For newcomers, the best safeguard against being misled is to become trained to make educated choices instead of whimsical or sentimental ones. When I hear that people chose someone as their guru because he/she gave them a garland or she/he praised their kirtana singing, I can understand that these disciples have no idea what criteria to use in seeking a guru. The guru who accepts such unqualified disciples also has no idea what is a guru, and in this matter, has no idea what is a disciple. ISKCON, is responsible for such a poor standard of education. Therefore, we should educate devotees about guru-tattva based on a balanced presentation of Prabhupada’s books.
The solution to the problem of poor education is not in adjusting the parampara philosophy, but in better education. What usually happens is that instead of teaching neophytes the principle and letting them take responsibility to apply the principle, we “teach” them who is a guru. No doubt there are motives behind this approach. The innocent newcomer then ends up choosing a guru first and understanding the principle of guru five years down the road, if he or she lasts that long.
Another remedy is to be careful not to allow unqualified persons to take up the service of being guru. This will be a little difficult. I have a godbrother who told me that he is routinely advised to become a guru, not because people are inspired by his preaching and example and therefore clamoring to be his disciples, but because it would be one way to solve the economic problems in his zone and his personal economic problems as well.
Such advice would be bad enough, because this is not a reason to take up the service of guru at all, to solve one’s zonal economic problems, but when personal economic problems are thrown in for good measure and when one considers that some of the people dispensing such advice are themselves gurus, one naturally wonders how many must be following their own advice.
Yet another countermeasure is to have more stringent procedures for awarding the service of guru. Right now, it is easier to become a guru than to take sannyasa in our society, which is a curious anomaly, because a sannyasi is already supposed to be the spiritual head in society. But one can become the spiritual head in a very real sense, guru, while not qualified to be a sannyasi. This does not make rational sense, but we are Vaishnavas, transcendental to rational thinking, therefore, why should we concern ourselves with nitpicking worries about consistency between what we do and the varnasrama model? Small wonder, therefore, that the ritvik-vadis can score points on ISKCON.
Rational sense is that minimum standard requirement for taking the service of guru should be the same as that for sannyasa, so that once one takes sannyasa he is qualified to be guru, except, of course, those disciples of living gurus. Conversely, anyone who becomes guru is qualified to take sannyasa. Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s guideline is,
“Whoever knows the science of Krishna can be guru”.