Q. During Harinama initiation, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada often gave their disciples initiated names that corresponded to the first letters of their legal names. What is the spiritual significance of this practice?
A. For Hindus, the date and time of day that a child is born suggests a suitable syllable with which a child’s name should begin. This is an astrological consideration. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta generally chose a name for spiritual initiation that began with the same syllable as one’s birth name. He himself was an astrologer, and he seems to have felt that the astrologically appropriate first syllable for a child’s name had some religious value. Most of his followers have followed his system of choosing a name for initiation that begins with the same syllable as one’s birth name, even when the birth name was not chosen in consideration of astrological insight. However, this system for choosing an initiated name is not one that must be followed in all circumstances. Indeed, we can find many exceptions even within the mission of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Another system involves choosing a name that will be appropriate for Gaura-lila. Of course both of these systems can be combined as well.
Q. I took diksa from a guru who later rejected his position as guru. Should I continue the process of bhakti yoga depending on the sastras and the diksa I already have or should I accept another guru?
A. If your guru has given up serving you in the capacity of guru, then for all intents and purposes you do not have a guru. Furthermore, it is questionable as to how well situated your guru was in the past to provide much in the way of comprehensive spiritual guidance to you. Therefore, I highly recommend that you seek out a qualified guru and accept initiation.
Q. Must the disciple have the same spiritual sentiment (rasa) as the Guru?
A. It is best if one’s own ideal is the same as that of one’s guru. Indeed, on a deeper level, this is often why one is attracted to a particular guru in the first place—because the guru embodies the spiritual sentiment the disciple is destined to realize. Sri Guru is saksad ‘hari, directly representing Krishna, but more importantly he or she embodies a particular loving transcendental sentiment for Sri Krishna, kintu prabhor ya priya eva tasya. However, sometimes we find that a disciple realizes a different spiritual sentiment than that of his or her guru, as in the famous case of Syamananda Prabhu. No harm. Such is God’s will.
Q. When I die I would like to be reunited with my Guru and render service to him in the nitya lila (spiritual world). How should I go about trying to attain this goal? Will I have to cultivate this mood through bhajan?
A. Your attitude should not be to resume your services to your guru in the nitya lila as much as it should be to continue to serve your guru here and now. Follow your guru by becoming a saranagata. The drama of Krishna lila is enacted on the stage of saranagati. Surrender manifests in sadhana bhakti, and then appropriate longing follows with ruci and carries one into bhava bhakti. Bhajana is most appropriate in the higher stages of sadhana bhakti and bhava bhakti.
Q. Visvanatha Chakravarti says that one should chant the gayatri mantra at tri-sandhyam, or the three junctions of the day. However, at work or school I often can’t find a suitable place to meditate and end up chanting my mantras inattentively in order to fulfill this obligation. Other Gaudiya sects chant gayatri without holding a sacred thread or chant their mantras on a mala because they don’t wear a thread, regardless of time of day. So my question is how important is the instruction of chanting gayatri at tri-sandhyam?
A. Visvanatha Cakravarti appeared in a brahmana family, and it seems from his Gurvastakam that he combined his sandhya-vandanam with his guru mantra and guru gayatri, etc., as we do. Otherwise, observing sandhya-vandanam is a brahminical duty and thus pertains to the Brahma gayatri and not necessarily the other diksa mantras and gayatris. However, the practice of mantra dhyana at the three sandhyams is an excellent practice. It requires that three times daily one stop to meditate, observing the sun’s movements and thinking of the sun as a symbolic representation of God. This mandates a change of lifestyle for most. The idea is that the sun represents God because without it we could not survive. The sun speaks loudly to us every day, but we do not hear its message. Those with very deep experience of life tell us, ayur harati vai pumsam udyann astam ca yan asau: “With the rising and setting of the sun, everyone’s life is being taken away, except, that is, for one who is engaged in glorifying Krishna.”
At any rate, it is hard to change one’s lifestyle in a society that does not lend to it, but still we should try. One does not necessarily need to chant the diksa mantras on a thread if it is inconvenient, but one should not chant in a way that is less than meditative if one expects to derive any benefit from chanting. Therefore, a practical adjustment of tri-sandhyam could be to chant one’s first mantra session after rising and bathing, and then chant a second time before leaving for work. Leaving for work, although in the forenoon, takes the sadhaka into the day, so to speak, following Krishna into the forest. That is the beginning of what could be construed as one of three major blocks of time in one’s daily routine, the first being early morning, followed by leaving the house for work, followed by one’s return home for the balance of the day. Using this method one could fulfill the obligation to chant gayatri at three junctions of the day and not have to do so in a situation that is not conducive to meditation.
Q. Why do some Gaudiya sects teach that there is no need to chant Guru and Gaura mantras?
A. In Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Guru mantra and gayatri, Gaura mantra and gayatri, Nityananda mantra and gayatri, etc., are not always given by the guru, but the Gopala mantra and kama gayatri are. These are the main diksa mantras for Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Other mantras and gayatris are primarily for seva puja, but we should chant them as instructed by our Gurudeva, knowing that there are others who may have been instructed differently. This leads to another discussion concerning the liberty of the acarya. For example, the guru mantra and gayatri given by our acarya, Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, are different from those found in the writings of Gopala Guru Goswami and Dhyanacandra Goswami, who collected them from various scriptures. The bija given by Srila Saraswati Thakura is different in that it lends to conceiving of Sri Guru in any of the four primary sentiments of Vraja, as opposed to only madhurya rasa. It is also a meditation on Sri Guru’s absorption in the Vraja lila (krishnanandaya), as opposed to gaura lila (gaurapriyaya). Not all Gaudiya Vaisnavas accept Gaura mantra and gayatri as eternal, nor do all Gaudiyas acknowledge an aprakata nitya lila of Gaura. There is a lot of disagreement out there. We respectfully disagree—as do the majority of Gaudiya lineages—with those who say that one should not chant Guru and Gaura mantras.
Q. Is there a time when one should give up chanting Brahma Gayatri?
A. Many meanings can be derived from Brahma gayatri. If the mantra is guru-given, there is no need to discontinuing chanting it unless its efficacy is reached or the disciple cannot chant it for some particular reason. Otherwise, diksa mantras in general retire at the stage of svarupa siddhi, whereas Krishna nama does not. The mantra is a petition in which the name is couched. At this stage mantra-mayi upasana, meditation on a still picture of the lila, turns to svarasika, absorption in the continuous flow of the lila. The realization of the mantra’s import retires the necessity to chant it. However, diksa mantras are often still chanted even at this advanced stage. This is discussed in Brihat-bhagavatamrita.