Key to the Mint

Radha and Krishna with gopis “You should engage yourself in the service of the servants of Krishna and always chant the holy name of Krishna. If you do these two things, you will very soon attain shelter at Krishna’s lotus feet.”  (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya, 16.70)

Fraternities and sororities, also referred to as Greek life, are very popular groups found at universities across the world. There is nothing like having a brother or a sister, someone with whom you can have an everlasting bond. Fraternities try to provide that same feeling to incoming college students.

Most college freshmen are under the age of twenty. For those who don’t commute, attending college marks the first time spent living away from home. Being out on your own is a new experience with new surroundings, new living arrangements, and a new set of people to interact with. High schools teachers often warn students, “Life will be a lot tougher in college. You won’t be able to get away with the same bad habits you had in high school. Professors are a lot tougher and your parents won’t be around to save you.” To help ease the transition into independent life, many students look to join a fraternity or a sorority. Based on the system of honor and respect for fellow brothers and sisters, a fraternity is a close knit group of people that views each member as family. These various groups all have their own houses close to or on campus where fellow members can reside and hang out. The frat houses are famous for throwing wild parties and helping students get together to study.

Joining a fraternity means you’ll always have brothers you can depend on for anything, an immediate family at college. These benefits make the idea of joining a fraternity appealing, but there is one catch. Membership is not an open entry system. Prospective members, known as pledges, must go through initiation from current members before they are allowed to join. The reasoning behind this is very simple. A good brother is one who is always there for his fellow brothers, through thick and thin. There must be complete faith and trust in order for the defined relationship to be valid. Along these lines, existing members don’t want to accept new brothers who aren’t dedicated to them and to the fraternity. If the fraternity accepts members who aren’t dedicated to their fellow brothers, the entire system collapses.

All prospective candidates go through an initiation period, which can include hazing. The level of hazing can vary. Sometimes it can involve abuse and humiliation, and other times it can entail tests of loyalty and dedication. During the first few weeks of a new semester at college, it’s not surprising to see groups of men or women walking around campus wearing strange outfits, such as purple and yellow sweat suits. Sometimes these groups will also partake in acts of public humiliation such as chanting a song in front of large groups of strangers. This is all part of the initiation process. If one shows they are dedicated to the fraternity, they are allowed to become a member, which avails them all the perks. Fraternities exist across universities, thus creating a large networking circle. If a brother ever needs help finding a job, a place to live, or someone to study with, fellow brothers are always standing by to lend a helping hand, similar to how families operate. Once accepted into a fraternity, the brotherhood relationship continues well past the college years.

“The simplest thing for human beings is to follow their predecessors. Judgment according to mundane senses is not a very easy process. Whatever is awakened by attachment to one’s predecessor is the way of devotional service as indicated by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 2.86 Purport)

Lord Rama and His brothers learning from their guruSimilar to the concept of joining a fraternity or sorority, for one to learn about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, initiation into the spiritual discipline is required. Though Vedic literature is quite thorough and comprehensive, one can’t actually understand all the instructions on their own. The help of a guru, or spiritual master, is required. The spiritual master has learned the discipline from his guru, who learned it from his guru, and so on. Krishna Himself started this chain of disciplic succession known as the parampara system:

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way…” (Bg. 4.1-2)

The Bhagavad-gita is probably the most famous book that describes the teachings of the Vedas. Spoken by Lord Krishna to His disciple and friend Arjuna, the Gita describes the essence of nature and the soul, why we are here, and what our purpose in life should be. We see that many big scholars, scientists, and politicians have all studied this great book and even written commentaries on it. Yet they have all missed the mark, as their understanding of the work is flawed or incomplete. The conclusion of the Gita is that Krishna is God, and that we should surrender unto Him if we want to fulfill the mission of human life. Yet these great personalities all studied the Gita on their own, without the help of a spiritual master. Thus they were not able to properly understand the text since they interpreted the verses according to their particular world views.

The Vedas can only be understood by the help of a spiritual master or devotee of Krishna. If we want to truly understand Krishna, we must approach one of these bona fide gurus. However, just as fraternity members are protective of their fellow brothers, the spiritual master is extremely protective of Krishna. He won’t just start teaching the essence of the Vedas to anyone. One must complete a thorough initiation process.

“This confidential knowledge may not be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.67)

Lord Krishna The pure devotee’s time is dedicated to serving God. By teaching others about God, they are also serving Him. For this reason, devotees don’t want to waste precious time by teaching Krishna consciousness to those who aren’t sincerely interested in making advancement. So how does one get initiated? Typically, you can approach a spiritual master in person, and if he sees that you are sincere, he will show you the way.

“The holy name of Lord Krishna is an attractive feature for many saintly, liberal people. It is the annihilator of all sinful reactions and is so powerful that save for the dumb who cannot chant it, it is readily available to everyone, including the lowest type of man, the chandala. The holy name of Krishna is the controller of the opulence of liberation, and it is identical with Krishna. Simply by touching the holy name with one’s tongue, immediate effects are produced. Chanting the holy name does not depend on initiation, pious activities or the purashcharya regulative principles generally observed before initiation. The holy name does not wait for all these activities. It is self-sufficient.” (Shrila Rupa Goswami, Padyavali, 29)

For this day and age, a spiritual master everyone can approach is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Though He is no longer physically present on this earth, we can still take informal initiation from him if we follow the regulative principles he set forth. Chanting at least sixteen rounds daily of the maha mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, will put us on the right path. In conjunction, we should sincerely make an effort to read as many books about Krishna as we can.

Herein lies the beauty of the initiation process. Even if one doesn’t approach a spiritual master in person, if they continuously stay connected with the guru by reading his books and following his teachings, then that is just as good as initiation. Each and every verse in Vedic literature is so profound that one can read them over and over again and derive new meanings every time. Reading the Bhagavad-gita, translated and commented on by a devotee, can bring the reader closer to Krishna. As one advances in their devotional service, knowledge will slowly be revealed to the sincere soul.

Shrila Prabhupada By humbly approaching a spiritual master and pleasing him by following his instructions, we get initiated into the greatest fraternity, that of the long line of great devotees of Krishna. Since a guru takes instruction from his guru and so on, through initiation, we not only get access to our guru’s storehouse of knowledge, but also that of all the great acharyas preceding him. We get a key to the mint.

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