Why Accept a Spiritual Master?
by Purushottama Dasa
I was born into a Hindu family, and from an early age I was taught the necessity of accepting a spiritual master. Also early on, I was disciplined to get up every day at 4:00 A.M., bathe, meditate, say prayers to Lord Krishna and Lord Rama as well as other devatas (demigods), and read the Bhagavad-gita. After doing these things I would begin my schoolwork.
When I came to study in the U.S.A., everything changed for the worst. Though keeping the designation “Hindu,” I stopped worshiping God and following religious principles. To me “God” was a vague term. And without the guidance of a spiritual master, I couldn’t understand the teachings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
After obtaining a doctorate degree, I was swayed by the Western way of life. I was proud of my academic education and strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying materialistic life. I was also influenced by modern methods of acquiring knowledge, which rely on conjecture. Equipped with a hodgepodge of ideas about God and unaware that the goal of life is to return to Godhead, I used to say, “I know everything. Why should I accept a spiritual master?” In fact, I was a fool.
Ultimately, by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada’s books and the association of devotees, I found out that God is not something vague. God is Krishna. And transcendental knowledge, which is beyond material nature, cannot be known experimentally or by argument or speculation. Vedic knowledge is called shabda, or knowledge acquired through hearing from higher authority. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.3.21) says, “Any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation.”
The spiritual master awards initiation when he feels confident that the candidate has shown sincerity and determination to become Krishna conscious. In the Hare Krishna movement the candidate must be following four regulative principles: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. At the time of initiation in the Hare Krishna movement, one vows to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and follow the four regulative principles. The day I took initiation by accepting a spiritual master was the happiest and most glorious day of my life.
Initiation links the disciple with Krishna through the intermediary of the spiritual master. The spiritual master’s duty is to liberate the disciple from repeated birth and death by guidance and instruction from the Vedic scriptures. The disciple’s duty is to follow the spiritual master’s instructions for life.
The spiritual master binds the roaming mind of the disciple in bhakti, devotional service to Lord Krishna. Bhakti is the innate desire of the soul to serve Krishna. The urge of bhakti has to be developed, and this is done under the guidance of the spiritual master, who has already reached the pinnacles of bhakti. To advance in bhakti, the disciple must receive the mercy of the spiritual master through service and obedience. It is said that the instructions of the spiritual master should be the life and soul of the disciple.
The relationship with the spiritual master is based on service, submission, and inquiry. The spiritual master’s instructions provide spiritual strength to the disciple and help the disciple become liberated from materialistic life and attain pure Krishna-prema, love of God.
In ISKCON we are grateful to Srila Prabhupada for setting the most glorious example for all spiritual masters to follow. From his life and teachings, we can understand that a real spiritual master always directs our attention not to himself but to Krishna, or God.
Accepting a spiritual master has made all the difference in my life. The more I serve Krishna through my spiritual master, the more blissful I become. I know that God is not something vague. God is the Supreme Person, Lord Krishna. Every day I’m learning more about my personal relationship with Krishna. Through the medium of the spiritual master, it is now easy to understand the Vedic scriptures. Now I realize that serving Krishna is infinitely more pleasurable than the best of this world’s pleasures. Everything here is temporary and limited, but my relationship with Krishna is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge.