July 25, 2011, Bangalore, India — YAHOO Question: Is ritvik separate from ISKCON? What does ritvik mean and what is a ritvik devotee?
Answer: For a sincere Hare Krishna devotee the initiating spiritual master & his instructions are one’s life and soul. According to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual master of ISKCON, one can have many spiritual masters, or teachers, but the initiating spiritual master is the “real spiritual master” and thus he must be a cent per cent pure devotee free of any tinge of personal desire. As the pure representative of the Lord he should be worshiped as good as God.
Prior to November 1977, Srila Prabhupada was recognized by all as the only such person for all members of ISKCON. After his physical departure however there has been different conclusions about what his instructions are for how the movement would continue, and likewise how the disciplic succession would continue.
At that time there were 11 disciples who claimed themselves as appointed successor spiritual masters. They claimed they were appointed to act as initiating spiritual masters each for a particular zone of the world where they could claim their own disciples. This was referred to as the “zonal acarya system”.
This system of 11 zonal acaryas for many was questionable from the beginning as to whether Srila Prabhupada had actually appointed these persons to a position of being worshiped as good as God. It became even more questionable as scandalous and illicit behavior became exposed upon these individuals who were accepting grandscale worship equal with that of the Lord Himself.
The system taught by Srila Prabhupada is that a diksha guru (initiating guru), is a cent per cent pure devotee and must be worshiped as good as the Supreme Lord. The 11 zonal gurus accepted such worship while most of them were exposed in many illicit activities including money scandals, sexual relations with female disciples and even homosex and murder. These are facts which can be verified.
There is even an online video documenting this history which has a confession from one of these persons, Bhavananda, admitting that he engaged in homosex while acting as an initiating spiritual master and accepting worship.
It can be seen here: (this segment starts at 11:30)
After 11 years of the zonal system ISKCON spokepersons made a formal apology in Back to Godhead magazine admitting that ISKCON leaders had misinterpreted Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, mistaking that he had appointed these 11 persons as successors.
The article concluded with a prayer that “May Lord Krishna henceforward set us on the right path”. However, what followed by the ISKCON leadership was an arrangement where the position of diksha guru would no longer be limited to only 11 persons, but now would be open to anyone whom the governing body would agree upon by vote.
Up until today there have now been voted in over 100 persons who have been made initiating gurus by this process. And many of them have also continued to be exposed in illicit activities, some abandoning their positions, some being put on probation by the GBC, and some continuing the position and accepting worship even after having been exposed in illicit activities.
Initially, during the zonal period, there were many devotees who doubted whether Prabhupada had authorized such a setup. One devotee in particular named Sulocana had began investigating Prabhupada’s written instructions and collecting letters written by Srila Prabhupada. He went on to raise a voice in question and was subsequently murdered. This is mentioned in the above video and documented in the book Monkey On a Stick.
Over the years Prabhupada’s teachings have become more accessible through his books, recordings, the Vedabase and online, allowing more people access to what Prabhupada has instructed on the matter.
Most signifigant, and something which became widely available only years after 1977 is a letter authorized by Prabhupada to all ISKCON leaders just prior to his passing away, where he names the 11 individuals merely as representatives for performing initiating ceremonies on his behalf, referring to them as ritviks and specifying that the newly initiated disciples were to be his own.
The letter states that this system was effective henceforward and does not state that it should end after his departure. What is most notable is that the system is specifically designed to function without his physical presence.
Unfortunately the ISKCON leadership has continued to be adamently opposed to the ritvik system. So until today the debate rages on as to whether or not Srila Prabhupada intended this system to continue after his departure.
For some, the letter itself is conclusive enough evidence. Though even without the letter there is substantial evidences to support the continuation of the ritvik system given ISKCON’s history, the philosophy and legal documents including Prabhupada’s will. For such devotees, who have been labeled as “ritviks”, there is none other than Srila Prabhupada who should be worshiped as a diksha guru, at least in ISKCON.
Up until today there is no evidence that Srila Prabhupada ever gave any specific order to anyone for becoming a diksa guru in ISKCON. Only there is a general order to preach. However, becoming a diksa guru to be worshiped as good as God, according to Prabhupada, requires a specific direct order that one should initiate their own disciples and accept to be worshiped.
Unless one is a pure devotee of the highest order one cannot assume a position of consuming other peoples karma by initiating them. And any honest devotee would not think themselves fit to accept being worshiped as good as God. Thus the position requires a specific order from one’s spiritual master. Up until today, there is no such evidence that Srila Prabhupada ever gave anyone such an order.
Many speak of the need for a guru who is physically present. As for the ritvik system, this could be available through the association of disciples and ISKCON leaders who ideally would encourage others to follow Prabhupada, worship him and become his disciple. And in this way the disciplic succession would continue by the teachings being disseminated through his generations of disciples.
Disciplic succession and guru are not material concepts limited by a physical body, but are in essence the spiritual message which is propogated continually without change. So long as the message is continued without change, the disciplic succession continues.
The line may continue through either a diksa guru or siksa gurus regardless. So in this way the disciplic succession would continue through preaching and ISKCON would remain united with Srila Prabhupada as the worshipable spiritual master for everyone. This is the vision of the ritvik system.
There has been a great deal of propoganda against the ritvik system which has managed to divert many away. After all it is the age of Kali-yuga and perhaps it should not be a surprise if only a very few people accept the highest truth.
However, those who embrace it are convinced that Prabhupada is a topmost pure devotee and is their life and soul, or initiating guru, and that anyone who teaches that it is not possible to accept Prabhupada as such cannot be accepted as any kind of guru. The bottom line is that if anyone is a pure devotee, it is Prabhupada, and taking his shelter is the surest thing.
For devotees who adhere to the ritvik system, from a study of Prabhupada instructions and a look at ISKCON’s history nothing else could make more sense than taking shelter of Prabhupada as one’s initiaiting guru.
For further information and documentation on this issue and the history, follow these links:
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