Q. Sastra says that there can be only one diksa guru, but there can be many siksa gurus; otherwise, they are essentially the same. My first question is why is the diksa guru limited to one, while siksa gurus can be many?
A. Rupa Goswami begins his delineation on the angas of sadhana bhakti thus:
gurpadasrayas tasmat krishna diksadi siksanam
1. Take shelter of the feet of the guru
2. Take initiation from him
3. Take siksa from him
So first we shall sit with the guru, hear from and observe him while he simultaneously observes us. Then diksa follows and is further supported by siksa. While the diksa and siksa gurus are one in purpose, the sastra tells us their function is different. The diksa guru imparts the mantra, within which is contained our relationship with Krishna in seed form. The siksa guru or gurus water that seed with relevant instructions.
In the classic case, the diksa guru is also the siksa guru and he plays the most prominent role in the spiritual life of the disciple. However, it is possible that a siksa guru other than the diksa guru may play the most prominent role in a disciple’s spiritual life, especially if the siksa guru is more qualified than the diksa guru. The latter case is exemplified in the life of Thakura Bhaktivinoda wherein his siksa guru, Jagannatha dasa Babaji, played a more important role than did his diksa guru, Bipina Bihari Goswami.
The diksa guru is a manifestation of Madana-mohana vigraha in the sense that he gives sambandha-jnana in the form of diksa, over which the deity of Sri Madana-mohana presides. The sambandha-jnana is one. It involves the conceptual orientation to the Gaudiya Vaisnava metaphysical worldview and includes the imparting of the diksa mantra. Part of that worldview is knowledge of one’s relationship with Krishna. Again, this is present in the mantra. Thus imparting the mantra is likened to the planting of a seed. The seed is singular, and there is no need to plant it twice.
Still, the seed needs to be cultivated and thus there is the need for siksa. The siksa guru is a manifestation of Govindadeva, the presiding deity of abhidheya-jnana, or the knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of the seed. While sambandha-jnana involves a conceptual orientation, abhidheya-jnana involves that which naturally follows from that orientation: the subsequent activity, which in this case is bhakti.
In one sense the classic examples of these two manifestations of guru in our tradition are Sri Sanatana and Rupa Goswamis. Sanatana Goswami has written Brhat-bhagavatamrta, a conceptual orientation to the world of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. It is a survey of the interior landscape that orients us to the world of spiritual possibility in consideration of our present position. Rupa Goswami, on the other hand, has written Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, which delineates the nature of bhakti, or that activity that naturally follows from the sambandha-jnana.
The sambandha is static, whereas the abhideya is dynamic. For example, what the world is, what the jiva is, what God is, and how they are related does not change. This is sambandha-jnana. How to cultivate bhakti, while one in principle, varies with regard to details.
The two gurus are one in the sense that they fully represent Krishna. Madana-mohana and Govindaji are one. The two gurus differ, however, with regard to their function. Again, the function of the diksa guru is singular. He gives the mantra. The function of the siksa guru, on the other hand, is plural; he gives instructions. The siksa guru waters the singular seed and more than one siksa guru can perform this function.
Of course, one could legitimately ask, “Is not the imparting of instructions on sambandha-jnana also a form of siksa?” The answer is obviously “yes,” which, while extending the meaning of siksa to include such instructions, restricts the meaning of diksa to the actual imparting of the mantra‹no small thing. Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami describes the imparting of the mantra thus: “Just as in a homeopathic globule the outer figure cannot show what medicine is there, so it is with sound—the name Krishna. The one who delivers this, his will is there within. So Krishna, from the mouth of a sadhu, and the Krishna from the mouth of an ordinary person are not one and the same. What the idea behind this sound is, from where it comes, its origin, is it in Vaikuntha, in Goloka, in what rasa, and so on? Gradually the sound will take you there, to that place. The sound, Vaikuntha nama grhanam, the name, must come from the infinite world not any mundane origin.”
Q. Is diksa and the ceremony surrounding it merely a formality?
A. In one sense diksa is the formalization of the relationship between guru and disciple that recognizes something that has already taken place, just as marriage formalizes a relationship already in progress. However, within the formal ceremony something of substance takes place: vows on the part of the disciple and the transmission of the mantra on the part of the guru. While the ceremony may be a formality, the imparting of the mantra is not. This is the substance. The extent to which this act is substantial is dependent on the realization of the guru and the surrender of the disciple. In the same way that the power of one’s siksa is dependent on the extent to which one has realized the siksa one gives, similarly the power of diksa depends on the diksa guru’s own realization of the mantra he imparts.
For example, if a person has been to India, he can speak about India in ways that will be far more compelling than that which we can read in the travel brochure. His experience is conveyed through his speech. Not only does he have personal examples and insights that only one who has experienced the place would be able to relate, but the very quality of his speech, backed by his experience, is superior to that of one who has only theoretical knowledge.
Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami speaks of the transfer of the guru’s spiritual experience through the mantra in this way: “Externally we cannot recognize what potency is there. It cannot be detected. What is that? Only the man (guru) who gives it—his realization—is the potency within the sound.”
Therefore, giving diksa requires realization, brahma nistham. Furthermore, diksa also requires fertile soil, and thus it is incumbent on the guru to cultivate the heart of the disciple before imparting the mantra. It is to be given to the faithful soul, not anyone and everyone.
Sri Caitanyadeva told Sanatana Goswami that initiation involves full surrender to be complete, at which time the disciple becomes one with Krishna, diksa kale kare tare atma samarpana. He realizes, that is, his qualitative oneness with God, sei kale krishna kare tare atma sama. At that time, the disciple’s sadhaka-deha becomes spiritualized, sei deha kara tare cidanandamaya, and continuing to serve in that body, he gains insight into his internal spiritual body in which he engages in Krishna bhajana, aprakrta dehe tanra carana bhajaya. Thus the process of diksa takes time to complete, and it is completed when the disciple realizes sambandha-jnana, clearing his path to bhajana in the stage of asakti. Then the disciple enters bhava-bhakti wherein the insight gained in sadhana-bhakti is further cultivated—the process of churning bhava into prema. Of course, all of this could happen at the very moment that the mantra is imparted as in the case of some of the eternal associates of Mahaprabhu, but for us it will take time.
Q. Are doubts cleared by diksa in some magical way or is the clearing of doubts dependent on siksa more than the mere act of initiation?
A. Relevant siksa follows diksa and thus doubts are cleared. But doubts are cleared more completely by experience than by siksa itself. This is what we want, tangible spiritual experience resulting from applying the siksa we receive to our spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice (sadhana) in and of itself is not a purely rational act. While it is reasonable to suggest that one engage in spiritual practice, the act itself is transrational. Thus there is truly some magic in it as well as in the imparting of the mantra.
This magic surrounding the imparting of the mantra involves the invisible sharing of the guru’s experience of the mantra. It is an act of giving, an act of love motivated by nothing other than genuine compassion, karunayaha purana ghuyam. It is not a business. Compassion is the motive behind the giving of the mantra, and while it may be reasonable to show compassion, compassionate action itself is not a function of the intellect.
There is also magic in the way the mantra works. What we learn from siksa helps us to sincerely apply ourselves in the practice of chanting the mantra. Through sraddha (faith), saranagati (surrender), and mantra dhyana (meditation) performed in the spirit of giving and self-sacrifice leading to the self-forgetfulness of love (svaha), the mantra magically reveals all that is contained within it. If you love something enough, it will reveal all of its secrets.
Even in one’s material experience, the act of giving is mystically rewarding. When we give we get, yet that which we get we cannot hold up to show another or adequately describe. The fact that we get something when giving is apparent by our contentment and the enthusiasm through which we try to relate our experience. However, reason does not suggest that by giving one will get; this is the magic of life. The world turns on svaha.
Receiving the mantra means to be given a second birth. Just outside my window in the rafters a bird has given birth to three chicks. Birds are called dwija in Sanskrit because they are born twice, once within the egg and a second time when the eggs hatch. Our material birth is like that of the chicks within the egg. In this birth our possibilities are extremely limited. But if we are fortunate to meet a genuine sadhu and receive a second birth from him in the form of diksa, our possibilities in life expand beyond anything we could imagine within the egg of our material birth. If we get a second birth, we can fly high in the sky of our spiritual prospect! From being a creature of the earth we can live in the sky. Such is the magic of diksa and siksa as well.
Q. In what spirit should one chant the diksa mantra?
A. The spirit (pracodayat) in which one should chant the mantra was expressed by Mahaprabhu thus when elaborating on the fifth verse of his Siksastakam: ‘dasa’ kari’ vetana more deha prema-dhana, “Make me your servant, my salary the wealth of love of God.” In other words, “Let me engage in divine service for its own sake and nothing more, and let that divine service increase without measure.” Full investment in the bank of service with no thought of withdrawal finds one living grandly on the interest accrued. It is significant that Mahaprabhu made this statement while explaining his fifth sloka of Sikstakam. This fifth verse corresponds with the devotional stage of asakti, the final stage of sadhana-bhakti before one enters bhava-bhakti and the world of spiritual emotion proper. Thus Mahaprabhu implies that the diksa mantra helps us within the realm of sadhana up to the stage of asakti and retires when one enters bhava-bhakti as a liberated soul. After liberation is attained, the holy name of Krishna received from Sri Guru comes to the foreground, as the eternally liberated name can only be chanted by a liberated soul.
Thus the Krishna mantra helps us to take advantage of Krishna nama, and Krishna nama takes us to Goloka. In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Mahaprabhu says that his own guru instructed him like this, krishna mantra hoibe habe samsara-mocana, krishna nama haite pabe krsnera carana: “By chanting the Krishna mantra one will be freed from samsara. By chanting Krishna nama one will attain the feet of Krishna.” There is also evidence for this in Brhad-bhagavatamrta, wherein Gopa Kumara desists from chanting his mantra after attaining liberation and goes on to attain Goloka by nama-sankirtana and lila-smaranam.