I was initiated earlier by a priest – how do I see it when seeking initation from a Vaishnava guru?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 17, 2017

Answer Podcast

Transcribed and edited byNayanasundari Devi Dasi  (Nisha Makhija)

QuestionIf before getting introduced to bhakti, we were initiated by some priest or some other non- Vaishnava guru, what do we do after we come to bhakti?

Answer (short)

  • Initiation is a natural step forward on your chosen path of spirituality.
  • Initiation is like admission into a college. It is different for different paths of study for example, arts college, law college, etc. Similarly, initiation by a non-Vaishnava guru and Vaishnava guru are your natural step forward to two different paths of spirituality.
  • Handle the situation in a respectful, sensitive, intelligent & non-sentimental way.

Answer (long)

Bhakti Vinod Thakur talks about this in his books. Essentially he says that if a devotee has not been initiated by a Vaishnava, that initiation is for some other purpose. When we want to practice Vaishanvism or Krishna bhakti, then, we naturally take initiation from a guru in Krishna bhakti. So these two initiations are not contradictory. Let us try to understand this with an example.

We can say that initiation is like admission into a college. Suppose I had earlier studied arts and now I want to study some other field, e.g. law. Naturally I will take admission in a law college. That way, there is necessarily not a contradiction between the two, because they are different paths. If you are already initiated by a Vaishanava guru who belongs to a bonafide parampara, then we don’t need to take initiation again. But if it’s in some other path, then taking initiation again is just a natural step forward.

We don’t need to be disrespectful towards or reject the previous guru. Sometimes we see that such initiation is just nominal. If I remember correctly, even Bhakti Vinod Thakur himself and Srila Prabhupada were initiated by caste gurus nominally. But those initiations did not transform them. Sometimes such initiations also help one to come to a certain basic level of piety, some basic level of dharmic activity, even if they are not according to proper conclusion of shastras. Sometime such initiation may not lead to any transformation and we may just stay wherever we are, in our state of consciousness. Sometimes such initiation may lead to a little bit of elevation towards sattva guna. So whatever it is, the important thing is that we practice bhakti. Initiation is a part of the practice of bhakti, so we need to take initiation also.

With regards to our past guru, we don’t have to unnecessarily aggravate the conflict. If we had no connection at all with that guru after initiation, because that’s what happens in nominal or ritual initiations, then we can just move on. If we have had connections, then we may have to intelligently, respectfully, convey to the appropriate people, our intention of practicing Krishna bhakti and our plan to take initiation and move on.

There are 2 ways of envisioning our practice of Krishna bhakti:-

  1. Seeing it as a rejection of the past
  2. Seeing it as a progression of our past

Rejection of the past means, considering whatever I did in the past was sinful, materialistic, wrong, all bad and I have to give it up. Now I am starting the good thing. It could be true to some of us in some aspects of our lives, but for most of us, the practice of Krishna bhakti is not a rejection of the past. It is a progression from the past. We need to acknowledge the fact that our parents, relatives, other guides, well-wishers, have helped us in bringing us to a particular level, and from there we are moving onwards.  In some cases, especially with respect to anti-devotional activities, we may have to see our practice of bhakti as rejection of the past, but in the overall pattern of our life, we see it as a progression from our past. We may even express our gratitude to our previous teachers, if we have learned something from them. Then we move on.

To conclude, we can approach this in a very respectful and sensitive way. At the same time, in an unsentimental and intelligent way. This means that we don’t give up our practice of Krishna bhakti and at the same time, we don’t hurt those, with whom we may have been connected in the past. At least we can try to minimize that hurt by sensibly handling such situation.  We take initiation in our practice of Krishna bhakti and move on.

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Chaitanya Charan

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