Ritvik or the organization…. Is that the only choice?

We at Purely Prabhupada Inc. have been asked if we are ritvik. We replied, “We are not of the ritvik camp.  We do not, however, agree with the system of initiations as it currently exists within the organization of ISKCON. We recognize that the true guru/disciple relationship is deep, personal, and cannot be officialized, overseen or overridden by any managerial board.” And still, there were questions, like, if you are not ritvik, then who is the guru of your group, or how can you be presenting only Srila Prabhupada if you are not ritvik, or can Srila Prabhupada accept initiations since he is no longer with us. It seemed to warrant more explanation. There is another choice besides ritvik or the way that the organization has things set up. It is so apparent that we have become blind to it.

Srila Prabhupada’s position is unique, not only that he is to be recognized as Founder-Acarya of the organization that he founded in order to spread Krsna Consciousness, but that he had to be vartma-pradarshika guru, diksa guru, and siksha guru. In other words, he had to fill every role, and he was the perfect personality to do so. He had an unprecedented position in the preaching lineage, taking Krsna Consciousness to foreign lands that were bereft of spiritual culture. He was on his own to work wonders in the hearts of the misguided souls of the western world. This unique position, this role, cannot be imitated, but it was, to great detriment.

His position was seen by neophyte, and even envious, followers, as just that, a position of power, rather than the expression of profound humility and surrender of the true acarya. The spiritual master-disciple relationship is one of deep friendship, a position of mutual reciprocation of service within the proper expression of etiquette and respect, not an official position of power. The spiritual master opens the door to the spiritual realm and serves his disciples by endeavoring to keep them on that path, and the disciple makes progress along that path by serving the instructions of the guru. To bring a spiritual aspirant to the perfectional stage is a collective endeavor, including active participation on the part of the disciple. It takes spiritually based community, and Srila Prabhupada had to be a one man show, by dint of circumstances.

Not every spiritual master is an acarya, but every bonafide spiritual master will point his or her disciples to the feet and teachings of the predecessor acaryas. In our case, the books of Srila Prabhupada are to be the guiding light for the next 10,000 years, providing that they do not become adulterated. He is the shining light, and lives forever in his instructions.

We have to be very astute in studying and analyzing what is real and what is not, in that so much that has been presented in the past regarding the spiritual master, the disciple, and the relationship, has not been properly understood. In fact, it has been grossly misunderstood. The truth is all there in Srila Prabhupada’s books, but it also must be realized. The Vaisnava culture presents the picture. It is there in Krsna Book, it is there in Caitanya Caritamrta, it is there in all the literatures, the culture, the etiquette, what is the role of the spiritual master, the disciple, the relationship. This can be studied and applied, and it will not be in the mood of deviating from Srila Prabhupada, because it is his teachings. Srila Prabhupada cannot be separated from his teachings, and thus, by following his teachings, we are connected to the greatest teacher.

We see practically in the literatures that the role of spiritual master was community oriented, that it was localized, that it was personal, that it was reciprocal. Historically, a person did not accept more disciples than he or she could properly sustain, considering the aggregate of factors. Srila Prabhupada wanted to see localized communities. He made big, big projects for big, big egos to engage those type persons, according to time and circumstance, but he stressed localized, sustainable, cooperative communities. He wanted varnasrama, and that included qualified brahmin teachers and spiritual guides. The brahmins were to initiate when that was called for, and the brahmins do not answer to a managerial class. They are qualified to have independence in their spiritual insights and decisions.

In the early 1980s, I was looking at the “guru” system as it was introduced after the departure of His Divine Grace. I thought that my insights might be valued, but the powers that were thought them to be enough of a disturbance that I was physically brutalized. At the time, I recognized that the system was incorrect, that it was a system of imitation rather than of empowering and enthusing the devotees, and I suggested that if anything, the GBC was to simply be a record-keeper, filling a clerk role, of who initiated who, according to proper relationship on a small and personal scale, rather than a determiner of who was authorized to hold the position of diksa guru. No one at the time seemed to understand that it was not a matter of position, but of relationship, and it seemed that the goal of many of the organizational leaders was power, position, and control, rather than of authentic relationships and mentorship. It has become so ingrained as policy over time that the position of diksa guru is simply a formal role at the jurisdiction of the GBC, that it does not appear to be correctable any longer within the institution. This is at the crux of the problem.

After the passing of Srila Prabhupada, many of his disciples were purposely alienated and disempowered by the organizational management. Instead of having their years of service and advancement recognized and honored, they were minimized. There was some confusion or misdirection around the procedures for initiating newcomers, but the gist of it was that those who were already trained, a most important resource in the propagation of the mission, who could lead people in their quest for Krsna Consciousness due to their own experience, association with Srila Prabhupada, and spiritual advancement, were minimized and driven away. They were disempowered, and as would be expected in that situation, became disenchanted and uninspired. There is no need for a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada to have to be scrutinized and approved to take disciples by a managerial board of less experienced and less advanced devotees who are often junior to them.

In a system where the role of diksa develops naturally, there is first the relationship, and it flourishes and develops on its own accord to the point of mutual examination and possible spiritual initiation. It is not that the position is there first, and the disciples follow, but rather, the relationship is there and it grows to the point of spiritual initiation. This relationship cannot be orchestrated by any outside body. It develops on its own accord, and the responsibility for it is a mature evaluation on the part of both the potential guru and the disciple. It is a decision made by two educated and knowledgeable participants, each taking full responsibility for the decision and the outcome. Since this is not the current system within the organization, it may have to be developed outside of it. However, it is one thing to give spiritual lectures to thousands of people and quite another to take responsibility for individual mentoring. Both are important, but the real making of devotees is in the personal interaction and guidance, and for that, the mentor must be prepared to give of him or herself quite extensively, over and over. It is not a lightweight thing. It has no material reward, but is pleasing to Krsna. This all has to be considered in taking on such a relationship.

As far as Srila Prabhupada continuing to take disciples after his passing, it is not the fact. This misconception is actually impersonalism. Srila Prabhupada took the recommendations of his organizational authorities for accepting potential initiates. The last word was always his, whether the person was to be initiated or not. Although there does not seem to be a record of any time that Srila Prabhupada refused such a recommendation, he always had that option. Ritvik initiations override Srila Prabhupada’s own independence in accepting or not accepting a disciple. He cannot be forced to accept anyone, nor is there any precedent in the vaisnava histories of this sort of initiation being valid. I have been challenged that this is the stupidest argument ever heard against ritvik initiations, but I stand by it as fact. Go marry Emilia Erhart, if you can find her…. Has she consented? There is a lot more to pay attention to in the ritvik discussion than simply the word “henceforward.”

As far as Srila Prabhupada himself appointing 11 ritviks to perform initiations on his behalf after his passing, I am of the opinion that the general mass of devotees were not given full information due to some other agenda, and are therefore trying to derive conclusions from incomplete resources. This would not be unheard of. This is very common, even in the world media, and the population gets into a frenzy over false or incomplete information. There are several known instances of this in the organization. One well known example is how Srila Prabhupada’s request to have all his disciples with him at the time of his passing was purposefully not relayed, and caused extreme heartbreak to the disciples when the truth came out. (I was told by a devotee who was with Srila Prabhupada in his room at that time that he looked around and asked “Where are they all?” What emotional devastation….) Another example is quite simple, seemingly benign, in that Srila Prabhupada answered a letter from a disciple regarding sleep, take 6-8 hours, whatever refreshed the body. This letter is nowhere to be found, as it did not serve the needs of the temple authorities who wanted the devotees to be out raising money. Of course, we all know that Srila Prabhupada also said that sleep more than 6 hours is influenced by the mode of ignorance, and this quote was happily made widespread. Another example, which cannot be proven by hard evidence, but was “witnessed” by several psychics and remote viewers, and strongly suspected by Revatinandana, is that the death of Visnujana Swami was very likely not as recorded in the history of the organization. And Tamal is not available for input. There are many more examples. I am also quite confident, therefore, that the mass of devotees was not fully informed, or even purposely misinformed considering the magnitude of the moment, in the instance of the 11 originally appointed “ritviks” or other very pertinent information that Srila Prabhupada may have given in this regard. We may never know, but we do have what Srila Prabhupada gave in his books.

It is understandable that many people have come to the conclusion that ritvik is the proper approach, but it often stems from the observation that those who were “authorized” by the organization to take disciples were most often personally unqualified, or even disqualified, by personal behavior. So, quite understandable, but not philosophically sound. Srila Prabhupada’s books must be studied apart from organizational policies, and the truths will be revealed to the sincere seeker who is willing to put aside deeply ingrained mental constraints and paradigms. There will then be great revelations by hearing from the purest of pure devotees, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

The following is an addendum. It is the thoughtful response to this article we got from a young man in Delhi, and our reply to him.

Thank you very much for your kind reply mataji!
Please accept my humble obeisances!

I thank your grace very much for encouraging and solacing words. They are really a source of great inspiration for me.

I read the document. It’s quite insightful. But I have few questions regarding this.
My question in no way have any other intention than seeking the truth. Still please excuse me for any mistake.

1. When your grace says that in Ritvik system Srila Prabhupada’s consent is not sought. But is it not true that during his physical presence also HDG assigned the task of judging qualification of aspirant on the temple president?

2. As you emphasized on personal guidance, (A) Even HDG could not personally guide those who took initiation during final pastimes of HDG. If then it was possible than why not now?
(B) As soon as any guru have a few disciples, For all practical purposes he can’t guide them all personally.
(C) Even the tradition of studying previous spiritual master’s literature is also unprecedented in history. What Srila Prabhupada did is also in a sense completely unconventional and historical. It hardly has any parallel in the history. (extensive personal letters, books, lectures, personal instructions have never been compiled so extensively of any other acharya)
(D) Now suppose X accepts Y as guru. But still Srila Prabhupada’s books will be primary spiritual law books for X. And X will even constantly judge Y, that whether his instructions are as per HDG  (To discipline is the task of spiritual master and Srila Prabhupada’s books and instructions are doing exactly the same work… Y can’t allow  only 12 rounds otherwise X will judge ).
Is it not possible for Y just to be a very senior and prominent Mentor and Siksha guru.

3.And finally, due to  past experiences if anyone is unable to fully surrender to any guru, then Is accepting Srila Prabhupada as guru “the only way left” ? 

Thank you very much for precious time of your grace.
Waiting for your response for clarity in my spiritual life.

Your humble servant
Begging for your blessings!

Our reply-

-Srila Prabhupada took the recommendations of the temple presidents for the most part. But he did have the right to accept the potential disciple or not. After I posted that essay, it was relayed to me that on at least two known occasions Srila Prabhupada did reject the recommendation of a temple president and refused to grant initiation to someone. On the other side, he also sometimes accepted as a disciple someone who was refused the recommendations of temple presidents, such as in the case of Gurukripa. When Srila Prabhupada was asked why sometimes devotees are given second initiation and then fall away, he replied that they had been wrongly recommended. A devotee of the caliber of our Srila Prabhupada is always in touch with the will of the Lord, the directions as given by the Lord, and according to time and circumstance, he took many disciples. No matter what it looked like externally, whatever the procedure was at the time for recommendations, it can never be doubted that Srila Prabhupada was being dictated directly by the Lord. And thus, it was the Lord’s desire for these initiations. Those who propound ritvik initiations overlook this most important subtlety of Srila Prabhupada’s total immersion in the dictates of Sri Krsna. Srila Prabhupada was beyond making any offense at all, but a couple of times he did remark that his only offense was in accepting too many unqualified disciples (or in another case, he said too many rascal disciples).

-Srila Prabhupada had given his books and had to trust that the senior devotees were capable of guiding others and that the general masses of his disciples were able to study the literatures and support each other in a personal way through what they had imbibed from the books and the personal association. He had done his part, the result was up to Krsna and to whatever transparency/spiritual advancement his disciples had developed. Srila Prabhupada cast as many seeds as he could in the form of his disciples. Some developed more nicely than others, some rotted and died, some rotted and spread disease. But His Divine Grace’s books were there, and they must remain as he transmitted them to us. Yes, you are correct that once there are a few disciples, not every one of them might have personal guidance at all times. Again, Srila Prabhupada gave the books, and he set the protocol for proper association so that everyone might have the required guidance from peers and respected elders. I don’t have all the answers. There are so many variables. But sometimes, Srila Prabhupada had to set up a situation, even in the case of deity installation, and then pray to the Lord that He inspire the hearts of the disciples from within that they might learn how to worship properly. The pure devotee must be ready to act as the Lord guides, and then leave the result of that action to the Lord himself. That is the surrender of the pure devotee. That peer support is still possible now as you mentioned. As I stated in the essay, many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples were alienated by the system that came to pass after Srila Prabhupada left. Many of these devotees were sincere and might have been able to humbly offer initiation and simply repeat what Srila Prabhupada had given. The challenge with the ritvik situation is that it will become like the Christianity, where they call on the name of Jesus with very little, if any, understanding of the mood and teachings of that personality, and thus there has been great warp and the real mood and teachings of Jesus has essentially dead ended. If we look practically at the understanding of many who have taken what is called ritvik initiation, there is less and less life to it. There has to be life, and that can only happen with keeping things connected to the disciplic succession through proper initiation. However, the initiating guru has to be totally aligned with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, whether by realization or by humble admission of his/her own frailty and thus total dependence on the proper transmission of the teachings with no deviation. Thus, in essence, there is no difference in carrying forth the mission in either case, as long as the transmission is proper. However, there has been a lacking of either possibility, either by neophyte practical realization on the part of the devotees, or the limitations of a fallacious system. That is why it now seems that one has to go outside the system. Srila Prabhupada did what he was called upon to do, as you said, unprecedented in history. No one can imitate that. What we, as conditioned jivas tend to do is understand and qualify things by our limited minds. The spiritual reality is far greater than the mundane, yet we try to understand by dint of the mundane mind and intelligence. The spiritual perspective is the Absolute reference point. In trying to understand all these things, initiations, etc, there has been a neglect of at least admitting that there is a spiritual reality/perspective of which we may not have comprehension, at least not yet.

-The initiation vows may not be changed. There must be a period of the potential spiritual master and disciple studying each other to be sure that the relationship is proper and trustworthy, and totally based on the teachings of Srila Prabhupada. To discipline is only part of the duty of the spiritual master. To encourage and mold by that encouragement, based in knowledge, personalism, and unflinching faith in the order and instructions of the acarya, and eventually, also by the direction of Paramatma as the advancement develops, may be the greater part of it. That relationship will look different in each case, some more disciplinary, some more gently encouraging according to what is right for each person. It takes the utmost humility to be able to discipline properly. Srila Prabhupada’s books are always the reference point. There may always be mentors, spiritual seniors, and in truth, they will learn from each other, the mentor and the mentee. However, initiation, as essential as it may be on the spiritual path, may not be what is correct for everyone in the here and now. It is not to be undertaken simply as protocol or to fit into a certain group. There may also have to be gradual development, even over several lifetimes, in order to be really ready. Initiation has been regarded too cheaply these days. It must be taken as seriously as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur approaching Gaura Kishora das Babaji.

-In one regard, if one accepts Srila Prabhupada’s books, he/she is already initiated, but the books also teach to accept a bonafide spiritual master. Both are there. The books are meant to be studied and relished, and for one who seeks spiritual initiation, there must not only be sincerity, but also the patience and the faith that Krsna knows the desires of each and every jiva and will direct properly. For you, to keep up with your practices and continue to nurture your desire for appropriate association and spiritual advancement, moving forward with both enthusiasm and patience, is perfect. You are not in any way lacking. Krsna can perform any miracle, and He knows your heart. You have good ability to discriminate. It is a gift. Immerse your heart in the books/teachings of Srila Prabhupada, chant Hare Krsna, be happy, and have faith that Krsna knows your deepest desires. Past experiences color the perception of future experiences. We have to be cautious of that. We must be careful not to be cheated, but we also have to be open to wonderful possibilities. Krsna can do anything.

I also have practical concern that without proper community development, without sustainability, without extended family and friends and some level of supportive interaction, with every person/family having to care for all its needs independently, that in some parts of the world it has become very difficult to sustain basic sadhana and initiation vows. Therefore, I see sustainable community development as a priority, for without it, the devotees may not have the practical strength (and time) to maintain initiation vows. The initiation discussion initially came up for me because devotees wanted to know how we at Purely Prabhupada Inc “fit in.” We don’t!

I hope this helps a bit and gives a little more clarity and insight.

With love,
Your servant,
Kamra devi dasi