'Ritvik and Responsibility'


By Krishnakant

We shall now examine his second paper 'Ritvik and Responsibility'.

Considering Krishna Dharma's demonstrably limited grasp of Srila Prabhupada's teachings with regards guru tattva, it may have been expecting too much that he might actually have read the 'The Final Order'. We do not mean to imply that this paper is perfect, but it is the accepted standard position paper on the very issue Krishna Dharma is supposed to be refuting. It should be noted that this collaborative document was commissioned, reviewed and accepted by the GBC as a definitive presentation on this issue. Most pro-ritviks also accept it as being reasonably representative of their position. It is thus the arguments presented in this paper which Krishna Dharma needs to address if he has any hope of stemming the ritvik tide. Unfortunately he wastes a great deal of his article on straw-man arguments. ('Straw-Man argumentation is the practice of refuting statements that are not actually claimed by the opposing side, but are presented as such since they are much easier to refute then the statements actually made by the opposing side ). It may be easier for him to defeat propositions we have never made, but it hardly moves the process of discussion any further along. This is all the stranger since he actually asked us to send him a copy of 'The Final Order' as soon as it was completed, which we did. With this in mind there seems little excuse for him to misrepresent our position, unless there is some motive at work here other than to establish the truth.


As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the main problem is that Krishna Dharma's principal arguments are just completely irrelevant to the current debate. In the paper 'The Final Order' (page 2) the central point of controversy is clearly defined in a manner which has not been disputed by any GBC member. The July 9th policy statement on initiations was sent to the entire movement just prior to Srila Prabhupada's departure. What we are looking for is evidence to support the following modifications to that final order:

Modification A: The ritvik system of initiation must cease on the point of Srila Prabhupada's departure.

Modification B: The ritviks must then immediately transform into fully fledged diksa gurus.

We call these 'modifications' since they do not appear in the final order, or any other signed document issued to the society's leaders by Srila Prabhupada.

In a nutshell this is the central issue Krishna Dharma should be addressing. He needs to produce evidence which unequivocally support modifications A and B. It would help his and the GBC's case enormously if he could find some clear statement from Srila Prabhupada to the effect that the ritvik system he set up just four months before his departure was meant to be stopped once he left; and that those acting in the capacity of ritviks were then to change into diksa gurus.

Let us look at what Krishna Dharma actually offers. Below are what appear to us to be his main points:

1. We should not adopt the ritvik system since it means Srila Prabhupada will have to absorb practically unlimited amounts of karma.
2. By passing on this karmic burden to Srila Prabhupada we, as preachers, would be acting irresponsibly.
3. Srila Prabhupada only outlined the system in the July 9th letter, it did not clearly explain how new ritviks could be added; and in any case of those selected six have fallen down.
4. By running the ritvik system past his departure we would be denying Srila Prabhupada the choice to stop the ritvik system from running.
5. By running the ritvik system we would deny new devotees the opportunity to pick a guru of their own choice.

In fact all five of the above points are irrelevant to the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether Srila Prabhupada established a ritvik system of initiation which was meant to continue within ISKCON. If he did, the above points are irrelevant since what could be gained from objecting to a system Srila Prabhupada insisted we adopt? If he did not, the above points are also irrelevant, since what is the point of fault finding a system Srila Prabhupada never intended we continue using? So unless it can be demonstrated that the above 5 points PROVE he did NOT set up such a system, merely pointing out perceived defects is simply a waste of time. All Krishna Dharma is in effect saying is 'I don't like this system'. But so what! Who cares what he likes or does not like? It is what Srila Prabhupada ordered which actually matters.

What Krishna Dharma is arguing is that Srila Prabhupada just could not have wanted such a system because of his five points of objection. However these five objections are pure conjecture on his part. Let us elaborate this point to make it clearer. We are confident Srila Prabhupada never made any statements similar to the following:-

1. 'please make sure you stop the ritvik system on my departure because I don't want all that bad karma'
2. 'I want the ritvik system stopped on my departure so my disciples can start absorbing bad karma, and thus become properly responsible preachers. This will also enable me to sleep without getting nightmares once I leave the planet'
3. 'the GBC can select or decommission senior personnel in all areas of ISKCON management, except the name-giving priests who act as ritviks within the system I have just set up to manage initiations. Therefore you better stop the system immediately on my departure since within 60 or so years you will run out of ritviks.'
4. 'after I have left the planet there is every possibility I will have second thoughts about his ritvik system which I have only just set up to run henceforward. To be on the safe side you better stop it directly on my departure'.
5. 'for goodness sake give people more choice when I leave the planet. For the last ten years I have been the only diksa guru within ISKCON. I know that's how I set things up, with just my books and murti in every Temple, but it's just not fair.'

We do not mean to be facetious, we merely seek to graphically expose the groundless nature of Krishna Dharma's thesis. If Srila Prabhupada ever made statements similar to the above, it should have been those which Krishna Dharma presented as evidence, not just his speculative assumptions. Neither are the GBC saying they stopped the ritvik system for any of the above five reasons. For the last twenty years they have maintained that the principal basis for stopping the system was a conversation which took place on May 28th 1977. Unfortunately, as we pointed out in 'The Final Order' (pages 21-26), the numerous transcripts and differing interpretations of this conversation offered by the GBC over the years have all failed to satisfactorily support modifications A & B. Added to this we now have a situation whereby the tape from which the conversation was extracted has been rendered inadmissible as evidence by an investigation inaugurated by the GBC themselves.

'Straw Man' Arguments

Having demonstrated that Krishna Dharma's main objections to the ritvik system are irrelevant to the debate, for completeness we shall go through his paper systematically and show all the other numerous flaws, false suppositions and misrepresentations. His statements are numbered 1-13, our comments are lettered:

1) "Now, what are the advocates of ritvik philosophy suggesting? 'No one can become an initiating guru except Prabhupada."
(Krishna Dharma 'Ritviks and Responsibility')

The above is a subtle misrepresentation:

1. We are not 'suggesting' anything. The July 9th order was issued by Srila Prabhupada, not us. The deliberate implication is that we have somehow invented the whole concept.
2. The July 9th order is only relevant to ISKCON.

These may seem nit-picky points, but they become more serious as Krishna Dharma warms to his theme:

2) "Unless, that is, the ritviks are prepared to accept some kind of guru-like responsibility. But there is precious little sign of that - the very suggestion appears anathema to them."

1. A siksa guru is surely 'guru-like', and as we point out on numerous occasions in 'The Final Order' (page 11, page 34, page 35, page 48 & page 49) everyone should aspire to become this type of spiritual master. Since Krishna Dharma accepts diksa and siksa as ultimately non-different, it is a clear and deliberate misrepresentation to say the idea of some type of guru status is 'anathema' to us. We simply say that all guru activity within ISKCON must be properly authorised. Remember 'Very strong management required and vigilant observation' to stop people jumping into becoming the wrong type of guru.

3) "Not long ago I raised this point with some leading ritvik proponents; viz. that they are effectively suggesting that we should dump everyone's sins on Prabhupada."

1. Again we did not suggest the July 9th policy document. That was wholly Srila Prabhupada's idea. If Krishna Dharma does not like some of the characteristics of the system Srila Prabhupada personally installed, that is his problem not ours. It is senseless for him to blame us for something we had nothing to do with. Unless he can prove the system was meant to be terminated his objections are all irrelevant, indeed they border on the offensive since he is lambasting Srila Prabhupada's direct order.

4) "Without doubt his experience of suffering is not like that of an ordinary conditioned soul, but to say that he experiences no suffering at all is far too akin to mayavada philosophy for my liking."

1. We have never said that the spiritual master does not suffer at all. Why does Krishna Dharma dishonestly present statements we never made?

5)"We reduce him to an unfeeling, insensate person - i.e. not really a person at all. I am reminded of the example of Ramacandra Puri, who censured his guru for exhibiting feelings, although admittedly these were on the transcendental platform. But I see the same impersonal contamination in ritvik thinking.. Or, if Prabhupada is a person, then for the ritvik he is a person who is virtually non-different from God himself, who can absorb an unlimited amount of karma and deliver any number of conditioned souls we care to throw at him."

1. We have never said that Srila Prabhupada is non-different from God. Again this is Krishna Dharma's own invention, made to discredit a position he cannot seem to legitimately defeat.
2. Just because a pure devotee is able to absorb unlimited amounts of karma, that does not make him God. This principle is another Krishna Dharma invention.
3. If Srila Prabhupada wants to accept the sinful reactions of a large number of people on this planet for some time to come, is it our position to stop him? Krishna Dharma says:

"I understand that he is obviously powerful enough to absorb a lot of sins"

So how much is `a lot'? Why does he assume the ritvik system would expose Srila Prabhupada to too much? How much is too much anyway? His objection is thus not only irrelevant, but also completely arbitrary.

4. If Srila Prabhupada only wanted the July 9th order to apply during his physical presence, then even if we did institute a ritvic system he would not absorb any karma, since he would not have agreed to the arrangement. Again the issue is 'did he want the system continued?'

So without waiting for me, wherever you consider it is right

Again relating to this point of taking lots of disciples Krishna Dharma says:

"it would still seem to be at least common decency to ask him how he feels about taking on as many people as we deem fit to 'initiate' on his behalf"

"But now the ritvik position is that he no longer has any say in the matter."

Once again he pretends that the ritvik system is a position or idea generated by us. Just for the record, at the time the July 9th order was issued I was only nine years old and had never heard of the ritvik system. Furthermore it was Srila Prabhupada who handed all power of attorney over to his representatives, not me:

Srila Prabhupada: So without waiting for me, wherever you consider it is right... That will depend on discretion.
(SP room conversation 7/7/77, Vrindavan)

6) "(Interestingly, on this point, I note that recently certain ritvik advocates have taken to using the upper case convention when using pronouns referring to Prabhupada, a convention generally reserved only for reference to God)"

1. We have never used upper case for pronouns referring to Srila Prabhupada. If someone is doing this then they are off. Why not just answer 'The Final Order' rather then cast irrelevant aspersions?

7) "We were not, are not and never will be, qualified to take responsibility for delivering others. The ritviks are constantly endeavouring to establish that the GBC, the current gurus, and indeed everyone else, are simply unqualified to take disciples."

1. In 'The Final Order' we do not deny the possibility that qualified persons may exist or come into existence (pages 34-35). We simply say that everyone, including any pure devotees, should follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions if they wish to operate within ISKCON. According to those instructions we are meant to assist Srila Prabhupada, who is the initiator within ISKCON, by acting as instructing spiritual masters.

2. We do not say the GBC and everyone else are unqualified to take disciples. We simply say that everyone must follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions. This point everyone must agree to. 'The Final Order' merely seeks to clarify what those instructions are.

3. It is Krishna Dharma who says that the GBC and all the gurus, including his own, have parted from scripture over twenty years ago.

8) "Thus they come up with newer and newer theories to show how wretched and sinful and wicked were Prabhupada's disciples during his presence, and how much worse they have become since."

1. This may be some peoples approach, but that is all the more reason why Krishna Dharma should just stick to 'The Final Order', a paper he himself requested be sent to him for his response. It is also a bit rich for Krishna Dharma to take this stance when he himself claims the entire GBC and all the gurus have been violating sastra for the last twenty years. That in itself is an extremely serious allegation with far reaching, indeed devastating ramifications if it were true. Since he himself made the allegation we assume he must believe it IS true.

9) "They thereby hope to prop up a fundamental assumption which underpins their whole interpretation of all the available evidence, much of which seems to totally contradict their stance."

1. We suggest that if Krishna Dharma has any evidence which clearly contradicts our 'stance' he should immediately send it to the GBC since they seem to be floundering quite badly at the moment. All they have is a tape rendered inadmissible by an investigation they themselves approved.

10) "Their arguments go like this: 'Although Prabhupada admittedly wanted his disciples to become gurus, at the end he saw that this could never be; that his poor disciples were simply a hopeless lot immersed in a multitude of devious schemes and plots to usurp his position. Thus came the mighty edict; 'Henceforward, no man shall become a guru bar myself!'"

1. In 'The Final Order', and subsequent papers such as 'The Final Order Still Stands' & 'Best not to Accept Disciples' (all of which can be found on the IRM web site by the way) we never state the above proposition. Indeed the above proposition is termed 'soft ritvik' in 'The Final Order' and is debunked on pages 46-47.

2. We never give credence to any plot or conspiracy theory in 'The Final Order' (see introduction page 1).

11) "Can anyone else be a ritvik initiator? Maybe. Who? We're not sure. Does he need to be qualified as a guru himself ? Obviously not - as that is already ruled out de facto. What is the role of the ritvik in relation to the person he accepts as Prabhupada's disciple? Er, um - next question please."

1. All the above points are answered in 'The Final Order' (pages 47-48 & page 52). It is just sheer dishonesty to pretend they are not.

12) "How sad. Effectively, the ritvik theory, if practised, will kill the preaching. Without being able to teach how can anyone preach? Are not the two things synonymous? And what is a teacher in Krishna consciousness if not a guru? As a preacher myself for many years now I can see the critical importance of accepting the role of guru if I am ever to help anyone in their spiritual lives."

1. This is the very opposite of what is stated in 'The Final Order' (page 11, page 34, page 35, page 48 & page 49). We stress how on many occasions Srila Prabhupada asked all his followers to go out and preach vigorously, and in that way become qualified siksa gurus. When Srila Prabhupada was present a great deal of preaching was done, with him as the only initiator. We suggest things carry on as if he never left, which in a spiritual sense he did not.

2. Krishna Dharma admits that he is acting at present in a teacher/siksa mode (albeit lacking proper GBC validation in his view). It is likely he would remain in this mode for a very long time to come since Mukunda Maharaja is still healthily residing on the same planet. Since this is what he is doing anyway what is his big problem with ritvik? The only difference would be that he would be training new bhaktas to be initiated by Srila Prabhupada rather than Mukunda Maharaja. Since Krishna Dharma has implied that Mukunda Maharaja cannot follow sastra properly, then surely he can only be better off under the ritvik system.

13)"I therefore hope and indeed pray that we will not see the ritvik system ever implemented in any movement which aims to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. For me the two things, namely ritvik and preaching or taking responsibility for people's spiritual lives, are simply mutually exclusive."

Once more this is contrary to anything we have stated. Srila Prabhupada taught that everyone must preach and help deliver the fallen souls. What better way to do that than link them to a great mahabhagavat. It is surely not healthy to pray that Srila Prabhupada's final order on initiations continues to be ignored!

In Conclusion:

Thus we see the above sections of Krishna Dharma's article, from 1 through to 13, offer practically nothing but straw-man arguments. The bulk of his essay is thus a complete waste of web space. His other tactic, as we showed at the beginning, is to simply attack what he perceives to be some of the natural consequences or characteristics of the ritvik system which he happens to find objectionable. Once more this is a waste of time since it sheds no light on the central issue. Did Srila Prabhupada actually order a ritvik system to be continued within ISKCON? If he DID then, with all due respect, who on earth cares what Krishna Dharma thinks of it! If he did NOT, then what is the point of objecting to its characteristics? The only way Krishna Dharma's approach could have any relevance is if he could prove that one of the characteristics he found objectionable actually clearly violated a principle in Srila Prabhupada's teachings. Since nobody so far has been able to locate any such principle, we can only assume that the ritvik system was terminated without good reason, and should therefore be re-instituted without further delay.

Please forgive any offence.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

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