01/22/98 - 1528
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at the time of initiation is "cast aside" or superseded if one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
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
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
Vaishnava dasanudas, Agrahya das
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