Gurus and a Culture of Respect
Tremendous honour is offered to the teacher (guru) in the Vaisnava tradition. There are several types of teachers and those most commonly referred to are the Sravana-guru, Siksa-guru and the Diksa-guru. Among them, who we hear general talks and instructions from are the Sravana-gurus or those from whom we hear (sravanam). The Siksa-gurus are referred to as the instructors, that is those who teach us more specifically about devotional life; they teach us in light of the holy scriptures. Then the Diksa-guru, of which a person will only have one, and who gives the mantras. The Diksa-guru both initiates the disciple into the proper chanting of mantras and into a school/ tradition whereby by they will be educated in knowledge that will dispel all suffering.
Jiva Goswami, therefore refers to the Diksa-guru and the 'giver of mantras' and the Siksa-guru as the teacher of scriptures. On an occasion I asked the late Srila Gaura-Govinda Maharaja, what constitutes the difference between these to types of Gurus. He replied, 'The Diksa-guru establishes the disciples feet in Vrindavan (Krishna's holy abode) and the Siksa-guru teaches him how to walk. A simple answer perhaps, but I found it most helpful.
As Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stated, a person may only have one several Siksa-gurus, but as already stated--one Diksa-guru. The question of whom is more dear and in that sense more important remains a subjective matter for the disciple. As one progresses on the path of love an inclination will be found towards those who are like-minded and affectionate. Rupa Goswami instructs that we should seek out the association on those who fit this description. In the culture of a loving temperament towards Lord Krishna, we should mix with those who inspire it within us. Therefore having said that, a discipline will naturally favour more or be more intimately connect with the Guru that emulates a chosen temperament and shows great kindness. It is said that the famous Syamananda found his greatest inspiration in Jiva Goswami, his Siksa-guru, rather than in his Diksa-guru. Quite simply Jiva Goswami was nourishing the inner and constitutional loving temperament of Syamananda; a temperament that his Diksa-guru did not share. Another example of such is from the song compositions of Bhaktivinoda Thakur, wherein he offers far greater respect to his Siksa-gurus.
In any civilized community, respect of others is paramount what to speak of one's teachers. Therefore maturity in one's dealings with Gurus is most important. Where one Guru means more to us it does not imply that another is less and to be dishonoured. Cordial and respectful dealings can never be compromised. Still having said all that the Diksa-guru's role, no matter what, always retains special significance. This is seen by the scenario of approaching Siksa-gurus, a disciple must seek the blessing and permission of the Diksa-guru. The etiquette certainly infers that the initiator into mantras and tradition has a responsibility to assist us in making a mature choice and one that doesn't undermine the tradition and it's overall teachings. Further to this the dynamic ensures that one is not educated by a teacher in isolation, nor confused and wrongly selective amidst the opinions among the many others (Siksa and Sravana Gurus). The system therefore retains respect, dynamism and gravity. The learning process is both grounded and yet open.
In exceptional circumstances, and we have seen in our life, some Diksa-gurus too concerned for their own interests and possessive of their disciples are reluctant to grant them permission to learn from a Siksa-guru. That is not to discount valid situations where the Siksa-guru may be from a different theological tradition. However, wherein a valid scenario permission is refused, progress for both parties is stalled.
Progress in loving devotion to Krishna is attained by such holy and inspirational teachers. To exclude or disrespect the requirement of such guidance is condemned by the wise. To conclude and push the principle of the necessity of such teacher/ student relations, I will end with a citation from the esteemed theologian Visvanatha Cakravarti:
"Some know that the Lord is worshipable and He is only attained by devotion. For such
devotion the guru is the instructor and, in the past, only the devotees following the
instructions of the guru have attained the Lord. Still if they do not feel any necessity of
accepting a guru and think that by näma-saìkértana they can attain the Lord, then also they
become guilty of disrespecting the guru. Such persons never attain the Lord. When this
offense is nullified, either in this birth or the next, and if they take the shelter of the feet of a
bona fide guru, then they can attain the Lord." (Sarartha Darshini 6.9-10)