Developing Faith in Finding a Qualified Guru
We live in a time of faithlessness, criticism, cynicism, and sarcasm. Those who do live by faith in God are often fundamentalist or fanatical in their rigid perspective. This gives religion and even God a bad name, discouraging people from being part of any group with strong beliefs and faith. Although faith may be looked at with suspicion, without faith no one can do anything either materially or spiritually (all faith [not what we have faith in] comes from the mode of sattva or goodness). In fact faith is the beginning, middle and full maturity of Krishna consciousness.
The different levels of advancement given by Rupa Gosvami are based on the development and deepening of faith. By faith we mean an activity of the heart, as opposed to belief which is just a mental idea. Sometimes Prabhupada used the word “faith” like the word belief, by saying that Krishna consciousness is not a faith (i.e., a belief). The material world is the land of doubt and measurement (one meaning of Maya is to measure or understand things with only our senses and intellect), while the spiritual world is the land of faith, acceptance, full surrender and total spiritual conviction and love for God.
During the war for American independence from Britain which included being ruled by a king, one of the sayings of the colonists was that they would not bow down before any man. To some extent this consciousness is in most Americans DNA, which is a real bias against the idea that we need to humble our self before any person---what to speak of being any ones disciple. In every time and place there are particular reasons for not believing in God, following any religions rules or being submissive to a superior or guru.
At the time of Shila Prabhupadas manifest presence there was so much faith around him and his spiritual position. When he left our eyesight for Goloka, a number of his disciples tried to follow his footsteps and accept the position of Guru. Because a number of them failed in the first few years and others later, a climate of doubt and lack of faith in gurus was created.
One group, in the name of glorifying and keeping alive their faith in Prabhupada, actively criticizes anyone else who is acting as Guru. Their campaign is like a sort of Christianity where Prabhupada is the only way, the truth and the light, and there is no other way to pursue spiritual life. Since no one can be like him, everyone should become his disciple through a kind of proxy person who connects a new person to Prabhupada. Without going into a lengthy discussion, this modern philosophy is reactionary and opposed to the our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. It says in effect that although all the previous acharyas (or gurus) created future generations of gurus, only Prabhupada couldn’t
Thus the general atmosphere of faithlessness and doubt in the larger world, and the lack of faith in and criticism of current gurus has created a climate which makes it difficult for newcomers to Krishna to see the possibility of finding a bonafide guru—or even thinking it is necessary. We may have some faith in Krishna, but doubt we could find a real guru. If this is you, I feel for you, and would like to offer you a few suggestions to assist you if I may.
First, faith in Guru and Krishna, and eagerness for spiritual advancement develop from associating with those who have it. I have practical experience that my few days association with Prabhupada or one of my shiksa gurus brought me more advancement then even long periods of serious spiritual practice (sadhana). Therefore, wherever you live you have to find faithful, spiritually advanced devotees and spend time with them. Online association is good, but you need more in the long run if you are serious and eager to make spiritual advancement. If you can’t live near devotees, please make time to visit them on a regular basis and do devotional service in their company.
Krishna is the unlimited, omnipotent God, do you think he is going to leave you “high and dry”, bereft of a bona fide guru? Of course not! He will reciprocate with your intense desire to make spiritual advancement. “Krsna helps a sincere person; as stated in the Caitanya-caritamrta, guru-krsna-prasade: by the mercy of the spiritual master and Krsna, one attains the path of salvation, devotional service. If one sincerely searches for spiritual salvation, then Krsna, being situated in everyone's heart, gives him the intelligence to find a suitable spiritual master. By the grace of a spiritual master like Maitreya, one gets the proper instruction and advances in his spiritual life.” [SB 3.20.4 pp]
You need to (and all devotees have to) be introspective enough to know how much we really desire to be Krishna conscious and take shelter of a guru. Is Krishna consciousness your casual religion, or is it your life and soul, what you live and breathe for?----or do you at least want to have that intensity of desire for Krishna? Intense eagerness for spiritual progress is the price for success, and if we don’t have it we should feel unfortunate, yet pray to develop it by learning its’ value. However, having the desire to have the desire is a good start. At the same time, any motivation for Krishna can be a good beginning and we can build on that. The most important thing for all of us to be in a situation where we feel encouraged to go forward with positive expectancy of success through our sincere endeavor and the mercy of Krishna and his devotees.
In addition to studying what the qualities of an advanced devotee guru are, we should study the qualities of a good disciple and try to develop them. Any relationship is a two way street—both sides have duties and responsibilities. The first chapter of the Bhagavad gita, although usually described as showing Arjuna’s material attachment and need for enlightenment, also show his qualifications of being a good disciple: he knew what dharma or religion was, and he knew that he needed a guru to solve his problems in life.
One of the many mystical aspects of Krishna consciousness and accepting a guru is that it is not merely an intellectual exercise. Although there are many things to study and understand, accepting a guru is more like a love affair. Certainly there is a logic to it since one of the qualities of a guru is that he or she removes our doubts, but it is not completely rational. There is more to our accepting a person as a guru then just the reasons we might list. We become inspired and infused with the possibility of Krishna conscious life. Thus our intellect is useful only to a point.
Intellectually we can always disqualify someone from being a guru. We have to develop spiritual vision through sincere service, humility and eager inquiries and intense prayer. We see our potential or pure heart before us in our guru. In accepting a guru we have to accept what may seems like contradictory aspects. He has an absolute and relative aspect. On one side he is Krishna appearing to us in a tailor made way, and in another he is a devotee of Krishna who walks amongst us. That is why the guru is sometimes compared to fire----you have to find the proper distance so you can feel the current of spirituality, but that you are careful that you don't become burned, i.e too familiar. Some can be very close, others need more distance to keep a spiritual perspective. Rupa Goswami has described the relationship of disciple to guru as one with the mood of friendly reverence.
Our principle method of purification is the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra in the association of pure devotees, by following the methods given by Krishna’s Kali-yuga incarnation, Shri Chaitanya. Lord Chaitanya’s followers left us many literatures which teach us what is required for developing Krishna consciousness. Accepting a guru is recommended and is a necessary part of spiritual advancement. All the great gurus also have their own guru. Even Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, and Lord Chaitanya, although all incarnations of God, also accepted gurus to set an example for us.
To sum up, if we are convinced of the reality of Krishna, then we should be convinced that he will provide us help and what is required for us to come to him. We have to have this faith while remaining open to possibilities we may not have considered. To assist Maharaja Parikshit prepare for meeting death, Krishna sent him a qualified guru who was only 16 years old in the presence of many senior qualified gurus. Who would have thought?
Prabhupada gives us many recommendation for finding a guru in his Chaitanya Charitamrita purports such as in Adi lila 1.35:
“Srila Jiva Gosvami, in his thesis Bhakti-sandarbha (202), has stated that uncontaminated devotional service is the objective of pure Vaishnavas and that one has to execute such service in the association of other devotees. By associating with devotees of Lord Krsna, one develops a sense of Krsna consciousness and thus becomes inclined toward the loving service of the Lord. This is the process of approaching the Supreme Lord by gradual appreciation in devotional service."
"If one desires unalloyed devotional service, one must associate with devotees of Sri Krsna, for by such association only can a conditioned soul achieve a taste for transcendental love and thus revive his eternal relationship with Godhead in a specific manifestation and in terms of the specific transcendental mellow (rasa) that one has eternally inherent in him.”
“If one develops love for Krsna by Krsna conscious activities, one can know the Supreme Absolute Truth, but he who tries to understand God simply by logical arguments will not succeed, nor will he get a taste for unalloyed devotion. The secret is that one must submissively listen to those who know perfectly the science of God, and one must begin the mode of service regulated by the preceptor. A devotee already attracted by the name, form, qualities, etc., of the Supreme Lord may be directed to his specific manner of devotional service; he need not waste time in approaching the Lord through logic.”
“The expert spiritual master knows well how to engage his disciple's energy in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, and thus he engages a devotee in a specific devotional service according to his special tendency. A devotee must have only one initiating spiritual master because in the scriptures acceptance of more than one is always forbidden. There is no limit, however, to the number of instructing spiritual masters one may accept. Generally a spiritual master who constantly instructs a disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on.”
“One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. One who is not properly initiated may present himself as a great devotee, but in fact he is sure to encounter many stumbling blocks on his path of progress toward spiritual realization, with the result that he must continue his term of material existence without relief. Such a helpless person is compared to a ship without a rudder, for such a ship can never reach its destination. It is imperative, therefore, that one accept a spiritual master if he at all desires to gain the favor of the Lord."
"The service of the spiritual master is essential. If there is no chance to serve the spiritual master directly, a devotee should serve him by remembering his instructions. There is no difference between the spiritual master's instructions and the spiritual master himself. In his absence, therefore, his words of direction should be the pride of the disciple.”
‘If one thinks that he is above consulting anyone else, including a spiritual master, he is at once an offender at the lotus feet of the Lord. Such an offender can never go back to Godhead. It is imperative that a serious person accept a bona fide spiritual master in terms of the sastric [scriptural] injunctions. Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.”
Accepting a guru, serving and inquiring from him, and being engaged in Krishna’s service, are how we develop faith in the truth of Krishna consciousness. If we truly want to develop love for and service to Krishna, then he will surely send us a guru. This is called spiritual faith. If we don’t have it we have to do whatever is required to gain it. This is really what Krishna consciousness is all about: becoming convinced of the value of loving and serving Krishna, and the shortcomings of materialistic life.
When Dhruva Maharaja had the audience of the Lord and was going to receive his material benedictions he understood all these truths. He prayed thus:
"[When he was being benedicted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Dhruva Maharaja said:] O my Lord, because I was seeking an opulent material position, I was performing severe types of penance and austerity. Now I have gotten You, who are very difficult for the great demigods, saintly persons and kings to attain. I was searching after a piece of glass, but instead I have found a most valuable jewel. Therefore I am so satisfied that I do not wish to ask any benediction from You."
Our prayer is to follow in the footsteps of such great devotees. They are our saving graces and shining beckons of light and encouragement.