How We Can Act As Successors In The Disciplic Succession


By Vidura Mahatma das —

In 1975 Srila Prabhupada was asked if he was planning to choose a successor. Before the question was even finished Srila Prabhupada had begun to give his answer: “My movement is genuine”, Srila Prabhupada replied, “It is already successful. Genuine thing is always success. Gold is Gold.” One of his disciples repeated the question to Srila Prabhupada, assuming he had not quite understood the question. “Is your successor named?” the disciple asked. Srila Prabhupada’s reply was the same:

My success is always there. Yes. Just like the sun is there always. It may come before your vision or not. The sun is there. But if you are fortunate, you come before the sun. Otherwise you remain in darkness. Sun is open to everyone. Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement—Kṛṣṇa is open to everyone. But if you are fortunate, you come to the light. If you are unfortunate, do not. That is your choice.” (Room conversation, 12/2/75 Mexico)

Srila Prabhupada has made many statements to the effect that if he is to be given any credit for his activities, it is all due to his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.

It is to be admitted that whatever translation work I have done is through the inspiration of my spiritual master because personally I am most insignificant and incompetent to do this materially impossible work. I do not think myself a very learned scholar, but I have full faith in the service of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhakura. If there is any credit to my activities of translating, it is all due to His Divine Grace. Certainly if His Divine Grace were personally present at this time, it would have been a great occasion for jubiliation, but even though he is not physically present,I am confident that he is very pleased by this work of translation. He was very fond of seeing many books published to spread the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Therefore our society, the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, has formed to execute the order of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhakura.

On another occasion Srila Prabhupada was asked the same question “Are you training a successor?” Srila Prabhupada’s response was “Yes, my Guru Mahārāja is there.” (Press conference, 16/7/75, San Francisco)

Just as Srila Prabhupada founded the Krishna consciousness movement to execute the order of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His Divine Grace Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhakura, members of the Krishna consciousness movement are meant not only to execute the same order but especially the order of His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This is what it means to be a successor in the disciplic succession: to simply execute the order of the spiritual master, cent per cent.

In another instance Srila Prabhupada was asked the same question. Srila Prabhupada responded in a similar way:

Interviewer: What happens when that inevitable time comes when a successor is needed?

Disciple: He is asking about the future, who will guide the movement in the future.

Prabhupāda: They will guide. I am training them.

Interviewer: Will there be one spiritual leader, though?

Prabhupāda: No, I am training GBC, eighteen all over the world.

Disciple: His personal secretaries.

Interviewer: I see.

Disciple: To see that the original teachings that Prabhupāda has given are not in any way changed.

(Interview, 10/6/76, Los Angeles)

As a supplementary note regarding the GBC, before making his disappearance from our vision Srila Prabhupada wrote a Declaration of Will which stated:

The Governing Body Commission (GBC) will be the ultimate managing authority of the entire International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Each temple will be an ISKCON property and will be managed by three executive directors. The system of management will continue as it is now and there is no need of any change. […]

The executive directors who have herein been designated are appointed for life. In the event of death or failure to act for any reason of any of the said directors, a successor director or directors may be appointed by the remaining directors, provided the new director is my initiated disciple following strictly all the rules and regulations of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as detailed in my books, and provided that there are never less than three (3) or more than five (5) executive directors acting at one time.

The Governing Body Commissioners are managers who are meant to always be initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada. This system is never to be changed. Now does that mean it should be changed when Srila Prabhupada is no longer physically present? How are directors expected to be replaced with initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada if Srila Prabhupada stopped initiating after his disappearance? This question is flawed. Srila Prabhupada did not stop initiating; He ordered for initiations to continue to be done on his behalf (see July 9th letter), with newly initiated devotees becoming his disciples.

The duty of the GBC and every other disciple of Srila Prabhupada for that matter is “to see that the original teachings that Prabhupāda has given are not in any way changed”, as the disciple put it. This is what it means to be a successor.

Srila Prabhupada’s success is in his teachings – his books. To preserve and continue to spread these teachings without change is to act in the capacity of a successor in the authorized disciplic succession. To change these teachings would put one outside of the disciplic succession.

Srila Prabhupada was asked what would happen to the movement when he “died”, to which he replied “I will never die. I shall live for my books, and you will utilize.” (Press conference, 16/7/75, San Francisco) Srila Prabhupada’s answer makes it clear that his success is already there in his books and teachings. No successor is needed if Srila Prabhupada is still living through his books, but then how is the disciplic succession carried on? In that sense, it is carried on by his disciples spreading his success by distributing his books, preaching his message. That is the sum and substance of the disciplic succession:

Now, this spiritual master’s succession is not very difficult. Of course, my students, they offer me so much respect, but all these respects are due to my spiritual master. I am nothing. I am just like peon. Just like peon delivers one letter. He is not responsible for what is written in that letter. He is not responsible for what is written in that letter. He simply delivers. But a peon’s duty is that he must sincerely carry out the order of the postmaster and deliver the letter to the proper person. That is their duty. Similarly, this paramparā system is like that. Every one of us should become a spiritual master because the world is in blazing fire. (aside:) You can give them prasādam. Now, of course, time is very high. So to understand the spiritual master… Spiritual master is not a new invention. It is simply following the orders of the spiritual master. So all my students present here who are feeling so much obliged… I am also obliged to them because they are helping me in this missionary work. At the same time, I shall request them all to become spiritual master. Every one of you should be spiritual master next. And what is their duty? Whatever you are hearing from me, whatever you are learning from me, you have to distribute the same in toto without any addition or alteration. Then all of you become the spiritual master. That is the science of becoming spiritual master.” (Festival Lectures : Sri Vyasa-puja — Hamburg, September 5, 1969)

Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu teaches us to become a spiritual master or guru in the same way:

So how everyone can become a spiritual master? A spiritual master must have sufficient knowledge, so many other qualifications. No. Even without any qualifications, one can become a spiritual master. How? Now the process is, Caitanya Mahāprabhu says, āmāra ājñāya: “On My order.” That is the crucial point. One does not become spiritual master by his own whims. That is not spiritual master. He must be ordered by superior authority. Then he’s spiritual master. Āmāra ājñāya. Just like in our case. Our superior authority, our spiritual master, he ordered me that “You just try to preach this gospel, whatever you have learned from me, in English.” So we have tried it. That’s all. It is not that I am very much qualified. The only qualification is that I have tried to execute the order of superior authority. That’s all. This is the secret of success.” (Lecture: Bhagavad-gita 2.2 — London, August 3, 1973)

On one hand it is stated in sastra that:

The guru must be situated on the topmost platform of devotional service. There are three classes of devotees, and the guru must be accepted from the topmost class.” (Cc Madhya-lila 24.330 Purport)

There is no possibility that a first-class devotee will fall down, even though he may mix withnondevotees to preach.”   (Cc Madhya-lila 22.71 Purport)

One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of uttama-adhikārī. A neophyte Vaiṣṇava or a Vaiṣṇava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikārī as a spiritual master.” (Nectar of Instruction 5)

But the instruction for us is stated herein:

One should not try to be an artificially advanced devotee, thinking, “I am a first-class devotee.” Such thinking should be avoided. It is best not to accept any disciples. One has to become purified at home by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and preaching the principles enunciated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Thus one can become a spiritual master and be freed from the contamination of material life.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta – 1975 Edition – Madhya-lila 7.130 purport)

So to be a spiritual master or successor in Srila Prabhupada’s institution  – in Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan movement – does not necessitate one to be at the topmost platform of devotional service, or an uttama-adhikari, because actually Srila Prabhupada did not intend for his successors to function in the exact capacity as an uttama-ahikari spiritual master, initiating disciples left and right but to simply repeat what he has spoken in his books and lectures, distribute his books, etc. This is how one acts as a spiritual master and successor in the disciplic succession today. The topmost qualification aspect, the accepting of disciples — this is left to Srila Prabhupada, who has so mercifully extended his mercy in that way for the entire world to take advantage of – for those who are furtunate.