Practical Application of Siksa
Srila Prabhupada introduced Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s GBC administrative model into ISKCON. This organizational model not only served an obvious practical function, more importantly it acknowledged the potency of empowering siksa gurus directly representing the Sampradaya Acarya within an institutional framework. Srila Prabhupada structured his Society so that siksa gurus were afforded due reverence relative to their proven success in contributing to the missionary efforts of the bonafide Sampradaya Acarya. In an institutional scenario, Srila Prabhupada wove the successful western institutional model with the traditional Sampradaya Acarya system. In retrospect, we can see that ISKCON was a far cry from a traditional guru/disciple scenario.
Srila Prabhupada's "rtvik" or proxy initiation program was also based on the principle of the Sampradaya Acarya empowering the localized siksa gurus. His proxy program involved entrusting the local leaders to recruit and train, then recommend eligible candidates to Srila Prabhupada for diksa initiation. After Srila Prabhupada formally approved them, he permitted Temple Presidents, sanyasis, or GBC to perform the agni-hotra ceremony. In fact, the now-famous July 9th letter officially authorizes the eleven regional GBC/"Rtviks" the responsibility to choose spiritual names, chant on japa beads and Brahmin threads. These activities are in adherence with the Vedic definition of a Rtvik priest. The institution's regional Rtviks performed a needed function on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, but they were not fulfilling the responsibilities of siksa guru to the same degree as the Temple Authorities.
In pre-samadhi ISKCON, the siksa gurus were most often found within the ranks of the grassroots -- they were recruiters, trainers, and preachers at the temple level. Temple leaders and sanyasis, (not the GBC or "Rtviks") recommended candidates and afterwards engaged Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. As such, they played a more traditional guru role and met more closely the sastric definition of "siksa gurus".
In Kalyana-kalpataru, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes:
"The initiating spiritual master (diksa-guru) shows his cause-less mercy by giving his disciples instructions in chanting the mantra. By so doing, he points the disciples in the direction of the truths pertaining to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. I consider the numerous instructing spiritual masters (siksa-gurus) to be more important, for they show more mercy by training the sadhakas in all the essential aspects of sadhana-bhakti."
The Siksa Conclusion
The abbreviated definition of "initiation" is the admission of a neophyte disciple into the unadulterated philosophical and transcendental mysteries handed down by a succession of past Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya Acaryas. As Srila Prabhupada stated:
"Well initiation or no initiation, first thing is knowledge... knowledge. Initiation is formality. Just like you go to a school for knowledge, and admission is formality. That is not very important thing."
Srila Prabhupada Press Interview, 10-16-76, Chandigarh
The past Acaryas have established the principle that a sincere candidate can be connected to the Sampradaya via the advanced siksa guru. In fact, one of the distinguishing common features of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Srila Prabhupada is that both emphasized and reinforced the concept and principle of siksa guru being as important as diksa.
"Thakura Bhaktivinoda was not official Spiritual Master of Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji Maharaja. Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji Maharaja was already renounced order, Paramahamsa, but Thakura Bhaktivinoda, while He was even playing the part of a householder, was treated by Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji Maharaja as Preceptor, on account of His highly elevated spiritual understanding, and thus He was always treating Him as His Spiritual Master. The Spiritual Master is divided into two parts; namely, siksa guru and diksa guru. So officially Bhaktivinoda Thakura was like siksa guru of Gaura Kisora das Babaji Maharaja."
Srila Prabhupada Letter to Dayananda, 05-01-69:
Over 100 years ago, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura challenged the religionists of his day, which he identified as Caste Goswamis, Smarta Brahmins, mundane intellectuals, western scholars, and even those purporting to be in direct disciplic succession to associates of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura introduced the relevance, significance and importance of the siksa guru as a bonafide initiator into our Sampradaya. His own brother, Lalita prasad, sided with the representatives of traditional diksa lines that traced their linage clear back to the Caitanya Lila. These "Goswami lineage" successions claimed that initiation through them was the only possible way to link to Lord Caitanya’s Sampradaya. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati dismissed this self-serving concept, stating that regardless of one's spiritual genealogy, the prerequisite qualifications for successfully linking up to the Sampradaya are achieved wholly and solely upon the genuine advancement in Krsna consciousness by contacting a genuine Sampradaya Acarya. As such, he included Jagannatha dasa Babaji and Gaura Kisora das Babaji as qualified members of the Sampradaya, and he excluded all the established diksa lines who traced themselves back to the Caitanya Mahaprabhu lila period.
Creating a worldwide network of siksa gurus helps to prevent the transgression away from the Sampradaya Acarya’s transcendental spiritual movement into another world religion. This doesn’t just apply to western style over-institutionalization, but also to reverting back to the traditional diksa linage. In Kali Yuga, diksa guru ashrams are essentially an Indian cultural format for decentralized religiosity.
The current ISKCON has experimented with merging and mixing the traditional independent diksa gurus within the western religious institutional model. In all honesty, it has proven to be a failed attempt even if the goal was the creation of a worldwide religion. The more traditional diksa guru formats, like those existing within the Gaudiya Matha community, are nothing more than Vedic mini-mathas with diksa lineage religious format. The telltale symptoms of religiosity are found in both settings. The most serious and obvious sign is the predominant de-emphasis on the unalloyed purity, power, and teachings of the true Sampradaya Acarya, and the transference of focus to imperfect via-medias (matha acarya or GBC).
Individually, we all now stand at the crossroads of Vaisnava history. The Sampradaya Acaryas' spiritual movements have all been diverted down the slippery slope towards organized religion. The litany of persuasive arguments woven together with sastric sophistry, institutional rationalizations, and relationship psychology has replaced pure siddhanta. The underlying motivation of the leadership is to eclipse and/or minimize the Sampradaya Acarya, replacing him with a less-than perfect personality or oligarchy such as the GBC. Some well-known examples of the under-valuation of the Sampradaya Acarya are:
- the GBC decree that only their approved representatives are via media to Srila Prabhupada;
- the proposal that B.V. Narayana Maharaj is the next Sampradaya Acarya;
- Rtvik-ism, with approved priests performing post-samadhi proxy diksa; and
- changing the Sampradaya Acarya's transcendental literatures under the guise of improving them.
I’m sure we could all add many more illustrations to this devolution.
Anyone aligning themselves with today’s ISKCON, Gaudiya Matha or Rtvik groups are inadvertently contributing to an unwanted transformation from spirituality to religiosity. In a religious setting, our spiritual advancement stagnates due to the institutional restrictions placed on inquisitive philosophical spirituality. The current guru-tattva positions deceive us into thinking the diksa/acarya, organizational elite or the Rtvik group-think have some measure of exclusive control over the transcendental knowledge offered by the Sampradaya Acaryas. The Absolute Truth clearly states that no living entity or worldly institution can claim to have controlling power over the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If the Caitya guru/Lord of the Heart chooses to benedict the sincere seeker with admission to the secrets of the Sampradaya, there is no restriction -- not even by protocol such as “only through diksa initiation".
Granted, under ideal circumstances such as those found in ancient Vedic culture, it is preferable to follow the prescribed sequence of events: when the diksa guru departs, his disciples begin to initiate. In that age, however, highly qualified diksa gurus were abundant. For us, the reality of spreading Krsna consciousness worldwide requires practical arrangements other than the traditional formula, which cannot facilitate this phenomenon today. Srila Prabhupada's initiation program, for example, was far from traditional. The current Sampradaya Acarya advocated the proliferation of the Sampradaya teachings by massive book distribution throughout the planet. Those who are impacted by books authored by the bonafide representative of the Sampradaya may come to the temples, ashrams, and even the Internet for association. This is the merciful, far-reaching, visionary spirit of the Sampradaya Acarya, which cannot be compared to the restrictive, artificial barriers imposed by the institution or the religionists.
"The idea of an organized church in an intelligible form, indeed, marks the close of the living spiritual movement. The great ecclesiastical establishments are the dikes and the dams to retain the current that cannot be held by any such contrivances. They, indeed, indicate a desire on the part of the masses to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bona-fide spiritual teacher."
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur
In the minds of the leaders of these religious groups, giving prominence to the siksa guru threatens to undermine their power base. Diksa initiation is their greatest tool for maintaining power. The telltale indication that religiosity is eclipsing spirituality is the degree of aggressive close-mindedness aimed at those perceived to hold and expound opinions that differ from the camp’s 'absolute' creed. The member’s unquestioning allegiance to the religious group’s unique perspective on tattva is paramount, insulating the group supporter from scrutiny of other sastric considerations. Accurate appraisal of an individual's character, motivation, qualities, behavior, and so on, become based not on the principles found within the Sampradaya siddhanta, but rather on loyalty to the organization. By definition, the “science of self-realization” depends upon the spiritualist’s objectivity and inquisitiveness, which is the antithesis of blind obedience to religious doctrine interpreted exclusively by those protecting their power base.
The bonafide Acaryas, representatives of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, indiscriminately distribute the transcendental knowledge that culminates in Pure Love of Godhead. Anyone who has developed a thorough understanding of the essential intentions of the nitya-siddha Acarya is a true Guru, whatever prefix one assigns to the Guru title. Unfortunately, the role and importance of the siksa guru in spreading the Sankirtan Movement is not emphasized in the institutional context.
Not only is the siksa position a safe alternative because it eliminates the risks of philosophical deviation, it also provides many practical spiritual benefits. The sastric definition of siksa guru encompasses a much wider range of potential spiritual relationships than does diksa. Siksa requires no absolute eternal commitment on the part of either disciple or guru, so there is less chance for aparada if the relationship declines.
There is no precise definition concerning how a disciple should worship their siksa guru, which reduces pressure on the disciple to make the diksa the exclusive focus of all loving affections. If siksa relationships are the norm within the Vaisnava Community, then there is a far greater chance that Srila Prabhupada will remain the highest standard of purity and respect for all siksa disciples. By keeping Srila Prabhupada at the center, the disciple is relieved of the potential for a great deal of bewilderment which can lead to a loss of faith.
The siksa disciple’s ultimate desire is to please and serve the Sampradaya Acarya (the pre-eminent siksa). The siksa disciple may have the satisfaction and confidence of knowing that their primary object of affection, Srila Prabhupada, is unquestionably a transparent via media to Sri Krsna. In other words, they have undeniably been admitted into the Sampradaya, and there will be no chance of fall down of the Acarya.
According to Vaisnava philosophy, one can aspire and diligently apply oneself to the spiritual process in expectation that in the next life, you can directly associate with Srila Prabhupada. Under this scenario, a traditional diksa relationship can eventually transpire. In the meantime, there are plenty of qualified living siksa gurus who are completely dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada and to assisting the aspiring disciple in obtaining his or her goal.
Diksa gurus tend to want the independence to adapt, change or “personalize” the previous Sampradaya Acarya's program and mood. Most diksa gurus hanker for their own independent ashram or institution, occupied primarily by those who are their cent percent followers. Siksa gurus, on the other hand, tend to follow closely the Acarya's established mood and program, and are less likely to run the risk of changing the Founder/Acarya's established undertaking.
Prabhupada: "Then so siksa and diksa-guru... A siksa-guru who instructs against the instruction of spiritual, he is not a siksa guru. He is a demon. Siksa-guru, diksa-guru means... Sometimes a diksa-guru is not present always. Therefore one can take learning, instruction, from an advanced devotee. That is called the siksa-guru. Siksa-guru does not mean he is speaking something against the teachings of the diksa-guru/Acarya. He is not a siksa-guru. He is a rascal."
Srila Prabhupada Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 17:1-3, 07-04-74, Honolulu
Siksa disciples are free to search out other siksa gurus who may be better qualified to satisfy their various spiritual interests and needs without having their educational pursuits sanctioned and/or vetoed by a disagreeable diksa. If the disciple’s affections lie with Srila Prabhupada, then the words and actions of the siksa guru can be freely scrutinized based on Srila Prabhupada's writings, without risking offense.
Siksa affords an opportunity for serious followers of the Sampradaya Acarya who are inspired to teach and preach to assume the role of guru without running the risk of committing offenses that result in karmic reaction to himself or the disciple. Sastra dictates that there is no karmic burden placed upon the siksa guru, whereas there is an assumed acceptance of vi-karma of the new initiate upon the diksa guru. Those who are not in a spiritual position to give diksa, but pretentiously project themselves as bonafide, are actually only giving siksa, because they are not transparent via media conduits for the disciple's past karmic reactions. The unsuspecting disciples are deceived into believing they have been freed from karma, and the unqualified diksa guru accumulates karma without being able to transfer it to the spiritual realm.
Siksa places the power to determine one’s spiritual path in the hands of the individual seeker. Advocating an emphasis on the siksa alternative will likely reduce the institutional power base of die-hard diksa advocates, including the diksa gurus, the GBC, leaders of Rtvik organizations, and the Acarya-led Mathas.
Spiritual missions that are established by Sampradaya Acaryas should have as their primary focus an imperative to preach and teach the unalloyed message of the founder. While there will always be a role for diksa initiation in the spiritual community, nothing should eclipse our focus on the Sampradaya Acarya.
Excerpt from "Sampradaya Acarya" by Rocana dasa