Q. What is the position of devotees who had been approved by Srila Prabhupada and were waiting to receive initiation from him but had not yet received initiation when he departed? Are they considered direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada?
The basic idea is that the will of the Vaisnava is the substance of initiation. Because Srila Prabhupada agreed to initiate them, they are his disciples. This is, of course, in consideration of the fact that his system of initiation often involved accepting a disciple and then having the formalities of initiation carried out by one of his senior disciples, who acted as the priest (rtvik). In such cases the substance of the initiation took place on his giving his consent. At that time the disciple heard the diksa mantras from Srila Prabhupada on tape, while the other formalities of initiation were carried out by the rtvik. This was the opinion of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja, whom Srila Prabhupada sent us to for insight into these matters.
Further information on this issue can be found in the following Sanga:
Receiving Diksa Mantra by Tape Recording http://www.swami.org/sanga/archives/pages/volume_four/m195.html
Q. How does Gaudiya Vaisnavism define faith and how is it attained?
A. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, sraddha–sabde visvasa kahe sudrdha niscaya krsne bhakti kaile sarva-karma krta haya: "Faith (sraddha) means confidence that simply by serving Krsna all of one's karmic obligations are fulfilled." He cites this definition while instructing Sri Sanatana Goswamiji. In doing so he references the Gita's most confidential instruction, man mana bhava mad-bhakto: "Become my devotee." (Bg. 18.65)This verse of the Gita is of course followed by sarva dharman parityaja mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all dharma (within the realm of karma) and simply surrender to me." (Bg. 18.66) In this way faith and surrender (saranagati) correspond with one another.
Sraddha implies faith in and understanding of scripture (sastra). Bhagavad-gita 2.45 says, trai-gunya-visaya veda: that sastra (the Vedas) deals mostly with the realm of karma and its corresponding religious injunctions. Faith in bhakti is beyond karma and religiosity in the sense that a person involved in bhakti has understood the essence of scripture and therefore is no longer directly concerned with so-called Vedic dharma. This kind of faith comes from association with a qualified guru. Such a guru is a superlative devotee whose authority is derived from command of scripture–not merely academic command, but realization. Ideally, he or she is sastra su-nipuna, a scriptural genius who expertly represents the essential teachings of scripture. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34) that through such a great soul transcendental wisdom can be imparted to the sincere disciple.
Q. Are there different levels of faith?
According to Sri Rupa Goswami, there are three levels of faith: tender faith, firm faith strengthened by scriptural understanding, and firm faith combined with scriptural genius. The intermediate position involves firm faith in scriptural conclusions and the words of one's guru, even though when challenged or questioned one may not be able to cite either of these in all instances. Such a devotee does not, however, suffer from a lapse in sraddha altogether, as one of tender faith might.
These levels of faith correspond with one's capacity to engage in sadhana-bhakti, thus suspicion leads to suspension. Tender faith is strengthened with the help of scripture as one gradually learns the scriptural conclusions (siddhanta). It is faith that is fully supported by scripture (sastriya sraddha) that we are interested in. Indeed, quoting from Brahma-yamala, Sri Rupa Goswami writes that devotion that is not in compliance with scriptural conclusions is not bhakti at all, sruti-smrti-puranadi pancaratra-vidhim vina, aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate. In Gaura-lila, Caitanya Mahaprabhu's intimate disciple Svarupa Damodara screened all written offerings presented to him to see if they were in accordance with scriptural conclusions. Any offerings that were not in accordance would not reach the eyes of Mahaprabhu.
Q. How can I reconcile reason and faith?
A. Sraddha means faith in the efficacy of all aspects of bhakti: tattva vicara (philosophy), sadhana vicara (spiritual practice), and purusartha vicara (the goal), all of which are explained in scripture. It requires reasoning to understand scriptural conclusions, thus sastriya sraddha is not blind faith but rather well-reasoned faith based on the premise that comprehensive knowledge is possible only through revelation. This kind of reasoning is called sastra-yukti. It arises out of ongoing discourse on sastric conclusions conducted in the association of advanced devotees. Such reasoning seeks to strengthen the scriptural argument in consideration of time and circumstance and in general to shed new light on it.
Q. Can imperfect beings like us truly hope to find perfect knowledge?
A. Sri Jiva Goswami states that one suffering from the four defects of material existence, namely imperfect senses, confusion, inattentiveness, and the cheating propensity, cannot understand the absolute truth without help from above. He concludes that in order to attain perfect knowledge of the Absolute one must hear from scripture (revealed knowledge).
A person who actually takes shelter of scripture will no longer be subject to the four imperfections that impede one from arriving at perfect knowledge. Such a "reliable person" is not confused as to what is ultimately real and what is not, therefore he or she will never fail to acknowledge God as the true proprietor, nor will he or she cheat others by giving them something other than the whole truth.
Perfection in this case refers to a person who is perfect in devotion, not one who makes no mistakes whosoever. On the relative plane, even perfected souls may make mistakes. Some have been known to be illiterate, and the famous Bilvamangala Thakura was blind, his sense of sight was apparently defective in spite of his standing in perfect knowledge. Some would like us to believe that mistakes made by perfected souls are some type of lila to test students. However, such an explanation is not based on a very deep understanding of the nature of ultimate reality.
Due to being absorbed in another plane of reality, a perfected soul in trance might experience something to be other than what it is. We witness this phenomenon many times in the lila of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who in his ecstasy of love for Krsna once mistook a sand dune in Puri for Govardhana Hill. Another instance was when his disciple Jagadananda mistook the saffron turban of Sanatana Goswami to be the cloth of Mahaprabhu, when in fact he had received it from another sannyasin. Also, in his youth Hanuman once mistook the sun for a fruit and tried to capture it. There are, of course, many other examples of such ecstatic spiritual emotion.
Q. In his book Sri Guru and His Grace, Srila Sridhara Maharaja says, "We shall serve that higher knowledge; we won't try to make it serve us. We must give our pledge to serve that plane (of knowledge)." What does he mean by service to higher knowledge?
A. Higher knowledge refers to Guru and scripture. The spirit of these words from Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja is that one should come to Sri Guru to serve, not to take. Service means to learn from Sri Guru what he or she wants of us, knowing that our guru's desire will tender to our actual necessity for spiritual growth because he or she has no material ambition to fulfill. We may, of course, put forward our request to serve in a particular capacity, but only if we are prepared to take "no" for an answer. We want to know what is best for us–for our spiritual life. That's all. This should be the spirit. We should not ask our guru to serve us in terms of our material necessities and thereby burden him or her. Rather we should approach Sri Guru bearing our heart in hand, offering it in divine service. Sri Guru will then take our heart and offer it to Sri Krsna, who has lost his own heart to his unalloyed devotees.
Q. I am interested in becoming one of your students. I regularly attend programs at the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (Iskcon) and have friends there who are supportive of my decision to seek initiation from you. Can you assist me?
A. I will be honored to assist you in your spiritual pursuit, but you should be forewarned that I am not a member of Iskcon and that some Iskcon members are hostile to my students and myself to the point of not allowing those affiliated with me to visit their temples. Therefore if your spiritual life, as you understand it, is dependent on association with Iskcon members, becoming my student may at times cause you conflict. If, on the other hand, you feel that your spiritual life is dependent on my guidance and you are prepared to pursue that at any cost, then any hostility you may experience from members of Iskcon will not be an issue.
Further information on this issue can be found in the following Sangas:
Iskcon, Exile, and the Conflict of Vows http://www.swami.org/sanga/archives/pages/volume_three/m134.html
Never Leave Iskcon http://www.swami.org/sanga/archives/pages/volume_seven/m260.html
Q. Some members of another Gaudiya institution have told me that hearing about Krsna consciousness from you is not a good idea for me and my family as we are so "new" to all of this. However, I am attracted to your teachings, so I am going to seek out what I feel is truly helpful to me, regardless of what they say. My question is: What can a working person like myself possibly do to serve a guru? What form might this service take?
A. I am happy to know that I have been helpful to you in your spiritual life. Regarding your question, hearing and chanting are the main service and as a working person you can also serve the mission by contributing financially towards its maintenance and expansion. Householders often have responsibilities that make it difficult for them to render service directly to the mission of Sri Guru and Gauranga. Still, there will be special opportunities for service that arise from time to time, and when they do, you should take them seriously. We live for such opportunities.
In conclusion, I must say that I am encouraged by your response to the negativity you have experienced regarding your connection with me. Be certain that this negativity has absolutely no spiritual basis whatsoever. It is purely misplaced sentiment, sentiment that is not philosophically grounded in the transcendental precepts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.