Q. Yesterday, I was listening to a famous historical tape of Srila Prabhupada chanting japa. When I listened it seemed that Srila Prabhupada was not chanting the maha-mantra properly. It sounded like he was mostly skipping the “Hare Hare” at the end and going directly to “Hare Rama.” Do you have an explanation for this?
A. In the tape Prabhupada is chanting “Hare Hare” mentally because his tongue cannot move fast enough to taste the sweetness of the holy name of Krishna.
Q. I have several burning questions that I hope you can clear up for me. I am a 24-year-old who is very interested in Advaita philosophy, but I lack the courage to renounce the world. What should I do?
A. Some fear of renunciation is healthy. It is not a cheap thing. Still, you should spend some time in an ashram. Then you will get a better understanding of renunciation in general and its relationship to liberated life. Gaudiya Vaishnava ashramas teach and practice yukta-vairagya (balanced renunciation), which involves renouncing our false sense of proprietorship, as opposed to the renunciation of all that is considered material. In yukta-vairagya we learn how to utilize so-called worldly things in the service of Krishna, their true proprietor. You may find this attractive given the charm of Krishna and the dharma of his holy name as taught and exemplified by Sri Caitanyadeva.
Q. There are myths of men with great wealth being able to achieve self-realization, such as King Janaka. It is also said that there are jivanmuktas among us who lead very normal, ordinary lives. Is this possible?
A. Although it is possible, it is very, very unlikely that liberated souls live among us leading ordinary lives. While theoretically this possibility exists, the abuse of this theory has given rise to a number of so-called liberated souls, who, while living rather mundane lives, call themselves liberated and attract foolish followers. Look for a liberated soul who sets an example for others to follow by which they can become liberated.
Persons like Janaka and other liberated men and women who did not adopt a posture of overt renunciation nonetheless lived extraordinary lives guided by scriptural principles.
Q. In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the Master makes reference to how Vedanta and all the religious texts have been poisoned or tainted. Why would he say this?
A. It is true that many scriptural texts have been subject to interpolation and perhaps this is what Ramakrishna was referring to. However, such statements should not be used to do away with scripture itself, as there is more than enough concurrence between various scriptural texts on essential spiritual truths. Scripture can also guide us in our own search for a living guide and save us from deception in the name of guru.
If a person claims to be a Vedantist, he or she should be familiar with the scriptural theory of Vedanta, be it devotional or nondevotional, at least enough to represent it accurately and to live a life that exemplifies its theory.
Q. Is it true that becoming a sannyasin is not necessary for self-realization and in fact may be an impediment to this goal, i.e. one can even become proud of being a sannyasin?
A. Strictly speaking, the doctrine of Advaita as articulated by Sankaracarya requires that one be born in a brahmana family and then adopt the renounced order of sannyasa in order to attain liberation. However, many of the devotional sects of Vedanta, such as the Gaudiya lineage that I am affiliated with, do not agree with this. Krishna says in the Gita that the path to liberation, and more—attaining love for him—is open to all.
Q. How will one jivanmukta know the other? There are so many tales of false gurus that I have become very wary of them all.
A. It is said, “It takes one to know one.” Scripture can also assist us in differentiating the false from that which is real. Therefore we should doubt anyone who dismisses scripture.
Q. Should one remain a brahmacari while still struggling with sex desire or should one marry?
A. If the desire for sex shows its face in brahmacari life, this does not mean one needs to abandon celibate life. However, one does need to learn how to refrain from acting on this desire in a way that is healthy. That is, without becoming psychologically dysfunctional.
Q. Do jivanmuktas really have no fear of death?
A. Yes, liberated souls still living within this world have no fear of death.
Q. I read on the internet that sannyasis are not supposed to preach, but rather they are meant to live a renounced, secluded life and leave the preaching to householders. I would appreciate your comments on this issue. Here is some of what was posted on the subject:
The Apastamba Dharma-sutra, one of the most authoritative and ancient of the treatises on dharma, teaches that members of the sannyasa order do not preach. This is the description of sannyasa life from that text that distinctly says they should remain silent:
“Next the wandering ascetic. From that very state, remaining chaste, he goes forth and should live as a silent sage, without fire or house, without shelter or protection. Speaking only when he is engaged in private Vedic recitation and obtaining food from a village to sustain himself, he should live without any concern for this world or the next. Discarded clothes are prescribed for him. Some say that he should go completely naked. Abandoning truth and falsehood, pleasure and pain, the Vedas, this world and the next, he should seek the Self. When he gains insight, he gains bliss.”
From this text we learn that preaching is not the domain of a sannyasi. Preaching, which is part of teaching, is the domain of the householder. Therefore the teacher or guru is supposed to be a householder. Sandipani Muni, Krishna’s teacher, was a householder. Students always study with householders, not sannyasis. Sannyasis, in this postmodern world, have wrongfully usurped the role of householders. Better they get back to basic Vedic recommendations, give up begging and take off their sannyasa dress. Their arrogance and efforts to play a role they are unqualified for is bringing shame to Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
A. Every Gaudiya Vaisnava sect has its renunciates, be they sannyasis, babajis, or whatever you want to call them. Their relationship with the householders is one of setting a spiritual example and preaching in exchange for which the householder feeds or gives monetary support. Supporting the monks is purifying for the householder and represents his self-giving, for a householder is identified with his possessions and earnings.
Brahmacaris and vanaprasthas are also renunciates who are justified in accepting contributions for their upkeep from the householder community. How will brahmacaris survive as students if the householders are not funding the ashram? What is the householder supposed to do with his money other than spend it for service to Krishna and his devotees?
If in Gaudiya Vaisnavism only householders can be gurus, then what about Gopal Bhatta Goswami, Narottama Thakura and so many other great Gaudiya acaryas who were not householders?
Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, kiba vipa kiba nyasi sudra kene naya, yei krishna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya, “Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi, or a sudra—regardless of what he is—he can become guru if he knows the science of Krishna.” (Cc Madhya 8.128)
Mahaprabhu taught that it was irrelevant what dress the guru comes in. What was important to him was who had the spiritual substance to be guru. In this verse he says a sannyasi (kiba nyasi) can be guru. Did he mean a silent sannyasi guru?
To say the least, the Apastamba dharma sutra is an obscure text for Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Does one verse from an obscure text tell the whole story? What did Madhva, Ramanuja, or Sankara think of it? These great acaryas were sannyasis. Did it stop them from preaching? Did it silence them? Did it silence Mahaprabhu? He was a sannyasi and he preached, as did the other sannyasis in his association.
The abuse spoken of is an inevitable aspect of religious life. It is not a product of introducing sannyasa to modern-day Gaudiya Vaisnavism. How many householders from the jati gosai sects have exploited their congregation, living off them and collecting donations for temple repairs that are never completed even after enough money has been collected to rebuild the entire temple?
And as for arrogance, any householder, and especially a learned one, can be as arrogant as a sannyasi.
Q. What is your understanding of how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura dealt with initiation and regulative principles? Did he require four rules and sixteen rounds of japa like our Srila Prabhupada did or did he require sixty-four rounds of japa for temple devotees and less for devotees living outside the temple? What were his standards for initiation and for sannyasa?
A. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura expected his disciples to live a moral life, with a license for sexual indulgence restricted to marriage. He gave initiation to those in whom sraddha had developed after they were recommended for initiation by senior disciples and he gave sannyasa only to the brahmanas in his system of daiva varnasrama.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja explained that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura expected his disciples to chant Hari nama as much as possible, but he laid more stress on service: service to Vaisnavas, the matha, preaching, etc. If due to circumstances on any particular day they had no service, they were expected to chant sixty-four rounds. He taught them not to let their mala fast, “malika upavasa na,” but he also stated repeatedly that he did not consider sitting in the jungle all day chanting Hari nama to be krishnanusilanam. In this way he tried to save his disciples from degradation in the name of Krishna consciousness by keeping them busy in practical service and preaching, by which they would eventually become qualified to simply sit and chant remembering the lilas of Sri Krishnacandra.
We should not be afraid that we will be unable to attain the adhikara (qualification) for nama bhajana if we are engaged in menial service. Real nama bhajana is not a cheap thing. We must pay the price to attain this through service, self-abnegation, and sacrifice. Do not be afraid to sweep the temple, thinking you will miss something. Participation in Krishna lila is all service, regardless of what form it takes, therefore our prospect for entering there requires first and foremost that we develop a serving ego. This is more important than becoming a tattva vit and it will save us from our imagination. Even within the lila we will render menial service under the direction of Sri Gurudeva to the associates of Sri Krishna who embodies our ideal. Service is our all and all.