Srila Prabhupada said that the spiritual master is like a professor. Simply by reading shastra, it is difficult for one to come to a conclusion, because they are so vast; therefore it is necessary to have also a professor, who is expert.
Just like Arjuna, when he a quoted so many Vedic understandings about what he should do and shouldn’t do, but ultimately he was confused. So its not enough; its not simply scholastic or pedantic or education through book-reading that one can understand what is the purpose of the Vedas.
To really clear the doubts, one also needs the spiritual master, but the spiritual master, just like Krishna, when he was preaching to Arjuna, He would always quote the previous authorities and the Vedas, just like that. He said, “ proktam aham avyayam,” before this was also spoken. Not that Krishna was… although He is Himself, aham sarvasya prabhava…. the source of everything matah prakram nanyat.. there is no higher truth than Him; still He is referring to higher authorities.
Higher authorities mean previous authorities. That is to instruct us that this is the vedic system; no one is independent, even Krishna Himself is referring to Vedas. Why? Because He has given the Vedas for that purpose, as a check, as a reference that everything is supposed to be done according to the Vedas.
Simply the spiritual master, like an expert lawyer or professor who knows spiritually what is the Vedas and who its practicing that is particular part of the vedic culture, you see. Therefore, He guides the disciples according to the Vedas through the path of God consciousness.
So, when one wants to choose spiritual master, then one will see what are the qualities in the Vedas and then one will also discuss with the other saintly people, the sadhus, and then one can say who is guru.
When one wants to know what is the meaning of the Vedas, one will read the Vedas, but will not able to understand; therefore approaches the guru and the sadhus and then understands the Vedas.
One has to know who is a saintly person; that can also be understood from the Vedas and from the spiritual master, what he is saying is correct or not. So, in this way, these three are always there to give us some check and balance.
So, the basis however, is the shastra. No one can say that the shastra we don’t accept; if anyone says that, that is a great offense.
Shastra is the always at the absolute position, because that is directly given by the incarnation ok Krishna Vyasadeva. That is the basis.HH Jayapataka Swami Srimad Bhagavatam Lecture June 22nd, 1981
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia