Friday, March 27, 2015

Ravindra Swarupa -- Another Ritvik?

Ravindra Swarupa has been the biggest defender of the Kirtanananda / Radhanath regime, and he helped excommunicate Sulochana for protesting the New Vrndavana program in 1986. And he has been the main person trying to bring in the former New Vrndavana henchmen like Radhanath, Devamrita, Kuladri, Umapati and others "back into ISKCON."


Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON—A “Soft-Ritvik” Work? 

ISKCON Now A “Fifth Sampradaya”? 

A Reply to These And Other Criticisms

By Ravindra Svarupa dasa

(Editor’s note: To download and read the original document properly formatted and with the diacritics click here:

As part of a strategic planning effort by ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission to undertake certain foundational projects to secure the long-term future of ISKCON, I devoted considerable time and effort to researching and writing a scholarly essay on the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s position as ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya.

Successive drafts of this work were critiqued by fellow members of the Srila Prabhupada’s Position Committee and others, then reworked and revised accordingly. Next, a near-final draft was distributed to all GBC members, sannyasis, and initiating gurus for review, and then discussed in a lively leadership sanga of the same convened in February 2013 in Mayapur.

Again, the work was revised in light of their feedback. Then, after a final review by GBC members, the work was accepted and approved by unanimous vote as a “GBC Foundational Document.” Thus Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON came to be published in February 2014 by the ISKCON GBC Press.

In February 2015 an accusation against my paper Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON began to be propagated on Facebook and other social media frequented by devotees in and around ISKCON. The item thus circulated — which gives the appearance of having been extracted from a larger text — reads as follows:

"Ravindra’s Founder Acharya Doctrine is also a way of over emphasizing Prabhupada so as to under emphasize present and future ISKCON gurus. It is in fact a form of soft Rtvikism. Basically they say Prabhupada is the one taking people back to Godhead by his teachings / siksha (a la Jesus, he is the Uddharaka guru, literally the one who uplifts). Whereas the other ISKCON gurus present and future will only be Upakaraka (a fancy word for assistant or rtvik) gurus who simply link you to Prabhupada for him to save you. That is nothing but Rtvikism plain and simple and there is where the whole thing is headed and always was."

No name is attached to this allegation, so I know neither the author’s identity nor his or her current or former standing vis-m-vis ISKCON. In any case, it is evident from the text that the writer has an axe to grind regarding this organization: The word “also” in the first sentence above indicates that this particular complaint is only one among several instances offered in evidence of ISKCON’s allegedly “over emphasizing Prabhupada so as to under emphasize present and future ISKCON gurus.”

[PADA: A GBC named Badrinarayan das wrote a similar "emphasis on Srila Prabhupada" paper after Ramesvara departed, saying that the "disciples" of the new gurus have to be considered mainly as the disciples of Srila Prabhupada, because otherwise, when the "GBC guru" leaves, he will take a huge sector of people with him since these people identify with the GBC guru and not with Srila Prabhupada. 

Badrinarayan said that we need to have the "disciples" established as the property of Srila Prabhupada and his ISKCON -- and not as the property of the new gurus. Essentially this is the ritvik idea, the flock belongs to Jesus and the Church and not to the priest. So the GBC is sneaking ritvik into ISKCON through the back door. 

The interesting thing here is that the GBC knows full well that ever time one of their "gurus" leaves (bloops), at the same time hundreds or perhaps thousands of people leave with him, so this is one reason ISKCON has hardly been able to retain much manpower. Badrinarayan had been arguing that if this process continues, ISKCON will be a ghost town, pretty much what has happened. 

Its amazing that despite knowing their policy is bankrupting the temples of manpower, they really do not officially change the idea that the disciples are the property of the new GBC guru, so they keep losing manpower this way, just like they lost a large group of people when Prabhavishnu and Mahanidhi left recently.]  

RS: The writer bestows a name upon this purported deviation: “soft Rtvikism.” However, at the conclusion of the excerpt, even the “soft” is withdrawn, and the alleged offense is declared to be “Rtvikism plain and simple.” Finally, the sweep of the assault finds a broader target: “and there is where the whole thing is headed and always was.”

[PADA: Correct, the GBC simply can no longer continue to paper over the countless failures of its so-called acharyas, thus "the way this is headed" is to re-establish Srila Prabhupada as the acharya, which was PADA's original idea in 1978, that we should keep the focus on the acharya and not on the GBC members.]  

RS: In the third and fourth sentences, our polemicist helpfully provides a precise definition of what is meant by “soft Rtvikism,” complete with the exact Sanskrit theological terms. “Basically, they say . . .” the writer begins — evidently including me among the “they” — that Srila Prabhupada is the uddharaka-guru — the actual savior — while those who come after him as diksa-gurus serve “only” as upakaraka-gurus, as mere helpers or assistants to the savior.

[PADA: Correct, the acharya is the person who factually saves the souls and absorbs the sins, not the priest who is conducting the initiation or baptism ceremony. Of course since the GBC gurus are falling down left, right and center, they cannot even save themselves never mind save others.]

RS: The writer attributes this teaching to Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON. However, if you consult that document, you will nowhere find those two terms put forward, either in Sanskrit or even stealthily cloaked in a camouflage of English. It is, therefore, likely that the writer has not taken the trouble to read the work (or has read it with a calculated carelessness).

However, I do happen to know something about those very words and ideas. While this so-called “soft Rtvikism” does not appear in the “Foundational Document” published by the GBC, there is, nevertheless, a particular BBT-published work in which this very doctrine — complete with Sanskrit terminology — has been expounded in reference to Srila Prabhupada.

This exposition will be found in the introduction to the 1996 edition of the Sri Vyasa-puja book published annually in honor of Srila Prabhupada. (The Vyasa-puja observation of 1996 was, of course, special, commemorating the centennial of Srila Prabhupada’s appearance.) H. H. Lokanatha Swami is credited as the author of the book’s introduction, in which he, in turn, credits a devotee named Atmatattva dasa with the research that produced the doctrine of founder-acarya propounded in that same introduction.

Here is the relevant excerpt:

Five Symptoms of the Founder-Acarya

Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON. He did the groundwork. He is the founder-acarya, and we must understand his position as such. Some or maybe all of the problems that arose in our movement after Srila Prabhupada left have their origin in our not properly understanding this position of founder-acarya. A scripture from the Sri sampradaya called Prapannamrta Tapana explains that a founder-acarya is known by five symptoms.

First, he is udharika, which means that he is the savior of everyone. The Prapannamrta Tapana goes on to explain that those who come after the founder-acarya in the disciplic succession, who act as spiritual masters, are upakarika, his helpers. They are never to be equated, even after hundreds of generations, with the founder-acarya.

Second, he is dinabhaya. Dina means “very fallen,” and abhaya means “to remove fear” or “fearless.” The founder-acarya removes the fear of all the fallen souls by his teachings, whose nature is that anyone anywhere who takes shelter of them will become fearless.

Third, he gives purports to the scriptures carrying the Vaisnava siddhanta, such as Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and makes them available to the world in maha-grantha, or great books.

Fourth, he also gives purports to the songs of the Vaisnava acaryas.

Fifth, his name becomes identified with the philosophy of Lord Visnu Himself. Srila Prabhupada’s position as the founder-acarya of ISKCON exactly corresponds to this ancient definition of founder-acarya. Establishing a relationship with a spiritual master in the line of Srila Prabhupada first of all means establishing a relationship with him as the founder-acarya.

Reading this for the first time in 1996, I had immediate misgivings concerning the first “symptom,” where the founder-acarya (here denoting Sri Ramanujacarya) is the “savior” while all subsequent gurus are “helpers.”

This doctrine, advanced on the authority of Prapannamrta Tapana, was supposed to enlighten ISKCON about Srila Prabhupada, it’s own Founder-Acarya. I wondered, however, why, within the vast trove of works produced by the four Vaisnava sampradayas, this particular teaching, in this particular work, should be singled out as authoritative in this matter for us.

Among the authorized sampradayas there might be a variety of diverse teachings bearing on this topic. Why should the Prapannamrta Tapana in particular be chosen as definitive for Lord Caitanya’s movement? In addition, the Sri-sampradaya itself has in time split into a number of branches that differ among themselves in doctrines of salvation. Did they all agree on this specific matter? If not, which among these, if any, should be authoritative for us?

It seemed that the winnowing of the writings of the four sampradayas had been undertaken by previous acaryas like Rupa Gosvami and Jiva Gosvami; in recent times Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura had continued such work. And in fact there is much still to be done. Who, I wondered, was this one person, Atmatattva dasa, that he should decide for us in this matter?

These were some of my initial misgivings.

Somewhat later, I discovered a bit more about Prapannamrta Tapana. According to that work, Sri Ramanujacarya himself is an avatara of Adi-sesa. This surprised me: I had not heard from any of our own authorities that Sri Ramanujacarya was visnu-tattva. Yet if one accepts Prapannamrta Tapana as authoritative on the matter of founder-acarya, one must also accept it so concerning Sri Ramanuja himself. (If I accept the former yet reject the later, then I have made myself the authority.)

And thus one wonders whether, for the adherents of Prapannamrta Tapana, Sri Ramanuja’s own positions as uddharaka and founder-acarya are entwined somehow with his status as visnu-tattva. How, then, could one apply this to Srila Prabhupada, who, as is well known, once banished disciples from ISKCON temples for preaching that he was visnu-tattva.

[PADA: Good point, why is the GBC always studying so many other writings, and dubious translations, when they have not yet even understood Srila Prabhupada's basic teaching that acharyas are not falling into deviations? At the same time, the acharya has to be as pure as Krishna, so in that sense he is qualitatively as pure as Krishna, shaksat hari tvena. Whereas Ravindra Swarupa's party says that their gurus are often falling into illicit sex and so on, which means they are essentially saying that persons that are as pure as God, are often debauchees.]

RS: Because of such misgivings, I did not rely on this 1996 introduction for any direction or instruction in the matter of researching my assigned work on Srila Prabhupada’s position. At some point, I did consider inserting my apprehensions about the ’96 introduction somewhere within that work — a footnote or appendix — but already there were too many footnotes. Besides, I thought that few if any would even recollect a twenty-year-old Sri Vyasa-puja introduction. Certainly none of the host of ISKCON leaders who reviewed drafts of the work ever brought it up.

[PADA: Now Ravindra Swarupa is saying that the other GBC gurus are making faulty statements in their Vyasa Pooja offerings, and they are citing dubious materials. Why are these people still considered as gurus if they are citing faulty translations and documents?] 

But — wouldn’t you know — not only did somebody, somewhere, remember it—and there may have once been a clique preaching it—but then went on to misattribute it to Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON.

[PADA: There are cliques within the GBC circles who are mis-attributing dubious translations as the works of Srila Prabhupada. Why isn't Ravindra routing these folks out?]

RS: Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON does not depend upon Prapannamrta Tapana. It reaches its central conclusions by relying on Srila Prabhupada’s own writings and lectures; on authorized ISKCON literature like Back to Godhead and Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta; on writings authorized and approved by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, specifically, Sree Krishna Chaitanya, Vol. 1 (1933), and The Harmonist (1927-1936); in addition, it relies upon Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya (1890). All information derived from these and other sources is conscientiously referenced.

The unique place that Srila Prabhupada as Founder-Acarya occupies in ISKCON is summed up in these words (22):

In ISKCON, Prabhupada himself remains present, generation after generation, as the single prominent siksa guru immanent in the life of each and every ISKCON devotee — a perpetual, indwelling active guiding and directing presence. He is thus the soul of ISKCON. As such, Srila Prabhupada himself continues to act effectively in this world so long as ISKCON continues as the coherent expression and unified instrument of his will. In this way Srila Prabhupada remains the soul of ISKCON, and ISKCON his body.

[PADA: Except Ravindra never explains how his conditioned soul acharyas can act as diksha gurus and absorb sins like Jesus? And why is it that anyone who actually worships Srila Prabhupada is kicked out, banned, sued -- if not beaten and assassinated?]

RS: That Srila Prabhupada has and will continue to have a distinctive, efficacious relationship with every devotee in ISKCON is due to his unique position as Founder-Acarya. He is the animating soul of ISKCON, ISKCON is his body — the embodied, outward, organized expression of his will. Any individual devotee in ISKCON, acting in harmony with all the rest, becomes an integrated part of that body and is animated by Srila Prabhupada just as the whole body is. (Note that there is a condition stated in the excerpt above for this healthy state to be realized.)

So although Srila Prabhupada is no longer on this planet in bodily form, he is not absent. So long as we members of ISKCON make every effort to cooperate with one another, on the principle of unity-in-diversity, then we will be directed, individually and as a whole, by Srila Prabhupada himself.

I for one am quite convinced — by personal experience — that from his eternal position in the transcendent Navadvipa of gaura-lila, Srila Prabhupada exercises a providential care over ISKCON, intervening as necessary. (We would not have lasted this far without it.)

Srila Prabhupada continues to aid all in ISKCON who come after him; that is his visible legacy, the inheritance bequeathed upon generation after generation of beneficiaries. Although a devotee properly receives initiation by the mercy of his or her diksa-guru, ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya has provided both that guru and that disciple with immense facilities to enable robust spiritual advancement: his volumes of books in over fifty languages, to begin with; temples with properly installed Deities, served daily with devotion; a calendar chock-full with regular and occasional classes, lectures, seminars, kirtans, and festivals to provide knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement; abundant opportunities for all varieties of services of all kinds of talents and aptitudes; facilitates to visit transcendent places of Vaisnava pilgrimage; and hundreds of “embassies of the spiritual world” positioned around the globe providing gateways opening on the passageways leading back to Godhead.

All this and more has been provided for us by our ISKCON Founder-Acarya, and any present or future diksa-guru has all this simply given for the deliverance of disciples. Such is Srila Prabhupada’s great legacy to all. Our only task is to open our arms to receive it. In short, such continuing mercy, made available generation after generation, seems to me to be the meaning of “Founder-Acarya.”

At the same time, were I to apply the vocabulary of Prapannamrta Tapana to our own situation, then I would have to say that for us the term udharika, or savior, applies properly to Lord Caitanya (or the Panca-tattva), and the term upakarika — helper or servitor — to all who come after Him and receive potent mercy from Him.

Srila Prabhupada has been specifically empowered to save and deliver us precisely because he became so consummately the servant of the servant of Lord Caitanya. Indeed, Prabhupada’s own self-declared position is that of upakarika, and that is the way he taught us to honor him: namas te sarasvate deve. As Prabhupada once said, with tear-flooded eyes and choking voice: “My spiritual master was no ordinary spiritual master. He saved me” (Giriraja Swami, 1995 Vyasa-puja Homage). Discipleship is Srila Prabhupada’s greatest, most sublime lesson for us, taught by his own astounding example.

We learn from him how, by just becoming the mere upakarika — and indeed, the upakarika of the upakarika — a devotee of such humility can be empowered by Gaura-Nitai to act as asraya-vigraha or “Supreme Personality of Servitor Godhead” (CC. Adi 1.46 purport), as saksad hari-tva: directly endowed with the qualities of Hari.

Thus there is not the least temptation to consider the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON as uddharaka.
Yet another mistaken claim in circulation concerning Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON is that it teaches, or implies, that Srila Prabhupada founded a new, fifth Vaisnava sampradaya. This notion is explicitly addressed and rejected in the pages of the book itself (88-90).

According to the Sri Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the four Vaisnava sampradayas were promulgated in this yuga to prepare for the eventual appearance of Lord Caitanya. His teaching of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva synthesizes and completes their theistic understandings of Vyasadeva’s Vedanta-sutra. Between the time of Mahaprabhu and the present age, that tradition was preserved and enriched by a line of teachers; it did not, however, began to unfold it full potential until the modern Industrial Age. Then Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura prepared the tradition for global expansion, which attained fruition through their servant A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, whose ISKCON covered the world.

As Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself, He effectively originated in this Kali-yuga His own distinctive sampradaya—later titled the Gaudiya-Vaisnava-sampradaya—just as prehistorically, that same Supreme Lord had inaugurated sampradayas with Brahma, Sri, Rudra and the Four Kumaras. However, because Caitanya as bhakta-rupa fully immersed Himself in relishing the feelings and activities of a devotee, he received diksa initiation from Isvara Puri, thus particularly honoring the Brahma-Madhva-sampradaya. We abide by his act and take our place in that tradition, while at the same time we cherish most of all the special energy, mercy, and wisdom transmitted by the yuga-avatara.

We also revere the other three Vaisnava sampradayas, all of whom prepared the way for Lord Caitanya. In this connection, I wish to make a final point. Even though I refrained from using the Sri-sampradaya teaching found in Prapannamrta Tapana for the Founder-Acarya book, yet to characterize that teaching as “soft Rtvikism,” as our unidentified critic does,

I consider careless and possibly offensive. The doctrine of Ritvikism is a quite recent innovation, an unwanted plant (upasakha) sprung up locally in ISKCON’s soil. Ritvikism asserts that the Founder-Acarya himself is properly ISKCON’s only authorized diksa-guru. Ritvikism holds that those who after Srila Prabhupada undertake the prescribed activities of initiation are not themselves diksa-gurus but merely ecclesiastical functionaries, or rtviks, carrying out the ritual formalities on behalf of the Founder-Acarya, the actual initiator. Thus, after Srila Prabhupada there is no guru-parampara. So far as I know, such an unorthodox idea has not appeared anywhere within the Vaisnava sampradayas nor, for that matter, among any others that are astikya, faithful to the Vedic tradition.

It is of interest to note that while one critic criticizes Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON for being crypto-rtvik, another disparages it for being not rtvik.

This is found in a booklet issued in April 2014 by the rtvik group ISKCON Revival Movement (IRM) and written by Krishnakant [Desai]. This work bears the exact same title as the GBC-published book and displays a cover formatted just like that book. Where the ISKCON cover bears the words “A GBC Foundational Document,” the IRM work proclaims: “Presenting the Conclusions of the GBC Foundational Document.” Within, however, one discovers a quite different conclusion: that the GBC Foundational Document is missing a vitally important element, now supplied by this IRM work: “Acarya of ISKCON means Diksa Guru of ISKCON.” It is best to go to the authentic GBC Foundational Document to find out what it is.

That book, the real Srila Prabhupada: The Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, can be downloaded free of change at

[PADA: Ravindra Swarupa was a huge supporter of Kirtanananda, was voted in as acharya by the same folks who re-instated Bhavananada, so its a little strange that a person who supports re-instating known deviants as acharyas has been selected by the GBC to write their position papers? In any case this is proof the ritviks are winning, the GBC is forced to promote the idea that Srila Prabhupada is the current savior and acharya, because the GBC's debauchee guru program cannot fill that role under any circumstances. ys pd]

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