On Changing My Dīkṣā

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Foremost, I want to make it clear that I am not “against” ISKCON. I do not believe that  ISKCON is “bogus.” Nor do I feel that its leaders are without significant merit. Nor do I think that its members cannot attain Krishna-prema. Most certainly, I don’t at all believe that ISKCON’s founder, A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda, is any less than a unparalleled empowered exponent of Śrī Krishna Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

I am sincerely grateful for the role Śrīla Prabhupāda, ISKCON, and its leaders and members have played in my life. There are, in fact, a considerable number of people in ISKCON whom I continue to hold in the highest regard. Foremost among them in particular is the 24-hour Kīrtan Sevaka, Aindra dāsa.

However, since the very beginning of my involvement with ISKCON, I have found myself either rationalizing, defending, dreading, or trying in vain to correct several ISKCON issues — from blatant and severe sexism, child abuse, censorship, and irrationality (justified by immature and incomplete ideas of “Vedic culture”) to stubborn misconceptions of the sambandha, abhideya, and prayojana of Gauḍīya Vedānta.

For my first 9 years, I dedicated myself mainly to rationalization and defense of these flaws. In the next 9 years I mostly turned away in dread of it all. In the third 9 years I tried (mostly in vain) to correct and improve things in whatever capacity I could. Over much of these last 9 years the guidance from my ISKCON guru gradually faded and was replaced by increasingly satisfying guidance from a source that I found to be more traditional yet more open, inclusive, and vastly more intellectual and śāstric: Satyanārāyan dāsa Bābājī of the JIVA Institute in Vṛndāvana.

Upon mutually agreeing to dissolve the guru-disciple relationship, it soon felt natural and organic to establish dīkṣā with this source

I hope that my friends and associates in ISKCON will not be unduly distanced or threatened by this. Again, I have nothing against ISKCON and wish nothing but the best for it and for its individual members. I look forward to participating in the brighter side of ISKCON whenever it would still welcome, tolerate, or even just overlook my presence.

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Śāstra on Changing Dīkṣā

In Bhakti Sandarbha Jīva Goswāmī explains that there are circumstances in which a guru-can be rejected. He quotes Nārada Pañcarātra: “He who gives irrational guidance, and he who follows that guidance, both attain a horrible destination.”

He also refers to Mahābhārata: “We should even reject a guru who proudly cannot explain the difference between right and wrong, or embarks on the wrong path.”

He also refers to Nārada Pañcaratra, “The guidance and mantras of a non-Vaiṣṇava lead one to hell. One should reject these and accept them from a Vaiṣṇava.”

In Jaiva Dharma Śrī Bhaktivinode explains that these references delineate two different reasons for changing one’s guru:

  1. If the guru opposes Vaiṣṇava philosophy and practice. (“The guidance and mantras of a non-vaiṣṇava lead one to hell. One should reject these and accept them from a vaiṣṇava.” ) 
  2. If, as Bhaktivinode says,“The disciple may have prematurely accepted the guru without having carefully examined him. Later he will realize that his endeavors are not bearing their expected fruits, so he may reject that guru.” (This is established by, “He who gives irrational guidance, and he who follows that guidance, both attain a horrible destination.”)

The Mahābhārata quote references both reasons: (1) the guru having improper behavior (“embarking on the wrong path”) and (2) the guru giving improper guidance (“cannot explain the difference between right and wrong.”) These are compounded by “pride,” which means the guru doesn’t respond to attempts at correction.

Hari Bhakti Vilāsa also explains that a guru can be rejected under some circumstances. If the guru is found to be or become unqualified, for example. Many qualifications of a guru are given, but the key to all of them is being thoroughly conversant in all śāstra and being able to answer all questions in reference to these śāstra. If a guru falls short in this department, the disciple has legitimate grounds to consider that he does not in fact have a guru, and therefore may seek another guru.

These are causes for rejection of the guru. If the guru is fit to be rejected as per the above criterion, there is no need for the disciple to seek his or her permission or agreement. However, there can be other situations in which a guru-disciple dīkṣā dissolves, when the guru and disciple mutually agree that it is the best way forward. I dissolved my relationship with my ISKCON guru by mutual consentThus I describe it as “dissolving the relationship” rather than “rejecting a guru.”

Why we agreed that dissolving the relationship was the best way forward for me is mostly private, but I have hinted at the reasons in the original statement, above. The crux of it all is that I do not have faith that ISKCON and its gurus are primarily based upon śāstra. Rather I think they are primarily based upon their own comprehension of their founding-guru, Srila Prabhupada.

My ISKCON guru, in fact, should be praised for being able to see and agree that this was  best for my spiritual development, as a true devotee puts the wellbeing of others ahead of all other considerations.

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Why Announce It?

This is an immensely significant part of my life, which I would certainly want my friends and the people I interact with to know about.

“But these things are private and personal, and announcing your departure from a guru and institution insinuates insult towards that guru and institution.”

I am a public person, and people would soon learn of it anyway. Would it have been better if I was secretive about it? Then I would have to answer a different complaint, “Why are you so devious and deceptive?” I thought it would be better to openly tell everyone, but do it in a way that does not disclose too many personal details and tries to avoid insult by expressing my appreciation and respect for ISKCON and my previous guru there.

I understand that many of you may want more details than I am giving. I’m sorry, THAT is the private part. Out of respect for my former guru I am not going to publicly discuss details of what created the conditions that caused me to request him to end the relationship.

Vraja Kishor

www.vrajakishor.com

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4 Comments

  1. Ṛtvik means someone who performs a religious ceremony on behalf of someone else. ISKCON has a spin-off group which believes that, since during Prabhupāda’s life disciples of Prabhupāda performed the ISKCON ceremony associated with their dīkṣā – this practice should endure forever (since no one else could be qualified to give dīkṣā).

    This practice has no precident, and mistakes the “ceremony” with the dīkṣā itself. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself granted dīkṣā to all his disciples. A ceremony marking the event was held and conducted often by others (Ṛtviks). They confuse the ceremony with the dīkṣā. No one can give dīkṣā on behalf of someone else.

    Actually ISKCON itself now seems to have an official position that is functionally identical to the Ṛtvik concept. They say that the dīkṣā guru is inconsequential, and it is the śīkṣā of Prabhupāda that establishes ones connection to the goal. This too is completely bogus by śāstric standards. If this were true, there would be no function of dīkṣā in the first place.

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  2. your post was sent to me this morning, along with a request for my opinion on it, so here are my thoughts:

    I was not the person who requested your opinion, so there was no need to post it here.

    sastra (narada pancaratra, mahabharata), states that one must reject a guru, if that person is unfit to serve in that capacity… and one must then find a proper guru.

    I don’t wish to establish that Dhanurdhara Swāmī is unfit to serve as a Guru. However many others would be happy to provide information on that. It is my personal opinion that its none of my business if he is universally fit or unfit to serve as Guru. If some people find him fit, I should be happy for them and support them – it is not my business to undermine someone’s inspiration for Krishna seva, or doubt the source of it. The only thing that is my business is my own inspiration for Kṛṣṇa seva, and whether or not I am personally fit or unfit to be the disciple of Dhanurdhara Swāmī. I found, after years of trying, that I was not – because I could not maintain the faith that his guidance to me was accurately based primarily on śāstra.

    It is none of your business to ask for more information about that or to cross examine it.

    Having Śīkṣā from one primary source and dīkṣā from another only works when the dīkṣā and śīkṣā are compatible. Śīkṣā is built on dīkṣā. If there is a lack of faith in the dīkṣā, the śīkṣā will be problematic.

    Just because your previous guru acquiesced to your desire, to take initiation from someone else, doesn’t mean that that you are thereby exempted from being obliged to follow the standard sastric injunctions about when taking initiation again is, and is not, allowed.

    I did not desire to take initiation from someone else, and he did not “acquiesce to that desire.” I desired to end our guru disciple relationship, and he agreed to that. From that point on, I had no dīkṣā, and was therefore free (and even obliged) to take dīkṣā elsewhere.

    If you argue that śāstra does not provision for the ending of a dīkṣā relationship so this “agreement” is inconsequential, you consequently state that this guru does not operate within the bounds of śāstra, which states that he is universally unfit to be a guru, which states that I did the right thing to consider the dīkṣā non-existent.

    I personally do not believe that the members of a relationship are not free to mutually end a relationship. (Persons can always be released from promises, vows, bonds, by the person to whom the promise, etc was made). But either way, by mutual consent or by lack of qualification, I am within śāstric provisions to consider my previous dīkṣā non-existent, and therefore to establish a new one.

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