Question: A devotee takes initiation from a kaniṣṭha-adhikarī, or possibly even a madhyama-adhikarī Vaiṣṇava, but the guru’s chanting is at best nāmābhāsa, not śuddha-nāma and the guru cannot advance to the platform of an uttama Vaiṣṇava. Perhaps the guru falls down. By taking shelter of the predecessor ācāryas, can the disciple rise above his guru and chant śuddha-nāma?
In this case, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that one has to approach a śikṣā-guru who can give proper Kṛṣṇa conscious instruction. It is not sufficient just to take shelter of the ‘predecessor ācāryas’. If you stop and think about it, what is the proof that one is actually taking shelter of the predecessor ācāryas? Just reading books is not actually taking shelter. Shelter means āśraya, and that is a dynamic living energy of Kṛṣṇa represented by his devotee – not simply reading books. And when we read the books, the books say we should serve guru and Vaiṣṇava with loving affection and they will in turn reciprocate with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So we should never give up until we have found sad-guru.
Question: Another devotee cannot repose his faith in any Vaiṣṇava that he has seen, or perhaps he reasons that surrender takes place in the heart and that formal initiation is unnecessary, so he also chants under the shelter of the predecessor ācāryas. Is there a limit to the amount of advancement this devotee can make?
According to what I have learned from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, such a devotee is in limbo and does not make any real advancement in bhakti. Bhakti means Rādhārāṇī, and Rādhārāṇī is the Deity of faith. Without faith and service to guru and Vaiṣṇava, no advancement in bhakti is made. One can acquire great knowledge and scholarship by one’s own endeavours, but not actual bhakti. If one does not find a Vaiṣṇava in whom he can place his faith then it is understood that this so-called devotee is more or less cursed. He does not have the sukṛti to understand what a Vaiṣṇava is or to find one. Cursed indeed.