Tag Archives: guru

Diksha Guru Is Also Shiksha Guru

The following are the last questions in the context of Babaji’s podcast interview with Namarasa.


Question: If dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated, why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī who was not their dīkṣā guru? 

Answer: First of all, I did not say that dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated. In exceptional cases, there may be separation. I said that one takes dīkśā to take śikṣā. This is a statement of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī—it is not my opinion. While describing the limbs of sādhana-bhakti, he begins with the following verse (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.74): 

Atha aṅgāni

“Now the limbs of bhakti are described.”

guru-pādāśrayastasmāt krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
visrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sadhu-vartmānuvartanam

“Therefore, [one should] 1. Take shelter of the feet of a guru; 2. Study [bhāgavata-dharma or principles of bhakti from the guru] after taking dīkṣā in Kṛṣṇa-mantra [from the guru]; 3. Serve the guru with trust; and 4. Follow the path of the devotees.”

While commenting on the krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam part of the verse, both Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti write that one should study from the guru after taking dīkṣādīkṣā-pūrvaka-śikṣaṇam. 

Thus it is very clear from the original verse and the commentaries that one should study from one’s dīkṣā guru. Dīkṣā means the beginning of the education and practice of bhakti. That is why it is translated as “initiation,” which means “a beginning.” The beginning of what? One may reply that it is the beginning of bhakti, which is correct. But every act is preceded by knowledge of it, and bhakti is no exception. Dīkṣā, or initiation, is like accepting admission to a school. Everyone knows that one needs admission to study. Traditionally, in India, the ending ceremony of education is called dīkṣānta (dīkṣā + anta), literally the end of dīkṣā. That shows that the purpose of dīkṣā is education.

However, in exceptional cases, one may not be able to study under one’s dīkṣā guru. This may happen if the guru is not physically present or too old to teach. Then, if the guru is alive, on his order or with his permission, one studies from another teacher. It may also be that the guru is not an expert in a particular subject and sends his disciple to another expert teacher. Such cases are exceptions and not the general tradition. At present, however, this seems to have become the norm, so much so that people do not even know the general principle. And if told the śāstric principle, they have difficulty accepting it. Of course, anyone is free to do whatever suits one, but we should be aware of what our original ācāryas stated. 

Now to your question: “Why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, who was not their dīkṣā guru? I hope you know that those were the formative years of the Gauḍīya school. The core literature of our sampradāya’s philosophy and practice was composed primarily by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī under the direct instruction of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī under the instruction of the latter. In this sense, our sampradāya is different from other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas. The main ācāryas of other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas wrote books themselves and then taught them to their disciples. Therefore, they were much more organized when it came to the education of their school. But in our sampradāya, the story is much different. We do not have one central authority. Mahāprabhu neither wrote any books about His teachings nor did He give dīkṣā to anyone. 

Generally, an avatāra does not write books. Those who wrote books, among them Śrī Sanātana, did not give dīkṣā to anyone; Śrī Rūpa gave dīkṣā only to Śrī Jīva, and Śrī Jīva may have given dīkṣā to a few—if at all he gave. The founders of three main branches of the Caitanya tree, i.e., Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, Śrī Advaitācārya, and Śrī Gadādhara did not write any books about the core principles of our samprādaya. Therefore, the gurus coming from these three branches and other branches needed to study the Gosvāmī literature; then they could continue their lineage based on the literature of the Gosvāmīs. For this reason, Śrī Narottama Mahāśaya, Śrī Śyāmānanda Prabhu, and Śrī Śrīnivāsācārya studied under Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and then carried this knowledge as well as the Gosvāmī literature to Bengal and Odissa

Question: You have implied that the system of having separate śikṣā and dīkṣā is a mistake, but śāstra says that we have many gurus.

Answer: It would have been nice if you had given an exact śāstric reference to support your claim. Since you have not done so, I am not sure what śāstric reference you have in mind. But I know that your guru would not appreciate it if you told him that you have several other gurus besides him. Give him the śāstric reference that you have in mind. If you do not believe me, try it and see what happens.

Moreover, if I ask you who your guru is, you will probably not give me a list of names. Also, when you do your pūjā, you probably have only one guru on your altar, not a collection of gurus. And I am sure you have only one guru paramparā in your mind, not a few of them starting from different gurus.

In case you have the story of Dattātreya from the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in mind to substantiate your point of having many gurus, that is not applicable in the present context. He gives a list of 24 gurus, which includes insentient objects such as earth, water, fire, air, and space, and lower beings like a pigeon, deer, fish, etc. He learned from them by observation and not through a sermon.

Question: How am I to conceive the point of getting personalized śīkṣā from the guru? Many Prabhupāda disciples didn’t have much personal association with him. Even Prabhupāda didn’t have much personal association with his guru. 

Answer: Prabhupāda personally taught his disciples. Wherever he was present, he gave classes. I do not think he refused to teach anyone. He also wrote numerous books for his disciples to study.

These are the points that I have understood from the writings of the Gosvāmīs and my own experience. If it does not suit others, and they can achieve their goal otherwise, that is fine with me. I was interviewed about my own journey, which I spoke about. If my journey does not match yours or anyone else’s, that is also fine with me. I can speak about my journey without having to reconcile it with others. 


Karma, Guru–Disciple, Mantra-diksha

Question: What is the use of karma if person cannot remember what he has done wrong in a past life, but his karma fructifies this life? The lesson is likely not to be learned.

Answer: Suppose a person is heavily drunk and is driving. He loses control of his car and kills a pedestrian. In the accident, he also gets injured and is taken to hospital. Afterwards, when he comes to consciousness, he does not remember what happened. My question to you is: Should this person be punished for drunk driving and killing a person? If you say “yes,” then you have the reply to your question. If you say “no,” then please give me the reason. This also implies that forgetfulness is a good way to escape punishment for one’s misdeeds. Punishment for a wrong deed has many reasons. Rectification is only one among them but not the only one. Your question assumes that punishment is only for rectification.

Secondly, there are many criminals who are punished for their crimes. After they have completed their punishment, did they learn any lesson, i.e., not to repeat the crime? Maybe you can research it, but my guess is that most criminals continue their crimes. So, this defies your premise that remembrance of one’s crime is necessary for improvement. If this were true, then most criminals would not be criminals because they all know that they would be punished for their crime if proven guilty. Knowledge of punishment does not deter them.

What really matters is one’s understanding of the principle of karma, and śraddhā in śāstra, and not remembrance of one’s past misdeeds. If one does not have śraddhā, then one will continue to act frivolously.


Question: Throughout my years of hearing from devotees, I have heard that the guru’s connection to the disciple is so deep that the guru is prepared to be endlessly reborn into this world until the disciple is relieved from the material condition. Can you help me understand this?

Answer: This sounds appealing, but it does not make much sense. It sounds like a big punishment to be a guru! If this were true, the guru would probably remain in the material world eternally. There is a high probability that at least one disciple would not attain liberation, and then the guru would have to come back to deliver him or her. This means that he would again become a guru and surely make more disciples, some of whom would again fail to attain liberation. The cycle could continue forever! 

The fact is that anyone who has attained bhāva-bhakti will not take birth again, regardless of whether he or she is a guru. This is very clearly stated by Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gītā 8.5–7 and 12.6–7. There is no scriptural proof for the statement that the guru will come back to deliver the disciple. But there are plenty of statements that a perfected devotee never takes birth again.

However, you can understand the statement that the guru comes to deliver the disciple as follows. Kṛṣṇa is the original guru. He comes in the form of a guru. So, if a disciple does not make his life successful in this lifetime, then such a disciple will get a guru in the next life. That guru will also be a representative of Kṛṣṇa. In that sense, the guru comes to deliver. 


Question: Is it necessary that mantra-dīksa be taken from the same guru from whom harināma is taken? 

Answer: Yes. 

Question: If a devotee wants to take mantra-dīksā from another guru, is it necessary to take permission from the guru who gave harināma?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What should one do if the harināma-guru does not give his personal time, rāganugā-sikśā, or permission to take sikśā from others?

Answer: Not much. It is you who accepted him as your guru. I do not believe that he coerced you to take dīkṣā from him. It was your choice. You should have considered all these things before accepting him as your guru. So do not blame him; take responsibility for your decision. Pray to Kṛṣṇa that He show you the light. That is all I can say. 

Question: Is there a reference stating that both harināma-dīksā and mantra-dīksā should be taken from the same guru?

Answer: As there is no śastric reference that I know of, I answer on the basis of tradition. Not everything is written in black and white. Certain things are known from tradition. That is why it is said, “mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ”—follow the path followed by great devotees (Mahābhārata, Vana-parva 313.117), and “sādhu-vartmānuvartanam”—follow the path of the sādhus (BRS, Purva-vibhāga 1.2.100).

I don’t know any examples where the harināma-dīksā and mantra-dīksā gurus are different. Therefore, I see no reason why they should be different. Why should one not take mantra-dīksā from the same guru that one took harināma-dīksā from? I don’t think there is a distinction that one guru is specialized only in mantra-dīkṣā and another guru only in harināma-dīksā, like modern specialist doctors.


Female Guru

“Can a female be guru?” is a frequently asked question. Such a question did not arise in the minds of people a few decades ago because people in general, and in India specifically, were clear about their identities and roles. With the advancement of technology and science, our lifestyles have changed drastically. This has also brought about an immense change in our identities and roles. There are no watertight boundaries for gender-based roles and responsibilities. The general understanding is that all human beings are equal and that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Although such is the trend, yet we see that there are certain areas in which a particular gender seems prominent.

The post of guru is generally dominated by males. Not only that, there is an unwritten belief in the minds of many that only males can function as gurus. Some are making an attempt to turn this into an ordinance. Is this valid?  

The answer depends on what sort of pramāṇa one accepts. There is a popular saying in Sanskrit, mānādhīnā meya-siddhir māna-siddhistu lakṣaṇāt, “Knowledge of a subject depends on a valid means and a valid means is understood from its definition.” Therefore, the first thing to be ascertained is the valid means of acquiring knowledge or pramāṇa. Those who do not accept scriptural authority, śāstra-pramāṇa, will reply to the above question on the basis of logic, human rights, and/or personal experience. Such replies do not concern us. A guru means a spiritual teacher, and spirituality is not subject to logic, human rights, or to one’s empirical experience. Śāstra is the only pramāṇa for spirituality. Therefore, we will investigate the above question solely on the basis of śāstra.

Different schools accept different śāstras as pramāṇas. As Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavas, our pramāṇas for spiritual subjects are the bhakti-śāstras; among them, Bhāgavata Purāṇa is supreme. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has categorically established this in Tattva Sandarbha (Anucchedas 9-29). One may read that part for understanding why we accept Bhāgavata Purāṇa as the supreme pramāṇa. Besides Bhāgavata Purāṇa, we accept Upaniṣads, Vedānta-sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā and the books of our predecessor ācāryas, such as the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, as pramāṇa. The latter are primarily based upon Bhāgavata Purāṇa. We also accept  Purāṇas,  Smṛtis and Āgamas that do not contradict Bhāgavata Purāṇa as pramāṇa. Anything that goes against the spirit of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is not acceptable to Gaudīya Vaiṣnavas. So, let us investigate the above question based on this main pramāṇa.

There are various references to guru in Bhāgavata Purāṇa but there is no prohibition against a female becoming guru. However, one may argue that all references to guru are in the masculine gender i.e., the word “guru,” which has been used repeatedly is in the masculine gender. There is no usage of the feminine gender form, gurvī, anywhere in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. One may argue that this proves that a female guru is not recommended in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Similarly, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, the smṛti for Gaudīya Vaiṣṇavas, lists the qualification of a guru in verses 1.38 to 1.55. Here again there is no mention of a female guru. The same analysis can be applied to other śāstra such as Bhagavad Gītā. One could argue that these pramāṇas conclusively show that śāstra prescribes only a male guru, and thus a female is not qualified to be guru.

Such a conclusion, however, is not proper. First of all, there is no explicit prohibition for a female to become guru in any of these śāstras. Secondly, when the word “guru,” which is in the masculine gender, is used, it is inclusive of a female guru. When the characteristics of a class are described, the description is given for a single gender, but it similarly applies to the other gender also. This is the standard principle used in Sanskrit grammar—prātipadika-grahaṇe liṅga-viśiṣṭasyāpi grahaṇam (Vyādi-paribhāṣā 25, cited in Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 2.73, 6.32). For example, if one wants to describe the qualities of a dog of a particular breed, then it is common to use the male gender word “dog.” It is understood that this word is also applicable to a female of that particular breed. A gender-specific description will be given if there are differences in the characteristics of the male and female pertinent to that specific topic. Therefore, when it is said that a guru should be an expert in śāstra and in realization of the Absolute (śābde pare ca niṣṇātam SB 11.3.21), or that he should be a jñānī and tattvadarśī (BG 4.34), this certainly does not mean that it is applicable only to a male guru. The statement is applicable to anyone who takes the post of guru regardless of gender. For example, in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (1.59-63), although the qualities of a disciple are described by the use of the masculine form, such qualities obviously apply to a female disciple also. The same is true of the description of the qualities of a devotee given in many places in scripture. Such descriptions apply to every devotee irrespective of gender. Similarly, qualifications for a guru as described in scripture are applicable to both male and female gurus. In these descriptions, there is no intention to prohibit a female from becoming a guru.

Amarakośa (2.6.14), a well-respected lexicon of Sanskrit, gives separate words for the wife of an ācārya and for a female ācāryā; the word ācārya is a synonym for the word “guru.” Amarakośa refers to the wife of an ācārya as ācāryānī, whereas a female ācārya is called ācāryā. Similarly, it calls a female teacher of a part of Veda upādhyāyā or upādhyāyī. The wife of an upādhyāya, however, is called an upādhyāyānī (Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 7.225, 226). This is also stated in Siddhānta-kaumudi (505, Pāṇiṇi-sutra 4.1.49). Separate words for the wives of an ācārya and for an upādhyāya, and for females who are themselves ācāryās and upādhyāyās, would not exist in the Sanskrit lexicon and grammar if female gurus did not exist in the past.

Furthermore, every Sanskrit word has meaning, and there is an eternal relation between the word (śabda) and its referent. This is stated by Patañjali in his Mahābhāṣya, which is the most authentic commentary on the Pāṇini-sūtras and is accepted on par with the sūtras. In the entire Sanskrit literature, Patañjali’s commentary is the only one called mahābhāṣya, while others are called bhāṣya. Patañjali writes, siddhe śabdārtha-sambandhe lokto’rtha-prayukte śabda-prayoge śāstreṇa dharma-niyamo yathā laukika-vaidikeṣu (1.1 Paspaśā, Mahābhāṣya). Here he clearly states that the relation between a word and its referent is siddha, or eternal. This is also understood from Yoga-sūtra (3.17). Bhartṛhari explains that a śabda has the natural capacity to express its referent, just as our senses have the natural ability to sense their respective objects:

indriyāṇāṁ sva-viṣayeṣu anādir yogyatā yathā
anādirarthaiḥ śabdānām sambandho yogyatā tathā

(Vakya-padīyam Pada-sambandha 29) 

Nyāya-sūtra (2.11.56) also says, sāmayikatvāt śabdārthasambandhasya, “The relation between a word and its reference is conventional.” From this, it is understood that there must have been female gurus in the past because a corresponding word exists for them in the Sanskrit lexicon as well as in the grammar. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude that female gurus did not exist in the past. 

A pūrvapakśa can be raised for the above logic. There are statements in Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā which categorically forbid a woman to be a guru. The relevant verses are as follows [Note: The translation of the verses from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā are not mine. They were sent by a questioner.] 

na jātu mantra-dā nārī na śūdro nāntarodbhavaḥ |
nābhiśasto na patitaḥ
 kāma-kāmo ’py akāminaḥ ||42||

Even then, a woman, a śūdra, and an antyaja can never act as initiating gurus, nor can anyone who is accused of a great sin or is fallen. And an aspiring disciple who is already accomplished in detachment (akāmī) should never accept a guru who is infected with material desires. 

striyaḥ śūdrādayaś caiva bodhayeyur hitāhitam |
yathārhaṁ mānanīyāś ca
 nārhanty ācāryatāṁ kvacit ||43||

Women, śūdras, etc., can give ethical and moral instructions and are also worthy of respect as per their qualifications and conditions but are not entitled to get the position of ācārya

These statements seem to clearly prohibit a woman from taking the role of an initiating guru. My reply to this is that if this prohibition was acceptable to our previous ācāryas, then why did they not refer to these verses? In the first vilāsa of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, there is an elaborate discussion about the characteristics of both qualified and unqualified gurus. However, there is no prohibition mentioned for a woman to become guru, neither in the original text nor in its commentary by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī. Similarly, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses both the qualified and unqualified guru in Bhakti Sandarbha. But he makes no statement prohibiting a woman from becoming a guru. We also do not find any such statement in the writings of other ācāryas of our sampradaya, such as Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa, Śrī Kavi Karṇapūra Gosvāmī, Śri Viṣvanātha Cakravarti, and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa.

Moreover, if we accept Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā as our pramāṇa, then we would have also to accept that it allows only a brāhmaṇa to be a guru. It says:

prapitsur mantra-nirataṁ prājñaṁ hitaparaṁ śucim |
praśāntaṁ niyataṁ vṛttau
 bhajed dvija-varaṁ gurum ||38||

“Thus, one who is desirous of surrendering with faith, should take shelter of a guru who is always engaged in chanting the mantra and is a knower of bhakti-siddhānta (prājñam), is always engaged, without any desire for personal benefit, in showering mercy on fallen souls (hita-param), who is always pure in heart or free of sins, peaceful, and always committed to his prescribed duties (ordained by his guru or by varṇāśrama). Such a guru should be the best of the twice-born (dvija-varam meaning brāhmaṇa).”

The book also defines who is a brāhmaṇa in the following verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā (cited from the Wisdom Library):

jāta-karmādibhir-yastu saṁkāraiḥ saṁskṛtaḥ śuciḥ
vedādhyayana-sampannaḥ ṣaḍ saṭ karmasvasthitaḥ
śaucācārasthitaḥ samyag vighasāśī gurupriyaḥ
nityabralī satyaparaḥ sa vai brāhmaṇa ucyate

[Bharadvāja Muni said, “O best of the twice-born, Ṛṣi among the brāhmaṇas, best of the orators of Vedic knowledge, kindly instruct us in the differences between brāhmaṇaskṣatriyasvaiśyas, and śūdras.” Bhṛgu Muni replied]:

“One whose birth and subsequent works have all been purified by the appropriate saṁskāras, who has the qualities of purity and cleanliness, who is devoted to Vedic study, who performs worship of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, and who instructs others in that worship, who is a paragon of the six activities of a brāhmaṇa, whose behavior is never impure, who eats the remnants of his guru’s prasāda, who is dear to the guru, who always carefully follows his vows, and who is fixed in the truth, is known as a brāhmaṇa.” (14.96 Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā)

According to this definition of a brāhmaṇa, the majority of male gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradaya would not meet the qualifications. The verse requires a guru to have undergone the various saṁskāras, beginning from one’s birth. These saṁskāras are described in smṛti-śāstras. They also require birth in a brāhmaṇa family. According to the smṛtis, these saṁskāras cannot be performed for one who is not born to brāhmaṇa parents. The above verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā also talks about the six activities of a brāhmaṇa: studying śāstra, teaching śāstra, performing yajña for oneself, performing yajña for others as a priest, giving charity, and accepting charity. If we apply this definition of a brāhmaṇa, then most gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradāya would not qualify. If, however, we do not accept this definition, then we apply śāstra selectively. That is considered a defect—ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya. This means we accept what is convenient and reject what is troublesome.

Instead of searching for statements in Vedic literature to support one’s views, one should carefully study one’s tradition and the foundational books of one’s sampradāya. As mentioned before, there are no statements in Bhāgavata Purāṇa that prohibit women from becoming guru. Even when our ācāryas, namely Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Jīva Goswamī, extensively discuss the qualifications of a guru, they do not cite any verses that prohibit women from becoming guru. Anyone with basic Sanskrit grammar knowledge would not misinterpret the masculine use of the word guru to indicate an exclusion of female gurus; rather, the word refers to both masculine and feminine genders as a class.

Ma Yashoda

It is a fact that in various Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava traditional lineages, there have been many female gurus who gave dīkṣā. Some of them were very prominent but there have also been many others who may not be well-known outside their particular lines. For example, women have always been gurus in the Advaita vaṁśa, extending from Advaita Ācārya’s wife Sītā Ṭhākurānī down to this very day. Such female gurus mostly functioned within the family, giving dīkṣā to their sons or daughters-in-law, although now there are women functioning as dīkṣā gurus who are not the direct descendants of Śrī Advaita Ācārya. Probably the most prominent female Gauḍīya guru after Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was Nityānanda Prabhu’s wife Jāhnavī Devī. Virabhadra (or Viracandra) Gosvāmī, who is described in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa dīpikā as an avatāra of Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, took dīkṣā from her. In my own paramparā from Śrī Gadādhara Paṇḍita, there are four female gurus, ācaryās.

In conclusion, neither the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava tradition nor the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava pramāṇas oppose women from acting as guru. The qualifications of a guru—deep knowledge of scriptures and experience of Param Tattvado not depend upon gender.

Importance of Sādhu Seva

In Anuccheda 238 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī describes the importance of service and association with Vaiṣṇavas. Citing the statements of Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Uddhava, he shows how sādhu-saṅga captures the heart of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Incidentally he also talks about how to deal with a situation if one has accepted an unqualified guru. Below I present the translation of the beginning part of this Anuccheda and my commentary on it.


Translation of Anuccheda 238

Guidelines for Associating with Vaiṣṇavas

With the permission of one’s guru, it is beneficial (śreya) to render service to other Vaiṣṇavas as well, provided it doesn’t conflict with the service to one’s own guru. Otherwise [if undertaken without the consent of one’s guru], such service will be flawed, as confirmed by Śrī Nārada:

gurau sannihite yas tu pūjayed anyam agrataḥ
sa durgatim avāpnoti pūjanaṁ tasya niṣphalam

“One who worships someone else first in the presence of one’s guru attains an unfavorable result, and his worship of Bhagavān is rendered futile.”

The characteristics of an authentic guru have already been discussed [in Anuccheda 202] in verses such as this:

tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam

Therefore, a person who is profoundly inquisitive about the ultimate good should take shelter of a preceptor who is deeply versed in the sound form of Brahman [the Vedas], who has directly realized the transcendental Brahman, and who has thus become a veritable abode of inner tranquility. (SB 11.3.21)

A person who, in the beginning, fails to accept a guru of this caliber and whose guru, out of envy, does not permit him to honor and serve highly realized devotees of Bhagavān, has disregarded śāstra from the very outset [by accepting an unqualified guru], and hence śāstra doesn’t even consider his case. Calamity certainly befalls such a person on both accounts [because if he follows the order of his guru, he fails to honor the great devotees, and if he honors the devotees, he disobeys his guru]. With this in mind, the Nārada-Pāñcarātra states:

yo vakti nyāya-rahitam anyāyena śṛṇoti yaḥ
tāv ubhau narakaṁ ghoraṁ vrajataḥ kālam akṣayam

“Both the person whose instructions are not in resonance with scripture and the one who hears such illegitimate teachings proceed to a dreadful hell for an unlimited period of time.”

Therefore, such a guru should be respected only from a distance. And if he is inimical toward Vaiṣṇavas, he should certainly be given up, as stated:

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryamajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate

“It is ordained that a guru who is self-conceited, who does not know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and who has stumbled down the wrong path is to be given up.” (MB, Udyoga Parva 179.25)

Furthermore, such a guru cannot be considered a Vaiṣṇava, because he lacks the character of a Vaiṣṇava, and thus the following admonition is given with such a guru in mind:

avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhayed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ

“One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles.”

If, however, an authentic guru endowed with the characteristics described earlier is no longer present, then regular service to a highly realized devotee (mahā-bhāgavata) is most beneficial. Furthermore, the mahā-bhāgavata whose association one partakes of should have the same devotional regard (sama-vāsanā) as that of his guru, and he should be compassionately disposed toward oneself. This principle is enunciated in Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya:

yasya yat-saṅgatiḥ puṁso maṇi-vat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ
sva-kularddhyai tato dhīmān sva-yūthyān eva saṁśrayet

“As the qualities of a proximate object are reflected in a crystal, so too the qualities of the person with whom one associates are reflected in one’s own being. Therefore, for the progress of one’s lineage, a person of discernment should associate with those belonging to his own community.” (HBS 8.52)

It is essential to accept the association of a mahā-bhāgavata who is compassionate toward oneself, because if he is not compassionate, one will not develop affection for him in one’s heart.

Two Kinds of Service to Mahā-bhāgavatas

Therefore, one should render suitable service (sevā) to all those endowed with the true insignia of a bhāgavata. Service (sevā) to highly realized devotees (mahā­-bhāgavatas) is of two types—in the form of association (prasaga) and in the form of personal attendance (paricaryā).

Of these two, service in the form of association (prasaga) is as spoken of by Śrī Kṛṣṇa: 

na rodhayati māṁ yogo na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma eva ca
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo neṣṭā-pūrtaṁ na dakṣiṇā
vratāni yajñaś chandāṁsi tīrthāni niyamā yamāḥ
yathāvarundhe sat-saṅgaḥ sarva-saṅgāpaho hi mām

“Neither [aṣṭāṅga] yoga, nor sāṅkhya [i.e., the discernment of the self (ātmā) from all the empirical categories of nonself (anātmā)], nor dharma [i.e., universal morality, such as the attitude of nonviolence and so on], nor study of the Vedas (svādhyāya), nor voluntary penance (tapa) and the life of renunciation (tyāga, i.e., sannyāsa), nor fire sacrifices (iṣṭa, i.e., agni-hotra)  and works of social welfare, such as excavating wells and ponds (pūrta), nor charity (dakṣiṇā, i.e., dāna), fasts (vratāni), worship of the devas in ritual ceremonies (yajña), uttering secret mantras (chandāṁsi), visiting holy places (tīrthāni), nor observing ethical codes (niyama) and moral restraints (yama) can bring Me under control (avarundhe, i.e., vaśī-karoti) in the same manner as does the association of true devotees (sat-saṅga), which dispels all other attachments.” (SB 11.12.1-2)


In the previous anuccheda, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explained the importance of service to one’s guru to attain success on the path of bhakti. Now he stresses the importance of service to the devotees of Bhagavān, especially service to highly realized devotees, the mahā-bhāgavatas. He advises, however, that service to other devotees should be undertaken with the permission of one’s guru. Moreover, service to another devotee should not conflict with the service to one’s own guru. If one neglects his guru and serves another great devotee, it will not be beneficial to his spiritual progress. Rather, it will become an obstacle. The essential point is that one should never disregard or neglect one’s guru, even to serve another great devotee. Serving a great devotee without the permission of one’s guru is tantamount to disregard for the guru. If other devotees are present along with one’s guru, one must first offer respect to one’s guru and afterwards to the other devotees.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī raises an important point about the qualification of a guru. He says that the guru must embody the characteristics that are approved by the śāstra. If a disciple has accepted an unqualified guru, there is every possibility that he will end up committing offenses to other devotees. The unqualified guru, for example, may be envious of other elevated devotees and may prohibit his disciples from offering respect or service to them. What should a disciple do if faced with such a quandary? If he offers respect to the elevated devotees, he disobeys his own guru, and if he does not offer respect to such devotees, he commits an offense toward them. This is like having to choose between jumping into either a pit of snakes or a ring of fire.

Śrī Jīva says that the śāstra does not even consider such a situation as worthy of discussion. This is due to the fact that the disciple has transgressed the śāstra from the very outset by accepting a guru who is not approved by śāstra. This can be compared to two thieves who steal from a house and then have a disagreement over the division of the stolen goods. To help them settle the dispute in an egalitarian manner, they then approach a judge. But what sort of legal settlement could the judge possibly propose to those who have broken the law in the first place?

Out of compassion, however, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī offers a solution to such a disciple. He advises that one should not associate with such a guru. The disciple can offer respect to the guru from afar and may continue to accept him as his guru. If, however, the guru is envious of other devotees, then he must be rejected, and the disciple must accept another qualified guru. Śrī Jīva cites a verse from Mahābhārata to support his conclusion.

Normally in śāstra, we find statements that praise the guru and that instruct the disciple to honor the guru as Bhagavān Himself. These verses are aimed at a genuine, qualified guru. But if the guru is unqualified, he will not serve the purpose of uplifting the disciple. For this reason, he must be rejected in favor of a qualified, genuine guru. Śrī Jīva is also very clear in stating that only a Vaiṣṇava can be a guru, not a Śaivite or a Śākta. By Vaiṣṇava he means one who has vaiṣṇava-bhāva, otherwise he deems a so-called Vaiṣṇava devoid of vaiṣnava-bhāva as avaiṣṇava—tasya vaiṣnava-bhāva-rāhityena avaiṣṇavatayā

What should a student do if the guru leaves his body and the student is not advanced enough to continue on his own? Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī replies that such a student should seek a qualified Vaiṣṇava for guidance. There is no need to take mantra-dīkṣā again. The student can learn philosophy and the practical details of practice from such a Vaiṣṇava. Śrī Jīva recommends that the Vaiṣṇava with whom one chooses to associate should have the same philosophical understanding and devotional mood as one’s guru. Otherwise, there will be confusion in the mind of the student, who may commit an offense to his guru by going against his teachings and mode of practice. In this context, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī also makes the following recommendation:

One should associate with a Vaiṣṇava sādhu who belongs to the same spiritual lineage, who is sympathetically disposed, and who is more advanced in realization. (sajātīyāśaye snigdhe sādhau saṅgaḥ svato vare, BRS 1.2.91)

Moreover, the Vaiṣṇava teacher must be compassionate toward the student. If he is not compassionate, he would not bother to teach, nor would the student be able to develop affection for him.

As far as service is concerned, it can be rendered to any Vaiṣṇava. A student should imbibe the mood of service. Service should be carried out in correspondence to the status of the Vaiṣṇava. Service does not always mean to engage in acts of personal benefit to the Vaiṣṇavas. Even to greet a person appropriately is service. After all, students have their own regular duties and spiritual practice to attend to. They are not free to offer personal service to every Vaiṣṇava they encounter. But the idea is to satisfy everyone by the nobility of one’s behavior. As far as possible, highly realized devotees (mahā-bhāgavatas) should be served either through physical presence, by hearing and taking instruction from them (prasaṅga), or by rendering some personal service to them (paricaryā).

Service to Vaiṣṇavas gives Kṛṣṇa the greatest pleasure, so much so that it brings Him under control, which means that the devotee directly attains Him. This message is the essence of this anuccheda concerning sat-saṅga. Moreover, this is the supremely confidential truth (parama-guhya-tattva) that Kṛṣṇa promised to disclose to Uddhava (SB 11.11.49). The two verses quoted here (SB 11.12.1-2) contain the secret that Kṛṣṇa just previously referred to. As the 12th chapter of the Eleventh Canto proceeds, Kṛṣṇa elaborates many different grades of living beings who attained perfection merely through the association of Vaiṣṇavas. This is just to emphasize the power of sat-saṅga, testifying further to its supreme confidentiality.

Guru-sevā Is the Key to Success

In Anuccheda 236 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains that surrender to Bhagavān is the first step in pure devotion. However, Bhagavān is not directly available to us. So how do we surrender to Him? What is the proof that we are truly surrendered? It is not easy for our ahaṅkāra to surrender because the ahaṅkāra’s very nature is not to surrender. Thus, it is possible for the ahaṅkāra to rationalize its non-surrender as surrender. It is not easy to see one’s own defects. To overcome this difficulty, surrender and service to guru is recommended. The guru is the litmus test of one’s surrender. Without serving the guru directly, one may remain in the illusion of surrender and even convince to others. Therefore, surrender and service to guru has been repeatedly recommended in śāstra. This is the subject matter of Anuccheda 237 of Bhakti Sandarbha. Below I present the translation of this anuccheda followed by my commentary.

Translation of Anuccheda 237

We have thus described the devotional act of surrender (śaraṇāpatti). Surrender is the first limb of devotion to be undertaken, for without it, one cannot attain the sense of belonging to Bhagavān (tadīyatva).

In this regard, it is true that all perfection is accomplished simply through surrender, as stated in Garuḍa Purāṇa:

śaraṇaṁ taṁ prapannā ye dhyāna-yoga-vivarjitāḥ
te vai mṛtyum atikramya yānti tad vaiṣṇavaṁ padam

“Those who have forsaken the paths of meditation and yoga and taken refuge of You certainly transcend death and attain the supreme abode of Bhagavān Viṣṇu.” (GP 1.227.36)

In spite of this, however, if one longs to taste a specific flavor of love and has the ability to do so, he should constantly and single-mindedly render service to the lotus feet of a guru, who can instruct one in the confidential conclusions of the devotional scriptures or who initiates one into the mystery of the mantras that pertain to Bhagavān. Indeed, the grace of the guru is the root cause of removing all insurmountable defilements (anarthas) that cannot be overcome by any effort of one’s own, and of obtaining the supreme mercy of Bhagavān.

In the Seventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, Śrī Nārada gives an example of the first of these two, namely, how the mercy of one’s instructing guru is the root cause of removing all defilements:

asaṅkalpāj jayet kāmaṁ krodhaṁ kāma-vivarjanāt
arthānarthekṣayā lobhaṁ bhayaṁ tattvāvamarśanāt
ānvikṣikyā śoka-mohau dambhaṁ mahad upāsayā
yogāntarāyān maunena hiṁsāṁ kāmādy anīhayā
kṛpayā bhūjanaṁ duḥkhaṁ daivaṁ jahyāt samādhinā
ātmajaṁ yoga-vīryeṇa nidrāṁ sattva-niṣevayā
rajas tamaś ca sattvena sattvaṁ copaśamena ca
etat sarvaṁ gurau bhaktyā puruṣo hy añjasā jayet

“One should conquer desire by relinquishing the spirit of enjoyment, anger by abandoning desire, greed by discerning the defects of wealth, fear by contemplating the nature of truth, lamentation and delusion by discriminating between reality and appearance, deceit by serving the wise, the obstacles to yoga through the practice of silence, violence by indifference to desire, misery arising from contact with other beings through forgiveness, misery arising from the forces of nature by transcognitive awareness (samādhi), miseries connected with one’s own body and mind through the power of yoga, sleep by adopting the sāttvika codes of behavior, the qualitative states of distraction (rajas) and indolence (tamas) through material illumination (sattva), and material illumination (sattva) through detachment. A person can easily conquer all these by bhakti to his spiritual teacher.” (SB 7.15.22-25)

In regard to the second of the above mentioned items, namely, how the grace of one’s mantra-guru is the root cause of obtaining the supreme mercy of Bhagavān, we find the following statement of Brahmā in the Vāmana-kalpa:

yo mantraḥ sa guruḥ sāksād yo guruḥ sa hariḥ svayam
gurur yasya bhavet tuṣṭas tasya tuṣṭo hariḥ svayam

“The mantra is directly the guru, and the guru is Bhagavān Hari Himself. Bhagavān Hari is personally pleased with a person with whom the guru is pleased.”

Elsewhere in the same text, it is said:

harau ruṣṭe gurus trātā gurau ruṣṭe na kaścana
tasmāt sarva-prayatnena gurum eva prasādayet

“If Bhagavān Hari is displeased, one’s guru can offer protection, but if the guru is displeased, nobody can provide protection. Therefore, one should satisfy one’s guru through all one’s endeavors.”

Therefore, serving one’s guru is indeed a regular duty, as stated by Bhagavān in the following text:

prathaman tu guruṁ pūjya tataś caiva mamārcanam
kurvan siddhim avāpnoti hy anyathā niṣphalaṁ bhavet

“One should worship Me only after first worshiping one’s guru. By doing so, one attains perfection, otherwise one’s efforts end in futility.”

Thus it is said in the Nārada-Pañcarātra:

vaiṣṇavaṁ jñāna-vaktāraṁ yo vidyād viṣṇu-vad gurum
pūjayed vāṅ manaḥ kāyaiḥ sa śāstrajñaḥ sa vaiṣṇavaḥ
śloka-pādasya vaktāpi yaḥ pūjyaḥ sa sadaiva hi
kiṁ punar bhagavad-viṣṇoḥ svarūpaṁ vitanoti yaḥ

“One who regards a Vaiṣṇava guru, who is a preceptor of transcendental knowledge, in the same manner as Viṣṇu, and who worships him with his body, mind, and speech, is a true knower of śāstra, and he is a Vaiṣṇava.”

 Even a teacher who explains just a quarter of a verse of scriptural truth is certainly always worshipable, so how much more must this be the case for a guru who reveals the essential nature (svarūpa) of Bhagavān Viṣṇu!

In the prayers of Devadyuti from the Padma Purāṇa, we find this statement:

bhakti yathā harau me’sti tad-variṣṭhā gurau yadi
mamāsti tena satyena sandarśayatu me hariḥ

“If my devotion to my guru surpasses my devotion to Bhagavān Hari, then by the strength of this fact, let Bhagavān Hari disclose Himself directly to me.”

Consequently, for a person devoted to his guru in this manner, there is no need of executing any other limb of devotion, as stated in the Āgama scripture in the section describing the results of the puraścaraṇa ceremony:

yathā siddha-rasa-sparśāt tāmraṁ bhavati kāñcanam
sannidhānād guror evaṁ śiṣyo viṣṇu-mayo bhavet

“Just as by contact with processed mercury, copper turns into gold, so too a disciple acquires Viṣṇu’s divine nature by close association with his guru.”

In his discussion with Śrīdāma, Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa confirmed the same point that other limbs of devotion are unnecessary for one devoted to his guru:

nāham ijyā-prajātibhyāṁ tapasopaśamena vā
tuṣyeyaṁ sarva-bhūtātmā guru-śuśrūṣayā yathā

“I, the Immanent Self within all living beings, am not as pleased by sacrifices, nor by exalted birth, nor by penances, nor by tranquility of mind, as I am by the service rendered to a guru by his disciple.” (SB 10.80.34)

Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “There is no one more worthy of service than a guru who bestows transcendental knowledge. This was stated already. Therefore, there is no higher religious duty (dharma) than rendering service to him. The present verse is spoken to elucidate this point. The word ijyā, or ‘Vedic sacrifice,’ refers to the duties of a householder (gṛhastha-dharma). The word prajātiḥ, ‘exalted birth,’ refers to the elevated birth in which one is initiated into the study of the Vedas by acceptance of the sacred thread (upanayana). This is a reference to the duties of a celibate student (brahmacāri-dharma). Since these two (ijyā and prajāti) appear in a compound, the instrumental case ending applies to both of them, i.e., ‘by these two’ (tābhyām). The word tapasā, ‘by penance,’ means ‘by the duties of one who has retired to the forest’ (vanastha-dharma), and upaśamena, ‘by tranquility of mind,’ means ‘by the duties of an ascetic’ (yati-dharma). [Kṛṣṇa declares:] ‘I, Parameśvara, though situated [impartially] as the Supreme Self within all living beings,  am not as pleased by all these practices as I am by the service rendered to one’s guru.’” [Here ends Śrīdhara Svāmī’s comment.]

The transcendental knowledge (jñāna) bestowed by the guru, as referred to in Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary, can be of two types—that which pertains to Brahman or that which pertains to Bhagavān. In the case where the jñāna pertains to Brahman, the explanation of the words in this verse is as given above. In the second case, however, the words should be understood as follows: Ijyā would refer to the worship of Bhagavān (pūjā), prajāti to initiation (dīkṣā) into a Viṣṇu mantratapaḥ to transcognitive awareness of Bhagavān (samādhi), and upaśama to the state of resolute fixity (niṣṭhā) in Bhagavān.


In this anuccheda, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī reveals the secret formula for success. This entails unpretentious service to one’s guru from the heart, without desiring anything in return. This formula is true for all paths but especially so for bhakti, and it is compulsory for rāgānugā-bhakti. Although millions of people take to spiritual practice, hardly one attains the proclaimed and desired goal. The reason for this is that they fail to apply this secret formula.

If an opponent (pūrva-pakṣī) were to analyze the spiritualists from a purely logical point of view, he may conclude that their claims are without any substance. Indeed, there are many nonbelievers who make such statements, and many more who silently concur. The low rate of success among spiritual practitioners may be compared to a farmer who plants one million mango trees out of which only one yields any fruit. This could hardly be considered as successful farming, and one would seriously doubt repeating the procedure or recommending it to others. However, instead of concluding that mango trees are unsuitable for fruit production, one should question the farming method employed.

The same principle is all the more true in regard to the cultivation of spiritual truth. When the fruits of such cultivation are seen to be meagre, one should suspect that the practitioners are doing something wrong and not that spirituality is fictitious. This is because the self-revealed śāstra is infallible. Śāstra is either the direct words of Bhagavān or of highly self-realized sages who have seen the Truth. It is flawless knowledge transmitted for the highest good of humanity. For it to bear fruit, however, it must be followed as per the prescription. One cannot expect an appropriate result to ensue from a faulty procedure, and correct procedure cannot be applied without proper knowledge. Proper knowledge comes from an authentic guru by studying in the recommended manner. This is the missing link in the chain of success for bhakti.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī points out that service to one’s guru is so potent that all perfection can be attained simply by this alone, even if the practitioner does not participate in the other limbs of bhakti. Earlier it was said that success in bhakti can come about merely by practicing one of its limbs or by a combination of a few of them. But among all these limbs, service to one’s guru is not optional. Whatever methods one adopts must include this foundational practice. In this regard, we find the following statement in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa:

guru-mūlam idaṁ sarvaṁ tasmān nityaṁ guruṁ bhajet 
puraścaraṇa-hīno’pi mantrī siddhyen na saṁśayaḥ

All these practices [of mantra meditation and so on] are rooted in the guru, therefore, one must serve one’s guru regularly. By this, the practitioner of mantra can attain perfection even without undertaking the [normally] obligatory prepatory rites known as puraścaraṇa. Of this, there is no doubt. (HBV 17.242)

The reason for the importance of taking shelter of a guru was explained in the previous anuccheda. Here the importance of service to one’s guru has been highlighted. In Vāmana-kalpa, it is said that if Bhagavān becomes displeased with a practitioner, the latter’s guru can offer protection, but if the guru is displeased, even Bhagavān cannot help, because He himself has entrusted this power to the guru. He does not intend for an aspiring spiritualist to bypass the guru and approach Him directly.

First, the practitioner has to prove himself or herself to the guru. Guru is the testing ground. An actor, for example, must rehearse before taking the stage. Similarly, the practitioner has to rehearse with his guru before being permitted to enter into Kṛṣṇa’s divine play. Once the guru is satisfied, one is granted the requisite visa to enter the kingdom of Bhagavān. The authentic guru is thus like an ambassador from Bhagavān’s kingdom. For this reason, in Indian scriptures, a tremendous amount of emphasis has been given to the principle of guru-sevā

In this regard, Mahābhārata (Ādi-parva, third chapter) begins with the stories of four students—Āruṇi, Upamanyu, Veda, and Uttaṅka—and the services they rendered to their gurus. These stories throw light on the prevalent culture of guru-bhakti in the olden times, which can still be witnessed at present, although it has become increasingly rare. Even Kṛṣṇa, who is called jagad-guru, “the universal teacher,” went and lived in the āśrama of His guru, Sāndīpani Muni, and rendered service to him. This was done simply to set an example for people in general.

Yet, for all that, there are many teachers who advocate that we do not need a guru, or that we are our own guru. This is like saying, “I have no tongue in my mouth.” If this were true, how could the person make such a claim in the first place? If a guru is not required, then why do such advocates adopt the position of teachers  and thus contradict their own statement, because if their words are accepted, they become gurus for their followers? If we reject such teachings, then we should take a guru. In either case, accepting a guru is unavoidable.

According to Nārada-pañcarātra, one should respect every teacher from whom teachings have been received, and not just the dīkṣā-guru. In this regard, Cāṇakya writes:

ekākṣara-pradātāraṁ yo guruṁ nābhivandate
śvāna-yoni-śataṁ gatvā cāṇḍāleṣv abhijāyate

“One who does not respect a guru who has taught the meaning even of a single syllable will take birth as a dog for one hundred births and then as a cāṇḍāla, an outcaste.” (Cāṇakya-nīti 13.18)

This may sound terribly extreme, but the point is being made to stress the importance of accepting and respecting a guru.

Śravaṇa-guru, Śikṣā-guru, and Dīkṣā Guru

I receive many questions related to śīkṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru. At present, the general understanding in the devotee community is that these two are different persons. I do not know the reason behind such an understanding, nor the history related to it. Moreover, there is not a very clear understanding of who is a śīkṣā-guru. In Anucchedas 206 and 207 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses śravaṇa-gurubhajana-śikṣā-guru, and mantra-guru. I am presenting the translation of this anuccheda with my commentary here for interested readers.

Translation of Anuccheda 206 

The śravaṇa-guru and the bhajanaśikṣāguru are generally the same person, as sage Prabuddha indicated to King Nimi:

tatra bhāgavatān dharmān śikṣed gurv-ātma-daivataḥ
amāyayānuvṛttyā yais tuṣyed ātmātma-do hariḥ

“In his presence [i.e., the śravaṇa-guru described in the previous verse], the aspirant who regards his guru as his very self and worshipful object, should learn, by way of unpretentious continuous service, the dharma that pertains directly to Bhagavān, by which [dharma] Śrī Hari, the Supreme Immanent Self, who awards even His own Self [to His devotees], becomes pleased.” (SB 11.3.22)

The pronoun tatra refers to the śravaṇaguru, who was described in the preceding verse, “tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta” (SB 11.3.21). The compound gurv-ātma-daivataḥ refers to the aspirant, who is of such disposition (tathā-bhūtaḥ) that he regards his guru alone as his very self (ātmā), meaning “his veritable life” (jīvanam), and as his worshipful object (daivata), meaning “his worshipful deity” (nija-iṣṭa-daivata). Such an aspirant should learn (śikṣet) by way of unpretentious (amāyayā), meaning “unduplicitous” (nirdambhayā), continuous service (anuvṛttyā), meaning by following him obediently (tad-anugatyā). 

The pronoun yai, “by which,” means “by which dharma” (dharmai) [Śrī Hari becomes pleased]. The word ātmā, “Self,” means “Paramātmā, the Supreme Immanent Self.” The word ātma-daḥ means “He who awardseven His own Self to His devotees, such as Śrī Bali and others.” As mentioned previously, one can have numerous such śikṣā-gurus.

 Translation of Anuccheda 207

One can have only one mantraguru, as indicated by sage Āvirhotra: 

labdhvānugraha ācāryāt tena sandarśitāgamaḥ
mahā-puruṣam abhyarcen mūrtyābhimatayātmanaḥ 

“One who has received grace (anugraha) from an ācārya and who has been instructed by him in the prescribed method of worship according to the Āgamas, should worship the Supreme Purua [Bhagavān] in the form that is according to his longing.” (SB 11.3.48) 

In this verse, the word anugraḥa means “grace in the form of mantra initiation” (mantra-dīkṣā-rūpaḥ). The Āgama refers to the scripture that describes the mantra and the method of worship according to that mantra. The use of the singular here [āryāt, “from that one ārya”] implies that there can be only one mantra-guru.

This is supported by the fact that it is forbidden to abandon one’s mantra-guru, as stated in Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa:

bodhaḥ kaluṣitas tena daurātmyaṁ prakaṭīkṛtam
gurur yena parityaktas tena tyaktaḥ purā hariḥ

One who has abandoned his guru has already rejected Bhagavān Hari. His intelligence is polluted,and he has acted duplicitously.”

If simply because of being dissatisfied with one’s guru, one accepts another guru, then by virtue of accepting more than one guru, one’s previous guru is necessarily rejected.

The same point [not giving up one’s guru] is re-emphasized by the exception to the general rule provided in the Nārada Pañcarātra: 

avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhyed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ

“One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles.”


Commentary by Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī mentions three types of gurus here, viz., the śravaṇa-guru, śikṣā-guru, and mantra-guru. The śravaṇa-guru is the teacher from whom one learns the śāstra, and the bhajana-śikṣā-guru is the one who teaches practical aspects of sādhana-bhakti. Usually these two will be the same, because the teacher from whom one begins to study will naturally become one’s guide for spiritual practice. It is preferable that they be the same person, otherwise there can be confusion in the mind of the student.

If the student hears different opinions from two different teachers, he or she will be in difficulty, because the words of one of them will have to be disregarded, which could lead to an offense. If both these gurus belong to the same spiritual tradition, then there may not be any difference in their teachings, otherwise there is bound to be some disparity. One sometimes hears of Vaiṣṇavas in Vṛndāvana who held respect for seniors or gurus on both sides of a controversy and who hid themselves so that they would not have to take sides, fearing that to do so would offend one of them.

The guru-disciple relationship is one of the most important and unique aspects of Indian society. Indeed, this one sacred bond is what makes Indian society distinct in the whole world. Although at present there is little or no training in this honored tradition, it still runs very deep in the Indian psyche, as if it is in their genes. Its importance can be understood only by experiencing it.

For the modern mind, it appears as if the disciple sacrifices his independence to become a slave of the guru. The modern mind cannot understand that the only way transcendental knowledge can be transmitted is from the heart of the guru into that of the disciple. It is not simply a matter of attending a lecture in a classroom where a teacher speaks and then goes away. The disciple and teacher remain bound to each other. When the relation is pure, then the teaching is transmitted even without words. It is as if their hearts become linked up, and the knowledge is transferred through this bond. 

Indian history is filled with stories of this pristine relation, from the age of the Upaniṣads through to modern times. In this regard, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.23) makes the following assertion: “The imports of the teachings described in this Upaniṣad are revealed only to that elevated soul in whom transcendental devotion for Bhagavān is present and who feels the same quality of devotion for his guru as felt for Bhagavān.”

The verse cited in this anuccheda (SB 11.3.22) is spoken by sage Prabuddha. It contains the most important instruction for a sincere disciple. In the immediately preceding verse, cited in Anuccheda 202.4, Prabuddha specified the essential characteristics of a qualified guru. In this verse, he elaborates those of the sincere disciple.

The first criterion mentioned is that the student should study bhāgavata-dharma, or bhakti, from the guru. Bhakti is not something to be understood by reading books or articles on the internet. One must study it from an authentic guru. This is an injunction, as indicated by use of the optative form of the verb, tatra śikṣet, “the aspirant must learn in the presence of his guru.” There is no alternative course of action. The second criterion is that this study must be undertaken by way of rendering continuous service to the guru (anuvṛttyā). Moreover, this service must be done without any duplicity or pretension (amāyayā). In this regard, Kṛṣṇa makes the following statement: 

“I, the Immanent Self of all beings, am not as pleased with daily sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerities, or renunciation, as I am by service to the guru.” (SB 10.80.34)

In support of the same conclusion, Nārada instructed Yudhiṣṭhira that one can attain perfection simply by service to a qualified guru (SB 7.15.25). On the other hand, if one disrespects the guru, he cannot achieve anything spiritually (SB 7.15.26). The guru is the key, the doorway to the spiritual world, as well as the companion in the spiritual world. For these reasons, one must treat the guru with respect and love.

The compound gurv-ātma-daivatah is very important. This is a reference to the aspirant, mentioned in the previous verse, who is profoundly inquisitive about the ultimate good (jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam). The compound signifies that the genuine aspirant is one who regards his guru as his very self (ātmā) and worshipful object (devatā). A nearly identical expression was employed in the very first anuccheda of this book, namely, guru-devatātmā (SB 11.2.37).

The word ātmā is used here in the sense of the object of pure, unconditional love. One should love the guru as one would love God, or Kṛṣṇa. Just as nothing can remain hidden from one’s own ātmā, so too the same dynamic applies in regard to one’s guru. This gives rise to a deep sense of unity. There should be a oneness of heart between the guru and the disciple. The disciple needs to attune his or her heart with the heart of the guru, as stated in Ṛg Veda: “May your intention be one and the same, your hearts united, your minds of one accord, so that intimate companionship may be yours” (RV 10.191.4). This is the significance of the word ātmā. It also means that one should be like an open book in front of the guru.

The second word is daivatam, meaning that the guru is to be regarded in the same spirit as one’s worshipful deity. If one feels only love without a sense of reverence, then one may not take instructions from the guru. One may become too familiar with him. For this reason, the sage says daivatam—one must honor the guru in the same manner as one’s worshipable deity. One should never think of the guru as an ordinary human being, guruṣu nara-matiḥ. In other words, the disciple has to have both moods with the guru, aiśvarya and mādhurya, reverence and intimacy. When one serves the guru in this way, Kṛṣṇa is pleased. Kṛṣṇa is referred to here as ātma-daḥ, “He who gives Himself to His devotees.” When Kṛṣṇa was pleased with Bali’s surrender, He gave Himself to Bali and became his doorkeeper. This signifies that when the guru is pleased, Kṛṣṇa is also pleased.

Do We Need a Guru?

Question: May I kindly ask for a few minutes of your time to clarify the topic which I’ve come across recently while reading a book by Swami Ramsukhdas “Is Salvation Possible without a Guru?”

Following the analysis on the necessity of having a Guru, Swami emphatically concludes that salvation is actually possible without a Guru. A couple of quotes from the book:

In reality bliss, liberation, divine wisdom and attainment of God are not dependent on a Guru. If without a Guru there is no knowledge of the self, then how would the first Guru in the world have attained wisdom? Thus it proves that a human being realizes eternal truth only by the grace of the Almighty God. But nowadays it has become a common belief that it is a prerequisite to become a disciple, to accept the principles of a Guru and then only the Guru would guide. <…> If somebody seeks my opinion, I would say, “Attend spiritual discourses, take as much advantage as possible, but do not have a Guru”. From wherever you gain something good, accept it and if there is no benefit in it, move on. You shouldn’t get stuck to a Guru. 

Why should we create the distance of a middleman between us and God when we ourselves are capable of having an intimate and direct relationship with Him? By doing so we shall attain salvation even without seeking. 

It seems that this goes against the generally accepted idea often heard in different spiritual discourses that a Guru is a must for a striver and that without a Guru one should not think of a spiritual upliftment, what to speak of salvation.

I would be very grateful if you could clarify the topic.

Answer: I know this book and the author also. I do not agree with him on this point, although I have much respect for him. He was a great Swami, very learned, renounced and humble. I knew him personally. He saw many people getting exploited by gurus and thus he became averse against the principle of taking a guru. Especially women get easily exploited by male gurus. So he spoke against it. His advice is very good for common Indian people who live in family and follow some dharma. He understood that real gurus are very rare and thus better to forget the idea of having a guru.

He himself had a guru but he did not make any disciples. He had many people who followed him.

So my reply is as follows:

  1. Guru and Disciple

    If one is simply following a regular Varnasrama system type of life, then guru is not needed. That applies to  most Indian families. So his book is for such people. They can just have what are called family gurus who come and do rituals.

  2. If you want to follow bhakti then guru is must. Bhakti comes by the grace of guru and not independently. There are so many scriptural statements for that. Without guru one cannot even understand bhakti because bhakti is not a material thing. You can follow Varanasrama without guru but not bhakti.

So I hope this answers your question.