The “Savior-Guru” syndrome
By Sankirtana dasa
“We offer our most sincere and humble obeisances to our spiritual master, who is all merciful and who is the savior of the fallen. He dissipates the darkness of nescience by opening our eyes with transcendental knowledge. He reveals this knowledge for the benefit of all people.” (Message of Godhead, Ch 1). There is no doubt in my mind about the saving grace of the spiritual master. We have undergone countless births in various forms of life and finally, by learning from him we come to know what the real purpose of life is. “To attain perfection in transcendental knowledge, is to accept the teachers and their teachings in the disciplic succession, the spiritual line. By cultivation, by practice, and through education in that line.”
(MoG, Ch 1) Definitely, the guru is our savior!
Why then the apparent ambiguous title of this paper? The Webster dictionary defines a syndrome as a group of signs that indicate a specific disorder or a disease. What is here the disorder we believe to have discovered and wish to share with the readers? Who is infected with it and what are the symptoms? I’d like to elaborate on this in the below paragraphs.
A practitioner of spiritual life always retains his own sweet will to decide to which extent he or she wants to apply himself or herself to the process. The exalted goal of the practice, pure and selfless service devotion to God, is clearly defined. Taken the object in consideration, we can assume that the attainment of this elevated goal is not easily achieved. Obviously, as in any other lofty achievement, one would think it requires also here strong determination and a persistent endeavor. Yet, we can find in Srila Prabhupada’s writings, statements that seem to indicate an approach that demands hardly any struggle: “There is no need of strenuous effort to free oneself from sinful reactions. One should unhesitatingly accept Krishna as the supreme savior of all living entities. With faith and love, one should surrender unto Him.” (BG. 18.66 pp) In the same purport, elaborating on the process of surrender, Srila Prabhupada writes: “One should always think himself helpless and should consider Krishna the only basis for his progress in life.” Thus one may take it that one simply needs to feel helpless, have faith in guru and Krishna and dutifully chant the holy names and one will attain perfection: “Where is the difficulty in Hare Krishna chanting? This is the only savior for the human society of this age.”
(Lecture, July 27, 1973)
However, chanting can be of different natures. Commenting on Queen Kunti’s observation of how the Lord can be approached only by the materially exhausted, Srila Prabhupada writes: “Actually the Lord’s holy name has such powerful potency. But there is a quality to such utterances also. It depends on the quality of feeling.” (SB 1.8.26 pp) So the quality of our chanting is a crucially influential factor. It seems that some devotees totally ignore this important fact. Some think that they have been saved by the very act of taking initiation from a guru and they reason that they´re too fallen to advance in any other way except for being depending on his mercy. It can be said with certainty though, that when following such conclusions they neglect to chant with increasing quality, they will make no or only very little progress in their spiritual pursuits. Although guru and Krishna are the saviors, unless we follow their instruction to sincerely call on Krishna’s name, we are not advancing. Actually chanting the Lord´s names requires constant effort, profound will-power and scriptural insight, because chanting really is a spiritually scientific process.
We know about the different stages of chanting. It is the namabhasa stage of chanting that elevates one to the position of offence-less chanting. Srila Rupa Goswami, in an analogy, compares the fallen conditioned soul to someone afflicted with the disease called jaundice. Due to being ill with jaundice, the patient cannot taste the sweetness of sugar. Likewise, because of impurities, we have no taste for the sweet experience of the holy name. Although chanting the Lord´s names is by nature a pleasant activity, we find it difficult. To compensate for the lack of feelings and experience which would be derived from chanting purely, we are advised to invest much effort and will-power. Our thoughts wander here and there whilst chanting but one must focus the mind back to the hearing of the chanting. By this practice we will gradually recover from our restlessness and taste the sweetness of chanting again. Fallen and foolish as we may be, we shouldn´t want to remain fallen and foolish. His Grace Bhurijana Prabhu recalls in his book ‘My Glorious Master’ how one time Srila Prabhupada spoke about the humility of advanced devotees. At that time Bhurijana Prabhu expressed: “My only qualification is that I am a fool.” Srila Prabhupada then looked at him sharply. “Yes, but you should not remain a fool.” (MGM 16)
The spiritual master opens our eyes with the torchlight of knowledge (om ajnana-timirandhasya) and by his guidance we learn to see things as they are. By his and Krishna’s grace we become conscious of our faults and learn how to improve our chanting. Attentive chanting whilst trying to give up impure desires are the basic characteristics of sadhana bhakti. By following this process and with the saving grace of guru and Krishna we can successfully overcome all shortcomings and defects. We will gradually regain the purity to constantly chant and will thus be blessed with the ability to serve Krishna unconditionally.
What I have come to recognize over the years while meeting different devotees in different parts of the world is that there is always a group of persons who believe they found an alternative to the scientific process of sadhana bhakti. They commonly declare that they have a “unique” advantage over others due to the mercy of an especially elevated “savior-guru”. According to them, it is by the strength of the purity of the guru that one makes advancement and their guru, of course, is the best. Following such conclusion, the service they render to their guru is all there is and all that counts. Instead of strict adherence to the sadhana bhakti process they demonstrate a high degree of “guru-bhakti”. Their preaching usually consists of the glorification of the guru’s deeds and qualities and they put much stress on the absolute necessity to get his mercy. Hardly ever do they explain the scientific process of sadhana bhakti. They are adamant on the mistaken idea that lining up lots of new candidates for initiation is the guru’s greatest concern and interest. Such devotees generally are indifferent to the mood, mission and practice as established by the Founder-Acharya of our worldwide movement. They are staunch followers of their own guru and are happy to have been “saved” by him.
There´s a Bengali proverb that says, “Too much devotion is a symptom of a thief” (ati bhakti corera laksana). Not acknowledging and dealing with one´s own material desires indicates dishonesty and/or lack of sincerity and on the long run causes such devotees to become weak and restless. Sometimes they even end up indulging in illicit connection with someone else’s wife (or husband), thereby causing great embarrassment to their guru and the community of devotees. To what degree their guru is aware of these weaknesses in the practice and preaching of such disciples, I don´t know. Nevertheless, from what I have seen, the general pattern is that usually some of the new converts take up the same mood which they learned from the persons who introduced them to the “savior-guru” and also become “unique”. In this way their numbers increases steadfastly and with it the perpetuation of their tradition of a self-invented mood and mission.
What to do when one comes across such a scenario? I’d like to have the answers myself. I usually try to protect others from the misleading ideas of such preachers by making efforts to explain the process of Krishna Consciousness in an interesting and attractive manner. I also try to maintain a good example of “guru-bhakti” by having a strict, visible sadhana by chanting with the devotees in the recommended early morning hours. But generally the “unique” devotees keep up a protective wall around their ideas and life styles. I would like to understand better how to build bridges and actually help them to critically consider things so that they could see how they have digressed. Any practical advice (comments) from your own experience in this regard is appreciated.
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