“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.10)
ददामि बुद्धि-योगं तं
येन माम् उपयान्ति ते
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te
“In reading Vedic literature, the importance of the spiritual master is obvious. Both implicit through accounts of historical events and explicit in stating as such, to get out of the darkness of material life is only possible through outside assistance.
“The word ‘guru’ typically refers to three people: the mother, the father, and the spiritual guide. The guru is heavy in their influence and the authority they command. They have seen the truth because someone else previously taught them. This passing of the baton is known as parampara.
तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“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)
“Here is the question I have. What kind of guru is ideal? I know some people ask their guru to solve every problem. In all honesty, I sometimes want to slap these people after hearing their questions. For instance, I was witness to one person asking the spiritual guide about how to deal with the phone ringing while chanting the holy names.
‘O guru, I try to concentrate on the sound, to be focused on connecting with God in this manner. But my phone is always ringing or beeping. There are messages coming in that make notification sounds. What should I do?’
“Are you kidding me with that? Put the phone in another room, you moron! That is what I feel like saying, but of course I maintain proper etiquette and decorum. I feel bad for the guru. What must their daily life be like, to have disciples such as these?
“That kind of guru is on one end of the spectrum, and then you have those who seem to squirm their way out of answering tough questions. They will advise the disciple to read a book or engage more in the regulative practices. They promise that the answers will come from within, from the Supreme Lord helping.
“Is that a good way to be a leader? Is that not escaping the responsibilities of guru? Which type of person is ideal? Who is going to help us reach the destination of liberation, mukti?”
There are books and instruction manuals for a reason. When a new employee joins a large firm in the modern day, there is something known as onboarding. This is getting the new person familiar with the practices of the business.
In most cases, there is little to no documentation. The new person has to shadow or directly ask one of the veteran employees. If there is documentation, this relieves a heavy burden on the existing employees. They can simply provide the location of the information for others to consume.
This kind of deflection is not irresponsible. If the information is already available in written form, why not have someone access it? If the guru has written so many books, the disciples should read them. There is no reason to constantly ask questions that can already be answered elsewhere.
Moreover, the guru might have been in doubt before, when they were first learning. They gained so much wisdom through the process, through assimilation. They were helped internally, as God was in the background the entire time. After becoming a guru, they do not want to interfere with this wonderful awakening brought about by practical realization, vijnana.
In Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna directly confirms the presence of the so-called invisible guide. Those who want to make progress in bhakti-yoga, in devotional service, receive help from the other side. They are not totally lost.
Their guru may have long since departed this world, leaving behind their lasting impression. This provides information on difficult subject matter and complex topics, but day-to-day decisions are left up to the followers. They must learn to practice discernment, to decide which way is best for furthering the interests of Arjuna’s charioteer.
There is the wonderful example of Shri Hanuman in the Ramayana. He is all by himself at a critical period of the mission to find Sita Devi. There is no smartphone to use to look up information from an online directory. There is no phoning home, so to speak.
He must take guidance from within, which arrives through a desire to please the Supreme Lord. Hanuman’s interest in success was only to serve others, and so there was assistance in the background. Shri Rama made sure that the servant did not fail.
Though unsure of path in trail,
The servant not to fail.
Since guided from within,
Supreme Lord helping him.
Complemented by preserved instruction,
From wisdom avoiding destruction.
Maintained true in devotion to stay,
From within showing the way.