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Reflections on Prabhupada's appearance Day

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Yet the Guru's position representing God, is not the highest idea. Higher then God is God's devotee, who is dear to Krishna. Even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu whom we accept as God, plays the part of a devotee. In fact so does Balarama (Krishna's eternal brother) and in his form as Nityananda. Adwaita-acharya who is considered either Maha Vishnu or Sada-Siva also is relishing the position of a devotee as well. So the guru's being dear to Krishna, imbued with a particular type of devotion is considered a developed understanding then "only" (not a small thing) seeing the guru as one with God---as his representative. Both conceptions remain, yet one or the other may be stressed at different times.

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I haven't as yet written the traditional "Offering" for my Guru, Shrila Prabhupada, and as there is only a few hours remaining till I go into the Temple kitchen it seems unlikely that I will other than this short introduction. I couldn't find another old offerings to put here other than the one I posted last year. Rereading it I thought I would put it up since not everyone has ventured to the beginning of my blogs to read it. I hope this is ok.

The Guru was called by Prabhupada, the "mercy incarnation" of Krishna, so meeting one's guru is meeting a tailor made aspect of Krishna for us. The impersonalists consider that the guru is God, and we can also become God. I am not saying that here, yet we have to really think carefully how his mercy manifests to us. I call your attention to the 7th prayer of the Sri Sri Gurv-astaka, or the "Eight Prayers to the Guru"
by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura:

Text Seven
saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair
uktas tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih
kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
SYNONYMS
saksat -- directly; hari-tvena -- with the quality of Hari; samasta- all; sastraih -- by scriptures; uktah -- acknowledged; tatha -- thus bhavyate -- is considered; eva -- also; sadbhih -- by great saintly persons; kintu -- however; prabhoh -- to the Lord; yah -- who; priyah -- dear; eva -- certainly; tasya -- of him (the guru); vande -- I offer obeisances; guroh -- of my spiritual master; sri -- auspicious; carana-aravindam -- unto the lotus feet.

TRANSLATION
The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord, because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and followed by all authorities. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is a bona fide representative of Sri Hari [Krishna].

According to Visvanatha's own explanation of this verse, there are two aspects to the guru (which I have spoken of before in a slightly different way as the absolute and relative position of the Guru). I will repeat that the Guru is considered Krishna coming to us (saksad-dharitvena) in a way we can relate to. That is the first way we relate to the guru and sometimes we only emphasize that aspect which can lead to fanaticism, as in the idea, that my guru is the only way, the best for everyone.

Yet the Guru's position representing God, is not the highest idea. Higher then God is God's devotee, who is dear to Krishna. Even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu whom we accept as God, plays the part of a devotee. In fact so does Balarama (Krishna's eternal brother) and in his form as Nityananda. Adwaita-acharya who is considered either Maha Vishnu or Sada-Siva also is relishing the position of a devotee as well. So the guru's being dear to Krishna, imbued with a particular type of devotion is considered a developed understanding then "only" (not a small thing) seeing the guru as one with God---as his representative. Both conceptions remain, yet one or the other may be stressed at different times.

At a certain stage of our advancement we will have an inner experience of our gurus sentiment toward Krishna. By saying this I am not saying I have such an exalted position, but that I have come to appreciate these points, seeing their practical value. One side of understanding that our guru, is a devotee who is dear to Krishna, is to acknowledge his human side. He is still guru, but is acting in the world to teach us.

For some devotees who have spent their whole devotional life only thinking of the Guru as "good as God", can be a bit unnerved seeing the relative side--that he has human characteristics, even thinking this perspective "offensive". For quite a number of years that was my understanding---I was very one dimensional in my thinking, though my thinking has broadened over the years. As a result, I understand some of the things Prabhupada did and said which had confused me before.

In Prabhupada's company, we were so moved by his purity, knowledge, wisdom, and "other worldly" power (he was a sensation, and we were in awe of him), yet in only seeing this aspect, we didn't--in my opinion--always bring to his attention things that needed to be said, or asked. He could know anything if Krishna wanted him to know it---though as he said to us, he was not omniscient---but we often didn't understand that he was also dependent on us to assist him. He saw us as Krishna's instruments, and if we study his life, we see how he acted on our suggestions.

I think it is good to hear this perspective even in the beginning so we can try to avoid fanaticism, the great enemy of progress. We have to have full faith in the guru, yet acknowledge his human side. This is a perspective that some senior disciples have a very hard time with, because of how the philosophy has been presented. The extreme is wanting to see everything the guru does as absolute (it IS absolute in the sense that he does everything for Krishna).

Yet we need to understand that seeing his human or relative side is not minimizing his position, but acknowledging his very real struggles as he walks with us and shows us the way forward. That is actually glorifying the Guru, instead of thinking that his "feet don't touch the ground"---so to speak. Although he is fixed on serving Krishna and given honor as his representative, he works on the earth, and feels the pain of conditioned souls by his direct experience. He may get tired or hungry, but he lives and breathes for Krishna! He or she is "in the world"--for Krishna, but knows they are not "of the world." They are not moved by false ego so they endeavor for Krishna's purpose.

The humanness and suffering of a pure devotee guru, be he "nitya siddha" coming from the spiritual world, or "sadhana siddha" perfect through spiritual practice, can be thought of like a sort of lila or covering by Krishna's yogamaya to facilitate his teaching by example. They are not forced by karma to suffer as we are, yet there is an appearance suffering, disease, old age etc, and they may struggle to teach us how to be Krishna conscious amongst that.

According to Rupa Gosvami the relationship with one's guru is like an affectionate, though formal friend. We don't want to become too familiar, yet not too full of awe and reverence. It is a balance no doubt, but we want to really feel love and affection for our guru, who is our dear friend and spiritual guide. The Guru is also compared to fire, which means we have to find the proper distance to avoid either being burnt or loosing the "heat" of his spiritual current.

In some ways our relationship with a guru is like a love affair. Please don't misunderstand this---I am not saying it is mundane. Although in general we can give so many reasons for why we should accept a guru from scripture, our specific affection for our personal guru is beyond reason--a heart affair. That is my experience and thought after much consideration and discussion. We can only explain our feelings so far! We can describe our affection for Krishna and our guru, but we can't give the experience to others. And unless they have that experience they won't understand what we experience from hearing from our guru, or hearing about Krishna. According to the Gosvami's, experience is the ultimate siddhanta or conclusion of the scriptures. (This means we have to experience the effects of Krishna conscious practices to really understand them.) Another way of saying this, is there is theory, and realization. Realization is naturally more powerful and is conclusive for us.

And too much awe and reverence for our guru prevents us from affectionate dealings, and from being able to be fully present on the human level to help him in his service, or have him help us. Again we have to be balanced.

I will give one personal anecdote. Prabhupada came to Hawaii in 1975 before we moved into the present Temple. He was giving a Bhagavad-gita class, and asked for a copy. For some reason they gave him mine which was in the book shelf. Turning to the verse he wanted to speak from he began the class. He noticed that I had underlined some parts of his purport. Not knowing that practice he thought I was crossing out the words. So he asked whose book it was. Since I had my name written in large letters on the side of the book, a devotee called out my name.

I had just come down from the kitchen and was sitting to the side. Prabhupada asked, "Where is he?" I froze and didn't say anything, too afraid of him and his possible chastisement. Had I known him personally, and not only as "The Guru", it would have been easier to speak up, knowing that his words were for my benefit. Having such awe for him, and feeling that distance, I missed out on an important learning experience, and a chance to personally speak with him. Not hearing where to find me, he commented, "O, he doesn't want to follow the rules and regulations?" Although that is a truth, it wasn't why I underlined certain passages.

Should we be surprised to hear the two sides of seeing our guru---with affection and respect, and how too much respect creates distance, making it difficult to feel affection?

Think of how in our path of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or Krishna consciousness, the awe and reverence toward Krishna gets in the way our intimacy. That is an advanced stage with realization, yet we still require to think of both perspectives of our guru even in the beginning: as good as God (respect and reverence), and devotee of God acting in the world (affection and following his example with the thought that we to can obtain what he has).

For those of you who will observe this honoring of the person who brought Krishna consciousness to the West and reintroduced it to India---may you be benefited and blessed from your observance, and perhaps in some way from what I have written. I have spoken before of the high intentions I have for my writing, which some may consider proud or unrealistic. Perhaps as Prabhupada said, I may be trying to "shoot the white Rhino" here! (If one is successful in hunting the White Rhino everyone will appreciate it, since is was practically impossible, and if one is not successful, people will say, well it was impossible anyway.) Another way of saying this is, "No risk, no gain." I do my best, imperfect as it is!....And if you have already observed this special day, I pray you had a meaningful, insightful, and inspiring one !

Although my writing is a satisfying creative outlet in it's own right, my intention in coming to Krishna.com is to be of service and help to those who may read what I write. I try to share all aspects of my life, and to be as real with you as I dare! That is also my offering to Prabhupada and Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They very much appreciate Vaishnava (Krishna devotee) Seva (service).

So I guess this has turned into a little bit more than an introduction for last years offer all! Hard for me to be brief when I feel inspired. Perhaps I will read this at the Temple..........Wow, I just realized I have been blogging here for a whole year. My---how time flies when we are having fun! We want to come to the point when our "fun" is Krishna consciousness. Ordinarily we need a vacation from our work, yet we want to eventually be engaged 24 hours a day in devotional service!
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Vyasa-puja offering for 2007 (already posted here)

We just observed the "birthday" celebration (or appearance day as we say, since there is no birth or death for the soul) of Shrila Prabhupada, the founder/acharya of ISKCON.

The appearance day of the Guru is called, Vyasa-puja, or the worship of the representative of Vyasadeva. Vyasa is considered an empowered incarnation of God, who compiled the Vedic literature for this current age of Kali.

Traditionally disciples write homages to their guru on the Vyasa-puja day to help them remember their debt of gratitude for their guru for giving them the gift of Krishna consciousness. I thought I would share my offering to Shrila Prabhupada, as I wrote it for another blog, with the idea of exploring some of the misconceptions about what having a guru means. In that sense it is not a traditional type offering.

I am just starting to practice writing in free verse, because it helps me to be briefer. The Chaitanya Charitamrita states:" Essential truth spoken concisely is true eloquence." I am not claiming any eloquence here. It is an idea I am striving for.
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In a small rural area in North Carolina,
an American born Gaudiya Vaishnava
prepares to observe the "birthday" anniversary
or "appearance" day of his Guru.

The meaning of guru is difficult to understand
even for those who have one; what to speak of
in the West, the place of the rugged individualist,
where having a guru is foreign idea.

Though having a teacher or mentor is acceptable,
honoring or giving homage to a guru is suspect.
At the time of the American Revolution, the rebelling
colonists said that they would not bow down to any man.

Many people falsely think that having a religion is a crutch
for people who can't face the naked truth of life,
or having a guru is for people who are weak
and can't think for themselves.

Actually having a guru is for people
who want to think more deeply about
subjects which most ignore, like death,
disease, old age, suffering, evil, and God.

Outsiders conjecture, accepting a guru's blind conformity,
yet actually it's a challenge to the status quo
of being an exploiter of the world, by reviving a natural life
of giving, fostering peace, love, lasting happiness.

It is not an outdated tradition
but a system of apprenticeship where
one hears realizations beyond spiritual theory
and sees it practiced, inspiring one to follow.

In any arena we tend to become like
the people we are with; and when
we spend time with those who are more
spiritually advanced, our hearts are changed.

In history we see that even great gurus have
their guru, as do incarnations of God. They
teach by example the importance of having
good guidance, and the power of saintly association.

It takes real humility and honesty
to realize the insignificant
nature of our existence in
this vast universe and tiny planet.

Accepting a guru is meant to help one
develop real humility by assisting him
and accepting service to Krishna
according to his guidance.

Whereas the scripture is considered
the "passive" agent of Divinity,
the guru is the "active" agent because
he gives us feedback, while the scripture does not.

The ultimate evidence for the value of
anything is one's direct experience, so
you will only appreciate the value of having
a guru if you have an urgency for guidance.

My life has been so blessed by
accepting my Guru, Shrila Prabhupada
giving me a spiritual foundation for living,
a way of deep, yet practical thinking.

So I have this great experience,
being satisfied in the world,
endeavoring to be a balanced person,
while dedicating my life for God.

Combined comments from old site

Fri, 09/05/2008 - 10:00 — milan
Well, thank you for sharing

Well, thank you for sharing it with us! These writings must be very precious to "unformed" devotees who didn't yet approach to their spiritual masters.
Maybe it takes a lot of your time to write it down but, for sure, it's worthy of reading it. Yes, indeed!!!
Thank you!
Milan


Tue, 08/26/2008 - 17:47 — jivatattva
This is an interesting topic

Thanks for bringing this up.

I feel this is simple - what does Guru expect?
and what does Guru describe himself to be? - this is the answer. If one understands what Guru proclaims he is (not what others think he is) and what he expects, and one wants to follow, then there is an understanding!

Haribol


*Reply*

Wed, 08/27/2008 - 05:22 — Karnamrita.das
3 types of evaluation

In Gaudiya Vaishavism or Krishna consciousness we have 3 ways to cross reference what is true. Guru, sadhu and shastra (scripture). Here is a quote from Prabhupada in the Shrimad Bhagavatam 10.2.37:

"One should not give up the process of devotional service, which is performed in nine different ways (sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam, etc. [SB 7.5.23]). The most important process is hearing (sravanam) from the guru, sadhu and sastra-the spiritual master, the saintly acaryas and the Vedic literature. Sadhu-sastra-guru-vakya, cittete kariya aikya. We should not hear the commentaries and explanations of nondevotees, for this is strictly forbidden by Srila Sanatana Gosvami, who quotes from the Padma Purana:

avaisnava-mukhodgirnam
putam hari-kathamrtam
sravanam naiva kartavyam
sarpocchistam yatha payah

"We should strictly follow this injunction and never try to hear from Mayavadis, impersonalists, voidists, politicians or so-called scholars. Strictly avoiding such inauspicious association, we should simply hear from pure devotees. Srila Rupa Gosvami therefore recommends, sri-guru-padasrayah: one must seek shelter at the lotus feet of a pure devotee who can be one's guru. Caitanya Mahaprabhu advises that a guru is one who strictly follows the instructions of Bhagavad-gita: yare dekha, tare kaha, 'krsna'-upadesa (Cc. Madhya 7.128). A juggler, a magician or one who speaks nonsense as an academic career is not a guru. Rather, a guru is one who presents Bhagavad-gita, Krsna's instructions, as it is. Sravana is very important; one must hear from the Vaisnava sadhu, guru and sastra."

We must have faith in our guru, yet understand his words though the previous teachers or acharyas and from revealed scripture. Every guru represents a tradition, and although he or she may adjust the details, they do this to serve the principles or purpose of the path---in our case to serve and love Krishna.

So the more we understand our path and the "spirit" of our guru's actions the more we will be of use to them and others. Knowing the spirit of the teachings means to be able to present them in our own words, while still serving the goal. That will also prevent us from fanaticism, or mistaking the details for the principles (the ideals or essence), and thinking our guru is best for everyone.

We should think our guru is best for us, and we can share our faith. Yet others have to find their own guru. If the guru truly represents Krishna, then it is said that the guru is one. That requires realization, yet we need to think about this truth to go more deeply into it.) The details may different from guru to guru, but the purpose is the same.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


*Reply*

Wed, 08/27/2008 - 12:32 — jivatattva
Excellent Info

Thats great info!

Thats like the power behind the power.

Haribol

16.1


Mon, 08/25/2008 - 05:00 — Navasi
Why?

Dear Karnamrita,

I don't understand where the conflict is here.

Why would it be a conflict, or considered "offensive" by anyone to see the guru as the representative of God, and also be able to see him as a devotee, with "very real struggles" and who could be hungry or tired?

To me, that is part of the beauty of his devotion, those very struggles and human aspects.

If someone is concerned about giving him the proper respect, even from that perspective, it seems to me to actually "minimize" him to deny those struggles.

This is really confusing for me. In order to have a complete understanding of our guru (and therefore an actual one) wouldn't it be important to understand both aspects?

I can't see what would make anyone "unnerved" about that, especially to the degree of thinking of it as "offensive".

I can maybe see it in terms of someone who is a very new devotee (when people are generally more fanatical), but you're referring to disciples of Srila Prabhupad, and people who have spent their lives in devotional service having a problem with this.

What am I missing here? Can you please explain? It's disturbing.

Thank you,
Navasi


*Reply*

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:02 — Karnamrita.das
Shakavesh Avatar

Hi Navasi!

I don't know if I am up to the task of properly explaining this, but I will do my best. I suppose this could be a blog on its' own. There is a lot of emotionalism regarding the superlative qualities of Prabhupada which he no doubt possessed. Some are not able to see him---or don't believe they should see him---in what I would consider a balanced way. Only a minority have very extreme views---like writing their own biography of Prabhupada which only puts forward his "absolute" position, and none of what they consider his human side. (For instance they don't like to hear that he was "reeling in the street" from sunstroke when he was preaching before he came to America, as is recounted in the Lilamrita.) Never the less the most extreme or fanatical voices are often the loudest.

Prabhupada has made a special contribution of bringing Krishna consciousness or Gaudiya Vaishnavism to the West, and back to the East to revitalize it in India. This should always be remembered! Every disciple, grand disciple, and future generations owes him a debt. At the same time he didn't appear in a vacuum. He represents a spiritual tradition, and was following in the footsteps of his guru, and the previous teachers or acharyas. That also needs to be remembered. Prabhupada simplified a complex theology and made adjustments to the details, so we could more easily take up the path.

Our dear guru was inspired and empowered to act by Krishna. That doesn't mean he was a robot who was just following orders. He had to decide whether to go left or right. When he followed his gurus' suggestion to preach in the West he went forward in full faith and conviction. He didn't have a specific play book. General ideas and plans, yes. In America he adapted to the time, social climate, and situation he found himself in. Krishna was guiding him through those situations and the people he met. He used his own conviction, experience, and reasoning. He felt the hand of Krishna guiding him. Even he was surprised at his success in spreading the Krishna conscious movement.

Today we see Prabhupada as a "shaktavesh Avatar" or a jiva soul specifically empowered by Krishna (some have singled out Lord Nityananda's "avesh" or empowerment because of how merciful Prabhupada was to the very fallen, i.e., us) to preach KC. There is a verse in the Chaitanya Charitamrita that says no one can preach Krishna consciousness without being specifically empowered by Krishna (Cc. Antya 7.11, krsna-sakti vina nahe tara pravartana). In addition the first offense to the holy name is to criticize or blaspheme such a devotee.

So put those ideas together, and one may be afraid to see Prabhupada (or any guru) in any kind of relative way. We may give up our ordinary common sense and reasoning, and imagine all kinds of things, or special powers. If the guru can't make any mistakes(since he is perfect), then surely if we see one, it is our misperception or faulty reasoning. It is true that we are not to see the guru as an ordinary person, as he represents God. But what does that mean? The Guru may exhibit extraordinary potency, insight, and ability (as Prabhupada did), yet does that mean he is not a human being---at all? I think this is the question to ponder here.

Does he not eat, sleep, get sick, or tired, get old, have personal opinions gained from his experience, or have an affinity for people from his home country--Bengal or India, etc? I would say that although he did all those things (not everyone will agree with this), he was a transcendental personality, who didn't identify with his body(or others with theirs) or it's pain. He knew he was Krishna's---as everyone is, and that everything was Krishna's property. And he walked on the Earth with that understanding and acted accordingly.

There are many questions that need to be asked, though often aren't. That is why this discussion can be unsettling for some, or controversial. As we are become more conversant with spiritual subjects we find that many things are not as black and white or as simple as we one thought. Kanistha or the beginners thinking is very black and white. According to Shrila Bhaktivinode Thakur, many of the commentaries of the acharyas are meant for the kanisthas.

As a new person we often accept things very easily. However, Prabhupada wanted us to make spiritual advancement and rise to become an intermediate devotee (madhyam) and eventually to all be pure devotees. The madhyam devotee makes distinctions, thinks deeply, and looks for the lessons in Krishna's lila. The discrimination and reasoning of the madhyam devotee will with cause him either to have doubts and give up the process or will carry him to have a deeper conviction and develop spiritual reasoning, and a last the reasoning of love. According to Bhaktivinode, the reasoning of the madhyam devotee will be disconcerting to the kanistha devotee.

Sorry this is rather long, and I am out of wind. Let me say to finish, that I don't consider myself advanced or a madhyam devotee. However, the 3 levels of advancement (kanistha, madhyam, and uttama (superlative devotee) are not really linear---like a line in the sand---but are more circular, so I can say that though I still struggle with anarthas, I am attracted to the madhyam, thoughtful perspective. I have expressed this in the blog, and have also added more to it.

We and speak more later. Hare Krishna!

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


*Reply*

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 22:43 — uagan chetty
Shakavesh Avatar

Hare Krsna. A truly insightful and not in the least long explanation to Navasi Mataji's concern. I am all very new to blogging and forums, however with explanations and reasonings like this. I now know that devotees do take KC very seriously and sincerely and will definately air my views and post concerns and queries.

hare krsna
Uagan Chetty


*Reply*

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 22:28 — Navasi
Thank You

Dear Karnamrita prabhu,

Thank you so much for taking the time to carefully explain all this for me.

You have done a wonderful job of it, I feel (at least for me you have).

I do understand the difficulty now, and the complexity of all this.

It's certainly a very deep subject and one that would require a lot of very serious and careful consideration.

I can also clearly see why this would be an unsettling or controversial topic, in so many ways.

I do hope I get the opportunity (at some point) to talk to you more about this.

Hare Krishna,
Navasi


Mon, 08/25/2008 - 04:29 — Radhikesh
Representing God and more than God

Hare Krishna Karnamrta. A very beautiful way to understand the position of guru. He represents Krsna's mission in this world, and at the same time he is more than Krishna because Krishna Himself desires to relish the position of a devotee. Of course, as Visvanatha Cakravarti says, he is still the servitor (confidential) of Krishna.

This reminds me of the different grades of devotees Krishna mentions in chapter 7 of Bhagavad gita. He says the three kinds of devotees - the distressed, the inquisitive and the desirer of happiness - are dear to Him. But the jnani, the fourth kind, who desires knowledge of Krishna and surrenders unto Him (not the impersonal jnani) is like His own self. Visvanatha Cakravarti on his comments to this quotes Bhagavatam where Krishna says to Uddhava that neither Brahma, Siva, Lakshmi, Sankarsana or even His own self is as dear to Him as Uddhava. This means Uddhava is more dear than His own self. If that is the case, where to place the gopis. Even Krsna is bewildered and says "na paraye 'ham" - "I cannot repay you".

No wonder Krishna wanted to take the position of a devotee.

Radhikesh das


*Reply*

Wed, 09/03/2008 - 01:53 — abrennan
The topic

Karnamrita is outlining above is essential reading. He does a great job of describing it. : )

I keep coming back and reading it. I am a blabber so I want to say something but how to add to it?

If you watch enough video of Srila Prabhupada, especially in intimate conversation, you can also read it in discussions, and letters but his tone of voice and mannerism is more apparent in video, you will see his full humanity. Rarely do you come across such a complete expression of humanness in a person.

There is a great lesson for us all in Srila Prabhupada's humanity.

Haribol