Question: I would like to hear from you some words about the criteria and sensibility to leave one’s guru and take re-initiation, since it´s a very delicate and personal issue. In other words, some devotees may receive re-initiation when that was not necessary, and vice versa. Any thoughts?
Answer: These are very important and relevant questions in the present times. I have often been asked such questions by different devotees. Before I begin answering them, I will make some clarification on this subject related to guru. The first and foremost is that although the word “guru” has various meanings, such as “senior person, senior relative, respectable, heavy, big, dear, proud, Bṛhaspati, instructor, religious teacher, etc.” it has a very specific meaning in context of the above questions. Here it refers to a person who is a representative of Kṛṣṇa and has the responsibility to transfer knowledge of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana to the disciple. This means that the guru himself must be qualified for that function. So, when śāstra is using the word “guru,” it assumes the guru to be qualified to execute this function. This is implied by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s statement in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.74), guru-pādāśrayastasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam, “Therefore [if one wants to follow the path of bhakti], one should take shelter of a guru and take dīkṣā and śikṣā from him/her.” It means that the guru not only gives dīkṣā but also śikṣā. Both go together. In fact, dīkṣā is the beginning of śikṣā. That is why it is called “initiation.” This implies that that the guru must be qualified to not only give dīkṣā but also śikṣā. Dikṣā is like taking admission in a university, and then the education begins. After taking admission, one is entitled to study. The purpose of admission is education. Admission is not the end of education. Dīkṣā, however, is much more than just admitting a student. One also gets mantras to be practiced.
Mantra, Kṛṣṇa, and śāstra are one. Mantra is the essence of śāstra, and Kṛṣṇa is the personified form of śāstra. Mantra and śāstra are called śabda-brahman and Kṛṣṇa is Para Brahman:
śābda-brahma paraṁ brahma ubhe me śāsvatī tanū
“The Veda and śāstra (ṣabda brahma) and the Absolute Reality, paraṁ brahma, both are My eternal bodies” (SB 6.16.51).
It is by becoming proficient in śabda-brahman that one reaches Para Brahman:
dve brahmaṇi veditavye śabda-brahma parañca yat
śabda-brahmaṇi niṣṇāta para brahma adhigacchati
“There are two types of Brahman to be known, namely, śabda-brahman and Para Brahman. After becoming expert in śabda-brahman one realizes the Para Brahman.”
(Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.64, also in Maitrāyaṇi Upaniṣad prapāthak 6)
One becomes proficient in śabda-brahman by the grace of a guru. Just as Kṛṣṇa is manifest as mantra and śastra, He is also manifest as guru—ācāryam mām vijānīyāt (SB 11.17.27). Similarly, it is said, devam ivācāryaṁ upāsīta “One should worship the ācārya just like God” (Āpastamba Sūtra 1.16.13) and sākṣād haritvena samasta śastraiḥ uktastathā bhāvata eva sadbhiḥ, “All the śāstras describe the guru as Hari directly and this is how the saintly people consider him” (Gurvāṣṭakam by Viśvanātha Cakravarti Thakura). Therefore, without guru it is not possible to become proficient in śāstra. So, we have to keep in mind that when śāstra uses the word guru, it means a guru who can give knowledge of śāstra. An uttama adhikāri in bhakti is one who is proficient in śastra and logic, śāstre yuktau ca nipuṇaḥ (BRS 1.2.17).
A disciple should approach a guru to get knowledge of bhakti:
tasmād gurum prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ barhamaṇyupaśamāṣrayam
“Therefore, one desirous of knowing the ultimate welfare should approach a preceptor who is well versed in the Vedas, who has realized the Absolute Reality and who has thus become the abode of peace.” (SB 11.3.21)
Here it is clearly stated that the guru is proficient in śabda-brahman as well as in Para brahman. Moreover, that person needs to have a peaceful mind and good character. Such a guru is called śāstrīya-guru or a guru who has the characteristics as given in śāstra, who knows śāstra and can teach it to others.
The next verse commands a disciple to study the principles of bhakti from one’s guru:
tatra bhāgavatān dharmān śikṣed gurvātma-daivataḥ
amāyayānuvṛttayā yaistuṣyedātmātmado hariḥ
“One should learn the principles of bhakti, by which Hari, who is the Self and gives Himself to His devotees, is pleased. One should accept the guru as dear as one’s own life and one’s object of worship and serve him sincerely without any deceptive mentality. (SB 11.3.22)
Bhakti that is not based on śāstra would only lead to disturbance:
aikātakī harer bhaktirutpātāyaiva kalpate
“Devotion to Kṛṣṇa that is not according to the injunctions of the Veda, Smṛti, Purāna and Pañcarātra, even if one-pointed, will only create disturbance.” (Cited in BRS 1.2.101)
Who is to be worshiped, how He has to be worshiped, what is bhakti is, and what is the ultimate purpose—all this is known only from śāstra. Such knowledge is not based upon some individual’s opinion.
If one has a qualified guru, then the questions that have been raised here would not arise. Such a guru will not have an ill character, and the disciple does not have to think of re-initiation. That, however, is an ideal situation and may not be always possible. A prospective disciple may have no idea about the qualification and function of a guru. We mostly get influenced by others’ opinion and may not have much ability to investigate the status of a guru. Indeed, sometimes even a guru may not know about his role and the qualification needed to fulfill it.
If it so happens that one accepts a guru who becomes materially implicated, such as having sexual relations with one’s disciples, consuming intoxicants, being greedy for wealth and power, or envious of great Vaiṣṇavas, then what should a disciple do in such a situation?
First of all, the disciple has to do some introspection. What was the primary, the original purpose of accepting a guru? Was it spiritual or material? Moreover, what is one’s expectation from one’s guru at present? I have seen many times people come for spiritual purpose but then later, for whatever reason, they change their priority. Similarly, there are others who did not have a very clear picture about the purpose of accepting a guru but later they learn that it is meant for spiritual upliftment and become serious about it.
If one is truly serious about attaining bhakti and if one’s guru has deviated from the principles of bhakti, and one cannot expect any proper education from that guru, then one should seek out a qualified guru. Do not expect to attain perfection in bhakti if you do not have a qualified guru. Bhakti is defined in śāstra and one need to follow śāstra meticulously to achieve perfection in it. For this, the first step is to study it and then follow the prescribed method under the guidance of one’s guru. Even such a simple thing as chanting one’s dīkṣā-mantra has to be learned from one’s guru. But if the guru himself is ignorant about it, then certainly he cannot teach it to his disciples. Some sādhakas go on chanting for decades without making much progress. Proper result comes from proper action. Proper action is based on proper knowledge. Proper knowledge comes from a proper guru. On the other hand, improper knowledge results in improper action, which gives improper result.
If, however, one’s goal is not bhakti, then one can continue with one’s guru who is not following the principles of bhakti.
Question: Should there be some relative “period of hope and expectation” when the disciple, although perceiving that his guru is experiencing certain shortcomings, may wait for him to reinstate himself before accepting re-initiation? I think the Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta speaks something in that regard, even to the point where the śiṣya will instruct (in the spirit of service) his own guru, so he may reinstate himself.
Answer: First of all, consider that if the guru rectifies himself, would he be capable to guide you on the path of bhakti? If answer is yes, then wait for him to be rectified. Otherwise, no need to have hopes because he would not be able to help you anyway:
jñāna-hīno gurur tyājyo mithyāvādī vidambakaḥ
sva-viśrāntiṁ na jānāti para-śāntiṁ karoti kim
“One should give up a guru who does not have knowledge of śāstra, does not speak the truth, and is a showman. He does not know the means to liberation for himself then how can he guide others?” (Guru-gītā 198, Siddha-siddhānta-saṁgraha 5.38)
You can also consider if his misbehavior was just a slip or a planned action. If it was only an accident, then no need to look for another guru. He would not repeat it. But if he has deviated consciously, then better to move on and look for another guru. Even if such a guru rectifies his behavior, it is not guaranteed that he will not relapse. Material saṁskāras are very powerful, and they force one to act even if one is unwilling, anicchannapi vārṣṇeya balādiva niyojitaḥ (Gītā 3.36).
Ultimately, one has to question oneself as to one’s own goal in life and whether that can be achieved from one’s guru or not. Truly speaking, one should ponder over this before one accepts a guru. It becomes problematic or offensive to scrutinize one’s guru after having taken dīkṣā.
However, if the guru has become materially implicated, then it is advisable to find another guru. I do not think that modern disciples have the ability to rectify a guru or that a modern guru would be willing to accept any such advice as recommended in Bhajanāmṛtam. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī recommends finding another guru in such a situation (Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 238).
I am citing a part of this anuccheda here:
“With the permission of one’s guru, one can render service to other Vaiṣṇavas, provided it doesn’t conflict with the service of one’s own guru, and this is also auspicious. Otherwise, such service will be flawed, as Śrī Nārada said:
‘One who worships someone else first in the presence of his guru attains an unfavorable result and his worship of Bhagavān is rendered futile.’
The characteristics of an authentic guru have already been discussed in verses such as this:
‘Therefore, one desirous of knowing the ultimate welfare should approach a preceptor who is well versed in the Vedas, who has realized the Absolute Reality and who has thus become the abode of peace.’ (SB 11.3.21)
If, however, one has first failed to accept a guru of this caliber and his guru out of envy does not permit him to honor the great devotees of Bhagavān, there is nothing to be said about such a person [from the point of view of scripture], because he has rejected scripture from the very outset [by accepting a guru who doesn’t meet the criteria outlined in scripture]. Calamity certainly befalls such a person from both sides [because if he follows the order of his guru, he fails to honor the great devotees, and if he honors the devotees, he disobeys his guru]. With this in mind, the Nārada-Pāñcarātra states:
‘One whose instructions are not in resonance with scripture and one who hears such illegitimate teaching, both proceed to a dreadful hell for an unlimited period of time.’
Therefore such a guru should be respected only from a distance, and if he is envious of real Vaiṣṇavas, he should certainly be repudiated, as stated:
‘One is ordained to give up a guru who is self-conceited, who does not know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and who has stumbled down the wrong path.’
Furthermore, such a guru cannot be considered a Vaiṣṇava because he lacks the character of a Vaiṣṇava, and thus the following admonition is given with such a guru in mind:
‘One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles.’
If, however, an authentic guru endowed with the characteristics described earlier is no longer present, then regular service to a great devotee is most auspicious. Furthermore, one should accept a great devotee whose devotional mood is complementary to that of one’s guru and who is compassionate towards oneself. This principle is enunciated in the Haribhakti–sudhodaya:
‘As a crystal reflects the color of an object placed before it, a person mirrors the qualities of a person with whom he or she associates. Therefore, a thoughtful person should associate with those belonging to one’s own community, for the progress of his or her lineage.’
It is essential to accept a great devotee who is compassionate towards oneself, because if he is not compassionate, the heart will not develop affection for him. As far as appropriate, therefore, one should render service to all those endowed with the insignia of devotees.” [end of quote from Bhakti Sandarbha]
So one should not associate with one’s previous guru but also not disrespect him. Associating with him will lead you astray from truth, and criticizing him will be offensive.
In conclusion, I will say that Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has given a thumb rule. He says that if the witch in the form of desire for sense pleasure or liberation lurks in one’s heart, then there is no possibility of bhakti manifesting in such a heart (BRS 1.2.22). In fact, he says that bhakti is millions of miles away from a person whose mind is set on sense pleasures. In a similar vein, the famous author of Rāmacaritamānasa, Tulasīdāsa says that kāma (lust) and Rāma cannot exist in the same place. Wherever there is kāma, there is no Rāma, and where there is Rāma there is no kāma.
Question: Although we have heard ślokas such as “guror api avaliptasya…” and many others concerning when to abandon a guru and accept re-initiation, I’m not so aware of specific instances along the Gaudīya history in that regard. Could you share some?
Answer: The most prominent case is probably Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana. It is understood from his own writing that he took dikṣā in the Madhva line, as he himself acclaims, and later in his life came to the doctrinal position of the Gauḍīyas and took dīkṣa from Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara Dās. In his case, this change of guru was not because his previous guru had deviated or was fallen but because Baladeva Vidyābhuṣaṇa’s ultimate goal had shifted.
Another perhaps not so well-known case is Ananta Vasudeva, aka Bhaktiprasāda Purī Gosvāmī, who was acclaimed as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s successor in 1937. He and his close associate Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda were the leading writers and thinkers of the Gauḍīya Math. A few years after Bhaktisiddhānta’s passing, they abandoned the Math and their initiation. Ananta Vasudeva gave up his saffron dress and left for Vrindavan where he lived the rest of his life more or less as a recluse. He took dikṣā from one of the Rādhāraman Gosvāmīs and simply called himself Purī Dās.
Similarly, the author of “Saints of Vraja,” “Philosopy and Religion of Śrī Caitanya,” and other books, Dr. OBL Kapoor, whose initiation name in the Gauḍīya Math was Adikeśava Dās, took re-initation from Śrī Gaurāṅga dās Bābā, whose āśrama is adjacent to the Kṛṣṇa-balarāma temple, Vrindavan.
Of course, there are many such instances in the recent times. I can just cite one here. There was a Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava guru from Barasāna who became involved in physical relation with one of his lady followers. Some of them approached my guru and took dīkṣā from him.
In these historical examples of re-initiation, I am not passing judgement whether the re-initiation was justified or not. I am just citing examples as asked by you.
Do whatever needs to be done but remain surrendered to Krishna. You should know that our ultimate shelter is Krishna and not our physical or mental capability, possession, power, relation or any other process such as varnashrama dharma, yoga, or jnana.
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