Acharya: One Who Teaches By Example (Part II)


Now as I often say, ISKCON inevitably has gone through its growing pains. Inevitably because, you know, that’s life.

Some great philosophers like Hegel and others talked about a dialectical understanding of history, which simply means that there is a status quo, a thesis. Things are just going on in a certain way, then there are opposing forces. Then gradually these two combine into a new thing.

So very roughly, if we look at the history of ISKCON, the history of Prabhupada’s mission, you could say that the early stage was very enthusiastic and immature. And by immature I mean things like perhaps not giving proper attention to our children, to marriage relationships, to our own physical health, to our emotional health. I mean this not as a criticism, because the devotees were extraordinarily sincere. They really were trying, to their utmost, to do the right thing to serve Prabhupada. But, we were simply very young. We went to extremes of self-sacrifice and self-denial, often sacrificing our physical and emotional health as it turned out.

One extreme produces an equal and opposite extreme, which was a type of mature un-enthusiasm. We went through a period where we were very mature but to be too enthusiastic about preaching was considered fanaticism. And you’d get this amazing phenomenon of devotee parents fearing that their children would move into a Hare Krishna temple rather than going to college and so on. So you get this immature enthusiasm, a type of mature dullness.

As the dialectic moves on, we are ready to come to the next stage, the natural stage, which is mature enthusiasm. Mature enthusiasm, where we take care of ourselves and keep ourselves healthy on every level. I mean physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, we keep ourselves healthy. And yet, we are idealistic. We are enthusiastic. We give our lives to Prabhupada’s mission. That is one thing I wanted to say.

So, what is your relationship with Prabhupada? The good news is that everyone, EVERYONE has exactly the same access to Prabhupada in Prabhupada’s most important role. Prabhupada’s most important role, as he defined it ,is of Founder-Acharya. He is one of the great Acharyas, as Prabhupada put it, who guides the entire course of Vedic civilization.

Prabhupada is my diksha guru. Of course, that is my great fortune. However, if I said or if someone believes that because Prabhupada is my diksha guru, therefore I have greater access to him than, let’s say, one of my disciples, that would lead to an absurd conclusion. The absurd conclusion would be that if my disciple has less opportunity to develop a relationship with Prabhupada, less access to Prabhupada than I do, then it would follow that when I am gone, the next generation, the third generation would be further from Prabhupada. So that as the decades and centuries pass, the Hare Krishna movement, Prabhupada’s mission, would get further and further away from Prabhupada. And people would have less and less of an intimate relationship with him, which is of course absurd. I think, in many ways, the opposite is true.

I would like to cite here sort of a reversal/inversion of one of Prabhupada’s favorite analogies. And that is, Prabhupada used to describe the realization of Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan by saying: “If you’re far away from a mountain, it appears sort of like a cloud. In fact, you may not know if it is a mountain or a cloud. As you get closer you see clearly it is a mountain. You see the contour and so on, a bit of the topography. When you’re right on the mountain, you see all of the details.” This image can work in another way- that when you’re on the mountain, it may just look like a hill. When you get a little further away, you may detect that it is a mountain. When you get a mile or two away, you see that is a gigantic mountain.

So I’ve seen in the love that my disciples have for Prabhupada…I sometimes think that because of their historical distance, which is of course material, in some ways, I can learn from them about Prabhupada. Thus, anyone who faithfully comes to Prabhupada, anyone who dedicates themselves to Prabhupada, has exactly the same opportunity to know Prabhupada, to love him.

Prabhupada once wrote in a letter to a devotee in the Berkeley temple where I joined- “You are not seeing the real form of the guru. You are seeing the external form.” And he gave the example that the wind blows the clouds across the moon, and to us it looks like the moon is flying through the clouds. So the real form of Prabhupada, as an eternally liberated soul, as Krishna’s most intimate representative, as the person that Gaura-Nitai sent to save this planet, Prabhupada in his actual spiritual form…someone may be my disciple or my grand disciple…(I actually have grand disciples now. I know I look extremely young, but I have grand disciples.) [laughter]

So that is another point. Everyone has equal access to Prabhupada, as Gaura-Nitai’s greatest emissary, as the Founder-Acharya, which was his real concern. Prabhupada talked even during his lifetime of having other disciples initiate. But the Founder-Acharya, no one else is the Founder-Acharya, and no one else is qualified to be the Founder-Acharya. And whatever generation you are, wherever you are on the ISKCON totem pole, if you are faithful to Prabhupada you have the same opportunity as anyone else in any generation to know Prabhupada, to receive his mercy, and to receive his empowerment.

And so the essence, the essence of getting Prabhupada’s mercy, is made very clear. Krishna makes it clear at the end of the Gita: ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ mad-bhakteṣv abhidhāsyati. This is in the future tense. “One who will explain this supreme secret among the devoted.”

There are many people who are not yet in ISKCON, who are naturally devoted to God. There was a flash mob of people singing Handel’s “Hallelujah,” and you see the crowd deeply moved at this glorification of God. They may not have made the Govinda curve yet, but you could see their hearts are in the right place. They’re practically moved to tears, and they were actually singing out, “Lord of Lords, King of Kings. He shall reign forever and ever.” That’s devotion. These are not atheists.

Krishna says, “One who will teach this supreme knowledge among the devotees,” or among the “devoted” literally. Bhaktiṁ mayi parāṁ kṛtvā- “having rendered the highest devotional service.” It is like they always say- if everything else fails, read the instructions. Krishna clearly says here, “One who will explain this in the future, talking about us, having rendered the highest devotional service…” Mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayaḥ- “…without doubt will come to me alone.” Won’t go anywhere else but to Krishna. Then Krishna says, na ca tasmān manuṣyeṣu kaścin me priya-kṛttamaḥ, which very literally means, “No one else but this person is most dear to me…” Bhavitā na ca me tasmād anyaḥ priya-taro bhuvi, “…and no one in this world will be more dear to me than this person.”

Prabhupada as the transparent via media, Prabhupada as the only absolutely pure soul (his guru also of course, but I mean among the contemporary scene), Prabhupada as the pure devotee…there is a range of meanings.

Prabhupada, if you look at his teachings seriously, gives high and low definitions of things. For example, there is a high and low definition of illicit sex. If you actually read what Prabhupada writes, and go past the urban legends, a lot of the time Prabhupada says that illicit sex means sex for procreation. But there is a whole series of quotes- I compiled them (and obviously not for selfish purposes because I’m a sannyasi [laughter])- where Prabhupada clearly says illicit sex means sex outside of marriage. So there is a high and a low definition.

There are quotes about guru, and there is a high and low definition of guru, of uttama adhikari, of all of these different things. So Prabhupada, in the high definition, in the highest sense of the word, Prabhupada is a pure devotee. Prabhupada told Professor Stahl, “All of my disciples are pure devotees.” Uh, we kind of slide in under the wire there. But in the highest sense, a pure devotee is Prabhupada. And Krishna says this is the highest service. Prabhupada embodies, personifies, reveals Krishna’s dramatic climax in the Gita.

The highest service- if you really want to surrender to Krishna, if you want to be dear to Krishna, if you want to be noticed by Krishna and his pure devotee, Prabhupada, then you have to teach Krishna consciousness. You can do it in your own way. Everyone has their limitations. Everyone has their special abilities. Everyone has their unique, as we say, human condition, whether it is financial, social, psychological, cultural, whatever. We are all unique. We all have our unique challenges. But everyone has to find the best possible way that he or she can take up this spirit and spread this movement. That’s Prabhupada.

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