Question: Is a pure devotee, the guru or an ācārya, omniscient?
Answer: 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, Guru-Absolute and Relative, page 15)
So from the standpoint of a disciple he should consider the guru as absolute, as non-different from Kṛṣṇa.
ācāryam mām vijānīyān nāvamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ
“One should know the ācārya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.”
The disciple says that, because my guru knows Kṛṣṇa, he knows everything. But that is a different thing. We do not find ‘omniscience’ listed among the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee, nor is ‘omniscience’ one of the fifty qualities of a jīva soul.
A certain section of devotees like to think that the guru is omniscient, that he knows everything, because he knows Kṛṣṇa. This section of devotees will think that the guru’s omniscience means that he may be sitting in his institution and in a nearby place one of the children in his school is being harmed and he 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 not do anything to save the poor child from physical harm they will say 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. The liberated souls are not under the illusion of time. 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, means that he is free from the illusion of the effacement of the self (soul). But those who are under the bodily concept of life (conditioned souls) 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 even at that, he wants to save the living entity from the clutches of Māyā, so why would he simply tolerate an assault against a defenceless child who is under his care and shelter in the gurukula? Such thinking is only palatable in the lowest section of devotees who have no proper understanding of guru–tattva (philosophical understanding of the guru’s position).
The higher thinking 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:
aham vedmi śuko vetti vyāso vetti na vetti vā
“I know the true purpose of Bhāgavatam; Śukadeva, the son and disciple of Vyāsadeva, knows it thoroughly, and the author of the Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Vyāsadeva, 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 flow of knowledge may come down in the Vaiṣṇava, but even he may not be aware of its meaning. Such is possible – he may or may not know, vyāso vetti na vetti vā.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has related an incident in this regard that once while Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was delivering a lecture, an especially high flow 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, and went to a big man’s place there, and such beautiful, new things came out, that I was feeling very much disturbance that I cannot note them. So much so, that I could not attend his lectures also deeply. Only I felt much disturbance to get 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 was to me – he was gobar-Gaṇeśa . That is Gaṇeśa made of gobar. Gobar means cow dung. Gaṇeśa composed of gobar. He could not know these things, these thoughts that came. Even I felt the necessity of going through these things, these ideas afterwards.”
“That person to whose house he (Bhaktisiddhānta) went to visit, was technically known as that section who worship satyam. 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. Satya is not such. What is the relation of Kṛṣṇa and this satya? That he was to explain. And he told us that the thoughts that came at that time, he also wants to see it, what an inspiration, what 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. That they are stranger to me, but they passed through me, and I want to see.”
“I (Śrīdhara Mahārāja) 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, our Guru Mahārāja also wants to have them to consult a second time. That was my satisfaction, and at the same time, I was mourning all through, 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 and to particular persons. This is very rarely to be found, few and far between. Gaura-haribol! That is, in other words, it is the wealth, it is the property of our Gurudeva, and not ours. That should be our understanding, pūjala-rāgapata gaurava bhaṅge.”
We find a similar narration by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, describing another such incident to Pradyumna Prabhu on November 11, 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, Guru Mahārāja was very much pleased with that. In Darjeeling I just showed him, that I have written this poem about Bhaktivinoda. He saw it. At that time one Mahārāja was like his clerk. He, Prabhupāda, dictated and the Mahārāja used to write letters. The Mahārāja was attendant for letter writing. But one letter came from Vana Mahārāja from England with something. Then Prabhupāda told who has supplied this to Vana Mahārāja? The Mahārāja said Prabhupāda you yourself have written this news to him. No, no, no. I did never write this thing to Vana Mahārāja replied Prabhupāda. Then 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.”
So the narratives above certainly give us an intimate look into the higher conception of guru-tattva via the life and teachings of such an exulted personality such 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 come down to the heart of a devotee in the form of divine revelation, that 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 Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Śrīpada Madhvācārya did not like to comment on the portion known as Brahmā-vimohana-līlā (the illusion of Brahmā). In the conception of Madhvācārya he could not accommodate that Brahmā, the original guru of our sampradāya, could be in illusion. Madhvācārya could not accommodate the conception that Brahmā did not know everything – that he was in illusion. But Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted everything in Bhāgavatam in-toto.
The following is stated in this regard by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in The Loving Search for the Lost Servant, page 50:
“So 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 realize that Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are not bound by their descriptions. Kṛṣṇa is not confined within a cage. So for this reason, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu did not hesitate to give a description of the bewilderment of Brahmā (brahmā-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 soul or even of the guru. The Supreme Lord has a total of sixty-four transcendental qualities. The jīva souls, however, have only fifty of those qualities found in the Supreme Lord and only manifest those qualities in a minute quantity (omniscience is not listed among these fifty qualities).
Above these fifty qualities the Supreme Lord has five more qualities which sometimes partially manifest in personalities like Lord Śiva. These transcendental qualities are: (1) changeless; (2) all-cognizant; (3) ever-fresh; (4) sac-cid-ānanda (possessing an eternal blissful body); and (5) possessing all mystic perfection.
All-cognizant means to know everything or to be omniscient (possess omniscience). According to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī this is a quality that even the perfected jīva souls 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.