Srila Prabhupada Explains Bg. 4.34


Back To Prabhupada, Issue 74, Vol. 3, 2022

Another reason put forward for the need of a physically present diksa guru is this verse from Bhagavad-gita:

"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."
(Bg., 4.34)

The verse states that one must "inquire" from the spiritual master, and it is argued that this can only be done if the spiritual master is physically present. For example, in the lecture by the GBC guru quoted in the previous article, this verse was invoked to claim the need for the diksa guru to be physically present in order for such "inquiries" to take place.

Srila Prabhupada's explanation

If this process of needing to "approach" and "inquire" from the diksa guru refers to only doing it with the physically present "living" guru, then yes, this Bg. verse would be proof that the diksa guru must indeed be physically present. If, however, it does not state this, then the diksa guru one must approach and inquire from does not have to be physically present. In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada elaborates on what the verse means:

"Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. [...] one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple."
(Bg., 4.34, purport, all emphases in article added)

We can see that Srila Prabhupada states repeatedly that the process of approaching and inquiry must be done by the disciple. Thus, if the inquiry from the diksa guru had to be done only with a physically present diksa guru, then it would mean that the diksa guru must always be physically present before the disciple in order for such inquiries to be made. Which in turn would mean that the guru-disciple relationship has to end as soon as the diksa guru physically departs, as the disciple can no longer inquire from the guru. But we know this is not a fact since the relationship between the guru and disciple is eternal:

"The eternal bond between disciple and spiritual master begins from the first day he hears."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, 4/9/72)

Nor does anyone from the GBC guru camp even claim that the disciple must be able to inquire from a physically present diksa guru.

Thus, this means that this verse is not referring to inquiry taking place only before a physically present diksa guru. Hence, Bg. 4.34 is not evidence for the need of a "living" or physically present diksa guru.

Srila Prabhupada's process

Therefore, Srila Prabhupada explains that interaction with the spiritual master does not require his physical presence:

Paramahamsa: "My question is: A pure devotee, when he comments Bhagavad-gita, someone who can never see him physically, but he just comes in contact with his commentary, explanation, is this the same thing?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Yes. You can associate with Krsna by reading Bhagavad-gita. And these saintly persons, they have given their explanations, comments. So where is the difficulty?"
(Morning Walk, 11/6/74)

"Whatever I have to speak, I have spoken in my books. Now you try to understand it and continue your endeavor. Whether I am present or not present doesn't matter."
(Srila Prabhupada Arrival Speech, 17/5/77)

Paramahamsa: "Srila Prabhupada, when you are not present with us, how is it possible to receive instructions, for example, on questions that may arise?"
Srila Prabhupada: "Well, the questions are... Answers are there in my books."
(Morning Walk, 13/5/73)

Tradition argument

Another reason given for why we must have a physically present diksa guru is that it is supposedly the "tradition". Thus, GBC guru HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami ("BVKS") claims that –

"the Vedic tradition is to accept a physically present spiritual master"
(BVKS Lecture, "Guru Issues, Part 14", 26/2/22)

– and that Srila Prabhupada follows tradition:

"because he's a guru and he teaches what the sastra says, and he follows the tradition"
(BVKS Lecture, "Guru Issues, Part 12", 3/1/22)

However, as seen in the previous two articles, we know what is coming next. As soon as a reason is put forward for the need of a physically present guru, we can show those who have put forward the argument themselves refuting it! And sure enough, that's what happens here. Having argued for a system of physically present GBC gurus in ISKCON in order to follow the "tradition", we are told that the system of physically present GBC gurus in ISKCON is itself against tradition!:

"A multi-guru organization, as ISKCON is, is something new. We don't have any precedent to look back at."
(BVKS Lecture, "Guru Issues, Part 21", 3/7/22)

We are further told that:

"Vedic tradition that can be roughly equated with or broadly equated with sadhu in the triad guru, sadhu, and sastra, we see that whatever Srila Prabhupada did was to, whatever adjustments he may have made are not against guru, sadhu or sastra."
(BVKS Lecture, "Guru Issues, Part 14", 26/2/22)

It is claimed that "tradition" = "sadhu". And that Srila Prabhupada will never do anything which is "against guru, sadhu or sastra".  But then this would mean that Srila Prabhupada would never authorise the untraditional GBC guru system because that would be going against the tradition or "sadhu". And we already quoted BVKS on page 3 stating that this GBC guru system is not supported by sastra either. Therefore, according to BVKS, to follow "tradition" and "guru, sadhu and sastra", the first thing we must do is reject all GBC gurus including BVKS!


In this and the previous two articles (GBC Guru Proves He Is Not Needed and Getting Answers from Srila Prabhupada’s Books), we have seen that the reasons put forward for why we must have replacement physically present "living" diksa gurus for Srila Prabhupada have been defeated by those putting forward the reasons and by Srila Prabhupada. Thus, from every angle, the "living guru" theory is defeated, and hence Srila Prabhupada remains the diksa guru of ISKCON.

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