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Early Disciples Speak About Initiations as Desired by Srila Prabhupada.

Do I need to take initiation from a " living guru" or is Srila Prabhupada my guru? Several most and dear disciples of Srila Prabhupada from the early days of the movement describe how Srila Prabhupada desired the initiations to go on after his physical departure. Their testimonies might shed light on this difficult question.


One of my services for Srila Prabhupada was to take care of his garden and fan him with the camara while he was there every morning from about sunrise until about 9am. At these times he would chant japa or listen to devotees chant bhajans or read the books to him. Sometimes the secretary, Tamal K.G., would read letters from the devotees. Srila Prabhupada would dictate a response, then the secretary would type it and bring it back later to read it again to Srila Prabhupada who would approve and sign it.

On July 5th Tamal asked Srila Prabhupada about some devotees who wanted to get initiated as he was getting many requests from the Temple presidents. This conversation occurred in the garden as I fanned him.

Srila Prabhupada said: “Tomorrow I will announce some ritvik acharyas who will initiate disciples on my behalf when I leave the planet.”

Gaurida Pandit Prabhu, who served Srila Prabhupada as his personal servant in 1977


Actually, Prabhupada never appointed any gurus. He didn't appoint eleven 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 for 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." So Prabhupada said, "All right. I will appoint so many...," and he started to name them and he did name them. He made it very clear that they're his disciples. At that point it was very clear in my mind that they were his disciples.

Tamala Krsna Goswami second on the left was a personal servant of Srila Prabhupada in his final days


(a passage taken from his diary as written on July 10 1977 )

Tamal Krishna Maharaja comes out of Prabhupada’s room.

TKG: “Haribol, Yasoda, did you see this?”

Yasoda: “No, what is it?”

TKG: “This is signed by Prabhupada.”

[Yasoda looks at the July 9th “appointment” letter]

Yasoda: “What does all this mean?”

TKG: “Devotees have been writing to Prabhupada asking for initiations and now Prabhupada has named eleven ritviks who can initiate on his behalf. Prabhupada said others can be added.”

Yasodanandan: “And when Prabhupada departs?”

TKG: “They’ll be ritviks. That’s what Prabhupada said. It’s all on tape.”

Yasodanandan Dasa was a leading preacher in South India and other parts of the world during Srila Prabhupada's manifested lila


Prabhupada had so many rtviks all over the world. They were doing the fire sacrifices, doing the first and second initiation so rtvik is not a bad word. Some unscrupulous people have made it a bad word. It's a good word because Prabhupada started it in 1972. It's a good word. In fact the system worked perfectly. This rittvik system he introduced worked perfectly all over the world. Every devotee stayed in the temple where they were initiated. There was no problem, no politics and then a month before Prabhupada left he mentions in a conversation: "You keep the system. This is a perfect system. If you keep the system, everything will go on as it is going on now." But what did we do? We changed the system. That's another story. And that's why a havoc came in the eighties. It was a havoc, fire in the institution, because we changed the system. Prabhupada said you keep the system, because it was working perfectly.

Gargamuni Prabhu joined the movement in 1966 and gave Srila Prabhupada his first recording machine.


Most devotees never really understood who Srila Prabhupada is. The initiation means to begin on the path of Bhakti, each one must figure out how to take that first step. Srila Prabhupada made it perfectly clear to me that we are not his only disciples. His instruction was,"I have given you everything, don't change anything... I will have millions of disciples." These are the most important instructions Srila Prabhupada ever gave us for the future of his Movement...In my discussions with Prabhupada the subject of adding to and changing the books and philosophy came up frequently, but the question of what to do regarding initiations after he was no longer with us was very difficult to ask, it was almost unthinkable at the time that he would not always be with us. Myself and Brahmananda Swami were in Srila Prabhupada's room one morning in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975, at first he seemed surprised at the question, as if he had already made it very clear. We were performing initiations on his behalf all over the world for some years, so he said to simply continue as he had been training us, "on my behalf " was not just for then, it is for always. His answer was clear and simple.

Cyavana Swami (the first from right) was a prominent preacher in Africa and elsewhere


The principal definition of the word “initiate” in the dictionary is “to begin or set going”. Is there any question that the primary personality who initiated our reception of transcendental knowledge is Srila Prabhupada? Will this position of Srila Prabhupada ever change for ISKCON devotees? We think not.

Ambarisa Prabhu is a chairman of the Temple of the Vedic planetarium (above)


(about the fall down of the various ISKCON gurus)

This is why I suggested so strongly that ISKCON should adopt the rtvik process of initiation for the new Gurus.

Kirtananda Swami was one of the so-called gurus who attempted to imitate Srila Prabhupada


Although I see everything in a sane, sober and proper perspective now, it has taken me more than 10 years of painful, anguished and repentant soul searching to understand my problem-a problem which to you and many sincere disciples of Prabhupada was obvious from the moment (and even before that) Prabhupada left this mortal world in 1977. Being completely overwhelmed with the fever of pratistha (desire for name and fame), obsessed with the ambition to be a guru, in short to be the lord and master of the devotees, I consequently became completely blind to the order of Srila Prabhupada, which he clearly expressed in his letter to the GBC and Temple Presidents, dated July 9,1977. In that letter he named 11 devotees and made it clear that they are to act as his rittvik representatives (deputies) for initiating new disciples on behalf of the Founder Acharya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada never sent any other directive, newsletter or written document thereafter indicating that any one of his disciples should be an acharya or guru in any way. His letter of July 9, 1977, naming 11 senior disciples or rittvik representatives stands alone as the only order Prabhupada ever issued before his disappearance (four months later) in November of that year, 1977.

For years since, falling down from the standard of devotional service, I have suffered grievously, knowing I caused the spiritual ruin of hundreds and thousands of sincere, aspiring devotees, whom I stole away (kidnapped) from Srila Prabhupada (the Founder Acharya) by presenting myself as a bona fide acharya, spiritual master, when in fact I was not even able to control my senses any more than an ordinary karmi.

Why has it taken me so long to write this frank and honest letter? Because the hankering and ravenous hunger for honour and prestige as a guru, acharya and holy man is so strong in my heart it is only in the last year that by the grace of Prabhupada and the attentive chanting of the Holy Name that the fever of pratistha has subsided to the point where I can clearly see and express myself in this regard honestly.

I am humbly prostrating myself before you, Urdhvaga, and all the devotees everywhere, especially those who were subjected to the unhappy relationship of accepting me as their Guru and thereby being completely broken in their faith and enthusiasm to perform devotional service.

I know that simply writing a letter of apology is not enough. I shall spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to re-establish Srila Prabhupada as the Founder Acharya and modern-day Vyasadeva of the Brahma Gauidya Vaishnava Sampradaya, as expressed in the enclosed paper, “Prabhupada, His Movement and You.”

I suggest that those new devotees who have been erroneously initiated by ISKCON Gurus who like myself have fallen down or who present themselves as anything more than rittvik representatives of the Founder Acharya Srila Prabhupada, can be properly initiated once and for all simply by accepting Srila Prabhupada as their guru and sampradaya acharya by sitting in on a rittvik initiation performed by a devotee who is properly situated in the order of Srila Prabhupada, as per his July 9, 1977 letter authorising rittvik representatives to initiate on his behalf.

The bottom line is simply this: The senior disciples should have continued to do after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada what they were already doing for years while Prabhupada was present-act as Srila Prabhupada’s menial servants in the matter of initiations. They were rittviks while he was present, and they should have continued to be rittviks in his absence. Anything more than this is nothing more than the ambition to be guru, which is one of the two last traps of maya-the other being the desire to be Krishna.

Hansadutta Prabhu was a dear disciple of Srila Prabhupada, who honestly stepped down from the guru position


In 1972, when Prabhupada gave a series of lectures on The Nectar of Devotion for one month in Vrindavan, a thought was plaguing me. When I first joined, I’d been taught that the parampara system is like a chain, and if you’re not initiated, if you’re not linked up to this chain, then you can’t go back to Godhead. I thought, “We’re distributing so many books, but if the people who read them are not initiated, then they can’t go back to Godhead.” So, one day I followed Prabhupada from Rupa Goswami’s samadhi, where he lectured, and just before Prabhupada stepped onto his courtyard, I said, “We’re distributing so many books but if people aren’t initiated, then they can’t go back to Godhead.” Prabhupada turned, looked at me right in the eyes and said, “Just by reading my books they are initiated.” I thought, “That is an incredible example of compassion.

Vaikuntanatha Prabhu was a dear disciple of Srila Prabhupada instrumental in the early days of the movement


In 1977 during the months of May, June, July 1977 I was in Vrindaban with Srila Prabhupada, giving him his massage in his bed between 1 AM and mangala aratik. During the day, many letters would arrive. Satsvarupa Swami was the secretary and we decided that only letters that would give joy to Srila Prabhupada would be read. Like numbers of books sold, etc. A maximum of five letters daily were read to Srila Prabhupada.

After some weeks like this, there were stacks and stacks of letters, all relating to initiation. Hundreds of people were panicking that Srila Prabhupada would leave the planet before they were given initiation. At this time, this situation was brought before Srila Prabhupada in his room by Satsvarupa, Tamal, myself, and maybe some others.

Up until this time it was a very simple matter that we were doing the initiations, but we first had to ask permission. Srila Prabhupada NEVER refused any recommendation from his senior men. And personally, I would sometimes argue with some GBC that they were giving it too easily. At this meeting, Srila Prabhupada basically said, “From here on, if you feel they are ready, then you may give the initiation on my behalf.” I understood this for what it was, simply extending the authority a little further than it had been. Tamal Krsna Swami, began to say, “But who will do it?. Which devotees will do this?” Srila Prabhupada said, “The nearest one will do it. Whoever is closest.” Tamal said, “Can Bhavananda do? Can Jayapataka do?” Thus these eleven names came out.

Question: Why were you not on the list of eleven?

Answer: Because it did not matter. Srila Prabhupada said whoever was closest. I was already doing and Srila Prabhupada never told me or anyone else not on the list to stop.

Guru Krpa Prabhu was a prominent preacher instrumental in building the Krsna Balarama Temple in Vrndavana


At our center at 26th Second Ave., Srila Prabhupada, when asked who would be the next acarya after him stated, “There will not be any more acaryas.”


The idea that one must have a living diksa guru to understand Krsna consciousness from Srila Prabhupada appears to be a scam. The fact is that reading or hearing from Srila Prabhupada is associating with the most bonafide spiritual master, the best spiritual master, at whose pada (lotus feet) all other prabhus pay obeisances. And reading his books is directly associating with him and equal in power to hearing in his physical presence.

Rupanuga Prabhu was a prominent preacher, temple president and a governing body commissioner of ISKCON


Srila Prabhupada did not 'personally' tend to every one of his thousands of initiated disciples. Many disciples never met Srila Prabhupada even once, what to speak of receive individual instruction. The whole reason Srila Prabhupada set up ISKCON was to train up devotees in spiritual life. This 'personal', 'warm' one-on-one training would be done by Temple Presidents, Sankirtan Leaders, Pujaris, Bhakta leaders etc etc. As long as a disciple strictly followed, Srila Prabhupada promised to take personal responsibility for taking him back to Godhead. To my knowledge that offer still stands. There is absolutely no reason why this system could not have continued to this very day.

Bhaja Hari Prabhu was a temple president of the Bhaktivedanta Manor in London, UK


At the time of Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, it was most clearly understood by all of us present that Srila Prabhupada MADE NO SUCCESSOR. Everyone admitted that fact and understood it clearly. Instead, the GBC was to jointly manage ALL affairs of ISKCON just had been the case previously. This was the same solution as desired by Om Visnupada Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who also had not made any successor, although his wishes were NOT followed. In addition to the GBC management, Srila Prabhupada also selected 11 somewhat advanced disciples to grant initiation to newcomers. However, it was never mentioned at any time by His Divine Grace that these 11 were to be known as ACARYAS. He simply instructed that they may now accept disciples. Otherwise, as it was understood and practiced at that time, there was NO SPECIAL POSITION given to these 11, either in the society as a whole, or in relation to their Godbrothers. Management would depend on the joint GBC, and among godbrothers and sisters, all are on the same level, with the exception of some special regard and respect shown to older (senior) disciples by these Godbrothers & Godsisters who are junior.

Pradyumna Prabhu was Srila Prabhupada's Sanskrit editor and a scholar


Srila Prabhupada could clearly see that none of his disciples were mature enough to set up shop as gurus, so he ordered them to be “ritviks” after his departure. There is ample evidence of this.

Govinda Dasi was a personal secretary to Srila Prabhupada who introduced Tulsi worship and care in the West


The point is – forget the political connotations and let us all remember it is Srila Prabhupada who is always in the centre and the force behind everything at all times. So it is understandable that if anyone is now taking the role of Acharya and not handing his initiates over to the source then, what is the fate of both the new guru and their initiates? This movement would undergo a drastic change if all the new gurus who are initiating on behalf of Srila Prabhupada would recognize this fact and not take glorious worship and stand down to allow all new comers to this society full access to Srila Prabhupada who sweated blood and tears for each one of us who joined this movement. This is how it was in the beginning when Srila Prabhupada was physically with us and was not able to directly attend the initiation ceremony.I am not a political antagonist but most of all my god brother’s and god sister’s like myself are all ritvik. Most of us were initiated when Srila Prabhupada was not physically present. This was not such a big deal to us we were all disciples of His Divine Grace.Srila Prabhupada didn’t hand me my beads or give my name directly; so what is the difference today? Let’s make this movement a better place for all who have joined and will join in the future how we can deny anyone the right to take Srila Prabhupada as their life and soul. I am told there are over 90 gurus now acting as diksa gurus instead of allowing Srila Prabhupada that privilege. To actually put Srila Prabhupada in the centre means to not stand in his way and to allow everyone unrestricted access to Srila Prabhupada like it was in the early days.

Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu has been a devotee involved in the BBT art work department


Satsvarupa: ... 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.

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

Tamala Krsna: Is that called rtvik-acarya?

Prabhupada: Rtvik, yes.

GBC Meets with Srila Prabhupada – May 28, 1977, Vrndavana

Tamala Krsna: But all these persons are still your disciples. Anybody who gives initiation is doing so on your behalf.

Prabhupada: Yes.

Room Conversations – July 7, 1977, Vrndavana

Make your own field and continue to become rtvik and act on my charge.

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Hansadutta July 19, 1977, Vrndavana

rtvijah -- the priests recommended by the spiritual master

SB 8.16.53

rtvik -- priests conducting the ceremony;

SB 5.3.2 There may be many spiritual masters who instruct, but the initiator spiritual master is one.

KB 80: The Meeting of Lord Krsna with Sudama Brahmana

Reporter: Do you expect to name one person as your successor or have you already?

Prabhupada: That I am not contemplating now. But there is no need of one person.

Room Conversation with Reporter -- June 4, 1976, Los Angeles

Srila Prabhupada: "Continue to become rtvik and act on my charge."

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