What should one do when one's guru leaves their body and goes elsewhere? How do we continue without our guru?
Stephen Knapp(Sri Nandanandana Dasa) grew up in a Christian family, during which time he seriously studied the Bible to understand its teachings. In his late teenage years, however, he began to search through other religions and philosophies from around the world and started to find the answers for which he was looking. He also studied a variety of occult sciences, ancient mythology, mysticism, yoga, and the spiritual teachings of the East. He continued his study of Vedic knowledge and spiritual practice under the guidance of a spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
When the spiritual master leaves the body and moves on, it is naturally the worst day of the disciple’s life. Many times we have become accustomed to thinking of our guru in a particular way, serving him in certain ways, listening to his classes, waiting and longing for him to visit our town or local temple, engaging in special exchanges with him or her, and then suddenly all such prospects are gone. The depth of our despair can be unfathomable. So what do we do then?
There are so many ways in which a disciple deals with this situation. Some become so numb that they simply can not dwell on it. Some can hardly accept it. Or they naturally cry and cannot face the idea of continuing life without their gurudeva. Others may absorb themselves in service or in remembering him. Some may never have thought of the fact that one day their guru would be gone. So it can be shocking as well as extremely upsetting. The way that each disciple deals with the situation is as varied as there are disciples.
The next step is how to continue getting the spiritual master’s association. Naturally there are his books, tapes, CDs, video recordings, or other methods by which one can still remember his teachings, his mannerisms, or his own ways of spiritual practice. And, of course, the disciples can also share with each other their own stories and memories of various events that took place with their guru. Through these methods, one can fill the time and mind with the association of one’s guru. However, now you may have to work a little harder to invoke the presence of your guru.
How are you going to continue?
In spite of so many ways we may deal with the situation, the bottom line is, what are you going to do now? The loss of your spiritual master may mean that it is time for you to grow up... to a new level of understanding your own purpose, your own potential, responsibility and even leadership ability. Maybe it is time for you to move forward to help fill the gap that has been left by the physical absence of the spiritual master. Your guru may have been called to serve someplace else by the Lord’s desire, which means you and your Godbrothers and Godsisters are here to carry on with the mission of your guru and some of you will need to step forward to take up more of that responsibility. It may also be time to depend more on your Godfamily as well as be better association for them.
It may be time to meditate more on what your guru would want you to do, or what your guru would expect from you in the situations you encounter. It may be time to allow more of your own potential to manifest. You may feel that you will never be what your guru was, or that you will never do anything equal to what he or she did, and that is all right. A disciple will never feel that he or she will be as great as their own guru. But also do not allow your humility to create a feeling of uselessness or stifle your own potential to carry on your guru’s legacy and mission. His determination and preaching is a sign of his own dedication to his own guru, which is the example you must follow to your spiritual master.
We have to remember that the more spiritual we become, the more we can perceive that which is spiritual. And the more you will understand that everything is going according to plan, according to the schedule. It may not be your plan. It may not be what you want. And it may even be months or years before you begin to understand why things happened the way they did. But when you do, you will understand that things happened to bring about a certain event or situation to move things forward. Everything that is happening is a preparation for something else to manifest. Furthermore, a key element of what is meant to take place is the next step in the process of your own development.
Furthermore, you cannot think about fading away from your guru’s mission, in which he undertook so much austerity, sacrifice and determination to establish. This is also a continuation of his own spiritual master’s mission. You cannot legitimately feel that because your spiritual master is no longer physically present you are not so inspired to continue, or that you’ll fade away. If you feel you cannot go on because your guru is no longer present, then how would that please your guru? So that is not an option. Otherwise, the love you have shown for your guru is only conditional love, love as long as things are as you want them to be, or as long as your own spiritual master is in the form with which you are most familiar.
If you are attached to only one form of the guru, that is conditional love. If we are attached to his form such as being a young man who can dance wondrously while leading great kritans, or as a great scholar with a photographic memory, etc., but can not imagine him as someone who could get sick or even lose a limb from disease, or not being able to be his usual, dynamic personality, then that is conditional love. The spiritual master can manifest in so many ways for the mercy of the disciple if the disciple is open to it. Even appearing to be physically sick and dependent on the disciple is a way of providing extra mercy and a chance to advance for the disciple. So we must raise our love to the unconditional level and not have it based merely on particular forms. These bodies that we are in are bound to change. But our love must be unconditional.
Some disciples may say that they cannot imagine their guru being sick, or never being able to dance up a storm during kirtan, or not being able to preach in a robust manner. But in this ever-changing material world, we cannot be attached to temporary appearances. The guru will utilize whatever is necessary to inspire the disciples to take up the chanting of the holy names, even through dancing and ecstatic kirtans, or inspiring lectures, etc. We have to raise our love to an unconditional state and see that the essence of the spiritual master is his preaching, teaching, his writings, and the inspiration he provides that brings us to want to follow the process of hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord. This is what is permanent in the service of Lord Krishna. This is the legacy of the guru which is what we should be most attached and dedicated to preserving, continuing and expanding. My own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, did not do a lot of dancing. He mostly gave class and lead kirtans while sitting in the Vyasasanna. But he inspired everyone to chant the holy names.
We also must remember that it is through our attachment and dedication to our guru and his mission that we stay connected to him as well as to the whole parampara that appeared before him. The parampara is like the long arm of Krishna descending down through generations. When you are still connected with your guru, you are then connected to the whole parampara, or sampradaya. In our Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya, this goes up through Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktisiddhanta, Gaura Kishora dasa Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakur, on up to Lord Chaitanya, Srila Vyasadeva and Brahma, and to Lord Krishna Himself. So it is like grabbing an electric line that is powered by the original power house. By grabbing onto your own guru through faith and service, who is connected with the parampara, you have the backing of all these great and powerful spiritual authorities. So think of how much potency is there to help you and which can come through you to help others. The disciple never need feel that he or she is alone, without the presence of the spiritual master. The guru is always there, depending on the faith and sincerity of the disciple. The spiritual platform is all around us, and the more focused we become to the spiritual dimension, the more we are in tune with all those spiritual authorities who also exist on that strata.
Furthermore, you should expect miracles on the spiritual path and in Krishna consciousness. So many miracles have already happened. But this does not mean that you act merely as a witness to the miracles around you. But you should also be ready to see and allow miracles to happen within you, or from you. This is the affect of the potency in your connection to the parampara through your spiritual master. Even if our actions are full of faults, if our intention is sincere, then the potency of the parampara can still come through and empower us with unexpected results, even miracles. It can act through us and miracles can nonetheless manifest through us or in the projects we sincerely try to do. And we never know exactly how these will manifest. They may develop in quite unexpected ways. So we must be determined to continue our service and preaching work and never give up. This is how we will continue to get the blessings of our spiritual master even if it appears that he is no longer physically present.
Thus, the guru can still make himself known to the sincere disciple in many ways. We simply have to keep dedicating ourselves to his teaching and instructions. We have to honor the spiritual master and his teachings, his books, and don’t change anything, thinking that we know better. That is conditional love, that we accept certain things but not others. Or we feel that we know best how our spiritual master should have said something. Or that his teachings need to be changed with the times. Such an offensive view will surely create a slow or even immediate disconnection between us and our guru and, thus, the whole parampara.
Personally I never saw my own spiritual master Srila Prabhupada much. I never thought I needed to since he gave me everything I needed through his books and tapes. Thus, when he did leave, I was still attached to the way I always associated with him, through his books and tapes. But now I get encouragement from Prabhupada through the compliments and encouragement from my Godbrothers and other devotees and people who express appreciation of my work. I feel it is Srila Prabhupada giving his approval and speaking through them.
In these ways a disciple can continue to honor and respect the guru and his or her teachings, as well as remain connected and inspired to preserve and expand the mission. This way we also uphold all that the spiritual master worked for and the purpose of the whole parampara, the line of spiritual masters before him. In this way our own lives become spiritually successful.