Progressing Without a "Living" Guru?


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 12, Summer 2006,
"Readers’ questions & challenges"

"I wish to learn more - especially since I've learned that direct initiation must be from a living guru - how is this not possible???"
- Saanu Aino, Denver, USA

Editor replies:

1) Srila Prabhupada never used the term "living guru". Therefore, it can have no relevance to initiation.

2) The vast majority of Srila Prabhupada's thousands of disciples were initiated via the ritvik system without ever having met Srila Prabhupada.

3) Therefore, the physical presence of the spiritual master cannot at all be relevant to initiation.

4) Initiation is not a ceremony. It is a spiritual process which begins with the disciple's serious determination to follow the rules and regulations as laid down by the spiritual master:

"Initiation is a formality. If you are serious, that is real initiation. [...] My touch is simply a formality. It is your determination, that is initiation."
(BTG #49, 'Search for the Divine', emphases added)

The fact that Srila Prabhupada is no longer physically present before us has no bearing on the transcendental process of diksa, or initiation. There is nothing in sastra (scripture) which states that initiation can only occur when the spiritual master is on the planet. Rather it occurs due to the receipt of transcendental knowledge from Srila Prabhupada, which does not depend on his physical presence:

"This is the purpose of diksa, or initiation. Initiation means receiving the pure knowledge of spiritual consciousness."
(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 9.61 purport)

"Reception of spiritual knowledge is never checked by any material condition."
(Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.7.1 purport)

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 17, Autumn 2007,
"Readers’ questions & challenges"

"You are going against the system of guru, because why don't we keep Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati as guru rather than Prabhupada? Yes, this is because we require a living guru for going to Krishna."
- Srinadh, Andhra Pradesh, India   

Editor replies:

Firstly, please note that the "system of guru" is whatever our guru, Srila Prabhupada, says the system is. On July 9th, 1977, Srila Prabhupada issued a signed directive to all GBCs and Temple Presidents establishing the ritvik system of managing initiations for ISKCON.  Thus, those who disbanded this system without authorisation are the ones who are "going against the system of guru".

We cannot keep Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, or anyone else for that matter, as our diksa guru for the simple reason that we are only authorised to receive initiation from the current link spiritual master:

"[...] one should approach the current link, or spiritual master, in the chain of disciplic succession."
(Srimad-Bhagavatam, 2.9.7, purport)

Srila Prabhupada cannot cease being the current link for ISKCON simply due to his disappearance, when he continues to live as the guru through his words:

"So although a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the Spiritual Master, vibration. What we have heard from the Spiritual Master, that is living."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 13/1/69)

Rather, to cease being the current link, Srila Prabhupada would need to authorise someone to succeed him as the initiating spiritual master for ISKCON, but there is no record of this having happened.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 22, Winter 2008/9,
"Readers’ questions & challenges"

"One thing I would like to bring up is that a desire to get initiated is a very real one that should be addressed in your magazine. If a devotee wants to get initiation where do they go to receive it? It's something that needs to be dealt with. "
- Bhaktilila Dasi, California, USA

Editor replies:

Real initiation means to follow Srila Prabhupada:

"So anyway, from 1922 to 1933 practically I was not initiated, but I got the impression of preaching Caitanya Mahaprabhu's cult. That I was thinking. And that was the initiation by my Guru Maharaja."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, December 10th, 1976)

"Initiation is a formality. If you are serious, that is real initiation [...] My touch is simply a formality. It is your determination, that is initiation."
(Srila Prabhupada Conversation, Back to Godhead #49, 'Search for the Divine')

"The chanting of Hare Krsna is our main business, that is real initiation. And as you are all following my instruction, in that matter, the initiator is already there."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, August 19th, 1968)

"Well, initiation or no initiation, first thing is knowledge... knowledge. Initiation is formality. Just like you go to a school for knowledge, and admission is formality. That is not very important thing."
(Srila Prabhupada Interview, October 16th, 1976)

In addition, this "real" initiation is formalised with a ceremony. Once a real ISKCON is revived according to Srila Prabhupada's directions, then these formal ceremonies, along with so many other things currently missing in ISKCON, can be re-introduced. The IRM is working to do this by first exposing those who are masquerading as ISKCON and misleading and cheating all the innocent devotees.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 23, Spring 2009,
"Readers’ questions & challenges"

"I wanted to understand what it is like when you cannot meet your guru personally. What does the relationship with the guru mean in this case? How does this work? He inspires his disciples via meditation? In the articles, I read that this happens through the books?"
- Denes Mezei, Hungary (translated from Hungarian)

Editor replies:

Yes, the guru guides and inspires through his teachings, which he is able to make 'alive' and communicate to the recipient. This is the guru's mystic potency. And the proof of this is the thousands of disciples who practiced Krishna consciousness after reading Srila Prabhupada's books, even though they never saw or met him personally! In fact, Srila Prabhupada has already answered your question, as we see below:

Paramahamsa: "My question is, a pure devotee, when he comments on Bhagavad-gita, someone who never sees him physically, but he just comes in contact with the commentary, explanation, is this the same thing?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Yes. You can associate with Krsna by reading Bhagavad-gita. And these saintly persons, they have given their explanations, comments. So where is the difficulty?"
(Morning Walk, June 11th, 1974)

Srila Prabhupada: "Even a moments association with a pure devotee - all success. [...]"
Revatinandana: "Does that apply to reading the words of a pure devotee?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Yes."
Revatinandana: "Even a little association with your books has the same effect?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Effect. Of course it requires both things. One must be very eager to take it."
(Room Conversation, December 13th, 1970)

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 29, Autumn 2010,
"Readers’ questions & challenges"

"I am deeply disappointed by hearing all this about Sivarama Swami and other ISKCON gurus. This brings up a dilemma in me, how can one practice Krishna consciousness at all?  I mean, for example, should I not listen to the bhajans and kirtans of these ISKCON gurus any more? In whom can I trust at all then?"
- Nagy Sándor, Hungary (translated from Hungarian)

Editor replies:

There is no need to be disappointed by any false guru in ISKCON, since Srila Prabhupada has specifically warned us about them and also given us the remedy for avoiding such disappointment:

"There are many jealous people in the dress of Vaisnavas in this Krsna consciousness movement, and they should be completely neglected. There is no need to serve a jealous person who is in the dress of a Vaisnava."
(Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 1.218, purport)

"Unfortunately, when the acarya disappears, rogues and non-devotees take advantage and immediately begin to introduce unauthorized principles in the name of so-called swamis, yogis, philanthropists, welfare workers and so on. [...] The perfect disciples of the acarya try to relieve the situation by sincerely following the instructions of the spiritual master."
(Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.28.48, purport)

Clearly, those who have disobeyed Srila Prabhupada and usurped his position as guru qualify as being such "jealous persons".  We can therefore trust in Srila Prabhupada and his instructions, and listen to his bhajans, kirtans and lectures, of which there are many. We should not, however, trust, follow or listen to those who are not following Srila Prabhupada.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 38, Winter 2012/13, Interactive

"I pray to Sri Krsna that he gives you all His mercy. I was chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra for the past one year without skipping a day, but some persons have been disturbing me that I must take initiation from their ‘gurus'. They say that I cannot reach Krsna consciousness unless I accept such a ‘guru'. But there is no guru around me at all, and if I encounter a guru in the future I do not know whether it will be a fake or real one. Please, is it possible for me to achieve Krsna consciousness without taking one of these gurus?"
- Dr. Ogunpade Ayobami, Ogbomoso, Nigeria

Editor replies:

You already have your guru Srila Prabhupada therefore, it is not necessary to take a substitute. We have presented all the information establishing that Srila Prabhupada alone is the guru for ISKCON in our Back To Prabhupada magazine, which you have been receiving. So, please continue every day:

• Chanting 16 rounds.

• Following the 4 regulative principles.

• Reading Srila Prabhupada's books.

• Rendering service to him.

You do NOT require to get initiated by some "successor" impostor of Srila Prabhupada.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 39, Spring 2013, Interactive

"I would love to be a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. What you are doing is great. It is for the same reasons (fallen gurus and terrible things I would read about on the internet about ISKCON) I never wanted to join ISKCON when I was 15. Now I am 29 and I have been following the 4 regulative principles and chanting the 16 rounds Srila Prabhupada asks his devotees to do.
Your servant"
- Bhakta Lee, New Jersey, USA

"Is it necessary for me to have a "living guru" intervene as is claimed? If it is necessary, how can I find such a person? I feel confused, but in my heart I want to do the right thing and I know the right thing is to accept Srila Prabhupada as my initiating spiritual master."
- Joe Jernigan, Tennessee, USA

Editor replies:

As was proven conclusively in BTP 38, Srila Prabhupada is living, and thus he is the "living guru" everyone should accept. Most of Srila Prabhupada's disciples never even met him, yet they are accepting Srila Prabhupada as their "living guru", so why can't anyone else? It is ludicrous for the very same persons who are accepting Srila Prabhupada as a "living guru" to then claim that we must instead accept them as a "living guru" because one cannot accept Srila Prabhupada as a "living guru"!

So, these previous two devotees are doing the right thing in only accepting Srila Prabhupada as their guru and rejecting the "living" substitutes.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 42, Winter 2013/14, Interactive

"Hare Krsna,
You have on occasion answered my questions previously and it has been such a help. Thank you! Your magazine, Back To Prabhupada is so informative and provides information I can get nowhere else.
I have one other question that is troubling me. I keep reading in certain sources that in order to be a real devotee I must become initiated and I must have an ISKCON guru to do it. There are no ISKCON temples anywhere near where I live. I have on occasion emailed two other ISKCON gurus and have gotten no response. I love Krsna, I chant and read A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's books and follow his instructions. Must I have an ISKCON guru initiate me in order to be considered a true devotee? If I do, can you tell me of someone I can contact who would help me with this process?
With Much Respect,"
- David Cavall, North Carolina, USA

Editor replies:

Dear David,

You do not need to search for some ISKCON guru to initiate you, because as our publications document, Srila Prabhupada is your and everyone else's guru!

So stay with Srila Prabhupada do not deviate from him by accepting any other guru.

Thank you.

Your servant,


"Thank you! That gives me great peace of mind, I will continue to follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions through his talks and books.
I so enjoy your BTP magazine, thank you for the work you are doing!
With Much Respect!"
- David

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 43, Spring 2014, Interactive

"Hare Krishna,
I did a ‘disciple course' this month at ISKCON Juhu, Mumbai and for the first time came across the word rtvik. I got curious about this and started to learn more about this, and stumbled upon BTP and the debate on Gurus vs. rtviks. I am attending ISKCON from 2011 and done Bhakti Vriksh beginners course and waiting now for Bhakti Shastri course to start. I got an opportunity to get initiated but was not sure of my readiness, so my siksa guru suggested to take it after one more year, and now this confusion.
I am also a subscriber to "Thought of the Day" by Sankershan Dasa.
I am 53 years old. So now what should I do?
Just to understand more on this, do rtviks as of now initiate disciples for Srila Prabhupada?
Humble obeisances,"
- Krishna Kumar, Mumbai, India

Editor replies:

In BTP we have documented that Srila Prabhupada ordered that he alone remain ISKCON's diksa guru. Therefore, your first step is to become convinced of this fact. 

To this end, we can send you, free of charge, BTP magazines and other literature.

Simply send us your mailing address.

After you have become convinced of this fact, we can see the next step.

Interestingly, our last issue contained an exposé of Sankarshan Dasa, and the lies which he peddles to justify his position as a successor to Srila Prabhupada.

It is Krishna's arrangement that Supersoul has directed you to find out the truth before you got initiated by a guru hoaxer.

Thank you. Hare Krishna.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 46, Winter 2014/15, Interactive

"Hello, my name is Ralph Cardwell and I live in Queensland, Australia. I have been reading about Krishna and chanting for a number of months. In the course of my readings I have read some disturbing things about ISKCON. My question to you is, if I don't seek an ISKCON guru for shelter and guidance, where else do I look? Is there anywhere that is following the original teachings? Thank you for your time and I look forward to any advice you can offer."
- Ralph Cardwell, Queensland, Australia

Editor replies:

Srila Prabhupada is the guru who can provide us shelter and guidance directly, so the lack of an ISKCON guru is no handicap.

You do not need to look elsewhere.

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 49, Autumn 2015, Interactive

"I spoke with a lady who is interested in bhakti. As you can see in reading the message she sent me recently, the topic of initiation very much bothers her. I explained that the physical presence was not essential and that such diksa initiation advocated by Srila Prabhu­pada was effective and authentic.
Here is her email:
‘I had an interesting discussion with a devotee. She also thinks that I should have a living spiritual master to be able to really serve Krishna and be in line [...] I always know that I need to have a feeling of living love for someone to make me take off in bhakti, and I have no intimate contact with Prabhu­pada. I force myself to say that he is my spiritual master but it is mental. I believe that you have a wonderful chance to have met him and to have been his disciple because now he will accompany you during all your lives up to your liberation. But believe me, I feel empty and alone [...] it is a source of frustration that if I cannot find a living master, I will never reach Krishna.'
Please give your comments."
- Aradhana Dasa (Initiated 1970 in Paris), Paris, France

Editor replies:

1) Let us first be clear what a "living" spiritual master is:

"So although a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the spiritual master, vibration. What we have heard from the spiritual master, that is living."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 13/1/69)

"A Spiritual Master is the principle, not the body."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 28/5/68)

This "living" spiritual master, Srila Prabhu­pada, is still available to the whole world. However, this lady has taken "living" to only mean "physically present", which as the quotes above prove, is not required in order for the spiritual master to be "living".

2) She states that once one becomes a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, then Srila Prabhu­pada will accompany the disciple for as long as it takes him to achieve liberation. Thus, she actually accepts that the spiritual master does not need to be physically present to help the disciple "reach Krishna". And one can still become Srila Prabhupada's disciple even now. Because it is not taught by Srila Prabhupada that one can only become his disciple during the time when he was physically present on the planet.

3) She claims that without a "living" spiritual master, one "will never reach Krishna". But this has never been taught by Srila Prabhupada. And we just saw that she also accepts that Srila Prabhu­pada will help the disciple achieve liberation even though Srila Prabhu­pada is not physically present.

4) Many of Srila Prabhupada's disciples never met or had any interaction with him, and many newer devotees inspired by the IRM have continued to accept Srila Prabhu­pada as their guru after his physical departure. Yet they attest to having a real intimate feeling of love for him, and that they are not alone since Srila Prabhu­pada is with them. It is not "mental".

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 50, Winter 2015/16, Interactive

"Please note that I have now received my first copy of the magazine Back To Prabhupada. I have only begun reading the magazines and I find they make for very interesting, informative and revealing reading. I appreciate very much your forwarding me this magazine and hope that I am now in your mailing list.
Please note that I have a copy of 100 Contradictions currently going through it. Please advise how I could get in contact with another book called "an exposé 100 Deviations".  Prabhu, I am totally in the dark regarding these 2 books (some devotees at the 2015 Ratha Yatra Festival at the Durban Beachfront in South Africa mentioned these books). I am currently experiencing mixed feelings regarding "initiations", especially after attending services for the past 20+ years. I do not have any affiliation or attachment to the current set of Swamis visiting South Africa. I believe that since I have surrendered to Prabhupada after reading his works over many years, I cannot reconcile neither can I find it within myself to be attached to another Guru because of obvious reasons especially after attaching myself to a walking encyclopedia on spirituality that I have been striving for since a teenager.
It does not seem the same to love and respect another Guru since giving my heart to Srila Prabhupada.
Apologies for not being physically initiated as yet after so many years after giving my heart to Krsna and Prabhupada."
- George Coopasamy, Tongaat, South Africa

Editor replies:

We are sending you the 100 Deviations book.

If you read these two books, 100 Contradictions and 100 Deviations, you will no longer need to be in the dark, since you will see that Srila Prabhupada alone remains ISKCON's diksa guru, and that the so-called guru "successors" are unauthorised.

You are therefore correct to only accept Srila Prabhupada as your guru and not anyone else. Hence, you do not require to be initiated by any of these unauthorised gurus in ISKCON, and you have acted correctly in avoiding doing so. Stay at Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet and you will always be correctly situated.

"Thank you very much for your kind and prompt reply.
I have read the book 100 Contradictions. It makes good reading. Most of the statements made by Bhakti Charu Maharaja in the booklet have been made by him in South Africa as well.
The revelations by yourself clearly show that the so-called "gurus" have something to hide because of their insincerity by disobeying and flouting scripture and Prabhupada in particular at times. It has made me think maybe there was something in my soul that had deterred me from taking physical initiation the past 30+ years, as I had indicated in a previous correspondence that I had surrendered to Srila Prabhupada as my Diksa Guru and I could not bear the thought or idea of having someone else replacing or usurping his place in my heart.
I feel very sheltered under the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada. I find within myself a sense of value, peace, joy and tranquillity and nectarian bliss that is indescribable and when I read Prabhupada's books, I have tears of joy that stream from my eye; also the mention of the names of Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada I do not experience the same for the current Gurus."
- George Coopasamy

Back To Prabhupada, Issue 61, Vol 1, 2019, Interactive

"Please accept my respectful obeisances.
I'm glad to receive my first issue of BTP: Issue 57, Vol. 1. I would like to continue my free subscription for BTP and the book The Final Order. By the way, I had my first contact with ISKCON in the ‘70s, but everything changed after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance. Plus the illusory effect of this material world sucked me in again, but I have been back practicing the four regulative principles and been chanting regularly. I also took the disciple course. Now my point is where do I get from here knowing about all the mess that is present in ISKCON's bogus guru system.
Your servant,"
- Glicerio Corcuera, Ohio, USA

Editor replies:

Srila Prabhupada states:

"In the surrendering process, one should: (1) accept things favorable for discharging devotional service, (2) reject things unfavorable, (3) believe firmly in the Lord's protection, (4) feel exclusively dependent on the mercy of the Lord, (5) have no interest separate from the interest of the Lord, and (6) always feel oneself meek and humble."
(Cc., Adi-lila 1, Preface)

In regards to the points above, if you simply continue to strictly chant 16 rounds, follow the 4 regulative principles, read Srila Prabhupada's books and instructions, and follow what is stated in them without deviation – thus accepting and following him as your guru – then you will be satisfying point 1) above, or only accepting that which is favourable for devotional service.

It is interesting that you mention the "disciples course", because in this very issue we prove how that course cheats devotees with false information (please see page 4). Thus, this leads us to point 2) above. In order to reject those things which are unfavourable to devotional service, it is clear that you should reject any contact, association, or following of what you call the "mess that is present in ISKCON's bogus guru system", as such false systems and processes will only take one away from the true path of devotional service. And then, of course, you should also follow points 3-6, and in this way you will be on your path to surrendering to Krishna and going back to Godhead.

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Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare.
And be Happy!