GBC's U-turn on the "tradition" doctrine


'Back to Prabhupada, Issue 26, Summer 2010'

By Krishnakant

With the debate now well and truly over, the IRM is left more and more simply with the task of documenting how the GBC are continuing to adopt the IRM's position. In the last issue we noted their U-turn on their "physicality" doctrine, and here we will document another U-turn as to one of their 30-year-old fundamental guru doctrines.

The tradition doctrine

A common objection proffered for why Srila Prabhupada cannot possibly be ISKCON's diksa guru is that such a practice of accepting a physically departed guru would be against our Vaisnava "tradition", since it has never happened before. Indeed, this was one of the reasons given for rejecting "ritvik" in the GBC resolution on the subject:

"Whereas posthumous ritvik initiation has never been practiced by the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya (disciplic succession);"
(Resolution 73 - GBC meetings, 1990)

In this two-part article we will show how the GBC doctrine of tradition or historical precedence as the basis for judging whether or not an activity is bona fide, has been slain - first by the GBC, and on the facing page by Srila Prabhupada himself.


The whole of ISKCON is unprecedented

"Whereas ISKCON is an unprecedented worldwide Gaudiya Vaisnava mission which aims to incorporate many individual diksa and siksa gurus and their disciples."
(GBC Resolution 316, 2009)

"Yes, ISKCON - and much of what we do - is without precedent in history"
(Kripamoya Das, ISKCON UK Congregational Preaching Director, email correspondence, April 2009)

"generally that was the old traditional understanding in India that the guru leaves the planet and the disciple initiates and then it is that guru's responsibility to guide his disciples. But ISKCON was something very different from that."
(HH Bhakti Charu Swami, Toronto meeting, July 20th, 2003)

From the above, we can understand that it has been accepted that the basis of ISKCON and the way it operates is of an unprecedented nature.

ISKCON's guru system is unprecedented

The GBC admit that the guru system they have implemented is unprecedented and non-traditional:

"Historically, a guru tends to be an autocrat within his own institution. Srila Prabhupada's vision of thousands of gurus working cooperatively within a single institution is unique and bold."
(ISKCON News, "Gurus Go Back to School", October 10th, 2009)

"This is the first time in Vaisnava history that we see a functioning worldwide institution with a committee in charge. We are in uncharted waters!"
(HH Trivikrama Swami, June 18th, 2007, GBC-funded website)

"[...] the idea of this GBC is not exactly traditional [...] What we were trying to do now you have to understand had never been done […] when you're going to have a single institution with many different spiritual masters and there are many different disciples who are going to have to work together in a cooperative and unified way. Just hadn't been done."
(HG Ravindra Svarupa Das, ex-GBC Chairman, Lecture, June 29th-July 3rd, 1999)

"the traditional guru disciple relationship […] that is not the model given to us by Srila Prabhupada [...] devotees serving as guru in ISKCON are not the ultimate authority as would be the case in the traditional vedic setting [...] This is a subtle but significant difference from the traditional guru disciple relationship."
(Praghosa Das, GBC member, article, 1.6.09)

ISKCON's disciplic succession non-traditional

Part of the appeal to tradition involves claiming that the "normal" system of guru succession is as follows:

"That a spiritual master initiates until his departure and then his disciples initiate next is the normal system."
(Where the Ritvik People are Wrong, HH Jayadvaita Swami, 1996)

Yet ISKCON leaders have altered what they claim is the "traditional" system of parampara (disciplic succession):

a) It is now accepted that the disciple can begin initiating whilst his own spiritual master is still physically present, and this has already happened a number of times.

b) Though a number of ISKCON gurus have already passed away in the last 13 years, in no case has a "successor" been sanctioned, effectively bringing that line of the disciplic succession to an end. Indeed, in the case of one of these deceased ISKCON GBC-elected gurus, HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami, it was even stated that:

"Gurudeva did not leave, or could he possibly leave a successor."
(BT Swami disciples forum, July 8th, 2006)

Traditional guru system rejected

"Two deviations from Prabhupada's order - the "zonal acarya" system and the "posthumous ritvik" system - rest on adherence to the traditional idea of leadership."
(HG Ravindra Svarupa Das, Allegiance to Guru, to ISKCON and to Prabhupada, 1998)

Underscoring their rejection of tradition as a guiding principle, we are told that the guru system which is being rejected - the use of ritviks - is itself actually based on tradition.

Obvious examples

As we have seen, everything, from top to bottom, in regard to the GBC's own guru system, is non-traditional. Some of the more striking examples are:

GBC: Most of the GBC's "initiating acaryas" are non-Indians.

Vaisnava tradition: All of the acaryas in our disciplic succession were born in India.

GBC: "FACT: ISKCON gurus have had illicit sexual intercourse with both women and men, and possibly children as well."
(Where the Ritvik People Are Right, Jayadvaita Swami, 1996)

Vaisnava tradition: None of the acaryas in our disciplic succession were ever sexual deviants.

Conclusion: Follow the order, not tradition

The GBC's wholesale rejection of the tradition doctrine is encapsulated below. It is accepted that the only tradition which matters is to accept the guru's orders. And these orders do not establish some specific tradition against which they can be evaluated. This is exactly what the IRM have stated all along, and hence tradition can not be used as a basis to reject Srila Prabhupada's ritvik order:

"We had a discussion about this, a very nice discussion, at one of our GBC meetings some years back and it was highlighted that 'what is guru-disciple tradition?' Guru-disciple tradition means you're a guru because you follow the order of your guru. What he asks you to do doesn't establish traditional or non-traditional."
(HH Sivarama Swami, Lecture, 11.1.09)

Please chant: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare.
And be Happy!