One should not accept a spiritual master without following his instructions. Nor should one accept a spiritual master just to make a fashionable show of spiritual life. One must be jijñāsu, very much inquisitive to learn from the bona fide spiritual master. The inquiries one makes should strictly pertain to transcendental science (jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam). The word uttamam refers to that which is above material knowledge. Tama means "the darkness of this material world," and ut means "transcendental." Generally people are very interested in inquiring about mundane subject matters, but when one has lost such interest and is simply interested in transcendental subject matters, he is quite fit for being initiated. When one is actually initiated by the bona fide spiritual master and when he seriously engages in the service of the Lord, he should be accepted as a madhyama-adhikārī.
The chanting of the holy names of Kṛṣṇa is so sublime that if one chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra offenselessly, carefully avoiding the ten offenses, he can certainly be gradually elevated to the point of understanding that there is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. One who has reached such an understanding should be very much respected by neophyte devotees. One should know for certain that without chanting the holy name of the Lord offenselessly, one cannot be a proper candidate for advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Madhya 22.69) it is said:
- yāhāra komala śraddhā, se 'kaniṣṭha' jana
- krame krame teṅho bhakta ha-ibe 'uttama'
"One whose faith is soft and pliable is called a neophyte, but by gradually following the process, he will rise to the platform of a first-class devotee." Everyone begins his devotional life from the neophyte stage, but if one properly finishes chanting the prescribed number of rounds of hari-nāma, he is elevated step by step to the highest platform, uttama-adhikārī. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement prescribes sixteen rounds daily because people in the Western countries cannot concentrate for long periods while chanting on beads. Therefore the minimum number of rounds is prescribed. However, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura used to say that unless one chants at least sixty-four rounds of japa (one hundred thousand names), he is considered fallen (patita). According to his calculation, practically every one of us is fallen, but because we are trying to serve the Supreme Lord with all seriousness and without duplicity, we can expect the mercy of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is famous as patita-pāvana, the deliverer of the fallen.
When Śrīla Satyarāja Khān, a great devotee of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, asked the Lord how a Vaiṣṇava could be recognized, the Lord replied:
- prabhu kahe,—"yāṅra mukhe śuni eka-bāra
- kṛṣṇa-nāma, sei pūjya,—śreṣṭha sabākāra"
"If one hears a person say even once the word 'Kṛṣṇa,' that person should be accepted as the best man out of the common group." (CC Madhya 15.106) Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued:
- "ataeva yāṅra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
- sei ta 'vaiṣṇava, kariha tāṅhāra sammāna"
"One who is interested in chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa or who by practice likes to chant Kṛṣṇa's names should be accepted as a Vaiṣṇava and offered respects as such, at least within one's mind." (CC Madhya 15.111) One of our friends, a famous English musician, has become attracted to chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa, and even in his records he has several times mentioned the holy name of Kṛṣṇa. At his home he offers respect to pictures of Kṛṣṇa and also to the preachers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In all regards, he has a very high estimation for Kṛṣṇa's name and Kṛṣṇa's activities; therefore we offer respects to him without reservation, for we are actually seeing that this gentleman is advancing gradually in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Such a person should always be shown respect. The conclusion is that anyone who is trying to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by regularly chanting the holy name should always be respected by Vaiṣṇavas. On the other hand, we have witnessed that some of our contemporaries who are supposed to be great preachers have gradually fallen into the material conception of life because they have failed to chant the holy name of the Lord.
While giving instructions to Sanātana Gosvāmī, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu divided devotional service into three categories.
- śāstra-yukti nāhi jāne dṛḍha, śraddhāvān
- 'madhyama-adhikārī' sei mahā-bhāgyavān
"A person whose conclusive knowledge of the śāstras is not very strong but who has developed firm faith in chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and who is also undeterred in the execution of his prescribed devotional service should be considered a madhyama-adhikārī. Such a person is very fortunate." (CC Madhya 22.67) A madhyama-adhikārī is a śraddhāvān, a staunchly faithful person, and he is actually a candidate for further advancement in devotional service. Therefore in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Madhya 22.64) it is said:
- śraddhāvān jana haya bhakti-adhikārī
- 'uttama', 'madhyama', 'kaniṣṭha'—śraddhā-anusārī
"One becomes qualified as a devotee on the elementary platform, the intermediate platform and the highest platform of devotional service according to the development of his śraddhā [faith]." Again in Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Madhya 22.62) it is said:
- 'śraddhā'-śabde—viśvāsa kahe sudṛḍha niścaya
- kṛṣṇe bhakti kaile sarva-karma kṛta haya
" 'By rendering transcendental service to Kṛṣṇa, one automatically performs all subsidiary activities.' This confident, firm faith, favorable to the discharge of devotional service, is called śraddhā." Śraddhā, faith in Kṛṣṇa, is the beginning of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Faith means strong faith. The words of Bhagavad-gītā are authoritative instructions for faithful men, and whatever Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā is to be accepted as it is, without interpretation. This was the way Arjuna accepted Bhagavad-gītā. After hearing Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna told Kṛṣṇa: sarvam etad ṛtaṁ manye yan māṁ vadasi keśava. "O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me." (BG 10.14)
This is the correct way of understanding Bhagavad-gītā, and this is called śraddhā. It is not that one accepts a portion of Bhagavad-gītā according to his own whimsical interpretations and then rejects another portion. This is not śraddhā. Śraddhā means accepting the instructions of Bhagavad-gītā in their totality, especially the last instruction: sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja. "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." (BG 18.66) When one becomes completely faithful in regard to this instruction, one's strong faith becomes the basis for advancing in spiritual life.
When one fully engages in chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, he gradually realizes his own spiritual identity. Unless one faithfully chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, Kṛṣṇa does not reveal Himself: sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.234) We cannot realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead by any artificial means. We must engage faithfully in the service of the Lord. Such service begins with the tongue (sevonmukhe hi jihvādau), which means that we should always chant the holy names of the Lord and accept kṛṣṇa-prasāda. We should not chant or accept anything else. When this process is faithfully followed, the Supreme Lord reveals Himself to the devotee.
When a person realizes himself to be an eternal servitor of Kṛṣṇa, he loses interest in everything but Kṛṣṇa's service. Always thinking of Kṛṣṇa, devising means by which to spread the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, he understands that his only business is in spreading the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement all over the world. Such a person is to be recognized as an uttama-adhikārī, and his association should be immediately accepted according to the six processes (dadāti pratigṛhṇāti, etc.). Indeed, the advanced uttama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava devotee should be accepted as a spiritual master. Everything one possesses should be offered to him, for it is enjoined that one should deliver whatever he has to the spiritual master. The brahmacārī in particular is supposed to beg alms from others and offer them to the spiritual master. However, one should not imitate the behavior of an advanced devotee or mahā-bhāgavata without being self-realized, for by such imitation one will eventually become degraded.
In this verse Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī advises the devotee to be intelligent enough to distinguish between the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī, madhyama-adhikārī and uttama-adhikārī. The devotee should also know his own position and should not try to imitate a devotee situated on a higher platform. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has given some practical hints to the effect that an uttama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava can be recognized by his ability to convert many fallen souls to Vaiṣṇavism. One should not become a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of uttama-adhikārī. A neophyte Vaiṣṇava or a Vaiṣṇava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikārī as a spiritual master.