The Absolute Necessity of a Bona Fide Spiritual Master
“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.” (Bhagavad Gita 4.34)
For one who actually wants to make advancement in spiritual life having a bona fide spiritual master to instruct him and show him the path is not optional, it is essential. Without a bona fide spiritual master we have no strength or power ourselves to escape from the clutches of maya. We can not become free from this prison of maya without the help of a bona fide spiritual master.
If you simply look at Krishna’s words here in this verse you will see that the whole principle of the guru disciple relationship is that the disciple wants to become self-realized, he wants to become liberated, he wants to develop pure love for Krishna and go back home back to Godhead and the spiritual master has to be able to guide his disciples in such a way that they can achieve these benefits by following his instructions. It is of course simple logic that if you want to learn something you have to find a teacher who knows that subject perfectly. He can teach it to you because he knows it himself. If you want to learn to become a carpenter there is no point in going to a baker and asking him to teach you how to be a carpenter. No. The baker does not know anything about carpentry. If you want to learn that art you have to find a teacher who has perfected that art himself. Otherwise he may bluff you and charge you some big fees for teaching you but he can not teach you actually because he does not know the art himself.
Therefore naturally if one wants to advance in spiritual life he has to find a teacher who is advanced in spiritual life. But of course we don’t want to just advance in spiritual life, we want to become liberated from the material concept of life and we want to uncover our original constitutional positions as eternal servants of Krishna and we want to engage in in pure devotional service. So Krishna is clearly giving the qualifications of such a bona fide guru in this verse. Krishna is stressing that the qualifications of the guru we are looking for is that he is self-realized and that he has seen the truth. Otherwise, if he is not himself self-realized and if he has not seen the truth himself he is not capable of guiding you in such a way that you will become self-realized and see the truth. No. If you have a guru who is not himself a liberated soul he can not help you become a liberated soul. So we have to be very careful to accept only a pure devotee of Krishna as our guru.
Another very important qualification of the spiritual master is he must be following the bona fide disciplic succession. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without 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 disciples. No one can become spiritually relized by manufacturing his own process as we see so many modern so-called gurus are doing. The Srimad Bhagavatam says that the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Mental speculation and dry arguments can not help one progress in spiritual life.
One must 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 leaned 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.
So one can not get transcendental knowledge without surrendering to, and serving in a humble and submissive way a self-realized spiritual master who has himself “seen the truth.”
It is not that one should only hear from the spiritual master but he must actually get a clear understanding from him and this is only possible by genuine submission, service and inquiries.
A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind towards his disciples, therefore when the student is submissive and always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect.
One has to be very, very careful when selecting a spiritual master as there are so many bogus so-called spiritual masters who take advantage of the sincere seekers of the truth and convince them to become their disciples but such bogus spiritual masters have no potency, no power to give you Krishna, and will simply exploit you for their own material purposes.