The Process of Initiation
discourse is a translation of an article written in Bengali,
entitled Panca-samskara, by
Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda. The article was originally
published in the journal, Sajjana Tosani,
(vol. 2/1) in 1885. I have added portions, indicated by
square brackets, from a supplementary article of the same
title also from Sajjana Tosani (vol.
4/1) published in 1892. Translation
by Shukavak N. Dasa
is said in the sastra that a person who
receives panca-samskara can
practice two kinds of devotion and
gain permanent happiness in the eternal abode of Sri Hari:
saksat krtya harim tasya dhamni nityam pramodate//
who read this instruction with faith will want to understand
the meaning of the expression panca-samskara. In
order to help them, we will first explain the conventional
understanding of the term and then give its deeper significance.
The smrti-sastras explain panca-samskara in
the following manner:
tapah pundram tatha nama
mantro yagas ca pancamah/
ami hi panca-samskarah paramaikanti-hetavah//
pundra, nama, mantra, and yaga-these
five items comprise panca-samskara. They
are the cause of intense devotion to Lord Hari."
a faithful person learns about panca-samskara, he
approaches a religious teacher and humbly requests
him for initiation, or diksa. After considering
the student's sincerity, the teacher mercifully gives tapa and pundra to
the student in order to sanctify his body. Some religious
groups give tapa by marking the student's
body in various places with the symbols of Sri Visnu's
conch, disc, club and lotus using hot iron brands.
Other religious groups imprint the name of Hari with
clay using a sandalwood stamp. [In reference to tapa the smrti sastras further
gatram ankayet candanadina/
sa loka-pavano bhutva tasya lokam avapnuyat//
"One who marks his body with the syllables of Hari's
name using sandal paste purifies the world and after
death attains the kingdom of God."
[In the Sri Sampradaya of Ramanuja tapa is
given by branding the body with the symbols of conch
and disc, but Sri Caitanyadeva has instructed
that we mark the body with Harinama using sandal
paste etc. instead of brands. This rule is a blessing
for the souls of kali-yuga.]
Pundra, or tilaka marks,
are vertical lines drawn on the body. The sastras interpret
these vertical marks either as symbols representing
the Temple of Hari, or as His footprints. Accordingly
each religious group has its own prescription for pundra which
is universally accepted within that particular group.
name is the third samskara. Mercifully
the teacher utters the name of Hari into the ear of the
faithful student. This name is to be recited daily by
the student. [Receiving name means that one understands
one's self to be a servant of Hari. During initiation
the teacher also gives a personal name to the student
which indicates devotion to Hari. In the Sri Sampradaya
of Ramanuja, names like Rama Krsna
Dasa, Narayana Dasa,
Ramanuja Dasa, etc. are given. In
the Gaudiya Sampradaya names such as Sri Govinda
Dasa, Sri Nityananda Dasa, Sri Caitanya
Dasa, etc. are used. Since the time of Srimad
Mahaprabhu names like Ratnabahu, Kavikaranapura,
Premanidhi, etc. have been used. Subsequently, even names
such as Bhagavatabhusana, Gitabhusana,
Bhaktibhusana, etc. are employed.]
fourth samskara is mantra. Out
of his mercy the teacher gives an 18 syllable mantra
to his beloved student. [Mantra is the recitation of
a short prayer which corresponds to the particular deity
one worships. In the worship of Krsna an 18 syllable
mantra is given.]
fifth and final samskara is yaga or deity
worship. Using the mantra which he has received from
his teacher, the student begins the worship of salagrama sila or sri murti, the
Deity of Visnu. This is known as yaga.
By receiving panca-samskara, the
five sacraments, a faithful person enters into bhajana-kriya or the personal worship
of God, which eventually leads to pure love for Sri Hari.
we analyze the stages that lead to love of God, we understand
that faith or sraddha is the first
stage. Without sraddha, there is
no way to obtain love of God. From faith, one seeks saintly
association, called sadhu-sanga.
This leads to shelter at the feet of a spiritual teacher.
Thereafter, panca-samskara or initiation follows. Panca-samskara gives
rise to bhajana-kriya or the personal worship
of God. Bhajana-kriya leads to anartha-nivrtti, which
is the stage where one clears up unwanted things from
his heart. After anartha-nivrtti one's
faith can develop and one enters the stage called nistha or
mature faith. From nistha, taste or ruci develops.
This leads to the stage called asakti or deep
attachment. From asakti spiritual emotions
called bhava spring forth. This eventually
ripens into the stage called love of God, prema.
Therefore, everyone should seek shelter at the feet of
a spiritual teacher and receive panca-samskara, which
is the source of bhajana. Without panca-samskara,
bhajana is not spontaneous. Instead, it is performed
people think that prema or love of God can be
obtained without panca-samskara.
This is incorrect. The conditioned soul in this world
has become hostile to the Divine, and consequently his
original spiritual nature has become distorted. As a
result he must sanctify himself before his true spiritual
nature can develop. And what is the means to attain this
pure state? The best way is through samskara or
sanctification. Without samskara how
can his distorted nature be given up? If we see someone
whose nature is not distorted then we think that in a
previous birth, through the mercy of a spiritual teacher,
he must have received samskara, and
on the strength of that samskara he
has attained his true spiritual nature wherein prema or
love of God has arisen. Otherwise we think that this
person has been imperceptibly sanctified by the inconceivable
mercy of the Lord Himself. No matter how you look at
it, samskara is always there. On
the other hand, samskara is not
necessary for liberated persons because their nature
is not distorted. Distortion of the soul's original spiritual
nature is the cause of his bondage in this world. For
this reason, without samskara the
life of the conditioned soul is impure. Even if a person
has attained prema on account of previous samskara, still in his present life he again receives samskara in order set
a proper example for the good of all.
in all religions and in all countries. The purer a particular
religion is, the more its samskaras are
sacred and complete. Although we have not had the opportunity
to thoroughly study the samskaras of
all religions, we at least can say that the samskaras of
the Aryan religion appear to be of a higher order than
the samskaras of other religions.
In particular, the samskaras of
Vaisnava culture are the best part of the Aryan
religion. No other practise is as sacred and complete.
The question arises, "if the practise
of samskara found in Vaisnava
culture is so good, then why are those who practise it
still bound by distorted natures?" The answer is
that Vaisnava samskara is the best, but at the present time it is practised in name only.
Both the spiritual teacher and the student block their
own spiritual advancement by being content with only
the external aspects of samskara, as I've just described. Today, the deeper significance
of samskara is not understood. When the student submits himself to the teacher,
the teacher gives panca-samskara and then abondons him. What good can come from panca-samskara of
this type? Externally the student looks good, but internally there is nothing. The
symbols of divine conch, disc and the name of Hari mark
the body. The tongue utters the name of Hari and worship
of salagrama sila or sri-murti with mantra
is performed, but the student is addicted to endless
sinful practises. At night, he takes intoxicants and
practises debauchery! Oh good teacher, how have you benefited
your student? What is the difference in him before and
after diksa? In fact, he is worse. He is
a hypocrite. There is no remorse, "I am sinful.
It is my fault. How can my sin be given up?" These
days no one thinks like this when they take shelter of
a spiritual teacher. Sinful activities are performed
without the slightest concern. What misfortune!
Why is this? The reason is that the wrong
kind of relationship exists between teacher and student.
The sastras give rules to guide this relationship, but they are not followed. The
student who is burning in the fire of material life,
who analyses his predicament and concludes, "My
relationship with material nature is not permanent, therefore
I must take shelter of a spiritual teacher in order to
obtain the feet of God," has reached the stage of
faith and is qualified to take shelter of a spiritual
teacher. The teacher should study the student for one
year and observe his atonement. This is called tapa. During this examination period the student is encouraged
to atone even more and when the teacher is satisfied,
he brands the student with the symbols of conch and disc.
These marks are permanent and they symbolize the purity
that the student must maintain for the rest of his life.
This is tapa, the faithful soul's first samskara.
In English we define the word tapa as "repentance, atonement, and the permanent impression of higher
sentiment on the soul." Tapa applies
not only to the body, but also to the mind and the soul.
If it is only physical, in the form of branding
or stamping, then tapa has not actually
taken place and religious practise becomes hypocritical.
At the present time this kind of hypocrisy has weakened
Vaisnava culture. Without tapa or
inner repentance, the soul cannot live as a Vaisnava.
Without tapa the whole process becomes
useless. Without tapa the heart remains
impure. Therefore good friends, seek atonement without
the teacher sees that the student has received tapa properly,
(in other words, genuine atonement has occurred) then
out of his mercy, the teacher gives him urdhva-pundra. What is urdhva-pundra?
It is effulgence! It is also known as urdhva-gati, the
path of advancement. After receiving tapa the
student voluntarily accepts a suitable amount of renunciation
from worldly activities. This is the path of advancement.
However, if the student accepts no renunciation then
his tapa or atonement, is useless. So
much trouble! So much asceticism! So much renunciation
of one's happiness! So much work to control lust, anger
and greed, but it is all useless labor if one does
not perform these austerities in order to obtain Vaikuntha,
the kingdom of God. In other words, by taking
shelter of Sat Cit Ananda Lord Hari, a soul
follows the path of advancement, urdhva-gati.
The illumination of the soul, the mind and the body
is called urdhva-pundra. Aversion to material life and attachment to the Supreme Lord is called tapa, and pundra and
these two ornaments are absolutely necessary for the
Without urdhva-pundra the body is as good as dead. Realizing this we must bathe in atonement.
Without urdhva-pundra the
mind drifts and becomes attached to lowly sense objects
and then wastes its time discussing the lowest subjects.
O repentant soul! Do not delay, mark the body, mind
and soul with urdhva-pundra and follow the path of advancement which leads to the kingdom of God.
Without urdhva-pundra the
soul's real nature is extinguished. Therefore adopt urdhva-pundra.
the beloved student shining with tapa and urdhva-pundra, the teacher gladly gives nama, the holy name of God that awakens the soul's eternal
nature. The eternal nature of the soul is servitude to
the Lord, and by tasting the nectar of the Lord's holy
name the soul is carried to the supreme abode. Then he
says, "I am Hari Dasa. I am not the enjoyer
of this world. Even Maya herself is eternally
connected to Krsna and I must utilize her in the
service of Krsna." The eternal soul is then
enchanted by singing the name of Hari. By taking shelter
in the nectar of the Lord's holy name, the soul becomes
aware of his own spiritual nature. Intelligent men, always
sing the name of Hari! Let the mind always remember the
name of Hari. May the soul always be adorned with the
name of Hari.
Out of affection, the teacher next gives
a mantra that allows his student to easily experience
the nectar of the Lord's holy name. A mantra is a kind
of prayer that contains the name of God that is inflected
grammatically in the dative case. The
mantra also includes certain adjectives that qualify
the name of God and allows it to express a particular
mood or taste. By giving a mantra the teacher helps his
student taste the holy name by selecting a suitable "flavor" for
him. When we say "namah", obeisance
to Hari, we employ the 4th or the dative case ending.
The dative case expresses the proper relationship between
the worshipper, the worshiped and the worship that allows
the taste of the holy name to be easily experienced.
There is no end to the happiness of a person who has
received a mantra. Those who analyze the meaning of the
18 syllable mantra, generally used in the worship of Sri Krsna,
know that it is a condensed sampling of the taste available
from the Lord. The same also applies to the
24 syllable gayatri and other
mantras that are often used to worship the Lord. Those who have not received
a mantra can only speculate about the taste of the holy
name, but unfortunately most of their considerations
are useless. Therefore you must receive a mantra. Those
who have received it consider it to be a most important samskara. There
are those who are aware of these principles and yet still
are not on solid ground in the matter of worship because
they have not received tapa, pundra, nama,
and mantra from a qualified teacher. Every subject
has its rules and regulations and those who reject the
rules and regulations of worship often experience difficulty.
Therefore it is said:
atyantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva
service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures
like the Upanisads, Puranas and Narada-pancaratra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society."
Therefore my friends! With logic and pure reasoning
receive tapa, pundra, nama and mantra from
a qualified teacher. Not only will you become happy,
but by establishing this divine link with God you will
benefit all the people around you.
of love the teacher next explains the procedure of yaga or
Deity worship to his student. Without Deity worship
the conditioned soul cannot advance properly. Even though
one has received tapa, pundra, nama, and mantra the
soul's material condition has not fully abated. Only
when one has pleased Lord Hari is the soul freed from
this material world at the time of death. Therefore,
until the end of life, yaga is necessary
even for those who have received mantra. Even though
one lives in this world without attachment to matter,
still there is danger from matter. Therefore, yaga, or
the path of Deity worship, is the proper way to deal
with matter. Yaga is the procedure of worshipping
the Lord by employing all the physical and mental faculties
of seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, thinking, discriminating
and acting. Utilizing each of these faculties in the
worship of salagrama, for example,
is a good way to cultivate love of God. Service to Sri Vigraha,
the Deity, is called Vaisnava yaga.
No matter what our situation, we must live in this world
by working. Therefore, a person who has received mantra
has the duty to spend his life worshipping God with devotion
following the rules of Deity worship. By teaching yaga the
compassionate teacher rescues his student from the ocean
of material existence. Yaga is the fifth
and final samskara. A person without yaga has
no life and he is forced to accept the results of his
karma. Therefore, one should live in this world as a
Vaisnava and engage in Deity worship. A detailed
explanation of the principles of Deity worship is offered
in the book Sri Caitanya-siksamrta in
the discussion under vaidhi-bhakti.
I have now explained
both the conventional understanding and the inner significance
of the expression panca-samskara.
But still one question arises. "Why do teachers not
give this kind of instruction to their students today?" The
answer is that due to the degenerative effects of time,
man's understanding about the role of the spiritual teacher
has become extremely corrupt. Today people take instruction
from kula-gurus, hereditary family teachers or similar
such persons, and therefore they are unable to take shelter
of a qualified teacher. It is said in the sastras that
the seriously inquisitive student must approach a spiritual
teacher who has attained shelter and faith in the Vedas
and God, and surrender to him.
gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh sreya
sabde pare ca nisnatam brahmany
When one surrenders in this way, the material ocean
diminishes to the size of a calf's hoofprint. However,
if that surrender is in name only, then it is pointless.
At the present time most people do not want the shelter
of a genuine teacher because very few want to solve the
problems of life. However, it is the responsibility of
the living soul in this world to search for a teacher and
solve these problems. The Lord reveals Himself to the serious
student as a teacher to rescue him. It is good to have
a strong desire for a teacher, but it is wrong to accept
just any person simply to satisfy one's desire. A genuine
teacher will come to one who is sincerely searching, but
before the student accepts the teacher he should also examine
him for one year. Without examination the teacher-student
relationship is only a disturbance.
After close study we conclude that without proper acceptance
of panca-samskara the conditioned
soul cannot develop intense devotion to Sri Hari.
Therefore panca-samskara is
Copyright © Sanskrit
Religions Institute 2003.
All rights reserved.
. Devotion is of two kinds, namely viddhi-bhakti,
devotional service performed according to rules and regulations
and raganuga-bhakti, devotional service
performed by following the moods of Krsna's Vrindavan
.Prameya Ratnavali (by Baladeva Vidyabhusana)
. For more information about tilaka see A. W.
Entwistle's work, Vaisnava Tilakas, published in the International Association of the Vrindavan Reasearch
Institute's bulletin, number 11 and 12 1981-2.
. The late 19th century, Bengal.
. Such as Krsnaya or Ramaya.
. The 18 syllable Gopala mantra is one example.
. The kama-gayatri, used
by Gaudiyas, is one example.
. Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1/2/101.
. The original text of this article used the future tense,
indicating that the book Sri Caitanya-siksamrta had
not yet been published.
. Srimad-Bhagavatam 11/3/21