Srila Prabhupada’s teaching about guru or Acharya
In 1965, at the age of seventy, Sri Srimad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada set out on a 35-day long trans-Atlantic voyage to the US, carrying with him Rs.40 and a trunk load of his English translations of the Srimad Bhagavatam. He had carried in his heart for over four decades, the order of his spiritual master to spread the message of Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures all over the world. Although his endeavors in India so far had met with obstacles and challenges, he was resolute in his determination to serve the order of his spiritual master.
In July 1966, Srila Prabhupada established the ISKCON society in New York and began to attract young American boys and girls to Krishna consciousness. During the next ten years of his life’s mission he established 108 Krishna temples around the world, circled the globe 14 times, authored over 70 books and personally inspired thousands in the path of devotion to Krishna. As Acharya of the ISKCON society, he formally initiated about 5,000 disciples all over the world in diksha (initiation) ceremonies.
In November 1977, Srila Prabhupada reached the eternal abode of Lord Sri Krishna.
Before his departure from this world, Srila Prabhupada laid out his succession plans. Srila Prabhupada had already formed a Governing Body Commission to manage the affairs of the
society. Now he had to direct how initiation would be conducted after his physical departure. This was the decision concerning who would occupy the seat of the Acharya (acharya-peeta) and give initiations (diksha) to newcomers – a position of ultimate spiritual and institutional authority.
Srila Prabhupada had taught from the Vedic literatures that an Acharya plays a prime role in the development of Krishna bhakti in the heart of a disciple. In his books, lectures and other instructions, he emphasized how the disciple should treat and regard the Acharya, for a healthy development of Krishna consciousness. It is the direction of the Vedic literatures that is followed by all Vedic traditions (especially the Bhakti traditions in India) that the spiritual master or Acharya should be worshipped on a par with the Supreme Lord. Srila Prabhupada too taught this principle. In one of the
One of the most significant lessons taught by Srila Prabhupada is about the position of guru or acharya. According to the Vedic tradition this subject is of vital concern to anyone who desires to pursue the spiritual path. To emphasize the importance of the guru or acharya, he repeatedly instructed this in his books, lectures, letters and recorded room conversations.
Bhaktivedanta purports he quotes a verse from Upanishad:
The entire Vedic program is based on this principle, and one can understand it as recommended in the Vedas:
“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.” (Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad 6.23) One must accept the pure devotee, the representative of God, as one’s guru and then offer him all respects one would offer the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the secret of success.
Please note this verse from the Upanishad that states one should have para bhakti to deva (Supreme Lord) and guru (spiritual master) and this is the criterion for revelation (prakäçante) of the imports of Vedic literatures. And Srila Prabhupada adds, “offer him (guru) all respects one would offer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead” as the “secret of success.”
Srila Prabhupada writes in the book, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, how Sanatana Goswami, one
of the prime disciples of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, prayed to his spiritual master after he received instructions on spiritual topics:
Thus Sanätana Gosvämé prayed for the Lord’s confirmation that His teachings would actually evolve in his heart by His grace. Otherwise Sanätana knew that there was no possibility of his being able to describe the Lord’s teachings. The purport of this is that the ächäryas (spiritual masters) are authorized by higher authorities. Instruction alone cannot make one an expert. Unless one is blessed by the spiritual master, or the ächärya, such teachings cannot become fully manifest. Therefore one should seek the mercy of the spiritual master so that the instructions of the spiritual master can develop within oneself. (Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 14)
Srila Prabhupada established daily practices in ISKCON when devotees get opportunity to “seek the mercy of the spiritual master so that the instructions of the spiritual master can develop within oneself.”
Once in 1975 when Srila Prabhupada arrived in the Philadelphia airport, he was received by hundreds of enthusiastic disciples exuberant and joyous with kirtan and flower garlands. Sandy Nixon, a writer, witnessed this and later when she met Srila Prabhupada, she questioned him:
Ms. Nixon: I also wonder about the many beautiful material things that the devotees bring you. For instance, you left the airport in a beautiful, fancy car. I wonder about this because…
Çréla Prabhupäda: That teaches the disciples how to regard the spiritual master as good as God. If you respect the government representative as much as you respect the government, then you must treat him opulently. If you respect the spiritual master as much as God, then you must offer him the same facilities you would offer to God. God travels in a golden car. If the disciples offer the spiritual master an ordinary motorcar, it would not be sufficient, because the spiritual master has to be treated like God. If God comes to your home, will you bring him an ordinary motorcar—or will you arrange for a golden th car? (July 13, 1975, room conversations with Sandy Nixon, Philadelphia)
The Indian devotional traditions stress this aspect about the guru or spiritual master and Srila Prabhupada too highlighted this: the disciple has to learn to regard the spiritual master as good as God.
In one of the letters that Srila Prabhupada had written to a disciple, he had explained how a disciple has to regard what the spiritual master speaks:
You are correct when you say that when the Spiritual Master speaks it should be taken
that Krishna is speaking. That is a fact. (Letter to Mukunda, June 10 , 1969).
Thus it is the culture in ISKCON, which Srila Prabhupada rightly established, that the words of the spiritual master are taken very seriously. In fact, Srila Prabhupada’s life is itself a demonstration of how one should take the instructions of the spiritual master as one’s life and soul. He often stated that the cause of his success was taking the instructions of his spiritual mas ter to spread Krishna consciousness in the western world as his life and soul. He writes:
This combination, the instruction of the spiritual master and the faithful execution
of the instruction by the disciple, makes the entire process perfect. Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura (one of the acharyas in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) describes in his explanation of the verse in Bhagavad – gita , vyavasäyätmikä buddhiù, that one who wants to be certain to achieve spiritual success must take the instruction from the spiritual master as to what his particular function is. He should faithfully try to execute that particular instruction and should consider that his life and soul. The faithful execution of the instruction which he receives from the spiritual master is the only duty of a disciple, and that will bring him perfection. (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.22.7 purport).