“According to this instruction of Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, it is the duty of a disciple to follow strictly the orders of his spiritual master. The secret of success in advancement in spiritual life is the firm faith of the disciple in the orders of his spiritual master.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 12.8 Purport)
The goal is simple in bhakti: think of God. Think of Him especially at the time of death. That time is surely frantic, for who wants to leave the residence they have grown accustomed to for so many years? When we’re in trouble now we have a difficult time focusing on the positive. If something is pressing, if there is an uncertain outcome, naturally there will be worry. The afterlife brings the most uncertain outcome, so how are we to think of God at the time of entering it? Success comes very easily, however, for one who has unflinching faith in the spiritual master and His orders.
Imagine this scenario. You’ve just gotten married. You’ve decided that you and your spouse will live at home, where your parents and younger siblings already reside. Though this isn’t the customary practice in modern times, you see no problem with it. You want everyone to be together. You don’t see a reason to seek a new dwelling simply for privacy’s sake. You’d rather everyone be under the same roof.
Now how will you assure that the home life is successful? Your situation doesn’t have to exactly match this one in order to relate. It could be just you and your roommates living somewhere. The key to success is love. If there is strong affection for one another, then there is every chance at success. If each person has their own interests, and they go about only trying to meet those, you will surely have conflict. If everyone does their own thing, who will manage the house? If I’m only interested in partying, who is going to take out the garbage? If there is a problem with the heating system, and everyone is locked away in their room, who is going to take care of it?
In the home with the family, there needs to be attention on the children. Someone has to watch over them. Someone has to guide them. Then there needs to be food on the table. If everyone is out for themselves, who will make sure that everyone eats properly? As with a well oiled machine, each component must function properly. The string that holds everything together is affection for one another. When that is present, whatever you are looking for at the outset will likely come to fruition.
In bhakti, the linking thread is affection for the spiritual master. It is said that one cannot approach God directly. This should make sense if we think about it. We have no idea what God looks like. We have no idea where He lives, where He moves, and what His desires are. We can speculate, for sure. Man has done this since time immemorial. Yet that speculation yields nothing tangible, as with our imperfect senses we can’t even remember everything we see or hear. How, then, can we know someone who is beyond this temporary world?
The guru is God’s representative, and from his mercy we can know God. As an example, from the mercy of the guru through his translation of the Bhagavad-gita, we can hear directly from the Supreme Lord about how one can know Him in full, free from doubts. In that verse, translated and commented upon for our specific time and circumstance, we see that with a mind attached to Krishna and practicing the yoga of devotion to Him, we can know Him.
“Now hear, O son of Pritha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.1)
The guru tells us that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, the detail behind the foggy notion of a Supreme Lord. The guru informs us that the word “krishna” means “all-attractive,” which is an apt description for God. The guru also reveals his own position: he is servant of God. He is God’s representative, but not God Himself. You can tell who is the guru by seeing if they are always thinking of Krishna, serving Him, and helping others to know Him.
If you encounter such a guru, even only indirectly through his recorded words, you can get an attachment to him. If you develop love for him, your success in bhakti is assured. If you really love someone, you will do things that make them happy. The guru’s only desire is that the disciple, either informal or formal, take up bhakti-yoga in earnest and make their life successful.
The guru even reveals the best way to practice that yoga in the specific time and circumstance. For this present age of Kali, known for its heightened quarrel and hypocrisy, the best method is the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The spiritual master says that intoxication, gambling, meat eating, and illicit sex chip away at the efficacy of this chanting. Sort of like trying to hear someone when you have loud music blaring in your ears, chanting with any or all of these four behaviors active makes the bhakti practice take longer to fructify.
Bhakti thrives on the love for the guru. If his desire is taken to be the most important mission in life, then there is every chance for success. If a person thinks, “The spiritual master wants me to chant the holy names every day, so I will. I’m not sure how or why this will work, but he is a wonderful person so I will listen to him,” then such an attitude alone will bring one to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, who is the supreme shelter for all.
Krishna the supreme shelter for all,
The guru His eternal servant to call.
Way to liberation to teach,
Wished for disciple every and each.
By his grace alone,
Supreme Lord to be known.
Even if at beginning a doubt,
Follow their word hesitation without.