The first step in spiritual life is to approach a bona fide spiritual master to solve life’s perplexities and get free from the repeated cycle of birth and death.
In this regard Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu says: brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja (Cc. Madhya 19.151) Even if one wanders for many millions of years, from the time of creation until the time of annihilation, one cannot get free from the path of material existence unless one receives shelter at the lotus feet of a pure devotee. As a monkey takes shelter of the branch of a banyan tree and thinks he is enjoying, the conditioned soul, not knowing the real interest of his life, takes shelter of the path of karma-kāṇḍa, fruitive activities. Sometimes he is elevated to the heavenly planets by such activities, and sometimes he again descends to earth. This is described by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as brahmāṇḍa bhramite. However, if by Kṛṣṇa’s grace one is fortunate enough to come under the shelter of the guru, by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa he receives lessons on how to execute devotional service to the Supreme Lord. In this way he receives a clue of how to get out of his continuous struggle up and down within the material world. Therefore the Vedic injunction is that one should approach a spiritual master. (SB 5.14.41 Purport)
To come in contact with the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is a chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master.
When we speak of brahmāṇḍa, we refer to the whole universe, or to the cluster of many millions of universes. In all universes, there are innumerable planets and innumerable living entities upon those planets in the air and in the water. There are millions and trillions of living entities everywhere, and they are engaged by māyā in suffering and enjoying the results of their fruitive activity life after life. This is the position of the materially conditioned living entities. Out of many of these living entities, if one is actually fortunate (bhāgyavān), he comes in contact with a bona fide spiritual master by Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.
Kṛṣṇa is situated in everyone’s heart, and if one desires something, Kṛṣṇa fulfills one’s desire. If the living entity by chance or fortune comes in contact with the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement and wishes to associate with that movement, Kṛṣṇa, who is situated in everyone’s heart, gives him the chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master. This is called guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāda. Kṛṣṇa is prepared to bestow His mercy upon all living entities, and as soon as a living entity desires the Lord’s mercy, the Lord immediately gives him an opportunity to meet a bona fide spiritual master. Such a person is fortified by both Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master. He is helped from within by Kṛṣṇa and from without by the spiritual master. Both are prepared to help the sincere living being become free from this material bondage. (Cc Madhya 19.151 purport)
One must approach a spiritual master who is in the disciplic succession
By nature’s own way the complete system of material activities is a source of perplexity for everyone. In every step there is perplexity, and therefore it behooves one to approach a bona fide spiritual master who can give one proper guidance for executing the purpose of life. All Vedic literatures advise us to approach a bona fide spiritual master to get free from the perplexities of life which happen without our desire. They are like a forest fire that somehow blazes without being set by anyone. Similarly, the world situation is such that perplexities of life automatically appear, without our wanting such confusion. No one wants fire, and yet it takes place, and we become perplexed. The Vedic wisdom therefore advises that in order to solve the perplexities of life and to understand the science of the solution, one must approach a spiritual master who is in the disciplic succession. A person with a bona fide spiritual master is supposed to know everything. One should not, therefore, remain in material perplexities but should approach a spiritual master. This is the purport of this verse. (Bg 2.7 Purport)
A bona fide, fully Krsna conscious spiritual master
Unless one takes shelter of a bona fide, fully Krsna conscious spiritual master, there is no chance of understanding Krsna. […] Only one who has surrendered to a pure devotee of Krsna and taken the dust of his lotus feet can understand Krsna. First one must understand how to get out of the clutches of maya. The only means is to become Krsna conscious. And to become Krsna conscious very easily, one must take shelter of a realized soul—a mahat, or mahatma—whose only interest is to engage in the service of the Supreme Lord. […] (SB 7.5.32 : Purport)
The criterion is that a devotee must know what Kṛṣṇa wants him to do. This can be achieved through the medium of the spiritual master who is a bona fide representative of Kṛṣṇa. (CC Madhya-lila 19.167)
A spiritual master means voluntarily accepting a great personality whose rules and regulations he must abide by
A spiritual master means voluntarily accepting a great personality whose rules and regulations he must abide by. This is accepting of spiritual master, voluntarily accepting somebody, “Yes, sir. Whatever you say, I’ll accept.” Śiṣya. Śiṣya means who abides by the rules. That is called śiṣya. Or English, “discipline.” From discipline, disciplic, disciplic succession. From the discipline. So either you take English or Sanskrit, the same meaning. Śiṣya means who accepts the ruling of his spiritual master; and disciple means also the same thing, who becomes disciplined by the spiritual master. (Lectures : Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.1 — Tittenhurst, London, September 12, 1969)
Not convention – he must actually be perfect
It is not convention. It is not convention. It is actually knowing that “I have approached this perfect man.” Just like the same example: if you approach the mother of the son, she is the perfect to know the father, and if you have known from the mother that “This boy’s father is this gentleman,” that knowledge is perfect. Even though you have not seen while the father was begotten, giving birth, it doesn’t matter. But because you have heard from the mother—she is perfect—therefore your knowledge received from her is perfect. Therefore it is written, tattva-darśibhiḥ, “who has seen the truth.” So you have to approach such person who has seen the truth. (Room Conversation with Professors — February 19, 1975, Caracas)
Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life
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.
The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession. The Lord is the original spiritual master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to his disciple. No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of the foolish pretenders. The Bhāgavatam says: dharmaṁ hi sākṣād-bhagavat-praṇītam—the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. One should not only hear submissively from the spiritual master; but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect. (Bg 4.34)
The spiritual master must be satisfied with the disciple
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is recognized Vedic wisdom, and the system of receiving Vedic knowledge is called avaroha-panthā, or the process of receiving transcendental knowledge through bona fide disciplic succession. For advancement of material knowledge there is a need for personal ability and researching aptitude, but in the case of spiritual knowledge, all progress depends more or less on the mercy of the spiritual master. The spiritual master must be satisfied with the disciple; only then is knowledge automatically manifest before the student of spiritual science. The process should not, however, be misunderstood to be something like magical feats whereby the spiritual master acts like a magician and injects spiritual knowledge into his disciple, as if surcharging him with an electrical current. The bona fide spiritual master reasonably explains everything to the disciple on the authorities of Vedic wisdom. The disciple can receive such teachings not exactly intellectually, but by submissive inquiries and a service attitude. The idea is that both the spiritual master and the disciple must be bona fide. (The First Step in God Realization: SB 2.1.10: Purport)
Blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned
Blind following and absurd inquiries. These things are condemned in this verse. Blind following means: “Oh, there is a swami. So many thousands of people are following. Let me become his disciple.” This is called blind following. You do not know what is that swami, whether he is a swami or a rascal. You do not know. But because everyone is going, “Oh, let me become his disciple.” This is blind following, without any knowledge, blind following. (Bhagavad-gītā 4.34-39—Los Angeles, January 12, 1969)
The development of submissiveness is the cause of proportionate spiritual realization
The Personality of Godhead in His all-pervading feature of Paramātmā enters every entity, from the biggest to the most minute. His existence can be realized by one who has the single qualification of submissiveness and who thereby becomes a surrendered soul. The development of submissiveness is the cause of proportionate spiritual realization, by which one can ultimately meet the Supreme Lord in person, as a man meets another man face to face. (The Spiritual Masters : Adi 1.55 : Purport)
A blank slate
While approaching a spiritual master, one should not be puffed up with his so-called qualification. He should be a blank slate. That is the… That is the requirement. He should forget. That, whatever nonsense he has learned, he should forget. Otherwise there will be no benefit by approaching spiritual master. (Lecture: Madhya-līlā 20.97-99 — New York, November 22, 1966)
The secret of success
The King said, “Bhaṭṭācārya, you are the most learned and experienced person I know. Therefore when you address Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as Lord Kṛṣṇa, I accept this as the truth.
This is the way to advance in spiritual science. One must accept the words of an ācārya, a bona fide spiritual master, to clear the path for spiritual advancement. This is the secret of success. However, one’s guide must be a spiritual master who is actually an unalloyed devotee strictly following the instructions of the previous ācārya without deviation. Whatever the spiritual master says must be accepted by the disciple. Only then is success certain. This is the Vedic system. (Cc Madhya-lila 10.17)
The secret of success in the cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is hearing from the right person
In the association of pure devotees, one becomes attached to hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord. In this way one can cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and as soon as this cultivation is advanced, one can become faithful to the Lord, devoted to the Lord and attached to the Lord, and thus one can very quickly attain full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The secret of success in the cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is hearing from the right person. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is never disturbed by the bodily necessities—namely eating, sleeping, mating and defending. (SB 4.29.39-40 Purport)
One cannot have transcendental knowledge simply by hearing from a guru who is not bona fide
I have tried to preach the pastimes of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s meeting with Rāmānanda Rāya in accordance with the notebooks of Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara.
At the end of every chapter, the author admits the value of the disciplic succession. He never claims to have written this transcendental literature by carrying out research work. He simply admits his indebtedness to the notes taken by Svarūpa Dāmodara, Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī and other authoritative persons. This is the way of writing transcendental books, which are never meant for so-called scholars and research workers. The process is mahā-jano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ: one has to strictly follow great personalities and ācāryas. Ācārya-vān puruṣo veda: one who has the favor of the ācārya knows everything. This statement made by Kavirāja Gosvāmī is very valuable for all pure devotees. Sometimes the prākṛtā sahajiyās claim that they have heard the truth from their guru. But one cannot have transcendental knowledge simply by hearing from a guru who is not bona fide. The guru must be bona fide, and he must have heard from his bona fide guru. Only then will his message be accepted as bona fide. Lord Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.1):
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ‘bravīt
“The Supreme Lord said, ‘I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.”
In this way the message is transmitted in the bona fide spiritual disciplic succession from bona fide spiritual master to bona fide student. Śrīla Kavirāja Gosvāmī therefore as usual concludes this chapter by reasserting his faith in the lotus feet of the six Gosvāmīs. Thus he is able to set forth this transcendental scripture, Caitanya-caritāmṛta. (CC Madhya-lila 8.312)
One has to accept a spiritual master whose guidance will make his life perfect
Now, to take such guidance means the spiritual master should also be a very perfect man. Otherwise, how can he guide? .. Therefore one has to select a spiritual master whose order, carrying, you’ll not commit a mistake. You see? Now, suppose if you accept a wrong person as spiritual master, and if you, if he guides you wrongly, then your whole life is spoiled. So one has to accept a spiritual master whose guidance will make his life perfect. That is the relation between spiritual master and disciple. It is not a formality. It is a great responsibility both for the disciple and for the spiritual master. (Lecture: Bhagavad-gita 2.7-11 — New York, March 2, 1966)
Sanātana Gosvāmī says that as bell metal can turn to gold when mixed with mercury in a chemical process, so, by the bona fide dīkṣā, or initiation method, anyone can become a Vaiṣṇava. One should take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master coming in the disciplic succession, who is authorized by his predecessor spiritual master. I his is called dīkṣā-vidhāna. Lord Kṛṣṇa states in Bhagavad-gītā, vyapāśritya: one should accept a spiritual master. By this process the entire world can be converted to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. (SB 4.8.54 Purport)