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.
Marshal Arjuna pretended to display philosophical ignorance and weakness, like an ordinary man, when with his chariot between the two opposing armies on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, he refused to fight. In this way, age after age, the Personality of Godhead and His beloved confidential-servitor devotees bestow their unbounded mercy by dissipating the darkness of nescience of the people of the world. We could hardly have attained to transcendental knowledge if they had not bestowed such mercy upon us.
Sometimes the Personality of Godhead descends Himself; otherwise, He deputes His confidential servants to do this act of kindness. All the messiahs-saints who have come before or who will come in the future to preach the transcendental message of the kingdom of Godhead—are to be understood as the most confidential servants of the Personality of Godhead. Lord Jesus Christ appeared as the son of Godhead, Muhammad introduced himself as the servant of Godhead, and Lord Caitanya presented Himself as the devotee of Godhead. But whatever may be their identity, all such messiahs were of the same opinion about one thing. They preached unanimously that there is no peace and prosperity in this mortal world. All of them agreed that we have to go to a separate world, where peace and prosperity have their real being. We have to search out our eternal peace and prosperity in the kingdom of God, which is a place other than this mortal world. Even such messiahs and reformers as Lord Buddha—who did not accept the existence of Godhead and preached morality and ethics in the spirit of atheism—and Śaṅkarācārya—who did not accept the Personality of Godhead and preached morality and ethics in the spirit of pantheism—never preached that there is any possibility of attaining eternal peace and prosperity in this material world.