Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. Daily I read sections of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and I am always inspired. I understand that association with devotees is necessary but I am not able to surrender to a guru, as I am feeling cautious about accepting a guru in Kali-yuga. I have developed attachment for Sri Caitanya but will it impede my spiritual progress if I don’t have a personal guru? Having Sri Caitanya as my ideal, I am not able to surrender to anybody else. Please tell me whether I am on the wrong path.

A. You should show your love for Sri Caitanyadeva by carefully following his precepts. With regard to guru, Caitanya Mahaprabhu himself accepted several gurus (diksa guru, sannyasa guru, raga marga guru). In doing so, he seeks to instruct us on the importance of this principle for all time, and especially in the Kali-yuga during which he appeared.

I believe that there is greater potential for cheating oneself than there is for being cheated. Surely you can find someone who loves Mahaprabhu more than you do. Follow such a devotee’s lead and find your guru, who Sri Caitanya himself has sent to collect your faith.

Q. I have found that devotees benefit by reading your words, so my wife and I managed to translate and publish in our language a forty-four page booklet made up of your Sangas and to distribute it as gift to devotees in this area. I also had the opportunity to discuss guru-parampara topics with some devotees and saw practically how powerful your words and realizations are, simply by repeating them all doubts can be clarified.

A. I am happy to hear that your preaching efforts have been fruitful. There is indeed much confusion in the Saraswata Gaudiya community today regarding the issue of gurus and succession. Through Sanga we try to be a voice of sanity and common sense applied in light of Gaudiya siddhanta. Please continue to enlighten others on these and other important issues by sharing Sanga with them.

Q. I am trying to rationally observe my present situation, my good and bad qualities, and to use common sense to place myself in a secure economic and social position in order to have a solid base for further spiritual activities. The idea is to become properly situated by lifestyle, talents, and skills in order to become self-dependent while simultaneously increasing my spiritual activities. Please give me some advice. What should be the proper attitude while I am engaged in all these activities?

A. Regarding your efforts to situate yourself materially such that you can insure your continued practice, you should view these efforts as a dynamic application of the principle of daiva varnasrama. Daiva varnasrama refers to the importance of situating devotees in consideration of their psychological and physiological makeup such that they can gradually tread the paramahamsa marga of suddha bhakti by eliminating the danger of artificial renunciation. Such phalgu vairagya (false renunciation) involves not only artificially leaving one’s family, but more so, being out of touch with the reality of one’s material identity. One thereby ignores or denys much that one has to work through to attain freedom from the karmic realm and develop love of God. False renunciation does not mean to merely artificially accept a renounced formal posture. It involves misunderstanding one’s actual standing in bhakti and avoiding the difficult task of dealing with one’s material responsibilities and shortcomings through appropriate means, even when those means appear to be outside of the realm of bhakti proper.

Q. I tried to chant 16 rounds of japa for years, but presently I manage to chant only 6 or 8 rounds daily without interruption. What should I follow as my regular daily practice? I have read all Prabhupada’s books several times and some of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s books as well. I would like to carefully study Vaisnava philosophy and to learn under your guidance. Please give me some advice on how to study correctly.

A. Regarding sadhana, my general advice is that one should make more time for chanting, but quality is more important than quantity. As for study, it is one thing to read a book and another to study a book. At this time my suggestion is that you go through Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and read the Bengali verses, acquainting yourself with the narrative. And whenever Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja cites a Sanskrit pramana verse to support his points, note these verses and look them up in the Bhagavatam, etc., becoming acquainted with not only their meaning, but the context in which they appear. This will be a useful exercise. In general this method should be followed when studying: look up the verses cited in the text or commentary and in this way move from text to text. Gradually you will understand the fundamental nature of the texts and live within this setting.

Q. There are differing opinions about conducting istagoshti in the temple room when the Deity curtain is open. Some devotees believe this is inappropriate because in istagosthi we sometimes talk about sensitive issues. Others feel that in front of the Deities we are naturally very careful about how we speak and this enhances the devotional mood. What does the word istagoshti mean and is it appropriate to conduct istagosthi in front of the Deities in the temple?

A. The word ista means worshipful and gosthi means discussion. Thus to hold an istagosthi means to discuss spiritual topics. It is appropriate to conduct such discussions before the Deity. However, if the discussion involves practical affairs and personal problems, matters that are inappropriate for discussion before the Deity may arise.

Q. When a true guru apparently doesn’t remember a disciple even after several meetings the disciple may start to wonder exactly how can my guru be aware of my service? If a guru has so many disciples, how can he spiritually keep track of them all? Or is the disciple just dealing with God directly without guru really knowing what’s going on as in the case of offering food to the Deity where the guru is represented by his picture?

A. If a satguru meditates on his disciple, he can understand what he needs to know about his disciple’s spiritual progress, which is his primary realm of concern. However, he may not always appear to recognize his disciple in person or remember him by the name given to him at the time of initiation, especially if he has many disciples. If the guru does not appear to recognize his disciple, one should not conclude that the guru is not aware of him or not involved in his spiritual progress. Srila Prabhupada often appeared to forget my initiated name and would ask, “What is his name, that boy who is distributing so many books?” Yet I have never had any difficulty feeling connected to him through prayer or meditation by which I experience his profound spiritual presence in my life. We should not be as concerned with external recognition, but rather our objective should be to enter the heart of our guru through service and saranagati (surrender). Then external recognition will naturally follow.

Regarding the offering of food to the Deity and the guru’s involvement, this takes place in the world of ritual, which is a window to reality. Such ritualistic worship is largely symbolic, in that it approximates actual service to Krishna and the guru, which is experienced internally and within the lila of Krishna by advanced devotees. No offering to Krishna is complete without first honoring Krishna’s representative, one’s guru. He represents the ideal of service we seek to attain, and we will do so by following in his footsteps. In ritualistic service, we meditate on how our guru is serving Krishna and aspire to assist him in this service or to experience his love for Krishna ourselves through such assistance.

Q. Srila Prabhupada wrote in The Nectar of Devotion that one should accept a maha-bhagavata as guru, but if one is not on that level, how can one recognize someone who is? And why can’t the maha-bhagavata just plainly tell everyone that he is on that level and thus save sincere seekers from being cheated by bogus gurus?

A. It is difficult for most devotees to recognize who is a superlative devotee and who is not. This ability develops as one advances in both theoretical knowledge and personal realization. My recommendation is that you try to study the scripture and then follow your own heart, and if after having done so you find that the guru of your choice is not in your estimation a superlative devotee and at the same time you can recognize another Vaisnava to be of this caliber, at that time you can accept the superlative devotee as your siksa guru, continuing to show regard to your diksa guru.

Superlative devotees do not usually feel themselves to be so, but sometimes they do come out and state their position to the public. However, if someone says that he or she is a superlative devotee, how will you know that his statement is true? Therefore, again, follow your heart while at the same time using your head to study the scripture in the association of devotees that you believe are sincere, well-versed in scriptural knowledge, and spiritually advanced.

See also:
Mahabhagavata

Q. Srimad-Bhagavatam states that a devotee has all good qualities and a non-devotee has none. Yet we find that many people who are not devotees are friendly, considerate, helpful, understanding, and pleasant to be with while some devotees who even though they are detached, learned, and dedicated to guru and Krishna, are rude, inconsiderate, unfriendly, and unreasonable. So what does Srimad-Bhagavatam mean by this statement?

A. This verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam speaks of very advanced devotees, described therein as akincana, or free from any material desire—yayasti bhaktir bhagavati akincana. Spoken by Prahlada Maharaja, it is a glorification of superlative devotees who have all the qualities of the godly and more. These devotees live in the plane of nondual consciousness rather than in the small world of the mind with its provincial goods and bads. This verse contrasts such devotees with those who are devoid of bhagavata bhakti and ride the unbridled chariot of the mind (mano rathena).

The point here is that to the extent that a person is truly a devotee and thus free from material desire, we should expect to see all good qualities in him. Sriman Mahaprabhu has suggested that this means such devotees are merciful, humble, truthful, equal to all, faultless, magnanimous, mild, clean, without material possessions, engaged in welfare work for everyone, peaceful, surrendered to Krishna, desireless, indifferent to material acquisitions, fixed in devotional service, and above the six bad qualities such as lust, anger, greed, and so forth. They eat only as much as required, and they are not intoxicated. They are respectful, grave, compassionate, and without false prestige, as well as friendly, poetic, expert, and silent. Among all of these qualities, being surrendered to Krishna is foremost.

Obviously not all “devotees” are on this platform. Most are not akincana bhaktas. Thus to the extent that devotees rise above the small world of the mind in the culture of Krishna bhakti, we can expect to see good qualities in them. Those who, on the other hand, are devoid of devotion to God—the “all good”— are suspect even when appearing to possess good qualities, for in the world of the mind only a shadow of actual goodness can appear.

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