"Initiation is never altogether futile. It changes the outlook of the disciple on life."
The ceremony of diksa, or initiation, is that by which the spiritual preceptor admits one to the status of a neophyte on the path of spiritual endeavor. The ceremony tends to confer spiritual enlightenment by abrogating sinfulness. Its actual effect depends on the degree of willing cooperation on the part of the disciple and is, therefore, not the same in all cases. It does not preclude the possibility of reversion by the novice to the non-spiritual state if he slackens in his effort or misbehaves.
Initiation puts a person on the true track and also imparts an initial impulse to go ahead. It cannot, however, keep one going for good unless one chooses to put forth his own voluntary effort. The nature of the initial impulse also varies in accordance with the condition of the recipient. But although the mercy of the good preceptor enables us to have a glimpse of the Absolute and of the path of His attainment, the seed that is thus sown requires very careful tending under the direction of the preceptor if it is to germinate and grow into the fruit-and-shade-giving tree.
Unless our soul of his own accord chooses to serve Krsna after obtaining a working idea of his real nature, he cannot long retain the spiritual vision. The soul is never compelled by Krsna to serve Him. But initiation is never altogether futile. It changes the outlook of the disciple on life. If he sins after initiation, he may fall into greater depths of degradation than the uninitiated. But although even after initiation temporary set-backs may occur, they do not ordinarily prevent the final deliverance. The faintest glimmering of the real knowledge of the Absolute has sufficient power to change radically and for good the whole of our mental and physical constitution, and this glimmering is incapable of being totally extinguished, except in extraordinarily unfortunate cases.
Reluctance in Following
It is undoubtedly practicable for the initiated, if only he is willing, to follow the directions of the preceptor that lead by slow degrees to the Absolute. The good preceptor is verily the savior of fallen souls. It is, however, very rarely that a person with modern culture feels inclined to submit to the guidance of another specifically in spiritual matters. But the very same person submits readily enough to the direction of a physician for being cured of his bodily ailments, because these cannot be ignored without consequences that are patent to everybody.
The evil that results from our neglect of the ailments of the soul is of a nature that paralyzes and deludes our understanding and prevents the recognition of itself. Its gravity is not recognized because it does not apparently stand in the way of our worldly activities with the same directness as physical ailments. The average cultured man is, therefore, at liberty to ask questions without realizing any pressing necessity of submitting to the treatment of spiritual maladies at the hands of a really competent physician.
Why Formal Initiation?
The questions that are frequently asked are like these: "Why should it be at all necessary to submit to any particular person or to subscribe to any particular ceremony for the purpose of realizing the Absolute, who by His nature is unconditioned? Why should Krsna require our formal declaration of submission to Him? Would it not be more generous and logical to permit us to live a life of freedom in accordance with the principles of our perverted nature, which is also His creation? Admitting that it is our duty to serve Krsna, why should we have to be introduced to Him by a third party? Why is it impossible for one to serve Sri Krsna directly?"
In understanding the scriptures, it would no doubt be highly convenient and helpful to be instructed by a good preceptor who is well-versed in the scriptures. But one should never submit to another to an extent that may furnish a rascal with an opportunity of really doing harm. The bad preceptor is a familiar character. It is inexplicable how those gurus who live in open sin contrive nevertheless to retain the unquestioning allegiance of the cultured portion of their disciples.
Such being the case, can we blame any person who hesitates to submit unconditionally to a preceptor, whether he is good or bad? It is of course necessary to be quite sure of the bona fides of a person before we accept him even tentatively as our spiritual guide. A preceptor should be a person who appears likely to possess those qualities that will enable him to improve our spiritual condition.
Those and similar thoughts are likely to occur to most persons who have received an English education, when they are asked to accept the help of any particular person as their spiritual preceptor. The literature, science, and art of the West put forward the principle of the liberty of the individual and denounce the mentality that leads one to surrender to however superior a person his right of choosing his own course. They inculcate the necessity and high value of having faith in oneself.
Condition of Surrender
But the good preceptor claims our sincere and complete allegiance. The good disciple makes a complete surrender of himself at the feet of the preceptor. But the submission of the disciple is neither irrational nor blind. It is complete on condition that the preceptor himself continues to be altogether good. The disciple retains the right of renouncing his allegiance to the preceptor the moment he is satisfied that the preceptor is a fallible creature like himself.
Nor does a good preceptor accept anyone as his disciple unless the latter is prepared to submit to him freely. A good preceptor is duty bound to renounce a disciple who is not sincerely willing to follow his instructions fully. If a preceptor accepts as his disciple one who refuses to be wholly guided by him, or if a disciple submits to a preceptor who is not wholly good, such preceptor and such disciple are, both of them, doomed to fall from their spiritual state.
Submission to the Absolute
No one is a good preceptor who has not realized the Absolute. One who has realized the Absolute is saved from the necessity of walking on the worldly path. The good preceptor who lives the spiritual life is, therefore, bound to be wholly good. He should be wholly free from any desire for anything of this world, whether good or bad.
The categories of good and bad do not exist in the Absolute. In the Absolute everything is good. We can have no idea in our present state of this absolute goodness. Submission to the Absolute is not real unless it is also itself absolute. It is on the plane of the Absolute that the disciple is required to submit completely to the good preceptor. On the material plane there can be no such thing as complete submission. The pretence of complete submission to the bad preceptor is responsible for the corruptions that are found in the relationship of the ordinary worldly guru and his equally worldly-minded disciples.
All honest thinkers will realize the logical propriety of the position set forth above. But most persons will be disposed to believe that a good preceptor in the above sense may not be found in this world. This is really so. Both the good preceptor and his disciple belong to the spiritual realm. But spiritual discipleship is nevertheless capable of being realized by persons who belong to this world. Otherwise there would be no religion at all in the world. But because the spiritual life happens to be realizable in this world, it does not follow that it is the worldly existence which is capable of being improved into the spiritual. In fact, the one is perfectly incompatible with the other. They are categorically different from one another. The good preceptor, although he appears to belong to this world, is not really of this world. No one who belongs to this world can deliver us from worldliness. The good preceptor is a denizen of the spiritual world who has been enabled by the will of God to appear in this world in order to enable us to realize the spiritual existence.
The much vaunted individual liberty is a figment of the diseased imagination. We are bound willingly or unwillingly to submit to the laws of God in the material as well as in the spiritual world. The hankering for freedom in defiance of His laws is the cause of all our miseries. The total abjuration of all hankering for such freedom is the condition of admission to the spiritual realm. In this world we desire this freedom but are compelled against our will to submit to the inexorable laws of physical nature. This is the unnatural state. Such forced submission does not admit us into the spiritual realm.
In this world the moral principle indeed claims our willing submission. But even morality also is a curtailment of freedom necessitated by the peculiar circumstances of this world. The soul, who does not belong to this world, is in a state of open rebellion against submission to an alien domination. He is by his very constitution capable of submitting willingly only to the Absolute.
The good preceptor asks the struggling soul to submit not to the laws of this world, which will only rivet his chains, but to the higher law of the spiritual realm. The pretence of submission to the laws of the spiritual realm without the intention of really carrying them out in practice is often mistaken for genuine submission by reason of the absence of fullness of conviction. In this world the fully convinced state is non-existent. We are, therefore, compelled in all cases to act on make-believes, or the so-called working hypotheses.
The good preceptor tells us to change this method of activity that we have learned from our experience of this world. He invites us first of all to be really and fully informed of the nature and laws of the other world, which happens to be eternally and categorically different from this phenomenal world. If we do not sincerely submit to be instructed in the alphabets of the life eternal but go on perversely asserting, however unconsciously, our present processes and so-called convictions against the instructions of the preceptor in the period of novitiate, we are bound to remain where we are. This also will amount to the practical rejection of all advice, because the two worlds have nothing in common, though at the same time we naturally fail to understand this, believing all the time, in accordance with our accustomed methods, that we are at any rate partially following the preceptor. But as a matter of fact when we reserve the right of choice, we really follow ourselves, because even when we seem to agree to follow the preceptor, it is because he appears to be in agreement with ourselves. But as the two worlds have absolutely nothing in common, we are only under a delusion when we suppose that we really understand the method or the object of the preceptor or, in other words, when we reserve the right of assertion of the apparent self.
Faith in the scriptures can alone help us in this otherwise unpracticable endeavor. We believe in the preceptor with the help of the scriptures when we understand neither. As soon as we are fully convinced of the necessity of submitting unambiguously to the good preceptor, it is then and only then that he is enabled to show us the way into the spiritual world in accordance with the method laid down in the scriptures. He can apply that method properly and without perpetrating a fatal blunder in as much as he himself happens to belong to the realm of the spirit.
Necessity and Choice
The crux of the matter lies not in the external nature of the ceremony of initiation as it appears to us, because that is bound to be unintelligible to us, being an affair of the other world, but in the conviction of the necessity of, and the successful choice of, a really good preceptor. We can attain to the conviction of the necessity of the help of a good preceptor by the exercise of our unbiased reason in the light of our ordinary experience. When once this conviction has been truly formed, Sri Krsna Himself helps us in finding the really good preceptor in two ways. In the first place he instructs us as regards the character and functions of a good preceptor through the revealed scriptures. In the second place He Himself sends to us the good preceptor at the moment when we are at all likely to benefit by his instructions.
The good preceptor also comes to us when we reject him. In such cases also it is certainly Krsna who sends him to us for no reason whatsoever. Krsna has revealed from eternity the tidings of the spiritual realm in the form of transcendental sounds that have been handed down in the records of the spiritual scriptures all over the world. The spiritual scriptures help all those who are prepared to exercise reason for the purpose of finding not the relative but the Absolute Truth. The scriptures help them to find out the proper instructor in accordance with scriptural directions. The only good preceptor is he who can make us really understand the spiritual scriptures, which enable us to realize the necessity and the nature of submission to the processes laid down in them.
But there is still every chance of foul play. A very clever man or a magician may pass himself off as a person who can properly explain the scriptures by means of his greater knowledge or deceptive arts. It is very important, therefore, that we should be on our guard against such tricks. The scholar as well as the magician pretend to explain the scriptures only in terms of the objects or happenings of this world. But the scriptures themselves declare that they do not tell us at all of the things of this world. Those who are liable to be deluded by the arts of false yogis persuade themselves into believing that the spiritual is identical with the perversion, distortion, or defiance of the laws of physical nature. The laws of physical nature are not unreal. They govern the relation of all relative existences. In our present state it is therefore always possible for one who possesses the power or the knowledge to demonstrate the merely tentative character of what we choose to regard as our deepest convictions by exposing their insufficiency or inapplicability. But such surprises as these belong to the realm of the phenomenal, having nothing to do with the Absolute.
Those who have an unspiritual partiality for scholarship or for magic fall into the clutches of the pseudo-religionists. The serious plight of these victims of their own perversity will be realized from the fact that no one can be delivered from the state of ignorance by the method of compulsion. It is not possible to save the man who refuses on principle to listen to the voice of reason. The empiric pedants are no exception to this rule.
The plain meaning of the scriptures should, therefore, be our only guide in the search for the good preceptor when we actually feel the need of his guidance. The scriptures have defined the good preceptor as one who himself leads the spiritual life. It is not any worldly qualifications that make the good preceptor.
It is by unreserved submission to such a preceptor that we can be helped to reenter the realm that is our real home but which unfortunately is veritable terra incognita to almost all of us at present. That realm is also impossible to access by the body and mind that are the result of the disease of abuse of our faculty of free reason and the consequent accumulation of a killing load of worldly experiences that we have learned to regard as the very stuff of our existence.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura is the spiritual master of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the founder of the Gaudiya Matha institution. He passed from this world in 1936.