Spiritual Master: Who is It?

Manidhara Das
17 Nov 2023

Accepting a spiritual master is a condition. The Supreme Personality of the Godhead is established for those who would like to see Him. Quite contrary to the sahajiya understanding of many, God cannot be realised on the basis of our intuition or by the strength of our mental and sensual perception. After all, to indulge in illusory concepts is one of the basic qualities of the conditioned soul. God is real; our perception may be illusory.

For anything we do in the material world, we seek guidance, ending up quoting various authorities, even those who arogantly try to teach us that we shouldn't follow any authority and establish ourselves as the owners of our bodies and creators of our „freedom“.

Even when trying to re-establish ourselves spiritually, this mentality may still prevail, and according to our persistence to guide ourselves on the basis of our false ego, Krsna will send us a particular cheater who may benefit from our sympathy by telling us that we can „go there where angels don't dare“. The „guidance“ of such a cheater may even be based on strict statements, but unfortunately, it is wrongly applied to the wrong audience.

First tapasya, austerity of mind and the senses, then knowledge may manifest by aural perception from an authorised spiritual master—thats the process taught to us by Srila Prabhupada. „First serve and then deserve“. Initially, advice in the form of vani is given, followed by firm instruction in the form of diksa. Anything else is in illusory form. Fearful to become passive, impersonal robots, the inexperienced beginners in Krsna Consciousness seek a compromise to hear from authorities but ultimately to do what one considers the best for themselves. Certainly, the minor individual freedom Krsna gave us to accept or reject can never be violated, but what may be the final result of our howering on the mental plane, never being able to come to any conclusion? Finally, we MUST accept some sort of authority, one way or another. The number of illusioned guardians falling from the path of Krsna Consciousness only enhances the original mistrust of the conditioned soul and the fear of being cheated again. Establishing faith in such an atmosphere of demolished trust as an authorised spiritual guide is a great challenge.

But what may be the solution? To hear what our false ego and our mind have to say?
Surely not. It is not easy to escape the society of cheaters and cheated, but for those who are sincere, Krsna offers all the assistance by giving them the proper intelligence from within as well. But that intelligence will be given to the point of final acceptance by a bona fide guru; thereafter, it is the guru who becomes the external manifestation of the supersoul. Finaly, birds of the same feather flock together, and so those who seek cheap ways to cultivate spiritual life end up with some piously motivated lifestyle at best or are misguided by real cheaters and indulge in offences by being initiated into a movement where „fools dash in where angels don't dare“.

Srila Prabhupada offered us a simple and practical solution to this dilemma, and he gave us practical ways to come together on a real platform of real Krsna Consciousness. Being individuals, naturally, we may have our individual perception, but that perception can be synchronised and harmonised by engagement in the mission he entrusted to us:

production and distribution of his books
production and distribution of his prasadam
maintenance of information centres of any kind for the public (not for us)
regular engagement in public harinama without „retreating“ to remote areas where we may try to become what we are not. :-)
Finally, creating communities that help others disconnect themselves from the main stream of demoniac propaganda and a life style of total dependancy on demoniac control by establishing full dependancy on the Supreme Personality of Godhead

Being engaged in this way, we find endless ways to be active within the authorised boundaries Srila Prabhupada established for us, and we will avoid the danger of being established in our „mentally conceived“ Krsna Consciousness.

Being engaged in authorised fashion will bring realisations to us in regards to our fallen condition, in regards to our still uncontrollable senses, and the ever-raging false ego, which fills our hearts with envy and doubt. All this can be regulated and finally eradicated when standing on the street distributing Srila Prabhupadas books, when engaged in sankirtana, chanting of the Holy Name publicly together, when standing in the hot kitchen while preparing Srila Prabhupadas prasadam and serving it to the ignorant conditioned souls, when struggling to raise our children in the maximum possible Krsna Consciousness fashion while taking shelter in communities based on varnasrama principles. All this will make us truly humble and not victimised by the falsity of others.

A real spiritual guide will be constantly in tune with the words of his spiritual guide.
Today we rarely see disciples quoting their gurus, but many times we see devotees engaged in jumping over the heads of their gurus, including the Founder Acharya Srila Prabhupada, by quoting sastras that weren't even quoted by him or even drawing from entirely mundane sources. To be a follower of Srila Prabhupada should make us spiritually proud, as to find such an acharya who spread Krsna Consciousness all over the world is not common.
One way or another, we are all results of his mercy, and so we are duty-bound to relate to his instructions and words ONLY. Any authorised spiritual guardian today will recognise that. A real disciple is recognised in Vedic culture in the way he quotes his predecor, as even Lord Caitanya demonstrated. Krsna Himself serves his spiritual master uncoditionally, as acceptance of a guru is the first requirement to understand sastra, which again is amplified by guru parampara. Guru-satra and sadhu are the three pillars of spiritual progress.

But today we rarely hear disciples exhibiting the discipline of obstaining from their own ways of spiritual understanding and often indulge in subjects entirely inapproriate to the level of their spiritual progress. This massive sahajiya production was inspired by the massive falldowns of our spiritual leaders and the cheap ways „Krsna Consciousness“ is presented for quick profit being collected by those who try to make us believe that going back home back to Godhead is something quick and cheap.

Anybody who is truly engaged in the mission of Srila Prabhupada will quickly understand that it is not so. As Srila Prabhupada once said to an amazed disciple who recollected that he said the process of Krsna Consciousness is simple,
„Yes, I said the process is simple, but I didn't say it's easy“.

Indeed, becoming simple is only possible by following EXACTLY what was given to us without adding or subtracting anything. When children who just started to learn the alphabet start to walk around in the garb of university professors, rewarding each other with titles and honourable designations, such kindergarden becomes a comical display of something that actually should deserve, in its original form, the respect of the public. Srila Prabhupada opened a hospital for spiritually ignorant and conditioned souls, but that doesn't mean that everybody living in this hospital is already healthy.
The history of ISKCON clearly demonstrated this to us. Even Krsna established that those who EXACTLY take the medicine prescribed by their doctor should already be considered saintly or soon-to-be healthy; still, to come to the stage of real health is a GRADUAL process. When the occasionally still-diseased patients establish themselves as the chief managers of the hospital and prematurely assume the position of „perfect doctors“, the hospital may turn into something Srila Prabhupada called „lunatic asylum“, in other words, into a madhouse where everybody maintains an entirely false identity.

Once again, all this can be avoided when we sincerely look at our level of conditioning and place ourselves realistically in a position dictated by our varna and asrama so we can cultivate spiritual life peacefully. Being a pretender is an extremely demanding and energy-consuming lifestyle. To be realistic towards the body we operate with gives us sufficient peace to gain sufficient time for the cultivation of real spiritual life. To be a pretender is the most demanding activity, as seen in the faces of some who try to be what they are not. Even when dying while clinging to their false designations, they will not give them up. Such is the ghastly force of false ego.

Those who maintain their bodies in a deacent way and don't pretend to be what they are become finally happy devotees, automatically impressing the public by dint of their happiness and satisfaction. Nobody will be impressed by the hords of pretenders who, in a ghastly, self-tormented fashion, may chant the Holy Name as if being soon crucified in the sacrifical arena of „Krsna Consciousness“. Nobody gets inspired by a group of those who, in fear of being discovered as pretenders, use Krsna Consciousness as some sort of camouflage in order to cheat the public.

Srila Prabhupada gave Krsna Consciousness a three-dimensional form by dint of pratical management. Often criticised (in an indirect way until today) by his godbrothers and his so-called followers, he was considered maybe a „good manager generating lots of money“ but surely not operating on the „highest level of direct perception of God“. We shouldn't copy this hugely offensive understanding and FOLLOW Srila Prabhupada instead of imitating others.

Srila Prabhupada has given to us not only the highest knowledge of God but also the way in which we GRADUALLY can reach him. A bona fide guru will never guide a disciple to beliefs to which he does not belong, but he will try to encourage him to follow the process of Krsna Consciousness enthusiastically and patiently according to time and circumstances and according to the level of conditioning the disciple operates from. A cheater will give the follower the impression that he is already there where he is not, creating a „lunatic asylum“ where the members of such institutions walk around in costumes entirely unfit for their real nature.

Once, being the son of a prominant musician, I got to sit in concert halls and theatres of various sorts from the days I can remember. Being a shy little boy, I was forced to sit hours and hours in these dark halls where actors on the stage were yelling their hours and hours-long opera aries before they eventually died their pathetic deaths.
I knew many of them as they visited our home privately, and I knew that their identity was very different from the identity they displayed on the stage.

Once, sitting in front row at the edge of the stage, I watched a big-footed man supposivably dying, yelling for hours while singing his pathetic opera song. At the peak of this drama, sitting next to my mother, I suddenly felt compelled to inform the public about the falsity of this man facing death. I stood up, turned into the dark audience hall, and, with my tiny voice, informed everybody that I know this man; he is our friend, and he is not dying.
My mother was so shocked that she failed to silence me, and the audience took this little interlude with a great deal of humor. While the man lied „dying“ on the stage, hundreds of people applauded my little speech, making me sit down immediately, shocked by the intensity of their clapping hands.

Even though this happened maybe sixty-five years ago, I never forgot about this incident, as such is the position of a real devotee. He always feels urged to inform the public about the falsity of their „being born and dying game“ however dramatic it may appear. From a spiritual point of view, we are all actors in the hands of material energy, moved by the three modes of nature, singing our pathetic songs of joy and distress. Our emotions are real, but temporary nonetheless, and so our idea of being engaged like this forever is entirely illusory.

We shouldn't reproduce this kind of theatrical performance in the name of Krsna Consciousneess. Srila Prabhupada was a real guru, and he wanted us to become real practitioners and guides of Krsna Consciousness as well. We shouldn't turn his misison into a theatrical performance in order to establish ourselves as famous singers on the stage we constructed for ourselves in the name of fame and glory for our temporary bodies.

We shouldn't become cheaters, attracting other cheaters, turning the exctatic chanting of the Holy Name into a pathetic performance, a „mystical“ voyage into the unspecified „inner reagions of ourselves", establishing „Krsna Consciousness within“ while ignoring „Krsna Consciousness outside“. There is no within and there is no outside in Srila Prabhupada's teachings. EVERYTHING is Krsna's, and EVERYTHING can be used to serve Him. To learn how to do this, we need practical guidance from a practical, functioning spiritual master who can not only tell us what to do but also how to do it.

A spiritual master whom we cannot reach for practical advice, who we cannot communicate with, and who doesn't know how to delegate his responsibility to others. In times when he finds himself limmited in terms of his capability to draw from sastra practical solutions to a problem of his disciple, such a spiritual master has only limited use.

To follow a mystified spiritual guide in the form of a personal cult may initially be emotionally inspiring but ultimately have no practical use. The basis of Krsna Consciousness can be collected from Srila Prabhupada's books. But to apply what was heard in practical terms to our personal and individual situations, a living spiritual guide is needed, either in the form of vani, advice, or diksa, a firm instruction.
Idealy, the disciple is guided by a diksa guru who authorises him in times of need to follow vani advice from his siksa guru. If a bhakta is not able to follow a firm instruction, initiation is not necessary or even dangerous, as the level of offences done after initiation can severely damage his progress.

The spiritual master has a function and task to fulfil, and so does the disciple. As two pieces of wood, when grinding on each other, create heat and spark, finally bursting out in flames, the vivid result of interaction between an authorised spiritual master is a flame-like outburst of enthusiasm on both sides to serve the mission of their predecor even more.
Outside of that, we find only the illusory realms of mentally conceived „Krsna Consciousness“ at worst or some mediocre pious activity at best.
Piety doesn't harm anybody, but deception about oneself does.

We shouldn't compromise the Srila Prabhupadas movement like this; we should not only seek but also DEMAND authorised guidance by those who can give it by their practical example in a way accessible to us. Let us not become sahajiyas but real followers of Srila Prabhupada.