The danger of jumping over Srila Prabhupada
Last Gaura Purnima in Mayapur, there was a class where three senior devotees where discussing about how to understand contradictions in Prabhupada's teachings. The example of apparent contradictory instructions of Srila Prabhupada regarding the consumption of chocolate was given.
This is of course a problem in our society, because devotees like to enter into battles of quotes and if there are quotes on both sides of the question, it's difficult to find a conclusion.
The difficulty was that the message I got from it (at least the way I understood it) was that to understand the correct sidhanta about certain important points, we need to go beyond Prabhupada and study the scriptures directly. Although I have all the respect for the above mentioned devotees, and in no way want to discredit them or doubt their good intentions, this is a point I have a problem with.
I don't believe the authors of the seminar had the intention of making such a statement, but just as I understood it in this way, maybe other devotees could get the same idea I got, so I decided to write on how this idea would be dangerous
One of the most basic points about spiritual life is that we can't jump the acarya. We can't presume that we know the scriptures better than the guru or the sampradaya acharya. Rather, our mentality should be that "I'm a fool, and therefore I need that my guru teaches me".
And, of course, in ISKCON we understand that Prabhupada is the acarya and all levels of authority are subordinate to him. The guru helps us to understand the teachings of Srila Prabhupada, and Prabhupada is the via medium that allow us to understand the teachings of the scriptures.
To say that "I can't understand what Prabhupada say, let me go directly to the scriptures", is not a very reasonable statement. I's just like someone (that knows only english) saying that "I can't understand this Bible in English, let me study the original in aramaic". If he can't understand even in English, what to say about aramaic?
Prabhupada studied all the relevant sastras, and the writings of previous acaryas much more deeply than we (and, apart from being a self-realized soul, he had the advantage of understanding both Bengali and Sanskrit, instead of depending on imperfect translations, as we do). After all this study, at the peak of his realization, he was teaching the way he was teaching, so we must understand that his conclusions are the result of a superior understanding.
One difficulty with spiritual knowledge, is that it can be easily misunderstood. All the numerous apasampradayas and deviations on the path started with someone misunderstanding some important point. The scriptures are written in enigmatic language, that can be interpreted in limitless ways. One can just see how many commentaries on the Bhagavad-Gita were written by mundane personalities just in the past century, and how diverse their conclusions are. In fact, Srila Prabhupada wrote that the thousands of different commentaries of the Gita in English failed to bring even one soul to the path of Krsna consciousness. Even when we go to the works of our previous acaryas, it is still possible to misunderstand due to our lack of familiarity with the context and the language.
That's why Srila Prahupada is so important, he gives us the correct understanding of the apparent contradictions in the scriptures, allowing us to understand the correct siddhanta. If one wants to jump over Prabhupada and go directly to the scriptures, he may actually get the wrong conclusions and end-up starting his own apasampradaya. Not only that, but by his actions he will teach his followers that it's acceptable to jump over authorities, which will create further problems.
Instead of rejecting Prabhupada's teachings when one finds apparent contradictions, one should try to harmonize the different statements.
As stated in the Laghu Bhagavatamrta (5.327), “When contradictions are found in the Vedic scripture, it is not that one statement is wrong. Rather both statements should be seen in such a way that there is no contradiction.”
There are different statements from Srila Prabhupada spoken in different contexts, and even cases of statements that may appear contradictory. If one goes deeper, however, it will be revealed that they are just applications of different principles in different contexts.
For example, there was a case when Srila Prabhupada authorized a disciple to divorce, answering a letter. The servant became confused, how could Srila Prabhupada gave him an instruction that contradicts his general stance? He voiced his question and Prabhupada answered that he would divorce anyway, therefore he was authorizing him, so he would, at least, not be guilty of disobeying his spiritual master.
We can see that in this example there is a conflict of two principles: a) to not divorce, b) to not disobey the orders of the spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada adjusted, and gave the instruction that was more beneficial to the disciple, according to the situation. One who would try to apply this letter in a different situation, using it to sustain that Srila Prabhupada authorized us to divorce would commit a grievous mistake.
The solution is not to jump over Srila Prabhupada, but just to better train devotees so they can understand the philosophy better and thus be capable of understand Prahupada's teachings and solving apparent contradictions. If one doesn't deep study Srila Prabhupada’s works, he will automatically deviate, not out of malice, but simply out of ignorance.
We must understand different quotes in the proper context and must study with an open mind, being ready to change our beliefs or conclusions if it's proved that they diverge from Srila Prabhupada.
It may sound incredible, but there where many disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that rejected his teachings. Some of these disciples later became very offensive to him. His happened because they started to accept the opinions of people from outside on certain philosophical points, and due to a lack of higher understanding, started to accept such teachings and reject the teaching of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. History shows that such disciples ended-up falling down. We should not commit the same mistake.
We must study and proper understand the philosophy through the conclusions of Srila Prahupada. From this base, one may them go to the teachings of previous acaryas and the scriptures, and also understand them properly. Of one tries to jump however, he may commit mistakes.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Caitanya Chandra dasa