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Sectarianism in Spiritual Life

Post Author: Swami Gaurangapada    Date: 2006-01-24 18:42:05
Sectarianism in Spiritual Life

Q. What are your views about institutionalized sectarianism in spiritual life?

A. by Swami Gaurangapada:

"My standing instructions and humble request to all my disciples and devotees is to never criticize or belittle or minimize in any way whatsoever any Vaishnava organization or devotees in any way in public forums or even privately. Try to discuss about these sectarian society issues the minimum, tending towards zero. Please always see the good qualities in other Vaishnava institutions, devotees etc. and glorify their good qualities. Please never consider your own guru as better than any contemporary guru or acharyas. Please never think there are no advanced and bonafide Vaishnavas outside your group. All these are vicious obstacles to Bhakti and will destroy the tender bhakti-lata-bija. If you see something wrong in other devotees, do not criticise behind the back of that devotee or group because such criticism is useless and harmful. You can approach such a devotee or group and humbly point out the mistake if that is possible otherwise leave it upto to Gurudeva and Lords Nityananda and Gauranga to correct and rectify that wrong doing. Please continue with your own devotional service. Critcising those whom we cannot help is like spitting in the air. The result is that it all comes down and falls on us and makes us contaminated. So please avoid this at all costs."

Before beginning this discussion on sectarianism in spiritual life, we would like to state that we  fully respect and whole-heartedly appreciate the great preaching work which different Gaudiya Vaishnava organizations like ISKCON, the different Gaudiya Maths etc. are performing in this world. This preaching is surely creating auspiciousness in this world. This article is a philosophical perpective of sectarianism and not directed towards any institution or devotees.

Also I would like to make clear that I personally do not manage any institution or institutionalized properties, funds etc nor am even remotely interested in doing so. I am also not a founder or an official member of any institution or organization. I have my own personal bhajana ashram in Shri Puri Dhama and personal writing, chanting, publishing and preaching services. Gauranga Dharma or Gauranga Krishna consciousness is the eternal nature and characteristic of the soul and not an institution. Disciples and devotees can start charitable non-profit institutions etc. and have properties, funds  etc. but I will have no connection with the direct management, properties and funds of such institutions. I will give my full spiritual support to such institutions, orgs etc. from outside if they are for the purpose of spreading the pure Holy Names and Pastimes of Nityananda, Gauranga and Hare Krishna but my primary service will remain to contribute spiritual literature and audio katha for the preaching of the Holy Names.

Shrila Prabhupada writes:

"There are many societies and associations of pure devotees, and if someone with just a little faith begins to associate with such societies, his advancement to pure devotional service is rapid." (Nectar of Devotion: Chapter Nineteen p.41)

Comment by Swami Gaurangapada:

When Shrila Prabhupada himself states that there are many societies and associations of pure devotees not just one and he himself recommends sanga with them for rapid spiritual advancement, then it is expected of his followers also to respect these societies or devotees outside thie group and thus respect these words of Shrila Prabhupada.
Shrila Prabhupada writes that: "Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami gives equal respect to all the preachers of the cult of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who are compared to the branches of the tree. Iskcon is one of these branches." (Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi-lila 10.7, purport)

Comment by Swami Gaurangapada:

When Shrila Prabhupada states that Iskcon is one the branches of the Gauranga tree, it means that there are many other branches also. And each branch has to respect the other branch since each of them is a part of the body of Lord Gauranga.


Thakura Bhaktivinoda in Krishna Samhita 8.22: Sloka and Purport are by him:

sampradaya-virodho 'yam davanalo vicintyate

“The eleventh obstacle for the Vaishnavas is sectarianism, which takes the shape of the forest fire. Due to sectarianism a person cannot accept anyone outside of his own group as a Vaishnava, and as a result he faces many obstacles in finding a guru and associating with sincere devotees. Therefore extinguishing the forest fire is most important by giving up this mentality.”


"Party spirit - that great enemy of the truth - will always baffle the attempt of the inquirer who tries to gather truth from the religious works of his nation and will make him believe that the Absolute Truth is nowhere except in his old religious book." (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur)


"A sannyasi should have an institution meant to preach Krishna consciousness" SB 7.13.34 Shrila Prabhupada


"Therefore, in the line of Lord Chaitanya even the sannyasis can speak about Krishna consciousness everywhere, and if someone is seriously inclined to become a disciple, the sannyasi always accepts him. The one point is that without increasing the number of disciples, there is no propagation of the cult of Krishna consciousness."(SP in NOD 7)


"The idea of an organized church in an intelligible form, indeed, marks the close of the living spiritual movement. the great ecclesiastical establishments are the dikes and dams to retain the current that cannot be held by any such contrivances. They, indeed, indicate a desire on the part of the masses to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bonafide spiritual teacher. The people of this world understand preventive systems, they can have no idea of the unprevented positive eternal life. Neither can there be any earthly contrivance for the permanent preservation of the life eternal on this mundane plane on the popular scale." (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Harmonist 29.7)


As per Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada above no external arrangements, societies, and institutions in this world will remain forever, infact mostly they may remain for the number of years the Founder is personally present on this planet or for a few years or decades more. But Gauranga Krishna consciousness is not like that because it is the eternal religion and function of the soul in relation to Lord Gauranga-Krishna so the various societies under Gauranga Krishna consciousness may come and go but it will remain forever and will triumph for the next 10,000 years

ISKCON was formed by Shrila Prabhupada also as a part of the real Gaudiya Math because Shrila Prabhupada actually tried to fulfill the orders of his Guru Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada by leaving Gaudiya Math and forming ISKCON. Can you say that since the name of ISKCON is different from Gaudiya Math which his Guru Maharaj has originally founded, Shrila Prabhupada left his spiritual master? No, that would be the greatest offense because all of Shrila Prabhupada's endeavours were simply to please his Guru Maharaj Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada.

We have instructed all our disciples and devotees to try to cooperate with any Gaudiya Vaishnava institution as much as possible if they accept the process of regular chanting of the Nityananda and Gauranga Mantrarajas along with the the Hare Krishna Mahamantra and have asked all our devotees to never ever minimize in public or private the preaching efforts of any Gaudiya Vaishnava institution or devotees. We are not interested simply in increasing the number of followers and all our followers are free to visit any temples and associate with all devotees and Gurus of all Gaudiya Vaishnava institutions if there is no minimization of the sublime process of chanting of the Nityananda and Gauranga Mantrarajas along with the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. Even if some uninitiated devotee guided by us desires to accept initiation from another bonafide Gaudiya Vaishnava Guru from any other institution, he or she is welcome to do so.

An Acharya like Shrila Prabhupada is a Jagadguru, just like a sun. A sun is never Indian, American, Chinese etc. Anyone can bask in the sunlight in any country. Similarly anyone can take up the practice and preaching of the Acharya's instructions and please him and Their Lordships Shri Shri Nityananda-Gauranga anywhere in the world whether officially inside the society founded by the acharya or outside the four walls of the soceity or in some other organizational setup. One's external standing in any particular organization has nothing to do whatsoever with the implementation of the practice of the teachings and instructions of the illustrious Acharya. How can ever try to limit the teachings of the Acharyas to simply one institution for the next 10,000 years. For eg is the teachings of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada and Seventh Goswami Shrila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura limited for only Gaudiya Math? No all devotees in the whole world can hear, preach, and practice them in their lives. Same is with Shrila Prabhupada's teachings.

Some say that one cannot please Shrila Prabhupada outside the ISKCON institution. It is like saying that one cannot get sunlight if one leaves a particular country. It is also like saying that no devotee is ISKCON can please Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada because they are situated in a different institution than Gaudiya Math, the institution which he actually founded and which he also told that no one should leave. We know that is not true. All the devotees can please the previous acharyas by sincere following their Vani even if they are situated in some other institution or no institution at all.

Infact the true spirit of the Acharya is there where a devotee is sincerely trying to follow and practice the teachings of the Acharya whether inside or outside the four walls of an institution. Sometimes a person maybe externally be within the four walls of very society founded by the Acharya but if one is deviating from the instructions of the Acharya, Gurus, Sadhus and Shastra, one cannot actually be in the pure Vaishnava society as envisioned by the Acharya. That is what is meant by Krishna or Gauranga consciousness. Walls cannot have consciousness, it is in the devotees' hearts. The allegiance to an Acharya's teachings is not a sectarian or institutional phenomenon.

As Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta points out in his extraordinary quote above, that an organizational arrangement created by the unconventional Acharya who descended from the spiritual world may or may not last after his physical departure but his eternal teachings are actually the life and soul of his followers who may be born even after 1000 years from now. As per the Gita, even the parampara started by Krishna Himself got lost due to the degrading effect of time. Then what to speak of institutions. So it does'nt make sense to simply be stuck up in the shadow or the externals of the four walls of an organization which is anyway going to wither away by time and thus look down on those who are not part of one's institution. The real thing to consider is the vani of the Acharyas. Because through this medium they eternally remain in this realm guiding their followers who may be externally situated in some other organization or in no external organization at all.

It strengthens the mission of Shrila Prabhupada and Lord Gauranga to have many missions and societies preaching his message. Because if something happens to one society the others can atleast carry on. That is why Shrila Prabhupada himself made ISKCON and BBT separate. The real ISKCON is not simply an earthly legal society of bricks and walls but the society where the vani of Shrila Prabhupada, the Acharyas and Their Lordships Shri Shri Nityananda-Gauranga is practiced and preached. Shrila Narada Muni, Shrila Shukadeva Goswami, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura etc. are in the real ISKCON because they are in 100% Gauranga-Krishna consciousness. Unless we are 100% Gauranga-Krishna Conscious, we can never be a part a 100% part of the real ISKCON. The real ISKCON is krishna rasa bhavita matih as stated by Shrila Rupa Goswami and is so glorious.

A Vaishnava organization meant for preaching should understand that it is one of the branches of Gaudiya Parampara. But if it claims that it is the only branch and rejects the devotees in other organizations outright, it commits an offense of indulging in partisan, bigoted and dogmatic sectarian considerations which lead to mass-scale Vaishnava aparadha. This has repeatedly happened in the past and everyone knows the consequences also. So one should fear to criticize others at the drop of the hat just based on a narrow-minded, bigoted and sectarian institutional understanding. It should not become a habit or an intoxication to indulge in minimizing devotees outside one's devotee group. One should think of the dire consequences for themselves if it just happens that the person being minimized has genuine desires to please Guru and Gauranga even though he may be apparently acting or preaching in a externally separate group than the us. If one gets into the habit of critcising other devotees inside one's own group, it is so easy to end up criticising other devotees who are outside of one's group without caring a least to try to find out about the genuinity of intentions. Both internal and external mud-slinging should not become a part of our spiritual life or a strong irrevocable habit otherwise we become close-minded and sectarian in spiritual life.

CONCLUSION: One should thus associate and hear from Nityananda Gauranga Bhaktas not on the basis of such a narrow-minded secular organizational understanding rather one should consider how nicely they have imbibed and preaching the instructions of Guru and Gauranga and how much faith they have in the process of chanting the Holy Names of Nityananda, Gauranga and Hare Krishna.


Spiritual Sectarianism
by Shrila Sacchidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura in Shri Krishna Samhita

Sectarianism is a natural byproduct of the Absolute Truth. When acaryas first ascertain and instruct the Truth, it is not polluted with sectarianism. But the rules and regulations received through disciplic succession regarding the goal and the method of achieving it are changed in due course of time according to the mentality and locale of the people. A rule that is followed by one society is not necessarily accepted in another society. That is why one community is different from another. As a community gradually develops more respect for its own standards, it develops hatred towards other communities and considers their standards inferior. These sectarian symptoms are seen in all countries since time immemorial. This is prominent amongst neophytes and found to some extent amongst madhyama-adhikaris. Amongst uttama-adhikaris, however, there is no trace of sectarianism.

Adherence to a particular standard is the prominent symptom of a society. There are three types of standards—alocakagata, alocanagata and alocyagata. Alocakagata is when sectarianists accept some external signs. Examples of alocakagata are tilaka, neck beads, saffron robes, and the baptism that is practiced abroad. The different activities practiced in the process of worship are called alocanagata. Examples of alocanagata are sacrifices, austerities, fire sacrifices, vows, studying scriptures, deity worship, constructing temples, respecting the purity of various trees and rivers, dressing like sannyasis, acting like acaryas, dressing like brahmacaris or grhasthas, closing one's eyes, respecting particular types of books, rules and regulations in eating, and respecting the purity of particular times and places. The examples of alocyagata are attributing personalism or impersonalism on the Supreme Lord, installing deities, exhibiting the mood of an incarnation of the Lord, speculating on heaven and hell, and describing the future destination of the soul.

The different forms of these spiritual activities create divisions of sectarianism. Differences that arise from places, times, languages, behaviors, foods, dresses, and natures of various communities are incorporated within people's spiritual practices and gradually make one community so completely different from another community that even the consideration that everyone is a human being may cease to exist. Due to these differences there is disagreement, cessation of social intercourse, and fighting, even up to the point of killing on another. When an ass-like mentality becomes prominent within the kanishta-adhikaris, they certainly indulge in these things. But if they develop a swanlike mentality, then they do not take part in quarrels; rather, they endeavor to attain a higher level. Madhyama-adhikaris do not quarrel so much about external standards, but they are always attacked by philosophical disagreements. Sometimes they condemn the standards as superior. They condemn the neophytes' deity worship in order to establish the worship-able Lord as formless. In such cases, they are also considered ass-like people.

Otherwise, if they had a swanlike mentality and a desire to attain a higher level, they would respect others' practices and inquire about higher topics. Contradictions actually arise only due to ass-like mentality. Swanlike persons consider the necessity for different practices to one's qualification, so they are naturally detached from sectarian quarrels. In this regard, it should be understood that both ass-like and swanlike people are found amongst the kanishta-adhikaris and madhyama-adhikaris.

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