Spiritual succession

Eleven gurus iskconby Guru-prasad das

A spiritual master or Acharya has two kinds of authority. On the one hand he has what is called “traditional authority”; the hereditary authority. But he also has “spiritual authority”. Spiritual authority is something which stems from his personal qualities, not just an inherited status.

It is an Acharyas spiritual qualities which gives him real authority. He exhibits complete command of scriptures, an unusual depth of realization, and an outstanding personal example because he actually lives what he teaches.

When the Acharya appoints a successor, the idea of a traditional transfer of authority seems fairly easy. The successor follows the footsteps of the Acharya. There is transfer of traditional authority. What is difficult, or rather impossible, is to transfer spiritual authority.

It seems that if a crisis in leadership emerges after an Acharya leaves, it usually has its origins in the misunderstanding of the transmission of authority. When spiritual authority is absent in a successor, he is unable to fulfil his primary duty, which is to act as an Acharya, or one who teaches by example.

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