Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.

Q. I don’t understand why you put such stress on ‘finding a proper guru’ as a major initial prerequisite? Why not emphasize ‘finding the proper teachings?’

A. Of course we first emphasize finding the proper teachings, but when addressing those who have already embraced a tradition like Gaudiya Vaisnavism, in which the guru is considered essential, we then encourage such persons to seek within the community of practitioners the guidance of a sadhu whose words and actions are particularly inspiring and in due course take initiation from him.

Q. On the whole, initiation looks to me like another socio-religious institution with more outer form than inner content. Isn’t it possible this form could now be in need of re-form?

A. I don’t think you can do away with initiation in a tradition that holds high the importance of receiving the mantra from a realized person and culturing its essence under his or her guidance. If you understand what a proper guru is, you will understand that there is no possibility of doing without one. The question is, if there are realized souls in a tradition of one’s choice, should one not become his or her student? Conversely, if there are not realized souls in a particular tradition, is it a viable tradition?

A proper guru is a proper disciple. Thus we stand to lean a lot form one. We are all students forever, and on some level we are all gurus as well. Without a teacher there is no meaning to students and without students there is no meaning to the idea of a teacher.

However, I agree with you that the form in which the guru disciple relationship manifests is subject to revision over time in order that the essence of this relationship is understood by practitioners and the public in general. Over the last 500 years we have seen this happen in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, and it may very well be time to adjust it once again.

Q. Can bad karma can be removed through spiritual practice or must we suffer our karma?

A. Karma can be removed while in the unmanifest or early stages before fully manifesting. This karma, which has yet to fructify, is cleared by detached, dutiful action in service to God which gives rise to inner wisdom about the nature of the self. However, bhakti herself can remove even one’s manifest karma.

Q. Can the Guru remove our karma?

A. The guru removes our karma by accepting the responsibility for managing it. It is in this sense that he accepts our karma at the time of initiation. He sets up parameters within which we are to lead our lives, much like a court appointed lawyer guides us in filing for bankruptcy. If we live within these parameters and cultivate love of Krishna, our karmic debts will be minimized and gradually cleared.

Q. In a recent Sanga you wrote, ‘Krishna has a chance of experiencing the bhava of Radha and in his madness to taste this, jivas also get the opportunity to know about it.’ How can a jiva taste the bhava of Sri Radha? Isn’t manjari-bhava the highest a jiva can attain?

A. The manjaris of Sri Radha taste her bhava. This is the secret of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The very bhava that Krishna himself yearns for and has difficulty tasting can be experienced by sadhakas following in the line of Sri Rupa. Manjari bhava is a kind of dasya bhakti within sringara rasa. Handmaidens of Radha are so identified with her sentiments that they themselves taste those sentiments vicariously. They are ‘Radha snehadhika,’ or more affectionate towards Radha than they are towards Krishna. They worship the object of Krishna’s worship.

This is unique in the religious world. Every religion teaches that God is the most venerable object, but we teach about the worshipable object of God, Sri Radha. How dear to Krishna must Radha’s handmaidens be? And how magnanimous is Sriman Mahaprabhu for announcing this to the world and thus opening the door to this opportunity? This is explained in greater detail in my book, Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love.

Q. I know true bhakti comes from the heart. I fear my devotion exists mainly in my mind. How do I know that my service is not just a mental exercise and that Krishna actually accepts it?

A. You will know that your service is accepted by Krishna if it is accepted by a Vaisnava. Our healthy concern should be that someone of spiritual consequence is aware of what we are doing and is pleased by it or has sanctioned it.

Q. When the bhakti lata bija pierces through the material shell and reaches the brahmajyoti, isn’t there a danger of becoming attached to the brahma bhuta state of liberation?

A. Liberation offers herself to a devotee, but devotees cultivating Vraja prema are not interested in any of her forms. A devotee is one who cultivates devotion to God. How can he or she be attracted to something devoid of devotion, such as sayujya mukti? Thus her offer is a test as to the measure of one’s devotion. Other forms of mukti are acceptable to devotees of Vaikuntha, but desiring these forms of liberation is an impediment to the development of priti, and thus prema bhaktas of Vraja have no interest in them.

Q. Here in South India sannyasis in the Madhva and Sankara line observe Caturmasya vrata. What is this vrata and why do the Gaudiya Vaisnava sannyasis not observe it?

A. Caturmasya was strictly observed by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, a prominent sannyasi in the Gaudiya sampradaya, as it was by Mahaprabhu himself. However, it pertains more to varnasrama dharma than it does directly to the cultivation of Krishna prema. The term itself refers to the four (catur) months (mas) of the monsoon season, during which sannyasis who were traveling on foot had to stay in one place. During this time (four months) they undertook various austerities. Still today some Gaudiya sannyasis follow this vrata (vow) annually.

Q. How can you justify the Gaudiya Vaisnava order of tridandi sannyasa? Wasn’t it Sri Caitanya who ordered, ‘no sannyasa in Kali yuga?’ Wasn’t it Nityananda’s son, Virabhadara, who introduced the Bhek system?

A. The system of bhek and the sannyasa asrama are one in essence. Bheka is a corrupted form of the Sanskrit word ‘besha’ (dress). Bheka dharana refers to accepting the dress of a renunciate. Renunciates accept a simple manner of dress such as kaupin (loin cloth) and an outer garment for their bodily upkeep. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written, “The name bheka is properly understood to mean the asrama of biksuka (mendicants). Bheka dharana and sannyasa are synonymous. The name of the sannyasa asrama is biksu asrama. The sign of sannyas is kaupin. If they have accepted kaupin or bahir vasa (outer garment), then they are definitely included in the sannyasa asrama.”

The Thakura goes on to say that there are two kinds of sannyasa, ordinary sannyasa and Vaisnava sannyasa. Padma Purana speaks of three types of sannyasa, karma sannyasa, veda sannyasa, and jnana sannyasa. Karma sannyasa refers to those whose senses have become weak in old age and thus give up their karmic duties in the varnasrama. Jnana sannyasa refers to those in whom the desire for sayujya mukti has arisen along with peacefulness, self control, renunciation and so on. These two types of sannyasa are not appropriate for Vaisnavas, who are not bound by the karmic duties of varnasrama and are not desirous of sayujya mukti.

Veda or vidvat sannyasa refers to the bhakti sannyasa of the Vaisnavas, exemplified by devotees such as Sri Ramanuja, Madhva, Madhavendra Puri, Isvara Puri, Sriman Mahaprabhu, Prabhodananda Saraswati, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, and so on. Madhavendra Puri accepted sannyasa after entering the bhakti marg, as did Mahaprabhu and many others in the Gaudiya sampradaya. Thus Mahaprabhu did not forbid bhakti or vidvat sannyasa. Indeed, he accepted it himself and initiated his own sannyasa guru Kesava Bharati into this conception of sannyasa, in which rati for Krishna, artha pravriti (positive gain) picks up where anartha nivriti (giving up unwanted things) of jnana sannyasa leaves off.

Mahaprabhu did quote the Brahma Vaivarta Purana verse in which five things are said to be prohibited in Kali yuga; horse sacrifice, cow sacrifice, begetting a child in the womb of one’s brother’s wife, offering oblations of flesh on behalf of one’s deceased relatives, and accepting sannyasa. However, he cited this verse in a effort to convince Chand Kazi to give up meat eating, when the Kazi said that animal sacrifice was also recommended in the Hindu scriptures. Furthermore the sannyasa that is not recommended in this verse is karma sannyasa, listed as it is along with four other activities of the karma marg. It does not refer to jnana or bhakti sannyasa. Indeed the very same Purana also recommends sannyasa thus, ‘dandam kamandalum raktavastram mantraca dharayet nityam pravasi naikatra sa sannyasiti kirttitah’ (2.36.9).

If we are to understand Gaudiya Vaisnavism properly, we must scrutinize the siksa of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, the seventh goswami. This was the preoccupation of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, who fulfilled the spiritual ambitions of Thakura Bhaktivinoda through his innovative preaching, including the establishment of the modern order of Gaudiya Vaisnava tridandi sannyasa.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required

Subscribe without commenting