“One’s Own Spiritual Master Is Best”
Volume 1, Chapter 12
Monday May 29, 1995
We held a morning program with about fifty local devotees in a park in Novorossisk. Govinda Maharaja gave class, and during his lecture I met with my local disciples.
I asked an aspiring woman disciple, who lives outside the temple, what type of work she did. She hesitated at first and then said she worked as a nurse in an abortion clinic.
I was shocked.
She said she didn’t help with the abortions, but simply took care of the patients afterwards. I told her she had to find another job immediately. In order to giver her time to find other work, I arranged to give her money, as she supports her husband and three children.
During our discussion she revealed the horrors of the abortion clinic. Sometimes when doctors perform abortions during the seventh month of pregnancy, the child comes out alive, often crying.
Again I was shocked. “What do the doctors do with the child?” I asked.
“They kill it,” she replied.
I immediately thought of Srila Prabhupada’s statement in Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead: “A saintly person can tolerate all kinds of difficulty, a learned man can do his duty without awaiting favorable circumstances, a devotee of the Lord can sacrifice everything to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and a heinous person like Kamsa can act in any sinful way.”
While I was speaking to my disciples, Govinda Maharaja finished his class and took a short walk in the park with Sri Prahlada and two of his own disciples who have joined our tour from India: Vinoda Bihari dasa from Ukraine and Krsna Prasada dasa from Nepal.
While they were sitting on a park bench, a curious thing happened. They were approached by a well-dressed man who told them that he knew our movement was under scrutiny by the FSK and that the FSK would soon make a move against us.
When the devotees asked how he knew this, the man replied that he had worked in electronic surveillance for the KGB for ten years and that he maintained contact with his friends who were part of the FSK. He asked what we were going to do if the FSK cracked down.
The devotees immediately understood he was an FSK agent trying to gain their confidence in the hope they would tell him what they knew about ISKCON’s strategy.
“We’ll depend on God, Krsna,” Sri Prahlada said.
“To say that you’re neither for something nor against something means that you are against it,” the agent said.
This didn’t have anything to do with the immediate discussion, but the devotees knew why he had said it. It was the philosophy the government was preaching to their agents: anything that is not part of Russian heritage and Russian ideology is against it. The conversation continued, but the devotees were careful not to say anything that would reveal what our movement planned to do.
When Govinda Maharaja told me about the incident, I felt uneasy. The situation was becoming as it was six years ago, when I always felt that someone was watching me during my visits to Russia. Once again we were being followed and watched, once again we were at the mercy of the secret service. In 1990 they had been told to leave all religious organizations alone, but now they were investigating again. Will it become like it was? The pressure gets to you sometimes. I thought of places like Australia and New Zealand, where the devotees are free to preach. That freedom of religion is meaning more to me these days.
This evening we drove back to Krasnodar to catch a flight to Azerbaijan early tomorrow. When we arrived at our apartment I checked my e-mail, and found a letter from one of my initiated disciples, where she expressed a desire to take her second initiation from another spiritual master. I always encourage my disciples to take shelter of, and inspiration from, other spiritual masters, but this came as a shock to me.
I have never heard of such a thing in our disciplic succession, that a disciple takes second initiation from another spiritual master. And her desire indicates a loss of faith in my ability to guide her in spiritual life. It is also painful in that it shows a lack of gratitude on her part for all I have done for her: taking the responsibility to help her in Krsna consciousness, accepting her karma, counseling her in her difficulties… As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati once said, “It takes gallons of blood to make a conditioned soul into a devotee.”
At the same time I don’t want to discourage her. My desire is to see her progress in devotional service. If she is inspired by the association of another spiritual master I want to encourage her, but it must be done in accordance with Vaisnava etiquette.
So I wrote to her quoting from Sri Krsna–bhajanamrta by Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura, translated by His Holiness Jayapataka Maharaja and published by the Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust.
In verse 46 Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura says, “If one’s initiating spiritual master and instructing spiritual master are of small spiritual potency, or in other words, if they do not possess a special power to give spiritual instruction on worship for devotional service, then one may listen from the mouth of other great advanced Vaisnavas and understand their special instructions. However, thereafter, the disciple must go to his spiritual master for confirmation or instructions.”
In verse 48 he says, “Just as a faithful son may go out for earning money and subsequently brings to his father the wealth gained, later the son may ask for some allowance from the father and whatever he receives from the father he is entitled to spend for his own enjoyment. Similarly, a disciple may hear some instructions from another advanced Vaisnava, but after gaining that good instruction he must bring it and present it to his own spiritual master. After presenting them he should hear the same teachings again from his spiritual master with appropriate instructions.”
Then in verse 50 Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura says, “For this reason, in all circumstances all Vaisnavas are offered respect as one offers respect to one’s spiritual master. However, with body, mind, and words one serves one’s own spiritual master.”
Finally, in verse 51 he says, “even if in the performance of one’s devotional activities one has disobeyed the spiritual master, still one should not give him up, but should remain faithfully with him, because all authorities say that the shelter of one’s own spiritual master is best and perfect, even if another spiritual master is more powerful.”