Is Guru Omniscient?
By Swami B.G. Narasingha
Question: Is a pure devotee, the guru or an acarya, omniscient?
Answer: There are two aspects of the guru, namely absolute and relative. On the inspired side, the guru is absolute and within his own thinking he is a devotee of Krsna. Our siksa-guru Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami Maharaja explained this topic as follows.
“By the special will of Krsna, gurudeva is a delegated power. If we look closely within the spiritual master, we will see the delegation of Krsna, and accordingly, we should accept him in that way. The spiritual master is a devotee of Krsna, and at the same time, the inspiration of Krsna is within him. These are the two aspects of gurudeva. He has his aspect as a Vaisnava, and the inspired side of a Vaisnava is the guru. On a fast day like ekadasi, he himself does not take any grains. He conducts himself as a Vaisnava, but his disciples offer grains to the picture of their guru on the altar. The disciple offers the spiritual master grains even on a fast day.”
“The disciple is concerned with the delegation of the Lord, the guru‘s inner self, his inspired side. The inspired side of a Vaisnava is acarya, or guru. The disciple marks only the special, inspired portion within the guru. He is more concerned with that part of his character. But gurudeva himself generally poses as a Vaisnava. So, his dealings towards his disciples and his dealings with other Vaisnavas will be different. This is acintya-bhedabheda, inconceivable unity and diversity.”Sri Guru and His Grace, Guru-Absolute and Relative, page 15
So from the standpoint of a disciple he should consider the guru as absolute, as non-different from Krsna.
acaryam mam vijaniyan, navamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyasuyeta, sarva-deva-mayo guruh
“One should know the acarya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.”
The disciple says that, because my guru knows Krsna, he knows everything. But that is a different thing. We do not find ‘omniscience’ listed among the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee, nor is ‘omniscience’ one of the fifty qualities of a jiva soul.
A certain section of devotees like to think that the guru is omniscient, that he knows everything, because he knows Krsna. This section of devotees will think that the guru‘s omniscience means that he may be sitting in his institution and in a nearby place one of the children in his school is being harmed and he knows that such a cruel thing is taking place. They will say that because the guru is omniscient he knows everything and when asked why the guru did not do anything to save the poor child from physical harm they will say that the guru does not want to interfere with that child’s prarabdha-karma. The neophyte devotee may carry on thinking in this way for lifetimes together, but there is no evidence in either sastra or history to support such a misconception.
Some devotees will say that the guru and all other great sages are tri-kala-jna, that they know the past present and future. But that is only their conjecture. Tri-kala-jna means that the liberated soul is not under the laws of material time, which has three phases of existence; past, present, and future. The liberated souls are not under the illusion of time. A liberated soul knows that he existed in the past, he exists at present and he will exist in the future. Because the guru knows Krsna, means that he is free from the illusion of the effacement of the self (soul). But those who are under the bodily concept of life (conditioned souls) are simultaneously under the influence and illusion of time. Such persons have no knowledge of the eternal existence of the soul, or knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna.
The guru‘s ‘knowing Krsna’ does not mean that he knows everything that is going on in Maya’s kingdom. Of course, in a general way, the guru knows that Maya’s kingdom is a place of birth, death, old age, and disease. But even at that, he wants to save the living entity from the clutches of Maya, so why would he simply tolerate an assault against a defenseless child who is under his care and shelter in the guru kula? Such thinking is only palatable in the lowest section of devotees who have no proper understanding of guru-tattva (philosophical understanding of the guru‘s position).
The higher thinking devotees and great authorities in the devotional line think in a completely different way than that of the neophytes. Lord Siva, one of the twelve Mahajanas (great devotees), says:
aham vedmi suko vetti, vyaso vetti na vetti va
“I know the true purpose of Bhagavatam; Sukadeva, the son and disciple of Vyasadeva, knows it thoroughly, and the author of the Bhagavatam, Srila Vyasadeva, may or may not know the meaning.”
Vyasadeva may or may not know, vyaso vetti na vetti va. This is the thinking of the higher class of devotees. By the will of the Supreme Lord a flow of knowledge may come down in the Vaisnava, but even he may not be aware of its meaning. Such is possible – he may or may not know, vyaso vetti na vetti va.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja has related an incident in this regard that once while Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was delivering a lecture, an especially high flow of Gaudiya conception came down in him. While speaking very intensely Saraswati Thakura gestured to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, who was sitting nearby, to write it down. Saraswati Thakura continued to speak for some time but there was no pencil or pen available. When Saraswati Thakura stopped speaking he turned to Srila Sridhara Maharaja and eagerly inquired, “Did you get it, did you get it?!” Sridhara Maharaja replied that there was no pen or pencil available to which Saraswati Thakura replied, “Just see, gober-Ganesh.”
Sridhara Maharaja relates this incident in his own words.
“What I told you, it is not under my command. It is coming from above me. I also once heard Prabhupada say such. From Vrindavana he came to Prayaga. I also went with him, and we were invited, and went to a big man’s place there, and such beautiful, new things came out, that I was feeling very much disturbance that I cannot note them. So much so, that I could not attend his lectures also deeply. Only I felt much disturbance to get pen and paper. Then, I felt very much uneasiness, because I could not mark those words. Then I came out, and Guru Maharaja told, his word was to me—he was gober-Ganesh. That is Ganesh made of gober. Gober means cow dung. Ganesh composed of gober. He could not know these things, these thoughts that came. Even I felt the necessity of going through these things, these ideas afterwards.
“That person to whose house he (Bhaktisiddhanta) went to visit, was technically known as that section who worship satyam. Then what is the conception of satya? Mahaprabhu, and Radha-Govinda, Navadwip, that is the highest conception of satya. Satya is not an abstract conception of rules of some transcendental type. Satya is not such. What is the relation of Krsna and this satya? That he was to explain. And he told us that the thoughts that came at that time, he also wants to see it, what an inspiration, what was revealed in his heart at that time. He wanted to see. That was unknown to him. He said like that. He told us like that. That they are stranger to me, but they passed through me, and I want to see.
“I (Sridhar Maharaja) was very much mortified that I could not know them, and at the same time, I had some inner satisfaction that I could appreciate those finer points. Those extraordinary higher points that were delivered then, I was very much disturbed that I could not know them. So, I had the capacity of appreciating the highness, of those higher sentiments, that was my satisfaction. There is some inner element in me that can appreciate so much high ideas, our Guru Maharaja also wants to have them to consult a second time. That was my satisfaction, and at the same time, I was mourning all through, that I could not keep it for the public. And what our Guru Maharaja wanted to do, I also wanted to keep them again, to pass through me. So, we are instruments. It is the higher property. It may not stay in a particular plane always. By our negotiation, it may care to come down and to particular persons. This is very rarely to be found, few and far between. Gaura Hari bol. That is, in other words, it is the wealth, it is the property of our Gurudeva, and not ours. That should be our understanding, “pujala ragapata gaurava bhange.”
We find a similar narration by Srila Sridhara Maharaja, describing another such incident to Pradyumna Prabhu on November 11, 1978 as follows:
“Sometimes the agent may not know what things are passing through this arrangement. Vyaso vetti na vetti va. But it is passing through Vyasa. It is tatastha-vicara. That is Absolute. From the Absolute standpoint, this has been told like that, even Vyasa may not know, but things may come through Vyasa to grace others. This is possible sometimes. But still we must not admit so easily that Vyasa does not know. We don’t admit. I told it once to my Guru Maharaja.”
“I had composed a Sanskrit sloka about Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Guru Maharaja was very much pleased with that. In Darjeeling I just showed him, that I have written this poem about Bhaktivinode. He saw it. At that time one Maharaja was like his clerk. He, Prabhupada, dictated and the Maharaja used to write letters. The Maharaja was attendant for letter writing. But one letter came from Bon Maharaja from England with something. Then Prabhupada told who has supplied this to Bon Maharaja? The Maharaja said Prabhupada you yourself have written this news to him. No, no, no. I did never write this thing to Bon Maharaja replied Prabhupada. Then Maharaja humbly took it, I wrote and you dictated, I remember. You were giving this news to him. No, I don’t remember Prabhupada replied. Then I spoke, vyaso vetti na vetti va. I just remarked at the time, that vyaso vetti na vetti va.”
So the narratives above certainly give us an intimate look into the higher conception of guru-tattva via the life and teachings of such an exalted personality such as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and his disciples. The pure devotee is always attentive to the will of the Supreme Lord, but everything that can be known is not always knowable to the devotee. Krsna is an autocrat and according to his wish something may come down to the heart of a devotee in the form of divine revelation, that which even the devotee is not aware of. This is what is shown to us by the higher thinking devotees.
While commenting on the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, Sripad Madhva Acarya did not like to comment on the portion known as Brahma-vimohana-lila (the illusion of Brahma). In the conception of Madhva Acarya he could not accommodate that Brahma, the original guru of our sampradaya, could be in illusion. Madhva Acarya could not accommodate the conception that Brahma did not know everything—that he was in illusion. But Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepted everything in Bhagavatam in toto.
The following is stated in this regard by Srila Sridhara Maharaja in The Loving Search for the Lost Servant, page 50:
“So although Brahma and the other gods and gurus and the givers of many sastras may have given some description of his pastimes, we shall have to realize that Krsna’s pastimes are not bound by their descriptions. Krsna is not confined within a cage.’
“So for this reason, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not hesitate to give a description of the bewilderment of Brahma (Brahma-vimohana-lila). Brahma was bewildered in Krsna-lila in Vrndavana, and again when Brahma went to have an interview with Krsna in Dwaraka, we find the same condition. The boundary of the sweet will of the infinite is such that anything can be accommodated there, and even Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, can be perplexed by Krsna.
“All these pastimes are like so many lighthouses showing us which way to go. Brahma is our guru, but he was bewildered by Krsna. And Vedavyasa, the universal guru, was also chastised by Narada. Narada was put to the test many times. All these examples are showing us the way. They are pointing out the direction.”
Omniscience is a quality of the Supreme Lord and not the quality of the jiva soul or even of the guru. The Supreme Lord has a total of sixty-four transcendental qualities. The jiva souls, however, have only fifty of those qualities found in the Supreme Lord and only manifest those qualities in a minute quantity (omniscience is not listed among these fifty qualities).
Above these fifty qualities the Supreme Lord has five more qualities which sometimes partially manifest in personalities like Lord Siva. These transcendental qualities are: (1) changeless; (2) all-cognizant; (3) ever-fresh; (4) sac-cid-ananda (possessing an eternal blissful body); and (5) possessing all mystic perfection.
All-cognizant means to know everything or to be omniscient (possess omniscience). According to Srila Rupa Goswami this is a quality that even the perfected jiva souls do not have. Only Krsna is fully omniscient. Only Krsna or God knows ‘everything.’
Additionally, it may be mentioned that according to Webster’s Thesaurus some synonyms for ‘omniscience’ are as follows: God; the Creator; the Almighty; the Supreme Being; our Heavenly Father; the Lord; and Allah. None of these synonyms however are applicable to a pure devotee, the guru, or the acarya. So our conclusion is obvious – ‘omniscience’ is a quality of the Supreme Lord and not a quality of the pure devotee, the guru, or the acarya.