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“The current system is too entrenched to be swept away overnight, or even over many years... Pandora is out of the box...”


Jalakara das is a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada. He formerly served as the Life Membership director in ISKCON UK and presently lives in Alachua, Florida.

Pandora's Box (or: The 10% Solution)
By Jalakara das

One of the prevailing underlying themes of the ritvik case is once Srila Prabhupada is established as the eternal initiating guru and thus placed firmly in the center of ISKCON life; all divisions and quarrels will vanish. That is to say, the prescription for solving all the quarrels and strife within ISKCON is Prabhupada, specifically by elevating him to the position of sole initiator.

Alas, it is a noble but naive hope. Simply by elevating Srila Prabhupada to the position of posthumous initiator, will the GBC, inefficient, long-winded, power-hungry and ineffectual as it is, suddenly become the perfect management body? “No, of course not,” they will say. “We agree with you!”

Agreement? With me? “Of course! The GBC must be swept away!” Vanquished? I ask? “Just give us five years and see what we can do,” they plead. It takes little imagination to envisage how we will all fare under that regime, with their ready-made incoherent philosophy and their many scores to settle.

But even if you are willing to suspend belief for a moment and imagine the ritvik party is able to establish Prabhupada as the diksa guru for all ISKCON, something the ritvik camp claim is only just around the corner, there are still other problems.

The current system is too entrenched to be swept away overnight, or even over many years. The combined weight of the collective ISKCON bureaucracy or oligarchy is simply too heavily entrenched. The combined inertia of treasurers, temple commanders, presidents, regional secretaries and GBCs is quite simply enormous. The ISKCON pie is plainly too massive. Whether the entrenched ISKCON official is attracted by power, prestige and financial rewards or actually the grail of pure selfless devotional service, he, or increasingly she, is in there to stay. Pandora is out of the box, and you can’t put her back in.

So what are they proposing - a massive purge of the entire worldwide ISKCON administrative structure? Who is going to replace them? Surely there aren’t enough card-carrying ritviks who can take over the administrative reigns? Perhaps re-education camps can be established, so that the current errant officials can be re-certified as ideologically pure ritviks. But wait a minute - now that the GBC is establishing re-education camps for gurus, haven’t they beaten the ritviks to the punch?

Sadly, in recent years the GBC has had decreasing influence over the lives of most devotees, and perhaps that is as it should be. We have embraced the holy grail of internationalism at the cost of local development, as every year the commissars trudge to the party conference and trot out the same tired statistics boasting of stupendous statistical success, while the plaster peals off the walls of the temple at home. Out of touch, the GBC has been forced to respond to events, rather than initiate them.

So the ritviks pledge to sweep away this tired body, ironically just at the moment when it is finally starting to do what it should have done years ago. And what will they replace it with? Another tired body? A body fighting to cleanse the temples of revisionist counterrevolutionary elements? A body struggling to convince tens of thousands of grand-disciples why they should give up their gurus? And what about the show trials? What of those who spoke out against the ritviks? How will they be dealt with? Will they deal with Pradyumna in any better or fairer way than the original GBC did?

It has taken fourteen years to sweep away the contamination of those who dared to sit on Prabhupada’s seat in his own house. Those who sincerely repented were saved. The others fell down, or will do so. Twenty-two years since Prabhupada left? Fourteen years since the 1986 changes? More than two decades of chaos, uncertainty, loss of vision, internal strife, pickets at festivals, law suits, police, civil war. What does the ritvik victory promise but more of the same - an uninterrupted future of years and years of squabble, repression and strife as they seek to repress all those who have a differing opinion. The exodus we have seen up until now will seem as a trickle of a tiny stream compared to a vast Ganges flood.

“One can legitimately ask how much the ritvik movement has actually influenced the course of events and compelled the GBC to accelerate its move to reforms it otherwise might have been reluctant to take.”

The disciples of gurus other than Prabhupada - the so-called “grand-disciples” - will be presented with a stark and sudden choice: switch or quit. How long will they be given to renounce their gurus? Will it be a year? A month? A week? A day? And what if they won’t? Of course, the ritviks will present it as only the rectification of a deviation. “In the Final Order (known in the circle as the FO) Prabhupada instructs that he is the only guru, so give up your allegiance to your present guru and become a disciple only of him.” And exactly who is going to be doing these initiations anyway? Will they become the new gurus, only under a different name?

Will the current diksa gurus become siksa gurus, thus retaining essentially the same guru-disciple relationship with their initiates as before? Wait a minute, isn’t that what has already happened? Aren’t the gurus being marginalized more and more by the GBC, and Prabhupada being centered more and more? One can legitimately ask how much the ritvik movement has actually influenced the course of events and compelled the GBC to accelerate its move into reforms it otherwise might have been reluctant to take. Whether it is the climate of unrest within ISKCON or just the natural wastage of old-guard hard-line members of the GBC which has compelled this present climate of change is an interesting question. In spite of the name-calling, the hostility and the polarization, might the ritvik movement actually have inadvertently reformed the GBC and thus strengthened it? The mind, as they say, boggles. Stranger things have happened.

But boggling or not, the non-Prabhupada disciples are not going to give up their gurus without a fight. With the full philosophical backing of the Gaudiya Math and its various sub-branches, this group which is now fully entrenched in worldwide ISKCON middle management, will launch a web page offensive like you won’t believe. As they watch the absolute position of their eternal gurus diminished into oblivion and the whole foundation of their spiritual universe crumbling, how will they react? How would you react? You can only rewrite the scriptures so much before someone becomes suspicious.

Our gurus may be good or they may be bad, that is not the question under discussion. Arguably a bad guru isn’t a guru at all. Is guru a post or a spiritual accomplishment or an appointment by God? If one falls down from the platform of guru was he ever a guru at all?

Interesting as these questions are, it is sad that we even have to consider them. It is easy to want to harken back to the days of yore when Prabhupada was supreme and we didn’t have to ask these questions at all. Ah, but were those days back again! I wish they were, but wishing won’t make it so. All the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again, neither can we put Pandora back in the box. Launching into an ill-conceived reform venture based on a dubious posthumous initiation theory that only promises more years of upheaval and strife is madness. It is even more mad that it has managed to get so far at all. That it has gotten so far is a tribute both to the tenacity of its proponents and the mismanagement of the GBC.

“...the ritvik solution doesn't solve anything at all except alter the game of musical chairs and change who is in and who is out.”

But in the end it is not our legislative formulas that will save us. In as much as we are deviated from our basic business of chanting Hare Krishna and implicated in materialistic calculations, that is how much we have suffered and had to fall. Is it a surprise that massive numbers of devotees are not chanting and attending the temple, while our society stagnates and turns further inwards until it finally threatens to consume itself? Is ritvik the disease, or is it the symptom of the disease?

In the final analysis, perhaps we have met the enemy, and he is us. Quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, confused, struggling without our founder, our acharya, not knowing what to do, beset by uncertainty all around us. Brothers and sisters, hear me please! We’ve not got where we are by being perfect saints, and we’ve not aspired so many years for purity because we are fallen sinners. There is the seed of greatness within all of us, if only we have the courage to reach inside for it. That we’ve both been both unfaithful and betrayed, obedient and rebellious, that is in our nature, and Prabhupada knows that. Even as they grind him lower and lower into the ground while pretending to raise him higher and higher, he still loves all of us. He does, after all, live forever.

Don’t be deluded by promises of a flowery future, which only delivers years of turbulence and strife. Don’t abandon the parampara and truncate it because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Cling to what has been tried and found successful before, even if you feel yourself faithless and lacking, for the path of Caitanya Mahaprabhu is valid and true. It is not required for us to tinker with it one little bit. If out of desperation some feel forced into that situation, then that is our sad failure, not their philosophical success. Just because many big leaders misapplied the philosophy, that doesn’t mean others have a licence to misapply at will it as well.

But misapply it they do! They have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears, and in the end, an ISKCON free of diksa gurus, if there is an ISKCON at all by then. Is that what all this shouting is about? Yes, but no. There are real causes of concern and real reasons to embrace reform, real injustices to set right. But, naive in the extreme, the ritvik solution doesn’t solve anything at all except alter the game of musical chairs and change who is in and who is out. Maybe it’s a 10% solution, maybe a 20% solution, but not a spiritual solution at all. And we avoid the spiritual solution at our peril.

Either they haven’t thought it through, or worse, they have.

Jalakara das

Originally written March 3, 1999
edited October 16, 1999

© CHAKRA 19-Oct-1999

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