By Giriraj Swami
Terrible forest fires have been raging around Ventura and Ojai, California, devastating homes and everything else on their way. I recalled Srila Prabhupada’s discussion of the first verse of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Sri Gurv-astaka:
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
“The spiritual master is receiving benediction from the ocean of mercy. Just as a cloud pours water on a forest fire to extinguish it, so the spiritual master delivers the materially afflicted world by extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence. I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is an ocean of auspicious qualities.”
Srila Prabhupada explained, “This forest fire of material existence goes on perpetually, and the authorized person who can deliver you from this fire is called guru, the spiritual master.
How does he deliver you? When there is a fire in the forest, you cannot send a fire brigade or go there yourself with bucketfuls of water to extinguish it. That is not possible. Then how will it be extinguished? You need water to extinguish fire, but where will the water come from? It must come from the sky. Only when there are torrents of rain from the sky will the blazing forest fire be extinguished. These rains from the sky do not depend on your scientific manipulation. They depend on the mercy of the Supreme Lord. So the spiritual master is compared to a cloud. Just as there are torrents of rain from a cloud, so the spiritual master brings mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A cloud takes water from the sea. It doesn’t have its own water but takes water from the sea. Similarly, the spiritual master brings mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“We are all suffering in this blazing fire of material existence. But the spiritual master brings the message from the Supreme Lord and delivers it to you, and if you accept it, you’ll be satisfied.
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
Thus the spiritual master is offered obeisances: ‘Sir, you have brought mercy from the Supreme Lord; therefore, we are much obliged to you. You have come to deliver us, so we offer our respectful obeisances.’ That is the meaning of this verse: The first qualification of the spiritual master, or guru, is that he brings you the message to stop the blazing fire in your heart.
“Everyone has a blazing fire within his heart—a blazing fire of anxiety. That is the nature of material existence. Always, everyone has anxiety; no one is free from it. Even a small bird has anxiety. If you give the small bird some grains to eat, he’ll eat them, but he won’t eat very peacefully. He’ll look this way and that way—‘Is somebody coming to kill me?’ This is material existence. Everyone, even a president like Mr. Nixon, is full of anxieties, what to speak of others. Even Gandhi, in our country—he was full of anxiety. All politicians are full of anxiety. They may hold a very exalted post, but still the material disease—anxiety—is there.
“So if you want to be anxiety-less, then you must take shelter of guru, the spiritual master. And the test of the guru is that by following his instructions you’ll be free from anxiety. If you want to keep a guru as a fashion—‘I have a guru’—that will not help. You must accept a guru who can extinguish the blazing fire of anxiety within your heart.”
In Ojai, the fires came close to Urvasi dasi’s home and then receded. In Ventura, they were close to Krishna Kirtan and Kandarpa Manjari’s house but then changed direction. By Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna’s mercy, they were saved. (We are still praying for them.) But in another sense, all of us have been saved by Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna’s mercy, by following their instructions.