Today is Guru-purnima. Srila Prabhupada has explained that the system of honoring the spiritual master is current among all Vedic followers. In Mayavadi (impersonalist) sects, disciples offer respect to the spiritual master once in a year, on Guru-purnima. And in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya, disciples also offer homage annually—on the appearance day of the spiritual master, in a ceremony called Vyasa-puja because the spiritual master, through disciplic succession, presents the same knowledge as Vedavyasa, the empowered incarnation of Krishna who compiled the Vedic literatures. We shall take this opportunity to discuss the principle of guru—and glorify the acarya-sampradaya.
Guru is a deep subject. We sing, vande ’ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaisnavams ca, offering respects to the individual spiritual master, to the predecessor acharyas, and to all Vaishnavas.
As Srila Prabhupada explains, “The offering of respect to the spiritual master means offering respect to all the previous acharyas. Gurun means plural number. All the acharyas, they are not different from one another, because they are coming in the disciplic succession from the original spiritual master and they have no different views.” Thus we offer respects to the predecessors.
Similarly, we offer respects to the followers. Srila Prabhupada explains further, “Spiritual master means they must have many followers, who are all Vaishnavas. They are called prabhus, and the spiritual master is called Prabhupada, because at his lotus feet there are many prabhus. Pada means ‘lotus foot.’ All these Vaishnavas are prabhus. So they are also offered respectful obeisances—not the spiritual master alone, but along with his associates. And these associates, his disciples, are all Vaishnavas. Therefore they should also be offered respectful obeisances.” (SP comment on Mangalacarana, January 8, 1969)
For those of us in ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada is the main guru; he is the founder-acharya. But he also has his associates—Srila Gour Govinda Swami, Srila Tamal Krishna Goswami, Srila Sridhar Swami, Srila Bhakti Tirtha Swami, Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami—to name some prominent ones who have departed. And of course, Prabhupada is being served by so many others today, and we can serve and learn from them all.