What Now? Who will Replace Srila Prabhupada? — Notes from the Editor
How many times have we recently been asked, “Who will succeed His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as the spiritual leader of the Hare Krsna movement?” And how often have we been confronted with the ominous inquiry, “Will the Hare Krsna movement be able to survive without His Divine Grace?”
First of all, no one can replace His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. You cannot simply elect a person to the post of the most exalted sainthood.
In the Vedic tradition there is an unbroken chain of disciplic succession from guru to guru, going all the way back to Lord Krsna Himself. The Vedic teachers affirm that all the devotees should be given respect. But on rare occasions, jagad-gurus (spiritual leaders of the world) have appeared who are not to be replaced. For example, acaryas (teachers by example) like Ramanuja (eleventh century), Madhva (twelfth century), and Lord Caitanya Maha-prabhu (sixteenth century) are still worshiped and followed, even today. Yet sincere disciples may still act as gurus to maintain the eternal parampara (disciplic succession).
For decades before Srila Prabhupada came to the United States, so-called svamis and yogis had been coming here from India, supposedly to teach Vedic philosophy and religion. Yet they created not a single devotee of Krsna. Like Srila Prabhupada, these “gurus” also introduced India’s greatest book of knowledge, the Bhagavad-gita. But unlike Srila Prabhupada, they could not present it purely, as it is, because they were not unalloyed devotees of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita. Lord Caitanya, the inspiration for the present-day Krsna consciousness movement, predicted that the chanting of the holy names of Krsna would spread to every town and village in the world. But only since Srila Prabhupada arrived in America in 1965 has this prediction been fulfilled. Only by Srila Prabhupada’s compassion, intelligence, and complete surrender to the will of Krsna were Westerners able to receive the rare gift of Krsna consciousness. Thus Srila Prabhupada’s contribution, proves that he was empowered by God to spread love of God all over the world. Such a unique world-teacher is not to be replaced.
Nonetheless, speculations abound. Shortly before Srila Prabhupada’s passing, one scholarly “expert” on the Hare Krsna movement, an anthropologist, conjectured that Srila Prabhupada was keeping his choice of successor a secret, but that he would reveal it before his departure. This is simply not a fact: he picked no such single person to succeed him as leader.
How then will ISKCON—the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—go on? The answer is that our spiritual master has given us a complete arrangement for pushing forward the worldwide Krsna consciousness movement. As early as 1970, Srila Prabhupada created a Governing Body Commission (GBC), which now consists of twenty-four senior devotees, all personally selected by His Divine Grace to supervise ISKCON’s missionary activities in various zones around the world. These GBC devotees have been trained (some of them for ten or eleven years) under Srila Prabhupada’s direct guidance. For years now they have been conducting all the spiritual management of this mission within their assigned zones, and now they will continue to do so. The GBC meets yearly in India, and together its members plan how to execute the will of His Divine Grace.
Also, during his last months in this world, Srila Prabhupada selected eleven senior disciples to act as initiating gurus who could accept disciples after his disappearance. In this way he insured the continuation of the parampara.
As for spiritual leadership in general, Srila Prabhupada has often quoted to us from the scripture,
kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya
“Whoever you are, regardless of your birth or social position, if you know the science of Krsna you can become a guru.” Srila Prabhupada, then, expects all his disciples to become pure devotees, or instructing gurus, capable of bringing pure spiritual life to the conditioned souls of this material world. Thus, now that His Divine Grace has left us and gone to the eternal, spiritual world of Krsna, there shall be not just one leader but numerous gurus to carry on this tradition.
Do we sound optimistic, even on the loss of our dear most preceptor and guide? Yes, it is a fact. We devotees of the Hare Krsna movement, while feeling deep personal loss at the physical passing away of our spiritual master, are certain that he is still with us and that we can successfully pass all tests, as long as we follow his instructions. This faith rests upon a basic tenet of Krsna conscious philosophy: the spiritual master is served in separation by disciples who follow his teachings. As Srila Prabhupada writes in his Bhaktivedanta purports, “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 master’s instructions and the spiritual master himself. In his absence, therefore, his words of direction should be the pride of the disciple.”
Therefore, in Srila Prabhupada’s absence, we, his disciples, feel more dedicated to his mission than ever before, more determined to cooperate amongst ourselves and present purely his sublime teachings. He never instructed us on the basis of charisma. Rather, he always taught that he was delivering without change the words of the parampara, or ‘disciplic succession, which are handed down from spiritual master to disciple and confirmed by the eternal scriptures. We always understood that by serving him we were serving all the past spiritual masters, and through them the Supreme Lord Himself.
Discussion about the future of ISKCON shouldn’t be regarded merely as talk about the inner workings of a sectarian religion. Krsna consciousness should be seen for what it offers to society and humanity. It is not an insular, sectarian religious faith, but a universal science of the soul. The Vedic scriptures predict, and we can readily see, that the present leadership of the world is moving rapidly toward destroying the spiritual values of life. As the madness mounts, those who can maintain their sanity will look more and more to the Krsna consciousness movement, set up by Srila Prabhupada as a beacon of hope and a real spiritual shelter.—SDG.