Essential Teachings

Essential Teachings of Our Spiritual Masters

The Upadesavali, ‘Essential Instructions’ of our Guru-varga, the spiritual masters in our Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage or Bhagavata-parampara, are a great wealth for the devotees on the path of pure bhakti-yoga. Together, they form the backbone of our Bhakti Fellowship. We thus present the essential instructions of our spiritual masters together in a systematic manner, starting with Guru-tattva.

Guru-tattva – the Qualities of a Pure Guru, Real Service to Guru, and Its Importance

Srila Gurudeva taught in his Upadesavali that: “Firm faith in Sri Gurudeva is the backbone of bhajana. Without serving a pure guru and receiving his mercy, one can never enter the realm of bhakti.”

Srila Gurudeva detailed the qualities of a bona fide spiritual master in his next two teachings:

“The bona fide spiritual master is expert and realized in Vedic literature; he possesses complete realization of Bhagavan; he is detached from material sense objects; and he is the crest-jewel of devotees who is always absorbed in chanting the names of Bhagavan. By accepting the shelter of such a pure guru, it is possible to enter the practice of pure devotional service, otherwise not.”

“To endeavor to please the minds of sense enjoyers; to accumulate material objects and to remain engrossed in sense enjoyment; to foster desire for the attainment of heaven or liberation—these are not the characteristics of a genuine spiritual master. One should remain far distant from such imposters (who are engaged in the above activities while posing as gurus).”

Srila Gurudeva’s first statement in his Upadesavali about Guru-tattva is corroborated by our great Vaisnava-sarvabhauma, Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja, when he stated in his Upadesavali: “Without accepting a mahāntaguru and performing service to guru, one will never be free from the net of māyā.”

Thus the importance of accepting and serving a bona fide guru cannot be overstated.

Our beloved grandfather Guru, Acarya Kesari, Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, taught about real service to Sri Guru in the first and second of his essential teachings (Upadesavali):

“Bhagavat-bhakti is attained by visrambha-seva (service with love, possessiveness, and oneness at heart) to the lotus feet of Sri Guru.”

“Honest service to Sri Hari, Guru, and Vaisnavas is actual guru-seva,” here we learn that Guru-seva is more than just directly serving Guru, but is pleasing Sri Guru by one’s service to God and the devotees.

Jagad-guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada, the founder of the 64 Gaudiya Mathas and their developing branches around the world, spoke about the nature of a pure devotee’s humility, stating: “The mahā-bhāgavata thinks, ‘Everyone is my guru.’ Therefore, the mahā-bhāgavata is the only guru of this world.”

Speaking on the importance of Guru-nistha, Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada stated: “Rather than believing in their own strength, the rūpānugabhaktas solely place their unadulterated faith at the lotus feet of Śrī Gurudeva and Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Thus, they spend their entire lives glorifying Śrī Hari, Guru, and Vaiṣṇavas.

We conclude our section on Guru-tattva and the importance of taking shelter of Sri Guru with a quote by Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja, who stated: “The duty of all householders is to accept the shelter of the lotus feet of pure guru and engage in the service of Śrī Giridhārī (Krsna).”

In our Bhakti Fellowship, we give primary focus to our pure gurus in the Bhagavata-parampara, the lineage of pure devotees who each have a transcendental connection to one another in eternal Vraja. And under the guidance of pure Vaisnavas in the line of our Srila Gurudeva, we do our part to preserve the line as carriers of the instructions of Srila Gurudeva, following his bidding to become ‘postmen’ or the messengers of his teachings.

Jiva-tattva – the Nature of the Soul, Origins, and the Path of Deliverance

Srila Gurudeva states in his Upadesavali (3): “The constitutional nature and inherent dharma of the living beings is service to Bhagavan Sri Krsna. Because of a particular circumstance, living beings have forgotten service of Krsna and, since time immemorial, have fallen into the cycle of birth and death, where they suffer in the three-fold miseries of material existence. By the mercy of Krsna or the pure devotees, the living beings can follow the path of pure devotion, bhakti-yoga, and become situated in their spiritual dharma, where they will taste the blissful mellow of loving service and relationship with Krsna.”

Srila Gurudeva spoke on the special chance afforded to one in the human form of life and the importance of taking full advantage of this great opportunity:

“Worship of God is only possible in the human form of life. Other species live for the sole purpose of enjoyment. For those in the human form of life it is auspicious to worship Krsna from childhood.”

In a stronger tone, Srila Gurudeva said: “Those who do not worship Bhagavan, who is the father of the universe and maintainer of everyone, are ignorant fools and killers of their very selves.”

This instruction is paralleled in the teachings of Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada, who stated in his own Upadesavali:

“Those who don’t perform hari-bhajana are ignorant and killers of their own selves.”

Bhakti-yoga and Kirtan

Srila Gurudeva states:

Bhagavad-bhakti is the subject matter expounded in the Vedas, Upanisads, Smrtis, and Puranas.

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura stated:

“One should understand that the loud calling out of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s names is bhakti.”

Srila Gurudeva said, “Congregational chanting of Sri Hari’s names, harinama-sankirtana, is the highest sadhana, disciplined practice, and sadhya, objective, of the living beings.

harernama harernama harenama evakevalamkalau nastyeva nastyeva nastyeva gatiranyatha

“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura clearly stated, “The one and only dharma in kali-yuga is the congregational chanting of Bhagavan’s holy names. By the performance of sankirtana, living beings can easily attain auspiciousness. Giving up sankirtana, those who instruct others and who are personally inclined to perform sacrifices, austerities, yoga, and cultivate jnana (the conception that I will merge within Brahman)—all these peoples’ activities are futile. This is the proclamation of scripture.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated:

Spontaneous remembrance by the means of nāmakīrtana is the only aim of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas.”

He also said, “The essence of the instructions of Śrīman Mahāprabhu is to perform kīrtana of śrīnāma without offenses.”

In his instructions, Param Gurudeva spoke about the real essence and process of kirtana:

He said, “The anga of bhakti known as kirtana is the best and complete limb of bhakti. Only through the medium of kirtana are the other limbs of bhakti accomplished. Preaching Hari-katha always and everywhere is real Hari-kirtana. To speak Hari-katha always and everywhere or to be absorbed in speaking about services related to Sri Hari is real silence.”

Srila Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura said in the first of his Upadesavali instructions, Paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam—supreme victory to the congregational chanting of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s names.’ This is the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s sole object of worship.”

Encouraging the devotees, he said, “We will not remain in this world for long. By profusely performing hari-kīrtana, upon relinquishing these material bodies, we will experience the ultimate reward of embodied life.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura spoke on the process and importance of chanting harinama as follows:

“The acceptance of śrī harināma and direct realization of Bhagavān are one and the same.”

“Bhagavān will not accept anything that is offered by a person who doesn’t chant harināma one hundred thousand times daily.”

“By sincerely endeavoring to chant harināma without offenses and by remaining fixed in chanting constantly, one’s offenses will fade and pure harināma will manifest on the tongue.”

“One should not become discouraged when mundane thoughts arise while chanting harināma. A secondary result of chanting harināma is that these useless, mundane thoughts will gradually dissipate. Therefore, one should not worry about this. By dedicating one’s body, mind, and words to serving śrī nāma, and by continuing to chant with great persistence, śrī  nāma Prabhu will grant one darśana of His supremely auspicious transcendental form. And by continuing to chant until one’s anarthas are fully eradicated, by the power of śrī  nāma, the realization of His form, qualities, and pastimes will automatically arise.”

Krsna-tattva – Who is Our Worshipful Deity

In regard to our worshipful deity and the Supreme Personality, Srila Gurudeva stated:

“Vrajendranandana Sri Krsna is the ultimate manifestation of Godhead. He is the ocean of all nectarean mellows and the possessor of all potencies.”

“Vrajendranandana Sri Krsna is beyond Maya; He is the reservoir of all transcendental qualities; He is an ocean of unconditional, causeless mercy, and He is bhakta-vatsala, affectionate to His devotees.”

“Transcendental to Maya, the intrinsic transcendental form of Vrajendranandana Sri Krsna is the youthful dancer who wears the attire of a cowherd boy and who is holding the flute.”

Param Gurudeva stated about Bhagavat-tattva:

One should always remember that Sri Bhagavan is one, not many. Vrajendra-nandana Sri Krsna only is Svayam Bhagavan; He is the possessor of all sakti and the origin of all avataras. Rendering service to Him is the primary duty of all living entities; all other activities are secondary.”

And he also stated that: “Those people who consider that Bhagavan is formless are atheists, and one should never associate with them.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura stated: “Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is the viṣayavigraha (the object of the devotee’s love) is our only worshipable Lord. He is the sole enjoyer, and all others are to be enjoyed by Him.

Prabhupada further said: “Those who equate the demigods with Śrī Viṣṇu are unable to serve Bhagavān.”

The Goal – and Our Path of Bhajana

Srila Gurudeva described the goal of life for everyone: “Krsna-prema is the one and only ultimate goal for all living beings.”

Param Gurudeva said the same: “Attaining prema for Sri Krsna is the real ultimate objective of the jiva.”

The Process for Bhajana

Srila Gurudeva said, “The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the spotless evidence for all mankind.”

“The Vraja-gopis’ worship of Krsna is the topmost form of worship.”

Param Gurudeva stated:

Performing Gaura-bhajana in the mood of rupanuga is the actual vipralambha-bhajana of Sri Radha and Krsna.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura stated, “We have not come to this world to be construction workers, we are the bearers of Śrī Caitanyadeva’s instructions.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura established our line to Mahaprabhu: “The foot-dust of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, the fulfiller of Śrī Caitanyadeva’s desires, is the sole desired object of our lives.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated in his Upadesavali, “Just as Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the topmost amongst all bhagavat-tattva, similarly, a rūpānuga-vaiṣṇava is superior to other Vaiṣṇavas.”

Teaching the way to be a rūpānuga, Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated, “The method of artificial remembrance is not the path of the rūpānugas, the followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.”

He stated: “While placing yourself under the guidance of pure Vaiṣṇavas, you should preach gauranāma.”

And he said, “By the mercy of Gaura-dhāma one will obtain residence in Vraja.”

Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja warned, “Understand that if even the slightest amount of rasābhāsa (overlapping of mellows) or opposing scriptural conclusions are present in the heart, one has not obtained the qualification to be a Vaiṣṇava.”

Param Gurudeva stated:

“The service of Krsna which is performed for His pleasure with a favourable attitude, which is devoid of all other desires, which is not covered by jnana and karma, and which is carried out through the body, mind, words, and all of the senses, is our very life.”

Our Seva – Service

Srila Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura established our topmost seva, stating, “Serving the Vrajavāsīs who felt great separation from Kṛṣṇa when He left Vraja to reside in Mathurā is our supreme constitutional occupation.”

In regard to service, Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated in consecutive instructions in his Upadesavali:

“To serve under guidance is the highest virtuous conduct. Independence is a form of degraded conduct.”

“If one thinks Śrī Hari’s service to be merely one’s duty and is content after finishing one’s tasks, an actual service tendency will not awaken.”

“Service tendency will manifest when, although serving at all times and in all manners, one remains unsatisfied, and always wants more service.”

“Use all objects and all your actions for the service of Viṣṇu and Vaiṣṇavas.”

Param Gurudeva said, “The topmost form of dharma is observed by serving Bhagavān and His devotees.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura spoke specifically of what is real and pleasing service to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Mayapura. He said, “Establishing a printing press to print devotional books and preaching by organizing nāma-haṭṭa programs constitutes genuine service to Śrīdhāma Māyāpura.”

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada spoke of the greatest charity and service to mankind, saying, “Helping to draw the conditioned souls away from their perverted attachment to material energy is the greatest form of compassion. If even one soul is rescued from Māyā-devī’s fortress, then that compassionate act is infinitely more benevolent than the construction of unlimited hospitals.”

Caution in Service

Srila Gaura Kisora das Babaji Maharaja warned, “Those who do pure hari-bhajana accept only those services that are favorable for their hari-bhajana. Any other sevā or dharma that is unfavorable for their bhajana is a cause of fearsome bondage.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja said, “To one who serves Guru and Vaiṣṇavas with ulterior desires and with the arrogance of being a sevaka, Guru and Vaiṣṇavas will give material gain, worship, and prestige, thus sending that person far away.”

He also warned, “One should not, even within one’s own mind, beat the drum of self-glory, thinking, ‘I have performed service’. Otherwise one’s service cannot be called sevā.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja spoke of service. He said, “It is more beneficial to cultivate fields and water plants for the service of the Vaiṣṇavas than to inattentively pull beads hundreds of thousands of times while chanting. The result of service to the Vaiṣṇavas is real, sincere taste for the holy name.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja said, “Do not develop laziness on the pretext of performing solitary bhajana.”

And he also said, “Don’t imitate the Vaiṣṇavas or you will be burnt to ashes. Pray to serve them without duplicity.”

The Glories and Importance of Hari-katha

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja said, “Do not live for one moment without speaking and listening to hari-kathā and performing vaiṣṇavasevā; otherwise māyā will swallow you.”

Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada said, “If we desire to follow an auspicious course in life, then disregarding the theories of even countless people, we should hear instructions only from a transcendental source.”

Showing the glory of real hari-katha, Prabhupada said, “Bhagavān resides in that place where hari-kathā is spoken.”

Speaking further of the glory and importance of hari-katha, Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada said, “Except aural reception, there is no other way to receive the transcendental sound. Therefore, kṛṣṇa-darśana can only be attained through the medium of the ear, as one hears hari-kathā from the Vaiṣṇavas. We will be attacked by our own spiritual pursuit, the moment we are deprived of our guardian’s shelter. Thus, listening to hari-kathā from the sādhus is our only hope and shelter.”

In his 26th to 28th Essential Instructions, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada said, “If I were to desist lecturing about the Absolute Truth due to being fearful that some listeners may be displeased, I would be deviating from the path of Vedic truth and accepting the path of untruth. I would become one who is inimical to the Vedas, an atheist, and would no longer possess faith in Śrī Bhagavān, the very embodiment of truth.”

“Wherever hari-kathā is being spoken is a holy place.”

“Proper śravaṇa, hearing, is accomplished by the medium of kīrtana, and this will give one the good opportunity to practice smaraṇa, remembrance. Then, internal experience of rendering direct service in Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā, pastimes in each of the eight parts of the day, becomes possible.”

Srila Gaura Kisora das Babaji Maharaja stated in his 2nd and 3rd Essential Instructions:

“If there is an absence of hari-kathā-kīrtana and sādhu-saṅga while practicing solitary bhajana, then Māyā’s influence on the person practicing such nirjana-bhajana will greatly increase.”

“A sādhu who speaks strong words and makes the witch of Māyā flee is a real sādhu and bāndhava (dear friend).”

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada stated in his 34th and 35th Essential Instructions:

“Rather than believing in their own strength, the rūpānugabhaktas solely place their unadulterated faith at the lotus feet of Śrī Gurudeva and Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Thus, they spend their entire lives glorifying Śrī Hari, Guru, and Vaiṣṇavas.

“The opinions of the mundane residents of this world are not to be found in the teachings of Śrīman Mahāprabhu. We can understand from Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s teachings that He embodied the realizations of His devotees. Following in His footsteps, we will seek the shelter of bhāgavatadharma.”


Srila Gaura Kisora das Babaji Maharaja states in his 4th and 5th Essential Instructions:

“Those who desire to do hari-bhajana should distance themselves from unfavorable association.”

“A devotee should stay in sat-saṅga, despite enduring great difficulties. By staying in sat-saṅga and by being absorbed in hearing and chanting, service to harināma can be salvaged.”

Srila Gurudeva states in his 17th and 18th Essential Instructions:

If you desire your own welfare, never criticize the bhaktas. By criticizing Vaisnavas, your destruction is inevitable.”

“The root cause of bhakti is to hear hari-katha while in sat-sanga. Without sat-sanga the living beings can never achieve auspiciousness.”

In his 5th Essential Instruction, Param Gurudeva said, “Renouncing bad association is actual solitude, and performing bhajana in the company of sadhus and Vaisnavas is the actual meaning of solitary bhajana.”

In his 1st Essential Instruction, Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated: “Never meet or associate with monkeys wearing the dress of renunciation, who are hypocrites holding onto ulterior motives for wealth, women, and prestige.”

Developing Pure Character and the Proper Mindset

In his Upadesavali, Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja gave the following teachings:

Rather than searching for the faults of others, endeavor to clean out the filth in your own heart.”

And he also said, “Those who desire to perform hari-bhajana should be tolerant and not desire any respect from others, while giving respect to all others according to their position. One shouldn’t be troubled even in the presence of hundreds of obstacles and disturbances; rather, his enthusiasm for bhajana should only increase.”

“Worldly misfortune should be considered the compassion of Bhagavān.”

One cannot be called a sannyāsī simply by taking the external cloth of a renunciant; one is not a sannyāsī until love and attraction for Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s service has appeared in his heart.”

Prabhupada Sarasvati Thakura stated: “Preaching without proper conduct falls within the category of karma (mundane activity).”

Param Gurudeva stated in his 10th and 11th Essential Instructions:

One should never give pain to any living entity by body, mind, or words.”

One should maintain his life by honest means.”

In his Upadesavali, Essential Instructions, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada gave the following teachings:

“All of you should become of one heart and serve Śrī Hari.”

“We are not doers of good or bad deeds, nor are we scholars or illiterate. Carrying the shoes of Hari’s pure devotees as our duty, we are initiates into the mantra, ‘kīrtanīyah-sadā-hariḥ.’ ”

Without criticizing others, one should correct one’s self—this is my personal instruction.

“Life as a bird, insect, animal, or any other of the countless thousands of species is acceptable, but taking shelter of deceit is thoroughly unacceptable. Only an honest person possesses real auspiciousness.”

“The pure devotees have no other desire than following the instructions of the rūpānuga Vaiṣṇavas. To follow the order of the Vaiṣṇava guru, we are ready to become proud. We are ready to become any animal. We are even ready to go to hell for eternity. By using the logic of our Guru-varga, we will cut asunder all mundane theories. This is an exhibition of proper pride.”

“Simple-heartedness is synonymous with vaiṣṇavism. Servants of a paramahaṁsa Vaiṣṇava should be simple-hearted, a quality that characterizes the topmost brāhmaṇas.”

“It is very important for the householders, and especially the residents of the maṭha, to tolerate all kinds of eventualities.”

In his 6th to 9th Essential Instructions, Srila Gaura Kisora das Babaji Maharaja stated:

“The extent of one’s devotion to Śrī Hari cannot be measured according to the estimation of ordinary people. A person may externally exhibit a great degree of renunciation, detachment, and moods of devotion while being hypocritical at heart. Therefore, such displays can never constitute real renunciation. Neither can such displays be called bhāva-bhakti.”

“One can never submit his self as long as he fosters a conception of being the body (dehātma-buddhi). Thus, Śrī Hari’s mercy will not be attained. Attachment to wife and children are the primary symptoms of dehātma-buddhi.”

“It is very offensive to reside in the dhāma with a mood of enjoyment. The sādhaka should reside in the dhāma while striving to bring happiness to Śrī Gaurasundara by his services. By residing in the dhāma in this manner, the sādhaka will achieve his eternal auspiciousness.”

“The jīva should continuously do hari-bhajana. There is no other duty to be carried out. ‘Except hari-bhajana, there are other obligations to fulfill,’ such speculation is an act of Māyā.”


Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja emphasized seriously following Ekadasi in his instructions, saying as follows:

Follow Śrī Ekādaśī-tithi in the association of sādhus while staying awake all night.”

“Every Ekādaśī one should examine oneself to see whether one’s enthusiasm for honest haribhajana has increased or if ulterior desires have increased. Carefully scrutinize this and offer yourself at the lotus feet of Guru and Vaiṣṇavas.”

Diet – What to Eat

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja said, “Never take the food of a sense enjoyer, otherwise you will become one.”

“Although illnesses that cause misery may be present in the body of a person desiring to perform bhajana, because he abstains from rich, delicious foodstuffs, automatically the sicknesses will go away. These illnesses, however, take refuge in gentlemen who live a luxurious life and persons attached to enjoyment, and stay with them for a long time.”

Śrī Kṛṣṇa has said, “Those who serve Me will never have to undergo difficulties in filling their bellies. However, those who become satisfied upon receiving delicious foodstuffs from Me will never be able to obtain My service.”

How to Properly Utilize Wealth

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada stated:

“The wealth collected by the servants of the Gauḍīya Maṭha from sunrise to sunset is entirely used for the satisfaction of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s senses. Not a single penny is spent for sense gratification.”

“The root of our conditioned existence is the desire to collect sense objects for our own enjoyment, rather than for Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment.”

Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja stated: “By enjoying the wealth meant for Śrī Hari’s service, one will become the greatest of atheists.”

He also said, as a strong warning to sadhakas:

“An ordinary thief may at some point achieve auspiciousness; however, those who enjoy the wealth of Guru and Vaiṣṇavas will never obtain any auspiciousness.”

In this way, by regular reading and reflection on the Essential Instructions, Upadesavali, of our glorious Acaryas, we can tread safely and steadily forward on the path of pure Bhakti-yoga.

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