I posted an article yesterday about how the modern approach to guru-disciple relationship is inefficient, but the traditional approach – in which the guru accepts few disciples and gives them full attention – is much better. Many people responded by pointing to gurus who had thousands of disciples, and disciples who spent half a minute with their gurus but achieved spiritual success often surpassing even the guru.
Rules must cater to norms, not exceptions. A system is mostly useless if it only works when the participants are exceptional. We need a system that works well under normal conditions, with normal participants. We need a system that works with gurus and disciples that we actually have on hand right now in the real world. Yes, Dhruva heard five or ten minutes of instruction from Nārada and then achieved Hari darśan in six months. However we are not Dhruva and our gurus are not Nārada.
Even Nārada says this. When Nārada glorifies Dhruva to the Pracetas (Bhāg 4.12.41-43) he says that no one else can do what Dhruva did.
We should not try to follow people who are very different from us, we should try to follow people who are sajātīya – similar to us. The standard procedure for the normal guru-disciple relationship, seen throughout Vedic history, is this: the student goes to live with the Guru in his or her home/āśrama and spends a number of years there studying humbly and diligently from the Guru. By living together, the student gets to know everything about the Guru and the Guru gets to know everything about the student. They come to share the same contexts, references, experiences, connotations, etc. The disciple matures rapidly in those years spent living with the guru, untill finally, like a full-grown child, the student leaves the āśrama to apply what he or she has learned for the benefit of family, society, the world, and the Supreme.
That’s the norm, it’s the standard, because it’s what works best for the vast majority of gurus and the vast majority of students. Therefore it’s the system we should adopt, since after all we are pretty lucky if we can even be considered a normal everyday guru or disciple.
Yes, some exceptional personalities accept 1,000s of disciples – but they also establish ways to ensure that each disciple receives their full attention. Bhaktivedāntra Swāmī Prabhupāda, for example, accepted over four thousand disciples, but spent hours every day writing them letters, and, even more important, writing books with commentaries very specifically tailored to the exact circumstances his disciples were in. Through the written word he extended beyond his physical limitations and provided care for each disciple.
Bhaktivedānta Swāmī, to continue that pertinent example, was also exceptionally powerful and transcendentally enriched. He was a “superhero.” A superhero can punch a hole through a wall of solid metal, but if the superhero’s fans try to do the same, they break their hands and the wall remains standing.
“Lava-mātra sādhu saṅga sarva-siddhi haya” was not intended by its exalted speaker to justify an argument that deep and extended association with guru is unnecessary for the majority of people. It was intended, as is clear from its context, to glorify the power of associating with a spiritualist. “Association with a spiritualist is so wonderful, even a moment of it grants all success” does not mean “you should only spend a moment with a spiritualist.” We may think a quote supports an idea, but if the majority of the culture in which that quote was spoken doesnt follow the idea we think the quote supports, we are very likely wrong. The vast majority of Vedic culture recorded in śāstra follows the tradition of gurukula – which literally means “joining the guru’s family.” The student lives with the guru, and thus the guru does not accept more students than can literally fit under his (thatched) roof.
We, the pretty normal folks, need to follow the pretty normal system – wherein a guru accepts only a few disciples and concentrates on helping them become realized experts, without constantly concentrating on attracting new people.
– Vraja Kishor dās