mantra-guru ära yata çikñä-guru-gaëa

täìhära caraëa äge kariye vandana

(CC Adilila 1.35)

jaya jaya çré-caitanya jaya nityänanda

jayädvaita-candra jaya gaura-bhakta-vånda

(CC Adilila 1.18) 


Translation :

I first offer my respectful obesciances at the lotus feet of my initiating spiritual master and all my instructing spiritual masters.



Çréla Jéva Gosvämé, in his thesis Bhakti-sandarbha (202), has stated that uncontaminated devotional service is the objective of pure Vaiñëavas and that one has to execute such service in the association of other devotees. By associating with devotees of Lord Kåñëa, one develops a sense of Kåñëa consciousness and thus becomes inclined toward the loving service of the Lord. This is the process of approaching the Supreme Lord by gradual appreciation in devotional service. If one desires unalloyed devotional service, one must associate with devotees of Çré Kåñëa, for by such association only can a conditioned soul achieve a taste for transcendental love and thus revive his eternal relationship with Godhead in a specific manifestation and in terms of the specific transcendental mellow (rasa) that one has eternally inherent in him.


Essence of Surrender

Srila Prabhupada is stressing to us the paramount importance of the association of devotees. During the time when Srila Prabhupada was on this earth one of his devotee had a feeling that he could execute Krishna consciousness in a secluded place and he was even criticizing his god brothers because apparently there was misunderstanding and sometimes even some politics. Srila Prabhupada after hearing & examining the contents of this man’s heart carefully explained in a letter – ‘for you to think if you can make any spiritual progress without the association of devotees is simply an imagination, this is not possible’.

You see what Srila Prabhupada and the great acharyas are trying to give us is the true substance of pure devotional service. As far as some shadow of Krishna consciousness which appears to be Krishna consciousness appears to be something very blissful and nectarian, but isn’t the real fiber of learning the art of surrender which is preliminary for entering into realm of any rasa with Krishna. It is an imagination. And therefore, Srila Jiva Goswami is explaining here in the Bhakti Sandarba that one must associate with the devotees of Krishna. It is by the association of devotees only that a conditioned soul achieves the taste for transcendental love.

So we have seen even some of devotees from out temple, they want to go to the Vrindavan & want to roam through the grooves of Vrindavan like a sakhi, where is Radha, where is Krishna. And they are just dancing, laughing & chanting and they are going to all the festivals, like this. But you see such persons have not understood the real fiber of surrender. We may think that we are suffering, in Bombay, so much inconvenience, polluted city, materialism all around, wastes are falling down at every step and there is so much of pressure on me, so much service and because of this pressure devotees sometimes argue and fight together. I don’t feel I am Krishna conscious, if I would be roaming through the grooves of Nandagram, Barasana & Govardhan just in sakhi bhava, going wherever Radharani sends me from within the heart then I will be very happy. No worries, no problems, no tensions, very-very happy.

Well you can enjoy, but that’s all, you cannot get purified very well by the process. Because in Bhagavad Gita we learn the art of surrender, we learn the art of discipline by the spiritual master and being disciplined by the congregation of devotees. And this discipline is the prerequisite, if we try to jump ahead to the level of the six goswamis then we will be simply fooling ourselves and there will be no purification. Therefore under the order of a bonafide spiritual master we must learn how to discipline and regulate our lives and perform tapasya for the sake of purification. And herein it is explained very-very strongly. Srila Prabhupada had a great concern that if the devotees don’t understand how to associate with one other properly and the importance of the association then even in the name of Krishna consciousness there would be no real spiritual advancement.

People may seem to be very advanced. Sometimes we see people who go to a holly dham, they appear to be very advanced because sometimes they even cry tears when they are chanting. But Srila Prabhupada explains that those tears wash away all the Vedic conclusion, because the conclusion of the Vedas is to surrender, and what does it mean to surrender, it means tapasya, discipline, not just you do what you like to do or being with what you like to be with. I remember, first time when I went to New Vrindavan, I don’t have anything in common with any of these people. If I had my choice I would not have been in association with any one of these type of people, I had nothing like them and yet I had to sleep with them, I had to eat with them, I had to chant with them, I had to work with them, it’s a small community. But then I understood by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy that it is a part of surrender. To learn how to associate with these devotees is not for my pleasure, not for my enjoyment but for the pleasure of spiritual master is of utmost importance. I told Srila Prabhupad that this New Vrindavan has too much opulence, hot milk at night and all these things. And Prabhupada said if you are living under a tree & if you are asked to live in palace, you should live in a palace and if you live in a palace & if you are asked to live under a tree you should live under a tree. You are simply doing what your Guru Maharaj wants.

You may be thinking here we live in a house, in fact I heard that for brahmacharis it is not good for them to always be living and getting their meals, they should be living in forests and risking their lives. It is not a question of what we like to do or what we think is purifying, it is a question of obedience and surrender. If the Guru puts you in a Taj Mahal hotel, that’s the best place for you to make spiritual advancement, if the Guru sends you to live under a tree with nothing, that’s the best place to make spiritual advancement. Srila Bhaktipad said to me, your problem is that you are too attached to the tree. And I understood that Prabhupada is speaking through him, this is Guru’s kripa that my devotional service, my spiritual purification isn’t to be thinking what I like, who I like to be with but it is to learn how I associate with devotees for our purification and for service to our spiritual master.

What else we have to consider besides our Guru’s order. ‘vyavasayatimiika budhirekeh  kurunandana’ That one must make ones Guru’s order ones life & soul. Madhusudan got married because it was his Guru’s order, he had to associate with a Mataji, can you imagine this, she is a good mataji but still matajis are matajis, for the service of Guru. And if the Guru asks you to take sanyas, then you take sanyas. Our concern is simply this, to learn how to associate with devotees as an act of surrender to the spiritual master. We are not so proud & foolish to think we can make any advancement whatsoever outside the instruction of our Guru. Even if apparently by leaving this place & and chanting 108 rounds a day and fasting and only three neem leaves a day, people all around will think my God this person is really serious and very advanced. This is not the way to make advancement but what’s your Guru orders you and blesses you to do. Better eating your chapattis and dal and doing your service with a humble and sincere heart, associating with devotees. This is the proper understanding of association and in that association we should always aspire for only one position and that is to be the servant. We should never expect honor and recognition in the association of devotees. If it comes we should accept it as the causeless love of the Vaishnavas. Sometimes devotees say, devotees should not flatter one another, we should not flatter one another but if from our heart we express our appreciation that is not flattering. And by hearing that we should not get puffed up saying that just see they are recognizing my glories. Rather we should understand that this is the causeless love of the Vaishnavas although I have no good qualities, because of their love in Krishna they are able to see some good in me. They are able to appreciate something in me; Krishna is so kindly encouraging me through them. In this way when we hear our appreciation, we will become more humble rather than becoming proud. And we should be very-very anxious to honor the other Vaishnavas, and serve the other Vaishnavas in whatever way, we possibly can.

Association of Guru

This is how properly we can understand the importance of association of devotees. If one develops love for Krishna by Krishna conscious activities, one can know the supreme absolute truth. But he who tries to understand God simply by logical arguments will not succeed, nor will he get a taste for unalloyed devotion. The secret is that one must submissively listen to those who know perfectly the science of God. And one must begin the mode of service by aural reception. Here Prabhupada is describing so nicely how to understand the absolute truth. We must submissively hear from those, he doesn’t only say the Guru but anyone who properly repeats the words of the Guru. The Gurus words in themselves are absolute; they are the words of the God. Therefore when various devotees give class every morning, we should be just attentive to them just as when our own Guru is giving class. Because factually our own Guru is giving class.

There are two types of association with the Guru, one is Vapu and one is Vani. Vapu means just physical presence, Vani means the sound vibration. Physical presence, Srila Prabhupada explains, you should take advantage whenever the opportunity is there, as much as possible but it is not near as important as is the Vani or the association through the sound vibration. Because association of sound vibration, if we are sincere, will be with us always, twenty four hours a day, throughout our life but a physical association may or may not. Therefore we should understand that from wherever the words of our Guru are coming, our Guru is there through Vani. When we read his books we are with him, when we remember his instructions we are with him and when someone is giving a class of preaching and they are preaching the message of Sanatan dharma which is coming through Guru parampara, we should understand that our Guru is in fact speaking through this person. And if our Guru is in fact speaking through this person then how much we should be anxious to respect him and hear his words. This is how we should associate with one another. We should factually not only see one another with Guru but we should see our god brothers who are anyway serving the Guru and repeating the words of the Guru, we should see them all as representatives of our Guru, and we should honor them and respect them accordingly. From wherever the Guru’s sound vibration is coming we must not see them as separate from Guru. That means all of you together when you give a class to one another when you preach to one another, when you are repeating the words of your Guru Maharaj all others should understand that my Guru Maharaj has come, through Vani. And when we understand this then we will be really entering the realm that Jiva Goswami is discussing. Of that type of association of devotees where the Guru’s remembrance is constantly within hearts of each one another. We are constantly helping one another in remembering Guru. Not just by talking about his pastimes, that is nice, but most of all by discussing his instructions and how we can serve him.


The Guru – most unifying force

This is the most important thing. The instruction of the Guru must be the most unifying force between all of us. And as I have said with great emphasis many times within last few minutes, how is the reunifying force, when we can perceive our Guru through his Vani whenever it appears. A devotee although be attracted by name, form, qualities, etc of the supreme Lord may be directed to a specific manner of the devotional service, he need not waste time by approaching Lord through logic. An expert spiritual master knows well how to engage his disciple’s energy in the transcendental loving service of the Lord & thus he engages a devotee in a specific devotional service according to his special tendency. A devotee must have only one initiating spiritual master because in scriptures acceptance of more than one is always forbidden.


More than one Guru- spiritual suicide

We were discussing the other night this idea of jumping from one Guru to another, that you accept the vow of initiation and then you hear someone else that sounds nicer. You hear somebody else that is giving a sweeter understanding of Krishna, so you switch, this is spiritual suicide because you are committing such an offence. If the spiritual master is not bona fide, if he not rightly representing the disciple succession or if he is out rightly fallen, then we can accept another initiation. But as long as that Guru is in the proper bona fide disciple succession and he is living as per the standard of Krishna consciousness then it is forbidden in all scriptures to accept anyone else as Guru. If someone is enlivening you, exciting you, you can accept him as your shiksha guru. But it should be in harmony to the instruction and order of the diksha Guru.


Spiritual Master – Rudder of the ship

There is not limit however to the number of instructing spiritual masters one may accept. Generally a spiritual master who constantly instructs a disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on. One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. One who is not initiated may present himself as a great devotee but in fact he is sure to encounter many stumbling blocks on his path of progress towards spiritual realization with the result he must continue his term of material existence without relief. Such a helpless person is compared to a ship without a rudder. Such a ship can never reach its destination.

It is imperative therefore that one must accept a spiritual master if he at all desires to gain the favour of the Lord. The service of the spiritual master is essential. If there is no chance to serve him directly, a devotee should serve him by remembering his instructions. There is no difference between the instructions of a spiritual master and the spiritual master himself. In his absence therefore his words of direction should be the pride of the disciple. If one thinks he is above anyone else including his spiritual master, he is at once offender at the lotus feet of the Lord. Such an offender can never go back to Godhead. It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the shastric injunctions. Srila Jiva Goswami advises that one should not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary, customary, social or eclectic conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.


Work is worship – If it has blessings of great souls

Srila Prabhupada is explaining how the service of the spiritual master is essential. And, how if one cannot serve the spiritual master directly, one should serve him by remembering his instructions; how much we must learn to serve the spiritual master according to the arrangement of Krishna and to be obedient and to be loyal. There is no difference between his instructions and he himself but if we think, Prabhupada says, ourselves superior and don’t feel any necessity to consult spiritual master before doing anything important then we are an offender to the Lord. This is very important. This is the discipline of a devotee. A devotee does not engage in any important activity without getting the blessings of Guru or any representatives. If he thinks I will do things on my own, he is being offensive to the Lord. I will go here because I like to go here; I will do this because I like to do this. Krishna’s blessings are not upon anything we do unless it is in consultation or permission of the great souls. If we want to start another business for grahastas, it has nothing to do with Krishna unless it has the heartfelt blessings of the great souls to be used in Krishna’s service. If we want to visit our family, it’s simply maya unless we get the permission and blessings of the great souls, Guru & his representatives.

And even if we want to go to Ayodhya, Dwaraka, Vrindavan, Navadvipa, we are going there for our spiritual purification for the pleasure of Krishna, but Krishna will not be pleased if it is not without the blessings and auspicious permission of the devotees of the Lord. This is Vaishnav etiquette and this etiquette is very essential for our spiritual progress. And then of course Srila Prabhupada is explaining that accepting a Guru for customary, social purposes is not really accepting a Guru at all. Sometimes people accept Guru on hereditary as if everyone in that caste has some formal relationship with the Guru. This is not really at all what spiritual life is. We must find someone but not for, Srila Prabhupada says, for ecclesiastical conventions that mean that this is the institution, this is the person you are assigned to accept. Even within our movement we have this, this is the geographical area, this is the person you are assigned to accept.

If you, really in your heart, are able to follow the directions, accept them, it’s good. But if not then we must look for someone who is genuinely qualified, if we want real advancement in spiritual understanding.


Are there any questions?

Question: What if the Guru falls down from the position of Krishna’s representative later on?

Answer: It is not a question of superiority. It is, at that time they were all in a very-very wonderful way representing Prabhupada. And therefore they were all genuine in that sense. But everyone has their independence. If someone later on misuses that independence and wants to take position for his own pride rather than the representative of the previous acharyas then Krishna will create a situation where he falls down. And that fall is also for his purification, he is indirectly making advancement. Now, what does the disciple do? The disciple has to simply have faith in Krishna. The disciple has to really understand that there is no big problem here. This Guru was guiding me as long as he was repeating Prabhupada’s message, he was repeating the previous acharyas words and engaging me in devotional service. So therefore as long as he was doing this I was making spiritual advancement but now if he is no longer in position to guide me then it is for certain that Krishna will direct me to someone else who can guide me and take back from where that person has left.

Of course this is a very unfortunate situation and we should pray that it never happens, but even if it does it should not be a disturbance to our spiritual progress. Because factually if someone is repeating the message of the Guru & living according to message of Guru, we can understand that at that level he is a bona fide Guru. But as far as the depths of his realizations of Krishna portray in his heart, as a neophyte devotee we have no access in understanding that. But if he is repeating the words of Krishna, repeating the words of the disciple line and he is living according to that and he is not engaging in sense gratification, then yes we can understand that this person is in a position of a Guru. And we can accept him with faith. If we are truly inspired by that person, if we find Krishna coming through that person, and if we accept with faith that Krishna will protect me under all the circumstances, but we should accept that Guru as the representative of Krishna and give him all the love and honor that we shall give God himself.

Written by

Radhanath Swami

H.H Radhanath Swami is one of today’s most beloved and respected spiritual teachers. A Bhakti Yoga practitioner for 40 years, he is a guide, community builder, philanthropist, and acclaimed author.Born and raised in Chicago,at the age of 19 he discovered India's Mystical devotional tradition and now spread his message of compassion and love around the world.

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About Me

Radhanath Swami

H.H Radhanath Swami is one of today’s most beloved and respected spiritual teachers. A Bhakti Yoga practitioner for 40 years, he is a guide, community builder, philanthropist, and acclaimed author.Born and raised in Chicago,at the age of 19 he discovered India's Mystical devotional tradition and now spread his message of compassion and love around the world.