How to Approach a Guru

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A highly posted government official reveals the mood required of one who wants to learn from a spiritual master.

tabe sanatana prabhura charane dhariya
dainya vinati kare dante trina lana

“nicha jati, nicha-sangi, patita adhama
kuvishaya-kupe padi’ gonainu janama!"

"Putting a straw in his mouth and bowing down, Sanatana Goswami clasped the lotus feet of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly spoke as follows: 'I was born in a low family, and my associates are all low-class men. I myself am fallen and am the lowest of men. Indeed, I have passed my whole life fallen in the well of sinful materialism.'"—Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 20.98–99

Sanatana Goswami is approaching Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. About five hundred years ago, Sanatana Goswami was a minister in the Pathan government of Nawab Hussain Shah in Bengal. When Sanatana Goswami met Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he decided to retire from political life and join Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's movement. When he wanted to resign, the Nawab become very angry because he depended on Sanatana Goswami in ruling the kingdom. When Sanatana Goswami proposed to retire, the Nawab became very much disturbed. Eventually Sanatana Goswami escaped from government service and with great difficulty approached Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when He was at Varanasi, or Benares.

Sanatana Goswami is an acharya, someone who knows the meaning of shastra, or scripture, behaves according to the shastra, and teaches his disciples accordingly. The recommendation of the Vedic literature is that one should worship the acharya.

Sanatana Goswami is teaching us by his personal behavior how to approach a guru. To approach a guru, the first business is surrender. That is stated everywhere in the Vedic literature:

tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigachchet
samit-panih shrotriyam brahma-nishtham

"To understand these things properly, one must humbly approach, with firewood in hand, a spiritual master who is learned in the Vedas and firmly devoted to the Absolute Truth." (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12)

In the Bhagavad-gita (4.34) Krishna says:

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprashnena sevaya
upadekshyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darshinah

"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." First of all, a guru is tattva-darshi, one who knows the Absolute Truth.

The Absolute Truth is Krishna. As He says in the Bhagavad-gita (7.7), mattah parataram nanyat kinchid asti dhananjaya: "O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me." All previous acharyas and modern acharyas accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In India within the last thousand years, all the acharyas—Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Nimbarka, even Sankaracharya—accepted Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also Krishna. As Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna has appeared as His own devotee. Five thousand years ago, Krishna appeared as the Supreme Lord and instructed Bhagavad-gita to the fallen souls. He asserted His Lordship by saying, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." (Bg. 18.66) But puffed-up so-called learned scholars and men of position declined: "Why should I surrender to Krishna?" Therefore Krishna Himself appeared as a devotee of Krishna. That is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, but He's teaching how to approach Krishna. And His disciples are also teaching the same philosophy.

There is no difference between Krishna's philosophy and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's philosophy. It is not that we can manufacture some philosophy. That is nonsense. Philosophy is one; religion is one. Everyone has to follow. There is no alternative. Not "Whatever you like, you can do." No. Mam ekam—simply Krishna.

Some missionaries say that you can manufacture your own way of worship and whatever you accept, that is all right. These bogus things are not accepted by the acharyas.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.28) states, krishnas tu bhagavan svayam, "Krishna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead." Do you want to understand who Bhagavan is? He is Krishna.

The Supreme Controller

Religion means to understand Bhagavan. The other day we were consulting a dictionary and we read that religion means the process by which we can understand the supreme controller. There is a supreme controller, as in every department, every state, every affair, every business, every institution there is a controller. You have practical experience of that. Without a controller nothing can be properly discharged. A controller is required.

The Sanskrit word for controller or ruler is ishvara. There are different kinds of controllers according to time and sphere. In your country the President is the controller. In another country somebody else is the controller. There are many hundreds and thousands of planets within this universe, and on every planet there is a controller. On the sun planet there is a controller. His name is Vivasvan. On the moon planet there is a controller. On every planet there is a controller. Above all of them is the supreme controller of the universe, named Brahma, and there are many millions ofbrahmandas, or universes. So there are many controllers. But Krishna is described in the Brahma-samhita (5.1) as the supreme controller: ishvarah paramah krishnah. There are many controllers, but the supreme controller is Krishna.

In the same Brahma-samhita verse His form is described: sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah. He has an eternal form of bliss and knowledge.Vigrahah means form. Bhagavan has a form. You see Krishna's form here as the deity. But His form is different from ours. He's sac-cid-ananda. His form is eternal; our present form, this body, is not eternal. We have to give it up. We have to accept another form according to our karma. But Krishna hasn't got to do that. He is in His original form. He has many forms and expansions, but His original form is Krishna with two hands and a flute.

The Brahma-samhita (5.30) states:

venum kvanantam aravinda-dalayataksham
barhavatamsam asitambuda-sundarangam
kandarpa-koti-kamaniya-vishesha-shobham
govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami

"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head decked with peacock's feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of Cupids." Krishna is always represented as playing on His flute. And barhavatamsa—a peacock feather adorns His head. These features are described in the Vedic literature. It is not that we worship Krishna as an imaginary form of God. No. The Mayavadis, or impersonalists, say that you can imagine any form of God. No, that is not the fact. God has His original form, His real form: sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah.

Krishna cannot be understood very easily. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.3) Krishna says,

manushyanam sahasreshu
kashchid yatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanam
kashchin mam vetti tattvatah

"Out of many millions of persons, one is interested in how to become siddha." Siddha means liberated. One who is not entangled with this material atmosphere is called siddha. So out of many millions of people, one may be interested in how to become free from this material entanglement. And out of many such siddhas (yatatam api siddhanam),one may understand Krishna (kashchin mam vetti tattvatah).

Krishna Shows the Way

It is not so easy to understand Krishna, but when Krishna comes personally as a devotee and shows us the ways and means to approach Krishna, then it becomes easier. That is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If we follow the method prescribed by Krishna, it is very easy to understand Krishna. Therefore, if we go through the mercy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, then we can easily understand Krishna.

That was recognized by Rupa Goswami, the younger brother of Sanatana Goswami. Both of them were ministers. Rupa Goswami has described,

namo maha-vadanyaya
krishna-prema-pradaya te
krishnaya krishna-chaitanya
namne gaura-tvishe namah

“O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 19.53)

Rupa Goswami said, "Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, You are Krishna. Now, this time, You have appeared as Krishna Chaitanya to give everyone Krishna. Krishna made some condition. Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: 'Surrender to Me.' [Bg. 18.66] But here now, as a devotee of Krishna, You are distributing Krishna without any condition. Therefore You are the most munificent incarnation: maha-vadanyaya."

Somehow or other, Sanatana Goswami became attracted to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He resigned his ministerial post and came to surrender to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Benares.

When we approach a guru, the first condition is that we must be humble and surrender. Then we must serve the spiritual master to gain his favor. This is the process. Sanatana Goswami is teaching how to approach a guru—very humbly. In India, traditionally the symbolic representation of humbleness was to take a piece of grass in one's mouth. Then it was understood that one was coming very submissively. Now this system is not current, but formerly it was. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has also instructed us,

trinad api sunichena
taror api sahishnuna
amanina manadena
kirtaniyah sada harih

"One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly." (Sri Sikshashtaka 3)

Dull-headed Times

This time, Kali-yuga, is very, very fallen. People are very, very fallen. Practically cent percent of the population at the present moment aremanda. Manda means of no value, or very bad, or very slow. There are several meanings of manda. In this age all the people are manda. And sumanda-matayo: Because they are generally very bad, everyone has his own process of spiritual realization.

First of all they are not interested, manda. The real value of the human being is spiritual understanding. Human life is meant for spiritual understanding. Athato brahma jijnasa: "Inquire into the Absolute Truth." That is the only business of human life. But on account of being manda, we have invented so many other occupational duties. That is a fact—not just according to Vaishnava philosophy, but that is a fact. We may improve the standard of our living condition, but our living condition is about the bodily concept of life. I am sitting on this comfortable simhasana, or seat. But I can sit down on the floor. It does not make much difference.

We are a combination of spirit and matter. This body is matter, and the force moving this body is the spirit soul. Because we are manda, we are so dull that the even highest learned man and the so-called scientist and philosopher cannot understand this distinction. They think this body is everything. But that is not the fact. The body is not everything. The moving power of the body is the spirit soul. We are repeatedly trying to convince people of this simple truth, but they are so dull-headed they cannot understand.

They have been described as animals. The shastra says,

yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradishu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat-tirtha-buddhih salile na karhichij
janeshv abhijneshu sa eva go-kharah

"A human being who identifies the body made of three elements as the self, who considers the by-products of the body to be his kinsmen, who considers the land of his birth worshipable, and who goes to a place of pilgrimage simply to bathe rather than to meet men of transcendental knowledge there, is to be considered like a cow or an ass." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.84.13) One who is in the bodily concept of life thinks, "I was born in America, or I was born in India, so it is my country." But how long will you remain in America? How long will you remain in India? They do not know. But they are mad after this conception of life, the bodily conception of life.

Yat-tirtha-buddhih salile: People in every religious community want to go to their holy place. They go and they take bath. In India they go to Hardwar or Vrindavan or Prayag and take bath in the Ganges or Yamuna. Similarly, Christians go to take bath in the river Jordan. Janeshv abhijneshu sa eva go-kharah: This kind of life is go-kharah. Go means a cow, and kharah means an ass. Without understanding the value of life, without associating with a learned spiritual master, if he passes his life with this understanding then he is no better than the cow and the ass. This is the verdict.

A Humble, Learned Scholar

Sanatana Goswami was a very learned man in that time. He learned Arabic and Parsi, the Persian language. During the British period in India, we had to learn English. Similarly, the state language during Sanatana Goswami's time, five hundred years ago, was either Arabic or Parsi in different parts of India. When these languages are mixed, it is called Urdu. So Sanatana Goswami was a learned scholar, and he was also born in a very nice brahmana family. He was a Sarasvata brahmana. But although born in a brahmana family, well educated, and a minister, he presents himself in this way: "'I was born in a low family, and my associates are all low-class men. I myself am fallen and am the lowest of men. Indeed, I have passed my whole life fallen in the well of sinful materialism." He has understood that the bodily conceptions that "I am a rich man," "I am a very learned man," "I am a brahmana," or "I am American" are useless understandings.

Why are people in the bodily concept of life? Because their association is bad. At the present moment we do not get any education or good association to understand our real identity. That is the difficulty. Therefore Sanatana Goswami takes the position of an ordinary man and says that he is the lowest of mankind and fallen. If one does not understand his real interest, he is called fallen.

What should be our real interest in life? By the evolutionary process, after going through eight million forms of life, we have got this human form of life. This life is especially meant for understanding our spiritual identity and the Absolute Truth. That is the only business. We have got more intelligence than the cats and dogs; they cannot inquire about their spiritual identity. And if we stay in darkness without understanding our spiritual identity, then we are no better than the dogs and cats. Therefore Sanatana Goswami says, "I have no information about the soul."

Of course, in your country the dog is a pet. Now we in India are also learning how to keep a dog and become aristocratic. [Laughter] Now there is a big, big dog show in New Delhi. Formerly in India, although a dog was not neglected and if there was a dog in the neighborhood people would give him food, a dog was not allowed to enter the house. Dogs were trained. They'd come to a door and sit down and move their tail: "Give me some food." And people would give. But he was not allowed to enter. The dog and the candalas, or dog eaters, are not allowed.

There is caste distinction according to the spiritual advancement. The brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras are higher class or lower class according to their spiritual understanding. One who is elevated in spiritual understanding is a brahmana. Of course, in this age brahmana means That is predicted in the shastra: For one cent, a person buys a sacred thread worn by brahmanas, puts it on, and becomes a brahmana. But that is not the process. A real brahmana is a brahmana by qualification, as described in the Bhagavad-gita (18.42):

shamo damas tapah shaucham
kshantir arjavam eva cha
jnanam vijnanam astikyam
brahma-karma svabhava-jam

"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work." These things are being lost. Therefore in the Kali-yuga practically everyone is a shudra. People at the present moment are very, very low grade. They are described in the Bhagavad-gita (7.15) as naradhamah, the lowest of the mankind; as dushkritinah, very, very sinful; and as mudhah, rascals. They do not surrender to Krishna.

To surrender to Krishna requires some qualification, and Sanatana Goswami wanted that qualification. Therefore he has approached Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We can follow in his footsteps. He is an exalted acharya, but following in his footsteps is essential. Don't be assured that you are a very highly elevated person. Without Krishna consciousness, everyone—this is a challenge—everyone is low born. Everyone is badly associated, fallen, and the lowest of the mankind because he's missing the chance to understand Krishna in the human form life and does not know what he's going to be in next life.

It is a very risky civilization—without any understanding of Krishna. Be careful. Those who have taken to Krishna consciousness, execute the Krishna consciousness business very cautiously so that you may not fall down. There is risk of fall down, but if we stick to Krishna's lotus feet—mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te (Bg. 7.14)—then there is no fear.

Thank you very much.