“The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34 Purport)
“I’m counting on you to take care of this. Please don’t let me down. I don’t know anyone else who is so reliable. If reliability is lacking, this particular job won’t get done. The job is important too, so I’m putting my best man on it. I know that you won’t disappoint me, because you haven’t yet.”
If you hear such words, they will surely be encouraging, but they might also inspire some tension. It is one thing to go about your day without any worries or pressures. You just chill. You do whatever you want, whenever you want. You’re not constrained by time. You may impose some deadlines for yourself, but if you don’t meet them, the only person who is harmed is you.
When someone else counts on you, however, there is the added pressure to get the job done. The request made from another person who is respected automatically inspires service. In the Vedas we learn that it is in the very constitution of every living entity to serve. To serve is to be. You think and therefore you are, but your thinking is tied to your essential characteristic, which is to serve. Knowledge of this core property automatically increases the importance of the spiritual master, who kindly finds ways to inspire others into service. Through creating some pressure, through creating a dependency of circumstances, the guru gives someone else the chance to reach their true potential.
The individual is identified by the spirit soul. It is this soul which has the core property of service. The soul is also eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. Every living being is a soul. This means that the plant wants to serve as well. The ant, the dog, the cat, the chicken, and the tiny microorganism all want to serve.
Of course the capacity to serve is severely limited in these species. You can tell a tree that you’re counting on it to look nice the next day. You’re counting on it to stand tall and offer shade from the intense rays of the sun. The tree, however, can’t act on this service. It may or may not be there the next day; that is up to nature’s arrangement. The tree can stand there for thousands of years; so it has a long duration of life. The lengthy lifespan itself doesn’t indicate superiority, though, due to the service factor.
The human being has the potential to serve without motivation and without interruption. The human being can serve with confidence. The pressure applied by others also instills a work ethic and creates a sense of urgency. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. The idea is that only when you really need something will it get invented by someone. In the same vein, if someone is relying on you to take care of a task, you will find a way to get it done. Forget the weather, your level of fatigue, the possibility of missing your favorite show on television – since the other person is relying on you, you will make it happen.
Though the human being is superior through its ability to discriminate and then act, there is still the possibility of taking up the wrong service. The person in the mode of ignorance thinks they are serving themselves by drinking heavily and sleeping long hours. They get angry and do stupid things like destroy objects that are important to them. The person in the mode of passion serves themselves by feverishly pursuing fruitive rewards, like money, fame and wealth. The person in the mode of goodness tries to work towards knowledge, where they see the difference between matter and spirit in all aspects of life.
“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)
The thief even thinks they are serving. They offer service to their benefactors by taking the property of others. In this way we see that service should be of some value; it should follow some line of authority. Without that authority, anyone’s preferred service is as good as another’s. If my family member is sick and has been told not to eat certain foods, if I foolishly offer those prohibited foods to them as an act of service, I am actually doing them harm. Thus serving itself isn’t so important; it is the type of service that matters.
The spiritual master is the representative of God. They are known as the guru, which as a Sanskrit word can also mean “heavy.” They have gravitas; they are respected because of their knowledge, both theoretical and practical. They speak of God’s glories with passion, conviction, and deference to their previous teachers. I may say that I don’t want to bow down to anyone or respect anyone else as superior, but this is actually quite silly. I must accept authority so many times throughout the day. I must obey the laws of the state and the strict rules imposed by nature. I must listen to my employers, my customers, and my family members from time to time.
The guru is not so foolish as to think that high knowledge was magically revealed to them. They accepted the information through humble submission before their own spiritual teacher. They took in the wisdom from hearing and then realized it through serving. The guru offered them the chance to serve, and so naturally they return the favor by offering others genuinely interested in spiritual life the same opportunity.
God Himself sets the best example in this regard. Just as in a charity drive sometimes the wealthy person leading the petition will kick things off with a substantial donation, the Supreme Lord, who is the original spiritual master, shows the proper example by Himself offering others a chance to serve. In His avatara of Lord Rama, He gave the opportunity for service to Shri Hanuman, who was very anxious. Rama counted on Hanuman to find Sita Devi, Rama’s missing wife. He counted on Hanuman to not jeopardize Sita’s life in trying to find her. He counted on Hanuman to return to Kishkindha with information of her whereabouts.
Hanuman had a very difficult time, though he was very powerful and intelligent. Had he been only working for himself, he might not have been successful. Since Rama counted on him, Hanuman felt added inspiration to continue. He didn’t want to let Rama down. Rama was adored for His qualities. Hanuman only knew Him for a brief period at that time, and just from that he was so dedicated in service.
We can learn of the same Rama, along with His other non-different forms like Krishna, Vishnu, Narasimha and others, through consulting Vedic texts, which are the oldest scriptural works in existence. They don’t have a date of inception since they come from God Himself. In hearing about God, we learn that He is the most beautiful, the most wealthy, the most wise, the most famous, the most strong and the most renounced. Though He doesn’t need anything, the devotees always think that the Lord is counting on them. The Lord wants them to be devoted to Him. He wants them to try to bring others into devotional service as well, for that is the constitutional engagement, the purest version of service.
He speaks this message through His representative, the guru. The guru then offers so many opportunities for service. Lord Chaitanya is the Krishna avatara for this age, the Supreme Lord in the visual manifestation of a spiritual master. He could have delivered the whole world, but He left the job unfinished so that others could urgently take up the cause, so that they could confidently know that Lord Chaitanya was counting on them. And just like Shri Gaurahari, His humble followers try to deliver the world through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
If not to mention I’d be remiss,
Know that I’m counting on you for this.
To someone else task could have gone,
But I know you’re the best to rely upon.
Since your devotion on solid ground,
I know that you won’t let me down.
Urgency in service of this type,
Ensures tasks to get done right.
Guru the same opportunity gives to all,
Serve him so in knowledge to stand tall.