Vani Seva

Srila Prabhupada with cartals

The following article compiled by Ananda devi dasi, has always been one of my favorites. She has captured the essence of the relationship between the disciple and spiritual master in a very scholarly or academic way.

Vani Seva
by Ananda devi dasi
May 12 2009, UK

In Srimad Bhagavatam 4.28.47 we read: “The disciple and spiritual master are never separated because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of Vani. Physical presence is called Vapuh. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master.”

Srila Prabhupada makes it crystal clear that after the disappearance of the Spiritual Master, the disciple follows the instructions of the Spiritual Master. The Spiritual Master left His instructions in the form of Books, verbal instructions, letters, tapes, videos, all these are instructions from the Spiritual Master,Vani.

After the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada His instructions remained the same, they didn’t change. Therefore Srila Prabhupada is the Diksa Guru and His ISKCON-specific instructions and the process of Diksa remains the same. A disciple who has had no chance of serving the Spiritual Master, Srila Prabhupada, when He was in His Vapuh, can still follow His Vani, instructions, and fully benefit from this association and advance in devotional service.

In Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 1.35 we read:

“It is imperative that one accepts a spiritual master if he at all desires to gain the favour of the Lord.The service of the Spiritual Master is essential.If there is no chance to serve the spiritual master directly,a devotee should serve Him by remembering His instructions.There is no difference between the spiritual masters instructions and the spiritual master Himself.In His absence,therefore,His words of direction should be the pride of the disciple.”

Another crystal clear instruction is especially applicable to disciples who never physically associated and served the physical body of Srila Prabhupada, His Vapuh. Srila Prabhupada clearly explains that for the disciple who had no chance to serve Him directly, then the disciple is able to serve through the agency of sound vibration, Vani Seva. There is no difference.

Caitanya-caritamrta, concluding words, Antya Lila5:

“There are two ways of association – by vani and by vapuh. Vani means words and vapuh means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore we must take advantage of the Vani, not the physical presence. Bhagavad Gita for example is the vani of Lord Krsna. Although Lord Krsna was personally present 5000 years ago and is no longer physically present from the materialistic point of view, Bhagavad Gita continues.”

Srila Prabhupada in His Vani is emphasizing associating through vani. Physical presence is sometimes not appreciated, but vani continues eternally. The GBC/Guru/Sannyasis and followers in ISKCON have all favoured the opposite view to Srila Prabhupada. They have always and continue to favour the physically present diksa guru theory ,but clearly Srila Prabhupada is emphasizng the advantages of vani over and above vapuh.

Srila Prabhupada alludes to the familiarity of vapuh, which was explicitly experienced by many disciples who got close to Srila Prabhupada’s vapuh. Even when Lord Krsna was present, many still did not realise He was the Supreme Person and so became too familiar.

Not only does Srila Prabhupada clearly recommend the association through vani of the Spiritual Master, but endorses the process as authorised. The salient point about the quote from Cc Antya Lila is that it appears in the concluding words of this masterpiece, the final words concerning the association with the Spiritual Master, the Previous Acaryas, the Mahajanas, the Sadhus, and of course Lord Krsna, all through Vani.

Srimad Bhagavatam 2.9.8:

“There is no difference between the Lord and the Lord’s instructions and sound vibration coming from Him, even though He is not physically present. The best way of understanding is to accept such divine instruction, and Brahma, the prime spiritual master of everyone, is the living example of this process of receiving Transendental Knowledge. The potency of transcendental sound is never minimised because the vibrator is apparently absent. One has to receive the transcendental sound from the right source, accept it as a reality and prosecute the direction without hesitation. The secret of success is to receive the sound from the right source of a bona fide spiritual master…….”

Srila Prabhupada consistently explains the same theme in a cohesive, coherent and cognitive way that is easily assimilated for the reader. Here He also adds that Lord Brahma, although not in our purview, is a “living example” of this process. Lord Brahma is the Spiritual Master of everyone according to Srila Prabhupada’s definition in this purport, which clearly proves beyond any doubt that Srila Prabhupada is not only our Spiritual Master, but moreover clearly ISKCON’s Diksa Guru, still living.

The GBC/Guru/Sannyasis and followers teaching is the opposite to this conclusion. They said, and continue to say, that Srila Prabhupada is gone and not approachable unless you get initiated by a physically present diksa guru of whatever status, otherwise “you” are jumping over them to access Srila Prabhupada directly. This is clearly against the principles of guru, sadhu and sastra, otherwise the principle of Vani would not stand. The principle of “living example” would not stand and the principle of ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya would not stand. The principle of Srila Prabhupada’s authority would not stand, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.18, an often quoted verse:

“Human reason fails to understand how by serving the devotee Bhagavata or the Book Bhagavata one gets gradual promotion on the path of devotion…”

Please read the whole purport because there is way more than that. Srila Prabhupada is again emphasizing the vani of the Spiritual Master, the Sadhus, the Mahajanas and the authorities in devotional service.

The last word of the Sanskrit verse 1.2.18 is naisthiki, which translates as ‘irrevocable’, as in Nishta in Madhyama Adhikari, irrevocable devotional service is established in the heart of the disciple. The message of the Book Bhagavata is received from the devotee Bhagavata, Srila Prabhupada, and under His guidance the devotee is able to progress in devotional service. By such sincere association the disciple is able to receive transcendental knowledge very easily.

“…The best process is to accept the instructions of the previous acharyas and follow them. Then God-realization and self-realization become extremely easy…………” (from purport: Srimad Bhagavatam 7.9.18)

Please read all of this purport too, because there is so much more than this. Srila Prabhupada often uses words such as “easy” and “very easy”, ”extremely easy” to describe different processes in devotional service. Devotional service is begun by hearing and chanting, a simple process. By hearing sincerely one can chant sincerely and this is the recommended process.

The relationship between the Guru and Disciple is spiritual. In the spiritual world if the servant cannot serve under certain conditions, the master is still pleased. And if the master does not pay, the servant is also pleased. That is called oneness absolute. A Guru may have hundreds of disciples, hundreds of servants, but He doesn’t have to pay them. They are serving out of spiritual love, and the Guru is teaching without receiving a salary. This is a spiritual relationship. There are no cheaters and cheated in such a relationship. (Teachings of Lord Kapila, p. 231).

Our relationship with Srila Prabhupada is a spiritual relationship, it is not based on whether or not we were physically present simultaneously. Spiritual inspiration comes from within the heart, wherein the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His Paramatma feature, is always sitting with all His devotees and associates. The Spiritual Master is the external manifestation of the Supersoul and is simultaneously manifest within the heart of the sincere disciple seated with the Supersoul and accompanying the disciple everywhere. Srila Prabhupada considered His Spiritual Master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to be always present with Him by His vani and seeing Srila Prabhupada’s activities and guiding Him.

The activity of accepting a Spiritual Master is not according to external circumstances. ISKCON cannot impose the physically present diksa guru theory on devotees. Srila Prabhupada has made it abundantly clear that a disciple should be careful to accept an Uttama-Adhikari as a Spiritual Master. Srila Prabhupada’s instruction to all devotees is NOT to become a Spiritual Master unless he has attained the platform of Uttama-Adhikari. From the earlier Zonal Acarya nightmare, where the “spiritual masters” did not follow this simple instruction of actually attaining Uttama-Adhikari status and then the continuance of the same process under a different name, we have to question the integrity, motivation and qualification of said disciples at pretending to be Uttama-Adhikaris.

The clear definition of a Diksa Guru is that He is:

1. Bona fide
2. Uttama-Adhikari
3. Exemplary in character
4. Truthful
5. Saintly
6. Spiritual
7. Compassionate
8. Krsna Conscious
9. Liberated from the Material Energy
10. An expansion of Srila Nityananda Rama or Srimati Radharani

Just to name a few off the top of my head.

It’s not a peculiar thing that Srila Prabhupada wrote lucidly about all the pseudo-religionists that exist in the Krsna Conscious Society. Srila Prabhupada writes in Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 19.157:

“If one thinks that there are many pseudodevotees or non-devotees in the Krsna Consciousness Society, one can keep direct company with the spiritual master, and if there is any doubt, one should consult with the spiritual master.”

“By a false display of religious sentiments they present a show of devotional service while indulging in all sorts of immoral activities………” (from purport; Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 12)

Please read the whole purport, there is way more than that, but Srila Prabhupada has included this type of purport in His Books to help warn us all that even in the Krsna Consciousness Society we can easily be misled, exploited and of course abused on many different levels.

The influence of such false religionists even within ISKCON has far reaching consequences and we find that devotees of all caliber have been swayed by the prolonged misconceptions, false knowledge and mechanistic propaganda. The idea that evolved from the Zonal Acarya days was the mechanistic definition of the Diksa Guru, the process of Diksa and the continuance of the Disciplic Succession. The perception of all these separate processes has been seen through the eyes of extremely neophyte devotees who were able to influence the devotees in general.

But when we review the actual statements and philosophy that we find in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings there is much to contradict the mechanical, physically present doctrines.

“So spiritually, appearance and disappearance there is no difference… spiritually there is no difference, appearance and disappearance.”
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, December 13, 1973)

“That is called prakata, physically present. And there is another phase, which is called aprakata, not physically present. But that does not mean Krsna is dead, God is dead, that does not mean.. Prakata or apakata, physically present or not present, it does not matter.”
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, December 11, 1973 Los Angeles)

The example of appearance and disappearance is the rise and setting of the sun. Actually the sun does not rise or set, but from our perception it appears to rise and set. But one who is in knowledge of these things knows the reality behind the perception. The Spiritual Master’s appearance and disappearance is only apparent, not real. There is no difference. It’s those words again, “no difference”, which crop up so much in Srila Prabhupada’s Books and teachings. But in the case of Diksa, the spiritual component of Diksa belongs to Srila Prabhupada because He is our Diksa Guru coming in the Disciplic Succession.

“In order to receive the real message of Srimad Bhagavatam one should approach the current link, or Spiritual Master, in the chain of Disciplic Succession….”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 2.9.7)

Again, the physical absence of Srila Prabhupada has no difference on His ability to be the current link in the Disciplic Succession. By definition, the Spiritual Master is eternal and absolute oneness, so for Him there can’t be any difference. Why do the GBC/Gurus constantly, consistently, and continuously relegate and undermine Srila Prabhupada’s position in ISKCON? We should be doing the opposite.

Srila Prabhupada is our Spiritual Master, the Bona Fide Uttama-Adhikari, the current link to the Disciplic succession, the all merciful, all compassionate Diksa Guru, impartially distributing Sri Caitanya’s mercy. And Initiating the general population into the cult of Devotional Service to Lord Krsna.

The negative influence from the GBC/Gurus that has manipulated the understanding, definitions, and perceptions of the Diksa Guru and Diksa process along with the continuation of the Disciplic Succession are also responsible for the misunderstandings and misconceptions that surround the Officiating Acarya doctrine. From the meagre amount of research into the operations of other bona fide Vaisnava Sampradayas there is ample evidence of similar usage in the past. The Officiating Acarya system is not unprecedented and there is history in other Sampradayas. The black and white, fixed mindedness, mechanically-concrete thinking leadership of ISKCON has not only bewildered the devotees into their mindset on many issues concerning the Guru Tattva, but has also bulldozed their very ideology into the devotee’s minds and rationale.

The Officiating Acarya process is not a replacement system for the Disciplic Succession, nor is it an initiating system, either. Srila Prabhupada is the Initiator Guru whether there is an Officiating Acarya system in place or not, whether or not the July 9th Letter is implemented or not. Devotees that join ISKCON can only be initiated by Srila Prabhupada because He is the Diksa Guru for ISKCON, period.

The Disciplic Succession is continued by the Successor of Srila Prabhupada in Disciplic Succession but that can’t be in ISKCON, because Srila Prabhupada is the Founder-Acarya and Diksa Guru of ISKCON. The Disciplic Succession continues to the next link via a Bona fide Uttama-Adhikari Spiritual Master, as in the example of Srila Prabhupada from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and so forth, according to the law of Disciplic Succession.

We can’t make up our own “law” of Disciplic Succession just because it suits a physically present Diksa Guru idea. That’s certainly not according to guru, sadhu and sastra. The Officiating Acarya system is certainly authenticated and authorised by Srila Prabhupada, there is no question or doubt about that. Srila Prabhupada signed the July Letter. All through the scripture we find cohesive, coherent definitions of what constitutes the Bona Fide Spiritual Master and the continuation of the Disciplic Succession through Him. But what has happened in ISKCON is that that has been misapplied, misappropriated and manipulated. So the Disciplic Succession has been artificially continued by a sharing of the process of Diksa. In effect, the gurus in ISKCON are sharing Srila Prabhupada’s process of Diksa and Srila Prabhupada’s Transcendental knowledge, His ISKCON, and so forth. Just put them on their own and see how they fair then, that would be the reasonable test for them.

Even I could give everyone names and threads and give a reasonable Bhagavatam class, and then tell all my “disciples” to go read Srila Prabhupada’s Books and worship Him all through the morning programme. That’s easy, but that’s not Diksa Initiation, and neither is it continuing the Disciplic Succession. That’s inventing a new kind of guru – the one called the “kind of like a diksa-ish guru-ish guru.” And that’s how and why there is an Officiating Acarya process, and there is a history of its usage in other Vaisnava Sampradayas.

“Sometimes a Diksa Guru is not present always. Therefore one can take learning, instructions from an advanced devotee, that is called the siksa guru.”
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 4.7.74, Honolulu)

“In the absence of physical presentation of the Spiritual Master, the vaniseva is more important. My Spiritual Master Saraswati Goswami, may appear to be physically not present but still I try to serve His Instruction, I never feel separated from Him”
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, August 22, 1970)