Sage Shatananda speaking to Lord Rama (Valmiki Ramayana, Balakanda)
In this material world, the spiritual master is our link to God. God isn’t always directly physically present on this earth, so it is through the spiritual master that we can understand Him.
In all areas of life, we require a teacher. We are all born not knowing anything. After taking our first birth from our parents, we gradually were taught how to crawl, walk, talk, and even eat properly. Our parents taught us right and wrong, good and bad, and how to behave properly. In many ways, we are the reflection of our parents. Children with good parentage usually grow up to be good standing citizens. From youth to young adulthood, we attended school and were educated by our various teachers. If not for them, we would probably not grow up to be productive adults.
In different areas of work, we require training from those who are already expert in their particular fields. Aspiring doctors require training from experienced doctors. Students finishing law school require the guidance of experienced lawyers to learn the trade. So in this way, we can understand that a good teacher is required for success in any endeavor
The spiritual master, or guru, is required for anyone who is seriously seeking self-realization and understanding of God. A qualified spiritual master is one of saintly character who has completely surrendered Himself to Lord Krishna. He knows nothing else but Krishna and through his saintly character, he voluntarily teachers others about Krishna.
From our education on material subjects, we can try to understand God, but our attempts will always fail. God cannot be understood through mere mental speculation. He can only be known through the grace of one who has completely surrendered himself to God. By agreeing to serve the spiritual master humbly, we take our second and more important birth and begin our spiritual understanding.
When Lord Krishna appeared on this earth, He even accepted a spiritual master, Sandipani Muni, just to set an example for us. The Lord taught us to be very humble to saintly people, and to learn spiritual knowledge from them. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but he pretended to be subordinate in knowledge to brahmanas in order to show them proper respect.
In the Ramacharitamansa of Tulsidas, Maharishi Valmiki gives a vivid description of a devotee of the Lord. One of the points he makes is that a devotee loves his guru even more than God Himself. The reason for this is that the spiritual master teaches us about God, and without him, our lives would be meaningless. This underscores the importance of the guru. When Lord Ramachandra was a youth, he and his brother Lakshmana were trained to be the highest skilled kshatriyas, or warriors, by the sage Vishwamitra. Lord Rama was God Himself, but He also humbly submitted Himself before Vishwamitra and voluntarily accepted him as His spiritual master. Vishwamitra was so pious that he was fortunate enough to have God Himself as a disciple. Yet Vishwamitra was held in such high regard by other sages that these sages considered Rama and Lakshmana to be the fortunate ones. Such is the glory of a saint!
In the Vedas, it is said that one of the highest rewards of life is to have association with a saintly person. One doesn’t have to be born in a high class family or possess immense riches in order to make spiritual progress. One simply has to be fortunate enough to come in contact with a saintly person, and then have the good sense to humbly serve that person through taking instruction from them. Anyone who is purely devoted to Krishna is considered a saint and a spiritual master. The perfect spiritual master for this age is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Though Shrila Prabhupada physically left this earth more than thirty years ago, we can still approach him through his books and recorded lectures. He continues to preach to this day, so we should make the most of this auspicious human form of life by reading his books and following his teachings. In this way, we please the spiritual master, and through his grace, we return back to Godhead.
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