The Guru and the Miraculous

mukam karoti vacalam
pangum langhayate girim
yat-krpa tam aham vande
sri-gurum dina-taranam

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the deliverer of the fallen souls. His mercy turns the dumb into eloquent speakers and enables the lame to cross mountains.”

This traditional prayer, often quoted by followers of Srila Prabhupada in eulogies to him, praises the guru for possessing the ability to perform miracles. Does the genuine guru have such power?

The prayer as quoted here is a revision of the original, written by Srila Sridhara Svami in the fourteenth century. The last line, which as revised refers to the guru, originally reads paramananda-madhavam: “the transcendentally blissful Personality of Godhead, Madhava.” God, or course, can make the dumb speak and the lame walk. Was the reviser of the last line justified in ascribing the same power to the Vaisnava guru?

Lord Krishna in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.17.27) says that the genuine Vaisnava guru is sarva-deva-maya, “the representative of all the demigods.” With their backing, then, the guru can possess their nearly limitless power, including the ability to grant speech to the dumb and steps to the lame.

Generally, however, disciples of Vaisnava gurus attribute the guru’s power not to the devas but to Lord Krishna , the source of the devas’ powers. Ascribing miraculous abilities to the guru is easy to justify, therefore, because Lord Krishna can empower His pure representative to do anything.

People sometimes ask whether Srila Prabhupada performed miracles. First one should understand that Vaisnava gurus, though possessing extraordinary powers, do not generally display them. One reason is that such performances tend to attract what Prabhupada called “cheap followers.” The Vaisnava guru wants disciples who understand the importance of spiritual life and are ready to undertake the strict discipline required to progress steadily on the spiritual path.

Once, in India, Srila Prabhupada was asked if he performed miracles. Pointing to his non- Indian disciples, he said, “This is my miracle.” Surely turning large numbers of culturally disadvantaged (to put it mildly) people all over the world into lovers of Krishna was miraculous, especially when one considers that Prabhupada arrived in America essentially penniless.

Here’s another way to look at the prayer. The Vedic scriptures tell us that the only true speech is Krishna -katha – words by and about Krishna , His devotees, His service, and so on. From that perspective, anyone who, because of Srila Prabhupada, chants Krishna ’s holy names, discusses His activities and teachings, speaks to others about Him, or engages in Krishna -katha in any number of ways has been transformed from muteness to eloquence. Like many disciples and grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada, I often lecture at length about Krishna . Before hearing from Prabhupada, I was speechless on the subject.

As for the lame, the Srimad-Bhagavatam says that legs that don’t travel to holy places are no better than tree trunks. By Srila Prabhupada’s miraculous power, my former tree-trunk legs now carry me daily to Lord Krishna ’s temple.

To say that the inability to speak about Krishna or walk to His places constitutes dumbness and lameness is reasonable because, as we learn from the Bhagavad-gita (2.16), material words and steps have no real substance. Only the spiritual, the eternal, can truly be said to exist.

For the amusement of my friends who know of my impatience with amateurish poetry, here’s something I wrote more than thirty years ago: “O miracle-worker Prabhupada! / Who can compare with you? / Made monkeys dance with peacock steps, / Gave dead men life anew.”