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Idolatry in Iskcon?


by Vikramasingha das

These pictures show a vyasasana in an Iskcon temple room. On this vyasasana is mounted a large picture of an “Iskcon guru,” and it appears there is a ritvik initiation ceremony going on – but without Srila Prabhupada. Apparently the gbc accepts ritvik initiations as long as Srila Prabhupada is not recognized as the guru. These photos indicate that the gbc is allowing idolatry in Iskcon. Idol worship is condemned in every scripture. Idolatry is defined as the unauthorized worship or adoration of a material object or person as if it (or he) were super potent, super cognizant, fully divine and capable of reciprocating with all devotional offerings.

If one tries to mingle the worship of yogamaya with mahamaya, considering them one and the same, he does really show high intelligence.” (Cc. Madhya 8.90, Purport)

One reason idolatry is sinful is because simple persons who are pious and naturally attracted to offer worship to the Supreme Lord sometimes become diverted from authorized devotional service to the Lord's Deity form and bewildered instead by showy displays of idolatrous rituals or cults based on concocted traditions. Sometimes in imitation of Deity worship, tribals, fallen dvijas, misguided sudras and others offer incense, flowers, fruits, ghee lamps and meat to murtis of goddesses associated with Ma Kali, other minor devatas, yaksas, raksasas, bogus “avatars” and even political leaders. All such unauthorized ritual is useless.

Presently people are so fallen that they cannot distinguish between a liberated soul and a conditioned soul.” (Bhag. 4.18.5, Purport)

Arcana-marga and sri guru-puja are completely different from idol worship because both the Deity and Sri Guru are fully divine, omniscient, omnipotent and fully capable of reciprocating all devotional offerings. Furthermore, such worship has been going on since time immemorial and is authorized in the Vedic scriptures and by all Vedic acaryas. In rare cases, great Vaisnavas, nitya-siddha parishadas of the Supreme Lord, are worshiped in the same manner as Lord Krishna Himself, either as a painting, picture or murti made of earth, stone or wood.

In Vedic history it is generally seen that, apart from Sri Lakshmi Devi and other direct expansions of the Supreme Lord, only a few great devotees like Sri Hanuman Ji and Sri Garuda Ji are worshiped regularly in Vaisnava temples. If a devotee follows the rules of arcana-marga with devotion, the representational form of the Supreme Lord or great Vaisnava becomes identical with the divine personality Himself, Who accepts all sincere offerings and prayers and speaks to advanced worshipers. In true Vedic culture, even Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are not worshiped on the same level as the Supreme Lord and His nitya-siddha parishadas.

Authorized worship of the Supreme Lord and His empowered devotees is true spiritual action. It is not a mere “festival of flowers”, a Hindu custom, demigod worship, or an ecclesiastical ritual. Rather, it is the essence of pure spiritual activity, “the character of the living force in immortality”. Arcana-marga, particularly the pancaratriki-vidhi enunciated by our param guru, Sri Narada Muni, is sanatana-dharma. Sanatana-dharma means that activity which is eternal, common to all living beings and directly enunciated by the Supreme Lord Himself or His empowered expansions such as Narada Muni, Asita, Vyasadeva, the Six Goswamis, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktiisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada.

For the first time in our Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, Srila Prabhupada introduced the full practice of sri guru-vandana-puja as described in the revealed scriptures and by great acaryas like Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura. Even Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada and great preachers like Srila Narottama das Thakura never instituted daily guru-puja in their temples and perhaps never once accepted guru-puja in a temple room. There is no such history easily found. Pure Vaisnavas are always meek and humble and do not like to admit their exalted status. They accept formal guru-puja, or vyasa-puja, for the benefit of their disciples, usually only once a year, usually without a public show, and on behalf of the sampradaya acarya. This is has been the tradition in our Madhva-Gaudiya line for a long time.

Nonetheless, for the benefit of us fallen souls of Kali Yuga, Srila Prabhupada instituted elaborate sri guru-puja in His temples in front of the Deities, in public, all over the world. He has made all necessary arrangements to remain fully available for everyone through His books, His murtis, His mission, His institutions, and His representatives. This is His causeless mercy. He made it as easy as possible for conditioned souls of this age to approach Him and accept Him as spiritual master. By His mercy, He has prescribed an easy minimum sadhana to guarantee anyone's quick return back to Godhead. Only an empowered maha-bhagavata can offer this supreme boon to everyone in the world on behalf of Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya.

The Lord empowers a special devotee to teach people their constitutional position.”(Cc. Madhya 19.114, Purport)

"Without being empowered by the direct potency of Lord Krishna to fulfill His desire, and without being specifically favored by the Lord, no human being can become spiritual master for the whole word... Only an empowered personality can distribute the holy name of the Lord and enjoin all fallen souls to worship Krishna. By distributing the holy name of the Lord, He cleanses the hearts of the most fallen people; therefore He extinguishes the blazing fire of the material world. Not only that, He broadcasts the shining brightness of Krishna's effulgence throughout the world... Such a person is... guru or spiritual master for the entire world, a devotee of the topmost platform, the maha-bhagavata stage." (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura's prediction, Cited in Cc., Madhya 25.9, Purport.)

When imperfect preachers imitate Srila Prabhupada by allowing their followers to offer worship to their own pictures or put their pictures on the altar with nitya-siddha acaryas, such a farce is an offense. Such concocted rituals are never authorized and should never be allowed in Srila Prabhupada's temples. It betrays a paucity of real knowledge on the part of the so-called guru and his followers, who never seem to consider: “Who will accept offerings to this picture? How can this ritual offering to a picture of an imperfect person be the same as our offerings to Srila Prabhupada? Why do we need a so-called 'living guru' who is not self-realized and seldom present?”

"But if everyone simply imitates your exalted status, there will be only a contradictory result. As long as this pretense continues, there will only be utter failure." (From Vaisistya-Astaka, a peom by Srila Prabhupada, 1961)

"However, one should not imitate the behavior of an advanced devotee or mahā-bhāgavata without being self-realized, for by such imitation one will eventually become degraded." (Nectar of Instruction, Text 5, Purport.)

Srila Prabhupada, of course, is absolutely perfect and always fully present in His vani, His installed murti, His worshiped picture, and His mission. Devotees also have access to mercy and guidance from our great nitya-siddha param gurus: Their songs, Their stories, Their examples, Their pranams, Their prayers, Their murtis, Their pictures, Their poems, Their books and Their instructions. We have all this association, sadhu-sanga of the highest level, in Srila Prabhupada's books and mission. Why should Srila Prabhupada's followers feel that they need an immature, upstart “guru”? The reason is ignorance-- a poor fund of knowledge and deliberate misinformation.

Regarding our eternally living gurus, Srila Prabhupada comments as follows: “But in this life, if we develop Krsna consciousness by association of devotees... As Narottama dasa Thakura has sung, tandera carana-sevi-bhakta-sane vasa. One's aim of life should be to serve the acaryas. Acarya upasanam. So our acarya in the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya, the sri-rupa sanatana bhatta-raghunatha, sri-jiva gopala-bhatta dasa-raghunatha, the Six Gosvamins, and if we associate with them... this book, Nectar of Devotion, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, if you read regularly, try to understand, this means you are associating with Srila Rupa Gosvami directly. And if you act accordingly, then you are serving their lotus feet. Tandera carana-sevi-bhakta-sane vasa.

I asked an Iskcon official why the gbc allows ritvik initiations for iskurus and their followers but condemns ritvik initiations for Srila Prabhupada and His followers. Here's the answer I got: “Srila Prabhupada cannot posthumously accept devotees for initiation. You can't write to Him and get a reply. Therefore some of His disciples accept devotees joining Iskcon as their own disciples. These new devotees cannot be Srila Prabhupada's disciples because Prabhupada is not here to accept them. How will we know if Prabhupada accepts them? They must first be accepted by an Iskcon guru. To jump over all the present gurus in Iskcon is an offense.”

These fallacious arguments were defeated by the questions of two matajis at a gathering in 1998 when a gbc iskuru was answering questions after an istaghosti. They read the following: “What is the value of accepting an immature or imperfect devotee as one's diksa-guru? Don't Srila Prabhupada's books recommend that a student accept only an uttama-adhikari as guru? Shouldn't we all accept Srila Prabhupada and His instructions and rely on His acceptance alone? Didn't He say that He will live forever in His vani? Didn't Srila Prabhupada repeatedly and concisely describe the conditions for being accepted as His initiated disciple? Did He ever reject anyone willing to follow His instructions? Didn't He ask representatives to offer formal initiations on His behalf? Why did the gbc end the system of ritvik initiations instituted by Srila Prabhupada? When did Prabhupada authorize the gbc to sanction diksa-gurus to take His place? Why do you think Srila Prabhupada is dead?” This gbc man could only stutter incoherently in response, so he quickly ended the meeting. (Stonewalling is a typical gbc tactic.)

It is a great credit to many second-generation disciples of Srila Prabhupada that they have seen through the gbc's smoke screens and --in spite of the politics and chaos generated by misguided clerics– have accepted Srila Prabhupada as their eternal guru.

Responding to the same question repeated twice-- “Who will be your successor?” --Srila Prabhupada replied, "My success is always there. Yes. Just like the sun is there always. It may come before your vision or not -- the sun is there. But if you are fortunate, you come before the sun... The sun is open to everyone." (Interview, Mexico City, 1975.)

"These initiations -- I have deputed my disciples. Is it clear or not?" (Conversation, Oct. 18, 1977, Vrindaban.)

Additional References:

The spiritual master is not a question of ['living' or 'dead']... The spiritual master is eternal. The spiritual master is eternal..." (Lecture, Seattle, Oct. 2,1968.)

"Although the physical body in not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the spiritual master. Vibration -- what we have heard from the spiritual master -- that is 'living'." (Lecture, January 13, 1969, LA, CA.)

"When one has attained the topmost position of maha-bhagavata, He is to be accepted as guru and worshiped exactly like Hari, the Personality of Godhead. Only such a person is eligible to occupy the post of guru." (Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya, 24.330, Purport, citing Padma Purana.)

"Srila Jiva Goswami advised that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding." (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 1.35, Purport)

"As soon as a foolish disciple tries to overtake his spiritual master and becomes ambitious to occupy his post, he immediately falls down." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.12.14, Purport.)

"And as soon as he learns that Guru Maharaja is dead, 'Now I am so advanced that I can kill my guru and I become guru'... then he is finished." (Conversation, August 16, 1976, Bombay)

Intermingling the spiritual with the material causes one to look on transcendence as material and the mundane as spiritual. This is all due to a poor fund of knowledge.” (Cc. Madhya 16.72, Purport)

In my books the philosophy of Krishna consciousness is explained fully, so if there is anything which you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By this process your spiritual life will develop.” (Letter, November 22, 1974)

Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as spiritual master.” (NOI, Text 5, Purport)

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