The GBC and ISKCON India
in Fight Over Course


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 69, Vol 2, 2021

In the previous issue, our article "Challenging the Authority of Srila Prabhupada's Books" rebutted a "hermeneutic" paper issued by a GBC-appointed Hermeneutic Committee. The Sastric Advisory Council ("SAC"), consisting of the GBC's "brahminical" advisors and thus supposedly the brain of the movement, has now officially taken over the work of this committee and built on it to produce a full hermeneutics course for ISKCON. Hence, the course states that it resulted from "building on the work" of this "GBC appointed hermeneutics committee" whose paper we exposed in the last issue. The dictionary definition of the word "hermeneutic" is "a method or theory of interpretation" of, in particular, "religious texts".

This course has been approved for ISKCON by the GBC, who provide a statement included with the course where they acknowledge the course materials as the "basis for starting hermeneutic training in ISKCON" and a "useful guide".

ISKCON's India Continental Committee ("ICC") has strongly objected to this course, and has demanded from the GBC:

"the ICC calls upon the GBC to seriously consider the damage that is being done by this course that is clearly undermining the concept that Srila Prabhupada's purports are divinely inspired".

The ICC further commented:

"we find that the course is a smokescreen for teaching and encouraging interpretation of Srila Prabhupada's purports [...] this is offensive to Srila Prabhupada and unacceptable in the movement where Srila Prabhupada's teachings are incontrovertible, being the guidance for the movement and the world for the next ten thousand years".
(ICC statement published 17/5/21)

However, the ICC has not, as of yet, publicly provided any evidence for their claims above. Below, we analyse this GBC-authorised course, with quotes in the shaded boxes taken from the course. All emphases added.

Not authorised

It is noteworthy that the course itself admits that Srila Prabhupada never once used the word "hermeneutics":

"We do not find that Srila Prabhupada ever used the word hermeneutics, and, in fact, generally criticized approaching scripture to "interpret" it."

The course tries to get around this lack of authorisation from Srila Prabhupada for such a "hermeneutics" course by stating:

"However, Srila Prabhupada used the word "explain" as a valid way to understand scripture."

But Srila Prabhupada has already explained scripture in his books, and thus Srila Prabhupada would state that we simply should "repeat" and "reproduce" his purports when preaching (see for example letter to Dinesh dated 22/1/70, to Hridayananda 6/1/72 and arrival conversation 20/6/75). Hence, Srila Prabhupada never stated that:

a) Everyone in ISKCON must "learn" to explain scripture beyond what Srila Prabhupada has already explained.

b) Therefore special "hermeneutics" training to do this must be given in ISKCON.

Interestingly, the course even accepts that accepting the "primacy of Srila Prabhupada's books" can act in opposition to hermeneutics:

"Seen through a hermeneutical lens, there may be a leaning towards stopping the hermeneutical process, sometimes in (apparently) acknowledging the primacy of Srila Prabhupada's books."

Thus, Srila Prabhupada never authorised that such a course be taught in ISKCON, and hence it is unauthorised.

Not authorised – 2

The course attempts to justify its existence by invoking the example of Acarya Srila Rupa Goswami:

"Why teach hermeneutics? It is part of becoming expert in the study of sastra. Why? To establish the real principles of dharma."

The above is given as an "explanation" for the following quote:

"Rupa Gosvami, he's presenting this Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, quoting from so many scriptures. [...] Why they studied so much? Because they wanted to establish sad-dharma, real type of religion, bhakti."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 31/1/73)

However, neither in this quote, nor elsewhere, does Srila Prabhupada direct us to imitate Rupa Goswami and become "expert" in "so many" sastras in the same way as Rupa Goswami. Because we are not the Acarya and are only supposed to become expert in the books of the current Acarya, Srila Prabhupada:

"Regarding reading Mahabharata, why divert your attention in this way? Bhagavatam is also Mahabharata. There are so many books I have presented already, so whatever you have got, just become expert in that."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 29/4/73)

"One should not partially study a book just to pose oneself as a great scholar by being able to refer to scriptures. In our Krsna consciousness movement we have therefore limited our study of the Vedic literatures to the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta and Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. These four works are sufficient for preaching purposes. They are adequate for the understanding of the philosophy and the spreading of missionary activities all over the world."
(Cc., Madhya-lila, 22.118, purport)

"I have given you everything, so read and speak from the books and so many new lights will come out. We have got so many books, so if we go on preaching from them for the next 1,000 years, there is enough stock."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 16/6/72)

Thus, claiming that we need this course in order to become expert in "so many scriptures" in imitation of Srila Rupa Goswami is not supported by Srila Prabhupada.

Deception used

The unauthorised nature of the course is proven by the deception that the course is forced to engage in to try to hide its unauthorised nature. For example, at the outset the course states:

"Overarching Principle: Understanding tradition through Srila Prabhupada, accepting Srila Prabhupada as the representative and conveyer of the essence of the tradition and parampara, in the most appropriate way for our understanding and application."

That we understand everything, including tradition, through Srila Prabhupada alone, is correct. However, later on the course teaches the opposite:

"The overarching principle of ISKCON Hermeneutics is that we understand the Vaisnava tradition (the previous acaryas and the sastra) through Srila Prabhupada and we understand Srila Prabhupada through the Vaisnava tradition. At first, this principle can sound like a contradiction"

Thus, having first claimed that the "Overarching Principle" is only that we understand tradition through Srila Prabhupada, the course later contradicts itself by stating that we understand Srila Prabhupada through tradition – even admitting that sounds like a contradiction! But Srila Prabhupada has never ordered us to understand him through tradition, or indeed through anything else outside of his own books and teachings. And in trying to explain this contradiction, the course makes no attempt to even claim that Srila Prabhupada ordered this.

Deception used – 2

Another example of a deception used to try to lull course participants into thinking this course is authorised by Srila Prabhupada, is correctly stating:

"For ISKCON members, Srila Prabhupada, his words and example, is the lens through which we understand the previous acaryas, the Gaudiya sampradaya, and the whole Vedic literature. We do not "jump over" Srila Prabhupada. We privilege Srila Prabhupada's vision and explanations over those of others."

However, the course relies very heavily on quoting the previous acaryas, and claims that we must understand Srila Prabhupada's teachings via their teachings. This is the definition of "jumping over" Srila Prabhupada, and hence contradicts the above statement, thus proving its deceptive nature. For example, the course states that we first need to know systems of logic mentioned by previous acaryas in order to properly understand Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam:

"five steps of analysis, called pascanga-nyaya. [...] In his commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.3.40 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura has pointed out that in verses 11.3.35 through 11.3.39 the various stages of standard logic are demonstrated. [...] It's crucially important to understand [...] help understanding the internal logic of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and to come to the same proper conclusion [...] knowing those five parts will help one to better understand the logic of the Bhaktivedanta Purports of His Divine Grace."

Jumping over translations

Indeed, a blatant example of "jumping over" Srila Prabhupada is that even with books Srila Prabhupada has already translated and given commentaries on, the course has several times jumped over Srila Prabhupada by consulting the works of the previous acaryas:

"Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 2.4.5 mentions the progression of sravanam, mananam and nididhyasanam also referred to by Baladeva Vidyabhusana in his commentary to Isopanisad 15:"

"From Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura's commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.28:"

"TOOL 11: Madhva's Hierarchy of Sastras [...] primary application would be when studying the works of Madhvacarya himself, including his commentaries to Srimad-Bhagavatam"

The course even quotes the Chandogya Upanisad translated by a non-devotee, "Patrick Olivelle".

The course also states that the standard to ensure our understanding is siddhantic is not Srila Prabhupada's teachings, but the statements of the previous acaryas:

"Another important, concise statement of siddhanta comes from Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana's Prameya Ratnavali. [...] another eloquent siddhantic statement is given to us by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in his Dasa-mula-tattva [...] we use these siddhantic statements throughout this paper [...] these siddhantic statements serve as gold standards to ensure that our understanding of sastra does not deviate from siddhanta."

Understanding Srila Prabhupada

The course states how we should understand Srila Prabhupada:

"understanding how Srila Prabhupada is within the tradition could include studying the acaryas' commentaries to deepen one's appreciation of Srila Prabhupada's purports and also explore realizations of our acaryas that Srila Prabhupada chose not to include in his works."

But Srila Prabhupada never stated that his followers needed to:

a) Jump over him to study the commentaries of the previous acaryas in order to "deepen one's appreciation of Srila Prabhupada's purports".
b) Jump over him to "explore realizations of our acaryas that Srila Prabhupada chose to not include in his works".

Rather, he stated the opposite, that we cannot even understand previous acaryas without going through him:

"This is called parampara system. Suppose I have heard something from my spiritual master, so I speak to you the same thing. So this is parampara system. You cannot imagine what my spiritual master said. Or even if you read some books, you cannot understand unless you understand it from me. This is called parampara system. You cannot jump over to the superior guru, neglecting the next acarya, immediate next acarya. [...] This is the process."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 8/12/73)

Thus, the course firmly promotes "jumping over" Srila Prabhupada to try to "learn" things that were not authorised by Srila Prabhupada to be learned.


In summary, from all the previous sections, we can see both from –

a) Srila Prabhupada's orders, and
b) the justifications offered by the course itself

– that the course is unauthorised.

Hence, since the course is not actually authorised by Srila Prabhupada, this will easily enable the GBC to respond to ISKCON India's demands by:

a) Simply withdrawing this course as it is not authorised by Srila Prabhupada.
b) Replacing it instead with what Srila Prabhupada did authorise – a thorough study of only his books and teachings.

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