Constitutional Issues: 'Rubber-stamp' Approvals, Part 2

BY: ROCANA DASA - 4.5 2023

Following are further comments made over the course of an exchange on the issue of 'rubber-stamp' approval of diksa gurus -- a practice that the Constitution does not support. As one devotee wrote (his comments indented):

"My feeling is that rubber stamping is unpopular because it means an unqualified person can become officially "qualified", which is misleading."

We replied by saying that yes, rubber-stamping is unpopular for that reason. It is also unpopular because it is not sanctioned by sastra. And because of what it says about the power of an institutional authority to insert themselves in the decision-making process in context of a personal spiritual relationship. And because the authorities themselves are not absolute (like the maha-bhagavata nitya-siddha Founder-Acarya was), therefore the decision-making is fraught with errors of conditioning. It's also unpopular because in the case of ISKCON, institutional functionaries with the rubber-stamp are known to themselves be deviating. So all these reasons have to be ascribed to its un-popularity.

"But if anyone can call themselves a guru without front end monitoring then we have the same problem (an unqualified person can become "qualified" by self-appointment)."

We are not suggesting an environment of no front-end monitoring. First, this is a Constitution that protects certain freedoms: speech, press, etc. We protect and ensure these rights, and foster an environment in which candidates for initiation have access to information about the qualifications of a diksa, or a want-to-be diksa. There is regular, formal istagosthi, an opportunity for a candidate to inquire, share, seek and hear concerns about a potential guru. There is freedom, and duty, for godbrothers and members of the society in general to scrutinize one who puts himself forward as guru, and for them to preach to candidates for both guru-ship and initiation. In the Constitution, protection has been put in place for unfounded reprisals in the form of 'vaisnava-aparadha' complaints due to such open disclosure and discussion.

If an unqualified guru manages to successfully pass through these safekeeping measures, there is every likelihood that he could be equally successful in passing through the safekeeping measures of an institutional functionary with a rubber-stamp. The same qualities of observation and discretion are there to be applied. But in an environment like the one advocated in the Constitution, there is far more likelihood of successful front-end monitoring and vetting than you will find in an inherently politicized institutional environment. That, we can argue conclusively, and ISKCON history will prove it out at every level.

"Suppose a guru engages in illicit sex. He will be banned from initiating. So it is reasonable to ban someone before they even begin initiating if they have had illicit sex recently. The leaders should protect members from such cheating gurus."

Yes, it is reasonable to ban someone who is not keeping their vows, and won't remediate. The process described above supports ejection from the society where appropriate (e.g., for one claiming to be in an asrama, but not living according to the standards.) But it does not anchor the banning to guru-ship decisions. Rather, it is anchored to following the Acarya properly and to right living within a just (constitutionally defined and protected) social environment.

"Here is how I would arrange it: if anyone wants to take the post of initiating guru, then they are only allowed to do so if there is no evidence that they are below the standard required for those that are already initiating.

In other words, the standard for becoming a guru is the same as the standard for continuing as a guru. If there is no front end monitoring then the standard for becoming a guru is less than the standard for continuing as a guru which doesn't seem right."

Here are the problems with this approach:

First, it is not supported by sastra, it is not a practice historically engaged in by our sampradaya, and it is not instructed by our Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhupada. Just the opposite.

Second, the onus for discretion falls upon an institutional functionary (or group of functionaries) whose powers of discrimination are conditioned and limited, and who will naturally be prone to politicization. There will be, in an institutional environment, rubber-stamp approvals given that are influenced by loyalties and party politics. Human nature cannot be circumvented.

Third, the time factor weighs against it. So many problems -- personal problems -- are kept well hidden or managed until a certain point. When the individual can no longer hide them, then they manifest. If this unfortunate circumstance happens, and adversely effects an individual who has chosen such a person as diksa guru, then the disciple must deal with the fallout. It was their choice; they were cheated and disappointed. But if it was the institution, as represented by the society's leaders, who were surprised by the delayed manifestation of symptoms and were eventually (also) duped, then the functionaries themselves are cheated and disappointed, as are all the members of the society they represent, who counted on them. The blame spreads out, and the problem taints the entire society, and thus the good name of the Founder-Acarya.

If this guru/disciple relationship and decision is left to the individual's discretion, than he or she alone is responsible and stands to be harmed. That is true no matter how many disciples a guru has by the time his falldown is discovered. And when such a thing happens, as long as the society's leaders act immediately, decisively and in accordance with sastra to deal with the fallen guru and protect the members, then they should not take the burden of blame. If they don't act, then of course they should be blamed -- in fact, they should be remediated or replaced.

This draft Constitution proposes that when a guru falls down and it comes to light, it is made public to keep others safe. The proffered program of remediation is disclosed and is thus open to be monitored by all. If the guru does not remediate, then he is stripped of membership in the society -- publicly so -- and all parties are warned to steer clear. This part of the process is all-important, but it should be understood as being independent of the front-end due diligence. The burden of responsibility falls in different places, at different times, appropriately and in accordance with sastra.

"If there is no front end monitoring then the standard for becoming a guru is less than the standard for continuing as a guru which doesn't seem right."

It is sastra and the Founder-Acarya who set the standard for becoming guru. It's not that the standard changes. Only the approval process is different. We cannot layer rules and regulations on top of sastra, particularly in the matter of something as essential and eternal as the guru/disciple relationship. That's why sastra is there -- to tell us how things should function. We don't advocate changing or trying to improve up sastra.

Generally, we find that those who advocate rubber-stamping of diksa gurus hope to be able to replace one set of conditioned, and deviating GBCs with another set of conditioned, non-deviating GBCs, and their hopes of success ride upon this. We suggest, and the Constitution has it that such hoped-for success can be had by relying instead upon the strength of the society's members collectively. They have much the same local duty for oversight as the local GBC does, they have the same powers of discretion collectively, and they likely have access to even more experience and information with the guru then a single or a few functionaries do. Nor are members of the community of devotees likely to suffer the same vagaries of politicization or tendency to hanker for power, adoration and prestige in the way institutional representatives are inclined to.

In both scenarios, there will be failures and disappointments. That cannot be avoided. Gurus will cheat. Disciples will make bad choices. It is not much different than a marriage. Some gurus will fool everyone as to their qualifications, then they will falldown and cheat. Others will fool everyone, but manage to not fall down publicly, or get caught. Disciples will sometimes be broken-hearted. Whether the approval process is in the hands of the individual candidate for initiation, or in the hands of institutional functionaries, still there will be cases of failure. But the process recommend in the Constitution eliminates two all-important problems: it does not go against sastra, and it does not paint the whole society and its leadership with a bad brush when a guru falls down or is found to be unqualified. What it does do is ensure a system in which, immediately upon disclosure of a problem, decisive action is taken by the leadership, with full disclosure. That is proper institutional oversight in the situation. We have never had such a situation in ISKCON since His Divine Grace's manifest lila came to a close. Nor will we ever be likely to have such a system if the rubber-stamp is put in the hands of institutional functionaries. Not today, and not in the generations to come. More importantly, a contrived bureaucratic system cannot be forced upon a sastrically defined system without eventually coming to ruin.