Guru-tattva II: How to see the Guru as God

August 28th, 2004

August 28, 2004
Sri Vrindavana dhama

Guru-tattva II: How to see the Guru as God

The importance of guru-bhakti is highlighted in another famous verse about guru-tattva discussed in Sri Bhakti Sandarbha:

?One should know the preceptor to be my very self. One should never disregard or envy him in any way, thinking him to be mortal, because the guru is the embodiment of all the gods?

This is probably one of the five most often quoted verses about the spiritual master. Sri Jiva Goswami reveals a startling fact about this verse. It does not even necessarily refer to a spiritual master, but a teacher in general!*

The thinking behind this verse is a little subtle. All teachers, even those teaching material knowledge, are to be seen, in a sense, by a cultured person as God, as all knowledge is ultimately meant to culture us towards the Absolute Reality. This refers to the parents who maintain social traditions, the maestro who knows the universal principles of music, or even the academic teacher who instructs us in basic reading and writing. In other words, as God?s main relationship to this world is to educate us, and he does this through his representatives, the instructions of a teacher should be seen as God manifest through them. More important than this understanding, however, is the psychology behind it.

First, this mindset, abject faith in the teacher, is a prerequisite for learning, for without seriously considering a subject, it is impossible to understand it. Teaching also takes great effort. Unless the student establishes a conduit for learning that is nonresistance, the teacher will not be enthused to use their valuable time to enlighten them. Therefore the legitimate teacher must be seen and approached with great faith to create at atmosphere for learning, what to speak of how we must accept a spiritual master.

There?s a problem however. It?s hard to give up the false ego. We hate authority. Indeed, that attitude separates us from God. The tendency is thus to disregard and envy the guru. Often at best we struggle with it, because we just abhor the inferior position. The caution is therefore given, don?t let your ego, your fear of being subordinate, obstruct your learning, Do not ?disregard or envy him thinking he is a mortal man? for you will remain in ignorance.

But what if he is mortal man? If he is guru, teacher, and you want to learn then he is devata, God, otherwise you will not. The person may be mortal, but if they have knowledge and you approach them properly, then Krishna, who represents knowledge, will certainly appear through them. Otherwise the relationship will not bear fruit and the teacher will be forced to neglect you.

Of course the expert teacher knows the nature of their students. Especially today most people are suspicious of authority, and for good reasons. The competent teacher has to know the art of creating an atmosphere where the student wants to learn. Still, it is expected that the intelligent student will eventually learn the subtleties of studentship so that his progress will not be thwarted with misconceptions, such as equating surrender and faithfulness with blind following.

In the very next section, Sri Jiva not only reinforces the need to approach the teacher properly, but makes his real point, the necessity for approaching the spiritual master with the highest regard:

?This being the case [that such respect even applies to the teacher of relative knowledge], it is all the more incumbent on those pursuing the path of spiritual realization, to have such feelings towards their guru, as Sri Narada told Yudhisthira:

?The spiritual master should be considered to be directly the Supreme Lord because he gives transcendental knowledge for enlightenment. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His enlightenment and his Vedic studies are like the bathing of an elephant.?? (Bhag. 7:15.26)

Srila Prabhupada?s purport here is enlightening. It analyzes the same point being discussed:

?One may argue by saying that since the spiritual master?s relatives and the men of the neighborhood consider him an ordinary human being, what is the fault on the part of the disciple who considers the spiritual maser an ordinary human being? This will be answered in the next verse, but the injunction is that the spiritual master should never be considered an ordinary man.?

In that next verse Sri Narada again compares seeing the spiritual master to directly seeing the Supreme Lord because he purely represents His teachings.

*Specifically he reveals that in the context of the Bhagavatam this verse is about a student who is studying karma.

Comments are closed.