Śikṣā outside ISKCON?

<< What is Śikṣā? >>

PART ONE - The Tradition of Śikṣā-guru
What is Śikṣā?

1. Śikṣā is guidance that directs a devotee to Kṛṣṇa
According to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one serious about true happiness should find a qualified guru and inquire from him about the ultimate goal of life.(1) The instructions imparted by the spiritual master, in response to submissive inquiry, are known as śīkṣā. Caitanya Mahāprabhu directs devotees to accept such guidance at every stage of their spiritual development, up to and including prema.(2) Thus, śīkṣā is the compass of knowledge that guides a devotee from śraddhā to prema.

2. Śikṣā is a most prominent item of bhakti
In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī introduces the first five and most important items(3) of sādhana-bhakti, of which the first is guru-pādāaraya (taking shelter of a spiritual master), followed by śrī-kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śīkṣānam (accepting initiation in kṛṣṇa-mantras and receiving instruction from the spiritual master). This confirms śīkṣā to be a pivotal item of devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, interconnected with service to the guru and fidelity to the ācāryas.

I reiterate that, in a devotee’s spiritual progress, śīkṣā is not limited to an inaugural role. In His instructions to Rūpa Gosvāmī, Caitanya Mahāprabhu confirms that śīkṣā nurtures devotion throughout its every stage. The Lord likens devotion to a creeper,(4) the seed of which is acquired by the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa. If the devotee-gardener properly applies himself to cultivating this bhakti seed by means of the watering process of hearing and chanting,(5) the creeper grows luxuriantly, bearing leaves, flowers, and finally the fruit of love of Godhead.

In this watering process, hearing refers to systematically(6) acquiring perfect knowledge(7) from higher authority.(8) It includes reading scripture, hearing the holy name, meditating on dīkṣā-mantras — all directed and perfected through the guidance of the guru. This is śīkṣā. Because śīkṣā nourishes the creeper of devotion, it is a(9) most prominent item of bhakti. As the creeper of devotion is nourished by śīkṣā, characteristics of devotion such as faith, knowledge,(10) greed,(11) and attachment,(12) are also nourished.

3. Śikṣā harmonises the characteristics of devotion
By definition śīkṣā guides the spiritual aspirant toward Kṛṣṇa. Forward momentum will be visible when the items of devotion (śīkṣā being the item presently under consideration) properly nourish the characteristics of devotion: faith, greed, knowledge, attachment, etc.

For instance, at higher stages of devotion, śīkṣā must nurture the characteristics that complement those acquired at bhakti’s lower stages.(13) Likewise, śīkṣā must always be harmonious with, and produce a devotion harmonious with, such fundamental items as: surrender to the dīkṣā-guru, obedience to his instructions, esteem for the initiation received from him, reverence for the mantras received from him, and fidelity to the tradition set by the ācāryas.

If śīkṣā does not harmonise the items of devotion, then it is not śīkṣā; it is information that is a disturbance to the devotional creeper.(14)

4. Śikṣā continues through all stages of devotion
As mentioned earlier, śīkṣā maintains harmony at all levels of devotion, classified by Caitanya Mahāprabhu(15) as sambandha, one’s relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead; abhidheya, functional duties based on that relationship; and prayojana, the goal of life (love of God). Knowledge relating to each stage is known respectively as sambandha-jñāna, abhidheya-jñāna, and prayojana-jñāna.

The dīkṣā-guru initiates the disciple with sambandha-jñāna, and the śīkṣā-guru trains that disciple in abhidheya-jñāna.(16)

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that worship of the Deity Madana-mohana re-establishes our forgotten relationship with Kṛṣṇa, worship of Govindajī develops transcendental service, and worship of Gopinātha is at the perfectional stage.(17) Then he writes that Sanātana Gosvāmī is the ideal dīkṣā-guru, for he delivers the lotus feet of Madana-mohana, and Govinda-deva acts just like the ideal śīkṣā-guru, by teaching Arjuna the Bhagavad-gītā. And in the eyes of Gaudīya Vaiṣṇavas, Rūpa Gosvāmī is the śīkṣā-guru(18) for the sampradāya.

Witness above the harmony among Deities and ācāryas alike in imparting śīkṣā to the devotee: one Kṛṣṇa is appearing as different Deities and different gurus with one purpose — the deliverance of the fallen. Conclusion: there can be no conflict in śīkṣā.(19)

5. Summary
In replying to what is śīkṣā, I have highlighted its systematic and concordant nature. Why? Because it is the very lack of concord in the so-called śīkṣā received from Vaiṣṇavas outside ISKCON that has created and fuelled controversy for over 30 years.

Now, to concisely define śīkṣā, I would say: śīkṣā is the ever-consistent instructions that guide a devotee to Kṛṣṇa.


1Tasmād guru° prapadyeta jijñāsu¤ areya uttamam. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.3.21)
2“The root cause of devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is association with advanced devotees. Even when one’s dormant love for Kṛṣṇa awakens, association with devotees is still most essential.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.83)
3In Bhakti-rasāmṛta sindhu 1.2.97-117, the five items are (1) guru-pādāaraya — accepting a guru; (2) śrī-kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śīkṣānam — taking initiation and śīkṣā from him; (3) viśrambheṇa guro¤ seva — submissively inquiring from and intimately serving the guru; (4) sādhu-vartmanu vartanam — following the footsteps of predecessor ācāryas; (5) sad-dharma-pṛcchā — inquiring about eternal religious principles. See also Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.115.
4guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja: “By the mercy of both Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 19.151) See also Prabhupāda’s purport.
5See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 19.152.
6See Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.18.10, purport.
7“Hearing means receiving the knowledge...” (Bhagavad-gītā lecture, New York, December 1, 1966)
8See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 9.362, purport.
9Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa is the most prominent item. See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 6.241.
10See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.64-69 and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.17-19.
11See Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Caitanya-śīkṣāmṛta, chapter 10, subsection entitled “Rāgānuga-bhakti.”
12See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 22.71.
13The verse beginning with ādau śraddhā in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.4.15-16 describes a ‘chronological order’ of qualitative and quantitative spiritual development. See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 23.14-17.
14Rūpa Gosvāmī writes in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.101, “Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorised Vedic literatures like the Upaniṣads, Purāṇas and Nārada-pañcarātra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.” Śrīla Prabhupāda describes this extensively (see Bhagavad-gītā lecture, New York, October 9, 1966).
15See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Adi 7.146.
16See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 1.47, purport.
17See Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 1.19.
18In the purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 1.47, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, regarding dīkṣā-guru, “Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī is the ideal spiritual master...” Speaking about Rūpa Gosvāmī, he says, “We Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, we follow the instruction [of Rūpa Gosvāmī])...” (NoD. lecture, Bombay, October 26, 1972)
19Even great ācāryas may differ on points of philosophy. In the same way, a śīkṣā-guru may internally differ from the valid opinion of another guru. Still, in instructing the disciple, either he will uphold the version of other gurus instructing that disciple, or he will explain his different view in a way that synthesises both views. In either case, there is no conflict in śīkṣā.
Donate to Bhaktivedanta Library