Vanity thought #95. Asking for trouble.

Just heard this in one of the audio lectures I was listening while driving – guru’s purity and qualifications are not so important. This is a very dangerous ground – discussing qualifications of senior vaishnavas and gurus. One step to the side and I’m done for. Still, the topic is too important and thought provoking to pass.

In traditional vedic practice of performing sacrifices demigods are practically obliged to deliver the results, the whole karma-mimamsa philosophy is build on that – you do your thing and the universe will deliver, demigods are always at your service. If we look at the history there’s enough evidence to build a case for it. Ravana was doing his tapasya and Brahma had to deliver, for example.

There are ways to cheat demons out of their hard fought and deserved victories and benedictions, like stealing the nectar in churning the milk ocean story or entering the tongue of Kumbhakarna in Ramayana but these ways only underline the basic premise – sacrifices must be rewarded in one way or another, and, we know from Bhagavat Gita that these rewards are actually coming from Krishna, demigods have no say in the matter, even if we have no idea of Krishna supreme nature or even His existence.

We, on the other hand are dealing with Krishna directly, who is not a demigod and who is absolutely independent and thus can ignore all our sacrifices for thousands of years if he wants to. We can’t force Him to give us our rewards. In traditional practice the bigger the sacrifice the better – more ghee, more rice, more brahmanas, more severe and longer tapasyas – the results are directly proportional to the input, if you do it right, of course.

Not so with Krishna – He might bestow His full mercy in exchange for just a little leaf, a flower, and little water. Actually it’s in exchange for love and devotion, but you get the point.

So, how does it work when we follow the instructions of our spiritual master? What’s his role in delivering Krishna’s mercy and benedictions? Is he similar to demigods in a sense that if we do our part he will have to deliver? Just as with demigods, the actual benedictions come from Krishna as He is the source of all spiritual energies.

Or could we make the case for guru’s special position compared to demigods? Indeed Krishna’s mercy is contingent on guru’s blessings. No one approaches Krishna directly and the actual benediction is to be placed in eternal service to guru and vaishnavas, not Krishna per se. It could also be argued that since we are all spiritual personalities engaged in personal relationships of absolute nature then faceless, impersonal rules can’t be applied.

The guru is not obliged to bestow his blessings in exchange for chanting so many rounds and massage. He will most likely be very very merciful but he is not obliged. If we manage to displease or offend him in any way no amount of service is going to counteract that. He might forget, being human and all, but Krishna won’t.

There seems to enough ground to build the case that guru is in full and complete control of our progress. Or is he? Or to what extent?

It’s easy to talk in absolute categories, ie if our guru is a nittya siddha completely free from any influence of material energy, fully realized maha bhagavata. In real life, unfortunately, it would be safe to say that this won’t be the case.

That’s when the question of connection between guru’s own purity and our advancement becomes very important. It took ISKCON just a few years after Srila Prabhupada departure to realize that many of our gurus were not of the highest possible standard, and, as the society grows and new generations come in, this has become a standard perception and attitude.

Some asked the question very loudly – how much progress can we expect in this situation? Some went to search for better gurus elsewhere at the risk of offending their current spiritual masters and displeasing their godbrothers and other devotees. I don’t want to talk about them here, though, I’m looking at it from the perspective of devotees who choose to stay with ISKCON.

It’s from this perspective that the case for limited guru role in our progress becomes more prominent. It appears that we can indeed make progress even if our gurus are failing in their service themselves. If we are sincere in following their instructions that have been passed to us from previous acharyas than it doesn’t matter if our guru is secretly developing lust for young gurukulis, we still get our benefits. So the case can be made that the guru in his human, fallible form, is not in full control of our progress.

That makes sense if you consider that guru is an external manifestation of Paramatma within our hearts, or a manifestation of Lord Nityananda, the adi-guru, or Balarama –  doesn’t really matter. When the guru passes away the principle of giving us spiritual guidance does not cease to exist. At least we got the instructions that will stay with us forever.

What if the guru didn’t pass away but left our society and fallen off the path of devotional service? Does it mean we immediately get disconnected from the parampara and Krishna mercy? Silly thought, but all too real.

The reality could be that the guru falls of the devotional path several times a day, or even every couple of seconds – if his mind wanders away during japa, for example. Timescale and gravity is different, principle is still the same. It is perfectly natural for a living being in the material world to forget Krishna from time to time, we shouldn’t pay much attention to that, we should celebrate remembrance instead.

Situations like this are very very difficult to navigate if these “discoveries” suddenly blow into our faces and demand action on our behalf, but it only strengthens the argument that we should put a lot of personal effort to make guru “work”. If we leave no leeway for him to make mistakes we will eventually blame him for what happens to us.

Or we could decide that I will follow my guru one hundred percent no matter what he does. Such dedication sounds admirable but what if the guru really deviates from the path of devotional service and his disciples engage in activities that are not pleasing to Krishna anymore? I think in this case the disciple taking the absolute stand subtly asserts his own infallibility, too – there is no way I do anything that is not pleasing to Krishna. Then there’s the danger of getting attracted to non-Krishna conscious activities themselves, accepting them as a new standard and misleading future devotees.

So, at the end of the day I tend to think that while guru’s role in our progress is supreme we should also remember that a lot depends on our own efforts when the guru is not there or not in the position to appreciate them.

There is danger of impersonalism in both extremes – on one hand I might imagine that I don’t need a guru and thus deny the existence of spiritual relationships, on the other hand I might feel that devotional service to Krishna does not matter anymore and He will provide me with progress regardless, which the denial of our spiritual relationships, too.

Need a lot of skill and guidance from the heart and elsewhere to navigate these problems safely.

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