Winter 2005/6

In the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, it is stated:

“The order of the spiritual master is the active principle in spiritual life.”
(Chaitanya-Charitamrta, Adi-lila, 12:10)

This should be an obvious point – we only do what the spiritual master tells us, and if he has not asked us to do something, we should not do it.

The commencement order

It is agreed by everyone that on July 9th, 1977 Srila Prabhupada authorised that a ritvik system of initiation using representatives be operated in ISKCON. Thus the spiritual master gave an order, and according to the verse from the Chaitanya-Charitamrta given above, we should follow this order.

The termination order

However, on November 15th, 1977, the day after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, the GBC decided that ISKCON must now stop following this ritvik order of Srila Prabhupada. The obvious question is WHY? By the verse given in the Chaitanya-Charitamrta, and also by the mechanism which brought this order into being in the first place, the only possible reason that could justify terminating this order would be if Srila Prabhupada ordered it; that is, if Srila Prabhupada ordered that on his departure the ritvik system should be terminated. However, such an order has neither been found nor even proposed as existing by the GBC. Thus by the verse from the Chaitanya-Charitamrta, the conclusion is clear - one cannot stop the ritvik order of Srila Prabhupada without a countermanding order. And the IRM’s position is therefore authorised.

However, in the absence of such a clear termination order from Srila Prabhupada, the GBC and its supporters have invented many fanciful and constantly changing explanations as to how one can indeed stop the order of the spiritual master without an order to do so.

a) Order given in advance

The first explanation was that on May 28th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada had already stated that the ritviks he appointed would automatically transmogrify into full-fledged diksa gurus immediately on his departure.
This “appointment” theory lasted 11 years before it was ditched by the GBC (the Great Guru Hoax, part 1).

b) Order not needed

However, around 1986-87, in order to usher in the Great Guru Hoax, part 2, where now anyone could be guru, it was now proposed that an order terminating the ritvik system and appointing them as gurus was never needed.
Now it was proposed that it was “understood” by the “law of disciplic succession”, that on the departure of the guru all his disciples become gurus themselves. This was a seismic shift in position, for as well as jettisoning the previous explanation that the May 28th conversation appointed 11 ritviks to metamorphose into diksa gurus, it was now proposed that one does not even need an order to terminate the ritvik system. It is “automatic” due to the disappearance of the spiritual master.

This “law of disciplic succession” was stated only in a private letter to a deviant disciple, Tusta Krishna Das, in 1975, and not available until many years later, and states:


“But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession.”
(Srila Prabhupada Letter to Tusta Krishna Das, 2/12/75)

Now this letter in no way gives an order to terminate the ritvik system on Srila Prabhupada’s departure.
It simply states that it is possible to be a spiritual master only if one’s guru has disappeared. This is therefore only an order as to when you can definitely NOT be a guru. It does not order the ritvik system to be terminated on Srila Prabhupada’s departure, with the ritviks automatically becoming diksa gurus. However, it was argued by the GBC that such an instruction is indeed implied in the above instruction, even though there is no mention of ritviks and when they cannot operate.
Rather, the only order given is in regards to when one can not act as a GURU, not when one can not act as a ritvik, which is the order we seek.

c) Take your pick

Come the 21st century, and now even the “law of disciplic succession” explanation, which itself was not really an explanation since it merely moved the goalposts and eliminated the need for an order from the spiritual master completely, has been jettisoned. For now the GBC have happily broken the “law of disciplic succession” they previously promoted, and authorised at least 3 diksa gurus in ISKCON, even though their own gurus are still physically present on the planet.
To fill the gap created by the lack of a termination order from Srila Prabhupada, with the GBC’s most recent explanation now invalidated by the GBC themselves, the answer will depend on who you speak to. With there now no longer being an official explanation, the GBC and their supporters usually give one of the following explanations:

The two already given above, even though they have been rejected by the GBC themselves.

An appeal to history, “common sense” and “sastra” (scripture), that “obviously” the ritvik system cannot continue in the physical absence of the guru.

An appeal to general instructions from Srila Prabhupada wherein he states the qualifications of a guru, or asks his disciples to “become guru” (none of which state that the disciples are authorised to automatically become diksa gurus the very second Srila Prabhupada departs, thereby terminating the ritvik order).

Various other assorted speculations and theories.


We have an order instituting a ritvik system in ISKCON, a fact agreed on by everyone. We have no specific order terminating it. This fact is also agreed on by everyone.
Game over at this point for anyone who accepts the verse from the Caitanya-caritamrta given at the outset.
But as we have seen, there are others who will go to any lengths to cover up for the lack of a ritvik termination order from Srila Prabhupada, such as first saying one thing, then saying another, then saying you don’t even need an order, and then just throwing the field open for anything anyone can think up. We will leave it to the readers to choose which path they wish to follow.