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Arjuna teaches us how to serve the spiritual master in His absence

 
          The following is a series of purports from Srila Prabhupada in the Srimad-bhagavatam that deal with the thoughts and actions of Sri Arjuna upon Lord Krsna’s disappearance from this earth. Suta Gosvami begins to relate the words spoken by Arjuna in this regard:
 
“Remembering Lord Kṛṣṇa and His well-wishes, benefactions, intimate familial relations and His chariot driving, Arjuna, overwhelmed and breathing very heavily, began to speak.”(1)
 
          Every event that took place during the battle of Kuruksetra and Lord Krsna’s pastimes with the Pandavas was to set an example for the welfare of the general people, especially in this age of Kali. Throughout the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-bhagavatam, the author, His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada makes this perfectly clear with His extensive and elaborate purports while drawing out the significance of every text in contrast to our present day lives. Srila Prabhupada has Himself commented on this brilliant feature of His books: "My purports are liked by people because it is presented as practical experience."(2) Similarly, as in the case of Arjuna in the absence of His spiritual master, Lord Krsna, Srila Prabhupada describes the real meaning of Arjuna’s attitude during that time in a way that we can all understand and hold in contrast with our daily lives. Today, 34 years after the departure of Srila Prabhupada, the matter of His physical absence is still widely argued upon. Since the following purport by Srila Prabhupada deals with just that – the physical absence of Arjuna’s spiritual master – it should be given much attention and regard. The simple purports to come and ones alike may be the very answer to a controversy long held in the legacy that Srila Prabhupada left behind. Every sincere devotee should take careful note of the great Arjuna and His solution in adjusting to the absence of His spiritual master.
 

"The Lord left behind Him the instructions of the Bhagavad-gītā not for the benefit of Arjuna alone, but also for all time and in all lands
(a). [...] The problem which arose in the heart of Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra was solved by the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.(b) [...] The merciful Lord left behind Him the great teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā so that one can take the instructions of the Lord even when He is not visible to material eyesight(c). [...] Thus the Bhagavad-gītā, or any authentic scriptural sound representation of the Lord, is also the incarnation of the Lord.(d) There is no difference between the sound representation of the Lord and the Lord Himself. One can derive the same benefit from the Bhagavad-gītā as Arjuna did in the personal presence of the Lord.(e) (3)
 
 
          This purport is very significant as there are quite a few things at play here. Using the letters as guidelines, we can go through each point at a time. For our first point, point (a), this ties to a question that is often asked or used as an argument by some of the various parties that have emerged from the time when Srila Prabhupada left His physical body. Some argue on whether or not Srila Prabhupada is still available to anyone and everyone as a spiritual master, even in His physical absence. Without getting too deep into the issue, if we simply relate back to the situation with Arjuna and His spiritual master, Lord Krsna, we can see that this certainly was not the case by use of the underlined words. We can see that Arjuna’s spiritual master left behind His instructions not for Arjuna alone, but for everyone – all time and in all lands. If we connect this with Srila Prabhupada, the only logical conclusion is that Srila Prabhupada’s instructions are not for His disciples alone, but for everyone and any aspiring person who wishes to take to Krsna consciousness. The words “not for Arjuna alone” are very significant because they actually seem to want to eliminate some misconception that only Arjuna who was in the physical presence of His spiritual master could derive the full benefit of His (Lord Krsna’s) instructions.
 
          We know from these words that this benefit which was available in all lands could definitely be applied to the physical absence of the Guru, because as we know, Srila Prabhupada used those words specifically in regards to Krsna’s absence from the planet. This also ties to the strange idea that Srila Prabhupada’s ritvik system was legitimate only because He was still physically present on the planet. This idea is defeated, however, simply by reflecting upon the scenario at hand; namely that Krsna was actually absent under the context of the words “for all time and in all lands.”
 
 
Point (b)
 
“The problem which arose in the heart of Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra was solved by the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.”
 
Point (b) demonstrates that we can indeed derive full benefit from the instructions of the spiritual master and His books. The instructions to Arjuna by His spiritual master began to eliminate all apparent problems in His mind. Srila Prabhupada then elaborates more on this fact:
 
"Arjuna began to think of the Lord’s instructions to him on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra. Only those instructions began to eliminate the tinges of material contamination in the mind of Arjuna." (4)
 
"As soon as Arjuna turned his attention towards the instructions of the Lord, as they are inculcated in the Bhagavad-gītā, his true color of eternal association with the Lord became manifest, and thus he felt freed from all material contaminations." (5)
 
 
This concept in relation to the spiritual master is also found in other places from Srila Prabhupada:
 
"The spiritual master by his words, can penetrate into the heart of the suffering person and inject knowledge transcendental which alone can extinguish the fire of material existence.” (6)
 
“This material body it will be finished, that is the nature. But if we keep to the vani, to the words of the spiritual master, then we remain very fixed up...if you always keep intact, in link with the words and instructions of the higher instructions, then you are always fresh. This is spiritual understanding." (7)
 
"Physical presence is immaterial. Presence of the transcendental sound received from the Spiritual Master should be the guidance of life. That will make our spiritual life successful.” (8)
 
“So if you want to be anxiety-less, without any anxiety, then you must take shelter of the guru, or the spiritual master, and the test is that by the instruction of guru, by following the instruction of guru, you will be anxiety-less. This is the test.” (9)
 
 
Point (c)
 
“The merciful Lord left behind Him the great teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā so that one can take the instructions of the Lord even when He is not visible to material eyesight.”
 
Point (c) is another significant line in the purport, which reinforces points (a) and (b). The words “material eyesight” only add to the spiritual masters’ instructions being available to all people of all time, in all lands, and regardless of physical presence.
 
“Just follow his order, Spiritual Master is along with you by his words. Just like my Spiritual Master is not physically present, but I am associating with him by his words.” (10)
 
 
 
 
Point (d)
 
“Thus the Bhagavad-gītā, or any authentic scriptural sound representation of the Lord, is also the incarnation of the Lord.”
 
Srila Prabhupada often applies this characteristic of sound incarnation of Krsna with that of the spiritual master, His words or instructions:
 
"Krishna and his representative are the same. Similarly, the spiritual master can be present wherever the disciple wants. A spiritual master is the principle, not the body. Just like a television can be seen in thousands of place by the principle of relay monitoring.” (11)
 
"If there is no chance to serve the spiritual master directly, a devotee should serve him by remembering his instructions. There is no difference between the spiritual masters instructions and the spiritual master himself. In the absence therefore, his words of direction should be pride of the disciple." (12)
 
“There are two - vani or vapuh - so vapu is physical presence and vani is presence by the vibration, but they are all the same." (13)
 
 
Srila Prabhupada would also often give these kinds of definitions in relation to His own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura:
 
"So far as personal association with Guru is concerned, I was only with Guru Maharaj 4 or 5 times, but I have never left his association, not even for a moment. Because I am following his instruction, I have never felt any separation.” (14)
 
"The Spiritual Master is present wherever his sincere disciple is trying to serve his instructions. This is possible by the Mercy of Krsna. In your attempts to serve me and in all your sincere devotional sentiments I am with you as My Guru Maharaja is with me. Remember this always." (15)
 
“My Spiritual Master, Sarasvati Gosvami Thakura, may appear to be physically not present, but still because I try to serve His instruction I never feel separated from Him. I expect that all of you should follow these instructions." (16)
 
 
Thus we are left with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions (which are non-different from Himself) being available to everyone, everywhere, in all lands – regardless of material eyesight. Srila Prabhupada is actually quite literally present in that way. It is not that He is dead and gone:
 
 
"So that is called prakata, physically present. And there is another phrase, which is called aprakata, not physically present. But that does not mean, Krishna is dead or God is dead. That does not mean, prakata or aprakata, physically present or not present, it does not matter." (17)
 
"So my Guru Maharaja will be very, very much pleased with you ... it is not that he is dead and gone. That is not spiritual understanding ... he is seeing. I never feel that I am alone." (18)
 
"Yes I am glad that your centre is doing so well and all the devotees are now appreciating the presence of their spiritual master by following his instructions, although he is no longer present. This is the right spirit." (19)
 
"So, spiritually, there is no question of separation, even physically we may be in far distant place." (20)
 
“Just like we are touching Kṛṣṇa immediately by sound. Sound vibration. So we should give more stress on the sound vibration, either of Kṛṣṇa or of the spiritual master. Then we'll feel happy and no separation.” (21)
 
In this last quote it is interesting that Srila Prabhupada uses the word “touch” – that we could actually touch the spiritual master by following His instructions. This is the kind of emphasis and importance Srila Prabhupada has put on serving the instructions of the spiritual master.
 
 
 
Point (e)
 
“There is no difference between the sound representation of the Lord and the Lord Himself. One can derive the same benefit from the Bhagavad-gītā as Arjuna did in the personal presence of the Lord.”
 
This last point seems to sum together all of the previous points. We can all derive the same benefit from Srila Prabhupada’s orders and instructions as anyone else did in the personal physical presence of Srila Prabhupada. There is really no difference between the two. In fact, it is actually recommended by Srila Prabhupada to associate by Vani and not Vapuh (vibration and physical presence):
 
"Vani is more important than vapuh." (22)
 
"So we should associate by vibration, and not by the physical presence. That is real association." (23)
 
"It is better service to Krishna and Spiritual Master in a feeling of separation; sometimes there is a risk in the matter of direct service." (24)
 
"Yes, the ecstacy of separation of Spiritual Master is even greater ecstasy than meeting with him." (25)
 
"So we should give more stress on the sound vibration, either of Krishna or Spiritual Master. Never think that I am absent from you, presence by message (or hearing) is the real touch." (26)
 
“There are two ways of association - by vani and by vapuh. Vani means words and vapuh means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore, one must take advantage of the vani, not the physical presence." (27)
 
“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." (28)
 
Those who only stress the physical presence of the Guru are compared by Srila Prabhupada to a bug on the lap of a king:
 
“There are some of my Godbrothers here in India, who had constant personal association with Guru Maharaja, but who are neglecting his orders. This is just like the bug who is sitting on the lap of the king. He may be very puffed up by his position but all he can succeed in doing is biting the king. Personal association is not so important as association through serving." (29)

 
Conclusion

"As soon as Arjuna took up the instructions of the Bhagavad-gītā, expert as he was, he could at once eradicate the material conception of Lord Kṛṣṇa, his eternal friend. He could realize that the Lord was still present before him by His instruction, by His form, by His pastimes, by His qualities and everything else related to Him. [...] One is not able to feel the presence of the Lord in all circumstances until one is endowed with the required transcendental vision made possible by devotional service prescribed in the revealed scriptures. Arjuna had attained this stage long before on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra, and when he apparently felt the absence of the Lord, he at once took shelter of the instructions of the Bhagavad-gītā, and thus again he was placed in his original position.”
(30)
 
We should all follow in the footsteps of Sri Arjuna and simply take shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. Lord Krsna appeared on this planet to reestablish the principles of religion. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada’s purpose in appearing on this planet was to also benefit the mass of people in the world with His instructions, or Krsna’s instructions. Stressing the physical presence of the spiritual master is not at all spiritual understanding. Srila Prabhupada, in His full rights as an authorized bonafide acarya coming in the disciplic succession, established a system where these instructions would be especially taken advantage of by all devotees for years and years to come. This is one fact that is as plain, simple and visible as the sun, yet, almost like the impersonalist’s during Lord Caitanya’s pastimes it is overlooked and  clouded by so many misconceptions. The answer is right in front of our eyes. It is stressed throughout Srila Prabhupada’s books. The first process of devotional service is hearing. We chant the Hare Krsna mantra with the understanding that Krsna is present while we chant. So many simple aspects to Krsna Consciousness are there to serve as an answer. Practically our whole movement is based on sound vibration, yet this sound vibration is useless when it comes to the spiritual master? This is certainly no understanding at all on our philosophy. If people start to see the sun rays of Srila Prabhupada’s books, then their muddy perceptive on the relationship between Guru and disciple will be evaporated immediately.
 
      All Glories to Srila Prabhupada, our eternal, living Guru!
 
 
"He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavas die When thou are living still in sound! The Vaishnavas die to live, and living try to spread the holy name around!"
   - Poem by Srila Bhakivinoda Thakura
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
References
 
(1) SB 1.15.4 - translation
(2) Conversation -- May 28, 1977, Vrndavana
(3) SB 1.15.27
(4) SB 1.15.28
(5) SB 1.15.29
(6) SB 1.7.22 -- Purport
(7) Lecture -- 02/03/75
(8) Letter -- 01/19/67
(9) Lecture -- Stockholm, September 9, 1973
(10) Lecture -- 08/18/71
(11) Letter -- 05/28/68
(12) C.c. Adi 1.35, Purport
(13) Letter -- 06/22/70
(14) Letter -- 02/20/72
(15) Letter -- Dec. 1, 1973
(16) Letter -- 22 August, 1970
(17) Lecture 11/12/73, Los Angeles
(18) Lecture -- 2/3/75
(19) Letter -- 13/9/70
(20) Letter -- 30/08/68
(21) Lecture - SB 7.9.12 -- Montreal, August 18, 1968
(22) Letter -- 14/12/72
(23) Lecture -- 18/08/68
(24) Letter -- 31/12/67
(25) Letter -- 13/1/68
(26) Letter -- 2/8/67
(27) C.c. Antya, concluding words
(28) SB 4:28:47, Purport
(29) Letter -- 20/2/72
(30) SB 1.15.31


 

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