Question: I understand that there are different types of bhakti. If a person practices bhakti without a guru according to the rules of vaidhi and focuses on activities which are in themselves bhakti, such as worship and chanting the Lord’s Names, then it seems that this person can make some progress. But after a certain point, doesn’t even this person need a guru to reach perfection?
Answer: Vaidhi bhakti, as the name suggests, is that which is based on vidhi – the injunctions of sastra. So if it is vaidhi bhakti then that means you are following the scriptural injunctions, and scriptural injunctions are very clear: tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam (SB 11.3.21) – that you should approach a guru and surrender to him – tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā (Gita 4.34 ) and then you follow the process. Without accepting a guru, it is not vaidhi. Surrenderung to a guru is the first step in vaidhi. This is also stated by Sri Rupa Gosvami in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.74-75), guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇamtasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijṣāsuḥ śreya uttama.
Even about deity worship it is stated that if you perform it according to the injunctions, but if you are not initiated, then you get only one percent of the benefit as Jiva Gosvami explains in Bhakti Sandarbha (283):
“The importance of knowing the scriptural procedures of worship is described in the Viṣṇu-rahasya:
avijñāya vidhānoktāṁ hari-pūjā-vidhi-kriyām
kurvan bhaktyā samāpnoti śata-bhāgaṁ vidhānata
“One who worships the deity of Hari with reverence, yet without knowing the prescribed procedure of worship, obtains only one percent of the benefit of doing it properly.”
If one worships the deity with great reverence, as indicated by the word bhaktyā, yet without acquaintance with prescribed procedures, one obtains only one percent of the benefit, otherwise not even that. The guiding authority in the matter of the procedures of worship is the vaiṣṇava-sampradāya, or knowledge received in the disciplic succession related to Viṣṇu.”
And that is only if you do it exactly according to the rules, but how will you know the rules if you don’t have a guru?
The idea is that this is a path of discipline, which you have to understand according to the definition of bhakti. You can get mukti even without a guru but that is a completely different thing. If you want to be a devotee then you have to do favourable service to God – that is what bhakti is: ānakūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā. Bhakti means love. By love we mean that your life is dedicated to the person whom you love. But that is not our natural inclination. Our natural inclination is to love our body, our mind and things which are related to them, such as our family and possessions. That is natural, you don’t have to acquire it. You are just born with it.
We have not seen God. So in order to start loving somebody whom you have not even seen, loving and dedicating ourselves to Him will not happen just by our own effort and our own understanding due to the fact that we don’t have any experience of it. If you don’t have any experience of bhakti, how are you going to execute it? If you don’t have knowledge of bhakti because you cannot understand it by yourself, then you cannot execute it properly. That’s why we need a teacher from whom we can learn and then practice, otherwise we will keep doing something only according to our own mind. Those activities – chanting or listening to Krsna’s stories, reading Bhagavatam and going to Vrindavana and doing parikrama – have devotional power in them because they are not material. So they will have their influence, but in order to come to bhakti you have to know how to do it. If I want to please you, then I have to know who you are and what pleases you. That’s what bhakti is and that has to be learned. But if you want to be a shanta-bhakta (no personal relationship with God, like a reclusive yogi) then you don’t need to know, because you have no interest in pleasing God. You will sit and meditate, but even that you will have to learn from somebody.
Question: Can one attain Vaikuntha if one has practiced pure bhakti and followed a teacher but has no prema? Can the result of vaidhi bhakti in its perfection be below prema?
Answer: Yes, a shanta-bhakta can go to Vaikuntha and their prema is to meditate on God without the intention to do any service for Him.
Question: It’s a different kind of prema?
Answer: They are also surrendered but without that personal connection, because their concept of God is that He is Brahman personified.
Question: So they can achieve the five types of mukti in Vaikuntha?
Answer: They don’t want the five muktis, their mukti is salokya (to be on the same planet with Bhagavan). They don’t want the others. They don’t want to be close to God, hence they are shanta or neutral. Just like some people like to be alone and sit in their rooms and have no social contacts. They are happy like that, it is their nature, they like to be aloof.
Question: And when you say it is their nature, where does that inclination come from? Does it come from the guru, who gives the seed of that or did they have that inclination before?
Answer: They get the inclination by the seed of the guru who has that inclination.
Anger comes when there is an obstacle to your desire. The energy gets transformed from the unmet desire into anger.
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In theoretical terms, the śiṣya-guru relationship is clear and beautiful. But in practical terms, it seems that the opposite is true. Especially in the West, after unfavorable experiences with representatives of Vaiṣṇavism, many people have developed suspicion towards the gurus because they present themselves as the only mediator between God and men.
The medieval teachings of the Gosvāmīs perhaps still are valid within the cultural context of India, but how applicable are to the post-modern West?
Ayurveda gives hundreds of formulae for various diseases. It explains which herbs have to be mixed in what proportion and how the medicine is to be administered.
Now if some quacks travel to the West, posing as Ayurvedic doctors and do not follow the instructions, then naturally the medicine will not have the effect as indicated. Then surely people will lose faith in Ayurveda.
Does this mean that Ayurveda is wrong? Or does it mean that Ayurveda is applicable only in Indian context, and in the west you have to modify Ayurveda?
When Krishna spoke BG, did He say that it is applicable only for Indians living in India and for Westerners in the twentyfirst century BG must be modified? Instead of surrendering to a guru and study under him by rendering service (BG 4.34), they should just google their questions and follow whatever appeals to their minds. Then the truth will be revealed to them
No, Dear friend, Reality does not depend upon time or place, unfortunately.
Truth is truth everywhere. There may be some adjustments to external things depending upon the culture, such as dress, food etc., but the basic principle of surrender to a genuine guru does not change. And it is logical. If one does not surrender to guru, one will only follow one’s mind. Accept from sastra what appeals to one’s mind and reject what seems troublesome. Liking/disliking by one’s mind will become the litmus test. The mind is material, full of material impressions. It will only see itself through sastra. The material mind can never transcend itself by itself, just as you cannot uplift yourself by pulling your shoestrings. You need an external help.
You may ask, “Why do I need a mediator between me and God?” This is because of your material mind which can only think materially. The mind is matter and it cannot go beyond matter by itself. So a mediator whose mind has been imbued with non-material energy is needed to surcharge your mind with this non-material energy. This is the simple principle, and it is logical too.
Then as happens with Āyurveda, the teachings of Kṛṣṇa are always consistently good and who fail are only the gurus. But your upamāna is not very accurate because the Āyurveda doesn’t imply acceptance of a deity neither surrender to the doctor while bhakti requires faith in Kṛṣṇa and service to the guru. The first is mainly objective, the second is subjective. Anyway, I agree with the eternity of the scriptures (śabda), but current evidence (pratyakṣa) doesn’t seem to highlight its correct application. Why many current spiritual masters, who in turn have surrendered to previous gurus, cannot transcend their subtle material mentality? Just by an absurd semantic twist, they consider that even their faults are “transcendental”. In such cases perhaps Kṛṣṇa, who is svatantra, is free to give his bhakti-bala according to his own desire.
Thanks for your reply.
“Then as happens with Āyurveda, the teachings of Kṛṣṇa are always consistently good and who fail are only the gurus. But your upamāna is not very accurate because the Āyurveda doesn’t imply acceptance of a deity neither surrender to the doctor while bhakti requires faith in Kṛṣṇa and service to the guru.”
This is not true. According to Ayurveda, a good patient is one who has faith in the doctor. In fact, it recommends not to treat a faithless patient, just as Krsna recommends not to give the knowledge of Gita to one who is faithless.
Infact most people surrender to a doctor more easily than to guru. If the doctor says, “Do not eat wheat,” the patient follows it religiously with out asking the reason. If guru says, “Do not eat certain foodstuffs on certain days,” then the disciple will ask a number of questions. If the doctor says that patients needs an operation, the patient agrees to get his body cut. Is this not faith and surrender, albeit in a limited manner?
As far as deity, I do not understand the logic of that. An example is given for easy comprehension of a point. No example has exact one to one correspondence. When it is said that someone has a face like the moon, it does not apply all respects. I hope you understood the point I was making through the example of Ayurveda. There is no need to stretch the example beyond that because that is not my intention.
“The first is mainly objective, the second is subjective.”
I do not get this. In Ayurveda each patient is treated uniquely, not like a machine, but as a living being with specific constitution. So it is not so objective as you seem to think.
“Anyway, I agree with the eternity of the scriptures (śabda), but current evidence (pratyakṣa) doesn’t seem to highlight its correct application.”
That is not the defect of scripture. Human beings can misuse anything, be it deity or mantra or sastra.
“Why many current spiritual masters, who in turn have surrendered to previous gurus, cannot transcend their subtle material mentality?”
I cannot comment on it unless you give a specific example.
According to my understanding, such a thing is not possible.
“Just by an absurd semantic twist, they consider that even their faults are “transcendental”.
Again that is human defect and not of sastra.
“In such cases perhaps Kṛṣṇa, who is svatantra, is free to give his bhakti-bala according to his own desire.”
You may have had some unpleasant experience with gurus, and thus I understand your feelings. But that does not change the principle.
However, because you did not like my reply and probably were looking for a support of your above conviction, I will give you an alternate reply. This I am sure you will like:
Guruship is a big scam. It is the best business which needs no investment and no need to pay taxes. It does need big qualification, some knowledge of slokas, courage, and a different dress. A little beard is very helpful, and if it is white that is just perfect. No university degree is needed.
Indian gurus made a big conspiracy and said that without guru there is no moksha or bhakti, guru is absolute, mantra is secret, sastra should only be heard from guru, so no printing of books. This way they controlled knowledge and the people.
But if you read even Gita, what is Krsna’s supreme instruction – manmana bhava mad bhakta (BG 18.65) – “Think of Me, become My devotee”, and then further, “surrender to Me” (18.66). There is no mention of guru. He did not say that the big secret is to accept a guru. He himself did not give diksha to anyone. Mahaprabhu Caitanya also did not give diksha. He said, param vijayate srikrsna sankirtanam. Nowhere in shiksatakam He recommends to have a guru. Krsna nama has all power in it. So why have another mediator? Why not surrender to Krsna directly and chant His name? Kirtans are freely available for download [Caution: listen to the kirtans of those singers who have no gurus, otherwise their kirtan may influence your mind]. Listen to them. Rupa, Sanatana, Jiva Gosvami did not give diksha to anyone.
Now in this age of google, all books are available freely. So why come under the control of some guru? That was an old Indian conspiracy which google has nullified now.
So dear friend, do not run behind any guru. Even Krsna gave full freedom to Arjuna, yathecchasi tatha kuru. He did not say, “follow Me, otherwise you will go to hell.”