Interpreting the Guru

“Krishna dictates everything the guru says.
Everything guru says is therefore perfect,
we should not interpret it.”

Friends, the idea that it’s possible to not interpret the guru is a myth.

Subjectivity means seeing something from your own point of view (“interpreting it” according to your own viewpoint). The idea that it’s possible to remain a conscious individual yet avoid subjectivity is a myth.

To be a conscious individual means to be aware of things from a distinct perspective. I look out my window at the street and see it from one angle. My neighbor sees the same street from a different angle. The same principle operates on emotional and intellectual levels as well. We see and understand everything from our own unique physical, emotional, and intellectual perspective – that is what makes us a distinct, individual being.

The only way to get rid of subjectivity is to have no unique physical, emotional or intellectual perspective, which is impossible if one wants to remain a distinct, individual being. Consciousness can be free of subjectivity only if its individuality is completely neutralized and reduced to latency in the homogeneous non-dual brahmajyoti.

If that sounds attractive, go for it – but the Gauḍīya school of Vedānta would not likely wind up being the best fit for you.

So, how do we understand Guru?

It’s impossible to lose our subjective perspective, but we can try to get our perspective to be compatible with his or her perspective. How? By learning what he learned, by feeling what she felt, by experiencing what he experienced, and by being aware of the surroundings and contexts that he was aware of.

The majority of ISKCON members (and probably many other guru-centric groups, too) are indoctrinated to have a phobia of something called “mental speculation.” The majority of them understand this phrase to mean that its wrong to use your own mind and intellect to understand things. (God, the ’70s were weird. No wonder my mother warned me not to join a cult.)

Friends, the idea that its possible to understand anything at all without using your mind and intellect is a ridiculous myth. We have no choice but to use our minds and intelligence, for these are the tools consciousness uses to listen to words and understand things. We cannot understand anything without using our mind/intellect. The goal is not to stop using it, but to make it compatible with the guru’s. How? By learning what he learned, by feeling what she felt, by experiencing what he experienced, and by being aware of the surroundings and contexts that he was aware of.

“I just read guru’s books
and listen to his lectures
and accept whatever he says.”

Unless the people who say this are as enlightened as their guru, the real truth is that they are just lazy – content to allow their maligned mind and intellect make whatever (non)sense the automatically make out of the guru’s words. Yes, they are “just accepting,” but just accepting what? They are accepting whatever their own natural subjective perspective can grasp, without questioning it or reforming it from ignorance. Then they exalt their maligned subjective interpretation as if it were synonymous with the guru’s absolute truth – thereby making a godawful mess of the guru’s effort to distribute divine realization. We who have come after them are expected to be thankful for the tangled maze they have left us, forcing us to sort through the myriad subjective baggage they have piled around gurudeva in our hopeful but longshot attempt to come truly close to the real heart and mind of Śrī Guru.

If you are hearing from guru like that, if you are reading guru’s books like that, the truth is that all you are hearing and reading is your own mind’s version of the guru’s words, you are only learning your own perspective on a new subject.

How should you hear guru? By learning what he learned, by feeling what she felt, by experiencing what he experienced, and by being aware of the surroundings and contexts that he was aware of.

Learn what he learned by studying whatever has been left behind by the teachers who taught him. Are you “jumping over” your guru if you do this? There is a world of difference between “jumping over the guru” and researching the previous gurus for the sake of better understanding your own! Govinda das stepped over Mahāprabhu… to serve him.

Feel and experience what she felt and experienced by practicing the sādhana that she gave to help you do exactly that! And, learn about her life and try to trace the same steps she walked and see the same things she saw, at least in your head. “Walk a mile in her moccasins.”

Be aware of his surroundings and contexts by immersing yourself in the culture he was immersed in – which includes his era, his upbringing, his education, his nationality and ethnicity.

In closing: Guru teaches what he received from his gurus, who are distributing what Vyāsa, Brahmā and Viṣṇu revealed in śāstra. So we have three principles: (1) the śāstra, (2) the ācāryas (“sādhus”) who teach it, and (3) the specific ācārya/sādhu who teaches it to us – our guru. All three are required! We need the guru to understand the ācāryas and śāstra, and we equally need the ācāryas and śāstra to really understand the guru.

If you want to take one of these three without the other two, I think you won’t really comprehend the true teachings of any of them.

If you want to go for it anyway, go for it. But please leave me alone about it; stop trying to make me one of you, and for God’s sake at least please stop claiming that you are the only one who is “humble” and “faithful to guru”!

– Vraja Kishor dās

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  1. But..understanding any other person in the sense you are speaking of is still illusory and imperfect (just as these words I use at the moment). We are taught this by those three authorities you mention, and the slightest bit of material understanding bolstered by fact confirms that, and that confirmation deepens the more exposure to material scientific thought we engage in. The fact that I agree strongly with what I THINK I understand of your essay dictates I mistrust it, as I have some awareness of my biases and incapacities. So how to proceed, if not by surrender in utter helplessness?


    1. There are different kinds of people. Some are intellectual (“Brahmana” in essene), some aren’t. Most aren’t. Most therefore shouldn’t try to comprehend the śāstra without a teacher at every step helping them to think. And these people should not engage in debate with the teachers, who ARE capable of detailed intellectual work.


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