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“So many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples remain unconvinced by the case based on Bhakta Krishnakant Desai's essay, 'The Final Order.'”

Some Thoughts on 
the Ritvik Controversy
by Babhru das

The title of Mayesvara prabhu's recent article says it all. The real question regarding the so-called ritvik controversy is, "Where is the evidence that Srila Prabhupada ordered that ISKCON create a system of initiation based on what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur called ultrametempsychosis?" As he has on so many previous occasions, Mayesvara takes much trouble to demonstrate yet again some reasons so many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples remain unconvinced by the case based on Bhakta Krishnakant Desai's essay, "The Final Order." Despite his cleverness, Mr. Desai never really makes the case he hopes to. He and his colleagues get excited about particular words in the July 9th letter, for example; however, it's clear that Tamal Krishna Maharaj wrote and signed that letter, not Srila Prabhupada. And while Srila Prabhupada countersigned the letter, the words are not his, and he can't be held accountable for them. Moreover, although the ritvik proponents claim that they no longer center their argument on the word "henceforward" (and, please remember, we can really only hold Tamal Krishna Maharaj to account for that word), Mayesvara gives just one example that demonstrates how weak that particular argument was.

As disappointed as I have been for many years in much of ISKCON's leadership, I actually would have to be convinced by the strength of the ritvik proponents' case. One reason for this was something I heard back in 1970. The story is admittedly apocryphal, which is only one reason I've never introduced it as evidence. Early in 1970, Govinda dasi or Goursundar told me a story about a remark Srila Prabhupada made while on a walk in the Self Realization Fellowship garden in Los Angeles. One of the devotees mentioned that he understood that the SRF leaders were still initiating members as disciples of Yogananda. Srila Prabhupada grunted disapprovingly and explained, "This is a concoction. We require to be initiated by a living guru."

Just after Srila Prabhupada's passing, the first day I returned to work, one of my colleagues at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii told me she had seen in the newspaper that my guru had passed away. She asked, "Who will take his place?"

I looked at her and replied, "Well, no one can take his place, Janice." I was thinking on my feet here. Over the previous 3 or 4 days, I had not thought in these terms. But for managing the society," I continued, "he has appointed a board of several men. And for teaching and making disciples [and I realized as I said it that, although it hadn't occurred to me before, all Srila Prabhupada's statements added up to this, and as I said it I felt the weight of the realization], that's now our responsibility. Individually and collectively, we all have to become qualified to accept this responsibility."

When, a couple of months later, the GBC informed the society that Srila Prabhupada had "appointed 11 successor gurus," I thought it seemed strange. However, I quietly accepted it, recognizing that I was certainly not privy to such decisions. Later, reflecting on the speciousness of that claim, I realized that it might have been, in a sense, a great crime against the society. If, instead of rushing into imitating Srila Prabhupada, we had conducted the society in such a way that many of his disciples gradually showed qualities that inspired faith in ISKCON's members, particularly its newer members, and initiation had occurred slowly, with perhaps dozens devotees gradually emerging as diksa- and siksa-gurus, probably for smaller and more manageable numbers of disciples, ISKCON may have avoided many of the problems we've seen since 1977. Among those may have been the abuses of the "zonal/regal guru" system, as well as the agitation for the ritvik system and its attendant disruptions. This would have required patience, training, abandonment of envy, mutual training and support.

I feel great respect for many of the ritvik proponents and share many of their concerns. Still, they have failed to convince me that the system of initiation they support was intended (much less ordered) by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, can be supported by shastra, or is capable of solving any of ISKCON's problems.

© CHAKRA 20 September 2001

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