Acharya: One Who Teaches By Example (Part I)


I’d like to speak about our relationship with Prabhupada, not only his direct disciples, but everyone’s relationship with Prabhupada. If we study Prabhupada’s mode of self presentation, Prabhupada’s self understanding and so on, it is clear that Prabhupada understood the role that Krishna had given him first and foremost as being the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON.

There was a famous incident in 1970 when some disciples, the unwitting instruments of Prabhupada’s godbrothers (you can read about this in the Prabhupada Lilamrta), conspired and a book was published in which Prabhupada’s name on the cover of the book was A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami; they had removed Prabhupada and Founder-Acharya. The idea was that Bhaktisiddhanta was actually the Founder-Acharya of the Gaudiya Math, Prabhupada was simply a Gaudiya Math member, and therefore he had usurped some position. Anyway, it was a crazy thing and the plot was of course…

The interesting point is that Prabhupada discovered, or understood fully this plot against him specifically when he saw on the book that the publishers had removed the words “Founder-Acharya” and “Prabhupada.” Similarly, if we look at letters that Prabhupada wrote to important people, dignitaries, leaders of governments, cultural leaders, he would often say, “Allow me to introduce myself, I am the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON.” Founder-Acharya of ISKCON.

So Prabhupada is my personal diksha guru. But I think you’d be very hard pressed to find a letter from Prabhupada presenting himself to important people saying, “Allow me to introduce myself, I am the diksha guru of ISKCON.” Rather he said, “I am the Founder-Acharya.” And as we know from chapter six of the Nectar of Devotion, Prabhupada, translating Rupa Goswami, says that the duty of a devotee is to follow the path of the great Acharyas under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. So Prabhupada there in the Nectar of Devotion makes a distinction between a bona fide guru and the great Acharyas, and Prabhupada identified first and foremost with his role as the Founder-Acharya.

In fact, if you take the trouble, in the Vedabase, which has been so kind prepared for us by Prabhupada’s followers, if you look at the Vedabase specifically the verse from Caitanya-caritamrta where Mahaprabhu, Lord Chaitanya himself, says, “yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa.” Whomever you meet, speak to them Krishna’s teachings. By my order become a guru and save this land.

Prabhupada, at least from what we have documented in the Vedabase, quoted this verse approximately two hundred times. Approximately two hundred times, he cited this verse in morning classes, evening classes, morning walks, room conversations, press conferences. Virtually every type of venue, in every conceivable forum in which Prabhupada taught Krishna Consciousness, he cited this verse. And if you study all approximately two hundred citations, which I’ve done a few times, what you find is that Prabhupada, who was a brilliant teacher, was always “on message” as they say.

There were a few very powerful basic things that Prabhupada had to say about this verse. One of them was, as he said over and over again, was that it is not so difficult to become a guru. Prabhupada specifically realized the highest esteem in which his disciples held him. Prabhupada was clearly concerned that his followers not be intimidated by that exalted position, in the sense of thinking that “I can’t be a guru, because Prabhupada is a guru, and I’m obviously much less than Prabhupada. Therefore, how can I be a guru?” Prabhupada addressed this, what he perceived, I’m sure, as an issue and said over and over and over again, “Do not think it is a very difficult thing. You simply have to repeat what Krishna said.”

Prabhupada, and now, if you look at all of the statements where Prabhupada talks about this, he does not make a distinction between diksha guru and siksha guru. In fact, the greatest guru of all gurus, Lord Chaitanya, who is Krishna himself, did not become a diksha guru but in fact became a siksha guru. So to say that a siksha guru is inferior, which sastra explicitly denies, would be absurd since Mahaprabhu is a siksha guru.

Now the one time that I remember Prabhupada making a distinction, he was in Nairobi. He was addressing a group of Hindu businessmen and he told them that because you’re basically very entangled in business and you have to do so many things that may not, let’s say, at least superficially convey the dignity of the guru, therefore, he said, you may not be ready immediately to become a diksha guru. But that doesn’t matter. It was simply because of the fact that they were immersed in business, and the diksha guru should have a certain type of lifestyle, you could say, sort of the dignity of the office.

The reason I’m mentioning this, is because probably the most powerful thing that Prabhupada said over and over and over and over again in explaining this verse, and again, hundreds of times, is that if you are sincere you will become a guru. And that goes for everyone, it’s not about ashram, it’s not about gender, it’s not about pecking order. So, Prabhupada said, if you can save your family, save your family. Better if you can save your community. Save your- I don’t know, your state or your province, save your country, save the world- just do the best you can.

There is a verse in the Bhagavatam that says, “Just as birds fly as high as they can in the sky, so a Vaishnava preacher glorifies the Lord to the full extent of his or her realization and ability.” Prabhupada’s concern, and you can find this being stated dozens and dozens and dozens of times in every conceivable venue and forum, was not that we would become gurus and compete with him. Prabhupada’s concern was that we would not become gurus. That was his fear. Because to actually become a guru, again, has nothing to do with male, female, or ashram. It is simply about coming to the conclusion that “I will not lead a selfish life, I will live for Prabhupada, I will live for Krishna.”


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