Constitutional Issues: Differing Positions on Guru-tattva

BY: ROCANA DASA - 10.5 2023

We are continuing to receive many interesting emails and submissions on issues related to guru-tattva and the Constitution for ISKCON As It Is. We appreciate hearing from all the devotees on these topics.

One devotee offered this characterization of the many disparate opinions on guru-tattva:

"So what is the minimum standard of guru in order to go all the way back to Godhead? Different answers:

1. The GBC rubber stamp is enough (hence ISKCON is accused of being soft-Rtvik because of relying on Srila Prabhupada to make up for deficiencies of the guru).

2. The Tripurari Swami camp calls ISKCON quasi-Rtvik (as the minimum standard of guru is not high), and says the guru should be at least on the platform of ruci.

3. Gour Govinda Swami's guru-tattva paper says not even ruci is enough. The guru must have prema.

It's a mess!"

We have written extensively over the years on GBC/ISKCON's position on guru-tattva, and the Constitution clearly establishes how our position differs from theirs. But I have also written quite a bit on the guru-tattva of both Gour Govinda and Tripurari Swamis and their followers. We will continue in the weeks ahead to offer comments on these three different guru-tattva platforms and how they do and don't compare. For now, I would like to repost the following article, written in 2010, which serves as a preface for understanding Gour Govinda Swami's position, particularly in relationship to Srila Prabhupada.

To date, we have received no response, official or unofficial, to our questions and concerns on Gour Govinda Swami's statements. Nor did Tamohara dasa reply with the requested substantiation for his claims.

You'll find a number of other articles on Gour Govinda Swami and followers here, in the section titled 'ISKCON GURUS, SANNYASIS & GBCs'. Extensive comments on Tripurari Swami and his camp's preaching on guru-tattva can be found in the article "Dharma Mela Debates between Rocana dasa, Brahma dasa and Audarya lila dasa - 2001-2002", which covers many points relevant to the current discussion.


HH Gour Govinda Swami's Preaching

By Rocana dasa
October 26, 2010


I would like to respond to the recent article by Tamohara dasa Vanaprastha, entitled "Traditional Scriptural Understandings", written in response to Aprakrita prabhu's submission, "See the Difference". Both of these devotees are friends and Canadians I've served with in the past.

In his article, Tamohara dasa has made various comments to Aprakrita dasa that I feel are uncalled for, and I take them somewhat personally on Aprakrita's behalf. Aprakrita dasa was simply speaking for himself, offering a single point of comparison in quotations from Gour Govinda Swami and Srila Prabhupada. It can hardly be said that he was 'building a case against' HH Gour Govinda Swami. We appreciate that Aprakrita dasa pointed out to us one of the many things Gour Govinda Swami has said that cause one to question his understanding of Srila Prabhupada, and how closely aligned he was with Prabhupada. Aprakrita dasa had every right to highlight this seeming contradiction.

Of course, Tamohara dasa does not address the contradiction itself in any way. Instead, he wants us to know that he is a very firm follower of Gour Govinda's and that he had a few years of association with him, back in the 70's. That's all well and good, but the fact is that prior to Gour Govinda Swami's departure, he was a very controversial figure in ISKCON. He had polarized, to a certain degree, many of Srila Prabhupada's followers – those who appreciated and understood him to be what Tamohara dasa claims he is, and those who had doubts, and felt that he wasn't 100% inline with Srila Prabhupada. This includes the GBC at the time. Of course, the GBC men have sullied their own reputations and became an easy target for those who say they were wrong about Gour Govinda. In his article, Tamohara dasa admitted that the GBC were ill-disposed towards the Swami, and says it was because he was exposing their cheating. I would like Tamohara dasa to provide us with written proof that Gour Govinda "Thakur", as he calls him (he doesn't call Srila Prabhupada 'Thakur'), exposed their cheating. Tamohara dasa says it's a fact, so let us hear the actual facts.

From Tamohara dasa's perspective, Gour Govinda Swami is a pure devotee and he never deviated one inch. That's his personal perspective and he's welcome to it, but it's not the perspective of everyone. I have written a number of articles on this subject in the past, including "Searching for Sadhu? Danger Ahead", which was part of a back-and-forth debate with another of Gour Govinda's followers. I had questions back then, and I still have questions today.

I have recently been challenging Madhavananda das, one of Gour Govinda Swami's most active supporters today, on his comments in a series of articles and lectures he produced regarding the Swami's teachings and the subject of Putana and false gurus. In that discussion, I've mentioned some of the points elaborated on in today's article. Madhavananda has also been active in his Facebook blog, wherein he supports the various ideas Gour Govinda left us with. One of these is the idea that there are always pure devotees, and if you're pure enough yourself, if you're sincere enough, then Krsna will lead you to them. Gour Govinda Swami made it abundantly clear that he was such a pure devotee living guru, a pure representative of Srila Prabhupada and the Sampradaya. He also made it clear that Srila Prabhupada's followers and disciples could go to him for siksa, and he encouraged those who were discouraged or upset by the leaders to come to him for shelter and instruction.

Gour Govinda Swami was promoting himself as a bona fide Spiritual Master -- someone you could take diksa from. And this, of course, is what Madhavananda das has done, after being cheated by the Zonal Acarya, Rameswar. Tamohara dasa seems to have taken the same course. He states that he took siksa from Gour Govinda for two years, although at the present time he considers himself to be a dedicated Rtvik adherent. That appears to be quite a contradiction, however. On one hand, Tamohara is claiming that he supports Gour Govinda Swami, which means that according to him, Gour Govinda is a bona fide diksa guru. Yet according to the Rtvik philosophy, there are no bona fide diksas in ISKCON that one could or should take shelter of after Srila Prabhupada's departure. And if Tamohara dasa, like most other Rtviks, believes that all ISKCON diksa gurus are unbonafide because Srila Prabhupada never gave them a direct order to be diksa, than the question arises – what makes Gour Govinda Swami different?

We have studied the website about Gour Govinda Swami provided by Madhavananda das, and find a number of interesting articles there. In at least two of these, Gour Govinda states that "everything is in Srila Prabhupada's books". This statement is found in the preface to Gour Govinda's 'Mathura Meets Vrindavan', and also in 'Prabhupada's Mission'. While the basic statement is certainly agreeable, that 'everything is in Srila Prabhupada's books', what causes me serious concern are some of the other statements made in these articles, such as the following qualifier:

"Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said, "Everything is in my books." He has given everything, but it is in seed form. He has only given a hint. Now you have to dive deeper and deeper, to the deepest region, then you will collect the invaluable gems that are there."

While Gour Govinda Maharaja is specific in saying that Srila Prabhupada has only given everything in 'seed form', he is not so specific in saying just where all the invaluable gems are. Where is that deepest region? Is it also in Srila Prabhupada's book? Or must it be found elsewhere, to be discovered under the direction of someone like Gour Govinda? And now that Gour Govinda has departed, what is the position? Must we now hear from Madhavananda das, his prominent disciple? Is Madhavananda now the only one who can decode Srila Prabhupada's hints, leading us to the deeper regions that Srila Prabhupada didn't lead us to? Or perhaps another of Gour Govinda's senior disciples?

Over the last few decades we've all experienced the expertise of Indian preachers, and how they can say things in such a way that it can be interpreted in many ways, depending on the personal position of the listener and their relationship with the speaker. This was evident with B.R. Sridhar Maharaja, with B.V. Narayana, and here we find it with Gour Govinda Swami. The underlying message that I get from this paragraphs is, 'you have to go through me'. You have to become my disciple, either siksa or diksa, to understand what Srila Prabhupada was 'hinting' at. Only I can lead you to the deepest regions, lead you down the path. This is a familiar message – we have heard B.V. Narayana preach like this for years. Of course, Srila Prabhupada never stated this to be a fact, and I personally disagree with it.

Gour Govinda Swami goes on to say that Srila Prabhupada's purports are 'unique':

"Prabhupada's purports need explanation. The Bhaktivedanta purports are unique."

Again, we do not agree with this characterization. "Unique" is not a word that applies to Srila Prabhupada's purports because, as Srila Prabhupada has stated innumerable times, he is simply repeating what the previous Acaryas have already stated. Srila Prabhupada has repeated without changing, stating the Truth in a clear form. That does not make his purports "unique", but just the opposite. Sri Krsna is speaking through Srila Prabhupada, he's speaking on behalf of the Sampradaya Acaryas, making it very, very clear what is our philosophy. But Gour Govinda Swami actually disagrees with this:

"This vaisnava philosophy is very difficult because it has its own specific language. But Srila Prabhupada, our revered spiritual master, was an especially empowered person, and he explained it in the English language. Many times the English language has no words to properly convey the meanings. In this purport Prabhupada tried his best to translate the ideas into English, but sometimes he just used the original Sanskrit words because you cannot find the English equivalent."

So according to Gour Govinda Swami, these ideas can only be properly expressed in the original texts they were written in, whether it's classical Bengali for the Caitanya-caritamrta and many writings of the Goswamis, or the Sanskrit. Gour Govinda Swami not only hints, but gives the reader the clear impression that he's a person who can understand all these things: Bengali, Sanskrit, English – and all the secret codes that Srila Prabhupada has introduced and hinted at, but did not explain. This is total nonsense.

In the article entitled "Prabhupada's Mission", comprised of excerpts from chapters 12 and 13 of Gour Govinda's 'My Revered Spiritual Master', he expands upon what he's stated in the preface to 'Mathura Meets Vrindavan". He says that in the West, we're all just mlecchas and yavanas – a statement that always sets off warning bells in my head. Yes, it's true, but it's also true that throughout the whole planet, even in India, most people are mlecchas and yavanas in this age. And it's our philosophy -- Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's philosophy -- that anyone can become a Vaisnava, anyone can become a brahmana, anyone can become a pure devotee regardless of their background. Srila Prabhupada has stated this many times in his lectures, pointing to his western disciples as proof positive that it is a fact. That is part of our philosophy. But here, Gour Govinda Swami makes it sound like the western people cannot understand the advanced teachings of Mahaprabhu, especially Caitanya-caritamrta, even though interestingly enough, one of the first books Srila Prabhupada published after coming west was the Teachings of Lord Caitanya.

In 'Prabhupada's Mission', Gour Govinda Swami talks about Lord Buddha being an incarnation, but one Who was preaching against the Vedas. The reason he includes a mention of the Buddha incarnation is because he's equating Srila Prabhupada to Lord Buddha. According to him (under the heading 'Work of an Acarya'), Srila Prabhupada can also be likened to Shankaracarya. It's right there for everyone to read:

"Similarly, you cannot understand why Prabhupada said what he did. Tat-kalika, at that time it was needed. But not for all time. He was laying the foundation. Before building a mansion, you should lay the foundation, and the foundation should be very strong. Then you will be able to build a big mansion, skyscraper. If the foundation is not strong the skyscraper will collapse. Prabhupada laid the foundation. Then he left if for you: "Now you build a mansion." That time has now come. Don't stay in the foundation only."

This is how Gour Govinda Swami is referring to Srila Prabhupada – that Srila Prabhupada's teachings are not for all time, he was just 'laying the foundation', and that foundation is not a place where you can reside, until returning home, Back to Godhead. That what Srila Prabhupada said is hard to understand – in fact, "you cannot understand".

He goes on to make it very clear that he is comparing Srila Prabhupada to Shankaracarya, even though Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu forbade us to associate with Mayavadis. In this article, Gour Govinda Swami says that Mahaprabhu stated that Shankaracarya helped us, and he's therefore an Acarya, but at the same time he forbade us to hear his philosophy. And in this context, he is likening Srila Prabhupada to Shankaracarya. He is essentially saying that Srila Prabhupada only gave us the foundation, but even so, we consider him Acarya, just like Shankaracarya.

He goes on to talk about fools who criticize, i.e., fools who are criticizing Srila Prabhupada, namely Prabhupada's godbrothers and other swamis like himself who are Indian by birth and consider themselves more advanced than us due to having a more pious birth and upbringing. So he says that Srila Prabhupada did what was needed at the time. In other words, he preached and wrote and presented his books according to time, place and circumstance, just to lay a foundation.

One of Gour Govinda Swami's main themes is that you shouldn't leave ISKCON, no matter what. This is regardless of the fact that ISKCON was based on Srila Prabhupada's teachings, which according to the Swami were just foundational… they weren't the complete understanding of Vaisnava philosophy. But if you leave ISKCON you're definitely going to hell. Of course, he doesn't clarify what that means, 'leaving ISKCON'. Does it mean leaving the existing ISKCON, which was established based on Srila Prabhupada's teachings even though, as he himself admits, the leaders have deviated from those teachings and the teachings of the previous Acaryas? He goes on to denigrate such persons, saying:

"Prabhupada was teaching Westerners, mlecchas and yavanas, eating beef and drinking liquor. They were hippies – mad fellows taking strong drugs, LSD, and marijuana. What they can understand of this philosophy? He did what was needed for them at that particular time. He did a great job and brought us to the path. Otherwise so many persons would not have come here. But now the time has come to understand this philosophy."

Of course, at the time he was speaking this, many of us had been closely following the principles and not doing all these things, eating beef and taking drugs. We were serving and following Srila Prabhupada, so we had stopped doing those things, and followed the Sampradaya Acarya, assisting in his mission. But we still can't understand the philosophy? That doesn't make any sense. In fact, that is NOT the philosophy.

Gour Govinda states that Prabhupada wrote his books only to be given to persons like mellechas and yavanas, but that's not true either. Srila Prabhupada said he wrote these books for his disciples, and for all those who are sincerely seeking the Truth. He didn't write the Teachings of Lord Caitanya or the Nectar of Devotion for drug-taking meat eaters. What to speak of the fact that in the Caitanya-caritamrta it's stated very clearly that Lord Caitanya opened the floodgates of love of God and distributed it indiscriminately to everyone. So it may be a fact that many of the books Srila Prabhupada wrote and we distributed went to people in the lowly category Gour Govinda emphasizes, but still many sincere followers took up the instructions. Gour Govinda's remarks in this regard are very reminiscent of what we've heard over the years from B.V. Narayana.

Gour Govinda Swami says that Srila Prabhupada 'did a great job, and brought us to the path'. Reading this statement, you might think Srila Prabhupada wasn't on the path himself, or his teaching just brought us to the path, but could go no further. Then he says, "But now it is time to understand the philosophy." So it wasn't time for that before, while Srila Prabhupada was in his manifest lila? Or after his departure, as people read his books?

When you carefully read what Gour Govinda has written in these articles, you can see very clearly why the leaders at the time, including myself as I recall, had a hard time understanding what Gour Govinda Swami was actually preaching. He was essentially saying, if you feel disturbed or you can't get shelter in ISKCON, you can come take siksa from me. In fact, he says that right in this article:

"Don't leave ISKCON. Take siksa from me if you have some doubts. I am prepared to clarify them. But don't leave ISKCON."

Responding to our remarks on these many statements of Gour Govinda's, I know his supporters are going to say well, English is his second language, and certain things are lost in translation, they can be easily misinterpreted, etc., etc. Again reminiscent of the apologists from B.V. Narayana's camp. But these statements are not easy to misinterpret. They are consistent. They are repeated. The followers of Gour Govinda Swami at the time did not challenge them. And to this very day, the GBC have decided not to challenge what Gour Govinda has written. They have given institutional approval to Madhavananda das and the Bhubaneswar chapter of ISKCON, which is loyally following Gour Govinda Swami's version of Srila Prabhupada's teachings. As I've stated in my articles on the Putana issue, Madhavananda das is not even subtle in saying that he disagrees with some of the ISKCON leaders. He doesn't consider them bona fide followers, but false gurus. But Madhavananda appears to be getting little or no pushback from the leaders.

So there are many big questions to be answered about the preaching of Gour Govinda Swami. I challenge Tamohara dasa and Madhavananda das, and any of those who have a strong feeling of dedication and support for Gour Govinda Swami to clarify these points for the edification of all our Sun readers. Please explain these things, so we can all benefit from understanding the statements made by Gour Govinda Swami. But while you're at it, I suggest you not depict Srila Prabhupada as a "jet set worldwide preacher", as Gour Govinda Swami has. 'Big city jet set worldwide preacher' is not a term I would use on any occasion to describe Srila Prabhupada. In fact, someone reading this comment might conclude that Gour Govinda Swami was more in line with Vaisnava tradition than Srila Prabhupada himself.

We're getting more than just confusing messages from Gour Govinda Swami, Madhavananda das, and now Tamohara dasa. But rather than give us all these sentimental platitudes and personal opinions about how advanced Gour Govinda Swami was, we suggest that his followers simply clarify his comments for us, in writing and with citations, so we can clear up some of the main reasons why myself, Aprakrita dasa and many others have doubts and questions about who Gour Govinda Swami really is.