The children of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja harbored resentment when their father entered the renounced order of life and began preaching. And when ISKCON became immensely successful, they became envious of the wealth and proper their father’s society had accumulated. In the 1980s, Mathura-mohan De, the eldest son of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja, filed a claim in court stating that all ISKCON assets were rightfully his family’s proper.
Mathura-mohan De declared that Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja was not a brāhmaṇa, and hence could not accept sannyāsa. He said that his father was a businessman and that ISKCON was his business enterprise. Consequently, it legally belonged to the hereditary son. He convinced all of his siblings, except for the youngest son, Vṛndāvana-candra, to support him in the case. His mother, Rādhārānī De, however, signed an affidavit against her son’s prosecution of ISKCON.
ISKCON leaders stated that the disciples of a sannyāsī are his true heirs and that Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja had renounced his blood family long before he had inaugurated ISKCON. Mathura-mohan De posed that his father had not taken sannyāsa, nor had he been eligible for sannyāsa, being of a vaiśya class, and that ISKCON had only been a business venture.
The case caused quite a stir in India. After going to the Kolkata High Court, it was transferred to the Bombay High Court. In danger of losing all ISKCON properties and assets, ISKCON leaders begged Śrīla Gurudeva to testify for them in court. They remembered Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja telling them, “If you have any difficulty, go to Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja for guidance and help.”
They entreated Gurudeva, “Please convince the Court that Śrīla Prabhupāda was a bona fide sannyāsī and that his disciples are his inheritors; explain the vaiṣṇava-siddhānta on sannyāsa and give witness that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sannyāsa ceremony was performed in Mathurā. If you don’t come, we will lose everything. Śrīla Praphupada’s sons will seize ISKCON properties and sell everything. Prabhupāda’s legacy will be lost and his stature as a sannyāsī discredited. The Court may also decree some laws restricting sannyāsa to only those who are aged brāhmaṇas. At present, the Indian court has no law governing sannyāsa.”
Śrīla Gurudeva readily agreed. Although in weak health at the me, he went alone and stayed for months at the Juhu ISKCON temple in Mumbaī. From there, he would go back and forth to the courthouse to testify on behalf of ISKCON.
By eight a.m. Śrīla Gurudeva was en route to the courthouse and he did not return until evening. He prepared evidence from śāstra regarding the validity of bhakti-sannyasa, and attested to Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja accepting sannyāsa in Mathurā in 1959. He described the ceremonies he had personally overseen.
Mathura-mohan De convinced sahajiyā–bābājīs and other quasi-Vaiṣṇava groups envious of ISKCON to give testimony on behalf of the prosecution. They argued that sastra states that only a brāhmaṇa can take sannyāsa and only after 75 years of age, having passed through all the other āśramas.
They said, “In proper varṇāśrama-dharma, one first resides as a brahmacārī in his guru’s āśrama until 25 years of age, then follows religious married life until 50, then retires and lives as a vānaprastha separate from his family, and only then can he accept the sannyāsa order of life.”
Śrīla Gurudeva cited many examples against this theory, such as that of Sankaracarya, who accepted sannyāsa at eight years of age, and Madhvācārya, who was twelve when he took sannyāsa. He also explained how Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī, as well as the Four Kumāras, had accepted sannyāsa when they were mere boys, and how Nārada Ṛṣi had renounced his family as a boy.
Śrīla Gurudeva supported all his statements wh quotations from the Vedas, Upaniṣads, Bhāgavatam, and other scriptures. He gave the following quotation found in various authoritative Vedic texts, such as the Javalopanisad and Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad, to support that one may accept sannyāsa direly from any āśrama as soon as detachment from material life arises.
sa hovaca yajnavalkyah brahmacaryam samapta grhi bhavet
grhi bhutva vāṇī bhavet vāṇī bhutva pravrajet
yadi vetaratha brahmacaryadeva pravrajed grhad vā vanad vā
atha punaravrati vā vrati vā snatako vā’snatako vā
utsannagniranagniko vā yadahareva virajet tadahareva pravrajet
“The saintly king Janaka Mahārāja inquired from the great sage Yājñavalkya, ‘O Great one! Please explain to me the qualifications and regulations governing the acceptance of sannyāsa.’ Yājñavalkya replied, ‘First of all, strictly observing the vow of brahmacarya, one should study the Vedas in the home of one’s guru. Then, after appropriately observing the occupational dues of the gṛhastha-āśrama, one should accept vānaprastha. Finally, after vānaprastha one should accept sannyāsa. Before entering the gṛhastha-āśrama, if one develops a powerful sense of detachment from material life while still in the stage of brahmacarya, then one should accept sannyāsa directly from the brahmacarya-āśrama. Otherwise, as soon as one’s vairāgya is very strong, it is quite appropriate to accept sannyāsa from the stages of gṛhastha or vānaprastha. In other words, the principle is that one may accept sannyāsa from the position of any āśrama upon developing genuine detachment. Whether one’s study of the six limbs of the Vedas is complete or not, whether one has taken bath as prescribed by the Vedas or not, whether one has duly dismissed the presiding deity of the sacrificial fire or not; whether one is married or a widower; in any condition of life one can accept sannyāsa when intense vairāgya manifests in one’s character.”
The prosecution further argued, “Abhaya Caraṇa did not factually take sannyāsa, nor follow s principles. Furthermore, the Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa forbids the acceptance of sannyāsa in Kali-yuga, the present Vedic epoch.
aśvamedhaṁ gavālambhaṁ sannyāsaṁ pala-paitṛkam, devareṇa sutotpattiṁ kalau pañca vivarjayet
Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa 185.180
“In this Age of Kali, five as are forbidden: offering a horse in sacrifice, offering a cow in sacrifice, acceptance of the order of sannyāsa, offering of oblations of flesh to the forefathers, and begetting children in the wife of a brother.”
Śrīla Gurudeva countered wh scriptural evidence, refuting all of the prosecutor’s arguments. He said: ”This verse is referring only to karma and jñāna-sannyāsa. Three types of sannyāsa are mentioned in the Padma-purāṇa: jñāna-sannyāsa, veda-sannyāsa (or bhakti-sannyāsa), and karma-sannyāsa.
jñānasannyāsinah kecid vedasannyāsino’pare
karmasannyāsinastvanye trividhah parikirttitah
Padma-Purāṇa, Adi-khanda 31
“Karma-sannyāsa alone is forbidden in Kali-yuga. A karma-sannyāsī is one who has no self-knowledge and who does not accept sannyāsa with the aspiration of attaining pure devotion. He renounces because his senses have become enfeebled or he desires acclaim. Bhagavān’s devotee is not a karmī; hence, the question of karma-sannyāsa does not arise.”
Śrīla Gurudeva next stated that the instructions of the Vedic literature are always applicable; while sannyāsa is prohibited on the basis of only one verse from the Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa, many other authentic scriptures unanimously support sannyāsa and saffron cloth for qualified persons in every age.
Śrīla Gurudeva quoted another verse from the Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa (2.36.9) to prove that sannyāsa is a valid āśrama in Kali-yuga, and that the previous prohibition towards sannyāsa, as found in the same scripture, refers to an occasional special circumstance or to a particular type of sannyāsa:
daṇḍaṁ kamaṇḍaluṁ rakta-vastra-mātraṁ ca dhārayet
nityaṁ pravāsī naikatra sa sannyāsīti kīrtitaḥ
Brahma-vaivartta Purāṇa 2.36.9
‘A sannyāsī is one who only possesses the staff of a renunciant, a water-pot, saffron cloth, and is always traveling, with no permanent residence.’
Mathura-mohan De’s advocate then proposed, “Even if sannyāsa were permitted in this age, it is only for those from a brāhmaṇa caste, not for the other castes. In truth, Abhaya Caraṇa was not a sannyāsī.
He preached in the West, wearing saffron cloth, which is not exclusively for sannyāsīs, but he did not follow the rules of a sannyāsī. He did not follow shaving regulations, he dressed opulently, amassed wealth and properties, wore expense watches and rings, drove in flashy cars, and had many servants. A bona fide sannyāsī will not eat the cooking of śūdras or mlecchas, nor associate with them, and he will not go overseas. As Abhaya Caraṇa did all these activities, he was not a real sannyāsī. Even if he went through a sannyāsa ceremony, he violated the rules of sannyāsa. Sannyāsīs are not supposed to collect wealth and properties. They are supposed to have renounced all things of this world. Thus, the assets of Abhaya Caraṇa’s ISKCON rightfully belong to his sons.”
Śrīla Gurudeva countered thus, “The illustrious Gaudiya-ācarya Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda instructed that anything the scientists discover can be utilized by the sannyāsīs in God’s service and for helping the living beings of this world. Otherwise, if one does not accept and utilize these things, then they will create a disturbance and be harmful for the world. Bhagavān and His followers, like a king and his sons, are always respected. Their acceptance of gifts or facility that is offered with respect confers great spiritual benefit to the giver. The pure devotees of the Lord use whatever they possess for Kṛṣṇa’s service.”
Śrīla Gurudeva quoted many verses of sastra giving evidence that a brāhmaṇa is accepted as such by qualification, not by birth, and that Vaiṣṇavas are the highest brāhmaṇas. Gurudeva described that the teaching of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda, the authorized ācārya in the Brahmā-Madhva-Gauḍīya-sampradāya, is that any genuine Vaiṣṇava is a qualified brāhmaṇa and is fit for sannyāsa. Śrīla Gurudeva also explained that his guru, Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja—the sannyāsa-guru of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja—was an authorized sannyāsī in the line from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and was thereby qualified to bestow sannyāsa.
The Bābājīs and smārta-brāhmaṇas then stated that in Mahāprabhu’s sampradāya the Gosvāmīs never accepted sannyāsa and were outside the jurisdiction of the four āśramas. They claimed that saffron cloth was reserved only for Mahāprabhu.
Śrīla Gurudeva replied, “ The Gosvāmīs felt themselves fallen and did not want to put themselves on the same level of Mahāprabhu, as a sannyāsī. Later, respecting the paramahaṁsa stage of the Gosvāmīs, Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura humbly remained in the varṇāśrama system as a sannyāsī. He set this example for the majority of people, knowing that can be harmful for one to think himself qualified to renounce external dharma and perform exclusive bhakti.
aikāntikī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate
‘The display of exclusive hari-bhakti, while neglecting the injunctions of the pañcarātra-śāstra, only causes a disturbance.’
“Śrīla Bhaksiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda therefore said, ‘We shall follow the rules of śāstra, hoping to be purified. We offer our respect to the stage of paramahaṁsa as well as to those who are situated in that position. But it is not possible for us to be equal to such personalities. Our cherished aspiration is to become the servant of the servant of the paramahaṁsas such as Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī.’ ”
When the prosecution asked, “If he was a legitimate sannyāsī, bearing the name ‘Bhaktivedānta Svāmī,’ why did he keep the family initials A.C.—Abhaya Caraṇa?”
Śrīla Gurudeva responded, “The name Abhaya Caraṇa was kept by his Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda, at the me that he received dīkṣā. Also, when anyone goes from India to Western countries, they need a passport and visa. So he kept his birth name for legal reasons regarding his passport.”
Śrīla Gurudeva returned to Mathura by train after the first hearing. He arrived back frail and ill and was nursed back to health with medicine and nourishing food over the course of several months.
When the time for the second hearing came, the ISKCON leaders came and requested Śrīla Gurudeva to again testify in Mumbaī. Śrīla Gurudeva again agreed, but this me Navīna-kṛṣṇa Brahmacārī told the ISKCON sannyāsīs, “You must buy two plane tickets.
Śrīla Mahārāja will not travel alone. Last me he became ill and had no proper facility in Bombay. If you want him to save ISKCON, you must arrange for roundtrip tickets, a nice room, and a place to cook.”
The leaders acquiesced and arranged flights for Śrīla Gurudeva and Navīna-kṛṣṇa Brahmacārī. Gurudeva testified again in favor of ISKCON. He established that bhakti-sannyāsa is sanctioned in Kali-yuga; that Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja was a genuine sannyāsī; and that the assets of ISKCON are rightfully inherited by his disciples. The judge and the lawyers asked many questions to Śrīla Gurudeva, and on the basis of his testimony, a precedent was set in the Court on how to deal with similar cases in regard to sannyāsīs.
Śrīla Gurudeva returned to Mathura after the second hearing, however, he was called several times over the following years as the case progressed. With his cogent delineation of Vedic and Vaiṣṇava philosophy, and his testimony to the verity of Srila Bhaktivedānta Swami maharaja’s sannyāsa status, Gurudeva safeguarded the assets of ISKCON. He also protected the sannyāsa-āśrama and the tradition of wearing saffron cloth in the Gauḍīya-sampradāya.
The case with Mathurā Mohan De could have dragged on for decades, even though it was in ISKCON’s favor. Śrīla Gurudeva suggested that the ISKCON GBC (Governing Body Commission) come to a low settlement. They did so and the case was finally closed in the early nineties.
For his help in the case, Śrīla Gurudeva was referred to in an ISKCON GBC resolution as a “Longtime friend of ISKCON.”
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (excerpted from the book: “Sri Guru Darshan”, available from; email@example.com)