There are two types of gurus: antaraṅgā or internal, and bahiraṅgā or external. The living entity who is situated in samādhi is his own internal spiritual master. One who accepts argument as his spiritual master and learns the process of worship in this way, is said to have accepted the shelter of a bogus spiritual master. Thus, argument poses itself as nourishing the living entities’ constitutional duties (bhakti). This may be compared to Putana’s falsely posing as a nurse. Worshipers on the path of attachment (rāga bhakti) must completely give up argumentation in spiritual subjects and rather take shelter of genuine samādhi from a realized soul. The guru from whom the science of worship is learned is called the external spiritual master. One who properly knows the path of attachment and who instructs his disciples according to their qualification is a sad-guru, or eternal spiritual master.
—Taken from Sri Krishna-saṁhitā (8/14) of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur
The above Bhāgavatam narrative (Deliverance of Putana) embodies a most important moral for those seeking the Absolute, but before offering the textual interpretation favored by the previous ācāryas, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to certain possible misconceptions regarding the nature of the interpretation about to be offered. There is a class of persons who insist on the texts being taken in their literal, worldly sense. Interpreters have used much ingenuity to extract meanings that satisfy the empiric judgment of those working by the literal method. Their arguments are not unintelligible. As revealed literature is to be regarded as containing information of the Absolute, the language should be regarded as part and parcel of the meaning of the text. From this conclusion, the literal interpreters jump to the wrong inference that it should be possible for the conditioned soul to ascertain the real meaning of the scriptures by sticking to the lexicographical sense of their actual wordings. This latter part of the argument is inapplicable to the subject, which is transcendental. Rather, the words possess a double meaning. The lexicographic meaning refers to this world’s entities and is therefore inapplicable to the case. The conditioned souls’ gross senses and mind cannot access the esoteric meaning. This is a great and insuperable difficulty. The literal interpreters who follow the lexicographical meaning err grievously when they overlook this all-important consideration. The transcendental meaning of the words cannot be conveyed to the conditioned soul’s senses as long as the conditioned soul does not agree to listen submissively to the transcendental sound spoken by a pure devotee.
There is a definite line of succession of bona fide teachers of the truth. Hypocrites and atheists, who do not want to serve Godhead, cannot recognize bona fide ācāryas. Sooner or later, though, a real spiritual seeker will find and recognize a bona fide teacher. Before finding such a teacher to enlighten him, however, a spiritual candidate should concentrate on self-examination. In this way he will not harbor any lurking traces of insincerity. The sadhu’s words are also available, by his causeless mercy, to help such candidates discover their own insincerity. It is by overlooking or deliberately neglecting this preliminary training to understand transcendental meaning that the literal interpreters fail to understand the need to never deviate from the explanations offered by selfrealized souls. It is only to such souls that the transcendental meanings are available. Some empiricists, while following the lexicographical and syntactical method of literal interpretation, do not hesitate to read their own meanings into the texts under the impression that the scriptures and the products of the human brain liable to every form of error and, therefore fit to be corrected by the equally erring caprices of other hypothetical thinkers on the ground of allegations of error that cannot be proved, are disposed to think that the ācāryas’ interpretations are not scrupulously faithful to the text. They then offer allegorical explanations to support their own sectarian views. I list these possible misunderstandings in order to attract the reader’s attention to the importance of the following interpretation of the Putana narrative.
It is based on the exposition of previous ācāryas and was originally spoken by a bona fide teacher of the Absolute. I do not offer this interpretation as a literal, lexicographical explanation nor as an allegory created to satisfy what people feel they know about the human race’s history. Sri Krishna manifests His eternal birth in the pure cognitive essence of the serving soul, who is located above all mundane limitations. King Kamsa is the typical aggressive empiricist. He is ever on the lookout for the Truth’s appearance, because he wishes to suppress the Truth before He has time to grow up. I am not exaggerating the real purpose and understanding of the usual empiricist’s position. The materialist has a natural repugnance for the transcendental. He is disposed to think that faith in the incomprehensible is the parent of dogmatism and hypocrisy in the guise of religion. He is also equally under the delusion that there is and can be no real dividing line between matter and spirit. His delusions are strengthened by reading scriptural interpretations presented by those who are of like-minded with himself. This includes all lexicographic interpreters. Kamsa upholds the lexicographical interpretation as the real scientific explanation of scripture and one that is perfectly in keeping with his dread of and aversion for the transcendental. These lexicographical interpreters are employed by Kamsa in suppressing the first suspected appearance of any genuine faith in the transcendental. King Kamsa knows very well that if the faith in the transcendental is once allowed to grow, it is sure to upset all his empiric prospects. There is historical ground for such misgivings. Accordingly, if the empiric domination is to be preserved intact, it is necessary to immediately put down the transcendental heresy the moment it threatens to appear. Acting on this traditional fear, King Kamsa is quick to take the scientific precaution of deputing empiric scriptural teachers, backed by dictionary, grammar, and all their empiric subtleties, to put down, by specious arguments based on hypotheses, the true interpretation of eternal religion revealed by the scriptures. Kamsa strongly believes that empiricism can effectively defeat faith in the transcendental if prompt and decisive measures are adopted at the outset. He attributes the past failures of atheism to the neglect of such measures before the theistic fallacy had time to spread among the fanatical masses. But Kamsa counts without his host. When Krishna is born, He is able to upset all sinister designs against those whom He has apprised of His advent. The apparently causeless faith displayed by persons irrespective of age, gender, or condition may confound all fervent empiricists who are on principle averse to the Absolute Truth. Why are they so averse? Because His appearance is utterly incompatible with the domination of empiricism. But no adverse attempt of the empiricists, whose rule seems till then perfectly wellestablished over the minds of the world’s deluded souls, can dissuade anyone from exclusively following the Truth when the Truth appears to take birth in the pure cognitive essence of his soul. Putana is the slayer of infants. When a baby emerges from its mother’s womb, it at once falls into the clutches of pseudo religious teachers. These teachers are successful in forestalling the good preceptor’s attempts, whose help atheists never seek when they baptize their children. This is ensured by the arrangements of all established churches of the world. They have been successful only in supplying watchful Putanas for effecting the spiritual destruction of persons from the moment of their birth with the cooperation of the worldly parents. No human contrivance can prevent these Putanas from obtaining possession of the pulpits. This is because most people in this world are disposed toward atheism. The church with the best chance to survive in this damned world is the atheistic church that functions under the convenient guise of theism. The churches have always proven the staunchest upholders of the grossest forms of worldliness, from which even the worst of nonecclesiastical criminals are found to recoil. It is not from any deliberate opposition to the ordained clergy that I make these observations.
The original purpose of the world’s established churches may not have always been objectionable, but no stable religious arrangement for instructing the masses has yet been successful. The Supreme Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya, in pursuance of scriptural teachings, enjoins the absence of conventionalism among teachers of the eternal religion. It does not follow that mechanically adopting an unconventional life will make one a fit religious teacher. Regulation is necessary if one wishes to control the conditioned souls’ inherent worldliness, but no mechanical regulation has ever succeeded for such a purpose. The mere pursuit of fixed doctrines and liturgies cannot hold a person to the true spirit of doctrine or liturgy. The bona fide religious teacher, however, is neither a product nor the proponent of any mechanical system. In his hands, no system can degenerate into a lifeless arrangement. The idea of an intelligibly organized church indeed marks the close of the living spiritual movement. The great ecclesiastical establishments are the dykes and dams to retain a current that cannot be held by such contrivances. They indeed indicate the masses’ desire to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bona fide spiritual teacher. The people of this world understand preventive systems, but they have no idea at all of the un-prevented positive eternal life. Neither can there be any earthy contrivance for the permanent preservation of the life eternal on this mundane plane on the popular scale. Those who are disposed, therefore, to look forward to improvement of the worldly state in a mundane sense from the worldly success of any really spiritual movement are greatly mistaken. It is these worldly aspirants who become the patrons of the mischievous race of pseudo religious teachers, the Putanas, whose congenial function is to stifle the theistic disposition at the very moment they suspect its appearance. But the real theistic disposition can never be stifled even by the Putanas’ efforts. The Putanas have power only over atheists, and it is for these willing victims that they perform their salutary task. As soon as the theistic disposition makes its appearance in the pure cognitive essence of the awakened soul, the Putanas are decisively silenced at the earliest stage of their encounter with newborn Krishna. The would-be slayer is herself slain. This is how the negative service the Putanas unwittingly render to theists is rewarded: all their hypocritical demonstrations are strangled. But Putana does not like to receive her reward, because it involves the total destruction of her wrong personality. Neither does King Kamsa like to lose the service of his most trusted agents. The effective silencing of the whole race of pseudo religious teachers is the first clear indication of the appearance of the Absolute on the mundane plane. The bona fide teacher of the Absolute heralds Krishna’s advent by his uncompromising campaign against pseudo teachers of religion.
—Taken from the writings of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, published in Sajjana-toṣaṇī(The Harmonist), January 1932