A paper by the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC)
Members participating in the authorship of this paper: Drutakarma Dasa, Gopiparanadhana Dasa, Purnacandra Goswami, and Urmila Devi Dasi
‚ÄúThe rules and regulation are that nobody should accept blindly any guru, and nobody should blindly accept any disciple. They must behave, one another, at least for one year so that the prospective disciple can also understand, ‚ÄėWhether I can accept this person as my guru.‚Äô And the prospective guru also can understand, ‚ÄėWhether this person can become my disciple.‚Äô This is the instruction by Sanatana Gosvami in his Hari-bhakti-vilasa.‚ÄĚ (Srila Prabhupada, Bg 13.1-2 lecture, 25 February 1975, Miami)
‚ÄúIn the Mantra-muktavali: By living together for one year they can ascertain from seeing each other‚Äôs nature whether they can act as guru and disciple. Indeed, there is no other way to determine this.‚ÄĚ (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.74)
‚ÄúIt is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.‚ÄĚ (Srila Prabhupada, Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 1.35 purport)
‚ÄúSelf-deceived persons sometimes accept leaders or spiritual masters from a priestly order that has been officially appointed by the codes of material life. In this way, they are deceived by official priests.‚ÄĚ (Srila Prabhupada, Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 17.185 purport)
SAC‚Äôs Mandate given by the Executive Committee of the GBC
Early in 2004, the Executive Committee (EC) of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) wrote to the
Sastric Advisory Council:
‚ÄúSrila Prabhupada states that it is the responsibility of the prospective disciples to examine and test their prospective guru prior to initiation. Given that the GBC gives tacit approval to gurus via their no-objection procedure, it could be that the prospective disciple’s desire to examine their prospective guru prior to initiation is compromised. Although there are many glorious descriptions of the qualities of guru in sastra, it is the duty of prospective disciples to not automatically assume those qualities are possessed by all ISKCON gurus. Rather, they should objectively examine their prospective guru. There is prima facia evidence that suggests that prospective disciples do not take this responsibility seriously. Therefore we request the Sastric Advisory Council (SAC) to research the balance between the responsibility of ISKCON to protect its members from unqualified gurus and the duty of the prospective disciples to give proper attention to the study of their prospective gurus prior to initiation.‚ÄĚ
The SAC is free to accept or reject requests from the GBC. We decided to accept this particular request because we accept that there is truth in the premise of the EC‚Äôs statement.
Normally, the SAC submits papers to the GBC containing only philosophical and historical evidence, but in this case we felt that we could not address the philosophical issue of the responsibility of the aspiring disciple to test the prospective guru without also addressing practical issues of policy within ISKCON. We wrote to the EC expressing this, and they said that the GBC would be willing to receive a paper from SAC that included policy recommendations.
In sastra we find some rare examples of aspiring disciples being directed to particular gurus. For example, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was directed by his father, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, to approach Srila Gaurakisora Dasa Babaji. In earlier times, Lord Brahma told the demigods to accept Visvarupa:
‚ÄúO demigods, I instruct you to approach Visvarupa, the son of Tvashta, and accept him as your guru. He is a pure and very powerful brahmana undergoing austerity and penances. Pleased by your worship, he will fulfill your desires . . . .‚ÄĚ (Bhag. 6.7.25)
These above examples do not contradict the statements found in Hari-bhakti-vilasa seen later in this paper. Even if advice is received from others, the aspiring disciple still has the full responsibility of making the ultimate decision. The aspiring disciple is responsible for choosing, testing, and evaluating a guru. The sastric injunction is that a guru and disciple mutually test each other for a year in the course of personal association.
There are, however, several aspects of current ISKCON practice and understanding that make it difficult for an aspiring disciple to personally test a guru. The current procedure and understanding of the guru authorization process is one such obstacle. And there are others. Therefore SAC recommends that the GBC consider the following initial suggestions:
1)Devotees should be helped to understand that it is their responsibility to test their prospective guru, as recommended by Srila Prabhupada and the previous acaryas.
Generally, this should be done in consultation with trusted senior devotees.
2)Devotees seeking initiation from a spiritual master in ISKCON should be informed that they can choose any qualified senior devotee in good standing as their diksha-guru, not just those who are already initiating.
3) The GBC should openly encourage all senior devotees in good-standing who are qualified ISKCON representatives to accept the role of a spiritual master.