Sound and Presence

April 21st, 2006

The disciplic succession in the line of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is based on sound vibration, not on the formal initiation ceremony. Through sound vibration transcendental knowledge is conveyed. This is the essential aspect of the process of initiation. And this essential aspect is not dependent on formal initiation, though the processes of formal initiation are meant to serve and support the essential component of the initiation process, receiving transcendental knowledge. This knowledge of course inspires and drives devotional service. The process of formal initiation is generally recommended for conditioned souls, and should not be minimized or avoided. At the same time we don’t want to confuse the essence with externals that are meant to serve the spirit of the process.

We receive mercy from the parampara in the opportunity to hear from the members of the parampara. Hearing from the disciplic succession intrinsically implies transcendental sound vibration. Srila Prabhupada wrote to Rupanuga Prabhu “Anyone who reads the books that is also chanting and hearing. Why distinguish between chanting and book distribution? These books I have recorded and chanted, and they are transcribed. It is
spoken kirtanas. So book distribution is also chanting. These are not ordinary books. It is recorded chanting. Anyone who reads, he is hearing.” (Oct. 19, 1974)

In Vaisnava societies the question has arisen whether the relationship between spiritual master and disciple necessitates physical presence. Of course there are numerous quotes from Srila Prabhupada regarding the primary importance of vani compared to vapu. Still, the controversy is there, with regards to the continuation of the disciplic succession, regarding the role of physical presence.

Srimad-Bhagavatam explains “Persons who are learned and who have true knowledge define sound as that which conveys the idea of an object, indicates the presence of a speaker screened from our view and constitutes the subtle form of ether.” (SB 3.26.33)

I invite us to consider this verse with respect to the question of presence. Sound vibration indicates the presence of a speaker screened from view. So, when we hear Srila Prabhupada’s sound vibration, might we understand that he is, with reference to the above definition, present and screened from our view. This screening, of course, is a reflection of our limitations and not of Srila Prabhupada’s lack of full presence.

Lord Brahma received knowledge, was initiated into knowledge, from a Speaker screened from view. Does that indicate that the initiation was not valid, because the speaker remained concealed? Did Lord Brahma not have a living spiritual master, because the Speaker was screened from view? We understand from Srila Prabhupada that Lord Brahma received knowledge from within the heart. I think it’s important to realize that this is the case not just with Brahma. In any authentic relationship between guru and disciple, knowledge is received within the heart. “Divya jnan hrde prokoshito.”

Genuine disciplic succession is based on sound, and it is also based on presence, though this presence is not mundane. My understanding is that even if the spiritual master, in the common sense of the term, is “physically present”, still he is screened from the view of conditioned souls. That is, his transcendental position is not seen, or understood. And, transcendental knowledge is conveyed through the heart. In a consciousness of receiving this knowledge, we open a direct relationship with the guru. His presence is manifest, and the essential process of diksa is alive within us. This consciousness that allows us to enter this relationship entails a conscious choice to serve our spiritual master.

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