Chapter One

Sri Guru

Even great scholars are perplexed in understanding what is good and what is bad, what to accept, and what to dismiss (kim karma kim akarmeti kavayo'py atra mohitah). Even great scholars fail to understand their real necessity. This material world is a jungle of perplexities, where the soul has accepted so many different kinds of bodies in different types of consciousness. In the Laws of Manu, it is written:

jalaja nava laksani
sthavara laksa vimsati
krmayo rudra-sankhyakah
paksinam dasa laksanam
trimsal laksani pasavah
catur laksani manusah

There are 900,000 kinds of aquatics, 2,000,000 kinds of trees and plants, 1,100,000 kinds of insects and reptiles, 1,000,000 kinds of birds, 3,000,000 kinds of four-legged beasts, and 400,000 kinds of human species. Manu says that the trees are in such a hopeless position as a result of their own karma. Their feelings of pain and pleasure are similar to ours; their souls are not of a lower standard. Still, they are in such a deplorable position as a result of their own karma. They have no one to blame but themselves. This is the state of affairs in this external world.

We are living in an environment which is afflicted with serious misconception, misunderstanding, misguidance, and misbehavior. How are we to ascertain what is good and what is bad, what we should aspire after and what we should reject? Innumerable alternatives have thronged in a crowd, coming to influence us. And when this area, covered by illusion and influenced by misunderstanding, is filled with such diversity, how can we hope to know the infinite spiritual world of Vaikuntha? With what attitude should we approach that realm which is transcendental, beyond the realm of the senses and mind (adhoksaja).

The Genuine Guru

We must accept any way and any alliance that will help us gain entrance into that realm. We shall try to have even the slightest connection with that perfect goal of our innate aspiration. We are helpless; we are hopeless in the midst of disappointment. We are in extreme danger. We rely on our free will, our capacity of selection for our own good, but it is too minute and helpless to guide us. What danger we are in! All around us are witnesses to this danger. How important is a real guru who can guide us to our real welfare.

We are in the midst of different forces that are drawing us, attracting us towards different directions, so proper guidance is the most valuable and the most important thing for all of us. If we accept direction from anywhere and everywhere, we will be misguided. Therefore, we must be careful to get proper direction. That direction has been given by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita:

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darsinah

"To understand transcendental knowledge, you must approach a self-realized soul, accept him as your spiritual master, and take initiation from him. Inquire submissively and render service unto him. Self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you, for they have seen the truth."

Qualifications of a Disciple

Here, Krsna has given us the standard by which we can understand what is what, from a bona fide source. The standard to measure truth or untruth must come not from a vitiated, vulnerable plane, but from a real plane. And to realize that, we must have these three qualifications: pranipat, pariprasna, and seva. Pranipat means we must surrender to this knowledge, for it is not an ordinary class of knowledge, which as a subject we can make our object; it is supersubjective. We may be the subjects in this mundane world, but we will have to become objects to be handled by the superknowledge of that plane.

Pranipat means that one approaches a spiritual master, saying, "I am finished with the experience of this external world; I have no charrn for anything in this plane, where I have already traveled. Now I am offering myself exclusively at your altar. I want to have your grace." In this mood we should approach that higher knowledge.

Pariprasna means honest, sincere inquiry. We must inquire not with the tendency of discussion or in the mood of argument, but all our efforts should be concentrated in a positive line to understand the truth, without the spirit of doubt and suspicion. With full attention we should try to understand that truth, because it is coming from a higher plane of reality that we have never known.

Finally, there is sevaya, or service. This is the most important thing. We are trying to gain this knowledge not so we can get the help of that plane, not so we can utilize that experience for living here; rather we must give our pledge to serve that plane. Only with this attitude may we approach that plane of knowledge. We shall serve that higher knowledge; we won't try to make it serve us. Otherwise, we won't be allowed to enter into that domain.

Absolute knowledge won't come to serve this lower plane. We must offer ourselves to be used by Him, not that we shall try to use Him in our own selfish way, to satisfy our lower purpose.

With the mood of service we shall dedicate ourselves to Him; not that He will dedicate Himself to satisfy our lower animal purpose. So, with this attitude we shall seek the plane of real knowledge and receive the standard understanding. And then we can know what is what, and have a proper estimation of our environment.

This is Vedic culture. Absolute knowledge has always been imparted by this process alone, and never by the intellectual approach. Srlla Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta used to give the analogy of the bee: honey is in a bottle, the cork is in place, and the bee has taken his seat on the glass. He tries to taste the honey by licking the bottle. But, just as the bee cannot taste the honey by licking the outside of the glass bottle, the intellect cannot approach the world of spirit. We may think that we have attained it, but that is not possible: a barrier is there, like the glass. Intellectual achievement is not real achievement of higher knowledge. Only through faith, sincerity, and dedication can we approach that higher realm, and become a member. We can enter that higher plane only if they grant us a visa and admit us. Then we can enter that land of divine living.

So, a candidate must have these three qualifications before he can approach the truth which is on the higher plane of Absolute Reality. He can approach the Absolute Truth only with an attitude of humility, sincerity, and dedication. There are similar statements in the Srimad Bhagavatam and the Vedas. In the Upanisads it is said, tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet samit panih srotriyam brahma nistham: "Approach a spiritual master. Do not go to him hesitatingly or haphazardly, but with a clear and earnest heart."

Spintual Life-a One Way Ticket

One should not approach the spiritual master "cutting a return ticket." Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada used to always say, "You have come here cutting a return ticket." We must not approach the spiritual master with that attitude. Rather, we should think that we have seen everything, that we have full experience of this mortal world, and that we have nothing to aspire after here. With this clear consciousness, we should approach the guru. That is the only way for us to live. This world is mortal. There is no means, no possibility of living here, and yet the will to live is an innate tendency everywhere.

"I only want to live and to save myself. I am running to the real shelter." With this earnestness, the disciple will bring his spiritual master the necessary materials for sacrifice. He won't go to his spiritual master only to trouble the guru, but will approach him with his own necessities already supplied. He will go there with his own bed and baggage. Not that he will show some kindness to the spiritual master and give him name and fame by becoming his disciple.

And what will be the spiritual master's position? He will be well versed in the revealed truth, not in ordinary information. Revelation in many shades has been spread in the world from the upper realm, but the guru must have some spacious, graphic knowledge. He must have extensive knowledge about the revealed truth. And he must always be practicing real spiritual life. His activities are all connected with spirit, not with the mundane world. He is concerned with Brahman, the plane which can accomodate everything, the fundamental basis of everything (brahma-nistham). Not that he is leading his life with any mortal, mundane reference. He always lives in the transcendental plane and keeps himself in connection with that plane his whole life. Whatever he does, he will do only with that consciousness. This is the version of the Upanisads.

And in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.3.21) it is said:

tasmad gurum prapadyeta
jijnasuh sreya uttamam
sabde pare ca nisnatam
brahmany upasamasrayam

Maya means misconception. We are living in the midst of misconception. Our understanding of the environment is based on a completely misconceived set of ideas and thoughts. We have no proper conception of anything in the absolute sense. Our ideas are all relative. Provincial selfishness has been imposed on the environment, and we are living under that misconception. When one comes to the conclusion that everything will vanish, then, with that mood, he will feel the necessity of approaching the guru, the divine guide and preceptor, with the purpose of inquiry. "What is the highest good for me?" With this inquiry, he will approach the spiritual master.

And who will he approach? One who is not only well-versed in the precepts of the revealed scriptures, but who has also come in contact with the revealed truth. One who is conversant with the very object of the scriptures, and who has practical experience, who is established in pure consciousness, is a genuine guru. One should approach such a guide for his own relief, to understand what is the highest benefit in the world and how to attain it. This is necessary. It is real. It is not imaginary. At the same time, it is difficult. The Absolute Truth must be sought out through a real process, otherwise we shall go the wrong way and then say, "Oh, there is nothing here; it is not real." So, only if we follow this real process of understanding the truth will we experience the real nature of