Initiations in ISKCON

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There is an ongoing debate on how initiations were to go on after Srila Prabhupada’s physical disappearance.  Many devotees don’t like to talk about it or think about it, so conditioned are we to accept the status quo.   But I think it is important not to turn a blind eye on the issue of initiation, and how it was meant to go on, as initiation (accepting a spiritual master), is a very important step in progressing in spiritual life. Success in spiritual life is in following the instructions of the spiritual master.  So for the sake of keeping the very important issue alive we present the following post that we saw recently on the Prabhupada News website.

It is widely known that Srila Prabhupada instituted a ritvik or representative (proxy) initiation system throughout ISKCON as early as 1971 in order to meet the growing need to initiate his disciples worldwide. However what is not widely known is that he instructed his disciples to continue initiating new disciples on his behalf even after his physical disappearance.

He called those disciples who performed the initiation ceremonies ritvik representatives of the acharya (officiating acharyas). Below are quotes directly from Srila Prabhupada for the evidence of these instructions as well as explanations, philosophical insights, and historical background.

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There Will Always Be Difficulties

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Sometimes when people take to Krsna Consciousness, they think that automatically, all their problems and difficulties will be solved, but unfortunately this is not the immediate case, as the letters from Srila Prabhupada to his disciples so vividly indicate. I was listening to one lecture where Srila Prabhupada was saying “…in this material world there will always be difficulties. This material world was designed in such a way that there will always be difficulties.” I went through some of the letters and highlighted where Srila Prabhupada used the word difficulties. It was interesting to read how he explained about these difficulties.

“Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated December 27, 1973. I can understand that you are sometimes experiencing difficulties but that you are very sincerely trying to become Krsna Conscious and that you have a number of persons there who are interested in your presentation of Krsna Consciousness. Actually this material world is full of suffering conditions and the only way to become free from these sufferings which are due to past sinful activities is to chant Hare Krsna. In this age no other method of rectification is possible. Along with the chanting of Hare Krsna we have to rigidly observe the prohibition of four sinful activities. If only these things we can do our lives can become perfect. I think you have my books so please study them carefully.” (Letter to: Bhumata — Los Angeles 2 January, 1974)

And in this one famous letter he wrote to Gurudas Prabhu, Srila Prabhupada descrbes his own difficulties in starting this Hare Krishna Movement.

My dear Gurudasa,

Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated August 23, 1972, and I have noted the contents carefully. Do not be depressed. All along my godbrothers gave me only depression, repression, compression—but I continued strong in my duty. So never mind there is some discouragement, continue with your work in full enthusiastic Krishna Consciousness attitude of service…

Hoping this meets you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

The following are the letters that Srila Prabhupada wrote to his disciples wherein he uses the word difficulties. More

Letters by Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada letters

In this letter to Mukunda dasa, Srila Prabhupada answers many relevant questions about the qualifications of a bona fide spiritual master.

My Dear Mukunda,

Please accept my blessings. I thank you very much for your letter of June 3, 1969, and I have noted the contents carefully.

…The answer to your Istagosthi questions are as follows: Unless one is a resident of Krishna Loka, one cannot be a Spiritual Master. That is the first proposition. A layman cannot be a Spiritual Master, and if he becomes so then he will simply create disturbance. And who is a liberated person? One who knows Krishna.

…Your next question, whether the Spiritual Master was formerly a conditioned soul, actually a bona fide Spiritual Master is never a conditioned soul. There are three kinds of liberated persons. They are called 1) sadhan siddha, 2) kripa siddha, and 3) nitya siddha. Sadhan siddha means one who has attained perfection by executing the regulative principles of devotional service. Kripa siddha means one who has attained perfection by the special mercy of Krishna and the Spiritual Master, and nitya siddha means one who was never contaminated. The symptoms of nitya siddha is that from the beginning of his life he is attached to Krishna, and he is never tired of rendering service to Krishna. So we have to know what is what by these symptoms.

…You are correct when you say that when the Spiritual Master speaks it should be taken that Krishna is speaking. That is a fact. A Spiritual Master must be liberated. It does not matter if he has come from Krishna Loka or he is liberated from here. But he must be liberated. The science of how one is liberated is explained above, but when one is liberated, there is no need of distinction whether he has come directly from Krishna Loka or from the material world. But in the broader sense everyone comes from Krishna Loka. When one forgets Krishna he is conditioned, when one remembers Krishna he is liberated. I hope this will clear up these points. I hope this will meet you in good health.

Full Letter More

With All the Humility at My Command

Srila Prabhupada

Personally, I have no hope for any direct service for the coming crores of births of the sojourn of my life, but I am confident that some day or other I shall be delivered from this mire of delusion in which I am at present so deeply sunk. Therefore let me with all my earnestness pray at the lotus feet of my divine master to allow me to suffer the lot for which I am destined due to my past misdoings, but to let me have this power of recollection: that I am nothing but a tiny servant of the Almighty Absolute Godhead, realized through the unflinching mercy of my divine master. Let me therefore bow down at his lotus feet with all the humility at my command. -Abhay Charan Das 1936

The following speech was delivered in 1936 Bombay by the pure devotee who three decades later will become the world-renowned spiritual master of The Hare Krishna Movement. Abhay Charan das who latter becomes His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada glorifies his own spiritual master Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Goswami Maharaja with this Appearance day (Vyasa-puja) homage. Thus we learn the time-honored meaning of spiritual master, disciple and their relationship.

With All the Humility at My Command
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Creating the Post of Officiating Acarya

Officiating Acarya Initiation

Creating the Post of Officiating Acarya

In the ensuing struggle between the Devotees of ISKCON Bangalore and ISKCON Mumbi, it is this authors hope that both sides will try to work towards a brotherly reconciliation. Wherein both sides can find the common ground, which is faith in, and obedience to the teachings of Srila Prabhupada.

Srila Prabhupada’s intentions with regard to how initiations should be conducted in his physical absence was clearly stated in the May 28th, 1977 discussion with the GBC:

Satsvarūpa: …Then our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you’re no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiation would be conducted.

Prabhupāda: Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating ācāryas.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Is that called ṛtvik-ācārya?

Prabhupāda: Ṛtvik, yes.

Satsvarūpa: Then what is the relationship of that person who gives the initiation and the…

Prabhupāda: He’s guru. He’s guru.

Satsvarūpa: But he does it on your behalf.

Prabhupāda: Yes. That is formality. Because in my presence one should not become guru, so on my behalf, on my order… Āmāra ājñāya guru hañā [Cc. Madhya 7.128]. Be actually guru, but by my order.

Satsvarūpa: So they may also be considered your disciples.

Prabhupāda: Yes, they are disciples. Why consider? Who?

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: No, he’s asking that these ṛtvik-ācāryas, they’re officiating, giving dīkṣā. Their… The people who they give dīkṣā to, whose disciple are they?

Prabhupāda: They’re his disciple.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: They’re his disciple.

Prabhupāda: Who is initiating. He is grand-disciple.

Satsvarūpa: Yes.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: That’s clear.

So it is plain to see that those giving diksa would be acting as officiating acaryas, and those receiving diksa from them would be their disciples. It is the duty of the GBC to create the post of Officiating Acarya so that we may all be properly connected to the disciplic succession.

“Who is Initiating” refers to the Officiating Acarya who is giving diksa, and those who receive diksa are his initiated disciples and Srila Prabhupada’s grand-disciples.

That’s clear. (However that instruction was never followed).

The GBC must create the post of “Officiating Acarya”, and all the ISKCON gurus would be considered as such, as it should have been since the time of the famous July 9th Letter. This I think, would be the beginning of the much needed reconcililation, and cure many of the ills of our society.

The following is the Synopsis of the System of Initiation as applicable to the ISKCON Bangalore group of temples and could be incorporated into mainstream ISKCON very easily.

The Post of Officiating Acarya More

Approach A Proper Guru

… Guru means heavy, heavy with knowledge…”who has heard from the paramparā system.” and “He is firmly fixed up in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Brahma-niṣṭham. He has no other business. This is two qualifications. He must have heard the Vedic knowledge through the disciplic succession. It does not require that he is very learned scholar. No. Simply he must hear from the authority.

Lecture on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.25.4
By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Bombay, November 4, 1974

Nitāi: “Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī said: The most powerful sage Maitreya was a friend of Vyāsadeva. Thus being encouraged, Maitreya, pleased by Vidura’s inquiry about transcendental knowledge, spoke as follows.”

Prabhupada:

dvaipāyana-sakhas tv evaṁ
maitreyo bhagavāṁs tathā
prāhedaṁ viduraṁ prīta
ānvīkṣikyāṁ pracoditaḥ
[SB 3.25.4]

So this is the process of getting knowledge, to approach the proper person, guru, and submissively hear from him about transcendental knowledge. Tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā [Bg. 4.34]. Don’t try to receive spiritual knowledge or transcendental knowledge very cheaply. Although it is very easy, there is no difficulty, but the process must be known. Just like any machine—we have got experience—just like sometimes our typewriter machine or this dictaphone does not work. So if we go to the proper person, who knows the work, he immediately tightens one screw or changes something; it works. The process we must know. So if I go to a pān-wala for repairing my machine, that will be not good. He does not know the process. He may know to…, how to make pān, biḍi; but doesn’t matter, he does not know how to repair a machine.

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Accepting the Shelter of a Bona Fide Spiritual Master

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The Nectar of Devotion is a summary study of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, which was written in Sanskrit by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhupāda. He was the chief of the six Gosvāmīs, who were the direct disciples of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and has since been translated into English by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The author of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, very humbly submits that he is just trying to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world, although he humbly thinks himself unfit for this work. That should be the attitude of all preachers of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, following in the footsteps of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. We should never think of ourselves as great preachers, but should always consider that we are simply instrumental to the previous ācāryas, and simply by following in their footsteps we may be able to do something for the benefit of suffering humanity. (From introduction to Nectar of Devotion)

Nectar of Devotion
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
Chapter 7 “Evidence Regarding Devotional Principles”

Accepting the Shelter of a Bona Fide Spiritual Master

In the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Third Chapter, verse 21, Prabuddha tells Mahārāja Nimi, “My dear King, please know for certain that in the material world there is no happiness. It is simply a mistake to think that there is happiness here, because this place is full of nothing but miserable conditions. Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters. Everyone should try to find such a bona fide spiritual master in order to fulfill his mission of life, which is to transfer himself to the plane of spiritual bliss.”

The purport is that one should not accept as a spiritual master someone who is fool number one, who has no direction according to the scriptural injunctions, whose character is doubtful, who does not follow the principles of devotional service, or who has not conquered the influence of the six sense-gratifying agents. The six agents of sense gratification are the tongue, the genitals, the belly, anger, the mind and words. Anyone who has practiced controlling these six is permitted to make disciples all over the world. To accept such a spiritual master is the crucial point for advancement in spiritual life. One who is fortunate enough to come under the shelter of a bona fide spiritual master is sure to traverse the path of spiritual salvation without any doubt.

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Lecture on Initiation and the Ten Offences to be Advoided While Chanting the Maha-mantra

Madhudviṣa: Śrīla Prabhupāda? Should I read the ten offenses?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Madhudviṣa: We have them here.

Prabhupāda: Just see. Go on reading. Yes, you read.

Madhudviṣa: “The ten offenses to avoid while chanting the mahā-mantra. Number one: Blaspheming the Lord’s devotee.”

Prabhupāda: Now just try to understand. Any devotee of Lord should not be blasphemed. It doesn’t matter in any country. Just like Lord Jesus Christ, he is a great devotee. And even Muhammad, he’s also a devotee. It is not that because we are devotee and they are not devotee. Don’t think like that. Anyone who is preaching the glories of God, he is a devotee. He should not be blasphemed. You should be careful. Then?

Madhudviṣa: “Number two: Considering the Lord and other demigods on the same level or assuming there are many Gods.”…

Lecture on Initiation and the Ten Offences to be Advoided While Chanting the Maha-mantra
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
Seattle, October 20, 1968

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