How Much Involvement Should a Guru Have in Disciples’ Lives?

Reading from Jaiva Dharma: “As the jiva becomes more eligible, he becomes more eager to learn the practice of suddha-bhakti. Thus he accepts the ashraya, shelter of a bona fide guru.”

HH BVPS Maharaja: That's the next one. So he's heard and he begins that faith, so he takes that, he has that surrender, so now he's more eager, so now he wants to practice suddha bhakti in a regulated fashion. So then that brings it to the next, taking… I think it's called guru-padashraya, taking shelter of the bona fide spiritual master. 

Reading from Jaiva Dharma: “The Vedas state (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12.), ‘He [the sincere practitioner] must attach himself to the process of the science of devotion. He must humbly approach, with a gift for sacrifice, a bona fide spiritual master who is well versed in the conclusion of the Vedas and who has realized the science of Krishna consciousness.’ The Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.2 states, ‘Only the person who receives proper initiation from an acharya, the perfect spiritual master is realized in Brahman. The Hari-bhakti-vilasa has extensively dealt into the topic of who is a bona fide guru and who is the shishya, sincere disciple. The main symptoms of an ideal shishya are that he must have a righteous character and be faithful and sincere. The model guru must be an exponent and practitioner of suddha-bhakti and well versed in bhakti-tattva. He must have a spotless saintly character, must be guileless, bereft of greed, simple, uncontaminated by the Mayavada philosophy, and expert in all the spiritual duties. When a brahmana well respected in society is crowned with such wonderful qualities, he automatically becomes a guru for all the different varnas. If there's not such a guru available, the disciple is directed to find a guru of a higher caste than himself from whom to take initiation. However, the real consideration, apart from such caste etiquette, is that one who knows Krishna in truth, being realized in Krishna consciousness, should be accepted by the sincere disciple as a bona fide guru.”

HH BVPS Maharaja: Right, so that's the essential element: he knows Krishna - that's bona fide. But because we're dealing here in so many cases, especially here who's asking the questions, they're from caste Goswami families, so then there is the consideration of one's social position. So then if it's available then you take shelter of someone who is from a brahmana caste, at least one above yours because then socially you won't at some time, if something doesn't go right then make some comment or take them as too equal, right? But the real point is what they know about Krishna, so it has nothing really to do with what's the caste, what's the background or anything. So that's the main point: they know Krishna then that's the right person, but then you have to behave properly. Because they're giving Krishna consciousness, does that make sense? 

Means, if you're following the Vedic culture then there's that respect for the brahmanas, so even if you're not taking things spiritually, at least there's that respect even on the material platform. But if one doesn't understand these etiquettes or one is very entrenched in that, if he's from a position that's not like that, then one might look at it from a material point of view. Does that make sense? So that's why it's there, simply... It's not because it's essential, it's because we're the ones who are the materialists, right? Yes?

Prabhu (1): That was the problem with Ramanuja's wife?

HH BVPS Maharaja: Yes, because Ramanuja's guru was brahmana, but from a lower group of brahmanas than Ramanuja was. So, therefore, they drop into this the mundane element of the culture and so then they have problems with that. They can't see the transcendental. Because on the transcendental it doesn't matter. But then the point is is, it has to work. You know what I am saying? So this is just for those who are from the culture, who follow like that. Yes? 

Mataji (1): Maharaja, so back in the day the spiritual master was very involved in their disciples' lives and they'd all live together and, you know, did everything together, but these days it doesn't seem to be like this?

HH BVPS Maharaja: No, that's if you're in an ashrama, then it's like that, but if you're not in an ashrama it wouldn't be like that.

Mataji (1): So today...

HH BVPS Maharaja: You know what I am saying? Like a brahmachari, he may live there with the guru in that, but the grihasthas, they are not living with the guru.

Mataji (1): But still the guru lives in the village and is.... 

HH BVPS Maharaja: Could, but may not. He might live in the village, be there and that, then that's ideal. But also sometimes they are just traveling. So you have both examples. That example where it's either the brahmachari in the ashrama or the gurus in that that area, like that. But sometimes you just have sanyasis, they come through once, they preach once, you know, and then go, and they may never see them the rest of their life. But the point is is, they're so committed to the instruction that they have the instruction, they can follow that the rest of their life.

Mataji (1): So, ideally, today, how much involvement does a guru have in their disciples' lives?

HH BVPS Maharaja: But what do you mean by involvement?

Mataji (1): Well, what kind of decisions or service, requests do they give or instructions do they give, like how far do they actually...

HH BVPS Maharaja: The point is is, the decision has to be made by yourself. But if they're around and know your specific conditioning well and how you respond in different situations, they might be able to give more advice. But the point is, you have to be able to make that decision, or you work with whatever the local authorities are that are dealing with you and engaging you. Because someone is managing it, so then they should also have some idea. Does that make some sense? 

Mataji (1): Yeah. I guess i'm just trying to figure out what the point of a guru is, like other than being connected with Parampara?

HH BVPS Maharaja: Means that here's some instructions that you will follow.

Mataji (1): But you just said it's my choice to follow or not.

HH BVPS Maharaja: No, no, no. Well, that's there it means from the first, to go from the first point being made of taking shelter of a guru and actually then taking initiation and that. What was it? "Taking shelter of the bonafide spiritual master, receiving initiation and instructions from him. So it's your choice, that's what's coming up next, I think. I think it's at one point, yeah, I think it is here, is that it's your choice on whether this is this person that you want to surrender to, right? You have to be respectful to all Vaishnavas, but whether this is the one because once you surrender then those instructions are the ones you're going to apply in your life. Because if it's not formalized then the conditioned living entity tends to think that when you're inspired then you do and when you're not inspired then it's up to you whether you want to follow or not. But the point is is, you've made a commitment that you'll follow it anyway. Does that make sense?

Mataji (1): So that commitment is made after you've surrendered or after you've taken initiation formally? 

HH BVPS Maharaja: Ideally, before you've taken initiation, but at least by the time you've taken initiation. But it's not that they're involved necessarily in your day-to-day life and, you know, whether you should get this job or that job, or, you know, we've been eating cauliflower for the last so many days, should we get broccoli? Like that, that's not the stuff that they're supposed to be doing, right? That you're supposed to work out with whoever else is involved in the eating process. Does that make sense? So that that's why you have to be able to tell the difference between what are social elements that you get from others in the social environment, and then what is connected with, what is the spiritual element, which is how you can understand and be engaged in Krishna's service. Does that make sense? 

Mataji (1): Sorry to keep going on this, but...

HH BVPS Maharaja: No, it's fine because it's coming up anyway, so...

Mataji (1): Okay. So can you, if possible, give some examples of what a guru might say, like what kind of instructions?

HH BVPS Maharaja: If you can give some examples of what kind of question would be asked to the guru.

Mataji (1): Oh, so it's not just like, you know, 'Hey, here's the instruction, and you go do it now,' it's not like that?

HH BVPS Maharaja: I mean, it would have to be a pretty short instruction to be that quick.

Mataji (1): Well, I mean the guru is performing a service for Krishna, therefore, I assume that he wants all his disciples to be engaged in this, to help him in that service, right?

HH BVPS Maharaja: No, but the service is helping Prabhupada's mission. So, depending upon where you are you're generally working under some authority there, so by doing that service in that place nicely, then you're assisting Prabhupadas mission. So that way you're assisting the guru. It's not that you have to be specifically doing the same particular service or project that he's involved in. Do you understand? His point is you're involved in Prabhupada's mission - that's involved.

Mataji (1): So then the instructions might not have anything to do with you. The instructions might have something to do more with whatever is going on at where you are, like...

HH BVPS Maharaja: No, the instruction is is how to connect yourself to Krishna. Right? It's not whether you should take the blue one or the red one, that's not the...

Mataji (1): So would the instruction be something like 'listen to your temple president'?

HH BVPS Maharaja: That might be an instruction, especially if you have a tendency not to listen to your temple president. [Laughter] In other words, the point is, the mission is what everybody is trying to do. Everybody is following Prabhupada as the Founder-acharya, so if we're involved in something that's useful within that mission, then taking the instruction of guru to see that you're doing that, that's following the instruction of the guru. Means, if you want something more detailed or more particularly personal, to your life... Like you come up to the buffet and there's three sabjis, which one do you take? Then you choose a guru who is willing to get involved in that level, but otherwise then you can't expect that. It's the instruction of how to apply yourself in Krishna consciousness, keep yourself in Krishna consciousness, that's what the spiritual master is doing, the other are social considerations of your conditioning that at the present moment how to deal with that. So he may be involved with that and can give nice direction, or he may not. The point is that there's the instructions upon which you apply it.

Mataji (1): So would it be something like, the guru might say, 'Chant 16 rounds and listen to your temple president,' and then if something else comes up, some sort of a problem, then the guru makes the decision there?

HH BVPS Maharaja: Yeah then you can bring it back again, but i'm saying, as long as that works nicely. Because generally that'll work. But even that is more specific to a service. The generic thing is that temple president mean, whatever the temple president. You're in that temple, you work there, you're in another temple, it's there. The point is, you chant 16 rounds and cooperate with the Vaishnavas, that's the actual principle. Does that make sense? So it's not a matter of which side of the bay you're on. Or is it a river?

Prabhu (2): You mentioned that this topic we could also discuss with our siksha gurus or senior devotees.

HH BVPS Maharaja: Yeah, there is also that. Siksha gurus are there, so you just work it out. Senior devotees are siksha gurus, means, you have three levels. You have the Adi-guru, which is Prabhupada with his instructions, which everybody is following. Then you have the the Sad-guru, which is the Diksha guru or other Siksha gurus that are on that level, they deal on... There's a commitment to them personally, to following their instructions. Then you have the third level, it's the preachers. So any devotee who is preaching Krishna consciousness in some way or another, then they are on that third level. So they preach during classes, they may talk to you, they may be managers, they may be senior devotees in the community, any of that group. So between these three then you can get some direction. You know what I am saying?

Mataji (1): What if they contradict each other? 

HH BVPS Maharaja: The point is is, the higher up it is the more important. It has to be based on Prabhupada's teachings. But it's also sometimes due to our conditioning we think they're conflicting when they're not necessarily, right? So then it's a matter of discussion and trying to find out.

(From HH Bhaktividya Purna Svami lecture on Jaiva Dharma, part 52, Bhaktivedanta Academy, Sridham Mayapur)

Full Lecture Audio here, this passage starting at 29:40:

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