Kuresh, the famous, intimate disciple of Srila Ramanujacharya once asked his guru the meaning of the well-known Bhagavad-gita verse 18.66:
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto me. I will deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
Ramanuja replied to him, “A person who gives up all independent desires and serves his guru absolutely for an entire year can fully understand the meaning of this verse, and no one else.”
“But life is so uncertain,” said Kuresh, “How can I know whether or not I will live for another year? Please bestow your mercy upon me by making the meaning of the verse manifest in my heart even now.”
Ramanuja considered his request for a while and then replied, “If you live for one month by begging alms from door to door, without knowing where your next meal will come from, then you will begin to realize the meaning of full surrender. At that time, I will instruct you in all the meanings of this glorious verse.”
For one month Kuresh lived as his guru had instructed. When the month had passed, he gained realized knowledge from Ramanuja about the nature of surrender to Krishna.
We should understand the difference between information collection and gaining realized knowledge. The latter only comes through offering respect, submissive inquiries, and rendering service to a devotee and not by mere reading.
Srila Prabhupada once described:
Just like some rascals say, “What is the use of accepting a guru?” Of course, they have got very bad experience. …It is not that, “If I like I can go to a guru and if I don’t like I can study books at home and learn everything.” No, that is not possible. It is practical. Just like if you purchase a medical book, study at home, and then begin to practice, you will be called a quack. The government will not recognize you. …Similarly, someone may say, “I have read Bhagavad-gita a hundred times.” But if you ask him what is Krishna he cannot say because he has not approached the acarya. This is the difficulty. He might have read Bhagavad-gita a thousand times but he will not understand a single word because he has not approached.
(From a lecture in Mumbai on 5 October 1973)