for ISKCON News on Oct. 14, 2011
On September 25th, ISKCON Youth Ministry’s long-serving Manu and Jaya Radhe—now Manorama Dasa and Jaya Sri Radhe Dasi— were given Harinama initiation by Sacinandana Swami, prompting a discussion on the second generation’s approach to this important step in a devotee’s life.
Many “gurukulis” have historically been slower to take initiation than their parents for a number of varied and valid reasons. As Manorama discusses in ISKCON News’ first article in this series, many—like him—have a desire to not take the step cheaply and to be fully prepared for such a major commitment. Others already feel connected enough to Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Some have an understandable mistrust of ISKCON leaders due to previous bad experiences. And some are not yet ready to commit to chanting sixteen rounds daily and the other challenges of a serious practioner’s life.
All, as Manorama states clearly, are in their own stages of spiritual growth, and should be given the space to take the decision of initiation at their own pace, with no pressure.
In recent years, however, many gurukulis have made this important decision in their lives, and have taken initiation from an ISKCON guru. We asked three of them: Jagannath Kirtan Dasa, who was initiated by Jayapataka Swami in 2008 at age 25, Bhakti-lata Dasi, who was initiated by Radhanath Swami in 2010 at age 23, and Dattatreya Yogesvara Dasa, who was initiated by Jayapataka Swami in March this year at age 25, for their thoughts on the topic.
ISKCON News: Why do you think gurukulis have typically been slower about getting initiated? Do you think that is changing now, and if so, why?
Bhakti-lata: I sense that gurukulis have been slower about receiving initiation because they're already immersed in Krishna culture. What's the point in making such heavy vows when one is already IN the flow, chanting, doing service, etc?
But the biggest reason, I believe, is chanting 16 rounds. It's a huge commitment. For me, getting to the point of actually steadily chanting 16 rounds every day has been the greatest challenge of my entire life, and it still is. I chant a lot slower than most people, so it takes me around 3 hours every day. And although gurukulis love to chant in kirtan—sometimes for 24 hours straight!—there's something very austere about chanting japa for us.
I do believe, however, that this trend of initiation is slowly taking root amongst gurukulis. I have a personal belief that maybe it's because they're searching for some deeper commitment to Krishna consciousness. At the same time, I know gurukulis who will probably never receive initiation from anyone because they simply feel connected to Srila Prabhupada.
Jagannath Kirtan: For some, there are trust issues. Others, to be honest, may not want to stop partying. They might still be thinking there is real happiness in material life. But even if they are struggling, if they just pray to Krishna and beg to have a relationship with Him, then it’s only a matter of time until the guru is revealed.
I think it’s about developing trust and a higher taste for Krishna with the right association. Once the determination is there, like Radhanath Swami describes in his biography, then Krishna is happy to reciprocate and send His representative.
Dattatreya Yogesvara: I think that gurukulis have generally been slower to get initiated because they have what they think are great lives—they travel to India, eat prasadam, do kirtan, watch movies, listen to music and are not very serious. Whereas the older generation was fed up with material life and ready to take to Krishna consciousness. I think that gurukulis’ approach will change, but I don’t know that it is changing yet. The reason I believe it will change is because I do notice some gurukulis becoming purified, and that will translate to our children.
ISKCON News: Why did you personally make the decision to get initiated?
Jagannath Kirtan: A friend of mine told me that when one feels he can't go on in life any longer without making a solid connection with a guru, when he feels so unqualified but knows he can’t not have that relationship—that’s when he should make the decision. I truly felt that way. I had a relationship with my spiritual master since I can remember, but as I matured in Krishna consciousness I realized that unless I had his shelter and guidance I would never grow in a healthy way, or be safe, would never be happy or please Krishna the way Srila Prabhupada wants me too.
I always understood initiation in a simple way: that taking shelter of a bona fide spiritual master is what pleases Krishna and what is really in our best interest. I was following the regulative principles and chanting 16 rounds, so when I had the recommendation of a temple president and was accepted by my spiritual master that was all I needed to take the step. My heart was there, and as I thought it would be, it was the best day of my life.
Dattatreya Yogesvara: Firstly, I made the decision to get initiated because when I started reading the Srimad Bhagavatam during Kartik 2009—out of a desire to progress in my spiritual life—I kept seeing a lot of times where Srila Prabhupada would emphasize having a guru and finding a spiritual master.
Secondly, I used to chant sixteen rounds for a few months and then stop, and I would stop because I didn’t have the time to do everything I wanted to do during the day. Yet when I stopped chanting I had a drastic loss of happiness, organization, and efficiency in my life even though I had a lot more time.
Bhakti-lata: I often hear parallels between marriage and initiation—both are very grave steps in life that involve vows that shall impress upon us for lifetimes. One may ask, why get married? Why make those vows when you can just live lives together as a very committed couple? I have come to the conclusion that there is something about taking those profound vows in front of the world and in front of God that gives the couple the strength to weather the storms.
Similarly, I was born to devotee parents who gave me a spiritual name at birth. I do not ever remember learning the maha-mantra, and my guru Radhanath Swami loves me unconditionally, whether I would have ever received initiation from him or not. So why take that formal step of initiation? For me, it’s about making those vows in front of the world and in front of God. The vows of initiation are so powerful that sometimes I feel chills to meditate upon them. Those vows carve and shape my life, and give me a safe place to fall. Receiving initiation is like marriage in the sense that now I belong to someone, now I can rest my soul, knowing that I am connected to a family who can carry me in the fiercest of spiritual storms.
ISKCON News: What major and subtle changes have there been in your life now that you are initiated? What do you think initiation will continue to change in your life?
Bhakti-lata: The most profound change is the peace I feel in my heart. I feel settled. I feel grounded and sure and safe. I feel strong—I no longer am only accountable to myself—I am accountable to my spiritual master, to Srila Prabhupada, to all of the devotees. That accountability gives me great strength to set an example for others. I feel that initiation will continue to change my life by giving me the sureness and strength to offer every breath of my life in service, knowing that it shall be offered in the right direction, like the right amount of water on a plant.
Dattatreya Yogesvara: For me there haven’t been many major changes, because I am still doing the same things I was doing before I got initiated. But the subtle changes for me have been more determination and more focus in my life. I think that initiation will change my level of understanding of how things work spiritually and my connection with Krishna.
Jagannath Kirtan: I thought I was going to feel a heavy weight that I might struggle with for the rest of my life, but the very first feeling I clearly remember having after initiation was just like I was being carried. I felt just like that, like he was carrying me, and I was somehow free and clean and fresh.
It proved to me that it really is a “spiritual science.” If we make the experiment we will get the result. It worked. It gave me healthy boundaries and protected me. My material relationships and circumstances immediately began to change. Sometimes things appeared depressing or bad at first, but then Krishna appeared in beautiful ways, and everything made sense, and there was a deep sense of acceptance and gratitude.
ISKCON News: Are there any other initiated gurukulis that inspire you?
Bhakti-lata: Ramachandra Das Kaviraj got initiation quite a few years ago from Indradyumna Swami, but I feel inspired by him because he even went on to receive second initiation to worship Sri Pancha-Tattva in Mayapur. I saw him one morning on the altar, did a double-take and my jaw dropped! I mean, he’s younger than me! I felt inspired by that. And he’s also getting his Master's degree in Education, so he understands that one must take care of one’s material life as well.
ISKCON News: A question and a concern that the older generation often have is, will gurukulis step up and continue this movement when they are gone? Do you think more gurukulis getting initiated means positive things for the future of the movement?
Dattatreya Yogesvara: I think it does, because by association that will increase and hopefully spread to other gurukulis.
Bhakti-lata: I’m not sure if initiation will address the issue of succession. But I know that where powerful vows of commitment are made, that tends to infuse a society or institution with vigor and strength. I personally find it incredibly inspiring to witness my peers take to this process so seriously, because it gives me hope that my own children shall take to this process naturally as well. That yes, Krishna consciousness is the nature of the soul, and the process that Srila Prabhupada has given us is complete.
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