Chakra Discussions

How To Select a Spiritual Master

by Hare Krsna dasi

Posted August 5, 2006

I read the recent note by Patrice Waga, asking how to find a diksa guru. Click Here

Patrice states, "Here in my region we are not blessed by seeing so many Gurus." But, perhaps help is closer at hand than he realizes.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that the position of a Vaisnava guru is in the same position as an officially ordained priest, rabbi or minister. In fact, that is not the case.

One does not become guru by undergoing any formally structured training. One becomes guru because a person asks him or her to become their spiritual master.

It is not that the person has been officially certified and has passed some specific training. Hundreds of years of history around the world have shown that a person can undergo very rigorous training to be officially certified as a religious cleric, and nevertheless may still commit grave offenses against the law and against the Lord.

Instead, thousands of years of Vaisnava tradition put the responsibility for selecting a guru in the hands of the prospective disciple. It is up to that perspective disciple to select a person who can best guide him or her in the loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna.

HOW CAN A NEOPHYTE DETERMINE WHO IS FIT TO BE HIS GURU?

How can a neophyte, who is by definition not spiritually advanced, have any hope of selecting a qualified spiritual guide by his own inexpert judgement?

Fortunately, the sincere neophyte is never alone. He can take shelter of Sadhu, Sastra and the Holy Name to help him in his quest.

SHELTER OF THE SADHUS. First of all, how did he decide he wanted to worship Krsna? What undoubtedly attracted him is the Sadhus, the Vaisnavas, including the great Saints of thousands of years ago, right up to the recent acaryas, such as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada, and even right up to the devotees who preached to him and gave him Prabhupada's books, and even the devotees who wash the pots and clean the temple with him. All these devotees are empowered by Krsna and are attracting him to Krsna in hundreds of different ways. They are also there to help him in the process of seeking a guru.

SHELTER OF SASTRA. Second, Krsna is so extremely kind and loving, that He actually takes the form of a book. A neophyte devotee can take shelter of Krsna in His book form. This is a source of great solace when waiting to find a person who can be one's guru. At very least, if at all possible, one should read Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and also Krsna Book before selecting a guru. That will give you much strength, and much help in getting the wisdom to judge who is actually qualified to help you.

SHELTER OF THE HOLY NAME. Third, as much as possible, one should take shelter of the Holy Name. It may be that by making it difficult to find a guru, Krsna is deliberately trying to make you desperate. Even though you are desperate, you must also be patient and you must remain certain that Krsna will surely come to help you, even if He seems to break your heart first - because Krsna is the best friend of every living entity, including yourself. By making you so desperate, He is actually helping you chant His Holy Name with greater sincerity and attention. This will give you humility. It will help purify your heart, and open your heart to see who could be your guru.

Then. when Krsna decides that you are actually ready, then at that time, He will surely send someone to be your own spiritual guide.

Another helpful guide when hunting for a spiritual master is a passage from Chapter 18 of The Nectar of Devotion, "Character of One in Ecstatic Love":

Rupa Gosvami next describes the characteristics of a person who has actually developed his ecstatic love for Krsna. The characteristics are as follows:

  1. He is always anxious to utilize his time in the devotional service of the Lord. He does not like to be idle. He wants service always, twenty-four hours a day, without deviation.
  2. He is always reserved and perseverant.
  3. He is always detached from all material attraction.
  4. He does not long for any material respect in return for his activities.
  5. He is always certain that Krsna will bestow His mercy upon him.
  6. He is always very eager to serve the Lord faithfully.
  7. He is very much attached to the chanting of the holy names of the Lord.
  8. He is always eager to describe the transcendental qualities of the Lord.
  9. He is very pleased to live in a place where the Lord's pastimes are performed, e.g., Mathura, Vrndavana or Dvaraka.

Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 18: Character of One in Ecstatic Love

Please remember that for number (9) an advanced devotee can take pleasure in Krsna's pastimes in many different places. Lord Caitanya demonstrated that for the advanced devotee, Vrndavana is not restricted one small geographical location. To the advanced devotee, Krsna manifests His pastimes every day in His Deity form in the temple. For example a humble pujari may take pleasure in observing Krsna's various pastimes right in the temple. To him or her, that is just like Vrndavana.

At the same time, both Srila Prabhupada and his own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati cautioned against pretenders who make a show of advanced intimate pastimes with Krsna. It is worth noting their strong warnings.

In his "Hundred Warnings against Mundane Mellows" Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati states:

A bonafide spiritual master never tells his disciple, "You are absorbed in the mellows of divine rasa" The genuine spiritual master never claims, "I am absorbed in the mellows of divine rasa." The guru never talks idly with his disciples on subjects of gross worldly mellows.

So these are all factors to take into consideration when selecting a spiritual master. Another thing is, it's not necessarily the big guru in flowing robes who will be your best spiritual master. It doesn't have to be a sannyasi at all. Lord Caitanya made this point emphatically when He went through the motions of taking spiritual instructions from Ramananda Raya, who according to external consideration was a householder and a sudra.

Ramananda Raya was quite reluctant to take the position of giving spiritual instructions to Lord Caitanya, who is actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But Lord Caitanya insisted, stating:

kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
   yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei 'guru' haya

"Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a sudra -- regardless of what he is -- he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krsna."

Caitanya Caritamrta: Madhya 8.128

In his purport, Srila Prabhupada states:

"It does not matter whether one is a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra, sannyasi, grhastha or whatever. If one simply understands this science, he can become a spiritual master."

It is not the social class of the person which qualifies them to become guru. Rather, the important thing is that they are humble and thoroughly honest, and that they understand the science of Krsna consiousness. If those qualities are there, then you will observe that they automatically have all the qualities listed in the Nectar of Devotion of one who has Ecstatic Love of Krsna.

So do not overlook the humble dishwasher or pujari and be dazzled by some guru with a thousand followers. The real question is: Who inspires you most in Krsna consciousness? That person is already your siksa guru, and you can ask them to become your diksa guru as well. That is the way of thousands of years of Vaisnava tradition. It is a very personal thing. It is not a bureaucratic arrangement.

Sometimes in ISKCON, people get a different idea. They think ISKCON appoints different people to become guru. That is a new idea which is not in keeping with Vaisnava tradition. Gurus are never appointed. There was some confusion right after Srila Prabhupada left, and for awhile zonal gurus were appointed, but now that is corrected. For the time being, ISKCON has a "no-objection" policy. If you want someone as your guru who has never been a guru before, then you send their name to the GBC and ask if they can be guru.

To be the first disciple of a guru and go throught this process with the GBC can be sometimes seem overwhelming and even scary. I was the only disciple of my spiritual master. But ISKCON is really not trying to make it difficult. Eventually, things will probably revert to the traditional Vaisnava method of a disciple selecting a person to be guru - but for the time being ISKCON uses this "no-objection" technique, which is as close as they can get right now.

So again, if you want a guru, please don't lose heart. If your desire is true, Krsna will surely send someone. In the meantime:

  1. Take full shelter of Srila Prabhupada
  2. Read Bhagavad-gita and Krsna Book
  3. Take shelter of the Vaisnavas
  4. Chant Hare Krsna
  5. Do devotional service
  6. Be confident that Krsna will surely take care of you.

Here's one last nice passage of Srila Prabhupada talking to a man who has a similar anxiety to yours. Srila Prabhupada urges him to simply work faithfully and not to worry too much:

MR. O'GRADY: I am very confused.

SRILA PRABHUPADA: So you must approach a spiritual master.

MR. O'GRADY: And he makes a decision on how to help me stop this confusion?

SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes, the spiritual master is one who solves all confusion. If the spiritual master cannot save his disciple from confusion, he is not a spiritual master. That is the test.

samsara-davanala-lidha-loka-
   tranaya karunya-ghanaghanatvam
praptasya kalyana-gunarnavasya
   vande guroh sri-caranaravindam

This whole confused world is just like a blazing forest fire. In a forest fire all the animals are confused. They do not know where to go to save their lives. In the blazing fire of the material world, everyone is confused. How can that blazing forest fire be extinguished? It is not possible to utilize your man-made fire brigade, nor is it possible to simply pour buckets of water. The solution comes when rain from the clouds falls on the forest fire. Only then can the fire be extinguished. That ability is not in your hands, but is in the mercy of God. So, human society is in a confused state, and it cannot find a solution. The spiritual master is one who has received the mercy of God, and he can deliver the solution to the confused man. One who has received the mercy of God can become a spiritual master and deliver that mercy to others.

MR. O'GRADY: The problem is to find this spiritual master.

SRILA PRABHUPADA: That is not a problem. The problem is whether you are sincere. You have problems, but God is within your heart. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam. God is not far away. If you are sincere, God sends you a spiritual master. Therefore God is also called caitya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. God helps from within and from without. Everything is thus described in Bhagavad-gita.

This material body is like a machine, but within the heart is the soul, and with the soul is the Supersoul, Krsna, who gives directions. The Lord says, "You wanted to do this; now here is the chance. Go and do it." If you are sincere, you say, "Now, God, I want You." Then He will give you directions. "Yes, now you come and get Me like this."

This is His kindness. However, if we want something else, that is all right. We can have it. God is very kind. When I want something, He is in my heart directing me and telling me how to have it. So why should He not give directions on how to have a spiritual master? First of all we must again be eager to revive our God consciousness. Then God will give us a spiritual master.

MR. O'GRADY: Thank you very much.

Back to Godhead #67, 1974: "An Awareness of What is Best and Most Beautiful"