Devotee: Can you explain the real meaning of diksa, initiation?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Srila Jiva Goswami has explained this in his Bhakti-sandarbha:
divyam jnanam yato dadyat kuryat papasya sanksayam
tasmad dikseti sa prokta desikais tattva-kovidaih
Experienced scholars have explained the meaning of diksa, or spiritual initiation, in this way: diksa is the process through which transcendental knowledge is imparted by the preceptor to the disciple. As a result, all the disciple’s previous bad tendencies are crushed. Through diksa, all previous commitments are cleared, and one gets the light of new life in relationship with the transcendental Lord. Diksa, or initiation, is a process by which we are given a noble connection with the absolute centre and, at the same time, our previous commitments are all finished. It is an inner awakenment of life that brings divine knowledge. That wealth is there within us, but it is suppressed. Diksa means discovering one’s inner wealth and getting relief from all outward obligations.
With inner awakenment the outward commitments vanish, just as when you reach home all other arrangements you may have contracted for your comforts are all cut off, for at home you find full comfort. When we are in a foreign land we may seek the comforts which are supplied in hotels, but when we reach home, the hotel comforts are discarded; we find no more use for them. Sometimes a minor is kidnapped from home. Later, while visiting his native place he may stay in a hotel, but if he suddenly finds his father’s house and returns home, his parents will recognise him and say, «O, my son! You were stolen from us when you were young. We recognise your face. I am your mother, this is your father, here is your sister.» Then the hotel is no longer needed. In a similar way, with the inner awakenment of the soul, when we return back home, back to Godhead, we will find our comfortable home with Krishna. So, to make a connection with our real home and dispense with our outward links is known as diksa.
Devotee: What is the difference between siksa, or spiritual instruction, and diksa?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Diksa mainly involves initiation into the mantra, the spiritual formula. Other instructions are necessary to substantiate it, to help it become effective. Certain activities are also helpful. These are all parts and parcels of initiation. So, a general direction is given by diksa, but how to substantiate that? Details are necessary. In the Srimad Bhagavatam (7.5.23-24) it is said:
sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam
archanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam
iti pumsarpita visnau bhaktis chen nava-laksana
kriyeta bhagavaty addha tan manye ’dhitam uttamam
«Hearing about Krishna, chanting Krishna’s glories, remembering Krishna, serving Krishna’s lotus feet, worshipping Krishna’s transcendental form, offering prayers to Krishna, becoming Krishna’s servant, considering Krishna as one’s best friend, and surrendering everything to Krishna — these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.» All these things are advised; a thousand details may be necessary.
If a general plans to invade another country, he must first chalk out his strategy of attack in a broad way. When he goes to practically execute his plan, so many obstacles appear, and he has to solve them and march on. If one plans to travel, first he conceives of the whole plan in a nutshell: «From this foreign land, I will return home by this route.» But to carry out the plan in practice, so many details are necessary. First it is chalked out in a rough plan, and then he must practically do so many things. First he must hire a taxi, then he has to go to the airport to purchase a ticket for the plane — in this way, so many details are required. So, from partial knowledge we have to develop final knowledge. This detailed knowledge is known as siksa.
Devotee: What is the position of a devotee who, although not yet fully free from the influence of maya, accepts disciples on the order of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his Spiritual Master?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: It is better that a man who begins business with small capital has a connection with a wealthier capitalist. Then he can prosper in his business. In a similar way, as long as one is not completely established in Krishna consciousness, he must have some connection with superior aid. Then he will be safe. If we are to fight face to face with maya, illusion, help from the higher agency should be our only resource.
It is very difficult to control maya. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (7.14):
daivi hy esa guna-mayi mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te
«My illusory energy is impossible to overcome. Only one who surrenders to Me can cross beyond it.» Maya dreads only Krishna, for she has her backing from Him. If you attempt to cross maya alone, it will be impossible. You must have some higher connection. And with the help of that connection you can overcome illusion. Maya will withdraw only when she sees that you have the backing of higher potency. Alone, you cannot fight and gain victory over maya. It is impossible, because wherever you go, you are within the boundary of maya, illusion. It may be more or less intense, but it is all maya. Only when you really come in touch with the plane above maya can you fight against maya; only then will maya withdraw. We must have some shelter beyond maya from where we can fight with illusion. We are advised to take shelter of sadhus (saints) and sastra (scriptures). Their help comes from above, and we must accept that help from the inner core of our hearts.
Devotee: It seems that those who accept disciples have to undergo some physical difficulty or suffering because of accepting the karma of their disciples.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Physical difficulty should not be considered. And physical success also should not be considered of much value. One should not think that if a Guru has a large number of disciples he is great.
One may voluntarily accept the responsibility of the spiritual life of so many disciples, but find that their improvement is not satisfactory. As a result, he may experience some disturbance. He may think, «I have taken charge of their lives, but I am not able to give them the desired improvement in their spiritual life.» That is a good symptom. The Vaisnavas have no trouble for themselves, but they are troubled for others (para-duhkha duhkhi). In his prayer to Sanatan Goswami, Srila Raghunath Das Goswami writes that Sanatan Goswami was always distressed upon seeing the distress of others. A Vaisnava has no mental trouble for himself, but he feels mental trouble when he sees the pain of others. It is difficult for a Vaisnava to tolerate. They are always sympathetic to the misery of others. This is the qualification of the intermediate devotee. He has no trouble of his own, but he is troubled by the pain of others. An intermediate devotee cannot ignore these things.
The Spiritual Master will have to digest some of the responsibility of the bad and undesirable activities of the disciple. He has the responsibility of managing them by his instruction. When a doctor has accepted a patient, and the patient is in pain, the doctor may feel some trouble in his mind: «I have taken charge of this patient, and I can’t remove his difficulty.» In this way, he may feel some voluntary responsibility.
The Spiritual Master may experience different kinds of suffering in different stages. Sometimes a Guru may feel, «I am doing as much as I can to help this disciple.» Such a Guru does not take so much responsibility for his disciple. He thinks, «I am doing my duty», and treats his disciples with this openness of mind. It is just as in the case of the consulting physician and the family doctor. The family doctor cannot shake off the responsibility of caring for his patients, but a doctor from outside may say, «If you like, you may engage another doctor.» The consulting physician is not so much earnest for the patient. He may feel, «I am not perfect; I cannot make him pure immediately. Whether he improves is God’s will. I can only do my best.» From the beginning of their relationship, just as a doctor may approach his patient with this attitude, the Guru may approach his disciples. The question of how much responsibility the Guru takes for the disciple is a question of the attitude he takes towards his disciples in particular cases.
Devotee: Does the disciple’s advancement depend more on the Guru or on his own efforts? How will the disciple make proper advancement in following the principles of his Guru?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: That depends on the stages of realisation of the disciple. Exclusive devotion must come from the disciple towards the Guru. It is said in the Svetasvatara-upanisad (6.23):
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah
«The key to success in spiritual life is unflinching devotion to both the Spiritual Master and Krishna. To those great souls who have full faith in both Krishna and the Spiritual Master, the inner meaning of the scriptures is fully revealed.» The Guru is Krishna’s representative. We are in search of divinity, and so, we must try to concentrate all our energy wherever we find a real connection with divinity. That is the key to success, because Krishna is all-conscious. So, the response to our devotional efforts will come from Krishna according to our attentiveness to Him. He is everywhere. In the conception of infinite, everywhere there is centre, nowhere is there circumference. In every point there may be the centre. Prahlad Maharaj saw the centre present everywhere. Hiranyakasipu asked him, «Is your God in this pillar?» Prahlad replied, «Yes. He is there.» And when Hiranyakasipu demolished the pillar, Lord Nrsimhadev came out.
Devotee: Can you explain this concept of the absolute and relative position of the Spiritual Master?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: By the special will of Krishna, Gurudev is a delegated power. If we look closely within the Spiritual Master, we will see the delegation of Krishna, and accordingly we should accept him in that way. The Spiritual Master is a devotee of Krishna and, at the same time, the inspiration of Krishna is within him. These are the two aspects of Gurudev. He has his aspect as a Vaisnava, and the inspired side of the Vaisnava is Guru. On a fast day like Ekadasi, he himself does not take any grains. He conducts himself as a Vaisnava, but his disciples offer grains to the picture of their Guru on the altar. The disciples offer their Spiritual Master grains even on a fast day.
The disciple is concerned with the delegation of the Lord, the Guru’s inner self, his inspired side. The inspired side of a Vaisnava is Acharya, or Guru. The disciple marks only the special, inspired portion within the Guru. He is more concerned with that part of his character. But Gurudev himself generally poses as a Vaisnava. So, his dealings towards his disciples and his dealings with other Vaisnavas will be different. This is achintya-bhedabheda, inconceivable unity in diversity.
There may be imitation, and there may be deviation. Both are possible. For ulterior motives one may make a trade of guruship, just as in the case of the caste goswamis and the sahajiyas, imitationists. For some reason or other, one may pose as a guru, but the symptoms of a real Guru are given in the scriptures:
sabde pare cha nisnatam brahmany upasamasrayam
«A bona fide Spiritual Master must be conversant with the conclusions of the Vedic literature and fixed in realisation of the Supreme Truth.»
Anyone can say, «I am guru. He is not guru.» Imitation is always possible, but the scriptures give the criterion for the selection of a real Guru, and the real Guru will extract the meaning of the scripture. Guru and sastra are interdependent. One will help another for our edification. The scriptures say we must read the scripture under the guidance of a proper professor, a Vaisnava Guru (Acharyavan puruso veda). So, the scripture is dependent on the Spiritual Master. And who is a Spiritual Master? The scriptures will explain. So they are interdependent: sadhu and sastra are both necessary. They are the active and the passive agents.
Devotee: Can you explain why Krishna appears in so many different Gurus? Why must Krishna appear again and again? Can’t we learn everything we need to know just by reading Bhagavad-gita? What is the need for constant revelation? Don’t the old books contain all the truths we need to know?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: In Srimad Bhagavatam, Krishna says, «First I transmitted Vedic knowledge to this world through Brahma.» And that was entrusted to his disciples: the four Kumaras, Marichi, Angira, and other sages. The knowledge was first invested in them and later in books.
First it was presented in the form of sound, not script. Gradually it became fixed in writing. In the beginning, it descended directly through sound from one man to another, from lip to ear. No script or writing was invented at that time, but knowledge was contained in the form of sound. Passing through the ear to the mouth, and again to the ear of another, gradually it became lost. In connection with a mediator sometimes it becomes lost and disfigured, distorted; and then again the Lord feels the necessity of appearing in this world (yada yada hi dharmasya).
Sometimes Krishna comes Himself, and sometimes He sends a normal-thinking man to reinstate the standard of true religion. Krishna says, «This karma-yoga that I have spoken to you, Arjuna, I spoke first to Surya, and from Surya it was passed down from generation to generation. And so it has become mutilated and disfigured. Again I am speaking that very same thing to you today.» The enervating plane gradually erodes the truth. The truth is bright when it first appears, but gradually, with the contact of this enervating plane, it becomes weak, disfigured, and demoralised, and so Krishna appears from time to time to rejuvenate it and bring about a renaissance.
Devotee: Is there any difference between an Acharya and a Guru?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Guru and Acharya are the same but generally it may be said that an Acharya does more extensive work. And also the Acharya must have extensive knowledge of the scriptures, whereas the Guru may not have expressly deep knowledge of scripture but may have real knowledge of their purport. He may not be able to quote scripture extensively but feels the meaning of the scriptures. He may be a Guru. But an Acharya is one who preaches widely and is able to extensively quote scriptural evidence.
Devotee: There are so many imitation gurus in the guise of Vaisnavas who are simply out to cheat the innocent public. How can we know who is a real Guru and who is a cheater? How do we know when we are being given real knowledge and when we are being cheated?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: We have to find out what is the source of his knowledge. In the marketplace there may be imitation gold, but if we are sure that the gold we are purchasing is coming from a particular mine, we can buy it with the assurance that it has not been tampered with on the way. In that way it can be understood; by examining the source.
Once, here in India, Gandhi wanted to revive the charkha system of homespun cloth. In the charkha system, the poor produce thread with a spinning wheel, and if everyone buys that cloth, called khadi, then the money goes to the pockets of the poor. But the Japanese and English cloth factories sent imitation ‘homespun’ khadi here. They began manufacturing rough cloth, imitating the ordinary homespun cloth produced here by the poor. Gandhi found himself perplexed, «What is this?» He said, «My need is that the money go to the poorest pocket, but now the capitalists are producing imitation rough cloth abroad, and that is being sold here in India. Instead of money going to the poor here in India, it is going to the foreign capitalists.» Then he founded one association, the Khadi association, and told his followers, «You must purchase homespun cloth only from those shops who are connected with this association of mine. Then the money will surely go to the pockets of the poor.» At that time he said, «This is guru-parampara, the system of disciplic succession.» Of course, this is a crude example.
Revealed truth coming uncontaminated through a particular process is parampara. We must connect with a reliable succession. Only then can we get the genuine thing. The authorised association is necessary, Guru-parampara is necessary. So, before we read anyone’s book, we shall try to find out who is his guru, and from where the substance is coming down. Is it only a facade, or is there any real substance within? If we can understand that he has a relationship with a genuine sadhu, then we can give some attention to him.
I often give the example of the homeopathic globule. The mere globule itself has no medicinal value. The potency is within. An ordinary guru may give the same mantra to his disciple, but what is the potency within the sound? What quality of conception or divine will is contained in that sound? That is all-important. To get the mantra from a Sad-guru, a genuine Guru, means to get the internal good will or real conception about the Lord. The seed of a banyan tree may be a small seed, but the great big banyan tree will come from that seed. The will with which the particular sound is given by the guru to the disciple is all-important. We may not trace that at present, but in time, if a favourable environment is there, it will express itself and develop into something great. So, when we go to purchase anything, we must be careful about imitations, or else we may be deceived.