Delivery of transcendent knowledge is key to initiation process
Posted November 5, 2003
Definitions of Diksa
Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link maintains that Srila Prabhupada is the direct link to the parampara for devotees who receive direct spiritual knowledge primarily from him. "Direct link" in the above sentence is defined as "the Vaisnava who directly gives transcendental knowledge more than any other devotee." This definition is consistent with the criterion by which Srila Prabhupada delineates the parampara in Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
This definition of the direct and primary link to the disciplic succession is not dependent on any particular definition of diksa. Whatever one's definition of diksa, Srila Prabhupada is the main and predominant connection to the disciplic succession for those who receive spiritual knowledge primarily from him.
That said, PL presents various perspectives on the term diksa, directly based on Srila Prabhupada's teachings. This is included in PL because there has been too much emphasis in the organization on the understanding of diksa as a formal ceremony. By presenting several quotes from Srila Prabhupada illustrating that diksa is a process for awakening transcendental knowledge, we hope to broaden the perspective of devotees and to inspire deep thought on the significance of spiritual life. Simultaneously, such alternative perspectives can be helpful in providing a synthesis for resolving ingrained conflicts amongst Srila Prabhupada's sincere followers.
Srila Prabhupada writes, "Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity." (CC Madhya 15.108 Purport). In the purport to Madhya-lila, 4.111, Srila Prabhupada states, "Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge by which he becomes freed from all material contamination." Srila Prabhupada's statements in the quotations above are, we believe, unambiguous, not requiring interpretation.
The SAC paper quotes PL as follows:
Srila Prabhupada described initiation as a process, with the essence of this process being the delivery of divya-jnana, or transcendental knowledge, from the spiritual master to the disciple. . . . Initiation, as described above, is a process. Components of this process include receiving and implementing the instructions to wear kanthi mala and Vaisnava tilaka, and receiving a Vaisnava name. The most essential aspect of initiation is receiving transcendental knowledge from a realized spiritual master. [excerpt from PL quoted in SAC paper].
The SAC paper then provides several pages of analysis on the quotes from the Madhya-lila references above, concluding with the paragraph that begins with the sentence, "Of course, the properly observed vows of initiation do lead to the gain of spiritual knowledge and defeat of ignorance, but these are secondary characteristics."
In that section the SAC cites authorities such as Sanatana Gosvami, Narahari Sarakara, and Jiva Gosvami. As a general principle we refer to Srila Prabhupada to understand previous acaryas, not vice versa. We suggest that Srila Prabhupada's meaning in the cited purports of Madhya-lila are clear, and do not demand reference elsewhere for understanding. The SAC's linguistic analysis of the Goswamis' literature may justify a reminder cited in the SAC paper. "The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it." (Bhag. 1:4:1 Purport).
Srila Prabhupada is Living and Present
Transmission of divya-jnana, and not physical presence, is the defining characteristic of the parampara. "Although a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the spiritual master." (Lecture by Srila Prabhupada, January 13, 1969). As a present and living guru, Srila Prabhupada is fully capable to perform the functions of the direct link to the parampara for his followers, regardless of when they received formal initiation.
This does not minimize the important roles played by Srila Prabhupada's followers in helping others to connect with him.
The SAC also accepts that Srila Prabhupada can be considered the direct and current link to the disciplic succession, though qualifying: "This makes sense if we understand 'current and direct link' to mean the universal, permanent Siksa-guru of ISKCON." Considering the defining characteristic of the parampara, Srila Prabhupada should be considered the current and direct link to the disciplic succession, without qualifying terms, by all who directly receive transcendental knowledge primarily from him.
The SAC wrote, "If there can only be one guru in ISKCON, and he cannot be categorized as guru in any specific sense, then yes, we should choose Srila Prabhupada."
The understanding of Srila Prabhupada as the guru, the spiritual master referred to when members of his movement refer to the singular spiritual master, has been obscured for many in ISKCON. When Srila Prabhupada writes, "Lord Krsna originally made Vivasvan His first disciple" (BG 4:1 Purport), we accept simply that Lord Krsna was Vivasvan's spiritual master. Our natural response is not to attempt to demarcate the limits of how and in what sense Lord Krsna is Vivasvan's spiritual master.
Similarly, with the listing of gurus in the parampara, it is not Srila Prabhupada's mood to be chiefly concerned with whether the preceding guru is the guru of the successive spiritual master in terms of diksa, siksa, pancaratrika marga or bhagavata marga. He lists gurus in terms of the most prominent spiritual master in the disciple's life. In that sense it is imperative that we educate all who contact Srila Prabhupada's movement that he is, or at least is available to be, their most prominent guru. This does not negate the fact that there are other spiritual teachers, as there were in the era of Vivasvan and in all ages.
From our perspective, the tenor of the SAC paper overly accentuates terms and concepts, such as siksa-guru, diksa-guru and pancaratrika, at the expense of focusing on Srila Prabhupada's primacy as the main guru who is personally available for members of his movement.
In listing the disciplic succession in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada did not qualify Srila Narottama das Thakur's relationship with Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, or Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji's relationship with Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur. If asked who is the link to the disciplic succession for Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, we reply "Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji", without need to explain that Jagannatha dasa Babaji is only a certain type of guru for Srila Bhaktivinode. Such explanations of varieties of gurus and different margas of devotional service may be helpful in some circumstances. However, such discussions should not obscure the plain understanding of Srila Prabhupada as the primary guru and main link to the parampara.
Srila Prabhupada, as a living, eternal spiritual master, is the guru in whom implicit faith must exist in order for the imports of Vedic knowledge to be revealed to the disciple. The disciple naturally will have other teachers, including the Vaisnava who conducts the initiation ceremony, whom he reveres and profoundly respects. He might not, however, have implicit, unconditional faith in these instructors. He may consider one or more of them infallible, on the absolute platform of realization, but that is not necessary. It is essential that a devotee have at least one guru in whom such implicit faith exists. Srila Prabhupada is fully capable to fulfill that role for all who take shelter in his movement.
Similarly, Srila Prabhupada is the primary guru in the sense that, without his mercy, members of his movement could not advance in Krsna consciousness. Thus, he is the spiritual master described in the verse, "By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Krsna. Without the grace of the spiritual master, one cannot make any advancement."
We have each received the mercy of many Vaisnavas. Some from whom we have received mercy and blessings are, for whatever reason, no longer active and present in our lives, and some may even have left the practice of Vaisnavism. Still, we are able to receive the benediction of Krsna because Srila Prabhupada's mercy is constantly available. This is another sense in which Srila Prabhupada, in a personal and living way, is the main spiritual master, in the most important sense of the term, for devotees in his mission.
Srila Prabhupada, as the spiritual master without whose mercy we do not receive the benediction of Krsna, the guru in whom we must have implicit faith, and the direct and prominent connection to the disciplic succession, is delivering his followers from material bondage, regardless of when they received formal initiation. To accomplish this necessitates that he is living and present.
He is present in his vani, and in his murti form. We believe that realization of the tenets of PL follows naturally from understanding his presence in these forms. The SAC wrote "[Srila Prabhupada] is alive in his instructions, in his murti. . . ." Still, we're not clear about their certainty on this point.
In correspondence between the SAC and this author, one SAC member quoted PL:
Just as Sri Krsna, Srimati Radharani, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are non-different from Their Deity forms, and are fully capable to act and relate in Their Deity forms, the murtis and pictures of the parampara acaryas, such as Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, can similarly act non-differently from the acaryas. Obviously this requires special empowerment from the Supreme Lord. Ordinary persons, or even aspiring Vaisnavas, are not able to reciprocate in their picture form in the way that the great acaryas do. [excerpt from PL quoted by a member of the SAC in his correspondence with this author]
The SAC member replied, "This is a novel theory, or at least one I am not familiar with, that the murtis and pictures of specially empowered acaryas are equally potent to the murtis of the Supreme Lord and His internal potency, while the images of less empowered Vaisnavas are impotent. The arca-murti of the Personality of Godhead is a special incarnation, nondifferent from His original self, and manifests all His potencies to those who worship Him with love. The murti or picture of one's guru is recognized as the proper place to make offerings in worship, but as far as I know the Vaisnava sastras do not identify the guru's image as the same kind of arca-murti."
Many followers of Srila Prabhupada, including this author, believe that Srila Prabhupada is fully living and present in his murti form. It is important that the GBC and SAC clarify this issue for themselves and members of ISKCON.
We receive transcendental knowledge through sound. Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.26.33) states, "Persons who are learned and who have true knowledge define sound as that which conveys the idea of an object, indicates the presence of a speaker screened from our view and constitutes the subtle form of ether." Srila Prabhupada is present, though he is screened from our view, just as Lord Sri Krsna was screened from the view of Lord Brahma. Sri Krsna initiated Brahma with sound. Through transcendental service Brahma could perceive Krsna.
Knowledge given by Srila Prabhupada is apaurusa, "not spoken by any person materially created" (Bhag. 3.26.33 Purport). Srila Prabhupada, though screened from view due to our limitations, gives transcendental knowledge, just as Sri Krsna delivered spiritual truth to Brahma at the beginning of our disciplic succession. Thus, this understanding of the parampara, based on transcendental sound, and not on the formal initiation ceremony, exists from the start of the parampara. A person contacts Srila Prabhupada's movement and primarily hears from him, and therefore Srila Prabhupada is his direct link to the disciplic succession.
In correspondence, SAC members would refer to Srila Prabhupada as a "previous acarya", a term with which this author is not comfortable in reference to Srila Prabhupada. We maintain that Srila Prabhupada is living in his instructions and murti form, and is a present acarya.
Even with regard to the concept of "physical presence", we're not sure that we can support the SAC's contention that "he is not physically present." Srila Prabhupada installed his murti before his disappearance, and it will be valuable to consider the meaning of that action in terms of Srila Prabhupada's physical presence.