Onions, Initiations, & Fingers

Q: What’s the real reason for abstaining from onion, & garlic? I know that some sampradayas avoid from eating carrot too. Is it because they’re all roots of plants. We eat potatoes, but potatoes came to India later on, and maybe that’s why there is no rule about them?

It is an interesting theory, but then what about root vegetables that are a part of old Vedic tradition, like ginger, for example?

The onion/garlic thing is definitely mystifying, but I made a post about two years ago attempting to demystify it: Garlic Stinks?

Q: What’s the importance of initiation?

Initiation is a translation for the word dīkṣā. That word, dīkṣā, has two branches of meaning – one is “formal ceremony” and the other is “dedication of the self.” Śrī Jīva Goswāmī actually says that the best fullest meaning of dīkṣā is “the process of transmitting spiritual knowledge.”

The formal ceremony has its importance and shouldn’t be scoffed at or made light of. But in comparison the self-dedication to gaining spiritual knowledge (which is in fact the essence of the formal ceremony, as well) is the really important aspect of dīkṣā, or “initiation.”

With that in mind, it’s easy to understand “the importance of initiation.”

Q: One of the swāmīs I met told me that it’s impossible to get liberation without being initiated. Why is that, exactly?

Well, it should be clear why it is impossible to attain enlightenment without dedicating yourself to gaining spiritual knowledge (dīkṣā). But it is a dishonest mixing of word-meanings (probably unintentionally) to say that it is impossible to gain enlightenment without a formal ceremony (dīkṣā).

Q: What if, after some time, your ways become seperated from the guru, but you don’t break any of the basic 4 regulative principles? Will that initiation and your new spiritual name be still valid?

No, the bar-code validation on that initiation rubber stamp will have expired and require forms submitted in triplicate to the board of inquiry at Yamarāja’s district court.


But joking to make a point that this “valid” concept is pretty weird.

The guru is the guide for your spiritual development. If you are moving away from one guru you are moving towards another – be it a traditional guru or not, be it human or not, be it another person or be it the voice in your own head/heart. Whatever guidance you are getting plays a huge role in determining where you will wind up, and how you will get there.

I think you would benefit by having a deeper concept of what “guru” is all about. I very recently made this video on the subject:

Q: Why do we put our index finger out of the bead bag while chanting?

Well, one thing is that a finger sticking out helps hold the bag on our hands. But besides that…

Different fingers represent different emotions and attitudes. The thumb expresses appreciation, admiration, and love (“thumbs up” then is probably no coincidence). The pointer/index finger represents ego and authority (we use it to tell people where to go, what to do, etc). The middle finger represents detachment (“Middle finger” = “I really don’t give a damn”). The fourth/ring finger represents morality (maybe its not a coincidence that its the place symbolic of our greatest conventional moral commitment – marriage). The fifth / pinky finger represents culture and refinement (Pinky in the air when you drink your tea).

We keep the pointer finger off the beads in as a mudra for keeping ego and prestige out of our spiritual practices.

We always chant with the thumb (love), and we usually use the middle finger to counterbalance, the finger of detachment. “Love for Krishna, detachment from ego.” vairāgya-yug bhakti. 

But I’ve heard that Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (or a similarly authentic book) says that chanting on the fourth/ring finger is even more productive.

–  Vraja Kishor das
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