Recognizing a genuine guru

From Babaji’s commentary on Anuccheda 202.4 from the Bhakti Sandarbha:

The śikṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru are one and the same person

Śrī Jīva makes a distinction between the śravaṇa-guru (the inceptive instructor) and the śikṣā-guru (the formal preceptor). Usually they are the same person. First, an aspirant begins to hear about the Absolute Reality ( tattva ) from a devotee who is deeply versed in such truth ( śravaṇa-guru ). Later on, this same śravaṇa-guru is generally accepted as the person’s śikṣā-guru to learn from him how bhakti is to be cultivated. This śikṣā-guru is the same as the initiating guru ( dīkṣā-guru ), because śikṣā here is related to bhajana and not just philosophical education. Bhajana-śikṣā naturally requires that one has previously accepted dīkṣā.

There is a common belief among certain groups of devotees that the śikṣā and dīkṣā gurus are different. On the bhakti-mārga, they are usually the same person. In some special cases, they may be different. Such was the case with Śrī Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya, and Śyāmānanda Prabhu. They all studied under Jīva Gosvāmī but had their individual dīkṣā-gurus. The śravaṇa-guru is what most people call the śikṣā-guru, and the śikṣā-guru is what people usually call the dīkṣā-guru. The purpose of dīkṣā culminates in śikṣā , as indicated by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī:

guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam

One should take shelter of a genuine guru, accept formal initiation (dīkṣā) from him in the Kṛṣṇa-mantra, and take instructions from him [regarding bhāgavata-dharma ]. (BRS 1.2.74)

Accordingly, Śrī Jīva writes,

“The person who was previously the śravaṇa-guru , or the inceptive instructor from whom one begins to hear, becomes the śikṣā-guru , or the formal preceptor who guides one along the path of bhajana .”

The fundamental necessity for an authentic guru stands in sharp contrast to the present day age of the internet and “do it yourself,” which leads people to believe that they can acquire spiritual knowledge on their own. But because bhakti by its essential nature is dependent on the grace of realized devotees, it is vital to accept a qualified guru, otherwise one’s progress will be severely inhibited, and one will not be successful in attaining the ultimate goal.

The three qualifications of a genuine guru

Often the question is raised, “how can a genuine guru be recognized?” To address this issue, Śrī Jīva cites a famous statement ( SB 11.3.21 ) by Sage Prabuddha, who specifies three qualifications of a genuine guru. The first is that he should be deeply versed in śāstra , which is the sound form of Brahman ( śābde brahmaṇi niṣṇātam ). This is possible only if the guru himself has previously studied from a qualified guru, because nobody can become expert in śāstra by self-study. In this regard, the following statements are pertinent:

ācāryāddhaiva vidyā viditā sādhiṣṭhaṁ prāpatīti

Only the knowledge received from an ācārya leads one to the highest truth. (CHU 4.9.3)

śāstrajño’pi svātantryeṇa brahma-jñānānveṣanaṁ na kuryāt

Even a person who is learned in the scriptures should not endeavor to acquire knowledge of Brahman independently [without a guru]. (Śāṅkara-bhāṣya , MUU 1.2.12)

ācāryavān puruṣo veda

A person who has a guru becomes acquainted with the truth. (CHU 6.14.2)

svato jñānaṁ kutaḥ puṁsāṁ bhaktir vairāgyam eva vā

Nobody can obtain knowledge of the Absolute (jñāna), bhakti , or genuine detachment (vairāgya) by his own effort. (SB 3.7.39)

For a human being who is conditioned by beginningless ignorance, immediate awareness of the Self is impossible by one’s own effort. Only one who is distinct (anya) [from such conditioned empirical selfhood (jīvākhya-puruṣād anyas tattvajñaḥ)] and who has directly realized the truth, can impart knowledge to him. ( SB 11.22.10 )

These statements imply that one’s guru must belong to an authentic lineage, or paramparā , to be genuine. For example, to be a good professor of a subject, one must have attended an accredited institution of learning. Other qualifications, of course, must also be there, but this requirement is primary.

The second qualification is that the guru must have direct experience of Absolute Reality, or the transcendental Brahman (pare brahmaṇi niṣṇātam). If he is devoid of such immediate intuitive knowing, he cannot endow his students with this direct seeing capacity. To verify if the guru satisfies the first condition is straightforward enough even for a beginner, but the second condition is impossible to know, both because of the subjectivity of consciousness and because the beginner has little or no experience. Nevertheless, one can take some guidelines from the preceding sections where the characteristics of various types of devotees have been analyzed.

The third characteristic is that the guru should be profoundly established in the state of inner tranquility (upaśamāśrayam), which Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī glosses as the state of having subjugated all vitiated emotions, such as anger and greed. He adds that this quality is the signifier of the guru’s absorption in the transcendental Brahman. This means that he himself is firmly fixed on the path. He is not just a teacher who gives lectures without adhering to the principles of bhakti . He must exhibit a high degree of moral integrity, freedom from worldly desires, and an absence of lust and greed. He should be without material motivation and devoid of exploitative tendencies. All of this follows as a natural consequence of the second qualification, the moment to moment immediate intuition of Bhagavān.

According to Śrī Nārada’s statement cited at the end of this anuccheda ( SB 4.29.51 ), such a guru is Bhagavān Himself (sa gurur hariḥ). The reason for the guru’s oneness of being with Bhagavān is that it is Bhagavān Himself who manifests in the form of the guru to liberate a jīva . In like manner, Kṛṣṇa says, “Know the ācārya to be Me” ( SB 11.17.27 ).


The śikṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru are one and the same person.

śāstra is not to be learned by self-study but from the guru

There are three qualifications of a genuine guru. The guru

  1. should be deeply versed in śāstra
  2. must have direct experience of Absolute Reality
  3. have a high degree of moral integrity, freedom from worldly desires, and an absence of lust and greed.

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