Q. Some devotees are preaching that when Prabhupada initiated disciples though a tape recording he was in fact cheating them and never really initiated them because they were not qualified to be initiated at the time. What is your opinion?
A. Srila Prabhupada’s policy of giving mantra diksa (initiation) through a tape recording of his chanting the diksa mantras is clear from the written record, and there is no indication whatsoever that he intended anything less than fully initiating those whom he accepted as disciples when he employed this convention. The earliest of the more than one hundred letters in which he clearly stated this policy was in 1970. In that letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Gurudasa the following:
“The most important point in this letter is second time initiation of some of the devotees, specifically Jaya Hari Das Brahmacari, Jyotirmayi Devi Dasi, and Mandakinidevi Dasi. So I am sending herewith the sanctified Gayatri Mantra Tape and papers for holding the ceremony, as well as a sacred thread and special instructions for the devotees with the Gayatri Mantra.
“Now what we have to do is to hold the Gayatri Mantra ceremony according to the instruction paper, then at the end teach Jaya Hari personally how to count on the finger divisions. Then play the Gayatri Mantra tape for him, and let him repeat the Mantras along with my vibration, word-to-word, and then hang the Sacred Thread on his neck as usual. The girls don’t require Sacred Thread, as you know, but they simply can responsively chant the Gayatri Mantras. In each individual case the instruction should be given and the mantra replayed. This Gayatri Mantra function should be held amongst the devotees only.”
The opinion that he intended to cheat thousands of his disciples by pretending to initiate them is, in the very least, uninformed. Why then did he also engage such initiated disciples in the seva puja of the Deity?
If he cheated some and not others that he initiated in the traditional way, we would expect those who he cheated to be less advanced, but this can hardly be demonstrated to the satisfaction of any thinking person.
Prabhupada gave initiation by tape recording—or initiation by any means—only to disciples who were actively serving and had been strictly followings for many months the four regulative principles of no meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex, or gambling. These principles he established as strict criteria for living in his ashrams and for initiation. Living in his ashrams and initiation also required chanting at least sixteen rounds of japa faithfully every day. Even after meeting these requirements a candidate still had to be recommended for initiation by a senior devotee before he would be accepted.
If those that Prabhupada initiated by tape were not qualified then, what qualifies them to hear the mantras from another guru now? This question is especially relevant when you consider that many of such persons have not been following any regulations or performing much of any spiritual practice for a number of years.
Rupa Goswami says:
anasaktasya visayan yatharham upayunjatah nirbandhah krishna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate
“When persons accept worldly objects without attachment for them, employing them in the service of Krishna, this is called balanced detachment (yukta vairagya).” (Brs 1.2.255)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura extended the application of this verse to include more than merely accepting the remnants of the Deity (garland, clothes, foodstuffs, etc.) and worldly things in moderation for one’s upkeep. He believed in employing all modern devices in the propagation of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and considered this to be a dynamic expression of Krishna kirtana.
Srila Prabhupada’s policy involved following the lead of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, who had extended the meaning of Srila Rupa Goswami’s conception of yukta vairagya. Among numerous unprecedented examples of yukta vairagya, such as riding in automobiles and employing printing presses, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta once gave Hari nama initiation over the telephone.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja was asked about Prabhupada’s policy of initiating disciples with a tape recording of his chanting the diksa mantras. Upon hearing about it, Sridhara Maharaja himself and later Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami adopted this policy when initiation in person was not possible. [I have at my disposal copies of Sridhara Maharaja and Promode Puri Goswami chanting these mantras on tape.]
Here is one example of what Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja said on this topic:
Devotee: Are tapes of your Divine Grace or our own guru (Srila Prabhupada), are these transcendental sound vibrations from the tape recorder? Or does it have to be heard from the person?
Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja: The will of the Vaisnava is everything. The books written by the mahatmas, that is something like tape. They have given instructions through the medium of so many symbols. That has got value. The will, the center from which the vibration is passed, if still in connection, if the Vaisnava’s consent is there, it will work. Our Guru Maharaja through telephone gave Harinama to one person in Dacca on his death bed. He was recommended by his disciples. With phone he gave, but because of his consent, his will, the connection was there. In this way we are to take it.”
When asked about the extent of the connection between Srila Prabhupada and some of his disciples who had never personally met him, Sridhara Maharaja replied with the same answer: “The will of the Vaisnava is the heart of the affair. If his will is in place, if he gives his consent, the connection is complete and everything else surrounding initiation is secondary.”
Q. These devotees go on to say that Prabhupada was a strict follower of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and that Bhaktivinoda speaks of two kinds of initiation, anusthanika and vidvaviruddha. They say that Prabhupada gave some of his disciples anusthanika diksa when he gave them the mantra on tape, whereas he gave others vidvaviruddha diksa when he spoke the mantra into their right ear. They also say that those who only received anusthanika diksa from Prabhupada must now hear the diksa mantras from their guru in order to be properly initiated.
A. The term anusthanika diksa refers to the externals of the initiatory rite, or an initiation ceremony that lacks substance. The term vidvaviruddha diksa refers to the actual transmission of spiritual knowledge. To say that Prabhupada is a strict follower of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and to then say that he gave anusthanika (external or insubstantial) diksa to many of his disciples is contradictory. Bhaktivinoda Thakura may have spoken about these two types of diksa, but he himself gave vidvaviruddha (spiritually substantial) diksa, the essence of which is the desire on the part of a qualified guru to share his own experience in the land of faith in seed form with his disciple. Those who in the name of vidvaviruddha (substantial) considerations are overly concerned with the details of initiation (such as whether initiation was through tape) may themselves be more involved in anusthanika (external) considerations. Better to be a saragrahi (essence seeking) Vaisnava, as was Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Q. Some Vaisnava gurus now preaching in the west, both inside and outside Gaudiya Math, teach that neither Srila Prabhupada nor anyone else can properly initiate disciples by tape recording or that any such initiation cannot be considered substantial. Some of Prabhupada’s own initiates have accepted these opinions and been reinitiated by one of those gurus saying the proof against initiation by tape recording is that many devotees did not make much advancement after being initiated by Srila Prabhupada in this manner.
A. We should offer due respect to every genuine teacher of Vaisnavism or Krishna consciousness. Still, everyone knows that all contemporary Vaisnava and Gaudiya gurus preaching in the west are living almost entirely on the remnants of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s successful preaching campaign. These gurus may not adopt the policy of diksa via tape recording for themselves, nor recommend it, but they should have the wisdom to acknowledge that what an empowered preacher does in unprecedented circumstances like those that Srila Prabhupada encountered are certainly valid. Indeed, the results—a new worldwide community of devotees—speak for themselves and are the ultimate pramana (evidence).
Although many disciples of Srila Prabhupada have not been following strictly in his absence, we do not find that those who received second initiation by tape are any more prone to this. It is very common for disciples to have more enthusiasm in the presence of a great devotee and to be carried by his spiritual strength. In his absence, many disciples need the encouragement and association of others to continue on the path. This is not abnormal or any fault on the part of the Guru or the process. After all, one of the qualities of bhakti with real feeling (bhava-bhakti) is that it is sudurlabha (rarely attained).
Gurus in any branch of Vaisnavism who tell those disciples that they could not have been initiated by tape, were not actually initiated because they were unqualified at the time, or that any initiation by Srila Prabhupada is somehow void or insubstantial, become themselves questionable by this act. This is especially apparent when these gurus want to then re-initiate devotees who have already been initiated by Srila Prabhupada. The motives behind such preaching are much more questionable than the innovative system of mantra diksa by tape recording that was employed by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his successful and unprecedented campaign to introduce the entire world to Krishna consciousness.