Caitanya Mahaprabhu once asked Ramananda Raya, “Of all kinds of distress, what is the most painful?” Ramananda Raya answered, “Krishna-bhakta viraha-vina dukha nahi dekhi para- Apart from separation from the devotee of Krishna, I know of no unbearable unhappiness.” 1
I remember how I received a phone call from my Godbrother who informed me that our Gurudeva had left his body. It was indeed very painful news. Still in a state of shock, I took a flight to India in order to attend the burial of his transcendental body. After a very exhausting journey, I arrived at Radha Kunda just on time to receive a last Darshan and to accompany my Gurudeva for a Parikrama around Radha Kunda before his body was put in Samadhi in the courtyard of the Manipur Gopaldev temple.
I could not believe what had happened, it was all like a strange dream, a nightmare. But being surrounded by Godbrothers and sisters and seeing how his transcendental body was placed in Samadhi, and then covered with earth, helped me to realize that it is reality, my beloved Gurudev has left this world.
This is now twelve years ago. Since then, every year we come together on his Thirobhava, the disappearance day to remember our Guru’s glorious character and activities. While participating in the celebrations here in Vrindavana and Radha Kunda, I was reflecting on how my relationship with my Guru has been maintained over the years.
While one’s Guru is still physically with us, we have many opportunities to see him, talk to him, and deepen our relationship with him by serving him personally. When the Guru is no longer physically present, the relationship becomes more internal. Understanding that Guru is actually a manifestation of Paramatma, one needs to learn how to associate with one’s Guru by feeling his presence and guidance from within. The memories, and especially the personal instructions we have received, become the most valuable instruments to connect with him. Therefore, it is so important to receive such personal instructions. Instead of presenting our own plans to Guru, with the hope that he will bless us to do whatever we think will be best, we should ask him, “How shall I serve you? What would please you the most?” If we are not asking these kinds of questions, we are actually only cheating ourselves.
It is natural to feel pain when being separated from one’s Guru, but if we remember and follow his instructions then we may always be with him. Srila Prabhupada beautifully describes this fact in the following purport:
“…when the mortal body of the spiritual master expires, his disciples should cry exactly as the queen cries when the king leaves his body. However, the disciple and spiritual master are never separated, because the spiritual master always keeps company with the disciple as long as the disciple follows strictly the instructions of the spiritual master. This is called the association of vani (words). Physical presence is called vanu. As long as the spiritual master is physically present, the disciple should serve the physical body of the spiritual master, and when the spiritual master is no longer physically existing, the disciple should serve the instructions of the spiritual master.” 2
Srila Prabhupada himself didn’t have much physical association with his Guru but always stressed that true association with Guru means to follow his instruction. A bug might sit on the lap of the king and feel proud of his “close association” but he only bites the king. Therefore, it is not necessarily the physical association, but rather the following of one’s Guru’s instructions that will be the source of success in life. In this way, the sorrow of being separated can be transformed into a feeling of intimate connection:
“Please be happy in separation. I am separated from my Guru Maharaja since 1936 but I am always with him so long I work according to his direction. So we should all work together for satisfying Lord Krishna and in that way the feelings of separation will transform into transcendental bliss.” 3
1 - Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya Lila 8.248
2 - Srimad Bhagavatam 4.28.47
3 - Srila Prabhupada, Letter to Uddhava, Boston 3 May, 1968