The Tantric Guru
"Mantra is born of Guru, and Devata of Mantra, therefore Guru is the Grandfather to the Ishta Devata"
- Mudamala Tantra
Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshvara
Guru Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Shri Gurave namaha
The Guru principle is a great mystery even in many respects from the Guru him/her self. The various texts and tantras that speak of Guru in great terms (many times in greater terms than the Devatas) are speaking about the phenomenon of the "Guru" rather then any "person" as Guru figure. Never the less, there is such a person as Guru, which the sadhak views in the highest terms of the profound "Guru principle", and actions flow as such. So you see.... quite a mystery! This is not to suggest that anybody can just take up such a role and this principle will function, but there is a aspect of the whole being greater then the sum of the parts. This means that the Guru acting/being as Guru is much more than what the Kaula (as idividuated entity/sadhak/adept) can spiritually account for. As such, "The Guru is Brahma, the Guru is Vishnu, the Guru is Lord Shiva, The Guru in actuality is the ultimate divinity beyond Brahma, so we bow to the Guru."
The Tantric Guru is a "live wire" with the current being the line of Gurus and the Tantric deities. The Tantric Guru not only represents the "Guru principle", but is an embodiment of the Deity. "Devata is the same as mantra, mantra is the same as Guru; the fruit of puja of Guru is Guru, Devata, and Mantra" (Yogini Tantra). The Guru is an embodied principle, and the Tantric process is an embodying one, so the Guru is of even greater importance in the Tantric path. Shri Kapalik Mahakaalji says, "The Guru is Tantra". One cannot understand Guru, but can only become One with Guru. Then one can not understand in confidence and peace.
The Tantric Guru is an ultimate friend, but a very dangerous friend. The Tantric Guru is a Tiger who endeavors to devour you, and the Tantric path is said to be like walking on a razor blade. Because the path is sharp and the dangers perilous, the Guru must be even sharper and more dangerous. The Guru has very little sentiment for "you" as such, and is only interested in the divine nature within (and exposing notions of "you" as fraudulent). The way that the "you" is dealt with is a spontaneous expression that is appropriate to situation. The Guru can relate rationally, but is not a rational Being. If you don't have a little fear of Guru, then you either don't understand Guru or understand quite well. Guru will give you what you need, not what you want. And if Guru gives you something, then be sure to take it. "The Guru can save a disciple when even the Devatas cannot" (Yogini Tantra).
The Guru often works on a very subtle level, and can be quite inconspicuous. So often the sadhak is not aware of all that the Guru is doing. Many of the best Gurus work quite subtly and with a gentle touch, so the scenes of people contorting, shaking, or otherwise looking stupid are not a sign that anything truly profound is occurring. It is a sign that the energy is not very subtle and that the people can't handle it. These sort of phenomena are fleeting and usually are just an experience. The more profound process involves a delicate hand which plants and nurtures seeds which grow AS the sadhak (rather than something experienced BY a sadhak). The Guru is a light breeze through the heart which cannot be pinned down, and is a constant source of refreshment. If the heart of the work was just based on some experience, than one can add it to the long list of experiences through the untold long wheel of existence. (Maybe one can add the title "spiritual experience" to it, but it is really only an experience, and all experience is spiritual anyway.)
As the first paragraph suggests, the Guru works for the disciple in many ways which are beyond an "individual" intention of the Guru (this means the "mysterious" Guru principle acts from some level). But the Guru works in other ways which can be considered intentional, although it should be stated that even this sort of intention is often an expression of a spontaneous and a "inspired" perspective. Foremost, the Guru gives the work and plants the enlightened seeds of the work. It is also up to the sadhak to cultivate and nurture these seeds by being faithful to the process. The Guru may "take on" some of the problematic energies of the student and work through these him/her self, or may sit in the configuration of the disciples awareness/energy and do the work as the disciple (or for them from their unique situation). The sadhak should seek to reach complete accord with the Guru, and this means that one can "view" oneself As Guru with complete integrity of awareness and energy. It should be added that being in accord (with Guru, Ishta, Mantra etc.) lacks the "entertaining" qualities that many sadhaks seek (as the seeking is often of awareness/energies that are alien to what is present. As Is), and integrity with certain principles and energies is like integrity with ones heartbeat. Any "movement", experience of difference (different then "what" one "normally" Is/feels etc.) or even profound feeling of "otherness" (even if one could qualify this as important spiritually etc.) is not accord. Being in accord is tacit, without reflection, and just commonly apparent. To this point, when one begins a mula mantra, it is more likely that there will be feeling, experiences, and that the sadhak will have the impression that "things are really happening". However, after the mantra is worked with over a period, one may find some doubt and/or discouragement because there are not these same types of feelings accompanying sadhana. This is not a bad sign, but rather may indicate that these energies have been properly assimilated and "taken up". Therefore, one doesn't feel or experience what they ARE, as they simply ARE THAT.
Just the view of the Guru can have great effects for the disciple, and the Guru give a strong acknowledgment to the divine nature within the sadhak, as well as "projects" the enlightened form. The force of the Gurus intent is such that by seeing the student as the Ishta, the disciple begins to become that and see themselves as such. The projection of the Guru is a Nyasa and the "image" and energies conform to the force of this Will. The Guru destroys and generates at the same time, and this kriya in itself is the Tantric process.
The Tantric Guru is not a source of just peace, but is an irritant to the disciple. People become all to comfortable in the little boxes that they create for themselves, and the Guru takes away these comforts and the "hiding places" of the bound ego self. In actuality there is no ego self, and these concepts when investigated are utterly transparent. Yet, it is because of this transparent nature that the ego self is very clever and shifty. The Guru takes away the hiding places and the disciple thus naked must face things in a completely "raw" way. This can be like exposing an open nerve, and ultimately the disciple must be on board and face things openly. The Guru may cause certain things in the sadhaks life to come to a head, which may be another irritant, but this is only to clear the ground and remove obstructions.
In many ways, the Tantric Guru acts as a mirror for the disciple and reflects back what the disciple puts forth. So the Guru in this context is not a salve for the person, but an uncompromising reflection grounded in integrity. The disciple can then either acknowledge or squirm, and the Guru will let you squirm until you relax into Being and acknowledgment.
One should not use convention to judge the actions of the Guru, nor should one assume that the Guru reasons, thinks, and discerns like themselves. On the flip side, one shouldn't think that everything the Guru says has some profound hidden meaning. However, there is always profound hidden meaning in "what" (relating to essence rather than subjectivity) is saying the words. Sometimes the Guru will avoid "spiritual" topics and just converse on the mundane and other banalities in order for the sadhak to see the spiritual is "present" in all and to help the student stop making splits (or just do so because they feel like it). Some Tantric Gurus have a reputation of being playful and irreverent, and these qualities can be a natural expression of the Ishta, as well as teaching tools. Some Gurus have a "mad" and wild way of Being which breaks all conventions of what "spiritual person" should look and sound like, while others have these qualities inside and mask them. The way these things come about is not some choice that is made.
The Tantric Guru is unique because there is not really "a teaching", and the Tantric path is interested in the experience much more than any elucidation of concepts. This is in accord with the idea of letting experience inform the context. Any teaching is only an expedient to this aim, and the expedient means would differ based upon need. Many of the aims of the Guru are conveyed without words and the knowledge comes in a osmosis of organic relation and relating.
One often sees discussion about "deciding on a Guru", and this concept I do not understand in the least. It is understandable that one wants a Guru, but then someone is either Guru or not. What is this decision? The other question often discussed is "how to tell a Real Guru"? You can't, unless you can. Many Tantra texts speak about the qualities of a true Guru, but one must be able to discern these things without relying upon postures and conventions. This is particularly true when dealing with Kaula Tantrics because they may or may not conform to images of spirituality. "The Kaula Guru may be like a child, a madman, a king, or like a drunk, independent minded, like a great hero, like a celestial singer, or as a naked person, seem like a fraud or like a profiteer, the way of action is according to the bhava which stems from the knowing/union of Shiva and Shakti (as natural uncontrived expression as That Will)" (Kaula Jnana Nirnaya). Ultimately, who one engages with is a reflection of one's own level of sincerity, commitment, and integrity. So "real" sadhaks (or potential sadhaks) get "real" Guru's. If you are doubting the Guru, then in many ways you are doubting yourself. If there is some lengthy decision process surrounding whether to engage with someone, then they are likely not your Guru (or you are just very indulgent). The coming to Guru is just natural and smoothly apparent, and situation help makes things so (who is encountered at what time etc.).
Some people don't like the Guru part of the equation or don't really buy into notions of the subtle aspects of this engagement. So leaving aside all the "mystical" stuff, at the very least the Guru represents someone who has traveled the path before you and can provide advice on your journey. Moreover, the Guru will provide the confidence that one is doing the sadhanas in the proper way. Then the student can throw oneself into the works without worrying that they are moving properly. One need not be (or become) a sniveling sycophant in order to have a Guru, and a good Guru would not allow one to become a weak "dependent" sort. This is particularly true in Tantra, where one is expected to come into the confidence and divine regal posture of the Ishta. The Tantric Guru's art (and the sadhaks endeavor) is the simultaneous use of the sword of wisdom which both kills and gives life. In doing both the sadhak moves in Victory, and is not some head hanging, feet shuffling, limp, ass kisser. The Guru should help bring Victory and is met in this Victory.
Every Tantric text has reference to the Guru, and often when even presenting a sadhana/mantra etc. the text begins "having received this from the Guru". Many works are readily available nowadays, but that does not mean that it is "known". Rather one can say they "know of" the work, as the true nature (awaken seeds) of the work only manifest through Guru. So it is hard to imagine a qualified argument (in accord with tradition) that supposes that the Guru is not important to Tantra (or that some Guru-less work is Tantra). And the Guru almost always needs to be embodied/alive in human form. We can exclude some avatars (such as Dattatreya), but even these great Beings looked upon the elements of creation as Guru. Likely though, you are not Dattatreya and shouldn't use him as a barometer.
Ramakrishna was a divine Being who had a profound inner connection with Ma, but he was not really involved in the Tantric path (although he was clearly a saint with "tantric like" elements and bhavas). Now this Paramahamsa got it in his mind to learn about the Tantric path (which in itself suggests that he wasn't to this point a Tantric), and one must confess that he had a pretty close relation with Ma. So why did he not just learn from her? Why was Bhairavi Brahmini brought to him for this aim? For Tantra there is embodied Guru, even for one such as this. People will usually avoid discomfort, and it is the very alive presence of the Guru which will make the sadhak face these areas and push them towards the requite realizations. So taking long dead saints as Guru or taking some dream experience as Diksha is often a bit suspect. I don't like to place limits upon the limitless, nor slander people who sincerely came through this kind of means, but rather suggest that the clearest course (and the traditionally suggested course) involves the interaction with a living manifest Guru. This discourse of the great aspect of the Guru and the importance of Guru is also not any indictment upon the very real insights, realizations, and the sincere compassionate hearts of individuals who do not have a Guru. However, for people such as these, the Guru may be the final push one needs to break all bounds, and as it specifically relates to the Tantric path, to truly live in/as ones deepest wisdom.
"The form of Guru is the object of meditation, the feet of Guru the object of puja, the words of the Guru are the mantra, and the grace of the Guru is liberation" (Guru Gita)
Jai Ma! Jai Guru!