Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

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PART ONE - The Tradition of Śikṣā-guru
Selecting a Guru

In the beginning of his devotional journey, the devotee generally has little scope for selecting his gurus. They come to him. First, the vartma-pradaraaka-guru introduces the newcomer to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then, when the devotee commits himself to the institution’s training, teachers are assigned to teach him and leaders to direct his service. Though all these guides are selected for him by the institution — no choice on his part — they are still śīkṣā-gurus, understood to have been sent by Kṛṣṇa, no less so than those who seem to come fortuitously.

By the association of these śīkṣā-gurus, a devotee enters the realm of bhakti. Sincerely desiring to surrender, he prays for the association of those Vaiṣṇavas who can further inspire him.

This is the beginning of his own selection of śīkṣā-gurus.

1. Selecting a śīkṣā-guru prior to initiation
Faith is based upon hearing from a Vaiṣṇava and observing that he lives by what he preaches. But besides being inspiring, a Vaiṣṇava must be authorised. The gurus of an institution gain their authority from the founder-ācārya; they must represent him. As only those sub- and sub-sub-branches connected to the branch can nourish the twigs, so only those Vaiṣṇavas following the founder-ācārya can give śīkṣā. And of course the śīkṣā-guru must work in harmony with other gurus.

So a devotee may select one or more śīkṣā-gurus from among Vaiṣṇavas.

  1. from whom he has regularly heard;
  2. whose activities he has regularly observed;
  3. who strictly follow the founder-ācārya;
  4. who have been designated by the founder-ācārya;(72) and
  5. who work co-operatively with other gurus.

To ensure that a devotee does not err in his assessment of a śīkṣā-guru, authorised Vaiṣṇavas must indicate those unqualified by the Society’s standards.(73) But these Vaiṣṇavas will rarely attempt to certify an eligible guru’s level of advancement. That means: from those who are already his śīkṣā-gurus, a devotee is informed of those ineligible, beyond which he himself must take responsibility for his choices.

2. Selecting the dīkṣā-guru
After selecting one or more śīkṣā-gurus and regularly taking instruction from them, the devotee will choose one to be the medium through whom all his service is offered: the dīkṣā-guru. Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly states that the dīkṣā-guru is generally he among a disciple’s śīkṣā-gurus who has been most instrumental in the training of the disciple.(74) And it makes sense for the disciple to offer his service through the Vaiṣṇava he knows best and with whom he has had the most extensive connection.

3. Selecting a śīkṣā-guru after initiation
After initiation by the dīkṣā-guru, training the disciple may be continued by a śīkṣā-guru (or gurus). This type of śīkṣā-guru is different in function from those instructors who only engage one in service or give uncommitted guidance. As mentioned earlier, this instructor who continues to train the disciple is he who usually comes to mind when we hear the expression “śīkṣā-guru.”

The eligibility of this śīkṣā-guru is the same as that of other gurus (enumerated above) — with one appendage: in all his dealings with the disciple, he represents the initiator. He is the extension of the dīkṣā-guru;sup>(75) his teachings are the teachings of the initiator.(76)

This criterion is readily met when the initiator directs his disciple to a specific śīkṣā-guru in whom he himself has full faith in all respects.(77) In fact, unless the initiating guru is deceased, the etiquette is that the choice of śīkṣā-guru is at least confirmed, if not recommended, by the dīkṣā-guru. In the absence of the dīkṣā-guru, other senior instructors may voice the suitability of a śīkṣā-guru.

4. Summary
As the branches of a tree grow naturally one from another, a devotee’s selection of gurus, whether śīkṣā or dīkṣā, depends upon their natural connection to him. Both śīkṣā- and dīkṣā-gurus must be chosen from among those who sprout from the founder-ācārya, and, after initiation, the śīkṣā-guru must be chosen from among those whose connection with the dīkṣā-guru is beyond question.(78)

Question, What happens if a disciple chooses a guru from Vaiṣṇavas not meeting the above stipulations?

Answer, Scripture and tradition prescribe a particular course of action for a particular end. If that prescription is not followed, one should not expect the same result achieved by following it.(79)

This will be further discussed in Parts Three and Four of this paper.


72For instance, Prabhupāda instructed the GBC secretaries to be śīkṣā-gurus. See Letter, Detroit, August 4, 1975.
73This is the present standard of ISKCON. See GBC Resolutions, 2001, Action Order 301.
74“Generally a spiritual master who constantly instructs a disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 1.35) However, this practice must conform to points of etiquette such as the “law of disciplic succession.” This law states that a disciple may not initiate others in the physical presence of his dīkṣā-guru. (See Letter, Delhi, December 2, 1975) Even if that disciple is himself a prominent śīkṣā-guru, he must direct aspirants to his initiator.
75Professor Sanyal writes, “The śīkṣā-gurus are the associated counterparts of the dīkṣā-guru.” (Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, pp. 676–77)
76Śrī Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta (48-55) elaborates on this principle of etiquette.
77An example of this is given in Jīva-dharma, chapter 26, and Śyāmānanda-prakāsa, chapter 2.
78... which means that the śīkṣā-guru’s connection with the founder-ācārya is also beyond question.
79In the verse beginning with ya¤ śāstra-vidhim utsṛjya, Lord Kṛṣṇa makes His opinion very clear: “He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.” (Bhagavad-gītā 16.23)
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