|GIVING AND TAKING DIKSHA IN ISKCON.
1) SOME PROBLEMS WITH OUR PRESENT SYSTEM
The first problem perceived in this regard is that, with our present system, we have created a distinction between "initiators" and "non-initiators". Certain devotees have been given the status of "guru" more or less in the sense of it being an official post within ISKCON. There are no published criteria as far as what the qualifications of such gurus should be; apart from the stipulation that there has not been any falldown for five years. And, of course, one must be a disciple of Srila Prabhupada in good standing. Otherwise, the ratification procedure for becoming a guru is a subjective one. Here in the UK at least, that is very much the case.
In any event, somehow or another one attains the status of "initiating guru". Then, in part because of the above - viz. no published criteria - and also due to the many references to "bona-fide guru" throughout our books, new devotees assume there must be something very special about such persons. Why has one devotee been given the official status of guru and another has not? By inference one must assume that such gurus are the most advanced devotees in our movement. This is especially so with newer devotees, the prospective initiates. Thus they naturally think of selecting someone on the list to become their own guru; even though they may have never even met the person. This often has the effect of weakening and even undermining existing relationships between senior "non-initiator" devotees and those under their care. At some point the young devotee will consider "now I need to be initiated." And he will further consider "this person, i.e. my TP, department head, or some other leader, is not a "bona-fide guru", because he is not on the list of initiating gurus in ISKCON." Even though a devotee is receiving guidance and shelter from an older vaisnava, that will be considered as being in some way deficient if the older devotee is not an initiator.
This creates more problems. Firstly, a working and developing relationship between an older and a younger devotee is not validated and empowered. On the contrary, it is undermined. Secondly, because we have made a list of "gurus" as distinct from non-gurus, we have a situation where devotees are being led to believe that the term "bona-fide guru" is synonymous with being an initiator on the official list. And thirdly, as an offshoot of the latter, the diksha guru is seen to be the all important person, any existing siksha relationship with non-gurus is considered to be lacking in some way.
Yasya prasada bhagavata prasada - the guru gives one Krishna. Therefore, following on from the above, devotees wonder whether they are actually getting Krishna from anyone other than someone on the official list of initiating gurus. That unless they are connected to some initiator, then they are not connected to Krishna. This will very possibly create confusion as to how the diksha guru and the temple authorities fit together, as we have seen from our experience.
Other problems follow. Devotees who are not official gurus, especially second generation devotees who cannot give diksha de facto, become discouraged from preaching. The feeling is "I will preach and make devotees and then someone else will come along and initiate them and become their guru and absolute authority" Perhaps I don't see eye to eye with that guru, or perhaps that guru will somehow take away his disciple. Both of these latter scenarios, apart from any other, are quite common. Certainly the non-gurus are discouraged from giving care and nurturing to younger devotees. They feel that because they are not seen as the guru then what is the point? According to our philosophy, the younger devotee has accepted someone else as their life and soul. And that creates a further problem for the young devotees, in that they are now not receiving, from their authority, the level of care they might have done. And perhaps the initiator is either not present to give that care, or maybe just can't cope with all his disciples in terms of giving a lot of personal care. Or, because the initiating guru was not the one who had to "sweat gallons of blood" to make the devotee, he may not be so accomodating and caring anyway.
From the above we often find that envy and anger are felt by godbrothers between gurus and non-gurus. Sometimes, because they feel that preaching in ISKCON means making devotees for someone else to take as their disciples, even older Prabhupada disciples are leaning towards deviant ideas like ritvik.
With our present system, rather than a young devotee gradually developing a meaningful relationship with an older devotee, and then coming to see and accept him as the guru, we now have situation where the guru is accepted, often on quite flimsy criteria, and then an attempt to form a relationship follows. This can be quite disastrous for both parties concerned, if either discovers at a later point that they don't really like the other. Or if the disciple realises that he does not see eye to eye with his guru! Both of these instances can be cited from our experience.
Once we have made someone a guru and advertised him as such (by putting him on the official list), then if he later falls down this reflects badly upon the Society. As we have seen, ISKCON's detractors - such as the so-called ritviks - often use this not uncommon phenomenon to attack ISKCON. Indeed, the very fact that ISKCON is presently more or less appointing gurus, is a main point of contention.
2) POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Of course, not all of the above problems can be simply solved. Perhaps there will always be instances where they will be found to be occurring. But some things could be done to ameliorate the situation. The first suggestion is that we scrap the `list of approved gurus'. That no devotee is given the title of "guru" and thus a carte blanche to initiate anyone anywhere at any time.
In place of this a set of guidelines can be published containing the following points:
a) Any authorised ISKCON preacher can be seen and accepted as a perfectly bona fide guru.
b) Young devotees can be encouraged to accept shelter from whoever they feel most inspirational in their spiritual life. That should be validated as a siksha relationship where they are receiving Krishna from their instructor. i.e. as soon as a person accepts the authority of ISKCON then they are connected to the parampara.
c) Siksha and diksha should be seen to be of equal importance.
d) Standards should be set for being a guru, whether siksha or diksha. Anyone from any generation can be a guru if they meet these standards.
e) Of course diksha initiation must be taken at some point and if the siksha instructor is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada then he can offer that. If not then the siksha instructor will need to bring his charge to someone who, according to the proper etiquette, can give diksha.
f) The siksha guru may naturally wish to take his charge to his own diksha guru and this can be encouraged.
g) No time pressure should be felt regarding the need to take diksha. Free choice to select any devotee as one's guru must be stressed.
h) Monitoring can be present in every instance of diksha being given. i.e. instead of a devotee being given the carte blanche guru status, he can have each initiation ratified. There can be a local board in each yatra which examines every intended initiation to ensure that the necessary criteria for qualification of diksha are there. Optionally, the board could also examine other aspects of the initiation such as the disciple's qualification, the validity of the relationship between guru and disciple, and petitions from the initiate's local authority could also be heard, where necessary. This need not be a complex or onerous procedure. It is already required that a prospective initiate's local authority give a written recommendation for that person. This form can be given to the monitoring board, along with some information on the actual relationship between the initiate and the initiator. Initiations could be held at fixed times once or twice a year. Whatever, but some process - as simplified as possible - could be worked out so that each initiation is given the `rubber stamp', rather than the guru himself.
Everyone should feel that as soon as they have accepted the authority and shelter of ISKCON they have got the shelter of Krishna. The devotee giving them instructions and guidance is indeed their bona fide spiritual master. As long as they remain in that position then everything is fine. In the maturity of time they can accept diksha, and this is certainly necessary, but it should arise out of a natural relationship which has formed between the devotee and his or her instructor. Every qualified (and there should be real, tested qualifications) preacher in ISKCON should feel fully empowered to go out and preach and make devotees and then, most importantly, continue to nurture them in Krishna consciousness.
4) QUOTES FROM SRILA PRABHUPADA:
Regarding the qualifications of a bona fide guru there are not so many diverse statements. Mostly it is simply stated that the bona fide guru must know the science of Krishna and be situated in parampara. There is nothing to indicate that a bona fide guru must be a diksha guru. There are a few statements - such as CC Adi 1.46 purp. - where Srila Prabhupada states that "the duty of the spiritual master is to initiate a disciple with the sacred thread ceremony" or something similar. This, of course, will not be possible for some siksha gurus. But such persons will simply need to bring their charges to their own diksha guru for this ceremony. This should not be a problem. If a devotee has faith in an older vaisnava then he will surely have faith in that vaisnava's own guru. And the guru, after giving diksha, can leave the initiate in the charge of his older disciple. This is not at all unprecedented in our line.
5) RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:
There are many statements from Srila Prabhupada in regard to the above in his letters. Ajamila prabhu has already done a very nice job in compiling these in his article in ISKCON Journal No 1. Essential reading. He also makes an interesting proposal at the end of that article.
WHEREAS etc etc.....