Unity in Diversity

By Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti

What does Unity in Diversity mean?

The purpose of writing these lines is my desire to contribute some thought provoking ideas to the search for unity in the Vaisnava Sampradaya. Rather than presenting a collection of quotes from the sastras I approach the issue with what we call common sense.

1. The validity and the uselessness of the philosophical debate in Krishna Consciousness.
By the examples of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's discussions with Digvijay, Sarvabhauma and Prakasananda, we see that philosophical debate is necessary whenever a doubt arises or pure devotional service is being put down by any party. Still we see that the grace of Krishna cannot be forced by such discussions. Only when the Lord decides to give His mercy can He be understood.
Regarding a particular Vaishnava Family all devotees belong to have a right and a need to be informed about all details of policy-making, philosophical outlook and problem resolving to eliminate their doubts and get a clear picture of what is expected from them in their search for the Absolute Truth. Unless they can have such information and possible debate, their surrender will become rather blind, fanatical, false or motivated.

My spiritual master Srila Prabhupada did not use any "you must do". He convinced either by proper explanation or by his loving dealings. No guru can force somebody to be and live as a disciple, much less a godbrother should dare to impose 'You must' on his godbrothers. That leaves only space for the convincing which captures the heart of others after their minds are satisfied.

2. Analyze to surrender versus surrender to be able to analyze.
Krishna clearly approaches Arjuna with all the material to analyze his position carefully and to surrender was Arjuna's conclusion.
Everybody must be convinced of what he is doing and consider it the most happy discovery of his life. Everybody must think for himself and not be told that a faithful follower of the guru does not need a criteria of his own and that a centralized governing body will come up with all conclusions for his inner development and eternal life.
Any governing body as a body is incapable of studying time, place and circumstance of any local problem. The demand to surrender to a decision without understanding the situation will destroy the devotees faith. Errors may be avoided by extending the authority to the local leaders to decide their own futures. We can see: what devotees do they do anyway - sometimes by leaving the family when their heart is dissatisfied!

Only sadhu-sanga or enlightening one another could be called a genuine function for a centralized governing body. This body can convince the local preachers of their realizations. We need individual wisdom, wisdom as we learn to expose our own reflections to convince others. If a governing body wants to recover its reputation at all, it must reach the heart of the preachers.

Krishna Consciousness means to create God-centered thinking, feeling and willing. Just as Srila Prabhupada demonstrated by trusting newcomers almost at once to establish temples, zones, restaurants, publishing divisions on their own, protected by their sincerity to follow a pure devotee. If a man can receive local support due to his preaching then his opinion has the highest value, unless he feels inspired to surrender to some higher vaisnava.
In other words his project will be practically self-sufficient and independent as long as he is not a cheater. But who can stop the cheaters anyway? If we try to centralize the decisions of local projects to protect the mission, all we can attain is to stop the sincere efforts of the particular devotees and their projects. Srila Prabhupada condemned centralization as a killer of the individual challenge and responsibility. The guru inspires someone to take up spiritual life. Never monopolize the right to represent your guru. Vaisnavas want to serve their guru and the world.

We cannot force anyone to accept our service, nor is there any need to do so.
An institution may fear such freedom, since it cannot predict or plan the outcome. Being a spiritual institution it must make space for individual freedom and creativity.

After the founder acharya leaves, his books are sastras. They are passive, and any interpretation is only as true as the interpreter is pure and inspired. Also it is a fact, that all is written in the vaishnava books, we cannot follow bookshelves, we have to follow our own inner guide (cittete koriya aikya). That means to search for a valid sadhu and guru and to consult the sastra on all issues with their help. And at least you need the peace of your conscience.

3. Centralization kills internal capacity and happy exchanges.
Whoever opens a temple or a preaching center is solely responsible for that project. That is what I learned from Srila Prabhupada.
Authorities in a mood of exploitation would surely love to get a colonial share of at least the preaching prathista or the money collected by their godbrothers. But here we miss a point. If someone wants to open a spiritual center he feels he has a mission. I am sure he loves to be visited by a loving brother to get help, but not by puffed up interferences justified by official status. We all need help, but that only through love and trust. Even sometimes a mistake is good to develop strength and vision. We have nothing to loose, but all to gain. If a new temple is founded in sincerity it will be a success, if not time will tell. The function of a centralized governing body is only to inspire more and more individual preaching efforts and a loving exchange. In an emergency they might be advisers for troubled vaisnavas and projects. Besides that, a temple president has to have the support of the devotees in his temple. If for some secondary reason some devotees don't like him, let them go out and do better. And let the president choose who inspires him and who he wants to work with cooperatively.

Every spiritual master may want to set it up differently but this is the way Srila Prabhupada did it. If someone wants it differently he should first make sure that he actually not violate the feelings of preaching godbrothers, or try to geographically or institutional monopolize the mercy distribution. Institutional centralization is totally unrelatable to the before mentioned, characteristic only to mundane organizations which are owned by someone. But a vaishnava-movement only belongs to Krishna, and He gave us all common sense to look for its welfare and to fight any abuse.

4. Love and trust is the Divine Law No.1.
If Krishna wanted to force us to serve Him, He would not have created a material world and our free will. So, please let us not try to outdo Krishna.
If we can love and trust Srila Prabhupada we can go home following his footsteps.
He loved and trusted our childish efforts and that made us feel indebted. A person may love and trust those surrendered to her, but why should somebody love or trust a person if she does not give him the same space Srila Prabhupada gave to her?
Was it by popular vote that Srila Prabhupada gave sannyas, allowed to open temples, sent out preachers? No, it was by trust. No rules, rules and rules. No! Love and Trust. Would we like to live in an over-governed situation, with governing body, gurus, regional secretaries, ministers for everything, horizontal and vertical, a mountain who feels that you are to consult it on everything you do? Frankly speaking, my answer is no. My feeling is that Krishna gave us individuality to enjoy a variety of loving services. The only binding force is: Love and Trust.

An acharya may started so many valuable projects and envisioned many more. They should never remain to be places of envious fights over the control of the money, otherwise their purpose will be destroyed. Therefore those projects need solid local, hopefully lifelong administrations, which protect those projects and their incomes or future donations from even small embezzlements.

In this regard there is a difference we should make: spiritual authority and material authority

The disciple sees in his guru spiritual authority and material authority. But for managing for example the book fund or main temples such a relationship is detrimental. Spiritual, public accounts can only be controlled by functioning trusts. Otherwise the danger arises, that centralized governing bodies or international construction will be misused, mixing the accounts with the "faith in guru or centralized governing bodies" understanding.
In other words, the control functions of accounts and material authority of the projects of a particular vaishnava family should be delegated to groups of trustworthy disciples who report to whomever it concerns (including governments). Otherwise the title "obscure cult" is rather applicable.

There are also considerations of emotional motivations.
Everybody has to be accommodated happily in the vaisnava community. Actually it is simple. The relationship between the spiritual master and his disciple is surrounded by a certain exclusive emotion of holiness, which is necessary for the progressive surrender of the disciples, but possibly intolerable to godbrothers accustomed to view the relative side of the guru. This reality requires separate temples for every spiritual master in most cases.

You will find this exclusive holiness atmosphere in every ashram, whether it is Srila Prabhupada's, Srila Sridhar Maharaja's, or any other Acharya's establishment.

And since holy things should never be imposed, certain principle temples of a gurudeva must always focus on him as the exclusive Founder Acharya and the guru-tattva principle as progressive protection for the newcomers, who eventually will find their guru, by Krishna's grace. Otherwise some disciples of Founder Acharya, who are not sure what to do after the passing of their gurudeva, have no ashram where they can live peacefully and preach. Nobody should ever, harboring ill-feelings towards a certain preacher, visit his ashram or transmit such feelings to disciples of that preacher. Live and let live. Surrender and let others surrender. Nobody can complain if the faith in some preacher naturally grows in somebody's heart, due to his missionary activities. Even if he fails later, nevertheless he did help that person a lot, and instead of feeling cheated, that disciple who lost his guru should feel: "Due to me not being serious enough Krishna has sent my bad karma to give me a strong lesson. Now let me pray and if the guru does not recover let me find a new protector having learned by Krishna's grace that he must be a true devotee of Krishna free of the cheating tendency."

Thus a disciple can preach in the main temples of his gurudeva or help a godbrother of his sacred choice in his preaching or if he feels that serving this guru means that he should start accepting disciples, it will be at his own risk. Nobody else could really interfere in such a decision. Only if he is a known cheater, surrounding godbrothers may object. But since he would have to start on his own strength, Krishna, as always will have the last word.

There are no incidents in the history of the Gaudiya Sampradaya of ritvik initiations on behalf of a disappeared spiritual master. New gurus will organize their projects as they see fit since they have spiritual authority and material authority before their disciples, but if they wish to see progress in the long run, they will have to apply the same procedures in order to prevent exploitations of the holy mission, as soon as things become too big to be controlled single handedly. The real governing body simply has to teach the attitude and the vaisnava etiquettes. They cannot enforce their rules anyway, since in Vaishnavism is never be created a government like enforcing instrument, but rather resolved even great difficulties with love and trust.

Give love, if you want bhakti. If you don't agree you joined the wrong movement.

5. Sweetness, beauty and love: The base of Krishna Consciousness.
We came to get something real, something different. Power, knowledge and money are not the credentials for vaisnava sadhus. Krishna is the owner of all worlds, but He likes to play flute for His loving friends and to keep cows. The Vaishnava community must promote true values.

Money is to be organized locally, that not a penny can be misspent.
A zone or Prabhu Datta Desh is where someone loves you and wants you to preach under your guru's order. Srila Prabhupada ordered us to preach everywhere, not to fight, and to lovingly cooperate amongst brothers. The very word cooperation means a mutual respect and comprehension amongst equal parties, not the simple artificial submission to a non-sastric, non rational situation to avoid being ousted or called heretic. The six goswamis didn't seem to have zonal problems as they preached all in the same village.

And above all, this is the most practical. Vaisnavas should embrace each other and feel relief in the pangs of separation from their guru by meeting each other. We should only visit a temple where we love the leader and believe in his purity of purpose. We should only help a guru in his mission if we feel he teaches his disciples properly. Let's not cheat ourselves and the newcomers. There is no space in Krishna Consciousness for duplicity.

If you feel there is nobody close by to do the needful or trustworthy, then what about you? Are you a disciple or not? Do you live your guru's orders or not? A disciple should try to please his guru by trying to do for others what his guru did for him.

6. Krishna Consciousness; the need of the brain in Krishna Consciousness.
That sounds challenging. But we should realize that the natural defense for purity comes from the constructive critic. This means those persons who don't only talk, but are willing to preach, if you let them.
Reject the superficiality and duplicity in vaisnava dealings. The tie is through love not through laws. Accept the loving vaisnavas and worship them to your heart's content. If they criticize you, they may be your best friends. Make friendship with them and sing and dance. Instead of trying to control everything through impersonal bureaucracy let us establish uncountable small, sweet preaching centers. If we want to control - why not start with our senses? Let us stop allowing that vaisnavas are kicked around to disgrace our life and our gurudevas missions.
To say we don't need anybody else is synonymous to saying we don't need sadhu-sanga, sravanan nor the Absolute Truth. I doubt anybody would say that.

A spiritual master who really serves his guru will organize the group of his disciples in such a way that in full harmony they can associate with the other vaisnavas and benefit the international projects of the guru-parampara. He cannot be under any other control than his sincerity, but he would have gained his service by his preaching, not the preaching of others, who he coerced into submission through ecclesiastical pressure.

7. There is no need to be bitter.
There is always a positive solution. Krishna Consciousness is blissful and sweet. Let us try to find how, by fixing ourselves to the highest goal of Prema, never to drop it.
First there is no need to discuss the mistakes of others, unless they beg you for enlightenment. Feel free to preach to your heart's content.
If you don't know what to say or what to do, then read the books of Srila Prabhupada and do what they say. They say to find a holy vaisnava, who is pure and enlightened. If you don't find one, pray that Krishna sends you one or enlightens you from within. It is still the same process in the search of Krishna. Until you reach Krishna's lotus feet, you don't know yet who are all those who helped you to get there. Don't say, "I've got a guru, I don't need anybody else's help". Such a statement is very contradict to what my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada told me and wrote in his books. So let us be ready to be disciples again and again. Let's not be satisfied with our achievements. And when the time comes, let's not self-proclaim ourselves auto-sufficient because our guru has left this world.

Let's not try to look on others and judge the world. Now we have to understand the meaning of the holy instruction, not just quote fractions to defeat the whole purpose. Let's not become smartas who follow without understanding. Let's not become caste Goswamis who claim that they inherited the truth.
Let's not become popes, infallible due to some votes.
Better, let us become servants of the servants of the vaisnavas.

Let's compete for love and purity. That is a dynamic way to eliminate or overcome the negative attitude. Let us create such an atmosphere, something according to our Acharyas original plans and acceptable to common sense.
Let the local responsible vaishnavas to realize the weight of their duty. Be open to accept representatives from other vaishnava families as long as they have a desire to serve Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga.

8. Sympathies, antipathies and personal feelings impede a clear view.
"Let local people manage" was a famous statement by Srila Prabhupada. It means as far as possible.
Let Brazilians manage Brazil, let Londoners manage London, let devotees manage the projects they open, let the unsatisfied open more projects instead of destroying the existing ones.

When we act motivated by our sympathies or antipathies we are not broadminded. Whether American, Australian, Ex-Jew or Ex-Christian, white or black, man or woman, give space to all. Let us not force anybody under the rule of others. Let the truly qualified manifest their qualities. And let the others learn of their limitations.

Only through that challenge local men will emerge self-confident and happy to conquer their town, country or race for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.