Is initiation necessary for chanting the holy name?
What will be the translation of this verse?
diksa-purascarya-vidhi apeksa na kare
jihva-sparse a-candala sabare uddhare
(CC Madhya-lila, 15.108)
The verse is translated as follows:"Not depending on diksa and prescribed preparatory deeds, on touching the tongue, it [the Holy Name] delivers everyone, even the outcaste."
A friend has recently inquired about a similar matter. I will repeat what I replied to him.
To attain success in chanting the holy names of the Lord, one must chant the holy name without committing offenses. According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti (Sarartha-darsini tika on Bhagavata 6.2.9-10): harir bhajanIya eva bhajanaM tat prApakam eva tad upadeSTA gurur eva gurUpadiSTA bhaktA eva pUrve hariM prApur iti viveka vizeSavattve'pi no dIkSAM na ca sat kriyAM na ca purazcaryAM manAg IkSate. mantro'yaM rasanA spRg eva phalati zrI kRSNanAmAtmakaH. iti pramANa dRSTyA ajAmilAdi dRSTAntena ca kiM me gurukaraNa zrameNa nAma kIrtanAdibhir eva me bhagavat prAptir bhAvinIti manyamAnas tu gurvavajJa lakSaNa mahAparAdhAd eva bhagavantaM na prApnoti kintu tasminn eva janmani janmAntare vA tad aparAdha kSaye sati zrI guru caraNAzrita eva prApnotIti
“Some know that the Lord is worshipable and He is only attained by bhajana. For such devotion the guru is the instructor and, in the past, only the devotees following the instructions of the guru have attained the Lord. Still if they do not feel any necessity of accepting a guru and think: ‘It is said that any mantra with Krishna’s holy name will grant perfection on the mere touch of the tongue, even without diksa or purascarana - and what about Ajamila? I can attain the Lord simply by nama-sankirtana!’, then they commit the great offence of disrespecting the guru. Such persons can not attain the Lord. When this offense is nullified, either in this birth or the next, and if they take the shelter of the feet of a bona fide guru, then they can attain the Lord.”
Hence one cannot neglect the guru, the chanting of diksa-mantras and so forth. Sri Jiva Gosvami further elucidates the significance of diksa and so forth as constituents in helping the sadhaka attain siddhi through purely and with love chanting the holy names. Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 284:nanu bhagavan-nAmAtmakA eva mantrAH | tatra vizeSeNa namaH-zabdAdy-alaMkRtAH zrIbhagavatA zrImad-RSibhiz cAhita-zakti-vizeSAH zrIbhagavatA samam Atma-sambandha-vizeSa-pratipAdakAz ca | tatra kevalAni zrIbhagavan-nAmAny api nirapekSANy eva parama-puruSArtha-phala-paryanta-dAna-samarthAni | tato mantreSu nAmato'py adhika-sAmarthye labdhe kathaM dIkSAdy-apekSA | ucyate | yadyapi svarUpato nAsti tathApi prAyaH svabhAvato dehAdi-sambandhena kadartha-zIlAnAM vikSipta-cittAnAM janAnAM tat-tat-saMkocIkaraNAya zrImad-RSi-prabhRtibhir atrArcana-mArge kvacit kvacit kAcit kAcin maryAdA sthApitAsti | tatas tad-ullaGghane zAstraM prAyazcittam udbhAvayati | tata ubhayam api nAsamaJjasam iti tatra tat-tad-apekSA nAsti |
“Indeed the mantra consists of the names of Bhagavan. Therefore the mantras chanted by great devotees and sages are characterized with the ornamented ‘namah’ and contain special potency nondifferent from Sri Bhagavan, and they cause one to obtain a special relationship with the Lord. Therefore the mere chanting the name of Bhagavan is sufficient for attaining the fruit of the supreme goal of life. Someone may say, ‘Then if the name is sufficient for attaining the goal, can diksa and so forth be rejected?’
To this it is said: ‘Although essentially there is no need for this, due to a connection with the material body and so forth people are engaged in unmeaningful acts which agitate the consciousness. For overcoming this, the sages have established the path of arcana-marga through which one attains the proper standards. To overcome this, the scriptures present preparatory deeds. Therefore it is improper to reject either of the two.’”
In the previous Anuccheda (283), Jiva has also discussed the topic:yadyapi zrI-bhAgavata-mate paJcarAtrAdivad arcana-mArgasyAvazyakatvaM nAsti, tad vinApi zaraNApatty-AdInAm ekatareNApi puruSArtha-siddher abhihitatvAt, tathApi zrI-nAradAdi-vartmAnusaradbhiH zrI-bhagavatA saha sambandha-vizeSaM dIkSA-vidhAnena zrI-guru-caraNa-sampAditaM cikIrSadbhiH kRtAyAM dIkSAyAm arcanam avazyaM kriyetaiva |
“Although in the opinion of the Bhagavata Purana, the path of arcana, like the Pancaratra and so forth, is not necessary, since, even without that, one can achieve the goal of human life by one of the other methods like surrender (saranapatti) and the rest, still those who are following the path of Narada and others and who desire the particular relationship with the Lord that is effected at the feet of the guru by the rite of diksa necessarily perform arcana when diksa is completed.”
For the conditioned soul who is not awake in his constitutional relationship with the Lord, it is very hard to chant the holy names purely. Therefore diksa and the process of arcana are recommended for everyone. Diksa is understood as follows (Anuccheda 283, Jiva quotes from the Agamas):divyaM jJAnaM yato dadyAt kuryAt pApasya saGkSayam |
tasmAd dIkSeti sA proktA dezikais tattva kovidaiH ||
ato guruM praNamyaivaM sarvasvaM vinivedya ca |
gRhNIyAd vaiSNavaM mantraM dIkSA pUrvaM vidhAnataH ||
“The teachers who are knowers of the truth say that since it gives (da) divine knowledge and destroys (ksi) sin it is called diksa. Therefore, paying obeisance to the guru and offering him one’s all, one should receive a Vaisnava mantra diksa preceded with proper procedures.”
Jiva further illuminates the meaning of "divya-jnana", or the divine knowledge which is transmitted in diksa:divyaM jJAnaM hy atra zrImati mantre bhagavat-svarUpa-jJAnaM, tena bhagavatA sambandha-vizeSa-jJAnaM ca |
“Divine knowledge means here knowledge of the true nature of the Lord in the mantra and, by that, knowledge of one's own special relationship with Him.”
Chanting the diksa-mantras will help the initiate to establish his specific relationship with the Lord. Endowed with proper conception, one will come to chant the holy name purely and successfully, filled with longing for the Lord. This longing is at the root of entrance into raganuga-bhakti-sadhana, which will in due course of time awaken rati (bhava) in the heart, and finally mature into Krishna-prema.
One should follow the example of the previous mahajanas. It is none other than Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu who recommended five most potent forms of bhakti for everyone, namely (1) sadhu-sanga -- association with devotees, (2) nama-kirtana -- chanting the holy names, (3) bhagavata-sravana -- hearing the Bhagavata, (4) mathura-vase -- living in the land of Vraja, and (5) sri-murti-seva -- serving the form of the Lord. Anyone who seriously aspires to attain perfection ought to adopt the path of bhakti as presented in the scriptures. It is not befitting to whimsically reject the established path of practice and the scriptural conclusions presented by the Gosvamis. Such an approach will not be successful.
I hope these considerations have shed some light on the matter.