To Love Is to Cooperate

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More than a farewell request, Srila Prabhupada’s desire that his followers cooperate to spread Krishna consciousness everywhere remains a perennial call to action.

To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s incorporation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, BTG presents Part Eight of a ten-part series celebrating Srila Prabhupada’s unique, transcendental position in ISKCON, as well as every follower’s foundational relationship with him.

By May 1977 Srila Prabhupada’s health had been declining for months. It was time to return to Vrindavan, India, his “home,” as he called it, to recover or depart. When his secretary suggested he make a will, Prabhupada agreed. For seven years he had been training the members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission1 (GBC) to manage the Society after his departure. To help them realize the gravity of their responsibility, Prabhupada requested they all come to Vrindavan to witness the will.

“Because they love you,” said his secretary, “I am sure they will all want to come and be with you.”

Prabhupada was grave: “Your love for me will be shown by how much you cooperate to keep this institution together after I am gone.” (Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, Chapter 52: “I Have Done My Part”)

Notwithstanding Prabhupada’s request, cooperation can be elusive in our Age of Quarrel.2 To see why, as well as what we can do to foster cooperation, we will sample Prabhupada’s words on the subject, which reveal a simple yet challenging dialectic.3

Thesis: Cooperate

Despite Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s order that his leading disciples “work conjointly” and “without any quarrel” after his demise, their noncooperation fragmented the Gaudiya Mission and later disqualified most of them from helping Prabhupada revive it in the West. Determined that noncooperation not similarly spoil ISKCON, Prabhupada defined and tested his disciples’ devotion in terms of their willingness to work together.

When you do something in cooperation with the Lord, that is called bhakti. (Lecture, Seattle, October 9, 1968)

The test of our actual dedication and sincerity to serve the Spiritual Master will be in this mutual cooperative spirit to push on this Movement and not make factions and deviate. (Letter, December 9, 1973)

The day he signed his will Prabhupada echoed his previous observation about cooperation: “Your love for me will be tested by how after my departure you maintain this institution. We have glamour and people are feeling our weight. This should be maintained.” (TKG’s Diary: Prabhupada’s Final Days, May 23, 1977)

Antithesis: Don’t Expect Utopia

A couple of years after Prabhupada had formed the GBC, one of its members wrote to complain that impersonal dealings were dividing the devotees. Prabhupada disagreed.

It is not so much that because there may be some faults in our godbrothers and godsisters, or because there may be some mismanagement or lack of cooperation, that this is due to being impersonalists, no. It is the nature of the living condition to always have some fault.

Even in spiritual life?

Even in the Spiritual World there is some fault and envy. . . . But it is not the same as material fault or material envy, it is transcendental because it is all based on Krishna. Sometimes when one [devotee] would serve Krishna very nicely, the others would say, “Oh, she has done so nicely, now let me do better for pleasing Krishna.” That is envy, but it is transcendental, without malice.

Envy without malice. How wonderful.

So we shall not expect that anywhere there is any Utopia. Rather, that is impersonalism. People should not expect that even in the Krishna Consciousness Society there will be Utopia. Because devotees are persons, therefore there will always be some lacking – but the difference is that their . . . lackings have become transcendental because, despite everything they may do, their topmost intention is to serve Krishna. . . .

Like a judo master using negative energy to his advantage, Prabhupada then finished his point, challenging his man to see the positive:

The devotees of Krishna are the most exalted persons on this planet, better than kings, all of them, so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar or the best qualities of a person. Not like the utopians, who are like the flies who always go to the open sores or find the faults in a person, and because they cannot find any utopia, or because they cannot find anyone without faults, they want to become void, merge, nothing – they think that is utopia, to become void of personality. So if there are sometimes slight disagreements between devotees, it is not due to impersonalism, but it is because they are persons, and such disagreements should not be taken very seriously. (Letter, February 4, 1972)

If Prabhupada’s thesis is to cooperate and his antithesis not to expect utopia, then what is his synthesis, his resolution? As we might expect, it’s easier said than done.

Synthesis: Find Unity in Diversity

When another GBC man wrote to inform Prabhupada of more dissension in the ranks, Prabhupada was philosophical:

Material nature means dissension and disagreement. . . . But, for this Krishna consciousness movement its success will depend on agreement, even though there are varieties of engagements. In the material world there are varieties, but there is no agreement. In the spiritual world there are varieties, but there is agreement.

Different individuals have different ways of engaging material nature in devotional service. The agreement that harmonizes the “varieties of engagements” is their shared purpose, to please Krishna.

The materialist . . . cannot come into agreement with varieties, but if we keep Krishna in the center, then there will be agreement in varieties. This is called unity in diversity.

To illustrate, Prabhupada sometimes gave the example of concentric circles. No matter how many circles we draw, if they all share the same center, they never clash. In the same way, if pleasing Krishna is at the center of our intentions, we’ll be able to “agree to disagree” and continue working cooperatively to serve the Lord even when differences arise. Prabhupada knew this would be an ongoing challenge:

I am therefore suggesting that all our men meet in Mayapur every year during the birth anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. With all GBC and senior men present we should discuss how to make unity in diversity. But, if we fight on account of diversity, then it is simply the material platform. Please try to maintain the philosophy of unity in diversity. That will make our movement successful. (Letter, October 18, 1973)

Unity in Principle, Diversity in Application

Since finding unity in diversity is the key to cooperation – Prabhupada’s measure of our love for him – we need to dig deeper to understand how to achieve it. However diverse we may be, if we trust our mutual intentions to please Krishna, we’ll be able to work together to identify timeless, universal principles whose applications will vary according to “time, candidate, and country.” Prabhupada explains:

The teacher (acharya) has to consider time, candidate, and country. . . . What is possible in one country may not be possible in another. The acharya’s duty is to accept the essence of devotional service. . . . It is not necessary that the rules and regulations followed in India be exactly the same as those in Europe, America, and other Western countries. . . . We should not follow regulative principles without an effect, nor should we fail to accept the regulative principles. What is required is a special technique according to country, time, and candidate. (Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 23.105, Purport)

Even if the acharya’s “special technique” proves effective for spreading Krishna consciousness, advanced devotees may still disagree about its application. For example, while receiving a massage from his assistant one day, Prabhupada remarked, “My godbrothers criticize me, that I have allowed women to live in our temples. This is not done in India. . . . But I have become successful because I made this adjustment.”

In the silence that followed, the assistant decided to ask a question: “Prabhupada, how can we tell the difference between making an adjustment and changing a principle?”

Prabhupada closed his eyes as his assistant continued to rub his body.

Finally, he opened his eyes and responded, “That requires a little intelligence.” (Srutakirti Dasa, What is the Difficulty?)

A little intelligence and a lot of heart. In his commentary to Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila, Chapter 7, text 37, Prabhupada describes the compassionate intent of such intelligence: “An acharya should devise a means by which people may somehow or other come to Krishna consciousness. First they should become Krishna conscious, and all the prescribed rules and regulations may later gradually be introduced. . . . For example, since boys and girls in the Western countries freely intermingle, special concessions regarding their customs and habits are necessary to bring them to Krishna consciousness. The acharya must devise a means to bring them to devotional service.”

For Prabhupada, bringing someone to devotional service was the highest principle, requiring fresh applications for changing times. For example, in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s Gaudiya Mission, many devotees used to chant sixty-four rounds4 of the Hare Krishna mantra on their beads. Despite Prabhupada’s suggesting fewer rounds to his first followers – thirty-two, twenty-five – they still looked perplexed: that would take hours! He then declared sixteen rounds the rock-bottom minimum for his initiated disciples.5

When one of those early initiates later asked Prabhupada why he had asked them to chant so many rounds, then reduced the number, Prabhupada replied that he was “experimenting,” to see what the devotees could do.6 To determine a principle’s practical application, sometimes Prabhupada would try something out and then “judge by the result.”

Humility Helps

At one point while instructing Sanatana Goswami, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stopped to marvel at his humble disciple: “Since you possess Lord Krishna’s potency, you certainly know these things. However, it is the nature of a sadhu to inquire. Although he knows these things, the sadhu inquires for the sake of strictness.” (Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 20.105)

Prabhupada wrote no commentary to this text but later spoke about it: “A sadhu, a saintly person, although he knows everything, still he remains very humble and tries to confirm from the higher authorities, . . . think this is right. Is it not right?’ He knows it is all right, but still, he waits for the higher authority to confirm it.” (Lecture, Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 20.105, July 11, 1976, New York City)

Strict in remembering his absolute smallness, strict in never presuming he knows everything, the humble devotee is always glad to hear deeper realizations from sincere devotees, whom he regards as his prabhus, or masters. Because he trusts the devotees’ intentions, they trust his, and everyone is happy to cooperate with him, even if they sometimes disagree.

In the Mahabharata the model of the humble hero is King Yudhishthira, and the arrogant fool, King Duryodhana. When they were adolescents, their martial arts guru, Dronacharya, gave them each an assignment to test their character. To Yudhishthira he commanded, “Bring me someone less than you,” and to Duryodhana, “Bring me someone more than you.”

Even as the assignments were spoken, Duryodhana’s mind was complaining: “Why did Yudhishthira receive the easy task? How will I ever find anyone greater than me?”

Later that day Duryodhana fulfilled his prophecy by returning to his master alone.

“I’m sorry, Guru Maharaja, I could not find anyone greater than me.”

Drona raised his eyebrows but kept silent.

Twilight came and still no Yudhishthira. Finally at dusk he returned, alone and disappointed.

“I’m sorry, Guru Maharaja, I looked high and low. Finally I saw a man with some grain on Ekadashi. I thought he was going to eat it, but then he fed it to his animal, so I gave up. How will I ever find anyone less than me?”

Drona smiled, as we might too, but am I more like Yudhishthira or Duryodhana? Sanatana or Satan? If I think there’s no one with whom I need to check my understanding, no authority higher than myself, then I need to abandon the arrogance of Duryodhana and embrace the humility of Yudhishthira. Genuine humility enables us to appreciate and learn from all devotees, and cooperate with them to please Srila Prabhupada, guru, and Krishna.

A Last Word

On March 16, 1976, in the holy land of Sridham Mayapur,7 along the Ganges’s green expanse, dozens of young Americans have crowded into Prabhupada’s room at ISKCON’s international headquarters. He thanks them for cooperating to profusely distribute his books for the benefit of suffering humanity.

Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – He is God Himself, Krishna Himself – He felt, alone, unable to do this task. He felt. So this is the position. You are cooperating; therefore I am getting the credit. Otherwise, alone what could I do? Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself wanted our cooperation. He is God, Krishna. And therefore cooperation is a very important thing . . . Nobody should think that, “I have got so great ability. I can do.” No. It is simply by cooperation we can do a very big thing. “United we stand, divided we fall.” Sankirtana. Sankirtana means many men combined together, chanting. That is sankirtana. Otherwise kirtana. Sankirtana means many, many combined together. That is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission.

NOTES

1. In his will Prabhupada identifies his Governing Body Commission (GBC) as ISKCON’s “ultimate managing authority,” not to replace him but to organize ISKCON’s preaching so that it is in line with his instructions. For more on this subject go to http://gbc.iskcon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/FINAL-LINES-OF-AUTHORIT....

2. The name Vedic cosmographers give to our contentious times.

3. The kind of dialectic that juxtaposes opposing points then seeks their resolution through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

4. Chanting the sixteen-word Hare Krishna mantra around a strand of 108 beads equals one round.

5. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Vol. 2, Planting the Seed, Chapter 19: “Planting the Seed.”

6. Brahmananda Dasa in Swamiji, by Steven J. Rosen, p. 30.

7. Located about seventy miles north of Kolkata, Mayapur is the hometown of Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s “Golden Avatar,” who popularized the chanting of Hare Krishna over five hundred years ago.

In the next issue: Before we look at different ways to access and develop a personal, loving relationship with Srila Prabhupada, in Part 9 we’ll examine and clear up some misunderstandings about him.

About the Author: 

Sureshvara Dasa

Sureshvara Dasa joined the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in 1970. From 2011 to 2015, on behalf of a committee of the movement's Governing Body Commission called "Śrīla Prabhupāda's Position," he traveled the ISKCON world presenting the seminar series "Śrīla Prabhupāda, Our Founder-Acharya."