Q. I have been told that “Bhaktivinoda Thakura states in Bhakti-tattva-viveka that unless a person receives svarupa-jnana (knowledge of one’s spiritual identity/siddha-deha) from a siksa-guru, even though he is initiated in the sampradaya, realization of his eternal identity arising from his diksa mantra will not appear, and that his bhakti is only a shadow of real devotion.” I did not receive this svarupa-jnana from my guru and others are encouraging me to go elsewhere to receive it from their guru. I trust your understanding and would like to have your advice on this subject.
A. Those who have told you this have misunderstood the instructions of Bhaktivinoda Thakura in Bhakti-tattva-viveka. I have read an English edition of the book in which this section is poorly translated and lends to misunderstanding. In the section of the book under discussion, Bhaktivinoda Thakura delineates what he calls bhakti-abhasa, a shadow of suddha-bhakti. His discussion is based on the third chapter of the first wave of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. After describing various types of persons such as impersonalists, pancopasakas, etc. who are involved in only a reflection (pratibimba) or shadow (chaya) of suddha-bhakti, Sri Bhaktivinoda describes another type of practitioner whose bhakti is only a shadow of suddha-bhakti. He calls this type of devotee a sampradayika Vaisnava, or one who is initiated into the Gaudiya sampradaya yet is without what Bhaktivinoda Thakura calls svarupa-jnana. By the term svarupa-jnana in this context Bhaktivinoda Thakura is referring to knowledge (jnana) of the nature (svarupa) of suddha-bhakti and not one’s “svarupa” or spiritual identity that arises from the cultivation of one’s diksa mantra. The point he is making is that if one is properly initiated but does not receive instructions (siksa) from a qualified person regarding the nature of the true practitioner, the practice, and the goal, his initiation will not in and of itself bring about the desired result. At the time this book was written, it was common for persons to receive initiation but no instruction on tattva.
Immediately following the section cited in your question, Bhaktivinoda Thakura further explains his point thus: “The firm faith of the sampradayika (properly initiated) Vaisnava in the personhood of God is much stronger than that of the pancopasaka Vaisnavas. By receiving proper instruction on tattva, a properly initiated Vaisnava remains hopeful of reaching the high stage of unalloyed Vaisnavism (suddha-bhakti).” Thus it is important that we receive instructions on the nature of what we are initiated into from a qualified person. Proper diksa combined with this kind of siksa will enable us to realize our spiritual identity over time as we cultivate the ideal of pure devotion.
Q. In your answer regarding Bhakti-tattva-viveka you wrote: “By the term svarupa-jnana in this context Bhaktivinoda Thakura is referring to knowledge (jnana) of the nature (svarupa) of suddha-bhakti and not one’s “svarupa” or spiritual identity that arises from the cultivation of one’s diksa mantra”. So are you saying here that experience of one’s siddha-deha or spiritual identity in Krishna-lila is not imparted to the disciple through some type of initiation by a siksa- or diksa-guru as is done by some in the babaji section of Gaudiya Vaisnavism?
A. It is not wrong to tell one’s disciple the nature of his svarupa and give instructions as to how to cultivate it in bhajana. However, this practice has been so abused that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura did not stress it, nor was he instructed in this matter by Bhaktivinoda Thakura or Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji. Babaji Maharaja told him that he would realize his svarupa in the syllables of the Hare Krishna maha mantra.
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura taught that one’s svarupa can be realized through bhajana even without being specifically told of one’s paticular spiritual identity. The guru must give the mantra and impart knowledge of its significance. Within the mantra specific knowledge of one’s relationship with Krishna is present, and it will arise as realized knowledge beginning with the stage of ruci, as ruci forms the basis of this identity of spiritual taste and feeling.
As I mentioned in my booklet Sri Guru-paramapara, even Nitai dasa, who is a strong advocate of practicing the siddha-pranali system and is outside of the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, acknowledges that one’s svarupa can be realized through spiritual culture without being instructed about one’s svarupa beforehand. Prabhupada did not receive what is sometimes called siddha-pranali diksa from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, nor did Srila Sridhara Maharaja.
As I have quoted before, the following instructions of Bhaktivinoda Thakura are relevant to the discussion. He clearly explains that experience of one’s internal spiritual form (svarupa) required for the culture of raganuga-bhakti proper is revealed by the grace of Krishna-nama:
isat vikasi punah dekhaya nija rupa guna
citta hari laya krishna pasa
purna vikasita hana vraje more jaya lana
dekhaya nija svarupa vilasa
“When the name is even slightly revealed it shows me my own spiritual form and characteristics. It steals my mind and takes it to Krishna’s side. When the name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes.”
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura emphasized this instruction and the overall efficacy of kirtana. We should follow his lead. Persons interested in this should read my booklet Sri Guru-Parampara.
What I am saying in the answer above is relevant to the section in Bhakti-tattva-viveka. Again, it does not imply that a qualified guru never reveals the nature of one’s svarupa through explicit instructions before the disciple realizes it. However, again with emphasis, this is not the common practice in the Gaudiya Saraswata sampradaya, nor is it the topic under discussion in this section of Bhakti-tattva-viveka.
For information on obtaining copies of Sri Guru-parampara, contact Citta Hari dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Recently I read the following quote: “Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has stated in Ragavartma Candrika that if your diksa-guru has left the world before you are fully mature and before you are able to hear his instructions in your heart, it is compulsory to search out a qualified siksa-guru who is as competent as the diksa-guru.”
Do you know the exact reference for this?
A. Nothing remotely resembling this is written anywhere in either of my two editions of Ragavartma Candrika. This is not to say that it is not good advice, but finding our gurus—diksa or siksa—is more a mandate of our own inner necessity than it is a matter of legislation.
Although the scripture mandates that one must learn from the guru, this scriptural law has love at its heart. The sincere disciple genuinely feels that his highest prospect lies in hearing and serving the knowledge imparted by the guru: “I must surrender here, for my life’s highest prospect will be realized in doing so.” This feeling arises within when we hear from one who has been commissioned to collect our soul for divine service. It is love that forms the bond between guru and disciple, not law.
Q. We read about the three stage of devotional life (namely, kanistha, madhyama, and uttama) and three stages of chanting (namaparadha, namabhasa, and suddha-nama). What is the interrelation between these two types of categories?
A. The kanistha-adhikari chants primarily nama-aparadha and sometimes namabhasa. The madhyama-adhikari chants mostly namabhasa, and in the higher stages he can chant suddha-nama. The uttama-adhikari chants suddha-nama. Just as one utterance of namabhasa can give liberation but does not always do so, similarly suddha-nama can give love for Krishna, but it usually does not do so immediately. Although it is said that even once chanting suddha-nama can give everything, this is the potential of once uttering suddha-nama. It does not happen to everyone. When an advanced devotee who is cultivating a particular relationship with Krishna purely chants the Lord’s names that are most dear to him, that chanting is relative to his particular relationship with Krishna. This kind of suddha-nama combined with constant remembrance of the Lord’s lilas brings about the desired result of love of God. Thus advanced madhyama-adhikaris and uttama-adhikaris chant suddha-nama consistently.
Q. In the scriptures we read that one has to select his guru after seeing the qualification of guru. Many qualities have been described, which one should see before accepting a guru. However, it is also said that a neophyte cannot judge the qualities of an advanced devotees and if he tries to do so, it is an offense. How to understand this?
A. The symptoms describing kanistha and madhyama-adhikari devotees are externally observable because these devotees are to some extent preoccupied with and thus conscious of the external environment. The symptoms that characterize uttama-adhikari Vaisnavas on the other hand are internal and thus for the most part not observable.
This is so because the uttama-adhikari Vaisnava is internally absorbed. His behavior is difficult to understand. For the most part uttama-adhikari Vaisnavas are those who have entered Krishna-lila and their level of penetration with regard to dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya prema determines their position within the general category of uttama-adhikari.
For example, the uttama-uttama-adhikari is one absorbed in gopi prema, whereas the kanistha-uttama is one absorbed in dasya prema.
When the uttama-adhikari Vaisnava brings himself down to the madhyama platform to relate with the world, we can then observe his madhyama characteristics and sense his internal absorption as he drifts in that direction from time to time. He will function within the madhyama platform with greater influence than the madhyama adhikari who has not attained the uttama-adhikari status.
According to one edition the Gaudiya published after the disappearance of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura yet widely accepted by the disciples of Saraswati Thakura, the kanistha-madhyama is considered murcchita-kashaya, a mahabhagavata who is still slightly influenced by sattva-guna and corresponding samskaras and vasanas (desires), yet not such that they hinder his bhakti. He has nistha and ruci.
The madhyama-madhyama is considered nirdhuta-kashaya, a mahabhagavata who is free from the negative influence of the gunas but not mature in love of God. He experiences the ankura (sprout) of bhava.
The uttama-madhyama approaches the status of a mahabhagavata known as bhagavata-parsada-deha-prapta, being fully situated in his spiritual body, a stage that generally implies leaving the sadhaka-deha, as in the case of Narada Muni. As mentioned above, all uttama-adhikaris are then differentiated from one another in terms of their rasa, the uttama-uttama being in gopi prema.
These three types of mahabhagavatas are discussed in Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha. Srila Sridhara Maharaja was using this description when he articulated three types of gurus: one with both feet here but his eyes in the spiritual world, one who extends one foot to the spiritual world while keeping one here, and one who extends one foot here while keeping the other in Goloka.
This description should be helpful to you. It is not offensive to try to understand how deeply a devotee is absorbed in Krishna consciousness before accepting him or her as one’s guru. Indeed this is what we are supposed to do to the best of our ability, relying on scripture and our own sincerity. The test will be if the sadhu can consistently remove our doubts. We have some faith, but we also have doubts. We are supposed to respectfully raise these doubts. When doubts are removed by the preaching and example of the sadhu, only faith remains and we are free to proceed.