California, USA — Monday, January 10th

Guru: form vs. substance

More correspondence, over the last few years, replying to readers' questions related to the Who is guru? blog published on Srila Gurudeva's Vyasa Puja day in December 2006:

We are told that the guru must be treated with the affection we treat our own selves. What should we treat with affection? The substance or the form? What should we love? The conception or the personality? Who do we really surrender to, should we consider to be all in all to us? In one sentence, what should our attitude to Srila Gurudeva, to our guru, be like? How to appreciate him without being a sahajiya [equating the mundane with the transcendental]?

What you have to understand is that "guru" literally means "teacher," and that teaching is a post (an assigned position) or vocation (a calling to a particular way of life, especially a religious one), so within our school (sampradaya) there will be many qualified individuals assigned to teach us at different grades, but they will all follow the same syllabus or curriculum (teach the same conception).

I stressed this point in my "Who is guru?" blog,

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....

If you discriminate between teachers — if you limit the teacher to a unique individual [Miss Smith, your arithmetic teacher in elementary school] — then you will not be able to take advantage of the contributions of all the other teachers [Mr. Jones, the algebra teacher in high school, Prof. Smythe, the calculus professor in university]...

to emphasize that teaching is a universal role — that we will not have just one teacher/guru throughout our entire school/spiritual lives — and to assert that we will be able to recognize our previous teacher in the new one by his conception, his contribution (the subject that he teaches).

And, to address the concerns of, and to preempt those readers who might mistakenly think that since the conception (the substance of Krishna consciousness that Srila Gurudeva is giving) is to be given more importance than the form (Srila Gurudeva's external body, or the particular personality through whom Krishna reveals Himself), Srila Gurudeva does therefore not have to be worshipped or "treated with the affection we treat our own selves," I say:

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."

We are told that the substance should always be given a higher value than the form, but that does not mean that we must ignore the form! As Srila Guru Maharaj says in Sri Guru and His Grace:

We must not identify our guru with the appearance we perceive with our physical senses... [but] that does not mean that we should disregard the physical form of our guru. We must worship the remnants of the guru — his coat, his boot, his sandal — but that does not mean that his shoe is superior to his body!

If, as you say, guru is the "flow of divinity," the conception of Krishna consciousness, how does this flow, this idea, relate to Srila Govinda Maharaj? Does it come through him or not?

Krishna says that He reveals Himself through the Acharya (acaryam mam vijaniyam), so yes, Srila Gurudeva is the medium (the intervening means, or instrument by which something is conveyed or accomplished) for the flow of divinity.

Because Krishna reveals Himself through the guru, we are told that the guru is non-different from Krishna, that the guru is Krishna, and this is why we worship him. Our "Search for Sri Krishna" takes us to "Sri Guru and His Grace."

In my Welcome interruption blog, I quote this paragraph from Sri Guru and His Grace, where Srila Guru Maharaj explains the relationship between the disciple, guru, and God:

To a disciple, his guru's position is Supreme, even more than God. This is said in the scriptures. The guru is more near and dear to us than God Himself. God has many things to deal with, but guru is concerned only with my welfare. The guru's position is more helpful to the disciple than God.

Where is Krishna? He is no longer manifesting His pastimes in this world. He "disappeared," historically, 5000 years ago. So how can we interact with Him, or establish any kind of connection or relationship with Him? Only through His authorized agent, Srila Gurudeva.

When we say that "guru is non-different from Krishna," that "guru is Krishna," what we mean is that Srila Gurudeva is Krishna's plenipotentiary — a person (especially a diplomat in a foreign country), invested with the full power of independent action on behalf of their king. Disrespecting or insulting the plenipotentiary is tantamount to abusing the monarch (that's how wars are started :)

So, in Bhagavad Gita (18:66), when Krishna says to Arjuna,

sarva-dharman parityajya / mam ekam saranam vraja

"Give up everything and surrender exclusively to Me,"

what does this mean, practically, realistically, for us reading this verse 5000 years later? Krishna is no longer here, is He? So how can we surrender to Him? This mam ("to Me"), therefore, can only mean, "to My plenipotentiary, to My ambassador whom I have invested with full power to act on My behalf in your world, and who is therefore non-different from Me — Srila Gurudeva."

This is what I alluded to in the Welcome interruption blog:

God is an abstraction to us [we can't know Him; He exists only as an idea, a conception, in our minds], but Srila Gurudeva is real ["Look! Here he is, walking and talking and standing right in front of me"]. Therefore Krishna says, "I am the guru (acaryam mam vijaniyan)." If we have eyes to see — if we do not protest: "Don't interrupt me now gurudeva, I am performing my puja [to Krishna]!" — we will not think that this is blasphemy [claiming, for Srila Gurudeva, the attributes and rights of God].

If substance is more important than form, then how should we treat the form? The reason I ask is because one of our devotees once told me, "I won't listen to that old guy with a walking stick; I will listen to my heart". I understand that guru is not just the personality (form), but also the flow of divinity (substance), but still we worship Srila Govinda Maharaj...

To use the analogy of a radio: What is more important? The radio, or the radio signal? The radio signal, of course, because it is that signal that brings us news transmitted from far away (Africa, China, Europe). But! — we cannot receive that transmission without a radio receiver.

The radio signal (flow of divinity) and the radio receiver (guru) are both important — both are required to establish a connection with reality — but we say that the radio signal is more important because that one, unique, divine signal or transmission can be received and broadcast by any number of powerful radios (qualified gurus).

Without Srila Gurudeva (a radio receiver) we cannot receive that flow of divinity (invisible radio wave or broadcast). The radio signal (substance that is transmitted) is more important than the radio (form that receives and broadcasts that transmission), but without the latter we are not only unable to detect that signal in the atmosphere, but we are not even aware of its existence!

So anybody who thinks that they can receive (decipher and interpret) that flow of divinity without Srila Gurudeva is like that idiot who thinks that he can "listen to his heart" and receive a radio signal without a radio receiver — and I strongly advise you to avoid such out-and-out sahajiyas (insincere, sentimental, self-deluded fools).

Without Srila Gurudeva we are stranded on this godforsaken island of misconception, hopeless, because we have no way of receiving those urgent radio bulletins telling us about the search party being sent out from the plane of reality — "The Loving Search for the Lost Servant" — to rescue us and take us back to our native land.

And, to give us more hope, consider this: because Srila Gurudeva is in direct communication with that plane of reality (jnaninas tattva-darsinah), he acts not only as a radio receiver, but as a radio transmitter too — so our rescuers can be given the precise coordinates of the desert island on which we are marooned!

Therefore, for us, Srila Gurudeva (the personality) is everything, because only he can receive that signal, only he can tune in to that radio wave and relay that message of hope to us. So just as we must look after, service, and maintain our radio because it is such a vital link to our homeland, Srila Gurudeva must be similarly honored, worshipped, and given proper respect and service.

Tags: About Guru | Slokas | Feedback

California, USA — Friday, January 14th

"Here is Mr. Ghosh!"

While working on the third blog (to be published next week) of the trilogy related to the original Who is guru? blog posted in 2006, and recalling how, after I tried to represent Srila Guru Maharaj's broad conception of guru in Saint Petersburg, Russia, I ended with these words exhorting everybody to read Sri Guru and His Grace,

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 [the ability to recognize our guru wherever and however he may reveal himself to us] is given very clearly there...

I suddenly remembered one of the more specific chapters that I had based my lecture on, this riveting, "Here is Mr. Ghosh!" excerpt from Chapter Three, "Descent of the Revealed Truth" — where Srila Guru Maharaj shows, in such a dramatic and electrifying way, just how thoroughly conversant we must be with our guru's conception, to be able to detect His Divine Grace anywhere and everywhere:

When one is conscious that the Absolute Truth is descending to him from the highest domain, he will think, "I must surrender myself here"....

Whatever form it takes doesn't matter much; the form has some value, but if there is any conflict, the inner spirit of a thing should be given immense value over its external cover. Otherwise, if the spirit has gone away and the bodily connection gets the upper hand, our so-called spiritual life becomes sahajiya, a cheap imitation.

When we are conscious of the real substance of Krishna consciousness, the real wealth we are receiving from our spiritual master, then our spiritual life cannot be sahajiyaism, imitationism. We must be aware enough to detect our guru's advice when we find it in another.

One who is awake will see, "Here is my guru's advice; I find it here in this man. Somehow or other, it has come here. How, I do not know, but I see my guru's characteristics, his dealings, and behavior in this person." When we are able to recognize a thing for its intrinsic value, then, wherever we find it, we cannot neglect it.

There is an example of this in an instance regarding Aurobindo Ghosh, of Pondicherry. He was the first leader of the Anarchist Party and practically the founder of the revolutionary movement in Bengal. In 1928, a case against him was proceeding in Calcutta High Court. A famous attorney, Mr. Norton, was in charge of the prosecution. Aurobindo had absconded, and when the case was going on, he was not to be found anywhere. Norton was concerned. How to find him?

Aurobindo's English was very good English. He had been educated in England from childhood, and could speak English even better than many Englishmen. Norton began to search through different papers and magazines for Aurobindo's writing. Finally, he found Aurobindo's style of writing in the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, a Bengali newspaper. "Here is Mr. Ghosh!" he said.

The editor of the Amrita Bazaar Patrika was summoned to court to find out whether Aurobindo Ghosh had written the article. Norton examined him:

"This is your paper. You must know who has written this article. You are the editor."

"Yes, I know."

"Do you know this man, Aurobindo Ghosh?"

"Yes, I know him. I consider him to be one of the greatest men in the world."

"As the editor of this newspaper, do you know who wrote this article?"

"Yes, I know."

"Has Mr. Ghosh written this article?"

"I won't say."

Norton asked him, "Do you know what is the punishment?"

"Yes. Six months imprisonment."

"You are ready for that?"

"Yes, I am ready for that."

Holding up the newspaper article, Norton said, "Here is Mr. Ghosh! I rest my case."

He saw Aurobindo in his writing, and in a similar way we must see, "Here is my gurudeva!"

Our spiritual master [Srila Saraswati Thakur] would also sometimes say of one of his disciples who had departed, "Bhaktivinoda Thakur came to me, but I could not recognize him." Those whose divine vision is awakened are always seeing signs of divinity everywhere.

Srila Guru Maharaj recalls this episode in 1981 (fifty-three years after this famous court case!) and he was no doubt sympathetic, like all Bengalis, to Aurobindo Ghosh and his cause, so we can imagine how impressed Srila Guru Maharaj was with Mr. Ghosh's adversary — with the indefatigable Mr. Norton's extraordinary ability to ferret out and identify Aurobindo Ghosh just by reading an article in a Bengali newspaper — to remember this incident more than half a century later, and dramatize it so ingeniously to show how adept we too must be, "to see our guru in his writing," so that we too can confidently declare, with equal certainty and conviction: "Here is my guru!"

Tags: About Guru | Bits of Books

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