Challenging the Authority of
Srila Prabhupada’s Books


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 68, Vol 1, 2021

Prominent ISKCON "scholar" and GBC-authorised guru HH Hridayananda Dasa Goswami ("HD") has posted a paper on his website, titled "Understanding Prabhupada". The quotes in the shaded boxes below are from this paper. All emphases added.

In his paper, HD also quotes from an earlier paper that was authored by GBC voted-in guru Drutakarma Dasa ("DK") on behalf of a GBC-appointed "Hermeneutic" Committee of which HD was also a member. Henceforward, we shall refer to this earlier paper quoted by HD as "HP" for the Hermeneutic Committee Paper. In the HP answers are given to specific questions asked by the GBC regarding how followers of Srila Prabhupada should understand Srila Prabhupada's statements, because an aim of the committee was to discern:

"principles by which devotees should understand the statements of Prabhupada [...]"

Purports not authoritative

"GBC: What is the status of Prabhupada's statements not drawn from shastra?
DK: [...] in purports, letters, lectures and conversations, Prabhupada made other statements [...] on worldly topics with no reference to sastra. If Prabhupada's followers find direct sastric support for these words, Prabhupada's words are taken as authoritative. [...] Prabhupada's non-sastric predictions may not come true."

It is concluded that unless one can first find "direct sastric support" for every statement Srila Prabhupada makes in his purports which is deemed to be on a "worldly" topic, those statements cannot be accepted as "authoritative". HD further adds that since Lord Krsna did not write Srila Prabhupada's books, we cannot accept that Srila Prabhupada's statements in his purports on "worldly" or material subjects must be free from mistakes:

"we cannot claim that Lord Krsna directly wrote every word, and therefore any statement in Prabhupada's books on a material subject must be infallible."

Mistakes in purports

"GBC: Can there be mistakes in Prabhupada's statements?
DK: [...] Apart from mistakes in grammar, recalling verses, or details of material affairs, one may question an interpretation of sastra in a non-siddhanta matter. For example, based on the Fifth Canto, Prabhupada said that the moon is further away from the earth than the sun. There are some problems here."

The HP then goes on to offer reasons as to why they believe Srila Prabhupada was mistaken in his understanding of the Fifth Canto. Thus, in the quote above, the HP first references their earlier statement regarding Srila Prabhupada's purports on "worldly topics" as "mistakes in details of material affairs", and then adds that even Srila Prabhupada's purports on sastric topics can also be mistaken.

Thus, in conclusion, statements in Srila Prabhupada's books and purports which deal with both "worldly" and "sastric" subjects can be considered to not be authoritative, and rather can be "mistakes", if they are not supported by what the HP considers to be "direct sastric support".

Mr. Hypocrite

One cannot help but be amused that HD is party to this challenge of Srila Prabhupada's purports, demanding that they be substantiated with "direct sastric support". Because, as we covered in BTP 51, in "The Unauthorised Cantos", it was some of HD's own purports to his translation of the 11th Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam which were so nonsensical, that they later had to be deleted!

Maybe he should have found "direct sastric support" for his statements before daring to challenge Srila Prabhupada's purports. That article can be read here.

Not authorised to challenge

HD attempts to justify the need to "confirm" Srila Prabhupada's words against sastra by invoking "guru, sadhu and sastra", and claiming that is how we must "understand" Srila Prabhupada:

"How do we understand Prabhupada? The same we understand all spiritual knowledge – by guru, sadhu and sastra. Prabhupada himself always taught this."

To substantiate this point he states:

"After all, we are taught not to accept a guru until we confirm by realization and Sastra that his or her teachings are bona fide and true. Prabhupada himself always taught this."

But, in stating this, he has perfectly explained why such "testing" should not be done. For he states that such testing is only to be done in order to confirm if the guru is bona fide. However, in ISKCON Srila Prabhupada is already accepted by everyone as a bona fide spiritual master and Acarya, and Srila Prabhupada has not taught that the bona fide spiritual master must have every statement he makes continually tested by his disciples to see if it is "confirmed" by sastra. Rather, after accepting the bona fide spiritual master, one must fully surrender to his every word without question:

"Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu says that "I accept the order of My spiritual master in toto, without any interpretation, without any argument, without any understanding. Whatever he has said, it is all right." This is acceptance of spiritual master. [...] You cannot argue."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 8/2/67)

Note, this refers only to one who is an authorised, bona fide guru, such as Srila Prabhupada. Unauthorised GBC gurus are not bona fide to begin with.

The purports are authoritative

Srila Prabhupada described his purports as being completely bona fide:

Srila Prabhupada: "Sometimes I become surprised how I have written this. Although I am the writer, still sometimes I am surprised how these things have come. Such vivid description. Where is such literature throughout the whole world? It is all Krsna's mercy. Every line is perfect."
Tamala Krsna: "The purports are as nice as the slokas."
Srila Prabhupada: "It is explained in this way."
(Conversation, 28/6/77)

"Regarding preaching work: If you simply reproduce verbatim the purports which I have given in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and chant Hare Krishna with ecstasy, that will be sufficient for your preaching work, and as you do it seriously and sincerely, Krishna gives you more and more strength"
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 10/6/68)

Thus, Srila Prabhupada always speaks of his books and purports as one integral and complete bona fide entity. Hence, Srila Prabhupada never stated:

1) That some lines of his purports are authoritative, and others are not.
2) And that therefore his disciples should critically analyse each statement of his purports to see which ones are "directly supported by sastra" and then only declare those as being authoritative and consider that the other statements could be "mistakes".

Anything "unpopular" challenged

The HP also states that any statement from Srila Prabhupada which is "non-siddhanta", can be challenged by a follower of Srila Prabhupada where it is "socially unacceptable" and "unpopular":

"GBC: How should Prabhupada's followers understand and apply his statements that are largely socially unacceptable?
DK: [...] ISKCON members may respectfully question the utility of Prabhupada's non-siddhanta statements that disturb the modern world. [...] Here is a statement about women, made by Srila Prabhupada, that was unpopular when he made it, and would be unpopular today: ‘Where is woman philosopher, mathematician, scientist? Not a single [one].' [Morning walk Bombay, Jan 9, 1977]
If a member of ISKCON were questioned about this particular statement, it would be best to concede that Srila Prabhupada was mistaken. There are many women scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers."

However, if one actually reads Srila Prabhupada's statements in full, then one can understand the statement in context. And doing that here will enable one to not have to "concede" that Srila Prabhupada was "mistaken":

"Where is woman philosopher, mathematician, scientist? Not a single. [...] How they can have equal rights? Up to date in the history there is not a single woman who is a great scientist or great philosopher or great..."
(Srila Prabhupada, Morning Walk, 9/1/77)

Srila Prabhupada goes on to explain that he was referring to a "great scientist" or "great philosopher", etc., and only up until that time in January 1977 – "up to date in the history". And, since Srila Prabhupada does not reveal here exactly what he means by "great", one cannot claim that there did exist before 1977, "great" women philosophers, etc., in the sense that Srila Prabhupada meant, and that therefore he was definitely mistaken. Thus, rather than considering what may "disturb the modern world", which itself continually changes, one should try to use one's intelligence to defend Srila Prabhupada instead of being quick to accept that Srila Prabhupada made a mistake.

Srila Prabhupada conditioned

"DK: Srila Prabhupada's views were certainly not completely dictated by his cultural and historical context. [...] Srila Prabhupada's... core values and understandings were those of a pure devotee of Krishna."

Consistent with the earlier statements that Srila Prabhupada's scriptural writings are not completely authoritative and free from mistakes, the HP now gives an "explanation" for why this would be the case. It states that:

a) Only Srila Prabhupada's "core" values and understandings were those of a pure devotee of Krsna.
b) His views were "not completely dictated" by his "cultural" context, meaning that some of his views were "dictated" by his cultural context.

But to claim that Srila Prabhupada was even partially materially influenced is untrue, for a pure devotee is always above material influences:

"A pure devotee, [...] is always above material conditioning and is always liberated."
(SB, 4.29.65, purport)

Time, place, circumstance

"DK: In chapter 6 of NOD, Rupa Gosvami and Prabhupada distinguish between the unvarying basic principles of bhakti, and variable details that can be adjusted according to time, place, and circumstances. In his purport to SBh 4.8.54, and elsewhere, Prabhupada strongly urges that we adjust details according to time, place, and circumstances. He did not claim that only he could or should make such adjustments."

In an attempt to continue to undermine Srila Prabhupada's authority, the HP also claims that the details of bhakti can be changed according to time, place and circumstances, presumably by anyone, since they claim Srila Prabhupada did not state that only he could make such changes. They cite the purport to SB 4.8.54. However, the purport they cite specifically speaks of acaryas, such as Srila Prabhupada, making changes:

"One has to consider the particular time, country and conveniences. [...] Those who are not actually in the line of acaryas, or who personally have no knowledge of how to act in the role of acarya, unnecessarily criticize the activities of the ISKCON movement [...]"
(SB, 4.8.54, purport)

Given this, one would need a statement from Srila Prabhupada that those who are not the Acarya can change the details of the practices involved in bhakti which he has given – but neither HD nor the HP present such a statement.


Unfortunately, there is nothing new in some disciples of Srila Prabhupada seeing "mistakes" in his books. Srila Prabhupada had addressed the situation when it happened during his physical presence as follows:

Radha-vallabha: "He thinks, "If I think I see a mistake, what should I think?" I'll tell him what you just said."
Srila Prabhupada: "He cannot see mistake. He is mistake."
(Room Conversation, 27/2/77)

By and large the rank and file in ISKCON still consider all the words in Srila Prabhupada's books to be totally authoritative, having been directly guided by Lord Krsna, with Srila Prabhupada acting as his pure instrument. It is regrettable that some of their own leaders may not fully share this sentiment.

However, regardless of what anyone in ISKCON may think, rest assured that the IRM will always fight to defend Srila Prabhupada and his authority in all circumstances.

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