Who is a Guru?
Guru is the God come in human form to help you realize Him.
The Guru is God Himself manifesting in a personal form to guide the aspirant. Grace of God takes the form of the Guru. To see the Guru is to see God. The Guru is united with God. He inspires devotion in others. His presence purifies all.
The Guru is verily a link between the individual and the immortal. He is a being who has raised himself from this into That, and thus has free and unhampered access into both the realms. He stands, as it were, upon the threshold of immortality; and, bending down he raises the struggling individuals with his one hand, and with the other lifts them up into the empyrean of everlasting joy and infinite Truth-Consciousness.
There is no difference between Guru and God.
What is the need for Guru?
Just as a guide can take you easily to your destination, the Guru will take you to God (or Himself, for Guru is no different from God).
For a beginner in the spiritual path, a Guru is necessary. To light a candle, you need a burning candle. Even an illumined soul alone can enlighten another soul.
Some do meditation for some years independently. Later on, they actually feel the necessity of a Guru. They come across some obstacles in the way. They are unable to know how to obviate these impediments or stumbling blocks. Then they begin to search for a Master.
Only the man who has already been to Badrinath will be able to tell you the road. In the case of the spiritual path, it is still more difficult to find your way. The mind will mislead you very often. The Guru will be able to remove pitfalls and obstacles, and lead you along the right path. He will tell you: "This road leads you to Moksha (liberation); this one leads to bondage". Without this guidance, you might want to go to Badrinath, but find yourself in Delhi!
The scriptures are like a forest. There are ambiguous passages. There are passages which are apparently contradictory. There are passages which have esoteric meanings, diverse significance, and hidden explanations. There are cross-references. You are in need of a Guru or Preceptor who will explain to you the right meaning, who will remove doubts and ambiguities, who will place before you the essence of the teachings.
Finding a Guru
Sincerity counts. The one who sincerely seeks to know God will find His Guru because He knows that the Guru is the way to God.
If you find peace in the presence of a Mahatma (great soul), if you are inspired by his speeches, if he is able to clear your doubts, if he is free, from greed, anger, and lust, if he is selfless, loving, and I-less, you can take him as your Guru. He who is able to clear your doubts, he who is sympathetic in your Sadhana, he who does not disturb your beliefs but helps you on from where you are, he in whose very presence you feel spiritually elevated-he is your Guru. Once you choose Your Guru, implicitly follow him. God will guide you through the Guru.
Do not use your reason too much in the selection of your Guru. You will fail if you do so. If you fail to get a first-class Guru, try to follow the instructions of the Sadhu (a spiritual person) who is treading the path for some years, who has purity and other virtuous qualities, and who has some knowledge of the scriptures. Just as a student of the Intermediate class will be able to teach a student of Third Form when a professor with M.A. qualification is not available, just as a sub-assistant surgeon will be able to attend on a patient when the civil surgeon is not available, this second- class type of Guru will be able to help you.
If you are not able to find out even this second-class type of Guru, you can follow the teachings contained in the books written by realised saints like Sri Sankara, Dattatreya, and others. You can keep a photo of such a realised Guru, if available, and worship the same with faith and devotion. Gradually you will get inspiration, and the Guru may appear in dream and initiate and inspire you at the proper time. For a sincere Sadhak (aspirant), help comes in a mysterious manner. When the time is ripe, the Guru and the disciple are brought together by the Lord in a mysterious way.
All quotations are from the saint Sri Swami Sivananda's loving teachings about Guru and the way to reach Guru
The Reality - There is no Guru other than Your Self (Advaita)
Although these above tips are indeed true, the Absolute Truth is that there is no Guru other than Your True Self or Satchidananda.
Sri Ramana Maharishi says in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharishi that:
D.: Is not Grace the gift of the Guru?
Maharishi : God, Grace and Guru are all synonymous and also eternal and immanent. Is not the Self already within? Is it for the Guru to bestow It by his look? If a Guru thinks so, he does not deserve the name.
The books say that there are so many kinds of initiations – by hand, by touch, by eyes and by mind. They also say that the Guru makes some rites with fire, water, japa, mantras, etc., and call such fantastic performances Initiation, as if the disciple becomes ripe only after such processes are gone through by the Guru.
If the individual is sought he is nowhere to be found. Such is the Guru. Such is Dakshinamurti. What did he do? He was silent; the disciples appeared before him. He maintained silence; the doubts of the disciples were dispelled, which means that they lost their individual identities. That is wisdom and not all the verbiage usually associated with it.
Silence is the most potent form of work. However vast and emphatic the scripttures may be, they fail in their effect. The Guru is quiet and peace prevails in all. His silence is vaster and more emphatic than all the scriptures put together. These questions arise because of the feeling, that having been here so long, heard so much, exerted so hard, one has not gained anything. The work proceeding within is not apparent. In fact the Guru is always within you.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa says that:
Satchidananda alone is the Guru. If a man in the form of a guru awakens spiritual consciousness in you, then know for certain that it is God the Absolute who has assumed that human form for your sake. The guru is like a companion who leads you by the hand. After the realization of God, one loses the distinction between the guru and the disciple. ‘That creates a very difficult situation; there the guru and the disciple do not see each other.
All the best!!