The following is an excerpt from Guru-devatātmā, 4th edition (January 2012), by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja


Everywhere in Vedānta, in the Upaniṣads, and especially in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the sad-guru has been glorified. It is true that the holy name is transcendental. It is written in śāstra, and we hear from so many persons, that we should chant harināma. But someone may say, “I have read here and there that we should chant harināma; so I am chanting. What, then, is the need of a guru, who is like an agent, a broker, or a mediator? Ajāmila easily went to Vaikuṇṭha, the Lord’s transcendental abode of opulence, without knowing the glories of harināma in the beginning. This demonstrates that anyone can chant harināma even without accepting a guru.”
If one is chanting without the guidance of a guru, what will be the result? Such a person can only chant with aparādhas (offences to the name), except in a rare case, such as in the case of Ajāmila. It is stated in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 19.151):

brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja

[According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Kṛṣṇa. By the mercy of both Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.]*

Bhakti develops from the seed of bhakti given by guru-rūpī-kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa in the form of the guru. Kṛṣṇa does not directly give that seed to anyone. He either gives it through śrī guru, or He Himself becomes the guru and then gives it.
Without accepting a guru, the name one chants is not transcendental. That name will fulfil your worldly desires, even up to mukti (liberation), but not more than this.
Ajāmila had no guru at first. He named his son Nārāyaṇa, one of the Lord’s names, at the nāma-saṁskāra, the ritualistic ceremony in which babies are given their name. By chance, because he lived in the Vedic culture, he named his son Nārāyaṇa, and by his recitation of that name he began chanting nāma-ābhāsa (the clearing stage of chanting). That was his first chanting of nāma-ābhāsa, and after that he would daily call out, “O Nārāyaṇa, come on, come on!” By continually doing this, his nāma-ābhāsa continued.
Later, when Ajāmila was dying, he saw the ferocious forms of the Yamadūtas, the constables of the god of death. Being very fearful, the name of his son automatically came to his throat and he called out, “Nārāyaṇa!” At that time, at the moment of death, the Supreme Lord Nārāyaṇa sent His four messengers, the Viṣṇudūtas, and Ajāmila heard their dialogue as they drove out the Yamadūtas. He heard the holy name and glorification of the name of Nārāyaṇa from the Viṣṇudūtas, and thus he received the seed of śuddha-nāma (the pure name) from them. By this, he received the seed of bhakti, his life returned, and he thought, “The holy name that I heard from the four Viṣṇudūtas is so powerful! And the glory of that name is so wonderful! Now that I have received this mantra, I must give up this wife, that wife, all my children, and all my possessions.” He left everything and went to Haridwar, where he bathed in the Ganges, sat down on the bank, and began chanting. Eventually, he began to chant śuddha-nāma.
After some time, the Viṣṇudūtas again came to Ajāmila, and this time they said, “Come with us and sit in this chariot-aeroplane.” By now Ajāmila had reached the stages of bhāva, and then prema. By continuously chanting, “Oṁ namo nārāyaṇāya,” he attained vaikuṇṭha-rati. His rati (prema) was not vṛndāvana-rati, not mādhurya-mayī prema (loving Godhead with intimacy), but rather it was aiśvarya-mayī prema (love of Godhead in awe and reverence, with knowledge of His opulence).
Ajāmila told the Viṣṇudūtas, “When you drove away the Yamadūtas, I wanted to speak with you and touch your feet, but you disappeared. Now you have appeared again and you are telling me to go with you. How did this come to be?”
The Viṣṇudūtas replied, “We gave you the seed of the pure name and we gave you the seed of the bhakti-latā (the creeper of devotion). By chanting and regularly bathing in the Ganges, you are now purified. You have attained vaikuṇṭha-rati and are qualified to come to Vaikuṇṭha.” Then, they took him there.
By the time the Viṣṇudūtas appeared to Ajāmila for the second time, he had become totally free from all material desires. In the case of Dhruva Mahārāja, however, although he was a disciple of Nārada, he still had a slight attachment to his mother. It was for this reason that he could not go to the Vaikuṇṭha planet situated beyond the sum total of all the material universes, called mahat-tattva. Rather, he went to Dhruvaloka, a spiritual planet situated within this universe.
Vālmīki Ṛṣi was also a disciple of Nārada. Prior to meeting Nārada, he had been a dacoit. He had killed millions of brāhmaṇas (the learned, priestly class) and tapasvīs (ascetics), and had stolen their wealth. When Nārada Ṛṣi met him, he preached to him about the glories of Bhagavān, the Supreme Lord, and at last he said, “You should sit here. I am giving you the seed of the pure name. Chant ‘Rāma’.” However, Vālmīki was not qualified to chant the name of Rāma. Understanding this, Nārada told him, “If you cannot chant the name of Rāma, then chant ‘Ma-ra, ma-ra, ma-ra (death, death, death).’ ” Vālmīki replied, “Oh, I can do that,” and he began chanting, “Mara, mara.” Since he was a disciple of Nārada, he was able to get such a concession.
What became of Vālmīki? After many thousands of years, his chanting of mara turned into Rāma, and then he became qualified to write rāma-līlā, the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His form of Rāma. He saw that līlā in his samādhi trance; and thus, as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was written by Śrī Vyāsadeva in samādhi-bhāṣya, trance language, in the same way Rāmāyaṇa was written by Śrī Vālmīki. Vālmīki saw everything about rāma-līlā in his trance even before Rāma had actually exhibited His pastimes in this world. In this way, he wrote down those pastimes in his Śrī Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa.
We should understand that without a guru, we are bound to have material attachments and we are bound to commit offences to the holy name (nāma-aparādha). If the seed of bhakti and one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa (sambandha-jñāna) are not given by a pure guru, there can be no śabda-brahma, experience of transcendental sound. Acceptance and surrender to a sad-guru is essential.
Although Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He also accepted a guru. The gopīs once teased Him by saying, “You have no guru?” Kṛṣṇa replied, “Who has said this? My gurudeva is Bhāguri Ṛṣi.”
It is generally accepted that Kṛṣṇa’s guru was Sāndīpani Muni, but actually Sāndīpani Muni was like a teacher. He taught Kṛṣṇa the sixty-four arts, and therefore he was like a schoolteacher.
Kṛṣṇa received rādhā-mantra from Bhāguri Ṛṣi, and therefore it is Bhāguri Ṛṣi who is actually His guru.
In this world, when Kṛṣṇa or any of His incarnations descend, they accept a guru. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is Kṛṣṇa Himself, also accepted a guru. He accepted harināma and gopāla-mantra from Īśvara Purīpāda, and He Himself said to Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī when asked by him why He engaged in harināma-saṅkīrtana instead of studying Vedānta:

prabhu kahe—śuna, śrīpāda, ihāra kāraṇa
guru more mūrkha dekhi’ karila śāsana

Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 7.71)

[Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu replied to Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, “My dear sir, kindly hear the reason. My spiritual master considered Me a fool, and therefore he chastised Me.”]*

mūrkha tumi, tomāra nāhika vedāntādhikāra
‘kṛṣṇa-mantra’ japa sadā,—ei mantra-sāra

Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 7.72)

Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted his spiritual master as saying, “You have no qualification to enter Vedānta philosophy. You are foolish and ignorant, and You should therefore simply chant harināma.”

harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā

Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa (38.126)

[To attain one’s spiritual goal in Kali-yuga, there is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way than to chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name.]

His gurudeva gave Him this mantra:

hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare

Why did Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu not utter the name of His sannyāsa-guru, Keśava Bhāratī? After all, acceptance of sannyāsa, the renounced order of life, is not a small thing. It is not less than harināma or dīkṣā initiation. The reason is that Caitanya Mahāprabhu had first spoken the sannyāsa-mantra into the ear of Keśava Bhāratī, and after that Śrī Keśava Bhāratī spoke it into Mahāprabhu’s ear.
Therefore, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu only told Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī the name of Śrī Īśvara Purī, and He said that the mantra given by Śrī Īśvara Purī had made Him like a madman. In His human-like pastimes, if these mantras had not been given by Śrī Īśvara Purīpāda, Mahāprabhu would not have developed His relationship with Kṛṣṇa and He would not have tasted such prema. Try to know all these truths.

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