first published in Back to Godhead magazine, No 38, 1970
Guru-krishna-kripaya paya bhakti-lata bija.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Srila Prabhupada, once said that religion without philosophy is fanaticism and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. For a sincere student engaged in God realization, major philosophical points should be understood in the light of the guru, scripture and practical devotional service. One of the first points to understand is the position of the spiritual master. How is he related to Krishna? Is he Krishna? Is he an ordinary man? How should the disciple approach him? How can one know that the spiritual master is bona fide? What is the duty of the spiritual master? What are his symptoms? These and other questions concerning the spiritual master and Krishna are discussed herein by way of authoritative evidence compiled from the writings of Srila Prabhupada, the spiritual master himself. (Page references are given for his books.) In addition to rendering devotional service to Krishna through the spiritual master, the student should come to a philosophical understanding—based on scripture—of his own identity and the identity of the Supreme Person, Sri Krishna, and His emissary, the bona fide spiritual master. This understanding should correlate with the basic teachings of the spiritual master and other great saints and sages.
The Ultimate Truth
In the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Sri Krishna informs Arjuna that one should learn the Absolute Truth by approaching a spiritual master. “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master, inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.34) As a result of approaching a spiritual master, the disciple is benedicted with the truth by the mercy of the spiritual master. And what is the ultimate truth to be realized? It is this: Lord Sri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or, as stated by Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita: “And when you have thus learned the truth, you will know that all living beings are My parts and parcels—and that they are in Me, and are Mine.” (Bg. 4.35) What is the result of this knowledge? Sri Krishna also gives this information: “He who knows in truth this glory and power of Mine engages in unalloyed devotional service; of this there is no doubt. I am the source of everything; from Me the entire creation flows. Knowing this, the wise worship Me with all their hearts. Their thoughts dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (Bg. 10.7–9)
Definition Of Krishna
One will never make a mistake about the identity of Lord Sri Krishna if one has a good idea of what is meant by Lord Sri Krishna.
“When we speak of Krishna we refer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His many expansions. He is expanded by His plenary parts and parcels, His differentiated parts and parcels and His different energies. Krishna, in other words, means everything and includes everything. Generally, however, we should understand Krishna to mean Krishna and His personal expansions. Krishna expands Himself as Baladeva, Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Rama, Nrisimha and Varaha, as well as many other incarnations and innumerable Vishnu expansions. These are described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam to be as numerous as the uncountable waves. So Krishna includes all such expansions, as well as His pure devotees.” (The Nectar of Devotion, xxi)
Thus the pure devotees, some of whom are spiritual masters, are part of the internal energy of Sri Krishna, but they are certainly not the totality of His internal energy. They are subordinate. “The relationship of the living entities, therefore, is to be always subordinate to the Supreme Lord, as with the master and the servant, or the teacher and the taught.” (Bg., p. 71)
No one knows the extent of the energy of Lord Sri Krishna, not even His pure devotees. As is stated by the Lord Himself: “Neither the hosts of demigods nor the great sages know My origin; for, in every respect, I am the source of the demigods and the sages.” (Bg. 10.2) Although no one can understand the extent of the Lord’s glory, nor of the origin of the Lord, who has no beginning, still it is stated, “The devotees of the Lord surrender unto Krishna and are thus able to understand Him.” (Bg., p. 209) Thus by “Krishna” we refer to the Supreme Entity and His activities. “… In the Vedic literature, whether the Upanishads or the Vedanta-sutras or the Bhagavad-gita or the Srimad-Bhagavatam, in every scripture it is declared that the Lord is the sentient Being, supreme over all other living entities. And His glorious activities are identical with Himself.” (Sri Ishopanishad, p. 93)
The Spiritual Master: Krishna’s Representative
It is important to understand the position of the spiritual master as Lord Sri Krishna’s pure devotee. The disciple is enjoined by Lord Sri Krishna to worship the spiritual master as he would worship the Supreme Lord Himself: “Sage Prabuddha continued to speak to the King as follows: ‘My dear King, a disciple has to accept the spiritual master not only as spiritual master, but also as the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Supersoul. In other words, the disciple should accept the spiritual master as God because he is the external manifestation of Krishna.’ ” (NOD, 59) The Spiritual master is stated here to be the representative of Lord Sri Krishna and the Supersoul. It is clearly not stated that he is Lord Sri Krishna or the Supersoul, but that he represents them as a viceroy represents a king. “One can know God and one’s relationship with God only when one actually meets a representative of God. A representative of God never claims that he is God, although he is paid all the respect ordinarily paid to God because he has knowledge of God. One has to learn the distinction between God and the living entity.” (Bg., p. 144)
Although it is stated that the spiritual master is “the external manifestation of Krishna,” he should not be considered mundane or material. “… Lord Chaitanya states that it is a fortunate person who comes in contact with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. One who is serious about spiritual life is given by Krishna the intelligence to come in contact with a bona fide spiritual master, and then by the grace of the spiritual master one becomes advanced in Krishna consciousness. In this way the whole jurisdiction of Krishna consciousness is directly under the spiritual energy—Krishna and the spiritual master. This has nothing to do with the material world.” (NOD, xxi) By “external manifestation” it is meant that the spiritual master can be perceived as being in the material world by the conditioned souls whom he deigns to liberate.
The followers of Ramakrishna and Meher Baba, as well as adherents of other cults generally found in India, proclaim their spiritual masters to be God Himself. Usually a spiritual master does not contradict this flattery because in this age of Kali there are many pseudo-spiritual masters who claim to be God. But we do not understand the position of the bona fide spiritual master to be cent percent identical with that of Lord Sri Krishna. For example, in our daily prayer to the spiritual master (nama om vishnu-padaya krishna-preshthaya bhu-tale srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine) we offer our respectful obeisances to our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada “who is most dear to Lord Krishna on this earth, having taken shelter of His lotus feet.” Srila Prabhupada is most dear to Lord Krishna on this earth because he has indeed taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord. “The definition of a pure devotee, as given by Rupa Gosvami in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, can be summarized thus: his service is favorable and is always in relation to Krishna.” (NOD, xxxii) Lord Sri Krishna Himself states that one who explains the science of Bhagavad-gita is most dear to Him: “There is no servant in the world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bg., 18.69) In Srimad-Bhagavatam the position of the pure devotee is further explained: “The asuras [demons] are gradually rectified into God consciousness by the mercy of the Lord’s liberated servitors in different countries and climates according to the supreme will. Such devotees of God are very confidential associates of the Lord, and when they come to save the human society from the dangers of godlessness, they are known sometimes as the powerful incarnation of the Lord, the Son of the Lord, the servant of the Lord or the associate of the Lord, but none of them declare falsely that they are themselves God. This blasphemy is declared by the asuras, and the demoniac followers of such asuras also accept a pretender as God or His incarnation.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto I, p. 123–124)
When does one know that one is declaring himself falsely to be God, or when does one know whether the followers of the spiritual master are declaring their spiritual master falsely to be God? The criterion for the acceptance of an incarnation of the Lord Himself is also stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam: “In the revealed scriptures there is definite information of these incarnations of God. One cannot be accepted as God or as an incarnation of God without reference to the above-mentioned revealed scriptures.” (Bhag., Canto I, p. 124) A list of incarnations can be found in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, Third Chapter, and for this yuga or age these include only Buddha and the Kalki avatara yet to come. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Krishna Himself, is also mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.32).
The distinction is always made between the devotee of God and God Himself, but a neophyte servant of the devotees should respect the servants of God as God. “These servants of God are to be respected as God by the devotees who actually want to go back to Godhead. Such servants of God are called mahatmas [great souls] or tirthas [saints able to deliver fallen souls], and they make various propaganda according to the particular time and space. The standard quality of the servants of God is that they canvass people to become devotees of the Lord, and they never tolerate the blasphemy of being called God. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was God Himself according to the authoritative indications of the revealed scriptures, but He played the part of a devotee. When a person knew Him to be God Himself and addressed Him as God, He used to block His ears with His hands and murmur the name of the Lord Vishnu. He strongly protested being called God, although undoubtedly He was God Himself. This behavior of the Lord is just to warn unscrupulous men who take false pleasure in being called God.” (Bhag., Canto I, p. 124)
The Functions Of The Spiritual Master
What is the position of the bona fide spiritual master in relation to Lord Sri Krishna? This position is hinted at by Srila Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakur in his Sri Gurvashtakam:
ya yalibhir yuktir apekshaniya
vande guroh sri-charanaravindam
“The spiritual master is very much expert in assisting the gopis who are engaged in the perfection of Radha-Krishna conjugal love affairs. At different times they make different tasteful arrangements for such spiritual exchanges, and the spiritual master is there to assist in the affairs. I offer my most humble obeisances unto his lotus feet.”
The Gurvashtakam gives further reason why the spiritual master should be worshiped and honored as much as the Supreme Lord:
sakshadd hari-tvena samasta-shastrair
uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih
kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya
vande guroh sri-charanaravindam
“The spiritual master is honored as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and is followed by all authorities. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, who is a bona fide representative of Lord Sri Krishna.”
So the function of the spiritual master should be clearly understood. The spiritual master serves the Supreme Lord directly in the spiritual sky and is a most confidential servitor of the Supreme Lord. The conditioned soul cannot approach the Supreme Lord directly, for the Supreme Lord cannot be perceived by the blunt material senses. “Vyasa was the spiritual master of Sañjaya, and he admits that it was by his mercy that he could understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This means that one has to understand Krishna directly, but through the medium of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is the transparent medium, although it is true the experience is still direct. This is the mystery of disciplic succession.” (Bg., p. 316)
Out of mercy for the conditioned souls, the Supreme Lord sends His representative, the spiritual master, who is His external manifestation in the material world, and the conditioned soul is thus enabled to serve the Supreme Lord by serving and worshiping the spiritual master. As mentioned before, although called the “external manifestation,” the spiritual master is a purely transcendental person in the spiritual universe, and thus he represents the internal potency of the Lord.
What is the specific function of these emissaries in the material world? “These servants of God come with the mission of life to propagate God consciousness in human society. Intelligent persons should cooperate with them in e very respect. By serving the servant of God, one can please God more than directly serving the Lord. The Lord is more pleased when He sees that His servants are properly respected because such servants of God who risk everything for the service of the Lord are very, very dear to the Lord. The Lord declares in Bhagavad-gita that no one is dearer to Him than those who risk everything for the preaching work of God’s glory. By serving the servants of the Lord, gradually one gets the quality of such servants, and this particular qualification of serving the servant of God makes one qualified with the urge for hearing the glorification of God. This eagerness for hearing about God is the first qualification of a devotee eligible for entering into the kingdom of God.” (Bhag., Canto I, p. 124)
Worship Of The Spiritual Master
Lord Sri Krishna Himself proclaims that worship of His pure devotee is higher than worship of Himself. In the Padma Purana there is a statement praising the service of Vaishnavas or devotees in which Lord Shiva tells Parvati: “My dear Parvati, there are different methods of worship, and out of all such methods the worship of the Supreme Person is considered to be the highest. But even higher than the worship of the Lord is the worship of the Lord’s devotees.”(NOD, 103) A similar statement is found in Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhag. 3.7.19): “Let me become a sincere servant of the devotees because by serving then one can achieve unalloyed devotional service unto the lotus feet of the Lord. The service of devotees diminishes all miserable material conditions and develops within one a deep devotional love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (NOD, 103)
Worship of the spiritual master goes directly to Lord Sri Krishna, and this is the method of the disciplic succession. Everything, for instance, offered to the spiritual master is offered by the spiritual master to Lord Sri Krishna through his spiritual master. For instance, whatever is offered with love and devotion to Srila Prabhupada is offered by Srila Prabhupada to his spiritual master, who offers it to his spiritual master, etc., on to the Supreme Person, the Original Spiritual Master, Lord Sri Krishna. This is the method of approaching the Supreme Lord, and this is the purpose of parampara, disciplic succession. Thus it is stated: “The attitude of the disciple should always be to satisfy the bona fide spiritual master. Then it will be very easy for him to understand spiritual knowledge. This is confirmed in the Vedas, and it will be further explained by Rupa Gosvami that, for a person who has unflinching faith in God and the spiritual master, everything becomes revealed very easily.” (NOD, 59)
The Spiritual Master And Krishna: Oneness And Difference
Some confusion, however, may result from the following quote, a statement of Lord Sri Krishna’s: “My dear Uddhava, the spiritual master must be accepted not only as My representative but as My very self. He must never be considered on the same level with an ordinary human being. One should never be envious of the spiritual master, as one may be envious of an ordinary man. The spiritual master should always be seen as the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and by serving the spiritual master, one is able to serve all the demigods.” (NOD, 59) The point here is that the spiritual master should never be considered to be an ordinary man because he is part of the internal potencies of Lord Sri Krishna, as was stated earlier (NOD, xxi). As such, he shares the Lord’s opulences. “The Supreme Lord is full in six opulences; and when a devotee approaches Him, there is reciprocation with these opulences. The servant of the king enjoys an almost equal level with the king.” (Bg., p. 271)
The spiritual master is eternally perfect, and his self is Lord Sri Krshna’s very self in the sense that the self of the spiritual master is in perfect harmony with the Supreme Self. It may here be recalled that Krishna is the Self in the hearts of all: “I am the Self, O conqueror of sleep, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.” (Bg. 10.20) Although Sri Krishna is the Self seated in the hearts of all living entities throughout the entire creation, He exists independent of them. “In My transcendental form I pervade all this creation. All things are resting in Me, but I am not in them. Again, everything that is created does not rest on Me. Behold My mystic opulence: Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation.” (Bg. 9.4–5) This is the sublime philosophy of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva: the Lord is simultaneously, inconceivably one with all living entities and yet different from them. Srila Prabhupada, in a letter to a disciple, explained this philosophy very clearly: “Just as fire and heat cannot be separate and in one sense both can be called fire, still heat is not fire. Another example, electricity and the powerhouse; although practically one and the same, still the powerhouse is not electricity. On the whole, the power and the powerful, although sometimes indistinguishable, still are different. That is the philosophy of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva propounded by Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. As such, the spiritual master is the Mercy Representative of Krishna. As Mercy Representative, he is worshiped by the disciples as Krishna, but at the same time he is not identical with Krishna. Sometimes it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna is the Master Krishna, whereas the spiritual master is the Servant Krishna. As it is said by Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, Radha and Krishna are one, still, in order to serve, Krishna’s pleasure potency, Radharani, appears separately. Therefore the conclusion is that the spiritual master as Servant Krishna is always respected as good as Krishna, but he is never identified with Krishna, which is Mayavadi philosophy.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter, 8/29/70) Although Lord Sri Krishna is the Self seated in the hearts of all, all creatures are not accepted as spiritual masters because they are not always in harmony with the Supreme Self. There are degrees of perfection involved. The bona fide spiritual master is known as nitya-siddha, and the conditioned living entities are known as nitya-baddha. “Persons who have achieved eternal, blissful life exactly on the level of Sri Krshna, and who are able to attract Lord Krishna by their transcendental loving service, are called eternally perfect. The technical name is nitya-siddha. There are two classes of living entities—namely, nitya-siddha and nitya-baddha. The distinction is that the nitya-siddhas are eternally Krishna conscious without any forgetfulness, whereas the nitya-baddhas, or eternally conditioned souls, are forgetful of their relationship with Krishna. The position of the nitya-siddhas is explained in the Padma Purana in connection with the narration of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and Satyabhama Devi. The Lord tells Satyabhama: ‘My dear Satyabhama Devi, I have descended to this earthly planet by the request of Lord Brahma and other demigods. Those who are born into this family of Yadu are all My eternal associates. My dear wife, you should not consider that My associates are ever separated from Me; they are My personal expansions, and almost as powerful as I am. Because of their transcendental qualities, they are very, very dear to Me, as I am very, very dear to them.’ ” (NOD 211–212) The spiritual master is certainly a nitya-siddha, but one who claims the spiritual master to be Lord Krishna Himself is committing a great offense. “As is stated in the Bhagavad-gita by the Lord Himself, His birth, deeds and activities are all transcendental. Similarly, the birth, deeds and activities of the associates of the Lord are also transcendental. And, as it is an offense to consider oneself to be Krishna, so it is offensive to consider oneself to be Yashoda, Nanda, or any other associate of the Lord. We should always remember that they are transcendental; they are never conditioned souls. It is described that Krishna, the enemy of Kamsa, has sixty-four transcendental qualities, and all of the ever-liberated souls who accompany the Lord have the first fifty-five of the qualities, without any doubt. Such devotees are related to the Supreme Personality in any of five transcendental mellows—namely, neutrality, servitorship, friendship, parenthood and conjugal love. These relationships with the Lord are eternal, and therefore nitya-siddha devotees do not have to strive to attain the perfectional stage by executing regulative devotional principles. They are eternally qualified to serve Krishna.” (NOD, 213)
Thus the spiritual master is not to be considered an ordinary man, but an eternally transcendental personality like Yashoda and Nanda. As such he has the first fifty-five of the sixty-four transcendental qualities of Lord Sri Krishna Himself. But he does not have them in full. “As parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, the individual living entities can also possess all of these qualities in minute quantities, provided they become pure devotees of the Lord. In other words, all of the above transcendental qualities can be present in the devotees in minute quantity, whereas the qualities in fullness are always present in the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (NOD, 157)
The Supreme Lord and the spiritual master have been likened unto two rails of the same track. In the Chaitanya-caritamrita it is said: “By the mercy of the spiritual master who is a pure devotee and by the mercy of Krishna one can achieve the platform of devotional service. There is no other way.” (NOD, 13) By the grace of Lord Sri Krishna, one gets a bona fide spiritual master, and by the grace of the bona fide spiritual master one gets Lord Sri Krishna. Lord Sri Krishna and the spiritual master work conjointly to bring the conditioned soul to full Krishna consciousness. The spiritual master as the external manifestation works from without, and Lord Sri Krishna works from within. The spiritual master is supplemented by shastra, scripture, and sadhu, holy sages. None of these are ever in contradiction. “To err is human: A conditioned soul is very often apt to commit mistakes, and the only remedial measure for such unknown sins is to give oneself up to the lotus feet of the Lord, that He may guide the devotee. The Lord takes this charge for the fully surrendered souls, and thus all problems are solved simply by surrendering oneself unto the Lord and acting in terms of the Lord’s directions. Such directions are given to the sincere devotee in two ways. One is by means of the saints, scriptures, and spiritual master; and the other is by the Lord Himself, residing within the heart of everyone. Thus the devotee is protected in all respects.” (Sri Ishopanishad, p. 97) In themselves, the scriptures cannot lead one to Krishna consciousness, for without the guidance of Sri Krishna as the Supersoul within and as the spiritual master from without, the scriptures remain contradictory and enigmatic. “One can understand the Vedic mantras only by the grace of the Lord and the spiritual master. If one takes shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, it is to be understood that he has obtained the grace of the Lord. The Lord appears as the spiritual master for the devotee. And so the spiritual master, the Vedic injunctions, and the Lord Himself from within all guide the devotee in full strength, and there is no chance of such a devotee falling again into the mire of material illusion.” (Sri Ishopanishad, p. 97) As stated in the Gurvashtakam:
yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado
yasyaprasadanna-gatih kuto ’pi
dhyayam stuvams tasya yashas tri-sandhyam
vande guroh shri-caranaravindam
“By the mercy of the spiritual master one is benedicted by the mercy of Krishna. Without the grace of the spiritual master no one can make any advancement. Therefore I should always remember my spiritual master.”
To say that the spiritual master and the Supreme Personality of Godhead are one is to say that they are one in purpose. They are in total agreement. The Supreme Lord says surrender unto Me, and the spiritual master says surrender unto Lord Sri Krishna. They are one in that sense. They are not one in the impersonalist sense of being merged. In conversation, Srila Prabhupada has said: “Merging does not mean losing individuality. Just like a green bird enters a green tree … it appears to be merging, but the bird has not lost his individuality. Our proposition, bhakti-marga, is to keep individuality and agree. Our surrender means we agree with Krishna in everything although we are individual.… Like Arjuna—first he decided not to fight, but then he agreed: karishye vachanam tava. This agreement—this is oneness. That oneness—not to lose individuality.… Merging means merging in that total agreement. That is liberation. Totally, without any disagreement. And that is the perfection: to keep individuality and agree with God in total agreement.… So those who are trained fully to agree with Krishna are accepted as associates.” (Srila Prabhupada, Back to Godhead, No. 28, p. 8)
The original spiritual master is Lord Sri Krishna Himself, and the disciplic succession comes from Him. “The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. Nobody can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession. The Lord is the original Spiritual Master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to his disciple. No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of foolish pretenders.” (Bg., p. 130)
Thus the spiritual master who proclaims to be Lord Sri Krishna, or disciples who proclaim their spiritual master to be Lord Sri Krishna Himself, are to be immediately rejected. Srila Prabhupada has stated that the test of the spiritual master is that he speaks of nothing but surrender and devotion to Sri Krishna. “It is the duty of the acharya, the spiritual master, to find the ways and means for his disciple to fix his mind on Krshna.” (NOD, 20) This is the actual duty of the bona fide spiritual master. Who may become a spiritual master? How does one get to be spiritual master? “Whatever he may be, whatever position he may have, if a person is fully conversant with the science of Krishna, Krishna consciousness, he can become a bona fide spiritual master, initiator, or teacher of the science. In other words, the capability of becoming a bona fide spiritual master depends on his sufficient knowledge of the science of Krishna, Krishna consciousness; it does not depend on a particular position in society or of birth.” (TLC, 266) Srila Prabhupada further outlines his specific qualification. “The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters. Everyone should try to find such a bona fide spiritual master in order to fulfill his mission of life, which is to transfer himself to the plane of spiritual bliss.” (NOD, 58) Such a qualified spiritual master can be immediately recognized by his symptoms: “The mahatma, or great soul, cannot be manufactured by rubber-stamping an ordinary man. His symptoms are described here (Gita 9.14): A mahatma is always engaged in chanting the glories of the Supreme Lord Krishna, the Personality of Godhead.” (Bg. p. 201)
Mayavadi Impersonalists: Pseudo Spiritual Masters
The Mayavadi spiritual masters and their followers proclaim that by surrendering to Lord Sri Krishna one can become Lord Sri Krishna Himself. Under the guise of glorifying the spiritual master, such Mayavadi disciples declare the spiritual master to be Krishna Himself. Thus they await the day that they can become acharya in the disciplic succession and thus become Krishna Himself. A bona fide spiritual master will reject such disciples. “Those who are under the spell of the material energy, instead of following the instructions of the disciplic succession, try to manufacture something of their own, and thereby step outside the sphere of Vedanta study. A bona fide spiritual master must always condemn such independent mental speculators. If the bona fide spiritual master directly points out the foolishness of a disciple, that should not be taken as otherwise.” (TLC, 169)
We have already quoted the example in Srimad-Bhagavatam in which Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, although the Supreme Lord Himself, covered His ears with His hands and shouted the name Vishnu loudly when His disciples called Him Krishna. “Chaitanya’s philosophy is: one should give up everything and worship God, Krishna. The difference is that Krishna, as the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, spoke the same words, indicating Himself, and the Mayavadi philosophers misunderstood Him. Therefore Lord Chaitanya indicated the same thing: one should not declare himself to be as good as Krishna, but should worship Krishna as the Supreme Lord.” (TLC, 159)
Actually a disciple who, out of sentiment or fanaticism, proclaims a bona fide spiritual master to be Krishna Himself is committing the greatest injury to the spiritual master. The bona fide spiritual master instructs that one should approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Sri Krishna through the bona fide representative of Lord Sri Krishna, the pure devotee. He instructs that one cannot approach Lord Sri Krishna directly. If the spiritual master is Lord Sri Krishna Himself, as the Mayavadi followers of the spiritual master may maintain, then these followers are actually approaching Lord Sri Krishna directly. Thus they distort and twist the teachings of the spiritual master under the guise of glorifying him. The actual motive behind such false glorification should be understood as asuric. As stated before, none of the devotees declare themselves to be God, but “This blasphemy is declared by the asuras, and the demoniac followers of such asuras also accept pretenders as God or His incarnation.” (Bhag., Canto I, 123) The motives of the Mayavadi are themselves asuric. Actually every conditioned soul is a Mayavadi, otherwise the soul wouldn’t be conditioned. When Srila Prabhupada first began lecturing in New York in 1966, he would often attack the Mayavadi impersonalists in his talks, and not understanding this I joked with a friend: “Mayavadi? When was the last time you saw a Mayavadi?’’ None of us could understand who Srila Prabhupada was talking about; we all thought that the Mayavadis were a little group of philosophers in India against whom Srila Prabhupada was waging theologic battle. But actually we were all Mayavadis. Now we are daily praying:
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracharine
“Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Chaitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.”
The Mayavadi, being envious of God, wants to be God. Therefore he is thrown by Lord Krishna into the material world where he can try to lord it over material nature. “The impersonalist philosophers are in one sense like the enemies of the Lord because the out-and-out enemies of the Lord and the impersonalists are both allowed to enter only into the impersonal effulgence of the brahmajyoti. So it is to be understood that they are of similar classification. And actually the impersonalists are enemies of God because they cannot tolerate the unparallelled opulence of the Lord. They try always to place themselves on the same level with the Lord. That is due to their envious attitude. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has proclaimed the impersonalists to be offenders of the Lord.” (NOD, 123)
The Mayavadi spiritual master claims, “I am Krishna. Just surrender to me and you can become Krishna too.” Or the Mayavadi disciples claim, “Our guru is Krishna. Just surrender to him and you’ll become Krishna too.” Or they claim, “We are all Krishna. We have just forgotten, that’s all.” These impersonalists may set up their own Krishna and proclaim that He is talking to them directly. “There are many so-called devotees who artificially think of Krishna pastimes, which are known as ashta-kalika-lila. Sometimes one may artificially imitate these, pretending that Krishna is talking with him in the form of a boy, or else one may pretend that Radharani and Krishna both have come to him and are talking with him. Such characteristics are sometimes exhibited by the impersonalist class of men, and they may captivate some innocent persons who have no knowledge in the science of devotional service. However, as soon as an experienced devotee sees all of these caricatures, he can immediately evaluate such rascaldom. If such a pretender is sometimes seen possessing imitative attachment to Krishna that will not be accepted as real attachment.” (NOD, 143) Thus such Mayavadi impersonalists who proclaim their spiritual master and themselves to be Krishna simply propitiate their conditioning life after life.
The impersonalists discourage direct discussion of Lord Krishna and His pastimes. “Impersonalists do not directly derive the transcendental pleasure of association with the Lord by hearing of His pastimes. As such, the impersonalists cannot derive any relishable transcendental pleasure from the topics of the Bhagavad-gita, in which the Lord is personally talking with Arjuna. The basic principle of their impersonal attitude does not allow them the transcendental pleasure which is relished by a devotee whose basic principle of understanding is the Supreme Person.” (NOD, 290–291)
The Mayavadi impersonalists who envy the Lord and who actually want to be the Lord are in reality not spiritualists at all, but materialists. “Because the impersonalists cannot appreciate the spiritual happiness of association and the exchange of loving affairs with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, their ultimate goal is to become one with the Lord. This concept is simply an extension of the material idea. In the material world, everyone is trying to be the topmost headman amongst all his fellow men or neighbors. Either communally, socially or nationally, everyone is competing to be greater than all others, in the material concept of life. This greatness can be extended to the unlimited, so that one actually wants to become one with the greatest of all, the Supreme Lord. This is also a material concept, although maybe a little more advanced.” (NOD, 32) It is also to be understood that the impersonalists are not really in a relationship with Lord Sri Krishna at all, for “In relationship with Krishna there is no question of impersonalism.” (NOD, 251)
The Real Speaker Of Bhagavad-Gita
Generally the impersonalists like to maintain that I am God, you are God, everyone is God, etc., and their conception of God ends there. Such a philosophy excludes all morality: since I am God, and you are God and we are all God, we can act in any way we please. They deny Lord Sri Krishna as a person, and boldly proclaim that He is not actually the speaker of Bhagavad-gita as it is. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Sri Krishna directly tells Arjuna: “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, engage your body in My service and surrender unto Me. Completely absorbed in Me, surely will you come to Me.” (Bg. 9.34) Lord Sri Krishna is actually standing in person before Arjuna and is telling Arjuna to concentrate on Him, to be devoted to Him, to worship Him and to revere Him, and yet the impersonalist commentators write: “It is not the personal Krishna to whom we have to give ourselves up to ultimately, but the unborn, beginningless eternal who speaks through Krishna.” (Commentary on Bg. 9.34 by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan)
Thus the Mayavadi impersonalists set up their own teachers and ultimately their own selves as the speaker of Bhagavad-gita, but we receive different information from a pure devotee of Lord Sri Krishna: “The Bhagavad-gita also should be accepted as it is directed by the Speaker Himself. The speaker is Lord Sri Krishna. He is mentioned on every page as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or ‘Bhagavan.’ Bhagavan sometimes means any powerful person or demigod, but here it means Krishna.” (Bg. p. 23) The words “Bhagavad-gita” actually mean “The Song of the Lord,” for it is sung by the Lord to Arjuna. Sri Krishna’s statements are prefaced with the Sanskrit words sri bhagavan uvacha, which means “Sri Bhagavan said.” Srila Prabhupada explains the Sanskrit word bhagavan in this way: “The Sanskrit word bhagavan is explained by the great authority Parashara Muni, the father of Vyasadeva. The Supreme Personality who possesses all riches, entire strength, entire fame, entire beauty, entire knowledge, and entire renunciation is called Bhagavan. There are many persons who are very rich, very powerful, very beautiful, very famous, very learned, and very much detached—but no one can claim that he is possessor of all these opulences entirely. Such a claim is applicable to Krishna only, and as such He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. No living entity, including Brahma, can possess such opulence—neither Lord Shiva, nor even Narayana can possess such opulence as fully as Krishna. By analytical study of such possessions, it is concluded in the Brahma-samhita by Lord Brahma himself that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Nobody is equal to or above Him. He is the primeval Lord, or Bhagavan, known as Govinda, and He is the Supreme Cause of all causes.” (Bg., p. 62)
It has been said that the spiritual master is the “representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Supersoul” (NOD, 59), but Lord Sri Krishna is “the Source of both Supersoul and the impersonal Brahman.” (Bg., p. 63) Lord Sri Krishna is described in detail throughout Vedic literatures as a beautiful blue boy who plays a flute, and we should know it for certain that it is He and He alone who is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita. Those who envy Him cannot actually know Bhagavad-gita, although they may make a show of studying it. “In studying the Bhagavad-gita, one should not think that he is the equal of Krishna. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who wants to understand the Bhagavad-gita should accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Otherwise it is very hard to understand, and it becomes a great mystery.” (Bg., p. 25 – Introduction, Collier 1968 ed) Again, Srila Prabhupada says: “Those who are envious of Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead have no bona fide access to this great literature. The nondevotee’s approach to the teachings of Bhagavad-gita is something like a bee licking on a bottle. Similarly, the mysticism of the Bhagavad-gita can be understood only by devotees, and no one else can taste it, as is stated in the Fourth Chapter of the book. Nor can the Gita be touched by persons who envy the very existence of the Lord. Therefore the Mayavadi explanation of the Gita is a most misleading presentation of the whole truth. Lord Chaitanya has forbidden us to read commentaries made by the Mayavadis, and warns that one who takes to an understanding of the Mayavadi philosophy loses all power to understand the real mystery of the Gita.” (Bg., p. 69)
The Spiritual Master As Pure Devotee
It is the pure devotee who is in a unique position to understand and explain Bhagavad-gita and the science of Krishna consciousness, for he knows Bhagavad-gita as it is. “… By devotional service the Supreme Truth, which is the Personality of Godhead, is pleased; and He reveals Himself to the heart of the pure devotee by His inconceivable potency. The pure devotee always has Krishna within his heart, and therefore he is just like the sun that dissipates the darkness of ignorance. This is special mercy rendered to the pure devotee by the Supreme Lord.” (Bg., p. 213) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has proved beyond all comparison in this contemporary world that he is a pure devotee of Lord Sri Krishna. His characteristics are given in Bhagavad-gita (10.9) where Srila Prabhupada himself writes in a purport: “Pure devotees, whose characteristics are mentioned here, engage themselves fully in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Their minds cannot be diverted from the lotus feet of Krishna. Their talks are solely transcendental. Twenty-four hours daily, they glorify the pastimes of the Supreme Lord. Their hearts and souls constantly submerged in Krishna, they take pleasure in discussing Him with other devotees. In the preliminary stage of devotional service they relish transcendental pleasure from the service itself; and in the mature stage they are situated in love of God and can relish the highest perfection which is exhibited by the Lord in His abode.” (Bg., p. 212)
Thus the position of the Lord and His pure devotee should be understood by the neophyte wishing to make progress on the road back to Godhead. The platform of real progress can be reached when one agrees to follow submissively in the spiritual master’s footsteps. The following is not very difficult, and if one follows sincerely he will transmit the greatest benefit to all conditioned souls. “If the disciple follows in the footsteps of his spiritual master and chants the holy name with equal respect, that becomes the worship of the transcendental name. When the transcendental name becomes worshiped by the devotee, and when he is perfectly qualified in chanting such transcendental vibration of the holy name, he is quite fit to become a spiritual master for delivering all the people of the world.” (TLC, 173)
All glory to Srila Prabhupada and the munificent Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu!