Q. It is said that in order to understand sastra, one needs a guru but to understand who is a guru, one needs sastra. The interdependence of both seems a problem to me. How can one understand both at the same time?
A. Sastra can be helpful in finding a guru because it tells us something about the nature and activities of realized persons. Thus we can read the sastra and in a general sense scripture helps us to find a guru. Once we have found our guru, he then takes us deeply within the sastra to understand things we could not have understood on our own.
Otherwise, I found my guru without having read the sastra. The most important thing in finding a guru is the desire to surrender oneself at the feet of a realized soul. Cultivate this desire and you will find your way, even without the sastra. Sincerity is invincible. Krishna says it like this, na hi kalyana-krt kascid durgatim tata gacchati (BG 6. 40):
“Anyone who is sincere walks not the road of misfortune.”
Q. What is the difference between Bhagavata diksa and pancaratrika diksa?
A. Bhagavata diksa refers to Harinama and raga marga of nama bhajana, whereas the pancaratrika diksa refers to mantra diksa of gopala mantra, kamagayatri, etc. Caitanya-caritamrta tells us that Krishna mantra (pancaratrika diksa) gives liberation (samsara mocana), whereas Krishna nama delivers one to the feet of Krishna (krishna carana).
krishna-mantra haite habe samsara mocana krishna-nama haite pabe krsnera carana
“The Krishna mantra liberates one from repeated birth and death in this world; the holy name of Krishna gives one shelter at the lotus feet of Krishna.”
Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave the example of a smaller circle within a larger circle.
“The holy name of Krishna is the larger circle. It extends from the highest to the lowest. The mantra circle is a smaller circle within the larger circle. The mantra cannot reach to the lowest point. The holy name can extend itself down to the lowest position. The mantra gives us entrance into liberation, and then the name carries us further. This is the nature of our connection with the mantra and the name.
The name extends to the lowest position, to the candalas and yavanas. Everyone can receive the name. But not everyone is eligible for the mantra. Only after one has reached a developed stage can the mantra be conferred upon him. And the mantra’s jurisdiction will be finished when liberation is attained.” (Sri Guru and His Grace)
Sri Guru and His Grace can be obtained from the Audarya bookstore here.
Q. I heard that harinama initiation was first introduced by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to purify aspirants for bhakti that were considered ineligible for diksa mantra initiation.
A. Harinama is all-important. Without harinama, no one can attain Krishna-prema. It was Advaita Acarya who first instituted harinama diksa. He did so following the will of Mahaprabhu. One day young Nimai (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) refused to drink milk from his mother Saci’s breast. Sri Advaita Acharya concluded that the remedy was for Saci to take initiation into the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra. Adwaita Acharya gave her this initiation and then Nimai happily drank her breast milk again.
The principal message here is that one should get initiated into the chanting of Hare Krishna. Another message is that we should only take meals from those who are properly initiated.
During the time of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, mantra diksa and the bhajana marga (siddha pranali) were tied together. Thus many people were led to believe that unless they received the diksa mantra in such and such line they could not tread the path of spontaneous love of God (raga marga). Bhaktisiddhanta saw what he called mantra-selling going on and objected, putting emphasis on Harinama. Still, he did put in place mantra diksa in his own line as well.
Q. Should a devotee be considered a disciple of his harinama guru or his diksa mantra guru if they are different?
A. Whose disciple one is considered to be is not so much a matter of law. If the nama guru is more prominent, this must be given emphasis. Then again, the disciple’s sentiments should rule, and it is possible that in spite of the nama guru being more prominent and even perhaps being the guru of the mantra guru, the disciple may feel more affection and help coming from the mantra guru and stress his connection with him.
Q. If a devotee feels there is more value in the instructions of a siksa guru than those of his diksa guru should that devotee be reinitiated by the siksa guru?
A. Those in the line of Bhaktisiddhanta are all receiving the same mantras. If someone after taking diksa finds that siksa from another is more nourishing than that which he is receiving from his diksa guru, he should be free to hear from that siksa guru without the need to reject his diksa guru and his initiation.
Q. Can the practice of vaidhi bhakti (regulated devotion) bring one to love of Krishna in Vrindavana?
A. Vaidhi bhakti cannot give Vraja bhava, in which devotees share intimate relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana. It has a bhava of its own steeped in the awe and reverence found in Vaikuntha. The superexcellent bhavas of Goloka Vrindavana are realized through the culture of raganuga bhakti. Thus anyone interested in these bhavas is to that extent qualified to tread the path of raga. This interest must come from the heart, not the head.
Raganuga bhakti is based on love. As much as one’s involvement in raganuga bhakti is based on one’s deliberation of its merits as described in sastra, a sense of prospect as to how one will benefit from its practice, or out of fear, it is not pure raganuga and may be considered to be mixed with vaidhi bhakti. The difference between vaidhi bhakti and raganuga bhakti is one of motivation.
Raganuga is sadhana and thus practice, but this practice is mature when our svarupa (spiritual identity) is revealed. Before that it can be practiced, but it will be mixed with and supported by vaidhi bhakti. This is the opinion of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Jiva Goswami calls this mixture ajata ruci raganuga bhakti, or raganuga bhakti practiced in the stage before one develops spiritual taste for a particular bhava of Vraja.
Q. Srila Prabhupada hardly mentions mantra diksa in his books and one wonders if it is even necessary. Everywhere we find that Srila Prabhupada stresses the importance of chanting Hare Krishna to attain all success. Certainly in Iskcon (at least during my years in the temple) the main initiation was considered to be harinama. This initiation is considered a very serious step. The vows are taken and the understanding is that the sadhaka has begun his spiritual life. It was my impression that second initiation (diksa) was considered necessary only for those in the temple who were required to serve the Deities. Other Gaudiya societies seem to give more importance to mantra diksa than harinama. Is this prevalent throughout the Gaudiya Matha? Srila Prabhupada emphasized harinama, but is this simply another example of Srila Prabhupada giving us the very basics, intending for us to learn more as we become mature?
A. Reluctance to receive mantra diksa from someone is likely based primarily on one’s reservations about being considered someone’s disciple, especially if one has already received the holy name and japa mala from a guru who passed on before he could give his disciple mantra diksa. Otherwise, why would one not want to take advantage of the principal mantra of our sampradaya? While one may put forth various reasons with emphasis on the holy name’s efficacy and its relationship to the bhagavata/raga marg as opposed to the mantra’s relationship with arcana and the pancaratika marg, this reasoning does not add up to justification for foregoing mantra diksa.
The principal diksa mantras of our sampradaya are the 18-syllable krishna/gopala mantra and its corresponding kama gayatri. About this mantra Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja says, krishna-mantra haite habe samsara mocana krishna-nama haite pabe krsnera carana: “By chanting the Krishna mantra one will attain liberation, and by chanting Krishna nama one will attain the feet of Krishna.” In this verse Sri Krishnadasa distinguishes between the effects of chanting Krishna manta and Krishna nama. Krishna mantra brings one to liberation. This devotional liberation is called svarupa siddhi, in which one realizes his svarupa and takes birth in Gokula, Krishna’s manifest pastimes. Having attained this stage, the mantra retires and Krishna nama then takes us to the lotus feet of Krishna in the final stage of vastu siddhi, in which one enters the unmanifest lila of Goloka.
In his Bhakti-sandarbha Sri Jiva Goswami says that at the time of initiation the guru imparts the diksa mantra and an explanation of what is contained within the mantra. This includes knowledge of Krishna’s form, his nature, and the disciple’s relationship with Krishna, divyam jnanam hy atra srimati mantre bhagavat-svarupa-jnanam tena bhagavata sambandha-visesa-jnanam ca. Thus the knowledge of one’s relationship with Krishna is within the diksa mantra, and the guru will instruct his disciple as to the efficacy of this mantra. It leads to the liberated stage of svarupa siddhi, muktir hitvanyatha-rupam svarupena vyavasthitih.
So the diksa mantra is not only concerned with arcana, although it is also necessary for arcana, and for the most part, all devotees need to be involved in arcana in order to be purified and take full advantage of the holy name. From arcana one comes to the platform of bhajana, while sankirtana of the holy name pervades both stages, purifying one’s heart in the stage of arcana and delivering one to the lotus feet of Krishna in the stage of bhajana.
Theoretically speaking everything is within Krishna nama, and Krishna mantra may not be necessary, but practically speaking sadhakas require Krishna mantra to take advantage of Krishna nama. Krishna mantra is dependent on Krishna nama in the sense that it consists of names of Krishna arranged in a particular formula. The very presence of Krishna nama in the mantra is what gives it its revelatory power.
Take all the help you can get! This was the opinion of Srila Prabhupada. He writes: “The chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is so powerful that it does not depend on official initiation, but if one is initiated and engages in pancaratra-vidhi, his Krishna consciousness will awaken very soon, and his identification with the material world will be vanquished.”
The guru that is most important to us is the one who helps us the most, be he the nama guru or the mantra guru. Of course in almost all cases this guru is the same, but under certain circumstances it may be two different gurus. If one has great faith in his nama guru and needs to receive the Krishna mantra from another guru because the nama guru has already departed, one should find a guru in whom one feels the nama guru is most prominently represented and discuss this openly with him. The disciple’s sentiments for his nama guru should then be honored appropriately.
I believe that the above is universally accepted in all branches of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.