Q. I’m a female-to-male transgendered person. I’ve been involved with Krishna consciousness for some time even though my experiences with devotees have mostly been negative due to their homophobia. I also have an addiction to alcohol and cigarettes that I am trying to resolve. Due to those unhappy experiences and my own bad habits I’m a little skeptical of my ability to take shelter of a guru, but ultimately I feel that I should try. Is there any hope at all of my finding a guru that is completely accepting of me as a transgendered person?
A. There is no reason to be hopeless. Sri Krishna nama is extremely generous and anyone who actually represents him will naturally be generous as well. Although Sri Guru will accept you as you are, if you seek his or her shelter you should be prepared to make appropriate changes in your life. Along with regular chanting, these would include adherence to a moral standard that seeks to responsibly harness sexual desire and forgoing destructive habits such as intoxication and smoking. Ultimately, spiritual life is about change. We have to change our angle of vision, seeing ourselves as servants rather than enjoyers. If you can make this essential change, then everything else will naturally fall into place.
All considered, your transgendered status should not be an issue, especially as you have already made your choice in the matter. In this regard it was reported that my own guru once said to a person who was in a similar situation, “Pick one (sexual orientation) and stick with it.”
Spiritual Life is About Change
Q. What should we do if a devotee renders service with good intentions but he or she has some bad character issues?
A. Sri Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, api cet suduracaro, “Even if a devotee is very misbehaved he or she should be honored.” Krishna said this and to make spiritual advancement we must follow his instructions. The secret of following this particular instruction may be to keep some distance or time away from the misbehaved devotee. If you do so, eventually you will realize something redeeming about him or her that is worth honoring. Honor such devotees from a distance even if you have to imagine them as well-behaved devotees in their next life. Then again, not everyone who is dressed as a devotee is actually a devotee.
Q. I read that to advance in Krishna consciousness we must give up the association of nondevotees. Nondevotees are everywhere, so what does this statement mean?
A.The idea of giving up the association of nondevotees is clarified by this verse describing the discrimination of intermediate devotees:
isvare tad-adhinesu balisesu dvisatsu ca prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sa madhyamah
“Devotees who are serious about making advancement (madhyama) give up or avoid the association of (upeksa) those who are envious (dvisatsu). Those who are not devotees but are ignorant and innocent like children with regard to devotion to Krishna (balisesu) can and should be associated with and thereby be given the merciful (krpa) opportunity to learn about Krishna-bhakti through the example of the sincere devotee.” (Brs. 1.2.240)
Most people are innocent regarding Krishna bhakti so give them your association. This means to associate with them on your terms, not necessarily theirs.
Q. Can a person awaken love of God and inspire purity in others while being impure himself?
A. It is said in scripture, aham vedmi sukham vetti vyaso vetti na vetti va. “I (Siva) know (the meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam), Sukadeva knows it, but Vyasa (the author) may or may not know its meaning.” The spirit behind this verse is that divinity may descend through whomever it so chooses. It may even come to us through a person who does not fully understand its import, a less than fully realized soul.
However, if the person through whom we have received divine inspiration is found to have bad character, it is best to move on and respect that person from a distance. How can we not appreciate those who have helped us, yet how can we expect to receive comprehensive help from those who are not helping themselves by maintaining bad character?
Q. As I understand it, Srila Prabhupada says that moral goodness is not enough, and that a devotee is beyond good and evil. Is this true, and if so, is there not a danger that devotees might consider themselves beyond “good and evil,” and thus neglect the ordinary laws of morality?
A. Morality and the nature of transcendence are clearly described in scripture. Transcendence is beyond morality in the sense that morality pertains to the world and transcending the world leaves all worldly qualities and virtues behind. However, the extent to which one is beyond morality is determined by the extent to which one has attained transcendence, and the extent to which one has transcended material life and developed love of God is the extent to which one is an actual devotee of Krishna. Such a devotee is not concerned with what is good or bad from a worldly point of view. He or she is concerned with embracing that which is favorable for Krishna’s service and avoiding that which is unfavorable for his service. Following this standard, a devotee lives an ideal life.
The fact that people may delude themselves or abuse others in the name of devotion is a given in this world. However, such abuse does not have any bearing on the truth of the matter. The truth is that bhakti is transcendental to morality. We cannot change that, nor should we want to.
Q. I heard that the godbrother of the guru should be given the same respect as the guru. Is this correct? Given current circumstances in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, this mandate seems somewhat inappropriate.
A. The understanding that the godbrother of the guru should be given the same respect as the guru is found in scripture. The example is in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, where we are told that Caitanya Mahaprabhu honored Paramananda Puri, the godbrother of his guru, exactly as he would have honored his guru Isvara Puri. Mahaprabhu explained that by doing so he felt Madhavendra Puri’s presence.
Of course, Mahaprabhu experienced Madhavendra Puri through Paramananda Puri because Paramananda represented his guru in substance and not simply in a formal sense. Another example from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta relates the story of Mahaprabhu’s encounter with Ramacandra Puri, another disciple of Madhavendra Puri. Out of respect for his guru, Caitanya Mahaprabhu similarly honored Ramacandra Puri, but because Ramacandra did not represent Madhavendra Puri in spirit the experience was altogether different.
The lesson is that proper Vaisnava decorum dictates honoring the guru’s godbrother equally with one’s guru when the godbrother substantially represents his guru. This is especially so if the guru himself directs his students toward a godbrother worthy of taking instruction (siksa) from, as was the case when Srila Prabhupada directed his students to hear from his godbrother Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja.
Pujapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja writes, “The real disciplic line provides practical knowledge in support of the divine love which is coming down. We must bow down our heads wherever we find support of that. We should not become formalists, but substantialists; not fashionists, not imitationists, but realistic thinkers. That should always be our temperament.” (Sri Guru and His Grace)
Of course, this etiquette does not necessarily mean that the godbrother of one’s guru is equal to one’s guru in all respects, and as illustrated by the example of Ramacandra Puri, some of the guru’s godbrothers may not be entirely worthy of respect. In fact, although he was an initiated disciple, Ramacandra Puri was offensive to his guru, and subsequently to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as well.
Overall, it is best to err on the side of caution in these affairs so as not to risk committing Vaisnava aparadha. However, in these troubled times we have far too many bad examples among the disciples of Srila Prabhupada and other distinguished Vaisnava gurus as well. Thus the onus is on the student to assimilate the essential teachings of guru and scripture in order to be able to distinguish between those who actually represent the guru and those who don’t. The Gita says, na hi kalyana-krt kascid durgatim tata gacchati: “The student who is sincere will not be deceived.” (Bg. 6.40)
Q. I lived in the asrama of my guru for many years rendering whatever service was asked of me. During those years my guru’s sadhana never wavered and I truly feel that he imparted to me a deep and comprehensive understanding of Krishna bhakti through precept and practice. However, on a few occasions my guru asked me to perform questionable activities. I don’t want to elaborate but suffice to say that I now believe that his requests were adharmic (irreligious) and this has left me quite conflicted. If faith in guru is the foundation of our spiritual lives, what happens when that faith develops a crack in it?
A. You should ask your guru for clarification regarding any instructions of his that you considered questionable or adharmic. Tell him that those instructions left you conflicted and ask him to resolve this issue for you with reference to scripture. When students are disturbed over questionable instructions or behavior, they should approach the guru and respectfully reveal their minds. The relationship between guru and disciple should have this degree of openness.
In such matters the direct approach is best, as it will enable you to find out whether your guru can offer any scriptural justification for the instructions that you considered adharmic. If he can’t, then you will learn whether or not your guru has enough integrity to admit to mistakes and is repentant of them.
Hopefully, you will come to understand that your judgment regarding your guru was incorrect. If, however, you find that your guru’s instructions were inappropriate and he has admitted so, you have two choices. You can remain with this guru regardless of his previous behavior or you can choose to leave your guru and take shelter of a siksa guru. If your guru was wrong and errs further by not admitting his mistakes, this is most unfortunate. In this case it is best to seek guidance elsewhere, while respecting this particular preceptor from a distance for all that he has done for you in the past. One is always free to seek the shelter of a realized soul—a sat guru—regardless of any relationship one might have or have had with a less than ideal preceptor.
This is my reply based on what you have told me. If I knew more I could perhaps offer a better answer. However, I am not asking you to tell me more. May Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bless you in your pursuit of his transcendent ideal.