(Today was the 114th anniversary of the appearance of our beloved spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, among us. This is the homage I wrote to mark this occasion.)
namah om visnupadaya krsna-presthaya bhutale
svami sri bhaktivedanta prabhupadaya te namah
I offer my humble obeisances to His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krsna on this earth, having taken shelter of His lotus feet.
gurvajnam sirasi-dhrtva saktyavesa sva-rupine
hare-krsneti mantrena pascatya-pracya-tarine
Taking the order of his guru on his head, he became empowered by Nityananda Prabhu to act as a saktyavesa avatara. He distributed the Hare Krsna mantra all over the Eastern and Western world, uplifting and delivering all fallen souls.
visvacarya prabharyaya divya karunya murtaye
sri bhagavata-madhurya-gita-jnana pradayine
He is the best of millions of gurus because he is the personification of divine mercy. He has distributed the sweet nectar of Srimad-Bhagavatam and the transcendental knowledge of Bhagavad-gita all over the world.
radha-krsna-padambhoja-bhrìgaya gurave namah
He is constantly engaged in exclusive devotional service to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila Rupa Gosvami, and Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu. I offer my humble obeisances to Srila Prabhupada, who is like a bumblebee always tasting the nectar of the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha and Govinda.
(These prayers of praise for our beloved spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, were written at his request by Sripada Bhakti Sundara Govinda Maharaja, under the direction of his spiritual master, Sripada Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja. Sripada Govinda Maharaja left our vision earlier this year.)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wrote that at the beginning of every new year, at the beginning of every new month, at the beginning of every week and every day, and at every moment, we should progressively remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I have sometimes said that Vyasa-puja is an opportunity for us to remember the spiritual master and dedicate our lives anew to his service. I want to do so this year with a particular focus on one aspect of the guru’s place in a disciple’s life.
Devotion to the guru is absolutely essential to spiritual progress. Krsna das Kaviraja says in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta that the spiritual master’s instruction is “the active principle in spiritual life”: acaryera mata yei, sei mata sara. The Bengali word Srila Prabhupada gives as “active principle” here is sara. Another way to understand this word is essence, or essential principle. Consequently, we can see that surrender to the guru is itself the essence of spiritual life, and failure to do so means we completely miss the point of spiritual endeavor, which renders our attempts at progress useless. Srila Jiva Goswami says in Bhakti Sandarbha that satisfying the guru is the main cause of attaining divine love and service.
In each of the centers Srila Prabhupada and his followers have established around the world, devotees begin each day with a meditation on the guru by singing Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti’s Gurvastakam. In the eighth verse, Cakravarti Thakura says,
yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado
yasyaprasadan na gatih kuto 'pi
“By the spiritual master’s mercy, one may receive Krsna’s blessings; without the guru’s grace, no one can make any spiritual progress.” From the beginning of his mission Srila Prabhupada established the central position of the spiritual master in the lives of spiritual practitioners.
We see in Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu that practical spiritual life is built on the foundation of taking shelter of the spiritual master, which includes several items. Srila Rupa Goswami explains the first items of sadhana: guru-padasrayas tasmat krsna-diksadi-siksanam/ visrambhena guroh seva. A sadhaka takes shelter of a guru, accepts initiation, takes instruction from, and serves the guru with faith, with trust. Sometimes we see the word visrambha translated as respect, or reverence, but a quick exploration of that word reveals that the relationship with the spiritual master should be much more than the kind of distance implied in words such as respect and reverence.
Srila Rupa Goswami himself defines visrambha later in Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, in the context of discussing the mood of friendship. He says that deep, familiar trust, free from any sort of restriction or control. Srila Jiva Goswami further explains that deep trust implies not only freedom from excessive reverence and fear, but also a sense that friends are in no way different from each other. Elsewhere, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti says it is a sense that one’s own life, body, mind, intelligence, clothes, and everything else are one with those of the object of love. So visrambhena guroh seva seems to point to service based on a real sense of identity with the guru to the extent that the disciple has no doubt whatsoever that the guru has only his or her best interests in his heart.
So just how deeply does this confidence based on identity run? How far does this intimate trust extend? Visvanath Cakravarti seems to answer this in a commentary on a verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam’s fourth canto:
A devoted and chaste wife, while absorbed in the service of her husband, may ignore even her own children. Similarly, a disciple who is deeply absorbed in the service of the guru may even ignore practices such as hearing and chanting, knowing that by guru-seva alone he can easily attain complete perfection in devotion. And just as a devoted wife ignores her own pleasures and home comforts, so too does a disciple completely absorbed in guru-seva ignore even the divine bliss arising out of hearing and chanting, nor does he seek out the kind of secluded place suitable for such bhajan. That is the instruction in this verse. The Vedas also proclaim the supremacy of service to the guru.
Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura’s analogy in no way minimizes the practices of sadhana bhakti. Our experience, in fact, is that the guru teaches us to engage progressively in cultivating those practices. Rather, it points out, as Visvanatha says himself, “the supremacy of service to the guru” over all else.
The essence of devotional service for a disciple, then, seems to be dedication to the service of the spiritual master without any reservation, with complete confidence that such service will carry us to Krsna’s lotus feet. This confidence finds support in Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s assurance that those of us who regularly chant his eight beautiful verses of praise for the guru during the brahma-muhurta will certainly attain direct service to Vrndavana-natha, Sri Krsna.
With this in mind, then, I beg that I may be able to continually increase my dedication to the service of my eternal spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, without which my life has no meaning.