Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Srila Prabhupada’s plan for succession in ISKCON

Just before Srila Prabhupada left this world in 1977, the worldwide movement he had established was only a little over 11 years old. His senior-most disciples were all Westerners and were exposed to Vedic culture only for the last 6 to 10 years. In 1977, his senior disciples were in their early- or mid-thirties and assisting Srila Prabhupada in managing the worldwide institution.
Srila Prabhupada was fully aware that his disciples did not possess the spiritual qualifications to be raised to the position of guru or acharya.
He was also aware that his disciples were very ambitious to become the guru. In fact two of his senior disciples were already acting as guru in his presence. Srila Prabhupada was furious and reacted strongly against it 1. Srila Prabhupada emphasized that it is the Vedic tradition that one becomes a guru or acharya when authorised by his own guru.

  • Prabhupada: “A guru can become guru when he’s ordered by his guru. That’s all. Otherwise nobody can become guru.” (Srila Prabhupada in Bhagavad-gita class, Oct 28th, 1975, Nairobi)
  • “Self-made guru cannot be guru, he must be authorized by the bona fide guru. Then he’s guru. This is the fact. Nobody can be self-made anything. A medical practitioner, he cannot become self-made, that “I have studied all the medical books in my home.” No. “Have you ever gone to the medical college and taken instruction from the bonafide teachers? Then, if you have got the certificate, then you are medical practitioner. Similarly, bonafide guru means he must be authorized by the superior guru.” (Nectar Of Devotion, Lectures by Srila Prabhupada, Oct 31st, 1972, Vrindavana).
  • Guru cannot be self-made. No. There is no such single instance throughout the whole Vedic literature. …You must be authorized. (Srimad Bhagavatam class, Feb 27th, 1977, Mayapur).
Under these circumstances, for performing initiation and giving diksha, Srila Prabhupada appointed some of his senior disciples to act as ritviks or ‘representatives of the acharya.’ The task of the ritvik was to perform the initiation on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf as a priest. The new candidates that the ritviks initiated would be direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada is thus the guru or acharya of each and every initiated devotee of ISKCON.
On July 9th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada signed his approval on an institutional directive to be sent to all the temple presidents and senior leaders of the movement. This clearly outlined the system of initiation Srila Prabhupada instituted through the ritviks, and also listed eleven senior disciples to act as ritviks. Click here for the directive.

What happened after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance from this world?
Unfortunately, soon after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, his instructions on the guru system were totally disregarded. The Governing Body Commission (GBC) consisting of majority of ritviks, met in March 1978. They conspired to declare the eleven ritviks appointed by Srila Prabhupada as absolute successor gurus or acharyas. These ritviks stepped in to the elevated position of successor guru or acharya. They then declared themselves `present acharyas‘ and occupied the `acharya peeta’ (the sacred seat of acharya) as successors of Srila Prabhupada. They regimented the newcomers to worship, honor and revere them as guru or acharya.
Large and ornate vyasasanas, or the special seat of the acharya, were created in each temple for these `new self-appointed acharyas‘. The new entrants they initiated started offering elaborate daily puja to them with incense, lamps and flowers. Special Sanskrit verses were composed glorifying them and sung in public. They received special titles like Vishnupada, etc., to indicate that they now represent the lotus feet of Vishnu or they have taken the position of Vishnu to ‘deliver their disciples from the material world’.
The newcomers were taught that they should see their self-proclaimed ‘gurus‘ “as good as God”. They were asked to consider their ‘spiritual master’s’ words as equal to God’s words. The self-appointed ‘gurus‘ conveniently applied all that Srila Prabhupada had taught about a bona fide acharya to themselves. And instructed their disciples’ to treat them as such.

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