Nov 1, 2010
Dear Madhavananda Prabhu, please accept my most humble obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I have read over your letter very carefully. You are certainly very sincere and thoughtful. I will answer your thoughts one after the other, but it is late for me, and I shall do it in the morning when my mind and energy is fresh.
An immediate response that flowed into my heart was that Krishna, after elaborately explaining various philosophies — Karma Yoga, Jñana Yoga, Astanga Yoga, Sankya Yoga, the three modes of nature, divine and demoniac natures, the qualities of the four orders of Varnas and Ashrams, universal form, Bhakti Yoga, etc., finally concludes this eloquent summation of all Vedic philosophy, thought and analysis by telling Arjuna (His devotee and friend) “Fogeddaboudit… sarva dharmam parityaja… Give up all dharma and just do what I say. Just surrender unto Me, and I will protect you…. don’t worry, do not be afraid. If there is any fault or problem, I will take care of it.” But after 5,000 years of reading Bhagavad-gita, the whole world, including India, still has not grasped this final conclusion of Krishna’s instructions. Sarva dharmam parityaja: “Forget about all your DHARMA, and all your formulas, traditions, rituals and procedures. Just surrender to Me. I will protect you from all sinful reaction. DO NOT FEAR.” Who has understood this conclusive order???? Next to no one.
So even though Srila Prabhupada spent ten years traveling, preaching, writing 60 volumes of books, building temples, farm communities, recruiting thousands of devotees, meeting dignitaries, pop stars, etc., no one can understand, or no one wants to understand his last directive, his final prescription for his disciples and the world, because the heart is filled with ambition to be a GURU-ACHARYA like or more than Prabhupada. So it was presented in such a way that everyone could have their cake and eat it too. Prabhupada’s instructions are actually CRYSTAL CLEAR, but if one’s heart is not CRYSTAL CLEAR, he cannot see, hear or embrace them CRYSTAL CLEAR. Therefore there is chaos, confusion and ignorance. Ignorance does not mean a thing is unknown or not understood. Ignorance means I know the fact, but I deliberately IGNORE it. Like a man knows he must full stop at the red light, but thinking he is unseen, does not stop and passes through the red light without stopping. So ambition is something like that. Lust — “I must have it… I want to be a guru.” The polluted heart will find all sorts of reason, logic, arguments and higher authority to complement and support his ambitious, lusty desires.
Your humble servant,
Here’s the email from Madhavananda (in blockquotes), with response: —
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
My name is Madhavananda das. I met you one time around 8 years ago when you visited Manhattan. I’ve noticed your post on the Prabhupadanuga.eu website recently. I also checked out your preaching at the university video. It was nice to see that happening, you gave a nice presentation. I could see during the questions and answers how much the teacher and students are attached to the impersonal conception. Good idea to emphasize the similarities rather than get into a whole debate about it with people who are not submissive but rather proud of their book knowledge. That’s how it is isn’t it? – Everyone has a different idea. Even in today’s world of Hare Krsna, you’ve got quite a few differing ideas amongst devotees…
On a morning walk, one disciple was bantering with Srila Prabhupada, using the word “devotee”: “this devotee”, “that devotee”, “devotees say this…”. Prabhupada stopped, checking him: “Devotee is not so cheap. Devotee means PURE DEVOTEE.” There cannot be many opinions amongst PURE DEVOTEES. There is one siddhanta. That is the WORD OF THE ACHARYA, PURE DEVOTEE. The disciples, like students everywhere in every field, are always full of errors. We have to accept the conclusion of the PURE DEVOTEE. Everything else is superfluous. When asked about Christians, Prabhupada would reply that we are not concerned with the Christians; we are concerned only with CHRIST, what he said, what he did. Similarly with Buddhists, we are only interested with what the BUDDHA actually said and did.
This is along the lines of what I’ve thought to inquire from you about. I thought you may be able offer some greater insight about Srila Prabhupada’s instructions about diksa.
To be clear from the start, I have no question about whether or not Srila Prabhupada has intended a ritvik system for after his physical departure. I’ve studied into the matter from when I first got involved in Krsna Consciousness about 17 years ago, and this has always made the most sense to me. There is something though which I cannot seem to discuss much with devotees who accept the ritvik system. And that is my point that although the instruction for carrying on a ritvik system is sufficiently supported by evidences such as the July 9th letter and will, the instruction does however seem to be somewhat shrouded in mystery. And this seems along the lines of what Prabhupada stated: —
The order to act as RITVIK REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ACHARYA is not mysterious, it was going on all the years while Srila Prabhupada was with us. He fine-tuned it in the last days by giving full freedom to initiate and give a name to the new students. He specifically named 11 men with authorization for performing this service. Formerly many others were sometimes deputed (temple presidents, GBC, sannyasis, etc.) to do this initiation. So why did Prabhupada limit this responsibility? Even excluding Brahmananda Swami (suggested by Tamal Krishna Goswami), saying “No! Not unless he is fit”?
“One who understands his guru’s order, the same parampara, he can become guru. And therefore I shall select some of you.” (Vrindavana, May 28, 1977)
So where is his directive, selecting individuals to BE GURU?? There is none. Just as he pointed out, his Guru Maharaja never once mentioned the all-important, pressing question on everyone’s mind — “WHO WILL BE THE GURU after you leave?” Neither did anyone dare to broach the all-important burning desire — “WHO IS GOING TO BE THE GURU?” Similarly, no one had the nerve to ask “WHO IS GOING TO BE THE GURU?” because in their heart of heart they knew this question is impertinent and would reveal their innermost ambition — a quality most unbecoming of a Vaishnava, especially one who is supposed to be GURU.
It appears to me that for some reason or other, this instruction for carrying out a ritvik system was intentionally put across by Srila Prabhupada in such a way that requires any devotee to seriously inquire into the matter. In other words, I do not see where Srila Prabhupada put out this instruction in clear cut black and white. And I have wondered why it is this way. Like I say, when I’ve brought this point up with any other ritvik devotee the response is something like “what are you talking about, it’s crystal clear.” or something like “you think Prabhupada gave more detailed instructions about how to prepare Gauranga potatoes than he did about carrying on initiations?”
When the commander (Napoleon, Alexander, Patton, McArthur…) leads his troops, he inspires them to courage and valor, pushing them to be brave and aspire to leadership. The commander knows many soldiers will be killed, many wounded, but hopes that one may prevail and rise to the occasion. But it rarely happens. He does not appoint anyone. He lets the heat and turmoil of battle determine the obvious candidate.
To me, if the instruction were so crystal clear for everyone to understand then why are there endless debates going on about it. Take for example such instructions as “Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, chant 16 rounds minimum of the mahamantra and follow these 4 principles” – this is clear for everyone, there is no room for interpretation and we don’t have endless articles and debates about this instruction. This instruction for initiations after Srila Prabhupada’s departure however, is something which leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation.
There is no room for misinterpretation; there is room for demonstration. Let’s see a sample of spiritual potency. Let’s see what someone can do. There is no question of interpreting the sun’s presence; it is self evident.
As far as I can understand, it is Krsna’s arrangement to “separate the wheat from the chaffe” so to speak. In order to understand the instruction one must seriously inquire.
There is no room for misinterpretation. It is a question of practical demonstration. Prabhupada has set the example. He used to say, “Do as I do.” So who is doing as he did? He was one guru. In 10 years he set the world on fire with Krishna Consciousness. So who has come near even lighting a match in the dark?? What is the use of appointment? When Bhaktisiddhanta was asked, “Who will be the next Acharya?” he replied, “The Acharya is self effulgent, he cannot be appointed.” [Prabhupada recalls this in a letter to Rupanuga, dated April 28, 1974 — 74-04-28]
This is what I mean in particular: —
1. The July 9th letter, rather than stating very specifically “this will be the system for after my physical departure”, it simply states “henceforward.” I accept the stronger argument that there is no other order after this which justifies stopping the system…but still, to me it seems that it would have left far less room for interpretation had Srila Prabhupada made this specific statement in the letter. Srila Prabhupada must have been well aware that the letter, as it was written, would be subject to misinterpretation by unscrupulous persons.
You want bureaucracy, you want formulas, rituals, procedures, but we need substance — “SHOW ME THE MONEY”. Why not see the thing as it is? We can see what Prabhupada did. We cannot see what anyone else has done. Hundreds of gurus, so has hundreds more been done? Do you think making a system will make any better result?
2. The fact that there is only one devotee, Gauridas Pandit Prabhu, who has given a testimony of hearing this instruction directly from Srila Prabhupada is not very convincing to the majority. It is difficult for most to believe that the whole group of devotees who were there with Srila Prabhupada before his physical departure would either not have heard anything about this ritvik system, or otherwise would have conspired all together to obscure the instruction. Thus the fact that there is only one devotee giving a personal testimony is not very convincing. Anyone would assume that such an important instruction would have been spoken of by Srila Prabhupada to many disciples.
Why do we need Gauridas Pandit to validate what Prabhupada said in simple language? Why don’t you use your personal heartfelt discrimination to understand Srila Prabhupada? Why do you need the majority vote? Don’t you trust Prabhupada? Don’t you have the faith in your own heart and that you should embrace Prabhupada and follow what your heart tells you? You either embrace Prabhupada in your heart exclusively (excluding all other opinions), or you embrace public opinion. You, as a disciple, must have this courage and purity of heart. Otherwise you will forever be bewildered and doubtful. Did Arjuna, after hearing Krishna speak Bhagavad-gita, consult or ask others’ opinions? No! He said, “I have heard Your instructions. My illusion is now gone, and I am prepared to act according to Your instructions.” Jesus said, “You cannot love two masters. Either you will love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other.” This power of discrimination is what makes you an individual, and faithful disciple. What do you care what others say? You must know what your heart (Supersoul) says. If you cannot rest on that, then you are lost to Prabhupada, and you will have to graze the field with the sheeps of doubt. Blake said, “He who answers to words of doubt, doth put the light of knowledge out.”
I know that you have your personal testimony, but did Srila Prabhupada ever say to you directly something like “after my departure continue to act as ritvik and initiate on my behalf, the generations of new disciples will be my own”? It seems to me that Srila Prabhupada did not say it to you like this in a very specific way. Otherwise, I imagine that you never would have assumed yourself as a successor diksa guru. I am aware of the letter to you from Prabhupada where he says to continue to act as ritvik, but it also does not specify “after my departure”. It seems to me that Srila Prabhupada put out this instruction in such a way that you would understand it by your own realization and experience, and it wasn’t actually until years later that it became clear to you what he had actually intended.
Myself and many other devotees were routinely doing this ritvik initiation ceremony for Prabhupada for years, many years. Everyone in Germany — maybe 50-60 devotees — was ritvik-initiated by me. Why would Prabhupada have to formulate a letter instructing me and 10 others to perform ritvik initiation that we had all been doing for years earlier? The only reason would be to formalize it, and fine-tune it for continuation after his departure. His departure was an obvious fact, his instructions by formal letter, indicating specific personalities was clear. There is no letter where Prabhupada indicates any disciple to take the responsibility of being a guru.
3. The May 28th conversation: Again, I accept the stronger argument that Prabhupada first speaks of a ritvik system when specifically asked about after his departure, and then later concludes by saying “When I order, You become guru,” and the question is where was that order ever given? But here, again, the things that Prabhupada says in between seem very confusing. Some say this recording is a splice job, but I’ve listened to it closely and I don’t believe it is. I do not hear any pops or clicks or anything like that. The recording seems genuine to me, which leaves me wondering, why did Prabhupada say all those things? Prabhupada talks about “grand disciples”, “disciple of my disciple” and about initiating on his behalf he says “Yes. That is formality. Because in my presence one should not become guru.” All of this seems very confusing. Was Srila Prabhupada intentionally throwing these disciples a curve ball because he knew they were hankering for his position? It is sometimes said that Krsna can be the greatest cheater if one wants to be cheated. Is it possible that Srila Prabhupada would intentionally lead these disciples on?… Like he was testing them or something, to see if they would use their intelligence or otherwise use his words to justify their cheating propensity? This is the only way I can make any sense out of why Prabhupada made these statements. Why would Prabhupada not have spoken clear cut just saying, “they will be my disciples, when I physically depart I will continue to be the diksa guru for ISKCON and you all will continue act as my ritvik representatives even after my departure”? According to this May 28th recording as it is, the way Prabhupada gave this instruction to carry out a ritvik system seems to be rather encrypted in code word and shrouded in mystery.
Prabhupada used to say, “You can say any damned thing, but don’t put it in writing. That makes it a legal document.” What Prabhupada said in a conversation is simply that. A conversation. What was written is legal documentation.
As far as I’m concerned, when you put it all together, the July 9th letter, the will, the history, the philosophy, etc., it only takes a little intelligence, a little honesty and what would seem like common sense to understand that Prabhupada has intended for this ritvik system to carry on. But still, unfortunately something like 99% of the devotees just don’t get it. Most of these people just take for face value whatever the popular opinion is and just follow along with it. And it’s hard enough for most people to come to Krishna Consciousness at all, but then to also embrace that the leaders are deviated, it’s just too much for most. But this is the reality isn’t it?
What’s at issue here is not THE PUBLIC; rather, it is your conviction and allegiance to Prabhupada, because without that, you cannot convince anyone of Prabhupada or of Krishna Consciousness. Because Krishna Consciousness flows from Prabhupada the person, not ISKCON the institution. “It is the king who makes the kingdom”, not the kingdom that makes the king. Prabhupada is the prior, the creator of ISKCON, not ISKCON that is the creator of Prabhupada. You have to invest your whole heart and soul in the Person of Prabhupada, then the validity, authenticity and power of ISKCON will be plainly visible to you. You will not recognize or determine Prabhupada’s meaning and intention by taking ISKCON’s opinion poll. You and Prabhupada are one on one. You must put YOURSELF on the line. You cannot get Prabhupada by arming yourself with the opinion of others. You are alone, and responsible for your own surrender. It is you and Prabhupada.
4. Also Prabhupada’s books do not give any exact specifics about how this ritvik system would be carried on in ISKCON for generations to come. I’m not implying that anything is lacking, the philosophy is all there, but again, this is another point whereby most devotees just can’t understand. It seems that it would have prevented the division of ISKCON if in the books itself the ritvik system were described in detail. One important detail for instance, is how new ritviks could be appointed on an ongoing basis. There is some general reference in the May 28th conversation to appointing new GBCs if one deviates, but not specifically about ritviks. Otherwise the only other reference we have to this is a quote from Tamal Krsna who once at Topanga Canyon quoted Prabhupada saying “others may be added”. After all it’s a detail that the GBC should have the common sense to work out, but still, the fact is that the ritvik system and how it would apply after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure is nowhere really, aside from the July 9th letter, described in great specific detail – something which seemingly would have prevented or at least minimized the possibility of misinterpretation.
The ocean leaves a lot of room for paddling around endlessly, but the genuine, seasoned sailors always keep their bearings by fixing on the constant NORTH STAR. In this way, every experienced sailor, anywhere in any ocean of the world, knows exactly were he is and how to proceed to his destination. Why are you so concerned with “most devotees” and karmis? you have to be first and foremost concerned with your own “true bearings to Prabhupada”. If that is not established in your heart, you cannot do good for anyone, not even yourself.
So the way it seems, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for the ritvik system left a lot of room for interpretation. And it appears to me that it is all actually Krsna’s arrangement somehow or other. I am aware of the fact that there are missing tapes, and that the disciples were keeping Srila Prabhupada confined during the last days, but still, considering the above points, it all seems to me to be somehow or other Krsna’s arrangement. Krsna arranges diverse and controversial situations and often gives power to the demons to have their ways for some time. Of course it is not ultimately Krsna’s will for disorder, disunity and suffering in ISKCON, but still it somehow seems to be part of the Lord’s ultimate plan and it is sometimes just beyond our comprehension how and why things happen. Of course, you are aware of the quote where Prabhupada states in Chaitanya-charitamrita that by the Lord’s will, the same scenario took place amongst the followers of Advaita Acarya as well as those of the Gaudiya Matha: —
“So the way it seems, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for the ritvik system left alot of room for interpretation”… The ocean leaves a lot of room for paddling around endlessly, without ever coming to a definite point. Those who have accepted passage on a ship with an expert, experienced captain, they can easily reach their destination. There’s no room for interpretation in Prabhupada’s books, except for those who have not accepted their contents and their author exclusively. You want to see the sun by bringing a candle… it is absurd. The sun is self effulgent; no other light is needed.
“The words daivera karana indicate that by dint of Providence, or by God’s will, the followers of Advaita Acarya divided into two parties. Such disagreement among the disciples of one acarya is also found among the members of the Gaudiya Matha. In the beginning, during the presence of Om Vishnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Ashtottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, all the disciples worked in agreement; but just after his disappearance, they disagreed. One party strictly followed the instructions of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but another group created their own concoction about executing his desires. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities cooperatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split into two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were asara, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master. Despite the spiritual master’s order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gaudiya Matha, the two unauthorized factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.” (CC Adi 12.8)
So my point of writing to you is really to share my thoughts and hopefully deeper my understanding of the situation. I thought you might have some further insight. And I just thought I’d ask you, did Srila Prabhupada ever actually speak to you in specific terms about how you should accept disciples on his behalf after his departure? Or did he really more or less just leave it for you to understand by experience? What was your actual understanding at the time when Srila Prabhupada had departed?
The captain of the ship ultimately left it to all the passengers to decide what direction to take in case of his absence? I don’t think so… he has subordinate officers, and they are supposed to take charge. But if each one maneuvers to be THE CAPTAIN of the ship, that will be chaos and bring disaster. That is present-day ISKCON. It is in Anarchy. It means Against the ACHARYA, as opposed to Hierarchy. Hieros means sacred, and Archos means leader, so the meaning is An-Archy = Against the sacred leader, the Acharya, and Hier – Archy means Supporting The Acharya, the sacred leader.
For most ritvik devotees it is hard to reconcile how any of this could be the Lord’s will. It is the misleaders who are the complete cause and effect of this whole situation. I’m trying though to see if there is a deeper understanding here. Why is this instruction not in a way which is easy for all to understand ? Most people cannot even understand the very basics of Krsna Consciousness, how are people going to understand this subject matter ? And today there is a whole smokescreen of anti ritvik propoganga. It seems that only a very few rare people can embrace this understanding. But if Lord Caitanya has broken open the flood gates and is freely giving love of God, why do we have something which is so important, but yet so difficult for most devotees, what to speak of the layman in the street to understand ?
First you solidify your relationship with Srila Prabhupada, then automatically everything will follow. Don’t worry about the devotees, the public. Worry about your full faith and allegiance to the SAMPRADAYA ACHARYA, SRILA PRABHUPADA.
The way I see the situation it is like a screen which separates the wheat from the chaffe. In order to get the bonafide spiritual master one has to seriously inquire with sincerity, etc. At the same time Krsna fulfills everyone’s material desires, so he’s also allowing facility to all the ISKCON people for their material propensities. It doesn’t exactly seem to correspond with the open floodgates idea, but this is the way it seems to be.
Anycase, hoping that you’ve made it through my letter here, I just want to say thanks and appreciation for your time, I know you must be busy, I don’t expect any long response or anything, it may have helped me just to put my thoughts out in writing, and perhaps you’ve got a thought or two on the matter that you could enlighten me with.
Hope you are well for many more years of Prabhupada preaching
yours in service to Srila Prabhupada
It’s good you articulated from the heart. I hope my response is helpful to you for clearing the way.
Your humble servant,
Thank you for your feedback and taking the time to respond.
Like I said from the beginning, I accept that Srila Prabhupada has intended for this ritvik system. It is not really my intention to look for any further support on this point. What I really was looking towards was to further my understanding of the statement, “by God’s will, the followers of Advaita Acarya divided into two parties.” The question being why God would will this division, and if the same applies to our current ISKCON situation.
The ritvik instruction may seem crystal clear, but the fact is that most people just cannot (or just do not want to) understand it. It is actually astonishing how few people agree on this point. And my question is, is this also “by God’s will”, and if so why?
Also, I do agree that the ritvik system was already instituted for years and it should have just been easily understood to continue the system. But this was not understood by the leaders, or otherwise it was understood and it was intentionally ignored. And that’s what I was trying to understand from yourself. You say that it was crystal clear to you all along, but from what I understand you had also assumed the role of a diksa guru for some years. Am I mistaken? How is that possible if the instruction to continue acting as ritvik was crystal clear to you all along?
In any case, I do appreciate and accept the gist of all you have said. I can see that trying to delve into this point does not really go anywhere. It’s the test of faith, to continue pushing on despite all circumstances, and even without always being able to understand everything. Regardless, Krishna is God and Prabhupada is the diksa guru and the whole Vedic philosophy makes more sense to me than anything else, so I keep on trying to go forward and praying for Krishna Consciousness.
yours in service to Prabhupada,
Dear Madhavananda Prabhu, obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It is actually quite simple. A conditioned soul (one not on the platform of brahma bhuta prasannatma) is interested, enchanted or intoxicated with three allurements: WEALTH, WOMEN AND FAME. The eleven appointed representatives of Srila Prabhupada, not being liberated souls, (brahma bhuta prasannatma) were actually powerless to resist the intoxicating and bewildering influence of extraordinary WEALTH, WOMAN AND PRESTIGE that immediately inundated them like a tsunami tidal wave.
There was no conspiracy, collusion, etc. It may appear like that to the untrained eye of a karmi or neophyte devotee. It is a scientific, devotional fact that if a conditioned soul is exposed to extraordinary facility for material sense indulgence, he will become a victim. The Bhagavatam is full of stories of great powerful devotees becoming victimized — Shiva, Brahma and others.
Although I was also shortly swept up by this tidal wave euphoria, I always knew, but could not overcome the debilitating and intoxicating influence of these three allurements. But still I consider myself blessed and a recipient of extraordinary mercy of Prabhupada and Krsna, because very early on They took it all away, and I could go on to reconstruct my spiritual life, which I continue to do to this day, and will go on doing, life after life. I learned a very valuable lesson. Pray for me and wish me well.
God’s will is manifest all around us. Without His sanction there could be nothing — nothing good and nothing bad. This is the meaning of God being all good. Father tells his son “Don’t touch fire.” The son is determined and persists. Finally, father says, “All right, do it,” knowing full well his son will be burned. It is the mercy and love of the father. The son insists, father says no, the son becomes rebellious, father makes a concession, the son suffers, next time he will not do it again.
Your humble servant,