A Letter On Guru

Dear Esteemed Vaishnava Friends,

Pranamas . . . I’m writing to each and all of you to inform you that I have agreed to formally accept a Vaishnava disciple. Over twenty years I have turned away those who have approached me for dīkshā in the ISKCON fashion, i.e., authorized gurus toward whom ISKCON devotees are funneled. However, I have never accepted the idea of an institutionalized relationship between myself and anyone. And I certainly have never accepted any institutionalized shīksha relationships based on our sacred Krishna Bhakti tradition. So how then would I have accepted any dīkshā relationships approved by the institution of ISKCON?

It was easy to turn away the many devotees who had approached me over the years by saying “I’m not authorized. Go find someone who is approved by the GBC.” They were shopping for an authorized Guru, a relationship that is based on an institutional process. Their request to me was not based on a relationship with me, and thus it was easy to turn away all those individuals.

But several years ago, I had met a B.A. student at the University of Virginia (UVA). He had originally become introduced to Krishna Bhakti in his home town of New Delhi when he was a teen, and later through Mayapriya and Amitacara and their Bhakti Yoga Club at UVA. He became acquainted with my presentations of Krishna Bhakti through the Club and through temple lectures at Potomac and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. We also had many talks as he was entering into a Ph.D. program at UVA in history. Naturally a relationship had developed over the few years of knowing him, and he asked me in 2015 for dīkshā. He explained to me that for many years he had been traveling the world, especially Europe, South Africa, and India, attending classes at ISKCON temples presented by many devotees. His claim to me was that he cannot trust anyone with the sacred Krishna Bhakti philosophy and the way of approaching the philosophy the way he can with me. He knew that my policy was generally to not offer dīkshā, but he persisted and insisted and based on our relationship, I acquiesced.  

We agreed that he should wait a year, despite the fact that he’s been practicing for seven years. I wanted to see if he was just as serious a year later even after expressing such compelling reasons. A year later he was even more intensely desiring this initiation. So last week, August 2016, we had a small ceremony at my home. I gave him the name Premānanda Vilāsa Dāsa.

I have been a loyal and supportive person of ISKCON since 1972. Nothing has changed. I am not starting a new “movement,” a new sect, or anything that should threaten ISKCON at all. So no fears. And I neither condemn nor condone the ISKCON institutionalization of relationships that others may want to work with, including the guru-shishya relationship, but it will never be for me. I will never accept an institutionalized relationship with a student, nor will I accept ISKCON’s rejection of my going ahead with this dīkshā relationship, nor will I accept their retroactive acceptance of it. 

On the other hand, I didn’t want any of you to hear about this from anyone else before hearing about it from me. Guru brothers and sisters who already have heard about this from me have generously supported Premananda Vilasaji and me in this and have told me that Premananda Vilasa would have every privilege to participate in temple sevā for which he would be qualified as a twice initiated disciple afforded to any ISKCON initiated disciple. 

But I’m sure there will be others who will object, and will perhaps even harshly shun Premananda Vilasaji or myself, as I have experienced and witnessed too often in ISKCON as a collection of devotees who can too easily become intensely judgemental, demeaning and depersonalizing for the sake of putting the institution of ISKCON above and beyond any personal, ethical, and even spiritual considerations. 

Feel free to express any feelings whatsoever about this to me directly. I will value them for sure. And thank you for your attention to this.

Daso ‘smi premni,

Garuda Das

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