The Guru (Non-) Issue Chicago, IL--The death of Sulochana Dasa begins to take a little gre
The Guru (Non-) Issue
Chicago, IL--The death of Sulochana Dasa begins to take a little greater
significance in my life as time goes on. For those that just walked in,
Sulochana Dasa was murdered at gunpoint on May 22, 1986 during his holy war
against Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the spiritual leader of the
controversial New Vrindaban community in West Virginia.
Although I have never met Sulochana once, for me at least, he has come to
represent something that has gone wrong--seriously wrong--with the
International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
In the era immediately following the departure of Shrila Prabhupada, we can
say that all hell had broken loose--or can we?
Some devotees have been vehemently opposed to the way the transfer of power
was handled after the departure of Prabhupada. Sulochana was one of those
devotees. He fought hard, tooth and nail, with those persons who tried to
deny the fact that Prabhupada did not, in fact, appoint anyone as successor
gurus. Sulochana's idea: Prabhupada was no dummy. But there have been
rumors that Sulochana called for the execution of those men who would usurp
the orphaned spiritual empire created by Prabhupada through transcendental
devices. Having set the rules of battle, he fought hard and paid with his
He wrote a book called, "The Guru Business" that he tapped out on his cheap
computer in his van that criss-crossed the country. This book contains some
exposes he wrote with testimony given from sympathetic and sometimes anonymous
devotees on the habits and rumors surrounding the new spiritual elite.
Were Sulochana's fantastic exposes simply the result of a vindictive and
sensitive young man whose marriage had just failed and who needed a vent for
his anger? Or was he concerned only for the good of upholding the purity of
Prabhupada's movement as he himself claims?
Sulochana claimed that not only did Prabhupada not appoint anyone as
successor spiritual master, he claimed that there was a cover-up involved.
The cover-up was intended to support the claim that Prabhupada had wanted
eleven men to fill Prabhupada's own shoes--as spiritual master--after his
The theory of a cover-up included a tape recording known as the "Appointment
Tape" of May and June 1977. This tape was edited and presented as evidence in
favor of successor-gurus in Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami's authorized biography of
the movement's founder, "Volume 6 Prabhupada Lilamrita, Around the
World/Return to Vrindavana 1975-1977". In this tape, it is said by the author
that Prabhupada did actually want eleven men to succeed him as spiritual
master. However Sulochana inspected the tape recording in question and
concluded that the tape had been doctored and dubbed and that there was a
dangerous conspiracy going on. Although the Bhaktivedanta Tape Ministry
catalogues over a thousand 60 and 90 minute cassette tapes encompassing the
innumerable talks of the unquestioned guru, the "Appointment Tape" where
Prabhupada allegedly passes on the authority to the new gurus remains
conspicuous by its absence in the library.
As far as I was concerned, I was happily serving here in Chicago, just glad
for the opportunity to get the association of devotees. I did not know that
during that time, 1978 to 1983, some of the new gurus had fallen into very
questionable habits while some had outright broken their spiritual vows. So
this newsletter is no place to describe any such activities, but the idea was:
why was the GBC making gurus?
Those Brave Voices
I think it takes a great deal of self-sacrifice to get up off ones asana and
question: Hey, what's going on here anyway? Such a voice, raised in the
midst of all the chatter about "my guru" and "your guru" and "our zone" and
"your zone" was Tamala Krishna Goswami. Quite frankly and openly, Tamala
Krishna addressed the whole issue in his Topanga Canyon talks. There were no
quotes from the Bhagavad-gita, no lectures on sanctity of Prabhupada's ISKCON
and no chastisement of those "horrible demons and blasphemous offenders" who
would deride by questioning (perish the thought!) the ultimate decision of
Prabhupada who selected only his best men to carry the Hare Krishna movement
into the Golden Age. No. He simply said, "You cannot show me anything on
tape or in writing where Prabhupada says, 'I appoint these eleven as gurus.'
It does not exist because he never appointed any gurus. This is a myth."
Others have also bravely spoken out like this and ignored the status quo.
Accepting that the Prabhupada appointment theory was a myth, the GBC decides
that since Prabhupada did not select anyone to be gurus, then the GBC, as the
executor of Prabhupada's will, will select gurus.
Not "Selecting"; "Recognizing!"
The common theory being propagated today is that the GBC is not selecting
gurus at all. Although the GBC meets at Mayapura annually and, at each such
meeting, ISKCON has several more gurus to add to the growing number of gurus,
such devotees were actually already gurus, but only required the recognition
from the GBC in order to act within ISKCON, according to this new theory.
The GBC also may un-recognize gurus, that is, when an already recognized
guru becomes blatantly sexual, violent or intoxicated, then the GBC has to
explain to such a guru that his term is over. Out of the original eleven
gurus, seven have been removed from such a position by the GBC. So the method
of recognizing gurus as being done presently shows that the GBC's powers of
observation are over 50 percent defective in the matter of recognizing among
the first eleven gurus. Why the GBC would willfully place such a burden on a
devotee who cannot truly accept the rigid life of a guru seems a little
questionable. If the GBC recognizes one man as infallible guru who has
insufficient qualification, then when the man collapses under the pressures of
his vows, it is he alone that sacrifices his good name and fame whereas others
will only shrug and say what a pity it was for such a man who was once an
exalted gurudeva to sink to the common man platform. The GBC then simply
recognizes others as gurus.
The Teflon Guru
One guru for the New Vrindaban community refuses to be un-recognized by the
GBC. Although press releases from the AP and UPI reveal more controversy
there than in any part of ISKCON put together, no one has been able to put a
finger on Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada.
Bhaktipada has fearlessly traveled about the country finding himself on
radio and TV and confronting his most visceral critics face to face.
"What about bodies found at New Vrindaban?"
"They were given proper burial there."
"What about copyright infringements?"
"We do not sell anything."
"What about alleged drug dealings?"
"We do not take drugs."
"What about the Sulochana murder?"
"We are nonviolent."
"There are so many charges..."
In this way, all of Bhaktipada's staunch critics are stumped because this
guru has an answer for any charge that you want to level against him.
Bhaktipada is a prolific writer on the subject of God. The titles of his
books are, "Eternal Love," "Christ and Krishna," "The Song of God" and "On His
Order," all of which give the impression that he is deeply absorbed in
devotional mood of understanding and spreading God consciousness. He claims
that the New Vrindaban community has more members and congregation than any
other community in the United States. And he refuses to be unrecognized as a
guru by GBC authorities. Therefore, Bhaktipada's New Vrindaban based society
and ISKCON have parted and gone separate ways.
"Don't Rock the Boat"
Krishna devotees are pretty famous for providing answers to most all
questions concerning Krishna consciousness. In a Lou Grant television
episode, Ed Asner as Lou Grant enters into the Los Angeles Hare Krishna temple
and asks fictitious devotee "Vishnu Dasa" why anyone would want to shave their
head and dance in public. Upon hearing Vishnu dasa's explanation, Lou Grant
ponders in amazement: "You guys sure have an answer for everything." But
take the guru-issue where devotees are unclear about what went wrong and where
and you wind up with a non-issue.
I was talking to temple co-president here in Chicago, Govinda-dutta Prabhu
and we were discussing about the guru-issue. He has very kindly tried to get
some firm answers about the guru-issue and so he discussed the matter a little
with Hridayananda Dasa Goswami during his overnight stay here in Chicago.
Govinda-dutta reported some of the comments made in that conversation and
commented, "don't rock the boat," either as a direct quote or the mood
expressed by Hridayananda Maharaja concerning the guru issue. The other point
made concerned the need for a "living guru".
Is There a Dead Guru?
This is not a new argument. I got one quite strongly worded letter about
this idea of a "living guru" not too long ago which was made by a disciple of
Shridhara Maharaja. The idea was I could not accept the eternal teachings of
Prabhupada, but I had to go to Shridhara Maharaja because he was a living,
honest-to-goodness breathing person.
Another attempt to make the "living guru" concept plausible was done by the
author of the underground book called, "The Bona Fide Spiritual Master and
Disciple (p.14)". In that book (s)he quotes Prabhupada (SB 1.10.36 Purport)
as saying: "THERE MUST ALWAYS BE A LIVING EXAMPLE," whereas there is no such
quote resembling this at all in the actual text.
So this argument is not very strong and is based on a misconception that the
guru is only valid when he is living but when he dies, then his instructions
become invalid. It should be noted that nowhere (repeat: nowhere) in
Prabhupada's books is the idea of a so-called "living" guru mentioned, but the
idea stressed is that the instructions of the bona fide guru are to be
accepted and that is more important than living constantly with the guru in
his personal presence yet accepting little to nothing of his instructions.
Into the Non-Future
Why do devotees want to live with the confusion about the guru-issue? It
could mean that ISKCON becomes another mundane institution when the GBC
decides to recognize only those devotees who don't rock the ISKCON boat. It
is more or less becoming public perception. Dr. Larry Shinn, author of "The
Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America" has commented that,
"I think they'll survive, but I think it'll be a very marginal religious
tradition and certainly the hopes of Prabhupada, which is to convert the
world, is not going to happen." Dr. Shinn is giving ISKCON the polite thumbs
down. Devotees, is this guru issue worthy of consideration or is it doomed to
non-issuedom? Already, the ratio of gurus to disciples is slowly approaching
one to one. Is it possible that the GBC is recognizing stars as moons as well
as ISKCON into nonexistence?
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank