Back in 1975, when Srila Prabhupada was meeting with the GBC and they were having a discussion about drafting the pledge of allegiance, at some point there’s discussion about whether to add also a line pledging allegiance or obedience to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in his books. And Srila Prabhupada says that his direct instruction supersedes the books.
This is a very important point that many devotees don’t understand. The direct instruction of the Acharya is more important. ISKCON tries to establish the superiority of the books over everything else. They say, “Srila Prabhupada might have said that, but his books have the final say.” But this is erroneous. The simple, direct prescription which is tailored to the circumstances takes precedence. Just like when you go to see a lawyer, he doesn’t hand you the lawbooks and say, “Here’s the solution.” He applies the knowledge of the lawbooks specifically applicable to your particular case. Same thing medical doctor. He might refer to the medical books, but he gives a prescription to you based on what you need.
When I joined Prabhupada, there were no books, practically. I had that little book, Easy Journey to Other Planets. But I joined Prabhupada, and everything was “What do I do now?” That was the basis of my service to Srila Prabhupada, every step of the way.
It’s one thing to read the books to get a general understanding, but to take action requires direct order: “You do this.” And this was what Krishna did also with Arjuna. Krishna spoke 18 chapters of the science of Krishna consciousness to Arjuna, including hatha-yoga, jnana-yoga, but finally He said, “Don’t worry. you do this, and I’ll take care of everything else.” So the books are there, and at first one should read the books, but when he becomes interested and wants a deeper understanding, then naturally he will feel the urge to come forward and get guidance from a devotee. So I think it is important to bring this out into the open.
Here’s a snippet of that conversation (March 27, 1975), wherein Srila Prabhupada asked Atreya Rsi to read the draft of the Oath of Allegiance, and then proceeded to dictate what should be included and what should be left out:
Atreya Rsi: …or may be given to me from time to time directly, these directions, by my aforesaid Guru Maharaja, or through his books, or…” In other words, direction given, instruction given, directly by him or through his…
Prabhupada: Better directly.
Atreya Rsi: No “His books”?
Atreya Rsi: Not necessary.
Prabhupada: Because I may give direction according to the time.
Atreya Rsi: “Or” means both.
Atreya Rsi: “Or” can mean… All right. “Or through his commissioners…”
Prabhupada: Direct, direct instruction is important. Just like Krishna. In the books He has given many instructions, but then He says, sarva-dharman parityaja. If one says that “You gave me instruction before like this. How can I give up this?” so that is not important. The direct instruction is important.
Atreya Rsi: “To me from time to time directly by my aforesaid Guru Maharaja, or through his commissioner…”
Atreya Rsi: “Or through his authorized person or persons, and I shall obey faithfully all such instructions and directions which shall be, which shall be binding on me, and that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of my Guru Maharaja, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and the managing body commission and, or, any other body appointed by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada working under the said International Society for Krishna Consciousness. And I shall faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter or I have already appointed to that effect.” Now this is an addition. “I further pledge that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami is the only source of authority, represented by his instructions and books, and I shall follow his instructions, I shall follow the instructions of the books…”
Madhudvisa: Only these books.
Atreya Rsi: “Only these books” Rather than “I will not follow any other book.”
Prabhupada: No, why you’ll put? [laughs] This is…?
Atreya Rsi: It’s not…?
Prabhupada: This is required?
Rupanuga: You mean the part about the books, Srila Prabhupada?
Rupanuga: You mean the part about the books?
Hansadutta: It’s already said that you’re his direct instructions.
Atreya Rsi: This is to protect, like, if somebody chanting sixteen rounds…
Hansadutta: It’s redundant.
Madhudvisa: Well, I thought if someone was chanting sixteen rounds and following the principles and reading someone else’s books, like Siddha-svarupa’s people…
Hansadutta: Yeah, but we’ve just already read one portion where it says that we will follow direct instructions of Prabhupada.
Prabhupada: That’s it.
Hansadutta: So again he’s repeating it.
Prabhupada: Instruction, follow that.
Atreya Rsi: So then it’s not necessary about this “only” sort part of…
Madhudvisa: What if there is no direct instruction?
Prabhupada: Yes. I don’t think that part is anymore important.