To Find a Qualified Guru, Study How to be a Good Disciple
By the mercy of a pure devotee even persons who are not even very religious can go beyond material dharma to ask higher questions about the soul. This is expressed in Vedic statement in the Brahma-sutra often quoted by Prabhupada: "athato brahma jijnasa" or now is the time to inquire about Brahman or the Absolute Truth. This inquiry is generally the fruit of religious life. Without coming to this point religious life is practically a waste--it is better than ordinary life, but still keeps one the the cycle of birth and death. Thus the pure devotees realizing how short life is point to the essence of the Vedic teachings, that we are soul, part of Krishna, and have to revive our eternal service to him.
When devotees ask me how to find a good spouse I give them advise I learned from various teachers I have had. I recommend that they make a list of the qualities their future spouse will possess, and another list stating what they are willing to give in return for those qualities. Relationships are a two way street. Some people don't even clarify what they are looking for, or are vague, which often results in their being dissatisfied. Therefore, it is good to really understand what you require in a spouse in order to meet your material and spiritual needs. Yet that is only half of the relationship. Then you have to really think how you can reciprocate with someone. One has to be introspective to understand one's qualities and strengths and what you can do to help you future spouse.
In a similar way devotees also ask me how to find a qualified guru, or to find "their" guru. I tell them to study the qualities in Prabhupada's books of a bonafide (sincere, genuine, authentic) guru, but to also study what it means to be a bonafide disciple.
Some complain that there are no qualified gurus, while some gurus lament that it is hard to find a good disciple. The connection between student and teacher, or disciple and guru, is about a relationship and the reciprocation this entails.
In the first chapter of the Gita some commentators have said that here Arjuna demonstrates the qualities of a good and intelligent disciple who knows about dharma. On the other hand he is also criticized because he used knowledge of dharma or the principles of religion to try to avoid following Krishna's instructions.
From the perspective of bhakti, the purpose of religion is to bring us to the door of spirituality and knowledge of the soul. Then we are meant to progress to understand the relationsihp between the soul and God, and to follow Krishna's order (devotional service or bhakti). We read in Prabhupada's purport both praise for Arjuna's humility and lack of ego as well as criticism that he was trying to avoid his duty and service to Krishna by using religious understanding as justification. In another situation Arjuna's arguments would have been valid, but because Krishna desired that he fight to reestablish dharma and demonstrate the glory of his devotees, Arjuna's "moral" presentation was not appropriate.
The general process of the Vedas to first elevate people to follow the Vedas, which means to be religious. It is said in some Vedic texts, "athato dharma jijnasa", now is the time to inquire about religion. Religious life is superior to just animal life or a life of only following the animal propensities of bodily maintenance. Religious life colors our life with a Godly brush, helping people to live in the knowledge that there is a God and his laws such as karma and reincarnation. Still the thinking here is that we can use religious principles to enjoy material life. One type of such practice is the karmakanda section of the Vedas where people seek to enjoy here and be elevated to the heavenly planets for superior celestial enjoyment. This is condemn throughout the Gita.
By the mercy of a pure devotee even persons who are not even very religious can go beyond material dharma to ask higher questions about the soul. This is expressed in Vedic statement in the Brahma-sutra often quoted by Prabhupada: "athato brahma jijnasa" or now is the time to inquire about Brahman or the Absolute Truth. This inquiry is generally the fruit of religious life. Without coming to this point religious life is practically a waste--it is better than ordinary life, but still keeps one in the cycle of birth and death. Thus the pure devotees, realizing how short life is, point to the essence of the Vedic teachings which teach us that we are soul, part of Krishna, and have to revive our eternal service to him. It is so important an inquiry, that even if one hasn't been religious in this life---no matter, try to understand your soul and its relationship to Krishna, because this understanding can save one. If we understand Krishna even to some extent, then our life is successful, and we are progressing on the path to eternal service to him, our true friend, the real love of our life.
And there are even higher inquires we have received being in the movement of Lord Chaitanya: "athato rasa jijnasa" or the inquiry about our relationship with the Lord in pure love or prema. Generally there are four goals given for the Vedas: dharma (religion), sense gratification (kama), economic development (artha), and finally moksha (or liberation). Lord Chaitanya and his followers have given us the fifth and ultimate goal of the Vedas--prema. Shri Chaitanya teaches us that: prema pumartho mahan: to achieve love of Godhead is the highest perfection of life.
Shri Chaitanya gave us the essence of the real subjects of the Vedas. He described the complete Vedic revelation in three divisions: There are topics explaining our relationship with the Supreme (sambandha-gyan); there are processes for developing that relationship (abhideya-gyan); and there are details about the ultimate goal of that relationship (prayojana-gyan), which is loving service to Krishna.
The special contribution of the followers of Lord Chaitanya (who represent and understand him) is to look at the different forms of Godhead through the eyes of rasa or bhava. In other words, from the view of tattva (or philosophical truth) all forms of God are one, yet from the bias of spiritual emotion, there is a gradation. From a devotees perspective there is very little taste in the Brahman feature of God, since one cannot exchange rasa or relationship with that feature of God. There is more possibility of rasa with Vishnu, and more with Rama, and most with Krishna. And Krishna has aspects which are called perfect, more perfect, and most perfect. Thus we have different possibilities of relationship with Krishna of Dwarka, Mathura, and Vrindavana. In Krishna of Vrindavana there is the highest possibility of rasa or relationship in the most intimate loving way.
We have spoken about our good fortune and how we are living by Krishna's mercy only. Part of that great good fortune is the blessing to understand the esoteric and true purpose of the Vedas. More then just material intelligence or academics is required--we require love and devotion. Studying the scriptures is meant to fuel our spiritual practice, but we shouldn't think we have gone somewhere just with a head full of knowledge. We have to also develop humility of our ineligibility, realizing that we require the mercy of Shri Chaitanya and Nitai, and their representative, Shri Guru. We are not independent or self sufficient.
Another reason that Arjuna teachers us how to be an ideal disciple is that although he first argued from religious principles he finally realized that religion and material knowledge could not solve his existential crisis. He has a high level of necessity to resolve his problems, and thus he surrendered to Krishna:
"Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me." [BG 2.7]
And in the 4th chapter Krishna teaches us the necessary qualities of the sincere disciple:
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." [ Bg 4.34]
The 3 essential requirement list here are:
We inquire from the guru in submission and reciprocate by service to help him in his service. In addition we also need to have a sense of urgency for spiritual perfection. No one begins as a pure devotee, yet we still require to understand the goal, while being introspective enough to know what we can do. We can't run away from our material duties in frustration in the name of spirituality. Of course I am speaking generally. Different situations and mentalities require unique strategies--which is one of the reason we require a guru. One size doesn't fit all. Everything begins with faith, which is created in good association. Then we have to gradually develop a mature desire to obtain the goal. Undoubtedly we may have mixed motivations initially, though it may take awhile for us to realize this.
To sum up, if we truly realize--like Arjuna--that we need help to be successful in our life and we feel an urgency for spiritual perfection we should seek out a teacher who can help us. We need to study both the qualities of a genuine guru, and those of a genuine disciple. We can hear from many devotees, though eventually one may capture our faith. Our guru has the potency to remove our doubts and inspire us to practice by example and instructions. If we have a faith in a particular devotee we can seek initiation. It is sometimes said that initially the student and guru evaluate each other for a period of time to see if it is a good fit.
We may not feel we can uphold some of the vows at initiation. Even if we can follow them easily no one should consider themselves qualified for this path. We have to be humble and understand that ours is a path of mercy, not our high qualifications. Our "eligibility" is our faith and desire to be Krishna conscious. So we have to approach a guru we have faith in, who inspires us by his or her example, and honestly speak of whatever impediments we feel there might be for remaining fixed on the path. Then we can leave it to them to make a determination. Our connection to our guru is a gracious grand from above, rather then a reward for our qualifications to receive it--though generally it is said that no one can seriously take to bhakti without having practiced in it in their previously life. Thus some people come for only a short time, others for their whole life.
Another point is that Krishna will reciprocate with our insincerity and intensity of purpose. I will finish by giving Prabhupada's explantion of this point:
"Krishna helps a sincere person; as stated in the Chaitanya-charitamrita, guru-krsna-prasade: by the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna, one attains the path of salvation, devotional service. If one sincerely searches for spiritual salvation, then Krishna, being situated in everyone's heart, gives him the intelligence to find a suitable spiritual master. By the grace of a spiritual master like Maitreya, one gets the proper instruction and advances in his spiritual life."[purport to SB 3.20.4]