“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)
तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“How does it work in the guru-disciple relationship? I have heard different things. Some say that you need the formal initiation, diksha. This is both for outward purification and maintaining the disciplic succession.
“In addition, the guru accepts the karma of the disciple. Whatever bad reactions they were set to receive, those get wiped clean. Moving forward, whatever bad the disciple does, the guru has to suffer. At least that is how I heard it; I may be wrong.
“Is this similar to the concept of someone dying for our sins? Basically, we surrender to them and everything will be okay. I can continue on in life. I can do whatever I want, since I have full immunity going forward.
“Or is there more to the relationship? Is it some magical transfer of wisdom, from one person to the other? I know that Shri Krishna advises hearing from someone who has seen the truth. That person is a tattva-darshi. This better aligns with common sense, that the guru will actually teach something to the disciple.”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the disciple must agree to be reformed. That is the requisite first step. Otherwise, there is no question of advancement. Imagine someone presenting a full plate of food to you, but you don’t want to eat it.
One person offers you a job, but you don’t want to work. Another person agrees to make you president of the nation, but you would rather spend the days playing golf, sleeping in the basement, or riding a bike.
The benefits of those gifts cannot be realized without some reciprocation. In the guru-disciple relationship, the offering on the other side is to abide by some kind of discipline. In the Vaishnava tradition, the bare minimum, the starting point, if you will, is suppression of desires relating to meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex.
These may be difficult to stop, but that is the entire objective of discipline relating to the instruction of a guru. If I had everything going well for me, I wouldn’t need someone else to help. If I have everything figured out already, I wouldn’t be bewildered by the continuing passage of time, how it erases all of my gains and constantly reminds of the inevitable end, which is total and complete destruction.
Fortunately, if we agree to be reformed, there is a vast ocean of bliss and enthusiasm on the other side. Rather than struggling to remain afloat in the ocean of nescience, the rivers of Hari-katha constantly rush in, providing nourishment and replenishing the enthusiasm to continue forward.
A magic touch or a special healing formula may work temporarily, but free will remains. A criminal gains eventual release from prison, but this does not mean they can never go back. If they slip up again, if they break the law, there is every chance to face further punishment.
In the same way, if we stray from the path alighted by the spiritual master, we again come under the jurisdiction of maya. This is like intentionally choosing in favor of illusion, which leads to repeated birth and death.
If He wanted, the Supreme Personality of Godhead could consume the slated sinful reactions for every person. They could then do as they wish. That is actually already the case. The material world is for facilitating the desire to enjoy separate from Bhagavan.
This is not a natural state of being, and so the pure spirit soul, the individual, encounters highs and lows, ups and downs, gains and losses, between birth and death in a variety of species. The play continues for as long as desire remains.
The spiritual master opens my eyes and fills my heart with transcendental knowledge. He reminds me that my original home is by the side of the all-attractive one, who is always ready to forgive, willing to embrace the returning souls with open arms, to keep them in the blissful engagement of devotional service into the infinite future.
Amazing this way found,
From hearing transcendental sound.
That guru himself to give,
So that proper way can live.
Not wiped clean forever slate,
Chance of punishment again to await.
When from righteous path to stray,
So better in dharma to stay.