Understanding Srila Prabhupada’s GBC System


IRM

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 68, Vol 1, 2021

IIn the same interview featured in the article on pages 4-5, GBC member Praghosa Dasa ("PD") also offers a common plea regarding how we must all cooperate under the "governing board" (GBC) that Srila Prabhupada established:

"if we all work together in that cooperative mood, under the governing board that Srila Prabhupada put in place, I think that will ensure ISKCON's legacy."

However, in order to be able to do this, both the GBC and the members of ISKCON must understand what the GBC is and what its powers are. All quotes in shaded boxes are taken from this aforementioned interview dated 18/11/20. Emphases added.

Topmost person

"that's the first clause in Srila Prabhupada's Will. [...] That was the level of importance that Srila Prabhupada attached to it. But by doing that and establishing that governing board as the ultimate authority in his movement [...] if Prabhupada was fixated with the guru being the topmost person in the organisation, he wouldn't have done that."

1) The first clause in Srila Prabhupada's Will only states that the GBC will be the "ultimate managing authority" for ISKCON. And this was effectively the position that the GBC already held even when Srila Prabhupada was physically present and the guru of ISKCON:

"The GBC (Governing Body Commissioned) has been established by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to represent Him in carrying out the responsibility of managing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [...] has been authorized by His Divine Grace to make necessary arrangements for carrying out these responsibilities of management."
(Definition of GBC, GBC Resolution 1, 1975)

Thus, actually nothing changed on Srila Prabhupada's physical departure, since the Will merely stated that the system which was already in place, whereby the GBC was the ultimate managing authority for ISKCON, on behalf of ISKCON's guru, Srila Prabhupada, would simply continue.

2) "Ultimate managing authority" meant that the GBC accepts that Srila Prabhupada is the head of ISKCON, since it has no function other than executing his orders:

"The GBC has no other function or purpose other than to execute the instructions so kindly given by His Divine Grace and preserve and spread his Teachings to the world in their pure form."
(Definition of GBC, GBC Resolution 1, 1975)

3) Hence, Srila Prabhupada's Will states that the guru (Srila Prabhupada), would remain the topmost person in ISKCON, through his instrument of management, the GBC.

No historical precedent

"historically the guru was the head of their own organisation and the head of their own Matha [...] for the very first time in the history of Gaudiya Vaisnavism [...] Srila Prabhupada said, ‘That's not going to happen anymore. That may be the historical reality for thousands of years. I'm changing it. [...] What's happening in ISKCON is we're having a governing board [...] that governing board is the final authority in my movement [...]'"

1) PD claims that the arrangements Srila Prabhupada made for how ISKCON is to continue to function in his physical absence are without historical precedence. This is a very important point. Because it means that consequently, ISKCON's leaders cannot claim historical precedence as a reason to object to Srila Prabhupada arranging for himself to continue to function in his physical absence as ISKCON's diksa guru. It would be illogical, hypocritical and self-defeating to do so. Yet, this has always been one of their standard arguments. Eg.:

"the problem with the Rtvik system is – in the past we never see a precedence of that practice."
(Bhakti Charu Swami Q&A, Istagosthi, 8/6/00)

2) As we noted in the previous section, by establishing a GBC, Srila Prabhupada did not change the system whereby a guru is head of his own organisation. Rather, by establishing the GBC, Srila Prabhupada ensured that this arrangement would continue in exactly the same way as when he was physically present, with no change. For the GBC exists only as a vessel to ensure Srila Prabhupada's instructions are executed. And by not appointing a successor guru to be the head of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada merely cemented his position as the continuing head of ISKCON.

3) The GBC is not the "final authority" in ISKCON as PD claims – only the ultimate "managing" authority. A difference, which as we have noted above, is crucial since it means that the GBC exists merely to keep Srila Prabhupada as the head of ISKCON in exactly the same way as when he was physically present.

Fictional order

"not over-emphasising the role of guru in the Hare Krsna movement was actually institutionalized by Srila Prabhupada himself [...] So what does Srila Prabhupada do? He said, ‘No, the gurus are not going to be head of the tree, they're not going to be on top, that is not happening in ISKCON.'"

1) Srila Prabhupada established a system whereby his role as the guru is "over-emphasised", since the GBC is completely subordinate to him in all respects. In 1975, as the guru of ISKCON, he established the GBC as follows:

"The GBC accepts as its life and soul His divine instructions and recognizes that it is completely dependent on His mercy in all respects."
(Definition of GBC, GBC Resolution 1, 1975)

2) PD fabricates that Srila Prabhupada "said" that gurus are not going to be the head of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada never spoke of the GBC managing diksa gurus, period. Nor did he give any successor diksa gurus to manage! The GBC has never produced orders from Srila Prabhupada wherein he gives the GBC the power to create diksa gurus, as the GBC currently does. And, as we noted in the previous section, the GBC can only execute orders that Srila Prabhupada has given.

Conclusion

It is not disputed that the GBC was established to manage ISKCON. But PD is mistaken regarding how they should do this or what they should be managing. The fact that there exists a GBC does not mean that:

a) Srila Prabhupada created a new system whereby the diksa guru is de-emphasised.
b) Or that there will exist successor diksa gurus that need to even be managed.
c) Or that we no longer have an ISKCON with its guru on top, in exactly the same way we did, with no change, when Srila Prabhupada was physically present.


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