Bhakta Mark – US: The issue of Disciplic Succession in Iskcon is hotly contested. All sides of the debate tend to rely upon a short summary of Disciplic Succession given by Srila Prabhupada to Tusta Krsna in 1975. Tusta Krsna had left the movement in frustration with the GBC, and Srila Prabhupada tried to work with his independent spirit in the following years, encouraging him to lead his break away camp the best he could. There is a timeline of events that can be easily understood by reading the letters written by Srila Prabhupada to Tusta Krsna and nearby devotee associates of his, starting in 1973. This time line of events provides context that led up to the letter Srila Prabhupada wrote in December of 1975 wherein he offers Tusta Krsna a “law of disciplic succession” which he is to follow.
Before we set about the task of examining the history of Tusta Krsna, let us examine when Srila Prabhupada first mentions the concept of Disciplic succession from the Introduction of the Bhagavad Gita as it is.
“Here the Lord informs Arjuna that this system of yoga, the Bhagavad-gita, was first spoken to the sun-god, and the sun-god explained it to Manu, and Manu explained it to Iksvaku, and in that way, by disciplic succession, one speaker after another, this yoga system has been coming down. But in the course of time it has become lost. Consequently the Lord has to speak it again, this time to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra.”
“Here the Lord clearly tells Arjuna that He is making him the first receiver of a new parampara (disciplic succession) because the old succession was broken. It was the Lord’s wish, therefore, to establish another parampara in the same line of thought that was coming down from the sun-god to others, and it was His wish that His teaching be distributed anew by Arjuna.”
“Vedic knowledge is not a question of research. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge which comes down, as is stated in Bhagavad-gita, by the parampara disciplic succession. We have to receive knowledge from the proper source in disciplic succession beginning with the supreme spiritual master, the Lord Himself, and handed down to a succession of spiritual masters. Arjuna, the student who took lessons from Lord sri Krsna, accepts everything that He says without contradicting Him.”
Then, at the end of the Introduction, Srila Prabhupada offers a list of Teachers and students in the disciplic succession.
THE DISCIPLIC SUCCESSION
Evam parampara-praptam iman rajarsayo viduh. (Bhagavad-gita, 4.2) This Bhagavad-gita As It Is is received through this disciplic succession:1) Krsna, 2) Brahma, 3) Narada; 4) Vyasa, 5) Madhva, 6) Padmanabha, 7) Nrhari, 8) Madhava, 9) Aksobhya, 10) Jayatirtha, 11) Jñanasindhu, 12) Dayanidhi, 13) Vidyanidhi, 14) Rajendra, 15) Jayadharma, 16) Purusottama, 17) Brahmahyatirtha, 18) Vyasatirtha, 19) Laksmipati, 20) Madhavendra Puri, 21) Isvara Puri, (Nityananda, Advaita), 22) Lord Caitanya, 23) Rupa (Svarupa, Sanatana), 24) Raghunatha, Jiva, 25) Krsnadasa, 26) Narottama, 27) Visvanatha, 28) (Baladeva) Jagannatha, 29) Bhaktivinode, 30) Gaurakisora, 31) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, 32) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
It is important to note that, in accordance with the definitions given in the introduction, the persons listed were given lessons and taught the knowledge becoming disciples in that way. In many instances there was no formal ceremony wherein they were declared to be a Diksa disciple of the teacher. In some there was that component, but the point is that the essence of the continuation of the Disciplic succession is based on the teaching of knowledge, and the parampara continues with or without a formal ceremony wherein someone is officially declared to be a disciple of another and required to surrender based on such a contract.
Now let us see the history of Tusta Krsna.
Letter to: Tusta Krsna , Beharilal
15 October, 1973
My Dear Tusta Krsna Maharaja and Beharilal Das,
Please accept my blessings. News has come to me that you want to sell our temple to somebody else which I cannot believe. Even that you have been in charge of the New Zealand center, now you have taken it as your personal property and you have demanded from Madhudvisa Swami the price of the temple. This is all amazing to me. I do not know what is your decision. Tusta Krsna has already left and is in Hawaii with Siddha Svarupananda Maharaja.
I never believed that again you would go back to your old habits, giving up the Krsna Consciousness Movement in a whimsical way. Please do not do this mistake. It will be a great calamity for you. If you have any misunderstanding with the GBC member, you should have let me know. But I do not think there can be any misunderstanding.
When I was last at the New Zealand temple, everything was so peaceful and hopeful. Now all of a sudden you have changed that program and taken to your original ways? I am so much aggrieved to receive all this news. For Krsna’s sake, do not do these things.
I request Tusta Krsna to go back to New Zealand and take charge of your duties, and when I shall go to Australia, I shall go to New Zealand and see things personally.
Letter to: Tusta Krsna :
7 November, 1973
Sunset Beach, Hawaii
My Dear Tusta Krsna Maharaja:
Please accept my blessings. I thank you very much for your telegram dated October 29 reading as follows:
“DEAR SRILA PRABHUPADA, PLEASE ACCEPT MY HEART AT YOUR FEET RECEIVED YOUR LETTER AND TELEGRAM TODAY TEMPLE WILL NOT BE SOLD ALL PAPERS TO BE SIGNED OVER TO YOU NEVER INTENDED TO CLAIM PROPERTY OR MONEY AS MY OWN DETAILED LETTER FOLLOWS PLEASE FORGIVE ANY CONFUSION OR ANXIETY MY BLUNDERS HAVE CAUSED YOU—YOUR SERVANT TUSTA”
I am at present in New Delhi awaiting for our festival here, so your telegram has been redirected from Bombay. I am so much pleased to read it because I know that all of you, Siddha Svarupa Maharaja, Sudama Vipra Maharaja, and yourself, are all good souls, and so I also know that Gaurasundara is also of this same level, but I do not know why this disruption has taken place.
If there is any misunderstanding with the GBC men, that can be readjusted by mutual understanding. I wanted to see you all to mitigate this misunderstanding, but I was very busy in Bombay for the same Juhu land of Mr. Nair. Perhaps you remember that you introduced Mr. Nair to me. Now he is dead and gone, but he created so many obstacles. So I had to pay them so many lakhs of rupees black, but now the position is that it is purchased, but still there is a little discrepancy. I hope this will also be squared up without delay.
So kindly take my word and do not leave our society. If you cannot agree with the GBC, I can take up your matter personally and do the needful. I love you all very much, and if you go away and stay independently that will be a great shock for me. I want to meet you all together. Let me know where I shall go to meet you. Just now I have received the news that in Hawaii the tulsi plants are drying for want of watering. How has Govinda dasi left the tulsi plants which she nourished so lovingly? Please therefore all of you go to your respective positions and revive your devotional activities without any further delay, and if you cannot cope with the GBC men, which I suppose there must have been some disagreement, I shall deal with you directly. But, do not leave the Krsna consciousness movement, at any cost.
Letter to: Beharilal, Los Angeles
13 December, 1973
My dear Beharilal,
Please accept my blessings. I am in receipt of your letter dated November 8, 1973 just now received by me as it was redirected from India.
I have not received any reply from Tusta Krsna Swami to my letters. I do not know why he has left New Zealand. In Hawaii a great wrong doing has been done by Gaurasundara and Siddha-svarupa. They sold the temple and went away with all the money without taking any permission from me. It is a fall down on their parts. They have done the wrong thing. You should not go to Hawaii to join them. Stay in New Zealand and work cooperatively with Madhudvisa Swami. The “communal form of Krsna Consciousness” which you mention is not approved by me. It is all concoction. My Guru Maharaja condemned this practice. We must stay together and vigorously preach the Krsna Consciousness philosophy to the world. That is the real spirit of Lord Caitanya’s Movement. Do not fall victim to this sentimental idea of peaceful life in seclusion. That is not our dharma.
I hope this meets you well.
Letter to: Madhudvisa
15 December, 1973
I have not heard from Tusta Krsna or Siddha-Svarupa Goswamis nor do I know anything of their plans to return to New Zealand. Try to convince them to return to our Society and work cooperatively. That they have gone away is not good thing and it is a deviation from our line of parampara. Rather, avoiding faultfinding and anarchy, they should keep our standards and work maturely and not cause factions and splitting. I am not at all pleased at what they have done, but if they return let us forget what has happened and go forward. As Sannyasins they may preach and you may manage affairs.
Comment: 8 months later Srila Prabhupada sees both Tusta Krsna and Siddha Swarupa in Melbourne Austrailia during a Ratha Yatra parade there, wherein each of them give Srila Prabhupada a donation. He writes to Tusta Krsna at a Melbourne address soon after to invite him to a festival in Vrndavana. 3 months after this he receives a letter from Tusta Krsna in Indonesia and returns the correspondence to a New Zealand address in OCT, 1974.
He is still trying to keep Tusta Krsna in the Iskcon fold. Here is his next letter to Tusta.
Letter to: Tusta Krsna in Auckland New Zealand.
2 February, 1975
Krishna is giving you facility there to develop a very nice varna-asrama society in New Zealand. Try you best to develop an ideal society there to set a perfect example for the human society of how one can live very simply, chanting Hare Krishna and developing love for Krishna. Make sure that you keep the whole program pure by carefully following all of the rules and regulations that I have given, rising early, attending mangala arati and holding classes, chanting 16 rounds daily, observing the four basic principles, no intoxication, meat-eating, etc. Then everything will be a great success. You are an intelligent boy, so, I think you can understand how to manage things very nicely there.
Comment: Next we see Tusta Krsna has apparently renewed the practice of engaging in the Ritvik system of initiations whereby he is ordered to initiate newcomers on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. It appears that Srila Prabhupada may have had some success in bringing Tusta back into the Iskcon system of things.
Letter to: Tusta Krsna, Honolulu
10 June, 1975
Auckland, New Zealand
My dear Tusta Krishna Swami,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated June 6, 1975 and have noted the contents. I accept Kerry Welsh for 1st initiation. His name is Krodhaha dasa. You can give him the name at his ceremony. Keep on preaching. Preaching is our life. Introduce our books, then everyone can understand, if he has good brain. I shall be leaving Hawaii on the 20th of June for LA.
Comment: 4 months later, more recommendations for initiation reach Srila Prabhupada and he responds…
Letter to: Tusta Krsna
9 November, 1975
Albany, New Zealand
My dear Tusta Krsna Swami,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated October 16, 1975 along with the enclosed letters from persons you are recommending for initiation. I have no objection to your recommending these devotees, but whether you are acting as a sannyasi and observing all the rules and regulations and keeping yourself in sannyasi dress?
On your confirmation I shall accept all these boys and girls as my disciples. So long as one continues to follow the rules and regulations, he continues to be my disciple wherever he may be.
Regarding the restaurant, this is a very good program and I am glad to hear of it. We have also started a restaurant in Honolulu and it is going on very nicely and we are getting good profit. If you take details from Srutakirti das Adhikari, he is in charge of the Govinda’s Restaurant and he may be able to help you.
It is a very good idea for people to come to our vegetarian restaurant and take so many nice things, especially the panir, fried cheese, and sandesh, kachori, rasagulla, samosa and in this way they will forget their meat-eating. If you make a soup of fried panir with asafoetida and ginger, this will replace lobster soup nonsense. Of course we are not interested in giving them vegetarian food; we are wanting to give them prasadam. Then gradually they will become devotees.
The varnasrama college means to train people in varnasrama life. In human society a section of people must act as strict brahmanas. Similarly, another section must act as strict ksatriyas, still another as strict vaisyas, and the rest will be considered as sudras and less than sudras or the candalas. This is a materialistic division, but spiritually anyone can be elevated to the transcendental position simply by devotional service. This is the sum and substance of the Vedic education. If you and Siddha Svarupa Maharaja can organize such an institution following yourself the rules and regulations then it will be very glorious thing and I shall be very happy. But in any case both of you do not forget to come to Mayapur during Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s birth ceremony. Let us act co-operatively, maybe sometimes separately, but the central point and aim should be one—Krsna.
Tusta Krsna responds to this letter 2 weeks later on 11/21/75. We can guess he may have still condsidered his efforts a break away society unto itself, and actually wanted to consider the newcomers to be his disciples, judging by the answers to his latest letter that Srila Prabhupada provides on 12/02/75 in the famous letter where he mentions the “law of disciplic successsion”.
My Dear Tusta Krishna Swami,
Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 21 November, 1975.
Every student is expected to become Acarya. Acarya means one who knows the scriptural injunctions and follows them practically in life, and teaches them to his disciples. I have given you sannyasa with the great hope that in my absence you will preach the cult thruout the world and thus become recognized by Krishna as the most sincere servant of the Lord. So I’m very pleased that you have not deviated from the principles I have taught, and thus with power of attorney go on preaching Krishna consciousness, that will make me very happy as it is confirmed in the Guru vastakam yasya prasadat bhagavata prasadah just by satisfying your Spiritual Master who is accepted as the bona fide representative of the Lord you satisfy Krishna immediately without any doubt.
I am very glad to inform you that Sudama Vipra Maharaja is also now following my principles. So I am very very happy to receive all this news. Thank you very very much.
Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bona fide Guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your Spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bona fide Spiritual Master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy.
Trained up very rigidly must equate to rigidly and strictly following all of the instructions of the person who trains you. Srila Prabhupada set up an institution that had a lot of specific rules and regulations that he introduced gradually over time. It is everyone’s responsibility who wants to be part of his society to find out what they are and follow them strictly. If a disciple can pass on the rules and regulations to a new person, the parampara continues. There is success in passing on the discipline only when all the rules are known and followed. Thus the instructing is the essence of disciplic succession.
There is a custom or etiquette involved in the formality of bringing newcomers to one’s Guru for a formal ceremony of acceptance while one’s Guru is in his physical body and available to do the accepting. Of course a Mahabhagavata Guru like Srila Prabhupada, who founded his own institution, has the privilege to ignore or follow customs as he sees fit. He is allowed to introduce new formalities as well, ones that have never been followed before, as long as he thinks it will help him succeed in passing on the teachings to disciples.
So, a person cannot be even considered a disciple unless he follows whatever formal discipline the founder-acarya gives. It doesn’t matter whether or not that discipline was ever used in the past. The only thing that is important is to keep up with the latest orders of the acarya, and follow them.
According to the body of instructions given, the only bona-fide gurus and acaryas within Iskcon will be the ones who formally state that all those newcomers who they instruct are initiated disciples of the Founder-Acarya. The founder-acarya gave these instructors the authority to formally bind newcomers to the founder by performing initiation ceremonies on the founder’s behalf.
After following that rule, that bona-fide guru and acarya could then proceed to instruct the newcomer in the science of Krsna consciousness and continue the disciplic succession. The newcomer would need to follow all instructions that the instructing Guru gave as long as those instructions did not oppose an instruction already given by the founder. Thus a bona-fide instructor’s first instruction would be to tell a newcomer to acquaint himself with all of the instructions given by the founder, by reading his books.
This system is quite different from the one going on in Iskcon today. Where gurus disregard the systems and instructions of the founder, and introduce their own version. They claim that newcomers are exclusively their disciples through formal Diksa initiation. They give lip service to the idea that the newcomer is “also”, simultaneously, a Siksa disciple of the founder. But in practice they force the newcomer to follow whatever instructions they give, even if they sometimes are not in line with the founder.
They maintain control over newcomers in this way, receive financial support from them that would normally be spent according to the rules for spending money given by the founder, but instead the money is now spent according to the whimsical ideas of whatever individual so-called guru is collecting it.
These so-called Diksa gurus are not bona-fide acaryas or gurus because no higher authority ever authorized them to do what they are doing within Iskcon. So they are not succeeding in passing on transcendental discipline, and the Disciplic succession is now broken in each of their cases. They are passing on their own speculative version of how to teach about the science of Krsna consciousness.
Without authorization, this is not bona-fide. They would be better off trying their own ideas outside of Iskcon, because at least then they would not be offending the Founder-acarya of that Institution by changing its rules and destroying its integrity. But they obviously are not as empowered as they think they are now are they?