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When guru worship gets sentimental

Thursday, 20 December 2007 / Published in Articles, Kesava Krsna Dasa / 6,972 views

If it is better to be a sahajiya than an atheist, mayavadi, or impersonalist, then it is well again to be a sentimentalist than not a devotee at all. However, sentimental behaviour can present problems if left abandoned by a mind unrestrained by capable intelligence.

By Kesava Krsna Dasa

The spiritual master is the central object of vision for every disciple. Quite often, the imposition of external conditions can deflect the natural bias from something, which is essentially internal, or hidden from unqualified worshipers. ‘The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated self-realized person.’ (Mahabharata, Vana Parva 313-117)

If a disciple fails to discern the difference between external and internal worship of the guru, it can mean a divergence from understanding the inner or outer words of the spiritual master. This also applies to understanding Srila Prabhupada’s universal siksa instructions pervading his writings. ‘Please wake up and try to understand the boon that you now have in this human form of life. The path of spiritual realization is very difficult; it is like a razors edge. That is the opinion of learned transcendental scholars.’ (Katha Upanishad 1.3.14)

The disparity can be as stark as that between arcana ‘ which means worship; and bhajana ‘ which also means worship, for want of a better word, and point towards normal or higher worship. The process of worship does not guarantee receiving the Lord’s grace. Lord Krishna says ca cejyaya ‘ ‘nor by worship’ can He be understood. (BG 11.53)

Immediately one will have detected the linkage of the word ‘normal’ with arcana, one of the nine processes of pure devotional service. On the outer level or for those who are not exceptionally obedient, arcana is a necessary way to focus our attention. Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘In the devotional service of the Lord, therefore, these prescribed activities are called arcana, or engaging all the senses in the service of the Lord.’ (BG 16.18 purport)

Later in the same purport it is stated that arcana is meant for people who are not very renounced; ‘Therefore, for people in general especially those who are not in the renounced order of life ‘ transcendental engagement of the senses and mind’. is the perfect process of transcendental achievement, which is called yukta in the Bhagavad-Gita.’

To be clearer, purified arcana eventually becomes bhajana. ‘Any civilized man has to perform some religious ritualistic ceremonies; therefore, Krishna recommends, ‘Do it for Me’, and this is called arcana.’ (BG 9.27 purport)

In the same purport Srila Prabhupada refers to bhajana, but not by name; ‘Nowadays people are very much inclined to the meditational process, which is not practical in this age, but if anyone practices meditating on Krishna twenty four hours a day by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra round his beads, he is surely the greatest meditator and the greatest yogi, as substantiated by the sixth chapter of Bhagavad-Gita.’

In the final verse of the sixth chapter, we will find the words yukta and bhajate. Bhajate means to render transcendental loving service, and yukta-tamah means the greatest yogi.

When the mind has not befriended the intelligence, it can devise seemingly befitting ways to please the guru, which may be actually offensive, and will divert us from proper guru worship. Some acaryas used the heavy word bahirmukha to describe an external disciple. Srila Prabhupada also describes this, ‘Bahirmukha. Bahirmukha means those who are trying to be happy by adjustment of this material energy.’
(Lecture on CC Madhya 154-155, Gorakhpur, Feb 19, 1971)

There are many examples of sentimental guru worship, which are not readily detected, but cause a disturbance to others, even unwittingly.

Wanting to get noticed.

It is a natural desire of every disciple to receive a blessing from the guru, and perhaps to hear such magical words like, ‘Now your life is perfect. Thank you very much’, along with a loving embrace.

To reach that end, one may always try to seize the guru’s attention and remain in his purview, continuously remaining in the limelight as it were. The association of an advanced devotee is naturally attractive, but an over-dependence on this feature for the wrong reasons indicates a lack of philosophical conviction that the instructions of the guru are more important than close physical proximity.

If one is possessed of shallow fervour, when the guru is out of sight or leaves for a considerable time, it may translate into a slackened service attitude allowing complacency to creep in, only to be excitedly rejuvenated again when the guru comes back. Srila Prabhupada writes,”. The regulative principles will be easier for one who has served the spiritual master without reservation.’ (BG 8-12 purport)

This same sort of mentality may compose a wonderful Vyasa-puja offering on the chosen day, belying real intentions, where in fact the real Vyasa-puja offering is conducted on all 365 days of the year, again without reservation. On occasions like these, an official mindset develops. ‘Nor is He (Krishna) to be understood by persons who officially go to the temple to offer worship They make their visit, but they cannot understand Krishna as He is.’ (BG 11.53 purport)

My guru is the best.

As children, we always thought our mothers and fathers to be the best in the world, naturally. To have a father figure in the form of the guru requires more enlightened sentiments directed towards him.

Any posturing or advertising that one’s guru is better than another is fraught with material calculations. If Krishna empowers each spiritual master, it is His prerogative to decide whether the guru accomplishes greater or lesser preaching successes. For a disciple to judge or compare in terms of small or big, empowered or enfeebled, popular or unpopular and so forth, is to be a dualistic eye in Krishna’s absolute vision. ‘Lord Krishna is the supreme controller, and all others are His servants. They dance as He makes them do so.’ (Krsnadasa Kaviraja, CC, Adi 5.142)

Another slice of material gain to derive from advertising the guru could be a polite way of saying, ‘If my guru is the best, so I am also the best for following the best.’ Such extended pride neatly fits in with the adjustments of a well-intentioned, but ultimately selfish bahirmukha mentality.

Imitating the guru.

A vaisnava develops sublime characteristics, which are attractive to behold. Such fine ornaments can tempt a follower to emulate the way the guru speaks, dances, dresses or behaves. The wearing of identical spectacles, or copying certain authoritative behavioural traits may appear quite flattering, but this deludes no one but himself or like-minded adjusters.

Some orders of prakrta-sahajiyas like to dress up as Radha and Krishna to engage in what they think is licensed debauchery. Though the comparison with them seems rather harsh, the simulation of the external image is relegated to the neophyte level resulting in a theatrical distortion of the truth, which is internal.

Over-glorifying the guru.

Is there such a thing as glorifying the guru in excess? In excess of what? If a devotee likes to glorify others, then the guru should certainly not be the exception. However, the way we glorify should tell the difference.

What if one eulogizes the guru, or another devotee, and exclaims an uttama-adhikari status, when it might not be true in some cases? It can be a paradoxical mind jolting experience if a disciple learns that an infallible guru is discovered having spiritual difficulty, or worse, falls away from Krishna consciousness.

A disciple will naturally block out any slight hint or notion that the one he or she worships could possibly be any less than infallible. What if a disciple thinks, ‘I know it is highly, highly unlikely my guru will fall, but the remote possibility is there? If that dreaded moment comes, I can be prepared emotionally.’

Will such a thought as this cushion the blow of any eventuality? Alternatively, will this thought ruin the disciple’s spiritual life? Would it hurt the image of the guru if he were to say to his disciples, ‘My dear disciples, let us be clear about something. I am not quite the uttama-adhikari you say I am, but I am nevertheless fully engaged in Krishna’s service, and will do my utmost to take you back to Godhead. So please tone down your glorification of me.’

Since glorification is poison for a vaisnava, if some followers persist in excess simply to be noticed, and if the guru looks approvingly on this behaviour, the combination is a rather toxic cocktail. ‘Sometimes penances and austerity are executed to attract people and receive honour, respect, and worship from others. Persons in the mode of passion arrange to be worshipped by subordinates and let them wash their feet and other riches.’ (BG 17.18 purport)

Essentially, the guru is to be engaged in serious bhajana. It is a healthy sign for a disciple to see. The pursuit of sraddhavan bhajate yo mam should help the renounced order rise above normal arcana. If not, one famous woman gives a stinging rebuke, ”. and anyone situated in renunciation that does not lead him to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, must be considered dead, although breathing.’ (SB 3.23.56)

Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

35 Responses to “When guru worship gets sentimental”

  1. Madhava Ghosh dasa says :

    This is a well expressed article on what is sometimes referred to informally as “Guru as Rock Star” Syndrome.

    The true importance of a guru is his/her connection to the sampradaya. Focusing on the individual instead of the connection is what causes this condition.

  2. Caitanya candrodaya dasa says :

    Your article raises some interesting issues.

    In fact there are number of issues are to be separated:

    1)Mahabharata quote by Yudhisthira: dharmasya tattvaM nihitaM guhAyAM mahA-jano yena gataH sa panthAH, refers to Mahajanas NOT to spiritual master. Yes its a symptom of a sentimental understanding of sastra when things are taken out of context.

    2)According to Prabhupada one should not distinguish between rupa and svarupa of ones guru. That is the reason why we worship Prabhupada murti daily. Form of ones spiritual master should be displayed during worship on the altar for the same reason.

    Going back to the symptoms of sentimental worship you picked.

    Please be careful, some of them are the character of Srila Prabhupada himself, in pure form, in his relations to his guru.

    Wanting to get noticed. (one should add without a service attitude)

    At that time, Guru Mahäräja was indisposed little, and he was staying at Jagannätha Puri, on the seashore. So I wrote him letter, “My dear master, your other disciples, brahmacäri, sannyäsi, they are rendering you direct service. And I am a householder. I cannot live with you, I cannot serve you nicely. So I do not know. How can I serve you?” Simply an idea, I was thinking of serving him, “How can I serve him seriously?” So the reply was dated 13th December, 1936. In that letter he wrote, “My dear such and such, I am very glad to receive your letter. I think you should try to push our movement in English.” .” – Prabhupäda at Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvatis Disappearance in 1968.

    Imitating the guru. (the body appearance, voice and style)

    Prabhupäda used to say, “Do as I am doing.” ISKCON used to do very well when it was done. However internal qualities, such being just and merciful at the same time – hard to copy. Small falls tested us.

    What is wrong is when one imitates or copies ones guru, Haribhaktivilas lists it as an aparadha, to copy walk, voice of ones guru. One should not imitate also in the sense of accepting more then one can use in the service. Many gurus or leaders take more, then they can actually use in the service to Krsna, thus wasting money and displeasing Prabhupäda.

    Over-glorifying the guru.

    There is absolutely no way one can do that. Of course ones guru is not a guru of another, thus when we hear praise of somebody else’s guru, we should think of our own. Or about Prabhupädas qualities that this praise represent. Guru is one. Krsna is adi guru, there is no limit on praise.


  3. Radhavallabha says :

    Dear Kesava Krsna Prabhu,
    thank you for your nice article on guru worship. I really appreciate it.
    I especially like how you explained the difference between arcana and bhajan.
    It seems indeed easy to jump and shout “jaya Prabhupada!” or “jaya Gurudeva!”, whereas it is rare to see people sticking around year after year and serve the guru-parampara on a modest but steady basis.
    I remember that I used to envy many new devotees who seemed to have more appreciation of Srila Prabhupada (or other vaisnava’s) than I have, but by now I have become more sober and pray they may one day come back again to Krishna consciousness, since I am not convinced anymore that one month of sentiment is sufficiant to go to the spiritual world.

    In addition I would like to confirm Madhava Gosh Prabhu’s words: “The true importance of a guru is his/her connection to the sampradaya”.
    I think there is no harm in having sentiment for ones guru, but if not backed up by trying to understand the siksa he is giving and how he is representing the guru-parampara (at least he should be…) it may be a very painful experience for the disciple if his/her gur gives up the process of krsna-bhakti.

    Your servant,
    Radhavallabha d.

  4. Madhavananda Das (Orissa) says :

    Dear Kesava Krishna Prabhu,

    Thanks for another thoughtful article.

    The Bhagavatam (11.19.39) teaches us that the best glorification of the guru is done by being sincere and following his instructions — dakshina jnana sandesah.

    I appreciate your point about how glorification can be too much. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition of Orissa and Bengal this is called “ati-stuti-ninda”, or the offense of over-glorification (see Mahaprabhu’s words to Sarvabhauma, Cc. m. 10.182).

    If the disciple claims that his guru is actually a full incarnation of Krishna, if he claims that his guru is the only real guru, or if the disciple takes it upon himself to inform the world that his guru is actually the acarya of all the Vaishnavas — amara guru jagat-guru, these are all examples of the offense of ati-stuti-ninda.

    For neophytes, advertising the glory of our guru is often a way to try to glorify ourselves: “Don’t you know who I am? My guru is XYZd Maharaja! He is so great, and I’m his disciple!” To help keep us from foolishly squandering sweet nectar — the results of our bhajan and service — in exchange for the rancid donkey urine of self-aggrandizement, our acaryas have recommended that we keep our relationship with our guru private.

    Glorification that is not preceded by realization is all too often fanaticism.

    Thanks again.

    Vaishnava kripa prarthi,
    Madhavananda Das

  5. SriGopaldas says :

    Hare Krishna. I totally agree, guru worship should be a private affair and disciple(s) should realize that not everyone shares the same realization and enthusiasm about their spiritual master. When that is clear one should not continue to glorify their spiritual master in front of those people, why unnecessarily make them envious and disturb their bhajan. Best policy is avoid places where one’s own sentiments about their guru is not appreciated and this way avoid the whole controversy. Better to associate and worship with like minded people who will share similar sentiments like their own. Thanks for the article, an eye opener.

  6. This idea of privacy of one’s enthusiasm for worship of his or her own guru is something we did not have before Srila Prabhupada’s departure. It was a central element of our preaching/outreach that one needed to be guided by a pure devotee who was a perfect spiritual master, and Srila Prabhupada was that spiritual master. It was primary to our message that if you want to get Krishna, you have to approach His authorized messenger, Srila Prabhupada.

    The tendency in the first decade or so after Prabhupada’s departure was to transfer this style of preaching to the zonal gurus (i.e., to encourage newcomers in the importance of surrender to the local zonal guru). In retrospect we can see this was a mistake, but those of us who remember how we preached about the need for a perfect guru before Srila Prabhupada’s departure should understand how natural it was to think we needed to preach that way.

    In the multi-guru ISKCON of today, we emphasize Srila Prabhupada’s role as founder-acarya, the author of our literature, the instructing guru of everyone. We downplay public emphasis on the personalities of Prabhupada’s successor gurus.

    This is probably a good thing, but it seems to arise more from a cautious appraisal of the spiritual stature of the successor gurus rather than from the demands of etiquette.

    That is, I could easily envision a world in which hundreds of great maha bhagavat devotees were initiating and training disciples, and their disciples were enthusiastically proclaiming to the world that everyone should come surrender to one of these great devotees. They could all be charismatic leaders in their own right, cooperating very nicely with one another to carry out Srila Prabhupada’s mission of respiritualizing society.

    In such a world, it would not be a problem for disciples to canvas for their own gurus or glow about how perfect and completely transcendental and full of knowledge and prema their gurus were. “My guru is the best guru” would only be wrong if it implied that there was something inferior about the others, but in my vision of a world with hundreds of perfect devotees walking the earth (as we read about in the pages of Caitanya Caritamrta), there would be nothing wrong about enthusiastically crowing, “My guru is the best guru, and so are all these other gurus who are pure representatives of the disciplic succession.”

  7. After all, the “guru” is the external manifestation of Supersoul, a confidential servitor of Krishna who is therefore accepted as good as God. Why not proclaim it?

    In the decade after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, we tried to create such a world artificially, by falsely proclaiming certain devotees to be completely perfect, mature, fully realized, free from any contamination or danger of falldown. Many of those devotees were not mature and made mistakes and eventually fell down, to ISKCON’s embarrassment. That was a blunder.

    Still, we should not give up hope that a day will come when our leaders recognize one or many greatly qualified pure devotees who are truly competent to be gurus of the entire universe. When such a day comes, why wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable, even desirable, to make propaganda about the qualifications of these charismatic disciples or granddisciples or great-grand-disciples of Prabhupada?

    The scholars of religious history talk about ISKCON being in a “post-charismatic” phase, following the departure of the charismatic founder Srila Prabhupada. We do not want false charismatic leadership, but our system of parampara promises at least the hope that there will be real charismatic leadership in our sampradaya for many generations to come.

    If there are gurus who are really qualified to be rock stars, why not let them be rock stars? We really have to get better at learning to distinguish between who (if anyone) can do it and who is not qualified to be a rock star guru (as Srila Prabhupada was).

    In the mean time we are going through a healthy period of learning that we do not need gurus of rock star stature. At least, we should never push forward those who are not truly qualified to be rock star gurus. But is it wrong to hope that some real rock star gurus will emerge, with the goodwill and backing of their godbrothers who have direct realization of their qualifications? Wouldn’t it be great to have some rock star gurus in whom we could be fully confident, as we were with Srila Prabhupada?

  8. Dear prabhus,

    I thank all the vaisnavas for their kind words. But I must address the issue raised about over-glorification, as mentioned in comment (2).

    Yes, it is true there can be no limit to our glorification of the guru, but it must be educated, informed praise; not empty or exaggeratted praise. The more enlightened a disciple becomes, the more meaningful his words of praise develop, due to sufficient realization. If one becomes self-realized, then the praise can go on for eternity. Besides, Madhavananada prabhu dealt with it very well.

    The privacy of guru worship also raised by Madhavananda prabhu is something Srila Sanatana Goswami recommends in his Hari Bhakti Vilasa, and is not in vogue in Iskcon. Guru worship within Iskcon is a very public affair, and if many devotees of sentimental disposition are vying for recognition and so forth, it can result in sibling rivalry and other anartha fall outs, quite away from the real focus of unreserved guru worship.

    There is a need to educate devotees on the realities of guru worship with emphasis on the internal importance, even the need for privacy, and the potential for unwanted falldowns. It is better to have emotionally prepared disciples who are informed by relevant authorities, than to have shocked, grief-stricken disciples who, in some cases, behave in highly erratic ways or worse. I have witnessed such behaviour.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  9. On rereading my last two posts I find that I was a little careless, as usual, but I hope it may add something valuable to the discussion, or at least stimulate further responses.

    I think Kesava Krishna’s article is very good (as usual), and so are all the comments.

    I realize that Madhava Ghosh Prabhu is using “Rock Star guru” syndrome in a different way than I used it. I certainly agree with him that guru is not a question of fashions or fads, that it is a very grave and serious responsibility and that the guru’s qualification must be to transmit intact the message of Krishna as handed through the disciplic succession. It does not depend on being a charismatic personality or crowd pleaser.

    [Actual rock stars are often infamous for being dissolute, immature, self centered debauchees and drug addicts, so much so that it should be obvious that being worshipped and idolized is the kiss of death for any ordinary person’s character. But advanced devotees can accept fame and worship on behalf of Krishna without being disturbed or corrupted.]

    However, if the world were really fortunate enough to have some of Srila Prabhupada’s disciplic descendents who could truly project that kind of personal charisma that Srila Prabhupada did and still be completely free from material contamination, where would the fault be? Wouldn’t that be great?

    Wouldn’t it be okay in that circumstance to construct a personality cult (or multiple personality cults) the way we did with Srila Prabhupada, if the personalities themselves were truly transparent via media who could present the unadulterated message of Krishna with the full force of connection to the disciplic succession?

    And given that this is the age of Lord Caitanya, who is known for drowning the whole world in a flood of Krishna prema, who are we to say it couldn’t happen?

    Anyway I am just thinking out loud, hoping to stimulate positive discussion. I agree that it is best for now and the foreseeable future to consolidtae ISKCON under the banner of Srila Prabhupada’s personality as Founder-Acarya and observe the proper etiquette of keeping guru worship private and subdued in a multiple guru movement.

  10. Dear Akruranatha prabhu,

    You felt that you should back-track on your previous comments, considering them ‘careless.’ I admire the way you readily say that certain of your comments should be seen this way. But I still love your comments. If I am correct, the 300 plus comments you have posted on Dandavats so far could produce a good two to three books. I wonder what title could be given to such a publication?

    Anyway, back to the point; I do feel you may have over-used the word ‘charisma.’ Isn’t purity a more suitable word? I remember one devotee saying how, when he was deciding on which guru to be initiated by, he considered one guru seriously, but found him to be – wait for it – boring. So he opted for another guru who had charisma.

    Now, this so called boring guru, was not the type to flatter; his dress sense could be described as underwhelming, and so on. But isn’t this a type of guru a prospective disciple should want to follow? Obviously, some external considerations were made in this example. If the criterion is charisma, outdoing more sincere or boring types, then I think problems will develop.

    But you did mention charisma based on Srila Prabhupada’s natural effulgence of a personality, and how he exuded charisma. Being a Maha-Bhagavata, there was little doubting as to who he was. There is no doubt that other Maha-Bhagavatas will spring up. Who knows, there may be one to whom we merely give a polite ‘Haribol!’ greeting to, who does not frequent the temple too often, but perhaps at home he chants 64 excellent rounds without advertising it. He may be so underwhelming like Sri Jada Bharata as not to spoil his natural bhajana with bothersome fame.

    I am sure there are a number of these types of devotees who care not for pratistha, and remain hidden from those who look outwards. What I am trying to say is, a pure devotee may have some physical ailment which prevents him from living a normal active life, but he could have the potency to radically change people”s hearts simply by his merciful words, or glance.

    But how many would recognize such a great soul? Before the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Madhavendra Puri and Sri Advaita Acarya were lonesome vaisnavas wondering around, until they met each other for the first time. No introduction was required. They instantly recognized each other as Maha-Bhagavatas, and embraced lovingly. This is a far cry from ‘rock-star’ culture as Madhava ghosa prabhu said.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa

  11. Madhava Ghosh dasa says :

    One thing to remember is that our experience of Srila Prabhupada was as a man in his 70s. Someone once asked him why he hadn’t come to the West earlier, and he said something to the effect of who would have listened to him if he came in the body of a young man.

    As far as I know, we have no ISKCON gurus who have even reached that age yet. When SP was the age of many of the ISKCON gurus, he was still working as a business man and living as a householder. He may have been perceived as boring himself at that time (the “my guru is best” side of me says that probably isn’t true, but who knows what the perceptions of the average guru seeker back then may have been).

    Having had a lot of experience with Kirtanananda Swami, who was about as charismatic as they come, my opinion is that charisma is overrated.

  12. Kesava Krishna Prabhu,

    Is it over 300 already? I have to keep writing to make sure Suresh does not overtake me with the most comments. :-)

    I would like to think, though, that if I were writing a book I could write something better. I like blogging because it does not have to be so serious. It is more conversational. I am glad to backtrack sometimes. I try to remember that it is more important to be friendly than to be right. If I always knew what I was talking about I wouldn’t learn anything.

    But I do try to make an effort to look for different angles. Tension and conflict between ideas can be fertile ground for discussion, if we can manage to avoid tension and conflict between the participants. :-)

    Regarding “charisma”, I was thinking less about the needs of the individual disciple and more about increasing the fame and influence of the movement.

    Some people are just natural celebrities. Qualities like a sharp wit, good debating skills, musical ability, distinctive looks, “stage presence”, ability to inspire followers, personal charm, sense of humor and force of personality, are certainly not necessary for a spiritual master. Primarily a Vaisnava guru has to know the science of Krishna consciousness and be able to train and guide a sincere disciple from sraddha to prema.

    But if ISKCON is really going to grow rapidly and make strong cultural inroads and change the way people live on a big scale, it has to make big propaganda. One way to change culture is through charismatic leaders. Advertisers are always looking for people whose endorsements will sway the public. Politicians are looking for those personal qualities which galvanize the people. If some of our spiritual leaders have those qualities, along with purity and unshakeable determination, as Srila Prabhupada did, it could take the movement far.

    The problem is, as you and Madhava Ghosh point out, people can have those “charisma” qualities without having the necessary purity. Their charisma can catapult them into leadership positions for which they do not qualify or which they could misuse.

    We can separate personal charisma from spiritual authority, too. For example, George Harrison was very charismatic, but was not a guru.

    We expect our spiritual leaders to be charismatic like Srila Prabhupada, but as you point out, there are very pure, advanced devotees who stay out of the limelight. Still, charismatic gurus could be good, theoretically at least.

  13. Pandu das says :

    “After all, the “guru” is the external manifestation of Supersoul, a confidential servitor of Krishna who is therefore accepted as good as God. ”

    I’ve heard this many times. I used to take it at face value, that the Supersoul in the heart manifests as the externally visible guru; however it doesn’t seem to be like that. We turn to the guru because he knows Krishna and the process of bhakti, but the Supersoul knows me perfectly as well, in detail, much better than even I know myself. He doesn’t require a year to get to know me a little. The Supersoul fully knows my strengths and weaknesses, what will inspire me, and what would discourage me from devotional service. The guru doesn’t seem to have this very valuable information, and sometimes blunders result. How then can he be called an external manifestation of the Supersoul? If he’s a partial manifestation, what parts? Is he jiva tattva or Vishnu tattva?

    Hare Krishna.

  14. Pandu raises very good questions. I do not claim to have a clear understanding. I pray to be enlightened by others. But this “guru tattva” seems to be an important topic.

    Another way of looking at the guru as an external manifestation of the Supersoul is to understand that when Krishna gives us guidance from within, the Supersoul is acting as the “guru” in the heart.

    The guru is the one to whom we must turn to understand Krishna. We cannot understand on our own. We need guidance from a divine instructor. We need to get the mantra in the bona fide parampara.

    Any instructions that evoke our Krishna consciousness have to come from the absolute spiritual realm. Material sounds can only produce material effects. The guru is empowered by Krishna to evoke our Krishna consciousness, and is therefore an emissary from the spiritual world. As such, the guru is accepted by the disciple “as good as God”.

    To think of the guru (who gives the Holy Name) as an ordinary man governed by the modes of nature is an offense to the Name. The disciple sees that empowerment by Krishna in the guru, and that is a manifestation of Krishna Himself.

    It is not that the individual Vaisnava devotee who acts as guru becomes omniscient, but the part of the guru who inspires us with pure spiritual knowledge is directly Hari, Lord Nityananda, servitor Godhead, guru tattva.

    The guru has to be sufficiently transparent that his realized instructions are directly the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, coming down through disciplic succession. And the disciple has to be sufficiently receptive, to have the proper attitude of submission and service, worshiping the guru as on a par with God due to his being a confidential messenger of God, to imbibe those instructions.

    I read where one devotee commented: “The inspired side of a Vaisnava is acarya, or guru. The disciple marks only the special, inspired portion within the guru. He is more concerned with that part of his character. But gurudeva himself generally poses as a Vaisnava. So, his dealings towards his disciples and his dealings with other Vaisnavas will be different. This is acintya-bhedabheda, inconceivable unity in diversity.”

    The guru is “guru tattva” (Krishna’s first expansion, Balaram, Nityananda). Guru is one, and the guru is Vishnu tattva. But the Vaisnava in his deaalings with others is jiva tattva. Does that make sense?

  15. Of course, ideally those acting as initiating gurus should be very solidly established in devotional service. (stotriam brahma nistham)

    By recognizing that there is an absolute and a relative aspect of a guru’s personality, we should not be taken as suggesting that any fool can be a guru.

    Those acting as gurus in ISKCON should be conversant in philosophy and practice of devotional service and hopefully should be fixed enough to never fall from devotional service. (Our movement undoubtedly has suffered from guru falldowns.) They should be able to actually properly guide the disciples.

    The disciple agrees to offer formal worship to the guru and it can be terribly disheartening when a disciple’s initiating guru proves weak or fallible. But in such circumstances it may be helpful to remember that the real guru was always the “inspired side” who actually delivered the transcendental message of Krishna intact.

    Any guru, even a “vartmapradarsaka” who innocently shows us the path, should be offered all respects. There is no difference between instructing guru, initiating guru, or path-showing guru, because the guru is one, the guru is identical to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

    So even though the devotee who first turned me on to KC, Akinshina Dasa (whom I have never seen since 1974), may no longer be chanting Hare Krishna or following the rules, I owe him a deep debt of gratitude. He taught me the Panca Tattva mantra under a banyan tree near the Student Union on the campus of University of Miami. I can see that he was a manifestation of Srila Prabhupada and the entire disciplic succession. Although he was a beginner devotee, within him, part of him was Lord Nityananda acting through him, and therefore I offer him my humble obeisances.

    NOI says that ideally one should accept a first class devotee as guru but a second class devotee can do it (although the disciple’s progress in such cases may be limited by the guru’s own capacity to guide). Of course, much also depends on the disciple’s capacity to receive guidance.

    In ISKCON we have the advantage of having Srila Prabhupada’s books and instructions as founder-acarya and instructing guru of everyone. We also have many wonderful devotees who are all expansions of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. And we do have some solidly fixed up devotees who can carry on the diksha line. It is obviously continuing on, with inspired new devotees coming all the time.

  16. ccd says :

    Main signs of a sentimental approach or worship are when understanding of the worship or position of a guru is not based on the sastras or statements of the previous vaisnava acaryas.

    Of course we have an advantage of having Srila Prabhupada’s books and instructions of our founder-acarya. I have to dare to say that Prabhupada never changed anything as far as guru posiiton or guru worship is concerned. He followed statements of the sastra literarily, surpassing the tradition. He showed by his own example how to worship and follow ones guru and how tospend much time fighting his senior sannyäsa disciples who again and again sentimentally wanted to place him in ‘god’ category. As he said, again and again: “And this is going on…”

    If anything understanding of the guru during the period of the zonal acaryas was not sentimental and produced good preaching result, being very closely based on Prabhupadas model. Selection of a guru by the zonal prinicple limited disciple’s choice and examination faculty and that was against the sastra and thus was sentimental. Imitation of morning walks with a cane, and imitation of the voice of Prabhupada was sentimental. Imitation was sentimental ingredient, but the principle of guru centred model was not. Numbers of devotees joining at the time is a clear proof of it.

    On the other hand many who never got a chance to choose the guru properly, sentimentally accepted that zonal fatalistic approach was not-sentimental and that testing ones guru is a sentimental thing. Opposite is true.

    At the same time expectations of the required advancement we demand to those serving as gurus were and still are sentimental.(ie did not follow what sastras say in this regard).

    On the other hand those who are often called sentimental by others are in fact are following sastric instructions much closer then those who rely on their own limited ability to understand guru tattva.

    Prabhupada defines apparent sentimental devotees very positively with the key words of the “sincerity of purpose” (SB 1.8.20 purp) and in this context using his own words of the Canto 1 simplicity of acceptance of the Lord’s authority in the form of the guru will be absent for someone who will try to use only ones limited intelligence to understand it without clear reference to sastra and words of the acaryas.

    This post is just to correct what is wrongly perceived to be sentimental, and to define what is actually sentimental in the context.

  17. ccd says :

    Just to follow on my above post:

    Pandu: “After all, the “guru” is the external manifestation of Supersoul, a confidential servitor of Krishna who is therefore accepted as good as God. ”

    I’ve heard this many times. I used to take it at face value..”

    That would be an example where what is called sentimental comes through by mixing the concepts.

    Being the external manifestation of Supersoul is quite different (and referred separately) to confidential servitor of Krishna.

    Gurvastakam actually compares the two with the word kintu (meaning even if/even) – its contrasting the two . Even if all sastra say you are saksad hari eg ‘The guru is the external representative of Krsna. The internal guru is Krsna Himself’ , however in this particular case Visvanatha Cakravarti (as he always does) sees his guru in his lila form ie as priya of Krsna. Both are right but not synonymous and actually Visvanatha prefers to see his guru as a priya over saksad hari. (Just as we should if we want to follow Prabhupada)

    Nor its required for guru to be always at that level same as Vishvanathas guru Baladeva Vidiyabhusana, that would be sentimental to assume so.
    On the other hand even a ‘prostitute’ was a guru in the sense of external representative of Krsna for Bilvanmangala Thakura. Its also interesting to note at at the time of his adventure, so vividly expressed by Prabhupada in May 1969, he was an acharya successor of his guru, and Cintamani (whom he later dedicated poetry) gave him a way out of his fallen situation – by telling him to go to Vraja and have same passion for Krsna not for her.

    The history of Bilvamangala Thakura is given in a book called Shri Vallabha-digvijaya. He writes in it: “Then Rajavishnu-svami returned to Kanci along with his disciples. He placed upon his seat the best of Dravidi mendicants, Bilvamangala. Then, having gone to Kaundinyashrama, he attained Vaikuntha. Thus I, Bilvamangalacarya, along with Divodasa, began to protect dharma. . . . Leaving that place, giving the seat to Devamangala, I arrived at Vrindavana.”

    He is certainly a most qualified acarya, years before Lord Caitanya, and its Cintamani devi who deserves the praise, for being external representative of Krsna in that case, guru . If you insist on sentimentally merging the two (saksad hari concept and priya servant view) one is exposed to sentimentalism but not separating the two.

    Ys caitanya candrodaya das

  18. Thanks for your input Caitanya Candrodaya Prabhu. I am not sure I understood everything you said.

    I never heard the explanation of “kintu prabhur ya priya eva tasya” as you have given it. Are you saying Visvanatha Cakravarti is saying that even though the sastras say the guru is saksad hari, he prefers to think of the guru as a confidential servant (i.e., is he rejecting the concept of saksad hari?) Do we reject the concept, following in his footsteps?

    If so, how does he reconcile his concept with that of the sastras that say otherwise? Is this explained somewhere else outside the guruvastakam itself?

    What about other statements that “guru is one”, “guru is Nityananda”, “guru is external manifestation of Supersoul”. Are these statements inconsistent with conception of guru as “confidential servant”? How do we reconcile these views? Or do we bother? Are there specific authoritative statements we should look to to describe the difference in the “saksad hari” and “priya servant” concepts/views?

    I have always heard we are supposed to worship and serve the guru in the way that we would serve Krishna directly. It is kind of a practice for us to be in Krishna’s personal presence by learning to worship guru and other established Vaishnavas as “person bhagavat”, isn’t it?

    In deity worship we offer grains to the guru on ekadasi (but not tulasi leaves on his plate), but in person the guru does not eat grains on ekadasi. (I know next to nothing about deity worship, being only first initiated myself). Why is this?

    Another question: Even the “priya servant view” seems to contradict our experience in ISKCON of gurus sometimes having spiritual difficulties, falling down, being put on probation, suspension and so on. One might legitimately ask, if the guru is really such a confidential servant, how has the guru come to be a victim of maya? Is it just a useful “fiction” that the guru is a confidential servant? What makes the guru any more confidential a servant than you or me, if not that the guru is free from anarthas and has deep spiritual emotions and realizations? How is the guru our eternal lord and master if he has given up chanting Hare Krishna or following the principles of KC?

    These seem to be topics that we really need to understand very clearly. I am sure many devotees do understand them and I hope to hear clear explanations.

    [Just one minor correction is that Baladeva was Visvanatha’s disciple not vice versa]

  19. As for ISKCON approving gurus and so on, I can understand it as a feature of administration of the Society, separate and apart from philosophy concerning guru-disciple relationship.

    I know some devotees, such as Krishna Dharma Prabhu, have written thoughtfully about doing away with any such attempts on the part of ISKCON leadership, and adopting more of a “let the buyer beware”, less paternalistic attitude.

    I asked H.H. Trivikrama Swami about this at S.F. Ratha Yatra and he said he still sees the importance of ISKCON regulating who may act as initiating gurus for ISKCON devotees. I am not sure I could reproduce all his arguments, but I found them convincing.

    I think ISKCON leadership can and should try to impose some form of “quality control” without completely vouching for the qualifications of ISKCON “approved” gurus. That is, we should encourage prospective disciples to do their best to make their own investigation and satisfy themselves regarding their faith in their gurus, but we can say that in the case of certain individuals ISKCON does not approve their acting as initiating spiritual masters within ISKCON.

    Some individuals, even if spiritually qualified, may not be approved to function within ISKCON as initiating gurus for other reasons (e.g., considering the sensibilities of those whom they may have mistreated when they were younger and less mature).

    But mainly for now I would like to put aside the considerations regarding how ISKCON should “manage” guru-disciple issues for the purpose of propagating a mass movement (as Srila Prabhupada desired), and to try to get a clearer understanding of these issues in terms of how it works as part of the scioence of bhakti.

    Is there really a distinction between the “directly hari” concept and the “confidential servant” concept? Are these two opposing schools, or are they harmonized somehow and do they both exist (e.g. in Caitanya Caritamrta)?

    What really are the minimum qualifications of guru? How can the disciple see the initiating guru as either “directly hari” or even “confidential servant” if the guru cannot continue to control the “vaco vegam manasah krodha vegam jihva vegam uduropastha vegam”? Or should the disciple see the fallen guru in some different way?

    Anyway, those who have acted as gurus but later had difficulties still need our friendship, support, encouragement and gratitude for their service. Prabhupada would not give up on them, so how can we?

  20. On management:

    Putting aside practical questions of feasibility, political or otherwise, is it possible that there could someday be a council of “guru approvers” and “guru advisers” who could determine with more or less certainty and help insure that certain particular devotees could serve as gurus without ever falling down?

    I mean, I know it is said that even a maha bhagavat can fall down, but generally it never happens. Even devotees who attain a much lower degree of qualification rarely fall down, especially if they have good association and friendship with other advanced devotees.

    On the principle of “it takes one to know one”, might it not be someday feasible and even advisable that a council of advanced devotees in ISKCON could train and select certain devotees who are actually qualified to act as bona fide gurus, that we would not have to be nervous about, but could confidently rest assured that they would never actually break the principles or become subject to the four defects?

    Maybe we just have not yet have sufficient talent, or have not recognized the talent that we do have, to make this work, but might it not be possible at least theoretically that such a system could work in the future?

    Or is it a theoretical impossibility? Is there some structural flaw in the very idea?

    One supposes that if Srila Prabhupada could have set such a system up before he passed away he would have. However, it is not surprising that within the 10-12 years he spent creating and overseeing ISKCON, training disciples, writing books, opening temples and founding the Society, he may simply have not had the situation favorable for setting such a foolproof system up. He had to work with the disciples he had, in the state of education and training and experience and detachment and realization they could bring to bear at that time.

    Is it possible, at least in theory, that ISKCON may someday develop an effective, foolproof “guru ministry” that could not only explain in a demystified way everything we beginners need to know about guru-disciple issues, but also could guide ISKCON in such a way that we never have guru “problems” in the future?

    I know Lord Caitanya wants this movement to enlighten the whole world, so I tend to think, where there is a will there is a way, and eventually we can overcome most, if not all, guru “problems”. We can at least pray that our most talented and qualified devotees can completely solve these problems.

  21. Akruranatha prabhu has raised a host of important questions. I am sure it would require several papers to spell out the way forward.

    A well presented publication on Iskcon’s history given in a sober way, being both educational and instructive, and will be required reading for all prospective disciples, should set some realistic standard of expectancy in devotees. Ravindra Svarupa prabhu did a series of lectures to this effect, but a more comprehensive booklet could set the tone.

    Unfortunately, such sensitive matters concerning the downside of the guru/disciple relationship is one to hastily put on the back burner. Literally thousands of devotees could keep their faith in the parampara system if they are well-informed, rather than wait for another casualty to falter in the face of over-estimated sentiments.

    We may get philosophical about the absolute divinity of the guru, but a spiritual master is empowered so long as he follows properly. All bona-fide descriptions of the guru attest to a standard which we have in many cases, sadly fallen short, much to the broken hearts of many followers.

    A peer review body, or brahminical council overseeing guru related issues and other GBC concerns is a must. If Srila Prabhupada oversaw all aspects of the GBC and other leaders, so can this body. There has been much talk about a parallel system of management for Iskcon.

    Such a dual system would be difficult under present circumstances where everything is ordained by the GBC, and rightly so. But a body made up of brahminical minds can add another dimension to management and accommodste the parallel system too.

    Important matters concerning guru susceptibility should be dealt with by this body, just as Srila Prabhupada did.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  22. ccd says :

    Question 5

    One might legitimately ask, if the guru is really such a confidential servant, how has the guru come to be a victim of maya? Is it just a useful “fiction” that the guru is a confidential servant?

    I would never think that Prabhupada is not a confidential servant of Krsna, guru is, and its not a useful ‘fiction’. Sad to hear such a relativistic monism. Every single devotee who assisted Prabhupada is a confidential servant in the mission of Lord Caitanya, not directly maybe, but by serving Prabhupada, and some were prominent, some still are. Just as in any war, in this case against mäyä, some generals will fall. Prabhupada said ones: There is no wonder they fall, amazing that some remain. What is most amazing is that Lord Caitanya has given away this most confidential power of distributing love of Krsna to Prabhupadas disciples. We should look positively on even most negative cases. It could be hard at first, but all of the devotees in ISKCON made so much service. Anyone who repeats the message of Lord Caitanya is a guru and eventually we will have all devotees (even ones you are critical about) in the spiritual world. There is very little chance for devotee not being at the end perfect, devotee is just an opposite. With all the propaganda that goes on, one should remember that we should not starting taking mäyäs side of the battle and should never be killing wounded generals. I will however not comment on initiating gurus situation, as I understand, whatever title one gets, one is essentially servant of Gaura-Nitay and the most fallen devotee is more worshipable then any paca brahmana guru who is not serving Gaura Nitay. You will agree that a paca mayavadi guru is much more fallen then any immature devotee? Some confidential and personal servants of Mahaprabhu were also in trouble, all devotees of Lord Caitanya were trying to help them to regain the mercy of Sri Caitanya. That should be the attitude. And one symptom of the mayavadi philosophy is to think that guru is just a temporary instrument that is to be rejected at ones ‘perfection’ stage. Prabhupada was never angry at any fallen sannyäsi disiples, but was furious with paca sannyasis who started to preach mayavadi views in ISKCON.

  23. ccd says :

    Dear Akrutanatha Prabhu. In reality the question that you have put up are not that difficult to answer. However to ensure that there is good scriptural base to the answer, GBC normally asks SAC to provide the answers based on sastra, like in the case of women guru etc.

    Principle remains in place for all the questions you raised (and you know the limitation of the comment size..)

    Question 1
    Are you saying Visvanatha Cakravarti is saying that even though the sastras say the guru is saksad hari, he prefers to think of the guru as a confidential servant (i.e., is he rejecting the concept of saksad hari?) Do we reject the concept, following in his footsteps?

    We reject position of mayavadis and kartabhaja sects who worship guru being god. We worship guru as good as god, but we prefer seeing guru as a servant of God, (more exactly servant of the servant), and how intimate is this position depends on your realisation.

  24. ccd says :

    Question 2

    What about other statements that “guru is one”, “guru is Nityananda”, “guru is external manifestation of Supersoul”. Are these statements inconsistent with conception of guru as “confidential servant”?

    Guru is one, because Krsna is the original guru. In SSR Prabhupada states: “The Vedas enjoin us to seek out a guru; actually, they say to seek out the guru, not just a guru. The guru is one because he comes in disciplic succession.” There is a level at which one will see guru as not external manifestation of the supersoul, as it will be obvious in the Spiritual world where both guru and disciples are present, there is no purusavatars there, so Guru can not be external representative of the Supersoul:-) its true to sadhya stage. In the lecture in Mayapur Prabhupada explained the “Nityananda” part of your question, however don’t take if out of context: “So Nityänanda means prakäsa, svayam-prakäsa, Balaräma. Balaräma is, I mean to say, presenting Krishna. Therefore Balaräma is guru-tattva. Guru is representative of Balaräma, of Nityänanda, Guru’s Nityänanda, because He is exhibiting Krsna. He is presenting Krsna, prakäsa.”

    Theses are all correct statments, but Visvanatha was in a special mood that is described in the previous verses of Gurvastakam and was talking about his guru and concluded on how to get his mercy. That is what we all should aim at. The intent of sevice is important, not the words, you know.

  25. ccd says :

    Question 3
    How do we reconcile these views? Or do we bother?
    Are there specific authoritative statements we should look to to describe the difference in the “saksad hari” and “priya servant” concepts/views?

    Correspondence of Prabhupada after Brahmananda Maharaja and some others were preaching that Prabhupada is god is a good example. So even you worship externally guru as god, but never consider his to be God. Otherwise you become kartabhaja. Prabhupada wrote very clearly in 1975: Actually there is only one guru-Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So those who simply repeat His words, they also become guru. But of course a guru never thinks himself as being God. He only thinks himself as the servant of the servant.

    What do think that means?

  26. ccd says :

    following from the above, I will help you with prabhupadas words concluding the quote: servant of the servant: gopi bhrtya pada-kamalayo das dasanudasa [Cc. Madhya 13.80].

    Question 4

    In deity worship we offer grains to the guru on ekadasi (but not tulasi leaves on his plate), but in person the guru does not eat grains on ekadasi. (I know next to nothing about deity worship, being only first initiated myself). Why is this?

    It was explained by our only Oxford PhD in deity worship some years back. Out of two ways is to consider that offering to guru is taking permission of the guru to offer it to the Thakura. Other is to consider that guru will offer it to Krsna. You did not think that guru will actually eat it first? (I know what you mean, but when so many basic questions are shut out by the most prolific contributors on this site it makes me wonder..)

    Of course guru is never goru.

  27. ccd says :

    Question X

    I have always heard we are supposed to worship and serve the guru in the way that we would serve Krishna directly. It is kind of a practice for us to be in Krishna’s personal presence by learning to worship guru and other established Vaishnavas as “person bhagavat”, isn’t it?

    Akruranatha prabhu, Its clearly not the goal, but a practice, sadhana. One shoud see the difference between the sadhana and sadhya. Visvanatha was not neophite devotee who did not figure out basic concepts of who is guru and who is not. He was a siddha. He actually never met his guru except as at the spiritual realm, does it make him less then as a disciple. However most of those who do not understand greatness of Prabhupadas disciples and grand disciples, and follow ritvikvada apasampradaya are more or less kartabhaja, judging from the behaviour.

    HBV quotes:

    sreyas tu guruvad-våttir
    nityam eva samäcaret

    “To the spiritual master’s children, dependants and relatives the disciple should offer the same kind of respectful treatment he offers to the spiritual master himself.”
    “Preaching means to increase our family members” Mayapur 1973

    I’m sure that is the intent of all of your comments. Thank you for asking, it was a pleasure even if I was not sure if you really want the answer or a question raised (which is also important as i see).

    Ys caitanya candrodaya dasa

  28. gauradasa says :

    Here is explanation from Srila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion Lecture, Vrndavana, October 23, 1972:

    Krsna is satisfied more when a devotee worships His devotee. Krsna says, “If one is worshiping Me and one is worshiping My devotee, then the person who is worshiping the devotee, he’s more important than the person who is worshiping Krsna.”
    Therefore in, in the Gurvastaka by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, it is said there: yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado yasya aprasadad na gatih kuto ‘pi **. The best devotee is the spiritual master. Unless one is devotee, pure devotee, how he can be spiritual master? Spiritual master means representative of God. So who can become representative of God. Unless he is twenty-four hours engaged in the service of God, Krsna, how he can be spiritual master? This is also explained by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih. The spiritual master is described as good as Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Because the, the spiritual master is representative of Krsna because he’s most confidential servant of Krsna. Kintu prabhor ya priya eva tasya. Yasya pra… Saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih **. The spiritual master is worshiped as good as the Supreme Person. Saksad dharitvena. This is not artificial, but in all the sastras, this is recommended. Saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih **. Those who are learned devotees, advanced devotees, they also accept this that spiritual master should be treated as good as Hari, the Supreme Person.

    >>> Ref. VedaBase => The Nectar of Devotion — Vrndavana, October 23, 1972

  29. Thanks, Caitanya Candrodaya, for your thoughtful answers. I am not really trying to put forward any specific views but to stimulate discussion in light of our received authorities.

    I am happy with the discussion in this thread, and thanks to Kesava Krishna for writing the article and for his many nice comments, and others’.

    I do not know anything about Kartabhajas, who they are or what their philosophy is. I am not sure I ever heard that word until now.

    We were recently viewing with friends the “Concert for George” DVD (a memorial concert in Albert Hall on the one year anniversary of George Harrison’s passing), and I was listening to the background in “My Sweet Lord”. In addition to the Maha Mantra and hallelujah there was the popular Hindu mantra, “guru brahma, guru vishnu, gurudeva mahesvarah. . . ” I thought, we do not use that verse in ISKCON, and it must be there is some mayavadi connotation, for example the Second Offense of equating Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as all manifestations of impersonal brahman.

    On the other hand, we do recite verses such as “acarya mam vijaniyat”.

    You are quite right that I never do think of Prabhupada as God, but think that because he is a condfidential servant of God I should serve and obey him just as I would directly do with God.

    I also agree that we should not “kill” our wounded generals. I was not intending to criticize those who have tried to serve as gurus even though they have had problems and falldowns. They will eventually achieve all perfection, and I supposed they could be seen as “confidential” servants of Krishna in some sense, but it still does not seem they are “confidential servants” in the sense that Srila Prabhupada is. They are less “confidential,” for now at least. Right?

    Part of “sentimental” guru worship is the sense that, as a practice, the disciple is supposed to consider the guru as more advanced in devotional service than he really is. There is nothing in the true process that requires us to “fake out” ourselves or others. I think we agree on that.

    On the one hand we do have statements that the guru ideally should be a topmost intimate devotee, and controlling the six urges is at least the minimum requirement mentioned in NOI.

    And yet there is a sense that, if the guru is transparent, even if in some instances he has not met the minimum requirements, then what he says is what God says and thus guru is in that sense God. “Empowered if he follows properly.”

  30. I see Shiva’s last two comments here were probably meant to be comments to Tamohara’s article on “The Brain as Holodeck”.

    Editor’s note: These two comments are now moved in the proper place:

    Therefore, I will not directly respond here, but if I do respond I will do it over in the “Holodeck” thread.

    I suppose everything really is related though. . . We are talking about the characteristic of liberated, Krishna conscious persons, and the question arises, “To what extent must someone be liberated before formally accepting disciples?” :-)

    We know Lord Caitanya orders, yare dekha tare kaha krishna upadesa amara ajnaya guru hana . . .

    And we should all try to tell everyone about Krishna’s instructions and in that way become guru on Lord Caitanya’s order. But isn’t that different from accepting a formal relationship as diksa guru and accepting personal service and worship as an enlightened, liberated person?

    If the disciple worships the guru as liberated, but the guru is not really liberated (even if we may understand the guru will eventually be liberated in the future), isn’t there something false or phony going on?

    Or is it that Krishna arranges for the disciple to see the liberated side of the guru?

    Pandu’s question about blunders resulting from gurus not really knowing the details of the disciple’s heart the way the Supersoul knows them is a case in point. If the guru has actually achieved the state of never hankering or lamenting, the stage for which the material world as such exists for him no longer, in which the four defects no longer apply, something tells me those kind of blunders won’t occur. Krishna will supply whatever understanding the guru needs, just as He supplies the necessary understanding to the sincere disciple.

    A person fully absorbed in devotional service is in one sense liberated. For example Srila Prabhupada said that anyone who leaves his body while on book distribution goes back to Godhead (or so I have heard). But they may still be “green mangos”. After they stop book distribution they may come home, contact material energy (e.g., turn on the TV) and get covered over.

    Should a mango that green accept formal disciples who are supposed to regard him as a “confidential servant”? Isn’t there something phony about such worship, and does it become “sentimental” if the disciple has to pretend his guru is a riper mango than he really is?

  31. ccd says :

    Just to note: this gurvastakam verse about saksad hari is probably the most commented by Prabhupada. Its is the first one we have a record of, as he starts his Viasa Puja homage in 1939 with this verse. For dogmatics it will be a good exercise to read all the interpretations of this verse that Prabhupada did, much more then catursloki of the Bhagavatam, that he translated differently in CC and SB.

    Akruranatha prabhu wrote: I was listening to the background in “My Sweet Lord”. In addition to the Maha Mantra and hallelujah there was the popular Hindu mantra, “guru brahma, guru vishnu, gurudeva mahesvarah. . . ” I thought, we do not use that verse in ISKCON, and it must be there is some mayavadi connotation, for example the Second OffenCe of equating Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as all manifestations of impersonal brahman.
    On the other hand, we do recite verses such as “acarya mam vijaniyat”.

    Interestingly Prabhupada when referring to this Gurvastakam verse in Bombay in November 1974, also referred to guru-brahma vedic sloka. He did not deny it, but explain it. Very often he would say guru is God, but the servitor god… Not only in Teaching of Queen Kunti but also in other places, for example in London in 1973: Just try to understand. Worshipable God and worshiper God. This is. Sevya bhagavän-sevaka bhagavän. Just like guru is addressed: “Prabhupäda.” Prabhu means “the Lord” and päda means “the position.” “One who has taken the position of the Lord.”

    cite=”gauradasa” – Here is explanation from Srila Prabhupada

    Another very extreme quote is from June 1974 (it was not me who started quoting)

    Guru`s position is like this. What is that? SäkSäd-dhari. He is God. SäkSäd-hari. How he is Hari, God? No, samasta-sästraiù: “In all revealed scriptures it is explained that ‘Guru, the servant of God, the son of God, the preacher, he is God.` ” SäkSäd-dharitvena samasta: “It is said.” Tathä bhävyata eva sadbhih “Those who are intelligent, they accept like that.” Then next line says, kintu. Why he is God? Kintu prabhor yaù priya eva tasya: “He is God because He is very, very dear to God.” So as I said, in the absolute word, God and a person very dear to God, he is also God.
    From this quote its clear, that Prabhupada never ever ever would welcome minimising guru. So we should not ever do it or make guru into an impersonal committee or democratically elected priest. Why should we (become sentimental)?

  32. ccd says :

    Sastra dealing with the subject of guru tattva confirms need to be able to see both : ability to see vaisnava guru as representative of God, or servant of the servant, at the same time one should understand time and conditions and be realistic:

    na nindā vaiṣṇave kāryā nāvahelā pramādataḥ |
    na duḥkhaṁ maraṇaṁ vāpi syād yadi vaiṣṇava-kāraṇāt ||16||

    One should never engage in criticizing a Vaisnava or neglecting a
    Vaisnava even in joking. For Vaisnavas are so glorious that there

    na doṣā vaiṣṇave dṛśyāḥ karmācāraḥ vilokanāt |
    karmācāra-viśuddhā vā ke santi kalim arditāḥ ||17||

    No one should find fault with a Vaisnava for his activities or
    behavior. What person is free from the influence of Kali Yuga or
    has perfect pure behavior and action?

    yato vaiṣṇavāṅge kṛṣṇāgnir vartate, śrī-kṛṣṇa-dhyāna-balāt pātakāni patituṁ na samarthāni, patitāny api kṛṣṇāgnau dagdhānīti |

    Because the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord are always meditating on
    Lord Sri Krsna the contamination of sinful activities cannot come
    upon them. Because a Vaisnava’s body has the fire of Krsna
    Consciousness within it, even if they are fallen, this fire of
    Krsna Consciousness will burn up to ashes any material contamination.

  33. gauradasa says :

    It seems that Srila Prabhupada was very clear regarding qualifications of guru. He said:

    The definition of a genuine guru is that he is simply talking about God, that’s all. If he’s talking about some other nonsense, then he is not a guru. A guru cannot be bad. There is no question of a bad guru any more than there’s a red guru or a white guru. Guru is guru. All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God’s devotees. If he does this, he is genuine. Is that point clear?
    >>>Ref. VedaBase – The Test of the Genuine Guru

    It also seems, that if there were no problems with gurus in ISKCON, we wouldn’t be talking about this at all. We are trying to connect two realities. One is reality of bonafide guru, as is described by Srila Prabhupada, and the other is reality of ISKCON guru.

    As I heard from GBC members, ISKCON guru mostly means setting good example in one’s sadhana. TPs, GBCs and temple commanders are dealing more directly with disciples than the gurus do. I was told by GBC member/guru, and it is well known in our society, that ISKCON gurus consider themselves not as traditional gurus, but institutional gurus. It is a first time in Gaudiya Vaisnava history, that there is a working institution.

    I admit I do not have good understanding of above concepts of institutional guru, but I described it as I heard it from GBC members. Maybe somebody can write more on this, to make it more clear.

    As I understand the term institutional guru of ISKCON, it is more an institutional position, (a person empowered to act in the name of institution, initiator), than actual traditional role of guru.

    I have also heard, that it is not that, everything that guru says is true, because he is in position of guru. But the opposite is true. One is accepted as guru, because everything he says is true.

    And I heard that one is, or is not, guru, depending on his actions. Title in institution doesn’t guarantee that a person actually acts as guru 100% of time.

    Can somebody please comment on above points?

    Thank you

  34. I recently listened to a lecture H.H. Indradyumna Maharaja gave on the occasion of an initiation ceremony in Melbourne, Australia. It was a good lecture with a lot of good points and some charming, joking words. [A commenter on the website where I downloaded it pointed out that Maharaja had been traveling and was exhausted, but nevertheless he gave such a nice lecture and kept his sense of humor under difficult conditions].

    Anyway, in the lecture Maharaja mentions how disciples are supposed to be somewhat guarded and private about their relationships with their gurus. The idea was not so much that it would cause friction with disciples of other gurus (Maharaja did not mention anything of that sort), but that it is something so precious, something the disciple cherishes so much, that he or she does not generally disclose these things to all and sundry.

    [Not everyone blabs whatever goes through their head on the internet like I sometimes do.] Most people will have secrets, and the precious secrets about their personal realizations of guru and Krishna might be cheapened if exposed very publicly.

    In olden times one would receive a secret mantra from the guru, and secret instructions would only be disclosed to those who are worthy. In ISKCON at least the Maha Mantra and the basic instructions of Bhagavad Gita are things we try to publicize far and wide, but we still expect that special, precious instructions and realizations are not necessarily appropriate to disclose to everyone or on all occasions.

    Too often in preaching some of us (once again speaking for myself) tend to “lead with the punchline”, trying to disclose to whomever we are talking to the limits (or a little beyond the limits) of our personal realizations. The real knack is to be able to relate to our audience and present something they will appreciate and that will attract them to want to read Prabhupada’s books and find out more.

    People will understand if we do not try to disclose the limits of our knowledge all at once. An author interviewed on a popular TV or radio talk show will try to say something that entertains and attracts people to the subject matter (often to sell them the latest book that they are promoting on the interview circuit). They do not tell the most esoteric teachings or new, complex discoveries in their fields. We need to get the knack of being entertaining and informative speakers, who do not simply disclose our most precious secrets everywhere.

  35. I concur with the guru relationship being secret or ‘hallowed.’ Why does Lord Krishna say in the 4th chapter of Bhagavad-Gita – rahasyam hy etad uttamam? Because only a confidential servant like Arjuna can understand the mysteries, or secrets of devotion from the guru. Was not Krishna the guru for Arjuna?

    We can also think of the magnitude of secrecy when Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur entitled one written work ‘Bhajana Rahasya,’ or the ‘secrets of bhajana.’ The same – rahasyam – word is used.

    In the ultimate sense, when a disciple has reached such a level as to recoginize the eternal disposition of the guru, then his devotion becomes internal bhajana. It would be a travesty, even a kind of betrayel for an internal devotee to divulge confidential secrets to unqualified persons. But he would continue to live and preach as a madhyama-adhikari with discrimination.

    As for comment (33), some more interesting questions are raised. Whether the term ‘institutionalized’ or ‘traditional’ guru is used, should not affect the flow of Bhakti. But this a more an administrative concern which does cause devotees to wonder how involved our gurus should be with their disciples, dispersed throughout the world. We have a truly global set-up as opposed to the localized one in days gone by, when the horse and cart was today’s jumbo jet.

    It also fits in with the ‘parallel’ system of management envisioned by many, to allow minimal interference in guru/disciple dealings away from unneccessary rank and file interruptions.

    On the issue of being a guru, Srila Prabhupada is usually blunt, or black and white, on who should be guru. There are no in-betweens. One is either a guru, or not; for eternity.

    When I mentioned in this article that a disciple in a suspect relationship could think there is a remote chance of the guru falling, this should not alter his daily worship. The gratitude of the Lord sending the guru should always befit the God-like reverence required for mutual well-being. I would presume someone could label the guru as ‘institutional’ due to the fact that they are serving on behalf of Srila Prabhupada’s Iskcon, and in any unfortunate eventuality, Srila Prabhupada remains the pre-eminent siksa guru for all of us.

    Ys, kesava Krsna dasa.

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