“As for acceptance of the spiritual master, that is essential, because without the instruction of a bona fide spiritual master, one cannot progress in the spiritual science. 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.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.8-12 Purport)
Friend1: One of the more interesting verses in the Bhagavad-gita is the explanation of what is knowledge.
Friend2: You mean where the many qualities and practices are listed?
Friend2: Technically, it’s a series of verses, but I know what you meant.
Friend1: Oh, you’re right. In the translation that I read, the verses are combined. It’s interesting because you wouldn’t typically equate nonviolence, simplicity, and tolerance with knowledge.
Friend2: They are indications. Knowledge isn’t just giving the correct answer on a test. If you think about it, a computer could be Jeopardy champion. It could get every answer right and win so much money, but that doesn’t mean the computer has knowledge.
Friend1: Alright, I like where this discussion has turned. So even though the computer is never wrong in this case, you’re saying it is not in knowledge?
Friend2: Absolutely. No reservations in making that claim. What if you had the most important questions of life? Is the computer going to answer for you?
Friend1: It depends. If it is programmed to accept input, then I don’t see what the issue would be.
Friend2: It doesn’t have simplicity. It doesn’t have tolerance. It is not even a person. It just spits out answers based on input, where the input has to match with something within the knowledgebase.
Friend1: So you’re saying a person in knowledge should be able to help with the highest questions a person has?
Friend2: That’s in the series of verses we’re discussing. One of the items listed is “approaching a bona fide spiritual master.”
Friend1: Okay, I’m glad we got to this. I don’t mean to make an offense here. Please don’t take it that way.
Friend2: Go for it.
Friend1: Alright, but isn’t that point a little self-serving? You have His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translating the Bhagavad-gita, and one of the verses conveniently mentions the importance of approaching a spiritual master. Basically, he’s using the book to justify people coming to him. It’s a tactic similar to what sales people use. “Buy my product or else.”
Friend2: I see how it can come off that way, but just study the Sanskrit. The words are acharya upasanam. Acharya is the spiritual teacher who leads by example. Upasanam means “coming closer.” It also means “serving.” The words of Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are quite clear. It would be the greatest conspiracy of all-time for Him to have set this up intentionally five thousand years ago, to increase Prabhupada’s disciple count.
Friend1: A person in knowledge thus approaches an acharya?
Friend2: Definitely. Otherwise they will forever remain in the dark about their true identity. When you see the importance of the spiritual master stressed so often, it particularly relates to knowledge of higher things. We’ll never understand God through mental speculation alone. We’ll never be able to reconcile the many contradictions in life. Heat and cold, birth and death, happiness and sadness, kindness and hatred. Why do some people feel the need to kill other people who are innocent? Why is it that people who have everything available to them are still unhappy?
Friend1: And the acharya gives you knowledge?
Friend2: Approaching an acharya is one indication of knowledge. The teacher leading by example helps to bring about the many other qualities listed. The most important quality is devotion to God the person. A devotee is automatically the most knowledgeable. Vedanta is the conclusion of conclusions, the end of knowledge. Nothing is higher than Shri Krishna.
One towards acharya to go,
To escape from darkness so.
These qualities and more stated,
In Gita verses to knowledge equated.
For guru self-serving not,
Since most humility he’s got.
Understanding himself for teacher’s need,
To disciple highest wisdom indeed.