A couple of weeks ago I wrote a series of posts about latest criticism of HH Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī. Checking back on it I found a curious twist that escaped me before – the leader of this attack is actually Hṛdayānananda Mahārāja’s former disciple and he stands by his decision to abandon his guru. That was weird, I thought, but it turns out such ideas are fairly common in our society and are not immediately sanctioned by our leaders, which is a good thing, I suppose, in that it allows for a healthy debate and keeps all our devotees together. It also turns our world upside down, or right to left, and that is dangerous to our spiritual lives.
I don’t want to mention any names here and make it personal, nor do I want to condemn any particular devotee for doing any particular thing. Everybody has his own reasons and everybody has to act according to the superior nature, as long as I’m not given responsibility for other people’s actions I shouldn’t meddle. Yet there are ideas and patterns of behavior that are harmful to spiritual progress and we should take note of those at least for ourselves and, if possible, for purification of others, too.
I don’t want to be a nazi and force devotees to behave in a certain way but I also don’t want to abnegate all responsibility for other people’s spiritual progress. We are all in this together and helping other devotees to avoid pitfalls is a great service opportunity we should never miss. Most likely I will not say anything important people haven’t heard before, it’s just a customary disclaimer.
So, what is happening here is that some people get attracted to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, join ISKCON and fully take to spiritual practice. Eventually they get initiated, get some recognition in our society, learn quite a lot about our philosophy and Gauḍiyā history, and settle into this new role of being learned, respected, exemplary vaiṣṇavas.
What happens next is that they start judging others. Knowing all about spiritual standards it becomes fairly easy to spot other people’s mistakes and God knows we always have plenty of material to practice on.
At this point it needs to be said that there’s only one undisputed authority for us – Śrila Prabhupāda, so whenever there is any debate, quotes from Prabhupāda must be there, and those are available to everyone. Our institutional response to numerous guru falldowns doesn’t help either – everyone must take shelter of Śrila Prabhupāda. On one hand it’s a legitimate universal solution to all our problems but the downside of it is that everyone becomes equal.
This is where it all goes awry. It doesn’t matter whose disciple one is, what generation he is from, everyone becomes equal, which is NOT how vaiṣṇavas should relate to each other.
Instead of totally depending on the mercy of guru and vaiṣṇavas one relies strictly on his own understanding of Śrila Prabhupāda. What one reads and understands from the books is given absolute value, over and above whatever anyone else is saying.
Devotees thus take full charge of their own spiritual lives. They make all the decision themselves and at best run them by the authorities for customary blessings and if there are any disagreements then one simply rejects the authority for “not following Prabhupāda”.
This is how we come to a situation where a disciple feels free to judge his own guru’s behavior, qualifications, and advancement, and make his own decisions on whether to follow guru’s orders or not. This is how we come to a situation where a disciple can claim to know Prabhupāda and philosophy better than his guru and start correcting him.
Guru thus becomes not a master but a servant of disciple’s whims. A disciple feels free to dictate how his guru should react to this or to that and what position to take on any issue. Of course it has not gotten as bad as actually giving direct orders but the attitude is there and it manifests itself one way or another.
Even if one does not dare to treat his own guru this way he grants such a right to disciples of other gurus and sees nothing wrong with it. Another manifestation is absolute confidence with which one argues with his guru’s godbrothers, one is not afraid to confront and correct them anymore. Yet another manifestation is public allegiance to Śrila Prabhupāda in the presence of one’s immediate authorities who get the message they can be easily stepped over.
The reality of life is that we always have to make some decisions and most of the time we do not have any direct orders to do this or that. Śāstric injunction in this regard is to seek confirmation from guru, sādhu, and śāstra but drunk with one’s own intelligence one can easily manipulate them against each other. Śāstra by nature is often inconclusive, one can always find support there for whatever argument one wants, and so all one needs is to find enough “sādhus” to outvote his guru two to one.
Effectively, one relies strictly on his own interpretation of what Prabupāda wanted and becomes his own authority while guru-sādhu-śāstra are being relegated to simple tools.
In this particular instance – is there a case for rejecting Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvami as a spiritual master? If one studies maharaja’s character and behavior, his following of sannyāsa rules, his following Śrila Prabhupāda in mood and externally, one might very well build a case for rejecting him. This, however, is NOT how one should go about it.
As long as Hṛdayānanda mahārāja authorization to perform the duties of a guru is not revoked by GBC whatever one personally thinks about him is irrelevant. Guru’s authority does NOT come from the disciple and disciples cannot revoke it no matter what they think.
But but but.., these devotees might say – there are examples from our history and guidelines from our ācāryas regarding reinitiation and rejecting one’s guru. There’s an excellent collection of quotes in this series by HH Dānavīr Svāmī who appears largely supportive of guru-tyāga but it all boils down to one thing – guru becoming avaiṣṇava. This is not what happened to Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja in any shape or form so even if one disagrees with him and doesn’t want to follow his orders one still has no permission to reject him.
Guru is a representative of Kṛṣṇa, if one rejects this mercy and decides to follow his own ideas then he puts his devotional life in serious jeopardy. Whatever we think, whatever we say, whatever we argue for or against – under no circumstances we can violate our surrender to the lotus feet of our guru. That’s all we have in our spiritual life as conditioned souls, if we reject that it means we reject devotion to Kṛṣṇa and instead desire something else.
We might get it, Kṛṣṇa fulfills everybody’s desires, but we can forget devotion. It never ever comes to those who disrespect their guru in any way. It’s simply not possible, there are no two ways about it.
Between being right and being loyal to one’s guru the choice is obvious – those who want to achieve devotion override their pride and surrender, those who want local greatness continue worshiping their own powers.
Once again – it’s not a message to devotees who rejected their gurus, it’s a ple to everyone to seek this contamination in our own hearts and purge it with force and determination. We are all affected in one degree or another, it’s a natural thing in this material world and we all have to face it sooner or later just as eventually we have to face a million of other anarthas like lust or envy.