Sentiments Before Dawn (Part 2): Adoration of the Guru

On entering the temple room, the devotee’s first respect is offered to Srila Prabhupada, the founder and pre-eminent guru of ISKCON. Bearing the left side to his vyasasana or seat, one bows down and touches the head to the floor, while reciting a pranam mantra or prayer of respect. If I remember correctly the living are respected with the right side of the body and for those having attained divinity, it is with the left. When in the bowing position, a devotee meditates that their hands are placed on the feet of the guru, therefore both hands should be free and not holding on to a book or japa-mala. Hands otherwise occupied would be a sign of complacency and disrespect. Thus meditating, the mantras are recited and emphasis is placed on the fact that they should be audible. Certainly this would imply that the purpose here is being conscious and not thoughtless or mechanical. Having the correct thoughts and understanding are important because they should provoke the right feelings.

The mantra, therefore, guides the meditation in several ways beginning with adoring the guru, Srila Prabhupada, because he is close to God and thus beloved. Then he is remembered as the servant of his own honourable guru. The teaching he stood for and sincerely shared are also mentioned and thus recognised. And, what stands in opposition to the teaching, that is the impersonal and voidistic conceptions of God, he eradicated. Declaring the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the present Avatar, he delivered others of impersonal and vacant concepts of God.

The salient matters here are that he is not honoured because he has a label saying 'guru', (or as some say these days a 'rubber stamp') rather it is proximity to God that makes him truly worthy of respect. Thus the devotee understands ‘I respect you, close to God as you are’. Such proximity has been attained because the guru adored a person who was similarly close, which is a further statement of his eligibility and a notification of the process. So by respecting you, I will be blessed with closeness to God myself, as you became by adoring your guru. In fact by respecting you, I am close to God.

The guru's teaching are not his own, they are the words as received by him, through a succession of teachers, in a direct line from the Avatar: Sri Chaitanya. Thus he is worthy of adoration because he is a messenger of truth, and because he is inseparable from the divine teachings which he shares and fully adheres to. If he taught but did not adhere, he would not be deserving of such respect. The devotee meditates ‘I am respecting you because of you have lived by these teachings’.

As Sri Chaitanya revealed the Absolute as a supreme person, the opposing ideas of the Advaitins and Buddhists, that consider the Absolute to be devoid of any personal attributes or amounting to a void respectively, are rejected. The guru also removes misconceptions, and Srila Prabhupada is thus attributed for this. He is adored as a personalist, who is intolerant of misconceptions about God. In offering respects to him, the devotee is embracing the personality of Godhead and relinquishing misconceptions.

In a sense the respect and adoration offered to the guru are qualified within the mantras. They are rationalised and also evidently connect the guru to a tradition of gurus, and a personal and ultimate God. Together this trinity: the guru, the line of gurus and God, is the presence that is being adored; a presence that is found in the guru. Therefore, with humility, respect and adoration the disciple offers an unqualified respect to a qualified guru.

Meditation: I bow to and adore the dear servant of God. Sincere before his teacher, he now proclaims the message of the Avatar. May he free me of my misconceptions.

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