I was asked in Italian a question that more or less says so:
“Should I prefer Iskcon as a spiritual institution over others? And should I prefer an Iskcon spiritual master over others? “
Here I translate my answer.
What we know for sure is that to advance in the spiritual life it is necessary to accept a Guru and to take initiation from him.
Here a very broad theme is shortened.
Tad viddhi pranipatena … (Bhagavad-gita 4.34)
One must seek a Guru (pranipata), ask him questions (pariprasna), offer him service (seva) and take initiation (upadesa).
While for the first three things the reasons are obvious, doubts may arise for the fourth.
One question could be, is there a difference between being initiated and not being initiated?
Srila Prabhupada answers:
“There is a vast difference between being initiated and not being initiated. Those who are initiated are authorized, those who are not initiated are not authorized … (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Satsvarupa November 14, 1969).
Therefore Srila Prabhupada definitively states that initiation is necessary.
Now, who is a Guru and what are the qualities from which I can recognize him?
Out of hundreds of sastric statements I mention the following:
tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet
samit panih śrotriyaṁ brahma-niṣṭham
(Mundaka Upanisad, 1.2.12)
In this verse we find both the fundamental qualities of a disciple and of a spiritual master.
As for the second, it is said that the Guru must have a complete knowledge and must have heard it from a Guru, that is, that he himself must have been a disciple (srotriyam), therefore a member of an authentic parampara. After that, he must be a pure devotee, that is, that his conscience is established in the spiritual platform (brahma-nistham).
Before accepting someone one must make sure that these qualities are obvious.
Here we come to the question raised: if I have never seen gold, how can I distinguish it from any other yellow thing? If I am not a Guru how can I distinguish a Guru from a false?
Some disqualifying flaws are obvious. If you see someone with a cigarette in their mouth, walking arm in arm with a young lady, with the steak on the plate, who does not know the philosophy, who preaches mayavada, etc., surely you know you are in front of a false.
But there are so many subtle things that can only be identified by experienced people.
And so here comes the importance of being advised by people and by a trusted institution.
Obviously in the past the institution to which I belong (Iskcon) has shown that it is not always able to identify the subtle defects of people, however this problem has over time proved to be common to all people, all institutions or religious movements, with thunderous falls of important people.
We are in Kali-yuga, everything is difficult. Mama maya duratyaya, temptations are not always easy to resist.
However, those who are not able to resist these temptations must never accept to “be a Guru”. The spiritual master is the most important position that exists and must be taken with the maximum sense of responsibility.
Iskcon is the most serious organization, where what one says and does is controlled by others and if necessary discussed and modified.
Consequently, although perfection cannot be guaranteed, there is no doubt that it offers superior guarantees respect to others.
Moreover, those who do it for a living are certainly to be hurriedly avoided. India is full of these characters and unfortunately not only India.
For this reason, and for others that I will not face here now, I advise devotees to “take spiritual refuge” in Iskcon and to seek a Guru Iskcon.
– Manonatha Dasa (ACBSP)