The Vedic literature reveals the essential qualification 
of a person ready to accept a spiritual master.

A lecture given in New York, August 15, 1966

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darsinah

"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." Bhagavad-gita 4.34

LORD SRI KRSNA has concluded that of all the sacrifices we are expected to do, the best sacrifice is to acquire knowledge. Our material conditioned life is due to ignorance. Therefore the purpose of sacrifice, penance, yoga, and philosophical discussion is to acquire knowledge.

Transcendental knowledge is viewed from three angles of vision: knowledge of Brahman, or the impersonal Absolute Truth; knowledge of Paramatma, the localized Supersoul; and knowledge of Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The first stage in the development of knowledge is that we must understand, "I am not this body. I am spirit soul, and my aim of life should be to get out of material entanglement."

From the Srimad-Bhagavatam we learn that the tattva, the Absolute Truth, is realized in three visions, brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. And after a description of different manifestations of Visnu, or God, the Bhagavatam states, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is Krsna.

God expands Himself in various ways. We living entities are also expansions of God. There are degrees of expansion, and the central point, or the primal Lord, is Sri Krsna. There are many thousands of incarnations of Godhead. After the list of incarnations in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the conclusion is given: ete camsa-kalah pumsah krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. The author of the Bhagavatam concludes that all the incarnations of Godhead are either plenary manifestations of Krsna or manifestations of the plenary manifestations. Just as the incarnations appeared, Krsna Himself also appeared. And He proclaimed that He comes whenever there is a rise of irreligion. So He is accepted as the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.

In the Brahma-samhita, another Vedic literature, Krsna's position is also confirmed:

isvarah paramah krsnah
anadir adir govindah

There are many gods. In one sense we are also god. The literal meaning of "god" is controller, isvara. Every one of us has some controlling capacity. We control the family, or the office, or the state, or the municipality. Everyone is a controller. But none of us is the supreme controller.

Brahma is the controller of the whole universe. There are innumerable universes and innumerable Brahmas. And their controller is Garbhodakasayi Visnu. Garbhodakasayi Visnu is controlled by Maha-Visnu. Maha-Visnu is controlled by Sankarsana. Sankarsana is controlled by Narayana. Narayana is controlled by Vasudeva. Vasudeva is controlled by Baladeva. And Baladeva is controlled by Krsna. Therefore in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya: "My dear Arjuna, there is no one greater than Me." And Arjuna accepts: "You are asamordhva no one is equal to You, and no one is greater than You."

In our spiritual line, the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana were very good scholars, especially Jiva Gosvami. They analyzed the characteristics of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, and they established that Krsna has all the transcendental qualities of Godhead. Narayana has ninety-four percent of the transcendental qualities of the Absolute Truth, Lord Siva has eighty-four percent, and we living beings have seventy-eight percent. And we have those qualities only partially, not in full.

Now, Krsna says that to acquire knowledge is the best kind of sacrifice. There are different kinds of sacrifice, or yajna, mentioned in the Gita: dravya-yajna (sacrifice of one's possessions), jnana-yajna (sacrifice in knowledge), yoga-yajna (sacrifice in yoga). But here Krsna concludes that all sacrifices are just steps to come to the point of real knowledge. Here in New York you have your Empire State Building. So you can go up to the twenty-fifth floor, the fiftieth floor, the seventieth, seventy-fifth, eightieth. But unless you reach the 102nd story, you have not made perfect progress. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate. After many, many births of culturing knowledge, when one comes to the real knowledge he surrenders unto the Supreme Lord, Krsna. That is the highest stage of knowledge. Krsna advises Arjuna, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Because you are My very confidential friend, I am telling you not to bother with anything else. Just surrender unto Me." This is the most confidential knowledge.

If you make an analytical study of the Vedic literature, you'll find that the ultimate knowledge is to surrender unto Krsna. What kind of surrender? Surrender in full knowledge. After scrutinizingly studying all the processes of self-realization, or transcendental realization, when one comes to the point of perfection he understands, vasudevah sarvam iti: "Vasudeva, Krsna, is everything." This is confirmed in the Brahma-samhita:

isvarah paramah krsnah
anadir adir govindah

Sarva-karana-karanam means "the cause of all causes." I have my body, and the cause of it was my father. And his father was the cause of my father's body. You go on searching father, father's father, his father, grandfather, great-grandfather … Don't think that because you cannot see your great-grandfather there was no father of your grandfather. Don't think, "Anything out of my sight does not exist." No. That is not a very intelligent conclusion. That I cannot see what is happening beyond this wall does not mean there is nothing beyond this wall.

Everyone wants to see God immediately. But you can see God only when you are perfectly qualified. When you are in perfect knowledge, you can see God face to face just as you are seeing me and I am seeing you. But that requires a qualification. That qualification is Krsna consciousness.

Krsna consciousness begins with sravanam kirtanam, hearing and chanting. We have to hear about Krsna. The Bhagavad-gita is the preliminary study of understanding or hearing about Krsna.

I came to your country, the United States of America, after hearing about it. In my childhood I had heard of it in school when I read history or geography. I heard first of all. I did not come first of all. So by hearing I understood, "Oh, that's a wonderful country, and it is far away, and if I go there …" Similarly, you might first of all hear about India and then think about going there.

If we want to see God, first we have to hear about Him. That is the process. The Krsna consciousness process begins with hearing, sravanam. Then kirtanam. Kirtanam means to chant about Krsna's glories, His holy name, His form, His qualities. This is association with Krsna, because Krsna, or God, is absolute. He is not different from His name, His qualities, His form, His pastimes. So hearing and chanting of the qualities or form or name of the Supreme, of the Absolute, means associating with the Supreme. That is direct transcendental association. As we go on associating with Krsna, He helps us understand Him.

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam we find this verse:

srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
hrdy antah stho hy abhadrani
vidhunoti suhrt satam

Krsna is sitting within your heart. He is acting as your spiritual master, caitya-guru. Hearing krsna-katha, topics about Krsna, is punya-sravana-kirtanah: even if you do not understand, it will increase your virtue. By so many years of association with matter, we have accumulated many dirty things within our heart. By hearing about Krsna, the heart gradually becomes cleansed.

Sri Krsna is the friend of everyone, but He's a special friend to the devotee. That you will find in the Bhagavad-gita. Samo 'ham sarva-bhutesu na me dvesyo 'sti na priyah: "I am the friend of everyone. Actually, no one is My enemy and no one is My friend, because I am equal to everyone." Sama means "equal." Ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya mayi te tesu: "But I give special attention to a person devoted to Me and engaged in My devotional service." Therefore one of Krsna's names is suhrt satam. Suhrt means "friend." And satam means "those who are trying for eternal life."

In the material world we don't get anything eternal; everything is temporary. Therefore the material world is called asat. The Vedic injunction is asato ma sad gamah: "Don't remain in the temporary world. Try to go to the eternal world." Tamasi ma jyotir gamah: "Don't remain in darkness. Go to the kingdom of light." These are Vedic injunctions.

Krsna is within our heart. Therefore, as soon as we become a little inclined toward Krsna, from within our heart He gives us favorable instruction so that we can gradually progress. Krsna is the first spiritual master, and when we become more interested we have to go to a physical spiritual master. That is enjoined in today's verse. Krsna advises, "If you want to know the transcendental science, just try to approach someone who knows it."

Krsna mentions pranipatena, pariprasnena, and sevaya. Pranipata means surrender. You must select a person to whom you can surrender yourself. No one likes to surrender to anyone. We are puffed up with whatever knowledge we have "Oh, who can give me knowledge?" There is regular propaganda that for spiritual realization there is no need of a spiritual master. But the Vedic literature Bhagavad-gita, the Bhagavatam, the Upanisads does not say that. It says that there is need of a spiritual master.

Take, for example, the Upanisads. In the Vedic Upanisads it is said, tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet … srotriyam brahma-nistham: "If you want to learn the transcendental subject, you must approach a guru."

In the material world also, if I want to learn music I have to find a musician. Without having the association of a musician, no one can learn music.

Suppose you want to become an engineer. You have to enroll yourself in an engineering or technical college and learn there. And no one can become a medical practitioner simply by purchasing books from the market and reading at home. That is not possible. You have to admit yourself into a medical college and undergo training and practical examination. Similarly, if you want to learn the Bhagavad-gita or any transcendental subject matter, you have to do it as instructed here by Lord Krsna Himself. He is the speaker of the Gita, and He says, tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya: "You must go to a person to whom you can surrender yourself."

That means you have to determine, "Who is the real person who can give me instruction on the Bhagavad-gita?" You must not search for someone whimsically. You have to seriously search for a person who is actually in knowledge. Otherwise, why surrender? There would be no need to surrender. But here it is said clearly, "You have to surrender to a person." That means you have to find a person to whom you can voluntarily surrender. Without finding that person, your mission will not be fulfilled.

In the beginning, Arjuna was talking with Krsna as a friend. Krsna was saying, "Oh, you are a ksatriya, a military man. How can you give up fighting?" They were having friendly talks. But when Arjuna realized, "Our friendly talks will not make a solution," he surrendered unto Krsna. Sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam: "I am a disciple surrendered unto You. Please tell me what is my duty."

That is the process. Here also, Krsna advises, "If you want to learn Bhagavad-gita, you have to go to a person to whom you can surrender." And not blindly surrender. You must be able to inquire. The next qualification is pariprasna, inquiry. Without inquiry, you cannot advance. A student in school who inquires from the teacher is intelligent. Even a child is intelligent when he inquires from his father, "Oh, father, what is this? What is this?"

Inquiry is required. One should not think, "Oh, I have found a good spiritual master. He's learned. All right, I have surrendered. Now my business is finished." No, that is not right. You may have a very good spiritual master, but if you have no power to inquire from him, you cannot progress.

How should you inquire? Without challenge. You should not think, "Oh, I shall see what kind of spiritual master he is. Let me challenge him and put some irrelevant questions and talk nonsensically." That will not help you. Inquire on the point. Pariprasnameans inquiry on the point, and that inquiry should be sevaya, with service. One should not think, "I have inquired so many things from such and such per-son, and I have not rendered any payment or any service, so I have gained." No. Without service your inquiry will be futile.

So three things are mentioned in this verse: pranipata, pariprasna, and seva. Pranipata (surrender) implies that you must at least have the qualification to find a person who is actually fit to give you real instruction. That remains on you. Suppose you have to purchase some gold or jewels. If you do not know where to purchase if you go to a grocery shop to purchase a jewel then you'll be cheated.

If you go to a grocer and ask, "Can you sell me a diamond?" he will understand, "Here is a fool. Let me sell him something else for a diamond." He can charge anything.

When you come home, your relatives will ask, "What have you brought?"

"This is a diamond. I bought it at the grocery shop."

Trying to find a spiritual master in that way will not do. You have to become a little intelligent, because without being intelligent no one can make any spiritual progress. The Vedanta-sutra states, athato brahma-jijnasa. Brahma-jijnasa means to inquire about the supreme subject matter, Brahman. That requires a qualification. That qualification is explained by the word atha. Atha refers to those who have become experienced of the miserable life of the material world. They can inquire about the Absolute Truth, about spiritual life.

Similarly, the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh sreya uttamam. Uttamam means udgata-tamam: transcendental. Tama means darkness. Anything of this material world is in darkness because this material world is dark. The whole world, the whole universe, is dark. Therefore we need sunlight, moonlight, electricity. Uttamam means transcendental subjects, which are beyond the darkness. In the spiritual world there is no darkness.

If anyone wants to inquire about the spiritual world, he has to find a spiritual master. Otherwise, there is no need for a spiritual master. Suppose I want a spiritual master or I want to study Bhagavad-gita or Vedanta-sutra so that I may make some material improvement. That is not required. For material improvement you can work just as so many people are working in industry or something like that. That is prescribed. But if you are at all interested in the subject of Brahman, the spiritual subject, you require a spiritual master. That is clearly stated: tasmad gurum prapadyeta. Tasmad means "therefore." "Therefore one has to surrender unto the spiritual master." Who has to surrender? One who is jijnasuh sreya uttamam, very much eager to understand the transcendental subject matter.

You'll find the same instruction in any Vedic literature. For example, to-day's verse from the Bhagavad-gita says, jnaninas tattva-darsinah. Jnani means a man in perfect knowledge. Perfect knowledge means one has perfect vision not theoretical, but actual vision of the spiritual subject matter. Tattva means the Absolute Truth. You'll find in the Gita that Krsna is the supreme tattva, the supreme Absolute Truth.

Krsna says, manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye: "Out of many, many thousands of people, a few may try to get spiritual salvation." Not everyone is expected to hanker after spiritual salvation. To qualify for that hankering takes many, many years. Out of many, many thousands of people, one is anxious for spiritual realization. And out of many perfected spiritualists, someone may know Krsna. So the subject matter of Krsna is not so easy to understand. It is very difficult. But one can understand it easily by the process prescribed in the Bhagavad-gita:

bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
visate tad-anantaram

If you accept bhakti, devotional service, you can understand the difficult subject matter of Krsna very easily. Abhijanati means you can understand perfectly. Tattvatah means the Absolute Truth as it is. You can understand that. Tato mam tattvato jnatva: after understanding the science of Krsna perfectly, one becomes eligible to enter the spiritual kingdom.

Now, if after many, many births, when I am perfect in knowledge, I have to surrender to Krsna, why not surrender to Him at once? Why should I wait for many, many births? That is the intelligent proposal. If surrender to Krsna is the end of perfection, why not accept that perfection immediately?

But people are doubtful. Someone asked me, "How long will it take to be perfect in Krsna consciousness?" I replied that Krsna consciousness can be had in one second, or it may not be had in thousands of births and deaths.

But if we understand that after attaining full knowledge I have to ultimately surrender to Krsna and that I become a great soul by doing that why not surrender to Krsna at once? Why not become a great soul at once?

But we are not prepared to immediately accept Krsna as the Supreme. We have many doubts. Therefore, to drive away all our doubts, the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam are there. If we scrutinizingly study these two books, we can understand the science of Krsna very nicely, and our progress in Krsna consciousness will be definite.

Thank you very much.