The word guru means heavy. Nowadays, we use the word guru quite loosely. Presently, it is often used for anyone who teaches us a particular mundane skill, for example, one can be a football guru, a cricket guru, a science guru, a physical yoga guru, and so on. I am not referring to all these types of gurus who train us with material skills. Here, I am talking about the personality who imparts on us the wealth of spiritual knowledge and instructs us to follow a particular spiritual (the transcendental mellows described) method. A true spiritual teacher is very dear to the Lord. One of our previous teachers, a ‘rasika’ acharya called HDG Srila Vishwanath Chakravarty Thakur composed a beautiful song in Sanskrit language for us to understand the value of a spiritual master:
uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ
kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
In summary, according to this verse, the spiritual teacher is non-different from Lord Hari, who is the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. This is acknowledged by all authenticated scriptures. But this text is also saying that by how much the spiritual master has godliness (how much he is spiritually elevated) that much the spiritual master is dear to the Lord. Humbly paying obeisance to that spiritual master.
Some people may doubt or question the statement ‘Guru is as good as God’. In order to have a deeper understanding of this matter we have to pay close attention to the inner meaning of Srila Vishwanath Chakravarty Thakur’s words. Srila Vishwanath Chakravarty-pad is trying to tell us that the Supreme Lord Krishna’s mercy is unable to reach the person who has unwanted mundane desires (anartha). But the Supreme Lord is all merciful and He is the father of all the living beings. We are all His children. He channels His mercy to us through a spiritually elevated personality, who is completely free from all anarthas and has not even a whiff of desire for material appreciation, recognition, and distinction. Such a personality is always engaged by body, mind and words in the Lord’s services. The Lord sends His mercy through such a spiritual being. Although the spiritual master is non-different to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, this does not mean that the spiritual master is Lord Krishna Himself. Outwardly, we can see many differences. When Lord Krishna appeared as Lord Ramchandra in the Treta Yuga and in this age of deception (Kali-Yuga) as Lord Chaitanya, He did not age and remained ever youthful, but we can see our spiritual master growing old and their hair starts to grey. The Supreme Lord Sri Krishna is the controller of the entire universe, but the spiritual master may have issues managing his own spiritual society, so how can they control the universe? Lord Krishna and His incarnations do not have a moustache or a beard, but we see the spiritual master growing facial hair. The Supreme Lord is the creator of the illusory energy, and is not affected by it, but the spiritual master is under the control of the illusory energy.
In this regard, I would like to quote His Divine Grace Srila Sachidananda Bhaktivinode Thakur;
prathame chilena tini sad guru pradhāna
krame nāma aparādhe haṅā hata jñāna
vaiṣṇave vidveśa kari chāḍe nāma rasa
krame krame hana artha kāminīra vaśa
The meaning is that when a spiritually elevated person loses their spiritual consciousness, they begin to blaspheme other Vaishnavas. As a result of becoming inimical towards Vaishnavas they commit offence towards the Holy Name and loses taste for chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. Consequently, they become desirous of name and fame in the spiritual community and become greedy to accumulate wealth and to fulfil their sense enjoyment desires.
The same person would previously take darshan (view the divine form of the Lord) of the beautiful form of the deities, would cook for the Lord and honour the mahaprasad, but after committing offences, they become attracted to material beauty. Instead of cooking for the pleasure of the Lord, they only cook to satisfy their own tongue. Before they would relish listening to the pure devotees chanting, whether it was melodious or not, but after committing offences, they develop taste for modern style of chanting to please onlookers, and that will not have any spiritual potency. Before, they enjoyed the fragrance of offered sandalwood, but with the decline of their spirituality, they wear artificial fragrance for their own pleasure. Previously the pure devotee would desire to serve an elevated and senior Vaishnava, and would eagerly touch and massage their lotus feet with their own hands, but in their fallen state, they prefer to engage their followers to massage their own feet. With that, they derive self-enjoyment.
According to the above explanation, we can understand that there are differences between the Supreme Lord and the spiritual master. How did Srila Vishwanatha Chakravarty Thakur explain the differences? The Guru is non different to the Lord in the sense that the Supreme Lord Krishna’s mercy comes down to us through His pure devotee.
We come to know from the previous teachers that;
maya re koriya joy charano na jay
We can conquer illusory energy but we are not able to leave maya because if we astray from the correct conduct and commit mistakes through activities which will displease the Supreme Lord, then Maya Devi will be ready to pounce on us.
So we can see that maya is a very powerful force in this material world. On this point, I would like to give an example. In water the crocodile is more powerful, but on land, nothing can equal the elephant’s power. Likewise, Maya Devi is powerful in this material world. Here, the elephant is a metaphor for a human being. We have the power of intelligence but in this material ocean, our material intelligence will not help us to escape this illusion. In order to escape this illusory energy, we have to surrender to the Lord and master of the illusory energy. The Bhagavad Gita states;
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
My illusory energy is full of qualities (Maya Devi is fully surrendered to the Lord), and is it impossible to escape Maya Devi in this material world. It is only possible when you become completely surrendered to Me (Lord Sri Krishna). That surrendered person is able to stay in the material world without disturbance from this illusory energy
Elephant may think that he is more powerful than the crocodile in water, but if he gets into the water, then he will see that it is impossible to defeat the crocodile. Similarly, the Lord has given us the best intelligence, but we are using this intelligence on a material level to develop materially and to make our life comfortable and happy. In reality though, we can see that day by day the illusory energy is tightening her grip on us. Our level of anxiety and distress is increasing by the day. The more we distance ourselves from the Lord, the more we fall into the trap of the illusory energy.
I would like to give another example. My grand spiritual master HDG Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhantha Saraswati Goswami Thakur, in one of his discourses said that if one thinks that he is a guru, even in mind, then it means that he is not actually qualified to become a guru at all. On the contrary, he becomes a ‘goru’, a cow – an animal. So, a guru should not think that he is guru and is elevated. How much a person becomes heavy (spiritually realised) by nature, that person will be very humble and will always have his head bowed down. Another example can be the mango tree. A mango tree whose branches are heavy with mangoes will bow down with the weight of its fruit, similarly, a spiritually realised person will be humble. If the tree has no mangoes, then the branches will stay upright and proud. The mangoes symbolise spiritual knowledge. Without any spiritual realisation, a person will stay puffed up.
My grand spiritual master Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur always taught us by example. He himself never used the word ‘disciple’ for his disciples. Instead, he referred to his disciples as ‘bipod uddaharan bandhob’ – friends who protect me from the different dangers of this material world. Also, I read in various articles that Srila Prabhupada used to say that ‘I have not accepted any disciples in my life. I accepted all of them as my Guru’. Spiritually elevated Gurus never see anyone as being inferior to them, they see all as their Gurus.
There was a person called Dattatreya (Avadhoot) belonging in the Yadav Dynasty. He accepted 24 Gurus.
When Guru Dattatreya was a child, a king visited the ashram. Because his parents were away, Dattatreya greeted the king and the king saw an inner joy radiating from the boy. The king immediately realised that the boy was gifted with great wisdom and started talking to him. Dattatreya revealed the teachings he received from the 24 Gurus he accepted;
- Mother earth is my first guru. She taught me to hold those who trample me, scratch me, and hurt me lovingly in my heart, just as she does. She taught me to give them my best, remembering that their acts are normal and natural from their stand point.
- Water it is a force that contains life and purity. It cleanses whatever it touches and provides life to whoever drinks it. Water flows unceasingly. If it stops, it becomes stagnant. Keep moving is the lesson I learned from water.
- Fire. It burns everything, transforming it into flame. By consuming dead logs, it produces warmth and light. Thus, I learnt how to absorb everything that life brings and how to turn it into flame. This flame enlightens my life and, in that light, others can walk safely.
- Wind is my fourth guru. The wind moves unceasingly, touching flowers and thorns alike, but never attaches itself to the objects it touches. Like the wind, I learned not to prefer flowers over thorns or friends over foes. Like the wind, my goal is to provide freshness to all without becoming attached.
- This all-pervading and all-embracing space is my fifth guru. Space has room for the sun, moon, and stars and yet, it remains untouched and unconfined. I, too, must have room for all the diversities, and still remain unaffected by what I contain. All visible and invisible objects may have their rightful place within me, but they have no power to confine my consciousness.
- The moon. The moon waxes and wanes and yet never loses its essence, totality, or shape. From watching the moon, I learned that waxing and waning-rising and falling, pleasure and pain, loss and gain-are simply phases of life. While passing through these phases, I never lose awareness of my true Self.
- The sun is my seventh guru. With its bright rays, the sun draws water from everything, transforms it into clouds, and then distributes it as rain without favor. Rain falls on forests, mountains, valleys, deserts, oceans, and cities. Like the sun, I learned how to gather knowledge from all sources, transform that knowledge into practical wisdom, and share it with all without preferring some recipients and excluding others.
- My eighth guru is a flock of pigeons. One pigeon fell into a hunter’s net and cried in despair. Other pigeons tried to rescue it and got caught, too. From these pigeons, I learned that even a positive reaction, if it springs from attachment and emotion, can entangle and ensure.
- My ninth guru is the python who catches and eats its prey, and then doesn’t hunt again for a long time. It taught me that once my need has been met, I must be satisfied and not make myself miserable running after the objects of my desire.
- The ocean, which is the abode of the waters. It receives and assimilates water from all the rivers in the world and never overflows its boundaries. It taught me that no matter what experiences I go through in life, no matter how many kicks and blows I receive, I must maintain my discipline.
- The moth is my eleventh guru. Drawn by light, it flies from its dwelling to sacrifice itself in the flame. It taught me that once I see the dawn, I must overcome my fear, soar at full speed, and plunge into the flame of knowledge to be consumed and transformed.
- My twelfth guru is a bumblebee who takes only the tiniest drops of nectar from the flowers. Before accepting even that much, it hums and hovers and dances, creating an atmosphere of joy around the flower. It not only sings the song of cheerfulness; it also gives more to the flowers than it takes. It pollinates the plants and helps them prosper by flying from one flower to another. I learned from the bumblebee that I should take only a little from nature and that I should do so cheerfully, enriching the source from which I receive sustenance.
- My thirteenth guru is the honeybee who collects more nectar than it needs. It gathers nectar from different sources, swallows it, transforms it into honey, and brings it to the hive. It consumes only a bit of what it gathers, sharing the rest with others. Thus I should gather wisdom from the teachers of all disciplines and process the knowledge that I gain. I must apply the knowledge that is conducive to my growth, but I must be ready to share everything I know with others.
- Once I saw a wild elephant being trapped. A tame female elephant in season was the bait. Sensing her presence, the wild male emerged from its domain and fell into a pit that had been cleverly concealed with branches and heaps of leaves. Once caught, the wild elephant was tamed to be used by others. This elephant is my fourteenth guru because he taught me to be careful with my passions and desires. Worldly charms arouse our sensory impulses and, while chasing after the sense cravings, the mind gets trapped and enslaved, even thought, it is powerful.
- The deer, with its keen sense of hearing. It listens intently and is wary of all noises, but is lured to its doom by the melody of the deer hunter’s flute. Like the deer, we keep our ears alert for every bit of news, rumor, and gossip, and are skeptical about much that we hear. But we become spellbound by certain words, which, due to our desires, attachments, cravings, and vasanas (subtle impressions from the past), we delight to hear. This tendency creates misery for others and ourselves.
- The fish who swallows a baited hook and is caught by the fisherman. This world is like bait. As long as I remember the episode of the fish, I remain free of the hook.
- A prostitute who knows that she doesn’t love her customers, nor do they love her. Yet she waits for them and, when they come, enacts the drama of love. She isn’t satisfied with the artificial love she gives and receives, nor with the payment she is given. I realized that all humans are like prostitutes and the world, like the customers, is enjoying us. The payment is always inadequate and we feel dissatisfied. Thus, I became determined not to live like a prostitute. Instead, I will live with dignity and self-respect, not expecting this world to give me either material or internal satisfaction, but to find it myself by going within.
- My eighteenth guru is a little bird who was flying with a worm in its beak. Larger birds flew after him and began pecking him. They stopped only when the little bird dropped the worm. Thus, I learned that the secret of survival lies in renunciation, not in possession.
- My nineteenth guru is the baby that cries when it is hungry and stops when it suckles at its mother’s breast. When the baby is full, it stops feeding and nothing its mother does can induce it to take more milk. I learned from this baby to demand only when I really need. When it’s provided, I must take only what I require and then turn my face away.
- A young woman whom I met when I was begging for alms. She told me to wait while she prepared a meal. Her bracelets jangled as she cooked, so she removed one. But the noise continued, so she took off all her bracelets, one by one, until only one remained. Then there was silence. Thus, I learned that wherever there is a crowed, there is noise, disagreement, and dissension. Peace can be expected only in solitude.
- A snake that makes no hole for itself, but who rests in holes other creatures have abandoned, or curls up in the hollow of a tree for a while, and then moves on. From this snake, I learned to adjust myself to my environment and enjoy the resources of nature without encumbering myself with a permanent home. Creatures in nature move constantly, continually abandoning their previous dwellings. Therefore, while floating along the current of nature, I find plenty of places to rest. Once I am rested, I move on.
- My twenty-second guru is an arrow maker who was so absorbed in shaping his arrowheads that the king and his entire army passed without attracting his attention. Thus, I learned from the arrow makes to be absorbed in the task at hand, no matter how big or small. The more one-pointed my focus, the greater my absorption, and the greater my absorption, the more subtle my awareness. The goal is subtle, and can only be grasped by subtle awareness.
- My twenty-third guru is a little spider who built itself a nice cozy web. When a larger spider chased it, it rushed to take refuge in its web. But it ran so fast that it got entangled and was swallowed by the bigger spider. Thus, I learned that we create webs for ourselves by trying to build a safe haven, and as we race along the threads of these webs, we become entangled and are consumed. There is no safety to be found in the complicated webs of our actions.
- My twenty-fourth guru is a worm who was caught by a songbird and placed in its nest. As the bird began singing, the worm became so absorbed in the song that it lost all awareness of its peril. Watching this little creature become absorbed in a song in the face of death reminded me that I, too, must develop the art of listening so that I my become absorbed in the eternal sound, nada, that is always within me. Listening to Dattatreya, the king realized that the wisdom of this sage flowed from his determination to keep the goal of life firmly fixed in his awareness and from his ability to find the teachings everywhere he turned.
My spiritual master HDG Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami Thakur used to say, ‘I have no qualifications to become Guru. My spiritual master is eligible to be a Guru. Without Prabhupada (HDG Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur), I have no value.” By that, my spiritual master was trying to say that Guru is a tattva – the absolute truth. In this material world, the absolute truth is the Supreme Lord Himself. All bona fide initiating gurus represent the Supreme Lord. According to our scriptures, we know that;
krishna rakshati jagat trayam guru
This means that Krishna is protecting the entire universe, therefore He is jagatguru – the ultimate spiritual master. If the initiating guru is not dear to Krishna, then he cannot be considered to be as good as God. We can use the analogy of a safe to understand how Guru and God are connected. We store valuable items in a safe and keep it securely locked. The lock symbolises God and the key symbolises the guru. Without the mercy of the Guru, we are unable to turn the key to open the lock and get to the valuable treasure in the safe. Therefore, we can see how important guru is. A guru is one who is fully surrendered, absolutely pure, a spiritually realised soul and endowed with godliness. In that way, they could be as good as God, but not God. They always remain as the servant of the servant of the servant of God. Lord Chaitanya is the Supreme Lord but He gives His identity as;
Ami gopi kamala raja das dasanudasa
(gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ)
CC Madhya 13.80
The gopis are very dear to Krishna. They have spontaneous love to serve Krishna. We call them raagatmika. Their love comes from the core of their hearts. We are raagangu – we follow in the footsteps of raagatmika.
In conclusion, I would like to present a shloka from Sri Padyavali text 115 composed by Srila Rupa Goswami-pad.
arcye vishnau sila-dhir gurushu nara-matir vaishnave jati-buddhir
vishnor va vaishnavanam kali-mala-mathane pada-tirthe ‘mbu-buddhih
sri-vishnor namni mantre sakala-kalusha-he sabda-samanya-buddhir
vishnau sarvesvare tad-itara-sama-dhir yasya va naraki sah
If one thinks that the deity form of Lord Vishnu is a stone, the spiritual master is an ordinary person, if one considers the caste, creed of a Vaishnava, think that caranamrita (water that has bathed the feet of Lord Vishnu or the Vaishnavas) is regular drinking water, the Holy Name is just a syllable and ordinary sound vibration, or that the Lord is equal to other persons, will belong in hell.
Harinaam is the divine loving wealth of Goloka Vrindavan. It is not an ordinary sound vibration. The caranamrita contains the mercy of the worshipful personalities and should only be taken so that the water dries in the throat before reaching the stomach. Vaishnavas have no caste and creed. They are completely surrendered to the Supreme Lord. If one harbours such thoughts, they are destined for hell.
B. B. Bodhayan
Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math (President)
12 June 2022