When we want to learn anything in this world, it is natural to consider finding a teacher or tutor who will teach us the knowledge or skill that we desire to acquire. As much as possible, we look for the most qualified and knowledgeable expert in the particular field we are interested in. We respect and acknowledge the authority of those who have gained expertise in such areas. And if we ever have the opportunity to learn under the guidance of a bona fide authority, we feel most fortunate and appreciative of our situation.
This article edited from lectures by Jagad Guru is a brief look at where we stand and the need to find a guide who can help us get out of our problematic situation.
REALITY OF THE MATERIAL WORLD
In the ancient Vedic literature known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, there is a very enlightening instruction given by the great sage Prabuddha to King Nimi. The sage Prabuddha states:
My dear King, please know for certain that in the material world there is no happiness. It is simply a mistake to think that there is happiness here, because this material world is full of nothing but miserable conditions.
Srimad Bhagavatam 11.3.21
It is simple to appreciate that there are many sources of misery in this material world. One source is other living entities. We get hassled by family members, friends, co-workers. And not just humans hassle us, but all sorts of living organisms. We try to get away from people and go off to meditate in the mountains, and mosquitoes start biting us. Germs live in our bodies and cause various diseases. Practically speaking, it is impossible to get rid of all the living entities that cause us miseries.
The second source of misery is the mind. Even though we may be alone, our mind will disturb us. Day and night, the mind brings up all sorts of thoughts and anxieties. Sometimes we can no longer sleep well because the mind is causing so much distress.
Natural disturbances also cause us miseries. During summer, the weather becomes very hot and humid. When the rains come, everything turns muddy, wet, and damp. Of course, we also have all sorts of calamities such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and so on.
All of these cause suffering to the living entities.
Aside from these sources of misery, we all have to face four inevitable realities: birth, diseases, old age, and death. Coming to this world means uncomfortably sitting in the womb for nine months, cramped in a little apartment. We are then painfully pushed out into the world and have to grow up and endure more difficulties. We experience all sorts of pains and diseases ranging from toothaches to cancer. And if we survive the diseases, we graduate into old age, where we slowly lose our teeth, keen eyesight and hearing, agility, and even basic control over urinary activity. Ultimately, we lose control over the whole body and face the reality of death.
Each person is born into this prison, and we are all waiting our turn on death row. Once in a while, we hear the scream of people dying, but we let it slide because we don’t want to remember that we are on death row. We express shock when we hear that someone has passed away. We express disbelief when we hear that a loved one is dying of a terminal disease. We struggle when we learn that it is our turn to leave.
As the Supreme Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita (2.27), “For one who is born, death is certain,” and we all know this is a fact. If someone comes into the doctor’s office and the doctor tells him, “You’re dying,” then the person becomes terribly upset. But it is a fact that from your birth you are dying. We don’t like it but all of us have been sentenced to death and we are just waiting our turn, that’s all. Once in a while, ten cells down, we hear someone crying, but we just keep on playing cards and watching television in our cells and talking among ourselves, trying to forget that one day we will also be taken away. Sometimes we hear ambulances going by—somebody else is being taken off of death row. The only way out of death row is death. There is no other way out; you cannot go backward.
The amazing thing, however, is that everyone thinks, “Only others die, not me.” Nevertheless, people still become older and older and older, moving toward death. The beautiful flower of a young woman at sweet sixteen shrivels up and turns into bitter eighty. She tries to reminisce, “When I was young…” And then death comes.
And between our birth and our death, the highest happiness we know in this world is temporary relief from misery. We think, “I am happy today. I don’t have a headache. No one is bothering me. My mind is not bothering me and the weather is good!” In other words, when we take away the miseries, what’s left is called “happiness.” Our condition may be likened to a person sitting on a dunking stool. During the olden days in America, prisoners were put on a stool and dunked under water several times. Our so-called happiness in this material life is likened to the gasp for breath—“Ahh!” of the prisoner as he is lifted out of the water. Temporary relief from the drowning condition feels so good. But pretty soon, we are pushed back down into the pool of material miseries. This is such a miserable condition to be in.
Actually, there is no real happiness to be found in material life. There is only temporary, flickering pleasure in an ocean of suffering.
DESIRING TO GET OUT
If we recognize that this material world is a place of misery, then we need to consider how to get out of this terrible condition. The sage Prabuddha therefore continued to speak to King Nimi:
Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Lord, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters. Everyone should try to find such a bona fide spiritual master in order to fulfill his mission of life, which is to transfer himself to the plane of spiritual bliss.
Srimad Bhagavatam 11.3.21
The sage Prabuddha explained to King Nimi that any person seriously desirous of solving the problems of life and achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide guru. If one is not at all serious about solving the problems of life (birth, diseases, old age, and death), then there is no need to bother approaching a guru.
Factually, we can only begin to get out of our miserable condition if we first recognize that this material world is a place of misery and that we are drowning in this condition. If we don’t realize this, then we won’t seek a solution. Even if somebody comes along and says he can help, we won’t be interested. If we don’t admit that we are sick, then we won’t take the cure offered by the doctor.
There are personalities who can help us. Not everyone is in this drowning condition. The Supreme Person exists outside this ocean of suffering. Not bound by the ocean of material life, He makes arrangements for us to be able to get out. Out of His unconditional love for all beings, He sends His representative to pick us up.
The representative of the Supreme Being also doesn’t want to see us suffer. He doesn’t want us to go through the pains of birth, diseases, old age, and death. He knows our true identity—that we are eternal spirit souls now encaged in material bodies. We are not the body or the mind. We are part and parcels of the Supreme Soul, but we are desperately trying to be independent lords and controllers of the material world. We are meant to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, but we are now anxiously trying to squeeze happiness out of material things and relationships. As a result, instead of being happy with the Supreme, we are suffering in the temporary material dimension due to our false lordship and selfish desires. We may have no qualification to be saved, but still the guru wants to pick us up. Like a doctor who has the cure for a disease, he also tells people who do not know, “Listen, you have a problem. You’re very sick. I have the cure and I can help you.”
If we want to be saved, then we must actually find such a compassionate spiritual doctor. We must seek out the bona fide healer and go through the required treatment. If we follow this simple process, then we will achieve real happiness.
The human form of life is sometimes compared to a boat, and the guru is the expert boatman or captain who can guide the boat across the ocean of birth and death. It is not possible for a boat to cross the vast and treacherous ocean without a captain, and similarly, it is not possible for a person to solve the problems of life unless he takes shelter of a bona fide guru. We must have the humility to accept that we cannot get out of this miserable condition by our own strength, our mental speculation, our yoga gymnastics, or our severe austerities. We cannot do it alone. We need guru.
THE NECESSARY CONNECTION
Some people are averse to taking information from somebody else. They think, “Why should I take information from anybody? I’m just as good as anyone else. From my own experience, I’m right just as often as others are. In fact, I’m always right.” This is called arrogance.
When we speak of the Supreme Soul, we are speaking of someone beyond our material sense perception. Since the Supreme Being is beyond my sense perception, how is it possible for me to know Him unless He reveals Himself to me? It’s not possible for me to ascend to the Supreme by my own limited abilities. Instead, I need to receive information through the process He has set up—the descending process known as parampara, or disciplic succession. Parampara refers to a chain of spiritual masters originating from the Supreme Lord Himself. The Supreme Lord Himself states in the Bhagavad-gita:
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.
We submissively receive information from the Lord about the Lord Himself through parampara. Transcendental knowledge descends from the Supreme to the sincere seeker of the truth through this chain.
How this takes place can be illustrated by the following example: In India during mango season, the best fruit comes from the top of the tree. If the fruit falls to the ground, it becomes bruised and the taste is lost. Therefore, when the mangoes are picked, one man stands on each branch, one above the other. The man at the top of the tree picks the fruit and passes it to the person on the branch beneath him, who in turn passes it to the next man down the line, and so on, until the fruit reaches the bottom of the tree. Therefore, if you want to taste the sweetest fruit, you simply need to link up to the man at the bottom of the chain and he will pass it to you in perfect condition.
Similarly, one who is serious about understanding the Absolute Truth should go to a bona fide guru who is linked up in the disciplic chain and accept instruction from him. Otherwise he will simply be wasting his time. If you want a mango, it won’t do you any good to go to somebody who is standing outside the mango orchard or to someone who is standing underneath a thorn tree, even if there are people on the branches above him. In the same way, it will be of no use to approach someone for instruction if he himself has not learned about the Absolute Truth from a bona fide guru.
Knowledge about self-realization and the Supreme remains uncontaminated and absolute when it is passed down via parampara. If you want to know about Mr. Smith, the best process is that you actually get information from Mr. Smith himself or from someone who is intimately connected with Mr. Smith—his family or friends. You learn about a person from someone who knows him quite well. Similarly, the Supreme has confidential associates. If you want to know about the Supreme Person, you go to His associates. If you humbly approach them and inquire submissively, they can impart knowledge unto you. They can introduce you to the Supreme because they are linked up with the Supreme Being.
You need a powerful connection to be introduced to the Supreme Person. For example, you cannot know the president of a powerful nation directly. You must first find some connection to get to him—maybe a business or family connection. “Oh, you know the president’s daughter?” You establish some connection so you can meet him. So it is with the Supreme Person. You cannot know the Supreme Being directly. Rather, you get to know Him through His representative, the guru.
Guru and the Supreme Person are inseparable because they are linked up in spiritual love. If one knows the lover of the Lord, he will also automatically know the Lord. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur says, “The representative of the Supreme Lord will state, ‘If you want to see the Lord, then see me, and if you want to know Him, know me.’” Similarly, Jesus explains, “If you had known me, you should have known my Father also” (John 14.7).
This means that if you actually come to see and know the lover of the Lord in the deepest sense of the word, then you will automatically know the Lord. For example, you cannot know a plumeria flower without knowing the smell of the plumeria and you cannot know water without knowing the wetness of water. Similarly, you cannot know the guru without knowing the Supreme Person. If you know guru, you will know the Supreme Lord but if you endeavor to know Him separately from or independent of guru, you will fail. So it is the Supreme Person’s arrangement that if you want to know wetness, you must go near water and if you want to know Him, you must go to Him via His devotee.
Someone may say, “That’s unfair! Why do you arrange it like that?” We have not arranged it. The Supreme Lord has arranged it and He makes the laws. He determines how we can come to know Him. It is only by hearing from the lover of the Lord, the guru, and taking shelter of him that I can come to know the Supreme Person. This is the necessary connection we need to have.