How does one recognize a real spiritual master?

Manidhara Das
26 Jan 2021
This question and herewith this text is relevant only to those who are serious about the ultimate purpose of human life, the return back home back to Godhead.
Krsna Himself states in His Bhagavad Gita that He cannot be directly approached, herewith putting an end to all the sentimental motions we hear from those, who without proper spiritual guidance „can hear God in their heart“ or „saw Him just yesterday“. Materially motivated religious systems are filled with such sentimental „revelations“, but the real proof of being connected to God is to be connected to His bonafide representative. Then spiritual life becomes tangible and evident for all to see.
We can see and judge the  CHARACTER of such person being connected to spiritual reality, as his actions are based on his full awareness that EVERYTHING is connected to God and is His property, while we are the receivers of whatever was given to us for our disposal.
Studying Srila Prabhupada´s personality we find all the symptoms of a pure devotee being exhibited to the maximum degree and as a guru, spiritual instructor, He is simply a medium to reflect Krsna´s mission, His desire, His nature and His words contained in all the bonafide scriptures. The nature of such a pure transmitor of God´s Supreme Will is clearly described in the scriptures, including how rare it is to meet such supremely pure devotee of the Lord.
The following are three slokas from Srimad Bhavatam, 11.7.44-46, which perfectly describe such a pure devotee, without whom we may never be able to approach the Supreme Lord. These slokas can serve directly as the glorification of Srila Prabhupada Himself, who by evident RESULTS demonstrated the potency of an empowered acharya, who spread Krsna Consciousness around the world as nobody before.
Here King Yadu is instructed by a brahmana avadhuta, who was obviously entirely detached from this material world of illusions:
„O King, a saintly person is just like water because he is free from all contamination, gentle by nature, and by speaking creates a beautiful vibration like that of floawing water. Just by seeing, touching or hearing such a saintly person, the living entity is purified, just as one is cleansed by contact with pure water. Thus a saintly person, just like a holy place, purifies all those who contact him because he always chants the glories of the Lord.“
SB. 11.7.44
Studying the history of ISKCON, one can be only amazed how Srila Prabhupada managed to transform His disciples from hallucinated hippies who were totally ignorant of Vedic Culture, into empowered representatives of a Mission, they gradually found out to be meant to save the human race from the deceit of its leaders and the degradation into animal forms of life.
Unable to understand the early words of Srila Prabhupada, these desperate youngsters were first simply amazed by Srila Prabhupada´s „external“ features such as the glance of His eyes reflecting His pure consciousness, His ways to move, and the mere sound of His voice.
I remember not understanding one word of His lecture, after all, I barely spoke an English word  when I join His movement as an eighteen year old boy,. But I have listened to His presentation over and over. I had never heard such a voice before, it seemed to reflect what I was seeking. It was filled with such heartfelt compassion and concern, yet it was firm and bereft of any doubt. It seemed to provide an absolute refuge for such a heavily speculating artist as myself.
As if entrusted with the most important message, at that time not known to me, the sound of the voice commanded serious approach, while simultaneously never losing it´s supremely personal appeal.
I listened and listened until the tape broke. Then I joined the followers of Srila Prabhupada who often also had no profound philosophical understanding, but were simply entirely devoted to the personality of Srila Prabhupada, whose voice and mere appearance lifted them all over their own conditioning, making the blind see stars in the heavens, the lame dancing and the voiceless reciting poetry.
Until today we may wonder how Srila Prabhupada managed such a seemingly impossible task of gathering so many unqualified and make them qualified, and how those who still reflect at least some part of His potency manage the same.
Like a mirror reflecting the sun has an illuminating power as well, so only those who reflect Srila Prabhupada's words purely can see some results of similar nature in their actions. To the extent that our reflective power is hindered by our own conditioning, our own tendency to speculate and invent consequently our own mentally prefabricated patterns, to that degree we may, despite LOOKING like devotees, lack the power to achieve something tangible in terms of the mission Srila Prabhupada entrusted to us.
Such paramahamsa devotees like Srila Prabhupada are extremely rare. The meeting with them is compared with the emerging of an ocean tortoise to the surface of the ocean, a rare occassion, and sticking its head in the hole of a floating piece of wood, which was carried by the streams of the vast ocean all over the world.  So rare is the meeting of a pure devotee and the conditioned soul, which may emerge after millions of lifetimes to the surface of the material ocean and meet such a mahabhagavata of the highest order.
Those who get at least a madhyam adhikari guru who is exemplary due to his absolute faith in Srila Prabhupada's words, and is strictly following the rules he vowed to his spiritual master to adhere, are lucky.
Such madhyama adhikari guru will naturally have the strong desire to connect everybody to his paramahamsa guru. To represent somebody purely means becoming pure oneself.
As Srila Prabhupada once said „as I do follow strictly my spiritual master, a liberated paramahamsa of the highest class, actually I also must be liberated myself“.
Madhyama adhikari guru will also be highly introspective in regards to his nature and considers himself as the SERVANT of all those who came to seek his advice.
He will STRONGLY and instinctively oppose demoniac influences, and exposes those with the demoniac mentality without concern for his or his followers comforts. He may not be pandit or very learned, but his faith in the right path he is teaching cannot be shaken, as his heart is fully dedicated to Srila Prabhupada and His words.
Such madhyama adhikari guru wil naturaly inspire his disciples to exhibit the same qualities he has and so secure the continuity of guru parampara. At times he comes to understand that some particular disciple of his is advancing beyond his ability to advise him, he will gladly direct such disciple in regards to specific issues to another madhyama or even uttama adhikari guru, where such sincere follower can find satisfactory answers in terms of his enthusiastic quest.
Madhyama adhikari is absolutely non envious and sees the reclaim of a conditioned soul from grips of maya as a congregational effort of siksa gurus, who will be ultimately assisting him as he is the only diksa guru.  And so the disciples of such a wonderful devotee may to the degree of their ability also exhibit wonderful qualities, if they follow his good instructions.
Then there are those who can be considered unfortunate since they receive initiation from a kanistha adhikari. Kanistha adhikaris may be firm in their ritualistic practice, but have little connection to their guru. As we see today, they can go on lecturing for hours without even mentioning Srila Prabhupada's name. Hence Srila Prabhupada described such devotees as „hardly a devotee“. Nevertheless, they will profess as uttama adhikaris and eagerly use any possibility to impose the distinct status they believe to have upon a public.
Considering themselves the MASTERS, not the servants of the public, they will be excited about titles and designations of any sort, believing the institutional hierarchy provides automatically spiritual merit. They will oppose heavily madhyama adhikaris, as they consider them to be a threat and inferior to their pseudo-paramahamsa self-assigned status. 
In name of a pseudo-spiritual institution they will attack anybody who dares to question their position. They will do so not directly, but by dint of their befooled followers, to whom they will offer a cheap salvation in return. Such salvation will be only mentally conceived, as it is always the case in the mood of personal cult worship. It has nothing to do with real spiritual progress. Hence anger and greed are a classical symptoms of  a kanistha adhikari, who may be even impressed by demonic policies such a „money is the honey“ and „the goal sanctifies the means“.

Such kanistha adhikari may even appear to be learned, but he will always use the scriptures in egocentric sense, always seeking name, fame and glory for himself. Those disciples who assume the same materialistic qualities, will be blessed by such kanistha adhikari guru. Those disciples who ultimately learn to understand his falsehood and to distance themselves from his corrupted actions, will be by him rejected in the name of „guru aparadha“.
Being not able to invent anything on his own, such kanistha adhikari guru will use Srila Prabhupada's words, claiming to be His follower as well, but ultimately he will be influenced by mayavadis or atheists, who provide a seemingly faster way to fame than through Srila Prabhupada.
Those who come under the influence of such guru are unfortunate, their lives will be filled with gloom and they will be bereft of any happiness, derived from full scale involvement in the mission of Srila Prabhupada. As a bent mirror, such kanistha adhikari guru may reflect the images of Srila Prabhupada, but since his reflecting power has been corrupted, what his disciples get as result is either a mere reflection of Srila Prabhupada, or something entirely different.
In order to confirm his status, such kanistha adhikari will educate and train his disciples in the same corrupted  understanding  of „Krsna Consciousness“, bringing about new generations of kanistha adhikaris who will use Srila Prabhupada's movement only for their own economic betterment, or if economically incompetent, at least they will define their shortcoming as a virtue or detachment. Such rascals are plenty, as the foolish part of the population always outnumbers the more intelligent one. They offer a fast and cheap way to progress spiritually, and people in general like it.
Nevertheless, both the kanistha adhikari guru and his disciples, if they don't take shelter in madhyam adhikari guru, will go to hell for misleading so many.
„Saintly persons become powerful by execution of austerities. Their consciousness is unshakable because they do not try to enjoy anything within the material world. Such naturally liberated sages accept foodstuffs that are offered to them by destiny, and if by chance they happen to eat contaminated food, they are not affected, just like fire, which burns up contaminated substances which are offered to it.“
How many of our sinful reactions Srila Prabhupada had to absorb! How many he had to neutralize so we can somewhat peacefully proceed in Krsna Consciousness!
Our conditioned mind will never understand. As mentioned before, Srila Prabhupada took the most fallen ones and made them to dancing preachers of a movement, which may bring about the ultimate happiness to everybody.
The absence of material desires is so relieving, envigorating and so engladening. Srila Prabhupada transferred our material desires into spiritual ones, and gave us the higher taste, which made the renunciation of lower taste so easy. What materialists considered austerity we considered simply „absence of trouble“. Srila Prabhupada showed us how to be truly spiritually ecstatic. He gave a real meaning to the sastric expression „ahaituki apratihata“, which He explained as „not depending on material conditions“ or „can never be stopped by material conditions“. Indeed, once started, there is no way to stop the process, and finally the spreading of Krsna Consciousness, as it is spiritual.
Srila Prabhupada defied wars, pandemias, political oppression and climate conditions. He kept on preaching and traveled fearlessly under all circumstances, attracting more and more desperate souls to the transcendental nature of the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. How much contamination He had to face on the way!
Dealing with cultures with no culture, where men and women copulate in public, dealing with arrogant mayavadis and materially motivated disciples, He could have seen enemies everywhere. But like Prahlad maharaja He survived all the ordeals and took up all the challenges spiritually unharmed. 
When fire is fuelled by small pieces of wood, it simply burns them to ashes and increases its power. But when a huge log of wood falls into the fire, it extinguishes the fire by its weight.
Such is the power of a pure devotee .By His presence He is simply extinguishing the forest fire of samsara where all the living entities burn in the heat of their own material desires, birth after birth.
This is what Srila Prabhupada did to us. By His power and His spiritual weight He simply extinguished our material hankering and replaced it by spiritual after Krsna's Lotus Feet.
„A saintly person, just like fire, sometimes appears in a concealed form and at other times reveals himself. For the welfare of the conditioned souls who desire real happiness, a saintly person may accept the worshipable position of spiritual master, and thus like fire he burns to ashes all the past and future sinful reactions of his worshipers by mercifully accepting their offerings.“
SB 11.7.46
Once my godbrother Harikesha das who was a considerable time Srila Prabhupada's personal servant, told me a story: Once, when finishing His meal, Srila Prabhupada was  asked to come down and give a lecture to an excited crowd of disciples and guests. Srila Prabhupada got up, washed His hands, applied tilaka in a perfect way as usual, checked His dress, took up His can and just before opening the door He looked in wittty way on His servant, and said as if entering a stage in a grand theatre, „Now I am an acharya“...and smiling entered the huge roaring kirtan boiling bellow in the temple room.
This small incident demonstrates that despite that Srila Prabhupada was a real acharya, the one who teaches by example, He never lost His personal characteristics as a wonderful person, who could  pay attention to any child, any bird or any cat coming His way. Following Srila Prabhupada personally one founds oneself mesmerized by the beauty of the details, while simultaneously becoming a part of such a grand global movement, which defied our imagination.
Sometimes Srila Prabhupada withdrew Himself from the public, but mostly He was at service of everyone. I personaly experienced, as described in another text on this website, Srila Prabhupada in His last stage of His lilas, when He could not restrain His inner trasncendental emotions anymore and manifested them externally. To behold such an exhibition of entirely transcendental ecstasies was for a conditioned soul like myself amazing. But in most of His preaching, Srila Prabhupada controlled such emotions, knowing well that the audience is not qualified to see them or even worse, it may imitate them cheaply on their own.
We all knew that while being with us, Srila Prabhupada had His own spiritual life, which was full of His dynamic exchanges with the Supreme Lord. Even we could not follow, we could see nothing of it, we knew it is there. To be with Srila Prabhupada even for a few seconds was so exciting as He was most personally involved,  and simultaneously He had a life on His own, full of His own transcendental emotions and ecstasies.
He Himself described the life of a devotee as a life of an unchaste wife, who may externally serve her husband, but always thinks when she may meet her lover. That does not mean we as disciples were for Srila Prabhupada „external“. Not at all. But He did His duty as a general of International Society for Krsna Consciousness while also having His „home“ being with Krsna directly. Even His movement is non-different from Krsna (at least it should be!), still we are one and simultaneously different by nature.
And so to see the multiple existence of Srila Prabhupada was exciting and never tiring experience. To be part of something so personal and so great simultaneously is an unique experience. As there is no past in Krsna Consciousness, just presence and future, anybody even today can experience the same closeness of Srila Prabhupada while serving in His never ending family of followers. He is the Founder of this family, which is to the degree we follow Him, part of another bigger family -  Krsna's family.
No wonder Srila Prabhupada described the family concept as being originally spiritual as we are originally parts of Krsna's family, related to Him in so many ways. Now we have forgotten, but supremely empowered devotees like Srila Prabhupada come and remind us again, waking us up from our millions of lifetimes slumber to our real consciousness, Krsna Consciousness, which is the only non-sectarian consciousness we can find, as it comprises everything in Krsna's creation. 
All this can be understood, when we accept Srila Prabhupada's teachings as being the eyes to perceive the universal nature of Krsna Cosnciousness.
Srila Prabnupada is the representative of Krsna, who is the original spiritual master, adi-guru.
The validity of any spiritual master can be easily recognize by those, who accept Srila Prabhupada as ultimate reference in their search after a bonifide spiritual guide.