Q. Does a devotee who took off the sacred thread and gave up chanting the diksa mantras need to be reinitiated before beginning to chant the diksa mantras again?
A. A devotee who has received mantra diksa from a qualified guru in disciplic succession does not need to be reinitiated, even if for some time he or she has given up chanting the diksa mantras. Although it is an aparadha to disobey the guru and not chant one’s diksa mantra, if a disciple begins spiritual life anew, he or she can still realize the full spiritual potential of the diksa mantras over time.
However, there is no restriction against hearing the mantra again from one’s guru or, if the guru has left the world, from a siksa guru who further explains its significance. In fact, you should seek your guru’s guidance in this matter. If your guru has left the world, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a siksa guru. Above all, stay in the association of advanced devotees. This is the secret to continuous and successful chanting.
Q. In his edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada seems to give conflicting information on receiving mantra diksa. In one purport he says that the guru should speak Gayatri Mantra into the left ear, while in another purport he says that it should be spoken into the right ear. Which is correct and why?
A. Srila Prabhupada consistently spoke the mantra into his students’ right ears, and in all his letters on the subject he instructed his leading disciples to play the tape of his speaking the mantra into his students’ right ears. This is the system enjoined in scripture. However, in his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 4.25.51), Srila Prabhupada suggests that the left ear is better suited for spiritual pursuit. Here his comments are interesting. In an insightful way he distinguishes between a spiritual (left) and religious (right) ear and suggests that the left ear is better suited for hearing about spiritual life. This follows the ancient Bhagavatam commentator Sridhara Swami’s words on these verses where he states that the right ear is “stronger and first” and is thus meant for hearing the karma-kanda section of the Veda, whereas the opposite is true of the left ear. He says that the left ear, being second, is better suited for hearing the spiritual conclusions of Vedanta.
Generally one should hear about religion first, become religious, and then hear about and pursue spirituality. When one is qualified to hear about spirituality and prepared to pursue it wholeheartedly, the spiritual preceptor speaks the diksa mantra into one’s right ear. Diksa marks the culmination of religious life and the beginning of spiritual life. Thus the right ear represents the rational side of the disciple, and when the mantra is spoken in this ear, it symbolically represents the spiritualization of the rational mind, which is the beginning of true spirituality. The left ear represents our emotive side, which in one sense is better suited for spiritual life because spirituality is ultimately an affair of spiritual emotions in love of God.
Q. At one time the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition required those born in brahmana families to take off their sacred threads to indicate that Vaisnavism was above caste-conscious Brahmanism. At that time most Gaudiya Vaisnavas chanted not the Brahma Gayatri but rather the Kama Gayatri. However, it is said that for preaching purposes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura began giving his disciples the sacred thread and Brahma Gayatri at the time of their initiation. Outside of India I am wondering if the Brahma Gayatri and the sacred thread are still relevant to Gaudiya Vaisnavism. After all isn’t the sacred thread just a caste symbol and isn’t Brahma Gayatri basically a sun mantra?
A. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura gave his disciples the sacred thread and Brahma Gayatri for both socioreligious and spiritual reasons. He incorporated this practice into his Gaudiya mission because hereditary Brahmanas were at that time still viewed as respectable representatives of the Hindu religion. In consideration of this socioreligious circumstance, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had his initiated disciples wear the sacred thread regardless of whether or not they had been born in Brahmana families. This was his way of teaching that Vaisnavas regardless of caste were as respectable as Brahmanas, which many people did not understand.
As much as the sacred thread is still considered respectable is as much value as it has for preaching purposes. In the West the importance of wearing it for preaching purposes is negligible, but the sacred thread still seems to be an honored religious symbol in India. At this time the primary significance of wearing the sacred thread in Gaudiya Vaisnavism has to do with how followers of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada identify it with the spirit of their missions. Considering the sacred thread an expression of discipleship and subordination to the acaryas gives spiritual meaning to wearing the sacred thread even if for preaching purposes its value might have diminished.
A devotee of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu can also consider wearing the sacred thread as part of their spiritual identity (svarupa) in Gaura-lila, as Gaudiya acaryas have determined that devotees of Sri Caitanyadeva are destined to serve as brahmana boys in that realm. If we think of the Brahma Gayatri in this light, we will be chanting it forever. In this way a socioreligious consideration can rise to a spiritual one. Whenever the socioreligious and the spiritual unite, that is a plus. Whenever they part, we follow the spiritual consideration with no loss.
One might also question the need for Brahma Gayatri when our principal mantras, Gopala Mantra and Kama Gayatri, are given at initiation (diksa), but one should not question the spirituality of Brahma Gayatri. Brahma Gayatri has a broader appeal than the Gopala Mantra and Kama Gayatri, but no scripturally adept Gaudiya Vaisnava considers Brahma Gayatri a mere sun mantra. Brahma Gayatri is only about the sun in as much as the sun is used as a conceptual symbol representing Brahman (God). The sun is equated with Brahman because everything in this world that we require for sustenance is dependent on the sun. No doubt some Hindus might conceive of Brahma Gayatri as a sun mantra, but that is because they do not understand the full import of the mantra.
According to Sri Jiva Goswami, Brahma Gayatri petitions no one other than Bhagavan replete with his sakti. He is very clear on this in his Tattva-sandarbha. Scripture also acknowledges that Gayatri Mantra emanates from the flute of Sri Krishna, and the Garuda Purana clearly states that Srimad-Bhagavatam is a commentary on the Gayatri Mantra. As Srimad Bhagavatam is a meditation on the supreme truth—satyam param dhimahi—so too is Gayatri. The Bhagavatam’s opening statement indicates that the pastimes of Radha-Krishna (param) should be eternally (satyam) meditated upon (dhimahi).
All Gayatri mantras including Kama Gayatri come from the prototype of Brahma Gayatri, and it is said that Gayatri devi incarnated as Kama Gayatri in order to pursue gopi bhava. Kama Gayatri merely focuses more directly on the highest reach of Brahma Gayatri. Gopi bhava must be within Brahma Gayatri, as it is not possible for something to contain more than its source. Gayatri Mantra’s identification with Srimad-Bhagavatam and the transcendental sound emanating from the flute of Sri Krishna, as well as the fact that Kama Gayatri comes from Brahma Gayatri, should dispel all doubts about the spirituality of Brahma Gayatri.
Q. In his book Sri Guru and His Grace, Srila Sridhara Maharaja gives the analogy of Gayatri Mantra as a smaller circle within a larger circle. The larger circle is the Hare Krishna mantra, which extends from the highest to the lowest point. Chanting Gayatri Mantra requires a certain amount of qualification so it does not reach to the lowest point, and Gayatri retires at liberation so it does not reach to the highest point, prema. Therefore how should we understand your statement that as brahmana boys in Caitanya-lila devotees will be chanting the mantra forever?
A. Materially speaking, varnasrama is transcended in the course of attaining love of God even though it appears again as the transcendent social structure of Krishna and Caitanya lila. Similarly, liberated devotees in perfected sadhaka/siddha dehas become young brahmana boys in Caitanya-lila. These perfected souls do not need to chant Gayatri in pursuit of liberation, but nonetheless Sri Caitanya’s associates will chant Brahma Gayatri thrice daily as they serve him within the lila, just as Mahaprabhu himself does. Brahmanas such as Madhumangala in the Vraja-lila of Krishna also chant Gayatri three times daily. We would do well to be acquainted with his conception. Otherwise, the Gopala Mantra, Kama Gayatri, etc., retire as one realizes the ideal found within these mantras. They retire in terms of the need to chant them, but not in terms of the reality that they represent. Furthermore, for the most part even liberated devotees (bhava bhaktas) continue to chant their diksa mantras even though the efficacy of these mantras has been reached. They do this to set an example for practitioners (sadhakas).