Former Disciple of Bhakti Vikasa Swami refutes Bhakti Vikasa Swami's anti-ritvik arguments

On June 9, 2008, Bhakti Vikasa Swami gave a lecture titled "Ritvikism is self defeating". I am a former disciple of his, but having read The Final Order ( and understanding that Srila Prabhupada instituted the ritvik initiation system, I realized who my real guru is- Srila Prabhupada.

In this lecture, Bhakti Vikasa Swami is saying that we can't have Srila Prabhupada as our guru. And what is a better solution, if I may ask? Surrender to ISKCON's present guru system, a system that has allowed pedophiles, homosexuals, rapists, drug addicts, schizophrenics, and murderers to become "gurus"?

The ritvik initiation system was already in place long before July 9th, 1977. This is a historical fact. On July 9th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada gave his final instruction on initiations, which is that devotees should act as ritviks and initiate others on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, something they had already been doing for years.

Now let us address some of the points that Bhakti Vikasa Swami has raised in his lecture.

BVKS: "Gramatically Srila Prabhupada was not very proficient".

BVKS begins the lecture by blasphemying Srila Prabhupada's usage of the English language, no doubt having become contaminated by the association of his good friend Jayadvaita Swami, who has changed so much of Srila Prabhupada's divine words. This is called overintelligence, as if they think they are more intelligent than Srila Prabhupada.

BVKS: "They (ritviks) say you should only read Prabhupada's books, but if you read Prabhupada's books you'll get the idea that you have to go to a guru and take initiation."

Yes, and Srila Prabhupada is that guru! How did BVKS take initiation? Did he take it directly from Srila Prabhupada? Or did someone else, such as the Temple President, perform BVKS's initiation ceremony? Did Srila Prabhupada directly chant on BVKS's japa beads? Or did a ritvik who has deputed by Srila Prabhupada chant on BVKS's beads?

Basically, what BVKS is saying is "Srila Prabhupada is dead and gone, and you have to accept a "living guru" such as myself". To this I can only ask, who is more "living" than Srila Prabhupada?

So although a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the Spiritual Master, vibration. What we have heard from the Spiritual Master, that is living.
-Srila Prabhupada, 13/1/1969

Just like my Spiritual Master is not physically present, but I am associating with him by his words.
-Srila Prabhupada, 8/18/1971

BVKS: "And you come up with the theory that you don't need a guru, ah, oh, sorry, you do need a guru, only Prabhupada as your guru, but you shouldn't take initiation from anyone except Prabhupada."

And why should we take initiation from anyone other than Srila Prabhupada? Srila Prabhupada's rightful position is as the Diksa Guru of ISKCON. If you want to become a guru, you have to be qualified and authorized. Srila Prabhupada never authorized anyone to become a diksa guru. He only authorized them to act as ritviks.

One may argue that the ritvik system that was established officially on July 9th, 1977, should have stopped on Srila Prabhupada's departure.

There is nothing in the letter that says the instruction was only meant for whilst Srila Prabhupada was physically present. In fact, the only information given supports the continuation of the ritvik system after Srila Prabhupada's departure. It is significant to note that within the July 9th letter it is stated three times that those initiated would become Srila Prabhupada's disciples. The GBC in presenting evidence for the current guru system have argued vigorously that Srila Prabhupada had already made it clear that, as far as he was concerned, it was an inviolable law that no one could initiate in his presence. Thus the necessity to state Srila Prabhupada's ownership of future disciples must indicate that the instruction was intended to operate during a time period when the ownership could even have been an issue, namely after his departure.

For some years Srila Prabhupada had been using representatives to chant on beads, perform the fire yajna, give gayatri mantra etc. No one had ever questioned whom such new initiates belonged to. Right at the beginning of the July 9th letter it is emphatically stated that those appointed are "representatives" of Srila Prabhupada. The only innovation this letter contained then was the formalisation of the role of the representatives; hardly something which could be confused with a direct order for them to become fully-fledged diksa gurus. Srila Prabhupada's emphasis on disciple ownership would therefore have been completely redundant were the system to operate only in his presence, especially since as long as he was present he could personally ensure that no one claimed false ownership of the disciples. As mentioned above, this point is hammered home three times in a letter which itself was quite short and to the point:

"So as soon as one thing is three times stressed, that means final." (Srila Prabhupada Bg. Lecture, 27/11/68, Los Angeles)

The July 9th letter states that the names of newly initiated disciples were to be sent "to Srila Prabhupada" - Could this indicate that the system was only to run while Srila Prabhupada was physically present? Some devotees have argued that since we can no longer send these names to Srila Prabhupada, the ritvik system must therefore be invalid.

The first point to note is the stated purpose behind the names being sent to Srila Prabhupada, ie., so they could be included in his "Initiated Disciples" book. We know from the July 7th conversation that Srila Prabhupada had nothing to do with entering the new names into this book, it was done by his secretary. Further evidence that the names should be sent for inclusion in the book, and NOT specifically to Srila Prabhupada is given in the letter written to Hamsadutta, the very next day, where Tamala Krishna Goswami explains his new ritvik duties to him:

" should send their names to be included in Srila Prabhupada's 'Initiated Disciples' book." (Letter to Hamsadutta from Tamala Krishna Goswami, 10/7/77)

Their is no mention made here of needing to send the names to Srila Prabhupada. This procedure could easily have continued after Srila Prabhupada's physical departure. Nowhere in the final order does it state that if the "Initiated Disciples" book becomes physically separated from Srila Prabhupada all initiations must be suspended.

The next point is that the procedure of sending the names of newly initiated disciples to Srila Prabhupada in any case relates to a post-initiation activity. The names could only be sent after the disciples had already been initiated. Thus an instruction concerning what is to be done after initiation cannot be used to amend or in any way interrupt pre-initiation, or indeed initiation procedures (the ritvik's role being already fulfilled well before the actual initiation ceremony takes place). Whether or not names can be sent to Srila Prabhupada has no bearing on the system for initiation, since at the point where new names are ready to be sent, the initiation has already occurred.

The last point is that if sending the names to Srila Prabhupada were a vital part of the ceremony, then even before Srila Prabhupada's departure, the system would have been invalid, or at least run the constant risk of being so. It was generally understood that Srila Prabhupada was ready to leave at any time, thus the danger of not having anywhere to send the names was present from day one of the order being issued. In other words, taking the possible scenario that Srila Prabhupada leaves the planet the day after a disciple has been initiated through the ritvik system, according to the above proposition, the disciple would not actually have been initiated simply because of the speed by which mail is delivered. We find no mention in Srila Prabhupada's books that the transcendental process of diksa, which may take many lifetimes to complete, can be obstructed by the vicissitudes of the postal service. Certainly there would be nothing preventing the names of new initiates being entered into His Divine Grace's "Initiated Disciples" book even now. This book could then be offered to Srila Prabhupada at a fitting time.

BVKS: "It sounds logical, but it's not."

So it's more "logical" to instead accept non liberated souls as "gurus"? It's more "logical" to accept pedophiles and homosexuals as "gurus"?

To quote Bhakti Vikasa Swami's good friend Jayadvaita Swami:

ISKCON gurus have had illicit sexual intercourse with both women and men, and possibly children as well.
-Jayadvaita Swami

BVKS: Comparing the ritvik initiation system to Christianity, BVKS says: "Well, Christianity, it is, it's a good example of what happens when you don't have a proper parampara."

The disciplic succession, or guru parampara, is eternal; there is no question of it stopping. According to Srila Prabhupada, the Sankirtan Movement, (and hence ISKCON), will only exist for the next 9,500 years. Compared with eternity 9,500 years is nothing, a mere blip in cosmic time. This would appear to be the time period during which Srila Prabhupada shall remain the "current link" within ISKCON, unless he or Krishna countermands the July 9th order, or some external circumstance renders the order impossible to follow (such as total thermo-nuclear annihilation).

Previous acaryas have remained current for long periods of time, thousands (Srila Vyasadeva) or even millions of years (see quote below). We see no reason why the duration of Srila Prabhupada's reign as "current link", even if it extends right till the end of the Sankirtan Movement, should pose any particular problem.

"Regarding parampara system: there is nothing to wonder for big gaps [...] we find in the Bhagavad-gita that the Gita was taught to the sungod, some millions of years ago, but Krishna has mentioned only three names in this parampara system - namely, Vivasvan, Manu, and Iksvaku; and so these gaps do not hamper from understanding the parampara system. We have to pick up the prominent acaryas, and follow from him [...] We have to pick up from the authority of the acarya in whatever sampradaya we belong to." (Srila Prabhupada Letter to Dayananda, 12/4/68)

The July 9th order is significant since it means that Srila Prabhupada shall be the prominent acarya, at least for members of ISKCON, for as long as the Society exists. Only the direct intervention of Srila Prabhupada or Krishna can revoke the final order (such intervention needing to be at least as clear and unequivocal as a signed directive sent to the entire Society). Thus until some counter-instruction is given, the science of devotional service shall continue to be transmitted directly by Srila Prabhupada to successive generations of his disciples. Since this is a common phenomenon in our disciplic succession, there is no cause for alarm. The succession can only be considered "ended" if this science of devotional service is lost. On such occasions, Lord Krishna Himself usually descends to re-establish the principles of religion. As long as Srila Prabhupada's books are in circulation, this "science" shall remain vigorously intact, and perfectly accessible.

BVKS: "But then Martin Luther and others (Christian leaders) they came up with the ritvik philosophy"

1. We are not proposing the ritvik system, Srila Prabhupada is - in the final order of July 9th, 1977. Thus even if it is like Christianity, we still have to follow it, since it is the order of the guru.

2. Srila Prabhupada clearly sanctioned the idea of the Christians continuing to follow the departed Jesus Christ as their guru. He taught that anyone who followed Christ's teachings was a disciple, and would achieve the level of liberation that was being offered by Jesus Christ:

Madhudvisa: Is there any way for a Christian to, without the help of a Spiritual Master, to reach the spiritual sky through believing the words of Jesus Christ and trying to follow his teachings?
Srila Prabhupada: I don't follow.
Tamal Krishna: Can a Christian in this age, without a Spiritual Master, but by reading the Bible, and following Jesus"s words, reach the...
Srila Prabhupada: When you read the Bible, you follow Spiritual Master. How can you say without? As soon as you read the Bible, that means you are following the instruction of Lord Jesus Christ, that means that you are following Spiritual Master. So where is the opportunity of being without Spiritual Master?
Madhudvisa: I was referring to a living Spiritual Master.
Srila Prabhupada: Spiritual master is not the question of... Spiritual master is eternal. Spiritual master is eternal. So your question is without spiritual master. Without spiritual master you cannot be, at any stage of your life. You may accept this spiritual master or that spiritual master. That is a different thing. But you have to accept. As you say that “by reading Bible,” when you read Bible that means you are following the spiritual master represented by some priest or some clergyman in the line of Lord Jesus Christ. (Morning Walk, 2/10/68, Seattle)

"Regarding the end of devotees of Lord Jesus Christ, they can go to heaven, that is all. That is a planet in the material world. A devotee of Lord Jesus Christ is one who is strictly following the ten commandments. [...] Therefore the conclusion is that the devotees of Lord Jesus Christ are promoted to the heavenly planets which are within this material world." (Srila Prabhupada Letter to Bhagavan, 2/3/70)

"Actually, one who is guided by Jesus Christ will certainly get liberation." (Perfect Questions Perfect Answers, chapter 9)

"...Or the Christians are following Christ, a great personality. mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. You follow some mahajana, great personality [...] You follow one acarya, like Christians, they follow Christ, acarya. The Mohammedans, they follow acarya, Mohammed. That is good. you must follow some acarya [...] evam parampara-praptam." (Srila Prabhupada Room conversation, 20/5/75, Melbourne)

3. This objection to being "Christian" is ironic, since the current guru system in ISKCON has itself adopted certain Christian procedures: The theology behind the GBC voting in gurus is similar to the system of the College of Cardinals voting in Popes in the Catholic Church:

"Voting procedures [...] for guru candidate [...] who will be established by the voting members [...] voting for guru process [...] by a two third vote of the GBC [...] all GBCs are candidates for appointment as guru." (GBC Resolutions)

Similarly the GBC calls itself "the highest ecclesiastical body guiding ISKCON" (Back To Godhead 1990-1991): again "Christian" terminology.

These particular "Christian" practices were never taught by Jesus, and were totally condemned by Srila Prabhupada:

"Mundane votes have no jurisdiction to elect a Vaisnava acarya. A Vaisnava acarya is self effulgent, and there is no need for any court judgement." (C.c. Madhya, 1.220, purport)

"Srila Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social, and ecclesiastical conventions." (C.c. Adi, 1.35, purport)

BVKS: "He (Jesus) came into the temple and saw them all selling animals to sacrifice and selling all items in the bazaar (market), like at ISKCON Bangalore"

BVKS is criticizing ISKCON Bangalore, the world's most successful temple, because they sell lots of Krsna conscious paraphernelia, comparing it to a market. Has BVKS never seen the ISKCON Mumbai temple, or the ISKCON Delhi temple, or the ISKCON Mayapur temple? So his point is quite hypocritical.

BVKS: "Just like this ritvik idea, it wasn't there before"

This objection rests on the premise that Srila Prabhupada would never "spring" anything new on the Movement. Taken literally, this objection is absurd, for it means that any order from the guru can be rejected if it is new, or even just a bit different from ones issued previously. It infers that in his final months Srila Prabhupada should not have delivered far-reaching instructions regarding his Society, unless everyone was already familiar with them.

As we have explained, the ritvik system was not "new" anyway. Prior to the July 9th letter, the experience of diksa initiation in the Movement would have predominantly been through the use of representatives. Srila Prabhupada was the diksa guru in ISKCON, and most initiation ceremonies, particularly in the later years, were performed by a Temple President or some other representative or priest.

The most notable difference after July 9th, 1977 was that the acceptance of new disciples would now be done by representatives without recourse to Srila Prabhupada. The letter, which was sent out to new initiates, would no longer be signed by Srila Prabhupada, and the selection of all the initiates" names would be done by the ritviks. Also the procedure was now linked with the relatively unfamiliar word -"ritvik".

To get connected to the bona fide acarya through the use of representatives was the experience of initiation that was familiar for thousands of disciples. The July 9th letter defines the word "ritvik" as meaning: "representative of the acarya". Clearly the system of being initiated by Srila Prabhupada through the use of representatives was nothing "new" at all. It was merely the continuation of what Srila Prabhupada had taught and put in practice as soon as his Movement reached a state of rapid growth.

Why should it have come as such a great shock that this system would continue beyond November 14th, 1977?

Although unfamiliar to many, the word "ritvik" was not new either. The word and its derivatives had already been defined 31 times by Srila Prabhupada in his books. What was "new" was that the system which had already been in existence for many years was now put in writing with the necessary adjustments for the future. Hardly surprising, since Srila Prabhupada was at this time issuing many documents in writing regarding the future of his Movement. This arrangement was actually a re-endorsement of a system that everyone had already come to consider as standard practise.

Ironically what was really "new" was the curious metamorphosis of the ritviks into the "material and spiritual pure successor acaryas" to Srila Prabhupada. This particular innovation came as such a shock that many hundreds of disciples left the Movement shortly after its implementation, with thousands to follow them.