Whenever I Read about Narada Muni in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, I am reminded of the power of initiation into Krsna conscious life. Narada was only five when his spiritual masters came to spend the rainy season at his mother's inn. They stayed four months, and after they left, he never saw them again. While they were there, he was able to serve them, hear from them, and accept initiation from them. Srila Prabhupada writes, "There was a tangible change in his life, although he was only a boy of five years." His encounter with these sages was so brief that we are left to wonder what it was they gave him that produced such a lasting change.
The sages imparted vijnana, realized knowledge of their Krsna conscious teachings. This is the real gift the spiritual master gives a disciple at initiation. Anyone can read the scriptures to gain knowledge, and chanting is so easy that anyone can do that too. But only the spiritual master can provide both knowledge and the service exchange by which realization of the knowledge becomes possible. Realization implies that we live what we have learned. Thus we see that when someone accepts initiation in Krsna consciousness, his life changes.
It becomes obvious by Narada's behavior that he internalized his gift of realized knowledge. His story reminds me of Srila Prabhupada's experience when he met his spiritual master for the first time. "Such a nice saintly person I have met. Now I know that Lord Caitanya's mission is in expert hands." Although it was some years before Prabhupada actually accepted initiation, he at once desired to serve his spiritual master's mission. For Srila Prabhupada, meeting his guru didn't seem to cause sweeping changes in the externals of his life he didn't suddenly give up his family or reject his business but his internal life changed in a significant way. He later told us that after that meeting, the spiritual training his father had given him now became solidified by his guru.
For those born in the West, the changes we experience are usually more obvious. We give up illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. We begin to chant the holy name. We come to accept a beautiful bluish boy as the Absolute Truth. How could any of that be possible for those born in this culture? It's a sign we have been given a gift of realization.
Another piece of realized knowledge we come to understand almost miraculously when we accept a spiritual master is that we are not the body but eternal servants of Krsna. This realization grows in depth as our willingness to serve guru and Krsna increases.
Sometimes people assume that initiation is external, something done to join an institution. When initiation is approached with the proper motives, however, there is nothing external about it. The significance of initiation goes far beyond institutional status, and those who take initiation only to achieve such status are inevitably disappointed. By taking true shelter of a spiritual master, we develop the strength and discipline to open ourselves to a Krsna conscious inner life. The real heart of the initiation relationship is the disciple's desire to become a devotee of Krsna and the spiritual master's willingness to help the disciple achieve that goal.
Initiation is based on faith. The support of an initiated devotee's life is his or her relationship with other devotees and with the vows he or she has accepted that is, the relationship with chanting Hare Krsna and with living a clean, Krsna conscious life. Hearing from scripture is also essential. To understand these practices as necessary aspects of the guru-disciple relationship is important, because initiation is only the beginning. By continued service to the spiritual master, we are prodded into an ever-deepening understanding of Krsna and our relationship with Him. This prodding does not depend on the guru's physical presence, but on the service attitude toward the spiritual master in the disciple's heart. Narada spent only four months out of his entire life with his spiritual masters, and Srila Prabhupada met his spiritual master only a dozen times, but both were great, empowered devotees. Our success may be smaller, but it is of the same nature. By entering into a committed relationship with the spiritual master, we can attain Krsna.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.