“One should approach the spiritual master with all humility and offer him all services so that he will be pleased to bestow his blessings upon the disciple. Because a bona fide spiritual master is a representative of Krishna, if he bestows any blessings upon his disciple, that will make the disciple immediately advanced without the disciple’s following the regulated principles. Or, the regulated principles will be easier for one who has served the spiritual master without reservation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.8-12 Purport)
Who is God? Does He exist? Is He merely a figment of the imagination? The Bhagavad-gita advises that one should approach someone who has seen the truth, a tattva-darshi. They received this vision not through some magical touch or deep meditation. They saw the truth because they themselves approached someone who had seen the truth. If you follow the chain all the way up, you reach the origin of everything.
The tattva-darshi in this instance is known as the guru. Though the English word “guru” now applies to an expert in any field of interest, the original meaning refers to a respected personality who carries weight. Their knowledge brings them respect, and that knowledge was acquired through consulting their own guru. With respect to the meaning of life and the proper direction for activities, the guru is known as the spiritual master, and only through approaching a guru can one gain a proper understanding of the difference between matter and spirit. Only the guru can properly teach about the source of everything: God.
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
The guru doesn’t ask for much in return. A little respect is all. Established practices show how this respect is given. One of those practices involves eating the remnants of food offered to the guru. Imagine giving someone a plate of food and having them eat only half of what’s there. Then it’s your job to finish the rest. When Karuna’s friend heard about this, he thought it was disgusting. He didn’t understand what good could come from eating leftovers like that. Karuna then tried to explain by telling a story from his own life.
I was overseas on a trip for two weeks. When the time came to return home, I was ready. I enjoyed the time spent with my family for sure, but I desperately craved my freedom. I tell you, there is nothing like getting in your own car and deciding where you want to go. I also hate it when I have to depend on others to eat. They always give me too much.
Anyway, in America we don’t like the nuisance involved with air travel, but overseas it’s more troublesome. In order to get home, I first had to drive five hours to the airport. Then I would connect to a different airport, from which I would take my long flight home. If calculating start to finish, from leaving for the airport to walking in the door at home, the travel time is around 36 hours.
Needless to say, relaxation was key on this journey. The family hired a driver to take me to the airport in the morning. Accompanying us on this five hour ride was my uncle. So we head along, and it’s nice and quiet, with the air conditioning on. Here’s where things got interesting. The driver turns on the stereo. He puts on a CD of music that he likes. I was not happy. Shouldn’t my comfort come first? I just wanted some peace and quiet. Shouldn’t he have asked me before? In this thirty-six hours, I wanted at least the first part to be peaceful, as checking in to flights and boarding are hectic moments.
We eventually stopped for some food, at which point I voiced my complaint to my uncle. I told him that the driver was rude to turn on the music like that without asking. Then he explained to me that even if I didn’t like the music, it was important for the driver to be comfortable. If the music helped the driver stay awake and focused, then it actually benefitted me in the end. The goal was to reach the airport, after all. Through this small inconvenience the objective would be accomplished. Therefore I shouldn’t complain.
Karuna explained that in serving the guru there are similarly many inconveniences. The guru is bringing the disciple to the best destination, the afterlife full of love and devotion to God. The Ganga river is sacred because it emanates from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, the personal God. The bona fide guru is sacred too, since they are always connected to the Supreme Lord in consciousness. Through doing little things like eating their remnants and offering respect, the disciple wins the favor of the guru. The spiritual master then reveals the secrets passed on through the ages. Shri Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, is the original guru, and those who represent Him act like life-saving rafts for the bewildered souls stuck in the ocean of material suffering.
Like sailboat pushed forward by draft,
Guru arriving like life-saving raft.
For material world’s drowning souls,
Revealing to them devotion, ultimate goal.
Inconvenience little here and there,
Necessary for of identity to become aware.
By spiritual master’s pleasure earning,
To Krishna’s abode finally returning.