San Jose, California — Wednesday, December 6th
Who is guru?
Today is Srila Gurudeva's birthday (Vyasa Puja). Shortly after His Divine Grace left Saint Petersburg at the end of his 22nd World Tour, one of the devotees asked the following question at one of my lectures: "In a recent darshan Srila Gurudeva said, 'I am always with my disciples.' How should we understand this?" This is my reply:
It all depends on you. Do you have the eyes to see? You cannot see Srila Gurudeva with material vision, just as the owl cannot see the sun with nocturnal vision. Before you understand how Srila Gurudeva is always with us, you first have to develop the eyes to see who Srila Gurudeva really is.
If you think that Srila Gurudeva is that old Indian man who was here... then he is not here, is he? He is in India! Is Srila Gurudeva that old man? We have to "dive deep into reality," as Srila Sridhar Maharaj was fond of saying, if we want to understand, first, "Who am I?" and then, "Who — or what? — is guru?"
In the Bhagavad Gita (4:3), Krishna describes the guru as somebody who is jnaninas tattva-darsinah: someone who has both practical and theoretical knowledge of Krishna consciousness (jnaninas), and who constantly sees (or has the darshan of) the Supreme Absolute Truth (tattva). In other words, somebody who lives on the plane of reality.
The guru's function in this world is to give us a glimpse of that reality (tad viddhi) by gradually elevating our consciousness up into that plane (upadeksyanti te jnanam). He advocates a particular conception of reality that we find charming, and because we want a connection with that reality, we surrender exclusively (pranipatena) to him. It is really that beautiful conception of reality given by Srila Gurudeva that we are charmed by, and surrender to.
If you just surrender to that old Indian man, then you haven't really understood the conception of guru, and you will never really be able to see him or understand how it is that he is with you all the time. But if you understand it is a particular conception of reality that you are charmed by and surrender to, then you will be able to see Srila Gurudeva everywhere. Whatever it is that reminds you of that reality, will force you to see, "Here is my guru."
Every day we sing these lines from Srila Narottama das Thakur's song, Sri Guru-Vandana:
caksu-dana dila yei / janme janme prabhu sei
"You are my master (prabhu) birth after birth (janme janme)."
How should we interpret this? I'm a bad man: I am still going to take many hundreds of thousands of births here in this material world. Is this old Indian man, Srila Govinda Maharaj, going to be forced to come back here, as my guru, to rescue me in every one of those lives? It is unreasonable — and absurd, don't you think? — to expect Srila Gurudeva to keep coming back here to save me.
Srila Gurudeva has thousands of disciples. Will he be forced to return to this material world unless every one of us goes back to Godhead in this lifetime? And if he does come back for us in our future lives, and again initiates many thousands of new disciples... well, you can see how he would be condemned to stay here in this material world for all eternity!
So you can see that it is irrational to think that Srila Gurudeva is a particular personality — an old Indian man — that has to keep coming back to rescue us. The guru is a functioning principle of divinity: Krishna reveals Himself to us through His agent, the guru (acaryam mam vijaniyan). There is only one guru (Krishna) who appears in an infinite variety of forms (as the acharya) to eradicate our ignorance and reveal the proper conception of reality (caksu-dana dila yei).
The guru represents a specific conception of reality, and that will be revealed to us according to our advancement in Krishna consciousness. If we can recognize that — "Oh, here is my guru coming to me now through this medium" — then Srila Gurudeva will always be with us, to inspire us with Krishna consciousness.
I have a connection with reality, in this life, through my teacher, Srila Gurudeva, and in my next life I will continue my education from where I left off, with another teacher. It is not that this old Indian man is going to be forced to be my guru in my next life, but rather, according to my previous conscious development (sukriti), that same conception that I received from Srila Gurudeva will be amplified and enhanced by another teacher.
My arithmetic teacher in elementary school, my algebra teacher in high school, and my calculus professor in university are unique individuals, but they all perform the same function: to increase my knowledge and understanding of mathematics so that I can advance to the next grade.
Similarly, our gurus will all be different personalities who increase our knowledge of Krishna consciousness. Guru is a teacher, and teaching is a vocation or a post. It is a universal role: we will not have one teacher throughout our entire lives. If you discriminate between teachers — if you limit the teacher to a unique individual — then you will not be able to take advantage of the contributions of all the other teachers.
Still, because we took initiation from this particular old Indian man, Srila Gurudeva has a special significance for us because we get our immediate help from him. We immediately recognize him: "Here is my guru." But we must not forget that we surrendered to Srila Gurudeva because we were charmed by his beautiful conception of divinity, and wherever we find that same conception, we will recognize, "Here is my guru, now revealing himself to me through this personality or through this medium."
We will be able to recognize our guru by his conception. I took initiation from Srila Sridhar Maharaj in 1983, and he left this world in 1988. Does this mean that I do not have a guru now? Well, if I think that he was that other old Indian man, then no, he is not here with me. But because I later recognized Srila Sridhar Maharaj's conception in his dearest disciple, Srila Govinda Maharaj, and took sannyas initiation from him in 2003, I feel that, yes, Srila Sridhar Maharaj is still here with me.
I am not betraying or being unfaithful to Srila Sridhar Maharaj because I am now receiving so much inspiration from Srila Govinda Maharaj, any more than I am betraying or being unfaithful to my high school algebra teacher now that I am being inspired by my university calculus professor! A good student will recognize his teacher's instructions in another individual.
If I only see my guru as Srila Sridhar Maharaj then I won't see divinity anywhere else, but if I'm conscious of my guru's particular conception of divinity, when I recognize that in somebody else like Srila Govinda Maharaj — "Oh, that conception which previously so charmed me, I now detect it coming from this man " — then I must accept him as my guru too. That is the proper conception of guru.
So to answer your question: Yes, Srila Gurudeva is always with us — if we have the eyes to see. Although he is not with us physically, when we speak to his disciples here in the temple and they say something that reminds us of his conception, then we may think: "Yes, Srila Gurudeva is still here, living in the hearts of his devotees."
If we read a chapter from one of his books like Affectionate Guidance or Dignity of the Divine Servitor, then we are again associating with Srila Gurudeva because that same conception is being revealed to us, only this time through the pages of a book...
As some of the examples that I have given illustrate, if we have the proper vision, then Srila Gurudeva never leaves us because we see him everywhere. We recognize his conception in everything, coming to help us, coming to draw our consciousness up into that higher plane.
If you only recognize Srila Gurudeva in his physical body, however, then of course you will think, "He is gone." Or if you have a vivid imagination, you will think, "Oh, Srila Gurudeva is in my heart, and I am feeling so warm tonight, because he is here." I am not talking about anything imaginary or sentimental like that! If we have a real understanding of what Srila Gurudeva is giving — if we can appreciate that conception of reality — then Srila Gurudeva will never leave us.
If you haven't read Sri Guru and His Grace by Srila Sridhar Maharaj, read it (or read it again!) and you will see that everything I have said about this conception is given very clearly there. It is very important that we understand who guru is because our connection with reality comes through him, and if we misconceive who he is, we won't have a tangible connection with reality.
So when you write your Vyasa Puja offerings for Srila Gurudeva, don't glorify "the way he walks," or "the way he talks." These things are external! Try to understand who Srila Gurudeva really is, and what he truly represents — and glorify that!
[Update — Read: The eye to see guru by Srila Sridhar Maharaj.]
Layout by iMonk — December 6th, 2006.