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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

A brief overview of the history of the process of initiation in ISKCON.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007 / Published in Articles, Hari-sauri dasa / 9,466 views

By Hari-sauri dasa

Śrīla Prabhupāda introduced the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa immediately, both collectively and individually. As soon as some people became attracted to the chanting and they started taking a serious interest in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then he introduced them to chanting on beads. We have seen the pictures of the devotees when they started coming to the store-front at 26 2nd Ave., he got them to make sets of beads for themselves, and then very quickly, on Janmastami day September 6, 1966, he initiated them into the chanting of the holy names. Of course that is what initiation is all about–it means that one’s individual chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is sanctioned or empowered by the spiritual master.

When we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa that means that literally we have Kṛṣṇa dancing on our tongues. Through public kirtana Kṛṣṇa is available to everybody. Nevertheless, if one wants to be really serious about chanting, then the process is to take initiation, because it is at that point that one makes an actual commitment to the Supreme Lord to begin rendering service to Him. Casual chanting is also beneficial but one makes more rapid advancement when one makes a formal commitment.

We see then that within two months Śrīla Prabhupāda started to initiate devotees. There is a whole process to initiation. In the beginning Śrīla Prabhupāda was doing it all by himself:

he was picking the candidates, approving them;
he was giving them their new spiritual names,
he was chanting the first round on their beads,
he was doing the fire yajna.

In this way he began to guide them into the science of chanting. And then after a few more months then he started to give brahṁana initiation. Again chanting, but the gayatri mantra this time, with Prabhupāda sitting personally with the candidate and speaking the mantra into their ear, and giving them their Brahmana thread.

In this way Prabhupāda began the process, the sadhana of chanting. Casual chanting was also going on, but it was in this very specific science of sadhana bhakti that Śrīla Prabhupāda was interested in getting people committed to.

So then what happened? Kṛṣṇa consciousness started to expand. By early 1968 there were five temples in N. America and there were about 50-60 initiated devotees. Then from 1968–1971, four years, at the end of 1971 there were nearly 60 temples, and there were about 600 initiated devotees. Kṛṣṇa consciousness had spread from America to Europe; Śrīla Prabhupāda went to Africa; he went back to India with a large group of devotees; Australia and Japan started up etc… Kṛṣṇa consciousness suddenly exploded. It increased ten times its size in four years. And then from 1971–1977 the number of disciples increased from 600 to over 5,000, and the number of temples went from 60 to 108.

This rapid expansion prompted Śrīla Prabhupāda to introduce some innovations into the whole process of initiating people into the chanting of the holy names. He started to delegate all the different aspects of the process of giving initiation. By 1968 he had made a few Brahmana disciples and had started to install Deities. He also started structuring ISKCON; we see that the first real asrama structures started growing up from 1968 onwards, with the appearance of New Vrindaban, and then some of the bigger temples like Los Angeles. The brahmacari, brahmacarini and grhastha asramas became distinct, and by 1970-71 Śrīla Prabhupāda started giving sannyasa initiation to several devotees.

Prabhupāda therefore devised some systems to help him to cope with the very rapid expansion of ISKCON around the world, and to facilitate that expansion also. It became obvious that he couldn’t travel to every single temple. But people were joining in all these places, and they wanted initiation. So Prabhupāda started to delegate the responsibilities of giving initiation to some of his disciples.

He started something quite revolutionary–giving initiations through the mail. I don’t know whether SBSST ever did that but Prabhupāda was doing it. He instructed the temple presidents that “Now whoever you recommend and whose name you send to me, I will accept them.” He accepted them without even seeing them. He started having the presidents perform the fire yajnas; and as soon as he got someone a little qualified as his personal secretary, he delegated to him the business of choosing the names. Just like when I got initiated in 1972 in Sydney. There were about sixteen of us, Śrīla Prabhupāda was personally there and when each candidate came up, Prabhupāda was asking his secretary ‘Now what is his name?” So the system was that the secretary, or at that time his Sanskrit editor Pradyumna prabhu was on his party, had some books with different names of Kṛṣṇa or Radharani, or the Visnu-sahasra-nama etc. Whatever the beginning letter of the candidate’s name was, he would find an equivalent Sanskrit name. For example, my karmi name was Denis Harrison, and when I grew up everyone used to call me Harry, because my name was Harrison. When I joined the temple I was Bhakta Harry. So when I got initiated, because my name was Harri-son, the secretary, Shyamasundar prabhu, picked out the name ‘Hari-sauri.’ Similarly Bhakta Phillip became Partha, Bhaktin Anne became Ambika, and so forth. [There were one or two occasions, fairly rare, where it did occur that Prabhupāda didn’t actually accept the name the secretary gave. In Vṛndāvana in 1975, at Janmastami time, Bhakta Richard from Australia was accepted for initiation. When he came up the secretary gave his name. And Prabhupāda looked at him and he shook his head and said, “No.” And he gave a name of his own choosing–“Bhagavat Asraya.” So there were one or two occasions when Prabhupāda wouldn’t go along with what the secretary picked out, but on the whole that was the system. The point was that the secretary was actually doing that.]

Still for a while Prabhupāda continued to chant the first round on the new initiates’ beads. The beads would then be sent in the mail along with the acceptance letter.

Similarly he delegated the responsibility of awarding the gayatri mantra, second initiation. Even without seeing the candidates, Śrīla Prabhupāda was accepting the recommendations of the temple presidents, then, for the men at least, Prabhupāda would chant on their sacred threads, and they would also be mailed; and for chanting the mantra in their ear, then Prabhupāda did something else a little revolutionary. He started doing it through his separated energy–he made a tape recording and he sent that cassette to every temple. Every temple president had a cassette of Śrīla Prabhupāda chanting the gayatri mantra which was played in the ear of the new second initiate and that was as good as hearing the gayatri mantra from Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. Separated energy.

In this way then Śrīla Prabhupāda was able to expand this movement very rapidly all over the world. But by 1972 there were so many people joining that it even became troublesome to do it through the mail, at least with respect to chanting on the beads. So even that function Śrīla Prabhupāda started to delegate. At the beginning of 1973 Prabhupāda wrote to Revatinandan Swami, who was at that time probably the only sannyasi in Europe, with a solution to this problem:

4 January, 1973

My Dear Revatinandana,
Please accept my blessings. Just now I have received some more requests for giving first initiation from Dhananjaya, and now I am receiving weekly not less than ten to fifteen such requests from new students. So it is becoming very expensive to send so many sets of beads such long distance, and it has become little bothersome for me also, so I think now you may be appointed by me to give first initiations to new disciples by chanting on their beads on my behalf. In America Kirtanananda Swami is going that. So now if there are two of you that will give me great relief. Kirtanananda will chant on the beads for new devotees in America, Canada, like that, you can chant on the beads for the European continent new disciples. They shall, of course, still be considered as my disciples, not that they shall become your disciples, but you will be empowered by me to chant their beads and that is the same effect of binding master and disciple as if I were personally chanting. They may continue to send me their letters of request, along the President’s recommendation, and I shall give them name and it will be entered by my Secretary in our records, only I will send my letter of reply to you and you will purchase beads there and chant them and send, along with my letter to the new initiates. Is that all right?

I shall continue to deal with the matter of second initiations. The sacred threads do not require so much postage to send airmail.”

A similar letter also sent to Kirtanananda Swami the next day. The following month Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in Australia. When he did initiations, even though he was personally present, he had Madhudvisa Swami chant on many of the beads.

Thus we see that Prabhupāda delegated all the different aspects of the process of giving initiation to his disciples except one: the recommendation, the application, had to come to Prabhupāda and he had to send a letter back approving it. Then in 1977 that also changed, and even that function Śrīla Prabhupāda delegated. What happened was that Śrīla Prabhupāda got very, very sick at the Mayapur festival in 1977. He did do one big initiation ceremony, but he never really recovered from that illness. So around about May-time, Prabhupāda actually stopped giving initiations. For a couple of months, although new people were joining, nobody was getting initiated. This had happened previously that when Prabhupāda had gotten very sick he temporarily suspended giving initiations, because of course, when the spiritual master gives initiation he gets so much of the karmic effect from the disciples; generally of course that goes through to Kṛṣṇa and most of it gets burnt up but there is some effect on the guru also. I saw that whenever Prabhupāda gave a big initiation, just afterwards he would get some kind of physical illness. So on one or two occasions when he got really seriously ill, he stopped giving initiations until he had recovered.
In mid-May of 1977 then, Prabhupāda was in Hrishikesh. Then he took a turn for the worse, and they rushed back to Vṛndāvana and it seemed like Prabhupāda was going to leave at any moment. That was the week that he made his will. Prabhupāda said all the GBCS should come. When they arrived Prabhupāda told them, “Now, if you have any questions about anything that is not clear, you meet together, you formulate your questions, and then you come to me and I will answer them.” So they did that on May 28. And one of the questions that they asked was, “How will the process of initiations go on after your departure?” Prabhupāda made it very clear, he said he would name some people, and he said “When I give the instruction, then they will become regular gurus.” Whoever they initiate, they will be their disciples, and he used this phrase, that they will be “disciple of my disciple.” And he also said, “They will be my grand disciples.”

So that was very clear. Everyone understood perfectly what was going to happen after Prabhupāda left the planet. And of course it was what Śrīla Prabhupāda had been telling was going to happen since the last ten years. It wasn’t anything revolutionary or mysterious. Prabhupāda definitively stated it for the final time.

There was however, one remaining problem, that whilst Prabhupāda was still on the planet, candidates that were coming and he wasn’t giving initiations. In early July Śrīla Prabhupāda meant with Tamal Krishna Goswami, his secretary, and he told him, “Now I am going to give you some names and these people will act on my behalf to give initiation.” And so on July 9th the letter was sent, and that named eleven senior disciples, who Prabhupāda said would now be responsible for giving initiations to the new candidates.

As I have already explained, all the functions of initiations had already been delegated to his disciples, but the significant part about this one was that it was the final delegation–that Prabhupāda said that now, the new candidates need no longer write to me and the recommendations don’t have to come to me. Rather they write to one of these eleven men, whoever is nearest, and if they accept them, then they become initiated. At the same time he said they will still be my disciples. And the reason why Prabhupāda said that was because previously he had said, on May 28, and also prior to that, that there was an etiquette that as long as the spiritual master is on the planet, then the disciples, who may be doing the preaching, bring the new candidates to him:

Letter to Tusta Krsna Swami, December 2, 1975:

“Keep trained very rigidly, and then you are bona fide guru, and you can accept disciples on the same principle. But as a matter of etiquette it is the custom that during the lifetime of your spiritual master you bring the prospective disciples to him, and in his absence or disappearance you can accept disciples without any limitation. This is the law of disciplic succession. I want to see my disciples become bona fide spiritual master and spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness very widely; that will make me and Kṛṣṇa very happy.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda therefore observed that etiquette.

Its clear from this how Prabhupāda delegated to his disciples all of these different aspects of the process for giving initiation into the chanting of the holy names. From the very beginning of ISKCON’s existence he started doing it, and the letter from July was just a final delegation, that’s all. It was in the specific context of Śrīla Prabhupāda still being on the planet but not doing the process himself. It was with the understanding, finalized on May 28, that when he disappeared, then the process of initiation, the acceptance of disciples, that would go to his disciples completely.

Not Buying It
NASN July 2007 - North American Sankirtan Newsletter

17 Responses to “A brief overview of the history of the process of initiation in ISKCON.”

  1. dayananda says :

    As a disciple of Prabhupada who was active continuously as a temple administrator or senior member from 1967 to 1977, I was privy to most of Prabhupada’s policies and actions, most ISKCON issues and controversies, and most GBC decisions. I say “most”, meaning nearly all.

    I agree substantially with Hari-sauri’s brief history above. I was directly involved with nearly all of what he describes.

    I’d like to add that Prabhupada’s highest priority (from 1966-77) was the establishment and maintenance of his ISKCON organization. The guru institution is part of those efforts. Therefore, in my mind, one of the most important aspects of the ISKCON guru is that he and his disciples are a part of the structure of ISKCON. Not that they are absolutely required be, but as good followers of Prabhupada, they are.

    ys, d

  2. Anadi108 says :

    When such a nice presentation of the facts is made, everything becomes crystal clear. Thank you for doing this.

  3. Kesava Krsna dasa says :

    Such a straight forward and simple procedure as continuing the disciplic succession by having his (Srila Prabhupada’s) disciples accept their own disciples, flies in the face of deviant claims of ‘the last prophet’ order. The adoption of such a wayward diversion is tantamount to blocking the natural currents of a river with artificial barriers, which results in a reduced trickle of water thereafter. The same can be said for thinking that the spiritual flow stopped after Srila Prabhupada’s physical depature, who then assumed the status of ‘the last prophet.’

    Such a blockage also contradicts the total aggregate of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings concerning the Guru/disciple lineage and belittles all the previous acaryas who held dear this sacred tradition started by Lord Krishna Himself. Why would Srila Prabhupada be perty to such digression as some claim?

    For our good, and the good of future generations, Srila Prabhupada offered us a link to the parampara – as it is. The fact that he improvised and innovated to acheive this – sometimes to self-righteous protests from purists – showed how sincere he was. He would never have condoned a system which by other religious standards greatly slowed the living vibrant current.

    In sincerety, the tradition continues in Iskcon, whatever problems befall us. Today’s disciples will be tommorrows spiritual masters and so on, and so on. The Lord knows what our challenges are. He kindly puts obstacles simply to help us become stronger and unified. After all, these obstacles are also dear servants of the Lord.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  4. Krishna KP says :


    Very well written article, I really appreciate your words.

    Only one point, you mention that few months after first initiations Srila Prabhupada started giving brahmana initiation, but according to other sources (mainly Satsvarupa Maharaj) First brahmana initiations took place in Boston in 1968.

    By the way, Prabhuji when you will bless us with your new volume of your Transcendental Diary? waiting very eagerly.

    YS. Krishna Kripa D

  5. varahanarasimha says :

    I just read and heard this lecture by Srila Prabhupada ,it seems very appropiate in this regard:

    27 August 69 , Hamburg


    Prabhupada: Apavitrah pavitro va. One may be in impure condition and one may be in pure condition. Sarvavastham, in all conditions. Avastha means all conditions. Gato ‘pi va, situated, in any condition situated; yah, anybody; smaret, remembers; pundarikaksam. Pundarikaksam means “the Lord whose eyes are like the lotus petal.” Lotus eyes. Pundarikaksam. Sa, that person becomes; sa bahyabhyantaram. Bahya means externally and abhyantara means internally. Bahyabhyantaram sucih. Sucih means purified. Another suci means brahmana. A brahmana is called suci. A brahmana means a purified person. Not that by birth one becomes pure. No. The purificatory process. There are purificatory processes. Just like in infectious condition, those who are vaccinated, given injection, he is supposed to be purified. He cannot be attacked or infected by the disease. Similarly, in spiritual life also one has to remain purified. The whole process, this Krsna consciousness movement, is to purify the people in general from the contaminated condition of material existence. Purifying. It is purifying process. A living entity by nature is pure because he is part and parcel of the Supreme Pure, God. But due to his impure condition, he has forgotten his eternal relationship with God. So this initiation means that one is being accepted as student by the spiritual master to promote him gradually to the purified state, where he can realize himself and God. This is the whole process. In contaminated state we cannot approach. I have given this example many times. Just like if you want to enter into certain place, then you must be adjusted with the conditions. Just like people are going to the moon planet. There it is supposed to be it is very cold. So people go with a certain type of dress by adjusting. Similarly, if you want to enter into the spiritual kingdom, the abode, the planet where Krsna lives, so you must be purified. Adjust yourself. Not only to the spiritual kingdom of Krsna — any planet you want to enter, you must adjust yourself in that way. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita,

    yanti deva-vrata devan
    pitrn yanti pitr-vratah
    bhutejya yanti bhutani
    mad-yajino ‘pi yanti mam
    [Bg. 9.25]

    If you adjust yourself, then you can go to the higher planetary system. Deva-vrata devan. Devan means the planetary system or the different planets where demigods are living. Just like this moon planet. This moon planet is also another planet of the demigod Candra. I do not know the modern expedition of going to the moon planet, how far it will be successful. I think it cannot be successful. According to Vedic literature, it cannot be successful because people cannot adjust to enter that planet. One has to adjust, make the bodily condition in that way so that one can live there. In this planet also, there are different climates. In India the climate is different, and your Western country, the climate is different. So when one comes to the Western country, he also adjusts with different coats and shirts. In India we can remain naked body practically throughout the whole year, but you cannot live here. So there is adjustment. So this adjustment, the Bhagavad-gita says, mad-yajino ‘pi yanti mam [Bg. 9.25]. “Those who have adjusted themselves to come to Me, he can come.” There is no obstruction. So this initiation process, this Krsna consciousness, means to adjust your condition so that after leaving this body, you can enter into the planet where Krsna lives. These things are very nicely explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama: [Bg. 15.6] “That supreme abode, where entering, one does not come back again to this material world, that is My supreme abode.” There is…

    na yatra bhasayate suryo
    na sasanko na pavakah
    yad gatva na nivartante
    tad dhama paramam mama
    [Bg. 15.6]

    These kind are explained. In that spiritual kingdom there is no need of sunshine, there is no need of moonshine, there is no need of electricity. And one who goes there, he does not come back. He lives there eternally, blissful life of knowledge.

    So the initiation process means to give the conditioned soul a chance. This chance can be available in this human form of life. The cats and dogs, they cannot take chance of entering into the spiritual kingdom, or they cannot… It is not possible they can take initiation for purifying the body. So everybody, every human being, should take advantage of this form of life, human form of life, and cultivate this Krsna consciousness. And it is very simple and easy also. For this age, Lord…, by the grace of Lord Caitanya, we have got very easy method: simply chanting Hare Krsna. This mantra also which we uttered just now, it is said, yah smaret pundarikaksam: “Anyone who remembers pundarikaksam, Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, immediately he becomes purified.” Suci. Suci. Suci means purified. Sri visnu sri visnu sri visnu. Three times. So the Krsna and Visnu is the same thing. Krsna is the original person of all visnu-tattva. So anyone who is keeping himself always in touch with the vibration of Krsna consciousness — Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare — that is the only, I mean to say, guaranteed platform where you can keep yourself purified without any material contamination. And in this purified state, if we can leave this body ultimately, then there is no doubt we enter into the supreme abode of the Personality of Godhead. These things are very nicely explained in the Bhagavad-gita, and you read carefully. This initiation does not mean… Of course, this chanting will save you, only chanting. But if you read some literatures also, and the philosophy also, then it will be more and more convincing that you are making progress. And in the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita you will find that this is the process by which you can understand practically whether you are making actually progress in spiritual life. Pratyaksam avagamam dharmyam. This bhakti-yoga system is so nice that one can directly understand how he is making progress, and very quickly. That’s a fact. All of our students who have taken to this process, within very short time, they are realizing that actually they are making some progress. Therefore they are sticking to the principles and going on.

    So my request to you all who are going to be initiated, that you keep always yourself in contact with this chanting and that will make you, I mean to say, able to be always purified, suci. Material contamination cannot… And you avoid these four principles: illicit sex life, meat-eating, intoxication of all descriptions. Intoxication does not mean simply liquor. Intoxication means even tea-drinking. Tea is also intoxication, in slight degree. Tea, coffee, cigarettes — everything should be avoided. In India they chew pan. So these things are to be give up, intoxication group, and meat-eating group. Then you make very quickly progress, and by the grace of Krsna, tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti kaunteya [Bg. 4.9]. After leaving this body, one hasn’t got to take another material body and suffer. So long we have got this material body, we have to suffer the material pangs. There cannot be any adjustment. So if anyone is serious for ending all troubles… Everyone wants to live peacefully and happily. That is natural, because spirit soul is anandamayo ‘bhyasat (Vedanta-sutra 1.1.12), by nature joyful. He wants to keep himself joyful, but he does not know how eternal joyful life can be attained. That is spiritual life. You cannot become joyful by material adjustment. No. You may be joyful for the time being by drinking or by intoxication, but how long? So long the intoxication influence is there, you may feel something. That is artificially. But that is not actually the state of joyfulness. Real state of joyfulness is to be situated in spiritual life, and when you (are) actually in the spiritual kingdom, then you become sac-cid-ananda-vigraha [Bs. 5.1], eternal life, joyful life, blissful life, with full knowledge.

    So on behalf of Krsna, we are trying to distribute this knowledge at least in this part of the world. Now, those who are fortunate, they will take it and be benefited. Our business is to distribute. Now it is up to you. Every individual soul is independent. He may accept or may not accept. That depends on him. But if he accepts, it is good for him. Otherwise, he may make his choice. Krsna never…, God never interferes with your independence. No. He will never do that. Then what is the meaning of living being? Dull matter, it has no independence. Even it is a big mountain or big thing, it has no independence. It will stand still. But a small ant, even a microbe, it has got independence because it is living creature. So God has made you or given you little independence. That independence does not mean that you shall misuse it. You shall use it properly. And what is that proper use? To be engaged in His loving service. Just like you citizens of this German state, what you are meant for? You are meant for rendering service to the state. Similarly, the whole… This is a small state. America is a small… Or this planet is a small state. But there is a huge state which is called the cosmic manifestation. That state belongs to Krsna, or God. So naturally, you have to render service to the supreme state, supreme will. Then it is all right. Your independence is there. So long you are rendering service to the state properly, your independence as citizen is there. But as soon as you rebel against the state, your independence is gone. Similarly, our, this conditional life is due to our rebellious condition towards God. As soon as we agree surrender and be one with Him by transcendental loving service, the whole thing becomes adjusted. So Krsna consciousness movement means to teach people and to give them practical suggestion and help to… (end)

    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Initiation Lecture — Hamburg, August 27, 1969

  6. Locanananda dasa says :

    Reflecting on the current management of ISKCON and its initiation procedures,
    I believe that today’s leaders have inherited a system of initiations that is based on at least a partial misunderstanding.

    Srila Prabhupada’s instructions concerning how initiations would be
    performed were meant to preserve the authority structure of ISKCON, not
    undermine it. After thirty years, the GBC is still having to deal with parallel
    lines of authority which very often place the GBC and the ISKCON gurus in a
    quandary. Those who are familiar with Srila Prabhupada’s management style know he would not have proposed an initiation system that would create conflicting roles between the initiators of new members and the ultimate managing authority of ISKCON.

    What he actually proposed was the perfect system by which the ultimate authority of the GBC would be supported. Those giving diksa were not intended to become the ultimate spiritual authority for the disciple. The disciple is first and foremost an initiated follower of Srila Prabhupada. He becomes officially connected with the guru parampara when his initiation is performed by a “facilitator guru” who will naturally help the disciple to further cultivate his or her relationship with Srila Prabhupada. Because the facilitator guru is simply acting on behalf of the founder acarya by giving diksa, he is not thought of as the eternal spiritual master who will deliver the disciple from the cycle of birth and death. And he certainly does not allow himself to be worshiped as one would worship a maha-bhagavata.

    In ISKCON, those who initiate disciples are often worshiped in a way which
    would indicate they are more than facilitator gurus, although such worship
    has been toned down in recent years. However, the mentality whereby one sees
    himself as the worshipable, deliverer guru is to some degree still present.
    Recounting the real history of initiations in ISKCON must include the
    reluctance to embrace the post of facilitator guru, a divinely-inspired arrangement that would have automatically protected them from becoming the prime object of worship.

    If you accept the role of “facilitator guru” you become bound to
    adhere to the body of instructions related to that post. When His Divine Grace described the system of initiations he wanted to have
    implemented when he would no longer be physically present, he did not
    mention that those who would be giving diksa would be worshiped as the
    eternal spiritual master. It is all but impossible to “keep Srila Prabhupada in the
    center” and at the same time position ISKCON gurus as the lord and master
    of their disciples. ISKCON has only one lord and master: Srila Prabhupada.

    It is true that the facilitator guru must be transcendentally qualified. He must be fully conversant with the spiritual science of Krishna consciousness. He should act as a transparent via medium in explaining Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. And, by his exemplary character and personal behavior, he should be able to inspire others to surrender to Krishna. According to diksa-vidhana, the formalities of initiation, those he initiates will be considered his disciples and Srila Prabhupada’s grand-disciples. However, those disciples are not expected to surrender body, mind and intelligence to the facilitator guru who is acting as Srila Prabhupada’s representative. The disciples have already surrendered at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and it is that state of surrender that qualifies them to receive diksa. The prime loyalty of the grand-disciple is to His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his teachings and his mission.

    While some ISKCON gurus have come and gone, the teachings and the mission of
    Srila Prabhupada remain. That is where all devotees should repose their
    unswerving faith. At the same time, a devotee who receives diksa from a
    facilitator guru should be forever grateful to and respectful of that glorious
    vaisnava. But our ultimate point of surrender is at the lotus feet of
    Krishna’s pure devotee, he who was empowered by the Lord to propagate the
    art of devotional service throughout the world.

    Your servant,
    Locanananda dasa

  7. Danavir Goswami says :

    Regarding comment #6: If the theory of “facilitator guru,” is correct, one must wonder why Srila Prabhupada failed to mention such a thing—ever. Instead, near the end of his presence, he reiterated what he had stated many times prior, i.e. that his qualified disciples would become “regular gurus” upon his departure from this world.

    “When I order, ‘You become guru,’ he becomes regular guru. That’s all. He becomes disciple of my disciple. That’s it.” (GBC Meets with Srila Prabhupada—May 28, 1977, Vrndavana)

  8. Locanananda dasa says :

    With all due respect, Maharaja, this is not a theory. It is an order from our founder acarya, just stated a little differently in the same conversation with the GBC you refer to above. I would be honored to exchange private correspondence with you on the subject, if you are willing. You can write to me at

    Your humble servant,
    Locanananda dasa

  9. sita-pati says :

    Perhaps “facilitator guru” is “regular guru”.

    I never met Srila Prabhupada in person in this body, but I remember his mood from what I have read as being one of: “I am simply a servant of my spiritual master”. I heard that at an early Vyasa puja celebration for his spiritual master he said: “I have nothing to offer you except these disciples”.

    So I think this is the internal conception of the regular or facilitator guru: “I have no qualification except adhering to the lotus feet of my spiritual master. By his grace and my connection with him these people are connected to the parampara”.

    To me ritvik-vada seems like a counter-swing to reinforce this internal conception, which has in a lot of cases been missing.

  10. Locanananda dasa says :

    Dear Danavir Maharaja,

    I would answer by saying that a “facilitator guru” is a “regular guru” who is deputed to initiate disciples with the purpose of connecting them to the founder acarya, Srlia Prabhupada, who is empowered to deliver those disciples from the cycle of birth and death.

  11. shiva says :

    There is no sastric conception of such a position as “facilitator guru” as that given by Locanananda dasa. Nor is there any mention of such a conception found within the writings of any recognized past acarya. Locanananda dasa claims that “it is not a theory but an order” from Srila Prabhupada. Where is this order? Where does Srila Prabhupada describe what Locanananda has described? All that Locanananda can point to is a conversation where Srila Prabhupada gives instructions on how to carry out initiations for him while he was physically present due to the fact of his physical limitations at that time. Nowhere does Srila Prabhupada describe the philosophical conception given by Locanananda dasa of such a position as a “facilitator guru”. Such a conception is an extrapolation by Locanananda dasa from what was actually said. In fact there is no such theological conception in the entire gaudiya vaisnava canon.

    Not only does such a conception not exist in the gaudiya canon, it’s basic premise is contradictory to gaudiya siddhanta. Locanananda writes

    He becomes officially connected with the guru parampara when his initiation is performed by a “facilitator guru” who will naturally help the disciple to further cultivate his or her relationship with Srila Prabhupada.

    Where does this idea of a guru’s role being to “help the disciple cultivate a relationship” with the guru’s guru come from? Such a teaching is without any support or precedent from guru, sastra, or sadhu. The role of the guru is to help the disicple cultivate a relationship with God. The replacement of God with Srila Prabhupada in the guru disciple paradigm is an egregious concoction. But I imagine that Locanananda das doesn’t consider the role of current diksa gurus to be actual gurus in the traditional sense. In his conception they belong to a new category of guru, a guru-who-is-not-a-guru. Therefore they do not have the traditional role of being the representative of Sri Paramatma, rather they are nothing more then ushers whose job it is to lead people to the teachings of a guru who is no longer living. What the tradition actually teaches is that the guru is the representative of God. Amongst his various activities in relation to his disciples is to introduce the teachings of the previous acaryas in his preaching. This is part of the traditional method of citing guru, sastra and sadhu whilst teaching vedic knowledge. Nowhere do we find within the gauidya tradition the idea that the job of a guru is to aid his discicples in cultivating a “relationship” with his guru. Nowhere does Srila Prabhupada mention such a conception. Therefore it must be rejected. It is a spurious ad hoc concoction based upon a personal critical assessment of the qualification of current diksa gurus. The motivation for such a concoction is based upon the personal convictions of Locanananda das and other that the current diksa gurus are not qualified as bona fide spiritual masters.

    The subjective nature of determining the qualification of or level of spiritual attainment of a diksa guru is a natural part of the process of the development of the guru disciple relationship. If someone thinks that there are no bona fide diksa gurus then he can refrain from taking diksa or he can advise people against taking diksa. But it is not his prerogative to create a new theology in order to rectify his subjective vision of a lack of qualified diksa gurus. Such theological concoctions is a show of impudence based on the subjective vision of a jiva soul who is predisposed to the defects of:

    (1) bhrama – mistakes
    (2) pramada – illusion
    (3) karanapatava – defective perception
    (4) vipralipsa – desire to cheat or deceive

    Locanananda dasa wrote

    According to diksa-vidhana, the formalities of initiation, those he initiates will be considered his disciples and Srila Prabhupada’s grand-disciples. However, those disciples are not expected to surrender body, mind and intelligence to the facilitator guru who is acting as Srila Prabhupada’s representative. The disciples have already surrendered at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and it is that state of surrender that qualifies them to receive diksa. The prime loyalty of the grand-disciple is to His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his teachings and his mission.

    Such a theology as outlined above is in direct contradiction to the sastric and gaudiya teachings on the role of the diksa guru. Representing such a concoction and apasiddhanta as worthy of being recognized as authoritative to an audience of traditional gaudiya vaisnavas is ludicrous. Obviously the desire to supplant traditional teachings on these topics is due to the vision of Locanananda das that there are no qualified spiritual masters current today. Even if that were true that still doesn’t give him or anybody else the prerogative to invent new theology. It isn’t his or anyone else’s divinely mandated right to deny tradition based upon their own subjective vision of other peoples qualifications.

  12. Locanananda dasa says :

    Maharaja, I would like to mention that in my research, I have only found one instance
    where Srila Prabhupada used the term “regular guru” and that was in the conversation you quoted in comment seven. It was not an expression he had used many times prior to that conversation. Of course, the concept of guru parampara
    and disciplic succession is referred to throughout his teachings and is vital to our understanding of Krishna consciousness.

    The actual point I am making, however, is not about titles or about how many times a particular term was used by Srila Prabhupada. My point is to acknowledge Srila Prabhupada’s ongoing role as the ultimate spiritual authority for all generations of his followers and the role of the GBC as the ultimate managerial authority for ISKCON in his physical absence. To the extent that the GBC is transparent and loyal to Srila Prabhupada, to that extent they will also represent his spiritual authority. Srila Prabhupada made this clear when he explained how initiations were to be performed in the future. He did not hand over ultimate spiritual authority to those “regular gurus” who would initiate disciples when he would no longer be present to guide the society. The arrangement he recommended guaranteed that the leadership role of the GBC and temple presidents would remain intact. It is my opinion that to say the GBC is the ultimate MANAGERIAL authority and the initiating guru is the ultimate SPIRITUAL authority has had a contradictory effect on the growth of our movement and the spiritual development of its members. The truth of the matter is that those giving diksa do so on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. Having been deputed to give diksa does not mean they have automatically become eternally liberated absolute spiritual authorities.

    When anyone joins the Hare Krishna movement, they agree to accept the orders of the founder acarya as the final word . Whoever is initiating in ISKCON is expected to be a transparent medium to the founder acarya who is worshiped by all as guru. After explaining how initiations would be performed in the future when he would no longer be with us, to my knowledge, Srila Prabhupada did not mention that those who would give diksa would be worshiped in his temples. Nor did he authorize the GBC to introduce such worship. We should be able to see the wisdom in this arrangement if our true intention is to always keep Srila Prabhupada in the center. As Sita-pati prabhu points out in comment number nine above, we need to inculcate throughout our society the internal conception that the regular guru is the servant and not the master.

  13. Hari Sauri dasa says :

    RE: Comment #4 from Krsna Krpa prabhu:

    Very well written article, I really appreciate your words.

    Only one point, you mention that few months after first initiations Srila Prabhupada started giving brahmana initiation, but according to other sources (mainly Satsvarupa Maharaj) First brahmana initiations took place in Boston in 1968.

    My reply: Yes, I put “a few months” because I didn’t have the information on hand at the time I wrote the article. Its deliberately nebulous but indicates it wasn’t so long after the first hari nama initiations that the diksa initiations began.

    By the way, Prabhuji when you will bless us with your new volume of your Transcendental Diary? waiting very eagerly.

    HSd: I am working on volume 6 right now. I have about 200 pages done. I am aiming for a Gaura Purnima 2008 release date.

    Yhs, Hsd

  14. Locanananda dasa says :

    In answer to Shiva dasa, I see in your comment above numerous false accusations
    aimed at me due to your knee-jerk reaction to concepts you are not at all familiar with. For example, in the Caitanya caritamrita, reference is made to Yadunandana
    Acarya as the “official initiator” spiritual master of Raghunatha dasa. After Raghunatha dasa received diksa from Yadunandana Acarya, he went to Puri to take shelter of Lord Caitanya. Similarly, a member of ISKCON who has received diksa from an official initiator spiritual master, referred to in my comment as a “facilitator guru”,
    then takes shelter of Srila Prabhupada with the help of the official initiator spiritual master and other senior devotees. Actually, he has already taken shelter of Srila Prabhupada even before being initiated and it is that faith in the founder acarya that will propel him to higher and higher levels of Krishna conscious realizations.

    My understanding is that one’s choice of guru is made when one accepts Srila Prabhupada as one’s lord and master, in other words, when one becomes a dedicated
    foll0wer and servant of His Divine Grace. That is the position of all new devotees who become qualified for initiation. As a matter of formality, the initiation is performed
    by the facilitator guru, who is advanced in Krishna consciousness. He may be VERY advanced in Krishna consciousness, but because there was no instruction from the founder acarya that those who would give diksa in his temples would be worshiped,
    his followers are obligated to refrain from introducing such worship. This policy, if followed, would guarantee that Srila Prabhupada would remain the supreme spiritual authority for ISKCON devotees for all time. That is what we call “keeping Srila Prabhupada in the center.”

    According to the teachings of Viraraghava Acarya, quoted by Srila Prabhupada in the Srimad Bhagavatam, one may not change the spirit of the disciplic succession, but an acarya may adjust the details of initiation according to time, place and circumstance.
    If an acarya makes an adjustment, it may appear to those with limited vision to breach the codes of sastra or of vaisnava tradition. Just as Srila Prabhupada crossed an ocean (unheard of for sannyasis) to preach the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, performed wedding ceremonies for his disciples, gave gayatri mantra diksa to former meat-eaters, and did so many other things without precedent, he similarly recommended a procedure for future initiations that one does not find occuring in the annals of vaisnava history. That is because there is no history of a worldwide movement conducted by any acarya in any vaisnava line in the past. To expand this movement to every town and village, from sea to sea, and mountain to mountain,
    it was necessary to make adjustments as he saw fit and as he was inspired directly by Lord Krishna.

    The concept of “facilitator guru” is prominent in the line of Ramanujacarya. It is referred to as “acarya purusa” which literally translates as “man of the acarya”. The acarya who is worshiped is Ramanuja. Those who initiate others into the line do not become the object of worship and surrender. They see themselves as representatives of the great acarya who is the head of their disciplic line. This is referred to in the Bhagavad-gita as acaryovan puruso veda.

    Srila Prabhupada has stated that worship of the acarya is required, calling this principle acaryopasanam. A little research will lead you to a list of those great acaryas who are meant to be worshipped as good as God, including Ramanujacarya, Jesus Christ, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and so on. It is not that anyone who gives diksa is supposed to be worshipped on the highest level. That is your concoction.

    Srila Prabhupada is the spiritual master of the Hare Krishna movement. He is our topmost authority, and he is living still in sound. We should never think of him as “not living”. Srila Prabhupada is very much alive in the hearts of those whose lives are surrendered to him and who are dedicated to his mission. Everyone in ISKCON has a relationship with Srila Prabhupada as the eternal spiritual master. Do not think that he is just one of the previous acaryas. He is the fulfiller of Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s prediction that the Holy Name would be heard in every town and village throughout the world. Srila Prabhupada’s appearance was predicted by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, and it was foretold that he would cross an ocean to open 108 temples of Krishna. It is especially true that by his potency the name of Krishna became a household word on every continent.

    Why should someone initiating in ISKCON not emphasize the relationship disciples have with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada used to say that the grand spiritual master is kinder to the grand-disciple than to his own direct disciple. Why would you not want new devotees to experience the kindness of Krishna’s pure devotee. Shiva prabhu, your whole response to my comment sounds very hard-hearted, as if you have also been deprived of that kindness.

    There are so many ISKCON gurus who say, “I am acting on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf in giving initiation.” They say, “Anyone I initiate, I direct them to the worship of Srila Prabhupada.” My impression is that in today’s ISKCON, the gurus have assumed the role of linking their disciples with Srila Prabhupada, a concept you oppose.

    I don’t think ISKCON asserts that those who give initiation are necessarily residents of the spiritual world or are able to deliver their disciples from the wheel of samsara. This is possible only for the most confidential servant of God who comes to this world to fulfill the Lord’s purpose to reclaim the conditioned souls back to home, back to Godhead. For ISKCON devotees, that exalted servant of God is none other than His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

    I believe I have explained the importance of implementing Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation concerning future initiations. I do not believe an ongoing debate about guru-tattva is called for, nor would it be well received on this website. If anyone wants to communicate with me privately on this subject, I would be more than happy to continue the discussion with you.

    Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,
    Locanananda dasa

  15. shiva says :

    Locanananda prabhu my remarks are not knee jerk, this philosophy has been around for many years and what you have written is that same philosophy. I didn’t just hear about it from you and then reacted in the heat of the moment. I have held an opinion on that philosophy for a long time.

    As for your claim that because Yadunandana Acarya is called “official acarya” by Srila Prabhupada therefore your philosophy of the “facilitator guru” is somehow mentioned by Srila Prabhupada; that is simply your own imaginary extrapolation. In fact the real reason Srila Prabhupada said that Yadunandana Acaraya was the “official initiator spiritual master” of Raghunath Das Goswami is because Raghunath Das had many gurus, but it was Yadunandana Acarya who gave him diksa. Raghunatha Das came under the influence of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu, Gadadhara Pandit, Swarupa Damodar, Haridas Thakura, Sri Rupa Goswami and Sri Sanatana Goswami. After the disappearance of Mahaprabhu and other great personalities Raghunath fell into despair and decided to commit suicide by jumping off of Govardhana Hill. There he met Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana and saw in them Mahaprabhu. They became his siksa gurus. So the point of calling Yadunandana Acarya the “official initiator spiritual master” of Raghunath Das Goswami is because after taking diksa from him he went on to take the mercy of so many other gurus.

    As for your mentioning of what goes on in the Sri Sampradaya, ISKCON is in the sampradaya of Sri Caitanya. I find it peculiar that you make such an insistence on “keeping Prabhupada in the center” yet want to use some other tradition then that of Srila Prabhupada to guide how Srila Prabhupada’s mission is run.

    All you other claims are nothing more then a concoction. Nowhere in the sastra, nor does Srila Prabhupada, nor any other gaudiya acarya of the past teach a philosophy like that of your “facilitator guru”. If you disagree feel free to prove me wrong, but only if you resist from cryptic extrapolations of the type which you have given and rely on, give me something explicit, if you can.

  16. Akruranatha says :

    These “guru issues” are of deep concern to devotees and can be hard for us to publicly talk about. We made serious mistakes in ISKCON after Srila Prabhupada’s departure that are painful to remember, and which unfortunately resulted in the marginalization or disaffection of many devotees.

    As a movement, we adopted a phony “party line” (i.e., that the 11 gurus appointed by Srila Prabhupada were all topmost perfect “pure devotees” with full realization of Krishna, similar if not completely equal to Srila Prabhupada, and very different from and entitled to great deference and obedience from even their godbrothers and godsisters.)

    It was the biggest crisis faced by the fledgling movement and became the focal point of schisms, splinter groups, angry vocal dissidents, and sometimes disproportionate reaction.

    Less than ten years after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, most of the 11 gurus Srila Prabhupada appointed had fallen down. Finally, much needed reforms were implemented, primarily involving the adding of more gurus, the curtailment of public worship of the gurus, a re-emphasis on the special position of Srila Prabhupada as the Founder-Acarya and the specially empowered, topmost devotee-preacher, and to a certain extent a separation of the functions of management and political power within ISKCON from the role of initiating spiritual master.

    Twenty years on, it appears the reforms have mostly worked. ISKCON remains healthy and capable of distributing Mahaprabhu’s message on a grander scale than ever. Hopefully the schisms can now be healed to a certain extent (some fractures may be irreversable), and we can speak more easily and openly about all these things and develop a unified and generally accepted perspective on what we did wrong and how we can continue to improve.

    I agree with Danavir Maharaja and Shiva that we should be careful not to invent any new or unauthorized philosophies, but I do understand the impulse that drives Locanananda and others to seek a new formula giving formal special recognition to Srila Prabhupada’s position.

    I think it would be helpful to hear the perspectives of senior loyal ISKCON devotees on where we went wrong in the “Zonal-Acarya” days and what our actual philosophy is with respect to why the reforms were needed and how they worked, and how we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

    I know Rabindra Svarupa and others have written eloquently on these topics, but other presentations would surely be welcomed.

  17. Akruranatha says :

    I heard that when Ramesvara was at L.A. Ratha Yatra this year, he was confronted by a woman who severely chastised him, saying things like he should be ashamed to show his face at Ratha Yatra after all the terrible things he had done.

    I did not directly witness the exchange, but I was told that he humbly tolerated her blast and then pacified her somewhat by explaining that he never wanted to pretend to be a maha-bhagavata, but that he was pressured by other leaders to go along, that he had given orders to remove his vyasasana from the temple room but then he was confronted and bullied into changing his mind by other zonal-acaryas.

    I think we all should realize that, even though many of the initial 11 had some unhealthy material desires to be worshiped and treated as kings, they were also swept up by historical forces and were trying to fulfil their responsibilities as servants of Srila Prabhupada according to their lights.

    As a movement we were accustomed to preach about our guru Srila Prabhupada, and we expected that all our gurus had to be promoted the way we promoted Srila Prabhupada and treated the way we treated Prabhupada. Because a guru is a perfect representative of God living and walking among us, it was natural for most of us to think that every “guru” should be an autonomous, autocratic leader of all the “lesser” devotees around him.

    Devotees who had the vision to see this as a mistake (some of these may have had their own material motivations), or who felt compelled to point out personal flaws in some of the zonal-acaryas, were perceived as interfering with the preaching mission. Some were silenced, purged, expelled or mistreated.

    I think the main lessons we had to learn are:

    (1) “Initiating guru” is not a political position within ISKCON. (Whereas the title “acarya” is sometimes used to denote a special leader of the entire society of devotees at a particular time, the initiating guru has a special relationship with his or her disciples, but with everyone else should remain an exemplary, humble, cooperative vaisnava);

    (2) Srila Prabhupada will always remain the founder-acarya of ISKCON, and his instructions, through his books and recorded lectures and conversations are the foundational and primary instructions of our Society. (Everyone in ISKCON not only can but *must* take shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, and every guru in ISKCON must see his or her mission as delivering that message intact without adding or subtracting anything);

    (3) Not every regular initiating guru has to be a saktyavesa avatar or a great maha-bhagavata. (Becoming a guru does not involve deceiving people into thinking one is on a higher platform that one really is. Gurus should give knowledge and truth, not deception and fakery as is often the case with mayavadi gurus. A guru should be “strotriam brahma-nistham,” and ideally one should select a guru from among the “first-class” devotees, but a sober madhyama adhikari who is strictly following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and controlling the six urges is qualified to initiate disciples and officially connect them to the disciplic succession.)

    (4) The guru-disciple relationship is personal and should be based on the mutual agreement of the individual guru and disciple, rather than decisions by ISKCON bureaucracy (as was the case when there was supposed to be only one guru in each geographic “zone” and there were sometimes forced mass re-initiations).

    (5) One who takes the responsibility of initiating disciples into Lord Caitanya’s disciplic succession must be very careful to train the disciples nicely. (Just as one should not accept a guru as a “fashion” but only for the purpose of achieving spiritual perfection, no one should accept disciples for ulterior motives such as to benefit economically or to become famous or politically powerful. It is a solemn relationship like getting married or having children, that involves serious personal commitments on both sides. Generally sannyasis are warned against taking many disciples or building many temples, as there is a danger of material infection, just as there is by associating with rich and powerful people.)

    With respect to item number (2), above, it can be observed that even devotees whose initiating gurus have fallen down, or who have seriously taken up the practices of sadhana bhakti in ISKCON without getting initiated, appear to remain spiritually healthy, good devotees. Thus, although we know that taking initiation and being trained by a bona-fide guru is an essential regulative principle, it seems that devotees can make progress in ISKCON without rushing into getting initiated or re-initiated. Give them time and eventually they will get duly initiated. Also, we have learned that when an initiated guru falls down or leaves ISKCON, the disciple should be permitted to go on with a service that requires second initiation (such as cook or pujari) without requiring immediate re-initiation.