Srila Gurudeva (The Supreme Treasure)

by Swami Bhaktivedanta Madhava Maharaja | 2010 | 179,005 words

This page relates ‘Four Most Prominent Types of Ritviks (priests)’ of the book dealing with life and teachings of Srila Gurudeva, otherwise known as Shri Shrimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. Srila Gurudeva is a learned and scholar whose teachings primarily concern the spiritual beauties of Bhakti—devotional service and the qualities and pastimes of Shri Krishna.

The Four Most Prominent Types of Ṛtviks (priests)

(1) One who invokes the particu1ar deities (devatās) to be present in the sacrifice by reciting the mantras of Ṛg-Veda, and thus performs the sacrifice, is called hotā.

(2) One who sings aloud and chants the hymns of the Sāma-Veda to please and glorify invoked deities is called udgātā.

(3) The Adhvaryu murmurs and continuously chants the prosaic section of the Yajur-Veda. He performs his specific duties paying extra attention to its various aspects and its meaning and that is why his participation in yajña is quite prominent.

(4) Protecting the yajña from external obstacles, rectifying the possible mistakes in recitation, and removal of various types of discrepancies arising in the detailed performances related to yajña, is the function of the brahma. He is the chief priest of yajña. He supervises the over-all functioning of yajña and rectifies the faults. So this brahma is considered superior to all other ṛtviks. Hence, it is imperative for the brahma, who undertakes the main responsibility to supervise the whole sacrifice, to have complete knowledge of the three Vedas (Ṛg, Sāma, Yajur).

In Vālmīki’s Rāmāyāna, similar descriptions about ṛtvik are found:

ना सदन्ग विदत्रसिन्नव्रतो नबहुस्रुतह्
सदस्यस्तस्य वै रज्न्यो नवद कुसल द्विजह्

nā sadanga vidatrasinnavrato nabahusrutah
sadasyastasya vai rajnyo navada kusala dvijah

Bala-kanda, 14.29

In the putresti-yajña (sacrifice performed with the desire to have a son) conducted for Mahārāja Dāśaratha, all the conductors, or ṛtviks, were well-versed in all the limbs of the Vedas. They were all strict celibates and had heard the Vedas repeatedly and systematically from expert knowers of Vedas. All of them were expert in philosophical discussion and assertions.”

We find another example of sixteen ṛtviks described in the Rāmāyāna in the description of asvamedha-yajña:

हयस्य यानि चरिगनि तनि सर्वनि ब्रह्मनह्
अग्नौ प्रस्यन्ति विधिवत समस्तह् सदश्रीत्विर्ज्न्ह्

hayasya yāni carigani tani sarvani brahmanah
agnau prasyanti vidhivata samastah sadaŚrītvirjnh

Bala-kanda, 14.38

All the sixteen types of ṛtviks started to offer oblative articles systematically into the fire, which were required as integral limbs of the asvamedha-yajña.

Beginning from the Vedic period up to Dvāparā-yuga, it is seen that many great emperors have obtained their desired fruits by flawless performance of sacrifices. Because these kings were not very expert in the Vedas and in performing sacrifices, they themselves became yajamans, and they appointed as ṛtviks, non-greedy and virtuous brāhmaṇas, who were well-versed in the Vedas and in performance of yajña. Sometimes even brāhmaṇas who were knowers of the Vedas used to perform the Vedic sacrifices with the help of ṛtviks in order to fulfill their fruītive desires. Generally all of these sacrifices were performed for fulfilling material desires, the chief of which was the attainment of heavenly planets.

Question: What is the relationship of ṛtvik with guru-tattva as described in scriptures?

Answer: After deliberation upon the Mahābhārata (the fifth Veda), Vālmīki’s Rāmāyāna, and the Purāṇas, it becomes very obvious that ṛtviks have nothing to do with parāmartha, the subjects of the supreme transcendental goal, namely ātmā-tattva (the science of the self), bhāgavatatattva (the science of Bhagavān), bhakti-tattva and so on. The ṛtvik does not aim to attain mukti in the form of emancipation from mundane miseries, nor to attain eternal service to the lotus feet of Bhagavān after becoming free from the cycle of birth and death. After the completion of yajnas, the yajamānā pays the appropriate remunerations (dakṣiṇā) to the ṛtviks and sends them away. The yajamāna and the ṛtvik have no mutual, eternal relationships.

In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Mahābhārata also, there are very few contexts which are related to ṛtviks. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam wherever the word “ṛtvik” has been mentioned, it is used only in connection with the performance of yajnas, and nowhere can it be found being used in relation to parāmartha or supreme transcendental goals. In the famous episode of Purañjānā, there is a reference in which King Prācīnabarhi performed unlimited numbers of yajnas through his ṛtviks. As a result of these yajnas, the eastern portion of the earth was completely covered by sacrificial grass mats (kuśa). In many of these asvamedha-yajnas animals were also sacrificed. Still the king’s mind was restless. Eventually by the instructions of Devaṛṣi Nārada he realized the futility of yajnas performed to fulfill material desires. After completely abandoning them, he entered into the path of bhakti. This topic is illustrated in the Fourth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

In the Ādi-parva section of Mahābhārata, regarding the topic of the Khaṇḍavana-daha, the burning of the Khandavana forest, there is a descriptive episode of King Svetaki. During his lifetime, King Svetaki had so many yajnas performed that all of his ṛtviks became fed up with such yajnas. In spite of receiving high remuneration from the king for their services, as well as repeated requests that they continue performing yajnas for him, these ṛtviks were no longer willing to act as ṛtviks. Thus, becoming hopeless, Svetaki took shelter of Mahādeva Saṅkara. He performed worship of Śrī Saṅkara for a long time and thus pleased him.

King Svetaki asked for the benediction that Śrī Saṅkara would accept the post of ṛtvik and complete the performance of his yajnas. Being pleased with the king, Mahādeva Saṅkara ordered his partial expansion, Mahaṛṣi Durvasa, to accept the post of ṛtvik and complete King Svetaki’s yajña. Appointing Mahaṛṣi Durvasa as the chief (brahma) ṛtvik, King Svetaki successfully performed his yajnas through him, and at last attained Svarga-loka according to his desires.

As described in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyāna, Mahārāja Dāśaratha performed asvamedha-yajña and putresti-yajña with the intention of having a son. He appointed Śrīngi Ṛṣi, who was well-versed in all the Vedas, as the chief ṛtvik (brahma). As a result of this performance he had four sons. Furthermore, Mahārāja Śrī Rāmacandra, following the loka-maryada, moral principles and social customs for kings, performed many yajnas such as the asvamedha-yajña through Mahaṛṣi Vāśiṣṭha, Vamadeva and other ṛṣis and munis who knew the Vedas completely.

Thus it becomes obvious that all such yajnas are performed merely to fu1fi1l mundane desires and to attain svarga, but they are never performed in pursuance of parāmartha, transcendental bhakti.

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, while giving instructions to Ārjuna in Gitopanisad, has Himself said:

ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्ग-लोकं विशालं क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्य-लोकं विशन्ति
एवं त्रयी-धर्मम् अनुप्रपन्ना गतागतं काम-कामा लभन्ते

te taṃ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṃ viśālaṃ kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṃ viśanti
evaṃ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā gatāgataṃ kāma-kāmā labhante

Bhagavad-gītā 9.21

When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.

In other words, people who are attached to performing the fruītive activities mentioned in the three Vedas (Ṛg, Sāma and Yajur), worship Me by performing yajnas, and, accepting the remnants (soma-rasa) of yajña, they become free from sins and pray for the destination of heaven. As the result of their pious activities they attain Indra-loka, and there they enjoy the objects of divine pleasure available to the demigods. After enjoying the great sense pleasures available in heaven, they again fall back to the lower planets of the material world due to gradually exhausting all of their pious deeds. Thus, these people who perform yajnas to fulfill their material desires, as prescribed in the above three Vedas, repeatedly return to this material world.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa additionally says:

तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस् तत्त्व-दर्शिनः

tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṃ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Bhagavad-gītā 4.34

To acquire knowledge of the Absolute Truth, one must approach Śrī Guru, inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The Guru who is both a jñānī (expert in the imports of the śāstra) and a tattva-darśī (self-realized in the Absolute Truth) can enlighten you with transcendental knowledge because he has seen the truth.

It is said in the Upaniṣads:

तद्-विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुम् एवाभिगच्छेत्
समित्-पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म-निष्ठम्

tad-vijñānārthaṃ sa gurum evābhigacchet
samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyaṃ brahma-niṣṭham

Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, 1.2.12

To learn the transcendental subject matter, one must approach a spiritual master. In doing so, he should carry fuel to burn in sacrifice. The symptom of such a spiritual master is that he is expert in understanding the Vedic conclusion, and therefore he constantly engages in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

For attaining vijñāna (jñāna with prema-bhakti) of the supreme absolute entity, carrying samidha (wood for the sacrifice), which in other words is considered to be representative of sublime faith, one must approach with complete surrender of body, mind, and words, a guru who knows the tattva of Kṛṣṇa and the essence of the Vedas.

Furthermore it is said in Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.23):

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिर् यथा देवे तथ गुरौ
तस्यैते कथिता ह्य् अर्थाः प्रकाशन्ते महात्मनः

yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ

The true import of the scriptures is revealed only to those great souls who have the same unflinching faith and parā-bhakti (transcendental devotion) for their Guru as they have for the Supreme Lord.

A similar statement is also found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.3.21):

तस्माद् गुरुं प्रपद्येत जिज्ञासुः श्रेय उत्तमम्
शाब्दे परे च निष्णातं ब्रह्मण्य्-उपशमाश्रयम्

tasmād guruṃ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṃ brahmaṇy-upaśamāśrayam

Any person who seriously desires to achieve real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation, and must be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities, who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters.

ताते कृष्ण भजे, करे गुरुर सेवन
माया-जाल छुटे, पाय कृष्णेर चरण

tāte kṛṣṇa bhaje, kare gurura sevana
māyā-jāla chuṭe, pāya kṛṣṇera caraṇa

Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya-līlā 22.25

If the conditioned soul engages in the service of the Lord and simultaneously carries out the orders of his spiritual master and serves him, he can get out of the clutches of māyā and become eligible for shelter at Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.

From the above scriptural evidences it is very clear that the relationship between guru and śiṣya (disciple) is eternal and transcendental. Gurudeva is described as the svarūpa and prakāśa (manifestation) of Bhagavān. Therefore he must always be worshipped like Bhagavān. Only by his mercy can a jīva who is bound in the grips of māyā be freed, and after being situated in his pure constitutional position, become engaged in the service of Bhagavān. Without the mercy of Śrī Gurudeva the supreme welfare of the jīva is impossible.

On the other hand, the relationship between the yajamāna and the ṛtvik is temporary and based on self-interest. It is for the fulfillment of mundane desires. Their relationship lasts for a short time only. Therefore, since time immemorial, the system of guru-paramparā, which is also known as āmnāya or sat-sampradāya, has been prevalent in the scriptures. The four lines of bona fide succession of spiritual masters has originated from the associates of Śrī Bhagavān, that is Śrī Lakṣmī, Śrī Brahmā, Śrī Rudra and Śrī Sanat-kumāra. In the age of Kālī, Śrī Rāmanuj ācāryas, Śrī Mādhv ācārya, Śrī Viṣṇusvami and Śrī Nimbāditya respectively are the four ācāryas, famous as the followers of the above personalities. Guru-paramparā (the bona fide succession of spiritual masters) is always prevalent in the āmnāya line of these four ācāryas.

Even in the advaita-sampradāya (followers of Saṅkar ācāryas) the tradition of guru-paramparā is well preserved.

গুরু কৃষ্ণ-রূপ হন সস্ত্রের প্রামনে
গুরু-রুপে কৃষ্ণ কৃপ করেন ভক্ত-গনে

guru kṛṣṇa-rūpa hana sastrera prāmane
guru-rupe kṛṣṇa kṛpa karena bhakta-gane

Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 1.45

“According to the deliberate opinion of all revealed scriptures, the spiritual master is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa in the form of the spiritual master delivers His devotees.”

শিক্ষা-গুরুকে ত’ জনি কৃষ্ণের স্বরূপ
অন্তর্যমি, ভক্ত-স্রেস্থ,—এই দুই রূপ

śikṣā-guruke ta’ jani kṛṣṇera svarūpa
antaryami, bhakta-srestha,—ei dui rūpa

Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 1.47

“One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself as the Supersoul and as the greatest devotee of the Lord.”

So in the tradition of our sampradāya there is provision for dīkṣā-guru, śikṣā-guru, bhajana-guru, patha-pradarsaka-guru, caitya-guru and so on. But we will not find any statement in the scriptures which recommends accepting a ‘ṛtvik-guru’ or the ṛtvik tradition in order to perform one’s sādhana of parāmartha (the highest transcendental goal). We do not find even in the Saṅkara sampradāya any depiction of such utilization of ṛtvik tradition what to speak of the four Vaiṣṇava sampradayas.

Question: These days we do not see the tradition of guru-paramparā. Some gurus are falling down, unable to maintain the requirements of being a guru and there seems to be a lack of bona fide guru. It is said by some that Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja has briefly mentioned ṛtvik in his letters. Is that true? They ask what is the harm if we accept dīkṣā through such a ṛtvik system or through his audio-cassettes now that he is no longer physically present?

Answer: In the present age of Kālī many people become irritated simply by hearing the word ‘guru’ because of seeing the misconduct, the activities which are against the principles of bhakti, and the fall-downs of many socalled gurus. Thus, at the current time, some people put forward the idea that Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja was the last bona fide guru, and after his disappearance there is no longer a sad-guru present in the world, nor will there be one in the future. Therefore, after his disappearance there is no need for anyone to accept any living guru because ṛtviks will carry forward this śiṣya-paramparā (disciplic succession) and they will give dīkṣā only by utilizing the cassette recordings of his own, voice chanting the gāyatrī-mantras.

This conception is completely speculative and is against the injunctions of the scriptures. The guru-paramparā or āmnāya line is eternal and everlasting since the time of creation. This line of guru-paramparā exists up to this day without any break, and it will continue to exist like this in the future also. To say, “There is no bona fide guru living in the world at present and neither will there be any in the future,” is an atheistic opinion. Because Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja is such an important figure in our eternal sampradāya, it is obvious that he would not establish anything against guru, śāstra or sādhu.

Some people talk about accepting dīkṣā through the medium of the audio-cassettes of great personalities after they have disappeared. There are various flaws in this ideology. Before giving dīkṣā a guru examines the characteristics, thoughts, intentions and so on of the aspiring candidate. Similarly, for some period of time, the aspirant will also observe the gurutva (greatness), conduct, bhajana and attitude of his guru. When both of them are satisfied, then only, there is an arrangement to give and to accept dīkṣā. This process is not possible through cassettes once the guru is no longer physically present. It is not possible for the cassette to examine the aspirant before giving dīkṣā, and neither is it possible for the aspirant to observe the greatness, conduct and mode of bhajana of the guru through the medium of cassettes alone.

From the history of our sampradāya, it is well known that Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vedavyāsa was a perfected saint or guru of Dvāpara-yuga. But yet his sat-śiṣya, Śrīla Mādhv ācārya, had direct darśana of Śrīla Vedavyāsa who had appeared about 5000 years prior to him. Despite being so qualified, Śrīla Mādhv ācārya never thought that he could become the disciple of Śrīla Vedavyāsa without the latter’s physical presence. On hearing the sincere prayers of Śrīla Mādhv ācārya, Śrīla Vedavyāsa personally appeared before him and gave him dīkṣā. We can observe many such examples in the scriptures. A bona fide guru can manifest anywhere by the prayers of a bona fide śiṣya. For the common people, the process of accepting dīkṣā is to directly receive kṛṣṇa-mantra from a bona fide guru who knows kṛṣṇatattva, but in the case of uttamā-adhikaris, the example of bhāgavataparamparā is visible everywhere. Hence, it is not a proven fact that the cassette is a bona fide and effective medium to give dīkṣā.

If, in modern times, in special circumstances a guru has given dīkṣā through his representative or through cassette, this still cannot be accepted as the ultimate principle for everyone at all times and in all places. A guru may give dīkṣā through the medium of his representative or cassette to a faithful person who is living in a remote place, and cannot personally come before his guru due to circumstances, but this is a temporary situation arising out of extreme circumstances only. Whenever it is possible, the guru will himself personally give dīkṣā.

Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja has neither accepted nor mentioned the tradition of ṛtviks as gurus anywhere in his bona fide books. Nor did he support the tradition of ṛtviks in his personal letters.

Whatever Śrīla Swāmī Mahārāja arranged, it was most definitely not ‘ṛtvik-guru’, which is a contradiction of terms. To call it this is the cause of embarrassment for him among those who know the Vedic śāstras.

As you can see, it is very important to consider the scriptural meaning of the word ‘ṛtvik’. The term applies only when a yajman undertakes a yajña for fulfilling his material desires. Because he, the yajman, is himself ignorant of the Vedic rules for performing the yajña, he appoints, for the successful completion and achievement of desired results, the ṛtviks, who are virtuous and who know the Vedas.

In consideration of this principle, can it be conjectured that a guru, being ignorant of the dīkṣā-mantras and their conceptions, will appoint a ṛtvik more qualified than himself, who in turn will give dīkṣā to others, thus acting as the representative of the guru? Some people say that Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja appointed ṛtviks who were to give dīkṣā to his disciples. If this statement is accepted as true, then it means they are accusing Śrīla Swāmī Mahārāja of being an unqualified guru, an ignorant yajamāna who, for the sake of fulfilling his material desires would have appointed ṛtviks more qualified than himself. No, it cannot be true, for this is completely impossible. Therefore, on the path toward attaining the supreme absolute reality, Bhagavān, this concocted ṛtvik conception is impractical and against the scriptural conclusions.

[Question:] How does a disciple relate with his guru once he has entered in aprakaṭa-līlā (the guru’s entrance into the eternal pastimes of Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world)? Like Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupādā’s disciples, those who took initiation when he was still physically present. How can they relate with him since he is now in aprakaṭa-līlā?

Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja: A disciple should think, “He is my Gurudeva. He is eternal. He is still here.” When we pray for anything, he will inspire us. He is eternal, everywhere, and in our hearts also. He has not left his body. His body, his everything, is transcendental. So don’t worry. Our relationship with him is the same as it was.

[Question:] Does the example of Śrī Mādhv ācārya approaching Śrīla Vyāsadeva show that an aspiring disciple can, so to speak, summon a departed ācārya who has entered into aprakaṭa-līlā, and request initiation from him? Of course, Mādhv ācārya was in a special situation. He was an empowered expansion of the Lord. He was one of the four sampradāya ācāryas.

Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja: Mādhv ācārya was a direct disciple of Vyāsadeva. When Mādhv ācārya was living, about 4000 years had passed since Vyāsa disappeared from this world. However, Mādhv ācārya knew that Vyāsadeva was still alive and that he is eternal. So he prayed to him in Badrikaśrāma, beseeching him, “I want to take your darśana and to be initiated by you.” And when he was praying, at once Vyāsadeva personally came there, and Mādhv ācārya presented his wish to him that he should grant him initiation. Vyāsadeva gave him initiation and then after that Vyāsa disappeared.

In conclusion we can see by these questions and the answers given by Śrīla Gurudeva, that the newly emerging theory of ‘the ṛtviks’ is completely speculative and not supported by any śāstra.

In 1972 Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja wrote saying that he wanted his disciples to be ‘independently thoughtful’. We have to understand the philosophical conclusions of the śāstra (siddhānta), otherwise we cannot be strong.

Without being fixed in the conclusions of Śrī Guru and the śāstra, we will hear some nonsense and at any time we may fall down.

সিদ্ধান্ত বলিযা চিত্তে না কর অলস
ইহা হ-ইতে কৃষ্ণে লাগে সুদৃঢ মানস

siddhānta baliyā citte nā kara alasa
ihā ha-ite kṛṣṇe lāge sudṛḍha mānasa

Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 2.117

A sincere devotee should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions make the mind and intellect stronger. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Lord Kṛṣṇa.

In another 1972 letter he said, ‘They are preaching all nonsense and the people are accepting them, but if someone wants to be cheated, what can be done?” That is why we ourselves have to understand this subject matter or someone will push their speculations upon us and we will become sidetracked in our spiritual life.

They are trying to put a variable on the eternal paramparā system by saying that the system as it existed is not acceptable or revelant at this point in time. They put their slant on the philosophy and procedure of the eternal paramparā system but this is not in line with either Guru, Sādhu or Śāstra. There is absolutely nothing to support their theory in our Gauḍīyaa Vaiṣṇava line.

The guru-paramparā system of living gurus has existed from time immemorial with no break and will exist like this in the future also. Even Lord Rāma, Lord Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya took bona fide living gurus. To say that Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja is the last bona fide guru, is not in line with guru, sādhu and śāstra. This premise is not found anywhere in his books or in any śāstra. To have direct association and communion with Śrī Gurudeva is essential. A bewildered kaniṣṭhaadhikārī (neophyte devotee) may try to take help from this ṛtvik philosophy or some other quazi-religious idealogy, but these are not our Vaiṣṇava siddhānta and one will surely become beguiled by them.

Direct association with Śrī Guru is the first step on the path of divine service. Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhata Sarasvatī says that Śrī Guru is to be served in every entity and that if Śrī Guru is not served, no one can truly be served. He says that we should not hear anything until we are authorized to hear it from our divine master, Śrī Gurudeva.

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