“I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, who with the torchlight of knowledge has opened my eyes, which were blinded by the darkness of ignorance.” (Gautamiya Tantra)
How do we find God? How do we find the proper path in life, that road which will lead us to the promise land? Many people have answers, but who should we believe? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the answers to life’s most troubling questions are only known to a select few exalted individuals. These individuals, though they may come in different shapes, sizes, and overall appearances, carry what is lacking to the bewildered soul. These individuals are known as gurus, or spiritual masters, and one who humbly approaches them can have all of life’s problems solved.
Simply put, the spiritual master is a representative of God. Just as a king or government leader has trusted aides and officers, the Supreme Lord has His representatives on earth. On a more basic level, the guru is a teacher, except that the subject matter they teach is more important than that of any other teacher’s. For one to teach, they have to know. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, their teaching will not be effective. The spiritual master teaches others about God, how to find Him, and then how to serve Him. This last point is the most important: serving God. The basic teaching of the bona fide spiritual masters – those who are friends, servants, and surrendered souls to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna – is that the individual spirit souls are fragmental sparks emanating from the original and gigantic fire known as God. As individual sparks, the wayward spirit souls are similar in quality to the original fire, but vastly inferior in quantity. True bliss, enlightenment, and peace of mind can only be achieved when the sparks return to the original fire, signaling a return to their original habitat so to speak. Upon entering this original realm, the activities of the sparks do not cease, but rather become purified. This purified activity is known as devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.
Judging who is a bona fide spiritual master and who isn’t is quite straightforward. We simply have to tell if a person is surrendered to Krishna or not. We can think of it in this way: Celebrities and star athletes all have agents. These representatives negotiate deals on behalf of their client with higher ups, wealthy franchises, and movie studios. It’s easier to have an agent haggle about dollars and cents than it is for the person to go themselves and squabble with their potential bosses. A good agent is one who represents the interests of their client and not themselves. Naturally, if the client is satisfied, the agent will be as well. The same principle applies to spiritual masters. If a guru is working only on behalf of Krishna, then naturally the Lord will be happy, which will also result in the guru’s happiness.
How does a guru determine what Krishna wants? The answer to this is quite simple as well. A guru has learned the art from their own guru, who learned it from their guru, and so on. Traversing the chain of spiritual masters all the way to the top, one will eventually reach Krishna, or God. This is the other component to determining the bona fides of the spiritual master. If their unbroken chain of disciplic succession doesn’t eventually reach Krishna, their teachings cannot be considered legitimate. At the same time, this chain also cannot be broken through any deviation in teachings. As mentioned before, the guru’s main business is to please Krishna. As strangers trapped in a strange land, the spiritual sparks represented by the individual living entities are lost and unaware of the ultimate purpose in life. The transcendent Lord’s happiness comes through reclaiming His lost souls and having them return to their original home. The guru, as the via-medium, is tasked with creating the mode of transport, taking the individual souls to the point of entry into the spiritual world. In this way, the guru is the ocean of mercy, a transcendental boatman who can carry the wayward souls back to their original destination.
What’s interesting to note is that the most exalted of gurus actually don’t need to produce proof of their disciplic succession in order to be successful in their efforts. Since the message they carry is so pure and powerful, they can deliver fallen souls simply through their instructions. An example of one such powerful guru is Narada Muni. The son of Lord Brahma, who is the first-created living entity and thus original spiritual master of the world, Narada Muni is probably the greatest reformer in the history of mankind. Vedic literature is full of incidents relating to Narada’s healing powers. Because Narada is a great saint and spiritual master, his disciples serve as the who’s who of Vedic writers, poets, and gurus.
A long long time ago, there was a dacoit living in the forest, earning his living by killing people and robbing them of their wealth. This dacoit one day happened to attempt to rob Narada Muni. As a sannyasi [one in the renounced order of life], Narada does not carry anything with him except for his vina, which is a type of musical instrument. Narada has the ability to travel the three worlds, so he makes the most of this power by spreading Lord Narayana’s glories throughout the world. Lord Krishna is considered God’s original form, but Narayana is essentially on equal footing with Krishna; He’s just the four-handed version of God. If one simply devotes themselves to Vishnu or Narayana, they are equally worshiping the original Supreme Lord.
So Narada came upon this dacoit and asked him why he was stealing. Since Narada was a mendicant, he had nothing to offer the thief. After asking the dacoit some insightful questions, to which the dacoit had no tangible answers, Narada convinced him to sit in meditation and chant the name of Rama. While Vishnu is the same as the original form of Godhead, so is Lord Rama, who is considered an avatara of Lord Vishnu. Devotees of Krishna, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of God are known as Vaishnavas. In the Vedic tradition, devotees typically pick one form and devote themselves completely to Him. For example, great authors and saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami, and their disciples worship Lord Krishna along with His pleasure potency Shrimati Radharani. They are not really interested in worshiping God in any other form, except for maybe His preacher incarnation of Lord Chaitanya. Devotees like Goswami Tulsidas, however, only see God as Lord Rama. Tulsidas actually makes many references to incidents relating to Lord Krishna, Vishnu, and other avataras in his writings, but he does so in the mood of devotion to Rama. To Tulsidas, there is no other God except Rama.
In this respect, anyone who takes to worship of Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, or any other vishnu-tattva form is worshiping the original form of Godhead. So Narada advised this dacoit to chant Lord Rama’s name, but the dacoit was not able to do so at the time. He wasn’t properly conditioned to chant the transcendental name of the Lord; a name which is non-different from the original form of God. Narada, ever the wise guru, told the dacoit not to worry and to chant “mara” instead. This word means death. Now what kind of spiritual master would advise his student to chant the word “death” over and over again? Ah, but there was a method to this apparent madness. By chanting “mara” over and over again, the dacoit actually was saying the name of Rama without knowing it. We can actually try this ourselves. If we say “mara” over and over again and limit the gaps in between the words, we’ll actually be saying “Rama”. Pretty soon, through regular, coincidental chanting of the name of God, the dacoit gained enlightenment. Since his meditation through chanting was so great, he didn’t even notice the anthill that had formed around him. Upon seeing this, Narada named the dacoit Valmiki, meaning one who is born from an anthill. The rest was history as Valmiki went on to author the original biography of Lord Rama known as the Ramayana. This poem and Valmiki himself are celebrated to this day.
This is just one example of Narada’s healing powers. He similarly has performed the same magic with other disciples. We should take note of the fact that these disciples don’t ask for Narada’s resume when he comes to teach them. His message is so powerful that simply through his teaching he can deliver anyone. The key component to success is the willingness of the disciple to listen to the guru’s words. This also raises another important point. Contrary to the thought of many, no one can tell anyone else who their guru is. Surely one can make the attempt, sincere or otherwise, to persuade another into surrendering to a specific exalted personality, but that surrender will be meaningless if the disciple is not wholeheartedly in favor of following the guru’s instructions. No one forced the dacoit to listen to Narada Muni. The dacoit listened to the great sage’s words and then decided to surrender himself completely to him and his instructions. In this way, through voluntary and humble submission, the great Valmiki was made. Even though the spiritual master is carrying the greatest message, the burden remains primarily with the disciple. If the disciple is scared or forced into submission, they will not be able to truly appreciate the guru’s instructions.
The guru’s instructions are so powerful that they remain equally as potent long after the spiritual master has left this world. This is evidenced today by the healing powers of the written instruction and recorded words of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. One of the greatest Vedic authors in history, Shrila Prabhupada started a worldwide movement dedicated to preaching the glories of Lord Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, Bhagavad-gita, and Shrimad Bhagavatam around the world. He turned Krishna into a household name. Though the swami left this world more than thirty years ago, he is still mesmerizing the pure souls who humbly submit themselves before him. Since he wrote so many books and delivered so many lectures, people can still approach him today and learn about Krishna. In fact, people today have an opportunity not available even to the swami’s direct disciples back during his time on earth.
Since he was travelling around the world, opening centers and speaking to large audiences, Shrila Prabhupada’s disciples didn’t have the chance to associate with him on a daily basis. People today, however, can listen to his lectures every single day. His books are quite voluminous as well, for it would take an entire lifetime to read through all of them and fully grasp their meanings. For Vaishnavas, the guru is honored every day of the year, but especially on the anniversary of his appearance day. This day is known as Vyasa Puja, for the Vaishnava spiritual master is a representative of Vyasadeva, the celebrated Vedic saint, author, and direct disciple of Narada Muni.
Just as Valmiki satisfied Narada by regularly chanting Rama’s name, Shrila Prabhupada and all the gurus in his line can be satisfied by our regular chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There can be many facets to the collective discipline known as devotional service, but nothing is more effective and more recommended than the chanting of this mantra. To provide a daily routine, a guideline to ensure that chanting and hearing of God’s name was performed, Prabhupada advised everyone to chant at least sixteen rounds of this mantra on a set of japa beads. Though this may take a long time to complete every day, it is the most effective process for spiritual realization in this age. We should all try to adopt this chanting regimen, if not for ourselves, then at least for the great spiritual masters who sacrificed everything for our benefit. Chanting this mantra will make them happy, and thus enable us to offer the greatest gift to the gurus that we owe so much to.
Categories: vyasa puja