editorials

Lively, insightful commentary on contemporary issues facing spiritual practitioners.

reviews

Book, film, and audio reviews of contemporary Gaudiya media, as well as a wide variety of media of interest to the spiritually minded.

news

News from around the world with an emphasis on alternative press that is especially relevant to spiritual practitioners.

classroom

Excerpts from classical Gaudiya texts, with and without commentaries, hosted by teachers with whom readers can interact and ask questions.

philosophy

Philosophical articles on Gaudiya Vaisnavism that focus on the tradition’s scriptural conclusions as well as its feeling for the nature of ultimate reality.

Home » philosophy

Intimate Guru-Seva: The Spiritual Catalyst

Submitted by on April 28, 2011 – 12:27 am82 Comments

by Babhru das

When I was younger, I spent as much time surfing with my friends as I could. Because most of the surfing spots on the island of O‘ahu were coral reefs, and these were the days before surfboards had leashes, our surfboards frequently had holes in the fiberglass surface that would let water into the Styrofoam core. Because I had a good eye and hands for the job, I regularly patched dings in my boards and those of my friends. Anyone who has worked with fiberglass knows that, while the resin and fiberglass together give strength to the surfboard, the resin hardens only when we add a catalyst beforehand. Of all the elements, the catalyst is the essential constituent in the process, the component that makes the whole system effective. Spiritual practice also has a number of elements that work together to ensure its success. And as with surfboard manufacture and repair, it has one essential constituent that serves as its catalyst: devotion to sri guru.

Saints and scriptures have all characterized guru-bhakti as absolutely essential to spiritual progress. Krsnadasa Kaviraja says in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta that the spiritual master’s instruction is “the active principle in spiritual life”: acaryera mata yei, sei mata sara. The Bengali word Srila Prabhupada renders as “active principle” here is sara. Another way to understand this word is essence, or essential principle. Consequently, surrendering to the guru is itself the essence of spiritual life, and failing to do so means we completely miss the point of spiritual endeavor, rendering our attempts at progress useless.

Srila Jiva Goswami says in Bhakti Sandarbha that satisfying the guru is the main cause of attaining divine love and service. In support of this assertion, he cites the Agama-sastra: “As an alchemist’s touch turns copper into gold, so the spiritual master’s touch makes his disciple transcendental like Lord Vishnu himself.” He further cites the Godhead as declaring, “First one should worship his guru, and then afterward one should worship Me. One who does this attains perfection; one who does not finds that all his efforts are in vain.”

Moreover, Sri Jiva cites Srimad-Bhagavatam, where Sri Krishna himself says, “I, the soul of all beings, cannot be satisfied as much by ritual worship, by generating progeny, by observing penances, or by self-control, as I am by faithful service rendered to one’s spiritual master.” It seems, then, that service to the spiritual master is what accounts for any success in our attempts at making spiritual progress.

With these truths in mind, devotees in the temples founded by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers around the world begin each day with a meditation on the guru by singing Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti’s Gurvastakam. In the eighth of his prayers, Cakravarti Thakura says,

yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado
yasyaprasadan na gatih kuto ‘pi

“By the spiritual master’s mercy, one may receive Krishna’s blessings; without the guru’s grace, no one can make any spiritual progress.” So from the beginning of Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s spread in the West, Srila Prabhupada established the central position of the guru in the lives of sadhakas.

But, as in surfboard repair, where we attain optimal results by adding just the right catalyst in just the right manner, we attain optimal results in cultivating Krishna bhakti by developing a particular kind of service to the guru. Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu tells us that practical spiritual life is built on the foundation of taking shelter of the spiritual master, which includes several components. There, Srila Rupa Goswami explains those first components of sadhana: “guru-padasrayas tasmat krsna-diksadi-siksanam/ visrambhena guroh seva. . . .” A sadhaka takes shelter of a guru, accepts initiation, takes instruction from and serves the guru with faith, with trust. Sometimes we see the word visrambha translated as respect or reverence, and a relationship with the guru rooted in reverence is undoubtedly helpful, especially in earlier stages of practice. But a quick exploration of that word reveals that the character of the relationship with the spiritual master should come to be quite different from the kind of distance implied in words such as respect and reverence.

Srila Rupa Goswami himself defines visrambha later in Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu in the context of discussing the mood of friendship. He says that visrambha is a “deep, familiar trust” between two friends as equals, “free from any sort of restriction or control.” In his commentary on this verse, Srila Jiva Goswami further explains that this deep trust implies not only freedom from excessive reverence and fear, but also a sense that the friends are in no way different from each other. Elsewhere, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti says it is a sense that one’s own life, body, mind, intelligence, clothes, and everything else are one with those of the object of love. So visrambhena guroh seva points to service based on a deep sense of identity with the guru, to the extent that the disciple has no doubt whatsoever that the guru has only his or her best interests in his heart. The disciple then has complete freedom to reciprocate, acting with no interest other than the guru’s. In this way, such mature affection for the guru, which should never be mistaken for mundane sentiment, manifests itself as an intense focus on the guru’s heart. This focus in turn forges a sense of mamata, which Srila Jiva Goswami defines as “complete identity with the beloved such that the identity and feelings of one and their beloved are not separate.” This mood appropriately describes the feeling the Vrajavasis have for Krishna. As Srila Prabhupada often defined Krishna consciousness as the realization that “I am Krishna’s, and Krishna is mine,” we may also define mature guru-bhakti as the sense that “I am the guru’s, and he (or, more to the point, his desire) is mine.”

So just how deeply does this identification run? How far does this intimacy extend?

Visvanath Cakravarti has said that a disciple who is deeply absorbed in the service of the guru may even ignore practices such as hearing and chanting, knowing that by guru-seva alone he can easily attain complete perfection in devotion. More remarkably, he says, such a disciple, completely absorbed in guru-seva, may even ignore the divine bliss arising out of hearing and chanting, and he or she does not even seek out the kind of secluded place suitable for such bhajana. This assertion in no way minimizes the practices of sadhana bhakti. Our experience, in fact, is that the guru teaches us to engage progressively in cultivating those practices. Rather, it strongly underscores, as Visvanatha says in his commentary, “the supremacy of service to the guru” over all else. It is our affectionate service to the guru that activates other devotional practices and makes them pleasurable to Krishna.

The sense of identity with the guru, this kind of mamata, then, gives the disciple at least a glimpse into the guru’s heart. This should yield a more mature, more intimate relationship with the guru than the sort of “official” beginning relationship based solely on reverence, and perhaps a more dynamic understanding of guru-tattva. This more mature connection will affect a deeper sense of surrender, which may express itself practically in a number of ways.

We can find an illustrative example at the end of my gurudeva’s pastimes with us. Although critically ill, Srila Prabhupada said that he wanted to visit Govardhana Hill by bullock cart. In those days, the roads around Vraja were not paved as they are today, so the ride would have been very hard on Prabhupada, especially in his frail condition. His ayurvedic physician advised against the trip, averring that it would have been tantamount to committing suicide. Two parties developed among the disciples caring for him at the time. One party thought that, as faithful disciples, we should accommodate Srila Prabhupada’s desire, however painful it may seem to us. The other party argued, even to Srila Prabhupada himself, that they could not let him make the trip because of the danger. Rather than judging either party superficially, which may lead us to view those who objected to the trip as disrespectful of the spiritual master, an open-minded consideration may show instead that their position expressed a more intimate understanding, affectionately supporting his comfort and health and thereby his commitment to spreading Krishna consciousness by presenting transcendental literature and teaching worldwide.

Another instance where a disciple demonstrated a mature focus on Srila Prabhupada’s heart, on his essential desire, was during one of his arrivals in the US. Devotees would customarily meet Srila Prabhupada at the airport then gather at the local temple for a more formal reception. On one such occasion, Swami Tripurari (a brahmacari at the time) had spent the day at the airport, distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. He changed from street clothes into his monk’s robes to join the other devotees in greeting Prabhupada as he arrived at the gate. However, because it was Friday, the busiest day at the airport, when the rest of the devotees in the community returned to the temple for Srila Prabhupada’s formal reception, he elected to remain at the airport and continue his service. In the meantime, at the temple, Srila Prabhupada noticed his absence and asked about it. When informed that he had remained at the airport distributing more books, Srila Prabhupada expressed his pleasure, praising his disciple’s service attitude.

We can see this identity with the guru’s heart perhaps most vividly in Srila Prabhupada’s own service to his spiritual master. While Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took seriously Mahaprabhu’s desire that his movement be taken everywhere, and his son and disciple, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, took practical steps toward systematic propagation of the Mahaprabhu’s teachings beyond the Indian subcontinent, Srila Prabhupada brought this transcendental revolution to fruition, giving Mahaprabhu to all kinds of people around the world. In fact, although he worked with his Godbrothers for decades, he ultimately found it necessary to work outside the formal framework of the institution his own guru had created for this work. It was then that he was able to translate, publish, and distribute many authentic Vedic texts, establish temples on every continent except Antarctica, and train thousands of disciples to carry on his work.

Reflecting on Prabhupada’s mission, one of his prominent Godbrothers, Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, concluded that Srila Prabhupada had been personally empowered by Nityananda Prabhu to give Krishna consciousness to everyone. After reading the poems Srila Prabhupada had written aboard the Jaladuta and on his arrival at Boston Harbor, he reasoned that Srila Prabhupada had emptied himself of all desires except serving his spiritual master by working hard to spread Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s message. Srila Sridhara Maharaja also recalled how Srila Saraswati Thakura sometimes said that if he had another ten years to live, he would have gone to New York City and preached from there. Our Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja opined, gave Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati those ten years, “plus two more.” His preaching was successful beyond what most could have imagined.

The essence of devotional service for a disciple, then, seems to be dedication to the service of the spiritual master without any reservation, with complete confidence that such service will carry us to Krishna’s lotus feet. This confidence finds support in Visvanatha Cakravarti Öhakura’s assurance that those of us who regularly chant his eight beautiful verses of praise of the guru during the brahma-muhurta will certainly attain direct service to Vrndavana-natha, Sri Krishna.

Using just the right hardener in appropriate amounts yields the strongest shell for a surfboard, giving the surfer the greatest confidence in the board for riding even the most powerful waves. In a similar way, real devotion—confident, intimate, affectionate service—to the spiritual master most effectively “cures” our spiritual practice, transforming it into pure devotional service. Such visrambhena guroh-seva best equips the practitioner for confidently riding even the waves arising from deep within the ocean of the nectar of devotion.

82 Comments »

  • Tadiya Dasi

    Nice article, Babhru! Thank you for sharing your insights.

  • madan gopal das

    I love this Babhru prabhu! Thanks!

  • Shyamananda das

    Dandavats, Babhru Prabhu! Thank you for this article.

    I recall a conversation I had with one sannyasi just a few days after I had received harinama initiation. I referred to my Gurudeva by name and he told me that a disciple should not do that, but should say Gurumaharaj or Gurudeva. After some years I came to think that maybe he meant that I should have reverence and distance, but at the moment he said it the feeling I got was “You don’t call your father by name, you say ‘dad’.” In other words, I felt the instruction was that I should develop an affectionate relationship to my Guru, not just an official one.

    Maybe you know it already, but it was Srila Bhakti Vicar Yajavar Maharaj who first declared that Srila Prabhupada must be empowered by Lord Nityananda.

    • Maybe you know it already, but it was Srila Bhakti Vicar Yajavar Maharaj who first declared that Srila Prabhupada must be empowered by Lord Nityananda.

      It was Yajavara Maharaja who first proclaimed that he considered Prabhupada to have been empowered with Bhagavan’s sakti, but it was Sridhara Maharaja who later refined this idea and identified the nature of the avesa as Nitaynandavesa.

  • Kula-pavana

    I think it is important to distinguish a natural, free-flowing guru-bhakti from an institutionalized personality cultism, where a guru can do no wrong, no matter how controversial his behavior becomes, and where everything he says is by definition correct and not subject to any scrutiny. Based on several decades of observation, seems like the line between these two can be rather thin at times.

    It is very easy for young adepts of bhakti yoga to be star-struck and see their guru in a way which is completely divorced from reality. Yes, guru is that catalyst, but there must be a proper proportion between a catalyst and what is to be catalyzed. If you worked with the epoxy resins you know what happens when there is too much catalyst – you get a resin which easily crumbles, because there is not enough substance to it. There were plenty of people in our movement who crumbled with time, or failed to mature, because they substituted too much of the substance of bhakti yoga with an emotional attachment to their guru.

    I think that side of the coin needs to be studied as well.

    • Kula-pavana, I’m happy to see your comment because I hope for further conversation of this important issue. I agree that much of the difficulty of recent years can be traced to immature sentiment for those in positions of authority, especially those designated as gurus. As I pointed out, one experienced in board glassing and repair knows not only the proper hardener to use, but the optimal amount, and a number of other details as well. However, I’d like to respond to your call for examining immature sentiment for the guru by pointing out that this essay is meant to generate further examination of the nature of mature devotion to the guru. That, I think, both helps us understand more clearly the nature of the malady and suggests the natural antidote. Simply complaining about our failures will not suffice.

      To begin with, as I describe it here, the catalyst is not the guru him- or herself, but the disciple’s relationship of intimate service to the guru. The relationship discussed here is surely not mere mundane emotion, as I point out in the essay. Such a service relationship grows by hearing from the guru, advanced sadhus such as our previous acaryas, and the scriptures, deliberating on what we have heard, and acting on the basis of such deliberation. It begins, most likely, with understanding carefully, according to sastra, what it means to be a guru, and what it means to be a disciple. This is not a matter of memorizing church doctrine or following the decrees of church officers. Rather, it begins with understanding the actual nature of our existential crisis, then discerning who it is that can best help us resolve that crisis. Prabuddha Muni advises us in Srimad-Bhagavatam that we should first understand the utter futility of all material endeavors, then we should approach a qualified spiritual master in order to understand practical spiritual life. And Srila Jiva Goswami cautions against accepting anyone as a guru based on any conventional or ecclesiastical considerations. If we are fortunate and serious about solving life’s problems, we will carefully discern who is qualified to guide us in effecting that solution. We need to make the time and endeavor necessary for the prospective guru and disciple to get to know each other well enough that they know how well they can trust each other.

      Moreover, the visrambha—intimacy—by which Srila Rupa Goswami characterizes the most productive relationship with the guru is precisely the cure for the malady you decry here. Visrambha means real identity with the other party, as we see in the discussion of the term by our acaryas. An intimate relationship with the guru can only be based on actually knowing the guru’s heart, not on an artificial, superficial, official relationship. To use a very crude analogy, although a seventh-grade girl’s crush on the latest pop heartthrob may satisfy her need to belong, it will not satisfy her need for real love. For that she needs to go through the hard, sometimes painful, work of finding a real partner, someone with whom she can be one in heart, someone she can trust and who can have similar confidence in her.

      So we have to find a spiritual master with whom we can really connect, who knows our travails and can and will help us, someone in whom we can have the kind of confidence. This is a very different matter from joining a church and being confirmed by whatever priest or bishop seems nearby or is popular with the congregation.

      I welcome all careful discussion of this issue. By no means do I think this little essay is the last word on visrambhena guror seva. As I write above, I intend it to open thoughtful discussion.

      • Sorry–I missed something in the penultimate paragraph. I meant to write, “So we have to find a spiritual master with whom we can really connect, who knows our travails and can and will help us, someone in whom we can have the kind of confidence that will ensure our progress in bhakti.” Or something like that.

        • Dhanistha Devi Dasi

          Hare Bol. I think this is a wonderful article. I believe if we trust the “guru in the heart” to lead us to the right person, then such a person emerges. I also believe that intimate service and relationship does not depend on one’s physical locality. As much as we chant to cry to Krishna to appear, then our longing for Guru fires up the heart to develop this very deep and personal relationship. Bhakti, being of course, all about such heartfelt relationships. I am only a recent devotee, but such nistha (faith) does bring about the intensity required for such a relationship. Trusting that Krishna and Guru will arrange everything lets the “head trip” go where the mind gets all distracted.

          I really liked your comment about finding a spiritual master with whom we can really connect. I feel that is so important. Do please write some more.

      • Kula-pavana

        Babhru, I appreciate your thoughtful reply and the spirit in which it is given. I agree with what you are saying but I see your presentation as a very idealized concept, which has little to do with observable reality. Even in the case of a truly worthy guru, like Srila Prabhupada, most of his disciples had very little, if any, opportunity to develop an intimate relationship with their guru. Instead, an institutionalized personality cult was purposefully introduced as a substitute for what you are writing about. Some of his disciples, like yourself, managed to develop such an advanced relations, but most did not…

        • Bhushan

          Kula-Pavanaji, I think you have raised a good point that regarding the institutionalized personality cult.

          It is the nature of most people in this world to want to become heroes and hence there is so much hero worship, right from sports to movies. Such attitude continues to spirituality and thus sannyasis and Gurus are seen as absolute heroes. In fact one gets a feeling of security from clinging to doctrine, rituals, decrees and of course hero worship. I see this as natural, everyone wants to be safe and secure and that through the fastest, cheapest and easiest way, so one turns to these things to get a sense of safety and security. “I have an elevated Guru I am safe, or I am chanting 16 rounds I am saved”. Needless to say such things do not help in the long run. And if what one clings to is threatened then there is a great hue and cry. e.g. like Guru fall down or doctrinal controversy or something else.
          The only solution to this is when people start understanding the actual meaning of spirituality as Babhruji mentioned in the article. But it is seen that only a few understand…

          • Thank you, Bhushan, for reading this piece carefully. My point is precisely as you say, that the problems we have can only be solved if we begin by understanding that actual instruction of the acaryas. Only when we see clearly what guru-seva can be–should be–will we be able to see how to resolve so many of the problems that have beset our community.

            Your comments remind me of something I think I’ve heard Swami Tripuari say that may go some distance to solving the personality-cult problem: we need gurus with smaller halos.

        • Kulapavana, I disagree with your observations that my essay has little to do with observable reality and that Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had little opportunity to develop the intimacy Srila Rupa Goswami and the other acaryas are discussing here. Whether most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have developed a more intimate relationship with him is beyond my ken. I haven’t had the opportunity to investigate all their hearts. But the opportunity certainly existed, and, I’m convinced exists still. Every day presents sincere disciples with countless new opportunities to develop their relationships with the guru, just as with Krsna. The question, I guess, is whether we perceive those opportunities and take advantage of them. If we don’t, we may well be stuck with the institutional, personality-cult relationship that you point out as a problem.

          And I agree that complacency with relating to Srila Prabhupada as an icon rather than as a person is a big problem among his followers. I’ve been discussing that same issue with Godbrothers and sisters since 1975. It became progressively clear to me that those devotees who saw Srila Prabhupada as some sort of rock star too often had very tender faith, for which, perhaps, they sought, even if unconsciously, to compensate by proclaiming his exalted status more loudly than anyone else.
          This essay does not present, as you’ve put it, “a very idealized concept.” This is the standard for sadhana bhakti. Even more to the point, this is the foundation of sadhana bhakti. All the other angas of bhakti are built on such faithful service.

          • Nitaisundara

            Good points, Babhru. I think the statement of Kula-pavana’s that most disciples did not have the opportunity reveals an underlying perception that the intimacy this article speaks of can be mediated by an external entity (person, institution, governing body, etc.) Yes it is true that the most commonly advanced vision of SP, both then and now, may not have been the most conducive for developing a mature relationship with him, but that kind of explanation only goes so far. As Babhru said, the intimacy was and is available to all SP’s disciples, because it is an internal thing.

            While it is subjective, I of course feel that my Guru Maharaja has a deep and intimate connection to Srila Prabhupada (and there is a good objective case that can be made to support the idea), but he had far less direct contact with SP than many of his god-siblings. Furthermore, he was known to be very strict, austere, and one-pointed, which are qualities we often find in people still operating from their initial burst of enthusiasm, but it would be faulty to think that is their only place. Similarly it is faulty to think that any kind of leadership system or behavioral regimen alone produces the intimacy Babhru’s article is speaking about.

          • Kula-pavana

            Babhru-ji, I said that most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples apparently did not develop a more intimate relationship with their guru because most of them left the movement, including a significant number of those who left while SP was still on this planet.

            Most of SP disciples had very little direct contact with him and we can probably all agree that such direct contact greatly helps in fostering a deeper relationship. That is clear not just from your statements about how such moments touched you very deeply, but from just about all such stories I have heard over the years. Thus such lack of interaction can be seen as a limiting factor in developing a deeper relationship with a guru. And that was my point.

    • Nitaisundara

      Kula-pavana, I think everyone can recognize the truth and importance of considering the issues you bring up, but you seem to act as if there is no place for discussing the theory. Were it not for understanding the points Babhru’s article makes, among others, we would be less equipped to navigate the too-often bumpy road of guru-disciple relationship. There is a place for the theory and there is a place for the practical, and there is also a place where the two meet: at the feet of the sad-guru.

      For a discussion of the practical reality, I can think of few contemporary attempts that do as good of a job as the following article (previously published here): http://harmonist.us/2010/08/the-guru-remove-reform-or-re-establish/

      • Kula-pavana

        Nitaisundara-ji,
        IMO the theory needs to cover all sides of the issue, just like learning how to drive a car needs to cover starting, driving, stopping, and rules of the road.

        I think it is an excellent topic and what Babhru Prabhu wrote is very sweet, deep, and ultimately true.

        Relationship between disciple and guru is in many ways similar to a relationship between son and a good father. It starts one way but it ultimately grows, changes, and becomes very deep and mature. A good father is interested in preparing his son for an independent life and he truly enjoys when his son becomes his own man, achieving things he himself was not able to achieve. A father who merely looks at a son as a source of cheap labor for his own projects is a failure in more ways than one.

        So – certainly – without developing a deeper level of emotion and understanding, a relationship between guru and disciple can be seen as at least a partial failure.

        • Nitaisundara

          Failure in what sense? Because it was not completed in one lifetime? You cannot call the person in the shower dirty—they’re working on it!

          Otherwise, the theory does cover all sides of the issue, but obviously an article does not. This article was the theory about the intimate connection with the guru. The theory about finding the guru, navigating the shortcoming of a guru, etc. is a different section of the thoery. I find it absurd to suggest an article needs to cover all aspects of a subject.

          • Kula-pavana

            A son who thinks his father is a Superman fails to understand the true nature of his father. Ignorance is never a success and always a failure.

            A partial failure in this sense is indeed not completing the education within the lifetime. Staying in school certainly helps after you failed your grade, but calling it a failure seems appropriate to me.

  • Lalita-sakhi dasi

    Babhru prabhu, thank you very much for your realizations in this essay, which begin to address an urgent need for so many of us.

    I can relate to Kula-pavana’s point that many or most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples did not develop the understanding of, what to speak of attaining, mature visrambhena guroh-seva. The question arises whether or not it is possible to develop a mature relationship with a departed gurudeva, as in our case with Srila Prabhupada.

    For us, Srila Prabhupada embodied guru. For myself, at least, very young and inexperienced, I thought Srila Prabhupada and his institution were the totality of reality–that one day after enough sincere endeavor and service Krishna might be pleased to manifest in my life as Srila Prabhupada described. Admittedly this is a super-simplistic view, but what else did we know as youngsters? And of course, as institutions will tend toward, over time the ideal became confused with so much else.

    How do we now further develop our relationship with Srila Prabhupada, our eternal master, friend, and guide? As a dear godbrother and mentor mentioned to me recently in one conversation, “You’re adults, after all!” That one comment had a surprisingly profound effect; we have the ability–and responsibility–to relate to Srila Prabhupada as adults now and not as the children we were when we first joined his mission.

    Reality is in fact unlimited, so neither gurudeva nor Sri Krishna can be fit into any mental or intellectual box. I found Srila Prabhupada’s address at his gurudeva’s Vyasa-puja observance to be especially helpful for understanding the broader nature of guru:

    Gentlemen, the offering of such an homage as has been arranged this evening to the acarydeva is not a sectarian concern, for when we speak of the fundamental principle of gurudeva or acaryadeva, we apeak of something that is of universal application. There does not arise any question of discriminating my guru from yours or anyone else’s. There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others.

    That Srila Prabhupada was an agent of this unlimited grace coming from Krishna totally blew the lid off the box I had kept him in. He’s so much greater than I gave him credit for. And guru’s grace appears in surprising and unexpected ways. So here we are now with guru’s grace coming to us, revealing further steps to take toward our cherished goal. We can use your surfboards to ride that wave!

    I hope to learn much from further discussion.

    • Lalita-sakhi, I appreciate your thoughtful comments, and I’m happy you’ve contributed Srila Prabhupada’s comments on the matter to our conversation.

      You wrote, “I can relate to Kula-pavana’s point that many or most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples did not develop the understanding of, what to speak of attaining, mature visrambhena guroh-seva. The question arises whether or not it is possible to develop a mature relationship with a departed gurudeva, as in our case with Srila Prabhupada.”

      As I mentioned in a response to Kula-pavana, I think this is an important point to consider. It does seem as though too many of us haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities that present themselves each day to deepen our relationship with our spiritual master. Perhaps we haven’t taken them seriously, or perhaps, as seems evident sometimes, we didn’t realize what the nature of our relationship with him should be.

      As to whether it’s possible for Srila Prabhupada’s disciples to continue to develop our relationship with him, my experience is that it is certainly possible. But we also had the opportunity to understand that a more personal relationship was possible, even desirable, even when we were younger. I was certainly no big shot when Srila Prabhupada moved among us. But I had some experiences, even from the very beginning, that I think helped. Maybe I can share a couple just to illustrate.

      When Srila Prabhupada visited Honolulu in August 1970, I was so overwhelmed the first time I saw him that I sobbed uncontrollably, to the extent that, when I finally was able to approach him to offer a garland and offered obeisance afterward, I couldn’t even say the pranam mantras. So I think the evidence is clear that I was struck by his aisvarya, and I had the impression that he lived on a plane quite different from what I was accustomed to. Still, he said a couple of things later that day, at the temple, which “humanized” him for me in a very salutary way.

      We had just constructed the Vyasasana, and in fact finished it about fifteen minutes before he arrived at the temple. It was set up on the shelf in a bay window opposite the altar. We had not yet had an opportunity to put an umbrella over the seat, as we see on most Vyasasanas, so one of the brahmacaris got up on the shelf and, kneeling, held up one of those umbrellas we used to decorate with velvet, gold lame, beads and fringe over Srila Prabhupada’s head. After a couple of minutes, Srila Prabhupada looked at the boy, smiled, and said, “I don’t think it will rain in here.”

      Later, his lecture, as I remember, focused on Krsna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he used examples of the predominating personalities of other planets (the sun god, moon god, etc.) to help make his point. He said that even on our planet, we have a dominant person. “President John . . . um . . .Nick . . . er, Nixon.” I was immediately charmed by that apparent mistake for two reasons. One was that everyone thought the president of the United States was so important (big enough, even to be the dominant personality of the Earth planet), but in the big scheme of things the president is so inconsequential and his influence so ephemeral that Srila Prabhupada had trouble keeping track of who was president that particular day. The other, though, was more to the point of our discussion here. I thought, “Cool! Srila Prabhupada is a real person. That means that Krsna consciousness is something I may be able to attain, too, not just something for those from the spiritual sky.”

      As for how we can develop a more intimate relationship with Srila Prabhupada in his apparent absence, I think the answer is as it was when his presence was apparent to us. After all, very few of us were able to spend much time with him, even then. Our relationship with him was based not on being in a room with him, as wonderful as that was when the opportunity presented itself, but on striving to understand how to serve him and acting on that understanding. So even today we can develop a more profound relationship with him by improving our chanting, studying the books carefully, finding ways to immerse ourselves progressively in what Srila Sridhara Maharaja called “deep engagement in responsible service” (which, as we’ll see in a moment, Srila Prabhupada also prescribed for me), and always seeking the best association we can find.

      Among the few personal encounters I had with Srila Prabhupada were two that further encouraged me to relate to him as a person, rather than as an icon. Dueing one of his visits in 1972, when he installed our worshipful Deities, Sri Sri Panca-tattva, Govinda dasi would relate to me things he said about Tulasi-devi, especially his pleasure with how well she was growing there. She did this because I cared for Tulasi from the very beginning. Finally I said, “Govinda, I wouldn’t mind hearing some of this first hand, you know!” So she dragged me to the car where Srila Prabhupada was waiting to leave, pushed me into the back seat, and introduced me to him.
      “Prabhupada, this is Babhru. He has done all the work with Tulasi since the very beginning.”

      Srila Prabhupada looked at me with that oceanic smile we often see and said, “That’s very nice, Babhru. But we must serve Krsna completely, with both our body and mind.” My immediate impression was that he could see into my heart. Even more important, though, was the clear message that he cared about even me.

      This was strengthened about a year and half later in Los Angeles. My wife and I ran into trouble with some of ISKCON’s leadership because of difficulties with the temples in Hawaii. When my Godbrother Sudama Maharaja, who was trying to revive the Honolulu center, arranged for my wife, my friend Tarun Kanti, and me to meet with Srila Prabhupada to discuss our situation, Prabhupada apparently cleared his calendar for the morning and asked everyone else to leave, and please close the door behind them. Tarun Kanti, my wife, and I were not Bigs, but here we were in a private meeting with Srila Prabhupada for more than an hour. And his first order of business was to see that we were happy in Krsna consciousness.

      It has always been clear to me that, if Srila Prabhupada cares about even me, just because I have some interest in serving, how much he must care for the rest of his disciples who are actually surrendering. As you say, “guru’s grace appears in surprising and unexpected ways. So here we are now with guru’s grace coming to us, revealing further steps to take toward our cherished goal.” Based on that understanding, based on that confidence, let us all resolve to dedicate ourselves to taking those steps without reservation. That’s the message I get from your comment. Thank you so much.

      As for the surfboards, I’m just a ding-repair guy. We need to avail ourselves of the services of expert shapers.

      • madan gopal das

        Babhru, just wanted to thank both you and Lalita-Sakhi for being such great examples in churning this wonderful discussion of guru-tattva. I am seriously enlivened by it and despite just returning from a dip in the ocean of guru-seva, I feel like grabbing my board and paddling out to see if I can find some more waves!! Man, I never want to touch the beach (tatastha) again! Maybe I’ll just stay out here with all of you.
        Svarupa-sakti is like an ocean of devotion, periodically sending in waves with surfing sadhus atop to meet us baddha-jivas and attract us from our drudgery of counting grains of sand and obsessing over foam and temporary bubbles in the froth that is tatastha.
        This katha is supremely attractive and I want to thank you as Prabhupada disciples for exemplifying the interest in increasing your fun in these water sports since the time that you dove into the ocean long ago.
        Thanks also for sharing what you learned from your stories with Prabhupada. More than just repitition of a story from “the old days”, these were great examples which clearly impacted you in wonderful ways and continue to do so.

        “I don’t think it will rain in here.” – LOVE IT! Jaya Prabhupad!

        • Thanks, Madan, for your enlivening response. With regard tot he rain comment, it gave me an immediate impression that Srila Prabhupada was beyond cool.

          I think it may be your being deeply tubed in guru-seva that this affected you as it seems to have. My suggestion: wax that board and paddle for the horizon. As we see in so many places, like Peahi (Jaws) on Maui, Log Cabins off O’ahu, or Todos Santos off Baja California, the best waves are deep in the ocean. To borrow from Swami’s Siksastakam commentary, what would be the loss if we were to drown in such sport?

      • Lalita-sakhi dasi

        Babhru, Thank you for your gracious and encouraging reply.

        I realized that my statement about being able to relate to Kula-pavana’s point–which led to the question of whether or not it is possible to develop a mature relationship with one’s guru after his departure–was not well thought out on my part. I assumed, based on what I sensed was a feeling of hopelessness on Kula-pavana’s side, that the question naturally followed; otherwise, in my mind, why would one think it was not possible to further and deepen his or her relationship with the guru just because he is not physically with us? I apologize for making that assumption; it might have been more prudent to ask if what I sensed was correct or not. It seems other devotees read his comments differently and connected the problem more to external considerations that led to prevalent misconceptions about guru.

        You understood my message totally (to your credit, given my confused writing! I’ll have to work hard to learn how to communicate properly amongst the intelligent readers on this site.).

        It’s so interesting to me to hear other devotees’ interactions with Srila Prabhupada. For myself, I had thicker coverings to break through. I also had profound experiences in connection with Srila Prabhupada, but reached a different conclusion the first time, and only gradually came to realize how much Srila Prabhupada really cared about us.

        The first time I saw Srila Prabhupada personally was at New Vrindaban the day before he initiated me. A few of us were cleaning Srila Prabhupada’s house while he was lecturing, and as he was returning via the back entrance we rushed out the front door into a van waiting to take us back to Bahulaban. But we’d left our shoes by Prabhupada’s back door! I had been last to get in the van, so I had to run back through the house to the back door to gather up the shoes. I reached the door at the exact moment Srila Prabhupada did.

        I must have offered my obeisances, but the two things I remember were hearing Prabhupada’s servant saying in disappointment, “They didn’t wash the pots!”, which we hadn’t realized were out in the back yard. The other was that Srila Prabhupada was so beautiful and small, but in my mind larger than life. Despite our inept service, he so graciously folded his hands and looked into my eyes and said with such feeling, “Thank you very much.” I took the shoes, ran back through the house and into the van. I couldn’t speak. I was in shock. Although I couldn’t have articulated it then, and as strange as it seems now, I couldn’t fathom how this perfect representative of God that I’d been worshiping, hearing about, and hearing from could be a person, but there he was right in front of me, speaking to me. The next day, when he gave me my name, he looked hard at me and added “dasi.” Srila Prabhupada saw into my heart as well, but it took me a long time to realize the importance of actual service using both body and mind, and of hopefully some day attaining service with oneness of heart.

        You gained a different realization of Srila Prabhupada as a person than I did. I had, and still have, an awful lot of catching up to do! Despite my very deep disqualification, Srila Prabhupada still accepted me and gave me so much opportunity to progress. And that I’m still around trying to serve him is testament to his patience, mercy, and compassion. So, yes, I also firmly believe that we all had and still have unlimited opportunities to further develop our relationship with our gurudeva. Ultimately, isn’t it that through that relationship he or she will take us to our eternal service in Goloka.

        • Gaurangi-priya

          Sakhi, thank you for your wonderful postings. It is so sweet to hear your stories, and your determination to dive deep into your relationship with Srila Prabhupada and really understand it, is so inspiring.

    • Kula-pavana

      Mother Lalita-sakhi, the statement you quote:

      “There does not arise any question of discriminating my guru from yours or anyone else’s. There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others.”

      comes from a very early period of Srila Prabhupada’s writing and was never again repeated in this form in his later years. Iskcon was certainly not built on the understanding that “there is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others”. SP wanted to protect his disciples from what he considered to be ‘substandard bhakti’ and keep his disciples focused on his preaching program.

      I see that approach as justified for the early spiritual childhood of his disciples, but something that ultimately must pass if his children are to mature and be ready for their responsibilities as spiritual adults.

      • Alex

        Perhaps this statement was not repeated because it would be misunderstood by neophytes who equate the guru’s physical form with the substance of the guru. Therefore they may not have showed exclusive devotion for Srila Prabhupada for long enough to receive the correct conception and realisation. Srila Prabhupada was starting from scratch and instructing westerners who had very little real spiritual knowledge.

        It seems strange to me that you see this statement as a beginners conception, because I see it as just the opposite – an elevated conception of the true essence of the guru parampara.

        • Kula-pavana

          Alex, no – I do not see that view as a “beginners conception” and agree with you that it is “an elevated conception of the true essence of the guru parampara”. However, it was not a view that Srila Prabhupada promoted in Iskcon.

          Pretty much all Vedic based groups celebrate their gurus on one day, Guru-purnima – the appearance day of Srila Vyasadeva – precisely to promote the understanding that “There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others”.
          Early on, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta introduced in Gaudiya Matha celebrating his Vyasa-puja on the day of his own birthday, but Guru-purnima was still celebrated (and continues to be celebrated there). And as we all know, Srila Prabhupada completely abolished Guru-purnima celebration in Iskcon. Again, I think this was done for the sake of promoting personalism among his neophyte disciples.

      • Lalita-sakhi dasi

        As I see it, Srila Prabhupada came to the West and began his mission in times deeply influenced by impersonalism and voidism, when “it’s all one” was a common conception, and I can imagine what we would have done with “guru is one” at that time. Along with addressing our immediate necessity, Srila Prabhupada also taught us to deeply examine his teachings along with those of the previous acharyas, whose books he said would come to us in time. As Alex also pointed out, it seems we were given what we needed to protect our developing bhakti practice.

        I don’t understand what “that approach” refers to in your last statement:

        I see that approach as justified for the early spiritual childhood of his disciples, but something that ultimately must pass if his children are to mature and be ready for their responsibilities as spiritual adults.

        Are you saying that Srila Prabhupada’s statement represents “substandard bhakti”?

        Traversing the path of bhakti necessarily includes growing from childhood to adulthood, maturing in our relationships with our gurus–plural intended. As Srila Prabhupada stated, guru appears in many forms to teach us–Krishna appearing through all of them to fulfil our urgent necessity as it arises.

        • Kula-pavana

          I said: “I see that approach as justified for the early spiritual childhood of his disciples, but something that ultimately must pass if his children are to mature and be ready for their responsibilities as spiritual adults.”
          Here ‘that approach’ was SP placing himself as the only spiritual mentor for his disciples.

      • In this statement Srila Prabhupada was simply expressing an essential element of Vaisnava philosophy. There’s no evidence that he changed his mind about this understanding. And it’s certainly not the case that he hid this from us. This offering was apparently printed in Back to Godhead in 1975. And I remember having read his speech years before this.

  • Kshamabuddhi das

    “Both the Lord’s Deity form and the spiritual master should be seen from a distant place. This is called maryädä. Otherwise, as it is said, familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes coming too near the Deity or the spiritual master degrades the neophyte devotee”. (Madhya 12-212 purport)

    • And sometimes, to render real service, we must approach the guru and the Deity. To serve my Thakurajis each morning, I have to pick them up in my hands to bathe and decorate them. 40 years ago, I had no qualification for doing so, but since they came to me of their own accord, I must accommodate their desire for personal service. If I were working on his books, I would have to ask him about any mistakes I found in the manuscript. Otherwise, my “editing” would be less useful.

      The intimacy prescribed by our acaryas here is not some mundane familiarity, but a sense of identity based on knowing the guru’s heart and behaving accordingly.

  • Ramsharana

    Kula-Pavan understands as much about Srila Prabhupada disciples and their relationship with their guru as a man understands about childbirth. He’s just a spectator, and guru sishya realtionships are not meant for spectators. Actually, it’s none of his business. Better he speaks about the relationship he has with his own guru that is within the purview of his own experience. If he does so I’ll be more inclined to listen to his own subjective opinion.

  • Kula-pavana

    Actually, men understand childbirth quite well. All it takes is a desire to study it in depth.
    I merely used the example of this particular relationship to illustrate a general point. Often when people have no real argument to support their stand, they try to discredit the person who brings up the opposing point.

    • Ramsharana

      Maybe you have given birth to some children Kula-Pavan? I doubt it, you don’t have the tools for the job. You could have been a bystander though, but watching childbirth isn’t the experience of childbirth. Watching or, “studying it in depth”, doesn’t hurt. So a man’s “understanding” of childbirth is at best only theoretical and his understanding incomplete, exactly like your theoretical understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples feeling for him. You are a bystander, an outsider in this sense and have no access to the feeling or realization Srila Prabhupada’s disciples directly experience. So, I’m not “discrediting” you. You discredit yourself by showing you are unable to grasp an elementary example. As I advised previously, it’s none of your business. Better to make progress focusing on your realtionship with your own guru.

      • Kula-pavana

        Prabhu, I take your chastisement with all humility at my command. Without the ability to realize our mistakes we are unable to move forward in our understanding of reality.

      • Kshamabuddhi das

        anyone can accept Srila Prabhupada as a siksha-guru, follow his teachings and be a loving disciple of Srila Prabhupada as much as any formally initiated.
        I consider Kula-pavana as much a disciple of Prabhupada as any of the formal initiates, indeed a much better disciple than MANY formal initiates including my lowly self.

        • Lalita-sakhi dasi

          Kshamabuddhi prabhu, thank you so much for your comment, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to ask a question I’ve been pondering.

          I have little detailed, sastrically based knowledge of siksa-guru, so I am placing a question before the learned devotees. While it is without doubt that anyone can gain spiritual inspiration from Srila Prabhupada’s books and teachings, as well as those of our other acaryas, does that constitute a siksa-guru/disciple relationship? Must the guru and sisya mutually agree to the relationship, thereby necessitating that the guru be physically present and aware of the sisya’s existence and desire for instruction?

          I have so many other questions surrounding these, but perhaps this is a good starting point.

          • One’s siska guru is typically not a purvacarya any more than one’s diksa guru is. But one can nonetheless develop a relationship with a purvacarya by entering the lineage through diksa and further solidifying one’s position therein with the help of a siksa guru.

          • alex

            Lalita-sakhi dasi,

            I am not a learned devotee, but I can share my experience with you. I have never been formally initiated, but have taken Srila Prabhupada and his teachings to heart through his books. This goes beyond just inspiration – there is living personal guidance. This has been my experience. I never think of Srila Prabhupada as not being present – I have his books in my house and his ideals and dreams in my heart. Surely if his spirit lives anywhere – it is there.

            Personally, I think the formal initiation thing should be done away with – it causes so much trouble and misunderstanding. If you follow a guru’s teachings and advice – his discipline – then you are his disciple. Its that simple. Everything else is just politics.

          • Alex, you should become a more learned devotee.

          • Gauravani dasa

            Kshamabuddhi and Alex,

            If you read Srila Prabhupada’s books closely, you’ll see that he instructs us to find a living guru. Following Prabhupada’s teachings means that we are to find a guru that “mutually agrees” to accepts us as a student, actively guiding us.

            In addition, Srila Prabhupada instructs us to become gurus ourselves. If we cannot do that, we should find someone who has.

          • madan gopal das

            Lalita Sakhi,
            For a long time I’ve had a gripe about the use of the term siksa guru in application to Prabhupada. Unless the disciple was in his physical presence, I don’t believe it is the proper term. Iskcon widely promotes the idea that Srila Prabhupada is the “primary siksa guru” for the entire society. This idea is fraught with problems:
            1) A siksa guru is a person who assists the disciple in furthering his/her understanding of siddhanta and the application of the teaching. This requires physical presence for the siksa guru to understand the disciple’s position and then assist in bringing the disciple to further stages of realization. In Iskcon a devotee learns the siddhanta primarily from Prabhupada’s books first and then any supplemental siksa is considered suspect if it takes one beyond the purview of what Srila Prabhupada directly manifested in speech or writing. It is a circle which does not allow further development of the disciple.
            2) Equating Srila Prabhupada with a siksa guru solidifies Iskcon in very close proximity to the apasiddhanta of ritvik. If one can receive siksa and guidance by Srila Prabhupada through his books and teachings into eternity, what is the requirement of seeking out a living siksa guru? Next step down that road is that “siksa is more important than diksa” which we often hear bandied about these days. So Prabhupada, the “primary siksa guru” for the whole of Iskcon is more important than the diksa guru, and if the diksa guru is thought to (or actually does) have some problem, OR the disciple just feels more inclined to directly pursue “guidance” under Prabhupada, the diksa guru can easily be side-stepped.

            I say kick out the term “siksa-guru” in reference to Prabhupada, recognizing him as a purva-acarya and the study of his teachings should be understood in the same light as the teachings of other previous acaryas, though having more direct influence because of proximity of time. While understanding the proximity of Prabhupada’s life to modern devotees and his living connection to his current disciples, a line must be drawn lest we drift towards apasiddhanta. Not referring to him as a siksa guru in no way disrespects Prabhupada, rather he is placed among our venerable departed acaryas, forever to be noted in our parampara for his enormous contributions.

          • Lalita-sakhi dasi

            Madan, (I hope this places correctly in the thread–this appears to be the correct link to place a comment after yours. Hmm, something akin to sorting out where to find one’s spiritual guidance.)

            I agree with your points. I don’t particularly want to speak for ISKCON, although I have lots of experience therein that I’m working hard to come to terms with. The problem seems to be that unless we understand the nature of the inspiration flowing through the guru-parampara and how it travels through a person, person being the key factor, who because he or she is connected with that inspiration can pass it on to another, we will resort to management-, emotion-, fear-, or whatever else-based methods for our supposed link to the guru-parampara. Perhaps because of not really understanding the role and position of guru, going outside of the immediate circle of Prabhupada’s books, etc., is then seen (as it has been and still is to a large extent) as somehow disrepecting or marginalizing or minimizing Srila Prabhupada’s position.

            And this phenomenon is not limited to our Srila Prabhupada; it could happen anywhere. In fact, we recently had a visit from a sweet devotee from a group I didn’t know even still existed, who could not listen to a lecture of anyone other than her own guru. So it seems to be a universal misconception.

            I have a feeling that the term “love and trust” that Srila Prabhupada used was meant to extend much deeper than our superficial dealings with each other. In really understanding one’s relationship with the guru, one will naturally develop a deep love and trust that will extend both backward to the purva-acaryas and forward to Vaisnavas and perhaps, in time, disciples.

            As Swami Tripurari posted, one can develop a relationship with a purva-acarya through those in the line. If I’ve misunderstood, I trust I’ll be corrected.

          • Kula-pavana

            Madan-gopal-ji, a very large percentage of SP direct disciples never had a chance to ask their guru a personal question while he was on this planet. They were learning by reading his books and by listening to his lectures – and SP said more than once that that is enough for them to achieve perfection. What don’t they have now that they had before?

            While I agree that traditionally ‘siksa guru’ was a person we can access directly and physically, the precedent created by Srila Prabhupada adds a different dimension to this term.

            The other dynamic pushing many people to accept siksa from books and tapes (of departed acharyas like Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja) is the crisis of authority in the HK movement and lack of faith in the next generation of gurus. Some of my friends had three or even four different gurus from that lot. And at some point many stopped buying into the ‘living guru’ philosophy altogether. I can’t say I blame them.

            People naturally want to surrender to a living guru and have the option of his direct guidance. But until the faith in these gurus overcomes the barrier of historically justified suspicion and doubt, we will continue to have thousands of devotees looking for siksa in books and tapes.

          • Gaura-Vijaya

            Kula-pavana,
            I myself know some people who had taken initiation from 3 gurus. Some of them continue to take siksha from living guru and some are completely disheartened.

            But the tradition is to keep on taking initiation from the living guru even multiple times till you get one who does not fall down. That is how it works. It is not pleasant, but that is how it works. We can empathize with these people who are burnt, but the siddhanta does not change.

          • With regard to Alex’s suggestion that we do away with initiation altogether, we should consider at least one among the many, many places Srila Prabhupada discusses this:

            One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. One who is not properly initiated may present himself as a great devotee, but in fact he is sure to encounter many stumbling blocks on his path of progress toward spiritual realization, with the result that he must continue his term of material existence without relief. Such a helpless person is compared to a ship without a rudder, for such a ship can never reach its destination. It is imperative, therefore, that one accept a spiritual master if he at all desires to gain the favor of the Lord. . . . If one thinks that he is above consulting anyone else, including a spiritual master, he is at once an offender at the lotus feet of the Lord. Such an offender can never go back to Godhead. It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding. (Cc. 1.1.36, purport)

            If we claim Srila Prabhupada as our guru, we must accept this and the many other instructions he has given about the necessity (I was going to say importance, but that’s not a strong enough word) of accepting initiation from a qualified spiritual master. Formal initiation only causes problems when one or both parties are not qualified.

            The concept of a foundational siksa guru, which Kula-pavana suggests above, is a novel one introduced by ISKCON’s GBC in 1994 as a response to problems caused by unqualified gurus in that institution. I don’t think you’ll find it supported by sastra.

            As I point out in my essay, taking shelter of a guru, accepting initiation and instruction from a qualified guru, serving the guru with affection and faith, following the path tread by the mahajanas, etc. are not optional practices. Rather, they are the very foundation of sadhana bhakti.

          • Kula-pavana

            I just run across a nice quote from the theosophist mystic, Rudolf Steiner:

            “Let the reader take this book as a conversation between the author and himself. The statement that the student needs personal instruction should be understood in the sense that this book itself is personal instruction. In earlier times there were reasons for reserving such personal instruction for oral teaching; today we have reached a stage in the evolution of humanity in which spiritual scientific knowledge must become far more widely disseminated than formerly. It must be placed within the reach of every individual, to a quite different extent from what was the case in older times. So the book replaces the former oral instruction. It is only to a limited extent correct that further personal instruction is necessary, beyond that contained in this book. No doubt, someone may need assistance, and it may be of importance for him or her; but it would be false to believe that there were any cardinal points not mentioned in this book. They can be found by those who read correctly, and, above all, completely.”

          • Steiner was a brilliant man. Had his system of education been taken seriously and slightly modified by Western Gaudiyas, we would be much better off. But this statement of his is evidence of his misunderstanding of the nature of how spiritual knowledge is comprehensively disseminated. He was as wrong about this as he was in thinking that reincarnation never involved going backwards. Apparently he did not “read correctly, and, above all, completely.”

          • Nitaisundara

            The thing is, if you were to agree with this and read his book thinking it contained all spiritual knowledge and then follow it’s teachings, you would end up far from the paravyoma. If you were to read one of Prabhupada’s books thinking it contained all spiritual knowledge and then follow it’s teachings, you would end up at the feet of a living guru, and thereby, the paravyoma. That is the difference. Their teachings were different. Finding and serving a guru with affection is one of (if not the) “cardinal points” of Prabhupada’s teaching. And yes, it can be found by those who read correctly and completely.

          • Kula-pavana

            Steiner was a brilliant man in more ways than one. His bio-dynamic gardening methods are just as brilliant and effective as the educational system he developed.
            Steiner lacked proper guidance and inspiration when it comes to some spiritual aspects, but he was a true spiritual scientist. That part ties with another topic we discussed today – American Veda.

          • madan gopal das

            Sorry I got lost in the flurry of comments Kula-pavana. Regarding Prabhupada’s disciples who did not have his darsana, you asked:

            What don’t they have now that they had before?

            As Babhru and Lalita-sakhi were discussing, I think it is entirely possible for a disciple of Prabhupada who never had his personal association to continue to develop that relationship. Granted, that relationship may be helped most by taking a siksa guru, or assistance from other disciples who had such association. But such siksa gurus are not necessarily standing in-between the relationship of Prabhupada and his disciple.
            There is a significant difference between Prabhupada’s disciples who never had his association and devotees who claim his siksa but were never initiated by him. It may be easy to make the case that these two groups are very close, but physical association or not, Prabhupada’s will, his blessing and his acceptance of those disciples was manifest – in this plane, space, and time. That cannot be done away with.
            I still claim that regarding Prabhupada as a siksa guru is improper unless one had his living association. Otherwise, he has not agreed to accept the disciple, to test the disciple, to further the disciple’s understanding of the diksa that he/she was given, etc. Siksa follows diksa, and time-wise Prabhupada cannot be a siksa guru for those who’ve taken diksa after his presence.

            The other dynamic pushing many people to accept siksa from books and tapes… lack of faith in the next generation of gurus.

            In spite of the spiritual abuse or misrepresentation that has gone on, in spite of the attractive example of purity of a recently departed acarya, we must understand that there is no precedent that changes the siddhanta. No matter how much our trust may have been abused, there is no substitute (even Prabhupada!) for the association of a living guru. That mutually agreed upon spiritual relationship of master and disciple is essential.

        • Gaura-Vijaya

          Kula pavana ji,
          I don’t think this thing will work in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The only way it is working is in the ritvik system or pseudo-ritivik system (10,000 year law book idea) that is even worse than what you started with. A living guru is required to teach the spirit behind the message in ancient books. Yes, he also writes books/tapes for current times and that how many of the disciples today interact with Maharaja. So he draws insight from previous acaryas and presents the essence. It is not an easy task for a beginner to just sort the substance from the form.

          • Kula-pavana

            Oh please… I never was even remotely a fan of the ritvik-vada and I do not believe that books and tapes are enough to make a transition into the spiritual world. However, the ritviks use the arguments Srila Prabhupada himself provided, perhaps to console his disciples who had very little direct contact with him due to the nature of his preaching priorities. I suspect the same was true for Rudolf Steiner – not enough time to actually personally guide each one of his followers.

  • Gaurangi-priya

    Thank you Babhru, for a beautiful well-written article about this most important topic, guru-seva. Many parts of it touched my heart deeply. Your article also points to the very personal and intimate relationship of guru/disciple and how it is a relationship that develops on a much more mystical and internal level, than just a “see-it-with-your-eyes” level.

  • Shyamananda das

    From an article by Srila Bhakti Prajnana Keshava Maharaj:

    “When I was an infant, I did not understand what relationship my mother had with me, nor was I able to realise her deep love and affection for me. Although I was ignorant, it does not follow that my mother was not my mother at that time or that I was deprived of her affection. I always remained related to her and did not forego her maternal affection, despite being unable to understand who she is. Nourished by her love I have now attained adulthood and am able to appreciate how she is related to me and what maternal affection is. During infancy, I did not understand my mother; therefore, I could not realise the sweetness of her affection, although she showered me with it. But I have now grown into an adult through her love and nurturing. By her affection and mercy, I am now able to realise who she is and have now developed a feeling of possessiveness (mamata) towards her.

    When the practising devotee attains madhyama-adhikara, he is able to ascertain the eligibility of a Vaishnava and show him due affection…”

    http://bvml.org/SBPKM/omciavNB.html

  • Bhushan

    After reading the article I was wondering if the thoughts mentioned in the article were actually practiced in the ancient Vedic society. In the Mahaharata Adi-Parva one can find the story of Ayoda-Dhaumya and his three disciples and how he tested them. The tests were extremely harsh and one disciple later Veda it seems particularly did not like this.
    ” And Veda, having received permission from his preceptor, and leaving the latter’s residence after the completion of his studies, entered the domestic mode of life. And while living in his own house, he got three pupils. And he never told them to perform any work or to obey implicitly his own behests; for having himself experienced much woe while abiding in the family of his preceptor, he liked not to treat them with severity. ” – Adi Parva Section III(Paushya Parva)

    Also the system was that the disciple leaves the Guru, so a question maybe raised as to how intimate the relationship was, if one day one has to walk away from it.
    As a contrast to this Lord Buddha says (its a famous saying)
    ” Do not accept any of my words on faith,believing them just because I said them. Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
    and critically examines his product for authenticity. Only accept what passes the test by proving useful and beneficial in your life.”

    In the Buddhist version, I think there is scope for actually understanding the spiritual knowledge by means of reason and experience which can lead to trust, love and sense of indebtedness in the heart of the disciple. Of course one can find this between Arjuna and Shri Krishna also.

    I feel tempted to draw the following conclusion.
    In Mahabharata there are lot of examples and instructions of how disciples should strictly follow Guru without questioning, I just quoted one, and very few examples of intimate Guru seva like (Shri Krishna and Arjuna, Yudhisthira and Markandeya Muni, Yudhisthira and Draupadi/Bhima). I think is a shortcoming of the Vedic culture as practiced at the time of the Mahabharata.

    • Kula-pavana

      Bhushan-ji, Mahabharata seems to present an unvarnished account of antiquity, not an idealized Disney version of it. Yes, there were gurus who were very harsh with their disciples, but there are also many more examples of healthy guru-disciple relationships, which was the norm back then.
      In the vedic tradition guru is primarily a teacher. Once the education is complete, the disciple goes home and with time the brahmanas take in to their household their own disciples and the cycle repeats itself.

      When it comes to guru-disciple relationships, Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition is much more influenced by the tantric current than by the vedic tradition. Tn the tantric tradition guru is treated like a god by his disciples and that relationship is deep, emotional, and lifelong, often continuing in the afterlife.

      • Bhushan

        Kulapavanji, thanks for the post, was quite informative. I did not know about this influence of tantric tradition on Gaudiya Vaishnavism. I thought this is more due to the nature of Gurus.

        In Maharashtra the state where I live(and I think this may be applicable to Bengal also), there were lot of siddha saints who were Advaita Vedantists, Vaishnavas/Ram Bhaktas, Datta Sampradaya etc. And the general people worship them as God. In fact I read a book “Shri Gurucharitra” a hagiography of incarnations of Lord Dattatreya. The dynamic there seems to be of absolute obedience on a mystical platform. Example: A saint asked a person who had leprosy to water a stick and when the fruit comes out, he will be cured. And then after some days the disciple faithfully watered the stick and by the mystic powers of the Guru, it became a tree.

        Some extremely powerful personalities, who could do unbelievable mystic things for the well being of others.
        So I thought that such worship of Guru as God was influenced due to some powerful incarnations which became Gurus. In fact some of my acquaintances are convinced that Guru means extraordinarily powerful avatar.

        As an aside, I think worship of these saints may not be like celebrity worship as some of these people receive mystic experiences( like healing, monetary problem alleviation, etc) and through this, I guess they develop faith and slowly I guess can one day render intimate service.

        • Kula-pavana

          Bhushan-ji, what you describe is an important part of spirituality, even if it is mixed with a lot of materialism or ignorance. Many powerful beings are born in this world to give people guidance in their spiritual journey. As we were discussing earlier, they are all tools in the hands of Sri Guru. Faith in the Supernatural is all-important and transcends all boundaries. Without it we are truly just animals.

  • alex

    Babhru,

    I don’t disagree with your assessment that a spiritual master is essential – not just desirable but essential. It says so in many places in the scriptures. Srila Prabhupada has certainly said this many times. I didn’t say we should do away with initiation – but only ‘formal’ initiation.

    Your quote shows that Srila Prabhupada is saying that by not accepting a spiritual master and his instructions then you cannot reach the goal. He says – if someone considers themselves above taking instruction. That is not the case here.

    There is no mention of needing the gurus physical presence. The stress is always on following the guru’s instructions etc. If you are aware of a quote that mentions the ‘physical presence’ of the guru as the essential ingredient or catalyst of initiation – I would be very interested to see it.

    I have found a genuine spiritual master who can advance me in spiritual understanding. As far as I’m concerned that is the essence of initiation. As Srila Prabhupada says in your quote – Rupa Goswami advises against some formal guru arrangement – “one should not accept a guru for customary social and ecclesiastical conventions”.

    So for me the proof of this relationship with Srila Prabhupada is my experience that I make spiritual advancement based on reading and following his instructions in his books. How could this not be initiation? It is there in essence – although not in outer form.

    From the dedication of Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam – “He lives forever in his divine instructions and the follower lives with him.” Seems from this I can say – I have a living guru.

    • Alex, how would you characterize your spiritual advancement that you are confident of? Do you chant 16 rounds daily and follow the four regulative principles? Anything more? What stage have you attained? Since when did reading and following instructions come to constitute initiation? How will you receive the Gsudiya diksa mantra if you disregard those in the parampara who are giving it today, and what is initiation without this?

      • alex

        I would characterize my spiritual advancement as an increase of ….

        - my understanding of who I am, who God is, and my relationship to Him.
        - my ability to distinguish between matter and spirit and know the taste of true devotional service when I find it.
        - my inclination for devotional service and a corresponding reduction in my attraction for material things as well as a recognition of the futility of all material pursuits.

        I do mostly follow the 4 regulative principles although I have lapses, after which I try again to do better. Giving up and leaving the quest is no longer an option.

        I have found it detrimental to set any fixed number of rounds each day. I have a rule that I will chant as much as I can, but I like to have a nice attitude when I chant. I chant on my beads first thing every morning for at least 1/2 an hour. I sing Hari Krishna whenever possible and during most of my daily activities.

        More than that
        - I practice as many of the 9 principles of devotional service as I can.
        - I have my own presentation of the Bhagavada Gita that I feel is more suitable for the present times(based on Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s translations). I have given copies of this to people who are interested.
        - I also have a presentation of the Srimad Bhagavatam that is like a concise version. I am just now finishing it off so I can make some copies and hopefully someday I will be able to give them to someone who can share in my high regard for the Bhagavatam.

        I don’t know what stage I have attained. I am happy and grateful to be on the path. I love the journey and am confident of my ability to stay on the path. Destinations seem irrelevant.

        I consider reading and following instructions to be the activities after real initiation. Initiate means to start. My conception of initiation is similar to these quotes …

        “Initiation puts a person on the true track and also imparts an initial impulse to go ahead.” Srila Bhaktisiddanta – inititation into spiritual life

        “Diksa actually means initiating the disciple with transcendental knowledge by which all material contamination is destroyed.” CC Madhya 4:111 purport)

        I don’t know what the Gaudiya diksa mantra is, but will rely on the self sufficiency of the Hari Krishna maha-mantra. I will also maintain that no other mantras are needed.

        I’m sorry if you think I am disregarding those who are giving this mantra. Its not a lack of respect – circumstances just happened that way.

        • You want to think you are initiated by my Guru Maharaja, but he would not initiate those who did not chant 16 rounds of japa daily. He was very strict about this. And since you like to try to think in an essential spiritual manner, I draw your attention to the fact that a disciple is one who follows the discipline laid out by the spiritual master. When my guru Maharaja was personally present he would rely upon myself and other disciples to recommend new devotees for initiation. If the new devotees had not been chanting 16 rounds and were not recommended by us , he would not initiate them.

          At any rate, you have fashioned your own definition of initiation supported by quotations that do not say what you think they do. I agree that you are initiated in terms of your own imagined definition of diksa but not by my Guru Maharaja’s standards nor in consideration of the traditional, essential definition of initiation given in sastra, which you appear to be unfamiliar with. and unwilling to embrace. Indeed, your misunderstanding of this matter highlights the need for a living guru in the traditional sense. The present day ritvikvada that you identify with is an apasampradaya centered on nama aparadha.

          • alex

            You are mistaken when you say I identify with the present day ritvik. I was merely sharing my experience. Not something I have imagined or that I consciously pursued – just the actual events of my spiritual life. In the 1980′s when I first read one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, there were many zonal acharyas who were strictly chanting 16 rounds a day, had very straight tilak, beautifully laundered silk dhotis, as well as homosexual and paedophile tendencies. At the time, I judged the karmi society a more enlightened one than Iskon in which to raise my children. I am very glad I followed by conscience and common sense at that time.

            So obviously just being able to count up to 16 x 108 is not the necessary criterion to be considered a true disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Yet if we judge things by your stated criterion of chanting a particular number of rounds – then these sannyasi gurus are disciples, whereas I am not. Is there any consideration of the quality of the chanting – or do you only consider the numerical value? Maybe it was the rigid adherence to mathematics in determining who was fit to be initiated that caused him to initiate charlatans who caused so much trouble and anxiety to so many sincere devotees.

            I think you do our Jagad Guru Maharaja a disservice to promote the idea that 16 rounds is the essence of what Srila Prabhupada was trying to communicate to his disciples.

            I have not imagined a definition of initiation – I have merely quoted something that communicated my conception. Those quotations seem to be written in plain English to me so if they don’t mean what they say – what do they mean? You speak of some other traditional and essential definition of initiation in sastra, but don’t mention what that is, so I cannot judge if I am unaware of it or not.

            I follow Srila Prabhupada’s discipline and ideals to the best of my ability. I admit that my ability is nothing impressive, but I’m sure Srila Prabhupada would be pleased with my sincere efforts nonetheless. You seem to have a lesser opinion of his magnanimous nature.

            I will now apologise for speaking so bluntly to a respected devotee like yourself. I’m sorry. I’m becoming intolerant of the condescending attitude I am continually shown by devotees who dismiss me as having nothing to contribute because I have no sanskrit name, initiation certificates or neck beads. Since when did Krishna Consciousness become so exclusive? What ever happened to the merciful and generous mood of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda?

            “He makes no distinction between the worthy and the unworthy and he does not discriminate between himself and others. He does not consider who should be given to and who should not, and he makes no preparation for an auspicious or inauspicious moment. That Supreme Lord Gaurahari is my one and only shelter.”

          • I merely pointed out that disciple means one who follows the discipline given by the guru. This, again, is an essential idea of the term, which is where your definition of the term seems to gravitate towards. However, you do not follow the very discipline that my Guru Maharaja mandated as a prerequisite for Harinama initiation. It does not matter if some of his disciples followed this standard and erred in other ways. Disciples can waiver in their practice. Indeed, this is the meaning of anistha bhajana kriya, a stage we must pass through. It is presumptuous of you to claim yourself as Prabhupada’s disciple while ignoring his own policy and standards for initiation, especially when you ignore the advice of his senior disciples who are far more learned and realized as to the implications of his teaching in particular and Gaudiya Vaisnavism in general.

            Yes, the one or two quotes you cited were in English. However they have a context that you ignore: the entirety of the teaching they are part of from which the siddhanta is drawn. Prabhupada’s statement that “Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge . . .” understood in context refers only to the fact that regardless if one is a house holder or sannyasi, one is qualified to initiate if one has the requisite transcendental knowledge. In other words he is saying that if one has the necessary realization, regardless of ones socioreligious status one can initiate (Madhya 4.111)

            Furthermore imparting the diksa mantra backed by realization is what the entire orthodox Guadiya tradition understands to be initiation and and the imparting of divya jnana. Prabhupada’s statement is drawn from Jiva Goswai’s definition of diksa that he cites from the Agamas in his Bhakti-sandarbha:

            divyam jnanam yato dadyat kuryat papasya saksayam
            tasmad dikseti sa prokta desikais tattva kovidaih

            ato gurum pranamyaivam sarvasvam vinivedya ca
            grhniyad vaisnavam mantram diksa purvam vidhanatah

            “The teachers who are knowers of the truth say that since it gives trasncendental knowledge and destroys sin, it is called diksa.

            Therefore, paying obeisance to the guru and offering him one’s all, one should receive vaisnava-mantra-diksa preceded by proper procedures.”

            Here, receiving diksa is not understood as receiving divine knowledge in a general sense. Rather, it specifically involves at its core receiving transcendental knowledge in the form of the Vaisnava diksa mantra. To clarify divya jnana in the context of defining diksa further Sri Jiva continues,
            divyam jnanam hy atra srimati mantre bhagavat-svarupa-jnanam tena bhagavata sambandha-visesa-jnanam ca

            “Here ‘transcendental knowledge’ refers to the bhagavat-svarupa-jnanam and bhagavata sambandha-visesa-jnanam contained in the mantra.”

            Thus diksa involves imparting the mantra and explaining its significance.

            So again, yes, you cited what Prabhupada has written in plain English but you plainly misunderstand it. And it is my duty as his disciple to point that out. You display only arrogance and ignorance when you define diksa for yourself in a manner that does not conform with sastra and tradition.
            Finally no one here has said that you have nothing to contribute, nor is my attitude condescending. I am simply pointing out from scripture how you have misunderstood something very central to actual spiritual life.

            By all means I would suggest that you continue your practice. However, in doing so you should look for someone who represents my Guru Maharaja in the guru parampara and eventually accept diksa from him or her. It does not matter that some have misrepresented him. Such anomalies are not justification for changing the teaching.

    • Gaua-Vijaya

      Alex,
      Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has written that for the large majority of people a living spiritual master is necessary (only exception he mentions is Bharata Maharaja who was initiated and almost perfected in his previous life). Other instance I can think of is Bhakti-siddhanta who took sanayasa from the picture of his gurudeva without his physical presence. Only when you are advanced enough to connect to the antaryami, (like living gurus should be able to do) you can live without a living spiritual master. Actually by then, you will be able to learn from everybody and see the spiritual master’s instructions there like the example of 24 gurus given. For ordinary people who have anarthas like me, we need a living guru first to get us of the mess we are in before we think of connecting with antaryami on our own. Otherwise Srila Bhaktivinoda ( I feel he had the capacity to connect with the antaryami or the caitya guru better than us as evidenced by his writings) who had already written many books before his initiation would not have taken initiation from a spiritual master.

  • Kula-pavana

    Going back to the original subject matter…

    It can be argued that intimate guru-seva is the essence of the traditional siddha-pranali system.

    • The essence of the siddha pranali system is the heart of Guadiya Vaisnavism–the idea that guru-seva extends into the nitya-lila involving realization of one’s own and one’s guru’s siddha-rupa. Indeed, I think this is where Babhru’s article is pointing—from saksad-haritvena to kitnu prabhur ya priya eva tasya.

  • alex

    Thanks for your detailed answer Maharaja, its generous of you. I don’t ignore Srila Prabhupada’s discipline or standards, I’m just incapable of reaching it. You will forgive me for being sceptical about the advice of his senior disciples – my experience makes my wary of recommendations to just do what they claim is right. I need the sanction of my conscience.

    And my conscience tells me that this diksa thing is misrepresented somehow. I have only ever had Srila Prabhupada’s books as my guidance, so my only option is to define diksa for myself based on my understanding of sastra from these books. I am not trying to change the teaching but to understand what it really means.

    I openly admit my frailties and imperfections and all the sanskrit words you quote only serve to magnify this for me. Because your insistence that these things are essential promotes policies of exclusion. I can’t understand the foreign language and it does nothing but make me want to give up in the face of the hopelessness of my position. It is beyond my intellectual capacity to learn sanskrit or bengali and I can’t see why this is considered a necessity.

    From what I understand of your explanation – you say diksa involves imparting the mantra and explaining its significance, but it seems to me thats exactly what I received from Srila Prabhupada. These things came to me – I wasn’t looking for them. Srila Prabhupada impressed me with this maha-mantra and the significance and meaning of it that I found in his books.

    But then everyone tries to tell me that I don’t have the real deal and I need something more. Some esoteric secret things that only they have and can give to me – just bow down here before me, give me everything you have, and I will give it to you. Well forgive me Maharaja, but I was turned into a confirmed cynic by the actions of not just Iskcon, but most religious organisations I have ever come across. I feel some sympathy with Richard Dawkins and his friends when I contemplate it.

    There are also quotes in Chaitanya Caritamrita saying that the maha-mantra is all that is needed and initiation and the activities before initiation are not needed. They say simply by chanting the maha-mantra one can see the lotus feet of the Lord. So are these statements to be considered part of the context in which we will determine the truth of things? As for tradition – I just see it as political most of the time – things that are done to maintain power by some institutions or some individual gurus/bishops or whatever. I’m seriously unimpressed. This is my ignorant and arrogant perspective – its all I can see from my present position.

    • By the word tradition I refer to 500 plus yeas of history as to how the term dikda (initiation ) has been understood in the Gaudiya sampradaya. It has nothing to do with politics. Prabhupada follows this tradition. He did not appear in vacuum. He is part of a lineage and must be understood in that context as he himself teaches.

      I said nothing about having to learn Sanskrit. I merely cited Sanskrit verses and prose from Bhakti-sandarbha along with an English translation. Prabhupada’s books are full of the same. In doing so I pointed out the source in our sampradaya that Prabhupada draws from in defining diksa. This is a very useful exercise that Prabhupada taught me to engage in.

      You repeatedly bring up the problems of Iskcon as justification for your position. However, you are not alone in feeling abused by this sect. I have also been abused and disappointed to the extreme. However, I have reacted to this differently, as have the many others who advise you as I have. If in your own words “everybody” keeps telling you that you have misunderstood, maybe its time to consider their opinion. Krsna consciousness is not about distrust. We should distrust our own sense of what is correct enough to consult with more advanced Vaisnavas and seek conformation from them based on their explanations of sastra. Divorcing yourself from this because you met with some misrepresentation is a reaction to a problem that falls short of a solution. Again, others have had the same experience but reacted to the problem in a manner that conforms with sastra. And not all of Prabhupada’s disciples misrepresented him in the manner you are preoccupied with. For that matter it was Prabhupada himself who put those who misrepresented in the positions of leadership they fell from, giving them sannyasa, etc. He trusted them more than you do, and I think on some level he still does.

      The diksa mantra is not the Nama mantra you chant. Nama can do everything because Nama is liberated. However, because you are not liberated you cannot take full advantage of the name and thus the Name comes to us in the form of the diksa mantra to help us take advantage of the Nama mantra. That is the teaching—that is why Prabhupada gave it to his students—and if you study Prabhupada’s books carefully under good guidance you will learn this for yourself.

    • If we look closely we find that some persons’ faith is really largely doubt. Faith is inherently virtuous. However, according to the Gita, it is nonetheless of three kinds, sattva, rajas, or tamas. Sattvic faith is that faith that is informed by sastra–sastriya sraddha. This is faith that optimally readily enables one to understand the scriptural conclusions. Tamasic faith on the other hand doubts the scriptural conclusions. In extreme forms it rejects the sastra altogether. In less extreme forms it accepts the scripture but imagines what its conclusions are and often fights with these conclusions.

      In the Bhagavata Krsna speaks of transcendental faith, faith in himself. However, Sri Rupa speaks of this faith as threefold. These divisions are determined by the measure of ones’ understanding of sastra. The highest faith is informed by taste that enables one to engage in sastra-yukti, effective and conclusive reasoning as to the import of sastra on any given topic. It involves readily understanding the spirit of sastra.

      On the other end of the threefold spectrum we find komala sradhha (tender faith). This faith is not well informed by sastra, and unto itself it can result in misunderstanding of its conclusions. Perhaps the most prominent example of such misunderstanding is a distrust of sadhus. Intermediate faith by contrast has an essential understanding of sastra that manifests in understanding the importance of sadhu sanga. Moving from tender faith to intermediate faith is accomplished through sadhu sanga. Such intermediate faith is focused more on the Vaisnava than it is on Krsna. It prefers hearing from the Vaisnavas more than seeing the Deity of Krsna.

      Similarly this faith translates into faith in the advanced disciples of ones’ guru, as opposed to faith only in the guru and distrust of his or her dear ones. And if some of the guru’s dear most prove less than worthy, we must still consider the measure of our guru’s trust in them that he or she has consistently expressed. We may have to distance ourselves from them for some time and “wait and see.” But in the meantime in good faith we should seek out the association of others who the guru also indicated were advanced enough to warrant his or her trust in their ability to understand explain the conclusions of sastra.

    • Prabhupada to Jadurani:

      “Regarding your questions, second initiation is real initiation. First initiation is the preliminary, just to make him prepared, just like primary and secondary education. The first initiation gives him chance to become purified, and when he is actually purified then he is recognized as a brahmana and that means real initiation.”

      Here Prabhupada refers to mantra diksa as “real initiation,” a conclusion that conforms with tradition and sastra.

      • alex

        Maharaja, if I had no faith in your advice I would not be here. As for the disappointments of Iskcon – it is not only for myself, but also the other people who have suffered and continue to suffer. Some are still lost and it is this fact that I find the most difficult to deal with. It continues to cause me sadness and anxiety. Many people seem to be scarred beyond repair and Iskcon has taken no steps to try and reach out to them and help them. Somehow its their karma and their fault, or none of those lucky enough to be in the big Iskcon ship and out of the material ocean care enough to try and find them and help them.

        Although I now have the opportunity to seek guidance from senior disciples – this was not an option in earlier times. I was alone with only faith in Srila Prabhupada (and also Sridhara Maharaja) to rely on. All the senior disciples I came across were completely insane on their new found power. I offer this information, not as a justification, but as an explanation for my attitude.

        Up to this point I have never found a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada who was prepared to give someone like me the time of day, except to take my money or labour. So I offer my sincere thanks to you for the trouble you have taken to correct my misconceptions. Your answer was logical and all in plain English and I think I understand what you are saying. I accept your conclusion that 2nd initiation is real initiation.

        It seems I cannot claim to have anything more than nama initiation and this is not real diksa. I will henceforward only refer to myself as an ‘admirer’ of the teachings and ideals of A.C Bhaktivedanta Prabhuapda. As you have so kindly pointed out, he would not have accepted someone like me as his disciple anyway.

        Nonetheless, I am happy with that and don’t feel I will ever come up to the standard of a brahmana. I just don’t have what it takes. Not everyone is capable of joining the elite forces. So I can only say, if the mission of Lord Chaitanya is to be fulfilled something more will be needed. It will have to be something that can reach right down to the bottomless depths if it’s going to save scumbags like me and my friends. I absolutely refuse to leave here without them.

        • Maharaja, if I had no faith in your advice I would not be here

          Yes, I appreciate that and I feel it sometimes.

          Many people seem to be scarred beyond repair and Iskcon has taken no steps to try and reach out to them and help them. Somehow its their karma and their fault, or none of those lucky enough to be in the big Iskcon ship and out of the material ocean care enough to try and find them and help them.

          Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja asked me to “Do relief work.” I have been doing mostly that for more than 25 years. My strong sense of Gaudiya siddhanta can be intimidating at times but I have a passion for the essence of our tradition, and while I stand firm on the ground of siddhanta, as my gurus would expect me to, I do not do so without a heart for those I speak to. If it has not come through to you here in this discussion, let me say it directly to you: I feel strongly for your plight and I am embarrassed by the behavior of my Godbrohers and Godsisters that has wreaked havoc in the realm of faith all in the name of our beloved Prabhupada. I also find many devotees in leadership positions to be uncaring, and unfortunately really incapable of caring. Some have offended devotees in every direction, their seniors, their juniors, their cousins, etc. Its a spiritual nightmare, a nuclear bomb of aparadha with the misconception of radiation spread everywhere.

          As for your lack of qualification, personally I do not think you lack qualification for initiation. You have faith in Krsna nama. It is not about being qualified as much as it is about understanding one’s lack of qualification. This is what attracts grace. I do think you need to refine your understanding of the philosophy, your sambandha jnana, but that can come in time. Still Prabhupada himself had his standards. That is undeniable. But above all he was merciful and that mercy only grows in the context of guru parampara. Look for it there. You will find him there more than anywhere else—krpa avatara. Krsna is so kind. In a lifetime of Brahma we cannot repay the debt we have incurred with Gopala Krsna, who comes in the form of guru to save us, to love us like no one has ever loved us before. It is a tough love at times, but it is deep and unwavering.

          From my perspective, you are making some progress. Let me close now and earnestly pray for your further progress. Believe me, I am your friend.

          • alex

            Maharaja,

            I’m very sorry for all the nasty things I said. I’ll try and stop sulking.

            I hear you and I understand. I accept whatever you say about Guru and Krishna as the truth, and will take that on my head.

            Thank you.

          • Tadiya Dasi

            “Krsna is so kind. In a lifetime of Brahma we cannot repay the debt we have incurred with Gopala Krsna, who comes in the form of guru to save us, to love us like no one has ever loved us before. It is a tough love at times, but it is deep and unwavering.”

            Wow, so beautiful. Jaya Sri Guru!

          • I don’t think I anticipated such a nice exchange when I wrote this article. I think we should note the humility Alex shows by opening himself to Swami’s points, as well as his honesty in sharing his experience, even in such a public forum. I think it’s also important to note not only the empathy, the compassion (feeling together with), that we see in Swami’s explanations, but the coupling of genuine humility and confidence he shows. Those of us who have had the good fortune of his company know that this is not just typical but characteristic of his dealings with others. By keeping his heart open to the experience of others, he’s able to open our hearts, so we may receive what he has to share. I’m very grateful for this.

  • Lalita-sakhi dasi

    “Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja asked me to “Do relief work.”

    Wow, he said that? What love and compassion he had!

    Thank you and thank the Lord of his life for that relief work.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

Subscribe without commenting