Question: In the recent article, “A Letter – from Disciple to Guru” how are we to understand that a disciple appears to be instructing her guru?
Answer: A beautiful question. Certainly this is not an everyday occurrence. However, there are references to similar instances, and even direct instructions by our previous acaryas regarding such matters between guru and disciple.
For example, Sukadeva Gosvami spoke the Bhagavatam in front of his guru, Vyasadeva, and his parama-guru, Narada Muni. The truth will manifest thru those with a pure heart or whomever Krsna chooses. In the case of the article you have mentioned, Krsna chose to deliver to the guru that which he needed to hear thru his disciple. The disciple was free from envy, sincere in her purpose, pure in heart, free from society consciousness and determined to speak the truth. Thus, there was no aparadha on her part. Siksa is more important thandiksa. In fact, we are mainly a siksa sampradaya. Without siksa, diksa has little value.
Vipina-vihari Gosvami was the diksa-guru of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, yet Bhaktivinoda had to instruct his guru about the real birth place of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Jagannatha Dasa Babaji was the siksa-guru of Bhaktivinoda and that is the parampara that we follow – not the line of formal diksa. Substance over form – that is the ideal of the Gaudiya samprayada.
Situations wherein a disciple has accepted a diksa-guru that has not actually realised the Absolute Truth, or has insufficient knowledge of the process ofbhakti-yoga, have occurred in the past and may occur again in the future. For this reason, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in his Jaiva Dharma, has given specific instructions in this regard as follows:
“Before accepting a guru, one should examine him to see that he is expert in the tattva spoken in the Vedas and has realised para-tattva. If he is, then he will certainly be capable of giving all kinds of instructions about the Absolute Truth. Normally, there is no question of giving up the diksa-guru.
“There are two circumstances, however, in which he should be abandoned. First, if the disciple accepted the guru without examining the guru’s knowledge of the Absolute Truth, his Vaisnava qualities, and his other qualifications, and second, if after initiation, the guru does not perform any function, he should be given up. Many passages in sastras give evidence for this:
yo vyaktir nyaya-rahitam anyayena srnoti yah
tav ubhau narakam ghoram vrajatah kalam aksayam
“He who poses as an acarya, but gives false instructions that are opposed to the sattvata-sastras, will reside in a terrible hell for an unlimited period of time, and so will the misguided disciple who mistakenly listens to such a false guru.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.62)
guror apy avaliptasya karyakaryam ajanatah
utpatha-pratipannasya parityago vidhiyate
“It is one’s duty to give up a guru who cannot teach the disciple what he should do and what he should not do, and who takes the wrong path, either because of bad association or because he is opposed to Vaisnavas.” (Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva 179.25)
avaisnavopadistena mantrena nirayam vrajet
punas ca vidhina samyag grahayed vaisnavad guroh
“One goes to hell if he accepts mantras from a guru who is not a Vaisnava, that is, one who is associating with women, and who is devoid of krsna-bhakti. Therefore, according to the rules of sastra, one should take mantrasagain from a Vaisnava guru.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 4.144)
“The second circumstance in which one may reject the guru is if he was a Vaisnava who knew the spiritual truth and principles when the disciple accepted him, but who later became a Mayavadi or an enemy of the Vaisnavas by the influence of asat-sanga. It is one’s duty to give up such a guru. However, it is not proper to give up a guru whose knowledge is meagre, if he is not a Mayavadi or an enemy of the Vaisnavas, and is not attached to sinful activity. In that case, one should still respect him as guru, and with his permission, one should go to another Vaisnava who is more knowledgeable, and serve that Vaisnava and take instructions from him.” (Jaiva Dharma Ch-20)
This last statement by Bhaktivinoda regarding a disciple having accepted a guru with meagre knowledge in Krsna consciousness, and a disciple having to approach another Vaisnava, a siksa-guru of superior adhikara (qualifications) is very pertinent to our times. This is a situation that confronted many disciples in ISCON after the departure of Srila Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
However, in many cases wherein a disciple has approached his or her guru to ask permission to take siksa from a senior Vaisnava, the permission has been denied. Not only denied, but all too often the disciple(s) have been demonized – even cursed to hell by their guru! This was also the case in the early 1980s when, under the instruction of Srila Prabhupada, many of his disciples took siksa from Srila Sridhara Maharaja. They were subsequently driven from the movement and condemned to hell by the GBC and other leading devotees of ISCON. The same continued thru the ‘90s and continues even up to the present day.
I am not saying this is true in all cases, and certainly not in the case of the disciple who has written the letter we are discussing. In this particular case, the guru showed much more Krishna consciousness than the ‘party line’ leaders of ISCON. Recognising the benefit his disciple has received from the siksa of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, the aforementioned ISCON guru gave his permission for her to take Sridhara Maharaja’s siksa – a noble and righteous gesture on his part. Sadly, the majority of gurus and leaders in ISCON are not so magnanimous.
What should be done when one’s guru, obviously not up to the true standard ofguru-tattva, does not give permission to his disciple to take siksa from a senior Vaisnava? Sri Jiva Gosvami instructs us as follows:
ata eva durata evaradhyas tadrso guruh vaisnava vidvesi cet parityajya eva
“If a guru does not permit his disciples to honor great devotees, such a guru should be respected only from afar, And, if he is envious towards Vaisnavas, he should be rejected.” (Bhakti Sandarbha 238)
It does not end here. Siksa-guru is an undeniable aspect of Krsna consciousness and, as I have already mentioned, the main thrust of our sampradaya is that ofsiksa, not diksa. Recognising siksa-guru as a bona fide conception is allowed in the greater ISCON, but only if that siksa-guru is in ISCON! In fact, to make this understood, it is clearly stated in the online syllabus of the “ISCON Disciple Course Material”. Additionally, a book has been written by a prominent ISCON guru called “Siksa Guru in ISKCON” to further establish their institutional conception of guru-tattva. Unfortunately, that book has little to do with the real principle of siksa-guru and everything to do with Society Consciousness over God Consciousness. Conformity to misconception (apa-siddhanta) has become the standard for all aspiring disciples within ISCON. Only by such conformity is one then certified as qualified for initiation. Thus, the havoc, confusion, bewilderment and lack of substantial progress in suddha-bhakti, pure devotional service, is commonplace everywhere.
Guru is not designated with overtones of Society Consciousness. Guru means Krsna’s representative and that is not regulated or controlled by Society Consciousness. That one’s choice of a siksa-guru should be within onessampradaya is a given. One’s ‘sampradaya’ however does not mean the particular institution or registered society to which one might belong, such as this society or that society, but to the parampara. And in this case, the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya parampara. However, there are numerous bona-fide societies within our sampradaya as stated by Srila Prabhupada and not one of them can claim to be the only way, the truth and the light.
“There are many societies and associations of pure devotees, and if someone with just a little faith begins to associate with such societies, his advancement to pure devotional service is rapid.” (Nectar of Devotion, Ch.19)
Diksa-guru and siksa-guru are manifestations of the caitya-guru, the Lord in the heart. This topic is extensively discussed in the opening chapter of Caitanya-caritamrta and one would do well to study that chapter in great detail. In doing so, one may understand the principle of guru-tattva, free from mundane considerations of Society Consciousness and the like.
guru krsna-rupa hana sastrera pramane
guru-rupe krsna krpa karena bhakta-gane
“According to the deliberate opinion of all revealed scriptures, the spiritual master in non-different from Krsna. Lord Krsna in the form of the spiritual master delivers His devotees.” (Cc. Adi.1:45)
siksa-guruke ta’ jani krsnera svarup
antaryami, bhakta-srestha, — ei dui rupa
“One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Krsna. Lord Krsna manifest Himself as the Supersoul and as the greatest devotee of the Lord.” (Cc. Adi. 1:47)
It was the instruction of Srila Prabhupada shortly before his departure in 1977 for his disciples to approach Srila Sridhara Maharaja for spiritual guidance (siksa) should such a need arise. And indeed it did, because with the disappearance of His Divine Grace, his disciples were thrown into the abyss of darkness, bewilderment, confusion and inconsolable separation.
In that pitiful condition, the light of Godhead broke thru the darkness in the form of the siksa and affectionate association of Srila Sridhara Maharaja — dispelling the darkness, driving away the bewilderment, dispelling the confusion and filling the hearts of those drowning in the ocean of sorrow with hope and clarity.
It is my humble opinion that if the leaders of ISCON had not rejected the instruction of Srila Prabhupada and the siksa of Srila Sridhara Maharaja in 1982, they would not have deviated in the numerous ways in which they have – particularly in the matter of guru-tattva.