Getting the Facts Straight: My Use of the Title ‘Acaryadeva’


In the 1978 Mayapur GBC meeting, the GBC authorized 11 leaders, including myself, to begin initiating disciples in ISKCON.

Immediately after the meeting, at the invitation of the local GBC, I visited the Southeast US zone. In Gainesville, Florida, the temple president asked me to give a class on the Caitanya Caritamrta Adi 1.46. In that purport, Prabhupada states:

The spiritual master is also called acarya, or a transcendental professor of spiritual science. The Manu-samhita (2.140) explains the duties of an acarya, describing that a bona fide spiritual master accepts charge of disciples, teaches them the Vedic knowledge with all its intricacies, and gives them their second birth…The bona fide spiritual master always engages in unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By this test he is known to be a direct manifestation of the Lord and a genuine representative of Sri Nityānanda Prabhu. Such a spiritual master is known as acaryadeva.

Because Prabhupada often stated that his fully engaged disciples were performing unalloyed devotional service, and because the GBC voted that I should serve Prabhupada as a bona fide guru, I took Prabhupada’s statements above as a clear instruction. Thus, I began using the name ‘Acaryadeva.’

Prabhupada often used the term acarya to indicate great spiritual leaders, but also frequently used it to indicate any bona fide spiritual teacher. Here are some examples:

a) “So acarya, guru, representative, it is not difficult. Simply one has to become very, very sincere. One must undergo the simple tapasyas as prescribed in the sastras” (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 7.9 — Vrindavan, August 15, 1974).

b) Prabhupada translates acarya as ‘teacher’ in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 1.3. Similarly, he translates acaryopasanam as ‘approaching a bona fide spiritual master’ in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 13.8.

c) Prabhupada teaches that grhasthas- men and women- can also act as acaryas:

Lord Caitanya, in His instruction to Roy Ramananda…has given open instruction that it does not matter what is the social or ecclesiastical order, if one is fully in Krishna Consciousness, he can act as Acarya. So all you boys and girls who are now married, follow this instruction of Lord Caitanya, and show vivid example to the world how man and woman can be united, not for sense gratification but for the service of the Lord (Letter to Suri das, March 17, 1970).

d) Prabhupada teaches that a bona fide guru or teacher in parampara is an acarya:

The religion is originally spoken by Krishna Himself and that message or science is coming down directly through the chain of disciplic succession and one who is in that chain is called ācārya or one who teaches by his life. Religion is practically presented by the bona fide spiritual master or acarya (Letter to Krishna Das, October 6, 1970).

e) Prabhupada teaches that every devotee should become an Acarya:

Every student is expected to become Acarya. Acarya means one who knows the scriptural injunctions and follows them practically in life, and teaches them to his disciples. I have given you sannyasa with the great hope that in my absence you will preach the cult throughout the world and thus become recognized by Krishna as the most sincere servant of the Lord (Letter to Tusta Krishna Swami, December 2, 1975).

Further, Prabhupada’s own preferred and exclusive title is Founder-Acarya. In his recent GBC-authorized book on Srila Prabhupada, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu provides elaborate historical evidence for this. In one of many examples, Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter to an Indian government official: “Let me introduce myself as the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness” (April 20, 1971).

Conclusion: I originally began using the guru-name Acaryadeva in 1978, as a sincere attempt to follow Prabhupada’s instructions. When the GBC banned a name that Prabhupada recommended, they did not inform me of their decision. Years later, I received a copy of the resolution, and for Prabhupada’s sake I adjusted to the GBC’s opinion.

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