“The living entity wanders throughout different planets in different forms and bodies, but if by chance he comes in contact with a bona fide spiritual master, by the grace of the spiritual master he receives Lord Krishna’s shelter, and his devotional life begins.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.6 Purport)
“The guru should be treated like God. They are one and the same, except in a different role. The object of worship is the person God, and the guru is the worshiping God. They are on parallel lines. The guru is the spiritual master. They are the representative, fully empowered to take a person back home, back to Godhead.
“These are some of the teachings we hear emphasized within the bhakti tradition. Actually, any decent person who follows Vedic teachings offers a similar level of respect. There are special occasions throughout the year, but every important activity begins with some sort of acknowledgment of the spiritual guide.
“What is the actual reason, though? Why so much emphasis on one person? Isn’t there the risk of thinking that the guru is actually God Himself? That would mean that anyone can become God, as there is always the potential for the disciple to become a guru.”
To help us understand, we can take the example of an office environment. There is the leader of the department. They guide the activities of the other employees. They provide direction. Everyone is accountable to them. They are in the hot seat, so to speak.
The leader decides to personally guide one of the newer employees. This person is not assertive, is frightened to speak in public, and has a difficult time making decisions. The leader decides to show them the ropes. They put the employee in important situations, with responsibility, but also enough of a cushion that they don’t get overwhelmed.
After a few years, that previously indecisive employee is leading their own department. Their exceptional job performance caught the attention of others. They left the nest, so to speak. They spread their wings. They became something much better.
The original teacher in this case might not get any of the credit. Perhaps no one knows about the training that took place. The person who soared to new heights might have their head so high in the clouds that they think they accomplished everything on their own.
This is one of the risks with teaching. You help people immensely, but they may not always be thankful. They might be too proud to admit to their humble beginnings, how they needed to be coached and shown the ropes.
The heights in spiritual life are without measure. They are equivalent with the object of worship, who is known as Adhokshaja. There is no way to accurately measure the features belonging to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
By extension, the joy and happiness within devotional life are impossible to quantify. Since there is a gradual purification along the way, it is only natural for a person to become more humble. They are more aware of the difficulties caused by material nature and how good fortune is necessary for there to be any sort of elevation.
“The seed of devotional service fructifies and becomes a transcendental creeper. Finally it reaches the lotus feet of the Lord in the spiritual sky. This seed is obtained by the mercy of the Lord and the guru. By the Lord’s mercy one gets the association of a bona fide guru, and by the mercy of the guru, one gets a chance to render devotional service. Devotional service, the science of bhakti-yoga, carries one from this material world to the spiritual world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 13.18 Purport)
While today I am living it up, immersed in the glories of the Supreme Lord, I didn’t start out that way. Someone had to show me. They were patient. While I was demanding, they were tolerant. While I was irrational, they maintained a level head. While I could not stay focused, they never abandoned me.
As such, there is no way I could ever forget the favor bestowed upon me. It is a favor that can never be repaid. The saints of this world are like mirror-images of the Supreme Lord. They are mercy personified, and their association is more valuable than anything.
If I spent one thousand lifetimes glorifying the impact of the guru, that is not enough. At the very least, during moments of triumph, when times are good, I will remember who rescued me from despair. I will not forget the one who brought me out of the darkness and into the light, which is transcendental in nature, emanating from Vaikuntha.
Not head in clouds to go,
Always remembering so.
That in beginning to fight,
With no hope in sight.
But on the other side steady,
With appropriate answer ready.
Guru towards lotus feet to guide,
Like Krishna on my side.