Srila Prabhupada’s Testing And Mutual Agreement
by Vidura dasa
It may be doubted how a new devotee today can take Diksa initiation from Srila Prabhupada. This doubt has arisen in the minds of many today. The best way to answer this doubt is by presenting the actual definition of initiation as Srila Prabhupada has given in his books and from that definition a safe conclusion can be established. This article proves without a doubt that one may certainly take Diksa initiation by Srila Prabhupada today as per the meaning and criteria of initiation given to us by Srila Prabhupada.
One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. […] Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. […] A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect. (Bhagavad-gita As It Is 4.34 purport excerpt by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada — Original, Unedited)
This purport serves as a clear outline of the process of initiation. The first point that may be taken from the purport is that one must approach a self-realized spiritual master. It is clear that we are speaking of the beginning of spiritual life here. In other words, a new devotee is the immediate subject.
Next is how one should approach the spiritual master: submission, service and inquiry. This how is the basic theme of the purport; Srila Prabhupada gives much stress to submissive service inquiry.
One must pass the test of the spiritual master. That test is the genuine desire of the disciple, and submissive service inquiry constitutes a genuine desire.
The blessing of the spiritual master is bestowed upon the disciple once a genuine desire in his approach is detected by the spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada uses the word automatically; the blessing of genuine spiritual understanding is bestowed automatically when the disciple has a genuine desire (submissive service inquiry). Srila Prabhupada’s usage of the word automatically is significant because automatic implies that the core and essential aspects of approaching a self-realized spiritual master and reaping the benefit of that approach do not require the direct hand or manual participation of the spiritual master. The word automatic implies that one thing triggers the next on the strength of its own mechanics. Thus Srila Prabhupada seems to be presenting the process of approaching a self-realized spiritual master and receiving transcendental knowledge from him as a sort of spiritual mechanism; The genuine desire of the disciple triggers the spiritual master’s blessings of genuine spiritual understanding.
In considering the idea out there that Srila Prabhupada cannot impart transcendental knowledge (diksa) to a new devotee today due to him (Srila Prabhupada) not being physically manifest before our material vision, it seems that this purport does not at all propose such an idea but on the contrary it proposes the idea of the spiritual master’s diksa being automatically available to one who simply has a genuine desire (submissive service inquiry).
Even without the word automatically we would still be left with the conspicuous absence of any mention of the need for physical participation by the spiritual master in both his testing and blessing, thus making physical presence immaterial to this process. But the fact that the word automatically is used only augments what is already conspicuous by its absence: the physical presence of the spiritual master is not essential in the receipt of genuine spiritual understanding from him.
Of course, what has thus far been established by the word automatically should naturally be supported by other places in Srila Prabhupada’s books. There are many places that support this. Beginning with the 4.34 purport itself:
A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect. (Bg 4.34 purport)
Note: When the student is submissive and ready to render service, the acceptance of a bona fide spiritual master is “natural”. This is another element of automatically.
A disciple means who voluntarily agrees to be disciplined by the spiritual master. (Lecture 2/11/75)
Note: This could only mean that the spiritual master’s blessing is there automatically upon the discipline being followed.
Initiation is a formality. If you are serious, that is real initiation. My touch is simply a formality. It is your determination, that is initiation. (“BTG #49)
Note: If determination were itself the initiation, this could only mean that the transcendental knowledge (diksa) from Srila Prabhupada is automatically there, since we know this transcendental knowledge to be another main aspect of initiation, as seen in the following evidences.
“This is the process of initiation. […] He promises to execute the order of the spiritual master. Then, the spiritual master takes care of him and elevates him to spiritual emancipation.” (Cc Madhya 24.256 Purport)
Note: Again we see the same automatic element here. Upon promising to execute the order of the spiritual master, the spiritual master takes care of him…
“…as you are all following my instruction, in that matter, the initiator is already there.” (Letter 8/19/68)
Note: Another very strong proof that Srila Prabhupada’s blessing of genuine spiritual understanding is already or automatically there as we are all following his instruction.
“So diksa means the initiation to begin transcendental activities. That is called initiation. Therefore we take promise from the disciple that “You chant so many times,” “Yes, sir.” “You observe these rules and regulations,” “Yes, sir.” That is initiation. He has to observe; he has to chant. Then everything comes automatically.” (Lecture SB 6.1.15 — February 22, 1973)
Thus it is clear that real initiation or diksa is an automatic process in that one aspect triggers the next; the genuine desire in the approach is the initiation in itself. If there is any acceptance required on the part of the spiritual master it is to be understood that it occurs automatically from the determined execution of his instructions, or, in other words, the passing of his test.
If this were not the case, most of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples even during his physical presence could not be considered legitimate disciples because many of his disciples did not come in physical contact with Srila Prabhupada.
As mentioned in the beginning purport, there is a test of the spiritual master that must be passed by the disciple. Srila Prabhupada outlined his test very clearly in his books (emphasis added):
“In our Krsna consciousness movement, the requirement is that one must be prepared to give up the four pillars of sinful life: illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication and gambling. In Western countries especially, we first observe whether a potential disciple is prepared to follow the regulative principles. Then he is given the name of a Vaisnava servant and initiated to chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, at least sixteen rounds daily. In this way the disciple renders devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual master or his representative for at least six months to a year. He is then recommended for a second initiation, during which a sacred thread is offered and the disciple is accepted as a bona fide brahmana.” (Cc Madhya-lila 24:330, Purport)
“When one is actually advanced in the purascarya-vidhi, he is recommended by the local temple president for initiation.” (Cc Madhya 15:108 Purport)
“When one is found to be regularly following these principles, he is given the first initiation (hari-nāma), and he regularly chants at least sixteen rounds a day.” (Cc Adi 17.264-265)
Prabhupāda: So without waiting for me, wherever you consider it is right… That will depend on discretion.
Disciple: On discretion.
Disciple: That’s for first and second initiations.
Room Conversation—July 7, 1977, Vṛndāvana
We can understand that Srila Prabhupada’s test was being overseen not necessarily by himself directly but by representatives of his such as temple presidents. The fact that representatives of Srila Prabhupada were accepting disciples on his behalf, as per his test, only confirms that it truly was an automatic process.
Srila Prabhupada’s test for a disciple was there for anybody to take and it still is there today. Srila Prabhupada never changed this test. It is set in stone in his books, which the Krsna consciousness movement is entirely based on.
Moreover, we know that the reception of transcendental knowledge is not actually a one-time event but rather it is described as a process (Cc Madhya-lila 15.108 Purport) and that initiation means the beginning, not perfection (Letter 1/11/70). This means that if the process of transcendental knowledge wasn’t automatic the spiritual master would have to constantly accompany the disciple physically in order for the disciple to receive genuine spiritual understanding – on anything! The disciple would essentially be unguided by his spiritual master during those times when they were not right next to each other, in addition to the transmission of knowledge having ceased entirely immediately upon the disappearance of the guru, leaving the disciple without any guidance from that point onward. Surely this could not have been the case in the guru-disciple relationships of any of our predecessor acharyas in the parampara. To answer this, Srila Prabhupada has written regarding his own relationship with his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura:
“although he is not physically present, and because I am trying to serve him to my best capacity, I am sure he is helping me by his spiritual blessings.” (Letter — 8/18/69)
If physical presence was actually a factor in the process of receiving transcendental knowledge this would raise dubious questions such as: At what proximity does the transmission of transcendental knowledge between the guru and disciple begin to lose signal? Does planet earth have particularly bad reception? Are there other planets with better service? But such questions stem from a completely speculative basis and as such they are useless. We should stick to the version described by Srila Prabhupada, not accepting unauthorized ideas which beg ludicrous questions or else be condemned:
“In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned.”
We should accept Srila Prabhupada’s simple conclusion that
“Reception of spiritual knowledge is never checked by any material condition.” (SB 7.7.1 Purport)
It’s important to remember the basic principle or purpose of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is sent on behalf of Lord Krsna in order to help the fallen conditioned souls in the material world surrender unto Krsna, as per His order in the Bhagavad-gita 18.66
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
Srila Prabhupada says in this regard:
“Kṛṣṇa’s representative means the representative says the same thing as Kṛṣṇa says. Kṛṣṇa says “Surrender unto Me,” and the representative says “Surrender to Kṛṣṇa.” And because he delivers the real knowledge, he’s as good as Kṛṣṇa.” (Garden Conversation — June 8, 1976, Los Angeles)
“One may argue that “Where is Krsna?” No, you have got Krsna’s representative, guru. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado **. The representative is there. If you act according to his instruction, if you want to please him, then Krsna is pleased.” (Lecture SB 6.1.15 — June 28, 1975)
Where is the question of Srila Prabhupada not being ready to accept a disciple providing the disciple genuinely desires to surrender unto Krsna by seriously executing the spiritual master’s instructions? The spiritual master is the external representation of the Supersoul. This external, physical manifestation of the Supersoul is necessary because the conditioned souls are unable to take direct guidance from the Supersoul. The Srimad Bhagavatam [4.26.12] and Teachings of Lord Caitanya  speak of having to become favored by the instructions of an unalloyed devotee. Srila Prabhupada is an actual self-realized spiritual master and unalloyed devotee of Krsna. Therefore, his instructions themselves are invested with spiritual potency and thus they are able to act automatically in blessing those who even today agree to be guided by them. It is Srila Prabhupada who himself who is still giving the blessing of genuine spiritual understanding but the point is that he does so automatically as is the nature of a pure devotee. The following statement by Srila Prabhupada is very relevant:
Hanumān: One thing he’s saying, this gentleman, and I would like to know, is your successor named or your successor will…
Prabhupāda: My success is always there. Yes. Just like the sun is there always. It may come before your vision or not. The sun is there. But if you are fortunate, you come before the sun. Otherwise you remain in darkness. Sun is open to everyone. Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement—Kṛṣṇa is open to everyone. But if you are fortunate, you come to the light. If you are unfortunate, do not. That is your choice. Kṛṣṇa says, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja [Bg. 18.66]. You do it. Now it is your choice. You surrender to Kṛṣṇa or don’t surrender. That is your business. We are canvassing everyone, “Take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and you’ll be happy.” Now it is their business to take it or not to take it. But he can come. (Room Conversation — February 12, 1975, Mexico)
So how to know whether we’ve been accepted by Srila Prabhupada as his disciple? By simply following his instructions submissively with service and inquiry. This means chanting 16 rounds a day and following the four regulated principles of avoiding sinful life. As we are able to do this, we can be certain that Srila Prabhupada’s acceptance is there automatically.
“There is no difference between the spiritual master’s instructions and the spiritual master himself.” (C.c. Adi-lila 1.35, purport)
“Krishna and his representative are the same. Similarly, the spiritual master can be present wherever the disciple wants. A spiritual master is the principle, not the body.” (Letter — 5/28/68)
“So although a physical body is not present, the vibration should be accepted as the presence of the Spiritual Master, vibration. What we have heard from the Spiritual Master, that is living.” (SB Lecture, 13/01/69, Los Angeles)