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The Responsibility of the Disciple to Test the Spiritual Master


When it is clear to aspirants that their choice is not limited to those already taking disciples, it should also be clear that they have the opportunity to study the qualifications of a whole range of possible spiritual masters, apart from those who are already initiating.


In ISKCON the range of acceptable spiritual masters is, however, limited by a certain principle. There are different sampradäyas and saìgas, and the members of those sampradäyas and saìgas, although respecting each other, follow their own leaders.

The eternal leader of our saìga, ISKCON, is Çréla Prabhupäda, and he had his own special vision about how to practice and spread Kåñëa consciousness. Devotees in ISKCON have decided to follow Çréla Prabhupäda because he is the one who saved them and is bringing them to Çré Kåñëa. They understand Prabhupäda as the most empowered Vaiñëava äcärya of modern times mainly because his vision and method of world-wide preaching is most effective for people in general. Not every Vaiñëava guru in the world has this same personal vision and mood. Accepting a guru who does not have the same vision and mood as Çréla Prabhupäda would create disharmony in the Society he created. Therefore, if someone is attracted to a guru who is functioning outside of ISKCON, the best arrangement is that he or she goes outside ISKCON to associate with that guru in the kind of environment the guru has created. Thus ISKCON members are limited to choose as guru only qualified devotees serving in ISKCON. (Note: This point could be explained to new devotees in a brochure on this topic to help them understand why such an ISKCON policy exists.)


But before making a final choice, they should personally test the guru. The testing may be in terms of basic qualifications: УIs this guru representing Çréla Prabhupäda and the previous äcäryas in the best way? Am I capable of accepting instruction from this guru?Ф Or the testing may extend to more personal requirements. A disciple may wonder, УWill this guru deal with me personally? Will this guru respond to my letters? Will I have a chance to personally serve this guru?Ф These considerations should be tested in advance.


This is in line with the instructions of Çréla Prabhupäda, who recommended that a disciple personally test a guru for at least one year before accepting initiation. Such recommendations can also be found in Hari-bhakti-viläsa, which gives practical instructions for executing devotional service in the Gauòéya Vaiñëava line. This responsibility to personally test and judge the guru remains whether or not the prospective guru already has dékñä disciples. In other words, a prospective disciple should not think, УWell, this guru already has disciples. This means that he is qualified, and so I donТt have to test him myself.Ф The disciple still must examine the guru.


УBlind following and absurd inquiries. These things are condemned in this verse. Blind following means: "Oh, there is a svämé. So many thousands of people are following. Let me become his disciple." This is called blind following. You do not know what is that svämé, whether he is a svämé or a rascal. You do not know. But because everyone is going, "Oh, let me become his disciple." This is blind following, without any knowledge, blind following.Ф(Prabhupäda BG lec. 4.34-39, 12 Jan. 1969, LA)


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