to bow down to anybody." His Divine Grace replied, "Your position is to be subordinate, and you have to bow down. If you don't voluntarily bow down to Krsna and Krsna's representative, you will be forced to bow to material nature--to disease, old age and death. So you have to bow down. Only you have to find out where you can bow down to become happy--and that is to Krsna."
Srila Prabhupada also explained that maya, as the servant of Krsna, forces people to bow down, and that we, too, as servants of Krsna and preachers, have the same purpose: We want the conditioned souls to bow down to Krsna. But maya's process is one thing, and ours is another. Her approach is to compel us by force, and ours is to entreat with humility:
dante nidhaya trnakam padayor nipatya
krtva ca kaku-satam etad aham bravimi
he sadhavah sakalam eva vihaya durad
"We take a straw in our teeth, we fall at your feet, and we flatter you, 'You are such a pious, learned, and noble personality. Now kindly forget all the nonsense you have learned and bow down to the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya.'"
So, Srila Prabhupada said our goal and maya's goal is the same: We both want people to become Krsna conscious. But our method is different from maya's. Our process is to implore, and maya's process is to kick. And until one becomes Krsna conscious, maya will kick and kick and kick.
Here Lord Krsna blessed Grandfather Bhisma with His darsana at the time of Bhisma's death. (Grandfather Bhisma passed away on the Makara-sankranti day, which every year falls on January 14th, based on the movement of the sun.) Lord Krsna blessed Grandfather Bhisma by appearing before him at the time of his death. The goal of every devotee is to think of Krsna at the time of death, to be absorbed in meditation on Krsna at the time of death, to remember Krsna at the time of death (ante narayana-smrti).
Of course, as Srila Prabhupada explains, to think of Krsna at the time of death is not so easy, and therefore we have to practice now. The whole principle of vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti is to always remember Krsna and never forget Him. So from right now on, we should practice to always remember Krsna and never forget Him. Then it is possible that at the time of death, too, we will be able to remember Krsna. Our thoughts at the time of death will determine our next destination. So if we think of Krsna at the time of death, we can go to Him. To think of Krsna at the time of death really means to become deeply attached to Krsna, because at the time of death our mind will automatically go to the object to which it is most attached. So even though artificially we may try to fix the mind on Krsna (artificially means by conscious effort), still, at the last moment, when the soul is about to leave the body and we have no conscious control over our minds and bodies, our mind will go to the object that it is naturally most attached to.
One of our godbrothers, Vaikunthanath Prabhu, related that once he was driving his car and it stalled on some railway tracks. While he was trying to get the car to start, he looked and saw a train coming. But he was fiddling with the car, and was so engrossed in trying to get the car started that he lost track of the train. Then, suddenly, he looked up and saw that the train was just about to hit his car. He started to chant Hare Krsna as loudly as he could. At the very last moment, however, when the train actually collided with his car, he thought, "What will happen to my wife?" And that was it. The train hit, and he lost consciousness. By Krsna's grace, he lived to tell the story.
The purport of Vaikunthanath Prabhu's experience is this: The only sure guarantee that we will be able to think of Krsna at the time of death is to be more attached to Krsna than to anything else, because our mind will naturally go to whatever we are most attached to. (Still, one who has served Guru and Gauranga with heart and soul can also expect their mercy at the time of death, just as Bhismadeva was blessed by Krsna's mercy.)
Grandfather Bhisma had a direct relationship with Krsna, and Krsna, out of His kindness and mercy, came to see Bhisma at the time of his death. Bhisma was a fully surrendered soul and Krsna's immediate associate in His pastimes on earth. We, however, cannot expect to have the same direct approach to Krsna as Bhismadeva, because our situation is different. We are not present at the time of Krsna's pastimes on the planet. Therefore, we have to approach Krsna through the authorized system of parampara--through Krsna's recognized devotees, as Srila Prabhupada says in the purport. If one tries to approach Krsna directly, he or she will fail because we are not so qualified that we can approach Krsna directly.
Srila Prabhupada explains that Lord Brahma, by his austerities and devotional service, was able to get direct instruction from Krsna (tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye). But Srila Prabhupada warns us that only someone as pure and pious as Lord Brahma (and Lord Brahma is considered to be the most pious living entity in the universe) can approach Krsna directly. The rest of us--practically all of us--have to approach Krsna through disciplic succession (parampara), through Lord Brahma and his spiritual descendents in the Brahma-sampradaya, or through some other exalted sampradaya.
So we do not try to approach Krsna directly. Rather, we approach Him through His authorized servants in disciplic succession, through the servants of the servants of the servants of Lord Krsna. Even Lord Caitanya identified Himself as gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah: the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis.
So that is our position. Our natural position is to be the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna. Even when we go to the spiritual world, we remain the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna. It is not that here we are the servant of the servant of the servant, but when we graduate we become the direct servant of Krsna, without any superior guidance or supervision. No. We remain eternally the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna, even in the spiritual world.
Srila Prabhupada explains in the Caitanya-caritamrta how the same persons that appeared in krsna-lila later appeared in caitanya-lila, and the relationships they had with each other in krsna-lila continued in essence in caitanya-lila. For example, when Ramananda Raya first met Lord Caitanya, he felt a natural awakening of love for Him. Because in their original features Lord Caitanya is Krsna and Ramananda Raya is the gopi Visakha, there is a natural, eternal love between them--even though Ramananda Raya was playing the part of a governor and Lord Caitanya was playing the part of a sannyasi. (In the strict culture at the time of Lord Caitanya, sannyasis would not mix with worldly people like governors.) Still, when they saw each other their natural love awakened, and they exhibited symptoms of ecstatic love. They embraced and were trembling and shedding tears. Indeed, they almost fell unconscious. The caste-conscious brahmanas in the governor's entourage were bewildered: "He's a sannyasi, the highest of brahmanas, and He is crying upon embracing a governor who is from a lower caste?" And they thought, "Ramananda Raya is the Governor of Madras, learned and grave, and he is practically fainting upon embracing a sannyasi?"
But internally, their love was the eternal love between Krsna and Visakha. In addition, from another point of view, Lord Caitanya was also Srimati Radharani, and in krsna-lila the gopi Visakha was the most intimate friend of Radharani. So, from that point of view, the natural love between Visakha and Radharani also awakened when Raya Ramananda and Lord Caitanya met. (Later, in Puri, when Lord Caitanya, in the mood of Radharani, felt separation from Krsna, Ramananda Raya would console Him, just as the gopi Visakha would console Srimati Radharani in Her separation from Krsna.)
We find the same principle in so many of the relationships described in Caitanya-caritamrta. Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, a male in caitanya-lila, was Rati Manjari, a younger gopi, in krsna-lila. Lord Caitanya placed Raghunatha dasa under the care of Svarupa Damodara Gosvami in Puri. Svarupa Damodara Gosvami in krsna-lila was Lalitadevi, and so the same type of relationship existed. Rati Manjari, as a younger gopi, had served the senior gopis such as Lalitadevi, and under their guidance and supervision had served Srimati Radharani. So here we have the same type of relationship, where Raghunatha dasa (Rati Manjari) is serving Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Srimati Radharani) under the guidance and supervision of Svarupa Damodara Gosvami (Lalitadevi).
The idea is, gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah: We are always the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna. Eternally. Srila Prabhupada said that the more we become the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna, the more Krsna consciousness becomes sweeter and sweeter and sweeter. And as soon as we think we can surpass the previous acaryas or jump over the spiritual master to Krsna, we fall down.
So we should take shelter of Srila Prabhupada and his disciplic succession, serve them wholeheartedly and follow their instructions, and thus increase our attachment for Krsna. That is the whole goal:
mayy asakta-manah partha
yogam yunjan mad-asrayah
asamsayam samagram mam
yatha jnasyasi tac chrnu
"Hear, O son of Prtha, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt." (Bg 7.1)
This is the verse from the Bhagavad-gita that Srila Prabhupada spoke on the most: We have to increase our attachment to Krsna; we have to make our minds attached to Krsna. That is the goal of our sadhana-bhakti: to always remember Krsna. And if we become attached to Krsna, we can think of Him at the time of death.
By Krsna's mercy, or by Srila Prabhupada's mercy, we may also become attached to Krsna's devotee. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu explains that "Krsna" does not mean just Krsna alone, but "Krsna" also includes His name, His form, His qualities, His pastimes, and His entourage, His associates, His pure devotees. So thinking of Krsna's pure devotee at the time of death also counts as thinking of Krsna. One might consider that thinking of Krsna at the time of death may be a little difficult; it may sound a bit remote. But if we think even of Krsna's pure devotee at the time of death, we will also achieve success by the grace of the Lord and the devotee.
Are there any questions or comments? . . . Yes?
Bhakta Don: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: He says that there are devotees nowadays who think that they can become direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada even in Srila Prabhupada's physical absence, so how do we reconcile their idea with the idea of disciplic succession?
We may be Srila Prabhupada's disciples even though not his direct disciples; we may also be his disciples through disciplic succession. At the end of the Bhagavad-gita, Sanjaya says that he has been able to hear Krsna's talks with Arjuna, vyasa-prasadat: by the mercy of Vyasadeva, his spiritual master. In the purport, Srila Prabhupada explains, "Vyasa was the spiritual master of Sanjaya, and Sanjaya admits that it was by Vyasa's mercy that he could understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This means that one has to understand Krsna not directly but through the medium of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is the transparent medium, although it is true that the experience is still direct. This is the mystery of the disciplic succession." (Bg 18.75 p) We approach Krsna through the mercy of our spiritual master, but at the same time the experience is also direct. Such realization, of course, comes only at an advanced stage of Krsna consciousness.
So I would say that devotees are justified in their desire or aspiration for Srila Prabhupada to be their spiritual master. Where they may not be right is in the idea that they can approach Srila Prabhupada without the association and help of Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples, or "recognized devotees."
In principle, and I believe to a great extent in practice, Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples, those who had more direct association with him, do help the other devotees to approach Srila Prabhupada. They help them understand Srila Prabhupada's instructions and Srila Prabhupada's mission, and they help them serve Srila Prabhupada. One of my Godbrothers once said, referring to the people you mentioned [ritviks], "They want Srila Prabhupada in the center, and we also want Srila Prabhupada in the center. The difference is that they want Srila Prabhupada alone, and we want Srila Prabhupada with associates." That is personalism: We don't just want Krsna alone. That is the point in Srila Prabhupada's purport above. Krsna is more pleased when He is associated with His devotees. So we want Krsna with His associates.
Similarly, we want Srila Prabhupada with his associates. And he is more pleased to be with his associates. In his last days in Vrndavana, he didn't say, "Leave me alone. I want to be with Krsna." He said, "Keep me surrounded, and chant the holy names of Krsna."
Giriraj Swami: He says that even in the spiritual world we serve the devotees and we don't serve Krsna directly, but The Nectar of Devotion says that we can have a direct relationship with Krsna.
I didn't actually say that we don't serve Krsna directly. What I said was that we serve Krsna under the guidance and supervision of superior authorities. Still, the service is also direct. The same example, vyasa-prasadat: It was by the mercy of Vyasa that Sanjaya could hear Krsna's conversation with Arjuna, but still the experience was direct. Similarly, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami rendered direct service to Lord Caitanya, but under Svarupa Damodara Gosvami's guidance.
Syamasundara Dasa: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: Now that is a good question. He asks, "On our level, where we are just beginning the practice of vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti, how do we develop unflinching faith?"
The process itself is meant to increase our faith. Actually, in substance there is no difference between sradhha, or faith, and prema, or pure love. Sraddha matures through different stages to become prema. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that an unripe mango is a mango as much as a ripe mango is a mango. In natural course the unripe mango will mature and become ripe. So sraddha is the same as prema, though in an early, or immature, stage. As it matures, it goes through different phases and eventually becomes prema. So the whole process of sadhana-bhakti is meant to take us through the different stages:
adau sraddha tatah sadhu-
sango `tha bhajana-kriya
tato `nartha-nivrttih syat
tato nistha rucis tatah
athasaktis tato bhavas
sadhakanam ayam premnah
pradurbhave bhavet kramah
"In the beginning there must be faith. Then one becomes interested in associating with pure devotees. Thereafter one is initiated by the spiritual master and executes the regulative principles under his orders. Thus one is freed from all unwanted habits and becomes firmly fixed in devotional service. Thereafter, one develops taste and attachment. This is the way of sadhana-bhakti, the execution of devotional service according to the regulative principles. Gradually emotions intensify, and finally there is an awakening of love. This is the gradual development of love of Godhead." (Bhakti rasamrita sindhu 1.4.15-16, Chaitanya charitamrita Madhya 23.16)
So sadhana-bhakti is the process of developing faith.
Still, in a more specific sense, we develop faith by hearing from devotees who have faith, and by discussing devotees' experiences and realizations that have increased their faith. By such discussions, our faith increases. That is why we meet and talk. Every devotee has some realization of Krsna consciousness that has increased his or her faith, and by hearing such realizations, our faith increases. By others hearing our realizations, their faith may also increase. Everyone's faith increases by sadhu-sangha.
Here, offenses are the biggest obstacle. Whatever devotional service we do will be quickly effective if we can do it without offenses. And if we commit offenses, our progress will be slower. Otherwise, by performing devotional service--as you all are doing--we quickly get reciprocation from Guru and Gauranga, and we get realization.
Mukunda Datta Prabhu: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: Are you talking about faith in the mode of goodness, in the mode of passion, and in the mode of ignorance? What would be the purpose of discriminating between the different types of faith?
Mukunda Datta Prabhu: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: Yes, that's a good point. But you know the answer, so why don't you give the answer?
Mukunda Datta Prabhu: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: His point is correct. It is the same idea, that either we have faith in Krsna or we have faith in maya. There are three modes of material nature, and there is faith in the mode of goodness, faith in the mode of passion, and faith in the mode of ignorance. Someone inclined to the mode of ignorance may develop faith in a person in the mode of ignorance. Such a person will advise, "Try this intoxicant; it's really good." And if one has faith in him, and in his advice, one will try the intoxicant. Somebody else may develop faith in a big man in the material world, in a rich man in the material world. That is also faith, but it is faith in the mode of passion. Srila Prabhupada said that during the Second World War a man in Calcutta worshiped Hitler because thanks to the war he had amassed so much wealth. People also develop faith in cheaters. Cheating is a combination of passion and ignorance, passion because you want material advancement, and ignorance because you are going against the laws of the land or the laws of scriptures. Someone in mixed passion and ignorance may put his faith in someone who says, "I have a great idea for a scam" or "Come on, let's do a heist." So people who have faith in him will follow his instructions and get the consequences. And one in the mode of goodness will have faith in the scriptures, or in people who repeat the scriptures.
Obviously, the results of following the different types of faith will be different.
Amrit Gupta: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: That's true. You can serve Krsna by serving maya. That's a great idea! Then you can get kicked by maya and suffer repeated birth, disease, old age, and death. You can serve Krsna that way. That's a great idea!
Philosophically, what you said is true. But practically, the result will be different. Srila Prabhupada explains that the honest citizen is serving the state, and the prisoner is also serving the state. The prisoner is laboring in the chain gang, breaking rocks to make roads, so he is also serving the state. But he is serving by force, whereas the free citizen is serving voluntarily. So we want to serve Krsna and His representatives in disciplic succession voluntarily. Otherwise, we will be forced to serve maya, and thus only indirectly serve Krsna--just as the prisoner is forced to serve the government--and we will suffer.
Rtadhvaja Swami: (Inaudible)
Giriraj Swami: That's a good point. I almost got into that in response to the question about taking initiation from Srila Prabhupada in Srila Prabhupada's absence, but you've made that point more clear now.
To repeat, the last sentence of the purport says, "One should not try to establish the relation directly; there must be a medium which is transparent and competent to lead us to the right path."
Rtadhvaja Maharaja is saying that the crisis of faith in ISKCON is that devotees question the transparency of those who are supposed to represent Srila Prabhupada. Such devotees think that if they have their own approach to Srila Prabhupada, their vision of Srila Prabhupada will not be obscured by the opaqueness in the so-called mediums. There is some cause for concern there, as I hinted earlier.
Now there are two cases. In one case, depending on the mood of the devotee, I would say, "Go ahead and develop your relationship with Srila Prabhupada. As you develop your relationship with Srila Prabhupada, you may find that Srila Prabhupada himself will direct you to one of his servants. If he does, that's fine." So I encourage such devotees to develop their relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I don't make them feel that there is something wrong in trying to do that, because I actually believe that Srila Prabhupada will reciprocate with any sincere souls who approach him. He will deal with them as he sees fit, and he may very well place those sincere souls under the guidance of one or another of his servants. We see that Raghunatha dasa went to Puri to take shelter of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but once he got there, Caitanya Mahaprabhu put him under the care of Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, his personal secretary. But again, how and what we preach will depend a lot on the mentality of the audience.
In the other case, the devotee has been influenced by arguments for initiation by Srila Prabhupada even after Prabhupada's departure, but isn't fixed in the conclusion. To such a devotee I would say:
"For the sake of argument, let us agree that we are all neophytes and that we all have anarthas, whether we are Prabhupada's direct disciples or not. When I read Srila Prabhupada's books, I don't get everything that's in them, because to some extent I am covered. Now when you read Prabhupada's books, do you get everything that's in them? Are you uncovered? Are you a liberated soul? Or are you a conditioned soul, as I am a conditioned soul?
"Still, there is a difference between you and me: I received direct instruction from Srila Prabhupada. (In reality, I probably wouldn't use myself as the example. Here I am just speaking hypothetically.) You are also a conditioned soul, but you never met Srila Prabhupada. You never got direct instruction from him, or direct training. So, who is more likely to have a better idea of Srila Prabhupada?"
Let us consider the difference between Srila Prabhupada's influence when he was here in person and after he left. The movement has gone through prolonged upheavals since Srila Prabhupada left. So even though Srila Prabhupada is still present, there is a difference between the way he was present before November 14, 1977 and now. Before November 14, 1977, if some problem arose in the movement, he could promptly deal with it in a way that everyone would accept. Now if some problem arises in the movement, he still may deal with it, but there will be different opinions as to how he wants to deal with it.
For example, let us take the issue of initiation. Some say, Srila Prabhupada wants us to take initiation from him now, even in his absence. Some say, Srila Prabhupada wants us to take shelter of Narayana Maharaja. Some say, Srila Prabhupada wants us to stay in ISKCON. The whole problem now is that so many devotees have so many different ideas, and they all claim authority from Srila Prabhupada. And the controversies continue, either because we don't actually know what Srila Prabhupada wants, or because we cannot convince others that we do know. Now everyone's opinions are considered subjective or relative. When Srila Prabhupada was here in person, however, we knew exactly what he wanted because he told us, directly.
So there is a difference between now and when Srila Prabhupada was here in person. In the same way, there is a difference between the devotees who received direct instruction from Srila Prabhupada and those who didn't. Those who did could ask Srila Prabhupada their questions directly, and he could answer them directly. He could also test their faith and surrender.
Otherwise, how do we fulfill the injunction, tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya / upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah? "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." (Bg 4.34) How do we inquire from Srila Prabhupada in his absence? The purport says, "Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. . . .
One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master." In his absence, how do we know if we have passed his test?
And what is the point of the injunction, tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet? (Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12) What is the point of saying you must study the scriptures with the help of guru? Srila Prabhupada is in his books. But Lord Krsna is also in the books. If we can approach Srila Prabhupada directly through the books, why can we not also approach Krsna directly through the books? Once we accept the principle of jumping over, there is no end to it. If we can jump over to Prabhupada, we can jump over to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, we can jump over to Jiva Gosvami, and we can jump over all the way to Krsna.
Therefore, in the same purport Srila Prabhupada wrote, "No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of the foolish pretenders. The Bhagavatam (6.3.19) says, dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam: the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help lead one to the right path. Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge." (Bg 4.34 p)
Still, one may ask, "Who in ISKCON is a 'bona fide spiritual master'?"
Here, in a practical sense, I think we have improved since the early days after Srila Prabhupada left, when the devotees who were supposed to be representing Srila Prabhupada seemed to be so opaque that other devotees thought they would rather just approach Srila Prabhupada directly. Then (at least more than now), the devotees who were representing Srila Prabhupada, knowingly or unknowingly, were trying to take his place. They were imitating Srila Prabhupada. They may have been doing so with all good intentions. They may have been imitating him naively. After all, he was the only example of how to be a spiritual master they had. Suddenly they had the responsibility or service, given by Srila Prabhupada or the GBC, to act as spiritual masters. And he was the only example they had. And Srila Prabhupada had said, "Just do as I do." So they thought that by (what we would now call) imitating him, they were doing their duty. But by imitating him, they transgressed certain principles of etiquette and relationships--even with him. And such imitation, and consequent transgressions, caused serious problems.
So I think we have improved now. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that they (the earlier initiating spiritual masters) had anarthas, and we have anarthas. But they were naïve. They thought that they could imitate Srila Prabhupada and that by acting like Srila Prabhupada and having their disciples deal with them the way we dealt with Srila Prabhupada, they were doing their duty to their disciples. Of course, there are bound to be similarities between the way disciples deal with their spiritual masters now and the way we dealt with Srila Prabhupada then. But there must be differences, too, because Srila Prabhupada was the founder-acarya of ISKCON, the empowered representative of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu who spread Krsna consciousness all over the world. We are not, nor is anyone else.
So I think that's where the problems arose, and there I think we have improved. I may have anarthas, I may not be completely pure, but I know that Srila Prabhupada is the founder-acarya of ISKCON and that I have to direct devotees to him because he is the founder-acarya. I know that he did what no one else could ever do, what no one else had ever done: He spread Krsna consciousness all over the world. So I know I have to bring devotees to him. The element of imitation had distorted the process. Srila Prabhupada had a very regal and majestic aspect, and he gathered all of the devotees unto him. So his early successors (again, perhaps with all good intentions, but naively) also tried to draw devotees to themselves rather than directing them to Srila Prabhupada. After all, Srila Prabhupada did not really direct us to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. He really directed us to himself as guru. By imitating Srila Prabhupada's mood or approach, we actually became opaque to some extent, and so devotees perceived that we were getting in the way, that we were not actually helping them come to Srila Prabhupada, but we were getting in the way.
So, granted that we are weak, we are poor, we are mlecchas and everything else, I think there are many devotees now who are serving as spiritual masters who have at least figured out the difference between Srila Prabhupada's position and our position, and have understood that our main service is to help others develop their relationship with Srila Prabhupada.
In that context, while I had the association of Srila Prabhupada, I also had the association of intimate disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Devotees often tell me, "You had so much personal association with Srila Prabhupada!" Although it is true that I did have personal association with Srila Prabhupada, still a great deal of what I got of Srila Prabhupada came from Srila Prabhupada's more senior disciples, such as, first, Satsvarupa Maharaja, and then Tamal Krishna Goswami and others. I got a lot of what I understand of Srila Prabhupada through them. So I think if we are clear about our positions and we don't try to assume any position that is inappropriate for us, if we are just our humble little selves and share our knowledge and realization of Srila Prabhupada with others, then we'll be able to help devotees more than hinder them. And that will be good for everyone.
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya! Gaura-premanande haribol!