The following is part II of the essay, The Miracle of a Vaishnava, originally published in 1997 as part of Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu’s Vyasa Puja homage for Shrila Prabhupada. Part I can be found here.
In a lecture on Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.2.11 given in Vrindavana on October 22, 1972, Prabhupada again refers to Visvanatha Cakravarti’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita 2.41. Prabhupada begins by telling us we should act so that we will attract Krishna’s attention. How to do that? The answer: Serve Krishna by following His representative, the spiritual master. Anyone who does that thereby becomes himself a representative of Krishna. And how is that? One simply has to transmit the message of Krishna without any adulteration. This leads Prabhupada to cite Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya 7.128:
Just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, amara ajnaya guru hana, “You become a spiritual master under My order.” So if you carry out the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna, then you become guru. Amara ajnaya guru hana. Unfortunately, we do not wish to carry out order of the acaryas. We manufacture our own ways. We have got practical experience how a great institution was lost by whimsical ways. Without carrying out the order of the spiritual master, they manufactured something and the whole thing was lost.
Let us reflect on this passage. Here, Prabhupada cites amara anjaya guru hana as conveying the essential qualification for becoming a spiritual master: to obey the order of the acharyas. When Prabhupada remarks, “Unfortunately, we do not wish to carry out order of the acaryas. We manufacture our own ways,” he is alluding to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.18.5: “A foolish person who manufactures his own ways and means through mental speculation and does not recognize the authority of the sages who lay down unimpeachable directions is simply unsuccessful again and again in his attempts.” To illustrate the failure that attends disobedience to the order of the acharya, Prabhupada then refers to the break-up of the Gaudiya Matha (“a great institution was lost”) after Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s departure.
As we have seen, in his lecture on the anniversary of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s departure, Prabhupada had invoked Visvanatha Cakravarti’s direction as the key to his success. Now, he will go on to cite the neglect of that same direction in explaining the the failure of other disciples of his Guru Maharaja:
Therefore Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura stresses very much on the words of the spiritual master. Vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana. If you stick to the order of spiritual master, without caring for your own convenience or inconvenience, then you become perfect.
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah
This is the confirmation of all authorities. We have to carry out very faithfully the order of the bona fide representative of Krishna. Then our life is successful. Then we can understand Krishna in truth.
In the above passage, Prabhupada alluded to Shrimad Bhagavatam 4.18.5 itself. In his purport to that text, Shrila Prabhupada brings Visvanatha Cakravarti’s direction and Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s together in a way that further elucidates the potency of strictly following the spiritual master’s order:
At the present moment it has become fashionable to disobey the unimpeachable directions given by the acaryas and liberated souls of the past. Presently people are so fallen that they cannot distinguish between a liberated soul and a conditioned soul. A conditioned soul is hampered by four defects: he is sure to commit mistakes, he is sure to become illusioned, he has a tendency to cheat others, and his senses are imperfect. Consequently we have to take direction from liberated persons.
Prabhupada is going to tell us how to discriminate between a liberated and a conditioned soul, so that we can know from whom we should take directions. In fact, he tells us that ISKCON is guided by Krishna through such liberated souls:
This Krishna consciousness movement directly receives instructions from the Supreme Personality of Godhead via persons who are strictly following His instructions.
This sentence contains two surprises. First: Prabhupada says that our movement is “directly” receiving instruction from Krishna “via” other persons. This is paradoxical on the face of it. Since Prabhupada would not state an absurdity, we have to conclude that although Krishna’s instructions may come via the medium of another agent, the instructions are nevertheless direct and unmediated. In other words, the proper medium is entirely transparent to Krishna (and the previous acharya as well) so that the intermediary is not really so. The question about how a disciple of Prabhupada’s disciple can have a relation directly with Shrila Prabhupada is answered herein.
Second: Since the previous sentence enjoins that one has to take direction from liberated souls, we are primed to expect this sentence to end “via persons who are liberated.” Prabhupada upsets that expectation by saying “via persons who are strictly following his instructions.” The next sentence addresses this subversion of our expectatons:
Although a follower may not be a liberated person, if he follows the supreme, liberated Personality of Godhead, his actions are naturally liberated from the contamination of the material nature. Lord Caitanya therefore says: “By My order you may become a spiritual master.” One can immediately become a spiritual master by having full faith in the transcendental words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and by following His instructions.
It is a clumsy error to interpret this passage as implying that a bona-fide spiritual master may be a conditioned soul. Rather, this passages tells us what “liberated” effectively means: it means to strictly follow the orders of the spiritual master.
Prabhupada makes this even clearer in his purport to Shrimad Bhagavatam 4.20.13, a verse that quotes the orders given to Prithu Maharaja directly by Lord Vishnu. Prabhupada remarks:
One has to execute the order of Lord Visnu, whether receiving it directly from Him or from His bona fide representative, the spiritual master. Arjuna fought the Battle of Kuruksetra under the direct order of the Supreme personality of Godhead, Krsna. Similarly, here Prthu Maharaja is also being given orders by Lord Visnu regarding the execution of his duty. We have to stick to the principles stated in the Bhagavad-gita. Vyavasayatmika buddhih: every man’s duty is to receive orders from Lord Krsna or from His bona fide representative and take these orders as his life and soul, without personal considerations. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura states that one should not care very much whether he is going to be liberated or not, but he should simply execute the direct order received from the spiritual master. If one sticks to the principle of abiding by the order of the spiritual master, he will always remain in a liberated position.
Our concern should therefore be single: stick to the order of the spiritual master. That principle is sufficient of itself to answer the questions of securing liberation and direct guidance from the Lord. Prabhupada makes this point with equal directness in his purport to Shrimad Bhagavatam 4.24.15:
This is the secret of success. After being initiated and receiving the orders of the spiritual master, the disciple should unhesitatingly think about the instructions or orders of the spiritual master and should not allow himself to be disturbed by anything else. This is also the verdict of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, who, while explaining a verse of Bhagavad-gita (vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana, Bg. 2.41), points out that the order of the spiritual master is the life substance of the disciple. The disciple should not consider whether he is going back home, back to Godhead; his first business should be to execute the order of his spiritual master. Thus a disciple should always meditate on the order of the spiritual master, and that is perfectional meditation. Not only should he meditate upon that order, but he should find out the means by which he can perfectly worship and execute it.
If we look back at Prabhupada’s various presentations of Visvanatha Cakravarti’s understanding of vyavasayatmika buddhi we find that the instruction that we should simply fix our entire attention on the spiritual master’s order and forget all personal considerations becomes explicated in greater and greater depth: “We should try to carry out the instruction, the specific instruction of the spiritual master, very rigidly, without caring for our personal benefit or loss. “ And: “If you stick to the order of spiritual master, without caring for your own convenience or inconvenience, then you become perfect.” And then: “Although a follower may not be a liberated person, if he follows the supreme, liberated Personality of Godhead, his actions are naturally liberated from the contamination of the material nature.” And again: “Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura states that one should not care very much whether he is going to be liberated or not, but he should simply execute the direct order received from the spiritual master. If one sticks to the principle of abiding by the order of the spiritual master, he will always remain in a liberated position.” And in the last purport: “The disciple should not consider whether he is going back home, back to Godhead; his first business should be to execute the order of his spiritual master.”
Following the order of the spiritual master is the same as attaining not only liberation but also the direct association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We should therefore fix our attention exclusively on that order: all success is thereby obtained. Prabhupada makes this brilliantly clear when he explicitly discusses how the disciples should keep faith with the spiritual master after the master’s physical departure. Prabhupada says (S.Bh. 4.28.47, p.):
The disciple and spiritual master are never separated because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vani (words). Physical presence is called vapuh. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master.
This vani-seva is further explain in the purport to S.Bh. 4.28.51:
When one becomes serious to follow the mission of the spiritual master, his resolution is tantamount to seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As explained before, this means meeting the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the instruction of the spiritual master. This is technically called vani-seva. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura states in his Bhagavad-gita commentary on the verse vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana (Bg. 2.41) that one should serve the words of the spiritual master. The disciple must stick to whatever the spiritual master orders. Simply by following on that line, one sees the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Prabhupada goes on to say that there may be different ways of associating with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. “Nonetheless,” he continues
if one sticks to the principles enunciated by the spiritual master, somehow or other he is in association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since the Lord is in the heart, He can advise a sincere disciple from within. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (10.10):
tesam satata-yuktanam bhajataà priti-purvakam
dadami buddhi-yogam tam yena mam upayanti te
“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.”
In conclusion, if a disciple is very serious to execute the mission of the spiritual master, he immediately associates with the Supreme Personality of Godhead by vani or vapuh. This is the only secret of success in seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Instead of being eager to see the Lord in some bush of Vrndavana while at the same time engaging in sense gratification, if one instead sticks to the principle of following the words of the spiritual master, he will see the Supreme Lord without difficulty.
Srila Bilvamangala Thakura has therefore said:
bhaktis tvayi sthiratara bhagavan yadi syad
daivena nah phalati divya-kisora-murtih
muktih svayam mukulitanjali sevate ’sman
“If I am engaged in devotional service unto You, my dear Lord, then very easily can I perceive Your presence everywhere. And as far as liberation is concerned, I think that liberation stands at my door with folded hands, waiting to serve me—and all material conveniences of dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development] and kama [sense gratification] stand with her.” (Krsna-karnamrta 107) If one is very highly advanced in devotional service, he will have no difficulty in seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If one engages in the service of the spiritual master, he not only sees the Supreme Personality of Godhead but attains liberation. As far as material conveniences are concerned, they automatically come, just as the maidservants of a queen follow the queen wherever she goes. Liberation is no problem for the pure devotee, and all material conveniences are simply awaiting him at all stages of life.
In conclusion, it is our duty—we are so ordered on highest authority—to perpetuate the miracle of Shrila Prabhupada, just as Prabhupada perpetuated the miracle of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Prabhupada has given us everything we need to do that, patiently and clearly spelled out to us “the only secret of success.” Now let us resolve to take that priceless gift to heart, cherish it and nurture it. Let us make his order or life and soul, and let us live our lives solely for the sake of others. We owe this to Prabhupada for what he has done for us.