Although each disciple in ISKCON has a unique relationship with his or her Guru, in my observation there are some general characteristics that can be outlined.
Firstly, Gurus tend have disciples in many areas of the globe, and rarely do disciples live in close proximity with their Guru for extended periods of time. The primary reason that Gurus and disciples live apart is that Gurus tend to travel, often making disciples in parts of the globe they may only visit a few times a year, if that. The lack of a close connection between Guru and Disciple is also due to the transient nature of our society.
It is structured in such a way that people move here and there for their jobs, education, etc. One of the most problematic results of the temporal nature of Guru-Disciple relationships in ISKCON is that Guru tends to mean a preacher of doctrines derived from various sources, but this does not allow him to be a teacher.
I distinguish “teacher” from “preacher” in that the former systematically educates the student in a particular body of knowledge or book over an extended period of time. After being taught the student knows the contents of that body of knowledge, and upon further study is in a position to teach it to others.
A preacher on the other hand does not stay with the student for a period of time long enough to complete a series of lectures or classes on an entire book (say, the Bhagavad-gita). Unlike teaching (good teaching that is) preaching is not systematic. A preacher may speak on the basis of inspiration and personal realization rather than merely convening the contents of a book as a teacher does. A preacher often jumps from one text to another, for instance lecturing on the Gita one night and the Bhagavatam the next day; and this is done even without making the logical connections between texts or topics lectured upon.
I say Gurus in ISKCON are preachers because ISKCON Gurus rarely take the time systematically teach a particular book to their students. Rather, most instruction is a unsystematic, bouncing from one book to the next over the course of a few days. I think that this definition and conception of a Guru has been fine for some people in ISKCON, but for others it is inadequate.
I do not wish to suggest that preaching is unimportant, but that preaching without teaching is incomplete. From this main problem—preachers without teachers—a number of problematic consequences follow. One is that ISKCON is mainly made up of people whose knowledge of sastra has been collected piecemeal, from a wide range of sources and in an unsystematic manner. Even those ISKCON members getting PhDs or something of that sort were never educated in sastra. Thus, devotee PhDs may know Sanskrit from Indologists, philosophy from the Western philosophers, science from the scientists, etc., but we do not know sastra from the their Guru. Those that do not go into academics are just left with a mish-mash body of information.
Another danger is that without a strong foundation in sastra, the worldview of ISKCON will simply float wherever the winds of Western culture thrust it. The worldview might change even without us knowing it, for if there are no Gurus whose knowledge is firmly rooted in sastra, then no one would be able to determine a deviation from a genuine teaching based on sastra. I think we need to introduce into ISKCON the notion that Guru-ship can be more than an itinerate preacher. We need to show that a Guru can also be a systematic resident teacher.
We must re-conceptualize the role of the Guru to that of an educator in sastra, or in the very least this conception must be added to the current view.
By Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura (Translation by Sriman Kushakrata Dasa)
9. The rocks of Govardhana Hill are all precious gems. Some are sapphires, some emeralds, some rubies, and others crystals. These rocks provide the perfect backdrop for Lord Krishna’s pastimes.
10. If while walking on Govardhana Hill Krishna’s elder brother Balarama sees a series of golden stones, He thinks, "The daughter of King Vrshabhanu must have just now walked before Me," and He changes course to avoid an awkward situation. In the same way, if Sri Radha sees a series of crystals, She thinks, "Balarama must have just walked before Me," and She changes course.
11. If on Govardhana Hill, which is the best of Lord Hari’s servants, Sri Krishna sees a golden stone, He takes it to be His beloved. Similarly, if His beloved sees a sapphire, She assumes it is Her lover.
yasyāṅga-śobhā na vilobhayanti
kambā-nikuñjeṣu darīṣu dṛṣṭāḥ |
kṛṣṇasya kāntā nivahasya hārā-
12. The gopis’ necklaces, ornaments, red foot cosmetic, betelnuts, and other paraphernalia gaze on the beauty of Govardhana Hill’s groves and caves. Who would not become enchanted by Govardhana Hill's beauty?
13. Sri Krishna is the sapphire and the gopis the golden necklaces ornamenting Govardhana Hill. The pastimes of Krishna and the gopis are the sons and daughters of Govardhana Hill. Who is able to describe Govardhana Hill's glories?
"Hitler also believed in "Do not murder." But it was his law that had been legislated, and it was therefore he who determined to whom it applied and to whom it did not. Indeed, Hitchens overlooks that the world's foremost genocides have all been committed by secular, atheistic regimes that maintained the right to determine which lives were worth preserving, and which worth discarding.
Hitler murdered at least 12 million. Stalin, another 30 million. Mao, perhaps 40 million. And Pol Pot killed one third of all Cambodians in the mid 1970s. The number of people killed by the secular atheist regimes of the 20th century dwarfs by far those killed in the name of religion since the beginning of recorded history."
I think this is a good point to counter the inevitable surge of pop-intellectual atheistic arguments that are sure to follow the series of books propounding atheism and evolutionary theory that have topped the best seller lists as of late. I sourced this from Kripamoya Prabhu's blog where he cites a recent debate between Rabbi Shmuley Boteach from Oxford and Christopher Hitchens who published his rancorous attack against religion, God Is Not Great, currently the number-one selling book in America.
Sometimes Krishna lets it look like the demons (psychopaths) have the advantage. This is just so its all the more relishable when the devotee sinks the boot - and, of course, Krishna likes to give all credit to the devotee and vice-versa.
Do the innocent really know the cultural implications of what they are embracing in the so-called 'evolutionary based moral framework' where right is distinguished from wrong based on what is good for the survival of the species? Just listen to the rabbi wield his divinely inspired intellect in this modern day battle between good and evil:
"According to Sir Arthur Keith, Britain's leading evolutionary scientist of the mid-20th century, Hitler's ideas of a master race were the direct product of evolutionary thinking. Keith wrote:
"To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produced the only real basis for a national policy... The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter... The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution... war is the necessary outcome of Darwin's theory."
Thomas Huxley, the man most responsible for the widespread acceptance of evolution, remarked, "No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man." In fact, after evolutionary theory was posited in 1859, questions of whether blacks were even of the same species as whites changed to questions of whether or not Africans could survive competition against Europeans.
The momentous answer was a resounding no. The African was the inferior because he represented the "missing link" between ape and man, according to the evolutionists."
We should be enjoying this sort of fight ourselves. All we have to do is tell it like it is. The faithful leaders of other religious movements are fighting the battle now with far less adequate weaponry than Srila Prabhupada gave us.
The fact is that the Supreme Lord is present everywhere and within everyone so we just need to give people the opportunity to come in contact with the realistic teachings that Krishna gives us. That's our job description as servants of the parampara. The less adulterated our attempts are to do this then the more instrumental we actually are in Krishna's hand.
Bhagavad-gītā As It Is 11.33:
Therefore get up. Prepare to fight and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasācī, can be but an instrument in the fight.
Savya-sācin refers to one who can shoot arrows very expertly in the field; thus Arjuna is addressed as an expert warrior capable of delivering arrows to kill his enemies. "Just become an instrument": nimitta-mātram. This word is also very significant. The whole world is moving according to the plan of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Foolish persons who do not have sufficient knowledge think that nature is moving without a plan and all manifestations are but accidental formations. There are many so-called scientists who suggest that perhaps it was like this, or maybe like that, but there is no question of "perhaps" and "maybe." There is a specific plan being carried out in this material world. What is this plan? This cosmic manifestation is a chance for the conditioned souls to go back to Godhead, back to home. (read more)
So the outlook of the devotee and the psychopath are distinct in that the devotee of God embraces a positive concept of eternal life and a deeply satisfying primordial relationship with a Perfect Person. The evolutionary atheist refuses such optimism in favor of a mechanistic existential summation of themselves and all other forms of life. In this way they can justify genocide, patricide, homicide, environmental exploitation and practically every other social ill we face today as merely consequences of our inherent will to survive.
Moreover, they are fully ignorant that even the observable will to survive that is instinctive to every species of life is a result of our far more deeply rooted identification as an undying spiritual entity. Otherwise, why even bother with the concept of survival? What's it worth? Where did the basic notion of continuation of our life even come from? If we are just a lump of chemicals then why bother with the hassle of survival? Who put that instinct to survive there? How can composite helixes of DNA develop the desire to sustain themselves as a species? Where does this consciousness come from? Enough with the rhetorical questions - this is where the death-mongering atheistic so-called thinkers get stuck. They cannot answer this question without accepting that even the very perspective from which they posit their own dim theories exists beyond the scope of their sensory perception.
"A devotee feels the presence of God everywhere, yet a person averse to the Lord denies his existence anywhere."
- Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura
By the way - I eagerly anticipate every article posted by stalwart Prabhupadanuga Kripamoya Prabhu. They are usually a bit lengthy but well worth the sacrifice of attention span - he's giving valuable association via this medium that we young bucks would be unfortunate not to take advantage of.
Devotee: "We would like to know what would please you the most."
Prabhupada's reply was brief and to the point. "Understand Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, become perfect and distribute this knowledge to your fellow countrymen."
Guest: Swamiji, what is Krsna consciousness?
Prabhupada: What Krsna says, you hear and do.
- Morning Walk, December 5, 1976 Hyderabad
"So this paramparā system, the subject I was discussing, that how I become the representative of Kṛṣṇa, it is not very difficult. Everyone can become a representative of Kṛṣṇa provided he exactly presents what Kṛṣṇa says. That's all. Just like a peon, he is also representative of the postal department, ordinary peon. How he becomes representative of the whole postal system? If he delivers your letter or money order without mishandling it, as it is. You have... Some friend has sent you some money order. He gives you the paper, you sign, and he pays you. But if he pilfers the method(?), then he is no longer representative. He becomes thief, rogue.
So representative of Kṛṣṇa is also in the same way. If you present Kṛṣṇa's word as it is, without pilfering, without any adulteration, then you become Kṛṣṇa's representative. There is no difficulty. But, unfortunately, people want to show their scholarship, that "I understand Bhagavad-gītā from this angle of vision." Why should you try to understand Bhagavad-gītā from a different angle of vision? The first preference should be given to the author. The author has given you some knowledge, so he has got some particular aim and objective. So why should you change that? You have no right to change that. If you want to speak something from your side, you write your own book. Why should you take advantage of the popular book of Bhagavad-gītā and misrepresent it? That is the fun. You see?
So Kṛṣṇa has said, "Surrender unto Me," I say "You surrender to Kṛṣṇa," I become guru. Even though I am a fool number one, I become guru, because I am repeating what Kṛṣṇa has said. That's all. I don't require any education. Very simple thing. Everyone can become guru if he simply repeats what Kṛṣṇa has said, that's all.
Umāpati: I was reading the writings of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Jaiva Dharma.
Umāpati: And he is explaining the word "śraddhā," and he defines it in there as the tendency of the mind towards devotion without regard to jnāna or karma.
Umāpati: Śraddhā. And I have heard it variously interpreted as meaning "faith" or "belief," which really falls short of that interpretation.
Prabhupāda: What is that interpretation?
Umāpati: Could you elaborate on the definition of śraddhā?
Prabhupāda: Śraddhā is explained in Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Śraddhā means firm conviction. That is śraddhā. Just like Kṛṣṇa says that "I am the Supermost." So if you have firm conviction in Kṛṣṇa's words, that is śraddhā.
Prabhupāda: If you have doubts, then that is not śraddhā.
Umāpati: So therefore one can understand only if one is in śraddhā.
Prabhupāda: No, that śraddhā has to be increased.
Umāpati: How it is increased?
Prabhupāda: The beginning of śraddhā means firm conviction.
Umāpati: How is it śraddhā does not exist in one person, and it does exist...
Prabhupāda: No, śraddhā is there. It has to be awakened.
Umāpati: Śraddhā is in every person then.
Prabhupāda: Yes. Therefore I say it is covered. It is covered. That covering has to be taken away. That is called culture.