“Are You a Bona fide Spiritual Master?”
North Sutton, New Hampshire- 06-06-2005
So the question has been asked, “Am I a bona fide spiritual master?” That is the question that has been asked.
Prabhupada, when asked such questions, he would answer that, “If I told you that I’m a bona fide spiritual master, will you take it? Because I say, therefore you accept that I am?” That’s one way he would answer such a question. “If I tell you I’m a bona fide spiritual master will you accept that I am?” That’s one way he would do. So, what are the other ways?
Do you accept my word is true, whatever I say is true? So, if you accept whatever I say is true, I’ll just tell you – “yes I am”. But if I’m bogus, and I say that I am, then you just got deceived. You’re a naïve fool.
Let’s say I’m not a bona fide spiritual master, and I’m a bogus, I’m one of these pretenders, one of these counterfeits and I tell you, “Oh yes! I’m a bona fide spiritual master” and you’re foolishly thinking, “Yes!”, because he said, “yes,” therefore he is.
My saying “Yes, I’m," or "No, I’m not,” that’s not how you can get the answer. Just my telling you, “Yes, I’m a bona fide spiritual master” doesn’t really enlighten you, because I could be one who is telling you the truth, or I could be a charlatan, a counterfeit one, who is deceiving you.
You may not easily think, “Oh yes! Gurudeva, Gurudeva, Gurudeva! He doesn’t lie, because he is my bona fide spiritual master”, but what happens if he is an expert cheater, deceiving you.
So, when the question is asked, “Are you a bona fide spiritual master?” The answer is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You’re not properly guided by just saying, “Yes, I’m a bona fide spiritual master.”
The proper way that the spiritual master answers that question is to give you the tools, to give you the techniques, to give you the methodology where you yourself can discern who is a bona fide spiritual master and who is not. That’s the proper way to answer such a question.
Just like, say if you want to go in a business as a gold merchant. “Okay Sonny boy! I’ll set you up as a gold merchant here, give me $50,000; I’ll give you $50,000 worth of gold. This is less than wholesale. So you can have a very successful business, give me your $50,000 and here’s the gold!”, and then you find out actually it wasn’t even real gold! And you handed him proper $50,000, and your so-called mentor has skipped town with a 50 grand.
So the actual person who’s going to set you up as a gold merchant, he will teach you how to tell the difference between real gold and imitation gold. The bona fide spiritual master, he will teach you how to tell the difference between who is a bona fide spiritual master and who is not, and then you’ll actually know.
So, the question you’ve asked, “Am I a bona fide spiritual master?” is actually irrelevant. If one’s desire is to actually find a bona fide spiritual master then irrelevant question, “Are you bona fide spiritual master?”
The real question is, “How does one recognize who is the bona fide spiritual master?” and that is the actual question that should be asked and that answer is this answer we just studied in the Srimad Bhagavatam this morning, about the sadhu. That was the subject matter of our class this morning, the Srimad Bhagavatam class.
We learned what are the qualities of a sadhu? He is merciful. He is tolerant and there are other verses as well. By carefully reading the Bhagavad gita, reading about the qualities of a brahmana, a brahmana means he’s a bona fide spiritual master of the human society.
samo damas tapah
ksantir arjavam eva ca
ksantir arjavam eva ca
By studying all the qualities and characteristics mentioned in the scriptures very carefully and also praying to Lord Krishna who is seated within our heart as caitya guru, the guru within; the original guru is Krishna. The vision of the bona fide spiritual master is Krishna, and that person externally who purely represents Krishna, he is also guru. He is the external guru. Guru within, guru without. Krishna is the guru within and externally also we have a guru, the bona fide spiritual master.
So we have to see that person who perfectly represents Krishna, in his every thought, in his every word, in his every deed. That person is spiritual master.
Of course, in one sense, any devotee is understood to be a spiritual master because they do all represent Krishna to a greater or lesser extent. What we do need to find out as Prabhupada points out, what we really need is a spiritual master who’s completely pure. That’s what we actually need.
So we can feel very blessed that we have one such spiritual master as the Founder Acarya of our movement, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. We know absolutely he’s completely pure, no doubt about it, and he has given us all these books so we can understand, what is the proper path of bhakti?
So we’re fortunate we have one such highly purely enlightened spiritual master on the highest level. When we come to the point of choosing who our initiating guru should be, we have Prabhupada’s perfect knowledge, perfect example, perfect teachings to guide us on who should actually be our initiating spiritual master.
In this way, by studying Prabhupada’s books, we will know. There are so many wonderful verses, like in Mundaka Upanishad,
sa gurum evabhigacchet
That is described that one must approach guru, and guru is understood as one who has perfectly heard the Vedic wisdom and is repeating it as it is and who’s fixed in Krishna consciousness. He is solid; brahma-nishtham, means he is solidly fixed in Krishna consciousness.
It’s not that when Prabhupada came here to establish our movement that he would preach during the day, give Monday, Wednesday and Friday Bhagavad gita classes, and Tuesday and Thursday he would go uptown for the Broadway plays. He had no interest but Krishna.
It’s not that when the travelling sankirtan party, devotees go flirting, “well, we have to take a day off and enjoy Disney world.” They may go there to distribute books. They’re not going to go in there to go on the rides, because they have no interest.
Someone who is fixed in Krishna consciousness is not interested. They’re getting so much nectar from what they’re doing. They don’t want to come down off that platform. That’s all. It’s not artificial renunciation that, “I really wanted to go and watch that movie but the rules of bhakti say that I can’t. Ah! I really wanted to go!”
I had one disciple, one girl, who wrote me a letter that she was with this Tolkien’s trilogy. I don’t know I forget what they call it, but there was big, famous movie showing in Riga and she really wanted to go because she had been following it all along and I said, “No, you shouldn’t go. You have to detach yourself”, and she did that, and became my initiated disciple and she felt so happy that I had saved her from that. Madhavi Latha Devi Dasi is her name now. She actually wanted to go to see that movie, the third in the series, so I told her 'no'. All her friends were going. It was the talk of the town but she stayed back and just chanted Hare Krishna, and she was so happy she did that; because she felt that now she’s has achieved something far greater than the temporary pleasure of watching that movie. She found something far, far greater.
The bona fide spiritual master doesn’t have a need to enjoy any mundane thing that “I have to go hear Bob Dylan.” (I used to like him before I joined the movement.) So the spiritual master doesn’t have any mixed desires like that. He is simply fully absorbed in Krishna consciousness. He has no taste, no desire, anything outside of Krishna consciousness. That is the bona fide spiritual master.
There’re actually many, many descriptions given in the prayers also that we sing every morning. We have those eight prayers. So there are innumerable places where you can go and study and actually learn, what is bona fide spiritual master? If you actually want an honest answer from the spiritual master, you ask him, “Are you a bona fide spiritual master?” You want to know, what he really thinks inside his own heart. What he really feels about himself?
The spiritual master feels that he’s lower than the stool of a pig. The spiritual master doesn’t even think that he is a devotee. He’s just praying that someday he can actually become a devotee of Krishna. That’s how he feels about himself. That is the natural humility of an advanced devotee; he doesn’t feel that he is a devotee. What to speak of thinking he’s an advanced devotee, he doesn’t even think that he’s a devotee. The bona fide spiritual master doesn’t even think that he is a devotee within his heart, but externally yes, for the sake of preaching he has to act in a different way to accept the worship of his disciples, etc. for their benefit. But actually he doesn’t feel that he is even worthy of being told the time of the day, actually.
Even though he is accepting so much service from his disciples, so much money, so many loving offerings, so many ways they’re serving him - giving their whole life to him but even though he is feeling unfit to do that, he does it on behalf of his acharya, who’s doing it on behalf of his acharya, who’s doing it on behalf of his acharya, all the way back to Krishna.
You asked me if I’m a bona fide spiritual master; I just pray that I can be a devotee someday. I’m just begging the Vaishnavas that I can be a devotee someday. That’s how the spiritual master feels about himself, “Now I’m a demon, and I’m just praying that by the mercy of all devotees that someday I can be a devotee.”
He can’t advertise that, because who wants to take shelter of some demon? The general public doesn’t understand his humility. They think, “Oh, he said he’s a demon. Why should we go and learn from a demon? We are not supposed to hear from a demon. The spiritual master thinks he’s a demon, so why should we hear from him?”
So it takes an advanced devotee to understand the mood of humility of the bona fide spiritual master. Therefore externally he poses himself as a representative of Krishna, etc. for the benefit of the students.
Prabhupada gave an example of that during British rule in India, we had the Viceroy there. Just like Vice President – Viceroy; he represents the King. The British Empire was so broad and expansive. How often the king of England came to India? Not that often. But the Viceroy stayed there on behalf of the King. So, the Viceroy would be travelling around India with this person and wherever he would go they’d treat him like he was the King. They’d give him so many gifts. Where did those gifts go? They were all sent to London. He didn’t get to pocket the gifts. He took the honor, the worship, the gifts but everything was meant for London.
So the spiritual master is like that. He feels himself unworthy, but it’s his duty on behalf of the government, namely Krishna, to accept and collect all the offerings of love, because otherwise where will the disciple connect? Where will he get the personal connection with Krishna? Krishna is still vague for us until we become fully self-realized; He is some concept or maybe a photograph or a stone statue. Even though there is Krishna, we don’t realize Krishna.
So the spiritual master is there in a personal form, we can see him, we can touch him, we can ask him some questions, we can develop loving relationship with him as an intimate servant. In this way, this enables us to actually revive the dormant Krishna consciousness within the heart. So the spiritual master will agree to take that degree of love and service that is actually meant to be offered to the Lord and he agrees to accept that degree of love and humility and surrender that the disciples give to him. Even though it is actually an embarrassment for the spiritual master, people bowing down at his feet, bathing his feet, worshipping him as if he is God, that’s an embarrassment. But it’s something that he tolerates for the sake of helping the disciples to revive that dormant Krishna bhakti within the heart.
So am I a bona fide spiritual master? I’m just praying for your mercy that I can be a devotee someday. Then you can judge. Now you decide whether I’m a bona fide spiritual master or not by studying the scriptures, by studying me. Studying how do I speak, how I act, which are sort of indications on how I’m thinking. You study my speech and my activities which you can see; you can’t see what’s going on inside my head, but you can hear what I say and you can see what I do.
By observing carefully what I say and what I do, then you can begin to understand how I’m thinking; and if that thinking, speaking and acting matches the descriptions given in the Vedas of a bona fide spiritual master, then you can understand that I am indeed a bona fide spiritual master. If it doesn’t, you can understand that I’m bogus. Then you can shun my association. Report me to the GBC as a bogus guru under the name Sankarshan Das Adhikari posing as spiritual master, “Please put a stop to him right now, before he misguides anyone else”.(End of recording)
Transcribed by Bhaktin Divyapriya
Revision by Prema Bhakti dasa