A guru is one who dispels the darkness, and the relationship between a guru and a disciple is one that transcends any other worldly relationship. The vast expanse of the being, mind, body and psyche, must be purified and unravelled of its blocks and impressions in order to reach the ultimate truth. This task alone, without the guidance of one who has already experienced the way, is as chaotic as driving through Delhi with a blindfold on. We must have our eyes open, a guide and a map if we are to succeed.
Although it is true to say that anything, including enlightenment, can be obtained without anyone's help, help really helps. No matter if you're striving to master the piano, quantum physics or cake decoration, a combination of a competent teacher and a proven method will avoid pitfalls. Without such guidance the cake may continually sink, let alone be adorned with beautiful icing and frustration and confusion may set in.
Of course these are not the only ingredients for the spiritual gateaux. The disciple's tenacity of purpose should be pure, not one of 'self'-gratification leading to 'self'-enlightenment. Our motives may be out of desperation, our last hope to solve life's problems, or curiosity enticed by the possibility of something delightful ahead, or material prosperity and power, or a search for knowledge, to experience the intellectual understanding of spiritual life. In this way a slow progression from student to disciple can happen.
A wider vision is often shown in the form of guru seva. Depending on the level of commitment and initiation, the disciple will devote part or all of his life to the service of the guru. A householder disciple, who may have family and social commitments to fulfil, may serve the guru through dedicating part of the time spent working at their regular job, and so offer financial support. A poorna sannyasin, on the other hand, would renounce material life and dedicate their entirety to the guru. If the reason for having a guru is one of power, status or fashion, the inner connection will not be established and little or no benefit as well as negative karmic ramifications may result.
Perfect examples of the relationship between a guru and disciple are those of Yama (God of Death) and Nachiketa in the Kathopanishad, and of Sri Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Both of these attained enlightenment through purity of purpose, one-pointed mind, eagerness and a questioning spirit. When the intellect is dominant in this personality equation, the faith is pushed to second position, and the guru's power will not flow through to the disciple.
Indra, the king of the gods, and Virochana, a demon prince, went together to their guru Brahma to gain knowledge of the Supreme Self. Both stayed and listened to the same words of the guru. Indra obtained enlightenment due to his devotion to the subject and the love and faith he had for his preceptor. But Virochana's mind was developed by his intellect and pride in his abilities. He wanted the practical knowledge which he believed would be useful to him later to win power.
The story shows the power of unconditional faith and surrender to the guru. This is without expectations and bargains. The disciple should never judge the guru, compare his methods to a more personally pleasing style or criticise him. Faith cannot be taught and cannot coexist with ego. The ego may try a myriad of tricks to safeguard itself from dissolving, but complete surrender, as with love, can never coexist with the sense of 'I-ness'. Even if the guru turns out to be crooked and exploiting, the faithful disciple will still gain, the disciple is the only recipient.
The disciple's faith may be tried and tested relentlessly along the path, and this may be essential to the spiritual progress in order to eradicate past karmas. Without faith in the guru, tedious, monotonous, difficult or easy sadhanas would be abandoned on the way. The story of Milarepa and his guru Marpa demonstrates this. Milarepa was instructed to build a house on the top of a hill. He carried huge boulders on his shoulders into position and finally, on completion, he was ordered to rebuild the house in another place. This he did seven times, until one day he was kicked by his guru and fell down the hill. His fall was stopped by divine intervention and he was placed in front of his guru, who, with just one touch, enlightened him.
Where do we find a teacher? The Bible says: Ask and it shall be given to thee, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto thee, but it doesn't mention how many times to knock or, importantly, where to find the door. This is where our instinct, intuition, destiny and karma come into play. Similar attracts similar, this is the universal law.
Swami Niranjanananda has said that it is not the guru who enlightens you, but the quality of purity of faith that is the key. It is non-resistance and submission to the guru's guidance with loyalty and devotion that come from a deeply pure heart. Humility and dedication are also intrinsically connected to that of surrender to the guru. One of the more difficult attributes to maintain is that of non-attachment towards the guru. Attachment in any form, whether it be to the material world, mental patterns or to spiritual progress is a barrier to the truth.
No matter what level of initiation the disciple has taken, he/she should strive for perfecting all the qualities of faith, surrender, love, devotion, dedication, humility, purity of purpose, non-attachment, maturity and simplicity in order to achieve an ultimate connection with their external and thus internal guru.