Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4: Transcendental knowledge: Text 34
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
tat — that knowledge of different sacrifices; viddhi — try to understand; praṇipātena — by approaching a spiritual master; paripraśnena — by submissive inquiries; sevayā — by the rendering of service; upadekṣyanti — they will initiate; te — you; jñānam — into knowledge; jñāninaḥ — the self-realized; tattva — of the truth; darśinaḥ — seers.
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.
What is need of us becoming self-realized?
In this material world everyone is working so hard to maintain oneself and also to maintain their loved ones. Everyone is looking for everlasting meaningful and loving relationships and trying to find happiness through them. Because to love and serve is the property of the soul. But with time everything that we earn in life is taken away:- Our position, our relationship because everything in the material world is temporary. Only thing that is eternal is our relationship with Krishna. Each one of us has relationship with Krishna. We are all part and parcel of Krishna and our duty is to serve Him eternally. The real knowledge is to understand who I am and our relationship to Krishna. That is self-realization. Forgetfulness of once real identity is the cause of suffering.
Krishna says in BG 7.19 , After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
Why self-realization is difficult?
People are suffering in material world because of ignorance. When we are in ignorance, we serve our senses instead of serving Krishna and get entangled in this material world. The Vedic literatures describe this material world as darkness (as many people in this world does not understand that body is different from soul). We become entangled in this material world due to our attachments and desires and thus we get caught up in the cycle of birth and death. In human form of life we have privilege of becoming self-realized. We have a choice to go towards the light which is spiritual world and be happy permanently or to stay in darkness and suffer. We can transcend the suffering only when we revive our relationship with Krishna by realizing that we are not this body but spirit soul. When we act on that knowledge then we will gradually go towards the self-realization and don’t need to struggle in the cycle of birth and death.
Why there is need to approach Guru?
Bhaktivinoda Thakur says though we may be great swimmers but when we are thrown into the ocean we cannot survive unless we reach the shore. Similarly there is no peace in this material world however expert we may be in dealing with it. There always will be great struggle. If somehow or other we manage to reach the shore we will find peace. Somehow or other if we become one of the particles of dust at Krishna’s Lotus feet we will be liberated. If we want to learn transcendental knowledge, we must approach one who has actually seen Absolute Truth.
As we saw that the main reason of our suffering is because we have forgotten our relationship with Krishna but until we know who Krishna is how will we form that relationship and until we form that relationship how is it possible to develop love for Him and serve Him? So, if one actually wants to understand spiritual life and spiritual knowledge, one has to approach a Guru because Guru is tattva darshi, means he has seen the truth and he knows the process of how one can attain transcendental knowledge. Guru is one who awakens our devotion to Krishna by giving us sambandh gyan. Srila Prabhupada gives examples sometimes a typewriter may not work but if we go to a technician who knows the machine, he can immediately repair it because they know the process similarly Guru also knows the process required to become self- realized which is called abhideha and also knows the ultimate aim of life going back to Godhead which is called prayojan.
In Vedas we find different examples of devotees who when guided by Guru became self-realized and attained the perfection of their life. Mrigari attained perfection by surrendering to Narad Muni. Mrigari was in ignorance so he was killing animal half way and incurring sin but when ,enlightened by Narad Muni he surrendered to Narad Muni followed his instruction and perfected his life.
Another example from Srimad Bhagavatam is Devahuti, when Devhauti realized temporary nature of this body , she took shelter of her son Lord Kapila who is Lord Krishna Himself and she says that I am very sick of the disturbance caused by material senses, my Lord, I have fallen into the abyss of ignorance, by grace of Lord Kapila she was able to understand the Absolute Truth. Even Krishna went to Gurukul accepted Sandipani Muni as his Guru. Caitanya Mahaprabhu also accepted Guru IsvaraPuri to teach us that those who want to realize the purpose of human life and become self- realized they must surrender at the Lotus feet of Krishna by surrendering to Guru. We have two births first birth is from our mother and father and second birth by accepting a Spiritual Master. Guru is our father and Vedas are our mother. Then we come to the platform of being human.
By spiritual Master’s instruction ignorance is removed. When we take the shelter of Guru he can cut the tree of material entanglement through transcendental knowledge.
We have seen the reasons why we need to approach spiritual master but one of main reason is mentioned in Cc Madhya 11.28
ye me bhakta-janāḥ pārtha
na me bhaktāś ca te janāḥ
mad-bhaktānāṁ ca ye bhaktās
te me bhakta-tamā matā
[Lord Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna:] ‘Those who are My direct devotees are actually not My devotees, but those who are the devotees of My servant are factually My devotees.’
Krishna says in Adi Purana; thus we cannot approach Him directly. We have no qualification to understand Krishna. Srimati Rādhārāṇī is pure devotee of Krishna, that is why we approach Krishna through Smt. Radharani. When we approach Krishna through her then we get Krishna’s mercy. This is because pure devotees are free of any material desires, they carry Krishna in their heart. Devotees enhance our relation with Krishna.
Vaishnava never think that he has direct relationship with Krishna. They always consider themselves to be servant of Krishna. He is das dasanu das. Example when any exalted devotees come in temple senior devotees will introduce us to them, even though we may be full of faults but they will glorify even little service done by us and exalted devotees are pleased to know how nicely we are serving Krishna and we get their mercy though we are not qualified.
Krishna is very compassionate he wants us all to go back to home eternal home which is free from suffering. In the form of super soul he accompanies the soul through various life form. He never leaves us. Guru is external manifestation of Krishna. Guru -disciple relationship is not based on material body. It is eternal. Guru will take birth again if the disciple doesn’t make it in this life. Guru reveals our true identity. He teaches us how to act in rightful way avoiding suffering completely
Approach spiritual master should be bonafide and who is in disciplic succession. Why? Religion comes directly form Lord one cannot manufacture it. When one follows disciplic succession the source of knowledge is coming from Bhagavan Krishna Himself because Lord is perfect so the knowledge is also perfect. It has mercy and potency aspect with it. Guru does not change message. This knowledge empowers the disciples and such knowledge can bring transformation of heart. We see that many people have written explanations about Bhagavat Gita but reading them did not bring any clarity and transformation in people’s lives because they gave their own interpretations but Srila Prabhupada gave the message as it is and that knowledge being pure transformed many lives. Prabhupada emphasizes that working under authority is important we have to give up our conceptions if want to advance in the path of bhakti.
Similarly speculation or dry arguments cannot lead one to proper path. Any knowledge in order to be perfect has to be in harmony with scripture. It should be validated by Guru, Sadhu and Shastra. A man who is himself tied cannot free another man. He needs to approach the person who is free. Spiritual Master is the self-realized soul he has seen the Absolute truth. Only Guru can purify our vision by giving us the transcendental knowledge which will enable us to see God. Guru gives us guidance through disciplic succession.
One of the principles taught in this verse is -We have to approach the Guru- Pranipatene with humility.
Example Sanatana Goswami though was a learned scholar when he approached Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Varanasi He had straw in between his teeth which is sign of humility. Though he was a learned scholar he said that people think that I am a pandit and I am so foolish that I accept that as a truth. I genuinely think myself to be scholar when I am fool. I do not know the goal of life and how it can be achieved please instruct me. One should not approach Spiritual Master in challenging spirit but with humility. Thus is the right way to approach the Guru. Sanatana Goswami did not approach Guru to get some gold but to find our self-interest. This is real purpose of approaching Guru. Also our goal should not be mundane enquiry but to learn self-realized knowledge.
What is Surrender?
If one is serious about spiritual life then one should surrender fully.
When Srila Prabhupada came to America, he was giving lecture after lecture and one person who was young he got up and said that I think everyone is equal so I don’t like to bow down before anyone. Prabhupada said that you identified your own disease. This is our problem We think we are the master and we don’t want to surrender but eventually we have to surrender to old age, disease and finally death. Why not surrender to Krishna instead through Guru and escape this cycle of birth and death.
If we don’t want to surrender to immediate Guru how to surrender to absolute? Guru never tells us to surrender to himself , he tells us to surrender to Krsna. Fully surrender means that I am helpless please guide me. Why surrender is essential because main reason we identify with our body due to our false ego. When we surrender fully to instructions of Spiritual Master then we get rid of all bodily designations which is cause of false ego. Because due to false ego we think we are the doer and want to work independently. We need to be humble. Unless we agree to surrender voluntarily the knowledge is information only it won’t be realized knowledge as it won’t reach the heart. The moment we surrender we revive our original spiritual identity.
How to approach a inquire knowledge from a Guru
Another important principle in this verse is we should inquire submissively- Pariprasnenea
Another important information in this verse is after surrender one should inquire submissively because inquiring submissively shows genuine desire of a disciple to learn. By studying under bonafide Spiritual Master our doubts are cleared.( Faith is also most important on the spiritual path. Without faith we won’t be able to enquire sincerely. Unless one is submissive one cannot accept sublime instructions. Only when we follow instructions with faith then we can receive the knowledge. Arjuna teaches us submission by giving up his friendly relationship with Krishna, he says I have now become your disciple please instruct me. ) Guru also tests disciple if he wants to genuinely learn. When Dhruva went to forest in search of God Narada Muni before giving knowledge to Dhruva tested him. He told him right now he is too small to look for God he should go to his mother, but when Dhruva was persistent then Narada Muni gave him instructions of how to find God. Similarly, when we are serious in our inquiry only then Spiritual Master gives instruction and devotional service.
How to render Service or Sevya
Another important aspect is service that one should serve like a menial servant, it means being obedient to Guru and to follow the instructions and rules. We have to please the Spiritual Master by service, and the entire bhakti process depends on the attitude of service. Transcendental nature of Krishna is not possible to understand with our blunt material senses for that we have to purify our senses by engagement in Lord’s service. Srila Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura has greatly stressed the mercy of the Guru, and it is fact that if we satisfy the Guru by our service, he will give us his blessings. Being the most confidential servant of Krsna, the Guru is very dear to Krsna; therefore if he recommends someone to Krsna, Krsna accepts the person. Example) When Isvara Puri intimately cared for his Spiritual Master Madhavendra Puri during his last days he was always chanting the holy name and past times of Lord Krishna for Madhvendra Puri to hear. In this way he helped Madhevendra Puri remembered the holy name and pastimes of Lord Krishna at the time of death. Madhevandra Puri was very pleased and gave benediction that he would become a great devotee and lover of Krishna. For this reason, IsvaraPuri became an ocean of ecstatic love of Krsna. Whereas Ramchandra Puri who offended his Spiritual Master became dry speculator and critic. In this way if the disciple is very genuine and sincerely serves the spiritual master reveals the spiritual knowledge to disciple and he attains perfection. Secret in success in devotional service is to follow the order of guru in this way one realizes directly his eternal relationship with Krsna. This can be learned from a story
Once a cow while eating grass went deep inside the forest and got lost. Trying to find way she got stuck in the quick sand. She tried to get out desperately but could not get out, suddenly she saw tiger in front of her, she saw that he was also stuck in there. Cow initially struggled but then stood peacefully, tiger was very agitated and he kept trying to come out after some time he said to cow how can you stand peacefully are you not afraid that you will die? Cow said to the tiger that oh it is getting dark soon my master will notice that when I am not home he will come looking for me and get me out of this, soon the master came and took cow out and tiger was left behind and he finally died. Because cow was dependent on master she was able to get out of the mud but tiger was independent so when he got stuck he lost his life. This way we are also stuck in the quick sand of this material world, if we take the shelter of Spiritual Master, we will be saved from the sand and by following his instructions faith fully go back to home back to Godhead.