Spiritual life begins with the shelter of a bonafide spiritual master, guru. Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita, “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth” (Bhagavad Gita 4.34).
In the careful and loving tutelage of the guru, the disciple learns that we have a sacred loving relationship with God in different rasas, mellows. The foundational basis of all these rasas is ‘God is master, and I am his servant’. Gradually as our hearts get purified by chanting God’s names and rendering service under the direction of guru, our dormant love for God reawakens in the heart; we can then enter into higher relationships of Sakhya Rasa– Serving the Lord in the intimacy of friendship, Vatsalya Rasa-Serving God as one lovingly serves his own dependent child, and MadhuryaRasa– satisfying the Lord by our service as His lover.
To reach these sublime stages on the path of bhakti, one must first be a sincere disciple and serve the guru as a servant serves the master. ‘Disciple’comes from the word ‘Discipline’. Discipline depends upon the principle of obedience. And this is the building block by which we can advance on the path of devotional service.
In all areas of specialized knowledge, one learns as an apprentice under more qualified persons. A doctor, charted accountant, and a civil engineer carefully observe and learn from a ‘guru’. Spiritual life also requires careful discipline and sincerity of purpose. The most important qualification of a disciple is his or her humility.
Humility is not simply to feel fallen and lowly; rather it’s accepting a humble position of knowing nothing and abandoning the pride arising from one’s previous knowledge, birth, abilities and one’s status in society. A disciple relinquishes his prideful position and depends on grace and blessings of guru for attracting the mercy of God, Krishna.
Under the guidance of guru, a disciple works on his ‘false pride’. The root of prideful thoughts is to think of oneself as the controller and doer. The Bhagavad Gita (3.27) says, “The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature”. A sincere disciple serves knowing that whatever he is doing is due to the empowerment of his guru, and Krishna is letting these services happen. The disciple is aware that the material nature is ultimately under the control and supervision of Krishna. (Bhagavad Gita 9.10). Thus he humbly serves, hoping to please his guru and the Lord and praying that their will is done. He thus gives up his own pride.
Such a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga is always meditating on guru and Krishna’s orders; he thus transcends petty material problems and is situated on the spiritual platform. Krishna declares such souls as mahatmas; “O son of Prtha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, mahatmas, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible” (Bhagavad Gita 9.13).
Thus beginning as a sincere disciple, a Bhakti yogi graduates one day to become a mahatma, a self-realized sage who is eternally situated in the divine energy of the Lord and serves Krishna in different personal and intimate rasas.