„These are his two qualifications: he must have heard the Vedic knowledge through the disciplic succession (paramparā), and he must be established in service to the Supreme Lord (brahma-niṣṭham). He does not have to be a very learned scholar, but he must have heard from the proper authority.“ (1)
Last weekend I spend almost three days preparing and teaching the ISKCON Disciple Course. There we spoke a lot about the qualification of a bona fide guru. Ideally, such a person is a pure devotee, one who actually has realized God fully and therefore is able to give God-realization to his disciples. But Srila Prabhupada also emphasized the fact that sometimes the guru might not be of this highest caliber but still has to be considered boda fide:
„Generally the spiritual master comes from the group of such eternal associates of the Lord (like Bhaktivindoa Thakur), but anyone who follows the principles of such ever liberated persons is as good as one in the above-mentioned group.“ (2) So this indicates that there are different levels of gurus. Naturally, we would want to accept a most exalted, highly advanced personality as our guru.
But what about the disciple? What qualification do I have to possess to be truly called sisya, a disciple? While we often hear discussion on what are the requirements for someone to become a guru we rarely reflect on the qualities of a true disciple. This altough a true guru is actually in the first place a perfect disciple himself.
In the Uddhava-gita Lord Krishna describes the qualification a true disciple should possess:
He must give up interest in material bodily conception. He must give up material lust, anger, greed, illusion, madness and envy. He should be interested only in understanding the science of God, and he should consider all points in this matter. He should not longer think, „I am this body“, or, „This thing belongs to me.“ One must love the spiritual master with unflinching faith. One must be very steady and fixed. One should be inquisitive to understand transcendental subject matters. He must not search faults amongst others. He should not longer be interested in material topics. His only interest should be Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (3)
The scripture also mentions six kinds of unacceptable disciples:
ali - those who are fickle and unsteady as bees. bana - those who talk back in protest, piercing their master like an arrow jyotisaka - those who procrastinate, who do not follow instructions immediately, but who wait…and wait. stabdhi-bhuta - those who are lazy or inactive kimeka - those who refuse to try anything on their own presita-presaka - those who pass on the direct order they have received from their guru to another's without carrying out the orders themselves. (4)
Hearing this description I am asking myself, how much do I have become a true disciple?
Another important consideration in this regard is the fact that as a disciple I am eternally indebted to my spiritual master for he has given us Krishna.
„This indeed is the duty of all true disciples: to repay the debt to their spiritual master by offering him, with pure hearts, their wealth and even their very lives.“
And what is the most pleasing way to pay off this debt?
„Real remuneration to the spiritual master ist to teach others the knowledge one has received from him“
In this way, the cycle is closed again. The true sisya, the true disciple becomes a teacher himself and according to his or her capacity gives the same knowledge to other conditioned souls who then benefit from the transcendental knowledge given through parampara.
Anyhow, these are just some thoughts, some food for thoughts, as I completed teaching this course on discipleship. Hopefully I can become a true sisya one day! Teaching this subject matter certainly helps to go deeper in my one practice.
1 - Srila Prabhupada, Teachings of Kapila, Vers 4
2 - Srila Prabhupada Letter to Janardana, New York 26 April, 1968
3 - SB 11.10.6
4 - From `The Gayatri Book` by Sacinandana Swami, page 75
5 - SB 10.80.41