When I accepted sannyāsa in 1976, Śrīla Prabhupāda said in the class, “You become guru.” He said it five times during this lecture.* Some people will say, “That means śikṣā–guru.” However, in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s essay, In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life, he writes that there are some people who say that ‘become guru’ means only becoming śikṣā-guru, and he says that such persons are foolish and do not understand the paramparā:
* See Appendix: Become Guru! Prabhupāda’s lecture given in Māyāpura, on March 16th, 1976
“Some foolish students have accepted the statements of Lord Caitanya conditionally. According to them, the spiritual master who is fully conversant with the science of Kṛṣṇa, yet not born in a brāhmaṇa family, can be an instructing spiritual master, but not an initiating spiritual master. They do not know that there is hardly any difference between the two classes of spiritual masters. According to them, a caste initiator or caste Gosvāmī, by dint of his hereditary blood lineage, becomes the real spiritual master, while a person knowing all about Śrī Kṛṣṇa can only become an instructor. They foolishly think that the position of the initiating spiritual master is greater than that of the instructing spiritual master. However, the matter is very clearly and conclusively discussed in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 1.47):
śikṣā-guruke ta’ jāni kṛṣṇera svarūpa
antaryāmī, bhakta-ṣreṣṭha – ei dui rūpa
“One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Kṛṣṇa. Śrī Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself as the Supersoul and as the greatest devotee of the Lord.”
Prabhupāda says, “You become guru” not only in my sannyāsa initiation lecture, but hundreds of times in other places – but there is no reference anywhere of Ṛtvik. In the Nectar of Devotion, Śrīla Prabhupāda says that sannyāsīs can accept disciples:
“Therefore, in the line of Lord Caitanya, even the sannyāsīs can speak about Kṛṣṇa consciousness everywhere, and if someone is seriously inclined to become a disciple, the sannyāsī always accepts him.” (Nectar of Devotion Ch.7)
In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, where guru-tattva is described, Prabhupāda says that without being initiated by a bona-fide spiritual master, one cannot go back to Godhead:
“One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavour to go back to Godhead. One who is not properly initiated may present himself as a great devotee, but in fact he is sure to encounter many stumbling blocks on his path of progress toward spiritual realisation, with the result that he must continue his term of material existence without relief.” (Cc Ādi-līlā 1.35)
He doesn’t say, “Without being initiated by a bona-fide spiritual master (although he’s left the world) through Ṛtvik initiation, one cannot go back to Godhead.”
There is no example of Ṛtvik initiation anywhere, except sometimes during the living presence of the spiritual master. The ṛtvik acts as a priest because the guru cannot be physically present. That’s quite common. There are different functions of the ṛtvik at different times, in different places.
I was also a ṛtvik. At the Hyderabad farm in 1976 there were three people taking first initiation and right in front of the devotees, Śrīla Prabhupāda asked me to chant on the beads because he was tired. Then he gave them the beads and the names. So many times Prabhupāda wrote to the sannyāsīs and temple presidents, “You can chant on their beads and these are their names –”. That is the ṛtvik function. When Śrīla Prabhupāda was ill, he set up a system that in different areas senior men would initiate on his behalf, yet he didn’t say that they would be anything but ṛtviks! So according to some devotees, because there is no proof that this was ever changed, the ṛtvik system must continue until Śrīla Prabhupāda returns and indicates otherwise! But the otherwise had already been indicated during his 12 years of preaching. There is no example of a Ṛtvik ācārya in any bona-fide sampradāya in the whole history of this universe, and there are hundreds of stories in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the Purāṇas and the Caitanya-caritāmṛta about gurus and disciples. There was never any Ṛtvik initiation during the Vedic period, what to speak of during the time of Caitanya Mahāprabhu or when Śrīla Prabhupāda was present. There is only the example of the paramparā.
We are members of a living sampradāya. We are not Sikhs. That is the conception started by Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh dharma and Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth guru. The ninth guru was killed and his son, Guru Gobind Singh ascended the seat of his father. He wasn’t much of a preacher – he wanted to make an army, but nonetheless, he was the guru. So he used his post as guru to make an army in the Punjab to fight the Moghuls. Before he died, he declared that there would be no more gurus after him. The Sikhs are very strict about this. Some years ago, when I was preaching in Chandigarh, there was a Sikh in Delhi claiming to be the next guru. An assassin stood up during a programme and blew him away right in front of 10,000 people.* Guru Gobind Singh also stated that the eleventh guru would be the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book of the Sikhs, and that one could reach God just by reading that. It’s similar to how some devotees say, “All we need are Prabhupāda’s books!”
* The name of the Sikh leader was Gurbachan Singh who was assassinated on April 24th, 1980.
Ours is a living conception. Once, one sannyāsī told Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja, “There are those who say that one should not accept disciples and they favour the Ṛtvik conception.” Śrīla Purī Mahārāja said two things – first, that the Ṛtvik idea was very dangerous, and also that it is the death of the paramparā – a dead man’s philosophy! Then Śrīla Purī Mahārāja said, “Whatever you have received, you try to give that with all your sincerity, with all your earnestness, to the best of your ability and try to march forward.” That is the standard of the paramparā.
The Ṛtvik idea is a dead conception. Where is the life? Life means I must become pure, I must surrender, I must embrace a life of unalloyed devotion and I must preach. But the Ṛtviks are pointing to the so-called disqualifications of others and claiming that no one is qualified to hold the post of guru. They see only disqualifications in everyone. They are like Duryodhana.
There is a story in the Mahābhārata* that once, Droṇācārya called for Duryodhana and Yudhiṣṭhira. He asked Duryodhana to go out into the kingdom and bring back a person more qualified than himself. Then Droṇa requested Yudhiṣṭhira to go out and find a person less qualified than himself. After some time both men returned alone. Droṇa then inquired from each why they had returned empty handed. Duryodhana said, “I could not find anyone more qualified than myself” and Yudhiṣṭhira said, “I could not find anyone less qualified than myself.”
* Mahābhārtata, Ādi-parva Ch.8.
The Ṛtviks have the mentality of Duryodhana – they cannot see the good qualities of others. What they are trying to say is that they alone are qualified, at least to judge the qualifications of other. This kind of thinking is avaiṣṇava and it is against the devotional line. The Ṛtviks say that no one is qualified, but they have not seen everyone, so how do they know for sure? A man says that he has not met anyone who has seen God, therefore he concludes that no one has. But how does he know? He has not met everyone. Even if he did meet someone who has seen God, would he believe him? Probably not.
We must give respect to the post of guru. Of course, the guru should have the necessary qualifications of guru-niṣṭhā and niṣkiñcana-bhakti – firm faith in the order of the spiritual master and freedom from the desire for power, profit, adoration and distinction. One should have these qualifications before accepting the post of guru and accepting disciples. But it will be very difficult to say from an objective point of view who is or who isn’t a paramahaṁsa. Someone says the guru must be paramahaṁsa, but actually the post is paramahaṁsa.
How do you know for sure if a god-brother is a qualified paramahaṁsa or not? First you must surrender – become a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa and your spiritual master, then you will know who is who. It takes one to know one. If I ask my god-brothers, “Was Śrīla Prabhupāda a pure devotee?” obviously they will all say yes. But what is your proof that he was a pure devotee? They may say, “Well, Śrīla Prabhupāda came to America alone, spread the movement, preached to the public and published many books on the topic of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda did that and much, much more – but that is all external! Do you mean to say that if an old man simply comes to America and publishes some books on Kṛṣṇa then we should consider him a paramahaṁsa?* No. So what is the actual proof? A god-brother may then say, “I have my faith – I know it in my heart that Śrīla Prabhupāda is a pure devotee.” Yes! That is your only proof! Your faith is your proof. Faith allows us to understand and to measure the standard. That is our only real proof. Śrīla Prabhupāda also said that. Once he asked the devotees, “How do you know Kṛṣṇa is God?” First they were giving evidence from śāstra, but Prabhupāda said, “The Bible says something else, Koran says something else. How do you know?” Then they quoted the ācāryas and Prabhupāda said, “The Christians are also saying.” He was playing the devil’s advocate. Finally, one devotee said, “Well, I know in my heart” Prabhupāda said, “Yes! That is your proof!”
* An example of this is the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava monk, Bābā Premānanda Bhāratī, who came t o A merica i n 1902 a nd e stablished a c entre in New York City (the Krishna Samaj). While there, he wrote a book called Shri Krishna: The Lord of Love, a retelling of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. He travelled around the United States giving lectures in St. Louis, Boston and Los Angeles. He returned to India in 1911 and passed away in 1913. Despite having stayed nine years in America, Premānanda Bhāratī didn’t make any spiritual impact there.
You can seek help from the śāstras to understand some of the necessary qualifications of guru, but ultimately we must hear from our heart. It is a subjective experience. The Ṛtviks don’t even have a conception of objective and subjective planes of consciousness. It is a matter of knowing from the inner f low of the heart. Knowledge of the position of the guru descends from above – Kṛṣṇa Himself reveals the guru to a prospective candidate. Kṛṣṇa chooses who will be guru and for whom. It is not a matter of voting a man to the post of guru, nor is the position of guru understandable by those who have no faith. The qualification to understand the position of guru depends upon śraddhā, our faith.
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā-deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanah
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master is the import of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.38)
If we have proper faith then the truth is revealed in our heart, and there is no greater proof than that. We may judge the position of so many persons in this world by their various qualifications and disqualifications, but if we try to understand guru-tattva in the same way, we will be baffled.
The Ṛtviks claim that the self-effulgent ācārya manifests – but who will say that he has manifested? Is it the disciple who recognises him? Is it the god-brother that recognises him? Is it the non-devotee in the street that recognises him? Who recognises him? Who recognised Śrīla Prabhupāda? First we would say that we did! Yes, first he appears to the disciple – who else? Some would say, “Well, Prabhupāda’s god-brothers didn’t recognise him!” That is not true. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja fully recognised him, and so did Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Mahārāja.* Actually, before Śrīla Prabhupāda passed away, Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja, Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Mahārāja, Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Mahārāja and other god-brothers recognised him and his work. So is the self-effulgent ācārya only recognised by the disciples that he comes to deliver, or by other senior Vaiṣṇavas also? What the Ṛtviks are saying is that, “We will recognise the self-effulgent ācārya when he comes!” But they can’t recognise a self-effulgent ācārya because they’re not even looking! What is their idea of self-effulgent? I heard Śrīla Prabhupāda say that once, in reference to how one can recognise a pure devotee. He said, “It takes one to know one” or it takes some good fortune.
* “I consider him to be śaktyāveśa-avatāra, and it is confirmed by his journey on the ship through the Atlantic and how he landed there and the nature of the beginning of his movement. What was his intense degree of dedication to Kṛṣṇa? How much he made himself empty to call down Kṛṣṇa to help him? It is corroborated that Kṛṣṇa worked on his behalf. He was completely dedicated to that purpose and a divine force came down to help him. Nityānanda Prabhu is in charge of preaching Mahāprabhu’s glories, so I took it that Nityānanda Prabhu must have some special dedication in him in his last days which helped him to inundate the whole world in such an inconceivable magnitude.” (Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja – August 8th, 1980)
The Ṛtviks will state that the guru must be pure and perfect. Yes, but what is your conception of purity or perfection? In which way shall we consider that he is perfect or not? How shall we understand his purity? By Vedic standards the gopīs are impure – they are unchaste from the material point of view, but what is their standard of spiritual purity? They are actually the purest of the pure because they simply want to satisfy Kṛṣṇa. They have no separate desire other than to please Kṛṣṇa. Why is it that the wives of the yajñika-brāhmaṇas in kṛṣṇa–līlā were purer than their husbands? Because they simply tried to satisfy Kṛṣṇa and His friends.
Rāmānanda Rāya was a śūdra, a government servant, therefore he was impure by Vedic standards and thus a sannyāsī should never touch such a person. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu rejected such measures of purity and embraced him. Not only that, He also accepted Rāmānanda Rāya as His rasa-guru.
We cannot understand what spiritual purity is when we measure it by material standards. One may follow perfectly the four regulative principles for many, many lifetimes but remain impure. On the other hand, one may not fully observe the regulative principles, yet he may be a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Now someone might say, “What? That’s impossible! Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us to strictly follow the regulative principles otherwise we cannot go back to Godhead.” Yes, we may strictly follow the regulative principles, but without surrender to guru and Kṛṣṇa where is our purity? Without surrender it will remain as material purity. There are many brāhmaṇas and sannyāsīs in India who strictly follow the four regulative principles, yet they are great oppressors and offenders of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mission. Similarly, there are examples of many devotees who were not so strict about the regulative principles, yet they were pure devotees nonetheless.
Everyone knows that Śrīla Prabhupāda dedicated his Kṛṣṇa Book to his father, Gaura-mohana De – “a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa.” Do the Ṛtviks accept that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father was a pure devotee? If so, then let them explain why Prabhupāda’s father gave hashish and marijuana to the sādhus that came to his house. He also had a hookah in his house that he would offer to his guests. If you did such things nowadays, your god-brothers would drive you away with a stick. You would be an outcast in the modern Vaiṣṇava society. What is the criterion that makes Gaura-mohana pure devotee? By what criterion do the Ṛtviks know he was a pure devotee? I don’t think they can answer that question. By their estimation, Prabhupāda’s father was not fit because he didn’t strictly follow the principles. So in which way was he a pure devotee? His purity was that he simply desired that his son would become a pure devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and he prayed to all the saintly persons whom he entertained to please give this blessing. That was his purity.
We have to judge purity from the inner plane, not from external circumstances. There is also the example of Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi in Caitanya-caritāmṛta. When he came to Navadvīpa, he was sitting in his luxurious house smoking a hookah, wearing costly clothing and perfume. From his external appearance and habits he looked like a materialist, but then he heard a verse from the Bhāgavatam recited by Mukunda Datta:
aho baki yaṁ stana-kāla-kūṭaṁ jighāṁsayāpāyayad apy asādhvī
lebhe gatiṁ dhātry-ucitāṁ tato ‘nyam kaṁ vā dayāluṁ śaraṇaṁ vrajema
“O how amazing it is! The sister of Bakāsura (Pūtanā) desiring to kill Śrī Kṛṣṇa, smeared poison on her breasts and forced Kṛṣṇa to drink her milk. Even so, Lord Kṛṣṇa accepted her as His nursemaid and thus she reached the destination suitable for Kṛṣṇa’s mother, Of whom should I take shelter but the most merciful Kṛṣṇa?” (Bhāg. 3.2.23)
When Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi heard this verse he became mad with love of Kṛṣṇa. He began shivering, shedding tears, and rolling on the f loor in ecstasy and crying, “Of whom should I take shelter but the most magnanimous Lord? Where should I take refuge without such a Lord?” Internally Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi had great devotion for Kṛṣṇa, but outwardly he appeared to be an ordinary materialist.
The Ṛtviks think a pure devotee means somebody who is materially pure. No one is materially pure – everyone is more or less materially contaminated. They don’t know what spiritual purity is. They have some idea of what material purity is, but even on that level many of them fail. They fail on both accounts and because they are unqualified, they conclude that no one else is qualified.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had at least five thousand disciples, and many of them are still carrying on Kṛṣṇa consciousness even to this day. The Ṛtviks claim that nobody amongst them is qualified to be guru. If that is true, then why would anyone want to become Prabhupāda’s disciple? If, after following his teachings for 25-30 years, not one person is qualified, then why should I follow Prabhupāda’s teachings? What is the advantage? It must mean that his teachings have no potency, and that is what the Ṛtviks are actually saying – that Prabhupāda’s teachings have no potency. They don’t know what it means to become qualified. The spiritual master can qualify somebody, even though they may have a defect in their habits or in their practice. Ṛtvik is a sinful philosophy because it is offensive to those devotees who actually do follow their guru.
If we want to learn karate and go to a school and inquire, “In the national competition, how many students of this karate teacher took first or second place?” If we hear, “Oh, no, no – they get beaten every year” – then why would you want to become his student? But on the other hand, if someone tells us, “There’s another teacher – his students win every time,” then immediately we will want to enrol in that school where the students are successful – not where the students are all failures! You don’t want a teacher whose students fail. If you look for a teacher, you will seek out someone whose students pass the exams with f lying colours. Similarly, if you look for a guru, you seek spiritual master who has qualified disciples. The Ṛtviks discredit Śrīla Prabhupāda by saying that no one is qualified. They are actually condemning him. Why? Because their glorification of him is mundane – it is not really transcendental. When it is put under the magnifying glass, it is no glorification of him at all. It is a vilification! Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that one knows a spiritual master by the position of his disciples. So that is what we can understand about Śrīla Prabhupāda according to them – that there is no use in following his teachings because they don’t work!
They may say that nobody is qualified, but for the dignity of Śrīla Prabhupāda I would say, “I don’t have the same opinion. I see others who are qualified, who have the mercy, who know the philosophy and who know the practice.” I can’t agree with the Ṛtviks. Just like Śrīla Prabhupāda once said, “You say you haven’t seen God but I say I have, so sit down and be quiet.” Ultimately, I have to take the same stand. It is an embarrassment for them to keep saying that no one who has been following Śrīla Prabhupāda for so many years is qualified. I would have to say, “I am, I can, I will, I do – and all by the grace of Śrīla Prabhupāda – nothing by my own endeavour.” But they say just the opposite – they say that his grace may come to me, but it amounts to nothing. That is their ideology. “We can continue glorifying Śrīla Prabhupāda throughout the world and continue his lineage without becoming pure to do it. We can continue to be screw-ups for the rest of our lives!” No! You will be a failure! You can only continue to glorify the spiritual master by becoming pure yourself.
It is a poor excuse to say that, “No one is qualified, therefore I don’t have to become qualified either – we will just initiate everyone as Prabhupāda’s disciple.” Again and again we heard from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja about this – he gave no credence to the Ṛtviks. When the gurus started to fall down, he said, “My guru has left – now I will become a Prabhupāda disciple! This is foolishness!” It was unacceptable. That’s how this Ṛtvik ideology began. The Ṛtvik philosophy is a philosophy of frustration stemming from the inability to follow the teachings of the guru, as well as not properly studying and understanding the siddhānta.
There is also another point – a new person doesn’t come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and decide that they want to become Prabhupāda’s disciple. It is mainly our Ṛtvik god-brothers who decide that for them. According to the association we accept, our faith develops. If a new person meets a Ṛtvik, he is told, “Nobody is qualified to be guru. You just do this and that – we will initiate you and you will become a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda.” However, you may find in due course that the candidate may say, “I don’t want to be Prabhupāda’s disciple, I want to be your disciple. I don’t know Prabhupāda. I’ve read his books, but I am inspired by what you tell me.” This actually happened during the time of Śrīla Prabhupāda – some man wanted to be initiated by Brahmānanda. There is a letter wherein Śrīla Prabhupāda said that in the living presence of the spiritual master, generally a certain etiquette is followed. * In the living presence of one’s guru, all new candidates are transferred to him. After the disappearance of the guru, the same ṛtvik who initiated on behalf of his guru as a priest, can accept full charge of taking disciples back to Godhead. All he does is take them to his guru while he’s living – after that, he has to take full responsibility. Back in 1975, somebody was clamouring that a certain sannyāsī was qualified to be a guru. Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote a letter to that devotee and gave some clarification. He said that during the living presence of one’s spiritual master, generally one should not make disciples, but after the disappearance of the spiritual master, one can accept disciples without limitation.**
* “So far as your taking initiation from Brahmānanda Mahārāja, I have no objection, but it is the etiquette that in the presence of one’s Spiritual Master, one does not accept disciples. In this connection, Swami Brahmānanda may write me and I will instruct him.” (Letter to John Milne, March 24th, 1971)
** “But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession.” (Letter to Tuṣṭa Kṛṣṇa Dāsa, February 12th, 1975)
Is this just a custom that one shouldn’t make disciples while the guru is living? If it’s just a rule to stop the disciple from doing that, then Vaiṣṇavism is not very deep. It must have some deeper meaning. The true disciple knows that the result of his preaching has the support of his guru. It is actually only his guru’s potency that allows him to preach and draw people to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So in his guru’s living presence, it is a natural practice for the disciple to transfer those people he attracts and bring them to his guru. He wants everyone he enlists to be initiated by his own guru. The disciple is just a medium – he transfers their faith. But after the disappearance of the guru, the same principle is at work if he is surrendered to that.
Śrīla Prabhupāda is a ṛtvik, Bhaktisiddhānta is a ṛtvik, Rūpa Gosvāmī is also a ṛtvik – a ṛtvik means a representative. Didn’t we learn at the beginning of our devotional journey that guru means representative of Kṛṣṇa and the paramparā? If you’re not a ṛtvik, you’re not a guru. But the modern Ṛtviks want to avoid the responsibility of being a guru – they are not real ṛtviks.
(From a talk with god-brothers in Mysore, South India, on March 20th, 1995)