What to do when the guru falls? What to think? How to feel?
Of course no-one wants this to happen, or even to think about this happening to them, but we have seen in the short history of ISKCON that many people find themselves having to deal with the unthinkable. And many other people have an underlying fear as a result.
We need some guidance on this matter, because our process is to follow the footsteps of the mahajanas, rather than rely on just our own experience or limited mental powers. These two things have their place in bhakti, but properly within the context of guru, sadhu, and sastra:
cittete kariya aikya
satata bhasiba prema-majhe
Making the words of the guru, sadhus and sastras one with my heart, I constantly float and swim in the ocean of pure love.
- Narottama das Thakura, Prema Bhakti Candrika
In our Gaudiya Vaisnava system authority rests on the three legs of guru (spiritual master), sadhu (saintly persons), and sastra (scripture). Therefore sadhu and sastra are the two legs that support and validate guru.
That our understanding of this situation must be based on sastra, rather than our own limited ideas, or an emotional reaction arising from a sense of disillusionment or betrayal, is reinforced by this statement by Srila Rupa Goswami:
aikāntikī harer bhaktir
"Devotional service performed without reference to the Vedas, Puranas, and Pancaratras must be considered sentimentalism, and it causes nothing but disturbance to society."
- Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu 1.2.101
This statement, quoted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, emphasizes the importance of following the guidelines laid out by previous saints:
mahajano yena gatah sa panthah
"The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated, self-realized person. Consequently, as the sastras confirm, one should accept whatever progressive path the mahajanas advocate."
- Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya-lila 17.186
In our tradition we accept as sruti, or Vedic evidence on the level of sastra, the songs written by our Vaisnava acaryas:
The Narottama dasa, he has sung so many Vedic songs. Narottama dasa’s song, although it is written in Bengali, it is considered as sruti, Vedic.
All Vaisnavas, songs are like that, Vedic evidence.
- Srila Prabhupada
With respect to the situation where the guru falls down, Srila Narahari Sarkar, the 40th branch of the Caitanya tree, has specifically addressed this in his book Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita.
This work explains what to do when the guru deviates from sad-acar, or proper behaviour.
That Narahari Sarkar writes about this subject demonstrates that this is a very real occurrence, and part of the manifestation of Guru tattva. It is not something unique to modern history or to ISKCON. The guru is empowered by God, and at the same time is a human being - he has a human side and is fallible.
The specific instructions that Narahari Sarkar gives are the Vaisnava etiquette for dealing with this situation. He says that the guru is *not* to be given up out of hand, but the disciple should work with them to help them rectify the situation:
"If the spiritual master commits a wrongful act breaking Vaisnava regulative principles then in that case one should in a solitary place, confront him for his rectification using logic and appropriate conclusions from sadhu, sastra and guru references, but one is not to give him up. "
- Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita 59
When the guru does fall down, as many in ISKCON have unfortunately experienced, it is the duty of the disciple to help him pick himself up again. Srila Prabhupada once said that he considered all his disciples as being sent by his own Guru Maharaja to help him, so this is a case where the disciple must instruct the spiritual master, by reminding him of the teachings that he himself gave to the disciple. Yes, sometimes this does happen, as I’m sure those of us with kids have experienced - sometimes we find our own children reminding us of what we should be doing…
One should not be hesitant or fearful because one is confronting or challenging a spiritual master."For it has been prescribed that one must appropriately discipline even a spiritual master who is:
*bewildered about what he should or shouldn’t do;
*who is inexperienced or ignorant:
*who has deviated from the Krsna conscious path;
*or if he is bewildered by false pride."
- Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita 60
Sri Narahari Sarkar makes it clear that this statement is relevant to our contemporary times:
This statement of the revealed scriptures is applicable at all times and under all circumstances.
- Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita 61
While waiting for the guru to pick himself back up, and offering support, the disciple should continue taking shelter of previous instructions, their own intelligence, scripture, and other saintly Vaisnavas:
The natural behavior of the Vaisnava devotees is to take complete refuge of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, accepting Him as their principal and real shelter. The very life of the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord is singing the glories of Lord Sri Krsna, describing and expanding the fame of Lord Sri Krsna, and discussing the nectar of His transcendental pastimes.
The authorized course of action is to continue, as before, with one’s prescribed devotional service. One may take guidance through or instructions from the Vaisnavas, as all Vaisnavas are considered guru or "spiritual master," or one may use one’s own intelligence, duly considering the relevant instructions from sadhu, sastra and guru. In all cases one should continue in one’s devotional service.
- Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita 62-63
The guru, as Srila Prabhupada explained, is a peon - he is a postman whose duty it is to deliver the message. The message is the important thing. The postman may go astray, but the message stays the same.
At the same time the disciple naturally feels indebted to the guru for delivering this message to him.
The spiritual master should only be rejected under certain circumstances, where he has become definitely deviated and will not rectify himself:
Specifically, if one’s guru acts contrary to his duty, has misconceptions about the Supreme Lord, is indifferent to the fame of Krsna, does not accept the reality of Krsna’s pleasure pastimes, is inordinately proud because ordinary people flatter him, or imitates Krsna–then he should be rejected.
Under those circumstances one should not doubt, "How can I give up my spiritual master?" "
- Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita 65-66
Earlier in this work Narahari Sarkar draws a parallel between the relationship of guru and disciple and the relationships between husband and wife, and father and son. The same principles are in play. The husband may make a mistake, and the wife should not simply immediately divorce him. Instead she should help him to get back on track. Similarly for a father and son, the father may make a mistake, but the son should not renounce his father. He should help him. The relationship between guru and disciple is a familial relationship, a spiritual one. The guru is the spiritual father, and the Vedas are the mother. So the son should help his father if the father comes into difficulty. And if the father should fall from grace completely, then the son should redeem him with his own character.
We all need help, always.
I hope this always remains a theoretical consideration for you, but if it doesn’t, I pray that you deal with the situation with maturity and gravity, and that you continue your service with determination to achieve the goal in this lifetime, and help others to do the same.