“Rama will arrive here as soon as he hears from me, with a great advancing military force filled with monkeys and bears.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.18)
śrutvā eva tu vaco mahyam kṣipram eṣyati rāghavaḥ |
camūm prakarṣan mahatīm hari ṛkṣa gaṇa samkulām ||
You come into this world alone and you leave it the same way. It is the consciousness at the individual level which determines the next destination. It is not what others think of you. There is no way for another person to force that change in consciousness to a desired configuration.
Spiritual life is at the individual level, so why the emphasis on accepting a spiritual master? If everything has to be practically realized, vijnana, what is someone else going to do for me? What if they are a bluffer, as in the case with Ravana in his former life meeting a rival in the false garb of an ascetic and taking wrong advice? What if the guru leads me astray, thereby making it more difficult to reach the finish line of liberation? Why can’t I just go it alone? I’ll read the books, but figure out the meaning and application as I see fit.
It is understandable to be skeptical in this way. In the end it is certainly up to the individual to determine their own fate, but the recommendation is still presented. Not only is it a recommendation, but without the help of someone who represents the Supreme Lord, it is impossible to know Him.
And how much can we know Him really? He is Adhokshaja, after all. His features cannot be measured accurately by blunt instruments. There are some odd-looking depictions, as well, like Jagannatha and family. They ride on these large carts in a parade once a year. Everyone is informed that this is God strolling through His universe, blessing everyone with His darshana.
Yet He is much more than that statue. He is Krishna, which means “all-attractive.” He is this universe and beyond. He is greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest. The spiritual master is His representative. The guru exhibits greatness in similar ways. The abilities are passed down from the person they serve. That is to say God blesses them with amazing abilities so as to lift others out of the dark well of material existence.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we get a real-life, historical example of the importance of the representative. Here Shri Hanuman says that certain actions will occur based on his words. When he reaches home base and is debriefed by the leaders as to the situation in the enemy territory of Lanka, swift action will follow.
Hanuman is the representative of Shri Rama, who is an incarnation of the Personality of Godhead. Based on Hanuman’s recommendation alone, Rama will alter His course. Accompanying Rama will be monkeys and bears, making a massive army that is on the march.
The army is for correcting the gross wrong perpetrated against Rama’s wife Sita. She is the recipient of this promise from Shri Hanuman. Not that she needs to consult a representative. Not that she requires a spiritual guide to understand her husband. She is the goddess of fortune, and so no one knows God better than her.
From Hanuman we see that the representative can make a recommendation that is instantly accepted by the Supreme Lord. This is the true benefit of the guru. They represent God, through an authorized chain of teachers linking to the Supreme Lord Himself. They travel the earth to spread the message of Divine love, that Shri Rama can be approached within this very lifetime. Physical movement is not a strict requirement, as simply calling out to Him in love will work: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Just from Hanuman hearing,
Path to redemption clearing.
Massive army against Ravana to charge,
Trees and rocks hurling large.
For righting the gross wrong committing,
A punishment from Rama befitting.
The representative’s word with so much weight,
Through him opened sacred kingdom’s gate.