Chakra Discussions

Guru-tattva fallacy in ISKCON

by Niscala dasi

Posted August 10, 2004

Many devotees are aware that ISKCON needs something. It has been at the very least stagnating, and at the most, rapidly declining since the guru falldowns of the '80s. Considering this, some devotees have concluded that guru falldown is the root issue of our dilemma, and apparently it is so. Thus, in the name of reform, there have been some wonderful and ludicrous postulations just to prevent such falldowns occurring, such as the posthumous-ritvik-initiation-by-Srila-Prabhupada fallacy (for eternity or at least the next 10,000 years), or the "must-be-a-mahabhagavat" fallacy (read: Indian born, Vaisnava family descendent, lifelong-celibacy-success-story, male, saffron clad, sweet and charismatic knower of many many lilas, and last, but definitely not least, proclaimed by the masses to be a mahabhagavat!). Since this article is primarily for ISKCON devotees, who are not allowed by GBC law to think either of these fallacies may be true, I will not address these issues further here.

ISKCON itself addressed the guru falldown problem through various GBC resolutions aimed at reducing and controlling how much a disciple can worship and honor his guru. Unfortunately, all this has produced is apathy. We have gone from that zealousness and hype, produced by group fervor within a personality cult, to a constrained reduction of the same by force from without. None of this is in reference to guru-tattva as it is expressed in the sastra, and by the gurus and sadhus in our line. Neither has any of it struck at the heart of the problem -- our understanding of the philosophy. Yet it is hoped that, by such speculative adjustments, the dependent disciples of ISKCON gurus will be less shocked if and when their guru experiences difficulty in his spiritual life. This is what I call cosmetic surgery on a patient with heart failure.

A guru is known in sastra as self-effulgent, for he is manifest according to the desire of the jiva to understand his position and his relationship with God. Self-effulgent means that in this there can be no mistake. One knows when one's eyes are open, as surely as when you eat, you immediately experience full satisfaction, and no amount of claims by others to the contrary can disprove it.

Therefore there is no need for gurus to be approved by the GBC; all that is required is that the disciple must be aware of what the sastra says is a guru, and experience for himself that here is a person fulfilling the criteria. Gradually step by step he feels himself extricated out of so many illusions and, feeling new life and enthusiasm, he wants to offer everything back to the guru -- his mind, body, words and intelligence. He naturally feels, and sastra confirms it, "Here is Krsna coming to me in this form of merciful instruction -- let me treat him like Krsna Himself!" This is the correct attitude. To constrain such natural, spontaneous enthusiasm by forceful law and threat of punishment certainly kills it in due course of time. Obedience and artificially imposed standards replace it, and this is exactly the stagnation we are experiencing in ISKCON.

Despite our vastly numerous resolutions on the subject, still the guru's personality and perfection of track record comprises our understanding of what is guru. This is amazing, considering that Srila Prabhupada stressed repeatedly that none of us is perfect -- including himself!. The message is perfect, and the guru simply does not distort it for his private agenda, but uses it as a powerful tool to open his disciples' eyes. "That much he is perfect." When the guru's heart is not clouded by passion for fame, honor and so on, the message is untainted and extremely powerful -- so much so that even a nondevotee's eyes are opened.

The guru is careful always to rid his heart of subtle anarthas which cloud his vision. That is his constant battle. Until he is situated thoroughly on the transcendental plane, there is always chance of accidental falldown "due to past bad habits". Still, as Krsna tells us, this is not to be taken seriously. To do so in regard to a sincere and advanced devotee is extremely offensive.

Worse still is when we scapegoat or punish him for his falldown, labelling him as insincere, an imposter guru, a pretender, or responsible for ISKCON'S decline. This is more than offensive -- it is foolish as well, for it requires that a perfect track record be an essential ingredient for reform or at least for stability in our movement. Thus, it is an attitude which is totally unreasonable, offensive and against sastra; it has only reaped us bitter consequences, as it is devoid of truth and mercy.

The GBC is responsible for such an offensive attitude, as well as the fallacy of guru-by-our-authority-only dogma. It is thus fallacy and offense which are the pick and shovel through which we are digging our graves of a slow stagnating death.