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by Krishnakant

One of the most common objections to the ritvik system of initiation being re-instituted within ISKCON is that it is not in line with historical tradition. It is often pointed out that to operate such a system is completely unprecedented, and thus cannot be what Srila Prabhupada had intended. The most obvious problem with this objection is that it is in itself unprecedented. Nowhere in sastra is it ever stated that a guru's order can be ignored if it is unprecedented, or that lack of historical precedent somehow invalidates a direct instruction from a guru to his followers. Neither is there any mention in Srila Prabhupada's books of any previous acarya who taught such a principle. Therefore the objection itself is unprecedented, and thus by its own logic self-defeating and contradictory.

The following points can be used to defeat this objection:

  1. The conclusion that the ritvik system is unprecedented follows from an analysis of its properties, i.e. that it appears to be unique.
    However such an analysis is totally unrelated to the central question- was such a system ordered by Srila Prabhupada?
    Just because the ritvik system may have been previously unheard of, does not in itself prove that Srila Prabhupada did not sanction its continued application within ISKCON. This 'central question' can only be properly addressed by analysing Srila Prabhupada's actual instructions in this regard. These instructions, along with their analysis, have been presented in the "Final Order" wherein it has been clearly demonstrated that Srila Prabhupada DID order such a system. As disciples it is only such orders that have any relevance. Srila Prabhupada did not train up his disciples to evaluate his orders on the basis of historical considerations, nor did he ever teach that such considerations could be used to evaluate the validity of such orders, what to speak of terminate them.

  2. Srila Prabhupada taught that our guide is sastric injunctions, NOT historical tradition. There are NO sastric injunctions preventing a diksa guru from initiating just because he is not physically present on the same planet as his prospective disciple.

  3. It is just plain historical fact that Srila Prabhupada did many things which were unprecedented, such as giving the Gayatri Mantra by having a female disciple administer it to her husband, giving initiation through the mail, etc. Every acarya in our line set his own precedents, albeit in harmony with sastric injunctions. If an acarya never set a precedent, then logically nothing could ever be UN-precedented, since no precedents would exist in the first place to act as a comparative standard. Thus to reject something based on lack of precedence is a self-contradictory argument, since something can only be unprecedented if you assume that there already exist precedents set by someone, at some time previous, to act as a standard. But in accepting this possibility we are admitting that an acarya can set precedents!

  4. Certainly there is no mention in his books that any type of PHYSICAL barrier or consideration can obstruct the transcendental process of diksa between guru and disciple. In fact the OPPOSITE is stated:

"Just like Krishna can be present simultaneously in millions of places. Similarly, the Spiritual Master can be present wherever the disciple wants. A Spiritual Master is the principle, not the body. Just like a television can be seen in thousands of places by the principle of relay monitoring."

"Physical presence is immaterial"

"So we should associate by vibration, and not by the physical presence. That is real association."

Etc. - Please see The Final Order.

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  1. One could argue that there is no mention in Srila Prabhupada's books of a ritvik system being used when the Guru is still on the same planet as the prospective disciple. Yet we know that such a system was used by Srila Prabhupada to initiate the vast majority of his disciples. Thus if we used historical precedent as a guide we would need to discount many of the initiations conducted by Srila Prabhupada as being bogus. This is a clear example of Srila Prabhupada sanctioning the use of a previously unprecedented system. The very same system in fact which is now being objected to on the basis of lack of precedent!

  2. Furthermore, what we DO know about the parampara supports the ritvik system. The most famous example of diksa transmission in our parampara is given in the Bhagavada Gita 4:1:

    "The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku."

    And yet Srila Prabhupada describes this primary example of the parampara system as involving inter-planetary diksa: 

    "So there was no difficulty in communicating with Manu or Manu's son Iksvaku. The communication was there, or the radio system was so nice that communication could be transferred from one planet to another."
    (BG lecture 1968).

    The fact that diksa can be transmitted from one planet to another proves the viability of the ritvik system, since we know Srila Prabhupada is still present in the universe:

    "You have asked if it is true that the spiritual master remains in the universe until all his disciples are transferred to the spiritual sky. The answer is yes, this is the rule".
    (SPL Jayapataka 11.7.69).

    We also know that as a mahabhagavat Srila Prabhupada is at least as powerful as demigods such as Iksvaku. So transferring or transmitting diksa to receptive disciples should present him no difficulty at all, from whichever planet he may presently reside.

  3. Also in the Gaudiya parampara coming from Lord Chaitanya, Srila Prabhupada always presents:

    Narottama Dasa Thakura -> Visvanatha Cakravati -> Jagganatha Dasa Babaji

    as the record of the parampara, yet there would appear to be hundreds of years separating them. Srila Prabhupada teaches us that THIS is the parampara, without any additional clarification regarding 'siksa/diksa', 'gaps' or the need for 'living diksa'. Rather he calls it a 'clear line of disciplic succession' (Lecture 11/6/69).

    Why would Srila Prabhupada do this if he wanted to emphasize the need for 'living diksa'?

    One may go and research other books not authored by Srila Prabhupada to present an alternative explanation, but only the above is what Srila Prabhupada taught us.


  4. Also it does not make sense to use 'tradition' as a benchmark by which to evaluate our parampara since it is difficult to identify for our parampara, a package of 'traditional' standards from which nothing must deviate. For example, a few hundred years ago Madhavendra Puri introduced something completely new - Radha-Krishna worship. Srila Prabhupada states that up until then Krishna had been worshipped on His own. Lord Chaitanya then appeared to completely change vaisnava philosophy. Until then the philosophy of our parampara had been pure dualism - not simultaneous oneness and difference. With all this in mind it seems odd we should worry unduly about Srila Prabhupada using ceremonial priests in seemingly novel ways. After all, he is not changing any principle of philosophy merely by using priests to give names and accept disciples on his behalf. He is only installing a relatively minor procedural detail with regards to a ceremony which is itself merely a formality, not an essential aspect of diksa initiation. The key overriding principle that a disciple should always get initiated by a maha-bhagavata who is in the parampara, remains intact. This is the system Srila Prabhupada left us, whereby potentially unlimited numbers of people in the future can be initiated into the parampara, using the same system that was used to initiate large numbers of new disciples when Srila Prabhupada was physically present.

  5. Sometimes people bring in books not authored by Srila Prabhupada to prove that the ritvik system is a deviation from tradition. This desperate tactic is employed since there is no mention of these so-called vital 'traditional' principles in Srila Prabhupada's books. The very fact that outside books need to be consulted prove that Srila Prabhupada's books were not intended to be guidebooks for evaluating how 'traditional' a particular practice maybe. This fact alone should tell us that tradition cannot be an issue. If tradition was supposed to be a vital tool by which to evaluate the validity of any particular practice then Srila Prabhupada would have provided us with the necessary information about 'traditional' practices with which to make these judgements. We would not need to consult other books, since Srila Prabhupada's teachings are not 'deficient' in any area of spiritual life. Obviously if we are sincerely trying to follow and understand what Srila Prabhupada wanted we should stick solely to his teachings. If there is some so-called principle of tradition that Srila Prabhupada did not mention, we are not interested in it. Such principles can not be important to our spiritual lives if Srila Prabhupada did not mention them.

  6. Finally, the whole process of trying to draw comparisons with the past is entirely meaningless unless you are comparing like with like. Srila Prabhupada was a totally unique acarya who came in unique circumstances, and achieved unique results. No previous acarya can compare with Srila Prabhupada. Even Jesus Christ only preached to his own local people during his manifest appearance. No-one before has left their own land and spread Krishna Consciousness all over the world. Unless you can find other examples of how initiations were conducted in a worldwide religious institution during some previous Kali yuga just after the appearance of the Golden Avatar, you do not even have a basis for comparison.

Thus in summary:

The July 9th order proves that Srila Prabhupada definitely set up a ritvik system of initiation. We also know that he issued no countermanding order for it to be terminated. Therefore it should still be running. This system may not marry up with our speculations about how we think Srila Prabhupada SHOULD have done things, or what we might have expected him to do; but this is Srila Prabhupada's final order on how initiations were to run within ISKCON. Thus we have no choice but to follow it if we want to follow Srila Prabhupada. That's the bottom line. Therefore, the burden is on the GBC to show why the system that Srila Prabhupada's set up for initiations was supposed to be drastically altered immediately after his passing away.

Furthermore:

  1. The ritvik system as used by Srila Prabhupada himself when he was present is unprecedented.
  2. Historical precedent is in itself no basis for determining truth.
  3. We follow sastra, which does not give any injunctions against the ritvik system.
  4. Srila Prabhupada did many things which were unprecedented.
  5. Previous acaryas all set their own precedents.
  6. Parampara examples and teachings support lack of physicality in guru disciple relationships.
  7. The parampara has no standard pattern to be followed.
  8. We do not have enough authorised information to evaluate if the system is 'untraditional'.
  9. The whole situation is too unique to make any valid comparisons.
  10. The very objection itself is unprecedented, and thus by it's own internal logic should be rejected.