The Rival Positions in the IRM-GBC Controversy within ISKCON

The following is an excerpt of a paper called “The Rival Positions in the IRM-GBC Controversy within ISKCON” published by Martin Luther University, Germany. In paraphrasing the matter as told by the ISKCON Revival Movement (IRM), the author, Rahul Peter Das, presents the position of the Prabhupadanugas or “ritviks”. The essay is reproduced here in appreciation of the clarity and concision with which the issue is evaluated. It is evident that the facts inevitably lead to the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada is legitimately ISKCON’s sole initiating (diksa) guru.

Read the entire paper here


The Dispute

The dispute centres on what system His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (henceforth Srila Prabhupada) gave for the process of spiritual initiation (diksa, in Sanskrit d¤k¼¢) within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the movement he founded. The current Governing Body Commission (GBC) of ISKCON maintains that Srila Prabhupada ordered his own disciples to succeed him as diksa-gurus after his departure, whereas the Reformists (or Revivalists, as they prefer to be called), under the leadership of the ISKCON Revival Movement (IRM), contend that the system that was put in place for ISKCON just before Srila Prabhupada’s departure should have continued to be followed.

The Evidence

July 9, 1977

Management Directive

The IRM points to the last signed directive from Srila Prabhupada on the matter of spiritual initiation, dated July 9, 1977. Appendix 1 contains a reproduction of the original of this directive, whose authenticity and 1 authority are accepted on both sides of the dispute; a transcript of the text is given below:

July 9 , 1977 th
To All G.B.C., and Temple Presidents

Dear Maharajas and Prabhus,
Please accept my humble obeisances at your feet. Recently when all of
the GBC members were with His Divine Grace in Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupad
indicated that soon He would appoint some of His senior disciples to
act as “rittik” — representative of the acarya, for the purpose of performing
initiations, both first initiation and second initiation. His Divine Grace has
so far given a list of eleven disciples who will act in that capacity:

His Holiness Kirtanananda Swami
His Holiness Satsvarupa das Gosvami
His Holiness Jayapataka Swami
His Holiness Tamal Krsna Gosvami
His Holiness Hrdayananda Gosvami
His Holiness Bhavananda Gosvami
His Holiness Hamsadutta Swami
His Holiness Ramesvara Swami
His Holiness Harikesa Swami
His Grace Bhagavan das Adhikari
His Grace Jayatirtha das Adhikari

In the past Temple Presidents have written to Srila Prabhupad recommending a particular devotee’s initiation. Now that Srila Prabhupad has named these representatives, Temple Presidents may henceforward send recommendation for first and second initiation to whichever of these eleven representatives are nearest their temple. After considering the recommendation, these representatives may accept the devotee as an initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupad by giving a spiritual name, or in the case of second initiation, by chanting on the Gayatri thread, just as Srila Prabhupad has done. The newly initiated devotees are disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, the above eleven senior devotees acting as His representative. After the Temple President receives a letter from these representatives giving the spiritual name or the thread, he can perform the fire yajna in the temple as was being done before. The name of a newly initiated disciple should be sent by the representative who has accepted him or her to Srila Prabhupad, to be included in [His] Divine Grace’s “Initiated Disciples” book.

Hoping this finds you all well.

Your servant,
Tamal Krsna Gosvami
Approved Secretary to Srila Prabhupad
(Srila Prabhupada’s signature)

The management directive above, issued to all the leaders of the movement, formalised and extended the system of initiation that was already in place at the time, via the deployment of ceremonial priests or ritviks (Sanskrit stem-form ’tvij, nominative ’tvik), who were to give initiation on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf from that time onwards.

Srila Prabhupada stated in his Final Will (which again is accepted as authentic by both sides):

The system of management will continue as it is now and there is no need
of any change.

The ritvik system was undeniably a part of that management system,
and thus the Revivalists argue that it should not have been changed or terminated. However, immediately on Srila Prabhupada’s departure (November
14, 1977) the GBC suspended this ritvik system and introduced
the “Zonal Acarya System”, whereby the eleven ritviks appointed in the directive cited above suddenly became powerful gurus, who divided the
world into separate geographical zones and initiated thousands of disciples
on their own behalf. This system was replaced in the mid-eighties
with the “Multiple Acarya Successor System” (or M.A.S.S.) wherein it
was now taught by the GBC that all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples could
become diksa-gurus as long as they acquired a majority “no objection
vote” from them.

As stated, the Revivalists maintain that the ritvik system, as outlined in
the directive above, should have continued unchanged, and this being the
case, both the Zonal Acarya and M.A.S.S. guru systems are deviations
from the original order of the Founder-Acarya (guru). In their view, Srila
Prabhupada should have remained the sole initiating diksa-guru within
ISKCON, with his disciples acting as siksa -gurus; that is, in an “instructing” capacity only.

The reason this issue is so important is because the diksa-guru is authorised
to initiate his own disciples, receiving good-as-God worship
from them, whereas the siksa-guru (even if on the same spiritual platform
as the diksa-guru) simply instructs and acts as a humble assistant to the
diksa-guru. The Revivalists contend that the eighty or so ISKCON gurus,
who are currently enjoying diksa-guru status, are acting illegally, and the
IRM has recently launched a High Court action in Calcutta, where the
GBC is officially registered as a society, against all the ISKCON gurus.
Hence the dispute has now become legal as well as theological.

It is the ISKCON gurus and their supporters who have been controlling
most of ISKCON since 1978. Revivalists point to a whole history of decline
and scandal since Srila Prabhupada departed, and see this as being
due to disobeying Srila Prabhupada’s orders via the establishment within
the institution of an unauthorised system of competing gurus, all selfishly
vying for control over people and assets at the expense of the overall mission. The Revivalists maintain that a return to the original ritvik system, with Srila Prabhupada as the sole diksa-guru, would help restore ISKCON back to its former glory, purity and philosophical chastity, and realign it with Srila Prabhupada’s original intentions.


Further Evidence from the Will

Srila Prabhupada’s Final Will also states the following in regard to the
procedure for selecting future executive directors for ISKCON’s large
permanent projects in India, which were expected to last for thousands of
years (PRABHUPADA 1977; italics added):

… a successor director or directors may be appointed by the remaining directors,
provided the new director is my initiated disciple …

A future director for these properties could be Srila Prabhupada’s “initiated
disciple” only if the July 9, 1977 directive continued to be applied
in ISKCON, otherwise the pool of Srila Prabhupada’s initiated disciples,
and hence potential directors, would eventually dry up, since no more initiated
disciples of Srila Prabhupada would have been produced. Thus this
clause from the Will proves that Srila Prabhupada had intended that, via
the ritvik system, he would have continued to initiate many more disciples
and thus remain the diksa-guru for ISKCON.

Further Evidence from the Books

Srila Prabhupada’s books also indicate that the ritvik system of initiation,
as stated in the July 9, 1977 directive, should be followed in ISKCON. The
procedure for conducting initiations in ISKCON is specifically mentioned
only three times in Srila Prabhupada’s books. (This is excluding the numerous
references to the general principles of guru-disciple relationships,
the meaning of initiation, or the rules and regulations required to be followed
by initiates). Here are the three references:

Thus in the beginning the students of our K’¼½a consciousness movement
agree to live with devotees, and gradually, having given up four prohibited
activities — illicit sex, gambling, meat-eating and intoxication — they become
advanced in the activities of spiritual life. When one is found to be
regularly following these principles, he is given the first initiation (harin¢ma),
and he regularly chants at least sixteen rounds a day. Then, after
six months or a year, he is initiated for the second time and given the sacred
thread with the regular sacrifice and ritual.
Due to the necessity of these activities, we do not immediately initiate disciples
in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. For six
months, a candidate for initiation must first attend ¢rati and classes in the
¡¢stras, practice the regulative principles and associate with other devotees.
When one is actually advanced in the pura¡cary¢-vidhi, he is recommended
by the local temple president for initiation. It is not that anyone
can be suddenly initiated without meeting the requirements. When one is
further advanced by chanting the Hare K’¼½a mantra sixteen rounds daily,
following the regulative principles and attending classes, he receives the
sacred thread (brahminical recognition) after the second six months.

In our K’¼½a consciousness movement, the requirement is that one must be prepared to give up the four pillars of sinful life — illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling. In Western countries especially, we first
observe whether a potential disciple is prepared to follow the regulative
principles. Then he is given the name of a Vai¼½ava servant and initiated
to chant the Hare K’¼½a mah¢-mantra, at least sixteen rounds daily. In this
way the disciple renders devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual
master or his representative for at least six months to a year. He is
then recommended for a second initiation, during which a sacred thread is
offered and the disciple is accepted as a bona fide br¢hma½a
On each occasion the following identical arrangement is described:
a) The candidate must follow four regulative principles and chant sixteen
rounds for six months.
b) If these requirements are met, he is automatically recommended for initiation
by the Temple President.
c) Then the candidate will automatically become initiated by Srila Prabhupada.
Interestingly, this arrangement is identical to the ritvik system.
Step c) above follows from the fact that the books are describing the
exact system that was in place when Srila Prabhupada was on the planet
— the system in which he was the sole initiator. Thus if we are to properly
follow the books we would have to reconstruct the same system that
was in place when they were written. That system had Srila Prabhupada as the only initiator. This is identical to the ritvik system.
It may be argued that Srila Prabhupada was only describing the system
as it was then, not necessarily the system that was to continue in ISKCON.
This proposition suffers from the following problems:
a) There is no mention of this relevancy restriction in the books themselves.
b) The instructions are given in a generic sense, and not restricted in applicability
to any limiting time frame (“In our K’¼½a consciousness
movement”). There is no reason why someone receiving and reading
this book now would not conclude that this system was still operative
within the “K’¼½a consciousness movement” at the present time. The
only time limit implied in Srila Prabhupada’s books is the duration of
the “K’¼½a consciousness movement” itself.
c) Why would Srila Prabhupada describe a system that would only have
relevance for two years, in books which were to remain the standard
teachings for ISKCON, a movement which was to last for up to ten
thousand years? (The Caitanyacarit¢m’ta was fully published only in 7
1975, with Srila Prabhupada departing in 1977).

It is quite clear Srila Prabhupada never said that the system of initiation,
as described in his books, should be restricted to only when he was on the
planet. Nor would we expect him to, since, as mentioned above, his books
were meant to guide the movement and humanity at large for many
thousands of years to come — something wholeheartedly agreed on by
the GBC, since they fully support the distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s
books for the duration of ISKCON. Significantly, the GBC have never
argued, either, that these initiation instructions were only applicable for
whilst Srila Prabhupada was on the planet (unlike the July 9, 1977 order);
indeed they themselves have borrowed some of the details of it for their
own M.A.S.S. system. However, the very notion that the initiation
system, as outlined by Srila Prabhupada in his books, can be adapted for
use by all future successor diksa-gurus, in itself raises serious questions.

Different initiating gurus in the history of our disciplic succession have
demanded of their disciples different vows at the point of initiation. These
vows may differ greatly from one acarya to the next. Thus the package of
sixteen rounds and four regulative principles that allow one to be initiated
by Srila Prabhupada was unique to him, and him alone. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta,
his spiritual master, had insisted on 64 rounds. If one went back
a thousand years one would find gurus in our line preaching a different
philosophy, not to speak of initiation vows. Thus successive diksa-gurus
are not restricted to prescribing the same diksa vows, or even the same
exact teachings. If a devotee is required to follow the vows given by a
particular diksa-guru then it can only mean that the devotee is initiated by
that particular diksa-guru.

In ISKCON we have a situation where some people are presented as
“successor” diksa-gurus to Srila Prabhupada. These successor gurus are
obligated to have their disciples follow Srila Prabhupada’s initiation
vows. This implies the following theoretical sastric rule:

‘Successor diksa-gurus must always have their disciples follow exactly the
same initiation vows as established by the previous acarya.’

This principle is enshrined in ISKCON law. No future ISKCON guru
can legitimately alter these basic initiation vows. This situation will remain
for as long as the Society exists, which is ideally expected to be for
many thousands of years, as mentioned above (p. 19).

In point of fact, the rule just cited violates Srila Prabhupada’s teachings:
¹r¤mad V¤rar¢ghava ¨c¢rya, an ¢c¢rya in the disciplic succession of the
R¢m¢nuja-samprad¢ya, has remarked in his commentary that ca½Î¢las, or
conditioned souls who are born in lower than ¡¦dra families, can also be initiated
according to circumstances. The formalities may be slightly changed
here and there to make them Vai¼½avas.

¹r¤ Caitanya Mah¢prabhu was an ideal ¢c¢rya. An ¢c¢rya is an ideal teacher
who knows the purpose of the revealed scriptures, behaves exactly according
to their injunctions and teaches his students to adopt these principles
also. As an ideal ¢c¢rya, ¹r¤ Caitanya Mah¢prabhu devised ways to
capture all kinds of atheists and materialists. Every ¢c¢rya has a specific means of propagating his spiritual movement with the aim of bringing
men to K’¼½a consciousness. Therefore, the method of one ¢c¢rya may be
different from that of another, but the ultimate goal is never neglected. ¹r¤-
la R¦pa Gosv¢m¤ recommends:
yena tena prak¢re½a manaÀ k’¼½e nive¡ayet
sarve vidhi-ni¼edh¢ syur etayor eva kiËkar¢À
An ¢c¢rya should devise a means by which people may somehow or other
come to K’¼½a consciousness. First they should become K’¼½a conscious,
and all the prescribed rules and regulations may later gradually be introduced.
In our K’¼½a consciousness movement we follow this policy of
Lord ¹r¤ Caitanya Mah¢prabhu. For example, since boys and girls in the
Western countries freely intermingle, special concessions regarding their
customs and habits are necessary to bring them to K’¼½a consciousness.
The ¢c¢rya must devise a means to bring them to devotional service.
Therefore, although I am a sanny¢s¤ I sometimes take part in getting boys
and girls married, although in the history of sanny¢sa no sanny¢s¤ has personally
taken part in marrying his disciples.

However, according to the three references given previously, wherein
the initiation system for ISKCON is described, any future theoretical diksa-gurus:
1) could not alter diksa vows,
2) could not alter preordained initiation standards, or any other aspects of
the initiation process,
3) could not refuse any disciples initiation as long as they followed the
standards given in Srila Prabhupada’s books,
4) would not need to first interact with, or give their permission to accept,
any future disciples.
The above system is standard law for as long as ISKCON exists. This
being the case, those performing initiation cannot, by definition, be diksagurus,
since as shown by the two quotations just adduced, such entities
could never legitimately have such restrictions imposed upon them:
The formalities may be slightly changed here and there to make them

Therefore, the method of one ¢c¢rya may be different from that of another,
but the ultimate goal is never neglected.1

Nowhere did Srila Prabhupada ever revoke these sanctions with regard
to bona fide initiating acaryas. Thus we know that the entities presently
operating in ISKCON cannot be current-link acaryas in an initiating ca- 12
pacity, since they are only allowed to operate within the terms and conditions
set out by the supposedly predecessor acarya, Srila Prabhupada.

These restrictions are nevertheless perfectly befitting a system in which
Srila Prabhupada remained the diksa-guru, with ritviks as his representatives
performing initiations on his behalf.

Srila Prabhupada’s insistence in his books that all future initiated disciples
must be following his prescribed diksa rules and regulations is
found again in his Last Will and Testament (PRABHUPADA 1977):
… provided the new director is my initiated disciple following strictly all
the rules and regulations of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
as detailed in my books …
This is the continuation of the clause from the Will, reproduced on p.
17 above, wherein the system for selecting future directors for ISKCON
properties in India is given. Here the Will is stating that in addition to being
initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada, the successor directors must
also be following the initiation rules and regulations as given by Srila
Prabhupada. The latter point alone leads to this clause in the Will meaning
only one of two things, namely

1) that all future disciples are to be initiated by Srila Prabhupada, or,
2) that all future initiations are to be conducted by persons who cannot
function with the basic freedoms and rights Srila Prabhupada taught
were available to all bona fide initiating acaryas. They would be restricted to initiating their own disciples employing terms and conditions
identical to Srila Prabhupada’s, for the next ten thousand years.

Please note that though there is nothing to prevent one acarya from having
the same initiation standards as the previous acarya, it is not obligatory
— there is a choice. However, Srila Prabhupada has specifically set
up a situation in his Society in which there is no choice whatsoever. It
seems that within ISKCON, the type of entities presently initiating bears
little resemblance to the current-link diksa-gurus Srila Prabhupada describes
in his books. These ISKCON entities are required only to enforce
the diksa terms and conditions (and identical teachings) of their supposedly
predecessor acarya, Srila Prabhupada. These are the types of restriction
one might expect in a system employing officiating priests, or ritviks,
but not fully-fledged current-link initiating acaryas. According to the
GBC then, we have the self-referentially incoherent situation whereby
future prospective disciples are supposed to follow Srila Prabhupada’s
books, but must select diksa-gurus who are not allowed the basic freedom
expressed in these very same books!

It may be argued that Srila Prabhupada has given a standard that does
not need to change for the next ten thousand years, and that that is why
he has insisted on this standard for all future initiations. However, this is
simply avoiding the most obvious conclusion:

For a guru to institutionalise just his own specific diksa standards, denying
others even the choice of being able to change them, is proof that
it was his intention to remain the diksa-guru for as long as that institution
existed. In this way Srila Prabhupada has institutionalised himself as the
only diksa-guru for ISKCON, for as long as it exists.

Srila Prabhupada would be contradicting himself quite badly if on the
one hand he asked all his disciples to become the next current links in the
succession of initiating gurus (as the current GBC claim is), and then at
the same time denied them the freedom to change standards, as and when
they saw fit, the basic prerogative of any current-link diksa-guru. One
would at least have expected Srila Prabhupada to mention that the above
sanction to make changes to standards would not apply to any future diksa-gurus
within ISKCON. The fact that he did not do this further supports
our contention that there were not meant to be any future diksa-gurus
within ISKCON — other than Srila Prabhupada.
Further, we note the following statements:
As far as the time of d¤k¼¢ (initiation) is concerned, everything depends on
the position of the guru. … If the sad-guru, the bona fide spiritual master,
agrees, one can be initiated immediately, without waiting for a suitable
time or place.

So without waiting for me, wherever you consider it is right … That will
depend on discretion.

In the first quote above Srila Prabhupada states that as far as initiation
goes, everything is dependent on the agreement of the diksa-guru. We
have seen Srila Prabhupada give that agreement via the July 9, 1977 letter
transcribed on pp. 14f. above, wherein he outlines the “discretion” he has
given to the ritviks, as mentioned in the room conversation of July 7,
1977, from which the second quote above is extracted.

In conclusion, therefore, we can note that:
1) Srila Prabhupada’s books contain instructions detailing a system fully
supporting himself as the only diksa-guru for ISKCON.
2) Srila Prabhupada’s books contain instructions which are applicable only
if Srila Prabhupada remains ISKCON’s diksa-guru.

Thus the initiation system mentioned in Srila Prabhupada’s books was
intended for the duration of ISKCON, and entails Srila Prabhupada being
the sole diksa-guru of ISKCON.

This same system was also, of course, outlined in the July 9, 1977 letter,
with the elaboration of an extra detail not specified in the books —
namely the use of priestly representatives to accept the initiates by giving
them their spiritual names on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf. Controversy has
thus engulfed a very simple issue, purely because this last detail involves
the entities who perform this ceremonial function being given the unusual
designation of ritviks.

Why Is the Revivalists’ Position Correct?

The Revivalists consider their position correct since it is based on
signed legal documents and instructions from Srila Prabhupada’s books
that were directed to the whole movement, and which do not in any way
conflict with his general teachings on the guru and initiation in general.
On the other hand, the GBC’s position rests on presenting at least three
completely contradictory official positions (none of which are supported
by legal documents or instructions directed to the whole movement) and
thus do not technically have a position, not to speak of a superior one.
This is explained in detail below and summarised in the “GBC Contradictions
Chart”, Appendix 3 of this paper.

Contradictory GBC Positions

Of course, we have no idea what position the GBC will put forward in
this current round of the debate, but it will necessarily contradict at least
one of their previous ones if it is to actually confront the issue in detail.
By saying “in detail”, we mean giving exact specifics of how, when and
where Srila Prabhupada authorised his displacement as ISKCON’s sole

The GBC generally claim that the July 9, 1977 directive quoted was a
temporary measure, applicable only for the brief remainder of Srila Prabhupada’s
physical presence (even though this is never stated either in the
directive, or by Srila Prabhupada himself). Yet the GBC are apparently
unable to produce any similar directive from Srila Prabhupada on how
initiations should be conducted for the long term. Thus we are told that
for a temporary measure we have over a hundred identical official letters
sent out by the Society’s secretary, with the Founder-Acarya’s signed
approval, to every leader in ISKCON; yet for the longer term we have
nothing approaching such magnitude or clarity of purpose. Instead, the
GBC have had to dig around in the archives to present snippets of private
correspondence, or passing conversations with visiting guests, to make
their case. In other words, the GBC tend to rely on evidence that was never
intended to be used to direct the entire mission, but instead fragmentary
sentences from private letters and archival tapes, many of which were
never released till years after Srila Prabhupada had already physically departed.

Perhaps wary of being caught out in self-contradiction, we have noted
that in recent publications the GBC tend to shy away from too much specific
detail on exactly how, when and where Srila Prabhupada ordered his
replacement. They instead tend to opt for a more scatter-gun approach,
bombarding the reader with masses of irrelevant information and objections
that do not directly answer, or in some cases even touch on, this
central key issue. In these papers, the GBC representative will try to occupy
some purely philosophical platform, and imply that Srila Prabhupada
could not possibly have wanted the ritvik system to continue because
of this or that scriptural reason. We shall look at some of the most
common “reasons” later, and demonstrate that they are in any case without philosophical merit or scriptural support.

For Revivalists, the issue is quite simple. Srila Prabhupada issued a directive
to all his followers, and the Revivalists wish to see relevant evidence
justifying its termination.

We shall now examine the following previous papers that are all approved
by the GBC, are all currently promoted as authorised justifications
for the current M.A.S.S., and all contradict each other as to how exactly
Srila Prabhupada is alleged to have authorised his replacement as
ISKCON’s diksa-guru: “On My Order Understood” , “Disciple Of My 17
Disciple” and “Prabhupada’s Order”

We should point out that not only do these various accounts contradict
each other, but on occasion contradict themselves too. We shall go
through each paper asking whom, how and when did Srila Prabhupada
authorise his replacement as the diksa-guru for ISKCON?

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