Ethnicity and the Topmost Tannery Experts

kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya

“Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a shudra-regardless of what he is-he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krsna.”
Madhya 8.128

This verse from the Chaitanya-caritamrita is one of the most important verses in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya; no one would question this assertion. However, just as importantly, its misinterpretation or even neglect is conversely one of the most powerful aspects of deviation from the philosophy and process of the Absolute Truth, from the philosophy and process of Krishna Consciousness.

You can accept good instruction from any devotee, whether he was born as a shudra or even a mleccha, but the instruction must be bona fide. Knowledge and its transmission transcends all class considerations.

In the Krishna Consciousness movement, we do not at all emphasize the varnasrama-dharma; we emphasize instead bhakti sadhana as our main engagement. When Srila Prabhupada awarded brahmincal initiation to his Western disciples, he did so on the basis of their advancement in knowledge and detachment, not on the basis of their birth, which was a huge disqualification.

All devotees, having received the bhakti-lata-bija from His Divine Grace, are potentially capable of becoming guru, because knowledge of the science of Krishna is not on the material platform. It is on the platform of spirit, which remains forever transcendental to race, ethnic, national, or caste considerations.

But we are required to understand this divine science as it is, to be cognizant of all the intricacies of these Absolute teachings, in order to spread Krishna consciousness in the most potent and bona fide way. As long as a disciple in the line has received initiation through the genuine process from a real spiritual master, it does not matter what varna or asrama that guru occupies in order to make ends meet.

Srila Prabhupada said that he became spiritual master when his spiritual master ordered him to become guru. This principle applies to all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples as well (“But by my order”). If and/or when a devotee becomes free from all anarthas and understands the science of Krishna, his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, may order him to become guru despite the fact that this devotee took birth initially as a sinful Westerner.

Not only can he become a spiritual master at that point, but he must become one–otherwise he would be disobeying the orders of the shaktyavesh-avatar Sampradya Acharya (guror-avajna) and that would constitute an offense (Nama-aparadha) in chanting the Holy Name.

Even in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa it is enjoined that a newcomer to the line can accept diksha from a spiritual master who was not born in the brahminical order–if such a seeker is unable to find a fit person, a real guru, who was born in a brahmin family and is situated as an initiated, bona fide brahmin. In reality, however, this instruction is really meant for those Hindus who are overly absorbed in mundane considerations regarding ethnicity, nationality, birth, and the caste system.

Prabhupada considered the Hindus to be the topmost tannery experts. The fact of the matter is that as long as a newcomer to the line of bhakti sincerely and seriously seeks out a spiritual master in terms of genuine knowledge received from Srila Prabhupada and his disciples, then such a guru can be accepted from any previous or current caste or order of life. Such a guru must be fully conversant with the sacred science.

Such a spiritual master can be accepted as either a vartma-pradarshaka-guru, a siksha-guru, or a diksha-guru, because the actual qualification of the spiritual master is completely dependent upon his knowledge of the science of Krishna Consciousness. This is the injunction of Lord Chaitanya as presented in the initial quote of this section from Chaitanya-charitamrita. In the Padma Purana, that injunction of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is similarly confirmed:

na sudra bhagavad-bhaktas te ‘pi bhagavatottamah
sarva-varnesu te sudra ye na bhakta janardane

“One who is actually advanced in spiritual knowledge of Krishna is never a shudra, even though he may have been born in a shudra family. However, even if a vipra or brahmana is very expert in six brahminical activities and well versed in the Vedic hymns, he cannot become a spiritual master unless he is a Vaishnava.”

In the West, all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples were born even lower than shudras; they were all born in mleccha families. But even such a mleccha by birth can become purified, especially after having been awarded the sacred thread in a diksha initiation ceremony authorized, and often performed by, a bona fide spiritual master; for us, that spiritual master was Srila Prabhupada. A realized Vaishnava is in a spiritual position that is higher than that of a brahmin by birth.

Most unfortunately deviation occurs on both sides of this issue. We have seen that eleven unfit people jumped the gun and imitated uttama-adhikari. These fellows were mlecchas for most of their previous lives, and that mleccha element resurfaced in a most horrible way, culminating in this dreadful imitation. Eleven of them did this, and that was eleven too many.

We must accept all of Srila Prabhupada’s principles, which were previously enunciated by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Chaitanya five hundred years ago, as they are, without malinterpretation. Only in this way can the Krishna Consciousness movement once again re-emerge in its full glory.


1 Vikram { 03.30.10 at 16:04 }

What about women? I have heard they can’t be spiritual masters…why is that?

2 Kailasa Candra das { 04.01.10 at 07:44 }

The Vaishnava Foundation has never said that a soul within a female body cannot be a bona fide spiritual master. It is possible. It is more difficult for them in the conditioned state, for many reasons. All of those reasons will not be delineated here. However, why should females take to the process if they have no chance of becoming self-realized in the true sense of the term? They do have such chance, and they must have such chance. Anyone who transcends the influence of the coverings and is ordered by his or her bona fide guru to become guru will then be eligible (adhikara) to be guru. However, if what we are saying here is taken in a sahajiya spirit of easygoing cheap gurus/cheap disciples, then, if unqualified women still conditioned by, and under the strong influence of, the lower modes become so-called gurus, it will dumb down the whole thing even further than it has currently been degraded.

3 Nielsen { 01.27.13 at 10:55 }

Happy to hear uncompromised answer to this one. Completely in line with Srila Prabhupada who keeps it very simple:

“I want that all my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples.”
(SP Letter to Hamsadutta 3rd Dec 1975)

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