The Devastating Effects of Indiscriminate Initiation

Manidhara Das
07 Sep 2022

"Regarding the initiation as mentioned in your letter addressed to Devananda Maharaja, we shall be very careful now in the selection of candidates for initiation and everything must be followed by them very strictly as we have instructed, then we shall see about initiation."

These words of Srila Prabhupada, to be found in a letter to Karandhara Prabhu on 13th of November 1970 are a stern warning for those who recommend candidates for initiation.

1970,  the early stages of massively growing ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada was already cautious who may be initiated and who not.

One year later he writes in even more detailed way, what the qualification of an initiated devotee may be:

"Initiated members are managing the temples and preaching work, but our program is to invite people to our feasts, let them hear our philosophy and dance and chant. That is the basic principle of our philosophy in preaching work."
(Letter to Sudama, 11th of April 1971)

Here Srila Prabhupada limits even more the number of initiates to those who actively take part in his mission as preachers and managers. This may sound quite revolutionary in today's context where we see new devotees (?) being rather quickly and massively initiated by diksa gurus who seem occasionally being engaged in some sort of competition "who gets more" or "who gets there faster".

The amassing of unqualified or not yet qualified "bhaktas" has multiple devastating effects:

  1. Srila Prabhupada's movement gets flooded and compromised by often bizarre individuals, kanistha adhikaris at best,  for psychiatric clinics at worst. Hence Srila Prabhupadas name and his personality become in the eyes of public compromised and his mission obstructed by unqualified individuals.

  2. The candidate himself or herself, so far, maybe chanting happily, becomes unnecessary challenged by his new status as initiated devotee, a status he cannot live up to. A happy chanting Bhakta candidate becomes a miserable initiate. Surely this is not the best preaching quality such tormented individual may gain.

  3. The older disciples in better or good standing become embarrassed by the new incoming unqualified "godbrothers" whom they can hardly identify as devotees. Wondering what's on their guru's mind they find themselves removed into some sort of "disciple storage back yard" not even being able to contact their guru as he is busy "collecting new ones". "The initiating guru himself, disregarding the firm sastric warning that acceptance of sannyas and acceptance of too many disciples is not recommended in this degraded age of Kali, risks to be overloaded by the heinous karma of these unqualified initiates, resulting in his physical, mental and spiritual destruction. History of ISKCON already unfortunately provides such examples.
  4. As the standards of initiation become lowered by the disciple-greedy gurus, the more sane section of devotees may at best discretely withdraw or maybe even seek a more dignified form of existence in some other Bhakti related movements, of course risking that they may not find it there either.

Even initiating new disciples according to the standards given by Srila Prabhupada may contain a risk as the individual freedom of the individual soul to follow or defeat is always there. What to speak of the already predictably deranged individuals who came to believe that download their karma on the initiating guru and receiving a new name automatically grants them access to the spiritual world.

It is quality and not quantity Srila Prabhupada finally strived for.