After Gaurahari, who descended to purify this age of Kali, made Himself invisible to the eyes of the world, the preaching of His religion of love carried on more or less uninterruptedly up until the time of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa. In the time that followed, though there were still many advanced devotees present on the planet, a period of darkness descended on Mahāprabhu’s school of devotion. Many heterodox sects came into existence that vocally claimed to be following Mahāprabhu, but in fact were simply using His name to promote their own false doctrines. The Lord Himself could not tolerate deviation from the truths of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava doctrine and He would be greatly pained by misrepresentations of the divine relations between the Lord and His devotees. For this reason, Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rūpa Gosvāmī appeared again at the desire of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu through Śrīla Saccidānanda Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda, to preserve and protect the doctrines taught by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. Preaching these doctrines of pure devotion, these two great souls gave great joy to the Lord Himself and to all of his followers in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava school.
A Vaiṣṇava poet wrote the following verse about Śrīla Prabhupāda:
śuddha-bhakti-mata jata upadharma kavalita
heriyā lokera mane trāsa
hani su-siddhānta bana upadharma khana khana
sajjanera barala ullāsa
“People were disturbed to see that heterodox sects had swallowed up all the doctrines of pure devotion. Śrīla Prabhupāda came along and fired the arrows of proper theological conclusions, thus bringing all the pious people joy.”
Between them, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote more than a hundred books on devotional subjects, including translations and commentaries on the Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Caitanya-bhāgavata, etc. By doing so, they performed an indescribable service for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava society. Today, those who are free from prejudice, who recognise and approve the truth and good qualities in others, lament the absence of these two great ācāryas, what to speak of their disciples and grand-disciples. Those who follow the teachings and example of these two great ācāryas sense their absence sorely. Nevertheless, those who truly feel their separation are fairly rare, for it is beyond the capacity of those who wish to equate materialistic activities with the spiritual to understand the contribution they made—namely their propagation and bestowal of pure devotional service consisting of the culture of those activities that are pleasing to Kṛṣṇa, without any desire for liberation or sense gratification.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura appeared in this world in the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 2, 1834 (Bhadra 18, 1245 Bengali), 352 years after the advent of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. His disappearance took place just before midday on June 23, 1914 (Āṣāḍha 9, 1305 Bengali year), which also happened to be the disappearance day of Gadādhara Paṇḍita Gosvāmī. I never had the good fortune to personally see Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, though I did have the opportunity to hear of his superhuman glories directly from Śrīla Prabhupāda, both through his spoken word and his writings. On the other hand, it is far beyond my finite capacities to adequately describe all the wonderful things that I heard and witnessed of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s glories during my personal association with him. I saw that he would not tolerate even the slightest disrespect to the names of Lord Kṛṣṇa, to His devotees, to His deity form, nor to His person. Once, he was staying as a guest at the house of a famous personality, yet he fasted for three days without his host’s knowledge, refusing even to take water out of protest to such disrespect. On another occasion, he was greatly disturbed when he heard a hereditary gosvāmī speak of Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī in terms of his caste of birth. There were many incidents of this type.
He could be as fierce as thunder when arguing against heretical doctrines, but when relishing the flavours of pure devotion, he revealed a greater softness than that of a flower, shedding tears of ecstasy. Both these characteristics were seen in his dealings with his disciples, in which he proved his affectionate feelings for them. Śrīla Prabhupāda was the personification of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s message.
Those who have deep love for their spiritual master remained immersed in the ocean of his divine instructions for as long as he was present in this world. They did everything they could to preach and act in a way that fulfilled his desires and experienced the great joy of associating with him directly in the most personal way. Now, however, in his absence, they are overwhelmed by most painful feelings of separation. The pain bursts out from their heart and tears flow from their eyes and onto their chest like the torrents of rain in the month of Śravaṇa. Their minds are disturbed by the desire, never to be again fulfilled, of hearing their guru speak the nectarean topics of Kṛṣṇa. They repeatedly sing the verses written by Narottama in which he reveals the depth of his loss at being separated from the company of the great Vaiṣṇavas.
ye ānila prema-dhana karuṇā pracura
hena prabhu kothā gelā vaiṣṇava ṭhākura
“My lord, the worshipable Vaiṣṇava, brought us the wealth of love for Kṛṣṇa out of his unlimited compassion. Alas, where has he gone?” (Prārthanā)
svarūpa sanātana rūpa raghunātha bhaṭṭa-yuga
śunitām se saba kathā ghucita manera vyathā
tabe bhāla haita antara
“When I heard the divine words of Svarūpa Dāmodara, Sanātana, Rūpa, Raghunātha Dāsa, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa and Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, as well as Lokanātha Gosvāmī, the ocean of spiritual knowledge, the anguish of my mind would disappear and my heart would feel restored.” (Prema-bhakti-candrikā)
Lost in this mood of separation, how can any consideration based on worldly competition be of interest to them? How can the witches of the desire for liberation or sense gratification remain hidden in their hearts? Our mundane feelings of attraction and aversion for material objects light the fire of envy, egoism, and hatred so much so that it seems they have the ability to destroy this world. If even a drop of pure affection arises in our hearts for the incarnation of Mahāprabhu’s magnanimity, then no place will remain for these animal propensities like hatred, jealousy, or violence to others.
harṣāmarṣādibhir bhāvair ākrāntaṁ yasya mānasam
kathaṁ tatra mukundasya sphūrti-sambhāvanā bhavet
“And those who are either overcome or bewildered by the pleasures of union with the objects of sense in terms of facades of physical beauty, fine food, beautiful music, delightful odours and sensual touch, or the anxiety that comes from their non-attainment, can never experience Mukunda, the one who gives (da) us prema, i.e., that which makes a mockery (ku from kutsita) of liberation (mu or mukti). They can never experience Mukunda, whose beautiful smile is like the white kunda flower (mu for mukha, or mouth, and kunda).” (Padma Purāṇa, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.114)
In the twelfth chapter of the Gītā, the Lord also says:
yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ
harṣāmarṣa-bhayodvegair mukto yaḥ sa ca me priyaḥ
“The devotee who is neither disturbed by the world nor causes the world any disturbance, who is free from the pull of euphoria, anger and fear, is most dear to Me.” (Gītā 12.15)
yo na hṛṣyati na dveṣṭi na śocati na kāṅkṣati
śubhāśubha-parityāgī bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ
“The devoted person who is free from elation, anger, sorrow and craving, who neither seeks the pleasant nor shuns the unpleasant, is ever dear to Me.” (Gītā 12.17)
How can any attachment or hatred for material objects find a place in the heart where attachment to the guru, the eternal associate of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, has awakened? In such a heart, there is constant awareness of the absolute necessity of attaining the supreme goal of life, loving service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This alone is the ultimate purpose of life for every single living entity. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said:
“The ultimate object of our desires is to become specks of dust at the lotus feet of the followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī. Remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha in order to satisfy the transcendental senses of the one, non-dual supreme truth… May we never under any circumstances become indifferent to the seven-tongued sacrificial flame of the Holy Name. If our attraction to it remains ever-increasing, we will achieve all perfection.”
We pray that our commitment to these last instructions of his manifest presence in this world be unfailing. May we never interpret these words to elicit secondary meanings that allow us to engage in sense gratification, but rather, single-mindedly dedicating all our energies and working together, aim for the pleasure of “the senses of the one, non-dual Supreme Truth,” making it the one and only goal of our lives. If we wish to show our love and faith for our spiritual master, it will be by following these teachings. However, rather than giving full attention to the desires of the spiritual master, we may focus on serving his body or the extensions of his body represented by temples and āśramas. If we do so, we will never be free of the pitfall of seeing the guru in purely human terms (martyāsad-dhiḥ). The Lord can only be seen through the path of transcendental sound (śrutekṣita-pathaḥ) and the spiritual master, being his manifest representative, is also perceptible through divine sound vibration.
The words śrutekṣita-pathaḥ (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.9.11) are broken down as follows: śruta means “through hearing” or “revelation”; īkṣita means “seen” or “perceived”; pathaḥ means “the way” or “the path.” This compound word thus means, “He to whom the way is perceived through hearing revealed knowledge.” For this reason we offer our respects to the guru with the words:
tat-padam darśitam yena tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
“I pay my humble obeisance to the spiritual master who has shown me that supreme truth.”
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura interprets the words śrutekṣita-pathaḥ in a slightly different manner in his Sārārtha-darśinī commentary:
ādau guru-mukhāt śrutaḥ paścād īkṣitaḥ sākṣāt-kṛtaś ca panthā yasya saḥ | yena pathā tvaṁ hṛt-sarojam āyāto ‘si tam | panthānaḥ sādhana-bhakti-prakārāḥ ta eva suṣṭhu paricinvantīiti dhvaniḥ | ato yasya tat-prāptīcchā vartate sa tata eva panthānaṁ paricinotv ity anudhvaniḥ |
“‘O Lord, the way to reach you must first be heard from the guru; then it can be seen and directly realised. You then enter the lotus of our hearts by taking this path.’ The suggestion is that these devotees perfectly recognise the ways and means of the devotional path. The further suggestion is that if we wish to attain the Supreme Lord, then we too must try to gain knowledge of that path.”
Remember the words of the great authority Narottama Ṭhākura:
guru-mukha-padma-vākya cittete kariyā aikya
āra nā kariha mane āśā
śrī guru caraṇe rati, ei se uttama gati
je prasāde pūre sarva āśā
“Fix your mind on the words emanating from the lotus mouth of the spiritual master. Place your hopes in nothing else. Affection for the guru’s lotus feet is the ultimate goal, for by his mercy all of one’s aspirations are realised.” (Narottama Dāsa, Prema-bhakti-candrikā)
From faith in the words of the spiritual master, affection for his service increases. Someone who becomes a powerful preacher or learned writer but makes no effort to put the spiritual master’s words into practice shows no actual love for him. The spiritual master can see through those who only make a show of affection for him and will surely crown with success the sincere attempts of the disciple who genuinely follows his directions. The guru is the personification of Lord Gaurāṅga’s magnanimity, therefore he will mercifully transfer power or strength to his sincere disciple. With his blessings, the blessings of the Lord are not long to follow, for the mercy of the Lord comes through that of His intimate associates. Yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādaḥ.
If we make no effort to seek out the blessings of the spiritual master, we may worship the Lord for millions of lifetimes without His ever becoming satisfied with us. Kṛṣṇa Himself distributes His mercy to the living beings by taking the form of the spiritual master. For this reason, the Vedic scriptures have clearly stated that there is no means of attaining Kṛṣṇa’s blessings other than by following the spiritual master. The Upaniṣads have stated:
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, who is His manifestation and not different from Him, are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23)
My most worshipable Gurudeva, Śrīla Prabhupāda, did not see the faults in anyone; he was most compassionate. We who aspire to become the servants of his servants and to partake of the remnants of his plate, pray to him with all the sincerity at our command that by his causeless mercy he will give us the worthiness to serve him. We pray to him to please make our hearts simple and free from deception; may he forgive us of our offences, and consider us the servants of his servants, birth after birth. May he free us from the attractions and aversions of this world and keep us fixed in service to his lotus feet.
Raghunath Dāsa lamented the disappearance of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī with such intensity that stones could have melted. In Rūpa’s absence, he felt the entire land of Vraja to be completely empty: Govardhana was like a great python, Rādhā-kuṇḍa the wide open mouth of a tiger, and he felt his own self to be void of life. Can we ordinary mortals imitate the eternal associates of the Lord in their feelings of separation?
Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura also cried and prayed fervently to his dīkṣā-guru Lokanātha Gosvāmī to attain the lotus feet of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, who had actualised Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s heartfelt desires on this earth. Narottama Dāsa sang that Śrī Rūpa was the worshipable object of his devotion, the treasure of his life, his jewelled ornament, the very source of his life, the perfection of his desire, the ocean of ecstatic feeling, his Vedic religion, his vow, his penance, his prayer and his duty. Rūpa Gosvāmī was everything to Narottama Thākura, and therefore he almost went mad out of his feelings of separation, crying day and night in the hope of receiving his mercy. If we could even feel a millionth part of what he did, our lives would be perfect; we would attain the greatest fortune. I do not know how many more lifetimes I will have to wait for this good fortune to be mine.
Devotion to the spiritual master is the only way to reach our Divine Lord. The spiritual master is the personal companion of Lord Kṛṣṇa or Śrī Gaurāṅga; he is most dear to Him. Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja writes:
dīkṣā-kāle bhakta kare ātma-samarpaṇa
sei-kāle kṛṣṇa tāre kare ātma-sama
sei deha kare tāra cid-ānanda-maya
aprākṛta-dehe tāṅra caraṇa bhajaya
“At the time of initiation, when a devotee surrenders to the spiritual master, Kṛṣṇa makes him equal to Himself. He transforms the devotee’s body into spiritual substance; the devotee then worships the Lord in that spiritualised body.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.4.192-3)
Kṛṣṇa accepts us as a part of his own entourage to the extent that we surrender ourselves in body, mind and words to the spiritual master. He takes possession of us, as it were, transforming our bodies and making them spiritual so that we will be able to serve him directly. Kṛṣṇa once embraced his friend Sudāmā and said,
nanv artha-kovidā brahman varṇāśramavatām iha
ye mayā guruṇā vācā taranty añjo bhavārṇavam
“O brāḥmaṇa, of all people within the four orders and castes of Vedic society, are not the real knowers of value those who cross over the material ocean by taking shelter of My words, as taught by the spiritual master?” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.80.33)
nāham ijyā-prajātibhyāṁ tapasopaśamena ca
tuṣyeyaṁ sarva-bhūtātmā guru-śuśrūṣayā yathā
“I, the soul of all beings, am not as pleased by the performance of the prescribed duties of the four āśramas, i.e., sacrifices, service to the family, austerities and renunciation, as I am by service to the guru.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.80.34)
When asked how love for God develops, Prahlād Mahārāja told the other boys in his school: guru-susrusaya bhaktya sarva-labdharpanena ca, “through serving the guru, being devoted to him and by offering him all of one’s gains.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.7.30)
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravarti Ṭhākura comments on this verse as follows:
guroḥ śuśrūṣayā snapana-saṁvāhanādikayā tathā sarveṣāṁ labdhānāṁ vastūnām arpaṇena ca tac cārpaṇaṁ bhaktyaiva, na tu pratiṣṭhādinā hetunā
“Service to the guru means serving him through such things as bathing and massaging him; offering the guru all of one’s gains should be done with devotion and not out of personal motivations, such as the desire for personal prestige, etc.”
In the Bhāgavatam, after telling Yudhiṣṭhira how to conquer over various character defects, Nārada summarises by saying:
etat sarvam gurau bhaktyāpuruṣo hy aṣjasā jayet
“We can conquer over all these defects by rendering devotional service to the spiritual master.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.15.25)
In other words, the only way to conquer over lust, anger, greed, fear, lamentation, bewilderment, pride, envy, the three miseries and the three modes of material nature is by surrendering to the spiritual master. But if a disciple thinks the spiritual master to be nothing more than an ordinary mortal, then all his spiritual practices and worship of the Lord are simply a wasted effort.
yasya sākṣād bhagavati jñāna-dīpa-prade gurau
martyāsad-dhīḥ śrutaṁ tasya sarvaṁ kuñjara-śaucavat
“We should consider the spiritual master to be directly the Supreme Lord because he bestows transcendental knowledge for our enlightenment. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His enlightenment and his Vedic studies and knowledge are all like the bathing of an elephant.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.15.26)
In the commentary to this verse, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura writes the following:
kiṁ ca satyāṁ bhūyasyām api bhaktau, gurau manuṣya-buddhitve sarvam eva vyarthaṁ bhavatīty āha yasyeti | sākṣād bhagavatīti bhagavad-aṁśa-buddhir api gurau na kāryeti bhāvaḥ | yad vā, upāsye bhagavaty eva sākṣād-vidyamāne martyāsad-dhīḥ martya iti durbuddhis tasya śrutaṁ bhagavan-mantrādikaṁ śravaṇa-mananādikaṁ ca vyartham ity arthaḥ
“It is essential to note that even though someone engages in intense practices of devotion to the Lord, it is all useless if he thinks the spiritual master is an ordinary man. This is being pointed out in this verse. The words sākṣād bhagavati clearly indicate that one must think of the guru as the Supreme Lord Himself, and not even as a mere expansion of the Lord. [He, who is the source of all expansions and the object of all devotional service, has become incarnate in the form of a servant to Himself. This is expressed in the words of the Gurvaṣṭaka: kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya – “his identity with Kṛṣṇa is due to his being most dear to Him.”] Alternatively, even if the Lord, the supreme object of worship, is personally present as the spiritual master, if one has the demented intelligence to think of him as an ordinary mortal, then whatever he has heard from him—the mantras received at the time of initiation or instructions on the scripture and devotional practice—cease to have any effect. This is the intention of this verse.”
Nārada follows this statement by giving an example in the subsequent verse (7.15.27):
eṣa vai bhagavān sākṣāt pradhāna-puruṣeśvaraḥ
yogeśvarair vimṛgyāṅghrir loko yaṁ manyate naram
“The Supreme Person Śrī Kṛṣṇa personally appeared in this world. He is the supreme lord, the master of all the universes, and the master of yoga. His lotus feet are the ultimate goal of all life, yet the people of this world think of Him as an ordinary man.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.15.27)
Though people may think of Kṛṣṇa as an ordinary man, this does not make it an actuality. Similarly, a spiritual master’s parents, children or neighbours may see him as just another person, but a good disciple recognises him as the visible manifestation of the Supreme Lord Himself.
Therefore, in the following two verses from the Viṣṇu-smṛti quoted in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, we are advised:
na guror apriyaṁ kuryāt tāḍitaḥ pīḍito ’pi vā
nāvamanyeta tad-vākyaṁ nāpriyaṁ hi samācaret
“Never do anything unpleasant to your spiritual master, even if you are humiliated and beaten. Never disregard his words, and never act in a way that is displeasing to him.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.99, from Viṣṇu-smṛti)
ācāryasya priyaṁ kuryāt prāṇair api dhanair api
karmaṇā manasā vācā sa yāti paramāṁ gatim
“Do things that are pleasing to your spiritual master with your life and your wealth, with your work, your thoughts and your speech, and you will go to the supreme destination.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.100, from Viṣṇu-smṛti)
It is never appropriate to criticise the words or deeds of the spiritual master by saying things like, “My spiritual master should not have said that, or it was improper for him to have done some particular thing.” By doing so, we reveal our mundane concept of the guru and ultimately we become offensive by showing disrespect to him. This is the offence known as gurv-avajñā.
The orders of the spiritual master are to be obeyed diligently without reserve or delay—ājñā gurūṇāṁ hy avicāraṇīyā. If one is incapable of following his orders, then one should fall down at his feet and pray to him with urgency for the strength and ability to do so. If the spiritual master rebukes or condemns the disciple, the disciple should still not attempt to make his case heard, even though it may be painful to listen in silence. If the disciple argues with the spiritual master, it is counted as the offence of disrespecting the guru. The disciple thus becomes unteachable and, due to his independence, falls down into indiscipline and wantonness, inevitably resulting in suffering.
Six kinds of unsatisfactory disciples are described in the scriptures:
alir bāṇo jyotiṣakaḥ stabdhībhūtaḥ kimekakaḥ
preṣita-preṣakaś caiva ṣaḍ ete sevakādhamāḥ
“These six are the ‘bee’ (ali), so called because of his fickleness; the bāṇa, who talks back, piercing his master like an arrow; the procrastinator (jyotiśaka); the servant who is lazy and inactive (stabdhībhūta); the one who refuses to try to do anything on his own (kimekaka), and the one who passes the buck (preṣita-preśaka).”
All such unsatisfactory disciples (sevakādhamas) demonstrate an ignorance of the spiritual master’s divine nature by their lackadaisical attitude to service. They thus end up as offenders to the spiritual master and the Holy Name. Any disciple who wishes to attain perfection in the spiritual practices given him by his spiritual master must pay careful attention not to offend him in this way.
In the 17th vilāsa of the Hari–bhakti–vilāsa, the two following verses are quoted from the Agastya–saṁhitā, describing the five-step puraścaraṇa rite that is recommended for a disciple who wishes to attain perfection in the mantra after initiation:
pūjā traikālikī nityaṁ japas tarpaṇam eva ca
homa brāhmaṇa-bhuktiś ca puraścaraṇam ucyate
guror labdhasya mantrasya prasādena yathāvidhi
pañcāṅgopāsanaṁ siddhyai puraś caitad vidhīyate
“There are five aspects to the puraścaraṇa observance: pūjā three times a day, morning, noon and evening, constant chanting of japa, oblations of water, daily fire sacrifice and feeding of the brāhmaṇas. In order to attain perfection in the mantra that was given at the time of initiation, it is enjoined that the disciple should first perform these five kinds of worship according to the regulations. This is why it is called puraś (‘before’) caraṇa (‘performing’).” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 17.11-12)
The discussion of puraścaraṇa is continued in the same chapter of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa. According to the Āgamas, the puraścaraṇa gives energy or power to the mantra. Just as an embodied being without strength is impotent and useless, so is a mantra that has never been enlivened by the performance of puraścaraṇa. Even if one should chant the mantra or perform other religious rituals for hundreds of years, he will never attain perfection in the chanting without puraścaraṇa.
The basic idea behind the puraścaraṇa is to chant a certain, fixed number of mantras. Then one also performs one-tenth that number of oblations into the sacrificial fire, one-tenth of that number of oblations into water, and feeds one-tenth that number of brāhmaṇas. There is some difference of opinion about the number of oblations to be offered into water, as some say that it should be one-tenth the number of mantras chanted. Whatever the case, the rules are so stringent that it is extremely difficult for an ordinary person in this Age of Kali to complete such a vow.
And if there is a disruption in the performance and any single part of the rule is not perfectly carried out, then one has to double the number of mantras and all the other parts of the vow. Therefore, the merciful Lord gives the possibility of an alternative.
athavā devatā-rūpaṁ guruṁ dhyātvā pratoṣayet
tasya cchāyānusārī syād bhakti-yuktena cetasā
guru-mūlam idaṁ sarvaṁ tasmān nityaṁ guruṁ bhajet
puraścaraṇa-hīno ‘pi mantrī siddhyen na saṁśayaḥ
“Alternatively, one should simply satisfy the guru by meditating on him in the form of the deity. He should think of himself as devotedly following the guru like a shadow. One should constantly worship the guru who is the basis of all of one’s spiritual activities. Even if one does not perform the puraścaraṇa, one can attain perfection in chanting the mantra through service to the guru. Of this there can be no doubt.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 17.241-2)
yathā siddha-rasa-sparśāt tāmraṁ bhavati kāñcanam
sannidhānād guror eva śiṣyo viṣṇumayo bhavet
For as it is said, “Just as copper becomes gold through the touch of specially treated mercury, so does a disciple take on the qualities of Viṣṇu through the association of his guru.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 17.243)
Sanātana Gosvāmī comments on these verses in the following way:
kevala-śrī-guru-prasādenaiva puraścaraṇa-siddhiḥ syād iti prakārāntaram āha athaveti tribhiḥ
“Perfection of the puraścaraṇa can be achieved simply by achieving the satisfaction of the spiritual master. These three verses have been quoted as evidence in that regard.”
Furthermore, it is said that none of the other preliminary purificatory rituals such as puraścaraṇa are needed in order to attain perfection in the eighteen syllable Gopāla-mantra:
śrīmad-gopāla-mantro ‘yaṁ naiva kiñcid apekṣate
hṛn-mātra-spṛk phalaty eva spṛṣṭo hi dahano yathā
“This divine Gopāla-mantra, however, depends on nothing at all. As soon as it touches the devotee’s heart it brings results, just as fire burns everything that it touches.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 17.260)
Sanātana Gosvāmī has also commented on this verse as follows:
te copāyā mantrāntareṣv eva, na tasmin mohanākhyāṣṭādaśākṣara-mantra iti likhati śrīmad iti | kiñcit saṁskārādikaṁ | kintu hṛnmātraṁ spṛśatīti tathā sann api phalaty eva | tatra dṛṣṭāntatvenārthāntaram upanyasyati spṛṣṭo hīti | yathākathañcit sparśa-mātreṇa dahano haded eva tacchakters tathātvād iti bhāvaḥ |
“Lord Śiva listed seven different ritual procedures (dravana, etc.) needed to perfect the mantra (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.226), but these are intended for mantras other than the eighteen-syllable Gopāla-mantra, also named mohana. This mantra has merely to touch the heart of the sādhaka in order to bear fruit. In the verse, another subject is introduced in order as an example: just as fire needs only the slightest contact in order to burn, so too this king of mantras is naturally endowed with full, perfect powers.”
Of course, it should be borne in mind that the mantra does require one to take shelter of a spiritual master and to render him service.
In the story of Kṛṣṇa and His friend Sudāmā found in the tenth canto, Kṛṣṇa tells His guru Sāndīpani Muni:
iyad eva hi sac-chiṣyaiḥ kartavyaṁ guru-niṣkṛtam
yad vai viśuddha-bhāvena sarvārthātmārpaṇaṁ gurau
“The principal duty of a sincere disciple is to repay the spiritual master for all that he has been given. This service to the guru should be performed with a pure attitude, giving everything of value that he possesses, including his very self.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.80.41, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 2.112)
Sanātana Gosvāmī writes in the Dig-darsinī that niṣkṛtam refers to the way one releases oneself from an obligation by doing something or making a gift in payment. In view of one’s debt to the guru, one should give everything that he possess up to and including his very own soul.
We find the following statement in the same chapter of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa:
guruṁ ca bhagavad-dṛṣṭyā parikramya praṇamya ca
dattvoktāṁ dakṣiṇāṁ tasmai sva-śarīraṁ samarpayet
“Seeing the spiritual master as a manifestation of the Lord Himself, one should circumambulate him and bow to him. He should then give him dakṣiṇā according to the scriptures, offering his very own body.”(Hari–bhakti–vilāsa 2.111)
Sanātana clarifies that “according to the scriptures, the dakṣiṇā should be given according to one’s capacity, either half, a quarter or a tenth of one’s wealth. The gifts of wealth should be given before initiation for the pleasure of the spiritual master; the sacrifice of the body should come after receiving the mantra.”
The fact is that no one can be free of his debt to the spiritual master, even if he gives him everything he owns. A rich householder may make a show of giving opulent gifts, but this is not the real dakṣiṇā, for Kṛṣṇa says to Uddhava in the Bhāgavatam (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.19.39): dakṣiṇā jñāna-sandeśaḥ—the real gift to the spiritual master is to teach others what one has received from him.
In his commentary to these words, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura writes the following:
“Here the word jñāna means that after experiencing the spiritual joy of kīrtana, etc., one instructs one’s own friends and relatives about his realisations. This is the real gift to the spiritual master and not donations of wealth, clothing or whatever (utsavānte yat kīrtanādi-rasānubhavasya sandeśaḥ sveṣṭa-mitreṣu jñāpanaiva dakṣiṇā na tu dhana-vastrādy-arpaṇam).”
Therefore, instructing one’s acquaintances and others in the knowledge of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana taught by the spiritual master according to their capacities is the genuine guru–dakṣiṇā. This means that one must first strictly follow the appropriate spiritual practices, seriously engaging in bhajana. Unless one has exemplary behaviour, he cannot hope to acquire the qualifications to preach the spiritual master’s message effectively. This means that he will not be able to give the spiritual master the requisite gifts that follow initiation and instruction. The spiritual master is the manifest representation of Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu’s message. Mahāprabhu said:
yāre dekha tāre kaha kṛṣṇa-upadeśa
āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra ei deśa
“Teach everyone you see this message of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. On my command, become a guru and deliver this land.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.7.128)
bhārata-bhūmite haila manuṣya janma yāra
janma sārthaka kari kara para-upakāra
“Whoever has taken a human birth in the land of India should make his life successful and engage in welfare work for others.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.9.41)
If we take these instructions seriously and do everything we can to realise them, then we will one day become capable of giving the spiritual master the gift that he desires above all others. The spiritual master will be pleased and transmit unlimited power to the disciple with whom he is pleased.
To the extent that we serve the spiritual master with sincerity and repeat his teachings, through the association with his words, our hearts will cry out with the desire for the good fortune to be associated with him by directly seeing, touching and serving him directly. Only then will we be able to understand the true spirit of separation. We will then know that he is Rādhārāṇī’s personal associate who, in the form of Nayanamaṇi Mañjarī has entered Rādhā and Govinda’s eternal pastimes and is there immersed in the ocean of service to the Divine Couple. When we feel this mood of separation, the desire to dedicate our lives for attaining this service will awaken. “The spiritual master, who has given me the eyes to see the true purpose of life, is my master birth after birth” (cakṣu-dāna dila je, janme janme prabhu se). He is our lord and master lifetime after lifetime. We pray that he will be merciful and transform us lowly creatures by giving us the strength to put his message into practice and to preach that message, and then when the time of death comes, he will take us back to his lotus feet, making us his own for eternity.
Being distanced from the spiritual master is a source of great pain. We pray that Śrīla Prabhupāda will give us a place at his lotus feet even though we are the most unworthy servants of his servants, so that we may be able to render service to the Divine Couple according to his direction and by following his example. Our only authority to make such an audacious prayer is that we have taken the remnants of his servants’ food. We know that we have no right to make such a request of you, but to whom can we turn other than you, our spiritual master? By your grace, everything that would ordinarily be impossible becomes possible in a moment. Though today all our efforts are nothing but a joke, like those of a dwarf who tries to touch the moon, are your blessings not capable of effecting any miracle? Will they not give us a love for chanting the Holy Names without offence? Has Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura not sung of the power of the Holy Name to give us the realisation of our eternal spiritual identity?
īṣat vikaśi punaḥ dekhāya nija-rūpa-guṇa
citta hari laya kṛṣṇa pāśa
pūrṇa vikaśita hañā vraje more jāya lañā
dekhāya nija svarūpa vilāsa
“When the Name is even slightly revealed, it shows me my own spiritual form and characteristics. It steals my mind and takes it to Kṛṣṇa’s side. When the Name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes.” (Kṛṣṇa-nāma dhare kata bala? Śaraṇāgati)
Thus, by the blessing of the spiritual master, we will be able to receive the mercy of the Holy Name and then, all perfections will come through the Holy Name as Mahāprabhu Himself promised: ihā haite sarva-siddhi haibe sabāra.
Rūpa Gosvāmī feelingly prayed to the Lord in his song, Deva bhavantaṁ vande:
bhaktir udañcati yady api
mādhava na tvayi mama tilamātrī
parameśvaratā tad api tavā-
“O Mādhava, I do not have a sesame seed’s worth of devotion for You. Even so, the proof of Your supreme glory is that you can make even the impossible possible [and make me worthy of You].”
And we must not forget that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy follows that of His living manifestation in the world—His representative, the spiritual master: guru-rūpe kṛṣṇa kṛpā karena bhakta-gaṇe.. For this reason we pray to Śrīla Prabhupāda with the words, śrī-gaura-karuṇā-śakti-vigrahāya namo’stu te—“Obeisance to you, the embodiment of Śrī Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu’s compassionate power.”
In His teachings to Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī, Mahāprabhu said,
kṛṣṇa yadi kṛpā kare kono bhāgyavāne
guru-antaryāmī-rūpe śikhāya āpane
“When Kṛṣṇa shows His mercy to any fortunate individual, He teaches him from without as the greatly advanced devotee who acts as the spiritual master and from within as the indwelling Supersoul, also known as the caitya–guru.” (See Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.1.45-48 and 2.22.47-8)
When Kṛṣṇa gives His mercy as the caitya–guru, then He gives the kind of firm and pure intelligence through which the devotee gains expertise in bhajana, or sāsaṅga-bhajana. Externally, the mahanta–guru gives initiation in the mantra and instruction in the practice of bhajana to the disciple who takes shelter of him. No one can advance or attain perfection in bhajana without serving the spiritual master with faith (viśrambhena guroḥ sevā). The word viśrambha means faith, affection and love. It thus refers to the kind of submissive questioning and surrender as well as the affectionate service mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita’s famous verse summarising the disciple’s dealings with the spiritual master. One who acts in this way quickly becomes worthy of receiving the spiritual master’s blessings and in due time learns in detail about the three categories of divine knowledge, namely sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana.
Service to the guru in affection and love is possible both in this world and the next. The spiritual master is always participating in the eternally pure realm and is never under the thrall of birth and death in this world. One should never think of him as an ordinary mortal. By serving his teachings when he is no longer visible to our mundane eyes, we can get a vision of his transcendental form. Just like the Supreme Lord, the guru knows what is to be known, including all of us, but he is not known to anyone (sa vetti vedyaṁ na ca tasyāsti vettā). We cannot know him through our own power; it is only when he mercifully decides to reveal himself to us that we will achieve the great fortune of being able to see him. Therefore, the famous saying, guru-kṛpā hi kevalam (“the spiritual master’s blessings are our only salvation”) is appropriate.
My dear spiritual master! I am completely lacking in knowledge. I am the lowliest miscreant, but I strive to be the servant of your servant. Please forgive whatever offences I may have committed, consciously or unconsciously. Give me shelter at your lotus feet and the right to serve them. You are the best of the followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, so I pray to you in the same way that Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura did to Rūpa Prabhu in his Prārthanā:
śuniyāchi sādhu-mukhe bale sarva-jana
śrī-rūpa-kṛpāya mile yugala-caraṇa
śrī-rūpera kṛpā yena āmā prati haya
se-pada āśraya yāra sei mahāśaya
hā hā prabhupāda kabe saṅge laiyā jābe
śrī-rūpera pāda-padme more samarpibe
mano-vāñchā siddhi tabe haṅ pūrṇa tṛṣṇa
hethāya caitanya mile sethā rādhā-kṛṣṇa
tumi nā karile dayā ke karibe āra
manera vāsanā pūrṇa kara ei bāra
e tina saṁsāre mora āra keha nāi
kṛpā kari nija-pada-tale deha ṭhāñi
rādhā-kṛṣṇa-līlā-guṇa gāṅ rātra-dine
e adhama-vāñchā-pūrṇa nahe tuwā bine
dayāmaya prabhu tumi dayā kara more
rādhā-kṛṣṇa-caraṇa jena sadā citte sphure
“I have heard from the sadhus—indeed, everyone says that you can attain the lotus feet of the Divine Couple through the blessings of Śrī Rūpa. When will Rūpa Gosvāmī’s mercy fall upon me? When will Prabhupāda, who has taken shelter of those lotus feet take me with him and offer me up to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī? My heart’s desire will be realised and my thirst quenched. In this world I will meet Caitanya Mahāprabhu and in the other, Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Who else but you, Prabhu, will be able to help me in this way? Fulfil my desires this time. In these three worlds, I have nobody else but you. Be merciful and give me a place under your lotus feet. Let me sing the glories of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, day and night. Without you, this lowly creature’s desires will never be fulfilled. O Master! You alone are compassionate; please be merciful towards me and help me remember Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa at every moment.”
O Gurudeva, may my mind always repose in the shade of your lotus feet—mama matir āstāṁ tava pada-kamale.
[This article first appeared in Caitanya Vāṇī, 13.11, (Dec. 1974), pp. 236-45]