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vijita-hrsika-vayubhir adanta-manas tura-gam
ya iha yatanti yantum ati-lolam upaya-khidah
vyasana-satanvitah samavahaya guros caranam
vanija ivaja santy akrta-karna-dhara jaladhau
The mind is like an impetuous horse that even persons who have regulated their senses and breath cannot control. Those in this world who try to tame the uncontrolled mind, but who abandon the feet of their spiritual master, encounter hundreds of obstacles in their cultivation of various distressful practices. O unborn Lord, they are like merchants on a boat in the ocean who have failed to employ a helmsman.
To become qualified to attain love of Godhead, the mature fruit of liberation, one must first subdue the rebellious material mind. Though difficult, this can be achieved when a person replaces his addictions to sense gratification with a taste for the higher pleasures of spiritual life. But only by the favor of the representative of Godhead, the spiritual master, can one gain this higher taste.
The spiritual master opens the eyes of the disciple to the wonders of the transcendental realm, as indicated in the Gayatri prayers by the seed mantra of divine knowledge, aim.
The Mundaka Upanisad (1.2.12) states:
tad-vijñanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham
“To understand these things properly, one must humbly approach, with firewood in hand, a spiritual master who is learned in the Vedas and firmly devoted to the Absolute Truth.” And the Katha Upanisad (2.9) declares:
naisa tarkena matir apaneya
proktanyenaiva su-jñanaya prestha
“This realization, my dear boy, cannot be acquired by logic. It must be spoken by an exceptionally qualified spiritual master to a knowledgeable disciple.”
Non-Vaisnavas often disregard the importance of surrendering to a spiritual master who stands in an authorized line of disciplic succession. Relying instead on their own abilities, proud yogis and jñanis exhibit their apparent success to impress the world, but their glory is but temporary:
drsyate punar utthitam
“The minds of nondevotees who engage in such practices as pranayama are not fully cleansed of material desires. Thus, O King, material desires are again seen to arise in their minds.” (Bhag. 10.51.60)
On the other hand a humble, steadfast devotee of Lord Visnu and of the Vaisnavas is assured of easy victory over the stubborn mind. He need not concern himself with performing the eightfold system of yoga or taking other such measures to keep his mind steady. Sarvam caitad gurau bhaktya puruso hy añjasa jayet: “A person can easily obtain all these goals simply by being devoted to his spiritual master.” Otherwise, a nondevotee may conquer his senses and vital air and still fail to tame his mind, which will continue to run wild like an unbroken horse. He will suffer unending anxiety over the troublesome execution of various spiritual practices, and in the end he will remain just as lost in the vast material ocean as he ever was. The analogy given here is very appropriate: A group of merchants who hastily enter upon a sea voyage with expectations of great profit, but who fail to hire a competent helmsman for their boat, will simply experience great difficulty.
The Bhagavatam declares the importance of the bona fide spiritual master in many places such as this verse from the Eleventh Canto (20.17):
nr-deham adyam su-labham su-durlabham
plavam su-kalpam guru-karna-dharam
puman bhavabdhim na taret sa atma-ha
“The human body, which can award all benefit in life is automatically obtained by the laws of nature, although it is a very rare achievement. This human body can be compared to a perfectly constructed boat having the spiritual master as the captain and the instructions of the Personality of Godhead as favorable winds impelling it on its course. Considering all these advantages, a human being who does not utilize his human life to cross the ocean of material existence must be considered the killer of his own soul.” Therefore the first business of one who takes human life seriously is to find out a spiritual master who can guide him in Krsna consciousness.
Srila Sridhara Svami prays:
yada parananda-guro bhavat-pade
padam mano me bhagaval labheta
srayeya saukhyam bhavatah krpatah
“O transcendentally blissful guru, when my mind finally achieves a place at your lotus feet, all the tiresome labor of my spiritual practices will be finished, and by your mercy I will experience the greatest happiness.”