Is enlightenment possible without a guru?
Swami Satyananda: Whichever yogic text is picked up, the same thing is written. Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, "Yoga should be practised in the way instructed by the guru." This is probably the most important sentence in the whole text. The Shiva Samhita says, "Having attained the guru, practise yoga. Without the guru, nothing can be auspicious." According to Skanda Purana, "The systematic stages of yoga can only be learned from a competent guru." The Yoga Bija says that, "He who wants to practise yoga should have a competent guru with him." In the shruti it is written that, "Mahatmas reveal those things only to him who has deep devotion towards his guru as well as God." Thus, guru is the most vital element in sadhana.
Guru is not merely a yoga teacher. He is the only one who can enlighten your soul by the luminosity of his own revealed spirit. He reflects the brilliance of your spirit and what you see in him is actually your own Self. Gu means 'darkness' and ru means 'light'. Guru is the one who removes the darkness and ignorance from the mind to reveal the pure light of the inner consciousness. He may be an adept in yoga or any science, or he may be completely illiterate. His social qualifications are unimportant as far as one's spiritual experience is concerned. The important factors are obedience and having faith in his words; then it does not matter whether his instructions seem right or wrong, they will prove fruitful.
In the science of hatha yoga there is a specific system that has to be followed, and if one finds a hatha guru he will instruct each person in the correct manner of practice. This does not mean that the same system should be followed by one's neighbour. The guru knows how to tackle all the individual problems one has. If no obstacles arise, good, the seeker can be guided quickly. If one is facing certain problems or difficulties, the guru will know how to guide one step by step, in accordance with one's own evolution.
We have very little understanding of our bodily functions and are virtually unaware of our mental potential. Consciousness is like an iceberg; only the superficial portion that is above the surface can be seen, and because of limited perception, we cannot understand how yoga can evolve the spirit from the gross body and the lower consciousness. Therefore, when sadhana is taken up, the guidance of one who thoroughly understands the process of spiritual unfoldment is essential. There is only one person for this purpose, and that is the guru.