sādhanā

Why take dīkṣā from a guru?

Of the 64 limbs of bhakti ennumerated by Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami comments that the first twenty are doors that give entry into bhakti (अस्याः भक्तौ प्रवेशाय विंशति-अंगानाम् द्वारत्वेSपि), but of these, the first three are most important, i.e. they are the doors that open to the next (गुरु-पादाश्रयादि त्रयं प्रधानम्)| Uttama bhakti does not begin till one takes shelter of a teacher. This article examines the first three doors of bhakti.

The first door is गुरु-पादाश्रय (guru-pādāśraya tasmāt). There are three words here: guru, the word pādāśraya, and tasmāt. The word ‘tasmāt’ has the sense of a conditional1, and carries the sense of ‘if we are interested in bhakti’. The word pādāśraya means ‘shelter of the feet’, that is, one expresses to the guru their desire to serve the guru. So put together,

guru-pādāśraya tasmāt = If one is seriously interested in uttama bhakti, one must take shelter of a guru

Continuing Jiva Goswami’s analogy, passing through this door, one encounters door 2 which is kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi śikṣaṇam. The word dīkṣā here refers to the  process where the guru marks the disciple with tilak, ties tulasi-mālā around the neck, and utters secret dīkṣā mantras that can only be uttered by a guru to a disciple, that is, they are only accessible through the paramparā. The process implies surrender (which will be discussed later). Here the word ādi means ‘first’.

After taking shelter of the guru, the first act to be done is dīkṣā.

One then learns the scriptures (śikṣaṇam) from the guru. This is the main role of the guru- passing on pāramparic knowledge from guru to disciple which takes years of systematic training in the tradition.

As an example, Shri Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji’s training included systematic study from his guru of the following:

  • Sanskrit Grammar: Siddhanta Kaumudi (commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi), Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi, and Harinamamrta Vyakaranam.
  • Nyaya: Tarka Samgraha, Tarka Bhasa, Nyaya Siddhanta Muktavali, Tattva Cintamani, Mathuri Panca-laksani, and Vyutpattivada.
  • Purva-mimamsa: Artha Samgraha, Mimamsa Nyaya Prakasa, and Sloka Vartika.
  • Sankhya: Sankhya-Karika with Sankhya-tattva Kaumudi commentary, and Vidvat-tosini.
  • Yoga: Patanjali Yoga sutras with Tattva Vaisaradi commentary.
  • Advaita Vedanta: Tattvanusandhanama, Vedanta Parijata, Vicara Sagara, and Vrtti Prabhakara.
  • Vaisnava Vedanta (Caitanya School): Six Sandarbhas with Sarva-samvadini commentary, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, Govinda-bhasya commentary on Vedanta-sutras, Gita-bhusani and Sarartha-varsini commentaries on Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad Bhagavata Purana with Bhavartha-dipika, Krama-sandarbha and Sarartha-darsini commentaries, Hari-bhakti-vilasa, Caitanya-caritamrta, Brhad-bhagavatamrta, Laghu-bhagavatamrta, and Sri Radha Rasa-sudha-nidhi.
  • Sahitya: Sahitya Darpana, Kavya Prakasa, Dhvanyaloka, Alankar Kaustubha, Dasa-rupakam, and Natyasastra.
  • Chanda: Cando Manjari.
  • Jyotisa: Muhurtta-cintamani.

This type of comprehensive training in Nyaya, Purva mimamsa, Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Sahitya etc. is required for understanding the context that Jiva Goswami refers to in his Sandarbhas. Otherwise it is difficult to understand the Sandarbhas, and without clear understanding, one can neither apply them properly nor transmit the knowledge in the paramparā. Lack of proper śikṣā is why deviations come into a paramparā and knowledge becomes lost or distorted.

The purpose of dīkṣā is taking śikṣā from the guru. When one does not take śikṣā from the guru, one does not go through door 2, and that means one should not expect the result of bhakti. Bhakti is an exact process, much like a laboratory experiment, and will not give the outcome if not followed exactly.

Door 3 is viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā – serving one’s guru with sincerity.

If these three doors are not passed through, one can execute the rest of the limbs of bhakti, but one will not get the result. Maharajji therefore used to point out the fruitlessness of doing Govardhana parikrama or any other limb of bhakti, if one has not first surrendered to their guru.


  1. भक्ति रसामृत सिंधु lectures, Bhakti Tirtha II, Shri Satyanarayana dasa Babaji, Jiva Institute, Vrindavan. 2017. 

Categories: sādhanā

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17 replies »

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post… was wondering if Satyanarayana Babaji would teach to only those who are initiated or does he have students who are not initiated yet?

    In other branches of Caitanya Vaishnavism there is an expectation of chanting a certain number of rounds of Hare Krishna mantra for the initiated. Could you clarify how many rounds are Babaji’s initiated disciples expected to chant…

    Thank you.

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    • Babaji teaches both initiated and non-initiated students. Babaji does not require a uniform number of rounds from everyone. It varies from person to person. The idea is to not chant as a duty, because then we ultimately will come to dislike chanting (or indeed any other activity imposed as a duty). Chanting becomes a burden, and that is offensive.

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  2. It seems then that siksa is the main thing to focus on, so is diksa optional? Because Babaji is also teaching to non-initiated…

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  3. Right. But then in this case some of Babaji’s students would be doing bhakti like chanting holy names while receiving siksa even before getting diksa right?

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    • There are students who are interested in performing bhakti under the guidance of Babaji. They will take diksha and then chant. There are others who are already chanting because they belong to other groups and are not interested in diksha from Babaji but appreciate his scholarship and want to learn. There are still others who are not interested in performing bhakti according to the Chaitanya sampradaya but are interested in hearing from Babaji. Babaji is not interested in laying down rules and requirements – he teaches freely. What the student wants to do with his teaching is the student’s decision.

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  4. then can we take it that knowledge and bhakti can be there before taking diksa? Because Jiva Gosvami also seems to have learnt all these topics of Grammar, Nyaya, etc. before taking diksa… and Babaji is also allowing it..

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    • We can receive knowledge before diksha, like Sri Rupa and Sanatana Goswami. But uttama bhakti does not begin before diksha. Bhakti is of various types- Desha bhakti, Cricket bhakti, bhakti of parents etc. So bhakti of some type may have begun, but not uttama bhakti. please study its definition in early articles on this website.

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  5. Right. But then can we say that Srila Gadadhara Pandita didn’t begin Uttama bhakti till he took mantra from Srila Pundarika Vidyanidhi? Or Narottama Dasa Thakur? because the only thing that seems to be lacking is his case was mantra diksa…

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    • No because these are associates of Sri Chaitanya. they are setting the example, but they don’t need diksha or anything for doing bhakti. They are eternal bhaktas.

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  6. Thank you. I understand the importance of surrendering to a guru… but isn’t it also mentioned that nama sankirtana doesn’t require diksa? so wouldn’t someone who is surrendered to a guru, learning from him, serving him and chanting not be performing uttama bhakti?

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    • If someone was like Narottama dasa Thakur, then he would be performing uttama bhakti without diksha by doing nama japa alone. If someone is surrendered to a guru, then why would such a person not want to take diksha?

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  7. The person maybe eager but the guru may not want to give as was the case with Lokanatha Gosvami or the guru may want to test the person’s sincerity over some time… Like it said that there is a period of testing of diksa that can go till 4 years for some people… We also see that some respected and elevated devotees like Srila Gaura Govinda Swami too received diksa quite late in life although they had association of devotees and studied Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrta right from young age… so such people were aware of the philosophy having received it through sravana gurus and were praying to meet a guru to take diksa from – isn’t that Uttama bhakti?

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    • There may be rare exceptions as I have already replied before. For the rest, uttama bhakti does not start till one surrenders to the guru, after which the next step is diksha, shiksha and guru-seva. This is Sri Rupa Goswami’s teaching.

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  8. But being an exact science people can’t be exceptions right? surrender to guru is not an exception but diksa? because the same Rupa Gosvami also quotes in Padyavali that diksa is not a prerequisite for harinama… so seems like he is only making nama sankirtana an exception…

    Would be glad if you could show a direct pramana for saying that without diksa uttama bhakti doesn’t begin… I agree to the point that without surrendering to a Vaisnava guru uttama bhakti can’t begin because sadhu sanga is the key…

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    • The first paragraph of this article gives you the pramana: “Of the 64 limbs of bhakti ennumerated by Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami comments that the first twenty are doors that give entry into bhakti (अस्याः भक्तौ प्रवेशाय विंशति-अंगानाम् द्वारत्वेSपि), but of these, the first three are most important, i.e. they are the doors that open to the next (गुरु-पादाश्रयादि त्रयं प्रधानम्)|”

      Sadhana bhakti is an exact science. Once you get bhava, that science doesn’t apply as bhava bhakti is not sadhana bhakti. Therefore people like Pandit Goswami did not need to take diksha, and yet, even they took diksha. Sri Chaitanya, who came to teach uttama bhakti, took diksha. And there may be exceptions who did not take diksha but got siddhi by nama japa alone; these examples are there to show the power of harinama. These examples are not meant for sadhakas to emulate. I have said enough on this. You are free to believe what you want.

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  9. Thank you prabhu. I am sorry I don’t intend to harass you or anything. Grateful for your time and answers…

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