Kulārṇava Tantra, Gurugītā and various other Scriptures talk not only about the qualities of a Guru, but also speak about the qualities of a good disciple. Though there are many Scriptures that highlights Guru-disciple relationship, Kulārṇava Tantra lays more emphasis on this association. The name of this Scripture originated from the word kaula, which means a group or groups, mostly associated with left hand worship known as vāmamārga or vāmācāra, also known as left-hand doctrine and practiced secretively.  What we see and hear about left hand doctrine today is not truly vāmācāra, but the combination of both vāmācāra and dakṣiṇācāra (right hand worship). They stick exclusively to Śakti worship. Though vāmācāra is not practiced widely, still it exists here and there. However, dakṣiṇācāra (opposite to vāmācāra or upright worship) is widely practiced and advocated both under Vedic and Tāntrik schools. In both dakṣiṇācāra and vāmācāra, concept of Guru is highly emphasised. Each Guru has a lineage. Lineage consists of Svaguru (one’s own Guru, also known as Śrī Guru), Svaguru’s Guru, known as Paramaguru and Paramaguru’s Guru known as Parameṣṭhiguru. The lineage of Guru is known as Guru Parampara (parampara means succession). First, Parameṣṭhiguru is worshiped followed by Paramaguru and Svaguru. Svaguru is the one, who takes the disciple forward with the blessings of Paramaguru and Parameṣṭhiguru and initiates him by giving a mantra. The nature of mantra depends upon the lineage or Guru Parampara. It is important for a disciple to worship all the three Guru-s. In other words, one should worship Guru Parampara and should be conversant with all the three Guru-s. It does not matter whether or not, all the three Guru-s live with their physical bodies.

As far as vāmācāra is concerned, initiation is done through a ritualistic procedure called dīkṣā (meaning consecration or preparation to perform various rituals) and one without dīkṣā is not eligible to perform rituals associated with the cult. Same procedural formalities are also adopted by certain dakṣiṇācāra schools. However, it is only the Guru who decides about the kind of rituals that are necessary to initiate a particular disciple. There are different types of dīkṣā-s and the type of dīkṣā is decided by the Guru concerned. Dīkṣā also means initiation.  Before initiation, a Guru tests his proposed disciple.  A disciple can also enquire about the Guru before initiation. Qualities of a Guru are elaborately described both in Kulārṇava Tantra and Gurugītā. Both these Scriptures are in the form of Umā-Maheśvara saṁvāda (conversation between Śakti and Śiva). Gurugītā explains only about the qualities of a Guru and how he is to be worshipped by his disciples. Kulārṇava Tantra, apart from describing qualities of a Guru, also describes certain rituals at the time of dīkṣā. However, there are three types of initiations without involving rituals and they are by touch, by sight and through mind. They are known as sparśa (touch), dṛṣṭi (sight) and mānasa (mind). Kulārṇava Tantra also speaks about seven types of dīkṣā-s. Apart from the three discussed above, the other four are initiations through rituals, writing, verbal and by transmitting energy. In ritualistic initiation, vessels (kalaśa) containing water, fire pit (homa kuṇḍa), etc are used involving elaborate rituals. Majority of the initiations take place verbally combined with rituals. The highest forms of initiations are through sight, mind and transfer of energy. These three initiations wake up the sleeping kuṇḍalinī, provided Guru has extraordinary capabilities. In rare cases, distant initiations also take place, provided Guru’s kuṇḍalinī is extraordinarily active and his divine energy level is very high. Similarly, the level of concentration of the energy of the disciple should also be very high. This process is like radio transmitters. In distant initiations, generally ājñā cakra-s are used to transmit and receive energies. Guru might also use his sahasrāra instead of ājñā cakra.

Once initiated, a disciple should not look for another Guru. But certain exceptions are made such as inadequacy of knowledge, money mindedness and immoral behaviour of a Guru. Guru accepts an aspirant after putting him to test for several months, minimum period being three months. It is also said that a disciple is freed of all his sins, if he is properly initiated by a Self-realised Guru, and the disciple meticulously follows the instructions and teachings of his Guru. A learned Guru also knows which mantra is to be given to which disciple. Some mantras are capable of yielding fruits quickly, some mantras are capable of giving material wealth and some mantras are capable of offering only liberation. Mantras such as Ṣoḍaśī give only liberation; but this does not mean that it is not capable of conferring material wealth. Pañcadaśī becomes Ṣoḍaśī by adding Lakṣmī bīja śrīṁ (श्रीं) and therefore, capacity to give material wealth is inherent in Ṣoḍaśī.  In Śākta cult, Ṣoḍaśī is the ultimate mantra and generally not given by a Guru that easily. This mantra is given by a Guru depending upon the disciple’s spiritual progress. The one who is seeking liberation will not be interested in accumulating material wealth and a perfected Guru knows the intentions of a disciple. Further, mantras like Pañcadaśī and Ṣoḍaśī are not given straightaway; first, Gaṇapatī and Bālā are given and depending upon the progress of the disciple, higher mantras are initiated. But, the effects of a mantra primarily depend upon disciple’s perseverance, dedication and following the instructions of Guru meticulously.  For most of the mantras, number of recitations is prescribed to get the mantras fructified. Main reason for mantras not getting fructified is lack of concentration and contemplation on the deity concerned. Many aspirants concentrate only on the recitations and not on the visualisation and contemplation of the concerned deity. A Guru will instruct his disciple how to recite the initiated mantras and his instructions are to be strictly followed. Guru’s instructions override all other instructions, including those prescribed by dharma śāstra-s.

Getting a blessed Guru, fructifications of mantras, spiritual inclination, spiritual knowledge, capacity to meditate properly, arousal of kuṇḍalinī, good spiritual environment, eager to move to higher stages of spirituality, etc depend upon one’s karmic account. It is also said that a Sadguru (Self-realized Guru) can burn all the remaining karmas of his best disciples. When God cannot remove accumulated karmas, it is said that a perfect Guru can do so. When God lets down, Guru can save and when Guru lets down, even God cannot save; hence the role of a Sadguru is paramount in final liberation.  Karma is the sum total of various acts performed through freewill in the past births. Freewill in the present birth if in right direction, can stop further accumulation of future karmas. However, past karmas, also known as adṛṣṭa karmas, cannot be wiped out and one has to experience past karmas through his physical and subtle (mind) bodies and they are together known as pains, miseries and sufferings. It is said that a Sadguru can wipeout all these karmas.  

Guru-disciple relationship should be built up on one to one basis, as the development of all the disciples will not be the same. Some disciples advance faster than others. When Guru knows that a disciple is fit enough to listen to his teachings regarding the Self, Guru begins to teach him about Brahman, finally leading to affirmation by the disciple “I am That” (That refers to Brahman). Beyond this, there is nothing to be done or practiced. That is the end of one’s spiritual journey. However, before reaching the final stage of spiritual path, one will encounter too many hurdles and these hurdles are to be overcome with determination and devotion to Guru. There should not be any difference between Guru, Deity and the disciple. When the disciple realizes this, by making enquires within, results will be phenomenal.

There are two topics that need special mention here. One is ātmabīja, which is not widely known and practiced. At the time of initiation, Sadguru gives to his disciple, a mantra known as pādukāmantra.  Pādukā does not merely mean imprints of Guru’s sacred feet, mostly on wooden sandals and sometimes on silk cloth. Interpreting Pādukā as sandals is on the grosser side.  Pādukā is the one that not only protects the disciple, but also gives what is desired (kāmitārtha). At the time of initiation, Sadguru (also known as Svaguru or Śrī Guru) gives three types of mantras and they are Śrī Guru pādukā {comes under Gurumaṇḍala in Śrī Vidyā cult, where Mahāpādukā (Śiva) is also worhsiped}, mūla mantra (like Pañcadaśī and Ṣoḍaśī mantras) and disciple’s own pādukā. Disciple’s own pādukā is known as ātmabīja, where Sadguru initiates with a single bījākṣara. Ātmabīja is to be prefixed and suffixed to a mantra, which is known as mantra sampuṭīkaraṇa (sampuṭīkaraṇa means encasing or covering). As far as Mahāṣoḍaśī is concerned, the second OM is to be replaced by ātmabīja. Śrī Guru will advise his disciple how to use ātmabīja at the time of giving it. Some Gurus might ask his disciple to recite his or her ātmabīja certain number of times a day. Others might instruct his disciples to prefix and suffix ātmabīja to the initiated mantra. One has to strictly follow what his or her Guru says.

The most commonly raised doubt is whether to add Om at the commencement of Mahāṣoḍaśī mantra. Kulārṇava Tantra clearly says that a mantra without prefixing Om is defective and will not fructify. Hence, without any doubt, praṇava is to be prefixed to all the mantras without any exception. It is also said that praṇava is to be recited at the end of a mantra, but this is not generally practiced. As far as suffixing praṇava, one has to go by Guru’s decision.

There is one ritual called pūrṇābhiṣeka, where kalaśa-s filled with water are kept and various Vedic mantras are recited and energy of the mantras recited are transferred to water inside the kalaśa-s. After completing mantra recitations, homa (offering oblations into the fire) is performed with various mantras and again the energy of the homa is transferred to the kalaśa-s by means of durba grass (kuśa grass). Durba grass has the capacity to receive the energy and pass it on to the water in kalaśa-s. Generally this procedure is done only after a disciple has completed puraścaraṇa of a mantra. Puraścaraṇa is the combination of mantra japa, homa, tarpaṇa, mārjana and bhojana. For every mantra to attain mantra siddhi, certain number of recitations is prescribed. For example, if 100,000 japas are prescribed for a particular mantra, after completing 100,000 recitations, he has to do 10,000 homa oblations, 1000 tarpaṇa-s, 100 mārjana-s and has to feed either 10 Vedic scholars or 10 persons who have attained mantra siddhi of the same mantra for which puraścaraṇa is performed.