The Truth About Guru, Sadhu and Sastra


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 40, Summer 2013

Guru, Sadhu and Sastra ("GSS") is a most misunderstood and misapplied concept. So misunderstood that, shockingly, as we detail in this article, GSS is actually used by one of ISKCON's supposedly most "scholarly" gurus to claim justification for openly rejecting Srila Prabhupada's teachings. Below, we present Srila Prabhupada's actual teachings regarding GSS, as well as analyse how GSS has been misused (all emphases added).

1) Reject bogus guru

"Srila Narottama dasa Thakura says, sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, cittete kariya aikya. One should accept a thing as genuine by studying the words of saintly people, the spiritual master and sastra. The actual center is sastra, the revealed scripture. If a spiritual master does not speak according to revealed scripture, he is not to be accepted."
(Cc., Madhya-lila, 20.352)

"No difference, but one has to test whether he is holy man. Then you have to, he has to corroborate with the statement of the scripture. Spiritual master is to be tested whether he is holy man, and whether there is corroboration in the statement of the scriptures. Sadhu sastra guru vakya tinete koriya aikya. [...] The scripture should be consulted, and we should have to see whether it is corroborated. So we should not accept any man as spiritual master or holy man if he does not corroborate with the statement of the scripture. He's at once rejected."
(Srila Prabhupada Room Conversation, 11/5/1969)

GSS is, therefore, used as a test to determine when an individual should be rejected as a spiritual master. This is done by checking if the teachings of the person claiming to be guru corroborate with the statements of the scriptures. If they do not, then that individual is to be rejected as a spiritual master, period.

2) Select bona fide guru

"You have to corroborate whether guru, what guru is speaking, whether it is there in the scripture; what scripture is speaking, whether that is in the character of guru, or in the sadhu, saintly persons, or spiritual master. So you have to always make comparison with three things: sadhu, sastra, guru. Nobody can become a spiritual master who has no reference to the scriptures and these qualities."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 24/11/1966)

"Therefore Narottama dasa Thakura says, sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, tinete kariya aikya. If you want to know who is a spiritual master, if you know who is a saintly person, then you should keep in the middle the sastra, the scriptures, and you will corroborate. The saintly person, the spiritual master, and the sastra corroborate if they are abiding one another. Yes."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 12/9/1969)

Conversely, GSS is used to select the bona fide spiritual master. This is done by checking if the statements of the guru are corroborated with those of sadhus and the scriptures. Once such corroboration is found, the person can be recognised as being a bona fide spiritual master.

3) Guru doesn't mention anything outside sastra

""The real import of the scriptures is revealed to one who has unflinching faith in both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master." Srila Narottama dasa Thakura advises, sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, hrdaye kariya aikya. The meaning of this instruction is that one must consider the instructions of the sadhu, the revealed scriptures and the spiritual master in order to understand the real purpose of spiritual life. Neither a sadhu (saintly person or Vaisnava) nor a bona fide spiritual master says anything that is beyond the scope of the sanction of the revealed scriptures. Thus the statements of the revealed scriptures correspond to those of the bona fide spiritual master and saintly persons."
(Cc., Adi-lila, 7.48)

"As stated by Narottama dasa Thakura, sadhu-sastra-guru: one has to test all spiritual matters according to the instructions of saintly persons, scriptures and the spiritual master. The spiritual master is one who follows the instructions of his predecessors, namely the sadhus, or saintly persons. A bona fide spiritual master does not mention anything not mentioned in the authorized scriptures."
(SB, 4.16.1)

"Sadhu, sastra, and guru corroborate one another. A sadhu is he who talks and acts in terms of the scriptures. And the guru is a sadhu who personally teaches his disciples according to the scriptures. A guru cannot manufacture words that are not in the scriptures."
(Beyond Illusion and Doubt, Chapter 7)

A quality of the bona fide spiritual master is that he will never speak something which is not in accordance with sastra.

4) All three in agreement

"So sadhu, sastra, and guru are always in agreement."
(The Quest for Enlightenment, Chapter 4)

"Sadhu, sastra. And guru? Guru means who follows the sastra and sadhu. So there are three, the same."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 30/11/1976)

"Therefore sadhu and guru and sastra, they are identical."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, 13/11/1972)

Therefore, in summary, it is a fact that guru, sadhu and sastra all three will always be in agreement with each other.

Srila Prabhupada's teachings rejected

Srila Prabhupada describes the following pastime of Lord Krsna saving Draupadi from being disrobed, in a purport in the Srimad-Bhagavatam:

"once Draupadi was dragged out, and attempts were made to insult her by stripping her naked in the vicious assembly of the Kurus. The Lord saved Draupadi by supplying an immeasurable length of cloth, and Duryodhana's party failed to see her naked."
(SB, 1.8.24)

And Srila Prabhupada refers repeatedly to this disrobing pastime; again in the Bhagavatam, in his other books, and in lectures.

However, ISKCON guru and supposed "scholar" (he had been chosen by the GBC to complete the 11th and 12th cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and wrote "purports" for the same) HH Hridayananda Dasa Goswami ("HD"), does not have faith in these words of Srila Prabhupada. In regards to the disrobing of Draupadi he states: "I seriously wonder if this incident took place" ("Q&A Srila Acaryadeva", 24/5/2013) and "I have some doubts about the Draupadi story" ("Q&A Srila Acaryadeva", 5/6/2013). HD states that his doubts arise because in the verses of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (as opposed to Srila Prabhupada's purports), he finds that "there is not a word about disrobing her (Draupadi)" ("Q&A Srila Acaryadeva", 24/5/2013).

However, the Srimad-Bhagavatam does not claim to offer a full account of the pastimes involving the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada is not contradicting sastra by giving a fuller account of such pastimes. Also, HD himself states that Srila Prabhupada was particularly concerned about the contents of his purports, over and above even the translation of verses:

"He (Srila Prabhupada) even told his Sanskrit editors, just before his disappearance, that he was interested in only doing purports, not translations, since the purports were his real concern."
("Q&A Srila Acharyadeva", 5/6/2013)

And yet, HD contradictorily claims that Srila Prabhupada would deviate from sastra in his purports, even though they were "his real concern".

GSS misused - 1

HD then also attempts to use GSS to justify his doubts about Srila Prabhupada's stating that Draupadi was disrobed:

"Prabhupada made it very clear that a Guru is not infallible when not repeating Shastra. [...] 3. Prabhupada and Shastra also clearly teach that one must apply the test of Guru, Sadhu, and Shastra. So, in obedience to all these principles, and based on what I read in Srimad Bhagavatam, I have some doubts about the Draupadi story."
("Q&A Srila Acharyadeva", 5/6/2013)

By referring to the 4 conclusions we have just established regarding GSS on the previous page, we can immediately show how HD's reasoning above is false.

a) Srila Prabhupada does not state, as HD implies here, that sometimes the bona fide guru will speak in line with sastra and at other times he will not speak in line with sastra. Rather, GSS conclusions 3 and 4 from the previous page established that Srila Prabhupada states that the bona fide guru will always be in agreement with sastra.

b) GSS conclusions 1 and 2 from the previous page established that Srila Prabhupada teaches that the "test" of GSS is only relevant in order to determine whether or not a person claiming to be a guru is actually a bona fide guru. Srila Prabhupada does not teach that GSS should be used to test an actual bona fide guru and his teachings. Srila Prabhupada is a bona fide guru, and HD does not dispute this. Therefore, HD's point here about what Srila Prabhupada teaches regarding GSS is not at all applicable to Srila Prabhupada and his statements regarding Draupadi's disrobing. Thus, HD cannot claim that his "doubts about the Draupadi story" are in "obedience to these principles" of GSS.

Therefore, HD's claims regarding what Srila Prabhupada teaches about the statements of the guru, and applying the "test" of guru, sadhu and sastra, are both false.

c) Hence, HD misusing GSS has led his understanding of what Srila Prabhupada states to become back to front. Srila Prabhupada states that GSS is used to examine someone's teachings in order to determine if that person is a bona fide guru. Srila Prabhupada does not state that GSS is to be used to determine if the teachings of the bona fide guru are bona fide! Therefore, Srila Prabhupada does not teach that GSS should be used to see which of his teachings should be rejected or accepted, since he states that the teachings of the bona fide guru are always bona fide (GSS conclusions 2, 3 and 4 from the previous page).

GSS misused - 2

HD's understanding about GSS is also back to front in another way. It is not that the disciple, HD, should independently try to understand sastra in order to "test" and correct his guru, Srila Prabhupada. Rather, the disciple understands sastra from the guru:

"Narottama dasa Thakura states that one has to ascertain the right path for his activities by following in the footsteps of great saintly persons and books of knowledge under the guidance of a spiritual master (sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya). [...] The word guru refers to one who gives proper direction under the authority of the Vedic injunctions and according to the examples of the lives of great personalities."
(SB, 4.21.28-29)

"what is spoken in the scripture is followed and explained by the spiritual master, and he explains only that."
(The Quest for Enlightenment, Chapter 4)


In attempting to correct Srila Prabhupada by claiming that Srila Prabhupada may be contradicting the sastras, HD is violating the following teaching, which he himself promulgated:

"The conclusion is not that a disciple may correct his spiritual master who is a great acarya. The conclusion is that the acaryas may adjust the acaryas. After all, Srila Prabhupada stated that the entire Vedic culture is going on under the authority of the acaryas. So if someone presumes to correct Srila Prabhupada, that person must believe himself or herself to be the next acarya, because who else but an acarya could correct an acarya?"
(Our Original Position, GBC, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami et. al.)

Therefore, in attempting to give an understanding that is different to Srila Prabhupada's understanding, HD is implying that he is the next acarya!

Ironically, the first part of the first quote used in GSS Conclusion 3 from the previous page, states:

Srila Prabhupada's teachings are sastric

"The real import of the scriptures is revealed to one who has unflinching faith in both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master."
(Cc., Adi-lila, 7.48)

Thus, it is in HD's interest to have "unflinching faith" in his spiritual master, rather than doubting some of his teachings, if he wishes to understand the real message of sastra, as taught by the acarya, Srila Prabhupada. For, as this analysis has shown, he has not yet understood Srila Prabhupada's teachings regarding guru, sadhu and sastra.

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