Vanity thought #832. Uttama guru

Much has been made of a requirement to accept only an uttama adhikari as one’s guru. It was one of the reasons for devotees to flee to Narayana Maharaja’s camp, it was probably the main reason for the rise of ritvikism, and it is still a reason to attack ISKCON guru system.

There’s a lot of baggage that comes with this issue, too many arguments to follow, too much history, and it’s a very emotional issue for too many people, too.

Nevertheless, it’s one of the most absurd claims to have been made in recent history.

The foundation of this claim can be found in the last paragraph of the purport to the fifth verse of the Nectar of Instruction (NOI 5). I wouldn’t even bother copy-pasting it here, however, it has been dissected in numerous ways and there’s no consensus on what exactly Srila Prabhupada meant by uttama adhikari there and whether our ISKCON gurus qualify. It’s not a case of “see for yourself, it’s very clear.” It’s a case of putting it in proper perspective.

Now, if Narada Muni magically appears before you and offers spiritual instructions you’d be stupid to reject his advice and say that your uncle is a pretty good guru candidate so you are not interested. Other than that, there are no other practical cases where this rule might become actually useful.

First of all, uttama adhikaris are extremely rare, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once famously said that there weren’t any in Vrindavana. Maybe there are periods of time when there aren’t any on the entire planet, especially in Kali Yuga.

On the other hand, every human being is meant for spiritual progress and every human being is entitled to a guru. Most of us never bother but if we were interested, a guru should be provided – that’s what human form of life is ultimately for, for athato brahma jijnasa, for inquiring about spiritual truth from a spiritual master.

We can’t seriously talk about “uttama only” rule when there are seven billion candidates on the planet and only a handful of uttamas. It just doesn’t compute. The rule can’t be applied this way.

What’s more, uttama adhikaris DO NOT serve as gurus. They don’t see themselves as masters of anyone, and they don’t see non-devotees who’d need preaching. You can’t have uttama adhikari guru per se, if he was acting as a guru he wouldn’t be an uttama. The answer to this is that sometimes the first class devotee comes down to second class to do the preaching. Fine, but that limits the pool of potential gurus even further.

Next, how would you even know uttama adhikari from a regular bhakta? You can’t differentiate between devotees on the levels higher than you and recognizing a real paramahamsa is extremely difficult. If he decided to behave like a madhyama adhikari – what are you chances of recognizing his true level? Zero.

There’s another point about being madhyama – one must make judgment calls, one must designate some things as bad and other things as good, because that’s what madhyamas do – they differentiate. Acting as guru they also prescribe some kinds of behavior and forbid others. The first thing that happens when you come down to platform of such duality is that somebody will always disagree.

That’s the nature of duality – it is never absolute, no matter what you do, people will have dualistic reactions about it and it means some will be critical. It means that if an uttama adhikari takes to preaching work he will always attract criticism. Srila Prabhupada mentioned that many many times. We accept him as an uttama adhikari playing the role of a preacher and we saw plenty of examples of envious people failing to appreciate his service.

I mention this because the underlying reason for promotion of “uttama only” rule is search for an excuse to lay into ISKCON gurus with full force. As non-uttamas they can be safely subjected to criticism, the wisdom goes.

Well, here’s the reality – anyone acting as a guru will provoke envious people and elicit harsh reactions. When we are forbidden to criticize our gurus we are forbidden to criticize them all, make absolutely no difference whether they are uttamas or madhyamas, they’d be all acting in the same way and attract the same kind of negativity.

Okay, let’s consider another aspect of this – what kind of guru are we talking about here? Diksha, siksha, or both? Those who went to Narayana Maharaj went for siksha, rittviks talk about diksha, I don’t know if general critics have any particular preferences.

Guru is first of all a principle, an external manifestation of Krishna (or Balarama or Lord Nityananda). He can take many forms and perform many functions. Avadhuta brahmana from Uddhava Gita had what, forty different gurus? Did he demand that his python guru was an uttama adhikari? Did he demand that the prostitute guru was an uttama? Of course not. That’s another argument against applying “uttama only” rule absolutely.

Diksha is only an induction into the spiritual family, it doesn’t matter whose son or daughter you are, a family is a family, everybody has an equal opportunity to shine. Dhruva Maharaj might disagree, of course, but I’m talking about spiritual ideal here.

What matters more is what you do after diksha and who teaches you and guides you forward. At this point one might demand an uttama but let’s go with material analogy a bit further. Do you need a university professor to teach you how to tie your shoes? Do you need a university educated nanny to warm your milk bottle? No, you need a teacher suitable for your own level. So, I’d suggest that demand for uttama guru is a tacit declaration of one’s own excellence rather than the actual need.

There’s another consideration here – stages of progress in Krishna consciousness are often marked by the mantras one use to worship the Lord. Gopa Kumar from Brihad Bhagavatamrita had some very advanced mantra to worship Krishna directly. I’m too lazy to look it up now but that’s what gurus used to do – they’d initiate disciples into a series of progressive mantras. On a perfected stage those mantras become non-different from actual worship to the actual Lord.

In that context you shouldn’t be getting advanced mantras from unqualified gurus, that is obvious. You can’t be introduced to direct service to Krishna by someone who has never served Him himself, no argument here, but let’s see what mantras we get in ISKCON first.

Hare Krishna at first initiation, gayatri at the second, and sannyasis get some more mantras, too. Do they matter? Not really. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once said that he gives gayatri to those who don’t have faith in the power of Hare Krishna. We don’t need to become sannyasis to achieve spiritual perfection either, so sannyasi mantras are not absolutely necessary.

Haridas Thakur didn’t need any better mantras than Hare Krishna, he probably knew and mastered them all but he didn’t go around asking for extra dikshas. Gadadhara Pandit once forgot his diksha mantra altogether.

Anyone can give us Hare Krishna mantra. We don’t need to get this kind of diksha only from uttama guru. It would certainly be better to hear and practice chanting under guidance of a first class devotee but that would be siksha, not diksha.

Here I’d like to return to the idea of choice. If you had a choice between a madhyama and an uttama guru you should definitely choose uttama, who’d argue with that, but when do you actually have to make such a choice?

In ISKCON context choosing guru period means a few months before you tell your local authorities who you would like to get initiation from. A few months, after that you are done. Even if Narada Muni shows up with his vina – you have a guru already, it can’t be undone. You can get instructions from his as you would from a siksha guru, he might give you a new mantra, that would be your next diksha, but he could never ever override you original induction into the spiritual family.

He would be like you favorite uncle, supercool and everything but he could never become your dad, that ship has sailed. You might have a lousy dad but he cannot be replaced. Your uncle might act like one, your step father might act like one, but father is father, what’s done is done, it’s not a choice anymore.

There’s another angle to “uttama only” rule – guru is a messenger of God, a gift, and you don’t look into a gifted horse mouth, it’s rude and disrespectful. If Krishna sends you a so so guru, take it, you can’t turn your nose on him and demand a better model. Who do you think you are anyway?

This post is getting too long. Well, I’ve convinced at least myself, and the purpose behind it was to establish that our ISKCON gurus are off limits. We can’t criticize them no matter what we think their levels of advancement are, it makes absolutely no difference. I wish to expand on this a bit more but certainly not today. Enough already.

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