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Why does ISKCON offer everything to Guru first? - The 1960's system that just won't go away!
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 03:24:54 +0530
There are many examples of technical (and not so technical) differences between ISKCON and other Vaisnavas. The offering of Arati to the Guru first is one of them.
Most ISKCON temples and devotees still follow the system given by HDG ACBVS in the early days of the movement. ACBVS emphasized that a devotee should always approach the Lord through his or her Guru.
This was translated into offering all items from food to arati first to the Guru before offering it to the Lord.
No one can deny that the philosophy of worshiping the Lord under the guidance of the Guru or through his agency is correct.
However technically one cannot offer items offered or used by others to the Lord. That is an offense.
api dIpAvalokaM me
"One should never use lamps that are offered to me for other purposes simply because there is a need for illumination, and similarly, one should never offer to Me anything that has been offered to or used by others." S.B.11.11.40b
Many (20) years ago I was able to convince the leaders of ISKCON in Europe to abandon this sytem for the correct sastric system of offering items first to the Lord (after taking the Guru's permission of course).
I also tried to do this in ISKCON North America however I met with overwhelming resistence by those members who insisted that they continue the original ISKCON system.
Recently the head pujari of ISKCON Los Angeles has tried again to change the system and met with the same stuborn resistence.
I guess I am starting this topic just out of frustration. Any comments?
Anand - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 03:36:05 +0530
As far as I understand that process in Iskcon, the offer is not made through the guru but by him. In other words, the items are brought to the guru who will then make the offering to Krsna. That way, the disciple is assiting the guru in making an offering to Krsna, not himself making an offering directly to the guru. So the items are first hand offerings, not already offered or used.
Iskcon guru-pujas are always offered separetedly from deity-puja. In that case, the offering is made directly to guru, hence, guru-puja.
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 03:49:22 +0530
|QUOTE (Anand @ Oct 8 2004, 12:06 PM)|
| As far as I understand that process in Iskcon, the offer is not made through the guru but by him. In other words, the items are brought to the guru who will then make the offering to Krsna. That way, the disciple is assiting the guru in making an offering to Krsna, not himself making an offering directly to the guru. So the items are first hand offerings, not already offered or used. |
Iskcon guru-pujas are always offered separetedly from deity-puja. In that case, the offering is made directly to guru, hence, guru-puja.
That's fine. Offer the items to the Guru. Then that should be the end of it. One should not then oneself offer the items to Lord Krsna as that is for the Guru to do according to this philosphy.
You cannot have things both ways.
Anand - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 04:23:19 +0530
|That's fine. Offer the items to the Guru. Then that should be the end of it. One should not then oneself offer the items to Lord Krsna as that is for the Guru to do according to this philosphy.|
You cannot have things both ways.
Yes, there seems to be a technical discrepancy in that system. But the idea is that the disciple will not go directly to Krsna nor that leftovers are brought to Krsna. It is understood that the offering is made to Krsna on behalf of Sri Guru.
Rasaraja dasa - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 05:36:25 +0530
Dandavats. All glories to the Vaisnavas.
The following order direction is given as the "official" ISKCON standard:
Large conch-shell (to blow)
A cup of fresh water and a spoon (acamana — for purification)
Incense sticks (at least three)
Ghee lamp (usually five wicks)
Small conch-shell (for offering water) with a stand
Container of water to be offered
Cloth or handkerchief
Small plate of flowers
Lighter or matches
The following list shows the order in which the articles are used/offered and how they are used/offered.
Each of items 3–9 is offered is offered from the "top down" (i.e. starting from Krishna, then Radha, then Gaura, then Nitai, then guru parampara, and then devotees) one after the other.
Conch shell blown to announce the beginning of the ceremony
Bell rung throughout
Incense seven circles around the whole body
Ghee Lamp four circles to the feet; two to the middle; three to the head; seven to the whole body
Water three circles to the head; seven to the whole body
Cloth seven circles around the whole body
Flowers seven circles around the whole body
Whisk seven waves to the whole body
Peacock fan seven waves to the whole body (summertime only)
Conch blown to announce the end of the ceremony
As you probably know Krsna Ksetra Dasa is the GBC in charge of doing the historical analysis of what the tradition teaches in regards to arati. I believe he has written a book on ISKCON Deity Worship standard and the theological points that brought about their standard.
Aspiring to serve the Vaisnavas,
Advitiya - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 09:42:13 +0530
|Iskcon guru-pujas are always offered separetedly from deity-puja. In that case, the offering is made directly to guru, hence, guru-puja. |
Anand is right. There are two thalis made for Arati. One is for Guru-puja and the other one is for Deity-puja. The same lamp is never used for both puja.
|So the items are first hand offerings, not already offered or used. |
Since Guru is the direct representative of Krishna (guruH sAkSat paraM brahma) we have to worship him first and also because through guru-kripa only we can obtain krishna-kripa. This is how I see it.
Openmind - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 11:42:36 +0530
Is the same process followed by temples in India, too? I am asking because I have seen hundreds of pictures or videos of Deities and altars without any photo of a guru. It seemed that the priests offer the items directly to the Lord in whatever form He is present. The altars with a chain of guru-photos seemed to be a custom in GM/Iskcon. Can anyone who spent some time in India comment, please?
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 12:16:04 +0530
|QUOTE (Openmind @ Oct 8 2004, 08:12 PM)|
| Is the same process followed by temples in India, too? I am asking because I have seen hundreds of pictures or videos of Deities and altars without any photo of a guru. It seemed that the priests offer the items directly to the Lord in whatever form He is present. The altars with a chain of guru-photos seemed to be a custom in GM/Iskcon. Can anyone who spent some time in India comment, please? |
No one will deny that one needs to learn and get permission from the Guru to engage in deity worship. However that permission is largely accepted as given when the Guru initiates the disciple and teaches him how to perform the worship.
It is normal for Vaisnavas (and other Hindus also) to remember their guruparampara on a daily basis. Usually this is done in the morning right after bath and putting on of tilaka (or other caste marks for non Vaisnavas). By doing so each Vaisnava (or Hindu) acknowledges his debt to the previous Acharyas and prays for their mercy and guidance to perform their sadhana part of which is the worship of the deity.
Another problem with having one set of pictures on an altar in a temple is that temples are by definition there to serve the Lord on behalf of the whole community. What we see in the Gaudiya Math and ISKCON are Maths not Temples. What I mean is that there is a very narrow line of Acharyas followed by the particular Maths either GM or ISKCON. If one were to try to satisfy everyone in a large Indian city by putting everyone's guru's picture on the altar of a popular temple this would be physically impossible. In future generations we will see this problem even in ISKCON and GM. At a certain point it will become impossible to put any more pictures on the altar.
Luckily this is not a requirement. So we see in the major temples of Vrndavan for instance, that even though they could put a line of pictures on the altar that they do not.
I am not suggesting that ISKCON or the GM do away with thier pictures of Acharyas. This topic is about the fact that most of ISKCON still does what no other Vaisnava (or Hindu) organization, even the GM does not do, and that is offer items to the Guru directly before offering that item to God. This goes directly against the prescriptions of the scripture that states that only items that are previously unoffered can be offered to the Lord. Let me be clear on this again, only ISKCON does this, the GM does not and neither does any other Hindu group (to my knowledge).
It is not necessary to have such a line of pictures on the altar or offer to them before offering to the Lord. There are any number of ways that one can pray to or remember or get permission from one's Guru before offering an item to the Lord. But ultimately one must offer the item directly to the deity of the Lord. This has to be done in a way in which that item cannot be used or offered to anyone else before it is offered to the Lord. This is the problem. The 1960's system for offering in ISKCON was to offer an item to ACBVS first and then to the Lord. This is not technically correct.
One might note that ACBVS was not a pujari and did not have first hand knowledge of the method of deity worship and it's technicalities as performed in the GM. All the GM (and all other Vaisnavas and HIndus) offer items to God first and then offer the nirmalya prasadam to God's devotees including the Guruparampara. And normally this prasadam would be offered from senior to junior as etiquette would demand.
I am making these observations as one who has spent many years living in India and not only livingthere but performing deity worship and studying it also. I have helped systematize the deity worship in many ISKCON temples and have also installed deities in ISKCON temples all over the world. I don't think there are many who don't know me as a knowledgable person in deity worship both in ISKCON and other Vaisnava groups.
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 12:25:40 +0530
|QUOTE (Anand @ Oct 8 2004, 12:53 PM)|
| Yes, there seems to be a technical discrepancy in that system. But the idea is that the disciple will not go directly to Krsna nor that leftovers are brought to Krsna. It is understood that the offering is made to Krsna on behalf of Sri Guru. |
Please state what your experience in Deity Worship is?
As a follower of the GM specifically Sarasvata GM have you ever looked closely at the deity worship in the GM? Have you not noticed that it is different from ISKCON?
It is all very well to make the statements that you are making. However the fact is that the old ISKCON system does not hold up under scriptural scrutiny.
If an item is offered to the guru with the idea that he does not enjoy it and then offered to the Lord then it has to be offered again to the guru later on as nirmalya prasadam. This is not done in ISKCON.
Besides you say that gurupuja is different from puja on the altar. Why should it be? How is it any different. The offering sytem is the same. When we offer an item to the Guru in gurupuja he accepts it. We would never offer that item to the Lord afterwards, so how can we do that on the altar?
The real point is that the pujaris are NOT actually meditating on what they are doing. They are simply doing rituals without understanding how they should be performed.
They are not even consistent in their approach.
In ISKCON one has to offer to the Guru first and the Lord second on the altar, but during Tualsi worship they offer to Tulasi first and then the Guru. Does this make any sense whatsoever?
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 12:35:17 +0530
|QUOTE (Rasaraja dasa @ Oct 8 2004, 02:06 PM)|
| The following order direction is given as the "official" ISKCON standard:|
Are you taking this from the Pancaratra Pradipa? That is the official ISKCON GBC authorized book on Deity Worship. However that book IMHO has it's own problems.
Anyway I can tell you that I agree this this order but it is certainly NOT the order that most ISKCON Temples follow. That is why I started this topic to point out that ISKCON is confused about this.
I know Krsna Ksetra very well. And although he is the official ISKCON Deity Minister we do not always see eye to eye. In general he knows and agrees with all these points that I have been making.
I can cross post the discussion that is going on on the ISKCON Deity Worship list about the situation in Los Angeles if anyone is interested.
What I was hopeful of in starting this topic is that someone would offer some more pramanas for not offering previously offered items to the Lord.
Keshava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 12:42:55 +0530
|QUOTE (Advitiya @ Oct 8 2004, 06:12 PM)|
|The same lamp is never used for both puja.|
Maybe in your temple but then that is an exception. In most temples the system of arati is to use the same items for the guru and Krsna.
|Since Guru is the direct representative of Krishna (guruH sAkSat paraM brahma) we have to worship him first and also because through guru-kripa only we can obtain krishna-kripa. This is how I see it.|
Philosophically the guru is to be worshiped just like the Lord. But practically we cannot do so or we become apasampradaya. For example we cannot put tulasi leaves on the guru's feet so to say that he is worshiped exactly like the Lord is not technically correct.
Similarly one has to offer the items to the Lord first after having taken permission from the Guru. It is not that the Guru is forgotten but one cannot violate the principle of offering only unoffered items to the Lord.
Anand - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 15:14:59 +0530
|As a follower of the GM specifically Sarasvata GM have you ever looked closely at the deity worship in the GM? Have you not noticed that it is different from ISKCON?|
I have been told by the head of the Gopinath Gaudiya Math that there is that technical discrepancy in the system adopted by Iskcon. But that the basic concept, which is that the offering is made in assistance to Sri Guru, is correct. Maybe those concerned can continue trying improve, or add, to that system in Iskcon. Most devotees in the institution believe that the intention, the consciousness is what matters.
Perumal - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 18:54:33 +0530
|QUOTE (Keshava @ Oct 9 2004, 06:46 AM)|
| One might note that ACBVS was not a pujari and did not have first hand knowledge of the method of deity worship and it's technicalities as performed in the GM. All the GM (and all other Vaisnavas and HIndus) offer items to God first and then offer the nirmalya prasadam to God's devotees including the Guruparampara. |
At Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, disciples of Srila Sridhar Maharj and his successor Srila Govinda Maharaj follow the same procedure of offerings that was taught by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
You offer to Gurudev, and when you move your eyes and begin to offer to the Deity you meditate that you are doing your offerings as if you were an instrument or a limb of Gurudev's body of service, while at the same time thinking that Gurudev is doing the real offering to the Lord. Gurudev is offering service and service is going on through you; we don't imagine we are directly serving the Deities, we are in the dasa-dasa-anudasa group and we are far away from the highest realm, which is a realm of intimacy and love that can only be really known when it is revealed within the heart.
Madhava - Sat, 09 Oct 2004 22:34:21 +0530
I suppose it is not a matter of the procedure itself, but rather of our awareness of what the procedure stands for. If we first bring the items to guru with the conception that he takes them to offer to Krishha, that would not be a problem, but if we do the same while thinking he first enjoys them, then that would be a problem.
Keshava - Sun, 10 Oct 2004 00:08:26 +0530
|we are in the dasa-dasa-anudasa group|
I was not suggesting that the mentality of the person offering should be or is that he is offering DIRECTLY to the Lord. Naturally we all think as you have stated that we are assisting our Gurudeva who is doing the actual offering. However the physical fact of the matter is that we directly offer the items in the physical absence of our Gurudeva.
I am amazed to hear you say that at Sarasvata Gaudiya Math they offer items to the Guru first. Could we please have you list the exact procedure followed in the Math for arati and offering bhoga. Also if any other members of different Gaudiya Maths are reading this could you please do the same. I am interested in the difference systems, if in fact they are different.
As Madhava pointed out, and I totally agree, the mentality is more important than the technicalities. However wouldn't it be nice to have both correct according to our tradition. Other traditions don't have these basic differences in procedure.
Madhava - Sun, 10 Oct 2004 00:21:44 +0530
For your (whomever it may concern) information, in the tradition I am initiated in, we do not wave/whisk/show the items to the guru first in the course of archana. At the beginning of the morning archana, we certainly offer prayers to the guru and so forth, waking him up prior to the deity/deities, but we do not physically route all items of worship through the guru prior to offering them to the deity.
Keshava - Mon, 11 Oct 2004 03:19:03 +0530
|QUOTE (Madhava @ Oct 9 2004, 08:51 AM)|
| For your (whomever it may concern) information, in the tradition I am initiated in, we do not wave/whisk/show the items to the guru first in the course of archana. At the beginning of the morning archana, we certainly offer prayers to the guru and so forth, waking him up prior to the deity/deities, but we do not physically route all items of worship through the guru prior to offering them to the deity. |
Of course, what you are describing is the normal state of affairs for all Vaisnavas. But ISKCON people have no idea of that. That is the whole point of the topic.
Thank you, for spelling it out for all of us.
Keshava - Mon, 11 Oct 2004 14:11:00 +0530
Here is an article by Krsna Ksetra about this topic that he just emailed to the ISKCON Deity Worship Conference.
Some remarks on the procedure for performing arati in ISKCON
Krishna Kshetra Das
October 9, 2004
Revered Vaishnavas and Vaishnavis,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The following remarks are an expression of my own thoughts regarding what seems to be a persistant source of disagreement and confusion in our Society regarding procedures for offering arati in our temples. My hope is that these remarks may serve to clarify, leading if not to a final definitive conclusion, at least to better understanding of the issue. What follows is not to be taken as any sort of final ‘position’ on my part, but is merely my effort to share my own understanding. It may well be mistaken, and I am open to correction by others. I may be repeating what others have said in recent discussions, not all of which I have been able to follow due to time constraints. My apologies if I sound out of touch with the immediate discussion.
Some general points:
1. Whenever we perceive what we think is a contradiction between different statements in shastra, or between what two different acharyas within our tradition say, or between what an acharya and some statement of shastra say, a good hermeneutical (=interpretive) principle is to try to understand how both positions are true, appropriate, fitting, or felicitous. The question becomes not ‘which is right and which is wrong?’ but ‘How – in what ways – are both right?’ This may involve various ‘strategies’, including distinguishing between principles and details, and seeing how one statement may apply in certain circumstances, another statement in other circumstances. It may involve contextualizing of statements (generally to identify what the overall argument or emphasis is, within which a particular statement is embedded. Note that to contextualize is not necessary to relativize in a negative sense).
2. Like so many aspects of Krishna consciousness, the various devotional activities we group under the heading ‘archanam’ are both sublimely simple and sublimely profound (or profoundly simply and simply profound! patram puspam phalam toyam . . . ); there are some aspects of archanam which can be very complex in detail, and there are aspects which can involve considerable subtleties of understanding. The more I study, reflect on, and perform deity worship, the less I feel I have comprehended the depth of it, even as my appreciation of it grows.
3. Archanam is the realm of both formalized worship and hence respectful distance, and of intimacy, or potential intimacy, with the Lord by the rendering of direct services to Him in His archavatara. Because formality is emphasized in temple worship, there is emphasis on indirectness: One worships not directly, but through the spiritual master, who is (from our perspective) directly associated with the Lord (from his perspective, he is similarly connected through his spiritual master, etc.). But both principles – directness and indirectness, intimacy and formality – are at play. The pujari who dresses Krishna is directly dressing Krishna and this direct service is only possible by the blessings of the guru.
Performance of Arati
1. I find it intriguing that while arati is the central, most frequently performed, public event in archanam within our Vaishnava (and so many other Indian temple) traditions, there is extremely little verbalization within the tradition about its significance. By way of contrast, the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, certainly the most central of Christian rituals, is discussed in literally hundreds of volumes, written over several centuries. We may find that it behooves us, or Vaishnava theologians amongst us, to articulate significance of this rite in view of our Society’s presence in the West, with western expectations of ‘explanations’ for all one does in spiritual practices. And this in turn might help us appreciate and be more reflective about what we are doing when performing or viewing an arati.
2. There are considerable variations, at least in detail, how arati is performed in different temples identifying themselves with the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition. Some of these temples (especially in Vraja) may be sharing aspects of tradition with other sampradayas, and may indeed have adopted practices from other sampradayas. This is not to say they are now ‘deviated’. Rather, it may reflect a positive interaction and association, a persistent principle in the survival and enrichment of any tradition.
3. Shastric references to the performance of arati are, so far I have seen, usually brief, usually a simple injunctive phrase like ‘and now perform nirajana [i.e. waving of lights]’. Such injunction is invariably with reference to one single deity being worshipped at the time. There is no account of a multi-deity ‘altar’ (except with reference to the one deity’s parivaras (associates), who may be placed (generally by ritual/meditation, not physically) around the one deity. There is no account of guru-parampara pictures, or mention of the worship of Gauranga. Shastra (and I’m refering essentially to Haribhaktivilasa, the definitive compendium of archanam topics from which, largely but not entirely, later Gaudiya worship procedures are derived) does however emphasize that before worshipping Krishna (or one of His several forms) one must worship the guru. One worships guru by first sitting down and offering 5, 10, 12, or 16 upacaras, items of worship, including bathing dressing, offering bhoga. Then, with the guru’s blessings, one proceeds to offer different upacaras (usually at least 16) to the main deity one is worshipping (not the same incense, same lamp, same bhoga, etc., which one just offered to the guru; however, and I will get back to this, one may well use the same source of water for bathing guru and Krishna).
4. Srila Prabhupada, by emphasizing within the performance of arati that one offers arati items first to guru, then Gauranga, then Krishna, could be seen as both a way of emphasizing the indirect aspect of worship/dependence on the guru to approach the Lord and a way of combining, or perhaps better, including within the arati procedure the principle of worshipping guru first, then Krishna, which applies to the worship procedure that takes place behind closed curtain. Arati is generally a concluding activity to a process of worship (which is, on the whole, about respect and hospitality). Such condensation of ritual procedures, and its opposite, expansion of procedures (especially in festivals) is bread and butter of Vedic/Agamic/Puranic ritual.
5. As with all ritual, deity worship is full of ‘conventions’ (similar to theatrical conventions, e.g. a given action is understood to represent something else, or more of the same thing, like a loud stage-whisper representing actual whispering). So, for example, in the absence of many flowers we might offer one flower to Krishna (patram puspam phalam…) with the devotional thought that we are offering a large plate full of fragrant flowers. Another sort of ‘convention’ comes into play when there are several deities and gurus being worshipped more or less simultaneously at the same place (the same altar), whereby one may view or consider, for example, the offering of the same flower that one just offered to guru as a different flower as one offers to Gauranga, and again as a different flower when offering to Krishna. (One might understand this as taking from the same source of incense, water, flowers, etc.)
6. An alternative employment of convention (which has in more recent years been adopted by many ISKCON temples, at least in Europe), as a way perhaps to emphasize that one is not offering the guru’s prasada to Krishna, involves making some gesture of offering respect and receiving blessings from the guru prior to offering each item to the main deity and ‘working one’s way down’ (the gesture might involve ‘offering’ with circles, or by holding up to and glancing at the guru, or a mental prayer, or a combination of these).
7. This second alternative, as far as Gaudiya tradition goes, seems appropriate, even though Srila Prabhupada did not introduce it in ISKCON. He did give instruction to certain devotees (Narottamananda Prabhu, Jayatirtha Prabhu, to my knowledge) that details of worship could be learned from local temples of Vrindavan/Mathura, of which he specified Radharamana and Keshava-ji Gaudiya Math.
8. When Srila Prabhupada indicated that archanam details could be learned from other temples he also indicated that he himself was not particularly informed of the details of archanam because he had never lived in a temple/math. I hasten to add that I, for one, don’t for a moment believe that I will come to understand even a small fraction of what Srila Prabhupada understands about deity worship in a million years. Srila Prabhupada was seeing Krishna directly when he was seeing the deity. What am I seeing? I mention this only to indicate that Prabhupada himself did not necessarily consider all of his instructions – so far details are concerned – as absolute and final.
9. But from points 6 through 8 I do not therefore conclude or urge that all temples of ISKCON should adopt the arati procedure indicated in #6 above. There is another principle to be considered in archanam, and that is tradition. Some practices – many practices – are performed a certain way because that’s how they have been done, ‘rightly’ or ‘wrongly’. The traditional way is right because Krishna is accepting it and has been accepting it (and, equally importantly, because the founder-acharya of the institution who installed a particular deity has specified it that way). The story that Ramanujacharya, despite his best intentions to ‘correct’ the worship procedures in the Jagannatha temple in Puri, was literally booted out by Jagannath after Jagannath’s pujaris prayed to Him not to let Ramanuja change anything, is a nice illustration of this point.
10. I personally am not convinced that all temples in all of ISKCON should be expected to settle for one or the other procedure for performing arati. I would suggest that this could be settled on the level of GBC secretaries, that is, that within a given GBC zone it might be decided to keep to the ‘early ISKCON’ procedure or to the other. But neither am I utterly against ISKCON-wide uniformity in this matter if devotees feel it is crucial for the unity of our Society. That should perhaps be discussed on the GBC level.
Again, these remarks are merely that – remarks aimed to hopefully clarify issues, at least to invite discussion and further clarification and correction.
In service to the Vaishnavas
Krishna Kshetra Das
Director, ISKCON-GBC Deity Worship Ministry
Keshava - Mon, 11 Oct 2004 14:12:45 +0530
Here is my reply to Krsna Ksetra's remarks
Thank you Krsna Ksetra Prabhu for writing your remarks giving us more points for discussion (if not actual solutions) on standardizing arati procedures.
Here are my comments for what they are worth. I would like readers to try not to judge my comments by the name attached to them at the bottom of the email (argumentum ad hominem). Just please try to understand my points and perhaps you will begin to see the reasons why I was instrumental in changing the arati procedures in ISKCON Europe 20 years ago when I first brought this problem to the attention of the leaders there. It is a pity, in my humble opinion that it should take so long for problems such as this to be brought up again. I might add that I also tried unsuccessfully to change the arati procedures in ISKCON Los Angeles in 1988 when I lived there and was asked to write a standardized manual for the deity worship for that temple. In fact it is again at ISKCON Los Angeles that this controversy seems to been going on.
The nature of controversy in Vaisnavism:
Before I get into the technical details of the different arguments for different systems of worship. I would like to just address the basic nature of controversy in Vaisnavism. Controversy is not necessarily a bad thing in Vaisnavism. Many devotees would prefer that there be no controversy at all. That everyone believe exactly the same way as everyone else. Of course that would be nice in a perfect world. However controversy gives us a chance to look deeper at what we believe and why we believe it. So it allows us to grow spiritually if we take advantage of it by either:
A. Re-enforcing our understanding of certain ideas.
B. Bringing us new insight so that we can modify our understanding of certain ideas.
Either way if correctly researched and discussed, a controversy should bring us to a conclusion from which we can benefit.
So called argumentum ad infinitum or the type of arguments that lead no where, with no proper evidence, no proper presentation, no proper discussion, and no proper conclusion, as sometimes happens on the internet, are not beneficial to anyone. More often than not such discussions tend to leave everyone involved with a sense of wasting their time and/or confusion.
Vaisnavism is a philosophical and religious system that aims at presenting the absolute truth. As such it is based upon certain proofs (pramanas). We have all heard or read about these proofs in Srila Prabhupada's teachings as pratyaksha, anumana and sabda, or sense perception, inference (or logic) and authoritative utterance. I do not want to go into a discussion of the individual merits or demerits of each of these except to say that we all use sense perception and inference to understand what we read and hear at every moment and so although these are considered definitely inferior to authoritative utterance they do still have a place in Vaisnava epistomology.
For the moment let us concentrate on sabda or authoritative utterance. Authoritative utterance comes also in three varieties guru, sadhu and sastra or the authoritative utterances of the spiritual master, the Vaisnavas and the scriptures. (Please note that while reading this article try to understand the words without any preconceived notions such as spiritual master = only diksha guru)
So far we have hear all this before, and we all accept what we hear from the spiritual master(s), vaisnavas, and scriptures.
However what happens when one or more of these authorities differs or seems to differ from the others.
I will at this point quote Krsna Ksetra:
"Whenever we perceive what we think is a contradiction between different statements in shastra, or between what two different acharyas within our tradition say, or between what an acharya and some statement of shastra say, a good hermeneutical (=interpretive) principle is to try to understand how both positions are true, appropriate, fitting, or felicitous. The question becomes not ‘which is right and which is wrong?’ but ‘How – in what ways – are both right?’ This may involve various ‘strategies’, including distinguishing between principles and details, and seeing how one statement may apply in certain circumstances, another statement in other circumstances. It may involve contextualizing of statements (generally to identify what the overall argument or emphasis is, within which a particular statement is embedded. Note that to contextualize is not necessary to relativize in a negative sense)."
I agree with this analysis and I think that it deserves a simple clear-cut example so that we can further understand it.
Before we get to that I want to further explain what is meant by principles and what is meant by details.
Details come from Principles:
Whatever details or technicalities we observe in Vaisnavism are a result of the practical application of the principles of our Vaisnava philosophy. For example a philosophical principle of Vaisnavism would be to take initiation from a spiritual master. However the actual technicalities of the performance of the initiation ceremony would be the details. We can see from this example that there are basic things that are present in all initiation ceremonies and which therefore constitute the essential parts of that ceremony and there are other details that differ from ceremony to ceremony. However the principle of taking initiation from a spiritual master is the same. The fact that some of the details differ from ceremony to ceremony does not change this principle. However one should understand the essential details without which the ceremony does not actually qualify as taking initiation. Some of these might be, acceptance of the guru by the disciple, acceptance of the disciple by the guru, giving of the mantra, etc. One would be justified in saying that without these essential aspects no initiation has taken place. So principles determine details and some details are superfluous and others are essential to those principles.
OK, now we are ready for a simple example of a perceived difference in details.
A simple example of perceived difference in details:
Since not all the readers of this may be familiar with the opinions of bonafide Vaisnavas outside of ISKCON or with bonafide scriptures other than Srila Prabhupada's books I propose to use as an example a situation where His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada Himself gave a clear instruction in his books and yet seemingly contradicted that very instruction by his own personal actions. (This is not meant as a critique of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada only as an example to show that we need to very carefully understand all of his instructions both personal and in his written teachings, both early and later instructions)
The principle involved that of humility and having the attitude of service and respect in the presence of the Lord.
The details involved are not allowing obeisances to be offered to one or have one's feet touched or ritually washed before the Deity even though one is an Acharya or spiritual master.
The following quote from Srila Prabhupada's Caitanya Caritamrta is appropriate:
"There are many offenses on one can commit while serving the Lord, and these are described in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Hari-bhakti-vilasa and other books. According to the rules and regulations, no one should accept obeisances in the temple of the Lord before the Deity. Nor is it proper for a devotee to offer obeisances and touch the feet of the spiritual master before the Deity. This is considered an offense. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself was personally the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore it was not actually offensive to wash His lotus feet in the temple. However, because He was playing the part of an acarya, the Lord considered Himself an ordinary human being. He also wanted to give instructions to ordinary human beings. The point is that even though one plays the part of a spiritual master, he should not accept obeisances or permit a disciple to wash his feet before the deity. This is a matter of etiquette." CC Mad 12.127 purport
Contrary to these instructions Srila Prabhupada Himself regularly accepted his disciple's obeisances, allowed them to touch and bathe his feet and even received gurupuja before the Deity of the Lord. This is an undeniable fact.
Even Srila Prabhupada accepted this as an example of an apparent dilemma as seen from the following quote:
Tripurari: ...reading in Caitanya-caritamrta, the cleansing of the Gundica temple. And towards the end, one Bengali Vaisnava brahmana washed the feet of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and He became a little angry, outwardly angry, and unhappy within. And in one purport you mention that the spiritual master should not be offered obeisances or have his feet washed before the Deity. But the impression of most of the devotees has been that in the presence of the spiritual master one can stop worshiping the Deity and offer obeisances to the spiritual master. So I was wondering which is correct.
Prabhupada: (chuckles) Dilemma.
Morning Walk Excerpt -- April 2, 1976, Vrndavana
By his laugh (chuckle) Srila Prabhupada shows that he is not too worried about this dilemma and so I also don't think that it is a problem for Srila Parbhupada. But for others it may certainly be a problem.
How can both of these things be reconciled:
Since the principle involved is that of humility, service attitude and respect for the Lord one would have to ask whether Srila Prabhupada violated that principle or simply the details. Those who observed His Divine Grace throughout his time with us would have to objectively conclude that he never acted against these principles of humility, service attitude and respect for the Lord. We also know that sometimes those on the highest levels of devotion may appear to act strangely when judged by those who are not on that level. Similarly we also know that Srila Prabhupada wanted to firmly instill reverence for the authority of the spiritual master in his western disciples who were not used to the system of worship of the guru as equal to that of the Lord. For all these reasons and others, perhaps which we cannot know Srila Prabhupada did violate the details of his own instructions but did not violate the principle of those instructions.
What lessons can we learn from this?
First and foremost we have to note that we have a choice of how to follow the instructions of the spiritual master. There is no doubt that we must continue to follow the devotional principles involved. However as far as the details are concerned we have to consider whether it is correct for those who presently occupy the position of spiritual masters to follow the personal example of His Divine Grace or follow His instructions from Caitanya Caritamrta.
After His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada left this material world to enter the eternal pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Krsna the feeling was amongst most members of ISKCON that it was alright for those playing the role of spiritual master to accept obeisances and worship exactly as His Divine Grace had before. However at the present time it would seem that this is not the policy of most members of ISKCON.
Again I would like to quote from Krsna Ksetra's remarks:
"Archanam is the realm of both formalized worship and hence respectful distance, and of intimacy, or potential intimacy, with the Lord by the rendering of direct services to Him in His archavatara. Because formality is emphasized in temple worship, there is emphasis on indirectness: One worships not directly, but through the spiritual master, who is (from our perspective) directly associated with the Lord (from his perspective, he is similarly connected through his spiritual master, etc.). But both principles – directness and indirectness, intimacy and formality – are at play. The pujari who dresses Krishna is directly dressing Krishna and this direct service is only possible by the blessings of the guru."
Actually I do agree with this assessment of the nature of formal and informal worship where the worship in the temple is definitely more formal than in the home. This has more to do with the difference in mood between worship at home (svartha puja) and worship in the temple (parartha worship). One being performed only for the welfare of one's self or family and the other performed on behalf of the whole community. However it is incorrect to say that ONLY in temple worship "One worships not directly, but through the spiritual master" for this principle is there in ALL Vaisnava worship whether personal or communal. In fact one would think that the inclusion of one's individual guru in the puja proceedings of a temple would in fact be less appropriate than in the home due to the fact that in the temple worship is being performed on behalf of the entire community, the members of which most certainly have more than one guru. And this is perhaps one reason why there is usually no outer trappings of the particular guru lineage like pictures or deities of Acharyas in the major temples that we see in Vrndavan, for example. When so many different Vaisnavas are worshiping whose picture(s) or deity(s) would be appropriate. However even though we do not see the outward manifestation of the guru in many traditional temples you can be sure that the mentality of the individual pujari is one of service to the Lord through the agency of his particular Acharya and lineage. In home or Math worship, since all members of the family or Math owe their spiritual allegiances to the same guruprampara it is a different matter, thus we see in the Gaudiya Maths and ISKCON their distinct guruparamparas prominently portrayed.
So Where's the problem?
OK, before we enter into a discussion of the different principles and details of the performance of Arati first it seems appropriate to articulate the actual reason for doing so. We should understand what the problem is, if indeed there is a problem.
In order to understand what the problem is first it would be nice to have a clearer understanding of what exactly Arati is.
What is Arati?:
Arati is a public ritualistic puja offering of upacharas or services to the deity usually attended by members of the devotee community who also take part by their performance of sankirtan, singing, dancing, etc.
Well, this definition could be applied to any type of puja.
Yes, except that other ritualistic deity ceremonies (pujas) can be (but are not always) performed in private.
The principle is however the same. The principle behind Arati is just like all other worship ceremonies to glorify the Supreme Lord in His deity form. The details of these offerings are usually as follows: The sound of the conchshell calls attention of the devotees (and devas) to come see and offer worship to the Lord, the Lord is then revealed by the opening of the door/curtain of the deity room (garbha grha), the Lord is offered by the pujari different items such as incense, lamp(s), water in a small conchshell, a cloth/handkerchief (plota vastra), flowers, chamara (fly whisk) and (peacock feather) fan (according to appropriate season), at the end the Arati is simliarly closed with another blowing of the conch. All this is usually accompanied by the chanting of kirtan or bhajan and/or dancing performed by the devotees attending the Arati situated outside the deity area in the temple room.
As to the exact meaning of each of these services, there may be some esoteric meaning given in sastra but suffice it to say that without going into those the Arati represents a simplified version of the extensive morning worship routine offered to the Lord. Incense obviously is used as an offering of beautiful scent, lamps are used even today in some ancient temples to actually illuminate the body of the Lord which should be seen from the feet upwards (hence the method of offering them)(offering lamps may seem to some to be anachronistic in this age of electric lighting however they have been retained more for their symbolical and cultural rather than practical lighting purposes, water in the conchshell is to be offered above the head of the deity symbolically offering a ritual bath, and the waving of the cloth/hankerchief afterwards would therefore be symbolic of the actual drying of the body of the Lord, the chamara (fly whisk) and (peacock feather) fan are considered symbols of royalty (rajopachara) but also have their practical uses.
Therefore without getting into any deeper symbolism of the articles used in Arati we can see that they represent quite easy to understand services that could be offered to any respected personality.
I am not going to go into the exact details of the exact method of offering these items to the deity form of the Lord as this is not our focus here.
The focus here is the order in which these items are offered to different personalities.
Ideally when one is offering services to any respected person one would like to have a separate item to offer to each and every honoree. However we all know that in all Arati ceremonies except for Srila Prabhupada's gurupuja there are more than one person offered to, with the same paraphernalia.
Before we get to that point however let's understand the three types of Aratis that are practiced in ISKCON.
The three types of ISKCON Aratis:
1. Arati on the Altar
2. Gurupuja at the Vyasasana
3. Tulasi Arati
All these three are examples of the Arati ceremony. So one would presume that they are performed similarly. In fact they do bear external similarity in the items that are offered, however the principles and details of the order of offering are very different from one to another.
Here is a description of how the order of offering differs in each of these.
Lets remember that the main principle being enunciated here, is that a devotee must offer worship ONLY through the medium of his spiritual master i.e. by offering the item first to the spiritual master (What some might call the "don't jump over principle")
In the case of the Arati on the Altar let us assume to make things easier to understand that we have a simple temple with only a deity of Lord Krsna and a picture of Srila Prabhupada. (If people really want to completely examine the scenario of most ISKCON Temples where Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, Lord Caitanya, Lord Nityananda, Sri Krsna, Srimati Radharani, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Lady Subhadra are worshiped, I can certainly go into it at length, however for the purposes of undersanding these principles and details it is easier to see the ideas if we just deal with one guru, Srila Prabhupada and one Deity Sri Krsna. I will get to more complex scenarios involving more gurus and deities later)
OK, here is a description of the order of offering in such an Arati the way that we all remember Srila Prabhupada showed us and how we all did it for many years.
1. The pujari offers the item to Srila Prabhupada (his mentality must be that when offering the item Srila Prabhupada does not actually enjoy the offering but simply accepts it in a way that allows it to then be offered to Lord Krsna.)
2. After offering the item to Srila Prabhupada the pujari can then offer it to Lord Krsna with the understanding that he has obtained permission to offer it to Lord Krsna by offering the item first to Srila Prabhupada and/or by offering the item to Srila Prabhupada first the devotee is then in fact not offering the item himself but is acting as a surrogate for Srila Prabhupada who is in fact doing the offering through the pujari.
3. After offering the item to Lord Krsna the usual system is for the pujari to understand that Lord Krsna has accepted and enjoyed the item. At this point the item becomes the remnants or prasadam of Lord Krsna (although as previously stated it did not become the remnants of Srila Prabhupada when it was offered first to him).
4. At this point the prasadam or remnant item should be offered to the devotees to honor. Naturally it is first of all offered by the devotees to Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana before they accept the item and honor it. (It would not be proper ettiquette for a devotee to accept the Lord's prasadam item or remnant before his spiritual master was offered it.)
5. So a principle of accepting offered items is that Lord Krsna's remnants can be accepted by Srila Prabhupada and then by his disciples. (This is the correct order of accepting prasadam items. What I called "descending order" or from senior to junior)
Now lets look at Gurupuja. Note that the system is very similar.
1. The pujari offers the item to Srila Prabhupada. (Since this is Gurupuja and not Arati on the Altar only Srila Prabhupada is worshiped therefore there is no reason for the disciple who performs this puja to think that Srila Prabhupada is only accepting/passing on the unused item as there is no Deity to pass it on to. Therefore the pujari thinks that Srila Prabhupada fully accepts the item being offered to him (or else he could think that Srila Prabhupada somehow offers that item Himself in some (mental?) way to Lord Krsna being too humble to accept it personally). Anyway whatever the pujari thinks after offering the item to Srila Prabhupada in gurupuja it is clear that the item becomes prasadam or spiritual remnants of Srila Prabhupada unlike when it was offered to Srila Prabhupada on the altar as a prelude to it being offered to Lord Krsna.
So clearly the very same actions of waving an item before the spiritual master has two very different results depending on whether it is done on the altar before offering to Lord Krsna or on the vyasasana during gurupuja.
This can only be rationalized if one says that the pujari has two different mentalities in these two different Aratis. Otherwise for all intents and purposes the actions of the pujari on the altar and at the vyasasana are identical and to all observers seem to have the same result. Where as if we analyze the pujaris mentality we find that they are different although his outward actions are exactly the same. (At this point I want to submit that this is confusing unless clearly enunciated and certainly cannot be understood by the casual observer without detailed explanation.)
It is probably because devotees do not think or meditate deeply about these principles and how they are applied that no one has brought up these points.
Now let us see the example of Tulasi Arati.
Tulasi is a spiritual personality. She is not the Lord (God). She is a devotee. At the same time she is accepted by Vaisnavas as the personification of Bhakti Devi and an expansion of Srimati Radharani. Certainly she is not the pujari's spiritual master.
Here is how Tulasi Arati is performed now:
1. The pujari offers directly to Tulasi. There is no offering of the item to the pujaris spiritual master prior to offering it to Tulasi (unless you say that the pujari is offering the item in his mind to his guru first?)
At this point I would like to point out that this is a completely different system of Arati to the above two (Arati on the Altar and Gurupuja). So since I just showed how Arati on the Altar and Gurupuja are different systems and can be confusing, now we have introduced another completely different system that cannot be said to follow the principle of "offering though the medium of the spiritual master" (or the not jumping over principle). Of course I did mention that the Tulasi pujari could be thinking that he is offering the item mentally to his spiritual master before offering to Tulasi but he certainly does not and never has actually physically done this in the way in which he is said to do it during Arati on the Altar.
If this idea of mentally offering the item to the spiritual master prior to offering to Tulasi is accepted as the Tulasi pujaris mentality then why couldn't the pujari on the altar do the same thing and offer the item mentally to his spiritual master and then directly offer the item to Lord Krsna? (Which is the actual traditional system followed by everyone other than in ISKCON.)
2. After offering the item to Tulasi the item is considered Tulasi's prasadam or spritual remnant and it then offered to the devotees. Usually it is offered to Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana first and then to the devotees from senior to junior.
My suggestion at this point (20 years ago in Europe and Los Angeles) was and still is to make the system sastric and consistent across the board. There are plenty of quotes from Srila Prabhupada about how he wanted a proper standard of Deity Worship to be established in ISKCON based on the Arcana Paddhati as book that was commissioned, researched, written, printed and distributed on the order of Srila Prabhupada. It was seen and authorized by Srila Prabhupada on April 11th, 1977 in Bombay see transcript of conversation with Tamal Krsna or for more information see http://geocities.com/deityworship
. This Arcana Paddhati was based upon the book of the same name authorized by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and used as the standard of Deity Worship in the Gaudiya Math. It is clear from these last instructions of Srila Prabhupada on Deity Worship that he wanted the standard of Deity Worship in ISKCON to be modeled on this text which itself is taken directly from the text authorized and used in His spiritual master's organization the Gaudiya Math. So it is clear that Srila Prabhupada wanted the standard of Deity Worship in ISKCON to be modeled on the standard of the Gaudiya Math. (Of course there are certainly differences in the type of deities and certain details and technicalities, however in my humble opinion there is no reason that such a basic principle and detail as the order of offering be different only in ISKCON from the rest of the sampradaya. I will leave it for others to make the argument that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to have radically different methods of worship to all others of our sampradaya and which were as we can see above not even internally consistent with the principle of offering first to the spiritual master as we have seen with Tulasi Arati.
Of course in 1982 the Arcana Paddhati fell into disuse, for reasons that have not fully been articulated by the GBC, even before it was fully instituted as the ISKCON standard that Srila Prabhupada wanted. It has been replaced with the GBC authorized Pancaratra Pradipa which in my humble opinion goes far beyond the complexity wanted by Srila Prabhupada and which is full of procedure that are hybrid methods neither fully traditional nor fully original as far as Srila Prabhupada instructions are concerned.
OK, well where do we go from here?
The question is still not fully explored. Many people would like to just despair at this point and say "Well, all I know is that the old system was good enough for ISKCON for so many years so even if Srila Prabhupada wanted us to standardize ISKCON's puja based on the Arcana Paddhati (the standard of the Gaudiya Math) it was never fully established so why can't we just do everything exactly the way it was done when Srila Prabhupada was with us?"
The answer to this often heard appeal is very simple.
We cannot do these things exactly the same way as they were done when Srila Prabhupada was with us because the details have changed due to the presence of Srila Prabhupada's grand disciples and even now great grand disciples.
Read the following line very carefully:
The only way to go back to doing everything exactly the same way as was done during Srila Prabhupada's presence is to accept the Rtvik system.
That's right, because only by accepting everyone as a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada, as the Rtviks do, can we do these procedures exactly (in detail) the same as they were done during Srila Prabhupada's presence.
(Of course for those of us who are direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada there is no problem, but we will not and are not even now always be there to do all the Aratis.)
To explain this further let's look at the three Aratis again in their modern (Post Srila Prabhupada's physical presence) ISKCON scenario.
Arati on the Altar (once again lets see a simple Arati with only a guru, Srila Prabhupada, now paramaguru and Lord Krsna)
1. The pujari offers the item to his guru (a disciple of Srila Prabhupada), then to Srila Prabhupada, then to Lord Krsna.
2. After offering the item to Lord Krsna the item becomes prasadam or spiritual remnants of Lord Krsna and should then be offered to the devotees. The prasadam should be offered to the devotees from senior to junior. But wait, how can this grand disciple offer the prasadam to Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana? Can he now offer it directly to Srila Prabhupada or must he offer it first to his spiritual master (Srila Prabhupada's disciple)?
If he simply turns after offering to Lord Krsna and offers to Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana then how can this be justified as NOT jumping over his guru? And if he first offers the prasadam to his guru (Srila Prabhupada's disciple) how can it then be offered second to Srila Prabhupada?
OK, well there is a way, that this could be done. Mentally the pujari could be thinking that he cannot offer the prasadam item directly to Srila Prabhupada and therefore he has to offer it again to his guru first and he could further think that his guru does not actually honor it but only accepts it and then allows or sanctions the pujari to act as his surrogate and offer the item then to Srila Prabhupada and then he could offer it to Srila Prabhupada. But then at that point he again has to offer Srila Prabhupada's prasadam to his spiritual master before offering it to the other devotees.
So lets get this straight: Here is the details behind these principles.
The pujari offers to his guru, then Srila Prabhupada, Lord Krsna, then his guru (again), then Srila Prabhupada (again) and then his guru (for a third time), then to the devotees.
Gee, that was hard. Here is how it has to be done if there is a grand disciple. (This is not theoretical Kadamba Kanana Swami has disciples who as disciples of his are grand disciples of Jayadvaita Swami and great grand disciples of Srila Prabhupada (what to speak of great great grand disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta whose deity must be worshiped in many ISKCON temples). (When you see how complex this gets just remember that this is only with a temple with one Krsna deity not a regular temple with 7 major deities apart from the gurus)
Great grand disciple Arati.
1. The pujari offers to his guru, then his parama guru, then Srila Prabhupada, then Lord Krsna, then to his guru, then to his parama guru, then to Srila Prabhupada, then to his guru, then to his parama guru, then to his guru, then to the assembled devotees.
See how complex this gets if we try to follow this principle of not jumping over the guru in the way in which we have done so far up till now. Instead let's see how simple it is to follow the same principle a different, and guess what, completely sastric and traditional way. Which happens to be the way everyone else in our sampradaya does it.
Great Grand disciple Arati. Sampradayic style.
1. The pujari mentally remembers his guru parampara beginning with his guru. As he remembers the parampara he meditates that each member gives him permission to approach the next more senior member until he at last gains permission from them all to offer worship on their behalf to Lord Krsna. (This can be accomplished by a simple prayer or flower offering or meditation). Then the pujari offers the item on behalf of the guru parampara to Lord Krsna. Then he offers it to those members of the parampara present in deity (or picture form) from senior to junior finishing with the assembled devotees. Thus he offers the prasadam of Lord Krsna which becomes mahaprasadam, and maha maha prasadam as it is offered from senior members to junior members of the guru parampara.
That's the principle, the details would look like this.
1. The pujari prayers before the altar for permission of the guru parampara to perform worship. Then he picks up the first item and offers is to Lord Krsna then to Srila Prabhupada, then to his param guru and then to his guru, then to the assembled devotees. Simple as that!
What I have just described above strictly follows the principle of offering worship through the medium of the spiritual master however it does so in a way that is not only practical but is the traditional method used by the rest of the sampradaya.
Why would anyone in their right mind think that the convoluted system described above is better?
Just to finish this discussion I would like to submit how Gurupuja and Tulasi Arati would have to be performed under the old system.
Gurupuja offered by a Grand disciple. (Although there may be direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada available in Los Angeles to perform gurupuja there are certainly not direct disciples available at many ISKCON temples around the world, please take note of this procedure as this is how you should be doing it if this is the case in your temple.)
1. The pujari is a grand disciple and cannot directly offer to Srila Prabhupada. Therefore he first offers to his guru (does this mean that they have to put a picture of their guru on the vyasasana or next to it or on the floor in front of it or where? like they do in the altar?), then he offers to Srila Prabhupada, then he offers the item to his guru again (as Srila Prahupada's prasadam) and then to the assembled devotees.
Is this an acceptable scenario in ISKCON?
Here is my alternative. (Same principle different details)
1. The pujari is a grand disciple and cannot directly offer to Srila Prabhupada. Therefore he simply prays and mentally gets permission from his guru (no picture required) to offer to Srila Prabhupada. Then he simply offers to Srila Prabhupada and mentally offers the prasadam to his guru before offering it to the assembled devotees.
(This scenario would outwardly look the same as the system offered now but if the idea of mentally getting permission from the guru to worship one's paramguru without even using a picture can be accepted in this case then why can it not be accepted in the case of arati on the altar as well? If it were accepted in arati on the altar as well then we would not need pujaris bringing pictures of their specific guru parampara with them every time they want to do arati on the altar. In the long run this is going to save a lot of problems and unnecessary complexity which is not actually sastric or traditional, and at the same time preserving the principle.
Here is Tulasi Arati the old way with a grand disciple.
1. The pujari is a grand disciple and cannot directly offer to Tulasi or Srila Prabhupada. Therefore to be consistent with the principle he has to first offer to his guru, then Srila Prabhupada, then Tulasi, then again his guru, then Srila Prabhupada, then again his guru, then the assembled devotees.
Here it is the traditional sastric way (actually this is the way it is now and how it always has been).
1. The pujari is a grand disciple and cannot directly offer to Srila Prabhupada or Tulasi. Therefore he simply prays and mentally gets permission from his guru (no picture required) and then from Srila Prabhupada also no picture or physical offering required, then he offers to Tulasi and then to Srila Prabhupada on the vyasasana and then mentally offers the prasadam to his guru before offering it to the assembled devotees.
Simple! Sastric! Traditional! And fully supports the principle of going through the medium of the Guru.
Now I have not fully addressed the remarks of Krsna Ksetra Prabhu but I have offered my opinion as to how the principle needs to be preserved and the details need to be consistent. It's is very simple to do these things if we just accept that Srila Prabhupada wanted the standard is ISKCON based on the Arcana Paddhati the system used in his spiritual master's organization.
Comments are invited.
Gaura Keshava das