But it is a good question. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stresses the need for a spiritual master. In one sense, Prabhupada is the de facto spiritual master of anyone who follows his teachings. Still, our tradition insists that anyone serious about spiritual progress must approach a qualified guru and request initiation. If the guru agrees, a sort of contract is established between the two: The disciple agrees to follow the instructions of the guru, and the guru agrees to guide the disciple toward the goal of pure love of God.
By contract I don’t mean to imply that the guru-disciple relationship is an impersonal business exchange. It is a spiritual relationship of love, trust, and respect. The guru is not merely fulfilling a ritual role but is the dearest friend of the disciple, being the direct representative of Krishna.
As for finding a guru, first let me clear up a misconception. Many people think that finding a guru in ISKCON means picking from a list. While it’s true that ISKCON ’s governing body (GBC ) keeps a list of devotees authorized to accept disciples, the list is not closed. All devotees in ISKCON are potential spiritual masters, provided they meet the spiritual requirements. (Following etiquette, disciples generally refrain from initiating while their spiritual master is present in this world.)
An aspiring disciple should have a real relationship with the prospective guru. As with any relationship, it has to develop in some way. The prospective guru should be regularly guiding the prospective disciple. When both are satisfied that a true guru-disciple relationship exists, then initiation is appropriate.
All of this implies that if I’m looking for a guru, I must put myself in regular contact with someone more advanced in Krishna consciousness than I am. In fact, it is sometimes said that we don’t find the guru; the guru finds us. Or, more accurately, when we’re ready to meet a guru, Krishna sends one.
Naturally, meeting one’s guru is easiest if one lives in the company of devotees, especially in or near an ISKCON community. Many devotees have changed their lives and moved close to a temple, understanding the importance of Krishna conscious association. A person serious about spiritual progress has to consider that option. If it’s not viable, then one must look for other ways to associate with devotees, such as scheduling regular trips to the nearest temple or inviting traveling preachers to one’s home. In places with no ISKCON temple, groups of devotees sometimes meet regularly and sponsor visits from senior devotees. Once a connection is established, relationships can develop through correspondence.
Finding an ISKCON guru without direct association with ISKCON devotees will be difficult but not impossible. More and more senior devotees are writing books, and recorded lectures are available to those willing to put some effort into finding them. If you feel inspired by a devotee’s books or lectures, you can ask that person for personal spiritual guidance and see how the relationship develops.
To use a word that may be overused, sincerity is the key. If you sincerely want a guru, Krishna will help. You just have to be willing to follow His direction from within your heart.