Guru and Disciple: New questions are the same as the old ones

I often get asked questions by people who are looking for a guru: “What sort of teacher should I be looking for?” is shortly followed by: “And where do I begin looking for someone like that?”

After they’ve thought a few moments the next question is: “What sort of things do I have to do before I can become someone’s student?” “What happens if I don’t quite measure up?”

Some time later the questions are more about what will happen after they become initiated: “What is he supposed to teach me?” “How do I know if he’s teaching me the right things?”

Lots of questions but, strangely enough, the same questions that people have been asking for a long time. Proof of this is that way back in the 14th century a great spiritual teacher named Vedanta Deshika gave answers to these questions in a short book  – Nyasa Vimsati. The answers proved so popular and correct that Gopala Bhatta Goswami included them in his handbook of devotional practise, standard for Gaudiya Vaishnavas for the last 500 years.

This is one post for those who like lists! (But worth the effort of reading it)

Fourteen Qualities of the Guru

Taken from the Nyasa Vimsati by Vedanta Deshika (1268-1370)

As included in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa by Gopala Bhatta Goswami (1503-1578)

  1. Sat-sampradaya siddham – He is firmly established in the sampradaya
  2. Sthira dhiyam – His mind remains firmly fixed, even in debates based on deceitful reasoning
  3. Anagam – Free from sin, and never swerves from shastra
  4. Srotriyam – Fully conversant with the Vedas and Vedanta
  5. Brahma nistham – He has resolute devotion to God, free from blemishes
  6. Sattvastham – Dominated by sattva guna
  7. Satya vacam – Free from deceitful speech, he always tells the truth
  8. Samaya niyataya sadu vritya sametam – Adept at anushtanams (prayers and religious practices).
  9. Dambha asuyadhi muktam – No inauspicious characteristics such as egoism or jealousy
  10. Jita visayi ganam – Does not engage in conduct prohibited by the Bhagavat shastras. Has controlled senses
  11. Dirgha bandhum – He is a friend and guide for all those who have sought his  refuge, always seeking their welfare, and lifting them up  to the ultimate destination
  12. Dayalum – Has spontaneous compassion and kindness for his disciples
  13. Skhalite sasitaram – Corrects his disciples and recommends improving actions for  them
  14. Svapara hitaparam – Determines what is mutually good for him and his sisya (disciple) and acts accordingly

Fifteen Qualities of the Good Disciple

  1. Sadh buddhi – Good intelligence
  2. Sadhu sevi – He has the disposition to mingle with, and serve, the sadhus
  3. Samucita carita – He is marked for his righteous conduct, both personal and social
  4. Tattva bodha abhilasi – Has an eagerness to learn spiritual teaching
  5. Susrusu – He excels in helping the guru in his seva
  6. Tyakta mana – He has become humble or at least free from the gross manifestations of pride
  7. Pranipatena para – He has implicit obedience to the guru and bows down in his presence
  8. Prasna kala pratiksa – He waits for the right time to clear his doubts about what he has learned from the acarya
  9. Santa – He is peaceful and self-controlled
  10. Danta – Controls both his mind and speech
  11. Anasuya – Free from jealousy
  12. Saranam upagata – Always eager to hear ‘instructions of divine grace’ from his guru
  13. Sastra visvas Sali – Has total faith in shastra
  14. Paristam prapta – Ready to undergo any tests set by the guru for assessing his state of preparedness to be accepted as a deserving disciple
  15. Krita-vid sisya – He will be a grateful disciple for all that is to be received from the acarya.

Vedanta Deshika concludes: “Tattvata – abhimatam sikshaniya.” (Truly, such a person with these qualities is fit for instruction by the acarya).

Four Key Instructions the Guru must teach the Disciple

  1. The creation, sustenance and dissolution of everything that is animate and inanimate are under the total control of the Lord and His consort. We have to comprehend the Lord as:

(a)    Jagat Karanan – The Creator of all

(b)   Jagat Rakshakan – The Protector of all

(c)    Sarva Samharakan – The Destroyer of all Creations

(d)   Karma Pravrtti Niyamakan – The Commander of all acts initiated by the soul

(e)   Sarva Karma Phala Dhayakan – The Granter of the fruits of all karmas

2. Understanding this unique role of the Lord, please do not consider anyone else as your goal.

3. Do not seek anyone other than Him as a means to reach Him.

4. Knowing that both fear and fearlessness about samsara arises from Him, please do not break His commands in shastra.


Filed under Guru-Disciple, Journal

7 responses to “Guru and Disciple: New questions are the same as the old ones

  1. Thanks for this post Prabhu, I really appreciated reading it. A mix of naivety, sentimentalism and plain old karma gave me a strong lesson in the importance of qualified guru/disciple after someone I accepted as guru didn’t live up to many of the expectations given above. A lot of people were hurt as a result of that. Last year I spent some time studying guru-tattva after seeing there is quite an ocean of guru problems beyond my small bitter lesson.

    It is really useful to have these guides from our previous acaryas for proper analysis so others can avoid making the same mistakes. Thanks for sharing. Also, you may have seen them but your godbrother Sureshvara prabhu has some interesting seminars on the topic of guru in relation to Śrīla Prabhupāda ( ). I found these very helpful as well. Hare Kṛṣṇa.

    • There’s also more on ‘Guru and Disciple’ on this site under ‘Categories’ if you want to have a look. If you’re anywhere near Britain you might like our one-day course of the same name we run twice a year at the Manor and in some other locations.

  2. Thanks Kripamoya Prabhu, I’ll definitely take a look at those posts. I’ll check out the Manor site as well to see if I’ll be in the UK on the dates you run it.

  3. Vedanta Deshika’s prescription for a guru might not be exhaustive, but the qualifications for a guru were well known in his time and would have incorporated the shortlist of Rupa Goswami you quoted.

    Remember that Upadeshamrita was written to be as short as possible, and that the Hari Bhakti Vilas was written by Sanatana Goswami to be as inclusive as possible.

  4. What does it mean to be Brahma nistham?

    • Good question. As I understand, ‘nistham’ means ‘fixed’ so the meaning is ‘fixed in brahman’ or ‘firmly established in transcendence.’

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