The Necessity of the Guru God-brother Relationship

Apr 23 2022 - Krishna Talk 241
The Necessity of the Guru God-brother Relationship

Some might find the title of this article questionable. The disciples of bonafide Gauḍīya Ācāryas might wonder why such a bold statement? On one hand the dīkṣa disciples have everything required for their spiritual success. A bonafide connection, a lifetime of hearing classes, reading other recommended Ācārya’s books, tape recordings, videos and for many years of direct personal service, instruction and association with their Guru. Theoretically all this is more than enough, and theoretically that is true. On a first glance it could be debated, why is this relationship now required? In this article I draw upon Śrīla Prabhupāda and our Guardians, Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja, and my own experiences in hope to persuade all of you, that practically, it is indeed quite necessary. 

I have been meditating on writing this article for many years and once I asked Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja if there were any scriptural references on this particular point that I could study to deepen my understanding. He answered that there was very little and the only direct commentary on it that he knew of came from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in the book Śrī Guru and His Grace, in the chapter “Nāma Guru and Mantra Guru”. This book was one of his favorites. He called it the “bible” of guru-tattva. Even there, only a little is mentioned directly but a little from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja adds up quickly. Indirectly, much can be inferred from many places and to further help our understanding of this subject matter we need to dig deeper into the nature of guru-tattva and examine the behavior of our previous Ācāryas.

The Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta states:

kibā vipra, kibā nyāsī, śūdra kene naya
yei kṛṣṇa-tattva-vettā, sei 'guru' haya

“Whether one is a brāhmaṇa, a sannyāsī or a śūdra — regardless of what he is — he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Kṛṣṇa.” (CC Madhya 8.128)

In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda writes: 

“The spiritual master who first gives information about spiritual life is called the vartma-pradarśaka-guru, the spiritual master who initiates according to the regulations of the śāstras is called the dīkṣā-guru, and the spiritual master who gives instructions for elevation is called the śikṣā-guru. Factually the qualifications of a spiritual master depend on his knowledge of the science of Kṛṣṇa. It does not matter whether he is a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, sannyāsī or śūdra. This injunction given by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is not at all against the injunctions of the śāstras.”

All disciples will have these guru relationships. Everyone met that person in their life who introduced them to the Krsna conception, who is the vartma-pradarśaka-guru. At the very least, gratitude and respect is due such a person, even if they are no longer practicing vaiṣṇavas. Everyone has a formal dīkṣa and/or śīkṣa relationship with their Guru and most already have a śīkṣa relationship with their god-brothers and god-sisters. It is the śīkṣa aspect of guru-tattva that is the essential understanding required for our spiritual success. It is also the śīkṣa aspect that harmonizes and inspires us to serve in the guru-godbrother relationship.

By the grace of Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja I came to know that my own dīkṣa-guru Śrīla Prabhupāda considered Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as his śīkṣa-guru. For all of us that accepted this undeniable fact, this was a life changing and revolutionary event. All of this is well documented in Śrīpāda Viṣṇu Mahārāja’s historical book, “Our Affectionate Guardians.” It is here we discover the deeper relationship between these two god-brothers, and how Śrīla Prabhupāda honored Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as his guru-godbrother, and how that relationship was so crucial to him long after the disappearance of their dīkṣa-guru Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura.

We also learned from Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja that our Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja also had a similar relationship with his god-brothers, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and Śrīla Mādhava Mahārāja whom he personally served late into his life. When great souls display these pastimes we should pay close attention to what they say and do. The question might arise, what is the need for multiple gurus. This question was answered by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja.

“If we can recognize the real thing for which we are approaching the guru, then we will understand how to make the adjustment in our relationship with the śīkṣa-guru, dīkṣa-guru, and vartma-pradarśaka-guru. We are infinitely indebted to all our Gurus. We are helpless. What can we do? They are benevolent, they are infinitely gracious, they are my guardians. I may have many guardians; they are to look after my welfare, they have not come to destroy me.” (Śrī Guru and his Grace)

If we have acquired any humility in our efforts to please Śrī Guru we will always recognize some devotees as our superiors and seek to put our service there. Generally there are many such souls, and this activity in service is our direct connection to our Guru. Both during the manifest pastimes of the Ācārya and equally so after his departure. We always want such devotees between us and our Gurudeva; it is the safer position.

Śrīpad Narasiṅgha Mahārāja told us how Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja would address the disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda who would come to see him for the first time. Many of our god-brothers and sisters had left ISKCON after the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda due to extreme disappointment. They came from all over the world and upon meeting him he would sometimes ask, “Under what senior vaiṣṇava are you presently serving?” Many of them were just alone out in the world. This is an eternally instructive point, we always want to be in this position, serving under a senior vaiṣṇava and if we are not, we must earnestly seek to change it.

In the beginning years of every devotee this relationship is automatically happening. We come to the door of a spiritual movement knowing very little about anything. Most of us generally learn the basics of spiritual activities and conceptions from the older disciples of the Guru. Therein exists a hierarchy based on experience and realization. At some point direct association and possibly personal training comes from the Guru himself, but this actually turns out to be quite rare. To consider one's older god-brothers and god-sisters as śīkṣa-gurus in the living time of the Ācārya is the natural course one follows in spiritual life. We are to continue this process after the gurus’ departure. It is the preferred course of action. The advanced devotees, even the eternally liberated ones have time and time again demonstrated this. Many obstacles will manifest once such a powerful personality withdraws from us. The contemporary history of all vaiṣṇava organizations bares this out.

In all matters of spiritual life we are to look to our own guru’s instructions and activities to guide us. We have briefly touched on our other Ācāryas. However, knowledge of Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja’s own history on this subject is uniquely instructive and can be used as a blueprint for all to follow.

In the years 1970-1977 Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja performed many varieties of service to Śrīla Prabhupāda and his mission. It’s significant to note that very little of it was done under the direct guidance of Śrīla Prabhupāda. It came through the process discussed above. The years following Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure were quite volatile and controversial. In spite of this Śrīla Guru Mahārāja faithfully remained serving there until 1985 until he could no longer in good conscience continue in a mission he felt had become a deviation from what he had joined earlier.

Two points in this history are notable. First there was no third-personality at this point trying to draw him away. As a sannyāsi disciple of His Divine Grace, his duty was to seek the truth at any cost. He simply left on his own accord.

The second point is he did not seek to be alone but sought out some of his senior sannyāsi god-brothers who had already come to similar conclusions and were preaching out in the world. The critical point here is that he maintained his position of serving those he considered to be his superiors. It was in this saṅga that he came to know more of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. Soon after and upon meeting him he would place his head and heart at his feet for the rest of his life.

Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja actively served in the mission of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja for the next few years. Incredibly he told us he was only in the personal presence of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja for a total of 2-3 hours. Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Maharaja is renowned the world over and held in the highest esteem amongst the followers of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. He was tireless in bringing forth the highest conceptions of our Gaudiya siddhānta as revealed by His Divine Grace. His legacy of books, articles, recordings, classes, etc. prove this beyond any doubt.

After Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārājas departure soon he found himself starting out in the world again. It was at this time with the selfless help of Śrīpāda Viṣṇu Mahārāja and some new followers, his present day mission began to take shape.

Still his desire for direct śīkṣa and seva to senior vaiṣṇavas remained. This led him to the feet of Śrīla Bhakti Promode Purī Mahārāja. Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja performed significant acts of seva to Mahārāja and his mission. During that era a particular instruction came that would considerably define his legacy today. In an intensely emotional encounter with Śrīla B.P. Purī Mahārāja he received the direct order from our Guardians to aggressively preach against the coming sahajīya misconceptions. This resulted in several books, notably, “The Authorized Caitanya-Saraswata-Parampara” and numerous instructive articles and videos. Many of our god-brothers and numerous devotees have acknowledged these as significant contributions to our Gauḍīya siddhānta.

The distinctive characteristic in Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārājas preaching is that his harikathā is almost always about the contributions of the previous Ācāryas. He was quite reluctant to emphasize himself in any way whatsoever. He principally spent the vast majority of his time glorifying Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī, Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and Śrīla Bhakti Promode Purī Mahārāja. Guru Mahārāja would often criticize the concept, āmār guru jagad-guru (my guru is the best or the only one). It is regularly seen that neophyte devotees and religious institutions often embrace this concept but in fact the exact opposite is required to please the Supreme Lord. 

This integral understanding of guru-tattva is mentioned by Śrīla B.P. Purī Mahārāja, who quotes the great Gauḍīya Ācārya, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa from his Prameya-ratnāvalī (1.4):

“Learned vaiṣṇavas should constantly remember the pure line of spiritual masters, for by so doing, they will perfect the single-minded devotion that brings satisfaction to Lord Hari” (Ch. 9)

So we have all these examples and more to follow. We are a śīkṣa saṁpradāya first and foremost. Dīkṣa is required but it is the śīkṣa principle we are always to seek out and serve. Our own guardians have shown this to us again and again. 

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja says, 

“The highest truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness comes down through the channel of śīkṣa-gurus, instructing spiritual masters. Those who have the standard of realization in the proper line have been accepted in the list of our disciplic succession. It is not a dīkṣa-guru paraṁpara, a succession of formal initiating gurus. Dīkṣa, or initiation is more or less a formal thing; the substantial thing is śīkṣa, or spiritual instruction. And if our dīkṣa and śīkṣa-gurus, or instructing and initiating spiritual masters, are congruent, then we are most fortunate.” (Śrī Guru and his Grace)

Near the end of Śrīla Prabhupāda pastimes in 1977 we practically see him begging Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to come and live with him in Māyāpura, “I have no one to talk to,” he states and at the time he had over 5000 disciples. Prabhupāda had practically conquered the world single handedly with virtually no help from his many god-brothers. Still he felt such necessity! 

We have been taught over and over there is no difference between the dīkṣa and śīkṣa gurus. It is revealed in too many places in our siddhānta to list in one place. Books have been written about it, it is beyond debate. 

When the Guru is no more present physically the disciples are in an unfortunate position. The day comes when the most senior devotees of the mission are only the direct dīkṣa/śīkṣa disciples of their Guru. It is up to each one of them to recognize amongst themselves who is strictly following in the footsteps of the Guru and equally important, who is not. Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Maharaja and our Guardians demonstrated this throughout their lives. Unfortunately not all will agree who is and who isn’t qualified. While enduring many difficulties that naturally arise after the disappearance of the Guru, the only safeguards are the Holy name, sādhu saṅga and sādhu seva.

The departure of Śrīla Purī Mahārāja in 1999 was a milestone event. Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārāja was here with us in Vermont on that day. I will never forget the look on his face as he approached our house with the terrible news. From that time forward no one inside or outside of our mission was able to fulfill his desire to directly serve and hear from senior vaiṣṇavas. I witnessed many times in my years of personal service to him the deep disappointment he felt about this. I could not understand his intense feelings at the time but I am beginning to realize some of it now. It is a lonely and difficult place to navigate.

Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Maharaja was the most generous, magnanimous, kind hearted, loving, devoted, realized, saintly man to walk this earth that I have ever experienced . By his mercy I have developed a deeper understanding of the wonder that is Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and Śrīla B.P. Purī Mahārāja and our vast Gauḍīya siddhānta. His legacy reveals the necessity of the “servant of the servant” guiding principle. He was and remains the transparent touchstone to these mahā-bhāgavatas. He walks among the Guardians of Devotion. He was the perfect guru-godbrother to serve in every respect.

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was asked by the disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda how they could recognize their guru in another form. His answer is the indispensable understanding we all need to realize.

“Our own inner experience, our internal satisfaction, our connection or acquaintance with reality is the real evidence; nothing external can give any real proof, vastu-tattva-jñāna haya kṛpāte pramāṇa — CC Madhya 6.89.” (Śrī Guru and his Grace)

This leads us back to the title of this article, The absolute necessity of the Guru god-brother relationship. It is true there are extreme precedents where this does not apply, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura being the most obvious. Many of our previous Ācāryas have repeatedly demonstrated the need for this relationship. It could be reasonably argued that our Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Maharaja is the prime example.

We should never stop serving whom we hold in this regard. If not holding anyone at present in this position, the advice is to dig deeper and find them. If we are sincere in our service to our Guru, he will reveal himself to us through our service to his devotees. Seek and you shall find, the saying goes. Better perhaps would be “serve and you shall find” as this was the creed, the life blood, the very essence of everything we know of Śrīpāda Narasiṅgha Mahārājas’ life. If we can remain true to his example, our ultimate success is guaranteed!