(The following is a conversation between Śrīla B.G. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja and a godbrother in 1996)
Godbrother: When your disciples recite the jaya-dhvani prayers after kīrtanas in the temple etc. they refer to Your Holiness as a paramahaṁsa. Are you actually a paramahaṁsa, a topmost swam-like devotee?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: What am I? That I know very well. I am the very fallen and lowly servant of Kṛṣṇa. You, my godbrother, you may also have such a perception of me. But my disciples –– they will not see like that. The post of the guru is paramahaṁsa. The disciple does not see anything ordinary about his guru. He has such a vision of his Gurudeva. The disciple only sees the inspired side of the Vaisnava who is his Gurudeva. He sees and he is interested only with the investment or delegation of Kṛṣṇa within his Gurudeva.
For example, once I was discussing my earlier devotional life with one of my disciples, Rādhā-Mādhava Dāsa, and I informed him that just prior to taking sannyāsa I was an ordinary brahmacārī preaching in Africa. To which he immediately replied, “Ordinary? Never!”
The post of the guru is paramahaṁsa. The guru is relative at the same time. All will not see him as guru. His disciples see him as absolute. But the godbrothers, or a friend, or a relative of his previous family – they will not see him as absolute. Each will see him according to their individual relationship with him.
We must give respect to the post, to the post of guru. Of course one should have the necessary qualification, guru-niṣṭhā and niṣkiñcana-bhakti, firm faith in the order of his Guru Mahārāja and freedom from the desires for power, profit, adoration and distinction before accepting the post of guru and accepting disciples. But it will be very difficult to say from an objective point of view who is or who isn’t a paramahaṁsa. For example, if I ask you if Śrīla Prabhupāda was a paramahaṁsa you will say yes, but what is your proof? Can you say? What is your proof?
Godbrother: Well, Śrīla Prabhupāda came to America alone and he published many books on the topic of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Yes, Śrīla Prabhupāda did that and much more, but that is external. Do you mean to say that if an old man simply comes to America and publishes some books about Kṛṣṇa that we should consider him a paramahaṁsa? No. Then what is your actual proof?
Godbrother: I have my faith and I know it in my heart that Śrīla Prabhupāda is a paramahaṁsa.
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Yes! That is your proof. Your faith is your proof. Faith allows us to know, to understand, to measure the standard and that is our only real proof. You can seek help from the scripture to know some of the necessary qualifications to become guru but ultimately we must hear from our heart. That is the real proof. It is a subjective experience. It is a matter of knowing from the inner flow of the heart. It is not objective but subjective. The knowledge of the position of the guru descends from above. Kṛṣṇa Himself reveals the guru to a prospective candidate. Kṛṣṇa chooses who will be guru and for whom. It is not a matter of voting a man to the post of guru nor is the position of guru understandable by those who have no faith.
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.38)
The qualification to know the truth – to understand the position of the guru, depends on śraddhā, our faith. If we have proper faith then the truth is revealed in our heart and there is no greater proof than that. We may judge the position of so many persons in this world by their various qualifications and disqualification but if we try to understand what is guru in that way we will be baffled.
Godbrother: But the guru must be pure and perfect.
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Yes, he must be pure, he must be perfect – but what is your conception of purity, of perfection? In which way shall we consider that he is perfect or not? How shall we understand his purity?
By Vedic standards the gopīs were impure. They were unchaste from the material point of view but what was their standard of spiritual purity? They are actually the purest of the pure because they simply wanted to satisfy Kṛṣṇa. They have no separate desire other than to please Kṛṣṇa. The wives of the Vedic brāhmaṇas, in kṛṣṇa-līlā, were also more pure than their husbands because they simply tried to satisfy Kṛṣṇa and His friends.
Also Rāmānanda Raya was a śūdra, a government servant. Therefore, he was impure by Vedic standards and as such a sannyāsī should never touch such a person. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu rejected such measures of purity and impurity and He embraced Rāmānanda Rāya. Not only that but He accepted Rāmānanda Rāya as His rasa-guru.
We cannot know what is spiritual purity simply by trying to measure purity by material standards. One may perfectly follow the four regulative principles for many, many life times but he may remain impure. On the other hand one may not so expertly observe the regulative principle yet he may be a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
Godbrother: But that’s not possible. Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us to strictly follow the regulative principles otherwise we cannot go back to Godhead.
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Yes, we may strictly follow the regulative principles but without surrender to guru and Kṛṣṇa where is our purity? It remains only material purity. There are many brāhmaṇas, and sannyāsīs in India who very, very, strictly follow the four regulative principles yet they are great oppressors and offenders to Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s movement. Similarly, there are examples of many devotees who were not so strict about the regulative principles but they were pure devotees nonetheless.
Godbrother: Like who?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Like Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father for example. Everyone knows Śrīla Prabhupāda dedicated his Kṛṣṇa Book to, “Gaura-mohana De, a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa.” Yet his father kept a hookah, a water-pipe, in his house for entertaining saintly persons and he sometimes supplied them with gāñjā also. So what was his purity if he supplied a water-pipe and gāñjā to his guests. If you do such things your godbrothers will drive you out with a stick. You will be an outcast from the society. So what was the purity of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father that he took him to be a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa? His purity was that he simply desired that his son would become a pure devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and he prayed to all those saintly persons whom he entertained to please give this blessing to his son. That was his purity. He simply desired for his son to become a pure devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.
We have to judge purity from the inner plane, not from the external circumstances. There is another example. There was Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi. When he came to Navadvīpa he was sitting in his luxurious house smoking a water-pipe, wearing costly clothing and perfumes. From his external appearance and habits he seemed to be a materialist. But when he heard the verse, aho bakī yaṁ stana-kāla-kūṭaṁ recited by Mukunda Datta he became mad with love of Kṛṣṇa.
aho bakī yaṁ stana-kāla-kūṭaṁ
jighāṁsayāpāyayad apy asādhvī
lebhe gatiṁ dhātry-ucitāṁ tato ’nyaṁ
kaṁ vā dayāluṁ śaraṇaṁ vrajema
“O, how amazing it is! The sister of Bakāsura (Pūtanā) desiring to kill Śrī Kṛṣṇa, smeared poison on her breasts and forced Kṛṣṇa to drink her milk. Even so, Lord Kṛṣṇa accepted her as His mother, and so she attained the position of a nurse. Of whom should I take shelter but the most merciful Kṛṣṇa?” (Bhāg. 3.2.23)
When Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi heard this verse he became very serious and soon shivering and the shedding of tears in ecstasy became manifest in his body. He began to roll on the floor and cry, “Of whom should I take shelter but the most magnanimous Lord? Where should I take refuge without such a Lord?” Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi had so much devotion for Kṛṣṇa within, but outwardly he appeared to be an ordinary materialist.
Godbrother: Is there more than one pure devotee manifest on the planet at a time.
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Certainly. Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that there were many pure devotees living in Vṛndāvana chanting 100 rounds japa daily. But it is not so easy to find such devotees because they usually keep themselves hidden from the public eye. Many of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers were also pure devotees; Śrīpāda Keśava Mahārāja, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, and Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, just to name a few. As Śrīla Prabhupāda once said, “My spiritual master did not initiate fools.”
A neophyte devotee who has some faith in his guru thinks that his guru is the only paramahaṁsa. Āmāra guru–jagat guru, my Guru is jagat-guru. This thinking will be troublesome for the disciple. The neophyte does not understand the faith of others – he thinks that everyone must be of his mark. The neophyte must make progress in his vision otherwise he runs the risk of committing offences and again falling back into the mundane world.
There is not simply one guru or one pure devotee but many. This point has not been properly understood by the general body of devotees. For example, just after the disappearance of our Śrīla Prabhupāda it was said that there were only eleven pure devotees. Now it is widely said that there are no pure devotees at all. The propaganda machine goes on but where is the proper understanding – where is the knowledge and realisation?
There is always a plurality of gurus; caitya-guru, vartmana-pradārśaka-guru, śikṣā-guru, nāma-guru, mantra-guru, sannyāsa-guru, rasa-guru, śāstra-guru, dhāma-guru, parama-guru, etc. There are many gurus, but the neophyte devotee has trouble to understand what is actually guru so he is sometimes accepting one (or eleven) and rejecting another (or everyone).
The search for guru is not limited to your society or mine or anybody else’s. Guru is a universal principle, not a sectarian concern. Śrīla Prabhupāda had to leave the Gauḍīya Matha started by his spiritual master in order to preach and pursue the truth. Similarly, we have had to leave the Iskcon movement to maintain the proper conceptions of the Gauḍīya Vaisnava sampradāya. Not only us, but many have had to leave Iskcon to find a bona-fide guru and to maintain the proper standards of purity free from Vaiṣṇava aparādha since the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Godbrother: Can one have two gurus?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Why two gurus? One can have hundreds of gurus if necessary. For example, if in a previous life one has accepted a guru but due to his own shortcoming he could not achieve success then in a future life he will be given another chance. He will meet Śrī Gurudeva in a future life but that may or may not be the same identical personality who was his guru in the past. But guru he will get, that is sure. We may pass many lifetimes being helped by many gurus before we reach perfection.
Godbrother: But what about this lifetime? Can one have more than one guru in this lifetime? For example, you have first, second, and sannyāsa initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda, but you also have a disciple relationship with Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. How is that possible?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: That is also not a new thing. It is more the standard in our paramparā to have two or more gurus rather than having only one. In fact Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura often remarked that the eka-guru-vādīs, those who preach the philosophy of having only one guru, will certainly have a difficult time achieving perfection.
If you study our guru-paramparā carefully you will see that many of our ācāryas such as Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, who offers respect to Rūpa and Raghunātha at the end of every chapter of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, had two or more gurus.
Actually, after the disappearance of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, many of his disciples accepted śikṣā from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. Our Śrīla Prabhupāda also accepted Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as his śikṣā-guru. And on the order of Śrīla Prabhupāda I have also accepted Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as my śikṣā-guru and that has been a great blessing for me.
Godbrother: Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was just a ṛtvik-ācārya and initiated disciples on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: That is all right, but we are not Sikhs. That is the conception started by Guru Govinda Singh. He announced that there would be no more gurus, only that a body of ṛtvik-ācāryas would initiate. Since then Sikhism has become a dead religion. We are not interested in that. We are members of a living conception, a living sampradāya. This ṛtvik-ācārya idea is a dead conception. Where is the life? The life means I must become pure, I must surrender, I must embrace a life of unalloyed devotion, and I must preach. But what are the ṛtvik-ācāryas going? Nothing. Simply sitting back and pointing with the finger of their crippled faith toward the so-called disqualification of others. They say no one is qualified to hold the post of guru. They see only disqualification in everyone. They are like Duryodhana. But we should not see like that. We should try to see like Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja.
There is a story – one day, Lord Kṛṣṇa met with Duryodhana and Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja. Kṛṣṇa asked Duryodhana to go out into the kingdom and bring back a person more qualified than himself. Duryodhana was highly qualified in the military sciences. Then Duryodhana went out. Lord Kṛṣṇa requested Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja also to go out into the kingdom but to find a person less qualified than himself. Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja was also highly qualified in all the military sciences and more. Then Yudhistṣṭhira went out. After some time both men returned alone, empty handed. Kṛṣṇa then inquire from each why they had returned alone. Duryodhana said, “I could not find anyone more qualified than myself.” And Yudhiṣṭhira said, “I could not find anyone less qualified than myself.” Do you see?
Those with the ṛtvik mentality are like Duryodhana, they cannot see the good qualities of others. In this way what they want to say is that they alone are qualified – at least to judge the qualifications of others. This kind of thinking is avaiṣṇava, against the devotional line.
Another argument is this – the ṛtvik-ācāryas are saying that no one is qualified. But they have not seen everyone so how do they know for sure. It is the same old story. A man says he has not seen anyone who has seen God. Therefore, he says, nobody has seen God. But how does he know? Has he met everyone and inquired, “Have you seen God?” No. And if he met someone who said he had seen God would he believe him? Probably not.
Consider this point also – Śrīla Prabhupāda had at least 5000 disciples. Many of them are still carrying on Kṛṣṇa consciousness even to this day. Now you want to say that none of them have become qualified? None of them have have become Kṛṣṇa conscious? If that is true then why on earth would you want to become a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda? After all – not even one of his disciples became qualified even after following the process for almost thirty years. Then what will be the use of you following that process? Certainly it must be defective. If one is a professor but none of the professor’s students have qualified to pass the examination, then why should I want to enroll as one of his students? I would do much better for myself to find out a professor who has got some qualified students. Then at least I might have a chance to qualify myself.
Do you follow? Those who are preaching this ṛtvik-ācārya conception are actually doing great harm to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s movement. This ṛtvik idea is a dangerous conception. It simply leads to the grave. It has no life.
Godbrother: But how can we know for sure if a godbrother is a qualified paramahaṁsa or not?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: First you must surrender and become a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa and your spiritual master. Then you will know for sure who is who. It takes one to know one.