Serving Srila Prabhupada Across the Generations
Dear Satsvarupa Maharaja. Thank you for your article about how we can all take shelter of Srila Prabhupada. It is nice to see the senior devotees express their realizations for the benefit of all of us. Most of what you wrote is very sweet, like sweet rice, but there is a little sand mixed in. Please allow me to explain as I was a witness to these events regarding future initations,
Dear Satsvarupa Maharaja,
Please accept my respectful obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Thank you for your article about how we can all take shelter of Srila Prabhupada. It is nice to see the senior devotees express their realizations for the benefit of all of us. Most of what you wrote is very sweet, like sweet rice, but there is a little sand mixed in. Please allow me to explain as I was a witness to these events regarding future initiations, that happened just before Srila Prabhupada physically left the planet.
I do appreciate and agree with most of your article but for the record I would like to make a few comments. I thank you in advance for your understanding. I will quote you exactly and respond accordingly.
Satsvarupa Maharaja: “The concept that Srila Prabhupada directly initiates followers after his disappearance is not something that he himself taught. Neither is it found in the teachings of the Gaudiya sampradaya. Neither did it appear in ISKCON in the years immediately following Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance.”
Gauridasa Pandita Dasa: Srila Prabhupada did teach this system of having his disciples initiate on his behalf for at least three years even before he left the planet. He asked that this system continue after his departure in front of me and you. You yourself are on tape asking Srila Prabhupada how initiations would go on after he was no longer with us and Srila Prabhupada said that he would appoint officiating acharyas (or ritvik priests, monitors or deputies) to initiate on his behalf. Are you forgetting this recorded conversation? I did not hear that particular conversation but I heard the actual appointment of the ritvik acharyas on July 7th 1977. I also heard Srila Prabhupada talk about the details of it many other times.
The reason that the ritvik system did not happen right after Srila Prabhupada’s departure is that the zonal acharya system was put into place by the appointed ritviks who were not satisfied to be humble priests. This action hurt the mission and has been condemned by the GBC themselves. Even Tamal Krsna Maharaja admitted this fact at the Topanga House talks in December of 1980. He said that he and the others have done the greatest dis-service to this movement by promoting themselves as ‘regular gurus’ when they were only supposed to be ritviks.
SM: “Rather, it is a concept that made its way into ISKCON around 1985 as result of the frustration resulting from gurus falling down and abandoning their positions. The first essay to appear on this topic was by Karnamrita dasa, printed in The Vedic Village Review.
GPD: This is just not the case. I myself wrote a 22 page report on Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes and ritvik appointments in 1978 and sent it to you. I was later told that my report ‘burned up’ in a office fire. I have been trying to get the GBC to allow me to address them on this issue since 1978. Every year I have been denied and they even made a resolution that they interviewed all witnesses!
SM: “His subtitle was telling and true to the experience of the times: “A Pragmatic Approach.” Pragmatism means that truth is determined by whatever works best. In that essay he admitted that Srila Prabhupada had established a system, but because we were unqualified to follow that system, it would be more practical to follow something we could do.
GPD: We can and should do what Srila Prabhupada said to do. The ‘gurus’ fell down because they disobeyed the order of the spiritual master and instituded the zonal acharya system. The ritvik system may of become more popular after their falldowns but it did not start because of them.
SM: “The question is sometimes asked, “Are we limiting Srila Prabhupada in saying that he cannot initiate followers after his disappearance?” But that’s not the real discussion. The question more is, “Did Srila Prabhupada teach in his books, lectures, or letters, that the ritvik system was what he wanted to establish after his disappearance?”
GPD: Yes. The famous letter of July 9th 1977 to all Temple Presidents and GBC’s wherein he appointed the ritviks and said that all the devotees the ritviks initiated would be disciples of Srila Prabhupada. This is also recorded on July 7th 1977.
Srila Prabhupada did not discuss the GBC or BBT much in his books also; these types of matters were mostly discussed through letters.
SM: “I will not discuss the intricacies of this question here, but I will say here that Srila Prabhupada’s main teaching was that the disciple becomes the next spiritual master.”
GPD: That is obvious. How he becomes and when and where he becomes are the details. I heard Srila Prabhupada say not to put vyasasana’s in the temple rooms, but you did. I heard him say that you cannot be a guru in your own guru’s temples; but you did and still do! He said when you become a qualified guru you should do so in your own temples, but not in Srila Prabhupada’s. The example was given by Srila Prabhupada himself who did not stay in the Gaudiya Math to fight for properties and disciples. He had the potency of a real guru to attract followers and start his ISKCON movement. This is what you should do not use the mission for your own self agrandizement.
SM: “Our becoming guru does not put us, in our minds or anyone else’s, on the level of Srila Prabhupada, but that does not mean we can avoid our responsibility to preach and to give people who come as a result of that preaching Srila Prabhupada’s full shelter.
GPD: Yes but some of the followers think their gurus are as good as Prabhupada. They even offer their bhoga to their pictures. Godbrothers and sisters are forced to eat these offerings as if they were offered to Srila Prabhupada. This is the last big snare with the minimized ‘gurus’ in ISKCON.
Visnujana Swami inspired so many to take shelter of Srila Prabhupada but he never claimed to be a guru. So did Jayananda Prabhu, the first ISKCON saint. At the same time they were the best Siksa gurus.
SM: “The ISKCON guru’s qualification is that he very carefully represents Srila Prabhupada and links his own disciples to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.
GPD: The ritvik does this, but they are disciples of Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada’s teachings do not need a ‘link’ they are self evident and effective.
SM: “Srila Prabhupada said that our love for him would be proven in our willingness to cooperate with one another to maintain his institution. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada must be the central focus.”
SM: “That said, I have to acknowledge that ISKCON devotees have all experienced a lot of disillusionment and disappointment in regard to spiritual masters falling down. ISKCON has made mistakes. We began the worship of gurus after Prabhupada in a highspirited way, with the mistaken idea that there were only eleven gurus selected by Srila Prabhupada and that their authority was greater than the authority of the GBC body.”
GPD: Yes, I heard Srila Prabhupada say that the GBC could appoint and remove ritviks as necessary the day after the appointments.
SM: “These gurus also accepted worship even greater than what Srila Prabhupada was offered. Those Godbrothers who were not gurus were often treated almost like disciples. In some cases, this led to a corruption that blighted ISKCON’s spirit and caused confusion, and ultimately, attempts at reform.
It also gave rise to disappointed devotees searching for alternatives. Some devotees became proponents of the ritvik theory and others left ISKCON to join various branches of the Gaudiya Math.”
GPD: Yes so many have left the movement because of unqualified gurus. They will continue to as long as the ritvik system is not adopted. It is the only way to truly keep Srila Prabhupada in the center.
SM:”Even though Prabhupada appeared to pass away from this world, he continues to live through his instructions. Service in separation, vipralambha-seva, is a high level of realization, something which the residents of Vrindavana feel in Krishna’s absence. We too can feel a form of union in separation, even though we are not so advanced in spiritual realization, simply by meditating on Srila Prabhupada’s presence and instructions.”
SM: “He was gone but he was still very much present. This realization was not a pretension or a myth, nor was it sentimental or psychic phenomenon or mental telepathy-it was a completely substantive, palpable reality, a fact of life.”
SM: “Now had I completed the biography? Again I found myself feeling that something more was needed. Therefore I wrote the Epilogue. I wanted readers to understand clearly that they too had a claim to a relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I expected that most of the readers would not be initiated disciples of His Divine Grace. In fact, I assumed that some of the readers might be encountering Srila Prabhupada for the first time in this book. Each of them could have a relationship with Prabhupada. It was their right.
GPD: Thank you!
SM: “Otherwise, as touching as the biography of Srila Prabhupada might read, the reader would be left only with the idea that this was a story of one guru with his little band of disciples who tried to begin a worldwide movement. It had nothing to do with them and there was no way in which they could participate now since that guru had left this world. I wanted the reader to understand that Prabhupada was more than the guru of a particular generation; he was to be with us forever.”
GPD: Thank you. This is the attitude of the true devotee.
SM: “We cannot limit Srila Prabhupada, therefore, by describing only the drama of his being the guru for one generation of followers. Srila Prabhupada is jagat-guru, the spiritual master of the entire world. He is a bona fide spiritual master, faithfully conveying the message of the disciplic succession from Lord Krishna, as he received it in parampara from his spiritual master. But more than that, he was empowered by Krishna to do what no other spiritual master has done. He is the founder-acarya for spreading Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana worldwide in the midst of the age of Kali.”
GPD: Yes, he is the guru for the golden age.
SM: “Such a personal relationship with the founder-acarya is possible even for persons not directly initiated by Srila Prabhupada.”
GPD: I’m glad to hear these statements. We are not so far apart.
SM: “Why shouldn’t anyone anywhere in the world feel that if he took up Prabhupada’s instructions, he could become Srila Prabhupada’s follower?”
GPD: Yes, to be good follower is to be good disciple.
SM: “That was the purpose of the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, and if anyone reads it and opens himself to the possibility of a deep relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he will not only become a Prabhupadanuga, but he will taste the sweetness of Prabhupada’s association. This is true not only of persons who joined ISKCON during Prabhupada’s physical presence but for those who joined after 1977.”
GPD: Yes, Srila Prabhupada’s pastimes will enliven devotees for generations to come. He is the worshipable spiritual master and we are all worshipers. Or should be!
SM: “A Prabhupadanuga has exclusive devotion to Prabhupada. He doesn’t like to hear that Prabhupada is just one of many gurus teaching Gaudiya Vaishnavism and that there is little distinction between Prabhupada and any other Gaudiya teacher. A Prabhupadanuga recognizes Srila Prabhupada’s special place among gurus of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.”
GPD: This needs to be emphasized far and wide.
SM: “Srila Prabhupada’s very human story”
GPD: It is statements like this that draw criticism form many devotees from your books also. When you make the spiritual master seem human you do a disservice whether you did innocently or not. I would recommend that your Lilamrita be edited before any next printing by a real Prabhupadanuga such as Yasodanadan or Narasimha Prabhus.
SM: “There is a tendency now that time is passing to see things more objectively and to think that perhaps Srila Prabhupada wasn’t so special.
GPD: That kind of thinking is what is destroying the potency of ISKCON.
SM: “Even within ISKCON we can hear the advanced realizations of other devotees, or see them travel around the world, gain followers, write their own books. A follower of Prabhupada won’t allow such minimization to creep into his faith. Srila Prabhupada accomplished something so extraordinary that any comparison to others becomes a minimization of his position.”
GPD: Good point and a bold statement. Thank you for speaking the Truth
SM: “This is the nature of an ISKCON devotee: he or she wants to develop love for Krishna by following strictly in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps and in the mood that he taught. It will be to the credit of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and succeeding generations of followers to continue with this fixed determination in their glorification of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.”
GPD: Yes, that is what we Prabhupadanugas want. That is what will happen under the ritvik initiation system.
SM: “We can cultivate that exclusive devotion to Prabhupada by hearing about his life, studying his teachings, praying to him, and rendering service to him according to his desires.”
SM: “When a follower is serious about a relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he or she will begin to receive knowledge from him. The spiritual master gives that knowledge freely, unofficially.”
GPD: Therefore there is no need for anyone to have to ‘link’ them to that knowledge. It is automatic and effective from His Divine Grace. You said so yourself. Great!
SM: “Since the personal identification with Srila Prabhupada is the source of every follower’s potency, no one in ISKCON should dampen another devotee’s attraction to Srila Prabhupada or divert it to others. Srila Prabhupada is just as accessible now as he was before his disappearance.”
GPD: This is what the Prabhupadanugas have been saying all along!
SM: “To be effective, therefore, his followers have to teach and bolster faith in Srila Prabhupada and represent him effectively. Then people approaching ISKCON after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance will be grateful to have received Srila Prabhupada’s association through such persons who have already been trained as Prabhupada’s followers. The whole basis of their relationships in ISKCON will be that everyone is following Srila Prabhupada and helping to connect one another to the founder-acarya.”
SM: “Srila Prabhupada can appear in their hearts, in their dreams, in their minds, and he can imbue their following of him with his own special quality of mercy. Whatever relationship we can imagine with Srila Prabhupada as a beloved spiritual master can be experienced by all devotees regardless of what year they joined because the relationship with Srila Prabhupada is eternal.”
GPD: Thank you
SM: “Reform is an ongoing process. The movement needs to be brought to a greater level of purity.”
GPD: Isn’t that the Truth. Following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for the ritvik initiation system is a good start.
SM: “We all recognize that our movement is imperfect. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states, “Nothing is pure in the beginning. From impurity, purity will come about.” Our movement will be rescued not by abandoning it or by changing Srila Prabhupada’s teachings but by becoming the devotees Prabhupada wanted us to be and by sharing that example and that happiness with the world.”
GPD: So instead of claiming to be qualified diksa gurus you will all admit that you are only authorized to be ritvik priests which are by the way very respectable. Then what has been impure will become pure and we will be united under the pure devotee Srila Prabhupada.
In closing I would like to applaud your nice statements about the potency of His Divine Grace. Of how he is still present and available to each and everyone of us now and in the future. I only hope and pray that our other Godbrothers and sisters come to this realization and act accordingly. We really need to take an honest look at what Srila Prabhupada really wants for initiations in ISKCON. When we do the right thing all of the nice things you said will come to be and ISKCON will start to grow again as it did in the 70’s.
I hope you don’t take offense at my attempt to respond to you. I don’t do so out of envy or pride, but only out of a duty to repeat the Truth as I heard it from His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Someday hopefully the GBC will hear and act to rectify the situation once and for all.
Hoping this meets you well,
Gauridasa Pandita Dasa