November 13, 1998 VNN2498
BY NARASIMHA DAS
EDITORIAL, Nov 13 (VNN) Currently the term "ritvik" is used to refer to 1.) devotees of a particular camp, 2.) the ideas and convictions of "ritvik" devotees, and 3.) the "officiating acarya" who initiates on behalf of the spiritual master. I will try to offer guidelines for understanding the word "ritvik" according to Srila Prabhupada and the current usage among devotees.
Regarding the third usage mentioned above, in Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.16.53), Srila Prabhupada defines "ritvik" (rtvijah) as "the priests recommended by the spiritual master". In this instance ritviks are defined as the deputed priests of the spiritual master. They preside over a Vedic ritual meant for the worship of Lord Visnu (visnu-aradhana). The initiation ritual observed in ISKCON is a standard Vedic ceremony, and it may be performed by ritviks, who officiate on behalf of the Acarya. This understanding and practice was clearly established by Srila Prabhupada personally, and there should be no controversy regarding the definition or function of the ritvik priest. The new initiates offer dakshina and service to the mission of the guru, and the priests may also receive some token honor or reward for their services, according to Vedic custom. (In ISKCON Srila Prabhupada would either receive the guru dakshina personally and use it for a global ISKCON project or for his traveling expenses, or he would give money to the BBT or some other important or needy branch of his preaching mission. He never said that priests representing ISKCON should receive money or expensive gifts for their services. Nor did he say they should assume positions of absolute authority and accept worship as gurus. )
The same system of ritviks is there in the Madhva monasteries of Dakshina Kannada in South India. At least externally, all leaders and followers in ISKCON remain on the same level in the sense that everyone serves the common aims of the Movement and follows the rules of the institution. The more personal realization is that we all remain as menial servants of Srila Prabhupada. No one in ISKCON should be free to act independently or to personally control or own the assets and services of other devotees. An ISKCON temple president or successful preacher has some autonomy, and he may naturally command the respect or following of a congregation or community of devotees, but his authority over other devotees is derived from the Society and Srila Prabhupada. It is a relative authority, with checks and balances. No leadership role in ISKCON invests individuals with absolute authority in the lives of other devotees. Thus it should be self-evident that leading preachers who offer initiation on behalf of ISKCON are representatives of the guru. They are not the guru. They are ritviks of the guru. It was recently wrongly suggested on VNN by a senior devotee that ritviks are a type of acarya or diksa-guru who comes under the authority of the institution and initiates his own disciples on behalf of the institution. This idea is contradictory, speculative and against sastra. Srila Prabhupada already defined officiating acaryas as ritviks who initiate disciples on behalf of the spiritual master.
Srila Prabhupada never created any special status for "officiating acaryas." Their function as ritivks is to assure that Srila Prabhupada requirements are met before a student is formally accepted for initiation in ISKCON. Like all senior initiated disciples, they are meant to be teachers by their practical example. They have accepted an added responsibility, an added burden on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. Their burden is to assure that Srila Prabhupada's standards for initiation are preserved in ISKCON. (Srila Prabhupada's July 9th directive sent to every leader in ISKCON mentions three times that all devotees are Srila Prabhupada's disciples and that the deputed ritviks offer initiation on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. This same instruction was repeated by Srila Prabhupada several times additionally after July 9th in letters, documents, and instructions.) Ritviks are the priests authorized by the spiritual master or his institution to accept students on behalf of ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada made this perfectly clear. This understanding of the procedure Prabhupada prescribed is consistent with references to ritviks mentioned in Srila Prabhupada's books.
"Ritvik" (or "ritvik-vada") is also a term used to describe the convictions of devotees who accept Srila Prabhupada's July 9th directive and insist that ISKCON leaders follow it. Often devotees opposed to Srila Prabhupada's system for initiations deliberately use the term "ritvik-vada" for the negative connotation this seems to imply. (For instance, the ideas of the sunyavadas, mayavadas, and advaitavadas are condemned by Vaisnava acaryas.) In truth, the term "vada" has no negative conotation. It refers to a philosophical system. There exists no such philosophy as "ritvik-vada". Acceptance of a specific procedure for conducting a Vedic ritual in no way constitutes a "vada", or philosophical system. If someone insists on calling ritvik a "vada", he could use a more fitting term, such as "Prabhupada-vada." Devotees of the "ritvik camp" believe that all of Srila Prabhupada's orders are perfect and should be accepted as such by those who claim to be his disciples -- particularly those who are leaders in ISKCON.
Ritvik devotees come from all backgrounds. Among them there may be various camps or clubs. Not all of them may be purely motivated, but at least they understand that Srila Prabhupada's order should remain as law in ISKCON. Leading ritviks devotees, many of whom hold responsible posts in ISKCON, share the same ideals. They are committed to reforming Iskcon, and all believe such reform should be on the basis of accepting Srila Prabhupada and all of his instructions without challenge. They do not accept the gbc's argument that great Vaisnavas and Vaisnava acaryas become deviated or fallen sometimes and that this "fact" shows how it is possible for iskcon "gurus" to fall down. Generally ritviks will all agree 1.) Vaisnava acaryas are infallible and never fallen. 2.) Fallible students of Krsna consciousness, sahjiyas, and immoral persons can never be diksa-gurus, nor could they have ever been. 3.) One needs a direct order from Srila Prabhupada to initiate ones own disciples. 4.) Srila Prabhupada's system of ritvik initiations is the best, most practical, and most authorized system for initiations. 5.) Everyone should be encouraged to accept Srila Prabhupada as their sad-guru.
Ritviks do not accept the GBC's idea that Srila Prabhupada's disappearance gives the GBC a right to sanction or regulate diksa-gurus. Ritviks understand that according to the definitions in Srila Prabhupada's books, the diksa-guru must be a self-realized soul who is specifically ordered by Lord Caitanya or His representative to initiate. They understand that a great personality like Srila Prabhupada is never limited by formalities, by the external material energies, or by Vedic traditions. Ritviks understand that there is no scriptural injunction or truth of Vedic science that would prohibit a Vaisnava acarya from accepting disciples after his departure.
It is often wrongly implied or even flatly stated by iskcon leaders that ritviks believe Srila Prabhupada is the last Gaudiya Vaisnava guru in Kali-yuga or the last pure devotee. Ritviks are even accused of wanting to stop the parampara system. This is a false accusation. Ritviks insist only that in ISKCON Srila Prabhupada's system for initiations be followed strictly. They say that following all instructions of Srila Prabhupada ensures that ISKCON will remain pure and potent. They ask, "Why would following Srila Prabhupada's instruction to initiate on his behalf cause an end to the parampara?" There is obviously no answer to this question. The formalities for conducting initiation ceremonies in ISKCON have little to do with the way transcendental knowledge is transmitted and received. Therefore, the term "ritvik-vada" or "ritvik heresy" has no meaning.
The attempt of certain persons to degrade the transcendental Vedic term "rtvijah" or "ritvik" to a derogatory word is one more example of offenses that have entered iskcon due to our neglect of Srila Prabhupada's advice. In Vedic culture, a ritvik is an exalted priest. Such priests were often endowed with siddhis and respected as gurus, yet they never pretended to be as good as Lord Hari. By the order of the Acarya, the rtvijah recites the mantras that request the presence of Lord Visnu in the fire of Vedic sacrifice (agni-hotra), and he then makes offerings to the Supreme Lord according to Vedic sastra. The rtvijah performs an exalted function. He is a pure brahmin or Vaisnava who is never concerned about the political correctness or convenience of his stance.
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