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Srila Prabhupada Used
The Ritvik System

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The ritvik system is not new. Most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples were initiated by a ritvik priest. They may not have known the word "ritvik" then, but they were being initiated by a priest on Srila Prabhupada's behalf. Therefore those who argue the ritvik system is not valid must reject 90% of Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples as they are initiated by the ritvik system. Even if there is no history of ritvik initiations in the disciplic succession, that's the way Srila Prabhupada initiated 90% of his disciples. The only question is if Srila Prabhupada wanted to continue the ritvik initiations after he left our physical presence or if he appointed 11 "successors" to act as "zonal acaryas." There is no other option...


His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to the West alone on the order of his spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Srila Bhaktsiddhanta had requested Srila Prabhupada to go to the western countries and preach and, "If you get some money--print books."

"By the beginning of December, 1936, I wrote one letter to Guru Maharaja. I knew he was little kind upon me, so I wrote that 'Guru Maharaja, you have got many disciples. I am also one of them. But they are doing direct service to you. Some of them are brahmacaris, some of them sannyasis, but I am a householder. I cannot...' Of course, I was giving sometimes some monetary help, but I could not give any direct service, so I asked him that 'If there is any particular service I can do for you?' So that letter was replied in 13th December, dated 13th December, from Puri. And he passed away on the 31st December. Just a fortnight before. So the reply was the same as he wanted me to do this preaching work in 1922, when I first met him, that 'You try to preach whatever you have learned from me to the English-knowing people in English. That will do good to you and to the people to whom you shall preach. That is my instruction.' So I took up, direction. And then he passed away in 1936, 31st December. So I consulted some of my Godbrothers, senior Godbrothers, 'Guru Maharaja has told me like this. What can I do?' So you have heard the name of Professor Sanyal, and there were other Godbrothers. They asked me to write on the Vaisnava-siddhanta in English. So perhaps in 1935 I wrote one poetry. The part of it, somebody, you have got. He was very pleased. Since then he was insisting me that 'You write on, preach on in English.' At that time I was thinking, 'What can I do?' So anyway, after his passing away, this Back to Godhead paper was started, as late in 1944..." (90207BA.LA)

So with this order as his life and soul, Srila Prabhupada set off for the USA, New York, in 1965. After a year of receiving almost no favorable response from the American people, Srila Prabhupada's Krishna consciousness movement gradually began to expand. With the acquisition of 26 2nd. Ave as a temple and base for the movement things quickly grew and soon devotees began to open centers in other cities in the USA, in Canada, in Europe, in England, etc.

In the beginning Srila Prabhupada was personally training and initiating all his disciples, however, with the expansion of the movement this was no longer possible for him to do physically. So he trained-up devotees and in turn they trained-up new devotees. That is the parampara system.

So as the movement grew Srila Prabhupada no longer personally knew all of his disciples and therefore he delegated the responsibility of determining if a devotee was qualified to be initiated to the temple presidents. If the temple president considered a devotee fit to be initiated by Srila Prabhupada, he would initiate that devotee. In most cases Srila Prabhupada did not personally know the disciples very extensively, he simply relied on the recommendation of his representative, the temple president.

It was no longer possible for Srila Prabhupada to personally perform all the initiation ceremonies all over the world so he delegated this responsibility also to his representatives. Srila Prabhupada would receive the recommendation letter from the Temple President, give the new devotee a spiritual name and chant on his beads for first initiation and for second initiation he would chant on a brahmin thread for the new brahmins.

So from very early on Srila Prabhupada established a ritvik initiation system in ISKCON. It may not have been called a "ritvik" system by the devotees, but that is exactly what it was. Prabhupada was not physically there at the initiation ceremony in most cases. The ceremonies were conducted by his representatives [priests] on his behalf.

After some time as the number of initiations increased it became difficult and very costly for Srila Prabhupada to acquire so many sets of beads, chant on them and send them air-mail to the temples all over the world. So Srila Prabhupada empowered a number of the sannyasis to chant on the new devotees beads on his behalf.

Then, in the July 9th. letter, Srila Prabhupada completed the ritvik system so he had no physical part to play in the initiation process whatsoever. At that time Srila Prabhupada empowered his representatives to give the new devotees spiritual names on his behalf and chant on the brahmin threads for second initiation. So this means in Srila Prabhupada's physical presence the ritvik system was fully in place. Srila Prabhupada could accept disciples without any physical knowledge of them at all. He had empowered his representatives to perform the whole training, selection and initiation process, "on his behalf."

The Ritvik System Is Not New.

So the ritvik initiation system is nothing new. It is the system Srila Prabhupada was using when he was personally present and the system he intended to continue in ISKCON after his physical departure. The whole thing has been explained by Tamala Krishna Maharaja, who drafted the July 9th. letter [on Srila Prabhupada's behalf]. On December 3rd., 1980 before a group of devotees at Pyramid House CA. Tamala Krishna Maharaja explained Srila Prabhupada's desire for initiations in ISKCON as follows:

"I've had certain realizations a few days ago... There are obviously so many statements by Srila Prabhupada that his Guru Maharaja did not appoint any successors... Even in Srila Prabhupada's books he says GURU MEANS BY QUALIFICATION...

"The inspiration came because there was a questioning on my part, so Krishna spoke. ACTUALLY PRABHUPADA NEVER APPOINTED ANY GURUS. HE APPOINTED ELEVEN RITVIKS. HE NEVER APPOINTED THEM GURUS. Myself and the other GBC have done the greatest disservice to this movement the last three years because we interpreted the appointment of ritviks as the appointment of gurus.

"What actually happened I'll explain. I explained it but the interpretation is wrong. What actually happened was that Prabhupada mentioned that he might be appointing some ritviks, so the GBC met for various reasons, and they went to Prabhupada, five or six of us. We asked him, 'Srila Prabhupada, after your departure, if we accept disciples, whose disciples will they be, your disciples or mine?'

"Later on there was a piled up list of people to get initiated, and it was jammed up. I said, 'Srila Prabhupada, you once mentioned about ritviks. I don't know what to do. We don't want to approach you, but there's hundreds of devotees named, and I'm just holding all the letters, I don't know what you want to do.'

"Srila Prabhupada said, 'All right, I will appoint so many...' and he started to name them. HE MADE IT VERY CLEAR THAT THEY ARE HIS DISCIPLES. At that point it was very clear in my mind that they were his disciples. Later I asked him two questions, one: 'What about Brahmananda Swami?' I asked him this because I happened to have an affection for Brahmananda Swami... So Srila Prabhupada said, 'No, not unless he is qualified.' Before I got ready to type the [July 9th.] letter, I asked him, two: 'Srila Prabhupada is this all or do you want to add more?' He said, 'As is necessary, others may be added.'

"Now I understand that what he did was very clear. He was physically incapable of performing the function of initiation; therefore HE APPOINTED OFFICIATING PRIESTS TO INITIATE ON HIS BEHALF. This is very important because when it comes to initiating, it isn't whoever is nearest, it's wherever your heart goes. Who [you] repose your faith on, you take initiation from him. But when it's officiating, it's whoever is nearest, and he was very clear, He named them. They were spread out all over the world, and he said, 'WHOEVER YOU'RE NEAREST, YOU JUST APPROACH THAT PERSON, AND THEY'LL CHECK YOU OUT. THEN, ON MY BEHALF, THEY'LL INITIATE' It is not a question that you repose your faith in that person--nothing. That's a function for the guru. 'In order for me to manage this movement,' Prabhupada said, 'I have to form a GBC and I will appoint the following people. IN ORDER TO CONTINUE THE PROCESS OF PEOPLE JOINING OUR MOVEMENT AND GETTING INITIATED, I HAVE TO APPOINT SOME PRIESTS TO HELP ME BECAUSE... I CANNOT PHYSICALLY MANAGE EVERYONE MYSELF.'

"AND THAT'S ALL IT WAS, AND IT WAS NEVER ANY MORE THAN THAT. You can bet your bottom dollar that Prabhupada would have spoken for days and hours and weeks on end about how to set up this thing with the gurus, because he had already said it a million times. He said: 'MY GURU MAHARAJA DID NOT APPOINT ANYONE. It's by qualification.' We made a great mistake...

"I feel that this realization or this understanding is essential if we are to avoid further things happening, because, believe me, it's going to repeat. It's just a question of time until things have a little bit faded out and again another incident is going to happen, whether it's here in LA or somewhere else. It's going to continuously happen until you allow the actual spiritual force of Krishna to be exhibited without restriction... I feel that the GBC body, if they don't adopt this point very quickly, if they don't realize this truth. YOU CANNOT SHOW ME ANYTHING ON TAPE OR IN WRITING WHERE PRABHUPADA SAYS: 'I APPOINT THESE ELEVEN AS GURUS.' IT DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE HE NEVER APPOINTED ANY GURUS. THIS IS A MYTH..."

July Letter to: All G.B.C., All Temple Presidents -- Vrindaban 9 July, 1977

To All G.B.C., and Temple Presidents

So it's very clear the ritvik system is not a "new" initiation system at all. It was completely operating in Srila Prabhupada's physical presence and Srila Prabhupada gave no indication that anything should change in ISKCON on his physical departure. He had arranged everything in the initiation process so his physical presence was not required at all.

So there is no question of doubting the validity of the ritvik system. After all most of Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples were initiated by ritvik priests on Prabhupada's behalf.

"So far as personal association with guru is concerned, I was only with my Guru Maharaja four or five times, but I have never left his association, not even for a moment. Because I am following his instruction, I have never felt any separation. There are some of my Godbrothers here in India, who had constant personal association with Guru Maharaja, but who are neglecting his orders. This is just like the bug who is sitting on the lap of the king. He may be very puffed up by his position but all he can succeed in doing is biting the king. Personal association is not so important as association through service." (Letter to Satyadhana, 20/2/72)

Srila Prabhupada is Living Still:

Srila Prabhupada is not dead. In fact Srila Prabhupada's personal association is perhaps more available now than in the 70's in his physical presence. Now we can read all of Prabhupada's books, hear all of his classes, read his letters, go with him on his morning walks, hear him presenting the philosophy of Krishna consciousness to scientists, religious leaders, the press, politicians, and of course we can even read his room conversations with devotees and guests. And there are so many wonderful music CD's with Srila Prabhupada and his disciples chanting Hare Krishna and singing bhajans.

I can say honestly that I never feel separated from Srila Prabhupada. I hear him giving class every day, I read his books for at least two hours a day and I chant Hare Krishna and try to distribute some of Srila Prabhupada's books and preach. Srila Prabhupada looks after me and answers all my questions and drags me out of maya when I get stuck and he chastises me when I do the wrong thing.

"We are not separated actually. There are two--vani or vapu. So vapu is physical presence and vani is presence by the vibration, but they are all the same. So Krsna when He was physically present before Arjuna is the same when He is present before us by His vani of Bhagavad-gita. So far I am concerned, I do not factually feel any separation from my Spiritual Master because I am trying to serve Him according to His desire. That should be the motto. If you kindly try to fulfill my mission for which you have been sent there, that will be our constant association." (70-06-22.Ham)

"So he wanted this, and he is not... It is not that he is dead and gone. That is not spiritual understanding. Even ordinary living being, he does not die. Na hanyate hanyamane sarire. And what to speak of such exalted, authorized personality like Bhaktisiddhanta. He is seeing. I never feel that I am alone. Of course, when I came to your country without any friend, without any means... Practically, just like a vagabond I came. But I had full faith that 'My Guru Maharaja is with me.' I never lost this faith, and that is fact. There are two words, vani and vapuh. Vani means words, and vapuh means this physical body. So vani is more important than the vapuh. Vapuh will be finished. This is material body. It will be finished. That is the nature. But if we keep to the vani, to the words of spiritual master, then we remain very fixed up. It doesn't matter. Just like Bhagavad-gita. It was spoken five thousand years ago. But if you keep to the words of Krsna, then it is always fresh and guiding. Not that because Arjuna personally listened to Krsna about the instruction of Bhagavad-gita, therefore he knew it. That is not the fact. If you accept Bhagavad-gita as it is, then you should know that Krsna is present before you in His words in the Bhagavad-gita. This is called spiritual realization. It is not mundane historical incidences. If we keep..." (750302BA.ATL)

"...when the mortal body of the spiritual master expires, his disciples should cry exactly as the queen cries when the king leaves his body. However, the disciple and spiritual master are never separated because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vani (words). Physical presence is called vapuh. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master." (SB 4.28.47)

"Physical presence is immaterial; presence of the transcendental sound received from the Spiritual Master should be the guidance of life. That will make our spiritual life successful. If you feel very strongly about my absence you may place my pictures on my sitting places and this will be a source of inspiration for you." (letter: Brahmananda and other students, 19/1/67)

Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!

Your servant

Madhudvisa dasa

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