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The Importance of Accepting a Spiritual Master

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On the path of perfection in spiritual life, it’s essential to receive guidance from a guru, a spiritual master or guide, because we can’t directly or immediately approach God on our own.

If you want to meet the president or prime minister, you can’t expect to just knock on his door and get an audience. First you need an appointment from his secretary, or an introduction by a mutual friend. It is even more so with God. We each have a direct relationship with God because we are His children, but realizing and acting in that direct relationship is possible after we’ve become pure, which is a process. A spiritual master selflessly trains and guides us in reviving our relationship with God, and is always willing to help in difficult times.

All sorts of people present themselves as spiritual masters. So trying to find a genuine master can be confusing. By what qualities can a spiritual master be recognized? They

  • are well versed in the Vedic scriptures and follow their principles
  • identify themselves as a humble servant of God and never claim to be God
  • act with full control of their senses, and never fall under their control
  • are impeccable in their moral character
  • are fully dedicated to serving God, at all times, with body, mind and words
  • follow a guru who belongs to a genuine line of gurus, a line that extends all the way back to Krishna, the original spiritual master of everyone

When we strictly follow the guidance of such a spiritual master, our success in spiritual life is guaranteed.

Spiritual Masters in the Hare Krishna Movement

Often, people who don’t live near Hare Krishna temples want to know how they would go about finding a spiritual master in the Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON).

First, it’s important to understand that accepting a spiritual master is not something done blindly. It is not a formality. The relationship between the spiritual master and the disciple is the most important relationship in one’s life. It is entered into with great care. When one accepts a spiritual master, one accepts him as one’s guide for life. One is to accept him as God’s representative and follow his instructions. Initiation is not just a ritual; it is a very grave matter.

It is said that when a person is ready to accept a guru, then Krishna will send the guru to him. There is not a list of gurus to pick from. Although each guru in ISKCON has been authorized by ISKCON’s governing body, one has to select as a guru the person who inspires one in spiritual life after developing a relationship with them.

If your present situation doesn’t allow you regular access to spiritual masters in ISKCON, one option is to buy recordings of lectures by gurus from the tape ministries listed on Krishna.com. If you find that one of these spiritual teachers particularly inspires you in Bhakti, then you could write to him and start a student/teacher relationship. You could also buy books by ISKCON gurus, many of which are sold on Krishna.com. Most sannyasis in ISKCON are gurus, so if someone is called “Swami” or “Goswami,” there’s a very good chance that he accepts disciples.