(The cycle of birth and death—click to enlarge)
Prabhupāda: Saṁsāra means material existence. That is called saṁsāra. Bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate (BG 8.19). You take your birth once in some form of body. You live for some time. Then you have to give up this body. Then you have to accept another body. Then again live for some time. Then give up that body. Again accept another body. In this way, it is going on. That is called saṁsāra, rotating within this material world.
That is compared with dāvāna. Dāvāna means forest fire. Forest fire, you have got experience. You have seen, might have. In the forest, nobody goes to set fire, but it takes place. Everyone knows it. Similarly, within this material world, nobody wants to be unhappy. Everyone is trying to be very happy, but he is forced to accept unhappiness. This is the position. Therefore it is called dāvāna. Dāvāna means nobody willingly sets fire, but there is fire in the forest.
Similarly, in this material world, everyone is trying from time immemorial—even at the present moment—there is some occasional war, world war, and they manufacture some means. In our days, when we were young men, there was a League of Nation. Perhaps some of you may know. When the 1900, 19..., when the First World War was finished, these nations, they formed a League of Nation. League of Nation means just to arrange for peaceful living between the nations. So there was forest fire again. Nobody wanted war, but there was Second World War. Again. And again they are trying to, the League... What is that? United Nations. But the war is going on. The Vietnam War is going on, the Pakistan War is going on, and many others are going on.
So you may try your best to live very peacefully, but nature will not allow you. There must be war. It is not possible. In the history, especially in European history, there were so many wars— Carthagian War, Greece War, Roman War, Seven Years' War between France and England, and Hundred Years' War..., so far we have read in the history. And the war feeling is going on, not only between nation and nation, between man to man, neighbor to neighbor—even between husband and wife, father and son, this war is going on. This is called dāvāna, forest fire. Forest fire means in the forest nobody goes to set fire, but automatically, by the clash, friction of the dried bamboo, there is electricity and it catches fire. Similarly, although we do not want unhappiness, still, by our dealings we create enemies and friends, and there is fight, there is war. This will continue. This is called saṁsāra-dāvānala. Try to understand.
So guru means, spiritual master means, who can deliver one from this forest fire. Just like when there is forest fire, the animals are very much disturbed, and they die mostly. The snakes, they die immediately. So this forest fire, saṁsāra-dāvānala, is going on perpetually, and the person, or the authorized person who can deliver you from this forest fire of material existence, he's called guru, or the spiritual master.
Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka-trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam. How he delivers? What is his means? The same example: Where there is fire in the forest, you cannot send fire brigade, or you cannot go there with bucketful of waters to extinguish the fire. That is not possible. Then how it will be extinguished? Fire means it requires water to be extinguished. But where the water is coming from? From your bucket or from your fire brigade? No. It must come from the sky. It must come from the sky. When there will be torrents of rain from the sky, this forest fire, blazing forest fire, will be extinguished.
So these rains from the sky, it does not depend on your scientific propaganda or manipulation. It depends on the mercy of the Supreme Lord. So the spiritual master is compared with the cloud. Just like from the cloud there is torrents of rain, similarly, a spiritual master is considered just like cloud. Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka. Just like cloud takes the water from the sea—cloud hasn't got its own water; cloud takes water from the sea—similarly, a spiritual master brings mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just see the comparison. He has no own mercy, but he carries the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the qualification of spiritual master.
A spiritual master will never say that "I am God. I can give you mercy." No. That is not spiritual master. That is a bogus, pretender. A spiritual master will say, "I am servant of God. I have brought His mercy. Please take it and be satisfied." This is spiritual master's business. Just like a post peon. A post peon, when he delivers you some large amount of money, it is not his own money. The money is sent by somebody else. But he honestly delivers you: "Sir, here is your money. Take it." So you become very much satisfied with the peon. Although it is not his money, but when, in case of need, you get the money sent by your father or somebody else, brought by the peon, oh, you get very much satisfaction.
Similarly, we are all suffering in this blazing fire of material existence. The spiritual master brings the message from the Supreme Lord and delivers you. And if you kindly accept, then you'll be satisfied. This is the business of the spiritual master.
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
So spiritual master is offered obeisances: "Sir, you have brought the mercy from the Supreme Lord. Therefore we are much obliged to you. To deliver us, you have come. We offer our respectful obeisances." This is the meaning of this verse. Vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam. That means the first qualification of the spiritual master, or guru, is to deliver you some message by which immediately your blazing fire in the heart will be stopped. This is the test.
Everyone has blazing fire within the heart. That is the proof of material existence. Nobody is without anxieties. That blazing fire means anxieties, always. Everyone has got anxieties. Even the small bird, he has got anxiety. You give the small bird some grains to eat, he'll eat it. But he's not very peacefully eating. He'll see this way, that way, "If somebody's coming to kill me?" Yes. This is material existence.
Everyone, even President Nixon, he's also full of anxieties, what to speak of others. Even Gandhi, in our country, he was full of anxieties. All politician, they're full of anxiety; although they hold very exalted post, still the material disease, anxiety, is there. So if you want to be anxiety-less, without any anxiety, then you must take shelter of the guru, or the spiritual master, and the test is that by the instruction of guru, by following the instruction of guru, you will be anxiety-less. This is the test.
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture at Uppsala University, September 9, 1973, Stockholm)