Question:How to recognize a self-realized spiritual master and how to approach for spiritual initiation? It is said in Bhagavad-gita that we must approach a bonafide spiritual master who has seen the truth. Now how is it possible for a candidate to identify the person who has seen the truth?
Answer by Romapada Swami: One of the primary characteristics of a bona fide spiritual master is that such a guru himself belongs to a bona fide disciplic succession, beginning from the Supreme Lord Himself, and is authorized to perform the service of a spiritual master.
The intelligence of a conditioned living entity is subject to defects. A bona fide guru would never present any invented, self-made defective teachings, but will always simply repeat what the scriptures and Supreme Lord say, without any modification or distortion. Only these teaching can be considered flawless, and they constitute the teachings of a bona fide spiritual master.
When asked how to recognize which of the various translations of Bhagavad-gita was best to read, Srila Prabhupada replied, ‘Who do you think will represent the Bhagavad-gita better – one who is cent percent devoted to Krishna, and who is always speaking about and glorifying Krishna, or one who lectures on Bhagavad-gita for two hours and never mentions the name of Krishna?’ Thus, one who knows the science of Krishna and is devoted to Krishna is the topmost guru.
Most importantly, they never claim to be God themselves. Also they themselves are strict followers of sastra and guide their followers on the path of liberation from material attachment.
Your specific question addresses the symptoms of a self-realized soul. This is addressed directly in both Bhagavad-gita and in Srimad Bhagavatam. For some sample references see BG 2.54-58, 14.21-26, and 7.28, and SB. 4.22.20-14, and 27-28. There are many such references is Srimad Bhagavatam.
You also asked how to approach a spiritual master for initiation. Bhagavad-gita (4.34) describes the process of approaching the spiritual master very clearly. One should surrender to him with submission, render humble service to him, and inquire about spiritual topics. Through the medium of submissive inquiry and service, one can develop a meaningful relationship with a particular spiritual master, and by this same process one can also become gradually eligible to receive spiritual initiation. (For further references on this topic, there is a book published by BBT, “The Spiritual Master and The Disciple” which describes in great detail about the qualities and duties of a spiritual master and disciple.)
One has to directly request the spiritual master to accept one as a disciple. This direct request is best done after some mutual understanding and confidence are established in the relationship.