Presently I am staying a Sri Kshetra Udupi for a few days. There are many devotees of Krishna living in or visiting this town. I remember coming here in 1975. After a successful preaching program in Bangalore with Yasoda Nandana Maharaja, Achyutananda and a party of brahmacaris from the Nama-hatta Sankirtana Party, I and another devotee had stayed on in Bangalore for a few extra days to collect and enroll Life Members. My sankirtana partner, an Indian bhakta, ended up leaving with some of the collections, so I arrived alone in Mangalore to rejoin the sankirtana party. By that time, they had all visited Udupi and returned to our new base in Mangalore. Yasoda Nandana Swami kindly sent me to Udupi to get the darshan and prasad of Sri Gopal Udupi Krishna, Madhvacarya’s famous and most beloved Deity.
I arrived alone around 2pm that day and will never forget how quiet Udupi was that afternoon. It seemed as if the whole town was asleep. I was walking around Car Street, wondering what was what, and couldn’t find anyone to talk to. Finally one of the Udupi Math brahmacaris saw me and took me inside the main temple for prasadam. In those days, very few people, other than locals, visited Udupi. Nowadays it is quite different here. Udupi has become a busy city, full of hustle 24/7. (In those days, even Sri Rangam was not a very busy place.) I assume it is due to Srila Prabhupada’s influence in spreading Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana mission that there has been a huge revival of interest all over India in tirthayatra.
Most pilgrims these days, however, are not very knowledgeable or well trained in Vaisnava culture or the conclusions of the scriptures. Nor is the hustle in Udupi based solely on hosting tirthayatras and devotional service. Rather, Udupi has become an important commercial center in the region.
To their credit, the sannyasi leaders of the eight principal maths established by Sripad Madhvacarya have peacefully coexisted in close proximity for hundreds of years. Each Udupi Math is headed by one chief sannyasi, selected according to an age-old system, and each of the eight principle sannyasis takes a turn in rotation as presiding chief of the main temple and various temple related preaching programs. This rotation, known as paryaya, was created by Sripad Madhvacarya personally. The system has been working, almost without a hitch, for more than eight hundred years. The paryaya swamiji is considered the main representative of Sripad Madhavacarya while he presides as chief of the principle Krishna temple, and he is respected accordingly through established ritual and tradition.
In spite of the high order of respect these men receive in the temple community and in general society, they remain humbly engaged in maintaining the temple and temple puja for Udupi Krishna. They also maintain their individual ashrams and temples. Their main focus is training a handful of select brahmacaris and Brahmin followers. Although they are in an excellent position to bluff the masses by posing as avatars and peddling watered-down siddhanta and cheapened Vaisnava culture, they remain as sadhaka servants of the greater mission of Sripad Madhvacarya. After their paryaya term is complete, the presiding chief swamiji hands over the reins of temple control to the next math swamiji in the perpetual cycle of paryaya rotation.
By Madhvacarya’s genius each math leader, though highly placed in the mission and highly respected in general society, learns to remain subservient to the will of Madhvacarya rather trying to pose as an absolute empowered acarya, or shaky-avesha-avatara. It is to the credit of these math leaders that they still follow the traditions their Sampradaya Acarya established. Although Lord Caitanya pointed out that their bhakti tradition was tainted with karma and jnana, He appreciated that they still accepted the form of Lord Krishna as absolute, as Madhvacarya taught. Thus the Udupi maths have existed without major upheavals and very few serious deviations for several hundred years. Even in these modern times, the system continues, and the influences of sahayism and mayavad have been almost nonexistent here—until recently.
When Tattva Darshan and I came to Dakshina Kananda in 1992, there were no Iskcon or Gaudiya Math devotees here, and no Iskcon leader had interest in the area other than to keep us out. It became a big issue in the annual GBC meetings at Mayapur. The main gbc iskuru in South India wanted to keep us out of Dakshina Kananda. We were known to be in favor of Srila Prabhupada’s ritvik order and were known critics of the GBC. Somehow we were undeterred and remained, but Tattva Darshan, an official Iskcon leader at that time, was forbidden to enroll Life Members or enlist local donors. In spite of these restrictions, Tattva Darshan started a center in Mangalore and Manipal, near Udupi, and we both started ashrams at well-known holy places in the sacred Sayadri Mountains.
I was forced to leave India in the year 2000, expecting to return in no more than two years. Unfortunately it took me more than a decade to do so. I have noticed dramatic changes in the region in the past eleven years. With the huge influx of money and commercial development in recent years, Iskcon leaders and their followers have taken a keen interest in the region. There have been at least four competing “guru” camps in nearby Mangalore, and in recent years there have been four or five competing camps in the Udupi-Manipal district. There has also been an influx of various devotees from non iskcon camps and iskcon/gaudiya-math spin off camps. Sometimes the competition among these camps has been ruthless, and today there is little or no cooperation among them.
There are many sincere local devotees in the region, but many of those who have propensities for leadership are apparently not trained to hear from Srila Prabhupada exclusively and carefully or to remain as humble messengers of his mission. The devotees living in this region or visiting here tend to be distrustful in meeting and receiving devotees they meet here. Such caution on their part is not totally without justification. Such diplomacy and suspicion, however, have nothing to do with genuine Vaisnava culture.
Instead of sticking to our Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition of accepting only the authorized mahabhagavata as diksa-guru, iskcon gbc leaders have created instead an unauthorized rubber-stamp system of electing neophyte sadhakas, including even dependent women, as diksa-gurus. All this is done in defiance of Srila Prabhupada’s specific order for ritvik initiations and numerous other instructions in this regard. Thus a chaotic cadre of competing neophytes and their misguided promoters has created disruptions in the once unified worldwide mission of Srila Prabhupada. Such upstarts have used Srila Prabhupada’s name and mission as a vehicle for self-promotion, with the result being that devotees fail to receive proper training as Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. Rather they learn the false art of diplomacy and posturing as advanced devotees or even diksa-gurus. In his way, the once powerfully united mission of the Acarya, the Sad Guru Nama-hatta, has been divided by schisms among various upstarts and their promoters.
I see hopeful signs here in the most auspicious Udupi Kshetra and Dakshina Kananda, where people are highly intelligent compared to other places around the world. There is at least one camp, in Mangalore, associated with Bangalore ISKCON. These devotees follow Srila Prabhupada exclusively and seem to understand the basic siddhanta and sadhana. Apart from these devotees, it appears that many of the local devotees here are similarly focused on preaching and humble service, with an emphasis on worship of Srila Prabhupada, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Sri Sri Radha Krishna. I’ve seen no pictures of iskurus on any of the altars. I am hoping this may be an indication that some of the iskurus preaching in this region are tacitly accepting their roles as ritviks in the mission rather than falsely posing as acaryas.
As in the Madhva tradition, Srila Prabhupada was always more interested in training serious candidates for devotional service. He was never in favor of artificially swelling the ranks of Iskcon followers by trickery or “transcendental devices”. “You can cheat, but it won’t be effective.” Rather he repeatedly advised his leading preachers to “boil the milk” by carefully training devotees in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.
Writing to a leading preacher in 1972, he said, “What is the use of so many disciples if none of them are knowledgeable?” Writing to Visnujana Swami and other leading preachers that same year, he advised against the constant drive of canvassing for converts. He said, “All of my disciples must be thoroughly trained in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.“ He warned, ”When the waves of maya attack, your little sentiment for Krishna may not save you.”
The best lesson to learn from the Udupi Maths in Sri Krishna Udupi Kshetra is the importance of always sticking to the traditions established by the Sampradaya Acarya. If we agree to follow the eternal Gaudiya tradition, precisely as Srila Prabhpada instructed, the genuine movement of Krishna consciousness will remain free from the worst kinds of whirlpool degradations in this Kali-yuga. This is the only way we can heal the schisms in the mission and avoid creating further disturbances in human society.
The best lesson to learn from the multi schismatic iskcon and gaudiya math groups is that when philosophical and practical deviations are institutionalized in the mission of the Acarya, genuine authority, leadership and cooperation become obscured or lost. Love and trust disappear among the devotees and numberless opposing camps emerge. Almost none of the camps in the region maintain regular daily programs but only hold Sunday and weekly programs.
Yesterday in the temple I met at least three different camps of iskcon devotees doing separate programs inside the temple simultaneously. Apparently none of the local camps were involved or even aware of these programs. The leaders of these camps seemed none too pleased to see me, but some of their juniors were very friendly. I particularly enjoyed my brief association with the very blissful Rukmini Vallabha of Mangalore ISKCON, a young disciple of Srila Prabhupada who invited me to take prasadam in the temple with his large tirthayatra group. This morning while I was chanting japa in the Lord Shiva temple, a very old Gaudiya Math sannyasi came inside with some followers. One of them smiled at me and said “Hare Krishna, Prabhu!” Such spontaneous joy in seeing another devotee was a welcome blast from the past. When I respectfully inquired who the sannyasi was, he said his name was Bhakti Pradeep Puri Maharaja from Vrindaban and said he was initiated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in the early 1900s.
I have also enjoyed meeting Parampara das Adhikari and other devotees from the Mathura Chatra temple and other devotees at the nearby Iskcon Nama-hatta center, where I met Kanai Thakura Das, Rajasimha, and other nice devotees, such as the pukka Vaisnava pujari who led their blissful Nityananda Trayodasi program, which I attended in full, by accident. (I had been invited by Parampara to the Mathura Chatra program but went to the Nama-hattaa center by mistake. The two centers are only a hundred yards apart.) I was also very happy to meet my old friend, Tejas Prabhu, one of Prabhupada’s most senior disciples and first wave India preachers, who has been residing in Udupi for four or five years.
The most blissful group of devotees I have thus far encountered in the area was at the Hare Krishna student hostel in Manipal. Shubha Raja and Uddhava and other devotees organizing this project are students at the university, and every week more and more students are attending their programs. They are also excellent students of Krishna consciousness-- very polite and mannerly and focused on hearing and worshipping Srila Prabhupada. They are happy to see senior Prabhupada disciples and try their best to welcome them and get their association. By my good fortune, visiting there that same day was the moonlike Madhava das Brahmacari, who is now heading up a brahmacari farm and goshala project near Belgaum. I had met him 16 years prior at Sri Varaha Vana and Mangalore. By Krishna’s arrangement, I also met that evening Haripad das Prabhu, who I knew from Prabhupada Village. He is serious about retiring in the area.
Some of these young student bhaktas, however, are disturbed seeing the politics in iskcon. One of them confided to me that seeing the uncooperative spirit among leading devotees created doubts in his mind. I mentioned that Srila Prabhupada has explained that if one is not careful to cultivate only the bhakti-lata bija, he may cultivate along with it the weeds of material ambition rather learning to how to remain a humble servant of the mission of Lord Chaitanya. I told him that Srila Prabhupada warned that we all must carefully guard against these weeds, which sometimes look like the bhakti-lata, and we must carefully uproot any weeds of material desire we find growing in our hearts. I explained that although some of these weeds may look like the bhakti-lata, we can recognize the difference by praying to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Nityananda and by carefully reading Prabhupada’s books and hearing his classes. Guru-krsna prasade paya, bhakti-lata bija.
By Srila Prabhuapda’s and Lord Krishna’s divine grace, it has been a most interesting and enlightening week here in Sri Krishna Udupi Kshetra.