California, USA — Friday, January 7th

Guru: personality vs. conception

In the four years since I published the Who is guru? blog, I have received a number of emails from readers who were a little concerned, with questions like:

What is the difference, if any, between the guru (the personality) and his conception (the flow of divinity revealed through him)? What is changing our consciousness: the conception or the personality? If substance is more important than form, then how should we treat the form? What should we treat with affection? What should we love? And even some uncertainty that, since Krishna "uses" the guru to reveal Himself to us, does the guru even have a unique, distinct personality?

A recent email asking some of these same questions has prompted me to publish some of this correspondence (with the authors' permission), to help other readers who might be similarly concerned or confused. This is the first email I received (after the "Who is guru?" blog, before The eye to see guru was published) and my reply:

I just have a little question about your last blog, "Who is guru?" You were stressing that guru is a function of divinity — that Srila Gurudeva is not limited to this form as an old Indian man. But at the same time, Srila Gurudeva is a specific soul, right? I mean, yes, he is an agent of divinity, guru is Krishna extending Himself to us, to help the fallen souls, but there is also a soul through whom He reveals himself, right?

Yes, Srila Gurudeva is a unique individual. We all are! We are not Impersonalists: we do not want to merge our individual consciousness into the non-differentiated consciousness of the Supreme Absolute. Like Krishna, we have a unique individual form, and therefore a unique individual consciousness or identity.

In his purport to Bhagavad Gita, As It Is (verses 13:8-12), Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj Prabhupad says:

False ego means accepting this body as oneself. When one understands that he is not his body and is spirit soul, that is real ego. Ego is there. False ego is condemned, but not real ego. In the Vedic literature it is said, aham brahmasmi: I am Brahman, I am spirit.

This "I am," the sense of self, also exists in the liberated stage of self-realization. This sense of "I am" is ego, but when the sense of "I am" is applied to this false body, it is false ego. When the sense of self is applied to reality, that is real ego.

There are some philosophers who say we should give up our ego, but we cannot give up our ego because ego means identity. We ought, of course, to give up the false identification with the body.

I'm not sure if my question is making any sense... I think what I'm trying to say is, for example, Srila Sridhar Maharaj and Srila Govinda Maharaj, they are both our gurus, they are both agents of divinity, but they are not the same soul. So in a way, yes, there is only one guru, but also, they are all different.

Yes, Srila Govinda Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj are two distinct individuals, playing the roles, in this life, of our gurus or teachers. Although they are different personalities, their role or function is the same: to take us to the next level of Krishna consciousness. How do we recognize one guru in the other? By their conception (their idea, understanding, or assertion of what something is, or how it should be perceived or regarded) of divinity:

gayatri muralista-kirtana-dhanam / radha-padam dhimahi

Krishna's flute exclusively sings the song of service to the lotus feet of Srimati Radharani.

This conception is unique — it is not given in any other sampradaya or school — so it is easy for us to recognize: "Here is my guru!" Although Srila Gurudeva and Srila Guru Maharaj appear in different forms, they are one and the same in that their conception of the ultimate goal of Krishna consciousness is the same: exclusive service to the lotus feet of Srimati Radharani (radha-dasyam).

So then, can we also understand that Srila Gurudeva, Srila Govinda Maharaj, can also be with us eternally? Is he also always with us? Or is it that guru, in a wider sense, not specifically Srila Govinda Maharaj, is always with us?

Srila Gurudeva is with us eternally in both the broad sense (of his conception) and the narrower sense (of our personal relationship with him). We have a broad, abstract or intellectual relationship with all our teachers — through their siksha, or instructions — and we also have unique, specific relationships with them individually, through our service and personal dealings.

Just as our elementary school teacher's arithmetic lessons are always with us, helping us intellectually, long after we have graduated from his class, to solve the more complex mathematical problems we face in high school, so too is our personal relationship with him, which can be renewed and resumed when we meet again, in person, at social functions like school reunions, etc.

Although we have many teachers or gurus, our present teacher is the most important to us, because we get the most help from him or her at our current stage of progress. As I say in my "Who is guru?" blog:

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."

Or, as Srila Sridhar Maharaj says in Search For Sri Krishna:

Generally our teachers advise us, "Pay full attention here.... This is the highest for you. Give your whole attention to this...." As a matter of policy, we are told that our present stage of instruction is the highest. When a professor comes to teach a child, he will accept the mentality of the child. He will say: "Only go so far, and no further. This is the final stage. Give your whole attention to understanding this point, and when that is finished, then go further." In this way, by gradual installments, knowledge is revealed.

I'm sorry if this doesn't make much sense; it's just something I'm a little confused about...

Oh, it makes a lot of sense. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. (I may write another blog in the future, to emphasize this point — that although Srila Gurudeva is a representative of Krishna, he is also a unique individual.) In my "Who is guru?" blog, I wanted to show the universal conception of guru, to debunk the notion that

caksu-dana dila yei / janme janme prabhu sei

means that this unique, specific individual — whom we now know as Srila Gurudeva — is going to be forced, eternally, to return to this material world personally, as our guru, to continuously rescue us!

Postscript: These kinds of questions are good for the soul, for the expansion, development, and elevation of our consciousness. This is what it means to "dive deep into reality" — to explore the deep, inner realm of consciousness, the reality that is within us, through meditation and introspection.

As I wrote later, in my Vyasa Puja questions blog, when we sing:

caksu-dana dila yei / janme janme prabhu sei
    divya-jnana hrde prokasito

we are forced to meditate on just how is it that Srila Gurudeva (sei) can be our master (prabhu) birth after birth (janme janme)? If we put too much emphasis on his persona — if we only identify him in the guise of his current external form — how will we recognize and renew our connection with His Divine Grace in future lives?

This sort of vision, of course, is a gracious gift from Srila Gurudeva himself (caksu-dana dila yei), a transcendental insight (divya-jnana) that His Divine Grace only instills in the sincere hearts (hrde prokasito) of his most devoted disciples.

In the present unfortunate predicament in which we find ourselves, Srila Guru Maharaj's words from Sri Guru and His Grace are now more relevant than ever:

What we have received from our spiritual master we understood only in a rough estimation. Now, [after the departure of our guru] we have to scrutinize ourselves... to analyze ourselves. Self-analysis has begun. We are under trial. What we have received from our spiritual master, in what way have we received it? Properly, or only showingly [externally, superficially]? The time has come to purify us, to test whether we are real students, real disciples, or his disciples only in face [on the surface, superficially] and confession [through mere lip-service or verbal allegiance].

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