Q. Srila Prabhupada writes in Nectar of Devotion about connecting one’s activities with Krishna:
“But all such activities must be in relationship with Krishna. This relationship is established by connecting oneself with the bona fide spiritual master, who is the direct representative of Krishna in disciplic succession… The connection with the spiritual master is called initiation.” (NOD, pg. xxii)
My wife and I are trying to cultivate devotion but we are not currently initiated by a bona fide spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada states, “Unless one is initiated by a bona fide spiritual master, all his devotional activities are useless.” (Cc. Madhya 15.108, purport) Does this mean our so-called cultivation of devotional service is useless?
A. Srila Rupa Goswami explains that sadhana-bhakti begins with taking shelter of a guru (gurupadasraya). Under such a guru’s shelter one receives siksa and eventually diksa that is followed by further siksa (krishnadiksadi-siksanam). He also mentions that one should render faithful affectionate service to one’s guru (visrambhena guroh seva) and follow the path of the sadhus (sadhuvartamanuvarttanam). All of these things are contained within what Rupa Goswami Prabhupada describes as anukulyena krishnanusilanam bhaktir uttamam, “Uttama bhakti, constituted of the ongoing culture of service to Krishna rendered with a favorable attitude.”
Thus initiation is integral to the culture of suddha bhakti, but when Prabhupada states that for one’s activities to be “in relation to Krishna” it is required that one be initiated, this means participating in the above progression outlined by Rupa Goswami. One’s activities before initiation are beneficial if they help to prepare one for initiation. They are useless only if they don’t lead to initiation.
Q. What is meant by “connection with the spiritual master” or “initiation”? We were previously initiated into Krishna consciousness by gurus who are no longer practicing.
A. Initiation signifies our acceptance into the spiritual lineage. Any sincere soul interested in Gaudiya Vaisnavism should aspire to receive this external sign of acceptance from a spiritually advanced member of the lineage. This acceptance involves imparting divine knowledge through the medium of mantra. At the time of imparting the mantra the guru instructs the disciple about the significance of the mantra and how to chant it properly. After imparting the mantra, the guru waters the seed of initiation with further instruction that will help to conceptually orient the disciple such that he can better take advantage of the mantra and come to the platform of chanting it perfectly.
Perfectly chanting the mantra results in self-realization (svarupa siddhi). Even if the realization of the guru who gives the mantra is not perfect, if the disciple receives spiritually empowered instructions from a siksa guru, he can attain the perfection contained within the mantra.
Given your circumstances, you should find a competent siksa guru to guide you. Over time you may also want to hear the mantra again from him, and if he feels this will help you, he will recite it for you. It will not be sufficient for you to merely read Prabhupada’s books, and this should already be apparent to you given your questions. You need guidance in order to bring his books to life for you in the present time and circumstances you find yourselves. Indeed, this is what Prabbupada’s books themselves advise.
Q. I am a fallen devotee, struggling to keep together the remnants of my Krishna consciousness. I was a book distributor for many years of my life, but I guess I haven’t learned how to truly practice Krishna consciousness. I really need a guide from whom I could learn more about bhakti. I am reading your edition of Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha. It’s really great! Next I am going to read your Gita commentary. I am sincerely hoping for your support and I am sorry for being so straight and open but I feel that I have a problem and you are the kind of person who can help me. What should I do?
A. Thank you for your kind letter. I will try to help you in every way, but you must also help yourself. If you read my books and study them carefully, researching the verses cited and the concepts presented therein and referring back to the source books of our sampradaya such as Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrita published by Srila Prabhupada, you will become strong again in Krishna consciousness.
Many devotees tell me they are also getting spiritual nourishment from listening to my lectures available on CD. So based on their response to them, I recommend these CDs to you as well.
Audarya has been set up both to facilitate my writing and to host devotees like yourself from time to time. Here in this environment you can study peacefully and spend time with me personally. Please feel free to visit and ask questions through the Sanga as need be.
Q. I don’t know if you remember but in Paris there was a program about Krishna consciousness and I’m the person who was very obnoxious to you in my enthusiasm for my particular understanding of how the disciplic succession (parampara) works. All I want to say is I’m sincerely begging you to forgive me for my offenses.
A. I do remember you and your enthusiasm that night. This enthusiasm is a good quality. If you can focus it on the proper Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta under good guidance, you will lose interest in material life and feel yourself steadily advancing spiritually day by day. This is our only interest: to make spiritual advancement. Know what the symptoms of spiritual advancement are and look for them within yourself. Humility is a good starting point.
Q. In a previous Sanga you quoted Srila Sridhara Maharaja:
“I was repeatedly requested by Swami Maharaja (Prabhupada), ‘Look after them. I have taken them to you. Please look after them.’ I also have some affinity for the cause of Mahaprabhu. So if anyone is coming to seek Krishna consciousness but is going away frustrated, then naturally, some sympathy should come in my heart to help him, to give him relief. With that idea, I give help, whatever help I can, although it is very meager.”
This and other information I read caused me to feel tremendous sorrow and frustration that thousands including myself were kept in darkness about the selfless spirituality of Srila Sridhara Maharaja because of sectarian institutional propaganda. I feel cheated by the ISKCON Governing Body Commission, who systematically disseminated misinformation about and vilification of Sridhara Maharaja.
My question is, is it the fault of the authorities that a newcomer gets misguided/cheated or is this partially the fault of the newcomer?
A. In my opinion you are blameless. ISKCON management is 50% to blame, and persons like myself are also 50% to blame for not representing Srila Sridhara Maharaja purely enough such that the GBC could understand his purity and take advantage of his association. For this I apologize. May he and Srila Prabhupada both bless you and everyone else in your position.
Now, please try to focus your attention on chanting purely and forgoing unnecessary material sense indulgence. All auspicious things will follow naturally from this. Embrace this and you will understand what Krishna consciousness is. This is what Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja taught, and it is within your reach, so there is every reason to be encouraged.
The books of Srila Sridhara Maharaja are available from the Audarya bookstore.
Q. You wrote: “Our position is that all devotees must cultivate humility and chant the holy name, giving up sense indulgence proportionate to our realization, visaya chadiya se rase majiya muke bolo hari hari. If everyone can agree on this and actually do it, there will be no problems. This is what we teach. Everything else is superficial.” What exactly did you mean when you said that everything else is superficial?
A. I meant that without this (cultivating humility and chanting the holy name) nothing else will bring one to the spiritual platform, and with this alone one can attain the goal of life. Of course it is to be understood that this practice must be received from a bona fide guru, and that it is remotely possible that even without chanting, by his mercy, one can attain perfection.
Q. Can you explain the term sastra-yukti (scriptural reasoning) and how it differs from reasoning in general? Also, how important is it for the practitioner?
A. Sastra-yukti involves inference or reasoning in support of a particular argument in progress. The argument in progress is that which is put forth by the scripture, and sastra-yukti is thus that reasoning that seeks to support it. It seeks to support both revelation as the comprehensive means of knowing and the tattva vicara of scripture in general. Vaisnava-tantra defines tarka (yukti/logic) as appropriate reasoning in relation to scriptural discourse with a view to strengthen its premise. Thus sastra-yukti is that reasoning that supports faith, which is defined as the sense that comprehensive knowing is derived from revelation (scripture). One’s capacity to engage in sastra-yukti is to some extent relative to one’s knowledge of sastra.
Kevala-yukti on the other hand is reasoning that is not aimed at supporting the premise of the scripture. The broader sense of the word tarka speaks of reasoning that seeks to dispose of conditions that invalidate the premise on which an inference is based. While these dynamics of tarka or yukti are in place in sastra yukti, its entire aim is to support both positively and negatively the tenets of scripture and thereby one’s faith, which determines one’s standing in bhakti.
Sastra-yukti is only useful to the point that it nourishes one’s faith in spiritual practice. Only in this sense does reasoning take on spiritual characteristics and itself become part of spiritual practice. It is also useful, if not essential, for preaching. Otherwise in general it is useful only to the extent that one’s practice is dependent upon it and scriptural injunctions. Thus for the most part it applies to vaidhi-bhakti and it is in this context that the term appears in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (Brs. 1.217).
It may also be applicable in the budding stages of raganuga sadhana when the inspiration for practice is dependent upon the logic and scriptural references in support of raganuga sadhana. Jiva Goswami calls this stage ajata ruci raganuga, a mixed form of raganuga and vaidhi-bhakti in the sense that it is dependent upon reasoning and scripture, which raganuga-bhakti proper is said to be independent of. In this regard, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami says satra-yukti nahi mane—raganugara prakrti, “The nature of a raganuga sadhaka is such that he does not care for sastra-yukti” (Cc 2.22.153). Sriman Mahaprabhu also told Sanatana Goswami, sastra-yukti nahi ihan siddhanta-vicara ei svabhava-gune, “One whose attraction for Krishna is spontaneous has no use for sastra-yukti or introspection on the nature of the scriptural conclusions.” (Cc 2.24.40)
It is also important to note that not every scriptural statement that cautions us about the use of one’s intellect in spiritual practice refers only to kevala-yukti. Studying the scripture in order to catch its spirit is an important exercise requiring the application of intelligence in an effort to strengthen one’s faith and practice. However, intellectual understanding of the scriptural theory is not synonymous with spiritual realization, and only when one has spiritual realization can one say that the knowledge of the scripture is one’s own. For example, the scriptural concept that we are not our bodies is rather abstract at first. By careful study one can actually understand what the scripture is saying in this regard. However, even after intellectually grasping the point one does not necessarily ‘own’ this knowledge unless that understanding is put into practice. Putting it into practice constitutes the full measure of intelligence. This is an act that is intelligent yet transcends intelligence at the same time. Thus the scripture often cautions us that we are also not our intellect, and that mere theoretical understanding of the scripture, which in and of itself is difficult to catch, is not synonymous with spiritual realization.