“There are two ways of association-by vani and by vapu. Vani means words, and vapu means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore we must take advantage of the vani, not the physical presence. Bhagavad-gita, for example, is the vani of Lord Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Concluding Words)
“I have heard it said by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that it is more important to follow the words and instruction of the spiritual master than it is to serve him directly. The two Sanskrit words are vapu and vani.
“You can serve the body, vapu, and that is certainly appreciated. Offer a massage. Prepare a nice meal. Set up comfortable living arrangements. As the sannyasi is known to travel, to not stay in a single place for too long a time, these kind gestures may seem insignificant, but a grateful and kind person remembers for a lifetime.
“Another person may not ever have physical contact. No face-to-face meeting. No direct conversation. They are related through subsidiaries and associates. It is a network set up by the guru himself, so there is no disqualification in terms of being a disciple. It is simply the way the ball has bounced, how life happened.
“Prabhupada says that it is more important to follow the instructions, that the physical contact is not so important. Help me to understand this logically. In every other important relationship we remember the direct contact. The care and attention offered by the mother during childhood. The support from the father. The memories through adventures with the friends. Why is it not the same with the guru, who is considered the second father, combining with shastra to provide the second and more important birth?”
The system of parampara is to accept the information in a chain of descending knowledge. There is the original teacher, the adi-guru. This is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was there in the beginning, before everything. He was present when the creator, Lord Brahma, set about to populate the universe. He will be there at the end, when everyone and everything else is gone.
अहम् एवासम् एवाग्रे
नान्यद् यत् सद्-असत् परम्
पश्चाद् अहं यद् एतच् च
यो ऽवशिष्येत सो ऽस्म्य् अहम्
aham evāsam evāgre
nānyad yat sad-asat param
paścād ahaṁ yad etac ca
yo ‘vaśiṣyeta so ‘smy aham
“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.33)
As the living entity is full of defects [to err is human], there should not be much talking back in the process of assimilating the information. That is to say we should accept on faith at first, carry forward the principles in our daily lives, and then slowly everything will be revealed to us.
Nevertheless, with the issue of vapu versus vani, we can attempt to understand through our encounters in situations requiring authority. If we somehow become parents, what would we prefer? Would we want our dependents to serve us day and night, to make sure that we are comfortable as we transition into old age?
That would certainly be nice. It would make the transition easier. We would certainly be grateful, as children could be doing their own thing, living life to the fullest, however that is defined. They would be considered loyal and honorable human beings.
Or would we rather they grow up to be good people? If we knew that they could stand up on their own two feet, perhaps raise children of their own, would not that bring more pleasure than if they were constantly tending to our every need?
Shrimad Bhagavatam explains that a person should not enter a position of authority, where they have dependents, unless they help release those under their care from the cycle of birth and death. This is the ultimate goal of the spiritual master. The direct contact and support from the disciples is not for their own comfort. It is for instilling the value of respect, and everything offered gets moved up the chain. The guru honors their own guru, who honors their own guru, and so forth, until you reach the origin, Vishnu.
If I am able to become conscious of the Almighty, thinking of God the person, always steady of mind, controlled in my habits, and respectful of other living entities, then the guru has done their job. They have succeeded and been honored to a sufficient level, though in my eyes I will never be able to truly repay them for what they have given me. Whilst chanting the holy names and connecting with the all-attractive one, I will certainly remember them as well: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Never opportunity to meet,
For physical presence to greet.
But instructions seriously taking,
For success in dharma making.
Latter more important so,
Reason guru travelling to go.
Same with Gita to us brought,
Even today by Krishna taught.