A Critical Essay Addressing the Ritvik Misconception in light of bona-fide siddhanta
"One should not proudly think that one can understand the transcendental loving service of the Lord simply by reading books... One must accept a Vaisnava guru (adau gurv-asrayam), and then by questions and answers one should gradually learn what pure devotional service to Krsna is. That is called the parampara system." (Cc. Antya-lila 7.53, purp.) — AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The nature of devotional truths is that they are not revealed by debates (tarko 'pratisthah). The proper conception for any tattva is revealed in the heart only by virtue of ones' spiritual qualifications (adurlabham atma-bhaktau). We have experienced in our preaching that often the simplest spiritual concepts cannot be understood, even when painstakingly explained. This is due to the [non-devotee] recipients' disqualifications or impurities.
Similarly, many devotees are disqualified from understanding finer siddhantic truths by virtue of their impurities, material desires, subtle and gross deviations from the strict line of Sri Rupanuga-varga, and particularly because of their offenses to other Vaisnavas. Devotional faith is illumined with proper understanding. Real, substantial faith can never be blindly based on incomplete knowledge and semi-devotional considerations. True faith recognizes real spiritual substance, for it is the seed of the hladini-sakti, the potency to give pleasure to Sri Krsna, embodied and distributed to us by the Absolute Pleasure Potency, Srimati Radharani. Faith is the substance that is of the same spiritual quality as the spiritual world: it is our most substantial connection with that highest realm of attainment.
All those who are associated directly or indirectly with the formal ISKCON movement accept that Srila Prabhupada appointed ritvik priests to initiate on his behalf during his final manifest days. However, the concept that all initiations in ISKCON after the departure of Srila Prabhupada would be done by ritvik priests is inconsistent with all of his teachings, all sastra, all predecessor acaryas, all sampradayas, and all Vedic and Pancaratrika tradition.
Taking into consideration all the available documents, tapes and instructions of Srila Prabhupada we see that he did not leave clear instructions regarding the managerial aspect of the process of initiation after his departure, although he did give a clear understanding of its spiritual principles. Srila Prabhupada many times mentioned his Guru Maharaja's desire in this matter and he left it up to the GBC to manage all material and spiritual affairs.
His idea was 'Let them manage; then whoever will be qualified for becoming acarya, they will elect. Why should I enforce it upon them?' That was his plan. 'Let them manage by strong governing body, as it is going on. Then acarya will come by his qualifications.' (SPL 21.9.73)
Mundane votes have no jurisdiction to elect a Vaisnava acarya. A Vaisnava acarya is self-effulgent, and there is no need for any court judgment. (C.c. Madhya-lila 1.220, purp.) His idea was acarya was not to be nominated amongst the governing body. He said openly you make a GBC and conduct the mission. So his idea was amongst the members of GBC who would come out successful and self effulgent acarya would be automatically selected. (SPL 28.4.74)
We can understand from these statements that it is highly unlikely that Srila Prabhupada would appoint any successor acaryas. It is also clear from a thorough study of Srila Prabhupada's teachings that he desired that the traditional parampara system be followed in his mission, and that his consistent desire is that his disciples initiate disciples when qualified.
His many consistent instructions in this regard were given at various times under many different circumstances such as lectures, letters to specific devotees and room conversations.
I wish that in my absence all my disciples become the bona fide spiritual master to spread Krsna consciousness throughout the whole world. (SPL Madhusudana, Nov. 2, 1967)
Regarding your question about the disciplic succession coming down from Arjuna, it is just like I have got my disciples, so in the future these many disciples may have many branches of disciplic succession. (Los Angeles, 25 January, 1969)
Every one of you should be spiritual master next. (Hamburg, September 5, 1969)
These students, who are initiated from me, all of them will act as I am doing. Just like I have got many Godbrothers, they are all acting. Similarly, all these disciples which I am making, initiating, they are being trained to become future spiritual masters. (RC Detroit, July 18, 1971)
You, all my disciples, everyone should become spiritual master. (London, August 22, 1973)
Every student is expected to become acarya. Acarya means one who knows the scriptural injunctions and follows them practically in life, and teaches them to his disciples... I want to see my disciples become bona fide Spiritual Master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy... Keep trained up very rigidly and then you are bonafide Guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your Spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. (SPL Tusta Krsna, December 2, 1975)
Srila Prabhupada, quoting his Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, writes very clearly that the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is for everyone to become spiritual master (yare dekhi tare kaha krsna upadesa amara ajnaya guru hana tare ei desa) and that one is qualified to become guru if he knows the science of Krsna consciousness (yei krsna-tattva vetta sei guru haya).
Srila Prabhupada writes that this order applies equally to siksa and diksa guru and that we MUST accept this principle or Krsna consciousness will not spread all over the world. This instruction of Srila Prabhupada, which is his Bhaktivedanta purport to the exact verse enunciating this principle, is irrefutably clear.
The word guru [in this verse, yei krsna-tattva sei guru haya] is equally applicable to vartma-pradarsaka-guru, siksa-guru and diksa-guru. Unless we accept the principle enunciated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, this Krsna consciousness movement cannot spread all over the world. (Cc. Madhya-lila 8.128, purp.)
It is simply inconsistent and out of concert with all his teachings to think that Srila Prabhupada wished his ISKCON movement to utilize a posthumous ritvik system of initiation on his behalf for all time.
Generally diksa (initiation) follows siksa (instruction), and the siksa of the initiating guru continues after diksa with innumerable instruction sessions, where the guru on a regular basis answers important philosophical questions, which are essential for healthy, normal spiritual advancement. This cannot be separated from the relationship of guru and disciple.
Regarding the guru disciple relationship, siksa is the most essential element: the transferral of transcendental knowledge (divya-jnanam) comprises the essence of initiation. Be it with our diksa or our siksa guru, we need a substantial siksa relationship with an advanced realized Vaisnava who can guide us by providing properly conceived answers to our particular questions, according to time, place, circumstance and personal necessity. This substantial siksa is essential to help one extract and understand the teachings of Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas. Further, it is the injunction of the Bhakti-sandarbha of Sri Jiva Goswami that only one on the transcendental platform can associate with a non-manifest personality. Srila Prabhupada is always with the sincere disciple in the form of his instructions, but the degree to which we are able to associate with him is limited by our degree of realization. For example, Krishna's pastimes are eternally going on in Vrindavan, but now they are unmanifest. Only one with the vision described by Narottama das Thakur in Prarthana will see the land made of cintamani, the kalpa-vriksa trees, and Krishna performing His pastimes with His associates. In the same manner, Srila Prabhupada is here with us, but our ability to associate with him is limited by our degree of faith and realization.
Is Everything in Srila Prabhupada's books?
"Everything" is in Srila Prabhupada's books, and when properly understood, these books are sufficient in themselves for one to advance in Krsna consciousness and attain perfection. This does not mean that every piece of information is in Prabhupada's books, but that the methodology and instructions for attaining perfection in Krsna consciousness are. If we faithfully follow the instructions given in these books we will imbibe the proper devotional conceptions and Krsna will reveal to us through His agents, the Vaishnavas and sadhus, those additional things that are necessary. (cf. Bg. 9.22 and C.c. Madhya-lila 22.54). "I carry what you lack and preserve what you have." And "by even a moment's association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success." In Srila Prabhupada's letter of November 22, 1974 he offers encouraging words by stating that by such daily sincere reading of his books, everything will be revealed in time.
The problem arises in extracting, understanding and properly applying the many instructions therein. Sastra is passive and the advanced devotee is the active principle in extracting the devotional conclusions. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, in his 1931 Harmonist article (The Harmonist, Dec. 1931, vol. XXIX No. 6), while extolling the virtues of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, emphatically states this same point. "One cannot simply read the words of Bhaktivinode Thakura; one must hear them from the lips of a pure devotee." An excerpt of this article, a very strong statement against the ritvik idea by our param guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, is presented at the end of this article.
Simply repeating Srila Prabhupada's instructions or cutting and pasting them into papers without understanding them cannot substitute for realizing their essence by virtue of purely practicing them. The innumerable philosophical controversies amongst Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples and followers stand strongly as a testament to this. There is much confusion regarding proper understandings of jiva-tattva, guru-tattva, rasa-tattva and Vaisnava-tattva, just to name a few. This problem cannot be denied, and substantiates that we need continuous and properly qualified siksa, always.
Volumes of letters written by Srila Prabhupada in response to his disciples many very individual needs and specific questions further substantiates that the continuous flow of guidance is necessary throughout ones' spiritual life–Prabhupada did not tell his disciples to go look it up in a book. On the contrary, he stated:
One should not proudly think that one can understand the transcendental loving service of the Lord simply by reading books. One must become a servant of a Vaisnava. As Narottama dasa Thakura has confirmed, chadiya vaisnava-seva nistara peyeche keba: one cannot be in a transcendental position unless one very faithfully serves a pure Vaisnava. One must accept a Vaisnava guru (adau gurv-asrayam), and then by questions and answers one should gradually learn what pure devotional service to Krsna is. That is called the parampara system." (Cc. Antya-lila 7.54,purp.)
The disciple, if he cannot understand the statement of the scriptures or any saintly person, he submits his doubts before the spiritual master and he clears it. In this way we have to make progress. (Montreal, July 9, 1968) By reading you cannot understand. (Bom. Jan. 8, 1977)
Question: Through a book can you contact the spiritual master?
Prabhupada: No, you have to associate.
Devotee: "Can you associate through a book?" she asked.
Prabhupada: Yes, through books and also personal. Because when you make a spiritual master you have got personal touch. Not that in air you make a spiritual master. You make a spiritual master concrete. So as soon as you make a spiritual master, you should be inquisitive. (RC London, Sept. 23, 1969)
The present uncertainty as to the proper guru system in some temples in ISKCON seems to be a managerial consideration, not a philosophical one. However, no amount of external arrangement can replace or satisfy our internal spiritual necessity.
In their attempts to propagate the ritvik misconception, the ritvik proponents, have not been able to provide a proper siddhantic explanation of this issue. Their engagement in mundane grammatical and logical debates reveals a lack of spiritual acquisition–realization seen through the eye of divine service. There is not a single example in our sampradaya nor by any of our acaryas, nor any other bonafide sampradaya where devotees take initiation from a guru by proxy after he has left this world.
The ritvik proponents continuously try to shun their burden of proof and instead state that there is "no scriptural reference indicating this ritvik practice is a deviation from siddhanta." When such a novel and unprecedented idea is introduced (initiation by a non-manifest personality) the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition dictates that sastric references be provided to validate its authenticity. This has not been done.
In Srila Prabhupada's own words, such statements (even of the guru) which cannot be verified by sastra must be rejected along with the guru. (C.c. Madhya-lila 20.352, purp.). Thus if we follow the dry ritvik logic one step further, we arrive at a most unpleasant and unpalatable conclusion.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura has mentioned thirteen apasampradayas that deviate from the strict line of Sri Caitanya. The ritvik conception is ideologically closest to the Kartabhaja apasampradaya; one of these thirteen:
In Bangladesh, a new version of the Kartabhaja sect was founded by one Anukul Chandra. Posing himself as a Supreme Lord, Anukul Chandra has been worshipped by his followers as such. Specific features of his worship were his "Visvarupa darsanas," which centered on a very degraded practice. He is now dead, but his followers propagate that he can initiate latter-day devotees through preachers known as ritviks. New initiates must agree to follow the principles—be vegetarian once a week and worship no deity other than Anukul Chandra's picture.
The example of condemnation of an improper attitude and understanding of the guru principle provides illumination for the present day situation.
Virabhadra Goswami in a letter to Srinivasa Acarya ostracized one Jayagopala from Vaisnava society for claiming himself as a disciple of his param guru. This is described in Gaudiya Vaisnava Abhidhana, khanda 3.
Many devotees look to the ritvik idea as a new life-giving conception that will solve the biggest disaster in ISKCON—that of the guru issue. This is like seeing the external symptoms of a woman whose stomach is growing. Some may conceive that new life may arise from this, but actually it is only a tumor that will not bring about a new life but will only bring death to the woman herself. In the words of the most exalted and until recently, the seniormost Gaudiya Vaisnava on the planet, Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami Maharaja, whose clear statement on the ritvik idea says it all, "It is the death of the sampradaya."
Lord Krsna once asked Duryodhana to go into the kingdom and bring back a person more qualified than himself, and He asked Yudhisthira to find a person less qualified than himself. After some time each returned alone: Duryodhana said that he could not find anyone more qualified than himself, and Yudhisthira said that everyone was more qualified than himself. Like Duryodhana, most ritvik proponents are representing that they alone are qualified to judge the (dis) qualifications of others. This kind of thinking is avaisnava and contrary to our devotional line — it is apa-sampradayic. If one lacks the realization to understand these many essential points, that does not mean that others do not understand these points.
The deliberate attempt to create and maintain Vaisnavas on the plane of lower adhikari (kanistha adhikari) – as is the case in ISKCON and among ritvik vadis, is a symptom of the incapacity to surrender and reach a higher plane of self abnegation, the plane where the greatest necessity is being served.
The essence of Bhagavad-gita is that we give up all our present conceptions and attachments and place ourselves at the disposal of the highest necessity of the Lord's agents.
The ritvik idea is a symptom of hrdaya-durbalya, the anartha of weakness of the heart that makes one unable to fully embrace the life of pure devotion.
Ritvik vadis wish to maintain the whole management and guru system on the level of lower adhikari. If one is really sincere and cannot tolerate impurity within the formal establishment, then one should accept an exclusive life of devotion (sannyasa) and establish a higher standard of purity. One must offer his impurity in the fire of sacrifice on behalf of the Lord.
The adhikari or spiritual standing of a devotee may be judged by his ideal or aspiration. The highest spiritual acquisition is not a matter of demand or right; it can only be sanctioned from the highest quarter, that of the Lord and His associates. "If God sees you are sincere, He will give you a spiritual master." (Rome, 6.23.74) In this endeavor it is all risk and no gain, for we cannot demand anything in return for our service. Pure devotional service is selfless.
The ritvik proponents are lacking a genuine spiritual aspiration. The underlying attitude of the ritvik idea is in essence abhakti, opposed to devotion, for it is indicative of a diseased condition to demand this connection with the plane of transcendence without proper qualifications.
Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami Maharaja has commented, "We cannot really help ourselves very much; because in our present state we are mainly guided by our previous samskara or acquired nature. This highest spiritual fortune is but a gracious grant from the Absolute Lord, and not a matter of right to be demanded or fought out." By cultivation of this mood of negativity (necessity) we attract the attention of the Lord. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu exemplifies this in the last verse of the Siksastaka, aslisya va pada-ratam pinastu mam... 'You may embrace me or trample me, but you will always be the only Lord of my life.'"
Devotees should realize that their difficulties are due to their own past misdeeds, and they should hope and pray that their situation be resolved (tat te'nukampam su-sumiksamano, Bhag. 10.14.8).
Eulogy of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura
(The Harmonist, Dec. 1931, vol. XXIX No. 6)
It is not empiric wisdom that is the object of quest of the devotee. Those who read the scriptures for gathering empiric wisdom will be pursuing the wild goose chase... The mutual admiration society of dupes does not escape, by the mere weight of their number, the misfortunes due to the deliberate pursuit of the wrong course in accordance with the suggestions of our lower selves... Thakura Bhaktivinoda is acknowledged by all his sincere followers as possessing the powers of the pure devotee of Godhead.
His words have to be received from the lips of a pure devotee. If his words are listened from the lips of a non-devotee they will certainly deceive. If his works are studied in the light of one's own worldly experience their meaning will refuse to disclose itself to such readers. His works belong to the class of the eternal revealed literature of the world and must be approached for their right understanding through their exposition by the pure devotee. If no help from the pure devotee is sought, the works of Thakura Bhaktivinoda will be grossly misunderstood by their readers. The attentive reader of those works will find that he is always directed to throw himself upon the mercy of the pure devotee if he is not to remain unwarrantably self-satisfied by the deluding results of his wrong method of study.
The writings of Thakura Bhaktivinoda are valuable because they demolish all empiric objections against accepting the only method of approaching the Absolute in the right way. They cannot and were never intended to give access to the Absolute without help from the pure devotee of Krishna. They direct the sincere enquirer of the truth, as all the revealed scriptures do, to the pure devotee of Krishna to learn about Him by submitting to listen with an open mind to the transcendental sound appearing on his lips. Before we open any of the books penned by Thakura Bhaktivinoda, we should do well to reflect a little on the attitude which serves as the indispensable prerequisite to approach its study. It is by neglecting to remember this fundamental principle that the empiric pedants find themselves so hopelessly puzzled in their vain endeavor to reconcile the statements of the different texts of the scriptures. The same difficulty is already in process of overtaking many of the so-called followers of Thakura Bhaktivinoda and for the same reason...
Those who want to understand the contents of the volumes penned by the piecemeal acquisitive method applicable to deluding knowledge available to the mind on the mundane plane, are bound to be self-deceived. Those who are sincere seekers of the truth are alone eligible to find Him, in and through the proper method of His quest.
In order to be put on the track of the Absolute, listening to the words of the pure devotee is absolutely necessary. The spoken word of the Absolute is the Absolute. It is only the Absolute Who can give Himself away to the constituents of His power. The Absolute appears to the listening ear of the conditioned soul in the form of the name on the lips of the sadhu. This is the key to the whole position. The words of Thakura Bhaktivinode direct the empiric pedant to discard his wrong method and inclination on the threshold of the real quest of the Absolute. If the pedant still chooses to carry his errors into the realm of the Absolute Truth he only marches by the deceptive by-path into the regions of darker ignorance by his arrogant study of the scriptures. The method offered by Thakura Bhaktivinoda is identical with the object of the quest. The method is not really grasped except by the grace of the pure devotee. The arguments, indeed, are these. But they can only corroborate, but can never be a substitute for, the word from the living source of the Truth who is no other than the pure devotee of Krishna, the concrete Personal Absolute.