The purpose of Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's letter was to assert that Maharaja is not actually an advanced Vaishnava. The purpose of this present paper is to show that the unpleasant accusations in Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's letter have unfortunately been made with no substantial evidence whatever. His letter appears to have been an exercise in character assassination, based on inaccurate hearsay and rumor. There is a relevant story about a certain charismatic preacher, whose parishioners were curious to find out the secret of his preaching. One day they peeped into his sermon notebook and found that he had written a note next to an important point, "Argument very weak here. Shout like hell!" Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu seems to have adopted the same policy.
Ravindra Svarupa portrays Srila Narayana Maharaja as a reclusive bhajananandi, who pours scorn on those who preach and publish books. The facts totally contradict this allegation. Maharaja's daily activities are practically the same as Srila Prabhupada's were. He chants japa, goes for a walk, gives darsan, receives guests, gives class, and deals with practical matters to do with the Math and a growing movement. In addition to this he dedicates a considerable portion of his day to writing and translating. He also travels and preaches for almost half of the year. He has been leading parikrama parties in Vraja for half a century. His annual Navadvipa parikrama attracts ten thousand (10,000) pilgrims. The senior members of the Math practice impeccable sadhana and also preach extensively throughout the country.
Srila Narayana Maharaja has been the editor of the Hindi Bhagavata Patraka journal for over 40 years, sometimes together with Srila Prabhupada. He has written many commentaries, and has also translated vital devotional texts from Sanskrit and Bengali into Hindi. He learned Bengali so that he could translate Jaiva Dharma, and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Maharaja wrote the following appreciation of his effort.
"Tridandi Svami Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, the highly competent editor of the Hindi monthly spiritual magazine, Sri Bhagavat Patrika, translated this book into Hindi with great effort and published it in the magazine in a series of articles spanning a period of six years. At the repeated request of many faithful people, he has now published these articles in book forms for the benefit of the Hindi-speaking religious populace. In this connection I feel compelled to say that the highly distinguished translator is a speaker of Hindi. Although Bengali is not his mother-tongue, he learned Bengali to be able to study this book. Having obtained thorough mastery of both the language and the subject matter, he accepted the difficulty and substantial labour of translating it into Hindi. I am very pleased at heart that he has expertly preserved the rigorous philosophy, the unfathomable analysis of rasa, and the lofty and subtle mood of the original book. The Hindi-speaking world will remain indebted to him for this monumental work. In particular, Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura will definitely bestow great mercy on him for his tireless service."
About two years ago, Srila Narayana Maharaja completed his massive commentary on Bhagavad-gita, which includes the commentaries of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura and Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura. (It was so thick that it had to be printed on special Bible paper). The English translation will be available shortly. Maharaja has just completed a 500-page biography of his spiritual master, which includes the siddhantic basis for the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, of which Srila Prabhupada was a co-founder. This publication will also shortly be available in English. In the last two years, he and his followers have produced about 10 new titles in English and printed some 80,000 volumes. He has given specific instructions to many of his disciples and followers to distribute his books and Srila Prabhupada's books as well.
It is obviously completely false to say that Srila Maharaja is against book distribution and preaching, and the facts which disprove this statement have always been readily and openly available. However, this was the only argument that Ravindra Svarupa put forward to support his contention that Srila Maharaja has deviated from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, and is acting as an agent against Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada's mission. This charge, then, collapses completely.
What does Maharaja actually say about book distribution? (After all, this is the basis of the accusation that Maharaja is deviating from our parampara). Maharaja does not condemn book distribution as an inferior activity. His stance is actually the same as Srila Prabhupada's. He is committed to the production and distribution of books, and he also emphasizes that it is not enough to go on distributing books without advancing in Krsna consciousness. "Some are telling that you should always be distributing books and making money for your whole life, and this will take you to Goloka Vrindavana in the service of gopi-prema. This is quite absurd, quite absurd .... [T]hey should know that this book distribution alone will not be sufficient to achieve the final goal". However if a devotee is hearing from bona fide authorities and advancing from the kanistha to the madhyama stage, then "At that time to distribute books is bhakti". [The Essence of all Advice, pp 14-15].
Srila Prabhupada also instructed us that book distribution should nourish, and not replace, our individual realisation of Krsna consciousness. Knowing and realising Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta is the prerequisite for effective preaching. Srila Narayana Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada are in complete agreement on this point.
Not that you just distribute but neglect reading them yourself. Always read them, especially Krsna book. Every time you have a spare moment, you should read. This will help you to advance in Krishna consciousness, and will give you the ability to convince others also. [Letter to Trai, 72-05-05]
Our business is to ourselves become Krsna conscious, advance in spiritual life, and to preach to others how they can also take advantage and come to the perfectional stage of life. [Letter to Jayananda, Trai and Rsabhadeva, 72-05-14]
I know Hansaduta is very expert in selling books, but books are not only for selling but also for reading. Now has the GBC become more than Guru Maharaja? As if simply GBC is meant for looking after pounds, shilling and pence. If the GBC does not look after spiritual life, that is a defect. All of our students will have to become guru, but they are not qualified. That is the difficulty. [Letter to Alanatha dasa 11-10-75]
I must become first of all devotee; then I shall request others to become devotee. .... First behave yourself perfectly; then teach others to become perfect. That is preacher. .... So all these books are there. You see one sloka. Studying, knowing takes one hour. So there are millions of slokas. How much you have to study. So these things are to be noted. This Krsna consciousness movement means perfection, all around perfection. Then people will appreciate. [Conversation Geneva 6-5-74]
One who is going to bestow divine service, he must know what is divine service and how to become divine. Lord Caitanya says, 'apani acari prabhu jivera sikhaya'. One has to first of all exhibit himself that he is divine. Then he can, I mean to say, serve others divinely. Physician heal thyself. If a physician is diseased a patient does not like to go to him. [SB lecture 5-4-68]
Srila Narayana Maharaja is just as bold and uncompromising as Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in regard to any type of deviation or sahajiya-ism. Some Radha-Kunda babajis are critical of our Gaudiya acaryas, and Maharaja regularly challenges them to engage with him in public debate, but they are all afraid to do so. Every year on parikrama his lecture in Hindi and English rings out on loudspeakers over the whole Radha-kunda area, condemning false teachings and practices in the babaji community. Maharaja is respected and praised throughout the Gaudiya community as a prominent opponent of false teachings coming from the babaji community.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu seems to imply that all of Srila Narayana Maharaja's teachings are apasiddhanta: "What he is now preaching and delivering clearly comes from outside the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. He did not get this from Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, his diksa guru". This statement is completely false. In fact, Maharaja has deeply studied the sastras and the commentaries of all of our acaryas, and quotes them in all of his preaching and teaching. Will Ravindra Svarupa please specify precisely what Maharaja is teaching and delivering that is outside the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and that he did not get from his Guru Maharaja?
Regarding "rasika shiksha", Maharaja recently pointed out that his spiritual master gave him Gopala mantra to Gopi-jana Vallabha; Kama gayatri (which is specifically for raganuga-bhakti in parakiya-rasa); and the sannyasa mantra (which is for taking exclusive shelter of gopi-bhava). Maharaja also studied the Gosvami literatures such as Ujjvala-Nilamani under his Guru Maharaja's guidance. Maharaja concluded, "So what did I not receive from my Guru Maharaja?"
Here, as elsewhere, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu has abandoned the attempt to collect and evaluate evidence. "Whatever it is that Narayana Maharaja is giving comes from this babaji. .... I don't know anything about this babaji ... What did Narayana Maharaja actually get?" Let's be clear what is happening here. Ravindra Svarupa has not gathered any information about the identity or teachings of the devotee from whom Srila Narayana Maharaja is supposed to have received shiksha, nor does he know what Maharaja is supposed to have received from this devotee. Despite his ignorance of the facts, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu is still prepared to state that this devotee's teachings are false, and that through his influence Maharaja is corrupting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura's movement. He has no grounds or justification at all for making this very serious accusation. (Let us remember also that the supposed evidence that this corruption is taking place -- namely Maharaja's supposed contempt for book distribution -- is completely concocted).
In his eagerness to portray Srila Narayana Maharaja as a sahajiya, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu alleges that Maharaja regularly associates with two kisori women behind closed doors. This is a myth. We challenge Ravindra Svarupa to name any such women. Maharaja's is not an organization in which so-called leaders can act questionably without being challenged. Maharaja is and has been surrounded by brahmacaris. Godbrothers and sannyasis are constantly coming and going. Other members of the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti and members of the Gaudiya community at large have not been shy to voice questions or disagreements. In general, if there were any need for investigation, the Gaudiya community would investigate. The fact that there is no investigation means that there is no cause for concern.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu quotes Srila Prabhupada's condemnation of sahajiyas who are only interested in hearing about Krsna's activities with the gopis, and not in reading Bhagavad-gita. Ravindra Svarupa uses Srila Prabhupada's statement to condemn Maharaja (and also Prabhupada disciples who accept shiksha from him) on the false grounds that Maharaja has "no interest" in Bhagavad-gita, and implies that this is further proof that Maharaja is a sahajiya. Now, Srila Prabhupada does says that sahajiyas emphasize Krsna's pastimes with the gopis, because they wrongly suppose that they have the qualification for disregarding Bhagavad-gita. The converse, however, is not true. Srila Prabhupada does not say that everyone who genuinely prefers to hear about the Vraja pastimes is necessarily a sahajiya. On the contrary, he elaborately explains in "The Nectar of Instruction" that we should come to the point of concentrating on Krsna's pastimes in Vraja. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains in Bhakti-Rasamarta-Sindhu and Sri Raga-Vartma-Candrika that it is favourable and essential for the raganuga sadhaka to give up meditation on Krsna's Dvaraka-lila.
In any case, we have already mentioned that Maharaja has published an extremely elaborate and voluminous version of Bhagavad-gita. Why would he take years to comment in such detail on a book in which he has no interest? Either he has interest himself in Bhagavad-gita, or else he is committed to preaching, or both. In either case, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's allegations are null and void. He has failed in his attempt to establish that Srila Narayana Maharaja is a sahajiya. In fact, Maharaja is transmitting the teachings of his Guru Maharaja, of Srila Prabhupada, of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and of all our acaryas in the line of Rupa Gosvami. Therefore he is not a sahajiya, and Srila Prabhupada's statement, which Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu quotes, simply does not apply to Srila Narayana Maharaja.
Whatever Maharaja's personal taste and mood may be, he is helping devotees on a more general level of Krsna consciousness by lecturing regularly on the basic issues of Krsna consciousness such as the process of surrender (saranagati). We have seen him enthusiastically enjoying productions of Nrsinghadeva dramas, and joining in celebrations of Nrsingha-Caturdasi.
False Accusations Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu has accused Srila Narayana Maharaja of deviating from the teachings of our parampara, and of breaking sannyasa principles. What more serious accusation can one make against a senior sannyasi, preacher and guru in our Gaudiya line? These allegations are clearly false, and there was no legitimate reason or justification for making them in the first place.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu states that Srila Narayana Maharaja privately belittles Srila Prabhupada. I have been observing Maharaja closely for two and a half years, and talking to other Godbrothers and Godsisters' and I can say that this statement is completely untrue. What is the actual evidence to the contrary? I have seen that Maharaja always has nothing but praise for Srila Prabhupada and his achievements, of which Maharaja is deeply proud. Other Prabhupada disciples say the same. In my own case, Maharaja has always insisted that my relationship with Srila Prabhupada is deeper and more important than my relationship with him, and is the platform on which everything rests. It is particularly significant to me that Maharaja's most advanced shiksha disciples also express a very deep and unreserved faith in Srila Prabhupada, and show great respect and affection for his disciples as well.
Ravindra Svarupa gives an example of a conversation in which Maharaja supposedly minimized Srila Prabhupada's explanation of the Invocation of Sri Isopanisad. Ravindra Svarupa falsely puts words into Maharaja's mouth when he writes that Maharaja "was telling me Prabhupada was in error in his books". If Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu had respectfully asked for an explanation of the contradiction, he would have found out that Maharaja was not speculating his own version or dismissing Srila Prabhupada's purports. Rather, his presentation was directly from Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana's commentary on Sri Isopanisad. Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu says that this presentation was "weird". Thus, in an attempt to minimise Srila Narayana Maharaja, he inadvertently criticises Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana. When we were very new devotees it was, perhaps, appropriate to accept Srila Prabhupada's instructions as the last and only words on Krishna consciousness. As we mature, we come to accept that Srila Prabhupada has appeared in the context of our sampradaya and the present Gaudiya community, whose members may from time to time emphasize different aspects of siddhanta and practice. Srila Prabhupada writes that such disagreements between pure devotees are on the transcendental platform. There is a danger that immature devotees, being unable to reconcile such apparent contradictions, may choose to take sides, and may commit offences to one Vaisnava in the name of following another.
Obviously we should be faithful to Srila Prabhupada's instructions. However, we should avoid making a cult of superficial interpretations. We may take our own incomplete and superficial interpretations as absolute, and reject any apparent contradictions as absolutely wrong and even irrational. In that case, we will mislead ourselves and others.
Maharaja visits Houston, not to spite Tamal Krishna Maharaja (as Ravindra Svarupa suggests), but because he has an active congregation there, who also arrange for Maharaja's medical check-up. Contrary to Ravindra Svarupa's statements, Maharaja does not dwell on "the supposed evils of the GBC" in "lecture after lecture". However, the GBC have prepared video tapes and computer-controlled multi media presentations to try to discredit Srila Narayana Maharaja and his followers. In Hawaii, the GBC sannyasi making a presentation said, "Those who follow Narayana Maharaja may find themselves taking birth in Vrindavana". Then he added something to the effect that "but it may be in a family like this" and a picture of a group of monkeys came up on the screen. (This is from an eye-witness account).
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu asserts: "After all, Narayana Maharaja is claiming that he is Srila Prabhupada's direct successor. All in ISKCON are urged to acknowledge him as our authorized spiritual master". This is inaccurate hearsay. Some of Maharaja's zealous followers may have suggested this, but Maharaja has never done so. It appears that Ravindra Svarupa is afraid that Maharaja would be like another zonal acarya, but on a global scale. The truth is that Maharaja is not interested in controlling other people's lives. "Your Prabhupada was so expert in management, but I don't think I did it even in previous lifetimes". Maharaja actually wants to continue with his spiritual study and practice, and to help others to continue with theirs. No one is compelled to accept guidance and instructions.
On the day that Srila Prabhupada took sannyasa, it was Srila Narayana Maharaja who made the sannyasa danda, applied tilak on 12 parts of Srila Prabhupada's body with his own hand, and performed the actual ceremony under Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja's direction. Devotees who were staying in the Math at the time recall that when Srila Prabhupada stayed there he was very grave in his dealings, but he would visit Srila Narayana Maharaja in his room and they would laugh and joke together.
Srila Prabhupada's first letter from the States to India was to Maharaja. Maharaja would go to great trouble buying karatalas, mrdangas and Deities and sending them to Srila Prabhupada. He regularly sent large shipments of books by freight and used to go to Delhi to carry out Srila Prabhupada's banking business. Maharaja was the only person to meet Srila Prabhupada and his disciples at Delhi airport when he returned the first time to recuperate, and he had such faith in Srila Prabhupada that he didn't hesitate to respect prasadam that Srila Prabhupada's Western disciples had cooked and offered.
Srila Narayana Maharaja was one of the last people that Srila Prabhupada spoke to before entering Krsna's eternal pastimes. During their conversations, Srila Prabhupada asked Maharaja to help look after his disciples after his departure. (These historical details are recounted in "Srila Prabhupada's Letters from America to Srila Narayana Maharaja", Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja: My Siksa Guru and Priya Bandhu" and "Their Lasting Relation"). Srila Prabhupada specifically requested Maharaja to put him in samadhi. Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu wants us to suppose that Srila Prabhupada was simply making arrangements for his "funeral" (as if a maha-bhagavata needs a funeral), and is cynical about any deeper significance that Maharaja's followers see in this. It is a fact, though, that putting the acarya into samadhi is a duty or privilege which is reserved for the foremost disciple. Even in Hindu civil law, the person who sets light to the funeral pyre has a special claim to the estate. I am mentioning this only to show the intimate link between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Narayana Maharaja. It is not in any way meant as evidence that Maharaja is the "next acarya" of ISKCON.
In his letter, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu claims to have examined Srila Narayana Maharaja and found weeds which kill the true creeper of bhakti. He then quotes from Srila Prabhupada's purport to C.C. M.l. 19.159: "A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them and keep them apart". In other words, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu first portrays Srila Narayana Maharaja as a corrupt and devious neophyte, and then goes on to imply that he (Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu) is the "pure devotee" (these are Srila Prabhupada's words that he is quoting) who can alert the rest of the devotee community to the danger.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu would have us believe that he is expert in scriptural analysis and qualified to condemn Srila Narayana Maharaja. The facts do not at all support this scenario. On the contrary, his allegations against Maharaja have collapsed one by one. He has not given any proper evidence to support his accusations or to justify his abusive language.
The fact is that Srila Narayana Maharaja is a highly respected member of the Gaudiya community. He has been chanting at least 64 rounds (and at times many more) daily for many decades. He has been studying and practising Krishna consciousness for a whole generation longer than we have been struggling with our 16 rounds and our fratricidal wars. He comes from a sinless background in an elevated brahminical family, and has associated with and served many or most of the elevated Vaishnavas in the Gaudiya community. From these considerations alone, there is a serious possibility that Maharaja's Krishna consciousness is in another dimension from our own. Further, Srila Prabhupada had a long and affectionate relationship with him, and states in the letter quoted above that he instantly recognized his relationship with Maharaja in the same way that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura recognized Srila Prabhupada.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's presentation does nothing whatever to disprove the objective fact that Srila Narayana Maharaja is a highly qualified devotee. However, his letter does expose his own shortcomings directly. He has not been truthful or responsible in his accusations against Srila Narayana Maharaja, and he has needlessly blasphemed a senior Vaishnava. It is as if he was so convinced of the truth of his own wishful thinking that he did not even bother to verify his evidence and arguments.
It is significant that Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu is himself guilty of many of the faults that he has unsuccessfully tried to point out in Maharaja.
** He accuses Srila Narayana Maharaja and his followers of calling ISKCON a "kanistha organization". But Ravindra Svarupa himself used the phrase to describe ISKCON in the early 80's. In fact, I understood that it was he who actually coined it). ** He complains that Maharaja has called Srila Prabhupada "a mere vaidhi-guru", but Maharaja has from the first maintained that Srila Prabhupada came to give raganuga bhakti as well as vaidhi-bhakti. It is the GBC spokesmen who have maintained that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to stick only to the regulated practices of vaidhi bhakti. ** Ravindra Svarupa accuses Maharaja of belligerence, but it is the GBC who have condemned, rejected and banned Maharaja. It is they who are making video tapes and computer-driven multi-media presentations condemning Maharaja, not the other way round. ** Ravindra Svarupa states that Maharaja is deliberately crooked and deceptive, and that his followers are "acolytes of the higher crookedness" (i.e. trainee liars); but Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's letter is full of unfounded and untruthful statements about Maharaja's conduct and attitudes.
Srila Prabhupada often explained the principle of atmavan manyate jagat: we falsely identify good or bad qualities in others, when they are actually present in ourselves. A deaf man thinks everyone else is deaf, and Bharata Maharaja thought the little deer was as noble as he was. That is to say, if I accuse someone of a fault of which they are actually innocent, it may well be that the fault is present in myself.
Let's provisionally accept Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's scenario of the weeds and the devotional creeper. Now let's ask ourselves, "Which of these two devotees is the qualified Vaishnava, and which has the weeds?" Can it be that the faults and weeds that Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu has tried to find in Srila Narayana Maharaja are actually present in himself?
There are certainly real issues to discuss in relation to Srila Narayana Maharaja. For instance, Do we actually need help to understand Srila Prabhupada's teachings and mission, and is it acceptable to do so? What can we gain by looking for guidance from someone outside the movement? What are the real criteria which will help us to decide whether Maharaja (or any other Vaisnava) is or is not a suitable helper and guide? What is a shiksha guru? What is the relationship between shiksa guru and diksa guru? How does one develop a relationship with one while remaining chaste to the other? To what extent can we insist that diksa and shiksa guru say exactly the same thing? Is it possible for disciples of Srila Prabhupada to have friendly relations with members of the Gaudiya Math, and if so, how?
Persons who hear from a spiritual master with great labor and for a long time MUST hear from the mouths of pure devotees about the character and activities of pure devotees. Pure devotees always think within their hearts of the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, who awards His devotees liberation. (emphasis added)
Srila Prabhupada comments in his purport to this verse:
Transcendental students are those who undergo great penance in being trained by hearing the Vedas from a bona fide spiritual master. Not only must they hear about the activities of the Lord, but they must also hear about the transcendental qualities of the devotees who are constantly thinking of the lotus feet of the Lord within their hearts. A pure devotee of the Lord cannot be separated from the lotus feet of the Lord for even a moment. .... Worship of the devotee is more potent than worship of the Lord. It is therefore the duty of the transcendental students to hear of pure devotees, as explained by similar devotees of the Lord, because one cannot explain about the Lord or His devotee unless one happens to be a pure devotee himself.
Here Srila Prabhupada clearly says that only a pure devotee is competent to explain the activities of another pure devotee, and he defines a pure devotee as someone who "cannot be separated from the lotus feet of the Lord for even a moment". That is to say, only devotees of this calibre can understand Srila Prabhupada's activities and mission and explain them to others. It is significant that Srila Prabhupada says we must hear from the mouths of pure devotees about the character and activities of other pure devotees. He is emphasising association with devotees who are physically present.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to show that Srila Narayana Maharaja is such a pure devotee. However, the objections that Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu has made are clearly insubstantial.
I realise that we are touching on very sensitive issues here: guru-tattva, shiksha and association with Vaisnavas from other Gaudiya associations. These issues do not relate only to Srila Narayana Maharaja, and they are not going to go away. When mature and responsible devotees can discuss them truthfully, respectfully and positively, we will be able to bring fresh strength to Srila Prabhupada's movement and family, and to co-operate in pushing on with his glorious mission.
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Uttarapaksa (Refutations) Archive