The Righteous Path

Rama and Lakshmana “Even a guru becomes worthy of punishment if he becomes arrogant, cannot discern between what is to be done and what is not to be done, and goes astray from the path of righteousness.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.13)

Spiritual leaders are required in every society. In any group of people, there are natural divisions that exist based on qualities and work. According to the Vedas, the intelligentsia is referred to as the brahmana class, and they are the people to go to for spiritual guidance.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, advise that society be divided up into four divisions, or varnas. The shudras are represented by the laborer class, or people who are untrained in any spiritual discipline. The vaishyas, or the mercantile class, are considered next highest since they have some spiritual education but still spend most of their time engaged in fruitive activity, trying to earn money. Kshatriyas are the warrior class who serve as the military and police. For this reason they are considered to be part of the upper class. The brahmanas are considered the first class citizens since they engage all their time in studying the Vedas, performing sacrifices, and providing spiritual guidance to the other three varnas.

Brahmanas are referred to as dvijas, meaning twice-born, since they are invested with the sacred thread. Similar to the concept of a communion or a bar mitzvah, those following the Vedic tradition take their second birth when they are invested with the sacred thread from their guru. Everyone’s first birth is the one they take from the womb of their mother. This is the beginning of life, but we still remain ignorant until we receive a spiritual education. When one decides to become a serious student of a bona fide brahmana, they are invested with a sacred thread which marks their initiation into brahminical life, or the brahmacharya ashrama.

Vishvamitra with Rama and Lakshmana The brahmanas are highly respected and loved by God. The Lord has personally displayed His affection for them on numerous occasions. When God came to earth as the pious prince named Rama, He accepted Vashishta Muni as His spiritual master. Rama was born in a kshatriya family that had Vashishta as its family priest for generations. Rama and His brother Lakshmana also took further instruction on the military arts from the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. The Lord’s behavior towards these great sages was exemplary. Rama was God after all, so He required no education, but He humbly submitted Himself to these saints just to set a good example. Another one of Lord Rama’s favorite saints was Agastya Muni.

As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted a punishment of exile from His kingdom doled out by His father Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana both accompanied Him during His exile period, a time which was spent mostly travelling across India, visiting the hermitages of all the great sages. It was customary during that time to find great brahmanas living in the forest, for that is where they could enjoy a simple, peaceful, life that was more conducive to making spiritual advancement. One time while the group was travelling through the forest, Rama went into a discourse about Agastya, describing his glories to Lakshmana. The Lord took great pleasure in lionizing the great saint, for He knew that Agastya was a pure soul devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed.

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is talking to Rama just prior to their leaving the kingdom to start the exile sentence. Rama was actually supposed to be enthroned as the new king, but Dashratha had to change his mind at the last minute due to promises he had previously made to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Rama took the change in plans in stride without raising any opposition. Lakshmana, on the other hand, was quite angered by the news. He was ready to personally install Rama as the new king and fight anyone who would object to such a decision. In this conversation, Lakshmana is trying to convince Rama to stay in the kingdom and ignore the order of their father. He is making the argument that even spiritual leaders, as great as they may be, should be chastised if they lose their sense of propriety. The original Sanskrit text of the first part of Lakshmana’s statement is quite famous, for it also appears in the Mahabharata, and is often referenced when describing unqualified gurus.

Examples of spiritual leaders falling down can be found all over the news these days. In general, the news media tend to stay away from issues of religion. Anytime they actually do cover it, their stories usually involve some sort of scandal where a high profile priest has acted improperly. In the 1980s, television evangelists were very popular. These preachers had high rated television shows where they would ask people to donate money to them as a means of attaining salvation. It later turned out that many of these preachers were tied to various scandals involving illicit sex and accounting fraud. These issues were so well known at the time, that many rock bands wrote songs about such preachers.

“Anyone who is supposed to be a guru but who goes against the principle of vishnu-bhakti cannot be accepted as guru. If one has falsely accepted such a guru, one should reject him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 8.20.1 Purport)

Lord Krishna According to Lord Krishna, a bona fide spiritual master or brahmana, is that person who is completely devoted to God. One may be a high religious scholar, knowing the ins and outs of the Vedas and how to perform various sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean that they are a devotee. Nefarious religious leaders fall down because they aren’t bona fide to begin with. According to the statement made by Lakshmana, one shouldn’t accept someone as a guru simply based on birthright. A person’s varna is determined by their qualities and the work they perform.

“According to the three modes of material nature (gunas) and the work ascribed to them (karma), the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Prahlada is a bona fide guru due to his devotion to God Even if one is a born in a brahmana family, they still have to undergo the proper training in order to be considered bona fide. Otherwise such people are known as dvjia-bandhus, or brahmanas in name only. It is a good idea to stay away from such people as they are likely to lead us down the wrong path. We simply have to be devoted to God, chant His holy names, and look at His beautiful face every day, and we will be on the right path.

“Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a shudra-regardless of what he is-he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krishna.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.128)

According to Lord Chaitanya, if we become perfect devotees and try to persuade others to also become devotees by teaching them about Krishna, we will be acting as bona fide gurus regardless of what our social status is.

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