Rightly situated Vaisnavas learn from mistakes
Posted June 1, 2004
I read the article by Zack Sunderman concerning the qualifications of being a Guru and I found it thought-provoking; however, there were some intrinsic misconceptions. The conclusion that a Guru can never make a mistake lest he be excluded from performing his duty is not supported by sastra. Krishna Himself declares that one who is rightly situated is considered saintly. Also, the Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu concludes that there is no need for prayascitta for the Vaisnava, just that he return to his post. Any attempt to introduce some new guidelines would be speculative, in that sastra disavows this conclusion.
The Guru is one who doesn't change the message of his spiritual master. Thus, although undergoing some temporary falldown, H.H. Satsvarupa Maharaja is to be considered saintly, because he is rightly situated. This is the Vedic conclusion as given us by Srila Prabhupada. It would have to be changed if one who made some temporary mistake due to contact with the material energy were to be considered disqualified as Guru. To use a mundane analogy, it would be like an official in a sporting event making a bad call and the players deciding that he is no longer qualified to be an official. Certainly there are guidelines governing quality control, but every official would be allowed the opportunity to make at least one mistake; as they say, "to err is human." It appears that the problem arises with the designation of what it means to be a Guru.
Does being Guru mean he or she will never make a mistake? That could really mean that we would have to be very selective, and who could make the selection? The persons making the selection will have to be perfect lest they pick someone who is not perfect. Rather, it appears that sastrically this is addressed by understanding perfection to mean "sincere in following the will of the Lord" and a temporary falldown doesn't disqualify one's sincerity.
If one did not agree to the spiritual principles and said illicit sex is okay, that might be a disqualification, but one who falls under maya's influence temporarily, then says, "It is wrong and I am sorry," is still philosophically perfect. Such a person is following the instructions of the spiritual master. This has to be there, otherwise a "one strike and you're out" policy would mean that in Kali Yuga we would all go to hell using imperfect senses and minds trying to find a perfected person. When a devotee who was president in Detroit fell down, Srila Prabhupada wanted him immediately reinstated, in order to continue the system.
A perfected person is one who follows perfectly, including how to rectify the situation if there is some falldown. In many cases, falldown is the precursor to deeper surrender. Srila Bilvamangala Thakur realized his mistake and became perfect. The system is clearly set up in this way, understanding that conditioned souls will go through a process of becoming perfected even after taking on the highly exalted position of Diksa Guru. It could be compared to breaking a bone and the bone growing together stronger.
Prabhupada stated clearly that, when we get to the spiritual world, we
would not want to come back to this material world again. Just as
someone who touches a hot stove learns the lesson, a Vaisnava learns by
his mistakes and thus would actually be stronger. One who admits his
mistake, rectifies it and continues the path of devotion is following
the system arranged by Krishna.