Chapter 13-Guru-Disciple Relationship
The Guru - Guide to the Spiritual World
On hearing the word guru, we tend to envision a caricature
like image: a bizarre-looking old fellow with a long, stringy
beard and flowing robes, meditating on distant, esoteric truths.
Or we think of a cosmic con man cashing in on young seekers'
spiritual gullibility. But what really is a guru? What does he
know that we don't? How does he enlighten us? In a talk given
in England in 1973, Srila Prabhupada provides some enlightening
caksur unmilitam yena
tasmai sri-gurave namah
"I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my guru, my
spiritual master, opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge.
I offer my respectful obeisances unto him."
The word ajnana means "ignorance" or "darkness".
If all the lights in this room immediately went out, we would
not be able to tell where we or others are sitting. Everything
would become confused. Similarly, we are all in darkness in this
material world, which is a world of tamas. Tamas or timira means
"darkness". This material world is dark, and therefore
it needs sunlight or moonlight for illumination. However, there
is another world, a spiritual world, that is beyond this darkness.
That world is described by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita(15.6):
na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
"That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon,
nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this
The guru's business is to bring his disciples from darkness
to light. At present everyone is suffering due to ignorance,
just as one contracts a disease out of ignorance. If one does
not know hygienic principles, he will not know what will contaminate
him. Therefore, due to ignorance, there is infection, and we
suffer from disease. A criminal may say, "I did not know
the law," but he will not be excused if he commits a crime.
Ignorance is no excuse. Similarly, a child, not knowing that
fire will burn, will touch the fire. The fire does not think,
"This is a child, and he does not know I will burn."
No, there is no excuse. Just as there are state laws, there are
also stringent laws of nature, and these laws will act despite
our ignorance of them. If we do something wrong out of ignorance,
we must suffer. This is the law. Whether the law is a state law
or a law of nature, we risk suffering if we break it.
The guru's business is to see that no human being suffers
in this material world. No one can claim that he is not suffering.
That is not possible. In this material world, there are three
kinds of suffering; adhyatmika, adhibhautika, and adhidaivika.
These are miseries arising from the material body and mind, from
other living entities and from the forces of nature. We may suffer
mental anguish, or we may suffer from other living entities-from
ants or mosquitoes or flies-or we may suffer due to some superior
power. There may be no rain, or there may be flood. There may
be excessive heat or excessive cold. So many types of suffering
are imposed by nature. Thus there are three types of miseries
within the material world, and everyone is suffering from one,
two, or three of them. No one can say that he is completely free
We may then ask why the living entity is suffering. The answer
is: out of ignorance. He does not think, "I am committing
mistakes and am leading a sinful life; that is why I am suffering."
Therefore the guru's first business is to rescue his disciple
from this ignorance. We send our children to school to save them
from suffering. If our children do not receive an education,
we fear that they will suffer in the future. The guru sees that
the suffering is due to ignorance, which is compared to darkness.
How can one in darkness be saved? By light. The guru takes the
torchlight of knowledge and presents it before the living entity
enveloped in darkness. That knowledge relieves him from the sufferings
of the darkness of ignorance.
One may ask whether the guru is absolutely necessary. The
Vedas inform us that he is:
tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
samit-panih arotriyam brahma-nistha
(Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12)
The Vedas enjoin us to seek out a guru; actually they say
to seek out the guru, not just a guru. The guru is one because
he comes in disciplic succession. What Vyasadeva and Krishna
taught five thousand years ago is also being taught now. There
is no difference between the two instructions. Although hundred
and thousands of acaryas have come and gone, the message is one.
The real guru cannot be two, for the real guru does not speak
differently from his predecessors. Some spiritual teachers say,
"In my opinion you should do this," but this is not
a guru. Such so-called gurus are simply rascals. The genuine
guru has only one opinion, and that is the opinion expressed
by Krishna, Vyasadeva, Narada, Arjuna, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,
and the Gosvamis. Five thousand years ago Lord Sri Krishna spoke
the Bhagavad-gita, and Vyasadeva recorded it. Srila Vyasadeva
did not say, "This is my opinion." Rather, he wrote,
sri-bhagavan uvaca, that is, "The Supreme Personality of
Godhead says." Whatever Vyasadeva wrote was originally spoken
by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srila Vyasadeva did not
give his own opinion. Consequently, Srila Vyasadeva is a guru.
He does not misinterpret the words of Krishna, but transmits
them exactly as they were spoken. If we send a telegram, the
person who delivers the telegram does not have to correct it,
edit it, or add to it. He simply presents it. That is the guru's
business. The guru may be this person or that, but the message
is the same; therefore it is said that guru is one.
In the disciplic succession we simply find repetition of the
same subject. In the Bhagavad-gita(9.34), Sri Krishna says:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
"Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee,
offer obeisances, and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in
Me, surely you will come to Me."
These very instructions were reiterated by all the acaryas,
such as Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
The six Gosvamis also transmitted the same message, and we are
simply following in their footsteps. There is no difference.
We do not interpret the words of Krishna by saying, "In
my opinion, the battlefield of Kuruksetra represents the human
body." Such interpretations are set forth by rascals. In
the world there are many rascal gurus who give their own opinion,
but we can challenge any rascal. A rascal guru may say, "I
am God," or, "We are all God." That is all right,
but we should find out from the dictionary what the meaning of
God is. Generally a dictionary will tell us that the word God
indicates the Supreme Being. Thus we may ask such a guru, "Are
you the Supreme Being?" If he cannot understand this, then
we should give the meaning of supreme. Any dictionary will inform
us that supreme means "the greatest authority." We
may then ask, "Are you the greatest authority?" Such
a rascal guru, even though proclaiming himself to be God, cannot
answer such a question. God is the Supreme Being and the highest
authority. No one is equal to Him or greater than Him. Yet there
are many guru-gods, many rascals who claim to be the Supreme.
Such rascals cannot help us escape the darkness of material existence.
They cannot illumine our darkness with the torchlight of spiritual
The bona fide guru will simply present what the supreme guru,
God, says in bona fide scripture. A guru cannot change the message
of the disciplic succession.
We must understand that we cannot carry out research to find
the Absolute Truth. Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself said, "My
Guru Maharaja, My spiritual master, considered Me a great fool."
He who remains a great fool before his guru is a guru himself.
However, if one says, "I am so advanced that I can speak
better than my guru," he is simply a rascal. In the Bhagavad-gita(4.2)
Sri Krishna says:
imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata
yogo nastah parantapa
"This supreme science was thus received through the chain
of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it
in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken,
and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost."
Taking on a guru is not simply a fashion. One who is serious
about understanding spiritual life requires a guru. A guru is
a question of necessity, for one must be very serious to understand
spiritual life, God, proper action, and one's relationship with
God. When we are very serious about understanding these subjects,
we need a guru. We shouldn't go to a guru simply because a guru
may be fashionable at the moment. Surrender must be there, for
without surrender we cannot learn anything. If we go to a guru
simply to challenge him, we will learn nothing. We must accept
the guru just as Arjuna accepted his guru, Sri Krishna Himself:
prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam
"Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure
because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell
me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a
soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me."(Bhagavad-gita
This is the process for accepting a guru. The guru is Krishna's
representative. Krishna says that all acaryas are His representatives;
therefore the guru should be offered the same respect one would
offer to God. As Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says in his prayers
to the spiritual master, yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah:"By
the mercy of the spiritual master, one receives the benediction
of Krishna." This, if we surrender to the bona fide guru,
we surrender to God. God accepts our surrender to the guru.
Someone may argue, "Where is Krishna? I shall surrender
to Him." But no, the process is that we first surrender
to Krishna's representative; then we surrender to Krishna. Therefore
it is said, saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih: the guru is as
good as God. When we offer respects to the guru, we are offering
respects to God. Because we are trying to be God conscious, it
is required that we learn how to offer respects to God through
God's representative. In all the sastras the guru is described
to be as good as God, but the guru never says, "I am God."
The disciple's duty is to offer respect to the guru just as he
offers respect to God, but the guru never thinks, "My disciples
are offering me the same respect they offer to God; therefore
I have become God." As soon as he thinks like this, he becomes
a dog instead of God. Therefore Visvanatha Cakravarti says, kintu
prabhor yah priya eva tasya. Because he is the most confidential
servitor of God, the guru is offered the same respect that we
offer God. God is always God, guru is always guru. As a matter
of etiquette, God is the worshipable God, and guru is the worshiper
God (sevaka-bhagavan). Therefore the guru is addressed as prabhupada.
The word prabhu means "lord", and pada means "position".
Thus prabhupada means "he who has taken the position of
the Lord." This is the same as saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih.
Only if we are very serious about understanding the science
of God is a guru required. We should not try to keep a guru as
a matter of fashion. One who has accepted a guru speaks intelligently.
He never speaks nonsense. That is the sign of having accepted
a bona fide guru. We should certainly offer all respect to the
spiritual master, but we should also remember how to carry out
his orders. In the Bhagavad-gita(4.34)Sri Krishna Himself tells
us the method of seeking out and approaching the guru:
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual
master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto
him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because
he has seen the truth."
The first process is that of surrender. We have to find an
exalted person and willingly surrender before him. The sastras
enjoin that before we take a guru we should study him carefully
to find out whether we can surrender to him. We should not accept
a guru suddenly, out of fanaticism. That is very dangerous. The
guru should also study the person who wants to become a disciple
to see if he is fit. That is the way a relationship is established
between the guru and disciple. Everything is provided, but we
must take up the process seriously. Then we can be trained to
become a bona fide disciple. First we must find a bona fide guru,
establish our relationship with him, and act accordingly. Then
our life will be successful, for the guru can enlighten the sincere
disciple who is in darkness.
Everyone is born a rascal and a fool. If we are born learned,
why do we need to go to school? If we do not cultivate knowledge,
we are no better than animals. An animal may say that there is
no need of books and that he has become a guru, but how can anyone
obtain knowledge without the study of authoritative books on
science and philosophy? Rascal gurus try to avoid these things.
We must understand that we are all born rascals and fools and
that we have to be enlightened. We have to receive knowledge
to make our lives perfect. If we do not perfect our lives, we
are defeated. What is this defeat? The struggle for existence.
We are trying to obtain a better life, to attain a superior position,
and for this we are struggling very hard. But we do not know
what a superior position actually is.
Whatever position we have in this material world must be given
up. We may have a good position or a bad position; in any case,
we cannot remain here. We may earn millions of dollars and think,
"Now I am in a good position," but a little dysentery
or cholera will finish our position. If the bank fails, our position
is gone. So actually there is no good position in this material
world. It is a farce. Those who try to attain a better position
in the material world are ultimately defeated, because there
is no better position. The Bhagavad-gita (14.26) says what the
better position is:
mam ca you `vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
"One who engages in the spiritual activities of unalloyed
devotional service at once transcends the modes of material nature
and is elevated to the spiritual platform."
Is there any science that gives us the knowledge by which
we may become immortal? Yes, we may become immortal, but not
in the material sense. We cannot receive this knowledge in so-called
universities. However, there is knowledge contained in the Vedic
scriptures by which we may become immortal. That immortality
is our better position. No more birth, no more death, no more
old age, no more disease. Thus the guru takes on a very great
responsibility. He must guide his disciple and enable him to
become an eligible candidate for the perfect position-immortality.
The guru must be competent to lead his disciple back home, back
His Divine Grace A.C.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is the foremost exponent of
Krishna Consciousness in this age and the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
He is living in his books and his instructions.
It is by his mercy that we are attempting
to engage in devotional service.
He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas dieJaya Srila Prabhupada!
When thou are living still in sound!
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
to spread the holy name around!
- (Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur 1871)