“It is the duty of a mendicant (parivrajakacharya) to experience all varieties of God’s creation by traveling alone through all forests, hills, towns, villages, etc., to gain faith in God and strength of mind as well as to enlighten the inhabitants with the message of God. A sannyasi is duty-bound to take all these risks without fear, and the most typical sannyasi of the present age is Lord Chaitanya, who traveled in the same manner through the central Indian jungles, enlightening even the tigers, bears, snakes, deer, elephants and many other jungle animals.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.13 Purport)
The Sanskrit word sadhu is typically equated with a spiritual seeker. Someone who wants to know the Absolute Truth for real; a fulltime religious person, not breaking from the way of life. Not just something to do for fifteen minutes a day, but throughout every single day.
Sadhu also means “one who cuts.” It is applicable to the same kind of person, as the advanced spiritual seeker has seen the truth themselves. They approach a qualified teacher, render service, inquire submissively, and hopefully reach the same level at some point.
“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 work doesn’t end there. The sadhu is so kind that they share what they have learned. In speaking with others, they may be very blunt. I may take offense to what they say on occasion, but there should be some understanding. Indeed, for my spiritual benefit the guru, the spiritual master, makes so many sacrifices.
1. Gives up family
This is contradictory to what the guru teaches at the beginning. For bhakti-yoga, which is the pinnacle of religious life, a person doesn’t have to give up their occupation. The work primarily referenced, the Bhagavad-gita, has this situation in the main storyline. The bow-warrior Arjuna wants to quit his position as head of the army right before a great war. He wants to live like a sadhu and roam the forests.
“Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.” (Bhagavad-gita, 1.46)
The guide in that situation is Shri Krishna, who is the adi-guru. The original spiritual master must be God, since no one comes before Him. Krishna advises against Arjuna’s suggestion. Not that spiritual life is abandoned. Bhakti-yoga is practiced all the same, perfectly in fact, but through a channel appropriate for the situation. You can be at war and still be focused on God, as Arjuna would subsequently show.
Yet the guru gives up family for my benefit. This is not a strict requirement, but often the spiritual master takes to the renounced order of life, sannyasa. Even within sannyasa there are stages.
The parivrajaka sannyasi travels from place to place. This is not to satisfy a desire to tour the world, but rather to reach as many people as possible. Any person with material desires is afflicted with a terrible malady of the consciousness, whose only cure is genuine spiritual life taught by a bona fide teacher. The sannyasi guru in this case gives up family life for the benefit of others, since travelling brings fewer restrictions. The ideal example is Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who took sannyasa at a very young age and toured throughout India to bring the holy names to the people.
2. Gives up friends
Long day at the office. Tough week, in fact. Finally, a day of relaxation. Time to hang out with friends. Talk about nothing for hours. Enjoy some leisurely games. Watch something interesting on television.
The travelling guru does not have this luxury. Since they don’t stay in any place for too long, they don’t develop these kinds of friendships. Moreover, since they are in the renounced order, people generally respect them. Others look to them to set an example, which is what great men do.
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
Friendship is formed among equals, with a common interest shared. The guru doesn’t have many equals. If they do, then those friends are likely travelers themselves. This means in every situation the guru is the highest authority and can therefore not relish the mood of friendship.
3. Gives up comfort
It is the renounced order, after all. There is no money. There is no income. The guru thus can’t buy a car with the latest features, such as interaction with the mobile device and a backup camera to assist with parking. The guru can’t really complain about the gifts they receive or the accommodations provided by hosts. From their lofty position they should be in yoga, or connection with the Divine. That link is supposed to lessen or completely eliminate material desires, which include comfort.
4. Gives up privacy
The travelling guru does everything in public. All eyes are on them. This type of spiritual master is known as an acharya, or one who leads by example. Philosophy is not enough. To learn philosophy is not difficult; even a parrot can do it. Hear and then repeat.
Setting the example through behavior is more difficult. The acharya is in the public eye, and they don’t mind it. If they do something bad, like indulge in intoxicants, then others will use that as an excuse to diminish the importance of the principles taught. On the positive side, if the acharya is always chanting the holy names, then others will consider it important enough to follow: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
5. Gives up honor
A person who remains secluded, whose daily habits aren’t widely known, who simply gives the face of practicing spiritual life, is much easier to honor. The spiritual master who leads by example takes so many risks, which leaves them vulnerable to criticism. They may take disciples, who then open temples around the world. Those disciples may not be nearly as pure in their habits, so mistakes will be made. Those mistakes cause criticism to travel up the chain of command, to the spiritual master.
In this way there is also dishonor for the guru. One famous example is Narada Muni. The progenitor Daksha was so angry at Narada that he one time proclaimed a curse. Narada hadn’t done anything wrong; he just gave spiritual advice to Daksha’s sons.
These sacrifices are made for the benefit of others, and the spiritual master doesn’t suffer in the process. They accept all difficulties in order to please the Supreme Lord, who always holds such servants dear to the heart.
Going through world alone,
Since renouncing family and home.
No concern for luxury car or house to buy,
Travelling, so no friends on which to rely.
Every risk in preaching effort taking,
Sacrifices for my welfare making.
The spiritual master, most important is he,
Through him only Divine light to see.
Categories: the five