After Gaura Hari, who descended to purify this age of Kali, made Himself invisible to the eyes of the world, the preaching of His religion of love carried on more or less uninterruptedly up until the time of Baladeva Vidyabhushan. In the time that followed, though there were still many advanced devotees present on the planet, a period of darkness descended on Mahaprabhu’s school of devotion. Many heterodox sects came into existence that vocally claimed to be following Mahaprabhu, but in fact were simply using His name to promote their own false doctrines. The Lord Himself could not tolerate deviation from the truths of the Gaudiya Vaishnava doctrine and He would be greatly pained by misrepresentations of the divine relations between the Lord and His devotees. For this reason, Svarupa Damodar and Rupa Goswami appeared again at the desire of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu through Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada, to preserve and protect the doctrines taught by Srila Rupa Goswami. Preaching these doctrines of pure devotion, these two great souls gave great joy to the Lord Himself and to all of his followers in the Gaudiya Vaishnava school.
A Vaishnava poet wrote the following verse about Srila Prabhupada:
suddha-bhakti-mata jata upadharma kavalita
heriya lokera mane trasa
hani susiddhanta bana upadharma khana khana
sajjanera barala ullasa
“People were disturbed to see that heterodox sects had swallowed up all the doctrines of pure devotion. Srila Prabhupada came along and fired the arrows of proper theological conclusions, thus bringing all the pious people joy.”
Between them, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Prabhupada wrote more than a hundred books on devotional subjects, including translations and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Chaitanya Bhagavata, etc. By doing so, they performed an indescribable service for Gaudiya Vaishnava society. Today, those who are free from prejudice, who recognize and approve the truth and good qualities in others, lament the absence of these two great acharyas, what to speak of their disciples and grand-disciples. Those who follow the teachings and example of these two great acharyas sense their absence sorely. Nevertheless, those who truly feel their separation are fairly rare, for it is beyond the capacity of those who wish to equate materialistic activities with the spiritual to understand the contribution they made—namely their propagation and bestowal of pure devotional service consisting of the culture of those activities that are pleasing to Krishna, without any desire for liberation or sense gratification.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur appeared in this world in the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 2, 1834 (Bhadra 18, 1245 Bengali), 352 years after the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His disappearance took place just before midday on June 23, 1914 (Asharh 9, 1305 Bengali year), which also happened to be the disappearance day of Gadadhar Pandit Goswami. I never had the good fortune to personally see Bhaktivinoda Thakur, though I did have the opportunity to hear of his superhuman glories directly from Srila Prabhupada, both through his spoken word and his writings. On the other hand, it is far beyond my finite capacities to adequately describe all the wonderful things that I heard and witnessed of Srila Prabhupada’s glories during my personal association with him. I saw that he would not tolerate even the slightest disrespect to the names of Lord Krishna, to His devotees, to His deity form, nor to His person. Once, he was staying as a guest at the house of a famous personality, yet he fasted for three days without his host’s knowledge, refusing even to take water out of protest to such disrespect. On another occasion, he was greatly disturbed when he heard a hereditary Goswami speak of Raghunath Das Goswami in terms of his caste of birth. There were many incidents of this type.
He could be as fierce as thunder when arguing against heretical doctrines, but when relishing the flavors of pure devotion, he revealed a greater softness than that of a flower, shedding tears of ecstasy. Both these characteristics were seen in his dealings with his disciples, in which he proved his affectionate feelings for them. Srila Prabhupada was the personification of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message.
Those who have deep love for their spiritual master remained immersed in the ocean of his divine instructions for as long as he was present in this world. They did everything they could to preach and act in a way that fulfilled his desires and experienced the great joy of associating with him directly in the most personal way. Now, however, in his absence, they are overwhelmed by most painful feelings of separation. The pain bursts out from their heart and tears flow from their eyes and onto their chest like the torrents of rain in the month of Shravan. Their minds are disturbed by the desire, never to be again fulfilled, of hearing their guru speak the nectarean topics of Krishna. They repeatedly sing the verses written by Narottama in which he reveals the depth of his loss at being separated from the company of the great Vaishnavas.
je anila prema-dhana karuna pracura
hena prabhu kotha gela vaisnava thakura
“My lord, the worshipable Vaishnava, brought us the wealth of love for Krishna out of his unlimited compassion. Alas, where has he gone?” (Prarthana)
svarupa sanatana rupa raghunatha bhatta-yuga
sunitam se saba katha ghucita manera vyatha
tabe bhala haita antara
“When I heard the divine words of Svarup Damodar, Sanatan, Rupa, Raghunath Das, Raghunath Bhatta and Gopal Bhatta, as well as Lokanath Goswami, the ocean of spiritual knowledge, the anguish of my mind would disappear and my heart would feel restored.” (Prema-bhakti-candrika)
Lost in this mood of separation, how can any consideration based on worldly competition be of interest to them? How can the witches of the desire for liberation or sense gratification remain hidden in their hearts? Our mundane feelings of attraction and aversion for material objects light the fire of envy, egoism, and hatred so much so that it seems they have the ability to destroy this world. If even a drop of pure affection arises in our hearts for the incarnation of Mahaprabhu’s magninimity, then no place will remain for these animal propensities like hatred, jealousy, or violence to others.
akrantam yasya manasam
katham tatra mukundasya
“And those who are either overcome or bewildered by the pleasures of union with the objects of sense in terms of facades of physical beauty, fine food, beautiful music, delightful odors and sensual touch, or the anxiety that comes from their non-attainment, can never experience Mukunda, the one who gives (da) us prema, i.e., that which makes a mockery (ku from kutsita) of liberation (mu or mukti). They can never experience Mukunda, whose beautiful smile is like the white kunda flower (mu for mukha, or mouth, and kunda).” (Padma-purana, BRS 1.2.114)
In the twelfth chapter of the Gita, the Lord also says:
yasman nodvijate loko
lokan nodvijate ca yah
mukto yah sa ca me priyah
“The devotee who is neither disturbed by the world nor causes the world any disturbance, who is free from the pull of euphoria, anger and fear, is most dear to Me.” (Bg 12.15)
yo na hrsyati na dvesti
na socati na kanksati
bhaktiman yah sa me priyah
“The devoted person who is free from elation, anger, sorrow and craving, who neither seeks the pleasant nor shuns the unpleasant, is ever dear to Me.” (Gita 12.17)
How can any attachment or hatred for material objects find a place in the heart where attachment to the guru, the eternal associate of Srimati Radharani, has awakened? In such a heart, there is constant awareness of the absolute necessity of attaining the supreme goal of life, loving service to Sri Krishna. This alone is the ultimate purpose of life for every single living entity. Srila Prabhupada himself said: “The ultimate object of our desires is to become specks of dust at the lotus feet of the followers of Rupa Goswami. Remain united in following the asraya-vigraha in order to satisfy the transcendental senses of the one, non-dual supreme truth... May we never under any circumstances become indifferent to the seven-tongued sacrificial flame of the Holy Name. If our attraction to it remains ever-increasing, we will achieve all perfection.”
We pray that our commitment to these last instructions of his manifest presence in this world be unfailing. May we never interpret these words to elicit secondary meanings that allow us to engage in sense gratification, but rather, single-mindedly dedicating all our energies and working together, aim for the pleasure of “the senses of the one, non-dual Supreme Truth,” making it the one and only goal of our lives. If we wish to show our love and faith for our spiritual master, it will be by following these teachings. However, rather than giving full attention to the desires of the spiritual master, we may focus on serving his body or the extensions of his body represented by temples and ashrams. If we do so, we will never be free of the pitfall of seeing the guru in purely human terms (martyasad-dhih). The Lord can only be seen through the path of transcendental sound (sruteksita-pathah) and the spiritual master, being his manifest representative, is also perceptible through divine sound vibration.
The words sruteksita-pathah (SB 3.9.11) are broken down as follows: sruta means “through hearing” or “revelation”; iksita means “seen” or “perceived”; pathah means “the way” or “the path.” This compound word thus means, “He to whom the way is perceived through hearing revealed knowledge.” For this reason we offer our respects to the guru with the words:
tat-padam darsitam yena
tasmai sri-gurave namah
“I pay my humble obeisance to the spiritual master who has shown me that supreme truth.”
Srila Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur interprets the words sruteksita-pathah in a slightly different manner in his Sarartha-darsini commentary:
adau guru-mukhat srutah pascad iksitah saksat-krtas ca pantha yasya sah
yena patha tvam hrt-sarojam ayato ‘si tam
panthanah sadhana-bhakti-prakarah ta eva susthu paricinvantiiti dhvanih
ato yasya tat-prapticcha vartate sa tata eva panthanam paricinotv ity anudhvanih
“‘O Lord, the way to reach you must first be heard from the guru; then it can be seen and directly realized. You then enter the lotus of our hearts by taking this path.’ The suggestion is that these devotees perfectly recognize the ways and means of the devotional path. The further suggestion is that if we wish to attain the Supreme Lord, then we too must try to gain knowledge of that path.”
Remember the words of the great authority Narottama Thakur:
guru-mukha-padma-vakya cittete kariya aikya
ara na kariha mane asa
sri guru carane rati, ei se uttama gati
je prasade pure sarva asa
“Fix your mind on the words emanating from the lotus mouth of the spiritual master. Place your hopes in nothing else. Affection for the guru’s lotus feet is the ultimate goal, for by his mercy all of one’s aspirations are realized.” (Narottama Das, Prema-bhakti-candrika)
From faith in the words of the spiritual master, affection for his service increases. Someone who becomes a powerful preacher or learned writer but makes no effort to put the spiritual master’s words into practice shows no actual love for him. The spiritual master can see through those who only make a show of affection for him and will surely crown with success the sincere attempts of the disciple who genuinely follows his directions. The guru is the personification of Lord Gauranga’s magninimity, therefore he will mercifully transfer power or strength to his sincere disciple. With his blessings, the blessings of the Lord are not long to follow, for the mercy of the Lord comes through that of His intimate associates. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah.
If we make no effort to seek out the blessings of the spiritual master, we may worship the Lord for millions of lifetimes without His ever becoming satisfied with us. Krishna Himself distributes His mercy to the living beings by taking the form of the spiritual master. For this reason, the Vedic scriptures have clearly stated that there is no means of attaining Krishna’s blessings other than by following the spiritual master. The Upanishads have stated:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, who is His manifestation and not different from Him, are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.”
(Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23)
My most worshipable Gurudeva, Srila Prabhupada, did not see the faults in anyone; he was most compassionate. We who aspire to become the servants of his servants and to partake of the remnants of his plate, pray to him with all the sincerity at our command that by his causeless mercy he will give us the worthiness to serve him. We pray to him to please make our hearts simple and free from deception; may he forgive us of our offenses, and consider us the servants of his servants, birth after birth. May he free us from the attractions and aversions of this world and keep us fixed in service to his lotus feet.
Raghunath Das lamented the disappearance of Srila Rupa Goswami with such intensity that stones could have melted. In Rupa’s absence, he felt the entire land of Vraja to be completely empty: Govardhana was like a great python, Radha Kund the wide open mouth of a tiger, and he felt his own self to be void of life. Can we ordinary mortals imitate the eternal associates of the Lord in their feelings of separation?
Narottama Das Thakur also cried and prayed fervently to his diksha guru Lokanath Goswami to attain the lotus feet of Sri Rupa Goswami, who had actualised Sriman Mahaprabhu’s heartfelt desires on this earth. Narottama Das sang that Sri Rupa was the worshipable object of his devotion, the treasure of his life, his jeweled ornament, the very source of his life, the perfection of his desire, the ocean of ecstatic feeling, his Vedic religion, his vow, his penance, his prayer and his duty. Rupa Goswami was everything to Narottama Thakur, and therefore he almost went mad out of his feelings of separation, crying day and night in the hope of receiving his mercy. If we could even feel a millionth part of what he did, our lives would be perfect; we would attain the greatest fortune. I do not know how many more lifetimes I will have to wait for this good fortune to be mine.
Devotion to the spiritual master is the only way to reach our Divine Lord. The spiritual master is the personal companion of Lord Krishna or Sri Gauranga; he is most dear to Him. Krishna Das Kaviraja writes:
diksa-kale bhakta kare atma-samarpana
sei-kale krsna tare kare atma-sama
sei deha kare tara cid-ananda-maya
aprakrta-dehe tanra carana bhajaya
“At the time of initiation, when a devotee surrenders to the spiritual master, Krishna makes him equal to Himself. He transforms the devotee’s body into spiritual substance; the devotee then worships the Lord in that spiritualized body.” (CC 3.4.192-3)
Krishna accepts us as a part of his own entourage to the extent that we surrender ourselves in body, mind and words to the spiritual master. He takes possession of us, as it were, transforming our bodies and making them spiritual so that we will be able to serve him directly. Krishna once embraced his friend Sudama and said,
nanv artha-kovida brahman
ye maya guruna vaca
taranty anjo bhavarnavam
“O brahmin, of all people within the four orders and castes of Vedic society, are not the real knowers of value those who cross over the material ocean by taking shelter of My words, as taught by the spiritual master?” (SB 10.80.33)
“I, the soul of all beings, am not as pleased by the performance of the prescribed duties of the four ashrams, i.e., sacrifices, service to the family, austerities and renunciation, as I am by service to the guru.”
When asked how love for God develops, Prahlad Maharaj told the other boys in his school: guru-susrusaya bhaktya sarva-labdharpanena ca, “through serving the guru, being devoted to him and by offering him all of one’s gains.” (SB 7.7.30) Srila Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur comments on this verse as follows:
guroh susrusaya snapana-samvahanadikaya tatha sarvesam labdhanam
vastunam arpanena ca tac carpanam bhaktyaiva, na tu pratisthadina hetuna
“Service to the guru means serving him through such things as bathing and massaging him; offering the guru all of one’s gains should be done with devotion and not out of personal motivations, such as the desire for personal prestige, etc.”
In the Bhagavatam, after telling Yudhisthira how to conquer over various character defects, Narada summarizes by saying:
etat sarvam gurau bhaktya
puruso hy anjasa jayet
“We can conquer over all these defects by rendering devotional service to the spiritual master.” (SB 7.15.25)
In other words, the only way to conquer over lust, anger, greed, fear, lamentation, bewilderment, pride, envy, the three miseries and the three modes of material nature is by surrendering to the spiritual master. But if a disciple thinks the spiritual master to be nothing more than an ordinary mortal, then all his spiritual practices and worship of the Lord are simply a wasted effort.
yasya saksad bhagavati
martyasad-dhih srutam tasya
“We should consider the spiritual master to be directly the Supreme Lord because he bestows transcendental knowledge for our enlightenment. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His enlightenment and his Vedic studies and knowledge are all like the bathing of an elephant.” (SB 7.15.26)
In the commentary to this verse, Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur writes the following:
kim ca satyam bhuyasyam api bhaktau, gurau manusya-buddhitve sarvam eva vyartham bhavatity aha yasyeti | saksad bhagavatiti bhagavad-amsa-buddhir api gurau na karyeti bhavah | yad va, upasye bhagavaty eva saksad-vidyamane martyasad-dhih martya iti durbuddhis tasya srutam bhagavan-mantradikam sravana-mananadikam ca vyartham ity arthah |
“It is essential to note that even though someone engages in intense practices of devotion to the Lord, it is all useless if he thinks the spiritual master is an ordinary man. This is being pointed out in this verse. The words saksad bhagavati clearly indicate that one must think of the guru as the Supreme Lord Himself, and not even as a mere expansion of the Lord. [He, who is the source of all expansions and the object of all devotional service, has become incarnate in the form of a servant to Himself. This is expressed in the words of the Gurvastaka: kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya – “his identity with Krishna is due to his being most dear to Him.”] Alternatively, even if the Lord, the supreme object of worship, is personally present as the spiritual master, if one has the demented intelligence to think of him as an ordinary mortal, then whatever he has heard from him—the mantras received at the time of initiation or instructions on the scripture and devotional practice—cease to have any effect. This is the intention of this verse.”
Narada follows this statement by giving an example in the subsequent verse (7.15.27):
esa vai bhagavan saksat
loko yam manyate naram
“The Supreme Person Sri Krishna personally appeared in this world. He is the supreme lord, the master of all the universes, and the master of yoga. His lotus feet are the ultimate goal of all life, yet the people of this world think of Him as an ordinary man.” (SB 7.15.27)
Though people may think of Krishna as an ordinary man, this does not make it an actuality. Similarly, a spiritual master’s parents, children or neighbors may see him as just another person, but a good disciple recognizes him as the visible manifestation of the Supreme Lord Himself.
Therefore, in the following two verses from the Visnu-smrti quoted in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, we are advised:
na guror apriyam kuryat
taòitah piòito ’pi va
napriyam hi samacaret
“Never do anything unpleasant to your spiritual master, even if you are humiliated and beaten. Never disregard his words, and never act in a way that is displeasing to him.” (HBV 1.99, from Visnu-smrti)
acaryasya priyam kuryat
pranair api dhanair api
karmana manasa vaca
sa yati paramam gatim
“Do things that are pleasing to your spiritual master with your life and your wealth, with your work, your thoughts and your speech, and you will go to the supreme destination.” (HBV 1.100, from Visnu-smrti)
It is never appropriate to criticize the words or deeds of the spiritual master by saying things like, “My spiritual master should not have said that, or it was improper for him to have done some particular thing.” By doing so, we reveal our mundane concept of the guru and ultimately we become offensive by showing disrespect to him. This is the offense known as gurv-avajna.
The orders of the spiritual master are to be obeyed diligently without reserve or delay—ajna gurunam hy avicaraniya. If one is incapable of following his orders, then one should fall down at his feet and pray to him with urgency for the strength and ability to do so. If the spiritual master rebukes or condemns the disciple, the disciple should still not attempt to make his case heard, even though it may be painful to listen in silence. If the disciple argues with the spiritual master, it is counted as the offense of disrespecting the guru. The disciple thus becomes unteachable and, due to his independence, falls down into indiscipline and wantonness, inevitably resulting in suffering.
Six kinds of unsatisfactory disciples are described in the scriptures:
alir bano jyotisakah
saò ete sevakadhamah
“These six are the ‘bee’ (ali), so called because of his fickleness; the bana, who talks back, piercing his master like an arrow; the procrastinator (jyotisaka); the servant who is lazy and inactive (stabdhibhuta); the one who refuses to try to do anything on his own (kimekaka), and the one who passes the buck (presita-presaka).”
All such unsatisfactory disciples (sevakadhamas) demonstrate an ignorance of the spiritual master’s divine nature by their lackadaisical attitude to service. They thus end up as offenders to the spiritual master and the Holy Name. Any disciple who wishes to attain perfection in the spiritual practices given him by his spiritual master must pay careful attention not to offend him in this way.
In the 17th vilasa of the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the two following verses are quoted from the Agastya-samhita, describing the five-step purascarana rite that is recommended for a disciple who wishes to attain perfection in the mantra after initiation:
puja traikaliki nityam
japas tarpanam eva ca
homa brahmana-bhuktis ca
guror labdhasya mantrasya
puras caitad vidhiyate
“There are five aspects to the purascarana observance: puja three times a day, morning, noon and evening, constant chanting of japa, oblations of water, daily fire sacrifice and feeding of the brahmins. In order to attain perfection in the mantra that was given at the time of initiation, it is enjoined that the disciple should first perform these five kinds of worship according to the regulations. This is why it is called puras (‘before’) carana (‘performing’).”
The discussion of purascarana is continued in the same chapter of the Hari-bhakti-vilasa. According to the Ägamas, the purascarana gives energy or power to the mantra. Just as an embodied being without strength is impotent and useless, so is a mantra that has never been enlivened by the performance of purascarana. Even if one should chant the mantra or perform other religious rituals for hundreds of years, he will never attain perfection in the chanting without purascarana.
The basic idea behind the purascarana is to chant a certain, fixed number of mantras. Then one also performs one-tenth that number of oblations into the sacrificial fire, one-tenth of that number of oblations into water, and feeds one-tenth that number of brahmins. There is some difference of opinion about the number of oblations to be offered into water, as some say that it should be one-tenth the number of mantras chanted. Whatever the case, the rules are so stringent that it is extremely difficult for an ordinary person in this Age of Kali to complete such a vow.
And if there is a disruption in the performance and any single part of the rule is not perfectly carried out, then one has to double the number of mantras and all the other parts of the vow. Therefore, the merciful Lord gives the possibility of an alternative.
gurum dhyatva pratosayet
tasya cchayanusari syad
guru-mulam idam sarvam
tasman nityam gurum bhajet
mantri siddhyen na samsayah
“Alternatively, one should simply satisfy the guru by meditating on him in the form of the deity. He should think of himself as devotedly following the guru like a shadow. One should constantly worship the guru who is the basis of all of one’s spiritual activities. Even if one does not perform the purascarana, one can attain perfection in chanting the mantra through service to the guru. Of this there can be no doubt.” (HBV 17.241-2)
tamram bhavati kancanam
sannidhanad guror eva
sisyo visnumayo bhavet
For as it is said, “Just as copper becomes gold through the touch of specially treated mercury, so does a disciple take on the qualities of Vishnu through the association of his guru.” (HBV 17.243)
Sanatan Goswami comments on these verses in the following way: kevala-sri-guru-prasadenaiva purascarana-siddhih syad iti prakarantaram aha athaveti tribhih
“Perfection of the purascarana can be achieved simply by achieving the satisfaction of the spiritual master. These three verses have been quoted as evidence in that regard.”
Furthermore, it is said that none of the other preliminary purificatory rituals such as purascarana are needed in order to attain perfection in the eighteen syllable Gopala-mantra:
naiva kincid apeksate
hrn-matra-sprk phalaty eva
sprsto hi dahano yatha
“This divine Gopala-mantra, however, depends on nothing at all. As soon as it touches the devotee’s heart it brings results, just as fire burns everything that it touches.” (HBV 17.260)
Sanatan Goswami has also commented on this verse as follows:
te copaya mantrantaresv eva, na tasmin mohanakhyastadasaksara-mantra iti likhati srimad iti | kincit samskaradikam | kintu hrnmatram sprsatiti tatha sann api phalaty eva | tatra drstantatvenarthantaram upanyasyati sprsto hiti | yathakathancit sparsa-matrena dahano haded eva tacchakters tathatvad iti bhavah |
“Lord Shiva listed seven different ritual procedures (dravana, etc.) needed to perfect the mantra (HBV 1.226), but these are intended for mantras other than the eighteen-syllable Gopala-mantra, also named mohana. This mantra has merely to touch the heart of the sadhaka in order to bear fruit. In the verse, another subject is introduced in order as an example: just as fire needs only the slightest contact in order to burn, so too this king of mantras is naturally endowed with full, perfect powers.”
Of course, it should be borne in mind that the mantra does require one to take shelter of a spiritual master and to render him service.
In the story of Krishna and His friend Sudama found in the tenth canto, Krishna tells His guru Sandipani Muni:
iyad eva hi sac-chisyaih
yad vai visuddha-bhavena
“The principal duty of a sincere disciple is to repay the spiritual master for all that he has been given. This service to the guru should be performed with a pure attitude, giving everything of value that he possesses, including his very self.”
(SB 10.80.41, HBV 2.112)
Sanatan Goswami writes in the Digdarsini that niskrtam refers to the way one releases oneself from an obligation by doing something or making a gift in payment. In view of one’s debt to the guru, one should give everything that he possess up to and including his very own soul.
We find the following statement in the same chapter of Hari-bhakti-vilasa:
gurum ca bhagavad-drstya
parikramya pranamya ca
dattvoktam daksinam tasmai
“Seeing the spiritual master as a manifestation of the Lord Himself, one should circumambulate him and bow to him. He should then give him daksina according to the scriptures, offering his very own body.”
Sanatan clarifies that “according to the scriptures, the daksina should be given according to one’s capacity, either half, a quarter or a tenth of one’s wealth. The gifts of wealth should be given before initiation for the pleasure of the spiritual master; the sacrifice of the body should come after receiving the mantra.”
The fact is that no one can be free of his debt to the spiritual master, even if he gives him everything he owns. A rich householder may make a show of giving opulent gifts, but this is not the real daksina, for Krishna says to Uddhava in the Bhagavatam (SB 11.19.39): daksina jnana-sandesah—the real gift to the spiritual master is to teach others what one has received from him.
In his commentary to these words, Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur writes the following: “Here the word jnana means that after experiencing the spiritual joy of kirtan, etc., one instructs one’s own friends and relatives about his realizations. This is the real gift to the spiritual master and not donations of wealth, clothing or whatever (utsavante yat kirtanadi-rasanubhavasya sandesah svesta-mitresu jnapanaiva daksina na tu dhana-vastrady-arpanam).”
Therefore, instructing one’s acquaintances and others in the knowledge of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana taught by the spiritual master according to their capacities is the genuine guru-daksina. This means that one must first strictly follow the appropriate spiritual practices, seriously engaging in bhajan. Unless one has exemplary behavior, he cannot hope to acquire the qualifications to preach the spiritual master’s message effectively. This means that he will not be able to give the spiritual master the requisite gifts that follow initiation and instruction. The spiritual master is the manifest representation of Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s message. Mahaprabhu said:
jare dekha tare kaha krsna-upadesa
amara ajnaya guru hana tara ei desa
“Teach everyone you see this message of devotion to Krishna. On my command, become a guru and deliver this land.” (CC 2.7.128)
bharata-bhumite haila manusya janma jara
janma sarthaka kari kara para-upakara
“Whoever has taken a human birth in the land of India should make his life successful and engage in welfare work for others.” (CC 1.9.41)
If we take these instructions seriously and do everything we can to realize them, then we will one day become capable of giving the spiritual master the gift that he desires above all others. The spiritual master will be pleased and transmit unlimited power to the disciple with whom he is pleased.
To the extent that we serve the spiritual master with sincerity and repeat his teachings, through the association with his words, our hearts will cry out with the desire for the good fortune to be associated with him by directly seeing, touching and serving him directly. Only then will we be able to understand the true spirit of separation. We will then know that he is Radharani’s personal associate who, in the form of Nayanamani Manjari has entered Radha and Govinda’s eternal pastimes and is there immersed in the ocean of service to the Divine Couple. When we feel this mood of separation, the desire to dedicate our lives for attaining this service will awaken. “The spiritual master, who has given me the eyes to see the true purpose of life, is my master birth after birth” (caksu-dana dila je, janme janme prabhu se). He is our lord and master lifetime after lifetime. We pray that he will be merciful and transform us lowly creatures by giving us the strength to put his message into practice and to preach that message, and then when the time of death comes, he will take us back to his lotus feet, making us his own for eternity.
Being distanced from the spiritual master is a source of great pain. We pray that Srila Prabhupada will give us a place at his lotus feet even though we are the most unworthy servants of his servants, so that we may be able to render service to the Divine Couple according to his direction and by following his example. Our only authority to make such an audacious prayer is that we have taken the remnants of his servants’ food. We know that we have no right to make such a request of you, but to whom can we turn other than you, our spiritual master? By your grace, everything that would ordinarily be impossible becomes possible in a moment. Though today all our efforts are nothing but a joke, like those of a dwarf who tries to touch the moon, are your blessings not capable of effecting any miracle? Will they not give us a love for chanting the Holy Names without offense? Has Bhaktivinoda Thakur not sung of the power of the Holy Name to give us the realization of our eternal spiritual identity?
isat vikasi punah dekhaya nija-rupa-guna
citta hari laya krsna pasa
purna vikasita hana vraje more jaya lana
dekhaya nija svarupa vilasa
“When the Name is even slightly revealed, it shows me my own spiritual form and characteristics. It steals my mind and takes it to Krishna’s side. When the Name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes.” (Krsna-nama dhare kata bala? Saranagati)
Thus, by the blessing of the spiritual master, we will be able to receive the mercy of the Holy Name and then, all perfections will come through the Holy Name as Mahaprabhu Himself promised: iha haite sarva-siddhi haibe sabara.
Rupa Goswami feelingly prayed to the Lord in his song, Deva bhavantam vande:
bhaktir udancati yady api
madhava na tvayi mama tilamatri
paramesvarata tad api tava-
“O Madhava, I do not have a sesame seed’s worth of devotion for You. Even so, the proof of Your supreme glory is that you can make even the impossible possible [and make me worthy of You].” And we must not forget that Krishna’s mercy follows that of His living manifestation in the world—His representative, the spiritual master: guru-rupe krsna krpa kar-ena bhakta-gane. For this reason we pray to Srila Prabhupada with the words, sri-gaura-karuna-sakti-vigrahaya namo’stu te—“Obeisance to you, the embodiment of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s compassionate power.”
In His teachings to Srila Sanatan Goswami, Mahaprabhu said,
krsna jadi krpa kare kono bhagyavane
guru-antaryami-rupe sikhaya apane
“When Krishna shows His mercy to any fortunate individual, He teaches him from without as the greatly advanced devotee who acts as the spiritual master and from within as the indwelling Supersoul, also known as the caittya-guru.”
(See CC 1.1.45-48 and 2.22.47-8)
When Krishna gives His mercy as the caittya-guru, then He gives the kind of firm and pure intelligence through which the devotee gains expertise in bhajan, or sasanga-bhajana. Externally, the mahanta-guru gives initiation in the mantra and instruction in the practice of bhajan to the disciple who takes shelter of him. No one can advance or attain perfection in bhajan without serving the spiritual master with faith (visrambhena guroh seva). The word visrambha means faith, affection and love. It thus refers to the kind of submissive questioning and surrender as well as the affectionate service mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita’s famous verse summarizing the disciple’s dealings with the spiritual master. One who acts in this way quickly becomes worthy of receiving the spiritual master’s blessings and in due time learns in detail about the three categories of divine knowledge, namely sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana.
Service to the guru in affection and love is possible both in this world and the next. The spiritual master is always participating in the eternally pure realm and is never under the thrall of birth and death in this world. One should never think of him as an ordinary mortal. By serving his teachings when he is no longer visible to our mundane eyes, we can get a vision of his transcendental form. Just like the Supreme Lord, the guru knows what is to be known, including all of us, but he is not known to anyone (sa vetti vedyam na ca tasyasti vetta). We cannot know him through our own power; it is only when he mercifully decides to reveal himself to us that we will achieve the great fortune of being able to see him. Therefore, the famous saying, guru-krpa hi kevalam (“the spiritual master’s blessings are our only salvation”) is appropriate.
My dear spiritual master! I am completely lacking in knowledge. I am the lowliest miscreant, but I strive to be the servant of your servant. Please forgive whatever offenses I may have committed, consciously or unconsciously. Give me shelter at your lotus feet and the right to serve them. You are the best of the followers of Srila Rupa Goswami, so I pray to you in the same way that Srila Narottama Das Thakur did to Rupa Prabhu in his Prarthana:
suniyachi sadhu-mukhe bale sarva-jana
sri-rupa-krpaya mile yugala-carana
sri-rupera krpa jena ama prati haya
se-pada asraya jara sei mahasaya
ha ha prabhupada kabe sange laiya jabe
sri-rupera pada-padme more samarpibe
mano-vancha siddhi tabe han purna trsna
hethaya caitanya mile setha radha-krsna
tumi na karile daya ke karibe ara
manera vasana purna kara ei bara
e tina samsare mora ara keha nai
krpa kari nija-pada-tale deha thani
radha-krsna-lila-guna gan ratra-dine
e adhama-vancha-purna nahe tuwa bine
dayamaya prabhu tumi daya kara more
radha-krsna-carana jena sada citte sphure
“I have heard from the sadhus—indeed, everyone says that you can attain the lotus feet of the Divine Couple through the blessings of Sri Rupa. When will Rupa Goswami’s mercy fall upon me? When will Prabhupada, who has taken shelter of those lotus feet take me with him and offer me up to Srila Rupa Goswami? My heart’s desire will be realized and my thirst quenched. In this world I will meet Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and in the other, Radha and Krishna. Who else but you, Prabhu, will be able to help me in this way? Fulfill my desires this time. In these three worlds, I have nobody else but you. Be merciful and give me a place under your lotus feet. Let me sing the glories of Radha and Krishna’s pastimes, day and night. Without you, this lowly creature’s desires will never be fulfilled. O Master! You alone are compassionate; please be merciful towards me and help me remember Radha and Krishna at every moment.”
O Gurudeva, may my mind always repose in the shade of your lotus feet—mama matir astam tava pada-kamale. [This article first appeared in Chaitanya Vani, 13.11, (Dec. 1974), pp. 236-45]