Sannyāsa Re-initiation

Sankaracarya the incarnation of SivaŚaṅkarācārya - The Incarnation of Śīva
Sarasvatī Prabhupāda paramparā-1Sarasvatī Prabhupāda Paramparā- Part 1

by Swami B.G. Narasingha

‘Sannyāsa Re-initiation’ was first published on VNN on January 13th, 1999. In this open letter, Swami B.G. Narasingha explains the circumstances of his change of name, answering the question whether or not he was ‘re-initiated’ by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja.

(Narasiṅgha Mahārāja replies to a letter from Kṛṣṇa Dāsa)

Dear Mahārāja, PAMHO! AGTSP!

Please can you inform me where it is authorized in śāstra that sannyāsa once received from a pure devotee can be annulled and then remade by another sannyāsa initiation from another pure devotee? I am referring to your annulment of the sannyāsa initiation as Jagat-Guru Svāmī from Śrīla Prabhupāda and then taking sannyāsa initiation again from Śrīdhara Mahārāja as B.G. Narasiṅgha Svāmī.

Is there any example from the previous ācāryas that one can have two different sannyāsa gurus. I have discussed this point with Loka Sāraṅga Mahārāja also hopefully your knowledge of śāstra will clear my doubts.

Your servant,
Kṛṣṇa Dāsa


Dear Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Prabhu,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda.

You ask whether “sannyāsa once received from a pure devotee can be annulled and then remade by another sannyāsa initiation from another pure devotee.” The answer is ‘No,’ and never has such a thing ever happened in the history of our sampradāya.

It is not a game we are playing (simply jumping from one pure devotee to another), nor is it wise of us to attempt to judge other Vaiṣṇavas. Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Knower, and He knows ‘what is what and who is who.’ On the other hand, we the conditioned living entities are in a perpetual state of illusion, so how will we judge the activities of senior Vaiṣṇavas? I am not saying that I am a Vaiṣṇava, but as you have indicated above, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was indeed a ‘pure devotee.’ Therefore, we should consider that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja (a pure devotee) would not do anything against the śāstra, such as giving me and others sannyāsa titles (or so-called re-initiation).

You assume that my sannyāsa status was nullified when I received the sannyāsa title ‘Bhakti Gaurava Narasiṅgha,’ replacing my brahmacārī name ‘Jagat-Guru.’ I am happy to inform you that you are mistaken. I was not re-initiated. Formerly, my brahmacā name was ‘Jagat-Guru,’ and when I received sannyāsa in 1976, my sannyāsa name was given by Śrīla Prabhupāda as ‘Svami.’ This is also Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sannyāsa name, ‘Svāmī.’ Our system in ISKCON at the time was that all sannyāsīs retained their brahmacā names, and ‘Svāmī’ was added. This was even true of gṛhasthas, who also retained their gṛhastha names and ‘Gosvāmī’ was added. (There are 108 authorised names for tridaṇḍi sannyāsīs given in Gauḍīya Kaṇṭhahāra, compiled by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and the names Svāmī and Gosvāmī are included).

You might be interested to know that in 1953, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s name changed from ‘Abhaya Caraṇarāvinda Dāsa’ to ‘Bhaktivedānta.’ This ‘name change’ was made by Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, and thus Śrīla Prabhupāda became know as Bhaktivedānta Prabhu. Śrīla Prabhupāda held his new name very dear to his heart throughout his life, especially with regard to his ‘Bhaktivedānta Purports.’ Yet please take note that the name ‘Bhaktivedānta’ was not given to Śrīla Prabhupāda by his guru (dīkṣā-guru, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura). Of course, someone might try to find fault with Śrīla Prabhupāda for accepting this ‘name change,’ but that is simply Māyā’s trick to keep the living entity in eternal bondage.

It is also a fact that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was the śikṣā-guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and the two were intimately connected before you or I were even born. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja later also became the param-sannyāsa-guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda, when Śrīla Prabhupāda took sannyāsa from Śrīla Keśava Mahārāja. Śrīdhara Mahārāja had given sannyāsa-mantra to Keśava Mahārāja, and he (Keśava Maharaja) in turn gave sannyāsa-mantra to Śrīla Prabhupāda. That makes Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja the param-sannyāsa-guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Sridhara Mahārāja directly heard sannyāsa-mantra from Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. That is our sannyāsa-paramparā.

It is also a fact that the sannyāsa-mantra is the rāga-mantra of our sampradāya, and its importance and line of disciplic succession cannot be minimised. Neglect of this transcendental understanding has indeed been the cause of fall down for many ISKCON sannyāsīs, for one can not maintain his Kṛṣṇa consciousness in sannyāsa-āśrama if he is offensive to his sannyāsa-guru-paramparā.

Had I again received the sannyāsa-mantra from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, you could say that I had been re-initiated, but I did not. However, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja being the śikṣā-guru and param-sannyāsa-guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda, I feel especially fortunate that His Divine Grace would show even a single drop of mercy upon my fallen soul by bestowing upon me a sannyāsa title.

I also accepted Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as my śikṣā-guru, and our dealings and relationship are exactly in accordance with our Vaiṣṇava tradition. Please note my signature – I am ‘Svāmī’ first and ‘B.G. Narasiṅgha’ second. It is quite inaccurate to suggest that I was ‘re-initiated.’

However, ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ So, if you have already decided in your mind that I was ‘re-initiated’ because I was given a sannyāsa title byŚrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja , then no amount of explanation on my part will convince you otherwise.

In any event, I am happy to have replied to your question, because it has given me an opportunity to again remember the lotus feet of my Divine Masters.

I hope this meets you well.

Your servant,
Swami B.G. Narasiṅgha

Sankaracarya the incarnation of SivaŚaṅkarācārya - The Incarnation of Śīva
Sarasvatī Prabhupāda paramparā-1Sarasvatī Prabhupāda Paramparā- Part 1

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