Learn thou this by discipleship, by enquiry and by service. The wise, the seers of the essence of things, will instruct you in wisdom.
Bhagavad Gita (4:34)
Competent disciples are never in want of competent gurus. The disciple achieves results in proportion to his faith on his guru. The best disciple is like petrol or aviation spirit. Even from a great distance he will instantly react to the spark of the gurus teachings. The second class disciple is like camphor; a touch awakens his inner spirit and kindles the fire of spirituality in him. The third class of disciple is like coal; the guru has to take great pains in order to awaken the spirit in him. The fourth class of disciple is like a plantain stem, no efforts will be of any avail over him; whatever the guru may do, he remains cold and inert. Listen! O disciple, do not be like a plantain stem, try to be a petrol disciple, or at least a camphor disciple.
People want to have contact with an avatara without being endowed with proper qualifications. Even if an avatara appears before them, they will not be able to recognize him. They do not have the eyes to see him. They will take him for an ordinary man.
A beginner on the spiritual path should have various upa-gurus, secondary gurus. He must prepare himself gradually. He must get spiritual instructions from them and follow these strictly. He must make himself fit to approach a Brahmanishtha guru, guru who is already established in the Brahman. He should practise meditation and minor sadhana to achieve purification so he is fit to approach the true preceptor. Books can also help you. They will inspire you. They can guide you to a certain extent. You can start the minor practices, asana and pranayama, with the help of books. Books written by realized persons can serve the purpose of a guru till you come in personal contact with a realized yogi. You can also get help from senior aspirants on the path of yoga. Through all this, develop the preliminary qualifications of an aspirant.
Develop various sattwic virtues. These are all enumerated in the Bhagavad Gita, in chapters thirteen to sixteen. These are virtues such as humility, fearlessness, freedom from anger, a forgiving tendency, tranquillity, self-restraint and so on. You must also practise yamas, self-restraint, and niyamas, discipline. This is your work. The guru will not do this.
Nowadays people want to practise comfortable yoga, lying in an armchair. They do not want to practise rigorous tapas, austerity, or sadhana, spiritual discipline. They expect everything to come by the grace of the guru. They even seem to expect him to place self-realization before them like a readymade betel-leaf so they can just take it and swallow it easily.
When the disciple is ready the guru appears. All saints and yogis are ready to receive you with outstretched hands and love if you have the real eyes to behold them, if you have the real heart to unite with them, if you have the real earnestness and longing to be in their company, if you have a real thirsting for God-realization, and if you are really hungry to eat the sweet divine manna of the illimitable domain of bliss of the Self.
Guru is the gateway to the transcendental truth-consciousness, but it is the aspirant who has to enter through it. Guru is a help, but the actual task of practical sadhana falls on the aspirant alone.
In the Mahabharata you will find that purushartha, exertion, and prarabdha, past actions that are bound to fructify, together bring about fruits. If you are ailing, you must do purushartha you must take medicine, though you leave the results to prarabdha.
Throughout Yoga Vasishtha, Rishi Vasishtha recommends the value of purushartha to Sri Rama. Markandeya through purushartha alone conquered death. Man is, doubtless, the master of his own destiny. Purushartha can do and undo things. Markandeya changed his destiny through his tapas. Fatalism will produce abnormal inertia. God helps those who help themselves. Be up and doing. Prarabdha is the result of your own thoughts and actions. Change your mode of thinking. Think: I am the immortal Self and the immortal Self you will become.
Therefore, when you step into discipleship, know that realization cannot come to you as a miracle performed by your guru. Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to develop vairagya, non-attachment, and do abhyasa, practice. He did not say to him I will give you mukti now. Therefore, abandon the wrong notion that your guru will give you samadhi and mukti. Strive, purify, meditate and realize.
Gurus, acharyas and teachers will only show the spiritual path, remove doubts and provide inspiration. You are your own redeemer. You are your own saviour. Remember this point well. You will have to tread the spiritual path yourself. You will have to place each step on the spiritual ladder yourself.