M O V I N G F O R W A R D
For a devotee, there is no point in making friendships with ordinary persons, unless dictated by “time, place and circumstance). He should make friendship with other devotees, so that by discussing among themselves, they may elevate one another on the path of spiritual understanding. This is called “istagosthi.”
Srimad-bhagavatam 3.29.17, Purport:
“According to devotional vision, a man is poor if he is not in Krishna consciousness. A man may be very rich materially, but if he is not Krishna conscious, he is considered poor. On the other hand, many acaryas, such as Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami, used to live beneath trees every night. Superficially it appeared that they were poverty-stricken, but from their writings we can understand that in spiritual life they were the richest personalities.
A devotee shows compassion to those poor souls who are wanting in spiritual knowledge by enlightening them in order to elevate them to Krishna consciousness. That is one of the duties of a devotee. He should also make friendship with persons who are on an equal level with himself or who have the same understanding that he does. For a devotee, there is no point in making friendships with ordinary persons; he should make friendship with other devotees so that by discussing among themselves, they may elevate one another on the path of spiritual understanding. This is called istagosthi.”
Lecture on Srimad-bhagavatam .5.13 — New Vrindaban, June 13, 1969:
“So, this is the thing, tad-vicestitam. He’s simply thinking of the activities of Krishna and Arjuna. That’s all. That is perfect reading of Bhagavad-gita. It does not require to read Bhagavad-gita by your academic education. If you simply hear from the authoritative source the instruction of Bhagavad-gita, and if you simply meditate upon that speech, that instruction, “Oh, Krishna instructed like this. Arjuna received like this. He questioned like this. He answered like this,” that is meditation, perfect meditation, and you become liberated. Tad-vicestitam. It is not very difficult job. Simply you have to receive. …. You have to hear from the pure source, give aural reception, and think of it, meditate upon it. Simply by doing this, you are liberated. These are not bluff. Here is the evidence. Simply receive the message from the right source and contemplate and meditate upon that instruction. You are liberated. Chanting and hearing. Hearing and… sravanam kirtanam (Srimad-bhagavatam 7.5.23). First hearing, then chanting. Hear from the right source and discuss amongst yourselves. Istagosthi. Then the perfection. … Samadhi does not mean something artificial. Here Śridhara Swami says, citta aikagrena. Citta means your mind, or heart, completely absorbed in Krishna thought. That means Krishna consciousness. That is samadhi.”
Sometimes the teacher questions to the student, and student replies, and sometimes the student questions to the teacher, and teacher replies. This is called istagosthi. To develop knowledge, these questions and answers are required.
Lecture on Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya-lila 20.66-96 — New York, November 21, 1966:
“The Lord was questioning Ramananda Raya, and Ramananda Raya was replying and here, in the similar way, the Sanatana Gosvami will question and Lord Caitanya will reply. So sometimes the disciple and the spiritual master, the relationship is like that. Sometimes the teacher questions to the student, and student replies, and sometimes the student questions to the teacher, and teacher replies. This is called istagosthi. To develop knowledge, these questions and answers are required. According to system of accepting a spiritual master, it is said that just after acceptance… One must have to accept a spiritual master. … Then he should be very much inquisitive. A student… Not finishing, that “Now I am initiated. Everything finished.” No. He should be very inquisitive. Unless one is very inquisitive, there is no necessity of accepting a spiritual master. That is the instruction in the Srimad-bhagavatam 11.3.21. One has the necessity of accepting a spiritual master who is very much inquisitive about transcendental matter. Otherwise, there is no necessity. Simply, “Oh, because so many people accept a spiritual master, so I’ll have to accept somebody as spiritual master. My business finished”—no. One should be very much inquisitive. Yes. He must be very much eager to understand what is transcendental subject. Then his, this business of accepting a spiritual master will be fulfilled.”
Istagosthi, or discussion. Discussion does not take place alone. There must be at least two.
Morning Walk — September 9, 1975, Vrndavana:
“Srila Prabhupada? Just before coming here, we were in Laguna Beach, and Guru-krpa Maharaja, Yaasodanandana Maharaja, Paramahamsa Maharaja, Viṣnujana Maharaja and myself, we got your new books, Caitanya-caritamrta. So, we were reading constantly from early in the morning. We found it was very enlivening, the fact that we were reading amongst a number of devotees.”
“Yes. Therefore, it is called istagosthi, or discussion. Discussion does not take place alone. There must be at least two.”
Letter to Brahmananda — Los Angeles 1 February, 1968:
“… I have already sent copy of the instructions for celebrating my Guru Maharaja’s Advent Day, to Syamasundara., as of yesterday, and you can read it to all the devotees at Istagosthi.”
Letter to Balai — Los Angeles 19 February, 1968:
“I thank you very much for the Istagosthi notes, and also your nice letter of Feb. 14, 1968. I have read them over, and the question which was asked about why people did not see Krishna as blue, question no. 5; you can’t see Krishna with material eyes. Please continue sending the notes from the meetings; I am very pleased to read how my students are relishing the discussions of Krishna and His Associates. I am very much satisfied with your replies on the questions made in the Istagosthi.”
Sometimes Srila Prabhupada used to receive many letters from devotees with questions which could be solved in the Istagosthi meetings.
Letter to Rayarama — Los Angeles 3 March, 1968:
“With reference to your Gaurasundara das letter, ‘I am being overloaded with mail lately’ is not meant for you. I must have sufficient correspondence with the main pillars of the society. You are one of them, so you are at liberty to write me as many letters as it is required. Sometimes I receive many letters from devotees with questions which could be solved in the Istagosthi meetings.”
Letter to Balai — San Francisco 22 March, 1968:
“I am in due receipt of your letter dated March 19th, along with Istagosthi notes, I am always so pleased to see how nicely the Istagosthi meetings are being carried on, so I am always anticipating your letters, along with Istagosthi reports. Thank you very much.”
Letter to Advaita — Seattle 6 October, 1968:
“… Please inform Balai dasi with my blessings, that I have received the report of the Istagosthi, and it is very nice. Especially the portion in which Rayarama and Purusottama’s presentation to deal with newcomers is very nice. We should not disturb the newcomers immediately with opposite proposals, but tactfully we shall try to teach him in our ways, and gradually he will come to understand this policy is very nice, and approved by me. I have very much appreciated your discussion in the Istagosthi and so also Rayarama’s.”
Letter to Purusottama — Seattle 6 October, 1968:
“…. I have very much appreciated your discussion in the Istagosthi and so also Rayarama’s. We have to collect men for Krishna Consciousness & therefore we may not be harsh to them. I have seen the Istagosthi notes of your meetings which were sent by Lilavati, and you are doing very nice in speaking on the principles of Krishna Consciousness.”
Letter to Jayapataka — Los Angeles 14 February, 1969:
“Regarding your question about the 10 senses, such questions should be taken up at your Istagosthi meetings. I have already answered most of the questions you have asked in this connection in a previous letter, so you may refer to it.”
Letter to Kirtanananda — Los Angeles 14 February, 1969:
“… Regarding your Istagosthi question, chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra can be done loudly or slowly, and in all conditions. There is no restriction. Lord Caitanya has said that there are no hard and fast rules for chanting this Maha Mantra.”
Letter to Mukunda — New Vrindaban 10 June, 1969:
“The answer to your Istagosthi questions is as follows: Unless one is a resident of Krishna Loka, one cannot be a Spiritual Master. That is the first proposition. A layman cannot be a Spiritual Master, and if he becomes so then he will simply create disturbance. And who is a liberated person? One who knows Krishna. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita, fourth chapter, anyone who knows Krishna in truth is immediately liberated, and after quitting the present body, he immediately goes to Krishna. That means he becomes a resident of Krishna Loka.
As soon as one is liberated he is immediately a resident of Krishna Loka, and anyone who knows the truth of Krishna can become Spiritual Master.
That is the version of Lord Caitanya. So, to summarize the whole thing, it is to be understood that a bona fide Spiritual Master is a resident of Krishna Loka.
It is better if simple questions are solved amongst yourselves in the Istagosthi class. Every one of you must regularly read our books at least twice—in the morning and evening, and automatically all questions will be answered.”
Letter to Ranadhira — Los Angeles 24 January, 1970:
“…. All the devotees who desire to know may ask their questions to the elderly members but still they are open to write me for all their questions and there should not be any hesitation. I reply each and every letter that I receive, but sometimes it may be a little late due to pressure of work. But they should write; there is no checking. But it is better if simple questions are solved amongst yourselves in the Istagosthi class. Every one of you must regularly read our books at least twice—in the morning and evening, and automatically all questions will be answered.”
Letter to Kirtanananda — Bombay 10 November, 1975:
“Regarding the topics of the Krsna book, this is Istagosthi. Istagosthi means discussion between ourselves but that should not be taken as a competition. It is not the subject matter for competition. It can be discussed in a small group of devotees. That is Istagosthi. This is better than competition.” .