7. Accepting a Bona Fide
Any sincere soul who is searching for spiritual science must try to seek out a bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession (parampara). Lord Sri Krsna is the original spiritual master. The Vedic knowledge, as it is, has been handed down from master to disciple, one after another. Even on the mundane platform, if someone wants to learn chemistry, he has to approach a professor of chemistry; how much greater, then, is the need to approach a bona fide spiritual master to attain the supreme spiritual perfection, Krsna consciousness. It is absolutely necessary for a sincere soul to approach a bona fide spiritual master and surrender unto the lotus feet of the spiritual master without reservation. Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Sanatana Gosvami thus: "The first and foremost thing is that one should accept a bona fide spiritual master. That is the beginning of spiritual life."Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, p. 152.1
The symptoms of a bona fide guru (spiritual master) and devotee are described in the Padma Purana. "A person who is a qualified brahmana, and at the same time qualified with all the symptoms of a devotee, can become the spiritual master of all classes of men, and such a devotee and spiritual master must be respected as God Himself. But a person, even though he may be born of a very respected brahmana family, cannot become a bona fide spiritual master if he is not a devotee of the Lord."Ibid.2 It is further stated: "Whatever he may be, whatever position he may have, if a person is fully conversant with the science of Krsna, Krsna consciousness, he can become a bona fide spiritual master, initiator, or teacher of the science. In other words, his capability to become a bona fide spiritual master depends on his sufficient knowledge of the science of Krsna, Krsna consciousness; it does not depend on birth or a particular position in society."Ibid., p. 266.3 The qualifications of a bona fide spiritual master are also described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Eleventh Canto, where the sage Prabuddha tells Maharaja Nimi: "My dear King, please know for certain that in the material world there is no happiness. It is simply a mistake to think that there is happiness here because this place is full of nothing but miserable conditions. Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters. Everyone should try to find such a bona fide spiritual master in order to furfill his mission of life, which is to transfer himself to the place of spiritual bliss."A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion (New York, Los Angeles, London and Bombay: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970), p. 58.4 The sage further continued: "My dear King, a disciple has to accept the spiritual master not only as spiritual master, but also as the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Supersoul. In other words, the disciple should accept the spiritual master as God because he is the external manifestation of Krsna."Ibid., p. 59.5
Indeed, this material world is a vast ocean of sufferings and miseries, and the waves of maya (illusion) are constantly kicking the living entities. Therefore, undoubtedly, all human beings urgently need the kind and able guidance of an expert captain to cross this vast ocean of Kali-yuga. If we are in the hands of an expert captain, our position is quite safe. The bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession is, unquestionably, an expert captain. Our material bodies are the ships, and the words of Krsna are the favorable winds. If one takes shelter of such a spiritual master, there is no difficulty in crossing this vast ocean of Kali-yuga. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna instructs Arjuna: "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." [Bg. 4.34] Also in the Vedic literatures we find:
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatrnanah
"Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed."Svetasvatara Upanisad, 6.23.7
Therefore, we simply have to depend on the kind and causeless mercy of the spiritual master and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu says: "By the mercy of Krsna one gets a spiritual master, and by the mercy of the spiritual master one gets Krsna." In Bhagavad-gita it is stated: "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy." [Bg. 18.61] When the Supreme Lord within the heart sees the sincerity of the conditioned soul, He mercifully gives all opportunities for the deliverance of the fallen soul. "Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance [Bg. 10.11] ...When one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime." [Bg. 5.16]
It is an unquestionable fact that neither doctors, nor social and political leaders, nor philanthropists can solve the basic problems of life, namely, birth, death, old age and disease. At any moment the material body will be finished. Everyone, therefore, should prepare for inevitable death. But without the background of the transcendental science, Krsna consciousness, and without the merciful guidance of the expert spiritual master, how can one prepare for impending death? Pariksit Maharaja, a great king and devotee of the Lord, had seven days' time to prepare for death, but we do not even know for sure whether we have seven minutes to prepare for death. King Pariksit spent those days exclusively hearing the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami speak the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which describes the transcendental qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna. In this way, he perfected his life. Material scientists and philosophers cannot give transcendental knowledge to their students. They have no qualifications to do so. However, a bona fide spiritual master who is one hundred percent Krsna conscious can impart complete transcendental knowledge, the science of Krsna, to his disciples, and thus he can solve all their problems in life.
Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Absolute Truth. "The Absolute Truth must descend from the absolute platform. It is not to be understood by the ascending process."11. Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, p. 172.11 One cannot, therefore, approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, directly. In the Adi Purana, Lord Krsna addresses Arjuna: "My dear Partha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee."12. Prabhupada, Nectar of Devotion, p. 103.12 Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu also says: "I am not a brahmana [teacher], I am not a ksatriya [administrator], I am not a grhastha [householder] and I am not a vanaprastha [retired man]. I do not belong to any of the eight varnasramas [occupational and spiritual divisions of society]. I am the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant--one hundred times the servant--of the maintainer of the gopis, Krsna." This is the perfect example given by the perfect master, Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Himself.
The spiritual master is, therefore, the transparent via medium through which to approach the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a great acarya (holy teacher), kindly gives us the following sublime instructions in his famous prayers for the glorification of the spiritual master:
yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasado yasyaprasadan na gatih kuto 'pi
dhyayan stuvams tasya yasas tri-sandhyam vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
"If one satisfies the spiritual master, the Supreme Personality of Godhead becomes satisfied. If one does not satisfy the spiritual master, there is no chance of one's being promoted to the plane of Krsna consciousness. I should therefore meditate upon him, pray for his mercy three times a day, and offer my respectful obeisances unto him, my spiritual master."Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Sri Gurvastaka, verse 8.13
This is the great Vaisnava (Krsna conscious) tradition. The duty of the disciple is to always think and act to satisfy the spiritual master in all circumstances. Therefore, one should execute the orders of the spiritual master one hundred per cent, without any tinge of personal motivation.