Question: Will it be possible for me to attain the highest perfection solely by taking shelter of Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda and reading his books, or is it necessary for me to take shelter of a living, advanced Vaiṣṇava?
Śrīla Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja: Firstly, it is not possible to understand the true essence of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s or any Vaiṣṇava’s teachings simply by reading his books. Who will confirm that you have understood and realized the pinnacle of his siddhānta? Although a child in the six or seventh grade may be able to read and pronounce the words written in books of a Ph.D. candidate, it is impossible for him to comprehend anything. Without admitting himself into higher education and accepting the guidance of an advanced teacher, he will be unable to recognize his own misconceptions. Reading is easy, but on our own, grasping the deep meanings of the śastras will be impossible. Without the guidance of a personally present sādhu, we will be unable to comprehend the true essence of the teachings of our guru-vargas who have concluded their pastimes in this world.
Once, when Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja came to our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Hyderabad, he told us during a conversation, “I have tried my level best to teach my disciples how to follow vaiṣṇava sadācāra. There are many more things I want to teach them, but they are not qualified to receive everything at this time. In the future, they will again meet with pure sādhus and progress according to the proper sequence, moving forward step-by-step.
My godbrother Śrī Anaṅga-mohana Brahmacārī (now Śrīpāda Bhikṣu Mahārāja) was once waiting outside the room of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja, hoping to have his darśana. At that time, he saw a very new Western devotee sitting nearby, about to apply tilaka. The devotee had a ball of gopī-candana in his hand, but had no ācamana cup or any water at all, and so he spat into his hand and started rubbing the ball of gopī-candana in it. Śrī Anaṅga-mohana Brahmacārī was shocked to see this, and immediately called out to the devotee, “This is completely improper! Why are you doing this?”
At that time, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja came out of his room, called for Anaṅga-mohana Brahmacārī to come over, and very softly said, “There is no need to instruct this devotee. Somehow or other, he has received the inspiration to put on tilaka, which does not exist in his native culture. What problem is there if he is not aware of all the rules and regulations just yet? The time will surely come when he will learn the proper way to perform all the activities of bhakti.”
In this story, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja did not establish a new siddhānta for his disciples to follow for all time; rather, because he was an expert teacher, he taught this particular disciple according to his nature and qualification.
In conclusion, it is impossible for you to understand on your own which teachings of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja are relative and which teachings are absolute. Therefore, if you desire to follow Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja, it will be essential for you to accept the shelter of a qualified Vaiṣṇava who understands the true intentions and moods of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja.