Category Archives: Guru and Disciple

Necessity of a spiritual master

Q. When and how does a devotee feel the necessity of a spiritual master?


A. In the purport to the verse where Arjuna accepts Krishna as His spiritual master (Bg. 2.7), Srila Prabhupada describes how in this material world, there is perplexity in every step and this behooves one to approach a spiritual master. Arjuna was in total despair and confusion about his duty and what is best for him.

Similarly, by arrangement, the conditioned soul repeatedly finds himself/herself in the midst of perplexities, bewilderment and despondency.

Srila Prabhupada also explains the culmination of all these repeated fleeting problems are the insurmountable problems of repeated birth and death. When one wants to find ultimate solution to all these problems, and wants to inquire into the subject of the Absolute Truth, when one wants guidance in knowing and achieving the goal of life — then one needs to seek a spiritual master.

In third canto of Srimad Bhagavatam (25th chapter) Devahuti approaches her son Lord Kapiladeva in mood of disciple…..
Devahuti said:

I am very sick of the disturbance caused by my material senses, for because of this sense disturbance, my Lord, I have fallen into the abyss of ignorance. Your Lordship is my only means of getting out of this darkest region of ignorance because You are my transcendental eye, which, by Your mercy only, I have attained after many, many births.

Srila Prabhupada says in the purport…..

Unless one becomes tired of material sense gratification, there is no opportunity to hear transcendental messages from a person like Kapila. Devahuti expressed that she was tired. Now she wanted to get relief by hearing the instructions of Lord Kapila.

A conditioned soul is put into the darkest region of ignorance and therefore is entangled in the material existence of sense gratification. It is very difficult to get out of this entanglement and attain freedom, but if one is fortunate enough to get the association of a spiritual master like Kapila Muni or His representative, then by his grace one can be delivered from the mire of ignorance.

Submissive hearing / blind following

Q. Is submissive hearing not a blind following?


A. Submissive hearing does not mean blind following. It simply means that we are hearing with a sincere attempt to try to understand what the Spiritual Master is trying to say. If his words don’t make sense to us, we can continue inquiring until we are satisfied.  This is the Vedic system.  It is neither challenging nor blind following. It is simply to be open-minded.

A challenging mood is not open-minded rather it is close-minded attitude. Person with challenging mood has already assumed that another is wrong and he does not pay any attention to what that person is trying to explain.

In this regard there is beautiful story.

Once there was one person who approached a guru and guru was trying to explain various things to this person. But this person was not allowing the guru to speak and he himself was telling more and more things. Then guru told him to hold a glass and start pouring hot milk into it. He kept on pouring until hot milk started falling on the hand of this person. Person was really upset by this behavior of guru. And guru explained to him, “Your position is like this. You are already full with so many things that whatever I am trying to tell you is not going inside and just coming out.”

So if we want to learn something from guru then open-mindedness is very much needed where we at least allow ourselves to hear what another person is saying and then think, it that alright?

Disciplic Succession

Q. Where can I find a list of disciplic succession starting from Krishna moving down?


A. The disciplic succession from the Brahma-Gaudiya sampradaya is listed in the beginning of Bhagavad-gita As It Is by Srila Prabhupada.  There are four bona fide disciplic successions which all originate from the Supreme Lord Krishna, then coming respectively through Lord Brahma, Lakshmi-devi, Lord Shiva and the Kumaras.  The principal acaryas who strongly re-established these four lines in recent times were Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya, Vishnu Swami and Nimbarkacarya.  Lord Caitanya took initiation in the Brahma-Madhva-sampradaya, and thus the disciplic succession following Lord Caitanya and His associates are called Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya.

Guru – Vani and Vapu

Q. Is it necessary that Guru should be alive until you are in the process of devotion and what if Guru leaves the world in between? Does this affect our devotion?

Please explain elaborately if possible with any quotes as this is being asked by several people around me. It is their concern that Srila Prabhupad is not personally present.

A. The Guru is supposed to guide us and he does so both by vani and vapu. When the guru is present with us, he guides us by Vapu, or by physical presence in the form of direct instructions. When he is not physically present, we can learn from his instructions. For example, when Lord Krishna left the planet, Arjuna remembered the instructions given by the Lord and gained solace and direction. At the same time, we need the presence of Guru to receive spiritual initiation.

S.B 1.15.27 Purport: “The merciful Lord left behind Him the great teachings of the Bhagavad-gétä so that one can take the instructions of the Lord even when He is not visible to material eyesight.”

The spiritual master is always present with the disciple by his vani, his words:

Srila Prabhupada said, “Although according to material vision, His Divine Grace Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté Öhäkura Prabhupäda passed away from this material world on the last day of December, 1936, I still consider His Divine Grace to be always present with me by his väëé, his words. There are two ways of association-by väëé and by vapuù. Väëé means words, and vapuù means physical presence.”

Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore, we must take advantage of the vani and not the physical presence. Bhagavad-gétä, for example, is the väëé of Lord Kåiñhëa. Although Kåiñhëa was personally present five thousand years ago and is no longer physically present from the materialistic point of view, Bhagavad-gétä continues.”

Çré Caitanya-caritämåta “Concluding Words”: The spiritual master and the disciple are eternally united through the association of väëé, i.e. by the disciple’s following the spiritual master’s instructions:

The disciple and spiritual master are never separated because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of väëé (words). Physical presence is called vapuù. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master. (Çrémad-Bhägavatam 4.28.47)

Guru and karma of disciple

Q. It is explained that at the time of inititation, the Guru takes on all the karmas of the disciple. My queston is 2 parts:
a) is it a voluntary process that the spiritual master has the power to do, and he may or may not take the karmas of the disciple ?

– Ram Mahtani

A. The bona fide spiritual master is the bona fide representative of Krishna. Krishna is supremely pure (ref. Isopanishad mantra -8) and so if He accepts anyone’s karma, He is not affected. If someone surrenders to Krishna, He agrees to deliver the person of his sinful reactions (ref BG. 18.66), and yet He Himself is not affected by them. Since the spiritual master agrees to accept disciples, he accepts the role of Krishna, which includes the responsibility of accepting karma of those who surrender to him. So, whenever a spiritual master accepts a disciple, he accepts the karma of that particular disciple.

b) If the process of ‘taking on’ the karma is a voluntary process on the behalf of the spiritual master, will the spiritual master continue to relieve the disciple of further karmas too ?

Since this relationship between a spiritual master and his disciple is eternal, the spiritual master has to accept karma of his disciples till the time the disciple is successful in going back home, back to Godhead. And so, it is risky to accept disciples for initiation. Driven by compassion, for preaching purposes, a pure devotee of the Lord still accepts disciples to guide them back to Godhead. In reciprocation, Krishna protects His devotee but the disciple should always be careful not to cause any trouble to his spiritual master. It is the duty of the disciple to follow his vows taken during initiation strictly, because any non-compliance affects his spiritual master.