The "three types of acarya" Myths

Winter 2004/5

Until the mid-1980s, it was always taught within ISKCON that the original eleven ritviks were carefully selected by Srila Prabhupada to act as initiating acaryas (spiritual masters or Gurus) due to the fact that they were uttama adhikaris, or devotees who had attained the topmost platform of devotional service (Guru Hoax, part 1).

Once these "acaryas" started "having sex with men, women and possibly children" (to use the published words of GBC-elected Guru Jayadvaita Swami), a new philosophy for a "relativised acarya" had to be hastily crafted which would simultaneously account for the behaviour of these current "acaryas" as well as allow for many more devotees to also become diksa Gurus, with the diksa Guru now no longer needing to be a liberated soul.

It was at this point that a letter, written many years before by a scholarly devotee called Pradyumna Das, was suddenly touted as the answer to ISKCON's Guru woes. Ravindra Svarupa Das (former GBC chairman and voted-in Guru) used this letter's redefinition of the term "acarya" as the basis of a paper that was instrumental in crafting the Guru Hoax, part 2, and thereby giving us the Guru system we have in ISKCON today.

This paper was called Under My Order, and was issued in 1985 on behalf of the US Temple Presidents who were rebelling against the Guru system in place at the time, wanting instead Guru-ship to be opened up to all of Srila Prabhupada's disciples. In the said paper, Ravindra Svarupa states:

"I have taken this definition of acarya from the letter of August 7th 1978, from Pradyumna to Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. The reader should now turn to this letter (which I have appended) for careful study."
(Under My Order, Ravindra Svarupa Das, August 1985)

Since these ideas regarding "acaryas" taken from Pradyumna's letter form part of the basis of ISKCON's current Guru system, below we will answer the myths that arose directly from Pradyumna's letter.

 1) MYTH:

"There is a fundamental difference between the terms 'spiritual master' or 'Guru' and the term 'acarya'."

According to Srila Prabhupada, the terms "Guru", "acarya" and "spiritual master" are all interchangeable:

"...a teacher or spiritual master is liable to be rejected if he proves himself unworthy of the position of a guru or spiritual master. A guru is called also an acarya..."
(Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.7.43, purport)

2) MYTH:

"There are three types of acaryas: one who teaches by example, one who initiates disciples (but who may not be fully liberated), and one who not only initiates but also heads up an institution and is worshipable by all as a fully liberated spiritual master."

According to Srila Prabhupada, there are just two categories of acarya or spiritual master, one who instructs (siksa) and one who initiates (diksa):

"The first manifestation described is the spiritual master, who appears in two plenary parts called the initiating spiritual master and instructing spiritual master."
(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 1, 'The Spiritual Masters')

The acarya who initiates disciples is defined as follows:

"In the Vayu Purana an acarya is defined as one who knows the import of all Vedic literature, explains the purpose of the Vedas, abides by their rules and regulations, and teaches his disciples to act in the same way."
(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 1.46, purport)

Srila Prabhupada never taught that there were two types of initiating acarya, one who could head up an institution and one who, through some unspecified disablement, could not. He only defined "acarya" as above.

3) MYTH:

"Anyone who grants initiation or is a guru may be called as "acaryadeva" etc by his disciples only.

Whoever has accepted him as guru must give all respects to him in every way, but this does not apply to those who are not his disciples." (Pradyumna Das, 7/8/78)

This definition of the word "acaryadeva" is completely at odds with the one given by Srila Prabhupada:

"...when we speak of the fundamental principle of Gurudeva, or Acaryadeva, we speak of something that is of universal application (...) he is the Jagad-Guru, or the Guru of all of us..."
(Srila Prabhupada's homage to his spiritual master, February 1936, emphasis added)

Thus Pradyumna's letter completely relativised the absolute position of the true initiating acarya, implying as it does the unauthorised philosophy that initiation (diksa) could be given by people who had not reached the topmost platform of devotional service, and were therefore only to be respected by those few unfortunates he was somehow able to dupe.

4) MYTH:

"But the GBC would never have adopted Pradyumna's ideas if they had not originated from Srila Prabhupada."

Pradyumna himself admits in his own letter:

"Much of the knowledge written here is not found in sastra."
(Pradyumna Das, 7/8/78)

He also gave a clear indication of the source of his ideas:

"Indeed in the different Gaudiya Mathas, even if one Godbrother is in the position of acarya ..."

Certainly his relativised, minimised initiating acarya theory is nowhere to be found within Srila Prabhupada's teachings. As we continue to document in BTP, these bogus ideas have proven disastrous for ISKCON.