Srila Prabhupada warns about official spiritual masters who have no high realization of the Supreme Absolute Truth. We should never accept initiation from such devotees, but approach a self-realized pure devotee to receive pure knowledge of Krishna consciousness. There are four types of neophyte devotees who approach Krishna. Out of these one who seeks knowledge is the best according to Krsna:
catur-vidha bhajante mam
janah sukrtino 'rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi
jnani ca bharatarsabha
tesam jnani nitya-yukta
priyo hi jnanino 'tyartham
aham sa ca mama priyah
O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me -- the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute. Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.
Srila Prabhupada describes such a devotee as follows:
A wise man who becomes attached to Krsna does not want any return from Him, either in the form of relieving distress or in gaining money. This means that from the very beginning his basic principle of attachment to Krsna is, more or less, love. Furthermore, due to his wisdom and study of sastras (scriptures), he can understand also that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
It is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita that after many, many births, when one becomes actually wise, he surrenders unto Vasudeva, knowing perfectly well that Krsna (Vasudeva) is the origin and cause of all causes. Therefore, he sticks to the lotus feet of Krsna and gradually develops love for Him.
NoD 3: Eligibility of the Candidate for Accepting Devotional Service
So a wise man approach Krishna from the very beginning out of love (more or less). Due to his study of sastra and his wisdom he can understand that Krishna is the Godhead. In this way he sticks to Krishna consciousness. The others, because of being materially motivated cannot stick to the service and leave Krishna consciousness. Unless they also elevate themselves to the position of a man seeking knowledge of the Absolute.
Without being elevated to the position of a jnani, or wise man, one cannot stick to the principle of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The less intelligent or those whose intelligence has been taken away by the spell of maya are attached to different demigods on account of the influence of the modes of nature. The wise man is he who has thoroughly understood that he is spirit soul and not simply a body. Because he realizes that he is spirit and Krsna is the supreme spirit, he knows that his intimate relationship should be with Krsna, not with this body. The distressed and the man in want of money are in the material concept of life, because distress and need of money are both in relationship with this body. One who is inquisitive may be a little above the distressed and the man in need of money, but still he is on the material platform. But a wise man who seeks Krsna knows perfectly well that he is spirit soul, or Brahman, and that Krsna is the supreme spirit soul, or Para-brahman. He knows that the spirit soul, being subordinate and finite, should always dovetail himself with the infinite and supreme soul, Krsna. That is the relationship of the wise man with Krsna.
NoD 3: Eligibility of the Candidate for Accepting Devotional Service
Thus knowledge is the distinguishing factor amongst the different types of devotees. One who approaches the spiritual master to understand transcendwental knowledge can also be initiated into eternal devotional service. Those who cannot surrender fully to Krishna seek shelter of various demigods and their position is described as follows:
ye 'py anya-devata-bhakta
te 'pi mam eva kaunteya
Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunti, but they do so in a wrong way.
In the Srimad Bhagavatam it is mentioned that the various branches of a tree are nourished by watering the root of the tree just as the body is nourished by supplying the food to the stomach. Similarly, the demigods being parts and parcels of the Lord are automatically satisfied if we simply serve the Supreme Lord Krishna. Worshipping demigods only gives material benefits. Such demigods cannot even award liberation upon their worshippers. Only Visnu is the master of maya; therefore He alone can give release to the conditioned soul. The Vedas (Svetasvatara Upanisad 3.8) confirm this in the phrase tam eva viditva, or "Freedom is possible only by understanding Krsna." Even Lord Siva affirms that liberation can be achieved only by the mercy of Visnu(Krsna). Lord Siva says, mukti-pradata sarvesam visnur eva na samsayah: "There is no doubt that Visnu is the deliverer of liberation for everyone." For the living entity who desires to return to Godhead, material desires are impediments. A pure devotee of the Lord is therefore not awarded the material benefits desired by less intelligent living entities, who therefore prefer to worship demigods of the material world rather than engage in the devotional service of the Supreme Lord.
Besides the demigods materialistic people also sometimes worship powerful men in a society. Just as with demigods they worship them to achieve material boons. Srila Prabhupada explains:
Both the material worlds and their inhabitants, including the demigods and their worshipers, are bubbles in the cosmic ocean. In this world, however, human society is mad after temporary things such as the material opulence of possessing land, family and enjoyable paraphernalia. To achieve such temporary things, people worship the demigods or powerful men in human society. If a man gets some ministership in the government by worshiping a political leader, he considers that he has achieved a great boon. All of them are therefore kowtowing to the so-called leaders or "big guns" in order to achieve temporary boons, and they indeed achieve such things.
Bg 4.12 purport
So not only demigods are worshipped by those who are less intelligent but also powerful men in this world. In both cases, one is not exactly a devotee of a demigod or a powerful man but rather he is a devotee of the material benedictions thathe derives from such worship. All these benedictions are ultimately bestowed upon the living entities by the Lord Himself, so it is the Lord that should be worshipped and no one else. A pure devotee however does not desire anything material from the Lord, nor does the Lord award his devotee with material opulence knowing well that his devotee might be diverted by such benedictions. The Lord gives the devotee only what the devotee needs. So the devotees of the Lord and the devotees of demigods or other powerful personalities of this world are not the same. The demigod worshippers blinded by their lust want to derive more sense enjoyment than they require and with this purpose they approach some demigod or a powerful living entity and worship them. Srila Prabhupada says:
One has to follow the laws made by the government, not by the officers or directors. Similarly, everyone is to offer his worship to the Supreme Lord only. That will automatically satisfy the different officers and directors of the Lord. The officers and directors are engaged as representatives of the government, and to offer some bribe to the officers and directors is illegal.
In the same way one may accept an official priest as one's spiritual master in a so-called religious organisation with the idea of enjoying a certain status, position or a facility within the organization. Such disciples are bowing down to such a spiritual master simply to achieve temporary advantages and they think there is nothing more than this to spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada discourages from accepting such so-called spirtual masters:
Self-deceived persons sometimes accept leaders or spiritual masters from a priestly order that has been officially appointed by the codes of material life. In this way, they are deceived by official priests.
The professional heads of various spiritual societies or communities often may not have attained to this standard of spiritual perfection and so may not possess the qualifications required for being a spiritual master. It is therefore no use to approach such professional spiritual masters as a matter of formality or custom.
MoG 1: Transcendental Knowledge
Sri Jiva Gosvami advises that one not accept a spiritual master in terms of hereditary or customary social and ecclesiastical conventions. One should simply try to find a genuinely qualified spiritual master for actual advancement in spiritual understanding.
Adi 1.35 For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to one who is actually practicing spiritual life; not to some head of a mundane institution, not to one who has offended his Spiritual Master in so many ways.
Letter to: Hrsikesa -- Los Angeles 9 January, 1969
Accepting a guru is not a fashion. One avoid thinking: "Everybody is accepting a spiritual master, let me also accept." Unless one is ready to receive transcendental knowledge from the guru, one should not accept a guru simply to make a show. Krishna gives one a corresponding guru according to level of his or her sincerity. If one is not sincere enough to understand the real problems of life (birth, death, old age, disease), he might be deceived by a pseudo-spiritual master. A pure devotee therefore prays:
anye ca deva guravo janah svayam
kartum sametah prabhavanti pumsas
tam isvaram tvam saranam prapadye
Neither all the demigods, nor the so-called gurus nor all other people, either independently or together, can offer mercy that equals even one ten-thousandth of Yours. Therefore I wish to take shelter of Your lotus feet.
Krsna is prepared to bestow His mercy upon all living entities, and as soon as a living entity desires the Lord's mercy, the Lord immediately gives him an opportunity to meet a bona fide spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada warns:
One should not, therefore, try to obtain benedictions from the demigods or false gurus.
Sometimes official spiritual master might speak of Krishna and might be initiated by bona fide spiritual master but because his followers are not interested in giving up their material desires, he must deviate from the conclusions of the sastra, which is unpalatable to the materialistic people, in a pure form. The knowledge of Krishna consciousness necessitates that one becomes free from material desires that oblige him to take continuous births in the material world and surrender unto Krishna alone. In the Srimad Bhagavatam Lord Rsabhadeva states that the spiritual master must be ready to liberate his dependants from the cycle of birth and death and unless one is qualified to do so, he should not become a spiritual master. However, materialists want to keep their material activities and at the same time make a show of spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada explains:
There are many caste gosvamis who professionally create some disciples who do not care for them or their instructions. Such spiritual masters are satisfied simply to get some material benefits from their disciples. Such a relationship is condemned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who calls such spiritual masters and disciples a society of cheaters and cheated. They are also called baulas or prakrta-sahajiyas. Their aim is to make the connection between the spiritual master and the disciple into a very cheap thing. They are not serious in wanting to understand spiritual life.
Despite the fact that the demigods offer us material benedictions, one should surrender to the Lord exclusively, who is the original bestower of all material facilities and who is the only person capable of giving liberation. Similarly, one should not accept a spiritual master unless he has attained the platform of a self-realized soul. A non-liberated spiritual master can also accept disciples by the virtue of repeating the message of Krishna consciousness as it is, 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 a self realized spiritual master as the actual initiator. This is the real purpose of diksa.
Diksa actually means initiating a disciple with transcendental knowledge by which he becomes freed from all material contamination.
From the day of initiation, you simply get spiritual knowledge, transcendental knowledge.
Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.16.1 – December 29, 1973, Los Angeles
For this purpose the spiritual master publishes books so the prospective disciples may receive such knowledge from him.
...it is the duty of the acarya to publish books that will help future candidates take up the method of service and become eligible to return home, back to Godhead, by the mercy of the Lord.
SB 10.2.31 You can cheat, but it will not be effective. Just see our Gaudiya Matha. Everyone wanted to become guru, and a small temple and "guru." What kind of guru? No publication, no preaching, simply bring some foodstuff... My Guru Maharaja used to say, "Joint mess," a place for eating and sleeping.
Room Conversation – April 22, 1977, Bombay