© 1997 VNN


01/22/98 - 1528

Diksha Names

USA (VNN) - by Agrahya das

It is a common misconception that the spiritual name one receives at the time of initiation is "cast aside" or superseded if one is at any future time known by any other name.

Following such faulty logic, every time my wife calls me "Prabhu" or "Swami" or my children call me "Pitaji" I am trampling on my connection with Srila Prabhupada. But someone who holds such an opinion must think that the connection with Sri Guru is in name only.

Regardless of whether I am called Prabhu or Swami or Pita or "you fool" or whatever, my identity as the eternal servant of Krishna remains the same. Equally, my connection with Srila Prabhupada as my first initiating guru remains eternally the same.

Doubtless someone will say that such examples of children and wife do not apply when one is given a spiritual name by another Vaishnava. Surely, they say, this is something that is reserved for one who is respected as guru, and then only at the time of formal initiation. Thus following this logic, all the Vaishnavas in our line should only be known by names that were given by their initiating gurus.

Actually, this is very bad logic. What little I know of the history of our sampradaya is that often we do not even KNOW who the initiating guru is. Furthermore, there is quite a bit of history that indicates that names and titles have often been overlaid on each other. Does receiving a name or title constitute rejection of the other name? Only to a linear and narrow-minded conception.

For example, our param-gurudeva, Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada, was known as Bimala Prasad (a name given by his uttama-bhagavata father and siksa-guru, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur), as Siddhanta Sarasvati (which I believe was given in some academic circle for his contributions to astronomy and mathematics), as Sri VarSabhAnavI-devI-dayita dAs (which you will often find him using in bhajans), and as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.

Hearing these names is itself auspicious, and we can also remember his activities. One may say, "Oh, he's a great personality and you cannot make any comparison." yad yad Acarati zreSThaH - au contraire, great personalities set the standard. sa yat pramANaM kurute means setting the standard.

Still, name-giving and bestowing titles is not done cheaply or inconsiderately. Therefore not even in joking should we call Vaishnavas by frivolous nicknames. We are very strict with our children about this - they are not allowed to make up names for anyone else.

I think Vaishnavas in other lines may also come up with numerous examples. Srimad Ananda Tirtha was known by at least 4 or 5 different names that I know of while he was physically present, and I believe became known as MadhvAcArya after his departure.

Another example is in our own Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada. If you examine the papers incorporating the League of Devotees in Jhansi back in the 50's you'll see that he signs his name as Bhaktisiddhanta das rather than his initiated name of Abhaya Caranaravinda. Later he was known as Bhaktivedanta Prabhu. Some Godbrothers objected that he should not be given the name of his guru.

So if anyone is to claim that taking different names means that _instead of_, they are thinking that "only one name at a time." Sometimes people also think that to take instruction from a qualified instructing spiritual master in the physical absence of the diksa guru means that _instead of_ their initiating guru now they have abandoned him and gone elsewhere. But this linear conception is supported neither in shastra nor in Srila Prabhupada's writings. In fact, he says something quite to the contrary in the purport to Cc. Adi 1.35.

I would be interested to hear from others who are better versed in the historical details of Vaishnavism, but I cannot accept that such a criticism holds water. In light of the above simple examples, I do not see how one can maintain such criticisms without risk of hypocrisy.

On the other hand, Vaishnavas do in fact renounce their former names and bodily connections at the time of initiation. Many of us have not had legal name-changes done mostly for the simple reasons that when we received diksa, we were penniless; we were already often subject to governmental harassment, and there was no Amnesty International back then. So when a Vaishnava prefers to be addressed by a name given at initiation or by any other spiritual name that has been given, to insist on using a non-devotional name for the purpose of insulting or disrespecting that Vaishnava is not good. If someone has difficulty with devotional names due to linguistic or cultural limitations, of course, that should never taken as an offense.

I hope this provides food for thought and is not taken as political writing. I think it is something to consider, and would welcome the opinions of other learned Vaishnavas in the Gaudiya and other traditions.

Vaishnava dasanudas, Agrahya das