Talk by HH Giriraja Swami Maharaja, 29th September 2001, Carpinteria CA
The original spiritual master or teacher is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, called Krsna. Of course, the Supreme Lord has different names in different languages and different cultures, but we call Him Krsna. So, Krsna imparts perfect knowledge to His immediate disciples, and one of His immediate disciples is Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma imparts the same knowledge to his immediate students, as he imparted the knowledge to Narada. Narada imparted the same knowledge to his immediate disciples, as he did to Vyasa, and thus the perfect knowledge that comes from God, the original spiritual master, is passed down from disciple to disciple to disciple to disciple in an unbroken chain called disciplic succession until finally the same knowledge reaches us.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that the knowledge of Srimad-Bhagavatam is the ripened fruit of the Vedic tree of knowledge:
“O expert and thoughtful men, relish Srimad-Bhagavatam, the mature fruit ofthe desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (SB 1.1.3)
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has given an example of how one gets the ripened fruit from the top of a tree. At least the system in the past was that the boys or whoever would climb up the tree. One would climb up to the top and perch there, one would climb to some branch a little lower, someone else would climb to another branch a little lower, and finally one would be stationed on the ground. So the boy at the top would take the fruit, say a mango, and pass it to the boy on the next branch down. The next boy would pass it to the boy on the next branch down, and he in turn would pass it to the next boy down. Finally the boy on the lowest branch would hand it very carefully to the boy standing on the ground, and thus the fruit that was situated at the top of the tree would be passed down from hand to hand until it reached the person on the ground. And when it reached the ground it would be in the same perfect condition as it was on the top of the tree – not damaged or bruised or broken in any way.
In the same way, the perfect knowledge given by God Himself is taken by the first disciple, who in turn becomes a spiritual master and gives the same knowledge to the next disciple, who in turn becomes a spiritual master and gives the same knowledge to the next disciple, until the same knowledge is passed down through disciplic succession to us.
So we have received the knowledge from Srila Prabhupada, who received it from his spiritual master, who received it from his spiritual master, and so on, and ultimately from Krsna. And now the same knowledge is available to us through Srila Prabhupada’s books and lectures and conversations, and from those who have received instructions and guidance directly from Srila Prabhupada.
Now, just as the knowledge begins with God or Krsna and comes down through disciplic succession, one has an obligation when one receives transcendental knowledge to reciprocate and render service, to offer service up. So just as the knowledge comes down through disciplic succession, the service is offered up through disciplic succession. I offer service to my spiritual master, and he in turn offers service to his spiritual master, who in turn offers the service to his spiritual master, until the service is offered to the original spiritual master, to the supreme spiritual master, God or Krsna.
So, disciplic succession is most essential in devotional service, both for receiving knowledge and for offering service, and at the time of initiation the link or connection between the disciple and the personal spiritual master who is the immediate link in the disciplic chain becomes solemnized and consecrated and formalized. Of course, because we do receive knowledge from Srila Prabhupada’s books and recorded lectures and conversations and from his followers — not just from our immediate spiritual master, but from so many other disciples and followers of Srila Prabhupada, even other disciples of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples — we are indebted to all of them, and they are all our gurus or siksa-gurus. Guru has two divisions, siksa-guru, or one who imparts knowledge or instructions, and diksa-guru, or the one who gives initiation and the mantra. According to scripture, one must have only one diksa-guru but one may have many siksa-gurus. And because we have all been delivered by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, we have all been given transcendental knowledge by the efforts of Srila Prabhupada, he is a very important siksa-guru, and in most cases the most important guru.
Although in an ultimate sense Krsna is the supreme guru, for us, in the context of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada is the supreme guru, and everyone who repeats his message — his various disciples and disciples of disciples and other followers — they can also be taken as siksa-gurus and served.
Therefore Srila Prabhupada instructed us to address the other devotees or disciples as prabhu. Prabhu means “master.” And Lord Caitanya also taught, gopi-bhartuh pada- kamalayo rdasa-dasanudasah: we are the servants of the servant of the servant of Krsna. We are servants of the servant of the servant in the line of disciplic succession beginning with our spiritual master, and we are also servants of the other servants of our spiritual master, and of the other servants of other servants of his spiritual master, and so on. Thus we can remain perfectly situated as servants of the servants of Krsna.
At the time of initiation the connection becomes formal. The disciples take their vows,which they promise to keep for their whole lives and into eternity, and the spiritual master also accepts them as his spiritual charges to guide and help in their spiritual lives until ultimately they attain full shelter at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession – through the Six Goswamis, to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and ultimately back to Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.