I receive many questions related to śīkṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru. At present, the general understanding in the devotee community is that these two are different persons. I do not know the reason behind such an understanding, nor the history related to it. Moreover, there is not a very clear understanding of who is a śīkṣā-guru. In Anucchedas 206 and 207 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses śravaṇa-guru, bhajana-śikṣā-guru, and mantra-guru. I am presenting the translation of this anuccheda with my commentary here for interested readers.
Translation of Anuccheda 206
The śravaṇa-guru and the bhajana–śikṣā–guru are generally the same person, as sage Prabuddha indicated to King Nimi:
tatra bhāgavatān dharmān śikṣed gurv-ātma-daivataḥ
amāyayānuvṛttyā yais tuṣyed ātmātma-do hariḥ
“In his presence [i.e., the śravaṇa-guru described in the previous verse], the aspirant who regards his guru as his very self and worshipful object, should learn, by way of unpretentious continuous service, the dharma that pertains directly to Bhagavān, by which [dharma] Śrī Hari, the Supreme Immanent Self, who awards even His own Self [to His devotees], becomes pleased.” (SB 11.3.22)
The pronoun tatra refers to the śravaṇa–guru, who was described in the preceding verse, “tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta” (SB 11.3.21). The compound gurv-ātma-daivataḥ refers to the aspirant, who is of such disposition (tathā-bhūtaḥ) that he regards his guru alone as his very self (ātmā), meaning “his veritable life” (jīvanam), and as his worshipful object (daivata), meaning “his worshipful deity” (nija-iṣṭa-daivata). Such an aspirant should learn (śikṣet) by way of unpretentious (amāyayā), meaning “unduplicitous” (nirdambhayā), continuous service (anuvṛttyā), meaning by following him obediently (tad-anugatyā).
The pronoun yaiḥ, “by which,” means “by which dharma” (dharmaiḥ) [Śrī Hari becomes pleased]. The word ātmā, “Self,” means “Paramātmā, the Supreme Immanent Self.” The word ātma-daḥ means “He who awardseven His own Self to His devotees, such as Śrī Bali and others.” As mentioned previously, one can have numerous such śikṣā-gurus.
Translation of Anuccheda 207
One can have only one mantra–guru, as indicated by sage Āvirhotra:
labdhvānugraha ācāryāt tena sandarśitāgamaḥ
mahā-puruṣam abhyarcen mūrtyābhimatayātmanaḥ
“One who has received grace (anugraha) from an ācārya and who has been instructed by him in the prescribed method of worship according to the Āgamas, should worship the Supreme Puruṣa [Bhagavān] in the form that is according to his longing.” (SB 11.3.48)
In this verse, the word anugraḥa means “grace in the form of mantra initiation” (mantra-dīkṣā-rūpaḥ). The Āgama refers to the scripture that describes the mantra and the method of worship according to that mantra. The use of the singular here [ācāryāt, “from that one ācārya”] implies that there can be only one mantra-guru.
This is supported by the fact that it is forbidden to abandon one’s mantra-guru, as stated in Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa:
bodhaḥ kaluṣitas tena daurātmyaṁ prakaṭīkṛtam
gurur yena parityaktas tena tyaktaḥ purā hariḥ
“One who has abandoned his guru has already rejected Bhagavān Hari. His intelligence is polluted,and he has acted duplicitously.”
If simply because of being dissatisfied with one’s guru, one accepts another guru, then by virtue of accepting more than one guru, one’s previous guru is necessarily rejected.
The same point [not giving up one’s guru] is re-emphasized by the exception to the general rule provided in the Nārada Pañcarātra:
avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhyed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ
“One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles.”
Commentary by Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī mentions three types of gurus here, viz., the śravaṇa-guru, śikṣā-guru, and mantra-guru. The śravaṇa-guru is the teacher from whom one learns the śāstra, and the bhajana-śikṣā-guru is the one who teaches practical aspects of sādhana-bhakti. Usually these two will be the same, because the teacher from whom one begins to study will naturally become one’s guide for spiritual practice. It is preferable that they be the same person, otherwise there can be confusion in the mind of the student.
If the student hears different opinions from two different teachers, he or she will be in difficulty, because the words of one of them will have to be disregarded, which could lead to an offense. If both these gurus belong to the same spiritual tradition, then there may not be any difference in their teachings, otherwise there is bound to be some disparity. One sometimes hears of Vaiṣṇavas in Vṛndāvana who held respect for seniors or gurus on both sides of a controversy and who hid themselves so that they would not have to take sides, fearing that to do so would offend one of them.
The guru-disciple relationship is one of the most important and unique aspects of Indian society. Indeed, this one sacred bond is what makes Indian society distinct in the whole world. Although at present there is little or no training in this honored tradition, it still runs very deep in the Indian psyche, as if it is in their genes. Its importance can be understood only by experiencing it.
For the modern mind, it appears as if the disciple sacrifices his independence to become a slave of the guru. The modern mind cannot understand that the only way transcendental knowledge can be transmitted is from the heart of the guru into that of the disciple. It is not simply a matter of attending a lecture in a classroom where a teacher speaks and then goes away. The disciple and teacher remain bound to each other. When the relation is pure, then the teaching is transmitted even without words. It is as if their hearts become linked up, and the knowledge is transferred through this bond.
Indian history is filled with stories of this pristine relation, from the age of the Upaniṣads through to modern times. In this regard, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.23) makes the following assertion: “The imports of the teachings described in this Upaniṣad are revealed only to that elevated soul in whom transcendental devotion for Bhagavān is present and who feels the same quality of devotion for his guru as felt for Bhagavān.”
The verse cited in this anuccheda (SB 11.3.22) is spoken by sage Prabuddha. It contains the most important instruction for a sincere disciple. In the immediately preceding verse, cited in Anuccheda 202.4, Prabuddha specified the essential characteristics of a qualified guru. In this verse, he elaborates those of the sincere disciple.
The first criterion mentioned is that the student should study bhāgavata-dharma, or bhakti, from the guru. Bhakti is not something to be understood by reading books or articles on the internet. One must study it from an authentic guru. This is an injunction, as indicated by use of the optative form of the verb, tatra śikṣet, “the aspirant must learn in the presence of his guru.” There is no alternative course of action. The second criterion is that this study must be undertaken by way of rendering continuous service to the guru (anuvṛttyā). Moreover, this service must be done without any duplicity or pretension (amāyayā). In this regard, Kṛṣṇa makes the following statement:
“I, the Immanent Self of all beings, am not as pleased with daily sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerities, or renunciation, as I am by service to the guru.” (SB 10.80.34)
In support of the same conclusion, Nārada instructed Yudhiṣṭhira that one can attain perfection simply by service to a qualified guru (SB 7.15.25). On the other hand, if one disrespects the guru, he cannot achieve anything spiritually (SB 7.15.26). The guru is the key, the doorway to the spiritual world, as well as the companion in the spiritual world. For these reasons, one must treat the guru with respect and love.
The compound gurv-ātma-daivatah is very important. This is a reference to the aspirant, mentioned in the previous verse, who is profoundly inquisitive about the ultimate good (jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam). The compound signifies that the genuine aspirant is one who regards his guru as his very self (ātmā) and worshipful object (devatā). A nearly identical expression was employed in the very first anuccheda of this book, namely, guru-devatātmā (SB 11.2.37).
The word ātmā is used here in the sense of the object of pure, unconditional love. One should love the guru as one would love God, or Kṛṣṇa. Just as nothing can remain hidden from one’s own ātmā, so too the same dynamic applies in regard to one’s guru. This gives rise to a deep sense of unity. There should be a oneness of heart between the guru and the disciple. The disciple needs to attune his or her heart with the heart of the guru, as stated in Ṛg Veda: “May your intention be one and the same, your hearts united, your minds of one accord, so that intimate companionship may be yours” (RV 10.191.4). This is the significance of the word ātmā. It also means that one should be like an open book in front of the guru.
The second word is daivatam, meaning that the guru is to be regarded in the same spirit as one’s worshipful deity. If one feels only love without a sense of reverence, then one may not take instructions from the guru. One may become too familiar with him. For this reason, the sage says daivatam—one must honor the guru in the same manner as one’s worshipable deity. One should never think of the guru as an ordinary human being, guruṣu nara-matiḥ. In other words, the disciple has to have both moods with the guru, aiśvarya and mādhurya, reverence and intimacy. When one serves the guru in this way, Kṛṣṇa is pleased. Kṛṣṇa is referred to here as ātma-daḥ, “He who gives Himself to His devotees.” When Kṛṣṇa was pleased with Bali’s surrender, He gave Himself to Bali and became his doorkeeper. This signifies that when the guru is pleased, Kṛṣṇa is also pleased.
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