Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Understanding Prabhupada’s Vision (in his own words)
By Sankirtana Das (ACBSP)   |  Feb 18, 2023

Herein is a compilation of Srila Prabhupada quotes according to various topics of how Srila Prabhupada envisioned ISKCON to move forward.  I am sure there are many other relevant quotes. The reader will see patterns emerge throughout these topics which unequivocally establish Prabhupada’s multifaceted vision for his Movement.  The idea that his Movement must be either conservative or progressive is counterproductive. There is no need for devotees to argue that one position is right and another is wrong.  To do so will only deflate Prabhupada’s vision.


Definition of a Guru

Here Srila Prabhupada offers a clear and simple understanding. All quotes are from an interview with Prabhupada in London, May 1, 1973. The interview appeared in BTG Vol 55, 1973 as “Test of a Genuine Guru.”

– “A guru’s business is to canvass everyone to become devotees of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru’s business. Indeed, he has no other business.”

– “Anyone, it doesn’t matter who he be Hindu, Muslim or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to become lovers of God. That is the test.”

– “It doesn’t matter how one is dressed.”

– “As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, ‘Whoever can impart knowledge about Krsna is a spiritual master.’”

– “In the Mundakopanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham. ‘The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.’”

– “The genuine guru is not interested in collecting money but in getting people to become devotees of Krsna, or God. He has no other business.”

– “All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God’s devotees.” 


What Prabhupada Wanted of His Disciples

-“Anyone following the order of Lord Caitanya under the guidance of His bonafide representative, can become a spiritual master and I wish that in my absence all my disciples become the bonafide spiritual master to spread Krishna Consciousness throughout the whole world.  I want it . . .”  Letter to Madhusudana, Nov. 2, 1967

-“Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna, that person should be accepted as Spiritual Master, regardless of any material so-called qualifications; such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or sudra.”

-Letter, New Vrindavan, 14 June 14, 1969

Mohsin Hassan: “After you, is it any decision has been made who will take over?”
Prabhupada: “Yes. All of them will take over. These students, who are initiated from me, all of them will act as I am doing. Just like I have got many Godbrothers, they are all acting. Similarly, all these disciples which I am making, initiating, they are being trained to become future spiritual masters.”  Conversation in Detroit, July 18, 1971 

-“But these women are not ordinary women. They are preachers. They are preachers. They are Vaisnava. By their association, one becomes a Vaisnava.” Morning Walk, March 27, 1974, Bombay


Why Should There Be Controversy?

Some may say that this idea of female gurus is “revisionist,” a “new” idea, the result of “modernity” and “westernization.”  To make these accusations one must ignore the words of Srila Prabhupada himself. Prabhupada’s statements, however, reveal that he did not consider male vs female. Instead, he expected all of his disciples to become initiating gurus after he disappeared from the world.

Today, there are many of Prabhupada’s initiated disciples who have been steadily serving his mission over the years. It is now time to implement Prabhupada’s vision;  to invigorate and expand the Movement by encouraging any of his disciples (now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s), both men and women, to become initiating gurus. Many may have already heard Caitanya’s and Prabhupada’s order to accept disciples of their own. But thus far they have submissively abided by the will of the GBC. But the time has arrived to implement Prabhupada’s vision for his disciples.  

Some might ask, have these disciples been authorized by Prabhupada? But is asking such a question really serve any purpose?  Many of Prabhupada’s god-brothers took on disciples, but  Prabhupada never questioned them if they were authorized to do so. And where is Bhaktisiddhanta’s order to Prabhupada? Such an “order from the guru” is an intimate affair.  (see Receiving the Guru’s Order – Q&A) Do those who accept the position of Gaudiya Vaisnava guru need to provide a letter of authorization? And as far as being a shiksha or diksa guru, Prabhupada explains that the shiksha guru usually becomes the diksa guru. This is a natural progression.


Receiving the Guru’s Order


*Indian man: When did you become the spiritual leader of Krishna consciousness?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: What is that?

Brahmānanda: He’s asking when did you become the spiritual leader of Krishna consciousness?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: When my Guru Mahārāja ordered me. This is the guru-paramparā.

*Indian: Did it…..

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Try to understand. Don’t go very speedily. A guru can become guru when he’s ordered by his guru. That’s all. Otherwise nobody can become guru.

*Indian woman: (Hindi)

Śrīla Prabhupāda: (Hindi) Śādhi māṁ prapannam. “I am surrendered to You. Whatever You say, I shall carry out.” That’s all.

*Indian man: When did he tell you to…?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: What is the business, when did he tell me? And why shall I disclose to you? It is so very insignificant thing that I have to explain to you?

*Indian man: No, I am just curious when…

Śrīla Prabhupāda: You should be curious within your limit. You should know that one can become guru when he is ordered by his guru, this much.

BG 7.2, Nairobi, 28/10/1975

“āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa
yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa (CC Madhya 7.128)
Lord Caitanya says that, “Every one of you become the spiritual master. Every one of you. Why one, two? Every one of you.” “Oh, spiritual master is very difficult job.” No. No difficult job. Caitanya Mahā . . . Āmāra ājñāya: “Just try to carry out My order. That’s all. Then you become spiritual master.” And if you interpolate, if you put something nonsense, rubbish, to show your so-called rascal’s education, then it is spoiled. Immediately spoiled. And if you present as it is, then it is pure.”

-Lecture, May 9, 1969 

“You become a guru. Everyone.  ‘How shall I become guru? I have no qualification.’ Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “You don’t require any qualification. You simply require one qualification, that you repeat the instruction of Bhagavad-gita. That’s all.”  Lecture in India, March 16, 1976 


Guru vs Scripture 

Prabhupada often stated “Don’t change anything” and just as often said “Present according to time, place and circumstance.” What does he mean?  And if there is contradiction, does scripture or guru take precedent? Let’s see what Srila Prabhupada has to say, but first a word from sastra.

-“Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued, ‘Dry arguments are inconclusive. A great personality whose opinion does not differ from others is not considered a great sage. Simply by studying the Vedas, which are variegated, one cannot come to the right path by which religious principles are understood. The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated self-realized person. Consequently, as the śāstra as confirm, one should accept whatever progressive path the mahājanas advocate.’ ”   CC Madhya, Verse 17.186 — This verse is originally spoken by Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja in the Mahābhārata, Vana-parva (313.117).

-“We do not want all these rituals. Chanting Hare Krsna is our only business. According to the Manu-samhita you are all mlecchas and yavanas. You cannot touch the Manu-samhita, what to speak of translating it. So if you try to follow the Manu-samhita then you will become a mleccha and yavana and your career is finished.’ Letter,   May 19, 1977

-“A pure devotee of the Lord, being cognizant of the facts of the particular time, object and circumstances, always desires to expand the number of devotees of the Lord in various ways. Such expansions of transcendental service may appear to be material to the materialist, but factually they are expansions of the causeless mercy of the Lord towards the devotee.” SB 3.9.34, Purport

-“Sometimes our Indian friends, puffed up with concocted notions, criticize, ‘This has not been done. That has not been done.’ . . . . Those who are not actually in the line of ācāryas, or who personally have no knowledge of how to act in the role of ācārya, unnecessarily criticize the activities of the ISKCON movement in countries outside of India. The fact is that such critics cannot do anything personally to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If someone does go and preach, taking all risks and allowing all considerations for time and place, it might be that there are changes in the manner of worship, but that is not at all faulty according to śāstra.” SB 4.8.54 Purport

-“Expert religionists know perfectly well how to adjust religious principles in terms of time and place. All the great ācāryas or religious preachers or reformers of the world executed their mission by adjustment of religious principles in terms of time and place. There are different climates and situations in different parts of the world, and if one has to discharge his duties to preach the message of the Lord, he must be expert in adjusting things in terms of the time and place.”  SB 1.9.9 Purport

-“An ācārya who comes for the service of the Lord cannot be expected to conform to a stereotype, for he must find the ways and means by which Kṛṣṇa consciousness may be spread. Sometimes jealous persons criticize the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. . . . Therefore, what we are doing is perfect by the grace of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, for it is He who proposed to invent a way to capture those who strayed from Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”   Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 7.31-32 Purport


Unity in Diversity 

-“In the material world there are varieties, but there is no agreement. In the spiritual world there are varieties, but there is agreement. That is the difference. The materialist without being able to adjust the varieties and the disagreements makes everything zero. They cannot come into agreement with varieties, but if we keep Krishna in the center, then there will be agreement in varieties. This is called unity in diversity. I am therefore suggesting that all our men meet in Mayapur every year during the birth anniversary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With all GBC and senior men present we should discuss how to make unity in diversity. But, if we fight on account of diversity, then it is simply the material platform. Please try to maintain the philosophy of unity in diversity. That will make our movement successful.”  Letter, Oct. 18, 1973

-In February of 2017 the GBC formalized Prabhupada’s mandate with this statement:  “Implementing unity in diversity requires maintaining the delicate balance between the need of the Society to conserve its fundamental principles and practices, and the need to encourage creativity, individuality, and innovation. Another application of unity in diversity manifests in the variety of approaches in preaching in which the message remains authentic and undiluted but the form may be inspired by local situations, environments, and the individuality of the preachers.”

ISKCON’s Mission: 

Caitanya Himself mandated that His Movement spread to every town and village. “Don’t consider who is fit or who is unfit.”  Srila Prabhupada wanted devotees to dedicate their lives in loving service to Lord Krishna,  and spread  the yuga-dharma. To adhere  to smarta brahmin philosophy and promote Vedic rituals and injunctions, would be counterproductive to his mission.

We must study the trajectory of the last 150 years. No one before Bhaktivinoda wrote as he did, “When in England, France, Russia, Prussia, and America all fortunate persons by taking up kholas and karatalas will take the name of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu again and again in their own countries, and raise the waves of sankirtana, when will that day come!” In the next generation,  Bhaktisiddanta  disrupted the traditional process by giving brahmana initiation to those in the lower castes. This certainly enraged the smartas. Prabhupada, in turn, was also criticized when he gave such initiation to women, engaged them as pujaris serving on the altar, and sent women out to distribute books.  In the Vedic paradigm, women were supposed to stay at home.  Prabhupada  engaged men and women  equally in serving Caitanya’s mission.  He subsequently saw all of his qualified disciples becoming spiritual masters and expanding the mission.

-“So, so we want to spread Krishna consciousness. Simply prepare yourself how to repeat Krishna’s instructions very nicely, without any malinterpretation. Then, in future… Suppose you have got now ten thousand. We shall expand to hundred thousand. That is required. Then hundred thousand to million, and million to ten million. (The devotee loudly cheer “Jaya!”) So there will be no scarcity of acharya, and people will understand Krishna consciousness very easily.” Mayapur lecture, April 6, 1975

-“I am very much stressing nowadays that my students shall increase their reading of my books and try to understand them from different angles of vision. Each sloka can be seen from many, many angles of vision, so become practiced in seeing things like this.” Letter, LA, 16 June 16, 1972

-“So I am especially proud how my householder disciples are preaching Lord Caitanya’s Mission. This is a new thing in the history of the Sankirtana Movement. In India all the acaryas and their descendants later on acted only from the man’s side. Their wives were at home because that is the system from old times that women are not required to go out. But in Bhagavad-gita we find that women are also equally competent like the men in the matter of Krsna Consciousness Movement. Please therefore carry on these missionary activities, and prove it by practical example that there is no bar for anyone in the matter of preaching work for Krsna Consciousness.”  Letter, Dec. 20, 1969 

-“. . . the members of ISKCON must increase this movement more and more, according to the principles that we are presently trying to execute. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, thus being pleased, will smilingly glance upon them, bestowing His favor, and the movement will be successful.”   CC Adi 9:50, purport

-“I wish that it will be noted down in history that this Krishna Consciousness Movement is responsible for saving the world.”  Letter, Bombay, January  1, 1972


In Conclusion 

No one should be confused by Prabhupada’s seemingly contradictory statements. ISKCON is neither conservative or progressive, and yet it is both conservative and progressive.  Prabhupada’s instructions  are not contradictory because they are all centered around loving serving Krishna and disseminating Krishna Consciousness to the public. Even when his disciples had only two or three years training, he wanted them to travel and open centers. Now that Prabhupada’s disciples have fifty years of experience, what is the management waiting for? One should understand that all of Prabhupada’s statements are vital to the health and growth of the Movement.  His instructions are meant to be adjusted according to place, time and circumstance. This is one use of intelligence in Krishna’s service. In the Light of the Bhagavat, Prabhupada writes that the devotees “are always anxious for the welfare of the fallen souls.” For this reason, devotees can move forward in many arenas simultaneously and mutually respect one another’s efforts in the context of “unity in diversity.”

Prabhupada’s instructions are emphatic. Like this statement: “I want to see my disciples become bona fide Spiritual Master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy.” Letter, December 2, 1975.  This is not a male vs female issue. No one should hinder the growth of Prabhupada’s Movement by discrediting his instructions.  At this time, these various instructions can be applied accordingly by the senior devotees, Prabhupada’s direct disciples, to fulfill Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON. 

harer nāma harer nāma

harer nāmaiva kevalam

kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva

nāsty eva gatir anyathā

Sankirtana Das, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, is a longtime resident of New Vrindaban Community and an award-winning author and storyteller. His most recent book, Hanuman’s Quest, has received a Storytelling World Resource Award. For more info about his work visit

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