The most important thing a spiritual Master does for his spiritual children is to make them consciously aware of something vast and infinite within themselves, which is nothing other than God Himself.
Guru is a Sanskrit word which means "he who illumines." The one who offers illumination is called a Guru. According to my own inner realisation I wish to say that there is only one real Guru, and that is the Supreme. No human being is the real Guru. But although the Supreme alone is the real Guru, here on earth we value time. If we find someone who can help us on our journey towards illumination, we take his help, and we may call him our Guru.
A spiritual Master or Guru is like the eldest child in the family, and the seekers are like his younger spiritual brothers and sisters. Spiritual Masters tell and show their younger brothers and sisters where their Father, the Absolute Guru, is.
The real Guru is not in the vast blue skies. He is inside the very depth of our heart. You may ask, "If He is inside our heart, then why is it necessary for us to take help from somebody else to find Him?" Although this invaluable treasure is inside our heart, we cannot see it or feel it, so we need help. A friend of ours, who we call our Guru or spiritual teacher, comes to us and teaches us how to find our own treasure.
It is not obligatory to have a living Guru, but it is certainly advisable. You know that there is a goal, and you want to reach that goal. If you are wise, you will accept help from someone who can show you the easiest, safest and most effective path to the goal. If you want to take hundreds and thousands of years to realise God, having a spiritual Master is not necessary. But if you want to reach the goal as soon as possible, then certainly it is a necessity.
If you have a Master, it facilitates your inner spiritual progress. A spiritual Master is your private tutor in the spiritual life. There is a big difference between a private tutor and an ordinary teacher. An ordinary teacher will look at a student's paper and then give him a mark. He will examine the student and then pass him or fail him. But the private tutor personally encourages and inspires the student at home so that he can pass his examination. At every moment in life's journey, ignorance tries to examine you, but your private tutor will teach you how to pass the examination easily. It is the business of the spiritual teacher to inspire the seeker and increase his aspiration so that he can realise the Highest as soon as possible.
In order to learn anything in this world you need a teacher in the beginning. To learn mathematics you need a teacher. To learn history you need a teacher. It is absurd to feel that for everything else in life you need a teacher, but not for meditation. Why do people go to the university when they can study at home? It is because they feel that they will get expert instruction from people who know the subject well. There have been a few, but very few, real men of knowledge who did not go to any university. Yes, there are exceptions; every rule admits of exceptions. God is in everybody, and if a seeker feels that he does not need human help, he is most welcome to try his capacity alone. But if someone is wise and wants to run toward his goal instead of stumbling or merely walking, then certainly the help of a Guru will be immeasurable.
Right now, perhaps, I am in London. I know that New York exists and that I have to go back there. What do I need to get me there? An airplane and a pilot. In spite of the fact that I know that the plane can take me to New York, I cannot get there without the help of the pilot. Similarly, you know that God exists. You want to reach God through meditation, but someone has to take you there. As the pilot takes me to New York, someone has to take you to the consciousness of God which is deep within you. Someone has to show you how to enter into your own divinity through meditation.
A spiritual Master comes to you with a boat. He says, "Come. If you want to go to the Golden Shore, I will take you. Moreover, once you get into my boat, you can sing on the boat, you can dance, you can even sleep; but I will bring you safely to the Shore." If you say that you do not need anybody's help, if you want to swim across the sea of ignorance alone, then it is up to you. But how many years, or how many incarnations will it take you? And again, after swimming for some time you may become totally exhausted and then you may drown.
Without a Guru, your progress will be very slow and uncertain. You may get high, elevating experiences and not give them adequate significance. Or doubt may enter your mind, and you may think, "I am just an ordinary person, so how can I have that kind of experience? Perhaps I am deluding myself." Or you will tell your friends about your experiences, and they will say, "It is all a mental hallucination!" But if there is someone who knows what the inner reality is, he will be able to assure you that the experiences which you have are absolutely real. The Master encourages the seeker and inspires him. And if the seeker is doing something wrong in his meditation, the Master is in a position to correct him.
Once you complete a course, you no longer need a teacher. If you want to learn how to sing, you go to a singer and learn from him. If you want to be a dancer, you go to a dancer. Once you become a good singer or dancer, you don't have to go to the teacher anymore. In the spiritual life it is the same. You need help in the beginning, but once you become extremely advanced, you will not need anybody's help.
If someone becomes a true disciple of a Master, he does not feel that he and his Guru are two totally different beings. He does not feel that his Guru is at the top of the tree and he is at the foot of the tree. No! He feels that the Guru is his own highest part. He feels that he and the Guru are one, that the Guru is his own highest and most developed part. Therefore, a true disciple does not find any difficulty in surrendering his lowest part to his highest part. It is not beneath his dignity to be a devoted disciple, because he knows that both the highest and the lowest are his very own.
He who inspires you is your real teacher He who loves you is your real teacher. He who forces you is your real teacher. He who perfects you is your real teacher. He who treasures you is your real teacher.