Spiritual Masters and Spiritual Practice

Nowadays, we can see that there are so many spiritual masters operating publicly. We call spiritual masters ‘Guru’. In Padma Puran, it says  

guruṣu nara-matir…yasya vā nārakī saḥ

If anyone thinks that gurus are like ordinary human beings, then their spiritual progress will stop, and the destination of their practice will be hell.  

According to shastra (our spiritual scriptures), guru is the condensed form of Lord Sri Krishna’s mercy. Lord Krishna bestows his mercy on a person that is very dear to Him. He explains in the Bhagavad Gita: 

yo na hṛiṣhyati na dveṣhṭi na śhochati na kāṅkṣhati
śhubhāśhubha-parityāgī bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ

samaḥ śhatrau cha mitre cha tathā mānāpamānayoḥ
śhītoṣhṇa-sukha-duḥkheṣhu samaḥ saṅga-vivarjitaḥ

tulya-nindā-stutir maunī santuṣhṭo yena kenachit
aniketaḥ sthira-matir bhaktimān me priyo naraḥ

—Bhagavad Gita Chapter 12, text 17-19

A devotional person who does not become overjoyed upon material gains, who does not experience hatred upon gaining something unfavourable, who does not lament over the loss of some dear material object, who does not aspire for attaining something that is unattained, and who renounces both pious and sinful work is dear to Me. A devotional person who is equipoised in the face of enemies and friends as well as in respect and disrespect, who views cold and heat as well as happiness and sadness with an equal viewpoint, who is detached in all circumstances, who views criticism and praise as equal, who has controlled speech, who is satisfied with whatever is gained of its own accord, who is free from attachment to home and heart, and who possesses fixed intelligence in spiritual subject matters is dear to me.  

We know that a Guru should be a sadhu. But how do we know who a sadhu is? Srimad Bhagavatam elaborates on this matter:  

titikṣavaḥ kāruṇikāḥ suhṛdaḥ sarva-dehinām
ajāta-śatravaḥ śāntāḥ sādhavaḥ sādhu-bhūṣaṇāḥ

— Srimad Bhagavatam 3.25.21

A sadhu is someone who is extremely tolerant in every situation, who is an ocean of compassion, who is a well-wisher to all living beings, who does not consider anyone to be their enemy, who has no material expectation and who is always calm. These are the five symptoms of a sadhu.

Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur told us that if we do not broadcast the truth according to the shastras (or previous teachers), and instead twist the meaning out of material motivations or out of fear of unpopularity, then that person is an atheist (nastik) and holds no faith in God (22nd Ashar 1333 (6th July 1926), at Narendra Sarovar Jagannath Puri, Orissa). One who is completely free from unwanted mundane desires is known as anartha mukta and his responsibility is to deliver his followers, and one who has unwanted mundane desires is known as anartha yukta. In our philosophy, one who gives direction is the Guru, and the person following those directions is the disciple. The Guru should always be anartha mukta, and his responsibility is to deliver his followers (disciples) from this miserable and mundane world by guiding the disciples on establishing their eternal identity and introducing them to Lalita Sakhi.

In this age of deception (Kali yuga), it is not easy to find this type of anartha mukta Guru. But, in present society, there are so many gurus surrounding us! Are they all anartha mukta sadhus?  True sadhus have no desire to quarrel over material appreciation and recognition. Unfortunately, there is now an abundance of anartha yukta gurus, which has led to quarrelsome situations amongst people in so-called spiritual societies. We can see that even those who are householders (with unwanted mundane desires), demand to have the position of a guru. Many anartha yukta gurus are competing for popularity on social media, treating the position of being a guru as a business. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur once said, “If a blind person gives directions and another person follows these directions, then both the blind person and the disciple will fall into a ditch. The blind person takes the first injury (dhaka) from falling into the ditch, and the second injury from his disciple falling on him, while the disciple gets injured once from falling on the guru.” This signifies the fact that an anartha yukta Guru, because of their material greed, face more consequences than their disciples. Shastra elaborates on this: 

snehād vā lobhato vāpi yo gṛhṇīyād adīkṣayā
tasmin gurau saśiṣye tu devatāśāpa āpatet

— Hari Bhakti Vilas 2:7

When a Guru gives initiation to a disciple without following the rules and regulation of diksha, or if someone accepts the diksha mantra out of greed or because of mundane expectations, in both cases, both the Guru and disciple are cursed by the gods and goddesses (devatas and devis). 

yo vakti nyāyarahitam anyāyena śṛṇoti yaḥ
tāv ubhau narakaṃ ghoraṃ vrajataḥ kālam akṣayam

— Hari Bhakti Vlias 1:101

Both the guru (spiritual master) who does not speak according to the shastras, and the disciples who listen to such discourses, will be destined for eternity in hell. 

kṛpāsindhuḥ susampūrṇaḥ sarvasattvopakārakaḥ
niḥspṛhaḥ sarvataḥ siddhaḥ sarvavidyāviśāradaḥ
sarvasaṃśayasaṃchettā nālaso gurur āhṛtaḥ

— Hari Bhakti Vilas 1:45-46

A person can be considered to be called ‘Guru’ if they are an ocean of mercy, if they have established their own spiritual identity and have all spiritual qualities: be a well-wisher to all living beings, have no material attachment, have spiritual perfection, have accumulated the knowledge of all different studies, can cure all of our doubts, are not lazy by nature, and are always worried and busy about delivering people from this miserable and mundane world.

In this age of deception (Kali Yuga), these symptoms are extremely rare. This is why Srila Sachidananda Bhaktivinode Thakur instructed us to be careful about trusting sadhus. “If we see many people in society wearing saffron and saintly outfits, then we know our society is in terrible trouble”. Nowadays, we have many people establishing societies (expanding their branches) and calling themselves sadhus, and we can also see Gurus quarrelling amongst each other about who is more qualified than the rest. We know that people are quarrelling over material gain i.e., accumulating more wealthy disciples, constructing big temples etc. The truth is that no one can quarrel over spiritual gain because spiritual gain is based on our own spiritual realisations (which are completely private), and on our sincere spiritual practice. This is not something we share with anyone unless we are able to find qualified, like-minded, and elevated sadhus for genuine exchanges.

Recently, a person wrote me an accusatory letter saying that I am not respecting their faith, their gurudev, or their shiksha guru. Also in this letter, he blasphemed against our Guru Varga. Shastra (Srimad Bhagavatam), tells us that Krishna killed the demoness Putana when he was only seven days old, delivered Shakatasura when he was 3 months old, killed Trinavarta when he was 1 year old, killed Vatsasura when he was 3 years old,  killed the demon Bakasura when he was 4 years old, liberated Aghasura when he was 5 years old, danced on the hood of the serpent Kaliya at 6 years old and He lifted up Govardhan hill at 7 years old. When He was 8 years old Krishna performed Rasa lila, expanding Himself for thousands of Gopis—someone that we consider ragatmika (who has spontaneous and eternally pure love for Krishna). At 11 years old, He killed Kamsa and saved every category of society from his demonic trap. Although there are innumerable examples of Sri Krishna’s pastimes, it seems that many people these days do not put their energy towards glorifying Lord Krishna’s qualities. Instead, they only glorify their guru’s qualities. We are running behind society and guru consciousness rather than Krishna consciousness. The personality who we refer to as ‘guru’ is actually a representative of the absolute truth, Guru Tattva. In this universe, Krishna is the absolute truth and therefore, Krishna is the ultimate Guru (jagatguru). We should measure an initiating/instructing guru’s spiritual advancement by the purity of their connection with the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna (as they are representatives of Him). However, due to people’s misconceptions about Guru Tattva at this present time, we measure their advancement from how opulent their temples are, how big their temple deities are, or how many disciples they have. Day by day, our minds are becoming more and more materialistic and less and less spiritual. 

In fact, to progress in spirituality, we have to fix our minds towards the Lord’s services. We can only be said to be serving someone properly if the object of our service is happy with each of our actions. The object of our service is Sri Krishna. But what makes Lord Krishna happy? He said (in the form of Lord Chaitanya):  

Amar bhakter puja ama hote boro
Sei prabhu vede bhagvate koile drira

— Sri Caitanya Bhagavat, 1st Kanda, Text 8

Worshipping my devotee is higher than worshipping me

We can see that most people have the tendency to primarily promote their guru and Vaishnavas from their own society, and then Krishna. This tendency is called fanaticism, which is not present in pure devotional practice. They forget that the ultimate guru is Sri Krishna Himself.  A shloka that is often recited by most people in present society is: 

Gurur Brahmā Gurur Viṣṇur Gurur devo Maheśvaraḥ
Guruḥ sākṣāt paraṁ Brahma tasmai śrī gurave namaḥ

— Skanda Purana

Guru is Brahma—Krishna’s mode of passion incarnation (raja gun), Guru is Vishnu – Krishna’s mode of goodness incarnation (sattva gun), Guru is Mahesvara – Krishna’s mode of darkness incarnation (tama gun).

Nowadays, most people are misrepresenting this shloka by equating their guru to Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and saying that worshipping their guru is the same as worshipping these 3 different incarnations of Krishna. More or less everyone in present society has the tendency to earn money by any means necessary, even if it is illegal. Although most will know that this is sinful, they also think that if you donate a portion of this illegally earnt money to a sadhu, it frees them from the consequences of their bad karma. There are many people that pretend to be qualified gurus and they purposefully misrepresent this shloka to their disciples, exploiting their followers and making them become fanatics. 

Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur informed us about this, and listed 13 apa-sampradayas: aula, baula, kartabhaja, neda, daravesa, snai, sahajiya, sakhibheki, smarta, jata-gosani, ativadi, cudadhari and gauranga-nagari. Apa-sampradays are so-called followers of Lord Chaitanya, pursuing their own motivations for material gain. This is why they are rejected (bogus gurus) – because they pretend to be followers of Lord Chaitanya but in fact, they follow their own mind-concoctions. Due to the prevalence of these misrepresentations, even those wanting to be sincere followers of Lord Chaitanya can end up in the trap of kartabhaja (Guru bhaja). We should not forget that Gurus should be dear to Krishna and their godliness depends on how dear they are to Krishna. In this age of deception, it seems that to become dear to Krishna, one has to wear opulent dresses, establish opulent deities and offer opulent bhoga, but this is not what Krishna said. Lord Chaitanya taught us that how dear we are to Krishna depends on our taste of chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. There is no harm in keeping big temples, but our attachment to the opulence and popularity of those temples is what makes realising the taste of our chanting difficult—which Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur said is evidence of our advancement in spiritual practice. Whoever has the taste of chanting may have a big temple, or no temple at all! 

One example is Srila Gaur Kishore Das Babaji Maharaj. He never established a temple – he spent his entire life staying in a small hut. Our previous teachers told us that at one point, Babaji Maharaj was living in a hut on a boat, and a wealthy person approached him and offered to let Babaji Maharaj stay in a glorious room in his home as well as opulent prasad every day. Babaji Maharaj replied, “do you have a toilet room in your home? That is the best place for me to stay”. He also replied, “I would rather become an ox (dharmer shnaar), than a cow staying in a goshala under the control of a householder (grihaster goru)”. Oxen do not give milk, so most people leave them in the marketplace. According to Indian understanding, an ox is the representation of dharma (religiosity). To get the gain of dharma, people feed the oxen by going door-to-door and shop-to-shop in the market, but on the contrary, a householder cow is always kept in the goshala and takes what the householder offers it. Babaji Maharaj is trying to say that a renounced person should not be dependent on any particular affluent person—they should do madhukuri (begging for alms door to door). They should not stay in an opulent home, and they should only keep a simple lifestyle. Babaji Maharaj was a renounced person and thus, he gave this example for us to understand what it means to be a real sadhu. Even Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur said that simplicity is another name for vaishnava practice (saralatar apar naam vaishnavata). 

So presently, where is the simplicity? It seems like we are battling in the spiritual field over how much opulence we can accumulate, and how we can blaspheme and minimise others to uplift our own image and position. General people have no proper conception of Vaishnava practice and in this world, everyone is more or less materialistic. It follows that they choose their spiritual group accordingly and are attracted to the more materialistic groups. In the eyes of people nowadays, Srila Gaur Kishore Das Babaji Maharaj’s aforementioned spiritual advancement has no value. We must keep in mind: 

Gurabo bahaba santi shisho bitta paharakah
Durlabha sadguru devi shisho shantap haraka

— Came from the lips of Shiva (greatest Vaishnava) to Parvati 

The goal of many gurus is to squeeze the wealth of their disciples. It is very rare to find a real guru who can rid the disciples of their unwanted mundane desires.

So, what are we supposed to do? Lord Chaitanya says that it is very easy to deliver us from our unwanted mundane desires by chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra under the shelter of sadguru. ‘Sad’ means eternal and the only thing that is eternal in this universe is Sri Krishna Himself. Sadguru means whoever is dear to Krishna and who has the symptoms that Krishna Himself listed in Srimad Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 12, Text 17-19 (listed above). All of these qualities will be revived in our consciousness if we chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra without offences. 

Whenever we have the tendency to minimise or ignore other devotees of the Lord, it is very difficult to chant without offences. In fact, it is actually a very severe offence—such that even chanting cannot remove it. The only way to be excused from vaishnava aparadh is if we are forgiven by who we criticised, and by Sri Krishna. We may pretend to ask for forgiveness because of formalities and because a Vaishnava’s nature is very simple, they will forgive us easily. However, Krishna (in his Vasudev form) is always in our hearts. He always knows whether our prayer for forgiveness is sincere and if it is not, He will not forgive us. This is why we have to be very careful about committing vaishnava aparadh and therefore about accepting gurus. In fact, in our eyes, we are not qualified to recognise a bona fide Guru. In this regard, in order to find sadguru, Srila Narottama Das Thakur explained in one of his songs, “Krishna kripai guru mile, guru kripai Krishna mile”. This means that by the mercy of Krishna, a person can get guru. But also, by the mercy of guru, we become qualified to get Krishna’s service. Krishna is pure, His choice is always pure, and He never cheats us. This is why we should never feel cheated for accepting gurus sent by Krishna. Once, Srila Prabhupada Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur mentioned in one of his articles that according to our inner thoughts, Krishna will send his representatives accordingly. For example, if we have the tendency to be hypocrites, Krishna will send us a hypocrite Guru. Therefore, we must be sincere in every aspect of our devotional practice. To use a mundane example, we know that a doctor can recognise another qualified doctor. Similarly, a teacher can recognise another qualified teacher. If we have the desire to practice pure devotion, we will be able to recognise when Krishna sends us a bona fide guru for accepting initiation. Therefore, we must establish a sincere mood in our hearts to chant the Holy Name purely. 

Presently, we can see that if someone becomes a good orator (by giving attractive spiritual discourses), many people try to get initiated by them. And it has become common that these orators begin to give initiation—most initiating gurus are appointed by their disciples, not by their previous teachers. We can see many so-called gurus that were not given initiating power, canvassing and calling people to come and get initiated by them. Furthermore, gurus should not be elected, they should be appointed (by their previous teachers or bona fide spiritual masters). If we do not follow the appointing system, it is very difficult to rid people of the disease of aspiring materially to become a guru, rather than aiming to be perfect disciples of our Parampara. The only people who aspire to become a guru are those who think that guru is individual. But our Parampara’s teachings tell us that guru is not an individual, it is a tattva (akanda guru tattva). Whenever we are able to realise that Guru is Krishna Himself, then our blaspheming tendencies towards other vaishnavas will stop. We should realise guru tattva properly. Guru tattva means that our practice does not include any fanaticism. We should practice Lord Chaitanya’s mission with a non-sectarian and non-judgemental mood—what we have seen amongst our previous teachers; namely the Six Goswamis and their true followers. 

I am humbly begging you all to not take offence from my explanation. I have just written my feelings seeing the present situation in spiritual communities. They are all happening with the influence of Kali Maharaj. We know that Kali means quarrel, ignorance, and hypocrisy. If we are running behind our present understandings and not changing ourselves (our blaspheming tendencies), this means that we are promoting Kali Maharaj instead of Lord Chaitanya’s mission. Again, I am humbly begging that you do not take this any other way than what I described, and that you try to understand. If you feel that this has been beneficial, then please bless me to carry the mission of Lord Chaitanya with purity. But if you feel hurt by this, then please excuse me out of your causeless mercy and rectify me if I made any mistakes.

Desiring a tiny speck of feet dust of bona fide Gurus and Vaishnavas,
An unworthy servant of servants of our Parampara (lineage),
Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math