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Separating the Saints from the Swindlers


Every day the number of people interested in practicing yoga and meditation increases by the thousands. Unfortunately, a person looking for a suitable teacher is likely to encounter a bewildering array of “gurus, “mystics, and self-made gods. In an interview with the London Times, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains how a sincere seeker can tell the difference between a cheater and a genuine teacher.

Reporter: Your Grace, it seems that more people than ever are seeking some kind of spiritual life. I wonder if you could tell me why this is so.

Srila Prabhupada: The desire for spiritual life is an absolutely natural hankering. Because we are spirit souls, we cannot be happy in the material atmosphere. If you take a fish out of the water, it cannot be happy on land. Similarly, if we are without spiritual consciousness, we can never be happy. Today, so many people are after scientific advancement and economic development, but they are not happy because these are not the actual goals of life. Many young people are realizing this, and they are rejecting materialistic life and are trying to search for spiritual life. Actually, this is the proper search. Krsna consciousness is the proper goal of life. Unless you take to Krsna consciousness, you cannot be happy. That is a fact. Therefore, we invite everyone to study and understand this great movement.

Reporter: What frankly worries me is that since the arrival in Britain some time ago of an Indian yogi, who was the first “guru” that most people ever heard of, a lot of “gurus” have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that all of them are not as genuine as they ought to be. Would it be right to warn people who are thinking of taking up spiritual life that they should make sure that they have a genuine guru to teach them?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, to search out a guru is very nice, but if you want a cheap guru, or if you want to be cheated, then you will find many cheating gurus. But if you are sincere, you will find a sincere guru. Because people want everything very cheaply, they are cheated. We ask our students to refrain from illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, and intoxication. People think that this is all very difficult a botheration. But if someone else says, “You may do whatever nonsense you like, simply take my mantra,” then people will like him. The point is that people want to be cheated, and therefore cheaters come. No one wants to undergo any austerity. Human life is meant for austerity, but no one is prepared to undergo austerity. Consequently, cheaters come and say, “No austerity. Whatever you like, you do. Simply pay me and I’ll give you some mantra and you’ll become God in six months.” All this is going on. If you want to be cheated like this, the cheaters will come.

Reporter: What about the person who seriously wants to find spiritual life, but who happens to finish up with the wrong guru?

Srila Prabhupada: If you simply want an ordinary education, you have to devote so much time, labor, and understanding to it. Similarly, if you are going to take to spiritual life, you must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras, someone can become God in six months? Why do people want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.

Reporter: How can a person tell he has a genuine guru?

Srila Prabhupada: Can any of my students answer this question?

A disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, “How will I know who is the genuine guru?” And you answered, “Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krsna. He is genuine.”

Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The genuine guru is God’s representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life. He is after God, and God only. That is one of the tests of a genuine guru: brahma-nistham. He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth. In the Mundaka Upanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham. “The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.” He should know what Brahman [spirit] is and how to become situated in Brahman. These signs are given in the Vedic literature. As I said before, the real guru is God’s representative. He represents the Supreme Lord, just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a mantra and tell you that you will become God in six months. This is not a guru’s business. A guru’s business is to canvass everyone to become devotees of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru’s business. Indeed, he has no other business. He tells whomever he sees, “Please become God conscious.” If he canvasses somehow or other on behalf of God and tries to get everyone to become a devotee of God, he is a genuine guru.

Reporter: What about a Christian priest?

Srila Prabhupada: Christian, Muhammadan, Hindu it doesn’t matter. If he is simply speaking on behalf of God, he is a guru. Lord Jesus Christ, for instance. He canvassed people, saying, “Just try to love God.” Anyone it doesn’t matter who be he Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to love God. That is the test. The guru never says, “I am God,” or “I will make you God.” The real guru says, “I am a servant of God, and I will make you a servant of God also.” It doesn’t matter how the guru is dressed. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Whoever can impart knowledge about Krsna is a spiritual master.” A genuine spiritual master simply tries to get people to become devotees of Krsna, or God. He has no other business.

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