Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura

From Rays of The Harmonist, Tirobhava Edition

by Śrīla Saccidānanda Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

Excerpt from Śrī Jaiva-dharma, Chapter Twenty

Vijaya: Prabhu, please give us some detailed instructions regarding accepting shelter at the lotus feet of a spiritual master (śrī-guru-pādāśraya).

Bābājī: An aspiring disciple should first attain the eligibility (adhikāra) to perform one-pointed devotional service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa (ananya-kṛṣṇa-bhakti). He should learn the essential truths about Śrī Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-tattva) from a genuine guru by taking shelter at that guru’s feet.

The living entity only attains the qualification (adhikāra) for kṛṣṇa-bhakti when he develops śraddhā. This śraddhā is that firm faith that is awakened in relation to Śrī Hari as a result of hearing hari-kathā from the lips of pure saints, or sādhus. Association with saints is obtained by the influence of spiritual merits (sukṛti) accrued in previous births. Along with śraddhā, the mood of surrender (śaraṇāgati) will also appear to some extent.1

1 This śaraṇāgati is the symptom of śraddhā, hence one can understand the development of one’s pāramārthika-śraddhā – the absolute, or transcendental form of faith – by the extent to which one has developed śaraṇāgati.

Śraddhā (firm faith) and śaraṇāgati (surrender) are almost the same principle (tattva). To be able to perform kṛṣṇa-bhakti is certainly the topmost attainment in this world. Therefore, the only person eligible for ananyā-bhakti (one-pointed devotion) is he who has developed strong faith in these convictions: “I will perform any activity favourable to kṛṣṇa-bhakti as my duty and abandon any activity unfavourable to it; Kṛṣṇa is my sole protector and I accept Him as my exclusive maintainer; I am extremely wretched and destitute, and my independent desire is not beneficial for me, whereas exclusively following Kṛṣṇa’s desire is beneficial for me in every way.”

When the jīva attains this qualification, he becomes anxious to hear instructions on bhakti, and upon finding sad-guru (a bona fide spiritual master), he accepts shelter at his lotus feet. That is to say, he becomes the disciple of such a guru and accepts instructions (śikṣā) on bhakti from him.

tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet
samit-pāniḥ śrotriyaṁ brahma-niṣṭham
Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (1.2.12)

In order to obtain knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Reality – Śrī Bhagavān (bhagavad-vastu) – the sincere soul must approach a sad-guru, carrying firewood for sacrifice in his hands. In other words, he must approach sad-guru with transcendental faith in his heart, and surrender to him in every respect – with body, mind and words – and with all the humility at his command. The qualification of a bona fide guru is that he is well-versed in the Vedas, has realized the Absolute Truth (brahma-jñāna) and is exclusively devoted to the service of Bhagavān.

ācāryavān puruṣo veda
Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6.14.2)

He who takes shelter of bona fide guru, that is, a guru whose conduct is proper, comes to know that Parabrahma.

The characteristics and symptoms of a bona fide spiritual master (sad-guru) and a bona fide disciple (sat-śiṣya) are given in detail in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (1.23–64). In essence, only a person with pure character and firm faith (śraddhā) is qualified to become a disciple, and only that person who is endowed with unalloyed bhakti, who knows the science of devotional service (bhakti-tattva-vit), and who is of spotless character, simple, without greed, free from the influence of māyāvāda philosophys and expert in all devotional activities is genuinely qualified to be guru.

A brāhmaṇa who is adorned with these qualities and who is honoured by the whole society can be guru to people from any of the other varṇas, or castes. If there is no such brāhmaṇa, one can become the disciple of a guru who is situated in a higher varṇa than himself. But the principal import of these regulations is that, leaving all considerations of varṇāśrama* aside, wherever a sincere soul finds a person who knows kṛṣṇa-tattva, he can accept him as his guru.

*Varṇas, or occupational divisions, include brāhmaṇas (the priestly class), kṣatriyas (administrators and warriors), vaiśyas (farmers and tradesmen) and śūdras (artisans). Āśramas, or stages of life, include brahmacārī (celibate student), gṛhasta (matrimony), vānaprastha (retirement) and sannyāsa (the renounced order).

It may be that the above-mentioned qualities are found in a person born in a brāhmaṇa family, but those who carry pride in being born into a higher varṇa in the dynasty of Āryans can offer no more than conveniences to a person who accepts him as his guru. Only a genuine devotee is a guru in truth.

Śāstra provides the rules by which the guru and the disciple are to mutually examine each other, as well as the time required for this examination period. The purport is that the guru will bestow his mercy upon the disciple only when he sees that the disciple is qualified and when the disciple has developed genuine faith in him, understanding him to be a pure devotee (śuddha-bhakta).

There are two kinds of guru: the dīkṣā-guru, or initiating spiritual master who gives sacred mantras to the disciple, and the śikṣā-guru, or the instructing spiritual master. One has to accept mantra initiation (dīkṣā) as well as instruction (śikṣā) regarding the process of arcana (deity worship) from the dīkṣā-guru. There is one dīkṣā-guru, but there can be several śikṣā-gurus. The dīkṣā-guru is also competent to give instructions as śikṣā-guru.

Vijaya: The dīkṣā-guru is not to be rejected, but if he is incompetent to give sat-śikṣā, how can he actually be a śikṣā-guru?

Bābājī: Before accepting a guru, one should examine him to see that he is expert in his understanding of the tattva (fundamental principles regarding the Absolute Truth) spoken of in the Vedas and that he has realized the Supreme Absolute Reality (para-tattva). If so, then he will certainly be capable of giving comprehensive instructions on all tattvas. Normally, there is no question of giving up the dīkṣā-guru.

A guru should be abandoned, however, if either of these two circumstances prevail:

(1) The disciple may have accepted the guru without having first examined the guru’s knowledge of tattva or whether or not the guru’s qualities are befitting a Vaiṣṇava, or without carefully observing the guru’s other qualifications. Later, however, he may experience that the guru is unable to help him spiritually. One who is in this situation should give up that guru. Many passages in śāstra provide evidence of this:

yo vyakti nyāya-rahitam anyāyena śṛṇoti yaḥ
tāv ubhau narakaṁ ghoraṁ vrajataḥ kālam akṣayam
Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (1.62)

Both he who poses as an ācārya but who performs an act of injustice – that is, who gives instructions that are opposed to the sattvata-śāstras (scriptures that elucidate pure bhakti) – and the disciple who mistakenly listens to him will reside in a terrible hell for an unlimited period of time.

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate
Mahābhārata Udyoga-parva (179.25)
and Nārada-paṣcarātra (1.10.20)

It is indeed obligatory to reject a guru who does not know what is appropriate for the disciple and what is not, and who one finds to be on the wrong path, either because of bad association or because he is antagonistic to the Vaiṣṇavas.

avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhayed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ
Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (4.144)

One goes to hell if he accepts mantras from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava – that is, from one who associates with women and who is devoid of kṛṣṇa-bhakti. If one has accepted mantras from such a false guru, according to the regulations of śāstra, one should receive the mantras again from a bona fide Vaiṣṇava guru.

(2) One’s guru may be rejected if, due to the influence of bad association (asat-saṅga), he became a māyāvādī or an antagonist to the Vaiṣṇavas, even if he was a Vaiṣṇava when the disciple accepted him as his guru and was well-versed in the principles of spiritual truth (tattva).

It is actually one’s duty to give up such a guru. However, if one has accepted a guru who is neither a māyāvādī, antagonistic to the Vaiṣṇavas nor attached to sinful activities, it is inappropriate to reject him simply because his spiritual knowledge is meagre. One should still respect him as guru, and with his permission, one should go to another exalted Vaiṣṇava who is well-versed in knowledge of spiritual truth and take instruction (śikṣā) from him, serving him with one’s full capacity.

Vijaya: Please tell us about accepting the kṛṣṇa-mantra (kṛṣṇa-dīkṣā) and also about śikṣā, or receiving instructions regarding bhajana and instructions regarding serving those mantras.

Bābājī: While accepting śikṣā from śrī gurudeva on the process of deity worship (arcana) and on pure devotional service to the Lord, one should in a mood of simplicity, perform service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-sevā) but also earnestly cultivate uninterrupted performance of pure spiritual service fully abiding in, conscientious of, and devoted to the pleasure and welfare of Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-anuśīlanam).

Later, we will separately discuss the limbs of arcana. It is most essential to receive śrī gurudeva’s instructions on one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa (sambandha-jñāna), the process of devotional service (abhidheya-jñāna), and the ultimate goal (prayojana-jñāna).

Vijaya: What does it mean to perform guru-sevā with faith?

Bābājī: One should not consider śrī gurudeva to be a mortal man, or an ordinary jīva. Rather, one should understand him to be the embodiment of all the demigods (sarva-deva-maya). One should never disobey him, and one should always know him to be a transcendental being (vaikuṇṭha-tattva).