Dīkṣā and Śikṣā

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by Swami B.G. Narasingha

‘Dīkṣā and Śikṣā’ was written by Śrīla Narasiṅgha Mahārāja in 2018 and explains the position of both the dīksā and śīkṣā-gurus, and also what to do in the unfortunate event that one must reject his dīkṣā-guru.

Question: The question may be asked that if one has a dīkṣā-guru who has given permission to take śikṣā from another guru, but the śikṣā-guru is revealing things that puts the dīkṣā-guru in a more relative position, then what is the disciple to do? How does the disciple harmonise the two, or maybe it is not possible to harmonise? What should the disciple do in that case?

Answer: Dīkṣā and śikṣā-gurus are explained in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 1.47 as being equal manifestations of Kṛṣṇa. The initiating spiritual master (dīkṣā-guru) is a personal manifestation of Madana-mohana vigraha, whereas the instructing spiritual master (śikṣāguru) is a personal representative of Govinda-deva vigraha. Furthermore, it is stated that Madana-mohana represents the stage of sambandha and Govinda-deva represents the stage of abhidheya.

Though both dīkṣā and śikṣā-gurus are equal manifestations of the Paramātmā (the Lord of the heart), when a real conflict occurs, the higher position is given to the śikṣā-guru. By ‘real conflict’ I mean to say when the dīkṣā-guru is giving inferior instruction – then such a dīkṣā-guru may be respected at a distance, or if really bad, completely rejected. An example here to keep in mind is Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, whose dīkṣā-guru was Vipina-vihāri Gosvāmī. Bhaktivinoda took mantradīkṣā from Vipina-vihāri Gosvāmī, but because of material and caste-conscious (society conscious) thinking within Vipina-vihāri Gosvāmī, Bhaktivinoda distanced himself from him and accepted Jagannatha Dāsa Bābājī as his śikṣā-guru (sad-guru).

The situation in today’s Vaiṣṇava world is quite lamentable and I personally feel sad for the situation that many devotees find themselves in today. There are probably 100 initiating gurus in the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, but a vast majority of them (if not all of them) are simply institutional gurus and fall short of being the representatives or manifestations of Kṛṣṇa. In other words, they are not in the guru-tattva.

These institutional-gurus are fine with their disciples taking śikṣā within the frame work of their society consciousness (as in _____ Swami’s book, ‘Śikṣā-guru in ISKCON’), but the problem arises when Kṛṣṇa conscious śikṣā comes into conflict with their society consciousness. This is a real problem for many devotees in the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement who have become inspired by the śikṣā of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja or his representative, and at the same time are condemned by their dīkṣāguru, or just find themselves uninspired by their dīkṣā-guru and the institutional policies that they live under.

There are examples of devotees having to reject their dīkṣā-guru and there are plenty of śāstrika quotes to support their doing so. However, my personal recommendation is that devotees should avoid having to completely reject their dīkṣā-guru as far as possible. The dīkṣā-guru may be uninspiring, yet he may still be in relatively good standing—continuing to follow the regulative principles and engaging in some form of devotional service, though not śuddha-bhakti. In that case, I personally see no need for one to reject one’s dīkṣā-guru completely and to seek re-initiation. I think it far better, remembering the example of Bhaktivinoda, to keep such an uninspiring dīkṣāguru at a respectable distance and pursue proper śikṣā. In some cases, a direct relationship with a Vaiṣṇava as one’s śikṣā-guru may be pursued, and in other cases simply śikṣā from śāstra may be the only recourse for the disciple.

It is indeed wonderful when one’s dīkṣā-guru and śikṣā-guru can be seen as being equally representative of Kṛṣṇa, without conflict or loss of inspiration – such as in our case, having taken our dīkṣā-mantras from Śrīla Prabhupāda and later, taken rūpānuga-śikṣā from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. How wonderful indeed!

But that is not the situation that many, many devotees find themselves in today. Because ISKCON is so entrenched in society consciousness, they fail to see the real necessity of their disciples and instead of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they feed them International Society Consciousness (ISCON) – and they are proud of it.

Here are some quotes from śāstra concerning the above matter. The first quote from Jīva Gosvāmī is the one I recommend devotees try to follow as far as possible. In other words, a lack of knowledge of pure devotional service may be tolerated to some extent, but offences to real Vaiṣṇavas or nasty behaviour are grounds for complete rejection.


From Jīva Gosvāmī’s Bhakti Sandarbha:

ata eva dūrata evārādhyas tādṛśo guruḥ
vaiṣṇava vidveṣī cet parityājya eva

 “If a guru does not permit his disciples to honour great devotees of the Lord, such a guru should be respected only from a distance, And, if he is envious of real Vaiṣṇavas, he should be rejected.” (Bhakti Sandarbha 238)

From Narahari Sarkāra Ṭhākura’s Kṛṣṇa Bhajanāmṛtam:

kintu yadi gurur asamañjasaṁ karoti tarhi yukti-siddhaiḥ
siddhāntais tasya rahasi daṇḍaḥ karaṇīyaḥ na tu tyājyaḥ

“However if the guru commits inappropriate acts, then one should privately confront him and reprimand him using logical conclusions – but one is not to give him up.”

guror daṇḍa iti cen na

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

“One should not be hesitant in reprimanding the guru because: “It is one’s duty to give up a guru who cannot teach the disciple what he should do and what he should not do, and who takes the wrong path, either because of bad association or because he is opposed to Vaiṣṇavas.” (Mahābhārata, Udyoga-parva 179.25)

anena sarvam suśobhanam iti

“In this way, everything becomes most auspicious.”

svabhāvata eva vaiṣṇavānāṁ kṛṣṇāśraya eva mūlam
tad-guṇa-gāna-yaśo varṇana-vilāsa-vinoda-prakhyāpanam eva jīvanam

“It is indeed the nature of Vaiṣṇavas to take full shelter of Kṛṣṇa. It is their very life to sing His glories and qualities, describe His fame and His pastimes, and distribute news about Him.”

sarve tad-artham eva guru-mukhād vāśṛṇvanti
sva-buddhyā vā vyavaharantīti kramaḥ

“All Vaiṣṇavas follow this. They perform their activities either according to the instructions from the guru’s mouth, or by following their own intelligence. This is the proper process.”

tatra gurur yadi visadṛśakārī, īśvare bhrāntaḥ, kṛṣṇa-yaśo vimukhas tad-vilāsa-vinodaṁ nāṅgīkaroti svayaṁ vā durabhimānī, loka-svastavaiḥ kṛṣṇam anukaroti, tarhi tyājya eva

“But in this regard, if the guru commits improper activities, is bewildered about the Supreme Lord, is averse to propagating Kṛṣṇa’s fame, does not relish or accept His divine pastimes, or becomes proud due to the praise of ordinary people, then he falls into darkness. Then he should be rejected.”

katham eva gurus tyājyaḥ? iti cen na, kṛṣṇa-bhāva-lobhāt kṛṣṇa-prāptaye guror āśrayaṇaṁ kṛtaṁ, tad-anantaraṁ yadi tasmin gurau āsura-bhāvas tarhi kiṁ kartavyam? asura-guruṁ tyaktvā śrī-kṛṣṇa-bhaktimantaṁ gurum anyaṁ bhajet

“One should not think, ‘How can I reject my guru?’ With great eagerness to achieve Kṛṣṇa’s divine nature, a devotee takes shelter of a guru. But later, if that guru takes on a demoniac mentality, then what can be done? Rejecting such a demoniac guru, one should accept and worship a guru who is full of bhakti for Kṛṣṇa.”

asya kṛṣṇa-balād asurasya guror balaṁ
mardanīyam iti vaiṣṇava-bhajana-vicāraḥ

“By strength gained through Kṛṣṇa, the power of such an asurika guru is destroyed. Such is the deliberation on Vaiṣṇava bhajana.” (Śrī Kṛṣṇa Bhajanāmṛtam v.59-67)

From Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Jaiva-dharma:

“Before accepting a guru, one should examine him to see that he is expert in the tattva spoken in the Vedas and has realised para-tattva. If he is, then he will certainly be capable of giving all kinds of instructions about the Absolute Truth. Normally, there is no question of giving up the dīkṣā-guru. There are two circumstances, however, in which he should be abandoned. First, if the disciple accepted the guru without examining the guru’s knowledge of the Absolute Truth, his Vaiṣṇava qualities, and his other qualifications, and second, if after initiation, the guru does not perform any function, he should be given up. Many passages in śāstras give evidence for this.”

yo vyakti nyāya rahitam anyāyena śṛṇoti yaḥtāv
ubhau narakaṁ ghoraṁ vrajataḥ kālam akṣayam

“He who poses as an ācārya, but gives false instructions that are opposed to the sattvata-śāstras, will reside in a terrible hell for an unlimited period of time, and so will the misguided disciple who mistakenly listens to such a false guru.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.62)

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

“It is one’s duty to give up a guru who cannot teach the disciple what he should do and what he should not do, and who takes the wrong path, either because of bad association or because he is opposed to Vaiṣṇavas.”  (Mahābhārata, Udyoga-parva 179.25)

avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhayed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ

“One goes to hell if he accepts mantras from an avaiṣṇava-guru, that is, one who is associating with women, and who is devoid of kṛṣṇa-bhakti. Therefore, according to the rules of śāstra, one should take mantras again from a Vaiṣṇava guru.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 4.144)

“The second circumstance in which one may reject the guru is if he was a Vaiṣṇava who knew the spiritual truth and principles when the disciple accepted him, but who later became a māyāvādī or an enemy of the Vaiṣṇavas by the influence of asat-saṅga. It is one’s duty to give up such a guru. However, it is not proper to give up a guru whose knowledge is meagre, if he is not a māyāvādī or an enemy of the Vaiṣṇavas, and is not attached to sinful activity. In that case, one should still respect him as guru, and with his permission, one should go to another Vaiṣṇava who is more knowledgeable, and serve that Vaiṣṇava and take instructions from him.” (Jaiva-Dharma, Chapter 20)

From Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi:

tabe yadi e rūpa ghaṭanā kabhu haya
asat saṅge gurura yogyatā haya kṣaya
prathame chilena tini sad guru pradhāna
pare nāma aparādhe haṅā hata jñāna

“It may happen that for some reason, the guru at some time falls into bad association and loses the qualification to be a guru. Initially, when the disciple accepted him, he was exalted, but later due to offenses to the Holy Name, he became bereft of knowledge.”

vaiṣṇave vidveśa kari chāḍe nāma rasa
krame krame hana artha kāminīra vaśa
sei guru chāḍi śiṣya śrī-kṛṣṇa-kṛpāya
sad guru labhiyā punaḥ śuddha nāma gāya

“He becomes inimical to Vaiṣṇavas and loses taste for the Holy Name, then eventually, he becomes desirous of wealth and women. Such a guru should be rejected by the disciple, who, by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, will again find a genuine guru and chant the Holy Name purely.” (Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi 6.39-42)

From Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s commentary on Caitanya-caritāmṛta:

“One who gives instruction on hari-bhajana is the śikṣā-guru. The guru or ācārya is never devoid of bhajana nor does he behave improperly. The mahant-guru who finds bliss in performing bhajana and the caitya-guru who gives us the discrimination for accepting those things that are favorable to bhajana are the two types of instructors.

Instructions on bhajana differ according to differences within the stage of practice (sādhana) and attainment (sādhya). Śrī Gurudeva, who bestows Kṛṣṇa, by enriching his disciple with sambandhajñāna, reveals to him the realisation of his own service.

After attaining the mercy of the śikṣā-guru, the instructions, which are then given on the pure service of Viṣṇu, are known as abhidheya.

The śikṣā-guru in the form of a servitor, the personification of abhidheya, is non-different from the dīkṣā-guru – the bestower of sambandha-jñāna. Both of them are Gurudeva.

To consider one greater than the other, or perceive them as unequal creates an offence. There is no difference between Kṛṣṇa’s form (rūpa) and His very Self (svarūpa) – there is no difference created by language.

The dīkṣā-guru is Sanātana, the bestower of Madana-Mohana’s lotus Feet. To the jīvas who have forgotten Bhagavān and are unable to wander in Vraja, he gives the realisation that Bhagavān’s feet are one’s highest attainment. The śikṣā-guru is Rūpa, the bestower of the qualification to perform service to Govinda and to the feet of that Personality who is His Dearest One.” (Purport to Caitanya Caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 1.47)

From Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s Śrī Guru & His Grace:

Devotee: If the initiating guru falls down from the path, what should the disciple do?

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “He may take shelter of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa again and wait for some time. If the guru was at first a sincere disciple of his spiritual master, and now as a result of some offenses he is being neglected by his guru, he may be led astray for some time. But he may return to the standard again. Still, it is said in the Mahābhārata (Udyoga-parva 179.25):

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

“A guru who does not know what is to be done and what is not to be done, who has left the path of devotional service, should be abandoned.”

This is found in Bhīṣma’s statement in the Mahābhārata. Bhīṣma is one of the twelve mahājanas, and this is his statement to his astra-guru, Paraśurāma.’

“Jīva Gosvāmī says that if the guru goes astray he should be abandoned, but there may be circumstances where, by the inconceivable desire of Kṛṣṇa, the guru may go astray for a time and then come back again. In that case, the disciple should wait for some time. It is very unfortunate for the disciple when such things happen. You will find this elaborately dealt with in the Hari-nāma Cintāmaṇi of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. If a son leaves home and disobeys his father, the father may be indifferent to him; he may exclude him from the will. If, however, the son returns after some time and is again obedient, then he may collect his inheritance. In a similar way, a spiritual master may disobey his guru, and then his guru may be indifferent to him for some time, but again if he sets himself right, he will not be disinherited. This is explained in Bhagavad-gītā (api cet sudurācāro). So we should not deal very abruptly with these unfortunate incidents, but we should wait and see. Everything must be done judiciously.’

“In trying to understand the relationships between guru and godbrother and guru and disciple, we will find very subtle points of sentiment. Just as when Kṛṣṇa entered into the arena of Kamsa, he appeared differently to different persons, the disciples will have one view of their guru and his godbrothers will have another view and disposition. The disciples of a genuine guru will see their guru as being with Kṛṣṇa, but that may not be seen to his godbrothers. In mādhuryarasa, Kṛṣṇa is seen in one way, and in vātsalya-rasa, Mother Yaśodā sees him in another way. The servants see him in another way. The ṛṣis like Gargamuni will see him in another way. As Kṛṣṇa likes to show himself, he will be seen.’

“You may see the guru in your own way, but still, you’ll have to behave in such a way that the newcomer’s faith will not be disturbed. The newcomers should always be encouraged, because it is very difficult for a fallen soul to collect his faith and regard and offer it to the guru. It should be our concern that they collect their maximum regard and offer it to the guru. On the other hand, I may have my own conception about my godbrother. I may foster that within my heart. As much as possible I should try not to disturb his disciples. If, unfortunately, an ācārya falls, and proves himself to be lacking in that capacity, then if that comes to a sufficient degree, some steps may be taken; we may have to take some unhappy action. But let God save us from that disastrous condition. That should be our feeling.’

“Otherwise, as long as possible, the rank should be respected. Both the relative and absolute consideration- side by side. The disciples should be encouraged by the relative consideration mostly. And godbrothers will have more feel for the absolute consideration. But still, they shouldn’t disturb the newcomers in their premier position. Even if you think that the person performing the function of ācārya is lower in qualification (adhikāra) than you, still you should formally give some special honour to him because he is in that position. The son may be the judge, and the father may be the lawyer, but the father must give respect to the son. He must give respect to the chair. So that kind of adjustment should be kept in the mission. When you are alone, the ācārya brother and his non- ācārya brother can mix freely. You can give a slap to his face. But when publicly amongst his disciples, you must show that sort of behaviour. Respectful conduct should be publicly maintained to keep up the peace of the mission.’” (Śrī Guru & His Grace, Ch.8)

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This article “Instructing the Guru” was written in April 2018 by Śrīla Narasingha Mahārāja who answers a question concerning a previous article wherein a Vaiṣṇavī writes a letter to her dīkṣā-guru and explains to him about the importance of śikṣā. In response, a question was raised by a devotee about the etiquette of a disciple instructing her guru.

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