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Srila B.S. Govinda Maharaj, Sevaite-President-Acharyya
Founder-President-Acharyya, Srila B.R. Sridhar Maharaj

The Universal Conception of Guru

by His Divine Grace
Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad
Founder-Acharya: International Society for Krishna Consciousness


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  In ten short years, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad inundated the world with Krishna consciousness. In the following excerpt from one of his essays, he smashes the sectarian misconception that the Spiritual Master is limited to a particular person, form, or institution, and establishes the universal conception of Guru. This lecture was originally published in The Harmonist in 1936, on the Advent Day of His Divine Grace Om Vishnupad Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur. It was reprinted as the Preface to Srila Sridhar Maharaj's book, Sri Guru and His Grace, in 1983.

saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair
   uktas tatha-bhavyata eva sadbhih
kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya
   vande guroh sri-caranaravindam

"In the revealed scriptures it is declared that the Spiritual Master should be worshipped like the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and this injunction is obeyed by pure devotees of the Lord. The Spiritual Master is the most confidential servant of the Lord. Thus let us offer our respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of our Spiritual Master."

Gentlemen, on behalf of the members of the Bombay branch of the Gaudiya Math, let me welcome you all because you have so kindly joined us tonight in our congregational offerings of homage to the lotus feet of the world teacher, Acharyadev, who is the founder of this Gaudiya Mission and is the President-Acharya of Sri Sri Visva Vaishnava Raja Sabha -- I mean my eternal Divine Master, Om Vishnupad Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya, Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj.

Sixty-two years ago, on this auspicious day, the Acharyadev made his appearance by the call of Thakur Bhaktivinoda at Sri Ksetra, Jagannath Dham at Puri.

Gentlemen, the offering of such an homage as has been arranged this evening to the Acharyadev is not a sectarian concern, for when we speak of the fundamental principle of Gurudev or Acharyadev, we speak of something that is of universal application. There does not arise any question of discriminating my Guru from yours or anyone else's. There is only one Guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others. In the Mundaka Upanishad [1.2.12] it is said:

tad-vijnartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
   samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham

"In order to learn the transcendental science, one must approach the bona fide Spiritual Master in disciplic succession, who is fixed in the Absolute Truth."

Thus it has been enjoined herewith that in order to receive that transcendental knowledge, one must approach the Guru. Therefore, if the Absolute Truth is one -- about which we think there is no difference of opinion -- the Guru cannot be two. The Acharyadev to whom we have assembled tonight to offer our humble homage is not the Guru of a sectarian institution or one out of many differing exponents of the truth. On the contrary, he is the jagad-guru, or the Guru of all of us; the only difference is that some obey him wholeheartedly, while others do not obey him directly. In the Bhagavatam [11.17.27] it is said:

acaryam mam vijaniyan / navamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyasuyeta / sarva-deva mayo guruh

"One should understand the Spiritual Master to be as good as I am," said the Blessed Lord. "Nobody should be jealous of the Spiritual Master or think of him as an ordinary man, because the Spiritual Master is the sum total of all demigods." That is, the Acharya has been identified with God Himself. He has nothing to do with the affairs of this mundane world. He appears before us to reveal the light of the Vedas and to bestow upon us the blessing of full-fledged freedom, after which we should hanker at every step of our life's journey.

The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by God to Brahma, the creator of this particular universe. From Brahma the knowledge descended to Narada, from Narada to Vyasadeva, from Vyasadeva to Madhva, and in this process of disciplic succession the transcendental knowledge was transmitted by one disciple to another until it reached Lord Gauranga, Sri Krishna Chaitanya, who posed as the disciple and successor of Sri Isvara Puri. The present Acharyadev is the tenth disciplic representative from Sri Rupa Goswami, the original representative of Lord Chaitanya who preached this transcendental tradition in its fullness. The knowledge that we receive from our Gurudev is not different from that imparted by God Himself and the succession of the Acharyas in the preceptorial line of Brahma. We adore this auspicious day as "Sri Vyasa-Puja-Tithi" because the Acharya is the living representative of Vyasadeva, the divine compiler of the Vedas, Puranas, Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharat, and Srimad Bhagavatam.

Knowledge through surrender
  We cannot know anything of the transcendental region by our limited, perverted method of observation and experiment. But all of us can lend our eager ears for the aural reception of the transcendental sound transmitted from that region to this, through the unadulterated medium of Sri Gurudev or Sri Vyasadeva. Therefore, gentlemen, we should surrender ourselves today at the feet of the representative of Sri Vyasadeva for the elimination of all our differences bred by our unsubmissive attitude. It is accordingly said in the Bhagavad Gita [4.34]:

tad viddhi pranipatena / pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam / jnaninas tattva darsinah

"Just approach the wise and bona fide Spiritual Master. Surrender unto him first, and try to understand him by inquiries and service. Such a wise Spiritual Master will enlighten you with transcendental knowledge, for he has already known the Absolute Truth."

To receive transcendental knowledge, we must completely surrender ourselves to the real Acharya in a spirit of ardent inquiry and service. Actual performance of service to the Absolute under the guidance of the Acharya is the only vehicle by which we can assimilate transcendental knowledge. Today's meeting for offering our humble services and homage to the feet of the Acharyadev will enable us to be favored with the capacity of assimilating the transcendental knowledge so kindly transmitted by him to all persons without distinction.

Gentlemen, although it is imperfectly that we have been enabled, by his grace, to understand the sublime messages of our Acharyadev, we must admit that we have realized definitely that the divine message from his holy lips is the congenial thing for suffering humanity. All of us should hear him patiently. If we listen to the transcendental sound without unnecessary opposition, he will surely have mercy upon us. The Acharya's message is to take us back to our original home, back to God. Let me repeat, therefore, that we should hear him patiently, follow him in the measure of our conviction and bow down at his lotus feet for releasing us from our present causeless unwillingness for serving the Absolute and all souls.

Sitting at the feet of the Acharyadev, let us try to understand from this transcendental source of knowledge what we are, what is this universe, what is God, and what is our relationship with Him. The message of Lord Chaitanya is the message for the living entities and the message of the living world. Lord Chaitanya did not bother himself for the upliftment of this dead world, which is suitably named Martyaloka, the world where everything is destined to die. He appeared before us four hundred and fifty years ago to tell us something of the transcendental universe, where everything is permanent and everything is for the service of the Absolute. But recently Lord Chaitanya has been misrepresented by some unscrupulous persons, and the highest philosophy of the Lord has been misinterpreted to be the cult of the lowest type of society. We are glad to announce tonight that our Acharyadev, with his usual kindness, saved us from this horrible type of degradation, and therefore we bow down at his lotus feet with all humility.

We are happy that we have been relieved of this horrible type of malady by the mercy of His Divine Grace. He is our eye-opener, our eternal father, our eternal preceptor and our eternal guide. Let us therefore bow down at his lotus feet on this auspicious day.

Gentlemen, although we are like ignorant children in the knowledge of Transcendence, still, my Gurudev has kindled a small fire within us to dissipate the invincible darkness of empirical knowledge. We are now so much on the safe side that no amount of philosophical argument by the empiric schools of thought can deviate us an inch from the position of our eternal dependence on the lotus feet of His Divine Grace.

Gentlemen, had he not appeared before us to deliver us from the thralldom of this gross, worldly delusion, surely we should have remained for lives and ages in the darkness of helpless captivity. Had he not appeared before us, we would not have been able to understand the eternal truth of the sublime teaching of Lord Chaitanya.

Personally, I have no hope for any direct service of the coming crores of births in the sojourn of my life, but I am confident that some day or other I shall be delivered from this mire of delusion in which I am at present so deeply sunk. Therefore let me with all my earnestness pray at the lotus feet of my Divine Master to allow me to suffer the lot for which I am destined due to my past misdoings, but to let me have this power of recollection: that I am nothing but a tiny servant of the Almighty Absolute Godhead, realized through the unflinching mercy of my Divine Master. Let me therefore bow down at his lotus feet with all the humility at my command.

Abhay Charan Das - For Members of Sri Gaudiya Math, Bombay.


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