What Is a Guru?
On hearing the word guru, we tend to envision a caricaturelike image: a bizarre-looking old fellow with a long, stringy beard and flowing robes, meditating on distant, esoteric truths. Or we think of a cosmic con man cashing in on young seekers’ spiritual gullibility. But what really is a guru? What does he know that we don’t? How does he enlighten us? In a talk given in England in 1973, Srila Prabhupada provides some enlightening answers.
“I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my guru, my spiritual master, opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him.”
The word ajnana means “ignorance” or “darkness.” If all the lights in this room immediately went out, we would not be able to tell where we or others are sitting. Everything would become confused. Similarly, we are all in darkness in this material world, which is a world of tamas. Tamas or timira means “darkness.” This material world is dark, and therefore it needs sunlight or moonlight for illumination. However, there is another world, a spiritual world, that is beyond this darkness. That world is described by Sri Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (15.6):
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.”
The guru’s business is to bring his disciples from darkness to light. At present everyone is suffering due to ignorance, just as one contracts a disease out of ignorance. If one does not know hygienic principles, he will not know what will contaminate him. Therefore due to ignorance there is infection, and we suffer from disease. A criminal may say, “I did not know the law,” but he will not be excused if he commits a crime. Ignorance is no excuse. Similarly, a child, not knowing that fire will burn, will touch the fire. The fire does not think, “This is a child, and he does not know I will burn.” No, there is no excuse. Just as there are state laws, there are also stringent laws of nature, and these laws will act despite our ignorance of them. If we do something wrong out of ignorance, we must suffer. This is the law. Whether the law is a state law or a law of nature, we risk suffering if we break it.
The guru’s business is to see that no human being suffers in this material world. No one can claim that he is not suffering. That is not possible. In this material world, there are three kinds of suffering: adhyatmika, adhibhautika, and adhidaivika. These are miseries arising from the material body and mind, from other living entities, and from the forces of nature. We may suffer mental anguish, or we may suffer from other living entities—from ants or mosquitoes or flies—or we may suffer due to some superior power. There may be no rain, or there may be flood. There may be excessive heat or excessive cold. So many types of suffering are imposed by nature. Thus there are three types of miseries within the material world, and everyone is suffering from one, two, or three of them. No one can say that he is completely free from suffering.
We may then ask why the living entity is suffering. The answer is: out of ignorance. He does not think, “I am committing mistakes and am leading a sinful life; that is why I am suffering.” Therefore the guru’s first business is to rescue his disciple from this ignorance. We send our children to school to save them from suffering. If our children do not receive an education, we fear that they will suffer in the future. The guru sees that suffering is due to ignorance, which is compared to darkness. How can one in darkness be saved? By light. The guru takes the torchlight of knowledge and presents it before the living entity enveloped in darkness. That knowledge relieves him from the sufferings of the darkness of ignorance.
One may ask whether the guru is absolutely necessary. The Vedas inform us that he is:
The Vedas enjoin us to seek out a guru; actually, they say to seek out the guru, not just a guru. The guru is one because he comes in disciplic succession. What Vyasadeva and Krsna taught five thousand years ago is also being taught now. There is no difference between the two instructions. Although hundreds and thousands of acaryas have come and gone, the message is one. The real guru cannot be two, for the real guru does not speak differently from his predecessors. Some spiritual teachers say, “In my opinion you should do this,” but this is not a guru. Such so-called gurus are simply rascals. The genuine guru has only one opinion, and that is the opinion expressed by Krsna, Vyasadeva, Narada, Arjuna, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and the Gosvamis. Five thousand years ago Lord Sri Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita, and Vyasadeva recorded it. Srila Vyasadeva did not say, “This is my opinion.” Rather, he wrote, sri-bhagavan uvaca, that is, “The Supreme Personality of Godhead says.” Whatever Vyasadeva wrote was originally spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srila Vyasadeva did not give his own opinion.
Consequently, Srila Vyasadeva is a guru. He does not misinterpret the words of Krsna, but transmits them exactly as they were spoken. If we send a telegram, the person who delivers the telegram does not have to correct it, edit it, or add to it. He simply presents it. That is the guru’s business. The guru may be this person or that, but the message is the same; therefore it is said that guru is one.
In the disciplic succession we simply find repetition of the same subject. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.34) Sri Krsna says:
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances, and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” These very instructions were reiterated by all the acaryas, such as Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The six Gosvamis also transmitted the same message, and we are simply following in their footsteps. There is no difference. We do not interpret the words of Krsna by saying, “In my opinion, the Battlefield of Kuruksetra represents the human body.” Such interpretations are set forth by rascals. In the world there are many rascal gurus who give their own opinion, but we can challenge any rascal. A rascal guru may say, “I am God,” or, “We are all God.” That is all right, but we should find out from the dictionary what the meaning of God is. Generally, a dictionary will tell us that the word God indicates the Supreme Being. Thus we may ask such a guru, “Are you the Supreme Being?” If he cannot understand this, then we should give the meaning of supreme. Any dictionary will inform us that supreme means “the greatest authority.” We may then ask, “Are you the greatest authority?” Such a rascal guru, even though proclaiming himself to be God, cannot answer such a question. God is the Supreme Being and the highest authority. No one is equal to Him or greater than Him. Yet there are many guru-gods, many rascals who claim to be the Supreme. Such rascals cannot help us escape the darkness of material existence. They cannot illumine our darkness with the torchlight of spiritual knowledge.
The bona fide guru will simply present what the supreme guru, God, says in bona fide scripture. A guru cannot change the message of the disciplic succession.
We must understand that we cannot carry out research to find the Absolute Truth. Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself said, “My Guru Maharaja, My spiritual master, considered Me a great fool.” He who remains a great fool before his guru is a guru himself. However, if one says, “I am so advanced that I can speak better than my guru,” he is simply a rascal. In the Bhagavad-gita (4.2) Sri Krsna says:
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.”
Taking on a guru is not simply a fashion. One who is serious about understanding spiritual life requires a guru. A guru is a question of necessity, for one must be very serious to understand spiritual life, God, proper action, and one’s relationship with God. When we are very serious about understanding these subjects, we need a guru. We shouldn’t go to a guru simply because a guru may be fashionable at the moment. Surrender must be there, for without surrender we cannot learn anything. If we go to a guru simply to challenge him, we will learn nothing. We must accept the guru just as Arjuna accepted his guru, Sri Krsna Himself:
prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te ’ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.7)
This is the process for accepting a guru. The guru is Krsna’s representative, the former acaryas’ representative. Krsna says that all acaryas are His representatives; therefore the guru should be offered the same respect one would offer to God. As Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says in his prayers to the spiritual master, yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah: ** “ By the mercy of the spiritual master, one receives the benediction of Krsna.” Thus, if we surrender to the bona fide guru, we surrender to God. God accepts our surrender to the guru.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” Someone may argue, “Where is Krsna? I shall surrender to Him.” But no, the process is that we first surrender to Krsna’s representative; then we surrender to Krsna. Therefore it is said, saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih: the guru is as good as God. When we offer respects to the guru, we are offering respects to God. Because we are trying to be God conscious, it is required that we learn how to offer respects to God through God’s representative. In all the sastras the guru is described to be as good as God, but the guru never says, “I am God.” The disciple’s duty is to offer respect to the guru just as he offers respect to God, but the guru never thinks, “My disciples are offering me the same respect they offer to God; therefore I have become God.” As soon as he thinks like this, he becomes a dog instead of God. Therefore Visvanatha Cakravarti says, kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya. Because he is the most confidential servitor of God, the guru is offered the same respect that we offer God. God is always God, guru is always guru. As a matter of etiquette, God is the worshipable God, and guru is the worshiper God (sevaka-bhagavan). Therefore the guru is addressed as prabhupada. The word prabhu means “lord,” and pada means “position.” Thus prabhupada means “he who has taken the position of the Lord.” This is the same as saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih.
Only if we are very serious about understanding the science of God is a guru required. We should not try to keep a guru as a matter of fashion. One who has accepted a guru speaks intelligently. He never speaks nonsense. That is the sign of having accepted a bona fide guru. We should certainly offer all respect to the spiritual master, but we should also remember how to carry out his orders. In the Bhagavad-gita (4.34) Sri Krsna Himself tells us the method of seeking out and approaching the guru:
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” The first process is that of surrender. We have to find an exalted person and willingly surrender before him. The sastras enjoin that before we take a guru we study him carefully to find out whether we can surrender to him. We should not accept a guru suddenly, out of fanaticism. That is very dangerous. The guru should also study the person who wants to become a disciple to see if he is fit. That is the way a relationship is established between the guru and disciple. Everything is provided, but we must take up the process seriously. Then we can be trained to become a bona fide disciple. First we must find a bona fide guru, establish our relationship with him, and act accordingly. Then our life will be successful, for the guru can enlighten the sincere disciple who is in darkness.
Everyone is born a rascal and a fool. If we are born learned, why do we need to go to school? If we do not cultivate knowledge, we are no better than animals. An animal may say that there is no need of books and that he has become a guru, but how can anyone obtain knowledge without the study of authoritative books on science and philosophy? Rascal gurus try to avoid these things. We must understand that we are all born rascals and fools and that we have to be enlightened. We have to receive knowledge to make our lives perfect. If we do not perfect our lives, we are defeated. What is this defeat? The struggle for existence. We are trying to obtain a better life, to attain a superior position, and for this we are struggling very hard. But we do not know what a superior position actually is.
Whatever position we have in this material world must be given up. We may have a good position or a bad position; in any case, we cannot remain here. We may earn millions of dollars and think, “Now I am in a good position,” but a little dysentery or cholera will finish our position. If the bank fails, our position is gone. So actually there is no good position in this material world. It is a farce. Those who try to attain a better position in the material world are ultimately defeated, because there is no better position. The Bhagavad-gita (14.26) says what the better position is:
“One who engages in the spiritual activities of unalloyed devotional service at once transcends the modes of material nature and is elevated to the spiritual platform.”
Is there any science that gives us the knowledge by which we may become immortal? Yes, we may become immortal, but not in the material sense. We cannot receive this knowledge in so-called universities. However, there is knowledge contained in the Vedic scriptures by which we may become immortal. That immortality is our better position. No more birth, no more death, no more old age, no more disease. Thus the guru takes on a very great responsibility. He must guide his disciple and enable him to become an eligible candidate for the perfect position—immortality. The guru must be competent to lead his disciple back home, back to Godhead.
Saints and Swindlers
Every day the number of people interested in practicing yoga and meditation increases by the thousands. Unfortunately, a person looking for a suitable guide is likely to encounter a bewildering array of magicians, self-styled gurus, and self-proclaimed gods. In an interview with the London Times, Srila Prabhupada explains how a sincere seeker can tell the difference between a counterfeit and genuine spiritual guide.
Reporter: What frankly worries me is that since the arrival in Britain some time ago of an Indian yogi, who was the first “guru” that most people had ever heard of, a lot of “gurus” have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that not all of them are as genuine as they ought to be. Would it be right to warn people who are thinking of taking up spiritual life that they should make sure that they have a genuine guru to teach them?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, to search out a guru is very nice, but if you want a cheap guru, or if you want to be cheated, then you will find many cheating gurus. But if you are sincere, you will find a sincere guru. Because people want everything very cheaply, they are cheated. We ask our students to refrain from illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling, and intoxication. People think that this is all very difficult—a botheration. But if someone else says, “You may do whatever nonsense you like, simply take my mantra,” then people will like him. The point is that people want to be cheated, and therefore cheaters come. No one wants to undergo any austerity. Human life is meant for austerity, but no one is prepared to undergo austerity. Consequently, cheaters come and say, “No austerity. Whatever you like, you do. Simply pay me, and I’ll give you some mantra, and you’ll become God in six months.” All this is going on. If you want to be cheated like this, the cheaters will come.
Reporter: What about the person who seriously wants to find spiritual life but who happens to finish up with the wrong guru?
Srila Prabhupada: If you simply want an ordinary education, you have to devote so much time, labor, and understanding to it. Similarly, if you are going to take to spiritual life, you must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras, someone can become God in six months? Why do people want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.
Reporter: How can a person tell he has a genuine guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Can any of my students answer this question?
Disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, “How will I know who is the genuine guru?” And you answered, “Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krsna. He is genuine.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The genuine guru is God’s representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life. He is after God, and God only. That is one of the tests of a genuine guru: brahma-nistham. He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth. In the Mundaka Upanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham: [MU 1.2.12] “The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.” He should know what Brahman [spirit] is and how to become situated in Brahman. These signs are given in the Vedic literature. As I said before, the real guru is God’s representative. He represents the Supreme Lord, just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a mantra and tell you that you will become God in six months. This is not a guru’s business. A guru’s business is to canvass everyone to become a devotee of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru’s business. Indeed, he has no other business. He tells whomever he sees, “Please become God conscious.” If he canvasses somehow or other on behalf of God and tries to get everyone to become a devotee of God, he is a genuine guru.
Reporter: What about a Christian priest?
Srila Prabhupada: Christian, Muhammadan, Hindu—it doesn’t matter. If he is simply speaking on behalf of God, he is a guru. Lord Jesus Christ, for instance. He canvassed people, saying, “Just try to love God.” Anyone—it doesn’t matter who—be he Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to love God. That is the test. The guru never says, “I am God,” or “I will make you God.” The real guru says, “I am a servant of God, and I will make you a servant of God also.” It doesn’t matter how the guru is dressed. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Whoever can impart knowledge about Krsna is a spiritual master.” A genuine spiritual master simply tries to get people to become devotees of Krsna, or God. He has no other business.
Reporter: But the bad gurus...
Srila Prabhupada: And what is a “bad” guru?
Reporter: A bad guru just wants some money or some fame.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, if he is bad, how can he become a guru? [Laughter.] How can iron become gold? Actually, a guru cannot be bad, for if someone is bad, he cannot be a guru. You cannot say “bad guru.” That is a contradiction. What you have to do is simply try to understand what a genuine guru is. The definition of a genuine guru is that he is simply talking about God—that’s all. If he’s talking about some other nonsense, then he is not a guru. A guru cannot be bad. There is no question of a bad guru, any more than a red guru or a white guru. Guru means “genuine guru.” All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God’s devotees. If he does this, he is genuine.
Reporter: If I wanted to be initiated into your society, what would I have to do?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, you’d have to give up illicit sex life.
Reporter: Does that include all sex life? What is illicit sex life?
Srila Prabhupada: Illicit sex is sex outside of marriage. Animals have sex with no restrictions, but in human society there are restrictions. In every country and in every religion, there is some system of restricting sex life. You would also have to give up all intoxicants, including tea, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana—anything that intoxicates.
Reporter: Anything else?
Srila Prabhupada: You’d also have to give up eating meat, eggs, and fish. And you’d have to give up gambling as well. Unless you gave up these four sinful activities, you could not be initiated.
Reporter: How many followers do you have throughout the world?
Srila Prabhupada: For anything genuine, the followers may be very few. For something rubbish, the followers may be many. Still, we have about five thousand initiated disciples.
Reporter: Is the Krsna consciousness movement growing all the time?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is growing—but slowly. This is because we have so many restrictions. People do not like restrictions.
Reporter: Where is your following the greatest?
Srila Prabhupada: In the United States, Europe, South America, and Australia. And, of course, in India there are millions who practice Krsna consciousness.
Reporter: Could you tell me what the goal of your movement is?
Srila Prabhupada: The purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement is to awaken man’s original consciousness. At the present moment our consciousness is designated. Someone is thinking, “I am an Englishman,” and another is thinking, “I am an American.” Actually, we do not belong to any of these designations. We are all part and parcel of God; that is our real identity. If everyone simply comes to that consciousness, all the problems of the world will be solved. Then we shall come to know that we are one—the same quality of spirit soul. The same quality of spirit soul is within everyone, although it may be in a different dress. This is the explanation given in the Bhagavad-gita.
Krsna consciousness is actually a purificatory process (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam [Cc. Madhya 19.170]). Its purpose is to make people free from all designations (tat-paratvena nirmalam). When our consciousness becomes purified of all designations, the activities we carry out with our purified senses make us perfect. Eventually, we reach the ideal perfection of human life. Krsna consciousness is also a very simple process. It is not necessary to become a great philosopher, scientist, or whatever. We need only chant the holy name of the Lord, understanding that His personality, His name, and His qualities are all absolute.
Krsna consciousness is a great science. Unfortunately, in the universities there is no department for this science. Therefore we invite all serious men who are interested in the welfare of human society to understand this great movement and, if possible, take part in it and cooperate with us. The problems of the world will be solved. This is also the verdict of the Bhagavad-gita, the most important and authoritative book of spiritual knowledge. Many of you have heard of the Bhagavad-gita. Our movement is based on it. Our movement is approved by all great acaryas in India. Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Lord Caitanya, and so many others. You are all representatives of newspapers, so I ask you to try to understand this movement as far as possible for the good of all human society.
Reporter: Do you think your movement is the only way to know God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Reporter: How are you assured of that?
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
Reporter: Does “surrender” mean that someone would have to leave his family?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: But suppose I were to become an initiate. Wouldn’t I have to come and live in the temple?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily.
Reporter: I can stay at home?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Reporter: What about work? Would I have to give up my job?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you’d simply have to give up your bad habits and chant the Hare Krsna mantra on these beads—that’s all.
Reporter: Would I have to give any financial support?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is your voluntary wish. If you give, that’s all right. And if you don’t, we don’t mind. We do not depend on anyone’s financial contribution. We depend on Krsna.
Reporter: I wouldn’t have to give any money at all?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a genuine guru is not a businessman. He is a representative of God. Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.
Reporter: But would you expect to find a real guru, say, traveling in a Rolls Royce and staying in a penthouse suite in a classy hotel?
Srila Prabhupada: Sometimes people provide us with a room in a first-class hotel, but we generally stay in our own temples. We have some one hundred temples around the world, so we don’t require to go to any hotels.
Reporter: I wasn’t trying to make any accusations. I was merely trying to illustrate that I think your warning is a valid one. There are so many people interested in finding a spiritual life, and at the same time there are a lot of people interested in cashing in on the “guru business.”
Srila Prabhupada: Are you under the impression that spiritual life means voluntarily accepting poverty?
Reporter: Well, I don’t know.
Srila Prabhupada: A poverty-stricken man may be materialistic, and a wealthy man may be very spiritual. Spiritual life does not depend on either poverty or wealth. Spiritual life is transcendental. Consider Arjuna, for instance. Arjuna was a member of a royal family, yet he was a pure devotee of God. And in the Bhagavad-gita (4.2) Sri Krsna says, evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: “This supreme science was received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way.” In the past, all kings who were saintly understood spiritual science. Therefore, spiritual life does not depend on one’s material condition. Whatever a person’s material condition may be—he may be a king or a pauper—he can still understand spiritual life. Generally people do not know what spiritual life is, and therefore, they unnecessarily criticize us. If I asked you what spiritual life is, how would you answer?
Reporter: Well, I’m not sure.
Srila Prabhupada: Although you do not know what spiritual life is, you still say, “It is this,” or “It is that.” But first you should know what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins when you understand that you are not your body. This is the real beginning of spiritual life. By seeing the difference between your self and your body, you come to understand that you are a spirit soul (aham brahmasmi).
Reporter: Do you think this knowledge should be a part of everyone’s education?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. People should first be taught what they are. Are they their bodies, or something else? That is the beginning of education. Now everyone is educated to think he is his body. Because someone accidentally gets an American body, he thinks, “I am an American.” This is just like thinking, “I am a red shirt,” just because you are wearing a red shirt. You are not a red shirt; you are a human being. Similarly, this body is like a shirt or coat over the real person—the spirit soul. If we recognize ourselves simply by our bodily “shirt” or “coat,” then we have no spiritual education.
Reporter: Do you think that such education should be given in schools?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—in schools, colleges, and universities. There is an immense literature on this subject—an immense fund of knowledge. What is actually required is that the leaders of society come forward to understand this movement.
Reporter: Have you ever had people come to you who had previously been involved with a fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.
Reporter: Were their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?
Srila Prabhupada: No, they were genuinely seeking something spiritual, and that was their qualification. God is within everyone’s heart, and as soon as someone genuinely seeks Him, He helps that person find a genuine guru.
Reporter: Have the real gurus like yourself ever tried to put a stop to the false gurus—that is, put pressure on them to put them out of business, so to speak?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is not my purpose. I started my movement simply by chanting Hare Krsna. I chanted in New York in a place called Tompkins Square Park, and soon people began to come to me. In this way, the Krsna consciousness movement gradually developed. Many accepted, and many did not accept. Those who are fortunate have accepted.
Reporter: Don’t you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with fake gurus? If you went to a quack dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another dentist.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Naturally, if you are cheated, you become suspicious. But this does not mean that if you are cheated once, you will always be cheated. You should find someone genuine. But to come to Krsna consciousness, you must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science. From the Bhagavad-gita we understand that the genuine seekers are very few: manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye [Bg. 7.3]. Out of many millions of people, there may be only one who is interested in spiritual life. Generally, people are interested in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. So how can we expect to find many followers? It is not difficult to notice that people have lost their spiritual interest. And almost all those who are actually interested are being cheated by so-called spiritualists. You cannot judge a movement simply by the number of its followers. If one man is genuine, then the movement is successful. It is not a question of quantity, but quality.
Reporter: I wondered how many people you think might have been taken in by fake gurus.
Srila Prabhupada: Practically everyone. [Laughter.] There is no question of counting. Everyone.
Reporter: This would mean thousands of people, wouldn’t it?
Srila Prabhupada: Millions. Millions have been cheated, because they want to be cheated. God is omniscient. He can understand your desires. He is within your heart, and if you want to be cheated, God sends you a cheater.
Reporter: ls it possible for everyone to attain the perfectional stage you spoke of previously?
Srila Prabhupada: Within a second. Anyone can attain perfection within a second—providing he is willing. The difficulty is that no one is willing. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: “Simply surrender unto Me.” But who is going to surrender to God? Everyone says, “Oh, why should I surrender to God? I will be independent.” If you simply surrender, it is a second’s business. That’s all. But no one is willing, and that is the difficulty.
Reporter: When you say that lots of people want to be cheated, do you mean that lots of people want to carry on with their worldly pleasures and at the same time, by chanting a mantra or by holding a flower, achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is like a patient thinking, “I shall continue with my disease, and at the same time I shall become healthy.” It is contradictory. The first requirement is that one become educated in spiritual life. Spiritual life is not something one can understand by a few minutes’ talk. There are many philosophy and theology books, but people are not interested in them. That is the difficulty. For instance, the Srimad-Bhagavatam is a very long work, and if you try to read this book, it may take many days just to understand one line of it. The Bhagavatam describes God, the Absolute Truth, but people are not interested. And if, by chance, someone becomes a little interested in spiritual life, he wants something immediate and cheap. Therefore, he is cheated. Actually, human life is meant for austerity and penance. That is the way of Vedic civilization. In Vedic times they would train boys as brahmacaris; no sex life was allowed at all up to the age of twenty-five. Where is that education now? A brahmacari is a student who lives a life of complete celibacy and obeys the commands of his guru at the gurukula [school of the spiritual master]. Now schools and colleges are teaching sex from the very beginning, and twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys and girls are having sex. How can they have a spiritual life? Spiritual life means voluntarily accepting some austerities for the sake of God realization. That is why we insist on no illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling, or intoxication for our initiated students. Without these restrictions, any “yoga meditation” or so-called spiritual discipline cannot be genuine. It is simply a business deal between the cheaters and the cheated.
Reporter: Thank you very much.
Link to this page: https://prabhupadabooks.com/ssr/2/what_is_a_guru
Previous: Srila Prabhupada Gives the Vedic Evidence Next: The Absolute Necessity of a Spiritual Master