Q. I regularly read Sanga and find it very scholarly and free of envy of other spiritual groups. However, a guru who belongs to another organization initiated me, and your approach to the teachings is somewhat different than his. Is this a problem?
A. I am happy to know that my writings have been helpful to you. Our diksa guru connects us to the sampradaya of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by initiating us into the chanting of Krishna nama and Krishna mantra. Within Mahaprabhu’s sampradaya there are many instructing (siksa) gurus capable of helping us take advantage of the mantras imparted to us by our diksa guru. While the instructions of gurus may vary regarding details, they are one in principle, as they all teach the same subject, love of Krishna.
My writing tends to focus on principles rather than on details. If anything I write differs from details that you have heard from your diksa guru, then I hope you will be mature enough to be able to sort that out for yourself.
Q. What if a person has an attraction for an advanced Vaisnava other than his own Guru?
A. It is not uncommon for a disciple initiated by one guru to develop an affinity for another sadhu in the same lineage. In Gaudiya Vaisnavism there is a long history of this, and we find instances of it even among the eternal associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Two prominent examples are Sri Raghunatha dasa and Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, who each developed deeper attachment to their siksa gurus than to their diksa gurus. While respecting all of our teachers, we may be drawn more to one than to another, and that guru or teacher will naturally have a special place in our heart. We should follow our heart to the extent that its attraction does not take us beyond the parameters of scriptural advice.
Practically speaking, the most important guru is the one that helps us the most. A truly qualified guru will be interested only in our spiritual progress, nothing more. If our initiating guru sees that another sadhu is better suited to help us, he or she will encourage us to take advantage of that association. Of course, a disciple may become attracted to another guru, or even a so-called guru, for less than spiritual reasons. Therefore, the initiating guru may have to carefully consider the matter before he or she blesses the disciple to take guidance from another teacher on an ongoing basis.
In any event, the task before the disciple remains the same: always place oneself under the guidance of a higher Vaisnava. At times this may not be a popular or easy thing to do, but it is certainly imperative for spiritual advancement. Spiritual progress develops over many lifetimes of commitment. While there may seem to be greener pastures elsewhere, we must make the best use of our present learning environment regardless of any difficulties we are facing.
Q. I lost faith in my spiritual master and the institution that he belongs to. Is there a proper way to end my relationship with him? Should I give back the japa beads that he chanted upon and gave me?
A. Regardless of the shortcomings of someone who has helped us make progress in spiritual life, it is important to be grateful. If we find that for some reason we have to end a relationship with a particular Vaisnava, we should begin by expressing gratitude for everything that the devotee has done for us and all that we have gained under his or her guidance. If one loses faith in one’s diksa guru, what connection remains? It is faith that ties the student to the teacher. Although this faith is in one sense faith in scripture, it manifests in relation to one who represents that scripture in a prominent way. If we find over time that the guru for some reason does not represent the scriptural conclusion, there is every possibility that we can find a qualified siska guru to guide us. If, however, one’s initiating guru does not permit one to take guidance from such a qualified siksa guru, it may be best to end one’s relationship with such a guru, who may very well be guilty of Vaisnava aparadha. If I were a student in such a failed relationship, I would return the beads I received and explain my reasoning for doing so.
Hopefully your loss of faith in one Vaisnava and the institution he is affiliated with is not a loss of faith in the ideal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism altogether. Of course, people can reject their gurus for the wrong reasons, but I pray that this is not the case for you. I also pray that you will continue your spiritual life under good guidance.
Q. Can a devotee who is not self-realized but who strictly follows the instructions of scripture and his spiritual master become a diksa guru? Would such a guru be able deliver his disciples by giving them the same siksa he has received?
A. It is possible for an advanced devotee who is not yet perfected in realization to serve in the capacity of guru. In this regard, Pujyapada Sridhara Deva Goswami gave the following example of three types of gurus: the first is a devotee who has two feet in the spiritual world and extends one foot to the material world, the second is a devotee who has one foot in the material world but has extended his or her other foot to the spiritual world, and the third is a devotee who has two feet in the material world but whose eyes are always looking to the spiritual world.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s description of three types of gurus roughly corresponds with Sri Jiva Goswami’s following description of three types of maha bhagavatas (superlative devotees). The bhagavat-parsada-deha-prapt is one who has attained his or her spiritual body and is fully functioning within it. An example of this type of devotee is Narada, who upon attaining perfection received his vina and a suitable spiritual form from Bhagavan. The nirdhuta-kasaya is one who is free from material desire but not yet perfect in terms of the cultivation of love of God. An example of this kind of devotee is Sukadeva Goswami, who although free from material desire (nirgrantha) became interested in the lila of Krishna. The murcchita-kasaya is one who is not entirely free from the influence of the mode of goodness (sattva guna) but whose absorption in bhakti is such that any seed of material desire that remains in his or her heart has no opportunity to fructify. An example of this type of devotee is Narada before his realization was perfect, who was blessed with Bhagavan’s darsana, a blessing intended to inspire him to perfect himself.
If one follows the sun fast enough one will always bask in its rays, even though one has not yet attained the sun globe. Similarly, one who proceeds steadily in the direction of prema, guided by a taste for divine service, is always blessed by Bhagavan even though he or she has yet to attain prema. Following the lead of such a devotee is a safe course to take.
Q. Thank you so very much for your teachings and your books. I particularly love your commentary on Bhagavad-gita. I am very interested in becoming your student and perhaps being initiated. How would I go about doing this?
A. Sri Rupa Goswami explains that to advance in Krishna consciousness there are four things that should be in place. He writes:
gurupad asryam tasmat krishna diksadi siksanam
visrambhena guroh seva sadhu vartmanuvartanam
“One must take shelter of Sri Guru, receive diksa and siksa from him or her, render faithful affectionate service to the guru, and follow the path of the saints.”
Taking shelter means that after hearing from the guru for some time, the beginner or novice who has developed faith and affection for the guru sincerely approaches him or her for initiation. During this period the guru in turn considers the qualifications and sincerity of the novice. If the guru feels that he or she is sincere, capable, and willing to adhere to spiritual discipline, the guru will impart the mantra (Krishna diksa) to the novice, explaining its significance along with other relevant instructions (siksa). The initiate is then required to render faithful affectionate service to the guru. Devotion to guru and Krishna in the association of advanced devotees is what Sri Rupa is referring to when he tells us to follow the path of the saints. Only through such devoted service (bhakti) can the import of the mantra be realized.
While details may vary, these principles from Sri Rupa form the foundation of all bona fide guru-disciple relationships in the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya. Anyone desirous of making real progress in Krishna bhakti should consider them carefully and take them to heart. The guru manifests to the disciple though his or her words; being in the physical presence of the guru is not always required. Therefore, those interested in becoming my initiated students must first hear from me for some time. This can be done by receiving my CD lectures through Audarya Audio. You should also study my books and other Gaudiya literature, as well as the Sanga archives posted on my website. If you are inspired by my words and are ready as Sri Rupa says to follow the path of the saints, then you can meet with me here at Audarya to discuss initiation.
In any case, I am very pleased to hear that my commentary on the Bhagavad-gita is helping you and that you are inspired to advance in Krishna consciousness. Bless you for your interest in the path of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I pray that by his grace, you will overcome all obstacles and find shelter at the feet of a bona fide guru in the Gaudiya sampradaya.
Faith In Sri Guru