Today in ISKCON, whatever little I have seen, initiation is taken seriously by aspiring devotees only up to when they get it. Of course, I don’t want to generalize but there is this tendency also among devotees today. They practice Krishna consciousness seriously to the point of initiation and then after initiation, spiritual life becomes hackneyed. But real spiritual life begins after initiation. Also, I have seen initiation is seen as a social status symbol within ISKCON and devotees have a sense of air around them. Such behavior actually is contradictory to the inner meaning of initiation.
Once initiated, the devotee actually must become more humble and tolerant and in fact aspire to seriously take the position of servant of the servant even if it is difficult. But initiated devotees (even so called senior devotees) lack the mental discipline to reject all forms of adoration, profit and distinction (materialistic qualities) thus beginning the road for downfall. So yes initiation is a serious commitment externally to practice our sadhana and internally to remain humble servants in the hands of Guru and Krishna.
Below is a transcript from a lecture about initiation given by H.H.Radhanath Swami. He captures the idea very nicely.
We should know that initiation in itself doesn't mean anything. Real initiation does not mean getting a name, sitting in front of a fire, and throwing some grains in the fire. That is not initiation. There are many people who get initiated who never got initiated…not really! It’s not something cheap. But in Kali Yuga everyone wants something cheap.
Prabhupada said don’t try to keep your guru like your dog. Don’t think your guru is just a picture to put on the wall and say this is my guru. It’s the way most people are. What does initiation mean? It means the willingness to surrender your life to following the instructions of the guru. If you are not willing to do that, initiation is a farce. It means nothing. Then we should never encourage anyone to get initiated unless they are living a life sincerely to follow the instructions. It is better to remain a congregational devotee without an initiation.
Getting initiated means following the four regulative principles strictly, if you are not following the four regulative principles strictly in this sampradaya and get initiated, it is a farce. It means nothing. If you are not willing to chant 16 rounds everyday it’s a farce! It means nothing! It’s a show bottle! It’s nonsense! We are not concerned with such show bottle nonsense cheap things. We are concerned something with substance. You are not going to back to Godhead because you are initiated. You are going back to Godhead because you surrendered to Krishna through surrendering to his pure devotees through the parampara and part of the process of that surrender is to accept initiation but it is not the end of itself.
To initiate means to begin - its beginning a higher realm of surrender if you do it right. If you don’t do it right it does not mean anything. If you are not willing to put your own ego aside to hear from the words of your guru and follow, then forget about initiation.
Initiation means a formal vow that I am going to put my ego aside and I am going to humbly follow you throughout my life with faith and if someone is actually living according to that principle then he will make real spiritual advancement and whatever spiritual advancement you make all of those connected to you will share the benefits from your spiritual advancement and eventually you will become a pure devotee – definitely! And at that time all of your descendants and all of your forefathers will be liberated for so many generations.
- H.H.Radhanath Swami, lecture - Uttara Mother In Krishna Consciousness