The following was published on VNN, February 9, 1999 (VNN2979), and brought to our attention by Tamohara Prabhu
Dear Maharajas/prabhus, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Please find below the results of some more research with other sampradayas. Prof Tatachar was also approached by Sriman Basu Gosh Prabhu and Vidvan Gauranga in connection with the vidvat goshti. For some reason, he could not attend the same. However he gladly gave a letter and answered questions in an interview.—Your servant, Madhu Pandit Dasa.
Part 1. A letter given by Prof Tatachar, Director, Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, Mandya district, Karnataka.
Prof. M A Lakshimtatachar, Jan 30th, 1999
Director, Academy of Sanskrit Research
Respected Madhupandit ji,
Humble Pranams. Before writing this letter let me introduce myself as a Sayamacharya belonging to the family of Anantanpillai otherwise known as Anandacharya, who was one among the simhasanadipathis appointed by Ramanuja himself to initiate disciples into Srivaishnavism. Further I have also continued the same tradition as I am initiating many into Srivaishnavism in the name of my revered acharya Sri U. Ve. Alwar Tirumala Iyengar Swami who was the 34th successor in the Acharyapurusha parampara. I have also enclosed herewith my bio data, which gives some information about my educational and philosophical background.
Now, I learn that there is some discussions are going in ISKCON regarding succession. The bone of contention is whether Ritviks appointed by His Holiness Srila Prabhupada could be considered only his representatives or should they be considered as acharyas themselves as they are initiating the disciples into the Hare Krishna movement.
I have very carefully gone through the letter of His Holiness Srila Prabhupada, which was issued on July 9th 1977. According to me this letter has five parts.
- In the changed circumstances permission to certain disciples to act as ritviks – as his representatives
- Specific names of these who can act as ritviks – representatives of Srila Prabhupada
- Change of procedure
- Stress on the point that after initiation from the ritviks appointed by His Holiness Srila Prabhupada they are considered to be disciples of His Holiness Srila Prabhupada only
- The action to be taken to include the names of the initiated in the disciples book of His Holiness Srila Prabhupada only
The letter categorically makes it clear that the eleven Ritviks can never claim “acharyaship” as they are the only representatives of His Holiness Srila Prabhupada. They are like the instruments in the hands of acharya for the sake of initiation. The letter stresses again and again that the initiated are the disciples of His Holiness Srila Prabhupada only. Refer to these statements:
- “Ritvik – Representative of the Acharya for the purpose of performing initiations”
- Ritviks – “These representatives may accept the devotee as an initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupada”
- “The newly initiated devotees are the disciples of HDG Srila Prabhupada”
- “The name of the newly initiated disciple should be sent by the representative who has accepted him/her to Srila Prabhupada to be included in HIS DIVINE Grace’s ‘Initiated disciples book'”
There are several such instances in Sri Vaishnava Parampara (tradition). Take the example of Sri Ramanujacharya himself, who was the foremost amongst the Srivaishnavacharyas. He was initiated into the Sri Vaishnava texts and secrets by five great acharyas who are the disciples of Acharya Yamuna. That is why is called Panchacharya> Pradarshita. Though he was a disciple of these five Acharyas, just like the Ritviks appointed by His Holiness Srila Prabhupada ji, these ritviks never claimed that they were the Acharyas of Ramanujacharya. On the other hand, it seems Yamunacharya had seen Ramanuja only once in Kanchipuram when he was studying with Yadava Prakasha, and he also showered blessings on Ramanujacharya from a distance. Very interestingly, Ramanujacharya mentions Yamunacharya and offers obeisances to him in his benedictory verses found in the beginning of the Vedartha sangraha. This shows that Acharya Ramanuja is considered to be a sishya of Yamunacharya only.
Besides the very concept of Ritvik has a special significance here. In the olden days there would be a yajamana who could engage Ritvik, Adhvaryus etc., for the performance of sacrifice. These people after performing the sacrifice would get some dakshina. But the net result of the sacrifice would go to the yajaman himself, as he was mainly responsible for the performance. The ritviks were entitled only to initiate disciples into the Hare Krishna Movement. But the disciples thus initiated by these representatives are always considered to be the disciples of Srila Prabhupada only. Since he is the yajamana who has engaged these ritviks for the performance of initiation.
Again I have to stress that the letter makes it amply clear that the disciples thus initiated by the representatives of Srila Prabhupada are only the disciples of Srila Prabhupada only, not of the representatives.
I also want to confirm that this system can continue perpetually even in the physical absence of His Holiness Srila Prabhupadaji as it has continued in Ramanujas tradition as any person initiated by any acharya has dasyanama like Lakshmittathacharya Ramanuja Dasa though Ramanuja passed away long ago.
Hope, Madhupandit Dasaji, I have made my point clear.
With warm personal regards,
Lakshmi Tatachar (Signed)
Part 2. Excerpts of an interview with Prof Tatachar
Can an Acharya who is not physically present give diksha?
ISKCON devotee: Our point is that although Srila Prabhupada is not physically present, that does not in any way stop the validity of his continuing to be diksha guru.
Sri Tatachar : Definitely. That is my view.
ISKCON devotee: Can the absence of a physical body limit the functioning of the acharya, in terms of Srila Prabhupada being able to impart knowledge and take karma of the disciples? Can Srila Prabhupada do this now?
Sri Tatachar: Just because somebody has a physical body, can he take your karma? Is he competent to do it? The presence or the absence of the physical body is not the criteria to take away the karma of a particular person. On the other hand, it depends on the devotion of the disciple and the grace of the acharya. Say for instance, Srila Prabhupada’s guru was not there when Srila Prabhupada was present. Do you mean to say that they are not capable of taking the karma of their disciple?
The interesting thing is [quotes a verse in Sanskrit from Yatindra vimsati composed by Sri Manavala Mamuni of Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, who appeared nearly 200 years after Sri Ramanuja].
ISKCON devotee: So what is the import of this statement?
Sri Tatachar: That means though the guru is not physically present, he can take away all the karmas of the disciple. That is the potency of the acharya. In that way, it is not important whether the acharya is alive with a physical body or not. That is not important.
ISKCON devotee: One of their objections is that it stops the parampara.
Sri Tatachar : How does it stop the parampara? These ritviks will further appoint ritviks.
ISKCON devotee: There is a provision for that. Prabhupada says more can be added when necessary.
Sri Tatachar: More can be added, and these ritviks will initiate all of them into the Hare Krishna movement, and Srila Prabhupada will be their guru. What harm is there? Because the very word ritvik has a special significance here. What do you mean by ritvik? A person who performs this particular duty. Suppose a king performs a sacrifice he is considered a yajaman. Even now wealthy people organize for us, Sudarshana homa. Probably in your place also. So that person is called a yajamana. When we came to your place Madhu Pandit Das was the yajamana. He didn’t perform the sacrifice. He engaged all these people – Venkatesh and I came and many other people came and we performed the homa. After performing the homa we were given dakshina. So our relationship ends there itself. Because we had received the dakshina for the service we had rendered. But the end result goes to whom? To the yajamana only. Similarly, these ritviks get some dakshina from the persons whom they initiate. Once that is done their work is over. But the result that such and such a person is a disciple of such and such a guru goes to Srila Prabhupada. That’s why the word ritvik is used here. Otherwise he would have used a different word. And he would have stated that these are my sishyas, these sishyas are here afterwards considered to be the gurus to succeed me. “He is my successor,” he didn’t say that.
Does the ritvik system violate any Vedic principles of guru parampara?
ISKCON devotee: You have compared the arrangement in the Sri Sampradaya with that of the ritvik arrangement that Srila Prabhupada has directed us to follow. (He also supervised the running of this system from July to November, 1977). In ritvik system, there is an important difference. Here Srila Prabhupada is not giving any guruship to the ritviks.
Sri Tatachar: Yes, that is right, that is what we see from the letter also.
ISKCON devotee: In the event of the ritviks being representatives only and not being gurus, is there a violation of any shastric principle or is it violating any spiritual injunction?
Sri Tatachar: No, it is not violating. On the other hand, it supports what I have stated. In the case of Sri Ramanuja, I have stated that he appointed 74 simhasana-adhipatis and made them gurus. In spite of that we owe our allegiance to Sri Ramanuja only.
ISKCON devotee: You are saying that in spite of being some sort of guru, you are the disciple of Sri Ramanuja only?
Sri Tatachar: Yes, definitely. That is why we say that we are Sri Ramanuja dasan only. I have to say “adiyen madhura kavi lakshmi tatacharya ramanuja dasan” when I prostrate before anyone. Sri Ramanuja dasa is the common thing found in all the Sri Vaishnavas, though we have been initiated by one of the simhasana-adhipatis appointed by Sri Ramanuja himself who were considered to be gurus. In spite of this we are expected to state that we are disciples of Sri Ramanuja only.
ISKCON devotee: In our case it is clear that Srila Prabhupada did not give any guruship.
Sri Tatachar: So it is all the more clear and imperative because Srila Prabhupada mentions very clearly in the letter that these are ritviks. That is why I have given the meaning of the ritviks – this word comes from the Rig Veda. The ritvik is a sacrificer who is appointed by the yajamana. Suppose you are the yajamana, you can appoint me as the ritvik and this ritvik performs the role of a priest on behalf of the yajamana. This may happen when the yajamana does not know the Vedic rituals or even if he knows and if he is not in a position to perform this role, then he may appoint a ritvik. So he will perform the sacrifice and give dakshina to the ritviks. Who gets the result of the sacrifice? It obviously goes to the person who has engaged these ritviks and sent money for the sacrifice, the yajamana.
The word ritvik is very significant. That is why Srila Prabhupada was so clever to say that they are only ritviks and not acharyas. So the result goes to Srila Prabhupada only.
Again, will the parampara stop?
ISKCON devotee: In the Bhagavad Gita, Srila Prabhupada gives the guru parampara – Brahma, Narada, Vyasauand so on till Srila Prabhupada. In the ritvik system, who comes after Srila Prabhupada?
Sri Tatachar: Srila Prabhupada himself. Only the ritvik system continues, and Srila Prabhupada is the guru.
ISKCON devotee: When that happens, is the parampara not stopping?
Sri Tatachar: No. What can be done? Srila Prabhupada has not appointed an acharya. The parampara continues through a chain of ritviks.
Is authorization essential to become an acharya?
ISKCON devotee: One final question is that for somebody has to become an acharya, how important is it for him to receive an authorization to take that post from the previous acharya? In this case, there is an authorization to continue to as a ritvik and ritvik alone, there is not authorization to function as guru. How important is it to receive an authorization?
Sri Tatachar : It is very much necessary to receive an authorization. Without an authorization you cannot do. Generally what happens in the Srivaishnava parampara, they were always worried about the succession (Tamil sloka). Who will be the successor to take care of the propagation of this system? When the acharya was about to pass away, he would nominate a person to take care of the path and hold the mantle thereafter. That is how it has been done. That is why even in the Srivaishnava parampara, while giving sannyasa, he cannot take sannyasa on his own. The acharya will give the sannyasa and say that here afterwards he will be the mathadipathi.
ISKCON devotee: That means authorization is a must.
Sri Tatachar : IT IS A MUST.
ISKCON devotee:To become a guru or a mathadipathi or a peethadipathi…
Sri Tatachar : Yes, yes, yes. Otherwise I am very sure that Srila Prabhupada would have used another word altogether instead of ritviks. “These are my successors” – no problem. He never said “successors”. Again and again he stresses these are my representatives only, they are only expected to initiate them, ultimately all of them are “my disciples only, not the disciples of others”.
Part 3: Biodata of Prof MA Tatachar
Presently Director, Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, Mandya district, Karnataka.
Educational qualification: MA (Sanskrit) University Gold medalist Navinanyaya vidvan (President of India’s Gold medalist) Alankara vidvat madhyama Visastadvaita and other schools of philosophy
Work experience: Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Govt college, Chitradurga and Bangalore. Director, Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, Mandya district, Karnataka. Teaching Visistadvaita, Sanskrit and Shastras at MA, Mphil and PhD levels.