I find that the guru is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Caitanya tradition. I decided to put together an FAQ that should help readers in their journey on the bhakti path. I do not cite scripture here, for that, the interested reader is referred to other articles on this site.
Q. What is the guru’s function?
A. To teach scripture.
Q. Where is this stated?
A. Study the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.
Q. What is the guru’s mercy?
A. His teachings of scripture.
Q. What does the guru speak from his lotus mouth?
A. Lotuses do not come out of his mouth. What is supposed to come out is scriptural teachings.
Q. Where does the guru’s authority come from?
Q. Isn’t the guru Hari Himself?
A. No and yes. No, because He is not Hari. He is Hari’s devotee. Yes, because he passes on Hari’s teachings in the parampara. So because he does the function of Hari, he is considered Hari.
Q. What does it mean to worship the guru’s lotus feet?
A. It does not mean continuously offering flowers to them. The guru won’t be able to go anywhere! What it does mean is that one should humbly receive the teachings in the parampara, have faith in them, and act upon them. Humbly receiving knowledge from the guru is what ‘serving his feet’ means.
Q. But isn’t everything the guru’s mercy? What can we do with our own effort?
A. The guru’s mercy, again, is his passing on of the knowledge in the parampara. If we don’t heed them, what is the use of those teachings? There is no meaning to the institution of guru then. The teachings are mercy, but we have to receive the mercy by acting on them. So our effort is also needed. Otherwise what does it mean to do sadhana?
Q. There is no other mercy?
A. The guru’s prasadi garland, etc. has been mentioned as mercy in some places. That is ok. But the main mercy is the teachings and acting upon them. There are no shortcuts.
Q. Can the guru’s mercy not purify our heart?
A. The guru does not glance into our heart with his gaze and clean it. The guru has no superpowers, only superman has those. The guru teaches concepts. The guru changes our worldview. This way, the guru makes us qualified to perform bhakti.
Q. It seems like this minimizes the guru’s position.
A. Feel free to ignore what I am saying. I have seen many people fall into such magical thinking and then complain about how bhakti has not worked for them. It is not bhakti’s fault nor the guru’s fault. People have their head in the clouds. Best to come back to earth.
Q. What books are foundational in the Caitanya tradition?
A. The Sandarbhas and the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.
Q. What if my guru does not teach the Sandarbhas.
A. That is a question for your guru, not me.
Q. But what about other writings? There are so many books.
A. All other books must be interpreted in the light of the Sandarbhas. There may be books that gurus use to teach the essence of the Sandarbhas. If they are consistent with the Sandarbhas, I see no problem.