Q. What is the spiritual etiquette for hearing the gayatri mantra (and in some cases new mantras) a second time from a siksa guru? Are these mantras meant for the siksa guru or do they also reach Srila Prabhupada?
A. If we accept a siksa guru in the full sense of the term, we will consider him to be a manifestation of Krishna who is not different in substance from our diksa guru. His function is to instruct us and thereby water the seed of bhakti planted in our heart by our diksa guru. If we have given up our practice for a long time, there is no harm if we hear the mantra from him again. But we shouldn’t do this unless we feel that he is fully representing our particular spiritual interest.
If we consider ourselves a member of the particular group in which our Gurudeva is serving in Krishna lila, we will want to have a siksa guru who understands this and helps us to enter that group. However, it is also possible that the siksa guru may be more spiritually advanced than the diksa guru, and in this case his ideal may take precedence in out heart. Another possibility is that the two gurus are of the same stature and one or the other becomes our main guru. This is not something to legislate. It is a matter of the heart.
You are an initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupda, as am I. We follow in the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Prabhupada gave his disciples the mantras he heard from Srila Saraswati Thakura. The mantras Prabhupada gave to his disciples are Brahma gayatri, guru mantra and gayatri, gaura mantra and gayatri, krishna mantra and gayatri. Combined with the the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra, these are more than sufficient.
You should never give up chanting these mantras in exchange for new ones that are billed as being higher or better in some way. Find a siksa guru who actually represents your diksa guru and encourages you to chant the mantras he gave you. You have found a sat guru in Srila Prabhupada. Consider yourself very fortunate. This was also the policy of Sridhara Maharaja, who explained the significance of our diksa mantras to me and repeatedly encouraged me along these lines.
Q. Today is the disappearance of Srila Raya Ramananda. Some say he might have been a sahajiya Vaisnava who performed tantric sadhana. What do you make of this?
A. This line of reasoning is not very sensible. Given the difference between the Sahajiya/tantric doctrine and that of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, it is difficult to imagine that one of the most prominent followers of Sri Caitanya could differ so considerably on fundamental religious doctrine.
The Sahajiya doctrine holds that Radha and Krishna are the macrocosmic representation of the microcosmic union of man and woman and through sexual encounter imitates the ‘myth’ of Radha-Krishna (man thinking himself to be Krishna and his unwedded partner to be Radha). Through this, one can realize himself to be the spiritual essence arising out of the combination of the male and female principles. Gaudiya Vaisnavism on the other hand does not admit to this macrocosmic/microcosmic concept, nor that it culminates in an impersonal spiritual essence in which man and woman are thought to have become one through sexual union.
Ramananda Raya was an intellectual giant, and there is no justification for assuming that he was not morally upright. Indeed, he intimately associated with Sri Caitanya himself, who was morally strict to the extreme. Ramananda’s sadhana, which involved associating intimately with two female temple dancers, does at a glance seem to correspond with left-handed tantric practices common to Sahajiyas. However, under scrutiny it becomes clear that his practices were in fact diametrically opposed to those of the Sahajiyas.
His purpose for associating intimately with these women so was to teach them how to perform his drama, ‘Jagannatha-vallabha-nataka,’ a drama for the pleasure of Jagannatha. The ‘dasis’ learned from Ramananda how to express the various sancari-bhavas, anubhavas, etc. through the movements of their eyes and bodily gestures which are essential elements of bhakti-rasa. Caitanya-caritamrta explains that he taught them these things in the mood of a manjari assisting elder gopis (sakhis) in the art of loving Krishna.
At no time did his practice involve thinking of himself as Krishna or the women as Radha, or having sexual union with them, or aspiring to an impersonal form of liberation – all of which are integral to sahajiya-sadhana. By contrast, his sadhana, at least conceptually, is overtly raganuga-bhakti, the very sadhana that Sri Caitanya came to distribute. The somewhat unconventional form that Ramananda’s sadhana took, serves to illustrate his spiritual advancement in which his bhava manifested in his external practices and guided them.
This is no doubt extraordinary and not to be imitated, but it is not an example of left-handed sahajiya tantric practice. After all, Ramananda Raya was the first person to understand Sri Caitanya to be Radha and Krishna combined. He had deep, penetrating spiritual vision and was an eternal associate of Mahaprabhu. Sri Caitanya singled him out and praised him for his spiritual penetration that involved this practice, while advising others not to imitate him.
Kavikarnapura has described Ramananda through the mouth of Sarvabhauma in his drama ‘Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka’ as a sahajya-vaisnava. However, when Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami relates this same historical instance in his Caitanya-caritamrta, he has Sarvabhauma call Ramananda a rasika-bhakta. Generically and in terms of the consistent use of the term throughout the Goswami literature, sahajiya means spontaneous, accomplished, natural, innate. Thus in the Goswami granthas, sahajiya-vaisnava and rasika-bhakta are synonymous. Furthermore, during the time of Mahaprabhu the Sahajiya cult was not referred to by that name. That was a later development.
Q. What was Prabhupada’s opinion of homosexuality?
A. Prabhupada felt that homosexuality was a material reflection of sakhya rasa. When one of his disciples told him he was homosexual, Prabhupada replied , “No, you just need a friend (Krishna).” The sexual urge must be replaced with love for Krishna.
Q. How important is it whether sadhakas wear leather shoes or not?
A. Vallabha makes much of this in his Bhagavata tika regarding Krishna’s refusal to wear shoes while cow herding. Try to avoid it. However, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura wore patten leather shoes.
Q. In a previous Sanga you said that ‘Hara’ refers to Lord Siva. But isn’t it also true that ‘Hara’ refers to Srimati Radharani which appears as ‘Hare’ in the maha mantra?
A. The name Hare in the Hare Krishna mantra is the vocative form of Hari. Thus it is an address to Lord Hari. The maha mantra begins with this address, “O Hari (Hare)!” In this sense Hare is one of three names of God in the maha mantra – Hare, Krishna, and Rama. The name Hari means, ‘He who takes away.’
When Srimate Radharani chants the Hare Krishna maha mantra, she considers Hare to be a name of Krishna (Hari) . Some cowherds also understand Hare in this way. However, Hare can also be considered a name for Radha when taken as the vocative form of Hara. Hara is she who steals away Hari.
Addressing Radha as Hare says more about her greatness than to address her directly as Radha. In the context of the maha mantra it is also a veiled way of singing her name, and this is more pleasing to the tasteful devotees. This is the special interpretation found in our sampradaya.
Q. I am a Hindu and we believe in so many gods. Christians say there is only one God and he is Christ, the real avatar. His life seems to be so humble, sacrificing, and full of wisdom and good examples. How should I think about this?
A. Christian theologian John Moffit in his book ‘Journey to Gorakhpur: An Encounter with Christ Beyond Christianity,’ said the following about Sri Caitanya, ‘If I were asked to choose one man in Indian religious history who best represents the pure spirit of devotional self-giving, I would choose the Vaishnavite saint Caitnaya, whose full name in religion was Krishna Caitanya, or ‘Krishna consciousness.’ Of all the saints in recorded history, East or West, he seems to me the supreme example of a soul carried away on a tide of ecstatic love of God.’
I quoted this passage in my book Rasa: Love Relationships in Transcendence. I think you would enjoy reading it.