Role of a Guru is extremely important in Self-realization. Kulārṇava Tantra discusses in detail about the qualities of a Guru. This is in the form of a conversation between Śiva and Śakti. First, Śiva enumerates the qualities of a disciple (śiṣya). Śiṣya is the one, who has the will, aptitude, perseverance, patience and faith to transform from the state of aniṣpanna (imperfection) to the state of niṣpanna (perfection). (aniṣpanne niṣpanna-śabdaḥ śiṣyaḥ).

There are several descriptions for a perfect disciple, which may not suit the present world. Following are the qualities of a disciple that a Guru needs to avoid in this hyperactive world. Those who are devoid of good qualities; disciple of another Guru; egoistic; unclean; laziness; cunning; divulging mantras given by Guru; finding fault with others; ungrateful; indecency of speech; untrue; traitor to his Guru; jealousy, shameless; getting angry and short tempered and unsteady mind are to be avoided as they can never get liberated, at least in this birth and  for spiritual upliftment . Any effort spent on these disciples could only be a waste of time for a Guru.

After having spoken about the disciples who are to be avoided, Śiva speaks about qualities that are needed in a perfect disciple. They are enthusiasm in meditation; constant communication with Guru; following the mind of Guru; engaging in japa and meditation and aspiring for liberation. 

Now Śiva speaks about the characteristics of a Guru. A Guru should be with a clean apparel; charming; knowledgeable; application of mantras; sweet looking; ease of access; capable of clarifying disciples’ doubts; always keeping his attention within; capable of instructions; knower of past, present and future; should have conquered desire, anger, greed, delusion, jealousy and pride; equal minded to Śiva and Viṣṇu; ever content; independent; dear to devotees; not selling mantra and yantra and without partiality.

Śiva also speaks about higher level of Guru-s and their qualities. He says that it is difficult to obtain a Guru who gives to the disciple, his own status in a moment without any ceremonies; difficult to obtain a Guru who goes on giving knowledge with facility and without strenuous practice. Many are the Gurus who are proficient in Vedas and Śāstra-s, but rare is a Guru who has realized the Self (Brahman). Many are the Gurus on the earth who give everything else other than the Light of the Self. Many are the Gurus who know petty mantras, but rare to find one who knows mantras handed down by Nigama (name of a deity into a liturgical formula, leading to the realization of the deity), Āgama (acquisition of knowledge through traditional doctrine) and Śāstra-s. Many are the Gurus who rob the disciples of their wealth; but rare is the Guru who removes the afflictions of the disciples.

Śiva further says that knower of Truth alone is the Real Guru, as knower of the Truth alone is liberated and he alone can make others liberate. Only the liberated can liberate others; how can un-liberated liberate others? Only those with knowledge can impart knowledge; only a boat can ferry the stones and definitely a stone cannot ferry another stone.

Śiva classified Gurus under six categories and they are Preraka (setting in motion, the process of liberation – making a disciple to enter the right spiritual path in the quickest possible time), Sūcaka (subtle conveyance – subtly conveying the ‘attributes’ of Brahman), Vācaka (expressing and declaring – declaring the omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotent Brahman in stagaes), Darśaka (pointing out; for example ‘tat tavam asi’ or you are That Brahman), Śikṣaka (teaching or instructing; imparting knowledge so that the disciple realizes that he is Brahman. Guru says ‘You are That’ and the disciple investigates, explores, analyses the teaching of Guru ‘You are That’ and the disciple after many interactions with the Guru realizes and affirms ‘I am That’ or ‘ahaṁ brahmāsi’) and the last one Bodhaka (awakening; in fact this the combination of the previous five). 

Most importantly Śiva says that if one happens to get a Guru who does not fall in any of the above qualities, he can move to a learned Guru and this migration is not considered as a sin. Śiva draws the example of honeybee here. A true disciple is like a honey bee moving one flower to another flower seeking higher spiritual knowledge, goes from one guru to another Guru, who can impart highest spiritual knowledge.

Summing up:

The right Guru is the one, who first initiates a mantra. Initiation of too many mantras will hamper connectivity with the Divine. At the time of initiation, a Guru implants the seed of the mantra in the energic body of his disciple. Depending upon the disciple’s efforts, the seed of mantra begins to sprout and grows into a huge tree. This stage includes all types of ritualistic practices. At the culmination of this stage, the disciple is ready to move forward. After ensuring that the disciple has attained perfection in the mantra (this stage is called mantra siddhi), Guru takes him forward in the path of spirituality. During this stage, Guru guides his disciple with mudras, bandha-s and prāṇāyama.  It will be difficult to align more than one mantra with the breath, hence initiation into more than one mantra is not recommended for the purpose of sādhana and without sādhana final goal (liberation) can never be attained.  After having prepared the disciple for higher spiritual stages, the Guru imparts knowledge about Brahman. When Guru determines that his disciple has attained requisite higher spiritual knowledge, he reveals to his disciple “tat tavam asi” (you are Brahman). The disciple now proceeds to understand the meaning of this revelation. The effects mudras, bandha-s and prāṇāyama help him to subdue his mind and in the arena of subdued mind, he begins to explore Brahman. At this stage, the disciple remains in perpetual mediation. He begins his meditation with the initiated mantra and when he begins his inner spiritual exploration, the mantra also ceases. His consciousness and mind now work in tandem; until these two work in tandem, realization is not possible. On one fine day, the disciple understands and realizes the Self within him, which was till this moment, covered by the veil of māyā. This realization happens in fraction of a second and at the most unexpected time. Now the veil of māyā is removed and the disciple now affirms “I am That” or “ahaṁ brahmāsi”. His Guru now confirms his status by asking him to take his lineage forward and the disciple now transforms into another Guru, ready to liberate many others.