In the darkness, if we want to perceive a certain object, we cannot use just our eyes; we have to rely on some other means to aid our perception. So, in the darkness, the object cannot be known to us in its entirety. In such a situation, even if we get some knowledge by touch or otherwise, it is all either mistaken or incomplete. It is just like the group of blind men who had encountered an elephant and tried to describe the strange new creature to one another. One man felt the trunk and said, "This is a huge snake." Another man felt a leg and said, "No, this is a great pillar." And so forth.
There is but one way to perceive things in the depth of darkness. Only if somebody brings a light into the darkness is it truly possible to see things as they are. Similarly, the light of knowledge is kindled by our preceptors, and we can see things as they are only by our preceptors' mercy. From our very birth we have become accustomed to gathering knowledge by the mercy of our preceptors, whether father, mother, or teacher. We can march along the path of progressive knowledge only by the help of such preceptors, from whom we gather experience by submissive hearing.
We go forward on the path of knowledge by the mercy of our preceptors—from learning the alphabet up to completing our university career. And if we want to go still further and acquire knowledge transcendental, we must first of all seek qualified transcendental preceptors who can lead us on the path. The knowledge that we gather by our education in the schools and colleges may help us temporarily in the study of some particular subject in the present span of life, but this acquisition of knowledge cannot satisfy our eternal need for which we hanker life after life, day after day, hour after hour.
To achieve success in any subject, it is necessary to establish a relationship with a master of that subject and to work favorably in that particular line. To acquire a degree at an academic university, we first have to establish a relationship with that institution. We have to abide by the direction of our instructors there and work favorably according to their direction. This is essential in order to achieve the ultimate desired success. In the same manner, if we are really anxious to know the principles of eternal life or life after death, and if we really want to see things in their true perspective, it is necessary for us to establish a relationship with a preceptor who can really open our eyes and lift us from the clutches of nescience. This process of approaching the spiritual master is an eternal verity. No one can do without abiding by this eternal rule.
The process of initiation begins from the date when we establish our transcendental relationship with the spiritual master. In the Upaniṣads and allied scriptures, it is ordained that one must approach with awe and reverence the feet of a spiritual master who is well versed in all the scriptures and who has attained perfection in transcendental knowledge. To attain perfection in transcendental knowledge is to accept the disciplic succession, the spiritual line, by culture, practice, and education in that line. The professional heads of various spiritual societies or communities often may not have attained to this standard of spiritual perfection and so may not possess the qualifications required for being a spiritual master. It is therefore no use to approach such professional spiritual masters as a matter of formality or custom. Attainment of spiritual perfection can never be possible without undergoing spiritual discipline.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the ideal spiritual master, spoke the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā to Marshal Arjuna, His disciple. Here is a perfect example of the relationship between the spiritual master and the disciple. Arjuna was a most intimate friend of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and thus Śrī Kṛṣṇa explained to him the essence of all scriptures, in the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā.
Because we are always very busy in the discharge of our worldly duties, generally we do not wish to understand any philosophy except our mundane philosophy of the stomach and allied subjects. We have extended many branches and sub-branches of this philosophy of the belly in various directions, and thus we have hardly any time to understand the philosophy of gaining eternal life—for which we are perpetually struggling life after life.