By Srila B.P. Puri Goswami, from The Art of Sadhana
The word diksa refers to the process of surrendering to a spiritual master. The genuine spiritual master is one who is most dear to the Supreme Lord, one who is his intimate associate. A person who takes shelter of such a spiritual master is recognized by Krishna as one of his own. The Lord immediately bestows a transcendental body on such a surrendered soul and, in this body, the disciple has the good fortune to serve the divine form of the Lord.
The primary characteristic of a disciple who has received initiation and direction in the practice of worship from his spiritual master is visrambha, an honest desire for faithful and loving service to the spiritual master, the Vaishnavas and the Supreme Lord. The secondary characteristic is that he seeks to destroy all his sinful activities.
The divya-jnana, the transcendental knowledge of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana, is received by the disciple as part of initiation. The self-revealed scriptures, the Vedas, are the supreme authority (pramana) on spiritual subject matters. The scripture and the nine prameya (teachings) based on scripture are collectively called dasa-mula, the ten basic elements of spiritual knowledge. The nine prameya consist of the seven aspects of relationships (sambandha)—Krishna Himself, Krishna’s energies, Krishna’s divine mood (rasa), the soul, its bondage and its liberation, and the inconceivable oneness and difference of the Lord and the individual soul. To these seven are added abhidheya, bhakti, and prayojana, love of God.
Along with all of this knowledge comes an important side effect: the destruction of one’s sinful reactions. Thus the direct result of initiation is love for Krishna. Mahaprabhu confirms this in the following statement to His own spiritual master:
kiba mantra dile gosani kiba tara bala, japite japite mantra karila pagala
“What mantra have you given me, O gurudeva! What powers does it possess? As I chant this mantra, I feel that it is turning me into a madman.” Caitanya Caritamrta 1.7.81
If one does not develop love for Krishna nor feels any attachment to the chanting of the Holy Names after being initiated, but remains inclined to sinful activities, falling down from time to time, it is then clear that either knowingly or unknowingly, that person has committed terrible offenses to the Lord, the guru or the Vaishnavas. One should then think: “I have only made a pretense of surrendering myself. I have used my initiation simply as an excuse to engage in sense gratificatory activities.”
Ignorance Means Rejecting the Lord
A lack of interest in the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna is the conditioned soul’s chief defect. The basis of all sin is ignorance, whose symptom is the rejection of Krishna. The seed of all sin, i.e., the tendency to sin, is present in the flaw of ignorance. From there, sinful activity is inevitable.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami compares this deficiency in the conditioned jivas to coming under the influence of a witch’s spell.
sei dose maya pisaci danòa kare tare, adhyatmikadi tapa-traya tare jari mare
kama krodhera dasa hana tara lathi khaya, bhramite bhramite jadi sadhu-vaidya paya
tanra upadesa-mantre pisaci palaya, krsna-bhakti paya tabe krsna nikate jaya
“For rejecting Krishna, the witch of illusion punishes the jiva, causing him to suffer the three kinds of misery—adhyatmika, adhibhautika, and adhidaivika. The unfortunate conditioned soul then becomes the slave of his desires and his frustrations, suffering their kicks and abuse. After wandering through the universe in this condition, if he somehow finds a saintly person to act as an exorcist, then through his powerful instructions, the witch’s mastery is overcome and she runs for her life. The fortunate individual then finds pure devotion to Krishna and goes to Him.” Caitanya Caritamrta 2.22.13-15
The devotee then turns to Krishna and prays as follows:
kamadinam kati na katidha, palita durnidesas
tesam jata mayi na karuna, na trapa nopasantih
utsrjyaitan atha yadupate, sampratam labdha-buddhis
tvam ayatah saranam abhayam, mam niyunksyatma-dasye
“I carried out so many evil orders of my wicked masters—lust, anger, greed, bewilderment, intoxication, and envy—that I have lost count. Yet, despite my faithful service, these masters have never taken pity on me. I am so shameless that the faintest desire for devotional service has never once manifested in my heart. O Lord of the Yadus, today I have finally come to my senses and I throw off my shackles to take shelter of your fearless lotus feet; please engage me in your personal service.” Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 3.2.25, Caitanya Caritamrta 2.22.16
Pariksit Maharaja made the following significant statement about how one can recognize purity in a devotee’s character: “The person whose self has been washed clean never abandons Krishna’s lotus feet,” (dhautatma purusah krsna-pada-mulam na muncati, Srimad Bhagavatam 2.8.6).
Visvanatha further clarifies:
“The sign of a pure heart is the inability to abandon the service to Krishna’s lotus feet” (mat-pada-seva-tyagasamarthyam eva suddha-cittatva-cihnam). If somehow or other one sees that such a devotee is affected by lust or anger, such incidental characteristics should be considered like the bite of a snake with broken teeth; an insignificant setback which does not have long-term effects on the devotee’s devotional life (atah kvacit kama-krodhadi-sattve’pi utkhata-damstroraga-damsanavat tasyakimcitkaratvam jneyam). There is no poison in a snake’s broken fangs, so its bite is not considered a significant problem, even though it appears very dangerous to the uninformed observer. Similarly, lust, anger and greed may cause some disturbance in a devotee’s mind, but do not result in his mind being permanently contaminated.”
The Lord accepts the offerings of those devotees of purified mind. Other than the association of such pure devotees, the jiva has no other hope of attaining any value of significance in life.
One should not think, however, that all one has to do is to sit and listen to the spiritual master’s instructions. One has to act according to those instructions. If a disciple does not take up the devotional practices or sadhana recommended by the guru then how can he expect to achieve spiritual perfection?
In the Caitanya Caritamrta, the Lord says that, on receiving initiation from the spiritual master, one should worship Krishna and serve the guru. Then one becomes free from the control of maya and attains Krishna’s lotus feet.
tate krsna bhaje kare gurura sevana, maya-jala chute paya krsnera carana
In his commentary to the above-mentioned verse, Srila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura writes:
“It is through a combination of bhajana and service to the spiritual master that one becomes free of maya’s net and attains Krishna’s lotus feet.”
Srila Prabhupada also says:
“Our eternal spiritual identity is to be the dust of the lotus feet of Rupa and Raghunatha.” Therefore, we have no other duty in life than to follow their example. He has further affirmed, “Without the performance of harinama-sankirtana, no other practices of bhakti yoga such as residence in Mathura or association with devotees are complete. However, even if I only engage in harinama-sankirtana, I will win all the fruits of residence in Mathura, associating with devotees, serving the deity in loving faith, and listening to the Bhagavatam. Simply through harinama-sankirtana, all perfections come to the jiva.”
Our spiritual master instructed us to chant 100,000 names daily without offense, keeping our objectives clear. If we cannot follow this instruction, how can we expect to become free of all the contamination in our hearts? As stated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the performance of harinama-sankirtana is glorious in seven ways. It cleans the mirror of the heart (ceto-darpana-marjanam); it extinguishes the conflagration of material life (bhava-maha-davagni-nirvapanam); it distributes the cooling moon rays of auspiciousness (sreyah-kairava-candrika-vitaranam); it is the life of transcendental knowledge, which is like its consort (vidya-vadhu-jivanam), it increases the ocean of divine bliss (anandambudhi-vardhanam); at every step, it gives a taste of the full ambrosia for which we have always been anxious (pratipadam purnamrtasvadanam); and it bathes the entire self in divine ecstasy (sarvatma-snapanam). Mahaprabhu himself repeatedly stated that there was no worship superior to the worship of the Holy Names. “All will attain perfection through the chanting of the Holy Names. Chant these Names constantly; I give you no other rules.” (Caitanya Bhagavata 2.23.78).
Do we have any hope of attaining the supreme good if we ignore these instructions of the Lord and the spiritual master?
The Servant’s Vow of Service
The devotee who desires to reach the level of nistha should make the following vow:
“According to the instruction of my spiritual master, I must absolutely complete chanting a fixed number of names on my japa beads daily, as well as daily offer a fixed number of obeisances to the devotees and to the deity form of the Lord. I absolutely must perform my prescribed service at certain fixed times of the day. I must observe the fortnightly Ekadasi fast. Upon rising in the brahma-muhurta period, before dawn, I shall remember Krishna and His devotees’ lotus feet in a particular way, then bathe. After this, I will sit down and meditate on the mantra into which my guru has initiated me. Then I will perform puja to the deity, study the devotional scriptures, and sing the hymns written by the great authorities. All these things I shall do every day without fail.
“I shall never welcome any thoughts other than thoughts of Krishna; I shall absolutely give up all useless controversy and gossip. Every day, I shall unfailingly hear the spiritual instructions of my guru and advanced devotees and then discuss those topics with my god brothers, rather than wasting time in fruitless conversations. I will not allow any of the valuable time given to me in this human form of life to be wasted by giving way to sloth and laziness. I will therefore not lose a moment to sleep that is not absolutely necessary for maintaining my body, but will employ every moment in a way that is spiritually profitable.
“I will be very careful to avoid the association of anyone who is overly attached to material enjoyments, or of the wives of other men, or of womanizing men. Indeed, I shall avoid the company of anyone who is not a devotee of Krishna, for it is said:
asat-sanga tyaga ei vaisnava acara, stri sangi eka asadhu krsnabhakta ara
“The essence of Vaishnava behavior is to give up the association of the unsaintly. By unsaintly it is meant those who are attached to the opposite sex and those who are non-devotees.” Caitanya Caritamrta 2.12.195
“Every day without fail I will complete chanting the Maha-mantra consisting of 16 names and 32 syllables a fixed number of times. Even when not chanting on my beads, I will constantly repeat these names without counting. Without completing my japa and chanting my ista-mantra, I will not even touch water, what to speak of taking food. My spiritual master who has initiated me with the ista-mantra is my only true friend in both this world and the next. If I cannot win his pleasure, then all my spiritual practices are for naught. Through his mercy I can win the mercy of the Supreme Lord. If I displease him I have no other recourse. If Krishna is displeased with me, my spiritual master can intervene on my behalf, but if the spiritual master is angry or dissatisfied with my actions, then all my spiritual practices are as worthless as oblations of clarified butter poured on the remains of a fire sacrifice. The service of my spiritual master’s lotus feet is the real treasure of my spiritual life. Any spiritual practice performed independently of him is without value. Whatever hearing or chanting I engage in should be done for the pleasure of my spiritual master alone. I should always meditate on these words sung by Narottama dasa:
sei vrata, sei tapa sei mora mantra japa, sei mora dharama karama
“The feet of Sri Rupa Manjari are my real wealth. They are the object of my vows. They are the goal of my austerities and penances, they are the goal of my mantra and my japa. They are the purpose of my religious observances, my every activity.” Prarthana 8
“If my guru rebukes or criticizes me, I should take it as a great fortune. I should remember that whatever spiritual practice I engage in, all is being done for his pleasure. I should give this consideration pride of place in my consciousness, remembering Sarvabhauma’s words to Mahaprabhu: ajna gurunam hy avicaraniya: ‘The orders of our gurus are never to be debated.’ Caitanya Caritamrta 2.10.145
“I pray that my intelligence never becomes so contaminated that I criticize the words of my spiritual master. May such a wicked mentality never manifest in my heart, not even in my dreams. Any arrangement he makes for me is for my ultimate good. I pray that I never consider him to be an ordinary mortal by entertaining negative judgments of his words or actions. I will always remain on my guard against such a disaster.
“Because the guru is affectionate towards his disciples, if I approach him with my doubts, he will lay those doubts to rest with his answers. May I never forget for even a moment that my spiritual master is the source of all auspiciousness. The Supreme Lord has taken the form of my guru in order to give me the mercy of initiation and spiritual teaching. May I never forget at any time this manifestation of compassion of the Lord’s revealed form as the guru. The duty of the disciple is to always seek the pleasure of his spiritual master, whose only purpose is to carry out the orders of the Supreme Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu on this earth. I should always consider the servants of my guru to be worthy of my respect. Whoever is dear to my guru is dear to me.
“If I can keep on doing my devotional service with this attitude of unswerving, constant faith in my spiritual master, then through his satisfaction I will quickly become qualified for all perfections. My spiritual master has assured me that through the Holy Name I can attain all perfection, therefore, I will faithfully chant the Holy Names without committing offenses, while always making a determined effort to strictly follow his orders. On the strength of the Holy Names in which my guru has instructed me, I will become eligible for the treasure of raganuga bhakti and for the great fortune to taste the sweet flavors of the most elevated spiritual relations, never given prior to the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”
The Devotee’s Prayer
Sri Guru’s mercy is everything—guru-krpa hi kevalam. Therefore one should pray as follows:
“I am most fallen and useless, O Lord. May my spiritual master be pleased with me. May he give me the spiritual strength to follow his directions. May all the obstacles in my worship of the Lord be removed so that at the end of my sojourn in this world, I may sit alone far from the hustle and bustle of the material world, and with a steady mind, chant the Holy Names with feeling. May the Lord be merciful and allow me to give up my last breath in this way. Knowingly or unknowingly I have committed so many offenses to His lotus feet, and even now I continue to commit such offenses. O Lord, please forgive all such offenses and give me a place at Your lotus feet. Make my life complete by allowing me to associate with those who are dear to You.
“For so long I have simply made a pretense of being initiated. In fact, I have not done that which a surrendered soul should do; I have not strictly followed my spiritual master’s instructions, thus I have not made even a little advancement in spiritual life. All the contaminations in my heart prior to initiation are still there today, so how is there any hope of my attaining the divine realization which is said to be the real sign of initiation? Like a lump of iron my heart is without feelings. Even though I chant the Holy Names, it does not melt. Thus I am thinking,
aparadha phale mama citta bhela vajra-sama, tuwa name na labhe vikara
“Due to offenses, my heart has become as hard as a thunderbolt. Therefore no ecstatic transformations take place when I chant your name.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura
tabe jani tahe aparadha achaye pracura, krsna-nama bija tahe na haya ankura
“Thus I know I have committed so many offenses to the Holy Name; for though I have planted the seed of the Name, no creeper of love has sprouted.” Caitanya Caritamrta 1.8.29
“O gurudeva! Now in the evening of my life, I have become so forlorn and hopeless. O Lord! O you who see no fault in anyone! Be generous to me and give me your mercy. Help me to be free of all offenses so I develop a taste for the Holy Names which you have instructed me to chant. Allow me to earn the right to be called the genuine servant of your servants. With your divine vision, you see me perfectly, externally and internally. You know everything I do; therefore I pray that everything I do—my behavior, my devotional service—be a source of pleasure to you.
“O Lord, forgive all my offenses, whether I have committed them willingly or unwillingly. Forever give me a place among all your servants, at your lotus feet, where there is no more lamentation, no more fear, no more death. Your feet are the only shelter for one like me who has found no refuge anywhere in this world. Your feet are the source of ultimate good for one like me who has found no value anywhere else in this world.”
bhumau skhalita-padanam, bhumir evavalambanam, tvayi jataparadhanam, tvam eva saranam prabho
“Those who trip and fall have only the ground as an aid to again get up. O Lord, those who commit offenses to you, have no one but you as a recourse.”
So, my dear devotees, tread carefully the path of devotion. Always pray for the mercy of Krishna, the guru, and the Vaishnavas. Remember that progress in devotion depends on progress in humility—that is the art of sadhana.