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.
[*] Neither Kailasa candra dasa nor Pradyumna dasa were part of the group that branched off from the early Zonal Acarya challenge group to form the Ritviks. The paragraph as originally written was poorly stated. [Oct 2017, Ed.]