Category Archives: Gaudiya Vaishnavas

The Role of Varnashrama Duties in Bhakti

Question: According to Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana, what happens to nitya-karma upon attainment of vidya (prema-bhakti)? Does it become ineffective, or does it become vidya (prema-bhakti)?

Answer: I am not sure if I understand your question. Do you mean what happens to the result of nitya-karmas performed by a devotee who attains prema-bhakti? If yes, then Baladeva explains that such a devotee does not get the outcome of his karmas. The outcome of his good karma will go to those who did service to him, who were favorable to him. The outcome of his bad karma will go to those who were critical of him.

Question: But nitya-karma, by definition, does not produce good or bad outcomes. What happens to it? Does it manifest as prema?

Answer: Don’t you think that your question is self-contradictory? If nitya-karma does not produce any apūrva, then where is the question of it manifesting as prema? Moreover, as per Gauḍīya philosophy, karma is material, and prema is the internal potency of Bhagavān. So, no karma can result in bhakti or prema. A material action cannot lead to a spiritual outcome. Prema is the mature state of bhakti, as is stated in SB 11.3.31—bhaktyā sañjātayā bhaktyā. This is the subject matter of Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhu, second chapter, Eastern Division.

Question: Why should a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava perform nitya-naimittika-karma?

Answer:  He does not need it in order to advance in bhakti because nitya-naimittika karmas are material and have no influence on the emergence of bhakti. He should do it to follow the social norms and not set a bad example for those who are not qualified to follow bhakti. Karma, bhakti, and jñāna are three independent paths. This is clearly stated by Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Uddhava:

 yogāstrayo mayā proktā nṛṇāṁ śreyo-vidhitsayā
jñānam karma ca bhaktiśca nopāyo’nyo’sti kutracit

“For the ultimate good of people, I have spoken three types of Yoga, namely, Jñāna Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga. Besides these three, there is no other means [for the ultimate good].” (SB 11.20.6)

Bhakti is not at all dependent on karma or jñāna. You can also read the next few verses of this chapter for more clarity. Bhakti as explained in Śrīmad Bhāgavata is not understood by common people. Especially, Advaitavādis think that bhakti is a step to jñāna.

Question: Many of my relatives and friends—smartas—have become Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas (ISKCON) and have given up sandhyā-vandanam and the śrāddha ceremony. Hence the question.

Answer: The main reason for this is that ISKCON was founded in the USA and in its beginning state, it was  primarily propagated by westerners and Indians influenced by western education. They do not have any background of nitya-naimittika-karma that includes sandhyā-vandanam. They are very much critical of any such activities. But ironically, they chant Gāyatrī three times a day. This would appear strange to any traditional Hindu. By this I mean no criticism of ISKCON and its followers. I am stating my observation to explain why your relatives have given up nitya-naimittika karmas.

Unfortunately, ISKCON does not speak very highly of smārtas. It is no wonder that your relatives have given up smārta-karma.

 

 

 

Samanya-bhakti, Bhakti-yoga and Sharanagati

Question: I heard you say that sāmānya-bhakti can be attained without dīkṣā and that it would grant one sālokya. How does sāmānya-bhakti manifest in this world and where does it bring the sādhaka who practices it? Is there any diversity in it?

Answer: The word sāmānya means general. The word meaning itself implies that it is not any specific type. “Specific” means any particular kind of relation with Bhagavān. Sāmānya also means common or basic. In that sense, it signifies the common or basic characteristic of bhakti, which is surrender.  

Question: Can it also be dāsya or is it only śānta?

Answer: Sāmanya is not dāsya. Among the five types of primary bhakti, it can be only śānta.

Question: If sāmānya-bhakti can be attained without dīkṣā (which presupposes receiving a particular bhava from a guru), how can one become genuinely inspired to perform bhakti, to begin with?

Answer: Inspiration for bhakti primarily comes by the association of a devotee. Inspiration for sāmānya bhakti comes from the association with other sāmānya-bhaktas.

Question: This implies that there are various types of bhakti, yet they are grounded in the svarūpa-śakti of Kṛṣṇa. Is this correct?

Answer: Yes. All types of bhakti are the antaraṅgā-śakti of Bhagavān. Even when Bhagavān Kapilā describes bhakti as sāttvikī, rājasī or tāmasī, it is not that bhakti is sāttvikī, rājasī or tāmasī, but the intention of the person who executes it. Because the intention of the person is a product of sattva, rajas or tamas, the bhakti takes the corresponding appellation. Otherwise, bhakti by its very nature is beyond guṇas of prakṛti.

Question: Then, what is the adhikāra for this type of bhakti

Answer: Śraddhā is the adhikāra for it.

Question: Is it correct to think that even for this type of bhakti, one should have śāstriya-śraddhā?

Answer: It is not necessary.

Question: Are there śānta-bhaktas in Vrindavana who attained perfection through sāmānya-bhakti? Or does it apply exclusively to Vaikuṇṭha?

Answer: Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī defines it in Bhakti-rasāmrta Sindhu and gives the example of young girls of three or four years of age. I do not know of any example who attained it by sādhana. However, it primarily applies to Vaikuṇṭha.

Question: How then does one attain śānta-rasa in Vrindavan?

Answer: By association with other śānta-bhaktas of Vrindavan and by practicing bhakti under their guidance.

Question: Are there examples in śāstra of those who attained Vaikuṇṭha through sāmānya-bhakti?

Answer: The Kumaras are given as examples of śānta bhaktas. I think examples of people such as Ajāmila in the sixth canto of the Bhāgavata will apply to sāmānya-bhakti. Many of the kings described in the Ninth Canto may also belong to this category.

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Question: I have a question regarding bhakti-yoga and śaraṇāgati. In the Śrī-sampradāya, the bhakti-yoga and śaraṇāgati paths are separated. It is also said in Śrī-sampradāya that only brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, and vaiśyas, not śūdras, can perform bhakti-yoga. Śrī-sampradāya similarly says that women are ineligible to perform bhakti-yoga. Śaraṇāgati is the only path through which everyone can attain mokṣa, according to Śrī-sampradāya.

But in the Gauḍīya-sampradāya, it is said that bhakti-mārga or bhakti-yoga is open to all. I have also never seen Gauḍīyas separate bhakti from śaraṇāgati.

Answer: No, Gauḍīyas do not separate śaraṇāgati and bhakti. For us, śaraṇāgati is part of bhakti. We also do not discriminate on the basis of birth, gender, or social status. Everyone is eligible to execute bhakti. The essential qualification is śraddhā or trust in the meaning of śāstra. Anyone who has śraddhā can take to bhakti.

The reason for distinguishing bhakti from śaraṇāgati in the Śrī-sampradāya is that bhakti is only for those who are part of the varṇāśrama system. For them, it is not recommended to give up their varṇāśrama duties. Those who are not part of varṇāśrama can take to śaraṇāgati. From their point of view, bhakti practiced by Gauḍīyas is not bhakti-yoga but śaraṇāgati.

Diksha Guru Is Also Shiksha Guru

The following are the last questions in the context of Babaji’s podcast interview with Namarasa.

 

Question: If dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated, why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī who was not their dīkṣā guru? 

Answer: First of all, I did not say that dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated. In exceptional cases, there may be separation. I said that one takes dīkśā to take śikṣā. This is a statement of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī—it is not my opinion. While describing the limbs of sādhana-bhakti, he begins with the following verse (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.74): 

Atha aṅgāni

“Now the limbs of bhakti are described.”

guru-pādāśrayastasmāt krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
visrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sadhu-vartmānuvartanam

“Therefore, [one should] 1. Take shelter of the feet of a guru; 2. Study [bhāgavata-dharma or principles of bhakti from the guru] after taking dīkṣā in Kṛṣṇa-mantra [from the guru]; 3. Serve the guru with trust; and 4. Follow the path of the devotees.”

While commenting on the krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam part of the verse, both Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti write that one should study from the guru after taking dīkṣādīkṣā-pūrvaka-śikṣaṇam. 

Thus it is very clear from the original verse and the commentaries that one should study from one’s dīkṣā guru. Dīkṣā means the beginning of the education and practice of bhakti. That is why it is translated as “initiation,” which means “a beginning.” The beginning of what? One may reply that it is the beginning of bhakti, which is correct. But every act is preceded by knowledge of it, and bhakti is no exception. Dīkṣā, or initiation, is like accepting admission to a school. Everyone knows that one needs admission to study. Traditionally, in India, the ending ceremony of education is called dīkṣānta (dīkṣā + anta), literally the end of dīkṣā. That shows that the purpose of dīkṣā is education.

However, in exceptional cases, one may not be able to study under one’s dīkṣā guru. This may happen if the guru is not physically present or too old to teach. Then, if the guru is alive, on his order or with his permission, one studies from another teacher. It may also be that the guru is not an expert in a particular subject and sends his disciple to another expert teacher. Such cases are exceptions and not the general tradition. At present, however, this seems to have become the norm, so much so that people do not even know the general principle. And if told the śāstric principle, they have difficulty accepting it. Of course, anyone is free to do whatever suits one, but we should be aware of what our original ācāryas stated. 

Now to your question: “Why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, who was not their dīkṣā guru? I hope you know that those were the formative years of the Gauḍīya school. The core literature of our sampradāya’s philosophy and practice was composed primarily by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī under the direct instruction of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī under the instruction of the latter. In this sense, our sampradāya is different from other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas. The main ācāryas of other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas wrote books themselves and then taught them to their disciples. Therefore, they were much more organized when it came to the education of their school. But in our sampradāya, the story is much different. We do not have one central authority. Mahāprabhu neither wrote any books about His teachings nor did He give dīkṣā to anyone. 

Generally, an avatāra does not write books. Those who wrote books, among them Śrī Sanātana, did not give dīkṣā to anyone; Śrī Rūpa gave dīkṣā only to Śrī Jīva, and Śrī Jīva may have given dīkṣā to a few—if at all he gave. The founders of three main branches of the Caitanya tree, i.e., Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, Śrī Advaitācārya, and Śrī Gadādhara did not write any books about the core principles of our samprādaya. Therefore, the gurus coming from these three branches and other branches needed to study the Gosvāmī literature; then they could continue their lineage based on the literature of the Gosvāmīs. For this reason, Śrī Narottama Mahāśaya, Śrī Śyāmānanda Prabhu, and Śrī Śrīnivāsācārya studied under Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and then carried this knowledge as well as the Gosvāmī literature to Bengal and Odissa

Question: You have implied that the system of having separate śikṣā and dīkṣā is a mistake, but śāstra says that we have many gurus.

Answer: It would have been nice if you had given an exact śāstric reference to support your claim. Since you have not done so, I am not sure what śāstric reference you have in mind. But I know that your guru would not appreciate it if you told him that you have several other gurus besides him. Give him the śāstric reference that you have in mind. If you do not believe me, try it and see what happens.

Moreover, if I ask you who your guru is, you will probably not give me a list of names. Also, when you do your pūjā, you probably have only one guru on your altar, not a collection of gurus. And I am sure you have only one guru paramparā in your mind, not a few of them starting from different gurus.

In case you have the story of Dattātreya from the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in mind to substantiate your point of having many gurus, that is not applicable in the present context. He gives a list of 24 gurus, which includes insentient objects such as earth, water, fire, air, and space, and lower beings like a pigeon, deer, fish, etc. He learned from them by observation and not through a sermon.

Question: How am I to conceive the point of getting personalized śīkṣā from the guru? Many Prabhupāda disciples didn’t have much personal association with him. Even Prabhupāda didn’t have much personal association with his guru. 

Answer: Prabhupāda personally taught his disciples. Wherever he was present, he gave classes. I do not think he refused to teach anyone. He also wrote numerous books for his disciples to study.

These are the points that I have understood from the writings of the Gosvāmīs and my own experience. If it does not suit others, and they can achieve their goal otherwise, that is fine with me. I was interviewed about my own journey, which I spoke about. If my journey does not match yours or anyone else’s, that is also fine with me. I can speak about my journey without having to reconcile it with others. 

 

Bhagavata Parampara

The following questions were asked following Babaji’s podcast interview with Namarasa Das.

Question: The term bhāgavata-paramparā is commonly used in our saṃpradāya, but you seem to doubt it. I was under the impression that there is no difference between śīkṣā-paramparā, the process of receiving spiritual knowledge through Hari-kathā or spiritual instructions, and bhāgavata-paramparā. Can you please clarify?

Answer: The only usage of the term bhāgavata-paramparā that I have read concerns the descent of Śrīmad Bhāgavata. There are two such paramparās described in Śrīmad Bhāgavata itself. The first one comes down from Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He gave the four-versed Bhāgavata to Brahmā, who in turn taught it to his son, Śrī Nārada. Śrī Nārada instructed Śrī Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa, who sat in samādhi and then manifested the Bhāgavata that is available to us. Vyāsa taught it to his son Śukadeva, who in turn recited it to King Parikṣit on the bank of Gaṅgā. Ṣūta Gosvāmī was also present in the audience; he spoke it to the sages of Naimiśaraṇya, headed by Śaunaka Rṣi.

The other bhāgavata-paramparā originates from Śrī Saṅkarṣaṇa, who taught the Bhāgavata to the Kumāras. I have read articles related to these two bhāgavata-paramparās by some scholars. However, I have not read this phrase being used in any other way. 

During conversations with ISKCON devotees, I have heard this term used as the name of their paramparā. You confirm this by saying that this term is commonly used in “our saṃpradāya.” I understand that by “our,” you mean “ISKCON/Gauḍīya Maṭh.” If, however, you mean “Gaudīya,” it is not true. Whenever I inquired from ISKCON authorities about what this term meant, I received no clear answer. This is exactly what I said in my interview: “I am not clear what they mean by it.” 

Someone said that Śrīpāda Svāmī BV Tripurārī Mahārāja wrote a book on this topic, but I have not read it. So, I am not clear about the sense of its usage by present-day Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. That being the case, I am unable to answer your question regarding the clarification of the terms śikṣā-paramparā and bhāgavata-paramparā. Moreover, if there is no difference between the two, as stated by you, then why are there two different names? There must be some difference.

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Question: In your YouTube interview with Namarasa, you mentioned bhāgavata-paramparā. Is it valid to have Madhva-tīrtha sannyāsīs in our Gauḍīya line? Recently a signboard was displayed at Shyamananda Pandit’s Radha-Shyamsundar Mandira in Vrindavan, stating in Hindi, Bengali, and English that they have no relationship with the Madhvācārya line. I have heard this from other Vaiṣṇava pandits and would like your opinion.

Answer: This is a debatable issue. There are differences of opinion on it, and I can only give my own. We belong to the Madhvācārya-saṃpradāya. This is the general understanding of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas in Vrindavan. In Vrindavan, there is an old registered organization called Akhila Bhārtīya Mādhva-Gauḍeśvara Mahāsabhā (All India Mādhva-Gauḍeśvara Committee). We have regular meetings and also celebrate the appearance day of Śrī Madhvācārya with a traditional procession in town. 

However, we have many differences in philosophy as well as in practice. Therefore, those who are opposed to the above view claim that we do not belong to Śrī Madhva-saṃpradāya. They have a strong case.

My solution to this difference of opinion is that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu came to give Kṛṣṇa-prema and thus began a new school called “Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.” Even though He is Kṛṣṇa Himself, He followed the custom of taking dikṣā. Therefore, we do belong to the Śrī Madhvācārya-saṃpradāya, although we differ on many points. We are a branch of the Madhva-saṃpradāya. Thus, we have both bheda and abheda—we are one with the Madhva-saṃpradāya and also different.

 

 

Female Guru

“Can a female be guru?” is a frequently asked question. Such a question did not arise in the minds of people a few decades ago because people in general, and in India specifically, were clear about their identities and roles. With the advancement of technology and science, our lifestyles have changed drastically. This has also brought about an immense change in our identities and roles. There are no watertight boundaries for gender-based roles and responsibilities. The general understanding is that all human beings are equal and that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Although such is the trend, yet we see that there are certain areas in which a particular gender seems prominent.

The post of guru is generally dominated by males. Not only that, there is an unwritten belief in the minds of many that only males can function as gurus. Some are making an attempt to turn this into an ordinance. Is this valid?  

The answer depends on what sort of pramāṇa one accepts. There is a popular saying in Sanskrit, mānādhīnā meya-siddhir māna-siddhistu lakṣaṇāt, “Knowledge of a subject depends on a valid means and a valid means is understood from its definition.” Therefore, the first thing to be ascertained is the valid means of acquiring knowledge or pramāṇa. Those who do not accept scriptural authority, śāstra-pramāṇa, will reply to the above question on the basis of logic, human rights, and/or personal experience. Such replies do not concern us. A guru means a spiritual teacher, and spirituality is not subject to logic, human rights, or to one’s empirical experience. Śāstra is the only pramāṇa for spirituality. Therefore, we will investigate the above question solely on the basis of śāstra.

Different schools accept different śāstras as pramāṇas. As Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavas, our pramāṇas for spiritual subjects are the bhakti-śāstras; among them, Bhāgavata Purāṇa is supreme. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has categorically established this in Tattva Sandarbha (Anucchedas 9-29). One may read that part for understanding why we accept Bhāgavata Purāṇa as the supreme pramāṇa. Besides Bhāgavata Purāṇa, we accept Upaniṣads, Vedānta-sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā and the books of our predecessor ācāryas, such as the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, as pramāṇa. The latter are primarily based upon Bhāgavata Purāṇa. We also accept  Purāṇas,  Smṛtis and Āgamas that do not contradict Bhāgavata Purāṇa as pramāṇa. Anything that goes against the spirit of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is not acceptable to Gaudīya Vaiṣnavas. So, let us investigate the above question based on this main pramāṇa.

There are various references to guru in Bhāgavata Purāṇa but there is no prohibition against a female becoming guru. However, one may argue that all references to guru are in the masculine gender i.e., the word “guru,” which has been used repeatedly is in the masculine gender. There is no usage of the feminine gender form, gurvī, anywhere in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. One may argue that this proves that a female guru is not recommended in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Similarly, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, the smṛti for Gaudīya Vaiṣṇavas, lists the qualification of a guru in verses 1.38 to 1.55. Here again there is no mention of a female guru. The same analysis can be applied to other śāstra such as Bhagavad Gītā. One could argue that these pramāṇas conclusively show that śāstra prescribes only a male guru, and thus a female is not qualified to be guru.

Such a conclusion, however, is not proper. First of all, there is no explicit prohibition for a female to become guru in any of these śāstras. Secondly, when the word “guru,” which is in the masculine gender, is used, it is inclusive of a female guru. When the characteristics of a class are described, the description is given for a single gender, but it similarly applies to the other gender also. This is the standard principle used in Sanskrit grammar—prātipadika-grahaṇe liṅga-viśiṣṭasyāpi grahaṇam (Vyādi-paribhāṣā 25, cited in Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 2.73, 6.32). For example, if one wants to describe the qualities of a dog of a particular breed, then it is common to use the male gender word “dog.” It is understood that this word is also applicable to a female of that particular breed. A gender-specific description will be given if there are differences in the characteristics of the male and female pertinent to that specific topic. Therefore, when it is said that a guru should be an expert in śāstra and in realization of the Absolute (śābde pare ca niṣṇātam SB 11.3.21), or that he should be a jñānī and tattvadarśī (BG 4.34), this certainly does not mean that it is applicable only to a male guru. The statement is applicable to anyone who takes the post of guru regardless of gender. For example, in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (1.59-63), although the qualities of a disciple are described by the use of the masculine form, such qualities obviously apply to a female disciple also. The same is true of the description of the qualities of a devotee given in many places in scripture. Such descriptions apply to every devotee irrespective of gender. Similarly, qualifications for a guru as described in scripture are applicable to both male and female gurus. In these descriptions, there is no intention to prohibit a female from becoming a guru.

Amarakośa (2.6.14), a well-respected lexicon of Sanskrit, gives separate words for the wife of an ācārya and for a female ācāryā; the word ācārya is a synonym for the word “guru.” Amarakośa refers to the wife of an ācārya as ācāryānī, whereas a female ācārya is called ācāryā. Similarly, it calls a female teacher of a part of Veda upādhyāyā or upādhyāyī. The wife of an upādhyāya, however, is called an upādhyāyānī (Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 7.225, 226). This is also stated in Siddhānta-kaumudi (505, Pāṇiṇi-sutra 4.1.49). Separate words for the wives of an ācārya and for an upādhyāya, and for females who are themselves ācāryās and upādhyāyās, would not exist in the Sanskrit lexicon and grammar if female gurus did not exist in the past.

Furthermore, every Sanskrit word has meaning, and there is an eternal relation between the word (śabda) and its referent. This is stated by Patañjali in his Mahābhāṣya, which is the most authentic commentary on the Pāṇini-sūtras and is accepted on par with the sūtras. In the entire Sanskrit literature, Patañjali’s commentary is the only one called mahābhāṣya, while others are called bhāṣya. Patañjali writes, siddhe śabdārtha-sambandhe lokto’rtha-prayukte śabda-prayoge śāstreṇa dharma-niyamo yathā laukika-vaidikeṣu (1.1 Paspaśā, Mahābhāṣya). Here he clearly states that the relation between a word and its referent is siddha, or eternal. This is also understood from Yoga-sūtra (3.17). Bhartṛhari explains that a śabda has the natural capacity to express its referent, just as our senses have the natural ability to sense their respective objects:

indriyāṇāṁ sva-viṣayeṣu anādir yogyatā yathā
anādirarthaiḥ śabdānām sambandho yogyatā tathā

(Vakya-padīyam Pada-sambandha 29) 

Nyāya-sūtra (2.11.56) also says, sāmayikatvāt śabdārthasambandhasya, “The relation between a word and its reference is conventional.” From this, it is understood that there must have been female gurus in the past because a corresponding word exists for them in the Sanskrit lexicon as well as in the grammar. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude that female gurus did not exist in the past. 

A pūrvapakśa can be raised for the above logic. There are statements in Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā which categorically forbid a woman to be a guru. The relevant verses are as follows [Note: The translation of the verses from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā are not mine. They were sent by a questioner.] 

na jātu mantra-dā nārī na śūdro nāntarodbhavaḥ |
nābhiśasto na patitaḥ
 kāma-kāmo ’py akāminaḥ ||42||

Even then, a woman, a śūdra, and an antyaja can never act as initiating gurus, nor can anyone who is accused of a great sin or is fallen. And an aspiring disciple who is already accomplished in detachment (akāmī) should never accept a guru who is infected with material desires. 

striyaḥ śūdrādayaś caiva bodhayeyur hitāhitam |
yathārhaṁ mānanīyāś ca
 nārhanty ācāryatāṁ kvacit ||43||

Women, śūdras, etc., can give ethical and moral instructions and are also worthy of respect as per their qualifications and conditions but are not entitled to get the position of ācārya

These statements seem to clearly prohibit a woman from taking the role of an initiating guru. My reply to this is that if this prohibition was acceptable to our previous ācāryas, then why did they not refer to these verses? In the first vilāsa of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, there is an elaborate discussion about the characteristics of both qualified and unqualified gurus. However, there is no prohibition mentioned for a woman to become guru, neither in the original text nor in its commentary by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī. Similarly, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses both the qualified and unqualified guru in Bhakti Sandarbha. But he makes no statement prohibiting a woman from becoming a guru. We also do not find any such statement in the writings of other ācāryas of our sampradaya, such as Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa, Śrī Kavi Karṇapūra Gosvāmī, Śri Viṣvanātha Cakravarti, and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa.

Moreover, if we accept Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā as our pramāṇa, then we would have also to accept that it allows only a brāhmaṇa to be a guru. It says:

prapitsur mantra-nirataṁ prājñaṁ hitaparaṁ śucim |
praśāntaṁ niyataṁ vṛttau
 bhajed dvija-varaṁ gurum ||38||

“Thus, one who is desirous of surrendering with faith, should take shelter of a guru who is always engaged in chanting the mantra and is a knower of bhakti-siddhānta (prājñam), is always engaged, without any desire for personal benefit, in showering mercy on fallen souls (hita-param), who is always pure in heart or free of sins, peaceful, and always committed to his prescribed duties (ordained by his guru or by varṇāśrama). Such a guru should be the best of the twice-born (dvija-varam meaning brāhmaṇa).”

The book also defines who is a brāhmaṇa in the following verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā (cited from the Wisdom Library):

jāta-karmādibhir-yastu saṁkāraiḥ saṁskṛtaḥ śuciḥ
vedādhyayana-sampannaḥ ṣaḍ saṭ karmasvasthitaḥ
śaucācārasthitaḥ samyag vighasāśī gurupriyaḥ
nityabralī satyaparaḥ sa vai brāhmaṇa ucyate

[Bharadvāja Muni said, “O best of the twice-born, Ṛṣi among the brāhmaṇas, best of the orators of Vedic knowledge, kindly instruct us in the differences between brāhmaṇaskṣatriyasvaiśyas, and śūdras.” Bhṛgu Muni replied]:

“One whose birth and subsequent works have all been purified by the appropriate saṁskāras, who has the qualities of purity and cleanliness, who is devoted to Vedic study, who performs worship of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, and who instructs others in that worship, who is a paragon of the six activities of a brāhmaṇa, whose behavior is never impure, who eats the remnants of his guru’s prasāda, who is dear to the guru, who always carefully follows his vows, and who is fixed in the truth, is known as a brāhmaṇa.” (14.96 Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā)

According to this definition of a brāhmaṇa, the majority of male gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradaya would not meet the qualifications. The verse requires a guru to have undergone the various saṁskāras, beginning from one’s birth. These saṁskāras are described in smṛti-śāstras. They also require birth in a brāhmaṇa family. According to the smṛtis, these saṁskāras cannot be performed for one who is not born to brāhmaṇa parents. The above verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā also talks about the six activities of a brāhmaṇa: studying śāstra, teaching śāstra, performing yajña for oneself, performing yajña for others as a priest, giving charity, and accepting charity. If we apply this definition of a brāhmaṇa, then most gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradāya would not qualify. If, however, we do not accept this definition, then we apply śāstra selectively. That is considered a defect—ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya. This means we accept what is convenient and reject what is troublesome.

Instead of searching for statements in Vedic literature to support one’s views, one should carefully study one’s tradition and the foundational books of one’s sampradāya. As mentioned before, there are no statements in Bhāgavata Purāṇa that prohibit women from becoming guru. Even when our ācāryas, namely Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Jīva Goswamī, extensively discuss the qualifications of a guru, they do not cite any verses that prohibit women from becoming guru. Anyone with basic Sanskrit grammar knowledge would not misinterpret the masculine use of the word guru to indicate an exclusion of female gurus; rather, the word refers to both masculine and feminine genders as a class.

Ma Yashoda

It is a fact that in various Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava traditional lineages, there have been many female gurus who gave dīkṣā. Some of them were very prominent but there have also been many others who may not be well-known outside their particular lines. For example, women have always been gurus in the Advaita vaṁśa, extending from Advaita Ācārya’s wife Sītā Ṭhākurānī down to this very day. Such female gurus mostly functioned within the family, giving dīkṣā to their sons or daughters-in-law, although now there are women functioning as dīkṣā gurus who are not the direct descendants of Śrī Advaita Ācārya. Probably the most prominent female Gauḍīya guru after Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was Nityānanda Prabhu’s wife Jāhnavī Devī. Virabhadra (or Viracandra) Gosvāmī, who is described in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa dīpikā as an avatāra of Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, took dīkṣā from her. In my own paramparā from Śrī Gadādhara Paṇḍita, there are four female gurus, ācaryās.

In conclusion, neither the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava tradition nor the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava pramāṇas oppose women from acting as guru. The qualifications of a guru—deep knowledge of scriptures and experience of Param Tattvado not depend upon gender.

Mahamantra and Diksha Mantras

Question: As practicing Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, we chant the Hare Krishna mahāmantra. Did Śrī Caitanya and His associates chant the Hare Krishna mantra? In Caitanya-caritāmṛta or other biographies of Śrī Caitanya, the mahāmantra is not mentioned as the mantra that was chanted. The mahāmantra is itself a legitimate mantra as per Kali-saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad, so I have no question about its validity. But how are the Gauḍīya sampradayas linked to the mahāmantra?

Answer: The simple proof that I can give are the following references from the works of our ācāryas where it is mentioned that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra: 

1. hare-kṛṣṇetyucchaiḥ sphurita-rasno nāma-gaṇanā-kṛta

(Caitanyāṣṭakam 5 by Rūpa Gosvāmī)

2. hare-kṛṣṇetyevaṁ gaṇana-vidhinā kīrtayataḥ bho

(Śrī-śacīsūnvaṣṭakam 5 by Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī)

3. srī-caitannya-mukhodgirṇā hare-krsnetivarṇakāḥ
majjayanto jagat-premaṇṇi viajyantāṁ tadāhvahayāḥ

(Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛtam 1.4)

4. aṇū-brahmāṇḍayor madhye caitnyen samāhṛtām
hare-kṛṣṇa-rāma-nāma-mālāṁ bhakti-pradāyinīm

(Śrī Caintanya-śatakam 79)

5. hare-kṛṣṇa-rāma-nāma-gāna-dāna-kāriṇiṁ

(Śrī Caintanya-śatakam 23)

There are many other stotras and aṣṭakas which refer to Śrī Caitanya’s chanting but they do not use the exact words “Hare Kṛṣṇa.” They mention harināma, kṛṣṇa-nāma or just nāma. Besides this, we know from tradition. In all the parivāras of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, one thing that is commonly accepted is japa and kīrtan of the mahāmantra. The only exception that I know is that of  the followers of Rāmadāsa Bābājī. They do not perform kīrtan of the mahāmantra, although they also do mahāmantra japa.

 

Mantras in which Ear?

Question: A friend of mine had a question about this verse/BBT purport in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 4.25.51. Could you please help me understand?

devahūr nāma puryā dvā
uttareṇa purañjanaḥ
rāṣṭram uttara-pañcālaṁ
yāti śrutadharānvitaḥ

“On the northern side was the gate named Devahū. Through that gate, King Purañjana used to go with his friend Śrutadhara to the place known as Uttara-pañcāla.”

It seems Śrīdhāra Swamī says in his Bhasya that karma-kāṇḍa  is traditionally heard using the right ear (results in heaven) and jñāna-kāṇḍa is heard using left ear (results in mokṣa). It looks like the mantras received through the right ear are meant for heavenly planets and those from left ear are meant for mokṣa/Vaikuṇṭha.

If this is true, why are dīkṣā mantras given in the right ear in Vaiṣṇava lineages?

Answer: Yes, Śrīdhara Swamī says that karma-kāṇḍa is to be heard through the right ear and jñāna-kāṇḍa through the left ear. However, he is not talking about mantras but about śāstra. So his commentary refers to the study of śāstra related to karma-kāṇḍa and jñāna-kāṇḍa. Mantras related to any kāṇḍa are received through the right ear.

This whole story from the 25th Chapter is allegorical and not to be taken literally. This verse signifies that karma-kāṇḍa is heard first and then jñāna-kāṇḍa. Therefore, they are also called pūrva (“earlier”)-mīmāṁsā and uttara (“later”)-mīmāṁsā, respectively. Traditionally one first studies pūrva-mīmāṁsā and then one studies uttara-mīmāṁsā, or Vedānta. That is how the word atha in athāto brahma jijñāsa (Vedānta Sūtra 1.1.1) is explained by most commentators.

Guru-tattva: Different Kinds of Dīkṣā

Question: Bhāgavata-vidhi and Pañcarātrika-vidhi are different kinds of initiations. Is Pañcarātrika-vidhi the first initiation?

Answer: The initiation process that is practiced in the Caitanya school is of Pañcarātrika-vidhi. There is no mention of Bhāgavata-vidhi initiation. I do not know what it would mean. In Śrīmad Bhagavata Purāṇa, Śrī Kṛṣṇa mentions only two types of dīkṣā, namely Vedic and Pāñcarātrikī—vaidikī tāntrikī dikṣā madīya-vrata-dhāraṇam (SB 11.11.37).

Question: Was it traditional to have a fire sacrifice for Pañcarātrika-vidhi? Is it prescribed in scripture? Was it Śrīla Prabhupāda’s idea to perform initiation with fire yajña? 

Answer: In Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, there is a description of a fire sacrifice for initiation. It is part of Pañcarātrika-vidhi.

Question: What are the different varieties of initiations?

Answer: There is nāma dīkṣā, mantra dīkṣā, and then bābājī-veṣa dīkṣā among the vairāgī lines, which is equivalent to sannyāsa dīkṣā in ISKCON and Gauḍīyā Maṭh.

Question: Should the quote by Prabhupāda, “Just by reading my books they are initiated,” be taken literally?

Answer: No.  Dīkṣā has to be given by a living guru. Prabhupāda himself gave dīkṣā, and also appointed ṛtvika gurus to give dīkṣā on his behalf when he was physically unable to give dīkṣā. If he meant this statement to be taken literally, there was no need of giving dikṣā because anyone who reads his books would become initiated. There is no point in giving dikṣā twice. Since his departure, his disciples have been giving dīkṣā to newcomers on the path of bhakti. 

A sentence has to be seen in context, and in a specific context, it may not be the meaning in its primary sense. This is a common principle of hermeneutics. So, it has to be seen in which context this particular sentence was postulated. In any case, it cannot be the literal meaning, because that would militate against all those statement that prescribe dīkṣā from a guru, and it would also contradict the behavior of the speaker himself, who personally gave dīkṣā.

Question: Brahmāji was initiated by a flute. What kind initiation was that?

Answer: Mantra dīkṣā

Question: Can you get the second initiation from a devotee who himself only has the first initiation?

Answer: No, a person can only give what he or she has. 

Question: Can you get the first initiation from a devotee who only has the first initiation?

Answer: You can get it, but you have to consider whether it is worth it. 

Question: As for Vedic initiation, I understood that this is not suitable for Kali Yuga. Is that right?

Answer: This is not true. Vedic initiation means to study the Vedas, and it is taken in early childhood between the age of five to eight years, depending upon one’s varṇa. There are some students in India who undergo this ceremony, even if they do not study the Veda. It is to be noted that there is an age limit on this initiation. After one has passed that stage, one has to undergo atonement to have it.