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In my previous paper, entitled “Sampradaya Acarya”, I choose to exclude a number of sections in order to maintain focus on the central theme. In this paper, I hope to clearly explain the degree to which I differ from philosophical exponents of post-samadhi diksa.
For many years, I have been unfairly stigmatized by members of ISKCON as being a Rtvik advocate, although I have been ostracized by the Rtvik inner circle since 1996. Admittedly, I share many philosophical conclusions with the Rtvik pandits, particularly when it comes to giving Srila Prabhupada his proper prominence within the contemporary Vaisnava community, and inclusion as a rare Sampradaya Acarya within our glorious parampara. Interestingly, however, I have experienced a much more ferocious, reactionary feedback from fanatic members of the Rtvik camp than I have from followers of other groups with whom I have a philosophical conflict.
ISKCON and the Rtviks are opposite sides of the same coin, and the tell tale traits of religiosity are manifest in the die-hard members of both opposing groups. The core message of the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya is for all followers of Lord Caitanya's Sankirtan Movement to exclusively surrender to the unalloyed parampara representative, and to not blindly obey the less than perfect institutional religionists posing as Acaryas. The signs of religiosity can be seen in efforts at stifling freedom of expression, muzzling dissenting opinions, marginalizing the brahminical process, ostracizing those not willing to follow lockstep with the elite, and demonizing anyone openly critical of the managers and their latest version of “truth”.
A technique commonly shared by ISKCON and the Rtviks is an over-emphasis on the absolute necessity for newcomers to discover their diksa guru connection to the Sampradaya, and benefit from the subsequent removal of accumulated vi-karmic reaction. This emphasis ignores the many sastric declarations about the amazing purification that comes about by coming in contact with the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya. From his divine association flows all the knowledge required in order to properly chant the sacred mantras, beginning with the Holy Names. In addition to the Hare Krsna mahamantra, the newcomer receives from the Sampradaya Acarya detailed instruction on how to worship the Deities, Tulasi, follow Ekadasi, and so. There is no pre-requisite stated in sastra that all the purification available via engagement in devotional service first requires being initiated by the diksa guru. The real requirement is connection to the Sampradaya Acarya.
The Rtvik pandits have assigned such exalted spiritual qualifications to the bonafide diksa guru that only a divine personality with genuine Sampradaya Acarya status comes close. Consequently, they feel there is an absolute need for post-samadhi diksa from Srila Prabhupada. They ostensibly disqualify all other possible diksa guru candidates. Due to their fanatical mood, I strongly doubt whether any of the Rtvik-ites I know today would manifest the spiritual insight required to recognize and embrace the next Sampradaya Acarya, should Lord Caitanya see fit to send one in our lifetime.
History of the Rtvik Movement
Since many readers may be unaware of the differences between the various Rtvik groups, I will attempt to present an overview of their common beliefs and a brief history of the Rtvik movement, as I understand it.
The Rtvik's guru-tattva philosophy is based upon the conviction that Srila Prabhupada wished that a sincere follower of his be free to take post-samadhi diksa via his proxy representative, the "priest", or "Rtvik". Such initiations would be conducted in basically the same manner that was in place prior to Srila Prabhupada's entering into samadhi. Proponents of the Rtvik system hold the July 9th, 1977 letter, wherein Srila Prabhupada appointed eleven regional GBC’s to act as his Rtvik representatives, to be absolute proof that this system was to continue “henceforward” after his departure. In addition to this letter, they have their own interpretation of an earlier conversation (May 28, 1977), and the personal testimony of one witness, Gauridasa Pandit.
This hypothesis originated from the person of Yasoda nandana dasa, who is one of the founding members of a loosely organized underground movement started in the late 1970's, aiming protest at the GBC/Zonal Acaryas. Most of the intellectuals who formed the inner circle of this cell were unceremoniously excommunicated from ISKCON for publicly voicing their subversive ideas. To the best of my knowledge, the membership included Pradyumna dasa, Jadurani devi dasi, Kailasa candra dasa, and Yasoda nandanana dasa. This school of radical thought wrote, printed and circulated many confrontational tracts in the early days, with limited results. Initially, they did not try to promote the return of the Rtvik process, but rather focused on the advanced spiritual qualifications required to become a bonafide diksa guru. These were qualities the Zonal Acaryas sadly lacked. Naturally, the Zonals' policy of exaggerated glorification and their self-anointed honorific titles incited the disgust and outrage of this early protest group. The sastric definitions for diksa set forth by this group were so unattainable by Kaliyuga Westerners that Srila Prabhupada was the only ISKCON related personality who unquestionably qualified. It was this train of thought that naturally evolved into the post-samadhi diksa concept. The group's need for supporting documental evidence required a re-interpretation of the same July 9th letter the Zonals had previously highlighted as their authorization to take unfettered, exclusive regional power.
After some time, the band of protestors dissolved their alliance. Yasoda nandana dasa resurfaced in Toronto, writing and preaching that the Rtvik solution was what Srila Prabhupada “ordered”. Nityananda dasa from Louisiana was convinced, and invited Yasoda nandana and others to move into his rural community, which became the nucleus of the Rtvik movement. They soon published a periodical focused on promoting Rtvik-tattva, called "Vedic Village Review". Nityananda’s businesses, which underwrote the expenses of the magazine and community, eventually ran into serious problems that forced the community to disband. Yasoda nandana and family relocated to California, where he still resides.
Since that time, Yasoda nandana’s Rtvik position has been adopted by many others in the movement. One of those was the renowned global traveler and preacher, British-born Kamsa hanta dasa. He embraced the cause with passionate zeal and a missionary spirit. Among Kamsa hanta's noteworthy inter-continental converts were Krsna Kanta Desai (England), Jitarati dasa (Hong Kong), Adridarana dasa (India), and Nandi kesvara dasa (Canada). In small conferences, they attempted to better organize and develop a consensus as to the finer philosophical points of the Rtvik-tattva.
Krsna Kanta and his associates then produced a manifesto entitled the "Final Order". Interestingly, the creation of this treatise was done without soliciting input from the Rtvik founder, Sriman Yasoda nandana dasa, or any of his West Coast Rtvik group. When the "Final Order" debuted, Yasoda nandana dasa and company disagreed with many key elements of the theory. Krsna Kanta and his newly formed ISKCON Reform Movement (IRM) tried to distance themselves from the West Coast Rtviks due to the endless stream of faultfinding rhetoric the group aimed squarely at ISKCON. Krsna Kanta and company held out hope that they could convince the GBC, so long as Yasoda nandana's group was excluded. As history reveals, their efforts were thwarted by the GBC. From that time on, an increasingly contentious relationship has developed between the two main Rtvik camps.
While Yasoda nandana dasa, Puranjana dasa and other Rtvik advocates continued to attack ISKCON, Krsna Kanta advocated a forgive-and-forget policy towards past transgressions of the GBC. This naïve strategy failed and the GBC, feeling threatened by the surge of support for this “back to the beginning” movement, responded in a proactive manner by producing a number of papers and GBC resolutions opposing the Rtvik philosophy. Unfortunately, they also employed demonizing efforts that further polarized the Vaisnava community, and brought the Gaudiya Matha closer as allies against a common enemy.
Adridarana dasa, the long-time president of Calcutta Temple, and other well-established Indian ISKCON leaders were swayed by the "Final Order's" powerful arguments and rejuvenated the IRM. The IRM continues to do battle with the ISKCON leadership to this day, with some success. The original Rtvik exponents from North America, still headed up by Yasoda nandana dasa, have continued to be vocally critical of the IRM, ISKCON and BV Narayana Swami. They recently began their own organization, the Hare Krishna Society.
While I have attempted to present an accurate, abbreviated historical timeline of the evolving Rtvik movement, I have not carefully researched this history. I encourage readers to confirm the dates and details for themselves by contacting the personalities mentioned above.
The Hare Krishna Society's Rtvik Position
The Hare Krishna Society (HKS) was formerly known as the Krsna Consciousness Movement. The HKS has put their philosophical focus on the initiation process instituted by Srila Prabhupada during his ISKCON lila, namely, that both Rtviks and siksas must take responsibility to properly train the candidates before and after initiation. They are adamant in proclaiming that their version of Rtvik philosophy is not simply a theory, but rather an irrefutable absolute truth based on solid evidence. Consequently, those who don’t accept their conclusions are essentially viewed as mad elephant-like offenders on account of not surrendering to follow the "direct order of the Spiritual Master".
Of the two main Rtvik camps, the HKS version of Rtvik is more closely aligned to the local siksa guru scenario that was in existence during pre-samadhi ISKCON. It is ironic that under pre-samadhi ISKCON's organizational framework, the Rtviks mentioned in the famous July 9th letter were, in essence, truly 'Rtviks' and not 'siksas'. The siksa guru function happened at the temple level, and only rarely were the ISKCON Rtvik/GBC directly involved in imparting instruction or overseeing the spiritual development of diksa disciples of Srila Prabhupada. They simply performed the ceremonial function of chanting on beads and threads and giving names.
One of the greatest obstacles the HKS faces is that they no longer have Srila Prabhupada's institutional framework within which to apply their system. After many years of trying, they have finally, officially abandoned any attempts to reform modern ISKCON and are instead working with a loosely connected network of Nama hatta programs and home temples.
The HKS emphasizes the principle of 'no change', but as the time factor moves everything forward, these advocates of 'pure Rtvik-ism' are forced to adapt their 'absolute' system to meet the practical requirements of an ever-changing world. The original system was wholly and solely within the context of an Acarya-led institution. In order for them to implement a Rtvik system today, they would need to be able to interact with Temple Presidents who were the actual siksas in Srila Prabhupada's system. Instead, key organizers of the HKS are faced with making the needful modifications, although they are self-confessed conditioned souls. Those in the organization who are responsible for proposing modifications must be viewed by the members as “specially empowered ones" authorized by Srila Prabhupada to introduce these monumental changes to the original system. The HKS founders are also obliged to “authorize” Rtvik candidates based on their perceived spiritual qualifications and their professed devotion to Srila Prabhupada.
Unlike the ISKCON Reform Movement, the Hare Krishna Society rejects the concept that this post-samadhi diksa program is to be followed for the next ten thousand odd years, as the IRM proposes. As I understand the HKS position, they accept the possibility that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu might send another nitya-siddha Acarya. As previously mentioned, this raises the question of whether or not the HKS's organizational leaders will be willing or spiritually qualified to identify and accept such a descendent divine personality. By admitting to the potential for such an advent, they are basically saying that their alterations are temporary. But as we know, nothing in our philosophy is to be considered temporary.
The Jesus Comparison
One of the dangers of the Hare Krishna Society's philosophical approach to solving the initiation problem is that it will inadvertently leave the door open to an evolvement from the spirituality of the Acarya’s Movement to the mentality of religiosity condemned by the Shaktavesa Sampradaya Acarya. Already, the HKS solution appears very similar to what historically unfolded after Christ’s departure. Christ had disciples at the time of his departure, and they had followers themselves, but Paul decided that they needed a church, and everyone should just worship Christ and not honor any of the disciplic lines.
The HKS's focus on the prospect that Srila Prabhupada was purposely poisoned to death by his senior disciples has produced more emotional drama. Their persistent promotion of this idea hasn’t resulted in the ground swell of acceptance first anticipated. Many disgruntled disciples have stopped supporting the present day ISKCON as a result of being effected by the poison arguments, but few of them have actively aligned themselves with the HKS Rtviks as a result.
The Rtvik exponents are fond of quoting (out of context) the incidences when Srila Prabhupada commented upon Jesus being the founder-acarya of his succession. In the HKS Mission Statement they say:
“...the Christians are following Christ, a great personality. Mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. You follow some mahajana, a great personality... You follow an acarya. Like the Christians--they follow Christ, an acarya. The Muhammadans--they follow an acarya, Muhammad. That is good. You must follow some acarya... Evam parampara-praptam.”
(Conversation, May 20, 1975, Melbourne)
As we read above, Srila Prabhupada is stressing the need to follow the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya - which in our disciplic line is Himself. It is a commonly accepted fact that the linage begun by Jesus has been broken in many (and all ways) for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Consequently, there are innumerable religious sects and denominations. These churches have been arguing amongst themselves as to which is closer to the true teachings, and their arguing has continued for nearly half the duration of Kali Yuga. Would the Rtviks now like us to believe that Srila Prabhupada wished for us to emulate them based on a few quotes? Why focus on Jesus, when our own tradition has spawned many Sampradaya Acaryas equal to or greater than Jesus? Since the time of Jesus’ lila, our sampradaya has been host to the advent of Lord Caitanya and his many Sampradaya Acarya representatives. In fact, within the last 150 years we have been benedicted by the visitation of three such exalted personalities. Perhaps Lord Caitanya will see fit to send others in the not too distant future.
In their Mission Statement, the HKS offers the following quotes:
“Actually, one who is guided by Jesus Christ will certainly get liberation.”
(Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, Chapter 9)
Srila Prabhupada: “‘Living.’ The spiritual master is not the question of ‘living.’ The spiritual master is eternal--the spiritual master is eternal. So your question is ‘without a spiritual master.’ Without a spiritual master you cannot be--at any stage of your life. You may accept this spiritual master or that spiritual master. That is a different thing. But you have to accept. You say ‘by reading the Bible.’ When you read the Bible, that means you are following the spiritual master, represented by some priest or some clergyman in the line of Lord Jesus Christ. So in any case, you have to follow a spiritual master. There cannot be the question ‘without a spiritual master.’ Is that clear?”
(Questions and answers following a lecture, October 2, 1968, Seattle)
According to the evidence and conclusions presented by the Rtviks, the Sampradaya Acarya saw fit to introduce a morphed form of Christian-like baptismal initiation called Rtvik. Like Jesus, Srila Prabhupada is expected to absorb and absolve all the sins of the converts. He is expected to accept these initiates, regardless of their qualifications.
"So you have to learn from guru by three processes. What is that? First process is you must surrender. Tasmad gurum prapadyeta. Surrender. You have to find out such an exalted person where you can willingly surrender, "Yes." Therefore it is enjoined in the sastras, before making a guru, try to study him, whether you can surrender there. Don't accept any guru all of a sudden as fanatic. No, don't do that. That is the injunction. And guru also must study the disciple who wants to become a disciple; must study him, whether he's fit for becoming a disciple. This is the way of making relationship between guru and disciple. Everything is there provided we take them seriously. Then we can train up how to become bona fide disciple, how to find out bona fide guru, how to establish our relationship with guru and act accordingly and make our life successful."
Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 08-22-73, London
Those who are 'baptized' by the Rtvik priests can then present themselves as bonafide diksa disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Given that most of the advocates of Rtvik-ism were born and raised as Christians before being saved by Srila Prabhupada, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision just where this slippery slope might lead.
In their mission statement, the Hare Krishna Society inserts the misleading quotation below in order to convince themselves and others they are open-minded spiritualists. In reality, the Church of Rtvik has already converted over to being a sect of narrow-minded religionists.
Members of the Hare Krishna Society agree to encourage and promote istha-gosthi among ourselves and others, to discuss the proper conclusions of Vaisnavism and their practical application, based upon Srila Prabhupada's teachings.
siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa iha ha-ite krsne lage sudrdha manasa:
"A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one's mind becomes attached to Sri Krishna."
(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 2.117)
I can personally testify that I have repeatedly tried my level best to engage in discussion with the pandits of Rtvik-tattva, to no avail. My efforts have repeatedly met with harsh, reactionary, un-Vaisnava-like behavior such as I never before experienced from any quarter of the movement over my 35 years in Krsna Consciousness.
The ISKCON Reform Movement's Rtvik Position
Krsna Kanta, author of the "Final Order" treatise, and Adridarana dasa, the long-standing President of the Calcutta Temple, are the current heads of the ISKCON Reform Movement (IRM). At the time of writing the "Final Order", Krsna Kanta was not initiated - not even as a Rtvik follower of Srila Prabhupada. To my knowledge, that is still the case today.
Both Krsna Kanta and Adridarana dasa initially felt that reform should happen within ISKCON. Accomplishing this transformation would require convincing the GBC to abandon their position on diksa gurus. The IRM founders originally held the view that the GBC are presently functioning as Srila Prabhupada intended, and as such they have been unassailably empowered by divine decree. More recently however, after rebuttal and rejection by ISKCON, the IRM leaders appear to have conceded that their first course of action was futile, and they are now presenting themselves as a separate organization.
The IRM version of Rtvik philosophy embraces the literal Vedic definition of the term "Rtvik". They apply the strict Sanskrit definition, which describes a "rtvik" as a Brahman priest performing a ritualistic function. After the ceremony is completed, there is no further responsibility for the presiding priest towards the principle participants in the sacrifice.
In essence, the IRM believes that a sincere follower of Srila Prabhupada should have the latitude to develop his or her own relationship with Srila Prabhupada. When the individual feels moved to formalize their eternal relationship by becoming a diksa disciple of Srila Prabhupada, they need only search out someone they trust as qualified to perform the ceremony. Afterwards, they can officially consider and present themselves as a bonafide diksa disciple of Srila Prabhupada.
In its original form (as Srila Prabhupada originally established it), there was an institutional context in which the Rtvik priest was appointed/approved. Presumably, if post-samadhi ISKCON were to adopt this system, the duty of assigning Rtviks would fall to the GBC. In light of the fact that ISKCON presently appears adamant about not converting over to the Rtvik philosophy, the IRM Rtviks, like the HKS, are obliged to draft guidelines establishing how this system can be applied outside the Society in an institution modeled after Srila Prabhupada’s original ISKCON. In addition to this dilemma, they also have to make practical modifications so as to accommodate those who have been converted over to their way of thinking.
The IRM disagrees with the Hare Krishna Society's strong belief in the responsibilities of the siksa/Rtvik guru. This calls an important question: when the Rtvik system is applied outside ISKCON, which person or group is given responsibility for determining who is qualified to be a bonafide Rtvik Acarya? Who will monitor the activities of the Rtvik priests, holding them accountable in the performance of their siksa guru responsibilities and seeing they have the spiritual qualifications?
The IRM and the HKS disagree on two other fundamental points, the designation of "soft vs. hard" Rtviks, and adoption of the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada was (or likely was) poisoned by his disciples. Time will tell whether one group will eclipse the other, or whether they will merge into one denomination of the Church of Rtvik.
Primary Evidence Used to Support the Rtvik Position
The July 9th Letter
While proponents of the Rtvik system (both IRM and HKS) assign absolute significance to the July 9th letter and consider it to be a legal instrument, it is my personal belief that the document falls short of meeting the required burden of proof. Following are a number of questionable elements related to the famous July 9th letter:
The July 9th letter was not actually composed by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, but rather by his secretary, Tamal Krishna Swami.
Tamal Krishna Swami signed the letter, and beneath his signature, Srila Prabhupada signed with the simple designation, "Approved". There is no elaboration of the word "approved". It is not clear if the term "approved" means the letter is approved for filing (akin to an inter-office memo), or "approved" for distribution, or "approved" for adoption akin to a Consent Action making the letter a legally binding corporate directive.
Srila Prabhupada’s official institutional title, Founder/Acarya of ISKCON, was not placed under his name on the July 9th letter. Typically, when a formal imperative is executed by an officer or Director on behalf of an incorporated entity, both name and title of the signing officer are considered important legal elements.
The letter does not reference the May 28, 1977 conversation wherein Srila Prabhupada discussed future post-samadhi initiations with the GBC, nor does the letter indicate that it is a follow-up to that conversation. Neither was the May 28th conversation formally circulated to Temple Presidents, GBC and other senior disciples, as the July 9th letter was.
During the same time period as the letter, Srila Prabhupada executed a formal and authentic Last Will. In this legal document, he enshrined his exact wishes as to how managerial and legal matters should continue after his departure. The Will did not make any reference to the July 9th letter.
The July 9th letter was not composed in a similar legal format as the Will. The fact that Srila Prabhupada took all legal care in regards to the Will, and did not apply the same standard to the introduction of a radical alteration to the traditional process of initiation, is suspect.
While the letter does not contain a definitive statement regarding its application during ISKCON’s post-samadhi era, the "Final Order" manifesto assigns great significance to the use of the word "henceforward". The construed definition allocates it as a key indicator of post-samadhi continuation, yet the word "henceforward" was not highlighted, underlined, or capitalized in the letter. To extrapolate a controversial re-think of the philosophical principle of guru initiation simply based on the supposed meaning of this single word constitutes a tremendous leap of faith.
The eleven regional GBC/Rtvik’s listed in the letter as Srila Prabhupada’s proxy representatives were institutional leaders chosen primarily for their geographical/zonal importance. There is no mention of the Rtviks pre-requisite spiritual qualifications, only that they were senior institutional leaders and current sitting members on the GBC. Time revealed that many had serious character flaws and indelible spiritual weaknesses. Surely Srila Prabhupada had the perception to identify these personality defects, and wouldn’t have wished to empower them to such a degree after his departure.
The duties the letter directed the Rtvik’s to perform included chanting on Gayatri threads and japa beads, and choosing spiritual names. Prior to Srila Prabhupada's departure, Temple Presidents performed the fire sacrifices and acted as the disciple’s primary siksa guru. That policy did not change in practice prior to Srila Prabhupada's departure, nor did the July 9th letter indicate that their important participation should be changed.
At the time the letter was written and circulated, Srila Prabhupada's health had deteriorated, and the number of diksa candidates was ever increasing. The letter outlined a slight adjustment in the organizational method of Srila Prabhupada’s proxy initiation system, which had been functioning for many years, in order to eliminate the constraint. Instead of Srila Prabhupada performing the duties of name choosing and bead chanting, the letter deputized the regional representatives to assume these functions.
Despite the fact that thousands of candidates were awaiting initiation from Srila Prabhupada -- a situation Srila Prabhupada wished to remedy by this letter -- the GBC/Rtviks took no action upon receipt of the letter. Four months elapsed, and they did nothing to comply with the instructions contained in the letter. Instead, they waited until after Srila Prabhupada's departure, then initiated all those candidates as their own, direct disciples.
At the time the letter was distributed, the recipients (Temple Presidents, GBC and other senior disciples) did not conclude that it enshrined the post-samadhi diksa initiation system in perpetuity after Srila Prabhupada’s eventual disappearance. That conclusion was only reached many years later by those disenfranchised from the Society.
Directly following Srila Prabhupada’s departure, the letter was proclaimed by the architects of the Zonal Acarya System as evidence of their appointment as Acaryas. At that time, there were no protests from any quarter (including from the present advocates of the Rtvik system) based on the belief that this letter indicated Srila Prabhupada had established a post-samadhi proxy diksa initiation system.
The letter contains no mention or consideration of how the system has any application outside the institutional paradigm of ISKCON.
On a gradation of spiritual importance, the July 9th letter is near the bottom compared with Srila Prabhupada’s other writings. With his translations and purports to scriptural texts being on the top rung, the transcriptions of lectures, conversations, darshans, walks - and even his personal letters - should rank higher than this institutional document.
Most Rtviks seem to subscribe to the concept that there was a conspiracy to hide Srila Prabhupada's instructions for the implementation of Rtvik. While they don't commit to it in writing, this conception is often articulated by Rtviks at the close of heated debate, when they have exhausted rebuttals to the challenges of their opponents. Ironically, the personalities they identify as likely conspirators are the same personalities listed on the letter which they hold as divine evidence for Rtvik. They do not explain how it is that Srila Prabhupada held the conspirators in such esteem that he deputed them to carry on initiations on his behalf.
Questions Looking for Answers
Aside from the questions arising directly from an analysis of the July 9th letter, many other questions remain unanswered. For example:
At what point after Srila Prabhupada departed did the aspiring Zonal candidates disqualify themselves as Rtviks?
Given that the Zonal Acaryas made up the majority of the GBC at that time, what group or entity had the power to appoint others to that position?
Who is now empowered to choose those who are qualified as Rtviks?
In absence of the GBC functioning in this capacity, which group is empowered to monitor the proxies and their initiates to ensure that the standards set by Srila Prabhupada are maintained?
Is any person or group responsible to record important data (names, dates, etc.) as was the case when Srila Prabhupada was present.
Whenever an (Sampradaya) acarya comes, following the orders of the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His representative, he establishes the principles of religion as enunciated in Bhagavad-gita. When the next appearance event takes place, does this proxy diksa initiation arrangement cease it’s relevancy, or do sincere followers wishing initiation still have the option of getting initiated by Srila Prabhupada?
Does this post-samadhi proxy mandate include all future Sampradaya Acaryas coming after Srila Prabhupada?
In their attempts to find an easy answer to a highly complex problem, the proponents of the Rtvik philosophy have further complicated the eternal initiation issue by extrapolating sastric meaning from what is, in essence, an institutional letter.
Below is an excerpt from the Hare Krishna Society’s Mission statement, which summarily encapsulates their controversial departure from the rest of the Vaisnava Community:
I) Srila Prabhupada Formally Initiates Disciples Through Deputed Priests
Srila Prabhupada has ordained and implemented a system for initiations in his mission using ritvija, or ritviks-deputed priests of the acarya, who offer formal initiation on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. This system has been in place and functioning since at least 1970, seven years before Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance. Via numerous spoken and written directives, Srila Prabhupada has clearly delineated his intention to continue initiating disciples in his Hare Krishna Society by this system “henceforward.” Srila Prabhupada's sincere followers accept his system without speculation, following the infallible authority of sadhu-sastra-guru.
(See conversations, May 28 and July 7, 1977, Vrndavana; Srila Prabhupada’s last directive on initiations, July 9, 1977.)
In the above passage, the Hare Krishna Society resorts to a tried-and-true tactic, making use of a subtle but intimidating phrase employed by most authorities promoting religiosity. The primary objective is to stifle dissent and promote blind obedience. Their message is that sincere followers don’t speculate against the "infallible authority", which in this case means those who have authored the speculative theory known as the "Final Order". To give further bite to this toothless argument, they presumptuously place the name of their new society in place of Srila Prabhupada's own society, ISKCON.
Diksa is Uttama-Adhikari?
An acarya or diksa-guru in the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya is, by definition, a fully self-realized pure devotee, or uttama-adhikari, free from all defects or imperfections. In other words, such a guru is a fully liberated soul. A bona fide Vaisnava acarya, or diksa-guru, being liberated and self-realized, is never deluded or confused in any circumstance and never forgets Krishna even for a moment. The idea that a Vaisnava acarya or diksa-guru may become fallen and degraded is utterly bogus, apasiddhanta, a total deviation from siddhanta. Such offensive ideas run contrary to Srila Prabhupada's teachings and the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.
Excerpt from Mission Statement of the Hare Krishna Society
Above is another key philosophical ingredient in the HKS's imaginative manifesto. Rtvik pandits make the erroneous assumption that the terms “acarya”, "diksa-guru", and "Sampradaya-Acarya" are synonymous and interchangeable. In my previous paper entitled “Sampradaya Acarya”, I made what I believe to be a convincing argument that these terms are “simultaneously one and different”.
In their Mission Statement, they quote the following extracted sentence from Nectar of Instruction:
“… a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as a spiritual master.”
(Nectar of Instruction, Text 5, Purport)
Here is that same quote from Srila Prabhupada, in context:
"In this verse Srila Rupa Gosvami advises the devotee to be intelligent enough to distinguish between the kanistha-adhikari, madhyama-adhikari and uttama-adhikari. The devotee should also know his own position and should not try to imitate a devotee situated on a higher platform. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has given some practical hints to the effect that an uttama-adhikari Vaisnava can be recognized by his ability to convert many fallen souls to Vaisnavism. One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of uttama-adhikari. A neophyte Vaisnava or a Vaisnava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as a spiritual master."
Nectar of Instruction, Text 5
If one reads the above Purport, which contains the statement used by the HKS to support their position, it is clear that Srila Prabhupada is suggesting that a guru should ideally be an uttama-adhikari. We have to keep in mind, however, the fact that Srila Prabhupada is Himself an uttama-adhikari and a Sampradaya Acarya. At the time Nectar of Instruction was published, the reader had a choice to take initiation directly from Srila Prabhupada. But Srila Prabhupada also clearly says in this quote that there are gurus in all three categories: kanistha, madhyama, and uttama-adhikari. He does not state that he is referring here to diksa gurus rather than siksa gurus. He does state that the problem with having a guru that is not uttama-adhikari is that the initiated can't advance beyond the level of their guru's realization. Consequently, he cautions that the disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as their guru. He does not say, however, that gurus in the other two categories are bogus, or are not part of the sampradaya, or are just pretending to be gurus but are actually not gurus. Clearly, the Hare Krishna Society would like you believe that he is saying these things. While it is absolutely true that there is no Sampradaya Acarya who has ever fallen down, and that certain things disqualify a diksa guru, they cannot make the case that Srila Prabhupada has instructed that one must never accept a kanistha or madhyama as diksa guru.
This argument highlights the essence of our Acarya-Sampradaya. If a candidate makes the wrong decision, for whatever reason, in terms of who they chose as a diksa guru, the absolute truth, as given by the Sampradaya Acaryas, serves as a spiritual safety net. The HKS wishes to write off the whole concept of diksa by equating diksa qualifications with the Sampradaya Acarya's qualifications.
Srila Prabhupada has given us a list of 32 Sampradaya Acaryas going back to Lord Brahma. As we all know, the advent of Lord Brahma goes back a very long time. How many bonafide diksa-gurus do you think have been on this planet during that time? There is no question that ideally, an aspiring disciple prefers to have as their diksa guru a Sampradaya Acarya -- just as any Vaisnava would give anything to participate in Lord Caitanya’s Lila 500 years ago. Let’s not forget that most of those fortunate souls who did receive diksa from Srila Prabhupada do not, to this day, appreciate that they have as their guru a Sampradaya Acarya, just as all the millions of soldiers on the Battlefield at Kuruksetra never realized that Arjuna’s chariot driver was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada, the genuine Sampradaya Acarya, referred to himself when addressing his disciples and followers as the their spiritual master, their guru, and the founder-acarya of ISKCON. Out of humility and in-line with tradition, he did not publicly promote himself as a rarified nitya-siddha Sampradaya Acarya. It is the duty of the followers to make that distinction.
Srila Prabhupada offered the fallen conditioned souls a golden opportunity by making himself available as spiritual master to all qualified initiates. Regardless of any gaps between Sampradaya Acaryas that might come in the days ahead, Srila Prabhupada left a legacy in his books that all can take shelter of.
While the Rtviks seem to base their tattva on the idea that Srila Prabhupada is the only one qualified to give diksa, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura writes:
"This line of guru-parampara is existing up to today without any break and it will continue to exist like this in the future also. To say, 'There is no sad-guru living in the world at present and neither will there be any in the future,' is an atheistic opinion."
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, "True Conception of Sri Guru Tattva"
Statements made by Srila Prabhupada regarding the qualifications of a guru can easily be misconstrued on account of his being, in reality, on a much higher spiritual platform than a traditional diksa guru. We find within the pages of Srila Prabhupada’s Krsna Book the story of Lord Balarama killing Romaharsana Suta. This occurred due to Romaharsana Suta’s failure to properly recognize Lord Balarama as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, despite the fact that in his lila, he was acting out the social part of a ksatriya. The Bhagavad-gita concludes that the highest principle of religion is to surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, beginning with recognition that he is, in fact, God.
Although the advocates of Rtvik-tattva appear to bestow Srila Prabhupada with Sampradaya Acarya ranking, they fail to philosophically define the qualities of the Sampradaya Acarya and distinguish them from the traditional diksa guru. In order for a disciple to become studied enough to determine who, if any, are qualified diksa gurus, the teachings of the Sampradaya Acarya must be studied. This formula should be imparted to all newcomers, keeping in mind that the final decision is the responsibility of the individual aspirant. The first litmus test is to determine that the diksa has developed a mood of complete surrender to the Sampradaya Acarya, and never attempts to undermined the disciple's relationship with the Sampradaya Acarya. Rather, he encourages the healthy growth of such relationship. Any and all attempts by the diksa guru to eclipse the Sampradaya Acarya should come as a warning sign.
While those newcomers who wish to can take shelter of Srila Prabhupada indefinitely, those who feel inclined to find a diksa are free to look for an uttama-adhikari. The principle of God-given free will is bestowed upon all those embodied in the human form, including those seeking diksa initiation. No institutional pressure should be exerted, nor artificial urgency imposed upon the uninitiated in the acceptance of a diksa guru. Nor should the aspirant believe that he has the right to "diksa on demand". Nowhere in sastra is it said that every aspirant's wishes for a diksa guru must be fulfilled within a certain time, place, or circumstance, consequently a system granting them immediate, unfettered access is an absolute requirement.
The need for siksa guru involvement from the beginning of a newcomer's quest should emphasized, and the serious student should be reassured that their spiritual advancement is not being impaired due to not having taken diksa. The full mercy of all the past Sampradaya Acaryas is bestowed upon all those who recognize and surrender to the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya. A genuine, direct relationship between the aspirant and the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya is not only acceptable, it is necessary, and a via media guru is not required in order for that relationship to be consummated.
By making the “all is one” proposition of merging acarya, guru, spiritual master and Sampradaya Acarya, the Rtvik pandits have simultaneously dismissed the Vedic disciplic succession methodology for teaching transcendental knowledge, while lowering the status of the genuine Sampradaya Acarya by leading people to believe that anyone calling themselves a diksa guru could possibly be a Sampradaya Acarya.
In no way do I believe that this miscalculation was motivated by anything other than the sincere desire to place Srila Prabhupada back in his rightful place as the Sampradaya Acarya. Yet this well-intentioned attempt unfortunately results in the Rtvik's deviation from the very rule they stress: strict adherence to the principle of guru, sastra, and sadhu. Replacing the inappropriate, obscure term "Rtvik acarya" with the bonafide prefix, “siksa” guru would simplify and solve the problem we all wish to resolve. Unfortunately, most of the “dyed-in-the-wool” Rtvik-ites have become overly attached to their perceived success in establishing the Rtvik movement, and will not open themselves to any discussion of their core truths.
The Principle of Guru Vakya
The Rtvik proponents have introduced the Vedic principle of 'guru vakya' as a supporting argument for their position that Srila Prabhupada authorized a significant change in our tradition in order to establish the Rtvik system. The Rtvik pandits use this terminology in order to make claim that Srila Prabhupada, as a Sampradaya Acarya, has the spiritual status that allows him to introduce a previously non-existent siddhantic principle, namely post-samadhi diksa. The introduction of this proxy initiation system is by no means a small adjustment. As such, it begs the question of why Srila Prabhupada would institute such a change in a seemingly casual manner? Many previous Sampradaya Acaryas, including Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, departed without identifying anyone amongst their disciples as successor Acarya. Why is it that none of the previous Sampradaya Acaryas felt as compelled or as compassionate as Srila Prabhupada to offer their future followers such direct relationship? Why didn’t they all offer the option of taking diksa from them after their departure?
When we research Srila Prabhupada's writings, we discover that he commonly refers to 'guru' and 'vakya' in the familiar bhajan, “guru-mukha-padma-vakya”. This verse from Sri-guru-vandana, from the "Prema-bhakti-candrika" of Srila Narottama dasa Thakura, was sung at the daily guru-puja ceremony in every ISKCON temple. Here, the inference isn’t that the uttama-adhikary guru has the sastric authorization to make major alterations in initiation procedures such as post-samadhi diksa. Rather, Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries state just the opposite:
"And guru, spiritual master, means who teaches you all these things. So you have to make your progress-sadhu-sastra-guru vakya. You have to corroborate whether guru, what guru is speaking, whether it is there in the scripture; what scripture is speaking, whether that is in the character of guru, or in the sadhu, saintly persons, or spiritual master. So you have to always make comparison with three things: sadhu, sastra, guru."
Lecture on Caitanya-caritamrta, 11-24-66, New York
Each time this section of the song is mentioned, Srila Prabhupada explains that following the order of the Spiritual Master is paramount, but he also clarifies by stating that guru’s statements should be balanced against sastra and sadhu.
The firm faith that the Spiritual Master is strictly following the sastra and has made no alteration is of paramount importance. Saying that the bonafide spiritual master/acarya is authorized to make changes in sastra and Vaisnava tradition, and we must follow the spiritual master over the sastra if that appears to be the case -- as the Rtvik pandits insist when applying the July 9th letter -- stretches the meaning to the extreme.
This interpretation of 'guru vakya' is not unlike the Rtvik's interpretation in the "Final Order" of the bedside conversation wherein the previously little-known term “Rtvik” entered our daily vocabulary. This term was mentioned as it loosely applied to the established institutional initiation program:
May 28, 1977 Conversation:
Srila Prabhupada: "Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up. I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acarya."
Tamal Krishna: "Is this called ritvik-acarya?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Ritvik. Yes."
In the case of both the terms 'guru vakhya' and 'rtvik-acarya', there was no direct comment of applicability to post-samadhi implementation. Making monumental changes on the strength of this type of evidence is unnecessarily dangerous to the spiritual life of those acting as agents of change. Srila Prabhupada said that if you make unauthorized alterations, you are finished.
“But if he makes addition, alteration, then he is finished. No addition, alteration. You have to approach guru-guru means the faithful servant of God, Krsna-and take his word how to serve Him. Then you are successful. If you concoct, “I am very intelligent than my guru, and I can make addition or alteration,” then you are finished."
Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam, 07-12-75, Philadelphia
We are all obliged to accept the promise made by Sri Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita that he comes out of compassion for the suffering jiva-atmas, again and again. Occasionally the Lord comes Himself, but usually he sends a nitya-siddha to re-invigorate the Vaisnava Sampradayas, just as Srila Prabhupada manifested after Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
We are faced with the undeniable fact that Srila Prabhupada, in his capacity as the present Sampradaya Acarya, criticized his Godbrothers, even in purports in the Caitanya-caritamrta. The motivation for these statements was that his past associates would not appreciate the reality that Srila Prabhupada was the present Sampradaya Acarya and as such, they should have overcome their false pride by serving and following him. Of course, we know they didn’t bring themselves to surrender to such a proposal, and they didn’t officially delineate their own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati, as a Sampradaya Acarya either.
Now the supposed protectors of the concept of Srila Prabhupada as Sampradaya Acarya -- the Rtviks -- are advocating a system that will insure the same lack of open-mindedness we observed in Srila Prabhupada's Gaudiya Matha Godbrothers. The Rtvik system unnecessarily inserts an officiating functionary between sincere seekers and the Sampradaya Acarya. Worse still, their exclusionary mentality is to be enshrined within a philosophical addition to our siddhanta. As I have argued from many angles, there simply is not sufficient evidence to suggest making such radical and restrictive changes.
Rather than accept the Rtvik conclusion, we can instead definitively qualify the difference between a Sampradaya Acarya and other Vaisnava preachers, philosophers, and teachers, thereby eliminating the intense controversy which is standing in the way of actually establishing Srila Prabhupada in his rightful position - which is supposedly the Rtviks' ultimate goal.
In closing, I can honestly declare that my perspective on the initiation controversy is closer to the Rtvik position than it is to the ISKCON or Gaudiya Matha position, because the Rtvik's at least wish to put Srila Prabhupada at the center, in his rightful place as Sampradaya Acarya. However, I am also aware that “one drop of urine spoils a whole vat of milk” -- particularly when applied to speculatively tampering with our unblemished philosophy.
The most damaging display of hypocrisy is to deceive oneself and others into believing one is spiritually empowered enough to bring about changes to the philosophy. Even a bonafide Sampradaya Acarya such as Srila Prabhupada vows to always carefully follow the principle of guru, sastra, and sadhu. To the best of my ability, I will faithfully follow the direct and clear instructions of Srila Prabhupada and will not surrender to any other spiritual authority. Based on this vow of unwavering allegiance to Srila Prabhupada, I refuse to venture into a minefield of philosophical alterations. The Sampradaya Acaryas have cleared our path, so why take unnecessary risks when there are previously authorized means of achieving the same destination? Simply put, siksa is unquestionably authorized and emphasized by our most recent Sampradaya Acaryas. The Rtvik addition is dubious at best, and does not accomplish anything more.