Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. Suppose one becomes stranded alone on a desert island and has only one book to read, Bhagavad-gita. In the absence of a guru, the holy name, and scripture, can the Gita stand alone as an instrument of liberation or, unbeknownst to our hapless survivor, does the promise of Krishna in the following verse not apply:

“Fix your mind on me. Be my devotee!
Sacrifice for me. Offer obeisance unto me.
Absorbed thus in me alone, you will surely come to me.” (Bg 9.34)

A. If you were stranded on an island with only the Bhagavad-gita, you would be at a loss to take advantage of it if you did not understand Sanskrit. If you had a translation of it in your native language, your understanding would be significantly affected by the particular translation. Some translate the Gita with emphasis on karma, some with emphasis on jnana, and some with emphasis on bhakti. If it had a commentator, he would naturally take the form of a guide in your mind, and it would be apparent that guidance is essential.

In essence, devotional editions teach that one should become a devotee of Krishna, which involves fixing one’s mind on him, worshiping him, and offering pranama to him. There is a gradation spoken of here. Regardless of whatever else we do, if we offer pranama to Krishna we will begin to advance in spiritual life. As we advance, we will give up our own life and take exclusively to devotional life. This is what is meant by the Sanskrit words mad yaji, worshiping Krishna. This worship involves kirtana, and in the beginning stages, it is enhanced by arcana (Deity worship). As we become absorbed in a life of worship, our minds are conquered and we begin to experience inner life and thus become qualified to engage in bhajana, constant remembrance of Krishna. In the verse you have cited, all these things are found in seed, the details of which can be understood over time.

To become Krishna’s devotee requires associating with those who are his devotees in every sense. They can teach us practically what it means to be a devotee of Krishna, more than his own book can. However, without this association, we learn from the Gita that Krishna’s devotees are always chanting about him, satatam kirtayanto mam. If, stranded on an island, you had a devotional edition of the Gita, you could put this into practice and engage in kirtana of Krishna nama. The power of kirtana will arrange for whatever else you may need. A person may be stranded on an island, but that does not mean that Krishna will not help him or arrange all he needs to become his devotee. For Krishna, material situations are not impediments. To gain Krishna’s mercy, all that is required on our part is sincerity. From sincerity everything will follow.

Q. In Sanga Volume V, No. 16 The Magic of Diksa you said that giving diksa requires realization (brahma nistham) and that the benefit derived from the mantra depends much on the realization of the guru who imparts the mantra. How is one who has received the mantra from a not-so-realized person hindered? What is the loss? You also mentioned that the seed (mantra) is placed only once, but what if the seed is not a first-class one because of a lack of complete realization on the part of the guru? What does one do in such a situation?

A. The initiating guru is the vyasti (microcosmic) representation of guru, and in the Gaudiya sampradaya, Gaura-Nityananda are the samasti (macrocosmic) representation of guru. If the vyasti guru is spiritually situated in general but not fully realized, the samasti guru can make up for such a guru’s minor shortcoming, if need be. This is the purport of the famous statement of Caitanaya-caritamrta, aham vedmi sukam vedi vyaso veti na veti va, “I (Siva) know the meaning of the Bhagavata, Sukadeva knows it as well, whereas Vyasa may or may not know it.” In other words, it is possible that, by the grace of the samasti guru, insight may come down through the vyasti guru to the disciple that the vyasti guru himself is not fully realized. Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja discusses this principle in his reply to a question that is similar to yours:

Devotee: Will the disciple of a madhyama-adhikari guru achieve the same result as a disciple of an uttama-adhikari guru?

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Of course. If we are sincere, the connection of guru we have by the arrangement of the Absolute, that madhyama-adhikari guru, will give instruction rightly. And also he may return and I can have justice. In one birth I may meet one guru and in another birth I may meet another guru. But substantial measurement will all be the same, only some difference in form. Even in this life also after getting some instructions from a particular guru I may get another siksa guru, where I can learn more. That may not be impossible because guru is one, acarya mam vijaniyam. Our sincerity and God’s grace, that is one and the same thing.

Therefore, if the guru is highly realized, enough, that is, to be able to guide the disciple progressively as he himself advances further, the fact that his realization is incomplete at the time of imparting the mantra should not have much bearing on the disciple’s capacity to advance under his guidance.

We must also consider the quality of the soil in which the seed is planted. If the disciple is advanced, owing to the culture of bhakti in the previous life, even a weak seed placed in such fertile soil will be able to bear fruit if a siksa guru nourishes that seed. Perhaps the example of Thakura Bhaktivinoda can be cited in this regard. He was clearly a special soul, as some of his most influential Gaudiya texts were written prior to his being initiated. He was eventually initiated by Vipina Bihari Goswami, yet later we found things in the Thakura that were not in his initiating guru. They were, however, found in Jagannatha dasa Babaji, who the Thakura accepted as his siksa guru. For example, the Thakura’s realization of the birthplace of Sri Caitanya was not accepted by his initiating guru, but it was acknowledged by Sri Jagannatha dasa Babaji. Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself states in his Jaiva Dharma that it is not advisable to leave one’s guru on the grounds that he has insufficient knowledge. Indeed, the only criterion given by Sri Jiva Goswami in Bhakti-sandarbha for leaving one’s guru is if one’s diksa guru commits Vaisnava aparadha, not if he has lack of knowledge. Pujypada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja has compared the siksa guru to an emergency doctor. Thus in the instance that the initiating guru is lacking in realization and this impairs the advancement of the disciple, the disciple should continue to respect the initiating guru while taking shelter of a more realized siksa guru. However, if for real and tangible reasons and not mere fashion or the mistaken notion that the grass will be greener elsewhere, a disciple seeks the shelter of a siksa guru but is checked from doing so by his diksa guru, this constitutes sadhu ninda on the part of the initiating guru.

At the same time, it is possible that the initiating guru may be justified in some instances in not allowing his disciple to associate with a more advanced guru. Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja said the following about this: “If their disciples are not allowed siksa, there may be an underlying motive that they are not fit to approach such high thought. With this motive, if the guru checks the disciple’s ambition, that won’t be bad. But if knowing that ‘I am not able to satisfy his inquiry,’ and by a policy that the guru’s prestige may go down, if the guru checks the disciple from connecting with the higher source, then that will be an offense.”

In conclusion, the sincerity of all concerned is essential. Sincerity will harmonize everything, for it is the language God speaks. Without sincerity no one will progress, regardless of the realization of one’s guru, and with sincerity, one will never be a loser, na hi kalyana krt kascit durgatim tatha gacchati. Furthermore, in the words of Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, who encouraged some of his students to initiate in his presence, “Something is better than nothing.”

Devotee: About your personal case that you are the higher seed present, and you are giving authorization to other sannyasis to initiate also in your presence. How can I see this? As your humility and detachment to accept new disciples? How can I see this?

Sridhara Maharaja: Following the general custom, and that “something is better than nothing.” With this policy they can give and do according to the necessity. Some sort of light in comparison with darkness is something. In the name of Mahaprabhu, let it go. Then, their Lord is there, and he will manage everything. If there is any gap in the process, if we are sincere, he will manage. If we have no black motive of exploitation and are sincere, if any amendment is necessary, he is there and he will back them.

I believe that the historical record demonstrates that Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was of the same conclusion. Indeed, Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja portrayed himself and other of his Godbrothers as examples of those who, following this policy, emerged to substantially represent their guru-parampara. Today they are considered great luminaries in the line of Saraswati Thakura. Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada also had faith in the words of Srila Sridhara Maharaja and singled him out as an appropriate siksa guru for his disciples when he said that after his own departure we could approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja for questions of philosophy (siksa).

It is also worth noting that popular opinion as to who is or is not fully realized is not the ultimate criterion for accepting one’s initiating guru. A sincere candidate should not be swayed merely by popular opinion or fanaticism for any guru that shows little regard for the faith of those initiated by someone other than him. Each student must search their soul and seek their spiritual fortune in mantra diksa from the guru of their choice, the guru that captures their heart. In deference to the principle of guru, all devotees of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are bound, within reason, to honor and respect the faith of others.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required

Subscribe without commenting