Question: You wrote that if one’s guru falls down, then one should accept another guru. However, some disciples of such a controversial guru argue that it is wrong to give up one’s guru because the guru should never be given up. They also cite the famous Gītā verse, api cet su-durācāro, which says that even if one is engaged in very immoral behavior but worships Kṛṣṇa exclusively, such a person should be considered a saint. What are your thoughts on this?
Answer: Yes, it is true that one should not give up one’s guru. Once you accept a guru, then he is your guru for the rest of your life. He is not to be seen as a material person. There are hundreds of statements in śāstra describing how the guru has to be always respected and worshiped as God or the representative of God. But we have to keep in mind that these statements are referring to a qualified guru, and not to a person of immoral character. It is not very difficult to find references in śāstra to support one’s view or action regardless of whether they are proper or improper. Śāstra is called kalpa-taru or wish-fulfilling tree. It can satisfy everyone’s desire. But that does not mean that everyone who refers to śāstra is right. We have to study the real import of śāstric statements, the context in which they were spoken, and the authority of the speaker. Not all statements have equal power. There are general rules and emergency rules, āpad-dharma. In an exceptional situation, the general rules do not apply.
If the guru is engaged in immoral behavior, then that is not a normal situation and therefore, all statements that speak about the greatness of the guru are not applicable to such a person. This is because the statements that glorify the position of a guru do not take into account a guru with immoral behavior.
Now coming back to the Bhagavad Gītā verse:
api cet su-durācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
“Even if a very ill-behaved person worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should indeed be regarded as holy, for he has made the right resolution.” (Gītā 9.30)
In this verse, it should be noted that Śrī Kṛṣṇa says four things, namely: (1) the person is very ill-behaved, (2) is exclusively devoted to Kṛṣṇa, (3) has made the right resolution, and (4) should be considered a sādhu. He is not saying that he should be accepted as a guru or that one should associate with him. Considering him a sādhu does not mean that he is qualified to be a guru. In fact, he is not even fit to be associated with because he is not capable of guiding others on the path of bhakti. Rather, he may misguide or influence others in a wrong manner.
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes in Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 200):
“In the context of our discussion about the association of saints, we have not cited the example of this latter type of sādhu [the one described in Gītā 9.30], because the association of such a person is of no use in enabling one to embrace the path of devotion. As Śrī Prahlāda said in Śrīmad Bhāgavata, ‘One can attain loving attachment to Bhagavān by the association of devotees who are situated in virtuous conduct,’ saṅgena sadhu-bhaktānām (SB 7.7.30). The word sādhu here means one with virtuous conduct (sad-ācāra).”
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī clearly states that a devotee of ill-conduct (sudurācāra) cannot enable one to embrace the path of bhakti, let alone help one to advance on the path. Therefore, Prahlāda recommends associating with sādhus of virtuous conduct (sadācāra). Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, citing a verse from Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.229), says that one will acquire the quality of a person with whom one associates. He compares it to putting a crystal in the proximity of a colored object. The crystal will reflect the color of the colored object. Therefore, if one associates with a guru of ill-conduct, one may acquire bad qualities oneself. Instead of benefitting from such association, one will become more materially conditioned. While describing the quality of a teacher from whom to study, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says in Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 203) that there are two types of teachers, namely, sarāga (one with material attachments) and nīrāga (one without material attachments). The words of the first type do not have purifying effect on the student. Therefore, one should avoid such a teacher. The superior teacher is one upon hearing whom even a person full of desire and anger or a dejected person steeped in misery becomes cheerful and serene.
So, the conclusion is that even if one does not want to seek another guru, one should avoid association with a guru who is ill-behaved. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that a devotee of ill-conduct will soon rectify himself and become situated in peace (Gītā 9.31). So, if one’s guru has rectified himself, then one can resume one’s association with him. But again, one should be certain that the guru has truly rectified himself and is not just making a show. The rectification will come if one is truly fixed on the path of bhakti and the deviation was only incidental. Otherwise, either there will be no rectification or there will be the possibility of a relapse. Only sincere bhakti can bring a true change of heart.
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