Zonal acharya revival!


'Back to Prabhupada, Issue 26, Winter 2009/10'

By Krishnakant

Srila Prabhupada's continued position as the diksa (initiating) 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. Because in this conversation Srila Prabhupada uses phrases such as "his disciple", "granddisciple" and "regular guru", it is argued that this means that the 11 individuals whom Srila Prabhupada would soon nominate to conduct initiations would actually be initiating their own disciples. However, in arguing this, they are unwittingly reviving the now discarded "zonal acharya" (guru) system, as shown below. This system, which is based upon the claim that Srila Prabhupada nominated 11 devotees to be diksa guru successors for ISKCON, has been rejected even by the GBC.

Zonal acharya resurrection!

The zonal acharya 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):

Variant (a): It is accepted that Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 officiating acharyas to conduct initiations after his departure. But an officiating acharya is just another name for a diksa guru, as evidenced by use of the term "acharya", and they simply act as ritviks temporarily. Hence, 11 diksa gurus are appointed directly via redefining an "officiating acharya" as a diksa guru. This is the variant which the GBC's Badrinarayana Das, Giridhari Das and Umapati Swami put forward in their paper Disciple of My Disciple which was the first reply to the ritvik foundational document The Final Order.

Variant (b): 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 acharya trap", and has therefore avoided explaining what is said in 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).

The ritvik "problem"

The first part of the May 28th conversation states:

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 acarya."
Tamala Krsna: "Is that called rtvik-acarya?"
Prabhupada: "Rtvik, yes."
(Room conversation, May 28th, 1977)

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

ii) 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!

The "guru appointment" fix

Ritviks are magically transmogrified into diksa gurus by manipulating the last part of the conversation below:

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."

It is claimed that by saying "They're his disciple", Srila Prabhupada is stating that the appointed ritviks would actually be initiating disciples of their own. And that this is further confirmed by the use of the terms "granddisciple" and "he becomes regular guru", which shows that the ritviks would become diksa gurus who would create "grand-disciples". In addition, variant (a) also makes use of the word "acarya" in "officiating acarya" to argue that this proves that a ritvik is non-different from a diksa guru.

Net result

Both variants, therefore, end up including the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada appointed 11 diksa gurus as his successors. And, since Srila Prabhupada had already stated that for initiation one should approach whoever of the 11 ritviks was "nearest" (in both the garden conversation of July 7th, 1977 and his signed directive of July 9th, 1977), the claiming of exclusive geographical zones by these appointees follows naturally. And that was the zonal acharya theory.

So, in conclusion, it is ironic that GBC supporters, many of whom were originally enthusiastic supporters of the zonal acharya system between 1977 and 1986, are again effectively resurrecting the same system (minus the lavish worship), most likely unwittingly, with their interpretation of the May 28th conversation. We now go on to prove that both of these variants are nothing but fabrications. But 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.

"They're his disciple"

The exchange being referred to which includes the phrase above 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 granddisciple."

There is an indisputable fact regarding the above exchange - Srila Prabhupada's answer is in the 3rd person:
"They're his disciple."
Srila Prabhupada does not say "they are my disciple", 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 ritviks, and that is:
"They're his disciple - 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.

Answer already given

Before we see the answer Srila Prabhupada gave, we can note that he had already just answered the same question. Immediately preceding this exchange, where Srila Prabhupada answers "they're his disciple", Srila Prabhupada is asked the same question directly - are they "your disciples" - rather than indirectly - "whose disciple are they?"

And Srila Prabhupada clearly answers that 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 answer

Srila Prabhupada's answer for whose disciples they are, 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 granddisciple."*

The "His" here can only be referring to Srila Prabhupada since it would be impossible for the ritviks, who are Srila Prabhupada's disciples, to themselves have granddisciples.

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."

* 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 "granddisciple", 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:

"His granddisciple"

But how can Srila Prabhupada be speaking of "granddisciples" at all, unless he is ordering his disciples to become gurus who will initiate their own disciples? Srila Prabhupada goes on to clarify that granddisciples will only emerge when diksa gurus are actually ordered by himself -

"His granddisciple…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 "granddisciple".

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 acharya"

We end with debunking the ludicrous theory that an officiating acharya is just another word for diksa guru, and therefore when Srila Prabhupada was appointing ritviks, he was actually appointing diksa gurus! In the opening exchange of the May 28th conversation, Srila Prabhupada equates the term "officiating acarya" with "ritvik":

Srila Prabhupada: "Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acarya."
Tamala Krsna: "Is that called rtvik-acarya?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Rtvik, yes."

And 6 weeks later, on July 9th, Srila Prabhupada actually goes on to appoint these "officiating acarya/ritviks", and it clearly states there that those initiated will be disciples of Srila Prabhupada only. There is no mention in the July 9th directive of these ritviks initiating their own disciples. Nor is this stated in the May 28th conversation (as we have just seen).


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 acharya system. (This is summarized in the diagram below). It is best, therefore, to simply follow Srila Prabhupada's orders without deviation. Otherwise, the usual gibberish, which we are forever documenting, as well as absurd conclusions, as in this case, will result.


May 28th, 1977 Conversation
Srila Prabhupada states he will
appoint ritviks to conduct initiations
after his departure


July 9th, 1977 Directive
Srila Prabhupada actually
appoints these ritviks

Way Out
Ritviks have their own disciples:
"they're his disciple"

Way Out
Ritviks to turn into gurus:
"he becomes regular guru"

Net Result
Srila Prabhupada appointed 11
men who would initiate those
"nearest" as their own disciples,
thus becoming diksa gurus -->
the zonal acharya theory

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