Question: A dīkṣā-guru is accepted by taking a mantra in a ceremony, but how is a śikṣā-guru accepted? Could any Vaiṣṇava, from whom we hear lectures, be our śikṣā-guru? Shouldn’t the śikṣā-guru also accept a person as a śikṣā disciple? If yes, how does this happen in today’s world, where all lectures are available online and a person may be hearing these lectures without the lecturer even knowing him?
Answer: The meaning or meanings of words can change over time. Dīkṣā-guru is one from whom you receive dīkṣā mantra. Śikṣā-guru is the one from whom you learn the theory and how to practice the process. Generally, one’s dīkṣā-guru is also one’s śikṣā-guru. Dīkṣā is translated as “initiation”, which means initiation into the process about which the disciple must be educated. For example, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī writes that if one wants to follow the path of bhakti, one should surrender to a guru, take dīkṣā from him, and then study the principles of bhakti from him (guru-pādāśraya tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam, BRS 1.2.74). This was also said by Sage Prabuddha to King Nimi (SB 11.3.20-21). From these two verses, it is clear that after taking shelter of a guru, one must learn from him. But in some rare cases, when the dīkṣā-guru is not able to teach, he may ask a disciple to study from another guru. Then the disciple can approach the other guru and ask to become his student. If the other guru accepts him, then he becomes the śikṣā-guru and the disciple is a śikṣā disciple. One takes a śikṣā-guru by permission of one’s dīkṣā-guru, and not independently. An example of this is Narottama Dāsā Ṭhakura, who was a disciple of Lokanātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, but studied from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī.
At present, the word śikṣā-guru, like many other words, such as “friend,” “love,” “surrender,” and “faith,” has undergone a change in meaning. It is applied to anyone from whom you learn something, even if there is no formal teacher/student relationship. I have heard devotees saying that so and so is their śikṣā-guru, when they hardly studied from that śikṣā-guru.
So, my reply to your third question is that you need to first decide the meaning of the term “śikṣā-guru.” If you follow the meaning as given by me, which is the traditional meaning, then your question does not arise.
Question: If one has not yet taken dīkṣā or is not yet aspiring to take dīkṣā from any guru but is regularly receiving śikṣā from some Vaiṣṇavas, wouldn’t they be his śikṣā-gurus? Or would they just be sādhus in one’s life?
Answer: It depends on the meaning of the term śikṣā-guru in your mind. If it isn’t the same as the meaning I have in my mind, there will be confusion. There is another word used for a guru from whom you learn before taking dīkṣā, which is called vartma–pradarśaka guru, or “one who shows the path.”
Question: You said that śikṣā-guru is chosen after taking permission from one’s dīkṣā-guru. Could you give pramāṇa for this? Śrī Kṛṣṇa Bhajanāmṛta, translated by HH Bhānu Swami, states, “One may learn special teachings from the mouths of other great devotees and then offer that knowledge to the guru. That knowledge may be learned from many gurus, but one should not ignore the guru.”
Answer: First of all, I want to say that Śrī Kṛṣṇa Bhajanāmṛta is not saying that you should not take permission from your guru when you want to study. It is understood that one does so, because that is the tradition. Certain things are understood in a certain tradition and need not be written down.
As far as pramānās are concerned, I have already mentioned them. The first pramāna is Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.74. It says that one should take shelter of a guru and take dīkṣā and śikṣā from him: guru-pādāśrayas-tasmāt-kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣānam. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī comments that one should take śikṣā after taking dīkṣā: dīkṣā-purvakam-śikṣānam. There is no ambiguity in the words of Rūpa Gosvāmī or Jīva Gosvāmī.
Another pramāna is Bhakti Sandarbha (238). Here Jīva Gosvāmī writes that one should serve other Vaiṣṇavas by the order of one’s guru, and it should not oppose the service to one’s guru. Although here he is talking only about service and not about taking knowledge, you can understand that if one needs permission even to serve, then what to speak of taking knowledge? This is called kaimutya-nyāya.
The next pramāna is logic based on śāstra. The whole gist of śāstra is to surrender, as Śrī Kṛṣṇa has summarized in verses such as Gītā 3.32, 4.34, 4.39, 7.14, 18.65, and 18.66. The purpose of human birth is to take to bhakti. That is the essence of the Gītā. Jīva Gosvāmī has discussed this in much detail in Bhakti Sandarbha. He says that the problem of the jīvas in this world is bhagavad-vaimukhya (“turned away from Bhagavān”) and the solution is bhagavat-sāmukhya (“turned toward Bhagavān”). This happens when one accepts a guru and begins bhakti. That is why Rupa Gosvāmī states it in the very beginning of the 64 aṅgas of bhakti. Rūpa Gosvāmī writes clearly that the first three aṅgas—taking shelter of guru, taking dīkṣā and śikṣā, and serving the guru are the most important ones. These three are the foundation of bhakti. While teaching Uddhava, Śrī Kṛṣṇa advised him to surrender to the guru (SB 11.17.27, 11.20.17, 11.22.10, 11.12.24). If one has not taken shelter of guru, one will remain independent-minded, which is the basic disease of a conditioned jīva. You can execute all the other aṅgas of bhakti, but you will not reach the goal. It is like rowing a boat without releasing it from the anchor or like making an edifice without making a foundation. You have not given up your pṛthaka-bhāva, or “separatist mentality,” i.e., you consider yourself an independent enjoyer.
A most insignificant person can harm a most elevated person. A realized Sadhu can be murdered by an insane person. The great cultures of earth have been decimated by barbarians.
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