alone branches bridge brightQ/A

Leaving one’s guru and taking reinitiation

Śrī Babaji answers questions in Pearls of Wisdom–

Question: What are the criteria for leaving one’s guru and taking reinitiation?

Answer: This is an important and relevant question in present times. The first and foremost point of clarification on this topic is that although the word “guru” has various meanings, such as “senior person, senior relative, respectable, heavy, big, dear, proud, Bṛhaspati, instructor, religious teacher, etc.,” it has a very specific meaning in the context of the above question. Here, it refers to a person who is a representative of Kṛṣṇa and has the responsibility to transfer knowledge of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana to the disciple. This means that the guru himself must be qualified for that function. So, when śāstra is using the word “guru,” it assumes the guru to be qualified to execute this function. This is implied by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s statement in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.74), guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam, “Therefore [if one wants to follow the path of bhakti], one should take shelter of a guru and take dīkṣā and śikṣā from him/her.” It means that the guru not only gives dīkṣā but also śikṣā. They go together. In fact, dīkṣā is the beginning of śikṣā. That is why it is called “initiation.” This implies that the guru must be qualified to not only give dīkṣā but also śikṣā. Dikṣā is like taking admission in a university, and then the education begins. After taking admission, one is entitled to study. The purpose of admission is education. Admission is not the end of education. Dīkṣā, however, is much more than just admitting a student. It also confers mantras to be practiced.

Then what is the necessity of the dīkṣā mantra and of studying śāstra? I will cite relevant references in clarification.

According to various texts, mantra, Kṛṣṇa, and śāstra are one. Mantra is the essence of śāstra, and Kṛṣṇa is the personified form of śāstra. Mantra and śāstra are called śabda-brahman and Kṛṣṇa is Para-brahman:

śābda-brahma paraṁ brahma ubhe me śāsvatī tanū

 “The Veda and śāstra (śabda-brahma) and the Absolute Reality (paraṁ brahma), both are My eternal bodies.” (SB 6.16.51)

It is by becoming proficient in śabda-brahman that one reaches Para-brahman:

dve brahmaṇi veditavye śabda-brahma paraṁ ca yat

  śabda-brahmaṇi niṣṇāta paraṁ brahmādhigacchati

“There are two types of Brahman to be known, namely, śabda-brahman and Para-brahman. After becoming expert in śabda-brahman, one realizes Para-brahman.”

(Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.64; also Maitrāyaṇi Upaniṣad 6.22)

One becomes proficient in śabda-brahman by the grace of guru. Just as Kṛṣṇa is manifest as mantra and śastra, He is also manifest as guru—ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyāt (SB 11.17.27). Similarly, it is said, devam ivācāryam upāsīta,“One should worship the ācārya just like God” (Āpastamba-sūtra 1.16.13) and sākṣād-dharitvena samasta-śastrair uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ,“All the śāstras describe the guru as Hari directly, and this is how the saintly people consider him” (Gurvāṣṭakam by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura). Therefore, without guru it is not possible to become proficient in śāstra. When śāstra uses the word “guru,” it means a guru who can give knowledge of śāstra. An uttama-adhikārī in bhakti is one who is proficient in śastra and logic, śāstre yuktau ca nipuṇaḥ (BRS 1.2.17).

A disciple should approach a guru to get knowledge of bhakti:

tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam

  śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam

“Therefore, one desirous of knowing the ultimate welfare should approach a preceptor who is well versed in the Vedas, who has realized the Absolute Reality, and who has thus become the abode of peace.” (SB 11.3.21)

Here, it is clearly stated that the guru is proficient in śabda-brahman as well as in Para-brahman. Moreover, that person needs to have a peaceful mind and good character. Such a guru is called śāstrīya-guru, or a guru who has the characteristics as given in śāstra, who knows śāstra, and can teach it to others.

The next verse commands a disciple to study the principles of bhakti from one’s guru:

tatra bhāgavatān dharmān śikṣed gurvātma-daivataḥ

  amāyayānuvṛttayā yais tuṣyed ātmātmado hariḥ

“One should learn the principles of bhakti, by which Hari, who is the Self and gives Himself to His devotees, is pleased. One should accept the guruas dear as one’s own life and one’s object of worship and serve him sincerely without any deceptive mentality.” (SB 11.3.22)

Bhakti that is not based on śāstra would only lead to disturbance:

śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi-pañcarātra-vidhiṁ vinā

aikātakī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate

“Devotion to Kṛṣṇa that is not according to the injunctions of the Veda, Smṛti, Purāṇa, and Pañcarātra, even if one-pointed, will only create disturbance.” (Cited in BRS 1.2.101)

Who is to be worshiped, how He has to be worshiped, what is bhakti, and what is the ultimate purpose—all this is known only from śāstra. Such knowledge is not based upon an individual’s opinion. 

If one has a qualified guru, then the question raised above would not arise. Such a guru would not have ill character, and the disciple would not have to think of reinitiation. That, however, is an ideal situation and may not be always possible. A prospective disciple may have no idea about the qualifications and functions of a guru. We may be influenced by others’ opinions and not have the ability to study the status of a guru. Indeed, sometimes even a guru may not understand his role and the qualifications needed to fulfill it.

If it so happens that one accepts a guru who becomes materially implicated, such as having sexual relations with one’s disciples, consuming intoxicants, being greedy for wealth and power, or being envious of great Vaiṣṇavas, then what should a disciple do in such a situation?

First of all, the disciple should do introspection. What was the primary, original purpose of his accepting a guru? Was it spiritual or material? Moreover, what is one’s expectation from one’s guru at present? I have often seen that people come for a spiritual purpose, but then later, change their priorities. Similarly, there are others who did not have a very clear picture of the purpose of accepting a guru, but later learned that it is meant for spiritual upliftment and became serious about the guru-disciple relationship. 

If one is truly serious about attaining bhakti and if one’s guru has deviated from principles of bhakti and one cannot expect any proper education from him or her, then one should seek out a qualified guru. Do not expect to attain perfection in bhakti if you do not have a qualified guru. Bhakti is defined in śāstra, and one needs to follow śāstra meticulously to achieve perfection in it. For this, the first step is to study śāstra, and then to follow the prescribed method under the guidance of one’s guru. Even such a simple thing as chanting one’s dīkṣā-mantra has to be learned from the guru. But if the guru himself is ignorant of the method, then certainly he cannot teach it to his disciples. Some sādhakas go on chanting for decades without making progress. Proper result comes from proper action. Proper action is based on proper knowledge. Proper knowledge comes from a proper guru. On the other hand, improper knowledge results in improper action, which gives an improper result.

If, however, one’s goal is not bhakti, then one can continue with a guru who is not following the principles of bhakti.

Question: Should there be a “period of hope and expectation” when the disciple may wait for his guru to rectify his behavior and reinstate himself before accepting reinitiation? Kṛṣṇa-bhajanāmṛta speaks something in that regard, even to the point where the śiṣya may instruct his own guru, so he may reinstate himself.

Answer: If the guru rectifies himself, would he then be capable to guide you on the path of bhakti? If the answer is “yes,” then wait for him to be rectified. Otherwise, there is no need to have such hope, because he would not be able to help you anyway:

jñāna-hīno gurur tyājyo mithyāvādī vidambakaḥ

 sva-viśrāntiṁ na jānāti para-śāntiṁ karoti kim

“One should give up a guru who does not have knowledge of śāstra, does not speak the truth, and is a showman. If he does not know the means to liberation for himself, then how can he guide others?” (Guru-gītā 198, Siddha-siddhānta-saṁgraha 5.38)

Was his misbehavior just a slip or a planned action? If it was only an accident, then there is no need to look for another guru. He will not repeat his mistake. But if he has deviated consciously, then it is better to move on and look for another guru. Even if such a guru rectifies his behavior, there is no guarantee that he will not relapse. Material saṁskāras are very powerful and may force one to act even though one is unwilling, anicchann api vārṣṇeya balād iva niyojitaḥ (Gītā 3.36).

Ultimately, one has to consider one’s own goal in life and whether it can be achieved with one’s guru or not. Truly speaking, one should ponder this before one accepts a guru. It becomes problematic or offensive to scrutinize one’s guru after having taken dīkṣā.

However, if the guru has become materially implicated, then it is advisable to find another guru. I do not think that modern disciples have the ability to rectify a guru or that a modern guru would be willing to accept advice as recommended in Bhajanāmṛtam. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī recommends finding another guru in such a situation (Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 238).

I am citing a part of this anuccheda here: [Begin quote from Bhakti Sandarbha]

“With the permission of one’s guru, one can render service to other Vaiṣṇavas, provided it doesn’t conflict with the service of one’s own guru, and this is also auspicious. Otherwise, such service will be flawed, as Śrī Nārada said:

gurau sannihite yas tu pūjayed anyam agrataḥ 

sa durgatim avāpnoti pūjanaṁ tasya niṣphalam

‘One who worships someone else first in the presence of his guru attains an unfavorable result, and his worship of Bhagavān is rendered futile.’

The characteristics of an authentic guru have already been discussed in verses such as this:

tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam

śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam

‘Therefore, one desirous of knowing the ultimate welfare should approach a preceptor who is well versed in the Vedas, who has realized the Absolute Reality, and who has thus become the abode of peace.’ (SB 11.3.21)”

If, however, one has first failed to accept a guru of this caliber and his guru, out of envy, does not permit him to honor the great devotees of Bhagavān, there is nothing to be said about such a person [from the point of view of scripture], because he has rejected scripture from the very outset [by accepting a guru who doesn’t meet the criteria outlined in scripture]. Calamity certainly befalls such a person from both sides [because if he follows the order of his guru, he fails to honor the great devotees, and if he honors the devotees, he disobeys his guru]. With this in mind, the Nārada Pāñcarātra states:

yo vakti nyāya-rahitam anyāyena śṛṇoti yaḥ

tāv ubhau narakaṁ ghoraṁ vrajataḥ kālam akṣayam

‘One whose instructions are not in resonance with scripture and one who hears such illegitimate teachings, both proceed to a dreadful hell for an unlimited period of time.’

Therefore, such a guru should be respected only from a distance, and if he is envious of real Vaiṣṇavas, he should certainly be repudiated, as stated:

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ

utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

‘One is ordained to give up a guru who is self-conceited, who does not know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and who has stumbled down the wrong path.’

Furthermore, such a guru cannot be considered a Vaiṣṇava because he lacks the character of a Vaiṣṇava, and thus the following admonition is given with such a guru in mind:

avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet

  punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhyed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ

‘One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles.’

If, however, an authentic guru endowed with the characteristics described earlier is no longer present, then regular service to a great devotee is most auspicious. Furthermore, one should accept a great devotee whose devotional mood is complementary to that of one’s guru and who is compassionate toward oneself. This principle is enunciated in the Hari-bhaktisudhodaya:

yasya yat-saṅgatiḥ puṁso maṇi-vat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ

  sva-kularddhyai tato dhīmān sva-yūthyān eva saṁśrayet

‘As a crystal reflects the color of an object placed before it, a person mirrors the qualities of a person with whom he or she associates. Therefore, a thoughtful person should associate with those belonging to one’s own community, for the progress of his or her lineage.’

It is essential to accept a great devotee who is compassionate toward oneself, because if he is not compassionate, the heart will not develop affection for him. As far as appropriate, therefore, one should render service to all those endowed with the insignia of devotees.” [End of quote from Bhakti Sandarbha.]

Therefore, one should not associate with one’s previous guru but also not disrespect him. Associating with him will lead you astray from the truth and criticizing him will be offensive.

In conclusion, I will say that Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has given a rule of thumb. He says that if the witch in the form of desire for sense pleasure or liberation lurks in one’s heart, then there is no possibility of bhakti manifesting in such a heart (BRS 1.2.22). In fact, he says that bhakti is millions of miles away from a person whose mind is set on sense pleasure. In a similar vein, the famous author of Rāma-carita-mānasa,Tulasīdāsa says that kāma (lust) and Rāma cannot exist in the same place. Wherever there is kāma, there is no Rāma, and where there is Rāma, there is no kāma

Question: Although we have heard ślokas such as “guror api avaliptasya …” and others concerning when to abandon a guru and accept reinitiation, I’m not aware of specific instances in Gauḍīya history.

Answer: The most prominent case is probably that of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa. It is understood from his own writing that he took dikṣā in the Madhva line, as he himself acclaims, and later in his life came to the doctrinal position of the Gauḍīyas and took dīkṣa from Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara Dāsa. In his case, this change of guru was not because his previous guru had deviated or was fallen but because Baladeva Vidyābhuṣaṇa’s ultimate goal had shifted.

Another perhaps not so well-known case is Ananta Vāsudeva, who was acclaimed as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s successor in 1937. He and his close associate Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda were the leading writers and thinkers of the Gauḍīya Maṭh. A few years after Bhaktisiddhānta’s passing, they abandoned the Maṭh and their initiation. Ananta Vāsudeva gave up saffron dress and left for Vrindavan, where he lived the rest of his life more or less as a recluse. He took dikṣā from one of the Rādhā Ramaṇa Gosvāmīs in 1943 and called himself Purī Dāsa. Sundarānanda, who wrote the treatise, Vaiṣṇava-siddhānte śrī-guru-svarūpa (“The Characteristics of the Guru According to Vaiṣṇava Theology”) based on the early writings of Śrī Caitanya’s followers, reverted back to his previous kula-guru in the line of Kānu Gosvāmī.

Similarly, the author of “Saints of Vraja,” “Philosopy and Religion of Śrī Caitanya,” and other books, Dr. OBL Kapoor, whose initiation name in the Gauḍīya Maṭha was Adikeśava Dāsa, took reinitiation from Śrī Gaurāṅga dāsa Bābā, whose āśrama is adjacent to the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma temple, Vrindavan.

Of course, there are many such instances in recent times. I can just cite one here. There was a Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava guru from Barasāna who became involved in a physical relation with one of his lady followers. Some of his followers approached my guru and took dīkṣā from him.

In these historical examples of reinitiation, I am not passing judgement whether the reinitiation was justified or not. I am citing examples as asked by you.

Question: Although it is recommended to stay within one’s parivāra for guidance, it is not always possible to get the necessary guidance there. The system of dikṣā practiced in some institutions is more of a managerial arrangement than an actual guru-disciple relationship. In such a situation, would it be an aparādha to take shelter of a guru from a different parivāra?How would a sādhaka know if he was genuinely seeking better association or just following his mind? 

Answer: If you take shelter of another guru, whether in the same or a different parivāra, then it is not an aparādha if you have the permission of your guru. If you do so without his permission, then it is tantamount to rejecting him, whether you take reinitiation or not. Moreover, any reinitiation, whether with or without permission, implies giving up the present guru. 


Question: You wrote that if one’s guru falls down, then one should accept another guru. Some argue that the guru should never be given up and cite the famous Gītā verse, api cet su-durācāro, which says that even if one is engaged in very immoral behavior but worships Kṛṣṇa exclusively, one should still be considered a saint. Could you clarify this seeming contradiction?

Answer: Yes, it is true that one should not give up one’s guru. Once you accept a guru, then he is your guru for the rest of your life. He is not to be seen as a material person. There are hundreds of statements in śāstra describing how the guru has to be always respected and worshiped as God or the representative of God. But we have to keep in mind that these statements are referring to a qualified guru, and not to a person of immoral character. It is not very difficult to find references in śāstra to support one’s view or action regardless of whether they are proper or improper. Śāstra is called kalpa-taru or a wish-fulfilling tree. It can satisfy everyone’s desire. That does not mean that everyone who refers to śāstra is right. We have to study the real import of śāstric statements, the context in which they were spoken, and the authority of the speaker. Not all statements have equal power. There are general rules and emergency rules, āpad-dharma. In an exceptional situation, the general rules do not apply.

If the guru is engaged in immoral behavior, then that is not a normal situation and therefore, all statements that speak about the greatness of the guru are not applicable to such a person. This is because the statements that glorify the position of a guru do not take into account a guru of immoral behavior.

Now coming back to the Bhagavad Gītā verse:

api cet su-durācāro   bhajate mām ananya-bhāk

sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ   samyag vyavasito hi saḥ

“Even if a very ill-behaved person worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should indeed be regarded as holy, for he has made the right resolution.” (Gītā 9.30)

In this verse, it should be noted that Śrī Kṛṣṇa says four things, namely: (1) the person is very ill-behaved, (2) is exclusively devoted to Kṛṣṇa, (3) has made the right resolution, and (4) should be considered a sādhu. He is not saying that he should be accepted as a guru or that one should associate with him. Considering him a sādhu does not mean that he is qualified to be a guru. In fact, he is not even fit to be associated with because he is not capable of guiding others on the path of bhakti. Rather, he may misguide or influence others in a wrong manner.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes in Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 200):

“In the context of our discussion about the association of saints, we have not cited the example of this latter type of sādhu [the one described in Gītā 9.30], because the association of such a person is of no use in enabling one to embrace the path of devotion. As Śrī Prahlāda said in Śrīmad Bhāgavata, ‘One can attain loving attachment to Bhagavān by the association of devotees who are situated in virtuous conduct,’ saṅgena sadhu-bhaktānām (SB 7.7.30). The word sādhu here means one with virtuous conduct (sad-ācāra).”

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī clearly states that a devotee of ill-conduct (sudurācāra) cannot enable one to embrace the path of bhakti, let alone help one to advance on the path. Therefore, Prahlāda recommends associating with sādhus of virtuous conduct (sadācāra). Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, citing a verse from Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.229), says that one will acquire the quality of a person with whom one associates. He compares it to putting a crystal in the proximity of a colored object. The crystal will reflect the color of the colored object. Therefore, if one associates with a guru of ill-conduct, one may acquire bad qualities oneself. Instead of benefitting from such association, one will become more materially conditioned. While describing the quality of a teacher from whom to study, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says in Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 203) that there are two types of teachers, namely, sarāga (one with material attachments) and nīrāga (one without material attachments). The words of the first type do not have purifying effect on the student. Therefore, one should avoid such a teacher. The superior teacher is one upon hearing whom even a person full of desire and anger or a dejected person steeped in misery becomes cheerful and serene.

The conclusion is that even if one does not want to seek another guru, one should avoid association with a guru who is ill-behaved. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that a devotee of ill-conduct will soon rectify himself and become situated in peace (Gītā 9.31). If one’s guru has rectified himself, then one can resume one’s association with him. But again, one should be certain that the guru has truly rectified himself and is not just making a show. The rectification will come if one is truly fixed on the path of bhakti and if the deviation was only incidental. Otherwise, either there will be no rectification or there will be the possibility of a relapse. Only sincere bhakti can bring a true change of heart.

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  1. Thank you for a such informative article.A doubt is as follows,it is said

    “If, however, one has first failed to accept a guru of this caliber and his guru, out of envy, does not permit him to honor the great devotees of Bhagavān, there is nothing to be said about such a person [from the point of view of scripture]”

    And then it is said

    “Therefore, such a guru should be respected only from a distance”

    Then why shouldn’t we give up such guru in this case?? sastra doesn’t consider this case..but Jiva goswami says to respect him from a distance without giving up.What is fault in giving him up?

    • He does instruct giving up such a person if he is envious:

      Therefore, such a guru should be respected only from a distance, and if he is envious of real Vaiṣṇavas, he should certainly be repudiated, as stated:

      guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ

      utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

      ‘One is ordained to give up a guru who is self-conceited, who does not know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and who has stumbled down the wrong path.’

      • In the Bhakti Sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami examines the sixth offense: hari-nāmni kalpanam, “to ascribe one’s own imaginary meaning to the name.” In this context, he cites a verse from the Vyāsa-Gītā from Kurma Purāṇa:

        deva-drohād guru-drohaḥ koṭi-koṭi-guṇādhikaḥ

        jñānāpavādo nāstikyaṁ tasmāt koṭi-guṇādhikam

        Hostility toward one’s guru is millions upon millions of times worse than hostility toward the deity. To contradict the authorized conclusions of scripture (jñāna-apavāda) is atheism (nāstikyam), and to do so is millions of times worse than hostility toward one’s guru. (KP 2.16.18)

        So its better to leave such a guru than to continue supporting apasiddhantas.

  2. Below is the comment by Babaji on that anuccheda.Here Babaji says

    “He advises that one should not associate with such a guru. The disciple can offer respect to the guru from afar and may continue to accept him as his guru.”

    My doubt is what fault occurs if he gives up such guru..

    • There is no fault in giving up if he is envious of genuine Vaisnavas. Sri Jiva Goswami is saying this out of compassion for someone who does not want to give up the guru. You have to understand the mentality of Bharatiyas back then- giving up the guru is unthinkable. Its considered a great offense. For such a person- Sri Jiva is saying just keep your distance and this way, you do not have to give up the guru.

      But for one who wishes to follow shastra, there is no such option.

      • Thank you,I thought in a similar way,but just want to get confirmed whether my thinking is right or wrong..

        How to see Baladev Vidya bhushan’s case??It is because Madhvas are not exper in sastra and so did he give up?

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