Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

<< Dobut 15 >>

PART THREE - Doubts and Answers
Doubt 15

Doubt 15: Are there historical precedents from among Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s contemporaries illustrating restrictions in taking śīkṣā? Were there really guidelines to direct how and from whom devotees could take instruction?

Answer: Yes. To confirm my thesis in regard to the etiquette surrounding śīkṣā, I cite the Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta of Narahari Sarakāra and the Śyāmānanda Prakāaa of Kṛṣṇa Caraṇa dāsa.

1. Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta
Under the order of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Narahari Sarakāra wrote what he had “heard ... from the great Vaiṣṇava authorities of the disciplic succession,”(74) part of which(75) I’ve condensed as follows:

  1. Among all Vaiṣṇavas, the dīkṣā- and śīkṣā-gurus are special. 43-45
  2. If the dīkṣā-guru is not very learned, a disciple, by the guru’s permission, may take instruction from a more learned Vaiṣṇava; having received such instruction, the disciple must confirm it with his dīkṣā-guru. 46-49
  3. Even in the presence of, or while taking instruction from, a superior Vaiṣṇava, a disciple must always remain fully dedicated to his own dīkṣā-guru, for that is the long-standing Vaiṣṇava tradition. 50-56

To implement the principles above requires all parties involved — dīkṣā-guru, śīkṣā-guru and disciple — to share a common understanding. If they do, the purpose of śīkṣā — the disciple’s advancement — will be nicely achieved, preserving the disciple’s faith in the dīkṣā-guru and the founder-ācārya.

2. Śyāmānanda-prakāsa
When Syāmānanda Prabhu (a.k.a. Dukhi-kṛṣṇa dāsa) received the mercy of Śrī Rādhā in Vraja, She changed his name and tilaka, a kindness known only to his śīkṣā-guru, Jīva Gosvāmī. Gradually word got back to Śyāmānanda’s dīkṣā-guru, Hṛdayānanda Gosvāmī. Like everyone in Vṛndāvana, Hṛdayānanda Gosvāmī was outraged that Jīva Gosvāmī had apparently bestowed his own chosen signs of devotion (name and tilaka) upon a student entrusted to his care. In other words, it appeared (although it was not so) that the śīkṣā-guru had taken prominence in the disciple’s spiritual life, rather than remaining the humble representative of the dīkṣā-guru.

Hṛdayānanda Gosvāmī and the other Vaiṣṇavas reacted strongly:

  1. The Vaiṣṇavas of Vṛndāvana: “How can Śrī Jīva do this? He has accepted Śyāmānanda as his own disciple. Is there any law in the scriptures which allows such behaviour?” (2.2)
  2. “Śrī Jīva has accepted my disciple as his disciple,” [Hṛdayānanda] roared. “Neither Caitanya Mahāprabhu nor Nityānanda Prabhu has ever done such a thing, but now Śrī Jīva is proving himself superior to Them? I shall make him understand the mistake he has made. ... How dare [Śyāmānanda] ignore me and accept another guru? ... I have never heard of such behaviour among the disciples of Mahāprabhu. Even when Advaita Ācārya rejected his own sons, still Mahāprabhu refused to accept them. These topics are clearly explained in the scriptures.” (2.6–7)
  3. Finally, to resolve the issue, Hṛdayānanda decided to go to Vraja. He called upon the devotees, saying, “Please be kind and accompany me to Vṛndāvana, as Kṛṣṇa dāsa [Śyāmānanda] has ruined my life. If you do not come, I shall commit suicide before you to save my prestige.” (3.7)

Of course, the accusations against Jīva Gosvāmī proved false. But the etiquette of śīkṣā had been proclaimed.

The initiator had selected the instructor for his disciple, and that instructor was to remain the representative of the initiator. The śīkṣā-guru was not supposed to put his mark on the disciple; rather, the disciple was always to be clearly identified as the servant and disciple of his dīkṣā-guru. This was the conduct of Lord Caitanya and His associates. Hṛdayānanda concluded that any other conduct was an insult to the initiator, the Vaiṣṇavas, and the scriptures.


74Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta 16.
75Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta 17-58.
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