Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi on The Need for a Guru,
from "Practical Sadhana"
Question: A larger question has now arisen which is the need for a guru to guide my efforts towards attainment. Is a guru necessary, what does a guru really do, and where can I find one whom I can whole-heartedly believe and trust?
The heart and soul of Sanatana Dharma, or the eternal religion, found its origination and essence in the oral transmission of its Truths. Since the abiding nature of this dharma is Eternal, the foundation for those who today seek to cultivate these Truths must rely primarily on the oral tradition transmitted through the teacher (guru) - disciple relationship, or through satsanga, which will lead one toward that relationship.
These traditions that were a Truth of old, remain Truth today. The primary difficulty universally faced by all who seek to cultivate the inner Life of the Spirit is the question of authenticity.
The primary choice to make in the beginning of spiritual pursuit is whether to seek the outward guidance of a teacher, or find the path to the Eternal through the prompting of the inner intuitive voice of the Self.
Regardless of the chosen path, the uncertainty facing all who seek a practice of meditation that can produce purification is the question of the authenticity of the teachers and their teachings, or the reliability of one’s own inner voice. The question of whether or not to trust this voice of the conscience depends solely on the quality of sattva (purity of vision and habits) of the intellect.
The essential quality of intellect, in regard to the need for a guru, rests primarily upon a clear vision and understanding of exactly what a guru does. Therefore Bhagavan, who left no stone unturned in the ongoing guidance of all who came before Him, gave precise clarification on this essential aspect of spiritual life to one of His close disciples, Arthur Osborne, who faithfully noted Bhagavan’s teaching in his collected essays:
“The guru is the Spirit of Guidance. Ultimately this is to be found within oneself. Whatever awakens it is acting as guru. “The purpose of the outer guru,” the Maharshi said, “is to turn you inwards to the inner guru.” And yet in this regard there is no easy formula, no guarantee against error, for just as the aspirant may be misled by false outer gurus reflecting undesirable qualities in himself, so he may dignify various inner urges with the same name “guru”. Constant vigilance and intelligent purity are necessary.” *
* Be Still, It Is The Wind That Sings, Arthur Osborne, Sri Ramanashramam 2000. p. 62.