When Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu met Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī at Prayāga, the Lord instructed him in the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
saba śikhāila prabhu bhāgavata-siddhānta
“Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī the ultimate limit of the truth about Lord Kṛṣṇa, the truth about devotional service, and the truth about transcendental mellows consummating in conjugal love between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Finally, he told Rūpa Gosvāmī about the ultimate conclusions of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.”
Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave confidential instructions to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and he also empowered him with the ability to distribute those instructions widely. Later on, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī compiled the essence of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s teachings in his book, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.
In the Second Wave (Chapter Two) of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has listed sixty-four items of the culture of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which are to be followed by all the devotees of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda. The first four instructions are as follows:
atha aṅgani –
guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sādhu-vartmānuvartanam
“The following are indispensable parts of sādhana-bhakti: (1) taking shelter of the lotus feet of the guru, (2) receiving initiation and training from the guru, (3) serving the guru with affectionate zeal, and (4) following in the footsteps of the great devotees.”
(see Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu or Nectar of Devotion for a complete listing of the sixty-four aṅgas.)
The foremost principle of practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness is stated first, guru-pādāśraya – take shelter at the lotus feet of Śrī Gurudeva, the bona fide spiritual master. Āśraya means shelter. Śrī Gurudeva is the āśraya-vigraha, or the shelter-giving principle of the Supreme Godhead. Under his care, his guidance, we can learn the actual process of becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious.
Kṛṣṇa’s grace will surely descend to us when we have proper connection. Therefore, our first business in culturing Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to take shelter of Śrī Gurudeva.
Without the shelter of Śrī Gurudeva, the so-called practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a mental concoction or simply mundane. Actual Kṛṣṇa consciousness is situated in the supramental, supramundane plane and cannot be attained simply through our mental speculations. One becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious via Kṛṣṇa’s grace received through the descending process-guru to disciple. Kṛṣṇa’s grace will surely descend to us when we have proper connection. Therefore, our first business in culturing Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to take shelter of Śrī Gurudeva.
tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam
“My dear king, he who desires to know the ultimate goal of life must surrender completely to the guru. The guru is always an unalloyed devotee of the Supreme Godhead. The guru is always free from the duality of material existence, such as attraction and aversion to sense objects. The guru has fully realised the purport of śabda-brahman, the revealed bhakti scriptures, and he is always engaged in para-brahma, chanting the holy name and singing the glories of the Lord’s transcendental pastimes.” (Bhāg. 11.3.21)
In Goloka Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa is surrounded by His eternal associates, the nitya-parikara. These eternal associates, like Patraka, Śrīdāmā, Nanda, Yaśodā, and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, are the chief āśraya-vigrahas. The nitya-parikara devotees are not in the category of jīva souls but are known as rāgātmikās, eternal manifestations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti. All the nitya-parikara devotees in mādhurya-rasa, like Lalitā, Viśākhā, and even Candrāvalī, are the expansions of the serving temperament of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. In the remaining rasas, all the nitya-parikara devotees, like Nanda, Yaśodā, and Śrīdāmā, are manifest from the serving mood of Śrī Baladeva. These devotees are not jīva souls, or marginal entities, nor should they be confused with the viṣṇu-tattva category. The jīva soul can never become a rāgātmikā. In the highest stage of perfection, the jīva soul can be an eternal servant of the servant of the servant of the rāgātmikās.
Śrī Gurudeva is known as the principle of āśraya-vigraha, which has extended itself to the conditioned souls to meet their ultimate necessity of receiving the shelter of the rāgātmikās. The guru, being the most merciful devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī or Śrī Baladeva, is always prepared to shelter the submissive and sincere disciples and guide them in matters concerning their spiritual upliftment.
Shelter requires surrender, śaraṇāgati. Without surrender to the guru, the transaction between guru and disciple never takes place. One should be careful not to approach the guru with an argumentative mentality. Submissive behaviour to the guru is essential. We are suffering in the mundane world due to our rebellious attitude against the supreme authority of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, to oppose the words of Śrī Gurudeva will not help us.
The guru is also not an inquiry office. Shall we go to the guru, put forward our inquiry, take some knowledge, and then go away? If so, we will not gain anything spiritual. The knowledge of Śrī Gurudeva is not for our selfish purpose. We must surrender at the lotus feet of Śrī Guru. His knowledge will defeat us, destroy all our doubts, and reveal to us the wealth that is within us. We should never try to make the knowledge of Śrī Gurudeva an ornament of our false prestige. “See what I know. See how advanced I am.” Such false pride will surely check our advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We have been purchased by Śrī Gurudeva and he has every right to dispense with us according to his wish. After surrendering to Śrī Gurudeva, we should not withdraw our energy for our personal enjoyment or out of fear that we are being exploited. We must keep our faith, śraddhā, in Śrī Gurudeva. Such full surrender and faith is the only price to pay if we want to go forward in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ
“Only unto those great souls who have faith in Śrī Gurudeva and the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa are all the imports of Vedic knowledge revealed.”
Dīkṣā and Śikṣā
To support the necessity of the second aṅga (dīkṣā and śikṣā), Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has cited another verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam:
tatra bhāgavatān dharmān śikṣed gurv-ātma-daivataḥ
amāyayānuvṛttyā yais tuṣyed ātmātma-do hariḥ
“The guru should be served with all sincerity in the consciousness that he is as dear as one’s very self. The disciple should consider the guru as God-in-person. With this conviction, the disciple should receive instructions from him in the esoteric meaning of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the related bhakti literature. Such meaningful behaviour of the disciple greatly pleases the Supreme Lord.” (Bhāg. 11.3.22)
Initiation, hari-nāma and mantra-dīkṣā, are offered to the disciple on the threshold of bhakti. Initiation means the beginning. One who has gotten properly initiated in the paramparā system is in the position to receive the descent of Kṛṣṇa’s grace. If we cannot find a qualified devotee to whom we can surrender and from whom we can accept initiation, then with great earnestness we must continue our search. “Seek and ye shall find.” If, however, even after continuing our search we cannot find a qualified person, we must accept that the defect is within us. If we cannot get the shelter of Śrī Gurudeva, we are not actually sincere. Kṛṣṇa will not neglect our sincere search. According to our earnestness we will receive the divine connection with Śrī Gurudeva.
Guru is not a fashion. Once Śrīla Prabhupada asked a group of his disciples, “Who needs a guru?” Much to everyone’s surprise, Śrīla Prabhupada said, “No! Not everyone needs a guru. Only one who wants to put an end to the miserable conditions of material existence – he needs a guru, not everyone. Guru is not a fashion.”
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has explained the process of initiation as pañca-saṁskāra, the fivefold process of tapa, puṇḍra, nāma, mantra, and yāga. First, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that the student must approach the guru with an attitude of tapa, repentance for his past sinful activities. Then the guru will instruct the student in puṇḍra, marking the body as a temple of God on twelve places. Seeing the willingness of the student to reform, the guru will then offer nāma, and the sincere student becomes an initiated disciple. By the strength of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, all one’s sinful activities are destroyed and one realizes one’s eternal nature as a servant of Kṛṣṇa.
Next, the guru gives his disciple mantra. The mantra, usually the Kāma-Gāyatrī mantra, helps the disciple to refine his taste for rasam ānandam, to develop a particular mellow sweetness (rasa) in the chanting of kṛṣṇa-nāma. Then, the guru gives instruction (śikṣā) to the disciple in Deity worship. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura comments that without Deity worship it is very difficult for the conditioned soul to make progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Actually, the holy name of Kṛṣṇa alone can reveal the highest truth, but because the neophyte devotee cannot purely utter the name of Kṛṣṇa, due to either anarthas or aparādha, he requires purification via the process of Deity worship, arcana.
All the items of pañca-saṁskāra have been included in the sixty-four aṅgas of sādhana-bhakti established by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. To support the third aṅga of bhakti, service to the guru, he again cites a verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.17.27):
ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān nāvanmanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ
“Know the ācārya, or guru, to be my very self. Never think of him as an ordinary man. Never disrespect him. Never find fault with him. The guru is the embodiment of all the demigods.”
Once when asked about the guru, Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja said, “The guru is not jīva–tattva.” The devotees present were a little shocked to hear this because according to their understanding at the time, the guru was not God, or viṣṇu-tattva; therefore, he was jīva-tattva, or a spirit soul. This is true, but the correct understanding of the position of the guru is that he belongs to the guru-tattva category. The guru is not considered jīva-tattva and the disciple does not find any mundane qualities in his guru. Whatever the guru does or says will be seen as divine by the disciple because the disciple is seeing the descent of Kṛṣṇa in Śrī Gurudeva. Where Kṛṣṇa comes down to embrace the devotee, that point is Śrī Gurudeva. Because the guru is non-different than Kṛṣṇa himself, he is most worthy to be served by the disciple.
Kṛṣṇa is attracted by the service of his pure devotee. By his complete surrender and willingness to please Kṛṣṇa by any and all means, the pure devotee is able to attract the Lord’s affection-so much so that the Lord himself then desires to render service to his pure devotee. However, the pure devotee, serving as Śrī Gurudeva, is always cautious not to accept service from Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, there remains an unfulfilled desire in Kṛṣṇa’s heart-to serve Śrī Gurudeva. When the sincere disciple renders service to the guru with affectionate zeal, Kṛṣṇa experiences great satisfaction because his innermost desire is being fulfilled.
Here, there is a particularly fine point about Śrī Gurudeva to which we should pay special attention. Kṛṣṇa is served by his dearmost confidential devotee, Śrī Gurudeva.
sākṣād dharitvena samasta-śāstrair
uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ
kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
“The guru is to be honoured as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and followed by all authorities. Therefore, I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of Śrī Gurudeva.” (Guruvāṣṭakam 8)
Śrī Gurudeva is the most confidential servitor of Kṛṣṇa. But who is that most confidential servitor? In the words of Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “If we raise our heads a little and search, then we shall find that it is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.” It is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the dearest servitor of Kṛṣṇa, who is behind the function of Śrī Gurudeva. If we search earnestly and give full attention to the teaching of our beloved guru, we shall find Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in Śrī Gurudeva. That is the highest, most revered vision of our guru. We are told that Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura saw Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and that Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī saw Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in his beloved gurus, Śrīla Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs. That is the ultimate vision of Śrī Gurudeva, and that is the meaning of kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya.
The first three aṅgas of devotional service specifically pertain to the guru: his shelter, his instruction, and his service. The fourth aṅga is to follow in the footsteps of the great devotees, sādhu–vartmānuvartanam. To support this aṅga, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī quotes a verse from the Skanda Purāṇa:
sa mṛgyaḥ śreyasāṁ hetuḥ panthāḥ santāpavarjitaḥ
anavāpta-śramaṁ pūrve yena santaḥ pratasthire
“The best way to search for the truth is to follow the path that has previously been gone over by saintly persons and devotees, and by which they have attained the supreme goal of life. Such a path is always free from all kinds of obstacles and hindrances to our progress, and by following it one very quickly attains the desired result.”
The pure devotee is able to attract the Lord’s affection – so much so that the Lord himself then desires to render service to his pure devotee.
Actually, there are many avatāras (incarnations), many saints and many prescribed methods of spiritual and material achievement mentioned in the Vedas, but we are not interested in them. In this connection, I once heard a story: Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī had written a very difficult śloka in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu that says, “I do not care for Baladeva, and I do not care for Rukmiṇī or Satyabhāmā, but I must do my service. That type of ego I have.” Here we find such neglect being expressed that a neophyte will imagine it to be offensive. How can one neglect Baladeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or Rukmiṇī and Satyabhāmā, the eternal queens of Lord Kṛṣṇa at Dvārakā? We cannot even think of such a thing, so how is it possible that Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written it?
Unable to understand the hidden meaning of this śloka, some very important scholars once came to Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja to ask his opinion, knowing him to be of superior internal understanding and not simply a scholar of the outward dress. Śrīla Guru Mahārāja said that, “Rūpa Gosvāmī composed this śloka with some purpose: to show what the target of the devotee is: O Baladeva, O Rukmiṇī, O Satyabhāmā, you are all most worshippable to me, but please do not interfere with me now. I know that you are all superior servitors of Lord Kṛṣṇa, but I am your servitor’s servitor; I have my duty to perform. So please, do not interfere here, but go and be seated over there and I shall worship your lotus feet.” After hearing Śrīla Guru Mahārāja’s explanation, all the scholars were very much satisfied and went away in a happy mood.
In this way we may also pray, “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, you are the absolute king of love and you always sport in the groves of Śrī Vṛndāvana with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, your eternal companion. I have heard this from my guru and the Vaiṣṇavas, and I have now become hopeful and enthusiastic. Therefore, please do not cheat me by attempting to capture my mind with your expansions of opulence and grandeur. I will not be satisfied with that. I want only to hear about your wonderful Vṛndāvana pastimes and to see your transcendental form standing by Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. I cannot accept anything less than this as the ultimate goal of my life.”
As followers of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, we are called Rūpānugas, followers of Śrī Rupa. We may neglect the teaching of so many saints, like Patañjali, Buddha, Jesus, Śaṅkara, even Rāmānujācārya and Madhvācārya, what to speak of neglecting so many social duties to family, country, etc. prescribed under the varṇāśrama-dharma system. All can be neglected to the extreme degree if one surrenders at the lotus feet of Vṛndāvana Kṛṣṇa.
sarva-dharmān parityajya mam ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“In the eternal land of Vraja, you will experience the whole conception of beauty. Dismiss all other engagements and prospects, and come to me alone. Your inner hankering will be fulfilled beyond your expectation. You will find such dignity in me that you will be beyond reaction and repentance.” (Gītā 18.66)
We are first interested in the line of the Vṛndāvana saints, such as Rāmānanda Rāya, Svarūpa Dāmodara, the Six Gosvāmīs, and their disciples. We should not allow ourselves to become distracted even by Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā, or Dvārakā. Nor should we be interested in reading many books from other sampradāyas describing their conceptions of reality. Reality for us is Kṛṣṇa the Beautiful. That is the actual standard of rāgānuga-bhakti, spontaneous loving devotion. Our sole interest should flow toward the Vṛndāvana section, excluding all other conceptions.
On the path previously tread by the great devotees of the Lord, there is surely success. The only thing that can mar our attempt is vaiṣṇavāparādha and nāmāparādha. All obstacles may easily be conquered by chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa and sādhu-sevā, service to the guru and the saints, but if we make offence to the holy name of Kṛṣṇa or to the guru and the saints, we will surely fall from the path. Therefore, we must be careful to avoid any offence by always offering our most humble obeisances to Śrī Gurudeva and the Vaiṣṇavas and by constantly chanting hari-nāma.
If we give thorough attention to these first four aṅgas of sādhana-bhakti, we will have built a strong foundation for the culture of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.