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Lord Krsna reveals Himself through His holy names to chanters who honor and obey His agents.

This is the fifth in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided when trying to progress spiritually by chanting God's names. This article discusses the offense of disregarding or disobeying the guru.

The celestial city Indrapuri is the residence of Indra, one of the devas who manage universal affairs in service to the Supreme Lord, Krsna. In Indrapuri the scent of smoke from aguru incense mixes with the fragrance of flowers that decorate the parks and the bodies of the residents. Strings of natural pearls adorn the buildings, and benches carved from diamond and coral line the spotless roadways. Indrapuri is off limits to the sinful, cunning, lusty, greedy, envious, violent, or falsely proud.

Indra's wife, Saci, sits beside him on his throne, as the dancers and singers of this material heaven entertain them with music glorifying Krsna. A white umbrella that glows like the moon is Indra's royal canopy

Although Indra is a powerful deva, his enemies, the asuras (demons), were once able to attack his heavenly kingdom and injure him and his associates. Because of disrespecting his spiritual master, Indra had become vulnerable.

Once, while enjoying his wealth and power on his jeweled throne, Indra saw Brhaspati, his guru, enter the palace hall. According to etiquette, Indra should have stood to greet him with a seat, sweet words, and some refreshment. But because Indra was used to seeing Brhaspati every day, he ignored him. Offended, Brhaspati left.

Indra quickly understood his omission and took to the standard method of rectification he went to find his guru to fall in repentance at his feet. But Brhaspati, wanting to teach Indra a lesson, became invisible. Because Indra lost the blessings of Brhaspati, demonic forces were able to attack Indrapuri, wounding Indra and others.

The Need for a Spiritual Master

Like Indra, every human being needs the grace of a spiritual master. We may not face enemies like Indra's, but we still need protection as we pursue the business of human life: spiritual advancement. "Demons," such as our desires for material things, constantly seek our destruction.

Those of us who have taken to Krsna consciousness want to attain a kingdom far superior to Indrapuri. We're aiming for the spiritual world, the kingdom of God, Krsna.We know that the pleasure of serving Krsna there is higher than anything Indra enjoys. Our plea for entrance into that service is the mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

We can know about chanting the holy names only when we've learned the purpose of life from a bona fide guru. Human beings are mostly at a loss to see the purpose in the gigantic creation around them. Using only observation and experience, people sometimes reason that an intelligent being created everything for some purpose. But the nature of the creator, the purpose of His creation, and the means to align with that purpose escapes them. These things must be revealed from beyond the creation, by the creator or His representatives. Therefore, to understand these things, everyone needs a guru. All gurus also have gurus, the ultimate guru being the Lord Himself. The principle of accepting personal guidance in the mission of life is so important that when Krsna incarnates He also accepts a guru to set an example.

When we find a genuine guru who comes in a chain of teachers and disciples that starts with the Lord Himself, we learn that creation is meant to help fallen souls pursue material desires and ultimately return to their original spiritual position. A bona fide guru also teaches that the principal means of achieving the ultimate purpose of existence loving union with Krsna is the chanting of His holy names, especially the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Initiation and Spiritual Training

Even to know about the Lord's name requires some touch with a guru. So unquestionably someone who decides to dedicate his or her life to Krsna will need systematic training by a guru. Just as a young couple formalize their relationship with marriage, or a student officially enrolls in a school, a person serious about loving and surrendering to Krsna makes a vow of formal commitment. When we become officially initiated into a lineage of gurus and disciples, we receive a firm commitment to our deliverance from the guru who initiates us, the many previous teachers, and the Lord Himself. In ordinary life, when the admissions officer of a school accepts a student, all the teachers and staff, up to the chief administrator, give their implied assurance that they will do their utmost to ensure the student's education and graduation. Similarly, a faithful disciple in a transcendent school is sure to achieve spiritual success. At the time of initiation, the guru "plants the seed of devotion" and delivers the holy name by requesting Krsna to manifest Himself through the chanting.

Krsna will not manifest through the chanting if the chanter disrespects the guru either the guru from whom one learned the chanting or the guru from whom one received formal initiation into the school of devotional life. Even in an ordinary school students who lack courtesy toward their teachers may be neglected or even dismissed. How much is the Lord displeased when someone disregards a spiritual master!

The offense to the holy name of disregarding or disobeying the guru stems from considering the guru an ordinary person. Of course, the guru almost always seems to be like us, appearing in a physical body made of the same ingredients as all other human beings. But the guru is the representative of God, is realized in the science of devotion, and is therefore extraordinary. Although police officers are human beings like you and I, we treat them with the respect due to the government as a whole because they represent the government and know the law. We respect a teacher as a representative of the school and a repository of knowledge and experience that exceeds our own. With such examples, we can easily understand that one should treat the guru, as we are taught, like God; the guru represents God and is our link to Him.

The scriptures list specific ways by which disciples must show respect for the guru. For example, they should sprinkle on their head water that has washed the guru's feet, and upon seeing the guru, they should offer prostrated obeisances. They shouldn't use the guru's bed, seat, shoes, or conveyances, worship anyone else as guru in the guru's presence, or act or speak in a way that displeases the guru.

One should worship the guru first and then take permission to worship Krsna. Therefore, along with the picture or deity form of Krsna, a disciple keeps a picture of his or her guru. The incense, flowers, and so forth, are offered first to the guru and then to Krsna. Even when chanting the holy name of Krsna, one keeps the guru in mind, with gratitude for the gift of chanting.

The disciple is expected to be not only respectful but also obedient. The guru's instructions in both letter and spirit should be the life and soul of the disciple. The guru often gives general and individual instructions. Some may apply to all times, places, and circumstances, such as the instruction to always remember Krsna and never forget Him. Some are to be applied in various ways and degrees, depending on the situation. And not everything the guru says is an order; he may also give guidelines.

The disciple must avoid both neglect of the rules and blind, fanatical following. The key is to distinguish between eternal principles and external details. Krsna therefore says that the disciple should inquire from the guru and follow the practical example of saints, or sadhus.

Beware of Cheaters

Some people today may feel that the scriptural rules for respecting one's guru are excessive. Yet respect for a person who represents and speaks for a greater power is a sign of civilization and culture. For example, modern social norms demand respect for one's employer, professor, or a district court judge.

Unfortunately, there will always be people seeking respect and prestige by claiming spiritual authority, just as there are criminals who dress as policemen and phony schools and businesses that cheat innocent people of their money. A prospective disciple should therefore determine if the guru is a disciple in a bona fide line of teachers and disciples, just as one examines the educational credentials of university professors. A guru's main qualification is knowledge of Krsna not simply theoretical knowledge, but realized knowledge demonstrated by a practical life of dedication to the Lord.

Generally, when one finds a bona fide guru, the relationship is established for eternity. Still, a guru is obliged to renounce a disciple who seriously or repeatedly falls from the path, and a disciple should reject a fallen guru.

From the Guru, One Gets Krsna

If we please our spiritual master, then Krsna in the form of His holy name will easily reveal Himself to us, even if we are not very qualified otherwise. This principle operates even in ordinary material dealings. For example, a highly placed university professor who feels that a certain student shows promise can recommend that student for an advanced program for which the student would not ordinarily be eligible. The institution will back up the professor's recommendation. Krsna reciprocates in a similar way with His dear devotees. If Krsna's representative is happy with our service, Krsna accepts us despite our shortcomings. The obstacles to our chanting are then easily removed, and our progress is swift and sure.

Urmila Devi Dasi and her family run a school in North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to BTG and the major author and compiler of Vaikuntha Children, a guide to Krsna conscious education for children.