Q. I heard that service to one’s guru is not considered devotional service (bhakti) but is rather a means to gather spiritual merit (sukrti). Is this statement acceptable in light of what Srila Prabhupada taught us about devotional service?
A. You have either been misinformed or have misunderstood what has been said. One cannot serve Sri Krishna without serving Sri Guru. All service to Bhagavan is prefaced by glorification of Sri Guru. If service to Krishna is the body of bhakti, then service to Sri Guru is the limb. Or it is possible to conceive of service to Sri Guru as service to the body of bhakti and service to Sri Krishna as its limb. This is guru bhakti. Of the two, the latter, guru bhakti, is arguably more pleasing to Sri Krishna.
Q. What do you think about the idea that scripture cannot be understood by the reader unless it is heard directly from a “rasika” guru and explained by him?
A. It is best to study scripture under the guidance of an advanced Vaisnava. This is the principle, but this does not mean that your personal time spent studying the sastra is wasted unless you are doing so in the company of a rasika guru. Actually most devotees spend little time in the direct physical proximity of their guru. Studying the guru’s writings and the commentaries of the previous acaryas is how the vast majority of devotees gain scriptural knowledge. How well you will be able to understand those writings depends on the extent to which you apply your intelligence to this study, as well as on your level of spiritual advancement. Studying sastra will help you advance, but sincere service to Sri Guru will help you even more, even if you are not in the physical presence of your guru.
Q. I have been a devotee for some time but am not very detached. How can I understand that the scripture says knowledge and detachment quickly follow bhakti?
A. It is important to understand that even though the Bhagavatam says that knowledge and detachment quickly follow bhakti, it will usually take some time for this to manifest. It will take even more time for taste to appear, at least in a lasting sense. Knowledge and detachment correspond with one another. One in knowledge does not try to pursue enduring happiness in relation to things that do not endure. One in knowledge is thus detached as well. Thus knowledge and detachment in turn correspond with liberation, which is subordinate to or follows bhakti. So the full sense of this verse is that when one gets suddha bhakti, knowledge and detachment immediately follow. Therefore, there is no need to pursue the difficult path of knowledge or detachment (jnana and vairagya) because by pursuing bhakti, which is comparatively easy, jnana and vairagya follow automatically.
Q. Must the guru be omniscient to hear the prayers of the disciple?
A. The guru does not need to be omniscient to hear the prayers of those who love him. Webster’s dictionary defines omniscient as having infinite awareness or being possessed of universal or complete knowledge. Infinite awareness and universal knowledge in respect to knowing every detail of material existence is physical omniscience. Physical omniscience pertains to God alone. What could be called metaphysical omniscience, or knowing the self and God, is what is meant when it is said that the liberated soul is all-knowing (sarvajna).
Metaphysically speaking, one who knows God knows everything, but he or she does not necessarily know what you ate for dinner last night. Then again, in Gaudiya Vaisnavism we say, as Kant does, that God is ultimately unknown and unknowable. One can never know him completely. Even Krishna’s eternal associates admit to being unable to fully understand him. Is Krishna’s mother Yasodamayi omniscient, and if so, in what sense? She certainly does not know what Krishna did with the gopis last night under the stars!
Vaisnavism teaches that a devotee must establish a contention by citing supporting verses from sastra, so where does it say in sastra that the guru must be omniscient? Vedanta-sutra does say that fully liberated souls (videha muktas) can have pervasive knowledge by way of their aura, which extends like the light of a lamp into other things, presumably things that they choose to extend themselves into, pradipavat avesah tatha hi darsayati (Vs 4.4.15). But this does not mean that they automatically know everything that is happening in the world or even in the lives of their disciples. Only God knows the intricate details of everything and everyone.
Q. What’s the difference between a videha mukta and a jivan mukta? Are all gurus jivan muktas?
A. Not all gurus are jivan muktas. Jivan mukti refers to liberation within this body and videha mukti refers to final liberation after the body ceases. For the jnani who is liberated while still in the body, prarabdha karma, or the karma that is already bearing fruit in the form of the physical body, is still winding down. When he or she attains videha mukti, the prarabdha has ended as he or she enters Brahman.
For the bhakta, jivan mukti is attained at the mature stage of asakti, as his or her karma is exhausted. After this stage and while still in the world the devotee attains bhava bhakti, at which time Bhagavan takes over the devotee’s body through his svarupa-sakti, giving the devotee full facility to develop an internal spiritual body. However, even realizing one’s internal spiritual body is not synonymous with videha mukti. In Gaudiya Vaisnavism a videha mukta is one who has left this mortal world altogether and joined Sri Krishna in his nitya-lila.
Q. What is your opinion about citing the following quotations as evidence from sastra (sastra pramana) supporting the idea of the omniscience of the guru?
“Yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati. Anyone who is a devotee of the Lord knows about the Lord to some extent, and devotional service to the Lord makes him able to know everything by the grace of the Lord. Although a devotee may apparently express himself to be ignorant, he is full of knowledge in every intricate matter.” (SB 3.7.8, Bhaktivedanta purport)
“The Vedic mantras say, yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati. When the devotee sees the Supreme Personality of Godhead by his meditation, or when he sees the Lord personally, face to face, he becomes aware of everything within this universe. Indeed, nothing is unknown to him. Everything within this material world is fully manifested to a devotee who has seen the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (SB. 8.6.9, Bhaktivedanta purport)
“When Dhruva Maharaja was talking with his mother, Suniti, of all the incidents that had taken place in the palace, Narada was not present. Thus the question may be raised how Narada overheard all these topics. The answer is that Narada is trikala jna; he is so powerful that he can understand the past, future and present of everyone’s heart, just like the Supersoul, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (SB 4.8.25, Bhaktivedanta purport)
A. What you have cited here are the words of the guru, in this case Srila Prabhupada’s purports. Sastra pramana refers to verses from scripture such as the Vedas, Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita, and so forth, or in the case of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, the writings of our sastra-acaryas such as Baladeva Vidyabhusana or the Six Goswamis. Even the guru must cite sastra pramana to support his words.
This is not to say that Srila Prabhupada’s purports are not evidence, but what he means in these instances must be balanced with what sastra says when addressing this point directly. This is not what Srila Prabhupada is doing in the purports cited. For example, intricate knowledge and knowledge of everything in the universe could easily be construed to mean that one who has such knowledge knows that the world is but the modes of nature. This conforms to the metaphysical notion of omniscience. Furthermore, when directly addressing this issue, Srila Prabhupada said that he was not omniscient. It has also been pointed out that knowing something about a disciple’s past or hearing his or her prayers does not indicate omniscience in the full sense of the term by any means.
In this regard, a disciple once said to Srila Prabhupada, “We see, for instance, sometimes the acarya may seem to forget something or not to know something, so from our point of view, if someone has forgotten, that is an imperfection.”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “Then you do not understand. Acarya is not God, omniscient. He is servant of God. His business is to preach bhakti cult. That is acarya.”
At that point, another disciple said to Srila Prabhupada, “In one purport in the Bhagavad-gita, you write that a disciple of a bona fide spiritual master is supposed to know everything.”
To this Srila Prabhupada replied, “Everything means whatever his guru knows, he should know, that much. Not like God, everything. Within his limit, that’s all. If he tries to understand whatever his guru has said, that much is ‘everything.’ Otherwise, ‘everything’ does not mean that we know everything, like God, like Krishna. That is not possible. If he regularly chants and follows the regulative principles, follows the orders of guru, then he knows everything. Because if he knows that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then he knows everything. That’s all. Not that he should know as Krishna. Yasmin vijnate sarvam eva vijnata: if he accepts Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Absolute Truth, then he knows everything. That is finish.”
Also Srila Rupa Goswami, whose words for all Gaudiya Vaisnavas are considered sastra, has directly addressed this issue. In his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, southern division, first wave, Krishna’s qualities are listed and it is said that only the first fifty qualities can appear in pure devotees to a minute extent. Sri Rupa says that omniscience, the 52nd, is only partially present in Lord Siva, while it is fully exhibited in Krishna.
This statement of Sri Rupa confirms that great personalities who have received the mercy of Bhagavan partially possess only the first fifty qualities of Krishna, which do not include omniscience. Omniscient (sarvajna) is defined later in this way: “One who knows everything in the minds of others, even when separated by time and space, is called omniscient.” (Brs. 2.1.182) The example given is Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.15.11, where Kunti mentions how Krishna, even though far away, knew the danger the Pandavas were placed in when Durvasa and his disciples came to see them just after they had eaten, and how Krishna suddenly appeared and saved them.
It is not uncommon for a guru to have heightened psychic abilities, but omniscience is another thing. Although Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana does attribute “pervasive knowledge” to the mukta in the sutra that I cited earlier, this does not mean that a mukta possesses omniscience like God. Furthermore, Sri Baladeva is referring to the videha mukta, not the jivan mukta. In any case, according to scripture only Krishna is omniscient, but of course one who knows Krishna knows everything—meaning that he knows everything that he needs to know.