After a pleasant learning experience of Vipassana meditation under S.N.Goenka, whom Richard found to be a man of honesty and integrity, Richard decided to go to Calcutta to seek the blessings of Mother Teresa. At Kali Ghat, on the bank of Ganges he entered a temple of Mother Kali, a compassionate energy of Lord Shiva. Inside the temple Richard was shocked to see a black goat being butchered as an offering to Goddess Kali. Richard nauseated and struggled to make sense of the striking contrast between the bloodshed he just witnessed, and the peaceful sages he lived among in the Himalayas who follow the same Hindu religion. He met a former priest of the temple who had quit his duties, unable to take the nightmarish experience of seeing innocent goats being mercilessly slaughtered. The former priest explained to Richard that in every religion people interpret scriptures and follow practices according to their level of realization. The Vedas are like a desire tree wherein we can find a path to fulfill whatever we seek. He also pointed out to Richard that Goddess Kali is a vegetarian. Richard realized he now needed a guide in spiritual life
“Up until this day, I had been thinking that examining many paths would broaden my understanding of spirituality. But this incident gave me a deeper understanding that, without a mature guide, apparent contradictions in every tradition could seriously bewilder me”.
The Hindu religion allows killing of animals as a concession for those who cannot give up meat eating altogether. It isn’t a license or a recommended path. There are many restrictions to eating of meat, and a sincere practitioner evolves to a stage of finally giving it up for the service of God. While killing the goat, the butcher chants mantras, hymns which translate literally as, “my dear goat, I shall kill you now but in your next life, you shall become a human and I shall be a goat, and then you kill me.” Offering such prayers regularly makes a practitioner think about the meaning of these prayers and he eventually realizes the futility of killing animals. He then evolves to a higher level of spirituality where he abandons meat eating.
To understand the rationale behind such apparently contradictory teachings in Hinduism, the Vedas- the sacred book of the Hindus- recommend studying spirituality under a bonafide, practicing teacher. A genuine teacher can not only help the student develop his relationship with God, he also resolves contradictions and confusions that a student may experience during his spiritual quest. Some people may be averse to taking guidance from a spiritual teacher but for developing material skills like dancing, martial arts, learning tennis or athletics they accept a coach or a guide. In other words, in order to gain mastery in any field, we agree to become an apprentice under an expert who is advanced in that field. Since we accept a teacher in every walk of life why not accept a teacher in spiritual life? Spirituality is also a science that is best learnt under a teacher who is self realized.
Although it’s recommended we accept spiritual guide, we should do so only after due testing; otherwise we may be cheated. For example, a person who accepts medicine from a quack is unintelligent and is inviting trouble and suffering. One should consult only a qualified doctor, who has graduated from a recognized medical college, has good clinical experience, and can help in curing the ailment. One cannot test the genuineness of a spiritual authority by the language he speaks, by his physical appearance or by his nationality. Just like the genuineness of gold can be determined by certain specific tests, there are also tests to determine the genuineness of a spiritual authority. He should be sense controlled, shouldn’t be teaching meditation for material benefits, and he himself must follow his guru sincerely.
Radhanath Swami, who has followed his guru for the last forty years, says, “The most important qualification of a Guru is he has awakened the truest desire to serve God eternally.” Following his guru’s footsteps, Radhanath Swami also aspires to eternally serve God as the servant of God’s servants.