Zonal Acarya revival –
Locanananda’s contradiction and confusion


IRM


By Krishnakant

Srila Prabhupada’s continued position as the Diksa Guru of ISKCON was facilitated via the appointment of 11 ritvik priests on July 9th 1977 to conduct initiations on his behalf. Those challenging Srila Prabhupada’s position commonly refer to a 30 second room conversation held on May 28th, 1977. In this conversation, it is argued, Srila Prabhupada states that the 11 individuals whom he would soon nominate to conduct initiations were actually to become diksa gurus immediately on Srila Prabhupada’s departure, initiating their own disciples. However, in claiming Srila Prabhupada was effectively nominating Diksa gurus, they are putting forward the now discarded “zonal acharya system”. This system, which is based upon the claim that Srila Prabhupada nominated 11 devotees to be diksa guru successors for ISKCON, each with their own geographical zone, has been rejected even by the GBC.


Zonal Acarya resurrection!

The zonal acarya theory is resurrected when one attempts to thwart Srila Prabhupada's clear appointment of 11 ritviks on July 9th, 1977, via claiming that on May 28th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada stated that these 11 ritviks would have their own disciples. This resurrection is done via one of two variants (a) and (b):

  1. It is accepted Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 officiating acaryas to conduct initiations after his departure. But an officiating acarya is just another name for a diksa guru, as evidenced by the use of term “acarya”, and they simply act as ritviks temporarily. Hence, 11 Diksa gurus are appointed directly via re-defining an “officiating acarya” as a Diksa Guru. This is the variant which the GBCs Badrinarayana Dasa, Giridhari Das and Umapati Swami put forward in their paper “Disciple of my Disciple” which was the first reply to the ritvik foundation document, “The Final Order”.

  2. Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 ritviks to conduct initiations after his departure, but this was to be done via them turning into Diksa Gurus on Srila Prabhupada’s departure. Thus 11 Diksa gurus were appointed via them being appointed as 11 ritviks who were to transform automatically into diksa gurus. This was the justification for the original zonal acharya system that ran from 1978 until 1986, and is also the explanation most commonly advanced by GBC supporters today who try to use the May 28th conversation to “defeat” the “ritvik theory”.

Interestingly, the current official GBC position seems to have realised this “zonal acarya trap”, and has thus wisely avoided explaining what is said on the May 28th conversation altogether. Instead, they just claim as a statement of belief without attempting to offer any evidence that “Srila Prabhupada intended his disciples to become “regular Gurus” after he physically departed” (GBC resolution 409, 2004).

Both of these variants are based on making use of the last part of the May 28th conversation as follows:

  1. The “ritvik problem” – the first part of the conversation:

Satsvarupa: "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."
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."
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

  1. This question and answer exchange above establishes beyond doubt that Srila Prabhupada was going to appoint “officiating acaryas” to carry out initiations for when Srila Prabhupada was not present. And further that these officiating acaryas are also called ritviks.

  2. And then on July 9th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada did go on to appoint 11 individuals to conduct initiations in ISKCON, just as he said he would on May 28th, 1977. But the individuals he appointed were named ritviks, and they would only accept disciples on behalf of Srila Prabhupada.

The above bald facts mean that Srila Prabhupada continues to remain Diksa Guru after his departure via the use of ritviks.

Those opposed to this conclusion are stuck with accepting facts i) and ii) above, but need to somehow magically make the conclusion of these two facts do a 180 degree turn and mean the exact opposite!

  1. The “guru fix” – last part of the conversation

Tamala Krsna: No, he’s asking that these rtvik-acaryas, they’re officiating, giving diksa. Their... The people who they give diksa to, whose disciple are they?
Prabhupada: They’re his disciple.
Tamala Krsna: They’re his disciple.
Prabhupada: Who is initiating. His grand-disciple.
Satsvarupa: Yes.
Tamala Krsna: That’s clear.
Satsvarupa: Then we have a question concer...
Prabhupada: When I order you become guru he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple. That’s it.
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

The manoeuvre used to remove Srila Prabhupada as the Diksa Guru of ISKCON involves manipulating the last part of the conversation above. It is claimed that the “ritviks/officiating acaryas” were actually appointed to initiate their own disciples as diksa gurus, and that this is proven via the presence of the phrases “his disciple”, “grand-disciple”, “regular guru” and “disciple of my disciple”, as shown above. In addition variant (a) also makes use of the word “acarya” in “officiating acarya”.

Both variants, therefore, end up including the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 diksa gurus as his successors - and that was the zonal acarya theory. We will show in part 3 that both these variants are nothing but fabrications, and that the cost of putting them forward is that the proponent is forced to revive a thoroughly discredited succession theory, which the whole of ISKCON had supposedly discarded over 20 years ago. Such is the desperation to thwart Srila Prabhupada's ritvik system at all costs.

We will illustrate this phenomenon at work by analysing arguments put forward by Locanananda Das (LD), which unless otherwise specified, are from e-mails he sent on October 22nd and 23rd, 2009 to Govinda Prema Dasa, extracts from which will be enclosed in speech marks “ “ thus. My comments will follow in BOLD, enclosed in brackets [ ] thus.


Part 1 - Locanananda Preaches the Zonal Acharya System

“Srila Prabhupada said he would name some of his disciples to act as officiating acaryas when he would no longer be present. […] After Srila Prabhupada ended his earthly pastimes, in accordance with the instructions given by His Divine Grace to the GBC on May 28th, his chosen disciples would continue to conduct initiations, but those receiving diksa from them would now be considered their disciples and Srila Prabhupada's grand disciples. "He becomes disciple of my disciple. Just see."

“And if the ritvik acarya was not really the initiator, Srila Prabhupada would have said, "No. He is not giving diksa." So, we must conclude that the ritvik acarya, or officiating acarya, is giving diksa and is therefore guru. The word "acarya" means "guru." “


As LD clearly states, Srila Prabhupada appointed some of his disciples as “officiating/ritvik” acaryas to act as Diksa gurus by initiating their own disciples as soon as he had departed. In stating this, LD is reviving the “zonal acarya” theory by effectively claiming that 11 individuals were appointed to act as Diksa guru successors in ISKCON. The only difference is that LD is claiming that an “officiating/ritvik acarya” is just another term for a Diksa guru. And, since Srila Prabhupada had already stated that, for initiation, one should approach whoever of the 11 devotees was "nearest", the claiming of exclusive geographical zones by these appointees follows naturally. In this way LD has resurrected the zonal acarya theory using variant (a) mentioned in the last section.

So, in conclusion, LD who was a most enthusiastic supporter of the zonal acarya system between 1977 and 1986, is again effectively resurrecting the same system (minus the lavish worship), most likely unwittingly, with his interpretation of the May 28th conversation.

Part 2 – Locanananda preaches the ritvik system!

Having resurrected the zonal acarya system, LD also leaves us in no doubt, that the alternative, the ritvik system with Srila Prabhupada as the Diksa guru, is completely wrong and “absurd”:

“so it is incorrect to think that Srila Prabhupada is still formally initiating disciples of his own”

“Are you prepared to say that while he was present before us, he was simultaneously initiating disciples somewhere else, presumably on another planet? If that sounds absurd, then why are you saying he is doing that now?”

“To say though that he continues to accept disciples from another place in a subsequent lifetime through initiation via the pancaratrika system is not within the spirit of the parampara system and therefore cannot be accepted.”


But this is completely undercut by the fact that regardless of what he may say, in practise, LD himself has acted as a ritvik priest, enthusiastically initiating devotees as initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada! Raja Vidya Dasa (Bhakta Charles), Ajatasatru Das (Bhakta Ian) and Seva Radhika Dasi (2nd initiation) are just some persons initiated by LD as disciples of Srila Prabhupada, with himself presiding as the ritvik priest.

So it is LD who is acting in an absurd and hypocritical manner, practising the very system which he preaches is completely bogus!

Part 3 – The Reality

Having seen LD’s attempt to revive the zonal acarya system being defeated by his own behaviour, in this section we will also demonstrate how it is defeated by the evidence itself.

Officiating Acarya contradiction

“From your comment below, it appears that you would prefer to drop the word "acarya" and replace it with the word "priest." Of course, that means Srila Prabhupada's original intention would be entirely lost. […] So, we must conclude that the ritvik acarya, or officiating acarya, is giving diksa and is therefore guru. The word "acarya" means "guru." They are synonymous, while the word "priest" is not synonymous with guru or acarya. I think you could make a case though that the words priest and pujari are synonymous.”

Above, LD states that the May 28th conversation speaks only of officiating acaryas, who are diksa gurus initiating their own disciples, and not ritvik priests. But the July 9th directive, as anyone who reads it will see, speaks only of ritviks (not acaryas), who only initiate on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. Given these facts, we will see how LD’s arguments below will be defeated by his own statements above.

“Beginning July 9, 1977, those devotees he selected would first serve as ritvik representatives of the acarya and, during Srila Prabhupada's lifetime, anyone they would initiate would still be considered Srila Prabhupada's duly initiated disciple because, as he said, "In “my presence one should not become guru. After Srila Prabhupada ended his earthly pastimes, in accordance with the instructions given by His Divine Grace to the GBC on May 28th, his chosen disciples would continue to conduct initiations, but those receiving diksa from them would now be considered their disciples and Srila Prabhupada's grand disciples.”

1) As we have just noted, according to LD, the May 28th conversation does not even make mention of ritvik priests, but only officiating acaryas who are diksa gurus. And there is no mention in the July 9th document, that the ritviks appointed would only act in this capacity at “first”. Thus neither the May 28th conversation nor the July 9th directive state what LD claims, that the ritviks appointed by Srila Prabhupada would only act in this manner during Srila Prabhupada’s presence.

2) Since LD has already claimed that in the May 28th conversation only officiating acaryas, who are Diksa gurus and not ritvik priests, are to be appointed, he cannot presume that these are the devotees chosen on July 9th, since these devotees are chosen only as ritviks, to initiate only on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf. Indeed since LD maintains only diksa gurus (officiating acaryas) are mentioned on the May 28th conversation, with ritvik priests not being mentioned at all, he cannot establish any link between:

The May 28th conversation (which according to LD):
mentions diksa gurus only, no mention of ritvik priests;
and the
July 9th directive (which in reality):
mentions ritvik priests only, no mention of Diksa gurus.

LD has thus trapped himself with his own fallacious “officiating acarya is diksa guru not ritvik priest” argument.

No Diksa Guru Order

“those receiving diksa from them would now be considered their disciples and Srila Prabhupada's grand disciples. "He becomes disciple of my disciple. Just see."”

Srila Prabhupada prefaces the “He becomes disciple of my disciple” statement with “when I order”:

“When I order you become guru he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple. That’s it.”
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

Yet there is no record of Srila Prabhupada having ordered any Diksa gurus, either in the May 28th conversation, or elsewhere, with only ritvik priests being ordered in the July 9th directive.


Officiating/initiating contradiction

“TKG said, "These ritvik acaryas -- they are officiating, giving diksa --" If the term ritvik acarya was not acceptable to Srila Prabhupada, we all know he would have stopped TKG immediately to correct his terminology. And if the ritvik acarya was not really the initiator, Srila Prabhupada would have said, "No. He is not giving diksa."

As LD himself admits above, TKG DOES say they are not “initiators” by saying they are actually acting as officiators:

"These ritvik acaryas -- they are officiating, giving diksa --"
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

If one is administering diksa as an “officiator”, then one is doing it as a priest on behalf of someone else, not initiating directly oneself. That’s what “officiating” means, according both to the English language, and Srila Prabhupada’s own usage of this term, as shown below:

1. a) Collins Thesaurus of the English Language - Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002:
“officiate verb 1. preside, perform, conduct, celebrate, solemnize - Bishop Silvester officiated at the funeral.”

b) www.thefreedictionary.com/officiant:
"Ecclesiastical Terms - a person who presides and officiates at a religious ceremony" or "officiant - a clergyman who officiates at a religious ceremony or service" which uses the word "officiate".

2. Srila Prabhupada’s use of this term is also consistent with the above definitions:

“I am glad to learn that Hamsaduta is going to officiate the ministerial function in the marriage, and I think he has got the tape of all the mantras in this connection.”(Letter to Candravali, 9/1/70)

“Nahusa was officiating for Indra while Indra, absent from heaven, was going here and there to gain release from his sinful reactions.”
(SB, 6:13:10)

Confused about disciples

“Srila Prabhupada did not say, "They are my disciples," so it is incorrect to think that Srila Prabhupada is still formally initiating disciples of his own. […] Those who are familiar with the way Srila Prabhupada spoke would never conclude that he was speaking of himself when he said, "They are his disciples."

The exchange being referred to here by LD is as follows:

Tamala Krsna: No, he’s asking that these rtvik-acaryas, they’re officiating, giving diksa. Their... The people who they give diksa to, whose disciple are they?
Prabhupada: They’re his disciple.
Tamala Krsna: They’re his disciple.
Prabhupada: Who is initiating … His grand-disciple
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

There are two indisputable facts regarding the above exchange:

1) Srila Prabhupada’s answer is in the 3rd person:

Yes, Srila Prabhupada does not say “they are my disciples”, but neither does he say “they are the ritvik’s disciple”. Rather Srila Prabhupada only answers by stating what the owner of the disciple DOES, rather than WHO he is – whether himself OR the ritvik:

“They’re his disciples – who is initiating”

Hence the fact that Srila Prabhupada answered the question in the 3rd person cannot be at issue here. We must simply see the answer he gave.

2) Srila Prabhupada had already just answered the same question:

Immediately preceding this exchange, Srila Prabhupada is asked the same question directly - are they “your disciples” - rather than indirectly - “whose disciple are they” - and Srila Prabhupada has already clearly answered the disciples are his:

Satsvarupa: "So they may also be considered your disciples."
Srila Prabhupada: "Yes, they are disciples .. why consider who … "

This allows us to conclude that Srila Prabhupada responds appropriately depending on how the question is asked – directly when asked directly, and in the 3rd person when asked indirectly - and that his answer to this question is that the disciples belong to him.

Bearing these two facts in mind, we can now move on to the answer Srila Prabhupada immediately gives again to the same question regarding the ownership of disciples, and already know that this answer must be the same as the one he has already just given (i.e. he is the owner of the disciples), lest he instantly contradicts himself!

Srila Prabhupada’s actual answer:

a) The answer given for who the owner of the disciples is, as we have seen, the person “who is initiating”. The very next phrase spoken after this answer by Srila Prabhupada proves that Srila Prabhupada is here referring to the person “who is initiating” as being himself:

“His grand-disciple*

The “His” here can only be referring to Srila Prabhupada since it would be impossible for the ritviks to have grand-disciples. But rather as Srila Prabhupada goes on to clarify, the grand-disciples will only emerge when Diksa gurus are actually ordered by himself:

“His grand-disciple … when I order you become guru he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple.”

with “disciple of my disciple” meaning the same as “grand-disciple”.

And as we have seen, he never gave this order for diksa gurus; rather he only ordered ritviks.

So Srila Prabhupada’s use of the pronoun “his” here proves not only that Srila Prabhupada DOES refer to himself in the 3rd person in this conversation, but also that he was referring to himself when he said “they’re his disciples – who is initiating.”

b) Srila Prabhupada answers that the owner of the disciples will be the person who is “initiating”. As we have seen in the last section, the ritviks would be officiating, not initiating, since the officiating acarya, by definition, officiates, not initiates. And an officiator, by definition, merely presides over a ceremony on someone else’s behalf.

* The very first transcript of the May 28th conversation provided to the movement was given in 1984 as an attachment to Ravindra's Svarupa Das's paper Under My Order. This transcript was said to have been "edited and checked by Jayadvaita Swami", and clearly stated "His granddisciple". Years later all official transcripts mysteriously changed this to "He is granddisciple": in for example, BBT Conversations books (1990), Gurus and Initiation in ISKCON (1995), Disciple of My Disciple (1997), Prabhupada's Order (1998), Prabhupada Vedabase "Folio", (all editions including current). However anyone who listens to the tape will hear that only ONE, not TWO, words are spoken by Srila Prabhupada before the word “grand-disciple”, and, therefore, the original transcript provided was indeed the correct one in relation to this phrase. This part of the transcript can be heard here:

http://www.iskconirm.com/sounds/granddisciple.mp3

LD Corrects himself

“If the term ritvik acarya was not acceptable to Srila Prabhupada, we all know he would have stopped TKG immediately to correct his terminology.”

a) At the very outset of the exchange, Srila Prabhupada equates the term “ritvik” with officiating acarya, using the term “ritvik” instead of the term “ritvik acarya” used by TKG:

Srila 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?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Rtvik, yes."
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

Then in the July 9th directive, which was the appointment of the very ritviks mentioned in this conversation, Srila Prabhupada signs off on the term “ritvik” only, not “ritvik-acarya”, with ritvik being defined as a representative of the acarya, not an acarya. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada has NEVER used the term “ritvik-acarya”, only ritvik.

b) In addition LD himself equates officiating acarya with ritvik, not ritvik-acarya.

“My comment is that as far as we know, Srila Prabhupada did not recommend offering any special worship to the disciples he elected to act as ritviks or officiating acaryas.”
(Letter, Back To Prabhupada, Issue 5)


Locanananda confused about Acarya

“So, we must conclude that the ritvik acarya, or officiating acarya, is giving diksa and is therefore guru. The word "acarya" means "guru”. They are synonymous, while the word "priest" is not synonymous with guru or acarya.”

LD assumes that just the presence of the word “acarya” must automatically imply the presence of a Diksa guru rather than a priest. Yes “acarya” means “guru”, but guru of WHAT? If one heard “ayur-veda acarya” one would not think one was meaning a Diksa guru, but a guru in the field of ayur-veda. Similarly an “officiating acarya” is an acarya who officiates, not initiates, by definition. And an officiator is one who conducts some religious ceremony or ritual, by definition. And one who is expert in such a field is also denoted with the title acarya:

"Sri Raghunatha das was the son of Govardhana Majumdara. Their family priest was Balarama Acarya."
CC (BBT 1975) Madhya 16.217

"Candapura is just east of the house of the two brothers Hiranya and Govardhana, the father and uncle of Raghunatha das Goswami. In Candapura lived Balarama Acarya and Yadunandana Acarya, the priests of these two personalities."
CC (BBT 1975) Antya 3.165

Hence it is the custom that any person expert in a particular field is honoured by the title acarya. For example, Dronacarya was given this title for his expertise in military science, not because he was a diksa guru in the parampara. The ritviks, being expert priests, would naturally be called acarya. For example, in the Krishna Book, a ritvik is described as a “learned performer of sacrifices”. Thus, the priest is also considered a type of acarya.


Nitya Lila contradiction

“The correct understanding of "nitya-lila" is that the spiritual master may go on preaching, if so ordered by the Personality of Godhead, lifetime after lifetime, (1) and that when he reaches his next destination, he does the same service he performed previously but in a different place. (2) […]To say though that he continues to accept disciples from another place in a subsequent lifetime through initiation via the pancaratrika system is not within the spirit of the parampara system and therefore cannot be accepted.” (3) 
(Oct 23rd 2009)

In (1) above LD asserts that even after his physical departure the spiritual master will carry on preaching if so ordered by the Personality of Godhead. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada could be continuing to preach for people on earth in his physical absence, which would also involve accepting disciples, just as he also did largely in his physical absence, when he was on earth. And in (2) LD agrees Srila Prabhupada can continue performing the “same service” he did previously, but from a different place. So Srila Prabhupada could carry on accepting disciples in ISKCON, his previous service, albeit now from a different place. Yet in (3), LD instantly contradicts himself by telling us the exact opposite by assuring us that he knows for a fact that Srila Prabhupada is not continuing to accept disciples in ISKCON now.


Confused about evidence

“From your letter below, it sounds like you want us to believe that Srila Prabhupada is still giving diksa and formally accepting disciples within ISKCON. I think you will admit that His Divine Grace never made such a direct statement. He never said, "I will continue to initiate disciples in ISKCON after I enter samadhi."

Srila Prabhupada never made any statement of the form “I will continue to do X after I enter samadhi”, or that “X will continue in ISKCON after I enter samadhi”. Thus, by LD’s warped reasoning, all of ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada’s activities should have ground to a complete halt after he entered Samadhi! Rather, since Srila Prabhupada had already established an initiation system for ISKCON, that system continues in ISKCON just as every other procedure and system he established for ISKCON is supposed to continue today.


Contradiction over lack of termination order

“The letter (July 9th directive) did not mention anything specific about that time when Srila Prabhupada would no longer be present.”

Exactly! If the letter does not specify something should be done as a result of Srila Prabhupada’s departure, then how could the system established by the whole letter itself be terminated as a result of Srila Prabhupada’s departure?


Part 4 - Conclusion

  1. We have illustrated very clearly how attempting to thwart Srila Prabhupada’s order for a ritvik system of initiation in ISKCON, with himself remaining Diksa guru, via the May 28th conversation, simply results in resurrecting the universally discarded false zonal acarya system.

  2. That, additionally, such attempts are riddled with mass confusion and contradiction.

  3. So much so that the one proposing it himself ends up in reality coming full circle, and practising the ritvik system!


It is best, therefore, to simply follow Srila Prabhupada’s orders without deviation, otherwise the usual gibberish, which we are forever documenting, will result.

Please chant: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare.
And be Happy!