Some Questions Regarding The Blog ‘Who can be a guru?’

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    Nilesh Yadav

    Hi Ashish. I read one of your old posts titled ‘Who Can Be Guru?’. In it you have written –

    Thus, to the question: “Who can be a guru?” the answer is that the person must have perfect detachment, perfect knowledge of the material and spiritual worlds, mystical powers, and inexhaustible bliss due to devotion to God.

    I am assuming that this definition of ‘guru’ also applies to the saint Svami Prabhupada. Now my question is that if this applies to him then he must have had perfect knowledge of the material world as well but sometimes Svami Prabhupada seemed to not know about certain things like some specific issues of vedic cosmology. And from what I have read and heard, Svami Prabhupada also used to challenge scientists and scholars and also invited the intelligent people to study his books rationally but once some people asked him a question about the mention of a king having 4 billion bodyguards and Svami Prabhupada couldn’t answer the question. He also admitted that he doesn’t know the answer. These events and incidents seem a bit confusing to me so I wanted to know if you can please explain them to me?

    Ashish Dalela

    Knowing perfectly is not the same as knowing completely. Knowing perfectly means that what you know is not mistaken. Knowing completely means that you know everything and what you know is perfect. Devotees know perfectly, which means that they are not mistaken. They are not guessing and then being proven wrong. But it doesn’t mean they know everything. A devotee is not omniscient.

    Perfection pertains to overcoming four mortal defects, namely, hallucination, misperception, misinterpretation, and cheating. All ordinary living entities have these four defects, and they are the central problems of epistemology. As long as these defects exist, all knowledge is defective, which means even if you claim to know something most often you don’t. When these four defects are overcome, then a person is called perfect. That is not a complete person. Only God is complete and perfect. But devotees are perfect although incomplete.

    Nilesh Yadav

    Thank you for your answer. But I have a few more questions. I do not know where you wrote it but somewhere you wrote that God also doesn’t know everything completely at all times but if he wants to he can know. Is that the same with pure devotees or devotees will always remain incomplete. And if they will always remain incomplete then please also explain the reason behind it?

    Ashish Dalela

    You have to understand that omniscience is impersonalism. Knowing is a power of God (and of the devotees) which operates under the will of God (or of the devotees). Wherever there is a will, there is no necessity. Omniscience is a necessity, namely, that God must know everything or a devotee must know everything. It is contrary to will. Under impersonalism, personality and will are destroyed. So, knowledge becomes a necessity because knowing is not a choice. Therefore, when we reject omniscience, we are rejecting impersonalism.

    God can know everything, but He doesn’t want to know. Likewise, a devotee can know many things by his power of knowing, but his power of knowing is limited compared to God. Still, if the devotee wants, he can ask God, and God can use His power of knowing to know, and then use His power of acting to tell the devotee. That way, even a devotee can also know everything by asking God. But most devotees don’t want to ask God unless it is necessary. Curiosity is not infinite. Curiosity is also driven by the desire for pleasure.

    Just like you don’t ask what your friends are doing in their private life. That is not your prerogative. But if there is a good reason, then you can also ask your friend what he is doing in his private life, and the friend may oblige. But the friend may also refuse to tell you because that is his prerogative. A friendship doesn’t break down because your friend doesn’t tell you what he is doing in his private life. Any friendship that breaks down due to such reasons was never a friendship, to begin with. The same principle holds everywhere.

    God can know everything by force or power, but He doesn’t want to know. A devotee can ask God and He can know everything by force or power, but a devotee doesn’t want to know. There has to be a good reason to know and if that reason doesn’t exist there is no need to know. Likewise, even if a devotee asks God, He can refuse, just like your friend may not tell you what he is doing in his private life. But a friend may also tell you those things if there is a good reason to share. Hence, devotees will never be omniscient, just like God. This is not a problem. This is the nature of personhood. We don’t ask unless there is a need and the responder doesn’t answer unless there is a need. Impersonalism dissolves all these choices.

    In the case of cosmology, Prabhupada said that he doesn’t understand many things, but he asked Krishna and Krishna told him many things. This is because there was a need to write the purports of Srimad Bhagavatam. When the author doesn’t understand something, he can ask Krishna. Krishna may tell him or He may not. That is Krishna’s prerogative. A devotee’s relationship with Krishna is not broken by that, just like a friendship is not broken if the friend doesn’t tell you what he does in his private life.

    In the case of the billions of living entities living in Dwaraka, Prabhupada simply did not want to answer because of the arrogance of the person who was asking the question. This is why the conversation got more and more heated because the person who is asking thinks: “I must know this.” This is impersonalism. If there is a book, and something is written in the book, then it should be known to me. If the guru is not omniscient, then he is not a guru. Likewise, if God is not omniscient, then He is not God. Basically, there is no role for will and choice, desire to know or not know, inclination to ask or not ask, interest in knowing something based on one’s pleasure or displeasure, etc. When impersonalism is very deep-rooted, then the inability to know becomes anger because an impersonalist basically wants to become God and if he cannot become God (i.e., omniscient) then he becomes very angry. There is no place for such anger in a devotee because there is no place for impersonalism. But an impersonalist will never realize that.

    Knowledge is a privilege. It can be extended and it may not be extended. But impersonalists make knowledge an entitlement. I have the “right to know”. There is a “right to information”. All these imaginary rights have been created by impersonalists who equate everyone to everyone else. Nobody should be in any privileged position. It is not that there is no answer to these questions. There are answers. I have given answers to all questions of cosmology that people have asked me. That doesn’t mean I know everything. Likewise, there is an answer to how billions of people were living in Dwarka, but since nobody asked me, hence I never explained it. So answers are there, but one has to give up impersonalism of getting angry if they don’t know. If impersonalism is not discarded and knowledge is sought, then it is better to not tell the person.

    This arrogance has subsequently manifested in this person’s life (who was asking about Dwarka having billions of people) as he has written his own Bhagavad-Gita. He goes around telling people that because the words “soul” and “God” have different meanings in the Vedic tradition, therefore, we must use different words. It is true that Sanskrit words have different meanings. But this is true not just for Atma and Isvar but for almost every word. Akash is not Ether. Vayu is not Air. Agni is not Fire. Apah is not Water. Prithvi is not Earth. It would be rare to find a word with an exact corresponding meaning in English. So, by this logic, we should never write anything in English because all Sanskrit-to-English dictionaries are bad. Then why is the person writing a new Bhagavad-Gita? The main reason is arrogance to prove one’s superiority.

    The arrogant people get some knowledge, such as the difference between Atma and soul, or between Ishvar and God, and their arrogance drives them toward more and more offenses. Ultimately they get nothing.

    Hence, my advice to everyone is this: Don’t consider knowledge your birthright. Consider it your privilege. If you get it, you have been given a privilege. Show gratitude in return for that privilege by serving the person who has given you knowledge. You can ask for more privileges but they may not be given. There is no need to get angry because it is a privilege and not a birthright.

    When a person shows gratitude, then more privileges are given. If the person demands everything and gets angry upon not getting it, then nothing is given. You can go on demanding but there will be no supply. You will get angrier and angrier, but who cares? When a person develops an impersonal attitude, then the response to that is also impersonalism, which means that if you demand something then Krishna will not supply and He doesn’t care for your anger.

    Nilesh Yadav

    Thank you for explaining, that cleared up many of my misunderstandings. I am sorry for asking more but I still have a few doubts. You said – “Likewise, even if a devotee asks God, He can refuse, just like your friend may not tell you what he is doing in his bedroom.” So Krishna can definitely refuse to answer because that is his prerogative but what is the nature of Krishna? He can either accept or refuse but what is his nature generally as in which of the two does he generally go with and that decision depends on what factors except for having a good reason to tell?

    As you said – “Likewise, there is an answer to how billions of people were living in Dwarka, but since nobody asked me, hence I never explained it.” Can you please explain it?

    Ashish Dalela

    He can either accept or refuse but what is his nature generally as in which of the two does he generally go with and that decision depends on what factors except for having a good reason to tell

    Krishna says in Bhagavad-Gita, “As they surrender to Me, I reciprocate accordingly”. So, it depends a lot on each person. Although Krishna sometimes doesn’t give something because it is not appropriate for that time, place, situation, or person. For example, mantras for launching weapons have disappeared at present. You can ask Krishna but He will not give it to you. But these things were known in the past. The reason they have disappeared at present is that nobody is qualified to know such mantras. If they get such a mantra, they will start killing each other much more than before. Therefore, instead of trying to predict everything, a devotee surrenders to Krishna and says: “I want to do this, but whatever is appropriate, you can decide that.” When this attitude is acquired, then the Sruti states: yasmin vijñāte sarvam evaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavati, which means “by knowing which everything is known”. Everything can be known, but it is a privilege. The devotee tries to become qualified for a privilege, and then the privilege automatically comes.

    Likewise, there is an answer to how billions of people were living in Dwarka, but since nobody asked me, hence I never explained it.

    You have to read Mystic Universe to understand space. Space is not fixed. It can expand and contract. If infinite number of living entities are going back to Vaikuntha over infinite time, then is there a problem of overpopulation in Vaikuntha? Are people having no space to live because there are too many people there? The person who asks how billions of people are living in Dwaraka needs to ask how the addition of billions of people to spiritual planets doesn’t result in overpopulation. The reason is that spiritual planets are continuously expanding. Likewise, the earth can also expand and contract. A specific city can expand and contract to accomodate more people. This requires a completely different understanding of space.

    Space in like a mind. You can have a broad mind in which there are millions of ideas. As you acquire more knowledge, the mind expands. It is the same mind, and yet, it has expanded to include more ideas. The mind does not get overcrowded with ideas if there is a system of proper organization. Like that, earth is also a mind. She can accomodate trillions of more living entities. There will be no food shortage, no short supply of water or air. That short-supply exists either because of mismanagement or because of bad karma. But in principle the earth can accomodate trillions of more living entities. To understand space, we have to understand the mind, how it expands and contracts, and how it has no limit to expansion.

    Dwaraka is also a space like that. It can expand and contract. So trillions of living entities can live without feeling suffocated. The answer to these questions requires understanding of the 3rd Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam where so many elements come out of a single element. They are hidden inside one element and they expand out of that element. The entire universe springs out like a tree from a seed.

    I have explained a few times how a big purport comes out of a small verse. It is already inside the verse, but it expands out of the verse. Like that, from the outside, something looks very small like a verse. But as one goes within that verse, there is a huge purport inside the verse. Lord Chaitanya gave 51 interpretations of the atmarama verse. So much variety is there in each verse. It is not visible to everyone because each person sees things from only one perspective.

    Like that, a city is one thing. But it can be seen from infinite perspectives. Each perspective can be sufficiently different from the other perspectives. When one person takes one perspective, they are sufficiently different from the perspective of other persons. This difference between perspectives is distance between people. Being close to each other means that they must be seeing the same thing. Being far means they must be seeing something different. So, if we can see the same verse differently, then we are inside the verse, and yet, far from each other. As we can see the same verse in millions of ways, then millions of living entities are inside the verse, and yet, far from each other. So, person inside a city is just like one purport of the same verse. They have entered the city like one enters a verse to see a purport. This is the entry of consciousness within a city. It is also one perspective on the whole city.

    All these things require us to understand reality as meaning, mind, perspective, differences between perspectives, and how distance is created by difference in meaning. This is how we can understand what it means for the soul to go into a planet. Most people are thinking about bodies. But Vedic scriptures are talking about the soul. Krishna says in Bhagvaad-Gita: mamaivānśho jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ which means “the living entities in the living planets are eternally my parts”. He is not talking about planets and bodies. He is talking about planets and souls. Each planet is one set of perspectives on Krishna. Within that planet, each living entity sees Krishna in one of the ways possible in the planet. That vision of the soul in one planet is just like one purport of the verse. The verse is the planet and our vision is the purport. The verse looks very small and the purport looks very big. But the big is in the small.

    So, first understand 3rd Canto, then understand 5th Canto, and then we can talk about later Cantos. If we follow this path, then there will be no doubts. But if we skip or ignore the preliminary lesson and just complain about the later lesson then the fault is ours. This fault is universal at present.

    Ashish Dalela

    For others, who may be wondering what we are talking about, here are the references:

    SB 10.90.41
    SB 10.90.42

    This is the link to conversation with Prabhupada (which eventually got very heated). Here is the specific question:

    Devotee (2): Not Kṛṣṇa. No. King Ugrasena, Prabhupāda. Not Kṛṣṇa. King Ugrasena. The statement is that King Ugrasena had four billion personal servants. Now, we have gone and tried to spread to the scientific community. And if we say to them, “There was a king whose name was Ugrasena. He had four billion personal servants,” they laugh and say, “What did they do for toilets? What did they do for food? Where did they live?”

    Prabhupāda: So you want to preach this particular portion and no other portion?

    Devotee (1): No. We want to… We want to know if the story has an allegorical meaning rather than a literal translation, or that King Ugrasena who was a man who lived five thousand years ago and had four billion bodyguards, or whether the stories within the Bhāgavatam, apart from some of them being actual, are allegorical stories. Such as the story of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma chopping off the the eighty-eight…

    Prabhupāda: All right. You can give up that portion. You can take other portion.

    Devotee (2): We don’t mean to give it up.

    Nilesh Yadav

    Thank you for your explanations. Before asking more questions I would like to apologize for asking so many questions because I understand that I have not done anything worthwhile for you to answer my questions but I recently started studying Svami Prabhupada’s books and there are so many confusions I keep going through while either reading his books or listening to him. Like at times when Svami Prabhupada gives an argument, I am mostly unable to understand his argument. And if I tell honestly then whenever I read or hear his arguments, they sound very naive but I believe that they aren’t which is why I think that most probably I am the one not understanding his point. But sometimes it becomes very hard for me to ignore my own ignorant counters to what he says. To give one example, he often gives this argument –

    For example, if one learns one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and zero, then he has studied the entirety of mathematics, because mathematics means simply changing the places of these ten figures. That’s all. Similarly, if one simply studies Kṛṣṇa, then all his knowledge is perfect. And Kṛṣṇa is easily understood simply by chanting this mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa.

    There are many arguments like this where I am unable to stop my mind from countering because I am unable to understand what he is actually trying to say. Can you please explain how to understand all such kinds of arguments that Svami Prabhupada often uses?

    Ashish Dalela

    Revolt is a natural reaction of the mind when it encounters something different from its current belief system, value system, and personal interests. It takes a long time to get over this revolt. This is why chanting is prescribed as a method to purify the mind. While chanting, the mind revolts again because the sound is contrary to the nature of the mind. But if we persist, then the mind is gradually purified. Then, instead of revolting, it listens silently. Over time, the mind becomes extremely eager to listen. The transformation from revolt to silence to eagerness is a long one. It comes with practice alone.

    Regarding this specific comment by Prabhupada, he is talking about the constituents of nature described in Sāñkhya philosophy. There are 24 such elements: 5 elements of the external world, 5 types of sensed properties, 5 senses of knowledge, 5 senses of action, mind, intelligence, self-identity, and morality. Each element is designated by a number. But these numbers are concepts and qualities, rather than quantities. Thereby, everything is constructed from qualities and it can be called the combination of numbers. All these qualities originally emanate from Krishna and they are the 24 aspects of Krishna, namely His morality, self-identity, intellect, mind, senses, sensed properties, and body. After emanation, they are combined in various ways to produce various kinds of worlds. Hence, if one knows Krishna, then he knows the pure constituents of reality because they are parts of Krishna. Then one knows everything else perfectly. Since the combinations are infinite, hence, knowledge may not include everything. But it is perfect.

    So, Prabhupada is drawing an analogy between the ten digits and the elements of Sāñkhya to say that just like mathematics is constructed by combining digits, similarly, reality is constructed by combining elements of Sāñkhya. The numbers produced by combining all the digits are infinite so nobody can know them. In fact, nobody wants to memorize all the numbers produced by combining digits because knowing the digits is itself sufficient knowledge. So knowing all the digits is perfect but knowing all the numbers is complete. Nobody needs to know the complete set of numbers if they know all the constituting digits and the rules by which they are combined. On a need basis, a specific combination of digits can be known occasionally.

    The implication is that if we don’t know Krishna, then we don’t know the pure form of the 24 elements. Then we don’t know any combination of these elements perfectly. The understanding of every such combination, including the understanding of the 24 elements constituting our body and mind will be imperfect. So, knowing Krishna is the method for knowing everything. It is necessary (because without knowing the pure form, we cannot understand the combination forms perfectly) and sufficient (by knowing the pure form, we can understand every combination of forms perfectly). Hence, knowing Krishna is necessary and sufficient.

    There is some Platonic philosophy involved here, namely, Plato claimed that there is a world of pure forms, where a pure chair, a pure table, a pure tree, a pure person, etc. exists. But Plato could never define what those pure forms are. In Sāñkhya philosophy, all these varied forms are constructed by combining 24 primordial forms. The pure form of these 24 primordial forms is Krishna. From the pure forms emanate the impure forms when aspects of the pure forms are hidden by maya. For example, a pure mind is loving but an impure mind is selfish. The selfish mind is produced from a pure mind by the effect of maya. So, a selfish mind = pure mind + maya = Krishna + maya. Maya is what Krishna is NOT. What Krishna is NOT, is also part of Krishna, but that NOT is unmixed with Krishna. When the 24 elements are emanated, then they are mixed with maya, and hence an impure form is produced. But when we become cognizant of the pure form, then the impurity of maya is removed. That removal of impurity constitutes the removal of NOT from the pure form.

    Cognizance of the pure form of everything is attained by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. Otherwise, we can theoretically talk about pure and impure forms, but we cannot tell what the pure form is, just like Plato. If Plato had chanted the Hare Krishna mantra, then he would know what the pure form is. But he did not chant. So he just got a theory that there is a world of pure forms, but he doesn’t know what each pure form is. Similarly, by a theoretical study of reality, we can just know that there must be pure forms. But what those pure forms are precisely cannot be known by this theoretical study. Chanting is necessary for that. Factually, chanting is also sufficient to know the pure forms. But because people may question the process of chanting, therefore, we have to explain the philosophy of pure and impure forms, make them understand how the 24 elements constituting their material existence are impure, and how they can be purified.

    The impure form is always opposed to the pure form because the impure form = NOT pure form. The revolting tendency in the mind is the effect of combining the pure form with NOT which creates natural opposition to the pure form. So, it must be curbed by willpower and then cleansed by chanting. As the 24 elements in our present existence are gradually purified, then the revolution reduces, eventually ends, and then attraction begins. Attraction exists because even as a pure mind is perfect, it is not a complete mind. So the pure mind is attracted to the complete mind. The complete mind is that from which all other minds were produced. So, loving that mind is loving all minds. Thus, the loving tendency in the pure mind is dovetailed toward loving the complete mind, and through that love, it becomes the love of all minds which are also loving the complete mind. This loving tendency is called prema-bhakti and it comes from sadhana-bhakti.

    When the mind revolts, we should exercise patience. There is a perfect answer to every question. Even though I may not know all the answers, the answers are there. So there is no need to revolt. One must have the patience to find the perfect answer to every question. If we do that, then slowly the revolution ends and peace comes. In that peaceful stage, prosperity comes slowly. That prosperity is an attraction to Krishna.

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