Question: Who is an ācārya?
Answer: The definition of the term ‘ācārya’ is as follows:
svayamācarate yastu ācāre sthāpayatyapi ācinoti ca śāstrārthānācāryastena cocyate
He who collects the [essential] meanings of śāstra [i.e. explains them to the disciple], models [them] in his own behavior [ācarate], and inculcates [them] in the behavior [ācāre] [of the disciple], is called an ācārya.
So he (or she) should know śāstra, teach śāstra, teach the disciple how to apply śāstra and also live according to the same principles himself.
Question: How can we recognize an ācārya?
Answer: The above definition should help. Basically the term ācārya refers to the guru. One can also think about this verse spoken by Śrī Śiva to Pārvati:
guravo bahavaḥ santi śiṣyavittapahārakaḥ, durlabhaḥ sa gururloke śiṣyacintāpahārakaḥ
There are many gurus who relieve their disciples of their money. That guru is rare in the world, who relieves disciples of their worries/anxieties.
Question: I read your recent post on leaving the guru. Is this allowed by śāstra? Isn’t it an offense.
Answer: That was a reply given by Śrī Babaji to a question and it contains quotations from the śāstra. Here is one more statement from the Nārada-pañcarātra:
sa guruḥ paramo vairī yo dadāti hy asan-matim | taṁ namas-kṛtya sat-śiṣyaḥ prayāti jñānadaṁ gurum ||
That guru is the greatest enemy, who gives improper understanding [of scripture]. Having offered respect to him, a genuine disciple goes to that guru who gives [proper] knowledge.
Basically if the guru gives improper knowledge, then he or she is not doing the function of a guru. If the disciple is a sat-śiṣya, which I translated above as “genuine disciple”, that is one who genuinely wants to understand śāstra and live its principles, then there is no option for him or her but to go in search of a guru who has that knowledge. That is allowed.
Question: But isn’t it an offense to leave one’s guru?
Answer: If we stay, we may become offensive to śāstra. Śrī Jīva Goswami cites a verse from the Vyāsa-Gītā from Kurma Purāṇa in the Bhakti Sandarbha in the context of offenses:
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)