Found in Sanga, Sanga 2002.

Q. In a recent Sanga (“Taking Shelter of a Bona Fide Spiritual Master”) there is a question from a devotee who had been initiated by a guru who is “no longer practicing.” I am in the same situation and thousands of others are as well. Therefore I took great interest in your answer but I could not understand it clearly. It appears to me that you said we should search for a competent siksa-guru, but taking diksa from him is not absolutely necessary, unless the guru himself wants to tell us the mantra. I have no doubt that one whose diksa-guru gave up spiritual practice should find a competent siksa guru but it is not clear to me whether that person should take diksa again. This question is of great importance to me and to many others so I humbly request you to explain whether it is necessary to take initiation again if one’s diksa guru is “no longer practicing.”

A. My answer to the question about initiation that you refer to is one in which I tried to be as sensitive and accommodating on this issue as possible. It is more important to begin to rebuild faith than to merely state the law. Furthermore, every case is individual.

Those devotees whose diksa gurus are no longer practicing—which could mean any number of things—should take guidance from a highly qualified siksa guru. Everything will follow naturally from this. If you are actually getting something valuable from the siksa, your renewed faith and genuine spiritual enthusiasm will guide you naturally to the proper conclusion. You will, that is, have found your sat guru. Go and sit at this guru’s feet. However such a guru chooses to proceed with regard to initiation or re-initiation is the best course. It should be clear that the instruction here is that you should seek out a sat guru.

Q. I would like to express my gratitude for your Sanga on the internet which is inspiring us here, far away from you, in Denmark. We are living in Denmark but are both originally from Czechoslovakia and for about ten years we have been translating and publishing Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s books in the Czech language. We now feel the inspiration to open a small museum with a bookstore and representations of various cultural and religious streams of thought. This museum would be a down-to-earth version of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s original idea of the temple of understanding based on Brhad-Bhagavatamrta. Can you give us any advice?

A. I think that your inspired idea has some merit for introducing people to Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The Bhagavatam itself is a study of comparative religion. However, its comparison is for the sake of making the point that the highest religious conception is prema dharma. So if you can bring that point home to those visiting the proposed center without pushing it in their faces, it will be a great achievement.

It does seem to me to be a rather large undertaking, but then I am not aware of your service capacity. I do however have a sense of your sincerity and thoughtfulness from your letter, and from this I feel confident that you will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the preaching mission of Mahaprabhu. I pray that you will be successful in all of your undertakings.

Q. I am a new mother as of four days ago. I believe that a person’s name has an impact on their direction/role in life. I’ve been following some of your dialogues through the internet, and I feel that your direction/role is the most reliable and profound I’ve seen in my life. I don’t fully understand the import of your position due to my own position, but I would like so dearly if you could spare a moment to advise me on choosing an auspicious name for my son. It would mean so much more to me, and I believe to my son as well, if the choice was yours, rather than my own.

A. It would be good if you choose a name for your son that indicates he is a servant of God, like Krishnadasa, Ramadasa, Haridasa, or you could name him Ananda (joy), which is the nature of spiritual reality. I hope you know how to pronounce these suggested names. God bless you both.

Q. I was born in India. An astrologer looked at my horoscope and said that I should worship the Sun god. Would you know why this spiritual person suggested that I worship the Sun god? Also, why do other Hindus worship the Sun god?

A. Generally people worship Surya the Sun god for good health. However, you should be concerned not only with the health of your mortal frame, but more so the health of your soul. Therefore you should worship not merely Surya, but Surya Narayana, and you should do so every day of the week. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that the actual life and soul of all living entities within this universe is the sun, and therefore the sun is venerable, surya atma atmatvenopasyam. The idea is that we should see the sun as representative of Narayana (God) and meditate on the sun as a metaphor for God, who is the supreme light that dispels the darkness of ignorance and nourishes the souls of all living beings.

Q. This is not really a question but a suggestion. I was perusing the Shambala Books website and was reflecting on how they have quite an eclectic collection of publications. They had some “Hindu” literature, too. However, they did not have any literature on the Vaisnava/bhakti cult. I was thinking how nice it would be if Vaisnava literature was published by them, especially since they are probably the most popular alternative publisher. I was wondering who could properly represent the Vaisnava tradition and I thought of you. I also noticed that they accept manuscripts that they will review for possible publication. A Shambala book on Vaisnava/Gaudiya mysticism would be marvelous. What do you think?

A. Thank you for your suggestion. Shambala was interested in publishing my title Aesthetic Vedanta but in the end felt that the core audience for Vaisnavism was not large enough for them to be successful with such a title. I would have submitted my Gita manuscript, but they asked Georg Feuerstein (who wrote the introduction to Aesthetic Vedanta) to do one before I was ready to send them a manuscript. I will keep trying, although the title I am working on now, Gopala-tapani Upanisad, is far too esoteric for them to consider.

Q. In some Vaisnava lineages, when receiving gayatri mantra, women are advised not to chant the Brahma gayatri, as this is said to be only for men. However, in Iskcon women do chant the Brahma gayatri as part of their gayatri meditation. Could you explain why the difference and why female devotees in some lines do not chant Brahma gayatri?

A. Brahma gayatri is more general in its petition than the core mantras of our sampradaya, the Gopala mantra and Kama gayatri. Although one can draw the highest spiritual ideal from Brahma gayatri, this ideal is more directly represented in Kama gayatri, which is the gayatri that is to be chanted in conjunction with the eighteen syllable Krishna mantra (Gopala mantra). Thus while many Gaudiya Vaisnavas do not regularly chant the Brahma gayatri, all Gaudiya Vaisnavas chant either the ten or eighteen syllable Gopala mantra and Kama gayatri.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura widely introduced the chanting of Brahma gayatri for initiated Gaudiya Vaisnavas, which previous to his innovative policy was not customary. Although there was no prohibition, it was not the custom. Indeed, those from brahmana families who later received Vaisnava diksa would customarily stop chanting the Brahma gayatri and remove their sacred thread upon gaining Vaisnava diksa.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta introduced his policy of giving the Brahma gayatri to his male disciples in light of his efforts to establish what Bhaktivinoda Thakura envisioned as “daiva varnasrama.” Thus even in his mission it represented more the circumference than it did the center of the sampradaya’s ideal. The fact that he gave it only to men is further evidence of this, for the purely spiritual, the heart of bhakti, is open to all. Traditionally in the varnasrama socio-religious system women who were born in brahmana families did not chant the Brahma gayatri. Thus in establishing daiva varnasrama, Bhaktisiddhanta followed this same principle and only gave the Brahma gayatri to his male disciples.

However, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s policy with regard to giving this mantra at all had much to do with encouraging his disciples who were coming to him from an atmosphere in which smarta brahmanism was considered by the masses to be more representative of true religion than Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Thus by giving this mantra and the corresponding sacred thread to his male disciples he made a socio-religious and spiritual statement to the society that Vaisnava diksa is more significant than brahmana diksa. The latter is included in the former.

In this way, he sought to encourage his disciples as to the significance of their status as initiated Vaisnavas, as well as to make a statement to the general religious public. He also reasoned that seeing his disciples wearing the thread, etc. others would not criticize them for worshipping the Deity and thus commit Vaisnava aparadha. At that time in Hindu society it was largely thought that only brahmanas were allowed to worship the Deity, and the general conception as to the significance of Deity worship was less than fully transcendental, people being unfamiliar with the Vaisnava conception of arcana.

In consideration of the above, it is no surprise that in coming to the West Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s dearmost disciple, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, gave the Brahma gayatri to both his male and female disciples. Although it was not customary for Gaudiya Vaisnavas to chant Brahma gayatri, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, in consideration of time and circumstances, instituted this policy. While some Gaudiya sects objected to his policy, it did much to spread Gaudiya Vaisnavism, and thus sometimes we have to defer to the time and place insights and subsequent policies of empowered preachers. Similarly, while it was not customary for initiated Gaudiya Vaisnava women in Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s line to chant Brahma gayatri, my own Guru Maharaja’s innovation in this regard represents once again the insight of an empowered devotee. However, given the relativity of this kind of policy, don’t be left behind or caught offending if an empowered preacher comes along and changes it back.

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