Q. Could you please explain to those of us who are neophytes what the most important aspects of our daily spiritual life should be? I understand japa, etc., but beyond this if you could give us one aspect to concentrate on each day what would that be?
A. As japa is important, we should be mindful in doing japa of the holy name of Krishna to avoid offenses while chanting. All of the “do not’s” of the ten offenses should be countered with “do’s”. For example, we are taught not to vilify Vaisnavas. In order to overcome this tendency we should glorify Vaisnavas daily. Moreover we should practice jiva daya, showing kindness to all jiva souls, jive daya krishna-nama sarva dharma sara. These two, chanting krishna-nama and showing kindness to others, go together. They are the essence of all dharma.
Q. I have been chanting for the last four years. I understand that one needs to chant constantly and I tried many times to do that but failed. Does this depend on initiation? I am not initiated and cannot imagine being a servant of someone eternally. This is unacceptable to me at this time. Please advise me how I can chant constantly.
A. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has advised that in order to chant God’s name constantly one must cultivate humility, tolerance, and respect for others without seeking honor for oneself. Otherwise, constant chanting manifests in advanced stages of spiritual practice when one is entirely purchased by Krishna in divine slavery devoid of any personal desire.
Accepting initiation from a guru is supposed to be the beginning of spiritual practice, adau gurvasrayah. As much as we are not servants of Krishna, we are servants of our senses and mind. Are they good masters?
The guru is your dearest friend, and he represents Krishna’s concern for you personally in your present situation. I think that you are confused about what it means to serve the guru eternally. It is not something that is demeaning, it involves loving Krishna in the company of one most dear to him.
Q. This may be a silly question, and I have been laughing for thinking of such a thing, but I heard it is said in scripture that the individual soul (atma) and the Supreme soul ( Paramatma) are situated in the heart of each material body. I would like to know about trees and those animals that don’t have a heart? Where are the atma and Paramatma placed in creatures who don’t have a heart?
A. The description of the Paramatma seated within the heart the size of one’s thumb is for the purpose of conceptualization in the practice of meditation. It is not to be taken literally. Because meditation is for humans, the heart is mentioned. This is the opinion of Baladeva Vidyabhusana found in his Govinda Bhasya. Otherwise, the Paramatma is said to be within every atom.
Q. Why do some people who are not devotees seem to be more morally stout and sense controlled than others who are supposed to be devotees of Krishna?
A. Faith (sraddha) that simply by serving Krishna one’s life will be perfect is what distinguishes a devotee of Krishna from other people. This faithis the grace of bhakti devi, who is very generous. She takes her seat in the heart of intermediate devotees, who in turn distribute her widely, avoiding only those who are envious. Such devotees create opportunities (sukriti) for people to come in touch with bhakti devi. As one takes advantage of these opportunities over time, both with and without knowledge, the cumulative result awakens faith in Krishna.
Thus many who are devotees in the most basic sense still do not have control over their senses. In time, however, they will develop sense control and eventually discover the treasure of pure devotion. Others who are not devotees but have a stronger moral life and more sense controlwill not be able to discover the inner wealth of Krishna prema until they too acquire the necessary sukriti and sraddha. The development of moral life and sense control does not necessarily run parallel to the grace of bhakti devi. Being independent, she may go wherever she chooses and often goes to the lower sections of society. However, the sincere and continued culture of bhakti does include the development of sense control and moral life.
Q. I found your answer about initiation and Krishna nama/mantra much more convincing in favor of the lack of need for initiation. Your argument in favor of initiation seemed perfunctory. You said:
“Because this mantra has traditionally been received from the guru, it should be received in this way today as well.” (Jiva Goswami)
The argument that it has always been that way underscores how out of date it is. Social customs have been turned inside out in the last fifty years. Why should guru/disciple initiation be an exception?
A. I do not hesitate to cite the seldom quoted words of Jiva Goswami and others in our lineage that cast at least some relativity on the guru because I agree with you that, like other institutions, we need to reevaluate the significance of the institution of guru. There is a degree of relativity in the guru/disciple relationship and this needs to be brought out lest we misunderstand the guru to be more his form and mannerisms than the message he bears. However, reevaluation is one thing and throwing out the institution is another.
I do not think that one can advance sufficiently without a teacher and without hearing the mantras from such a teacher who has gained considerable spiritual experience from chanting the same mantras. The principle of the guru in the Gaudiya tradition underscores our dependence upon God’s grace.
My siksa guru, Om Visnupada Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami writes:
“To err is human. To err is inevitable for all, being not perfect. Still, no one wants to remain imperfect. There is an element within all that is animate that tends towards perfection. If it were not so, we would feel no want at all. Our tendency towards perfection is certainly very weak and limited; otherwise, we could attain the goal at once. Our limited capacity and tendency for perfection makes room for the guide or guru. The imperfect is not so if it is not in need of help, and that also from beyond itself. The perfect is not perfect if He cannot assert Himself or help others,and that too, of His own accord. So the guidance to perfection or Absolute Truth is necessarily a function of the Absolute Himself, and the divine agent through whom this function manifests is Sri Guru or the divine guide.”
While you quoted my previous answer in your comments, you neglected an important qualifying sentence that followed the one you quoted. Not only is it traditional to hear the Krishna mantra from a guru, moreover, this is the system that Krishna himself advocates. While the holy name of Krishna is competent to reveal himself, he chooses to do so to one who has received his name from his representative.
Q. The whole system of Hindu guru/disciple initiation seems a bad fit for our times. No intelligent person can really buy the guru/disciple relationship. A vital spiritual movement would be much more credible if it stressed the lack of need for initiation and let people experiment with chanting and rituals on their own. Guru dependency doesn’t really seemto work in today’s world and is viewed mostly as a cult oddity that no intelligent person can really buy. If a student wants to form a relationship with a teacher, it should be a natural selection with no bearing on institution or rank. This is the only way things can genuinely thrive and if you support it you will also benefit. You’ll have more students than you thought possible and they will be genuine spiritual teacher/student relationships without all the smoke and mirrors that the guru trade needs to employ.
Why scare intelligent people away with guru dependency?
A. I am not sure I agree with you when you say that the guru/disciple relationship is a bad fit for our times. Buddhism, for example, is quite popular these days, with educated Western people—from famous recording artists and movie stars to college professors and students—entering discipleship with Lamas or Rinpoches as their gurus. In the case of some professors, they themselves have become gurus and opened monasteries. You risk insulting many intelligent people when you say, “No intelligent person can really buy the guru/disciple relationship.”
I agree with you that choosing a teacher should be a natural selection. The free flow of faith should prevail transcending institutional considerations. There should be no smoke or mirrors and only those who have little to offer need to employ this things to secure a following.
I make no claims of perfection, but I cannot deny that by the grace of my own gurus I have learned much, and inspired by this and their example, I have dived deeply into spiritual practice without coming up empty-handed. That which I have gained, I offer to others. To those who find their spiritual prospect in this, I am their guru, whereas in my own eyes I am a student, as we all are eternally.