Compiled by Bhakta Corey (Texas, USA)
A common argument against following the ritvik initiation system that was established and authorized directly by Srila Prabhupada is the false idea that “you need a living guru”. Let us examine this argument in detail.
"Physical presence is immaterial. Presence of the transcendental sound received from the Spiritual Master should be the guidance of life. That will make our spiritual life successful.”
- Srila Prabhupada letter to Brahmananda and other students, January 1, 1967
Here, Srila Prabhupada is saying that the physical presence of the spiritual master is not important. Rather, the principle and guiding point of spiritual life is to HEAR from the spiritual master. Another important point is, many of Srila Prabhupada’s pre-1977 disciples never even met him physically. That is, they received initiation through the ritvik initiation system that Srila Prabhupada set up. The real essence of spiritual life is to hear from Srila Prabhupada, through reading his transcendental books and hearing his audio lectures.
"So we should associate by vibration, and not by the physical presence. That is real association."
- Srila Prabhupada lecture, Srimad Bhagavatam, August 18, 1968
Real association means hearing the teachings of the spiritual master, not physically associating with him. Srila Prabhupada speaks about some of his god brothers, who had extensive physical association with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but have become USELESS due to their NOT following the orders of their spiritual master:
"So far as personal association with Guru is concerned, I was only with Guru Maharaj 4 or 5 times, but I have never left his association, not even for a moment. Because I am following his instruction, I have never felt any separation. There are some of my God brothers here in India, who had constant personal association with Guru Maharaja, but who are neglecting his orders. This is just like the bug who is sitting on the lap of the king. He may be very puffed up by his position but all he can succeed in doing is biting the king. Personal association is not so important as association through serving."
- Srila Prabhupada letter to Satyadhana, February 20, 1972
And in ISKCON’s own past history, we can see that the same thing happened. Many senior disciples of Srila Prabhupada had extensive personal association with him, but due to their offenses and their disobedience of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, ESPECIALLY the instruction to act as a ritvik and initiate others on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, they all fell down and left Krishna Consciousness. This was simply due to their tremendous offenses against Srila Prabhupada. The above quote from Srila Prabhupada is very telling in understanding ISKCON’s own past history and how many of the senior disciples have fallen down.
One may be physically associated with their spiritual master, but may be dwelling on all types of nonsense thoughts and desires for sense gratification, the worst of which is the desire to become a guru yourself. And one may be very physically far away from the spiritual master, but if one is constantly meditating within his heart on the instructions and desires of their spiritual master, then they are constantly in association with the spiritual master. Therefore, physical presence is not very important in spiritual life.
"I went to your country for spreading this information of Krishna Consciousness and you are helping me in my mission, although I am not physically present there but spiritually I am always with you."
- Srila Prabhupada letter to Nandarani, Krishna Devi and Subala, October 3, 1967
If we are trying our best to spread the movement started by Srila Prabhupada, then he will always be with us. The relationship with Srila Prabhupada is one of the heart. The gopis of Vrindavan showed this perfectly. Krishna was physically separate from them, but they could think of nothing except Krishna, and thus they were factually constantly associating with Krishna. The state of consciousness one is in is far more important than the physical location one may be in.
"Therefore we should take advantage of the vani, not the physical presence."
- Srila Prabhupada letter to Suchi Devi Dasi, November 4, 1975
The real blessings of Srila Prabhupada can be obtained by hearing his teachings, reading his books, hearing his audio lectures, and so on. There were many people who may have had Srila Prabhupada’s physical association, but the real connection with Srila Prabhupada comes when one hears his teachings by reading his books and hearing his audio lectures. To judge one’s relationship with Srila Prabhupada on the basis of how much or how little physical association they may have had with him is a material conception. A spiritual conception of the relationship with Srila Prabhupada is judged by how deeply one has imbibed his teachings within one’s heart.
"I am always with you. Never mind if I am physically absent."
- Srila Prabhupada letter to Jayananda, September 16, 1969
This is a real loving relationship. It is not dependent on physical association. If one has achieved deep love for Krishna, then he will never be separate from Him. In this controversial issue of physical association, I believe the gopis of Vrindavan have taught us the best example. They were the dearest devotees of Krishna, and even though Krishna apparently left them for so many years, they never for a moment stopped thinking of Krishna. That is real association, and that is a real relationship