Initiation Protocols

And the most definitive direction on this subject is found in the purport of the Srimad Bhagavatam: “One should take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master coming in the disciplic succession, who is authorized by his predecessor spiritual master. This is called diksha-vidhana.” (SB 4.8.54)

Initiation Protocols
Interview with Sriman Locanananda Prabhu

Interviewer: The issue of initiations in ISKCON has divided devotees for several decades and appears to have evolved into a schism. What is your personal perspective on this issue?

Locanananda dasa: When I was President of the Amsterdam temple in 1977, I received a copy of the Summary Report of the GBC meetings held in Vrndavana that year from the 27th through the 29th of May. In that report, two of the three questions Srila Prabhupada answered on May 28th were included, but the answer to the question about future initiations was not. A few weeks later, I received a copy of the July 9th letter explaining the new initiation protocols. It didn’t seem as if much had changed. Initiations would resume despite Srila Prabhupada’s ongoing illness. The letter also addressed the selection of “rittik” representatives of the acarya and referred to the May 28th meeting with Srila Prabhupada, but there was no detailed explanation as to how the two were connected. We were really left in the dark for years as to what instructions Srila Prabhupada had actually given the GBC as a mandate for future initiations.

Interviewer: Would you say it was a cover-up and hijacking of the movement?

Locanananda dasa: There is no question that vital information was withheld from the devotees, information that was critical to the future of our society. But even after the transcript of the recorded conversation of May 28th, 1977 was released, Srila Prabhupada’s intentions were still not clearly understood, and therefore everything was subject to interpretation. Rather than carefully analyze the actual words of the spiritual master spoken on May 28th, the devotees who sought reform in the mid-80’s did so on the basis of general instructions contained in Srila Prabhupada’s books. This may be a subtle point, but devotees should know that Srila Prabhupada did not manage the Society through his books. He managed through written correspondence with the leaders and through conversations with them that addressed specific management issues. Also, on occasion, to ensure that certain standard management procedures were followed everywhere, Srila Prabhupada would have a letter sent out to all of the centers stating a policy that he wanted to introduce globally. The July 9th, 1977 letter was one such document.

It should be noted that His Divine Grace does not mention the Governing Body Commission (GBC) in any of his books, even though the GBC acts as the primary instrument for the execution of his will by overseeing the management of all ISKCON operations. The question of how initiations would be conducted when His Divine Grace would no longer be present was basically a management issue, and the answer is not to be found in his books, although his books can be used to philosophically substantiate his managerial directive. In other words, what we are looking for are his ISKCON-specific instructions concerning future initiations, and they can be found clearly stated in the May 28th discussion with the GBC.

Interviewer: So let’s take a look at the May 28th conversation and see what Srila Prabhupada’s words reveal about his intentions.

Locanananda dasa: That day, there were nineteen full GBC members present in Vrndavana. Also in attendance at the meetings were one acting GBC man and two non-GBC members. To ask the most delicate questions, a six-man committee consisting of those GBC members who were on the original GBC formed in 1970 went before Srila Prabhupada. The first question asked was about GBC members: “How long should they remain in office?” Srila Prabhupada’s answer was immediate, direct and succinct: “They should remain for good.” Then a few points of clarification were added and the next question was brought up:

“Then our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you are no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiations would be conducted.”

Srila Prabhupada replied immediately, directly and succinctly:

“Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acarya.”

In answering this question, Srila Prabhupada introduced a new term, a term not found in any book or previous conversation he had ever had with his disciples. It was the designation he had chosen to fit the role of future initiators in ISKCON. I do not know why the GBC felt it necessary to hide this instruction from the devotees. Perhaps they themselves did not understand what it meant or how to explain it to others. Or perhaps it just wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

The Summary Report stated that some of the questions the GBC asked Srila Prabhupada would not be answered until later. We now know that to be untrue. We know he answered all of their questions that day, immediately and succinctly. The only question the GBC asked that was not included in the Report had to do with initiations. Srila Prabhupada’s answer to that question was that when he would no longer be present, initiations would be performed by officiating acaryas selected from among his leading disciples. The leaders did not like the sound of that at the time, nor do they like the sound of it now. Otherwise, somewhere along the way they would have asked, “So how does one act as an officiating acarya?” In his subsequent comments, Srila Prabhupada did not mention that any special worship would be offered to an officiating acarya. Nor did he say the officiating acaryas would become the topmost spiritual authority for those who would receive diksa from them. The GBC’s future gurus did not like the sound of that either.

The GBC clearly understood how long their term of office would last, that they would remain for good. When devotees insist that the Directions of Management calls for regular elections, the GBC counters with the above statement from the May 28th, 1977 conversation. They point out that during Srila Prabhupada’s lifetime, no such elections were ever held. They also refer to a letter written to Rupanuga on November 13, 1970:

“Regarding Bali Mardan, he has not resigned and until he or some other member does so, there shall not be any change in the members of the GBC.”

But the GBC has no clue as to what Srila Prabhupada meant when he said they would act as officiating acaryas. They have no faith in that instruction. The present GBC thinks it has everything figured out, but as long as they do not accept Srila Prabhupada’s nomenclature, they will be treading water in a sea of speculation. What they need to do is pass a resolution stating that “Henceforward, anyone who initiates in ISKCON will act as an officiating acarya.” This is something we should all be able to agree on since these are Srila Prabhupada’s exact words. It simply amazes me that the various camps all admit that Srila Prabhupada used this expression, officiating acarya, but they have all introduced other titles by which they think the devotee performing the initiation should be known. Srila Prabhupada certainly did not say, “I shall recommend some of you to act as diksa gurus,” nor did he say, “I shall recommend some of you to act as initiating spiritual masters, or ritvik gurus or ceremonial priests or anything else besides officiating acaryas.” So let’s make this our common ground and see if we can create a little more unity with a little less diversity by at least agreeing on our terminology.

Looking objectively at the flow of the May 28th conversation, one can easily see that the questioner was interested in a specific outcome which was that he and his GBC godbrothers would be gurus with disciples of their own. It was that blinding ambition that kept them from implementing Srila Prabhupada’s order for officiating acaryas. Since that time, for more than thirty years, no ISKCON “initiator” has ever referred to himself as an officiating acarya, nor has any GBC resolution ever mentioned the term.

The announcement that he would recommend some of his disciples to act as officiating acaryas was divinely inspired. On one hand, His Divine Grace had to arrange for the continuation of initiations in his worldwide movement without violating the law of disciplic succession. He also had to take into account the management structure that was already in place with its GBC men and temple presidents whose authority he did not wish to subvert. In a letter to Sivananda dated January 23, 1969, Srila Prabhupada had written: “The spirit of the disciplic succession may not be changed, but there may be adjustments made to suit the special circumstances.”

Never before in recorded history had a vaisnava acarya introduced the teachings of Vedic culture and the yuga dharma of Sankirtana to every continent, making devotional service available to the entire human society. The vehicle he had created, known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was meant to carry his universal message to every town and village as predicted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The process by which thousands upon thousands of new converts would be initiated into our vaisnava sampradaya had to be established without creating factions, keeping Srila Prabhupada in the center as the devotees’ absolute spiritual authority and object of worship. Srila Prabhupada had called for “unity with diversity”, and the two would have to be in balance for ISKCON to remain a cohesive organization based on love and trust, managed under a spirit of cooperation.

Interviewer: How likely is the GBC to adopt the officiating acarya concept?

Locanananda dasa: I recently asked a member of the GBC why they would not use this term, and he said, “because it sounds too ritvik.” This is a big problem within ISKCON, that devotees do not take Srila Prabhupada’s words as final. They want to introduce their own idea, their own interpretation, their own method, their own culture. Even if you could provide ten quotes from Srila Prabhupada stating his opinion, they will still refuse to give up their attachment to a false idea. So without external pressure, I don’t see the GBC showing favor to Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation. They are thinking that if it were really that important, he would have mentioned it over and over again, but I have to ask, “How many times did Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati instruct Srila Prabhupada to take Lord Caitanya’s teachings to the Western countries?” Did he have to tell him over and over again to get him to act? No. Srila Prabhupada immediately took that instruction and cherished it within his heart as his life’s mission. We should be able to do that, too. We should make the order of the spiritual master our life and soul without him having to repeat the same order ten times.

The GBC has already rejected Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation for the past thirty years. What would cause them to have an about-face now? It will only come from external pressure. When the guru reform movement arranged to meet with the GBC in New Vrndavana in 1985, the GBC was forced to make adjustments in its initiation protocols. Big vyasasanas, daily guru pujas and honorific titles were out. More gurus were voted in. The field opened up, but still no one thought to act as an officiating acarya. Everyone wanted to be jagad-guru and initiate disciples all over the world. And to this day, as a result of its ever-changing experimental system of initiations, ISKCON continues to suffer the constant dilemma of parallel lines of authority between the temple managers and the initiating gurus. I believe this conflict in authority is the principal reason why people do not live in ISKCON temples but prefer to live outside and visit the temples on Sunday. They simply want to avoid conflict.

There must have been 500 to 1,000 Prabhupada disciples at New Vrndavana and they were all full-time engaged in service. They had clout. There were many temple presidents, sannyasis and senior men clamoring for change. The GBC was backed into a corner and they had to bend. But who can apply that kind of pressure today? The GBC does not tolerate any opposition from the rank and file. Sannyasis, who are supposed to be independent of that sort of ideological tyranny, cannot object to the deviation lest they lose the right to initiate within ISKCON. Add to that an additional layer of management called the Deputy GBC’s, and you have maya’s perfect storm. There is no way for devotees who are looked upon as outsiders to bring about internal change in the way ISKCON is managed. What is the role of the Deputy GBC’s, anyway? Their expertise seems to be to act as a buffer between the outside devotees and the GBC men who don’t want to hear anyone’s suggestions or criticism. They figure that we are not accountable to them, so they are not answerable to us. But don’t they have to answer to Srila Prabhupada?

So, on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, we want to know who authorized the GBC to reject his recommendation that initiations be performed by officiating acaryas? And when did Srila Prabhupada say that those giving diksa in ISKCON would receive special worship from those they initiate beyond the simple offering of respectful obeisances? I recall one letter from Srila Prabhupada to Brahmananda (8-30-69) wherein he said,

“In our society, everyone, either a brahmacari or sannyasi or grhastha, who has dedicated his life and soul for this movement, they are all on the same level of sannyasi….Nobody should try to claim any extra honor on account of an official position.”

So we have to ask our guru godbrothers,

“How can you keep Srila Prabhupada central as everyone’s object of service, worship and meditation when you are positioning yourself and accepting worship as the current link to the disciplic succession? By what right and on whose authority do you claim this special honor?”

The challenge continues: When did Srila Prabhupada authorize the GBC to introduce new forms of worship in his temples, particularly the worship of new gurus? And if you say it is vaisnava tradition, we must ask when did Srila Prabhupada authorize the GBC to introduce some tradition other than what he himself had personally authorized? When did Srila Prabhupada suggest that his disciples who did not give diksa could be referred to as “non-guru godbrothers” as the GBC has done in its resolutions. According to Lord Caitanya’s teachings, any vaisnava can be seen as guru, not only those who have formally initiated disciples. The GBC concoction of a two-tiered society in which some godbrothers are worshiped as guru and some are not goes against Srila Prabhupada’s order that everyone should treat his godbrothers as “prabhu” and act as the humble servant of the servant.

Interviewer: There is certainly a lot more to be said on the issue of initiations. We could go through the May 28th conversation line by line, but we’ll have to save that for another day. Would you like to add some concluding comments today?

Locanananda dasa: Yes. The problem is that today’s leaders, and hence their followers, do not take Srila Prabhupada’s words as absolute. They think they have to confirm what he said with scriptural references and the opinions of previous acaryas and even vaisnavas from other lines, but that is not the position of the disciple of a spiritual master who is a pure devotee of Krishna. Srila Prabhupada is our leader and if you try to bury his instructions, you have no authority and no empowerment. The current initiation protocols in ISKCON may appear to be bona fide because they are based upon whatever conclusions the GBC has drawn from scripture concerning guru-tattva, but if they do not agree with Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON-specific managerial instructions as described above, their conclusions are not to be applied. This principle was discussed in an exchange of letters with Professor Staal of the University of California – Berkeley in 1970. His Divine Grace wrote in a final note:

“We have to accept everything favorable to the circumstances. Rejection of other methods in a particular circumstance does not mean that the rejected ones are not bona fide. But for the time being, taking into consideration the age, time and object, methods are sometimes rejected even though bona fide. We have to test everything by its practical result.”

So, I ask you: What has been the practical result of the GBC’s three decade experiment, complete with fallen gurus, bogus re-initiations, luxurious life-styles, and all sorts of felonious activity? I think one word sums it up: devastation.

The GBC likes to reject Srila Prabhupada’s opening answer on May 28th favoring officiating acaryas and jump to his final comment about regular gurus, but you cannot correctly understand the final comment if you reject the opening comment. The whole conversation has to be understood line by line in relation to the original answer. If you reject even one word uttered by the spiritual master, how can you act as a transparent via medium and give diksa on his behalf? So we call upon all devotees to question the GBC and all ISKCON gurus on this point. “If Srila Prabhupada said he would recommend officiating acaryas to conduct initiations when he would no longer be present, why do you choose not to act as or refer to yourself as an officiating acarya?” Let the confrontation begin. Let them feel the weight of having ignored the direct order of the founder acarya for three decades. And if they want to discuss guru-tattva, we can do that, too. The guru/disciple relationship means you take the order of the spiritual master as your life and soul and you mold your life in such a way that you can always follow his order.

So what have you done with the order for officiating acaryas to initiate in ISKCON besides defecate on it for thirty years? Therefore, we say, “Fie on you for posing as maha-bhagavata acaryas and accepting worship although you were never free of material hankering. And fie on you for covering up Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to all of his disciples concerning future initiations and for thinking Srila Prabhupada’s words are not sacrosanct. And fie on you for allowing so many of your godbrothers to fade away into oblivion because they had no place in the new ISKCON where you must be a GBC/guru clone or ‘yes man’ to survive. Fie unto you!”

Pasted from;

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mick
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 05:30:10

    i totally agree with this but who do i trust to take initiation from ?
    hare krsna


  2. mick
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 05:34:51

    it seems the safest way for me is to simply keep srila prabhupad in my heart and follow the 4 regulative principles as ive done for the past 40 years or more. maybe krsna will take pity on me eventually ?
    hare krsna


  3. Locanananda dasa
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 23:32:18

    Dear Mick,

    Having served Krishna by following the guidelines presented by His pure devotee Srila Prabhupada for the past forty years qualifies you as a saintly person. Such a sincere devotee of the Lord is not to be pitied, neither by Krishna nor by anyone else. As far as your being initiated, you should understand that you have already received the seed of devotional service (bhakti-lata bija) which was planted in your heart by the grace of the spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He must have been attracted by your humility and service attitude. As far as the other sacraments of formal initiation are concerned, you may or may not receive them, but that will not be an impediment to your going back to Godhead. If it is part of Krishna’s plan for you to be formally initiated by an officiating acarya acting on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf, that will be your good fortune. But you are already the recipient of good fortune and the Lord’s blessings due to your steadfast service to Srila Prabhupada.

    Hoping this meets you in the best of health and spirits, I beg to remain

    Your servant,
    Locanananda dasa


  4. satyahit
    May 13, 2012 @ 09:45:17

    very nice Locanananda prabhu
    satyahit das


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