Chakra Discussions

To Be A Guru, Pt. II

by Zack V. Sunderman

Posted June 11, 2004

My article accomplished something I sincerely hoped it would: Discussion. I am without a doubt happy to see all the points and counter-points that have been posted since. Without discussion, no one can get anywhere, and I offer my respects to everyone who has voiced their opinion in this matter.

However, I feel I need to elaborate more, now. I feel that some people have, understandably, misunderstood some of my points. I originally wrote the article from a simplistic perspective - a solid addressing of one solid issue. Now, I think I should get a little bit more technical.

I think the most misunderstood of my points was "the guru is not human." By no stretch did I mean that the guru is "superhuman!" in the sense that Subhadra-mayi Mataji took it. The word "human" conjures up a number of different ideas, but an overview of what it means to be a "human" could be this: A human is an advanced being, with unparalleled capacity for intelligence, communication, and emotion, and unique abilities to reason and to question existence. A human is also connected to its primal biological instincts (whether or not you believe that this is due to evolution is a whole other conversation), and is sometimes imperfect in its sensory perceptions as well as its judgement. These concepts are all over Prabhupada's purports, and are clear to everyone - We are not perfect, we make mistakes, and we sometimes have difficulty rising above the base levels of existence.

So, if a human being desires to completely transcend material existence and understand the highest spiritual truths, and he chooses a guru to help him do this - what good does it do to take spiritual shelter of someone who is just like you? What is the purpose of guidance from someone who is possessed by the same shortcomings that you are? The only way a guru can be valid is for the guru to have already accomplished the task of transcendence.

nikunja-yuno rati-keli-siddhyai
ya yalibhir yuktir apekshaniya
tatrati-dakshyad ati-vallabhasya
vande guroh sri-charanaravindam

This verse from Sri Gurvastakam is sung every morning in ISKCON temples, and describes the guru as an expert in assisting the gopis in their arrangement of conjugal pastimes for Radha and Krishna.

"One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of Uttama-Adhikari. A neophyte Vaisnava, or a Vaisnava situated on the intermediate platform, can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore, a disciple should be careful to accept an Uttama-Adhikari as a spiritual master."

Prabhupada states this in the Nectar Of Instruction, Chapter 5.

Every day, "Guru Vandana" by Narottam Das is sung as well. The translation is also recited. When reciting that translation, think about it: Do you have the ability to provide the things the guru is credited for in this song? Could you do these things, were you to have disciples? And if not, then why should you become the disciple of someone else who is still troubled by the same human problems that you are?

There is a reason I mentioned Rupa Goswami and other maha-bhagavat acharyas in my first article. I wanted to conjure up the image of their devotion and level of realization, next to the gurus of today who continue to fall down before our eyes, and make the reader see the difference. Yes, it is very rare to find someone in this day and age who is up to their standard; but that does not mean anyone should settle for anything less. Nor should one come up with a new definition of guru - I find it upsetting to hear:

"Another thing: 'A guru is meant to be someone who has risen far above the platform of the material world and is in no danger of going back.' Also intriguing, maybe because it's not my definition of guru.

I'm more leaning towards the idea that guru is one who is honest. especially truthful with himself."

One quality of the guru is certainly honesty, but this alone does not make one a qualified bestower of divine truth and prema-bhakti. It is without a doubt, unequivocally, entirely good and advisable to be honest with yourself about your own position. However, one who is in a diminished position, whether honest or not about it, does not fit the definition of what it means to be a guru. A guru is someone who is "in no danger of going back," and this level of understanding and devotion possessed by a guru is corroborated by every scripture devotees will read. We can't make our own definition to suit the problem.

And yes, the modern age is not an easy one, and there are all kinds of psychological factors present in the trouble many gurus face. Many of these gurus had twenty to thirty years of material conditioning under their belts, and then suddenly swore lifelong vows of sannyas. That does not work well on one's mind, and has the potential to create a number of serious problems - as it's quite easy to see, now. I didn't mean to give the impression that I thought all these gurus that have fallen down were fundamentally lesser or that they didn't suffer any problems from the way they applied their spirituality early on. However, it still stands that one should not expect someone who has not yet accomplished this task of transcendence to truly bring them to the esoteric truths for which they are hoping.

I'm glad that people saw in my original article that I think Satsvarupa Maharaj is an exemplary man, steadfast in honesty, sincere in his quest. I stand by this. I just worry when I see a society fabricating a new definition of spiritual master that will result in the dumbing-down and loss of understanding of the siddhanta of Chaitanya Vaishnavism.