By Bhakti Raghava Swami
Om Surabhyai namah! Om Sri Gurave namah!
“Guru Tattva” or “truth/understanding about the spiritual master” is a major theme that is dealt with extensively in the Vedic literatures. We will only touch upon a few basic but essential points in this article. In keeping with the Vedic custom when dealing with such a weighty topic, the tradition is to offer humble respects to the spiritual master seeking his blessings for obtaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Guru Gives Krishna
sri-guru-carana-padma kevala bhakati-sadma
bando mui savadhana mate
jahara prasade bhai ei bhava toriya jai
krishna prapti hoya jaha hate
“The lotus feet of the spiritual master are the abode of pure devotional service. I bow down to those lotus feet with great care and attention. My dear brother (my dear mind)! It is through the grace of the spiritual master that we cross over this material existence and obtain Krishna.”
These are the words composed by one of the foremost Acaryas (Spiritual Masters), Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura, in his prayer Sri Guru Vandana
(Prayers to the Spiritual Master) from the Prema-bhakti-candrika.
We can immediately get a glimpse of the utmost importance of guru in one’s life. Without the mercy or grace of the spiritual master, one cannot cross over this material existence and thus one cannot obtain the lotus feet of Lord Krishna. All the Vedic literatures stress the need of taking shelter of “Sri Guru” who can give one “divya jnana”, transcendental knowledge, by which one can realize both oneself and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna so that one can one day become qualified to return to our original home in the spiritual kingdom of God, Vaikuntha loka.
Qualifications to Accept Guru
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna that if one wants to understand about Tattva or the “absolute truth”, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master:
tad viddhi pranipatena / pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnana / jnaninas tattva-darsinah
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” [Gita 4.34]
The three qualifications for the sincere student are clearly revealed in this important verse. First comes “pranipat”, submissiveness of mind or humility. Without recognizing our fallen condition, we cannot approach a spiritual master. Once we demonstrate submissiveness, we become qualified to put forth questions, “prasna”, to such a bona-fide spiritual master. That is also the instruction given in the first aphorism of the Vedanta-sutra, athato brahma jijnasa, now that we have acquired this human form of life, we should be inquisitive about Brahman and thus unravel the meaning and purpose of life. Srila Prabhupada comments in this connection: “This inquiry is necessary for those who are between the paramahamsas and the fools who have forgotten the question of self-realization in the midst of life in sense gratification.” [SB 3.7.17] To receive the mercy of guru by which we can understand things, after approaching him with a submissive mind and being inquisitive, we must then render some service, “seva”.
This is confirmed by Srila Rupa Goswami, another great Vaisnava Acarya, in his book Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu:
atah sri-krishna-namadi/ na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau / svayam eva sphuraty adah
“No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Sri Krishna through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.”
Only the Fortunate Find a Bona-fide Guru Srila Prabhupada comments on a verse found in the teachings of Lord Caitanya indicating the great fortunate of a living entity who finally finds shelter of a bona-fide guru:
ei rupe brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
[Cc. Madhya 19.151]
“Among all the living entities wandering throughout the universe, one who is most fortunate comes in contact with a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and thus gets the opportunity to execute devotional service.” Those who are sincerely seeking the favor of Krishna come in contact with a guru, a bona fide representative of Krishna. The Mayavadis indulging in mental speculation and the karmis desiring the results of their actions cannot become gurus.
A guru must be a direct representative of Krishna who distributes the instructions of Krishna without any change. Thus only the most fortunate persons come in contact with the guru.
As confirmed in the Vedic literatures, tad- vijnanarthah sa gurum evabhigacchet: [MU 1.2.12] one has to search out a guru to understand the affairs of the spiritual world. Srimad- Bhagavatam also confirms this point. Tasmad gurum prapadyeta jiynasuh sreya uttamam: [SB 11.3.21] one who is very interested in understanding the activities in the spiritual world must search out a guru—a bona fide representative of Krishna. From all angles of vision, therefore, the word guru is especially meant for the bona fide representative of Krishna and no one else. Padma Purana states, avaisnavo gurur na syat: one who is not a Vaisnava, or who is not a representative of Krishna, cannot be a guru.
Even the most qualified brahmana cannot become a guru if he is not a representative of Krishna.” [SB 5-17-11] sat-karma-nipuno vipro/ mantra-tantra-viaaradah avaisnavo gurur na syad / vaisnavah sva-paco guruh “A scholarly brahmana, expert in all subjects of Vedic knowledge, is unfit to become a spiritual master without being a Vaisnava, or expert in the science of Krishna consciousness. But a person born in a family of a lower caste can become a spiritual master if he is a Vaisnava, or Krishna conscious.” (Padma Purana)
Srila Narottama dasa Thakura’s Prayers: guru-mukha-padma-vakya, cittete koriya aikya, / ar na koriho mane açha sri-guru-carane rati, ei se uttama gati, / je prasade pure sarva açha “Make the teachings from the lotus mouth of the spiritual master one with your heart, and do not desire anything else. Attachment to the lotus feet of the spiritual master is the best means of spiritual advancement.
By his mercy all desires for spiritual perfection are fulfilled.” Thus, hearing from the spiritual master and keeping those instructions within ones heart should be the only desire of the faithful devotee. Developing a strong attachment to the spiritual master is the best means for tangible progress in spiritual life. The last two lines of Srila Narottama dasa Thakura’s Sri Guru Vandana are also full of transcendental meaning:
cakhu-dan dilo jei, janme janme prabhu sei, / divya jnana håde prokasito prema-bhakti jaha hoite, avidyä vinasa jate, / vede gaya jahara carito
“He who has given me the gift of transcendental vision is my lord birth after birth. By his mercy, divine knowledge is revealed within the heart, bestowing prema-bhakti and destroying ignorance.
The Vedic scriptures sing of his character.” sri-guru karuna-sindhu, adhama janara bandbu, / lokanath lokera jivana ha ha prabhu koro doya, deho more pada-chaya, / ebe jasha ghuñuk tribhuvana “
O spiritual master, ocean of mercy and friend of the fallen souls, you are the teacher of everyone and the life of all people. O master! Be merciful unto me and give me the shade of your lotus feet. May your glories now be proclaimed throughout the three worlds.” Sevaka-Bhagavan and Sevya-Bhagavan The original guru is Lord Krishna Himself and He is addressed as “adi-guru”. Anyone following in the Lord’s footsteps thus becomes guru. The difference is nicely explained as follows: “The spiritual master is called sevaka-bhagavan, the servitor Personality of Godhead, and Krishna is called sevya-bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is to be worshiped. The spiritual master is the worshiper God, whereas the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is the worshipable God. This is the difference between the spiritual master and the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” [SB 7.15.27] Guru as Good as God In September of 1966, in New York City, the first group of western devotees was about to receive initiation from Srila Prabhupada.
The following incident is nicely narrated in the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita Volume 2, “Planting the Seed”, written by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:
“And now,” he said at length, “I will tell you what is meant by initiation. Initiation means that the spiritual master accepts the student and agrees to take charge, and the student accepts the spiritual master and agrees to worship him as God.” He paused. No one spoke. “Any questions?” And when there were none, he got up and walked out. The devotees were stunned. What had they just heard him say? For weeks he had stressed that when anyone claims to be God he should be considered a dog. “My mind’s just been blown,” said Wally. “Everybody’s mind is blown,” said Howard. “Swamiji just dropped a bomb.
They thought of Keith. He was wise. Consult Keith. But Keith was in the hospital. Talking among themselves, they became more and more confused. Swamiji’s remark had confounded their judgment. Finally, Wally decided to go to the hospital to see Keith. Keith listened to the whole story: how Swamiji had told them to fast and how he had read from his manuscript and how he had said he would explain initiation and how everybody had leaned forward, all ears… and Swamiji had dropped a bomb: “The student accepts the spiritual master and agrees to worship him as God.” “Any questions?” Swamiji had asked softly. And then he had walked out. “I don’t know if we want to be initiated now,”
Wally confessed. “We have to worship him as God.”
“Well, you’re already doing that by accepting whatever he tells you,” Keith replied, and he advised that they talk it over with Swamiji… before the initiation. So Wally went back to the temple and consulted Howard, and together they went up to Swamiji’s apartment.
“Does what you told us this morning,” Howard asked, “mean we are supposed to accept the spiritual master to be God?”
“That means he is due the same respect as God, being God’s representative,” Prabhupada replied, calmly.
“Then he is not God?”
“No,” Prabhupada said, “God is God. The spiritual master is His representative. Therefore, he is as good as God because he can deliver God to the sincere disciple. Is that clear?” It was.”
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