Letter to a Devotee Friend
The only document dealing with the issue of initiations is the letter of July 9, 1977.
As for tape recordings of conversations Prabhupada had with various GBCs prior to his departure, they cannot be accepted as evidence in regards to this issue, because Prabhupada would discuss a particular point with his disciples from many different angles. BUT WHEN MAKING MAJOR POLICY CHANGES OR INTRODUCTIONS, Prabhupada was very deliberate and careful to formulate such policies on paper with signatures. Prabhupada was very businesslike and did not do things whimsically or carelessly.
Certainly the most IMPORTANT QUESTION in his mind and in the mind of his leading disciples at the time of his disappearance was who will initiate and under what circumstances such initiations will take place. The answer is plain and simple in his letter of July 9th, 1977. However, Prabhupada’s disciples, being filled with ambition for more than merely continuing to act as his representatives (rittviks) or deputies, simply exaggerated their position and justified this ambitious fever by disregarding the letter dated 9th of July, 1977 and magnified some conversations which took place prior it.
But Prabhupada never gave instructions to his worldwide ISKCON movement through vague, hissing tapes. Prabhupada wrote letters (7,000 at least) and recorded trust documents, and ultimately he left a last will and testament. Why should we focus on a vague, hissing tape?
In 1979 or 1980, Topanga Canyon, California, I was present with Tamal Krishna Goswami when he admitted publicly before a large assembly of devotees:
Prabhupada never appointed any gurus. He did not appoint eleven gurus. He appointed eleven rittvik [officiating priests]. He never appointed them as gurus. Myself and the other GBCs have done the greatest disservice to this movement for the last three years, because we interpreted the appointment of rittviks as the appointment of gurus…
[What Srila Prabhupada said was], “All right, I will appoint so many,” and he named them. He made it very clear that they [new members] were still to be his disciples. At that point it was very clear in my mind that they were his disciples….
Now I understand that what he did was very clear. He was physically incapable of performing the function of initiating physically; therefore he appointed officiating priests to initiate on his behalf. He appointed eleven and he said very clearly, “Whoever is nearest, he can initiate.”
This is a very important point, because when it comes to initiating, it is not “whoever is nearest.” It is wherever your heart goes, to whom you can repose your faith in. But when it is officiating, it’s “whoever is nearest,” and he was very clear: “Whoever is nearest will check you out. Then, on my behalf, they will initiate.”
If it had been more than that [officiating priests], you can bet your bottom dollar that Prabhupada would have spoken for days and hours and weeks on end about how to set up this thing with the gurus… But he did not, because he already said it a million times. He said, “My Guru Maharaja did not appoint anyone. It is by qualification. ” We made a great mistake…
You cannot show me anything on tape or in writing where Prabhupada says, “I appoint these eleven as gurus.” It does not exist, because he never appointed any gurus. This is a myth.—Tamal Krishna Gosvami, Pyramid House, Topanga Canyon
Even in a court of law such evidence as tapes would not hold any weight in the presence of written documents. Prabhupada used to say, “You can say anything, but don’t put it in writing.”
So the conclusion is simple, if we simply agree to accept it. Prabhupada appointed eleven rittviks for initiating on his behalf. If anyone can produce a document or a letter stating otherwise, let it be seen. But putting so much merit on vague, hissing tape recordings in regards to such a serious issue as guru and acharya is completely out of order. Because rank and file devotees are innocent, they have unquestioningly accepted the overblown, exaggerated proposal made by their senior godbrothers, but judging a thing by its result, we can understand now after 16 years that it was the fever of pratistha which induced the senior godbrothers to overestimate and overstep the actual role that Prabhupada ordered them to play—namely as deputies, representatives, rittviks, or in other words monitors in the class in the absence of the teacher.
Any sane, humble devotee can see this, and all devotees can live and serve Prabhupada harmoniously under this management. But to have dozens of so-called acharya-gurus, each with their small band of fanatic, neophyte followers will result only in chaos, confusion and ULTIMATELY DISINTEGRATION of Prabhupada’s preaching mission worldwide.
Actually, that has already happened in the USA. That has been demonstrated full-blown. It is a matter of time only before the same disintegration of the unified ISKCON preaching mission will take its toll in all the countries of the world.
June 17, 1993