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Srila Prabhupada's System for Initiations in ISKCON

by Narasimha das

Srila Prabhupada never hesitated to offer spiritual initiation to anyone who agreed to follow his instructions. He initiated persons not born in brahmin families or families that follow Vedic culture. Srila Prabhupada accepted both men and women from all backgrounds as his initiated disciples and promised he would take them back to Godhead if they followed his instructions. What’s especially unusual about the system of initiations Srila Prabhupada arranged was that it requires no physical contact between Srila Prabhupada and his new student. In fact, many devotees where initiated by Srila Prabhupada without ever meeting His Divine Grace. Such initiations would have been impractical had Srila Prabhupada not authorized senior disciples to accept and train new students on his behalf.

To expand Lord Çaitanya’s transcendental mission, Srila Prabhupada made many arrangements to help sincere souls approach him, inquire from him, and accept him as sad-guru. By making himself available in the form of his books, murtis, movement, and representatives, he greatly expanded opportunities for devotees to get the fully potent association of a paramahamsa Vaisnava. As the movement expanded, the facilities for innocent persons to take shelter of Srila Prabhupada also expanded.

Near the time of Srila Prabhupada’s departure, the Movement was growing more quickly than ever. Therefore on July 9th, 1977 he formally established an initiation system that had already been in practice in ISKCON. By his final order, Srila Prabhupada authorized deputies to accept disciples on his behalf, yet without writing to him for confirmation, as they had done before. By this order, Srila Prabhupada authorized representatives to decide who would be accepted for initiation in ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada had already clearly established the standards for being accepted as his initiated disciple, therefore he trusted the discretion of senior disciples to manage this system on his behalf. (For exact descriptions of Srila Prabhupada’s standards for initiations see C.c. Adi 17.265 and C.c Madhya 24.330 purports.)

Srila Prabhupada never authorized anyone to initiate their own disciples in his movement, and he never gave the GBC authority to select or approve diksa-gurus. What Srila Prabhupada did do was set up a system to continue initiations in ISKCON according to the standards he had already established. His final order on initiations simply confirms the system Srila Prabhupada had already set up in ISKCON. The only adjustment Srila Prabhupada made by his final directive was to eliminate the need for representatives (such as temple presidents) to write to him for approval. Rather, they were instructed to write to the local ritvik, the representative of the acarya. In this way, Srila Prabhupada authorized ritviks to accept disciples on his behalf.

The GBC has no authority to discontinue devotional practices or management systems His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada personally arranged. The GBC has no authority to sanction diksa-gurus. In fact, the entire arrangement of gurus and initiations in ISKCON today is a concoction. Srila Prabhupada never ordained diksa-gurus , nor did he set up any system to empower the GBC to do so. Yet the GBC insists on defending their concocted guru system, which has caused division and chaos in ISKCON for more than 20 years.

Question: Are you saying that the GBC has no authority to regulate who initiates in ISKCON?

Answer: Srila Prabhupada initiates in ISKCON. His words and example inspire us all to join Lord Caitanya’s movement. The GBC has authority to preserve what Srila Prabhupada established, not to create something new. Srila Prabhupada never approved the idea of self-appointed gurus or gurus by the appointment or approval of an ecclesiastical board. He several times criticized his Godbrothers for trying artificially to create posts of diksa-guru , or acarya, in the Gaudiya Matha.

Question: Must Srila Prabhupada always remain the initiating guru in ISKCON?

Answer: We must follow the order we have. The entire Hare Krsna movement follows Srila Prabhupada. He’s the spiritual master of the universe. What’s wrong with that idea?

Question: How do we know that Srila Prabhupada won’t order someome to become diksa-guru., the initiating spiritual master. Maybe he already has.

Answer: Srila Prabhupada’s arrangement for initiations in ISKCON is clear. We can’t change this arrangement, which is based on Srila Prabhupada and his authority, just because someone claims that Srila Prabhupada told him he could initiate his own disciples. Who is making such claims?

Question: What if a new devotee wants to accept one of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples as the spiritual master rather than trying to develop a direct relationship with Srila Prabhupada? Could he do that?

Answer: Not in ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada made himself fully available in the form of his extensive vani and also as his divine murti. Daily attendance of his guru-puja, his mangala-arati prayers, and careful study of his books is essential for all ISKCON devotees. Yet devotees may naturally follow senior advanced disciples who inspire them in their devotion to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga. Srila Prabhupada encouraged such practical training and teacher-student relationships. Yet he never authorized any disciple to post himself as the initiating spiritual master in ISKCON. He never authorized any of his disciples to act as the sad-guru, who must be worshipped like the Supreme Lord.

Question: But sannyasis receive worship from others.

Answer: Genuine Vaisnavas are certainly worthy of worship. To be a faithful disciple of Srila Prabhupada is an exalted status. Nonetheless, no regular worship or formal status as diksa-guru was ever authorized by Srila Prabhupada for any of his disciples in ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada wanted faithful disciples, not self-appointed pretenders. If a new devotee hasn’t developed faith in Srila Prabhupada as his guru, he should not accept initiation in ISKCON. Similarly, if a disciple wants to appoint himself as guru, he has no right to use ISKCON for his enterprise.

Question: But doesn’t the law of disciplic succession prohibit jumping over the current guru in favor of the previous acarya?

Answer: Srila Prabhupada is still the current acarya. Who can deny this? Do we need a candle to see the full moon? Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur said, “He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die, when thou art living still in sound.” Who is that guru we jump over by accepting Srila Prabhupada? If someone says new devotees need to surrender heart and soul to unauthorized or mixed devotees, such ignorant persons should be jumped over or ignored.

Question: Doesn’t the sincere disciple automatically become the guru and then serve his own disciples by helping them become Krsna conscious?

Answer: The disciple follows the order of the Acarya, and serves in that way. Srila Prabhupada created many posts for his disciples (such as sannyasa, GBC, and temple president), but he never created posts of diksa-guru. Nor did he tell the GBC to do so. Srila Prabhupada is both the siksa-guru and diksa-guru in ISKCON. Advanced devotees should train new disciples to associate with Srila Prabhupada constantly by hearing from him repeatedly with rapt attention. In this way, everyone gets the same benefit and guarantee in their cultivation of pure devotional service.

Question: But don’t Srila Prabhupada’s books talk often of his disciples becoming diksa-gurus and accepting their own disciples?

Answer: No. Srila Prabhupada asks everyone to become guru by preaching and training others in the philosophy and practices of Krsna consciousness. He never asked anyone to begin initiating their own disciples in ISKCON. We find no such instruction. Not all pure devotees initiate disciples and accept worship from other Vaisnavas. It’s not automatic that pure devotees will initiate. A pure devotee accepts the post of spiritual master when the Supreme Lord or His empowered representative orders him. (See S.B. 4.8.54, purport)

Question: Don’t Srila Prabhupada’s books say that everyone should become guru and help others? Isn’t this Lord Caitanya’s mission?

Answer: Lord Caitanya’s mission is to give pure chanting of Hare Krsna and pure devotional service. Srila Prabhupada warns that no one should be accepted as a pure devotee if he is not properly authorized. Please consider this passage from Caitanya-caritamrta: “Vallabha Bhatta wanted to be initiated by Gadadhara Pandita, but Gadadhara Pandita refused, saying, ‘The work of acting as a spiritual master is not possible for me. I am completely dependent. My Lord is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I cannot do anything independently, without His order.’ ” (C.c. Antya-lila 7.150, 7.151) Pure devotees never think they are independent. All work in ISKCON is created by Srila Prabhupada. The post of “ISKCON guru” is a GBC concoction. Unfortunately, due to this concoction, many preachers have been polluted by false ambition.

Question: But Lord Caitanya gave a blanket order for everyone to become guru. Why do you say such gurus can’t initiate their own disciples?

Answer: They may initiate when they get an order to initiate. Sri Gadadhara Pandit himself said he needed a direct order to initiate! Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted everyone to become Krsna conscious and preach. He never said all devotees must initiate their own disciples. In fact, Srila Prabhupada specifically warns, “It is better not to accept any disciples.” Srila Prabhupada said, “A guru can become guru when he’s ordered by his guru. That’s all. Otherwise nobody can become guru.” (S.P. Bg. Lecture, 1975)

Question: By preaching and practicing Krishna consciousness, isn’t one automatically qualified to become an initiating guru?

Answer: Not necessarily. But qualification is seperate issue. We may have qualifications, but an order is still required. For instance, I may be qualified for the order ofsannyasa, but in ISKCON I will need authorization to be accepted as a sannyasi. The position of Gaudiya Vaisnava guru, or acarya, is equal to that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (C.c. Adi 1.46) Sri Gadadhara Pandita said he was unable to initiate without the direct order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Why speak of others!?

Question: How is it possible that Srila Prabhupada can accept disciples after his departure? And how do we know he wants to?

Answer: You think there’s something that’s impossible for Srila Prabhupada? He set up a ritvik system for this. He established ISKCON to train devotees to be his steady disciples and preach. It used to be common knowledge among devotees that His Divine Grace was willing to accept the whole world as his disciples. He accepted disciples in Australia while in Europe. He accepted disciples in America while in India. He accepted disciples he had never met. Srila Prabhupada can do this. He is still doing this. It is in our hands to get the credit for helping him do this by agreeing to remain his faithful representatives.

Question: Then we should ask new devotees to surrender heart and soul to someone they can never meet personally or write a letter to.

Answer: Do you think Srila Prabhupada is dead? The issue here is the authority of the Jagat Guru. He never said his physical presence was essential. Many of his so-called “direct” disciples, devotees initiated prior to 1977, never saw him or wrote to him. Srila Prabhupada said following his order is essential. He never stressed his physical presence. His order is directly the will of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Why should we tax our brains to justify defying Srila Prabhupada’s order? The problem is that devotees have not carefully heard from Srila Prabhupada or his genuine representatives. They’ve been misled by the gbc to think Srila Prabhupada is gone and can no longer personally guide or initiate devotees.

Question: According to Vedic tradition, when the guru departs, his disciple becomes the initiating guru and accepts his own disciples. This is the parampara system. We can’t stop this eternal system.

Answer: There is no such tradition of defacto guru, or guru by automatic inheritance. Yet all Vedic traditions are satisfied if we follow Srila Prabhupada’s formula for expanding the worldwide mission of Krsna consciousness. One day there may be millions of devotees qualified to offer diksa. Yet in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, they will follow Srila Prabhupada’s system and train disciples to offer their full devotion and surrender to Srila Prabhupada and His mission rather than to themselves. Such self-realized souls may have many devoted followers. Pure devotees teach by their example how to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission as humble representatives of the Saktyavesa Avatar, the Jagat Guru. If representatives of Srila Prabhupada train everyone to accept Srila Prabhupada as acarya, the parampara system will florish gloriously. Advanced devotees will happily agree to remain humble representatives of His Divine Grace, the Jagat Guru, Srila Prabhupada.

Questions: But don’t all genuine spiritual masters accept disciples on behalf of the previous acaryas? Don’t ISKCON gurus engage their followers in unalloyed service to Srila Prabhupada?

Answer: Yes, to the first question. No, to the second. They are misleading their so-called disciples. These ambitious men could have been loved and honored as the representatives of Srila Prabhupada, but instead, due to false ambition, they created intrigue and suffering for everyone, including themselves. What’s at stake here? Why all the fuss to reject Srila Prabhupada’s final order on initiations? Think about it!

Question: Isn’t diksa just a formality? Isn’t it the Hare Krsna mahamantra that actually initiates everyone?

Answer: Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his divya-jnana and vanguish sinful reactions (C.c Madhya, 15.108). The initiation ceremony is a formality, but that also has been recommended and established by our Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas, beginning with Srila Rupa Gowsami. By definition, then, the diksa-guru must be a fully self-realized soul. No one else is qualified to offer true diksa.

Question: If everyone takes siksa from Srila Prabhupada, isn’t that enough? Why should we worry who initiates?

Answer: The siksa-guru and diksa-guru must be seen equally. Generally, they are the same person. They are both absolute. Why deny new devotees the assurance of being directly connected with Srila Prabhupada through both diksa and siksa? Who will they accept as Srila Prabhupada’s equal? The real point is following the formula Srila Prabhupada personally arranged. Why does the GBC refuse to accept Srila Prabhupada’s arrangement?

Question: The GBC believes that ordaining gurus is the most effective way to recruit and train devotees and thus continue the parampara.

Answer: The parampara is continued by disciples who follow the order of the Acarya. ISKCON devotees must follow Srila Prabhupada’s instruction to preach on His behalf. Srila Prabhupada is the Jagat Acarya. His position is the same as Lord Nityananda’s or Lord Balarama’s. No order of His Divine Grace can be changed or ignored. By training everyone to be disciples of Srila Prabhupada, the parampara will continue gloriously.

Question: I think most ISKCON gurus are representing Srila Prabhupada’s mission.

Answer: Preachers who represent Srila Prabhupada’s mission teach that Srila Prabhupada is the absolute shelter for all ISKCON devotees. They teach devotees to hear from Srila Prabhupada and worship him with full surrender. They don’t encourage devotees to worship mixed devotees or offenders as the initiating spiritual master. Nor do they teach that mixed devotees are in the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya. Rather they train devotees to accept Srila Prabhupada and surrender to his mission directly. Unless the GBC accepts Srila Prabhupada’s order, they’ll continue to mislead innocent devotees and create chaos.

Question: Are all ISKCON gurus offenders?

Answer: According to Srila Prabhupada, those who attempt to exploit or misdirect the mission of the Acarya due to personal ambition are “severe offenders". No one can capture the post of Vaisnava Acarya by artificial arrangements. “A Vaisnava acarya is self-effulgent, and there is no need for any court judgment.” (C.c Madhya 1.220 purport) Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati both warn that one who covets the post of Vaisnava Acarya or tries to assume the post without authority causes havoc by his imitation. Even Sri Gadadhara Pandit, the incarnation of devotional energy, says he needs a direct order to initiate. He was not willing to assume the post of Supreme Personality of Servitor Godhead without a direct order from Lord Caitanya. Yet if we ask an ISKCON guru, “When did Srila Prabhupada order you to become the initiating spiritual master?” What will he say?

Question: He might say, “I am a guru because the GBC confirmed my nomination. I don’t claim to be absolute. Only my disciples see me that way because the sastras say the guru must be worshipped like God. I accept the authority of the GBC as absolute. In that way, I am absolute.”

Answer: This is no reply. They’ll agree to be ritviks of a deviated GBC but not of Srila Prabhupada! They misrepresent the most exalted post of Vaisnava guru. By their deviation, they’ve opened the flood gate for sahjiya cheating and anarchy. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura warned, “One who thinks he is guru is ‘garu’.” ‘Garu’ means cow. A cow is an animial. We may worship a cow sometimes, but it remains an animal nonetheless.