The necessity of a genuine tantra teacher or guru as a spiritual guide for those aspiring to learn the tantric arts is beyond dispute. The world at large has grown cynical of such guides, largely because of negative media hype and the comic portrayal of gurus as fraudsters in Western television. Does such a figure really play a significant role in this modern age, with a surfeit of knowledge available from various electronic channels? The answer is still a resounding yes.
Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom, and even wisdom alone is not spiritual awakening. Even today, the marginally informed student of tantra needs the guidance of a gifted tantra teacher to awaken mere knowledge into awareness of his or her essential divinity. It is only in very rare cases that an individual is able to awaken to the profound spiritual truths without expert guidance. The Buddha was one of them – but we have not heard of many genuine instances after him.
The fact is that the divine grace which can set an individual free of self-limiting false beliefs and elevate him or her to the divine level of consciousness is not easily attained. Tantra is based on simple spiritual precepts, but the path to spiritual liberation is complicated and requires much dedication. In an age of ever-shortening attention spans and impatience with anything but instant results, it is not possible to reach the required level without a guiding, grounding outside influence.
The tantra teacher acts as a mediator between the earthly existence of his students and the celestial divinity that they wish to tap into. No one who has not seen the light can guide you to it. There is no subservience involved – the tantra student does not become enslaved to the tantra teacher. On the contrary – the tantric master helps his students to attain complete independence. Once this is achieved, the contract between the two is essentially over.
Moreover, mere practice of certain tantric techniques and rituals by rote does not lead to spiritual awakening. In order to benefit from the journey, the student must understand precisely what is happening at every step of the way. If a student does not understand the journey, he or she will not be able to retrace it later on. The process of spiritual liberalization that tantra unleashes can bring about a lot of confusion and conflict. The tantra teacher helps the student resolve such moments of conflict and confusion, and to progress fearlessly towards the desired goal.
By no means is the tantric master a figure of spiritual perfection. If that were so, there would be nothing worthy of worship in his life – and a tantric who does not worship is a contradiction in terms. The tantric arts require a constant process of worship, be it of the tantric deities or the female or male as the personified tantra goddess and tantra god. Rather, the tantric teacher is a fellow-traveller who has already been to many of the destinations that his students wish to see.
The tantra teacher has done the pilgrimage many times, but he is not the object of the pilgrimage. He is a spiritual guide and mentor who lights the way for those traveling on the path for the first time. Is it possible to do a pilgrimage without a guide? Yes, but what are the benefits? You do not understand the road, are unable to identify the landmarks and will most certainly get lost. You will certainly not reach your destination.
If your objective is merely to travel for travel’s sake, by all means do so without a guide. If you are a mere dabbler and have no concrete goals, feel free to do so on your own. But if you are a serious aspirant to the gifts of ancient tantra, do not attempt to attain them without a genuine tantric teacher.