The Reality Of Guru-Parampara And The Myth Of "The Final Order"
by Tridandi Swami Bhaktivedanta Nemi [previously Jnana dasa (ACBSP)]
[Part One Part Two Part Four]
The story so far:
The Ritvik community base their philosophy on Srila Prabhupada’s now-famous “henceforward” letter of July 9th, 1977. They say that this letters means that Srila Prabhupada will initiate for an indefinite period after his physical departure. The Ritviks assert that the word “henceforward” necessarily implies “for an indefinite period”. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary and Srila Prabhupada’s own use of the word, the Ritviks’ assertion is quite false. The inclusion of this false assertion in the in The Final Order (TFO) appears to be deliberate deception.
Part 2: a provisional arrangement
In the previous part of this series, I pointed out Srila Prabhupada’s principle: “Tell the truth”. The arguments about the word “henceforward” in TFO do not even pass this first test. Now I want to point out a second principle that Srila Prabhupada emphasized, and that Krishnakant, the author of TFO, repeatedly and systematically disregards: “The direct meaning is primary; indirect meanings are secondary at best.” We should always resort to the direct meaning of texts, not the indirect meanings. “The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it….” Srila Prabhupada also states that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu “rejects” the indirect meaning of texts. According to this instruction by Srila Prabhupada, we should also accept the direct meaning of what he has written, and reject secondary interpretations, unless there is some very good reason for doing so. Now let us see how this applies to the “henceforward” letter of July 9th.
The letter names eleven representatives, who were to act as “ritvik- representative of the acarya, for the purpose of performing initiations”. The letter then goes on, “Now that Srila Prabhupada has named these representatives, Temple Presidents may henceforward send recommendation for first and second initiation to whichever of these eleven representatives are nearest their temple.”
The wording of the letter shows that it simply adjusted a system that already existed. “In the past Temple Presidents have written to Srila Prabhupada recommending a particular devotee's initiation. Now that Srila Prabhupada has named these representatives, Temple Presidents may henceforward send ….” (emphasis added) The letter did not really introduce any significant change, or introduce anything radical. The direct meaning of the letter is that it describes a system that had been going on for years. The only new thing was that letters of recommendation would go direct to the 11 representatives, instead of to Srila Prabhupada. That is all.
The Ritvik community asserts that the wording of this letter - especially the word “henceforward” - means that the Ritvik system should be continued even after Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure. However, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, in only a minority of cases does the word “henceforward” actually mean “for an indefinite period into the future”, and in a recent paper, IRM has now admitted this.
The word “henceforward” in this letter cannot possibly mean “for the next ten thousand years” or “for the duration of ISKCON”. If it did, the letter would mean, “Temple Presidents may for the next ten thousand years send recommendation … to whichever of these eleven representatives are nearest their temple.” Two of the “eleven representatives” have already passed away and many have fallen down. IRM points out that the GBC could add members afterwards, but this is not stated in the letter itself. If the document is as important as IRM thinks it is, why would such a meticulous manager as Srila Prabhupada leave it in such a woefully incomplete state? The direct meaning of the letter is that this is a temporary and provisional arrangement.
The clincher is the last sentence of the letter: “The name of a newly initiated disciple should be sent by the representative who has accepted him or her TO SRILA PRABHUPADA…” The direct meaning here is that Srila Prabhupada must be physically present, otherwise it would not be possible to send the names “to Srila Prabhupada”. Of course, Krishnakant, the author of TFO, wants to avoid this obvious discrepancy, and begins an explanation of why we should NOT take the direct meaning of the letter. However, according to Srila Prabhupada’s own instruction, the direct meaning of his statement is sufficient for us. There is no good reason to disregard it.
To sum up, the letter clearly describes a provisional arrangement that explicitly addressed the immediate situation while Srila Prabhupada was on the planet. This is the direct meaning of the letter, and this is what we should accept, according to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, unless there is some a priori reason for doing so. And if we accept Srila Prabhupada’s principle of taking the direct meaning, it is not possible to arrive at the Ritviks’ conclusion about this letter. One or the other has to go. I prefer to keep Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.
Not only is the meaning clear from the letter itself, but Srila Prabhupada himself clearly stated (on October 18th, 1977) that the arrangement described in the letter was temporary and provisional. The context is as follows. A question had arisen regarding the initiation of a Bengali gentleman, and Srila Prabhupada said, “So I have deputed some of you to initiate.” The word “depute” means “to appoint as a substitute, representative, or deputy”, so Srila Prabhupada was pointing out here that he had already appointed disciples to initiate on his behalf. He then referred to the list of representatives and said that Jayapataka Maharaja should perform the initiation.
Srila Prabhupada: I stop FOR THE TIME BEING. [emphasis added] Is that all right?
Tamala Krsna Maharaja: Stopped doing what, Srila Prabhupada?
Srila Prabhupada: This initiation. I have deputed my disciples. …. And if by Krsna’s grace I recover from this condition, then I shall begin again, or I may not be pressed in this condition to initiate. It is not good.
Srila Prabhupada’s statements, “FOR THE TIME BEING” and “And IF by Krsna’s grace I recover from this condition, THEN I shall begin again…” mean explicitly that the arrangement was provisional. Furthermore, he also states explicitly why he has made the arrangement: “… or I may not be pressed in this condition to initiate. It is not good.”
Srila Prabhupada was an expert manager.
Krishnakant himself acknowledges that the Ritvik system he has proposed is “totally unique, (at least as far as we know).” Consequently, if Srila Prabhupada had really intended to make such a radical change, he would know that it would be misunderstood by his disciples, and opposed from inside and outside his movement. He had been saying practically since the beginning of the movement that senior disciples would initiate their own disciples after his departure. They would want to know why this was no longer the case. Furthermore, his Godbrothers and other personalities outside the movement would criticize the supposed change, and create doubt and dissension in ISKCON. Accordingly, an empowered manager such as Srila Prabhupada would have warned his disciples and made sure they understood what the new process was and why he was introducing it. Actually, he never mentioned anything of the sort. Nor FOR SEVERAL YEARS did anyone suggest that this letter meant what the Ritvik community now says it means.
Given the radical nature of the alleged change, Srila Prabhupada would certainly have mentioned the Ritvik process in his will. He would have understood that there would all sorts of questions, and he would have clarified the issue for future generations. However, the Ritvik process is not mentioned in his will.
Another important point is that Srila Prabhupada’s will states that the GBC will be “the ultimate managing authority”, but the GBC has not accepted the Ritvik theory. Why not? Because he never explained it to them. This means that, according to the Ritviks, Srila Prabhupada did not manage to establish the basic principle of disciplic succession in his movement. In fact, according to them, he did not take even minimal steps to ensure that it was understood, accepted and established. In other words, the Ritvik party is indirectly accusing Srila Prabhupada of being an incompetent manager. However, I and many others accept Srila Prabhupada as brilliant in all respects. I suggest that the incompetence lies elsewhere, with those who loudly proclaim that they are “the real ISKCON”, and yet misinterpret Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, not even caring to understand that there are principles and a process for understanding them.
References: SB 1.4.1, purport;  C.C. Adi 7.110, purport;  Room Conversation: October 18, 1977, Vrindavana
[Continue to Part Four]
Contemporary Disciples Page