Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

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PART ONE - The Tradition of Śikṣā-guru
The Śikṣā-guru’s Relationship to Other Gurus

To explain the relationships among the three main categories of Vaiṣṇava guru (śīkṣā, dīkṣā, and the founder-ācārya), I shall use a metaphor found in the Ādi-līlā of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta: the “Tree of Devotional Service.”(59) Lord Caitanya is the tree, and His followers the many branches and sub-branches of the tree. I suggest that the founder-ācārya of a Vaiṣṇava society is a branch, and his disciples and followers the sub-branches and twigs stemming from him.(60) The relationships between the śīkṣā-guru and other Vaiṣṇavas can be understood by the relationships among branches of a tree.

My proposition is: the founder-ācārya is the branch; his dīkṣā-guru disciples are the sub-branches, and the śīkṣā-gurus are the sub-sub-branches stemming from the dīkṣā-guru sub-branches. In other words, the founder-ācārya is the connection with the sampradāya, and he is the primary śīkṣā-guru. Other śīkṣā-gurus are connections to, and representatives of, the respective dīkṣā-gurus.(61)

1. The śīkṣā-guru’s relationship to the founder-ācārya
All gurus following in the line of the founder-ācārya, whose emphasis and mood are unique, must, by definition, be faithful to him.(62) And they must convey to their recruits, who encounter multiple Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava societies, that such exclusive allegiance is indispensable.

As the vitality of sub-branches depends upon the vitality of the branch from which they stem, the many śīkṣā-gurus in a society depend upon the founder-ācārya for their spiritual nourishment. Thus, connection with and respect for the founder-ācārya are the primary concerns of all Vaiṣṇavas in that line.

So the relationship of the śīkṣā-guru to the founder-ācārya is that the śīkṣā-guru, as a humble servant of the founder-ācārya, faithfully represents his mission and teachings.

2. The śīkṣā-guru’s relationship to the dīkṣā-guru
Note that I refer to the dīkṣā-guru as that devotee from whom one has received the most śīkṣā.(63) Since the greatest gift is that of transcendental knowledge, it stands to reason that the dīkṣā-guru is the most prominent person in a disciple’s life. The role of the śīkṣā-guru is to support that relationship. He therefore serves as the expansion of the dīkṣā-guru, and his instructions are the voice of the initiator.

I quote below an excerpt from Professor N.K. Sanyal,(64) describing the relationship between the initiating and instructing spiritual master:

“Upanayana is the process of being conducted to the guru. This refers to the function of the śīkṣā-guru. ... The śīkṣā-gurus are the associated counterparts of the dīkṣā-guru who is the associated counter-whole of the divinity Himself. The dīkṣā-guru may, indeed, be also the śīkṣā-guru, but not necessarily so. ... The process of initiation ... is as much a continued process as the process of being helped by the śīkṣā-guru for approaching the dīkṣā-guru. ...They are eternally co-present in a relation that is progressive but without being hampered by the unwholesome imperfection of the principle of limitation.”(65)

The main points I take from this quote, as well as from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own statements(66) are the following:

    li> The śīkṣā-guru is the representative of the dīkṣā guru.
  1. The śīkṣā-guru continues the process of dīkṣā by expanding on the instructions of the dīkṣā-guru.

This short paper cannot feature all details of, or possible exceptions to, the relationship between śīkṣā- and dīkṣā-gurus. The two points above, however, are points of tattva, or principle, which summarise the parameters of the relationship. For instance, reality may be such that a particular śīkṣā-guru is more important to a disciple than the initiator — everything is possible. Still, the śīkṣā-guru will behave according to the two principles above.

I conclude with our metaphorical tree: the śīkṣā-guru is that sub-sub-branch which connects the twig-disciples to the sub-branch of the dīkṣā-guru; 67 the disciples receive their nourishment from the initiator through the instructor.

3. The śīkṣā-guru’s relationship to other śīkṣā-gurus
Though the dīkṣā-guru and the founder-ācārya play singular roles in a disciple’s life, the disciple may seek shelter in multiple śīkṣā-gurus. These śīkṣā-gurus are united in their guidance, for they have in common: obedience to the founder-ācārya, support of the dīkṣā-guru, and concern for the welfare of the disciple.(68) Their interrelationship, like their śīkṣā, enhances the items and characteristics of their disciple’s devotion; they don’t compete for the disciple’s heart. This is the co-operative mood of Vaiṣṇavas.

4. Summary
The principles of conduct for a śīkṣā-guru are determined by four factors:(69)

  1. spiritual well-being of the disciple;
  2. obedience to the founder-ācārya;
  3. support of the dīkṣā-guru;
  4. co-operation with other śīkṣā-gurus.(70)

While serving Kṛṣṇa in the capacity of guru, sincere and intelligent Vaiṣṇavas will find these principles of conduct sufficient to guide their relationships with other Vaiṣṇava gurus. But if a guru lacks spiritual integrity and is possessed of mundane motivation, a library of laws will not guarantee the disciple’s well-being.

The twigs and branches of the tree of devotional service thrive when gurus follow Vaiṣṇava etiquette. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava etiquette in particular is defined by mutual support, and it is built upon selfless dedication to the mission and will of the founder-ācārya. Such conduct invokes the mercy of the Lord, who reveals from within the unwritten or unspoken details of guru-tattva.(71)


59See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 9.19.
60In the purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta Adi, 9.19, Prabhupāda writes, “Our International Society for Krishna Consciousness is one of the branches of the Caitanya tree.” In our use of the metaphor, “one of the branches” refers to a set consisting of a branch from which stem many subbranches, sub-sub-branches and twigs.
61Only in the matter of instructing a disciple is the śīkṣā-guru restricted to being an extension of that disciple’s dīkṣā-guru. In all other matters, his direct relationship with his own dīkṣā-guru (who may be the founder-ācārya) must be honoured.
62I cite the example of Rūpa Gosvāmī’s praṇāma mantra: “When will Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, who has established within this material world the mission to fulfil the desire of Lord Caitanya, give me shelter under his lotus feet?” So Rūpa Gosvāmī, as the founder of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, established as its mission the fulfilment of Lord Caitanya’s desire. Following that line, Śrīla Prabhupāda, as the founder-ācārya of ISKCON, summarised its mission in the Seven Purposes of ISKCON’s founding charter (New York, July 1966).
63In my opinion, the Zonal Ācārya and Guru Reform of 1986-87 was host to departures from Prabhupāda’s instructions. One example is the still current practice of gurus initiating in non-contiguous zones, travelling widely, spending little time in any area, thus compromising their duty as the prominent śīkṣā-guru. By this practice, in many cases, rather than being the prominent figure in a disciple’s life, initiators have relegated themselves to a ritualistic function, their dīkṣā more or less a formality.
64Dr. Sanyal was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Godbrother, and his book Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya was approved by His Divine Grace. See Letter, San Francisco, March 14, 1967.
65Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, pp. 676–77.
66Prabhupāda writes, “I am in [sic] the initiator guru, and you should be the instructor guru by teaching what I am teaching.” (Letter, Detroit, August 4, 1975), and “A śīkṣā-guru who instructs against the instruction of spiritual [sic], he is not a śīkṣā-guru.” (Bhagavad-gītā lecture, Honolulu, July 4, 1974)
67... who in turn is connected to the most prominent branch of the founder-ācārya.
68Vaiṣṇava pranāma states, “I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaiṣṇava devotees of the Lord. They are just like desire trees who can fulfil the desires of everyone, and they are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.”
69If the śīkṣā-guru is also the initiator, factor number three becomes irrelevant.
70This is a famous statement by Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Your love for me will be shown by how much you cooperate to keep this institution together after I am gone.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda Lilamrta 52)
71Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “As soon as a devotee is regularly engaged in this way, always engaged in Krishna Consciousness, Krishna will reveal the whole spiritual science from within the heart of such sincere devotee.” (Letter, Los Angeles, February 19, 1970)
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