1. Why approach a spiritual master:-
Without taking shelter of a spiritual master who comes down from an official disciplic succession (Parampara) it is not possible to understand the hidden meaning of the Sastra or even obtain Sukriti of Supreme Lord.
Sukdev Goswami to King Parikshit
Srimad Bhagwatam. (SB) – 2.3.11 All the different kinds of worshipers of multidemigods can attain the highest perfectional benediction, which is spontaneous attraction unflinchingly fixed upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by the association of the pure devotee of the Lord.
Bhagavad-gita As it is 4.34
t’ad viddhi pranipatena
upadekshyanti te jnanam
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service to him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge because they have seen the truth.
Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life.
SB 5.12.1 2 – My dear King Rahūgaṇa, One cannot realise the Absolute Truth simply by observing celibacy [brahmacarya], strictly following the rules and regulations of householder life, leaving home as a vānaprastha, accepting sannyāsa, or undergoing severe penances in winter by keeping oneself submerged in water or surrounding oneself in summer by fire and the scorching heat of the sun. There are many other processes to understand the
Absolute Truth, but the Absolute Truth is only revealed to one who has attained the mercy of a great devotee.
2. Satvik Guna’s of Suddha Bhakta. (Qualities of Spiritual Master)
A spiritual master should be a pure devotee and have qualities almost similar to the great Mahajans or to the purush incarnations of the supreme Lord. It is important to recognize a pure devotee and not get carried away by frauds or cheats.
In Kaliyuga most people get carried away by the flowery language of frauds and cheats and end up losing everything. The following slokas explain the qualities a spiritual master or pure devotee should have:-
SB 11.3.21 – Therefore any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the bona fide guru is that he has realised the conclusions of the scriptures by deliberation and is able to convince others of these conclusions.
3. Who is not a Spiritual Master /Guru?
Since the Guru must transmit the truths of Vedic knowledge perfectly, he plays a crucial role. Regrettably, in recent years we have professional gurus (fake godmen) who:
Charge fees to give secret mantras and make false promises,
Allow their students to disregard all the Vedic regulative austerities (regulative austerities like avoiding gambling, meat-eating, intoxication and illicit sex)
Teach yoga as simple gymnastic exertion and not as a means of connecting one to God,
Maintain that the purpose of yoga is material well-being,
Defy the Vedas by declaring: ‘I am God; You are God; Everyone is God’ and so on.
4. Process of Surrender and service to Spiritual Master:-
It is extremely important that an aspiring devotee should fully surrender to the spiritual master and serve him with an open heart with sincerity and genuine love.
Lord Krishna will always listen to the prayers of pure devotees as he incarnates to protect them who have qualities of a Brahman.
When we surrender to a pure devotee or spiritual master he takes responsibility to ensure we are purified by following the path of devotional service & secondly pure devotees also take upon themselves the sinful reaction of their devotees just to protect them:-
Srila Rupa Gosvami has delineated four preliminary requisites for advancement for the sincere disciple:
Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.74 “ Accepting the shelter of the lotus feet of a bona fide spiritual master,  becoming initiated by the spiritual master and learning how to discharge devotional service from him,  obeying the orders of the spiritual master with faith and devotion, and  following in the footsteps of great acaryas [teachers] under the direction of the spiritual master.” (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.74)
4b) Example of A perfect devotee (Naradmuni):-
Story of Naradamuni:
Naradmuni to Vyasdev: – I was poor and looked after by my mother who was serving pure devotees as a maid servant I would serve the Rishi/ Munis on behalf of my mother. Thus unknowingly I got purified due to their exalted association.
SB 1.5.28 – Thus during two seasons — the rainy season and autumn — I had the opportunity to hear these great-souled sages constantly chant the unadulterated glories of the Lord Hari. As the flow of my devotional service began, the coverings of the modes of passion and ignorance vanished.
SB 1.5.29 – I was very much attached to those sages. I was gentle in behaviour, and all my sins were eradicated in their service. In my heart I had strong faith in them. I had subjugated the senses, and I was strictly following them with body and mind.
5. Process of Purification as directed & guided by Spiritual Master in the Bhagwat Puran & Gita:-
The stages from sraddha to prema:-
The 9 stages to cross before receiving the supreme lord’s blessings:-
Sradha, Sadhu Sanga, Bhajan Kriya, Anartha nivriti, Nistha, Asakti, Ruchi, Bhava, Prema.
a) One must begin with faith, and when this faith is increased by chanting, a person can become a member of society. (Sradha and sadhu sangha)
b) If one is sincere, he is initiated, and this stage is called bhajana-kriyā. One then actually engages in the service of the Lord by regularly chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, sixteen rounds daily, and refraining from illicit sex, intoxicants, meat-eating and gambling.
c) In this way it is to be understood that one is becoming cleansed of unwanted things (anartha-nivṛtti). Anarthas are vanquished when one becomes attached to the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Next is Nistha and Asakti.
d) When a person is relieved from unwanted things, he becomes fixed in executing his Kṛṣṇa activities. This is called bhāva, the preliminary awakening of dormant love of Godhead. The last stage is prema Bhakti.
6. How Supreme Lord Becomes Subservient to the Siritual Masters
a) Lord Krsna Explains the Yoga System to Sri Uddhava
Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.20 – My dear Uddhava, the unalloyed devotional service rendered to Me by My devotees brings Me under their control. I cannot be thus con- trolled by those engaged in mystic yoga, Sankhya philosophy, pious work, Vedic study, austerity or renunciation.
b) SB 9.4.65 – Since pure devotees give up their homes, wives, children, relatives, riches and even their lives simply to serve Me, without any desire for material improvement in this life or in the next, how can I give up such devotees at any time?
7. Complete assurance and protection of Supreme
When we surrender to our spiritual master or pure devotee the supreme lord is so pleased that he ensures we progress in our devotional service at a rapid pace thus achieving true self-realization.
True love of god is obtained at a stage of uttam adhikari when all our material ambitions and vasanas are completely subdued. This stage of true bliss and happiness cannot be explained in mere words.
8. Divine Results of Bhakti Yuga
(By Rupa Goswami)
The unique characteristics of bhakti are : its ability to destroy suffering; its bestowal of auspiciousness; its disregard for liberation; its rarity of attainment; its manifestation of concentrated bliss; and its ability to attract Krishna.
— The author is IPS Officer, based in Kolkata
[The view expressed here are personal and don’t reflect those of the government]