Gratitude is Impossible

Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj describes the soul’s irresolvable debt at the feet of Śrī Guru and the Vaiṣṇavas.

Student: Mahārāj, you were going to tell us what ‘thank you’ means.

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: What is at the root of the expression ‘thank you’? It is an expression of gratitude. It presupposes, however, a background of separate interest in the person who gives thanks: “My interest has been helped in a particular way. So, I feel gratitude and I thank you; I have my own separate interest and position.” This is not the nature of a devotee. A devotees feels: “I have no separate interest. If I can receive anything as grace, be it a ray of knowledge or anything, then I should try to absorb myself in that one, whole interest. I have no words. I only feel that I am one with the person who presently I am going to thank.” “I have my own separate interests and position, and I have gained something from another party. So, I will thank them. I will thank God also.” In Christianity, or perhaps in the Bible, is such a phrase to be found? “Thank God.” Such an expression is current here with the Brahma school, such as Rabindranath and others: “God has given so many benefits to us and to this earth. He has given us food to live on. So, we are bound to thank Him.” Thanking means maintaining and developing an individual life. But we don’t want to have an individual position. We want to merge in the interest of the Lord. So, when I get some knowledge from a Vaiṣṇava Guru, I should not say “thanks” for that. Rather, I should pray, “I want that you will attract me more to be a member of your family. Engage me. I will be fortunate if you absorb me as one of your servants, if you accept me in the section of your servitors. I want that.” This should be our mentality. “I am receiving something, some benefit, from you. So, I showing my gratitude to you. I am a separate entity.” No. “I want that I may be a particle of dust at your feet. Please make me a particle of dust at your lotus feet.” We must go down to that extent instead of expressing our feeling of gratitude with our head erect.

Thanking does not strike my ears well. What gratitude can I show in exchange for what I have received from the agent of the Lord? No magnitude of gratitude can be ever found in the world for that. So, there is no question of thanking him. Rather, we should increase our inner earnestness to become particles of dust at his holy feet. That should be our hankering. Hearing news of my home, I should be eager, as eager as a madman, to return there. We should have no separate interest; we should merge into that one, common interest.

I do not know the derivative meaning of the word ‘thank’, but I am explaining the term on the basis of the spirit of the word as I have generally come to know it.

In my childhood, in my thirteenth year or so, I first read this verse:

ekam apy akṣaraṁ yas tu guruḥ śiṣye nivedayet
pṛthivyāṁ nāsti tad dravyaṁ yad datvā so ‘ṛṇī bhavet

Even if we find that the Guru confers on his disciple only one word, and even if that word is only a one-lettered word, in this whole wide world there is nothing by giving which the disciple can clear his debt to the Guru for that one-lettered word. So much value is present in one word from the Guru that all the resources in the world cannot be compared to it.

There is the possibility of such life. Such prospect can be had in this world. And is comes from the Guru, from the revealed truth. One word of the revealed truth from the Guru changes the whole system. Everything in this world is our enemy, but by taking mantram from the Guru, everything is converted into our friend. Such a change can come from one letter given by the Guru.

ekam apy akṣaraṁ yas tu guruḥ śiṣye nivedayet
pṛthivyāṁ nāsti tad dravyaṁ yad datvā so ’ṛṇī bhavet

[“Even if the Guru imparts only one single-syllabled word to the disciple, there is nothing in the world by giving which the disciple can become free from their debt to the Guru.”] 


Spoken 6 October 1981.