23 December 2005
om namo bhagavate vasudevaya . . .
Tonight is a very special night. This was a topic suggested to me by your temple president’s son, Visvanath Prabhu. Is he coming tonight . . . ? He’s on a preaching tour. Anyway, this was his suggestion that we speak in the guru-disciple relationship.
This is actually the most important principle. It is not my invention. This is the version of the great acaryas. The standard book of knowledge on the science of bhakti is called The Nectar of Devotion, which is a summary study of the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu by Srila Rupa Goswami. In this book, Srila Rupa Goswami gives the basic principles of how to discharge devotional service. The first item he gives is to accept the shelter of the lotus feet of a bona fide spiritual master. The second item is to become initiated by the spiritual master, and to learn from him how to discharge devotional service. The third item is to obey the orders of the spiritual master with faith and devotion. The fourth item is to follow in the footsteps of the great acaryas, or teachers, under the direction of the spiritual master. Number five is to inquire from the spiritual master about how to advance in Krishna consciousness. And number six is to be prepared to give up anything material for the satisfaction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
So the first five items given by Rupa Goswami on how to take to the path of bhakti are related to the spiritual master. Just see how important Guru is. It’s not until the sixth item that Krishna is even mentioned – “to be prepared to give up anything to advance in Krishna consciousness.” The seventh item is to reside in a sacred place of pilgrimage, like Dvaraka or Vrindavana. So anyway, we can really see how essential this guru-disciple relationship is. It will make you or it will break you. If you have a proper relationship with the spiritual master, then your perfection is guaranteed. And if you don’t have a proper relationship with the spiritual master, then your spiritual destruction is guaranteed. So therefore, tonight we will discuss the importance of, and the techniques of, having a first-class relationship with the spiritual master.
Someone may say, “Well, I hardly ever see my spiritual master”, or “He’s departed; now he’s not physically present.” “How can I possibly cultivate guru-disciple relationship if he’s not physically here very often, or if he left the planet? How can I possibly improve my relationship? I don’t have the scope for association very much, or at all.” Well, in that connection I can tell you two stories.
People often ask me, because I’m Prabhupada’s disciple, “Tell me - what was it like when you first met Srila Prabhupada?” It’s a very common thing they ask me: “Tell me about the first time you met Prabhupada.” Well, the fact is, the first chance I had to meet Srila Prabhupada, I refused to go. The reason was because I thought I was God, and I didn’t want the guru to pop my little bubble, my thinking I was God. This was in Berkeley, California in 1969. I was a musician at the time – a songwriter and singer. Makhana Prabhu, my godbrother, had met me at the college campus. He invited me to the event - “My Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, is coming tonight to speak.” He gave me the address, a flyer, everything – and this was only 5 minutes from where I was living. Prahbupada was going to be just down the street from where I was living, a mere five-minute walk. It was very convenient. But I didn’t go.
In the following year, 1970, I again was visiting Berkeley, California and I went to the Hare Krishna center there. Once again, the opportunity arose. The devotees there told me, “Oh, Prabhupada is going to be in Los Angeles – we’re having a big festival there. We’re driving down - come with us! You can meet Prabhupada!” But again, I wouldn’t go. Because still, I thought I was God; I didn’t want the spiritual master to pop my little bubble.
So, since I was so stubbornly avoiding meeting Prabhupada, you may wonder how I ever became his disciple. Well, the fact is that although for some time I thought I was God, after a while it became obvious that I wasn’t, because things didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. If you’re God, everything goes the way you want it to go, and it was obvious after some time that I indeed was not God – I wasn’t Krishna after all. And then I got very serious, and I thought I’d better learn how to serve God. I started praying to the Lord, “Please guide me in how to become Your perfect servant.” And so when I was in that humble mood of begging God to guide me, there came a knock on the door. I was staying with one friend, Mike, and his friend Margaret came to the door. She said, “There’s a Hare Krishna swami in town, and he will be at my apartment in one hour.” So I was there [clap!]
The swami was His Holiness Visnujana Maharaja. Those of you who are disciples of Tamal Krishna Maharaja, you know that they were close friends – Visnujana Swami and Tamal Krishna Goswami joined the movement together. So this was the closest friend of Tamal Krishna Maharaja. He had come to Austin as a classic sannyasi: he had no money, no vehicle; he had nothing except a case or two of Back to Godhead magazines, danda, blanket, razorblade, toothbrush, Bhagavad-gita and the first canto of Bhagavatam. That was all he had. No kartalas, no mrdanga, no harmonium. He just started singing. And within several weeks he had a house full of devotees. It was amazing. I had watched this whole thing happen. I was just amazed to see the spiritual potency this person had.
So he was telling me about his guru, Srila Prabhupada, and he was telling me all about the philosophy. I was rather stubborn. I was thinking, well, I’ll be a devotee of Krishna but – I’m not going to get initiated by the guru. Because then I would have to give up my independence. When you’re a disciple, if the guru says, “You do this” – you do it. It’s like in the military: he gives the order, and you do it. I knew that. One friend had told me, if the guru tells you to jump off the cliff, then you jump off the cliff. (This friend was not an ISKCON devotee; he was another boy who was into Indian spirituality.) I had understood, then, that Guru was a very serious affair; you had to do whatever he said. So I wasn’t about to surrender to the guru. I’ll be the devotee of Krishna, I told him – I’ll chant Hare Krishna and I’ll write songs about Krishna, but I won’t surrender to the guru.
Then the devotees showed me. They said, “But Steve, look what it says here in the Bhagavad-gita:
‘Just try to learn the truth by approaching a guru; inquire from him submissively; render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.’” So I was defeated. But still - was I going to surrender? Nope. I had no argument, but still I was stubborn, and holding out.
But then one day, I heard this song on the Radha-Krishna Temple album. You know that “Govinda” prayer we sing every morning? It’s from the Radha-Krishna Temple album produced by George Harrison – Mukunda Prabhu and the London devotees – so you know the track that comes after “Govinda”? The Gurvastakam? It’s so beautiful.
My service was to vacuum the temple room rug every morning. So I was doing some seva, cleaning the temple room, and listening to this recording. It was just so beautiful. I could hear the love in the devotees’ voices, how much feeling they had for Srila Prabhupada. And I just felt along with them. Simultaneously, I felt that loving feeling for Prabhupada. Simply by hearing the devotees’ voices I entered into the same mood. It was so sweet, so wonderful. I’d never experienced anything so sweet and so sublime in my life. I became addicted. It was just like a heroin addict: if the heroin is very good heroin, all it takes is one injection and you’re addicted for life. So I got one injection of Prabhupada prema, love for Prabhupada, by hearing the love in the voices of his followers. I realized there’s no feeling like this that exists anywhere in this material world – nothing so sweet and so wonderful as loving Srila Prabhupada. And when I felt that love for Prabhupada I didn’t ever want to let go of it.
There’s only one way to keep that feeling of love for guru alive: you have to surrender. If you truly love someone, you must serve them. Isn’t that true? If you tell your wife, “I love you” and she says, “But I’m sick tonight; can you wash the dishes?” - and then you say, “No, do it yourself. I’m going to the bowling alley.” - is that love? If you love someone, that means you want to serve them. If you really love them, you want to serve them. So the only way that I could go on feeling that wonderful love for Prabhupada was that I had to surrender to him, and give him my whole, eternal existence. So this is how I met Prabhupada – that moment, when I realized that there is nothing more sweet, nothing more wonderful, than loving Srila Prabhupada. That’s the moment I actually met Prabhupada, even though I’d never seen him.
You might say, “But you really didn’t meet him – you were just thinking about him.” But wait a minute: when I had a chance to meet him, I wouldn’t go. When I had a chance to see him face to face I wouldn’t go. But now, how can you say I didn’t meet him when I surrendered my whole life to him? I must have met him! Otherwise how could I have fully surrendered to him? And it’s confirmed by Srila Prabhupada: there are two ways to meet the spiritual master. One is through his physical presence; that is called vapu. The other is through his teaching; that is called vani.
Tonight we have Sharma here; everyone can welcome him. This is his first time. He has been associating with me through the Internet. He has never met me. But just by seeing my writings on the Internet for two years he is convinced that he should be seeing me as his spiritual master - just because he’s been reading the teachings for two years. So he came tonight to meet me in person now that I am here in Suva. So the real point is that the most important aspect of the guru-disciple relationship is not the guru’s physical presence. That’s important, but it’s not as important as his instructions. His instructions are the most important thing.
Now, there’s one item of prestige amongst the Prabhupada disciples - and that’s if you can show a picture where you are in the same picture as Prabhupada. That’s considered very prestigious - “Well, here I am with Prabhupada, doing this, doing that.” But I want you to consider how many pictures we have seen of Prabhupada with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Have you ever seen any photograph with Prabhupada and Bhaktisiddhanta standing there together? Prabhupada was a householder; he wasn’t living in the asram. He very rarely – something like ten times only, in his whole life – actually met with Bhaktisiddhanta. So physical meeting is not the sum and substance of the guru-disciple relationship. The actual sum and substance of the guru-disciple relationship is how much you are dedicated to the order received from the spiritual master.
Prabhupada emphasizes this point in the Bhagavatam. There he proclaims that you will not find Krishna in the bushes of Vrindavana, but that you will find Krishna in the form of the order received from your spiritual master. That’s where you will actually find Krishna. So do you think you can find Krishna if you neglect the order of your spiritual master? Sometimes we see that someone becomes an initiated disciple of one of our gurus in ISKCON and then they go away to another guru. Do you think they will ever realize Krishna? No. They’ll never realize Krishna. If you want to realize Krishna, you must, with whatever instructions you receive from your spiritual master, embrace those instructions as your very life and soul.
Nowadays it’s very fashionable to have a guru. There are so many gurus out there – Guru This, Guru That, Dada Bhagavan – have you heard of that one? Dada Bhagavan, Old Man Bhagavan, Grandfather Bhagavan. It’s ridiculous! God never becomes an old man, but here is Dada Bhagavan, this so-called guru out there. Old Man Bhagavan. God is nava-yauvanam: he’s ever-youthful. So in this way there are so many cheating gurus out there. Why are these cheating gurus? Because they are not presenting Bhagavad-gita as it is.
If we actually want to find the bona fide spiritual master, we must find that person who is presenting the teachings of Krishna as they are spoken in the Bhagavad-gita, without any adulteration - without any addition, without any subtraction, but purely, as they are. That’s the person who is the bona fide spiritual master. It’s just like your DHL delivery man. You expect him to be honest. If he opens up your package and adds something to it or takes something away from it, you report him to DHL as a dishonest employee - “You must fire him!” The honest DHL employee simply delivers the package as it has come from the sender. Likewise, the bona fide spiritual master never tampers with the message as Krishna has given it to Arjuna. He leaves it exactly as it was given by Krishna, without even the slightest adulteration. That is the bona fide spiritual master.
Now, just because it’s fashionable to have a guru doesn’t mean that we should take guru as a matter of fashion, like someone keeps a dog. No. “Guru” means that we will completely surrender ourselves. Sometimes people think, “I have a guru,” like a mutual-flattering relationship: I will flatter the guru and he will flatter me. But that’s called “enemy.” Your flatterer is your worst enemy, Bhaktisiddhanta said. Someone who simply flatters you – “Yes, give me some money, give me some daksina, and I flatter you” – that is the bogus guru. It is very easy to find a guru who will take your money. But to find a guru who will take away your anxiety – that is the bona fide spiritual master. That’s where he is at. The bona fide guru simply wants to rob you of all your anxieties. That’s all. He’s not after money, he’s not after women, he’s not after followers – he simply wants to help people become happy, that’s all. That’s the bona fide spiritual master.
So when we find such a person, a bona fide spiritual master, then we should fully surrender ourselves to his lotus feet. “From this moment on, I’m simply your property, Guru Maharaja; whatever you want to do with me, that is your choice. I have no independence; I simply totally belong to you. You can engage me however you want, for now and for all of eternity.” That is the proper mood for the disciple. So we have to have enough faith in our spiritual master to believe that he won’t abuse that power. That’s why it’s stated that one should take some time before taking a guru. You have to study this person. Is he actually pure? Is he free of ulterior motives? Is he my genuine well-wisher? With these things, you must become convinced – you must come to the point where you have complete faith in Guru. By associating with him, serving him, hearing him, meeting his followers, studying his teaching – in this way we have to see that he’s pure, that he’s perfect in all respects. Then we can put our complete faith and trust in him.
Some people say, “I can’t really put my faith and trust in anyone – I’ll just be my own guru.” That’s also a very popular thing. “I’ll just be my own guru, because I trust myself.” But there’s a problem with that. The problem is that we are conditioned. We’re conditioned living beings. Do you know what that means – “conditioned”? It means that we are subject to four defects. First of all, our senses are imperfect. For instance, you may hear a sound and think it was a car backfiring when actually somebody shot a gun. This is because our senses are imperfect. Because our senses are imperfect, we therefore have a tendency to be illusioned. And if you’re illusioned, what do you do? You make mistakes. Finally, in spite of making mistakes, what do we think about ourselves? We think, “I am great.” That’s called cheating – when we parade around like “Yes, I am PhD! I am big, big this; I am big, big that!” Therefore, because we have these four defects – imperfect senses, tendency to be illusioned, making mistakes and cheating – we are not qualified to be our own guru.
If anybody were qualified to be their own guru, who would that be? Krishna. Why? Because He’s the original guru. But you know what? Krishna has a guru. To teach by example, He took a guru also, Sandipani Muni. Krishna’s guru was a householder, actually. Sometimes people are surprised to hear of a householder initiating disciples - “I thought only sannyasis could do that.” You have to remember, though, that Krishna’s guru was a householder. It’s also stated in the Pancaratra - this is an interesting point, and Prabhupada mentions this in his purport – that only householder brahmanas can initiate disciples. Only householders can initiate. It has been established in our Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya that the sannyasis can also initiate; it was established by Caitanya Mahaprabhu that sannyasis could also, because he took initiation from a sannyasi, Madhavendra Puri. But the actual injunction in the Pancaratra was that only householders can initiate. Now in ISKCON there seems often to be the perception that only sannyasis can initiate disciples. But anyone who has the blessings of the Governing Body Commission – be they householder or sannyasi – can initiate disciples. This is confirmed by Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
[CC Madhya 8.128]
It doesn’t matter what you are. You may be a learned brahmana; you may be a sannyasi, you may be a sudra – whatever your position is, if you know the science of Krishna, then you can be a spiritual master.
So we simply have to find that person, in whatever order of life they may be. They may be a householder, a sannyasi – whatever order they may be in, if they know the science of Krishna, then that person can become Guru. We can surrender ourselves to that person and become blessed with Krishna consciousness. So this is a very important thing.
bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
[CC Madhya 19.151]
After wandering through millions and millions of lifetimes, in the repetition of birth and death - through the higher planets and the lower planets; up and down through 8,400,000 species - kona bhagyavan jiva; one living entity who is very, very fortunate receives, by the combined mercy of Guru and Krishna, the seed of bhakti in the heart.
If you get sleepy, stand up or shake yourself a little bit. The mode of ignorance pulls on us. Even if we know we should come and hear the Vaisnava teachings because they will liberate us, the mind says, “Sleep; sleep; sleep . . .” Give that mind a good slap - “Wake up! This knowledge will save you from all suffering conditions.” In fact, Prabhupada says that the easiest way to become self-realized is to hear from a person who has realized Krishna. It’s a fact. This is the easiest way to advance in Krishna consciousness: to hear from a person who has realized Krishna. It immediately situates one on the transcendental platform. Why did Prabhupada emphasize so much that we should have these classes regularly - morning and evening classes? Because this situates us solidly.
I remember when I joined our Society back in 1971; there was no formalized Bhagavatam class like we have now. And then Prabhupada established it. He taught us the song Jaya Radha Madhava, and he introduced this procedure of chanting the Sanskrit, like we do on the board now. We didn’t used to do that – in the early days of ISKCON nobody knew any Sanskrit but Prabhupada. When the first devotees started chanting Sanskrit, the other devotees thought, “This is Maya; this is really pretentious. You must be puffed up if you’re quoting Sanskrit – thinking you’re a great scholar.” They were critical when the first devotees started learning verses.
But actually Prabhupada wanted us to learn the verses because this gives us credibility. In a courtroom, when a lawyer is arguing a case before the judge, how does he convince the judge of the validity of his argument? He cites the previous decisions of the court, doesn’t he? He says, “But Your Honor, in this court case the judge decided in this way; it was very similar to the present case, and the judge decided in such-and-such a way,” and then he cites the court case, in such-and-such year. So then the judge has to accept the lawyer’s argument, because yes, the lawyer is bringing in previous judgments which relate to this judgment. In this same way, if we can quote from the Sanskrit verses, it will give great credibility to what we are saying – beyond simply proclaiming, “It is my opinion.”
Of course, in this modern age, how many people accept the authority of scripture? Not very many. So the best thing is to learn logical arguments also. We can argue on the basis of logic and then say that it is confirmed in the Vedas. That way, we have a twofold method: logic and scripture combined. And if that doesn’t work, you bring in a third method – you know what that is – prasadam and kirtan. By the time we bring all that in, we could conquer the whole world. Kirtan, prasadam, and Prabhupada’s teachings. Prabhupada’s teachings have the logic and the scripture all woven in together perfectly. You’ll see when you study Prabhupada’s books so many incredibly wonderful, logical arguments that will convince even the most stubborn philosopher if he is a little open-minded. The most deluded philosopher, if he’s willing to open his mind and to actually hear, will be enlightened by the words of Srila Prabhupada. If he’s stubbornly antagonistic, however, and he doesn’t want to hear, then what can you do? Give him prasadam.
If there are any questions that have come up so far, we can try to answer them. Anybody have any questions? Most of you here are initiated disciples. How many of you are initiated disciples? Raise you hand if you are initiated. There are four men who are not initiated . . . everyone is initiated among the ladies? So mostly everybody is initiated.
So everyone should be thinking, “How can I make my relationship with my spiritual master perfect?” That’s the most important thing in our spiritual life. Every thought, every word and every deed, in every time, every place and every situation should be pleasing to our spiritual master. Just imagine if your spiritual master were with you at every minute and he could see what was in your mind at every minute. How would you think, how would you speak, and how would you act? That’s how we should be. And you know what? If you think that way, you’ll be with the guru. You will be. You’ll have his darsan, his sangha, for all of eternity. So does anybody have any questions about how to perfect their relationship with their spiritual master? Or does everybody feel that they’ve already mastered it . . . ?
Q1 – [inaudible]
A1 – Srila Prabhupada explains that the easiest way to advance is spiritual life is to hear from a person who has realized Krishna. So how do you recognize one who has realized Krishna? If you hear from a person whom you think has realized Krishna but has not, then you’re in trouble. If you go to a medical doctor who turns out to be a quack, he may kill you by his ignorance of proper medical science. So this is a very important question that Visnupriya Mataji has asked: How do you actually know who is a person who has realized Krishna? You certainly wouldn’t want to get initiated by someone who has not realized Krishna. If we don’t even want to hear from someone who hasn’t realized Krishna, what to speak of getting initiated by that person? So how do we find out? That’s a very important question.
A person who has realized Krishna has no other business except for Krishna: that’s the first symptom. Consider, for instance, how Srila Prabhupada started his own movement in 1966. It’s not that he had his hours when he was on duty at the temple, and in the evening he would go uptown and catch the latest Broadway show, or head to the cinema. The spiritual master has no other business except Krishna, 24 hours a day. He has no other interest than to hear about Krishna, speak about Krishna, and remember Krishna. That’s the first symptom. If someone is actually realized Krishna, they derive ever-increasing bliss and satisfaction from always hearing about Krishna and talking about Krishna. They never tire of Krishna consciousness. That is one symptom of a person who has realized Krishna. There are many others, but that’s a good starting point.
Q2 – [inaudible]
A2 – So, if I’m hearing you properly (I can’t hear so well), you’re saying that someone may talk about Krishna, but then they may add a little Mayavada philosophy as well.
So Mayavada philosophy, for those who do not know, means the idea that actually, ultimately, everything is one. “I’m God, you’re God; we’re all God.” The idea is that right now we’re all playing hide-and-go-seek with ourselves, and that when we come out of hiding, we’ll become God again. This is called Mayavada philosophy. So, the Mayavada philosophers will talk about Krishna. They will talk about developing love for Krishna; they will sometimes worship a Deity of Krishna; they will also sometimes chant Hare Krishna with great delight and enthusiasm. But behind all of this bhakti is the desire to kill the object of their devotion and to become that object of devotion themselves.
I one time read a book that described bhakti-yoga in this way. It said that in the beginning of bhakti-yoga, there is the worshiper and the worshipable; but at the end of bhakti-yoga, there is no more distinction between the worshiper and the worshipable. It simply becomes all the worshipable, wherein the devotee becomes God. There is no more lover of God and God Who receives the love - the worshiper becomes the worshipable.
But that means love cannot exist. Love means two: Krishna and you, Prabhupada said. If everything becomes one then love cannot exist. And what is a world without love? Do you want to live in a world without love? Is that a very nice world to live in? The Mayavada philosophy is one of a world without love. Everything becomes impersonal oneness; there are no more relationships; there is no more love. So those Mayavadis will chant Hare Krishna sometimes, with the goal of merging in and becoming Krishna. They will sometimes cite the scriptures as well. They will talk about love of God, but for them love of God is crutch to help you become God. Once you become God, then, you can throw away the crutch. You don’t need the bhakti anymore. You use the bhakti ladder to get where you want to go, and once you’re there, you kick the ladder away – kick away the bhakti. “Now I don’t need bhakti anymore; I can kick away my guru, I can kick away Krishna, because now I am the Supreme.” This is Mayavada philosophy.
So we have to hear from a person who is purely presenting the Vaisnava philosophy. And, as we recently explained, ‘the devil is in the details.’ If you really want to know if the spiritual master is bona fide, you have to go into his teachings in a very detailed way. So you have to read Prabhupada’s books to get a clear understanding. And then you have to look very carefully at what you see.
One time I was preaching at the Rice University in Houston. I was in the office of one professor of religion. I told him that this Gita of Srila Prabhupada is different from the other Bhagavad-gita editions. He said, “Ah, I don’t believe that. They’re all the same.” And I said, “Well, just hand me that Bhagavad-gita.” I just pointed to one of the editions on his shelf. He handed it to me, and I opened it to Chapter Nine, Text Number 34:
And how did the author translate it? He started out sounding just like Prabhupada: “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me; offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will become Me.” You see? That’s Mayavada philosophy. The actual statement of Krishna is, “You will come to Me.” But the Mayavadi, at the very last minute, just makes that slight change which makes all the difference in the world: “You will become Me.” So we have to be very careful when we go to a guru. He may sound like a Vaisnava, a lover of God. But if in the end of all his bhakti he becomes the object of devotion, and you, the devotee, become the object of devotion - then run out of that place as fast as you can! He’s cheating you with false philosophy.
Any other questions? Yes.
You didn’t mention anything about disciplic succession . . . should he [guru] be coming from the disciplic succession?
A3 – Yes. The very most important aspect of Guru is that he is coming in disciplic succession. Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh, Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita. This is Chapter Four, Text Number Two. He says, “This knowledge was received through the chain of disciplic succession; the saintly kings understood it in that way.”
Prabhupada gives a nice example in this connection. In India, everything is done very simply; they don’t have big, big machines, so they use human beings for a lot of things that they might use machines for elsewhere. So during the mango season they will station workers up and down the mango tree. One worker climbs up, picks a mango, and hands it to the next worker, who hands it to the next worker, and so on down the tree. This way the mangoes come down without getting bruised. If you just drop a mango from the top all the way down to the ground, it will be ruined. In this same way the knowledge is coming down.
In the Bhagavad-gita, at the end of the Introduction, you will find a list showing the progression of our disciplic succession. Krishna is the original source of this knowledge. Krishna then imparts the knowledge to Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. Brahma then instructs this knowledge to his son and disciple, Narada Muni. Narada Muni then instructs it to Vedavyasa, the compiler of the Vedic wisdom. Vedavyasa is still living in the Himalayas; and a few centuries ago, a great Vaisnava acarya named Madhavacarya went to the Himalayas and met Vedavyasa personally. He became a disciple of Vedavyasa and was imparted this knowledge by Vedavyasa. And from Madhavacarya there are more acaryas coming down to Lord Caitanya, and down to the modern time, with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. And now we, his followers, are still carrying on this tradition.
So the guru has to be in the disciplic succession. If someone says, “Well, I’m a disciple of so-and-so” you can ask, “And who is his guru? Who is his guru’s guru?” - because unless there’s an unbroken line of disciplic succession, going back to God Himself, that guru is not bona fide. He’s not connected to the powerhouse. You may have a very nice wire coming into your house, but if it’s not connected with the powerhouse you won’t get any electricity in your house. There has to be an unbroken connection between the lamp in your living room and the powerhouse; otherwise nothing happens. This is a very important principle, disciplic succession. The spiritual master has to be in disciplic succession.
Any other questions?
So everybody feels that they have perfected their guru-disciple relationship - with no room to grow, to make it better? You’ve perfectly absorbed yourselves in Krishna consciousness? You’ve overcome all the obstacles . . . ? Well, we could bring out our policy now. If you don’t ask me questions, I will ask you questions.
There are gurus who say they are in the disciplic succession, but they do not teach their disciples the practice of bhakti.
A4 – If the spiritual master is not actually training the disciple how to do sadhana bhakti, then he’s not bona fide. It is the duty of the spiritual master to purify the disciple by engaging them in sadhana bhakti. It is stated by Rsabhadeva that unless the guru can deliver the disciple from the repetition of birth and death, then he should not become a guru. [SB 5.15.18] So that requires that the spiritual master engage the disciple, practically speaking, in bhakti-yoga. They have to be absorbed. The spiritual master has to fix them up in sadhana-bhakti, 24 hours a day, so that they are always engaged in sadhana, whether they are at home, at work, or wherever. The spiritual master teaches the disciples how to be connected with Krishna in all times, all places, and all circumstances. The spiritual master who is not doing that duty is a spiritual master in name only - he’s not really a spiritual master.
Even though he may be in disciplic succession?
Yes. My spiritual master may be bona fide; but if I’m not purely transmitting to you the science of bhakti as I’ve learned it from him, then I’m actually causing a break in the disciplic succession. If I’m teaching you something different from what Prabhupada has given, then even though I may ostensibly be the disciple of a bona fide spiritual master, I’m not really a disciple because I’m not following his instructions. So even if the spiritual master has a bona fide guru, you have to see whether or not he is following his bona fide guru. We see sometimes people who are disciples of Srila Prabhupada disobey him – they leave ISKCON, and go out to become a guru on their own, outside of ISKCON. We advise people that they have to understand what sort of a spiritual master this is – he disobeyed his own spiritual master, who said we should remain within the society of ISKCON. How qualified is that person to deliver you when he disobeyed his own spiritual master?
Questions more? Yes.
Are all the gurus in ISKCON bona fide?
A5 – The GBC has taken this position: officially, they leave it up to you. It’s your responsibility to read Prabhupada’s books and to make that determination for yourself. They don’t want to give a stamp of approval that this person or that person is bona fide. The official approval process in ISKCON is called ‘no objection’: “We have no objection if this person initiates.” But it’s up to the prospective disciple to understand this person’s qualification, based on Prabhupada’s books and Krishna from within the heart, and to actually decide. You can’t rubber-stamp someone who’s a bogus spiritual master. Prabhupada said, “You can’t elect an acarya by votes.” Do you understand? So it’s not that some committee can sit there and say, “Here is a list of persons; we will take a vote and if this person passes, he’s a qualified acarya.” Acarya cannot be determined by the majority vote of a committee, where the committee says, “Yes, he is” so he must be. No.
So far in my experience, I’ve seen that the acaryas in our society - all the initiating gurus who are currently doing that service – are all very nice, bona fide gurus. Now, the fact is that some did give up that service in the past. They were having difficulty and they gave it up. But all the ones I know of now, I see are doing very nicely. But you don’t become a spiritual master by being voted into the position. One actually becomes a spiritual master by manifesting the effulgence of a spiritual master. By complete submission to your own spiritual master, his sakti is then manifested through you. Prabhupada says in the Bhagavatam, “The one who is now the disciple, he is the next spiritual master.” So it’s a very simple process. Anyone who is actually a bona fide disciple will naturally become qualified as guru. It’s a natural process.
So if you want to know if a particular guru is bona fide, you have to see: is he following Prabhupada? That’s all. If you read Prabhupada’s books, then you will know who is bona fide and who isn’t. You don’t need the GBC or so-and-so committee to tell you. If you have Prabhupada’s books and you read them, and you sincerely chant your rounds, then Krishna will give you all intelligence to know who is a bona fide spiritual master and who is not. The responsibility is on your shoulders.
I can tell you anything; but what if I’m not bona fide? What if I’m a cheater? I can tell you, “Yes, I’m a bona fide guru; I’m very bona fide” - but what if I’m a cheater? You have to yourself become learned in the Vedic wisdom by carefully studying Prabhupada’s books and sincerely chanting your rounds; and then Krishna will give you the intelligence to understand who is a bona fide guru and who is not. You will know. It will be very clear to you. You can see how a person acts and how they speak; you can compare them with what you are reading in Prabhupada’s books and it will become very clear to you: this person is a wonderful, qualified spiritual master; this person is not. It will be very clear.
Questions more? Yes.
Can a woman become a spiritual master?
A6 –In our Gaudiya Vaisnava history, we have the example of Jahnava Mata, the consort of Lord Nityananda. She became the guru of the whole Vaisnava community. She had male disciples. So we do have the example of a woman becoming a spiritual master. There is no restriction that only men can be spiritual masters. A woman can also be a spiritual master.
Why then don’t they want to give sannyasa to a woman?
Oh – sannyasa is another thing. Do you know that sannyasa means “alone”? Sannyasa means that one can wander alone with no material protection throughout the entire world. That is the meaning of sannyasa. The sannyasi is a solitary, wandering mendicant. That is the meaning of sannyasa order – did you know that? Sannyasa means alone: he can wander the world with no material protection. Now if you want a woman to do that, you’re just setting her up to get raped. That’s all you’re going to do. So if you want to give sannyasa to women, you’re not doing your duty. Your duty is to protect the women. If the women are not under a man’s protection, unscrupulous men will come and rape them – I guarantee you. Just like when the coup was going on – there were so many girls at the University of the South Pacific, and the Fijians went into the dormitories and raped the Indian girls. That is the nature of this material world. So if you want to give sannyasa to women, that means they have to travel alone without any protection. That’s the duty of a sannyasi. That means you’re setting them up to get raped. That is against Vedic culture. Women are always meant to be protected.
But Vaisnava is higher than sannyasa. Sannyasa is within the varnasrama system. When one becomes Vaisnava, one is at a higher position than sannyasa. Do you understand that? Sannyasa is within the varnasrama system; Vaisnava is transcendental to the varnasrama system. I just received a letter from one of my female disciples today. She is a single woman in Chicago. She was wondering about the male/female engagements, this and that. I told her that there is no restriction, that as your spiritual master, my desire for you as my female disciple - first of all, you’re not a female, I told her; I don’t see you as a female. Krishna has sent you to me to deliver you from the cycle of birth and death. And I said that my desire for you is that you should become a very powerful spiritual leader on this planet, and that you can deliver millions of people from the cycle of birth and death. The same desire I have for my male disciples, I have for my female disciples. I want to see each and every one of my male disciples and my female disciples become powerful spiritual leaders on this planet.
Sannyasa is not necessary. I’m a spiritual master with disciples all over the world, and I’m not a sannyasi. Sannyasa is not necessary to become a guru. I’m not a sannyasi, and I’m a spiritual master.
But when a Vaisnava takes sannyasa order, he gets more respect than a Vaisnava who is not a sannyasi. Why is that?
A7 –If people giving more respect to a sannyasi than to a Vaisnava, that means that someone has to educate them.
But Caitanya Mahaprabhu . . . [took sannyasa to appear more respectable]
Yes, that’s true. He took advantage of the popular custom of the day for the sake of preaching. That’s a fact. But actually a Vaisnava is at a higher position than a sannyasi. Lord Caitanya used the social convention to his advantage for preaching. It was a strategy. But actually a Vaisnava is in a more respectable position than a sannyasi, a higher position. There are so many Mayavadi sannyasis. And what does Lord Caitanya say? Mayavadi …. aparadhi – they are offenders! There are so many sannyasis who are considered aparadhis. So sannyasa in itself is not a very significant thing. The real significance is to be a Vaisnava.
Sannyasa is very good for a preacher - for a male preacher, it’s a very good thing. He has so much energy freed up for preaching work. If our men want to take up that position, we encourage it. A woman can also act in a very powerful way, but she needs to be protected by men, because she has a body that is weaker and more easily exploited. When you walk down the street are you afraid of being raped? If you go through a dark alley at night, are you afraid someone will rape you? No. But a woman has to be very fearful. That’s the difference. That’s why we don’t give women sannyasa. They are meant to always be under a man’s protection.
In Kali-yuga, sannyasa . . . [inaudible]
Yes. According to sastra, because the sannyasa asram has been so much abused, it’s actually forbidden in this age. In exceptional cases it’s given for Vaisanavas – it can be given for preaching. But actually sannyasa order is forbidden in the Kali-yuga.
The other day in my email somebody wrote me with the same question about women being sannyasis. I told him the reason, and he said, “Well, I’m not completely satisfied with your answer. I’m only 59% satisfied.” And I replied, “It’s a good thing that I only have to satisfy Krishna and not you.” Because that is the Vedic system: the women do not get sannyasa. But that’s not a downgrading of the women. I’m not a sannyasi either, but it doesn’t effect my preaching. Actually, my experience is that having a Krishna-conscious wife is better than having sannyasa. If you have a wife who is very renounced, like my wife Visnupriya Mataji – a very dedicated, Krishna-conscious wife – it’s better than sannyasa.
Any other questions?
Did Prabhupada speak about making female gurus?
A8 – Yes. He said that they can be gurus, but generally they are not. Some lady who was a professor at a university asked him that question. He said yes, but generally they don’t do it.
See, you have to understand one thing. A woman has a different psycho-physical nature from a man. Nowadays, people are trying to say it’s all one – that there’s no difference between a man and a woman. But that’s completely bogus. Women have a certain psycho-physical nature that is different from a man’s nature. That’s a fact. So in the Vedic culture everyone is engaged according to their natural, psycho-physical nature. It’s where they are most happy and satisfied. So women can be spiritual masters, but generally they aren’t. Statistically, mostly men gravitate toward those roles in society, simply because it’s their natural inclination.
Look at philosophers through the ages. How many women are great philosophers through the ages? I don’t know of even one woman who’s listed in the great philosophers throughout the ages. A woman is certainly free to philosophize if she wants to. But a woman’s nature is not as much like that as a man’s nature. You see, we have Socrates, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Heidegger – do you study Western philosophy at the university? How many lady philosophers were there? There was no rule that women couldn’t be philosophers, but they weren’t so interested in philosophy! Everyone has a certain nature, that’s all. So women can be spiritual masters, and sometimes they are; it’s just that generally, by natural inclination, they would rather play a different role. They’re not restricted to that; it’s just that everyone in the Vedic culture is encouraged to act according to their natural proclivity, and use that for Krishna. But with my female disciples, I also encourage them to give classes. I have two of my female disciples already who give classes. I encourage them to give classes. Prabhupada said in our Krishna consciousness movement, everyone is engaged equally as preachers, men and women both. We don’t discriminate that only men can give classes – that we can only hear from men. We encourage everyone who wants to preach to be a preacher, man or woman.
Are you satisfied?
Questions more? How about from the ladies’ side here – any questions?
We encourage everyone to become a great preacher. Prabhupada doesn’t discriminate between men and women when he gives this instruction. It’s in the Caitanya Caritamrita. It’s an amazing quote. It states that if a devotee will purely chant the holy names of the Lord without any offense, that devotee will become jagad-guru, and that under his or her influence, the whole world will take up Krishna consciousness. So I encourage each and every one of you, men and women alike, to become such pure chanters of the holy name. If you do, then you ladies can all become jagad-guru, you men call all become jagad-guru - and under your influence the whole world will take up Krishna consciousness.
So someone may say, “Well, I want to be a guru but ISKCON is chauvinistic, so I can’t become a guru because the GBC is male-chauvinistic, and they’re holding me back!” But it’s like I told my disciple today: nothing is holding you back except your own limitations that you’re putting on yourself. If you want to be a powerful spiritual master to save the world, to turn the course of history, nobody in this movement is holding you back except yourself. That’s a fact. Because Prabhupada says that anyone who chants the holy name of the Lord without offense becomes jagad-guru and that under the influence of that devotee the whole world will take up this movement. That person could be a five-year-old child – that person doesn’t even have to be an adult. Prahlada Maharaja is one of our gurus. He is a great mahajana, and he was a little boy. So a child can become the spiritual master of the whole universe, a pure chanter of the holy name; a woman can become the spiritual master of the whole universe; a man can become that – it doesn’t matter what the body is. All that matters is whether you have given up your offenses against the name, whether you have cleared all the anarthas out of your heart.
So that’s the only thing holding you back: the anarthas. If you want to be Guru, all you have to do is get all of the anarthas out of your heart, and you will automatically be Guru. It has nothing to do with being male or female. It simply has to do with the anarthas in your heart. Are you willing to give up your anarthas or are you holding onto them?
Have you heard the story of the man and the rock? There was once a man who was living in this horrible, desolate desert atmosphere. Across the river was this beautiful paradise, with flowers, flowing streams, beautiful festivals, and beautiful people wearing saris and dhotis, singing and dancing. The people on the other side of the river called out to him, “Come! Come across the river! It’s very shallow; you can easily cross – just come across! You can easily make it!” But there was one problem: the man had a rock that he was very attached to – a pet rock. He called back, “But I can’t swim with my rock! It’s too heavy; I can’t swim with it!” “Just leave it!” the people replied. And he said, “No, I can’t – this is my pet rock! I can’t give up this rock!” So he stayed there in his horrible situation because he was attached to his rock.
We may laugh at this foolish example, but that rock represents our anarthas. We could enter into the spiritual world of eternity, knowledge and bliss right now, but we’re holding onto these anarthas – pride, lust, anger and greed. We’re holding onto these anarthas, and because of that we’re remaining in this miserable condition of material existence. So anybody who wants to be Guru has only to give up their anarthas, and they can deliver the whole world by their example.
Whatever standard by your exemplary acts set by your acts, all the world will follow if you become pure. So everyone can become Guru, man or woman. It doesn’t require anything except giving up your anarthas.
Any more questions?
Time and tide wait for no man; we will stop here. Thank you very much.
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!
Transcribed by Her Grace Labangalatika devi dasi