Gurus and Spiritual Masters

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The spiritual master and disciple

People these days call any kind of expert a "guru," but for our purposes guru means a spiritual master, a teacher of Krishna consciousness, considered in relation to his or her disciple or student.

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna recommends the guru-disciple system, parampara, as the way spiritual knowledge should be passed on. He says anyone seeking the Absolute Truth should approach a guru with humility, relevant questions, and a service attitude.

A spiritual master's responsibility is to help the disciple reestablish his or her relationship with Krishna by engaging them in various kinds of devotional service, such as chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. A genuine guru presents Krishna's teachings exactly as they've been passed down through the parampara system. Anyone can become a spiritual master, provided they strictly follow their own guru and understand the science of Krishna consciousness.

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The Sanskrit word guru means "heavy" or "grave," indicating someone possessing great knowledge and responsibility.

There are varieties of gurus. Anyone giving Krishna conscious instruction is known as a siksha-guru. One who shows the path of Krishna consciousness is called the vartma-pradarshaka or patha-pradarshaka guru. The spiritual master who gives initiation is known as the diksha guru. One may have many siksha gurus but only one diksha guru. Usually, the person who gives us the most instruction later on becomes our initiating guru.

The spiritual master is offered all the respect given to Krishna. As far as the disciple is concerned, the guru is Krishna's direct representative, and therefore as good as Krishna Himself. Krishna instructs us from within our hearts as Paramatma, Supersoul, and the spiritual master is considered to be the external manifestation of Supersoul.

In the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, many devotees have accepted the duty of initiating disciples. Srila Prabhupada—the founder-acharya of ISKCON—wanted all of his disciples to become qualified gurus.

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We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:

  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.34:

    "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."

  • Mundaka Upanishad, 1.2.12, as referenced in Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.21.35, Purport:

    "In order to learn the transcendental science, one must approach the bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession, who is fixed in the Absolute Truth."

  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 15.108:

    "It is the duty of every human being to surrender to a bona fide spiritual master. Giving him everything-body, mind and intelligence-one must take a Vaishnava initiation from him."

  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.128:

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

  • Upadeshamrita, Nectar of Instruction, 1:

    "A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind's demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.3.21:

    "Any person who seriously desires to achieve real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of his spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and 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."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5.5.18:

    "One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.12.32, purport:

    "Patha-pradarshaka-guru means "the guru, or the spiritual master, who shows the way." Such a guru is sometimes called shiksha-guru. . .It is the duty of the shiksha-guru or diksha-guru to instruct the disciple in the right way, and it depends on the disciple to execute the process. According to shastric [scriptural] injunctions, there is no difference between shiksha-guru and diksha-guru, and generally the shiksha-guru later on becomes the diksha-guru."

  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 1.35, purport:

    "The expert spiritual master knows well how to engage his disciple’s energy in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, and thus he engages a devotee in a specific devotional service according to his special tendency. A devotee must have only one initiating spiritual master because in the scriptures acceptance of more than one is always forbidden. There is no limit, however, to the number of instructing spiritual masters one may accept. Generally a spiritual master who constantly instructs a disciple in spiritual science becomes his initiating spiritual master later on."

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