Question: Was Śrīla Prabhupāda, or any other guru, omniscient?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: There are two aspects of the guru, namely absolute and relative. On the inspired side, the guru is absolute and within his own thinking, he is a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Our śikṣā-guru Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja explained this topic as follows:
“By the special will of Kṛṣṇa, Gurudeva is a delegated power. If we look closely within the spiritual master, we will see the delegation of Kṛṣṇa, and accordingly, we should accept him in that way. The spiritual master is a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, and at the same time, the inspiration of Kṛṣṇa is within him. These are the two aspects of Gurudeva. He has his aspect as a Vaiṣṇava, and the inspired side of a Vaiṣṇava is the guru. On a fast day like Ekādaśī, he himself does not take any grains. He conducts himself as a Vaiṣṇava, but his disciples offer grains to the picture of their guru on the altar. The disciple offers the spiritual master grains even on a fast day. The disciple is concerned with the delegation of the Lord, the guru’s inner self, his inspired side. The inspired side of a Vaiṣṇava is ācārya, or guru. The disciple marks only the special, inspired portion within the guru. He is more concerned with that part of his character. But Gurudeva himself generally poses as a Vaiṣṇava. So, his dealings towards his disciples and his dealings with other Vaiṣṇavas will be different. This is acintya-bhedābheda, inconceivable unity and diversity.” (Śrī Guru and His Grace, Chapter 2)
So from the standpoint of a disciple, he should consider the guru as absolute and as non-different from Kṛṣṇa.
ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān nāvamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ
“One should consider the ācārya as non-different from Myself and never show any disrespect towards him. One should not envy him, nor consider him to be an ordinary person as he is the representative of all the demigods.” (Bhāg. 11.17.27)
The disciple says, “Because my guru knows Kṛṣṇa, he knows everything,” but that is a different matter. We do not find omniscience listed amongst the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee, nor is omniscience one of the fifty qualities of a jīva.
A certain section of devotees thinks that the guru is omniscient; that he knows everything because he knows Kṛṣṇa. This section of devotees believes that the guru’s omniscience means that he may be sitting in his institution and nearby, one of the children in his school is being harmed and the guru knows that such a cruel thing is taking place. They will say that because the guru is omniscient he knows everything, and when asked why the guru did nothing to save the poor child, they reply that the guru does not want to interfere with that child’s prārabdha-karma. The neophyte devotee may carry on thinking in this way for lifetimes together, but there is no evidence in either śāstra or history to support such a misconception.
Some devotees will say that the guru and all other great sages are tri-kāla-jña, that they know the past, present and future, but that is only their conjecture. Tri-kāla-jña means that the liberated soul is not under the laws of material time, which has three phases of existence – past, present, and future. A liberated soul knows that he existed in the past, he exists at present and he will exist in the future. Because the guru knows Kṛṣṇa, that means he is free from the illusion of the effacement of the self (ātmā). Those under the bodily concept of life are simultaneously under the influence and illusion of time. Such persons have no knowledge of the eternal existence of the soul, or knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa.
The guru’s ‘knowing Kṛṣṇa’ does not mean that he knows everything that is going on in Māyā’s kingdom. Of course, in a general way, the guru knows that Māyā’s kingdom is a place of birth, death, old age, and disease, but still, he wants to save the living entity from the clutches of Māyā – so why would he tolerate an assault against a defenceless child who is under his care in the gurukula? Such thinking is only palatable to the lowest section of devotees who have no proper understanding of guru-tattva.
The higher devotees and great authorities in the devotional line think in a completely different way than that of the neophytes. Lord Śiva, one of the Twelve Mahājanas (great devotees), says:
ahaṁ vedmi śuko vetti vyāso vetti na vetti vā
“I know the Bhāgavatam and Śukadeva knows it. Vyāsa may or may not know the meaning.”
Vyāsadeva may or may not know (vyāso vetti na vetti vā) – this is the thinking of the higher class of devotees. By the will of the Supreme Lord, a f low of knowledge may come down in the Vaiṣṇava, but even he may not be aware of its meaning. This is possible – he may or may not know – vyāso vetti na vetti vā.
In this regard, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja related an incident. Once, while Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was delivering a lecture, an especially high f low of Gauḍīya conception came down in him. While speaking very intensely, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura gestured to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, who was sitting nearby, to write it down. Sarasvatī Ṭhākura continued to speak for some time but there was no pencil or pen available. When Sarasvatī Ṭhākura stopped speaking, he turned to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and eagerly inquired, “Did you get it, did you get it?” Śrīdhara Mahārāja replied that there was no pen or pencil available to which Sarasvatī Ṭhākura replied, “Just see, gobar Gaṇeśa!” Śrīdhara Mahārāja relates this incident in his own words:
“What I told you, it is not under my command. It is coming from above me. I also once heard Prabhupāda say such. From Vṛndāvana he came to Prayāga. I also went with him, and we were invited to a big man’s place there, and such beautiful, new things came out that I was feeling very much disturbance that I could not note them down – so much so, that I could not attend his lecture very deeply. I only felt much disturbance to get a pen and paper. Then, I felt very much uneasiness, because I could not mark those words. Then I came out and Guru Mahārāja told…his word to me was gobar Gaṇeśa – that is Gaṇeśa made of gobar. Gobar means cow dung. Gaṇeśa composed of gobar. Guru Mahārāja could not know these thoughts that came. He said, “Even I felt the necessity of going through these ideas afterwards.
“That person to whose house he (Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) went to visit was technically from that section who worship satyam (truth). Then what is the conception of satya? Mahāprabhu, and Rādhā-Govinda, Navadvīpa – that is the highest conception of satya. Satya is not an abstract conception of rules of some transcendental type. What is the relation of Kṛṣṇa and this satya? Guru Mahārāja explained that. And he told us that he also wanted to see the thoughts that came at that time…the inspiration that was revealed in his heart at that time. He wanted to see. That was unknown to him. He said like that. He told us like that, “They are strange to me, but they passed through me, and I want to see.”
“I was very much mortified that I could not know them, and at the same time, I had some inner satisfaction that I could appreciate those finer points. Those extraordinary higher points that were delivered then, I was very much disturbed that I could not know them. So, I had the capacity of appreciating the highness of those higher sentiments. That was my satisfaction. There is some inner element in me that can appreciate so much high ideas, and our Guru Mahārāja also wanted to have them to consult a second time. That was my satisfaction, but at the same time, I was mourning all through the lecture that I could not keep it for the public. And what our Guru Mahārāja wanted to do, I also wanted to keep them again, to pass through me.
“So, we are instruments. It is the higher property. It may not stay in a particular plane always. By our negotiation, it may care to come down to particular persons. This is very rarely to be found…few and far between. In other words, it is the wealth, the property of our Gurudeva and not ours. That should be our understanding – pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge.
We find a similar narration by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, describing another incident to Pradyumna Prabhu on November 11th, 1978 as follows:
“Sometimes the agent may not know what things are passing through this arrangement. Vyāso vetti na vetti vā – but it is passing through Vyāsa. It is taṭasthā-vicāra. That is Absolute. From the Absolute standpoint, this has been told like that. Even Vyāsa may not know, but things may come through Vyāsa to grace others. This is possible sometimes. But still, we must not admit so easily that Vyāsa does not know. We don’t admit. I told it once to my Guru Mahārāja.
“I had composed a Sanskrit śloka about Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Guru Mahārāja was very much pleased with that. In Darjeeling I just showed him that I had written this poem about Bhaktivinoda. He saw it. At that time one Mahārāja was like his clerk. Prabhupāda dictated and the Mahārāja used to write letters. The Mahārāja was his attendant for letter writing, but one letter came from Vana Mahārāja, from England, with something. Then Prabhupāda told, “Who has supplied this information to Vana Mahārāja?” The Mahārāja said, “Prabhupāda, you yourself have written this news to him.”
“No, no, no. I never wrote this thing to Vana Mahārāja,” replied Prabhupāda. Then the Mahārāja humbly took it, “I wrote and you dictated. I remember – you were giving this news to him.”
“No, I don’t remember,” Prabhupāda replied. Then I spoke, “Vyāso vetti na vetti vā.” I just remarked at the time that, vyāso vetti na vetti vā.
The narratives above certainly give us an intimate look into the higher conception of guru-tattva via the life and teachings of such exulted personalities as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and his disciples. The pure devotee is always attentive to the will of the Supreme Lord, but everything that can be known is not always knowable to the devotee. Kṛṣṇa is an autocrat and according to His wish, something may descend in the heart of a devotee as divine revelation, which even the devotee is not aware of. This is what is shown to us by the higher thinking devotees.
While commenting on the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Śrī Madhvācārya declined to comment on the portion known as Brahma-vimohana-līlā (the illusion of Brahmā). In the conception of Madhvācārya, he could not believe that Brahmā, the original guru of our sampradāya, could be in illusion. Madhvācārya could not accommodate the idea that Brahmā did not know everything. But Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted everything in Bhāgavatam in toto. In this regard, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has stated the following in The Loving Search for the Lost Servant:
“Although Brahmā and the other gods and gurus and the givers of many śāstras may have given some description of His pastimes, we shall have to realise that Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are not bound by their descriptions. Kṛṣṇa is not confined within a cage.
“For this reason, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu did not hesitate to give a description of the bewilderment of Brahmā (Brahma-vimohana-līlā). Brahmā was bewildered in kṛṣṇa-līlā in Vṛndāvana, and again when Brahmā went to have an interview with Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā, we find the same condition. The boundary of the sweet will of the infinite is such that anything can be accommodated there, and even Lord Brahmā, the creator of the universe, can be perplexed by Kṛṣṇa.
“All these pastimes are like so many lighthouses showing us which way to go. Brahmā is our guru, but he was bewildered by Kṛṣṇa. And Veda-Vyāsa, the universal guru, was also chastised by Nārada. Nārada was put to the test many times. All these examples are showing us the way. They are pointing out the direction.
Omniscience is a quality of the Supreme Lord and not the quality of the jīva or even of the guru. According to the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, the Supreme Lord has a total of sixty-four transcendental qualities. The jīvas, however, only have fifty of those qualities and can manifest them to a minute degree. Omniscience is not listed amongst these fifty qualities.
Besides these fifty qualities, the Supreme Lord has five more qualities that are sometimes partially manifest in personalities like Lord Śiva. These transcendental qualities are:
(1) Sadā-svarūpa-samprāpta (changeless)
(2) Sarva-jña (all-cognizant)
(3) Nitya-nūtana (ever-fresh)
(4) Sac-cid-ānanda sandrāṅga (possessing an eternal blissful body)
(5) Sarva-siddhi-niṣevita (possessing all mystic perfections)
‘All-cognizant’ means to know everything or to possess omniscience. According to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, this is a quality that even the perfected jīvas do not have. Only Kṛṣṇa is fully omniscient. Only Kṛṣṇa, or God, knows everything. Additionally, it may be mentioned that according to Webster’s Thesaurus some synonyms for omniscience are as follows:
God; the Creator; the Almighty; the Supreme Being; our Heavenly Father; the Lord; and Allah.
None of these synonyms however are applicable to a pure devotee, the guru or the ācārya. So our conclusion is obvious – omniscience is a quality of the Supreme Lord and not a quality of the pure devotee, the guru or the ācārya.