Establishing the Proof: Who Is a Real Guru?

Among the naive, of course, one may pass for a spiritual master by wearing robes and a beard, bearing a twinkle in one’s eye, performing some magic tricks, or speaking riddles. But intelligent people won’t settle for these outer trappings

Since we are all servants of the Supreme Lord, a bona fide guru must be a devotee of the Supreme Lord and teach others how to become His devotees. In fact, unless the guru is a devotee of Lord Krsna, he cannot understand transcendental knowledge—what to speak of imparting it to others.

Establishing the Proof: Who Is a Real Guru?
Excerpted from Back to Godhead Magazine 1977, Vol.12, No. 8

A recent Gallup poll revealed that more than nineteen million American adults are now practicing some form of yoga, meditation, or other “self-renewal” process. To meet this great demand, many “gurus” have appeared on the scene, each teaching his version of spiritual truth. Some have attracted large followings, and every disciple undoubtedly feels that his guru is the best. But for the serious seeker of truth, choosing a spiritual master cannot be a matter of mere sentiment. Spiritual life is factual and scientific, and we have to test the qualifications of any spiritual teacher by referring to the standard authority. This authority is scripture, especially the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures, which throughout history have provided the philosophical basis for the guru-disciple relationship. By referring to Vedic scriptures we can know the criteria for a bona fide spiritual master. Then we can easily see who is actually a spiritual master, and who is a fraud.

Examining the Guru’s Teachings

The first criterion, according to the Vedic scriptures, is the quality of the words the teacher speaks. (Even a fool may be highly esteemed—until he speaks.) In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Sri Krsna, the original spiritual master, tells his disciple Arjuna, “The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” In other words, a genuine guru must have realized the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, and he must be able to impart this truth to his disciple, thus freeing him (or her) from repeated birth and death.

We should therefore immediately reject as outright charlatans those so-called gurus who pretend to have some spiritual knowledge, but who teach their disciples only how to gain some material advantage—a slimmer body, better sex life, success in business, and so on. Real spiritual life means getting free from the agony of birth and death. How can a common man, unable to distinguish spirit from matter—and thus himself caught in the cycle of birth and death—claim to be a spiritual master? Such cheaters generally take up the “guru business” just to earn a living. But the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the essence of all Vedic scriptures, sternly warns, “No one should become a guru unless he can free his disciple from birth and death.”

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