(I have had requests to write more about my spiritual teacher and my relationship with him so I have added more to this post on November 2016, and again on April 2021 — Chaitanya das)
These days it’s sometimes seen as ‘uncool’ to talk about a guru, or a spiritual teacher.
For many the word ‘guru’ evokes the unfortunate idea of a relationship where there is lack of individual thought, of giving up one’s own free will. I’d like to dispel that emphatically as far as my spiritual teacher is concerned!
‘Guru’ as an adjective means ‘heavy or weighty’ as in ‘One who is heavy with spiritual knowledge and wisdom.’ ‘Guru’ also means spiritual master or one who has dovetailed his body, his mind, his intelligence, and his will with the will of God. In other words, guru means one who is the loving servant of God and the well-wisher of others — not the master of other people.
There are times that I refer to Jagad Guru as my spiritual master, however it’s very important to understand that a bona fide guru never sees himself as the controller or master of anyone. There are so many definitions of the word ‘master’ but the one I am referring to is “One who masters a particular field of endeavor”, in this case, spiritual endeavor.
Rather than as a master of anyone a genuine spiritual master or teacher dedicates his life to helping everyone find true happiness. He is therefore the loving servant of the Supreme, the servant of his spiritual teacher, the servant of his students, and the well-wisher and servant of everyone!
He never teaches that he is God nor tries to take the place of God in people’s lives. He is someone who is filled with bhakti or love for the Supreme — and therefore filled with love and compassion for all living beings who he understands are all parts and parcels of the Supreme.
If I’m honest with myself, I had very little attraction for any spiritual process when I first met Siddhaswarupananda over 40 years ago, but he challenged me to think carefully about spirituality. Not only to think, but check what he was telling me and what we talked about.
He encouraged me to check with acknowledged scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, and Lord Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament, and to check with the Lord within, to see if what he, Siddhaswarupananda, was saying, what the scriptures where saying, and what I felt in my heart were the same.
We should not be afraid to take advice of a spiritual nature from someone who has credentials, and Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda has impeccable spiritual credentials, and is in such an authoritative spiritual lineage!
This lineage of teachers is recorded as going back thousands of years. Timeless Vedic knowledge has been passed down from spiritual teacher to student who, when fully self-realized, becomes a spiritual teacher and passes that knowledge down to his students etc.
So when I look at Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa I see behind him all these saintly Vaishnava giants and the vast body of knowledge they represent.
(For more information on this lineage please see https://sif.yoga/about/heritage. )
Usually we have no hesitation looking for a mentor on all variety of subjects – the sciences, the arts etc. – acknowledging someone else’s expertise. It is even more important to find someone who knows and understands the subject of spiritual identity and to learn from them.
So my/our spiritual teacher Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda is a person today who has learned from, and speaks for, all these previous acharyas or teachers. ‘Acharya’ means someone who is qualified as a spiritual teacher and teaches by his impeccable example.
Jagad Guru himself always rejects attempts to create a personality cult around him, simply seeing himself as the humble messenger of his spiritual teacher and all the previous saintly acharyas. Such humility and desire to serve and please God is the heart of an acharya. In fact Siddhaswarupananda is an extremely private person who shuns the public limelight and media attention that many yoga teachers dream and strive for.
Over the years of spiritual guidance from my dear friend, I have never felt the need to join any ‘religious’ organization. I’ve owned my own business for most of this life but I am now retired and dealing with advanced prostate cancer.
I am happily married with 6 children, and 8 grandchildren, and have had not that much physical contact with my spiritual mentor. But in key moments through my life he has been there (not necessarily always in person but via his teachings) when I needed guidance, when I needed help to deal with life’s dilemmas’. Any wisdom I can impart comes from him.
Additional Information added Nov 2016:
Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa was born Kris Butler in 1948 and spent most of his early life in Hawaii. There is information here about his early life and how he came into contact with his gurudev (spiritual teacher), Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad.
I want to write here a little about my experiences with Jagad Guru and how he has helped me over the years.
In the 1970’s, Siddhaswarupananda traveled extensively, helping to carry out his gurudev’s mission of showing people how to re-kindle a personal relationship with God, Krishna, by practicing mantra meditation and kirtan yoga.
North America, India, Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines, Japan, and Brazil were some of the countries he spent time in the 1970’s. He organized speaking venues large and small, all the time making friends wherever he went, and directing them to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, who he describes as his life and soul.
I first met Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda on one of his visits to Australia in late 1972. It was through a seemingly random series of decisions and events that I ended up in Byron Bay, New South Wales in Australia in December 1972. If just one of those decisions or events was different I would not have met Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda.
It was in Byron Bay, on vacation from University with two friends, and Siddhaswarupananda just happened to be there recuperating from traveling in Asia. He befriended us and for some weeks we held fireside chants on the beach, just a small group of half a dozen people (you probably can’t light fires on the beach there today!).
Later on, before he left Byron Bay and Australia, we hired the local scout hall and put up hand drawn posters around town advertising the event. This was the first public speaking event for Jagad Guru in Australia. About 25-30 people came to experience kirtan yoga and hear Siddhaswarupananda speak. Afterwards we served tea and biscuits (cookies).
Siddhaswarupananda always showed unconditional friendship towards me and all others he met. That quality of exuding friendship, wanting nothing in return, was something I had never come across before. Most relationships are conditional, built on give and take, so to come across someone who cared for me, wanting nothing in return was intriguing. While not being initially attracted to meditation, I thought if this person was the end result of this process then I needed to look at this kirtan yoga meditation more carefully.
In 1977 Siddhaswarupananda’s beloved guru (spiritual teacher) left this world. It was only after this that he started formally accepting disciples.
Many people refer to Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa as ‘Jagad Guru’. This is a term that is applied to a yoga teacher who has students and disciples worldwide. More importantly it means what he is passing down from the line of Vaishnava acharyas can be applied to every single person, regardless of race, age, culture, religion, political affiliation, etc.
I kept in touch with Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, and over many years he patiently encouraged me to develop my love for God, until I finally asked him if he would formally accept me as his disciple in 1985, thirteen years after first meeting him.
My spiritual teacher Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa sees himself as the humble servant of God and simply wants to help others love God just as his spiritual teacher helped him love God, and his spiritual teacher before him.
He could never be described as stereotypical, either as a person or how he delivers this message. Though rooted in the ancient Vedas, the message is made relevant to today’s world, and delivered with both humor and wisdom.
Today Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa is just as energetic and focused as ever, working on new ways to spread the teachings of love for God.
I am far from perfect by any means, but I am a much better person for coming into contact with Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa and his teachings.
He has taught me how I can live in this world but not be of this world. I have never felt the need to join any group, or change my life radically by giving up family and friends (in fact throughout my life I’m forever making new friends!). The message Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda passes on is simple; we will only be truly happy, truly satisfied, when we are tasting love for God.
Looking back now, all the best experiences in my life are tied to what I have learnt from him; when I first experienced the power and the beauty of the chanting and singing of God’s names (it wasn’t immediate – it just happened one day); when I first realized and experienced I am not my body; when I first realized I was not alone in the world no matter if I was in a desert or in the middle of a busy city; when I first experienced I am not afraid of anything in this world, or afraid of leaving it.
Over the years he has been my spiritual anchor.
While I have some time left in this world, I’m hoping to be able to keep writing and share my life with others.
Thank you and Namaste. (= I acknowledge the Lord within you!)
For more about Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda visit:
Below are some links to Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa leading some different kirtan meditations:
Madana Mohana Murari…Haribol, Haribol, Haribol!
One of my favorite meditation chants, relaxing to the max!
Sacred & Deeply Meditative Chant by Jagad Guru Srila Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa; Madana Mohana Murari Haribol!
Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana
Upbeat Jaya Radha Shyam!
……………..AND 8hrs of beautiful kirtans