Q: Does the maha-mantra by itself unfold Jnana or would you have to get some Jnana to chant the mantra effectively?
If you have no impediments, then the mantra alone will allow you to directly experience the full reality: Krishna loving Rādhā in Vṛndāvana.
However, if you are like the rest of us, you have impediments that need to be worked out, so you will need sādhana (“practice” – a method of getting rid of impediments).
If you have a very deep, accurate conception of who and what you, Krishna, and everything else is, then your sādhana will quickly get rid of your impediments and thus allow you to directly experience the full reality via the mantra.
However, if you are like the rest of us, you have a lot of misconceptions about yourself, the world, and Krishna – so your sādhana will not be very useful. That means you need sambandha-jñāna – study of śāstra with guru to get rid of these misconceptions.
So, you simply cannot tell a person “just chant.”
They will lose faith in the whole thing, because nothing really substantial will happen. They will not experience Krishna loving Rādhā in Vrindāvana by “just chanting” for millions of years. They have to take up sādhana-bhakti, and to do that they need correct understanding of what the world even is. So, the best thing to do is to teach people śāstra and help them understand what the world is, and what they are, and what God is. Then they can chant effectively.
Q: Do I need to take the mantra (presumably Diksha) and conception of the mantra (presumably Siksa) from the same person or can I do so from different personnel?
You can get dīkṣā and śikṣā from different persons, so long as you have admiration for both, and so long as there is not conflict of meaning or practice between the two. In other words, if the śikṣā-giver teaches you about the mantra in a way that the dīkṣā-giver disagrees with, you’ll run into problems.
Q: Can I take a second mantra from a different guru than the one who gave the first? I took the Maha Mantra Diksha from Iskcon, which is called Hari Naam Diksha. The next step is Brahaman Diksha where you are given sacred thread and Gayatri Mantra to chant along with Maha Mantra. Do I also need to get this from an Iskcon guru?
The mahāmantra does not need dīkṣā. Anyone can chant the mahāmantra effectively, so long as they have no impediments in their conceptions. “Mahāmantra dīkṣā” is a modern term for a convention followed in ISKCON and, I think, other Gaḍīya Maṭh branches.
Anyone can chant Hare Krishna. But practically everyone has impediments, so dīkṣā and śikṣā are a practical necessity.
Dīkṣā concerns the Krishna-mantras like “kṛṣṇāya govindāya…” and “kāmadevāya vidmahe…” Contemplation of these Krishna Mantras are part of the sādhana to remove impediments to fully experiencing the mahāmantra.
“Threads” and savitrī gāyatrī are not part of Vaiṣṇava dīkṣā. Yes, all Gauḍīya Maṭha branches, including ISKCON, give a thread and savitrī gāyatrī during dīkṣā. Again, this is their own unique convention. It is a holdover from about a century ago, when their Ācārya wanted to radically illustrate his point that Vaiṣṇavas are better than brahmanas and can do anything brahmaṇas can do. The thread and savitrī gāyatrī are not an essential part of Vaiṣṇava dīkṣā. Outside of Gauḍīya Maṭha, no other Vaiṣṇava’s include these in dīkṣā.
Q: You have said, “Only the person who has the full realization is fully qualified to propogate the parampara. Others are less qualified. Some are unqualified entirely.” So, who would decide this qualification of a person or does it become self evident from the speech, behaviour and action of the person? As I understand that no body decided for Suka or Suta but it was self evident and by the Divine arrangement relishable Bhagavatam unfolded for us.
You perceive it directly. “By contacting this person, I experience Krishna so much more clearly and directly.”
Sūta and Śuka are perfect examples. All the sages perceived the qualities of Śuka and therefore made him the guru for Parīkṣit. Same for Sūta; Śaunaka and the Naimiśāraṇya sages made him their guru because they percieved the qualities of his realization.
Don’t accept someone as a guru because other people do, or people other people say “this guy is a guru.”
Also, don’t expect most people to recognize a genuine guru. Take Śuka for example. Most people thought he was just a fascinating, handsome lunatic. Only the sages had the insight to be able to perceive his true quality. So you need to amass some knowledge yourself to even be able to tell a guru from a celebrity.
Vraja Kishor das