Ramana Maharshi said that God, guru, and the Self are the same. The guru, the true guide, awakens our own deeper being, or ātman, which is God itself. Ramana Maharshi realized that Self directly. His view from the Arunachala mountain, his darshan, his teaching, pointed directly at the ātman, at Self-realization. That unity of God, guru, and Self is the higher truth, and if your veil of attachment is very thin, you may be able, like Ramana, to penetrate directly to that essence in the heart.
But most of us, to get through our busy human incarnation and the profusion of forms we find in our lives, need guidance and help. Seeing the guru as separate from oneself is a way to approach it in steps of lesser truths. It’s a first step toward becoming the One. The reality of the guru or guide as separate from oneself is a method or vehicle for coming to God. It’s using a relationship with a separate entity, dualism, to get to the One, to the reality that the guru is identical with your inmost being.
The guru and the devotee are already related, not only in that higher realm where they are One, but because they have been together for many lifetimes. At some point the seeker is called to the guru or an inner realization reveals the guru, however he or she manifests. Wherever they are in their incarnations, the devotee is pulled to the guru by those associations like a moth to the flame.
At first when you’re pulled into the gravitational field of the guru’s consciousness, there’s a degree of awe. There may be some fear of the ego losing control, of the surrender, but it disappears in merging into the depth of the love. As the fear diminishes, the guru may more openly manifest the true form behind the form, as Krishna reveals to Arjuna his universal form in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita:
If the light of a thousand suns suddenly arose in the sky,
That splendor might be compared to the radiance of the Supreme Spirit.
And Arjuna saw in that radiance the whole universe in its variety,
standing in a vast unity in the body of the God of gods.
Trembling with awe and wonder, Arjuna bowed his head,
joining his hands in adoration…(12-14)
Krishna said, Thou hast seen now face to face my form divine so hard to see:
Only by love can men see me, and know me, and come unto me.
He who works for me, who loves me, whose End Supreme I am,
free from attachment to all things, and with love for all creation,
he in truth comes unto me. (53-55)
As mentioned earlier, Arjuna gets so freaked by this overwhelming cosmic revelation and begs Krishna to resume his familiar human form. But it is still a crucial opening, a preview for Arjuna. In similar fashion the fear and awe of God referred to in the Bible are steps on the path. As the attachments of the mind begin to disappear, even the awe is transcended as the separation begins to dissolve between the guru and the devotee. Form after form of the guru is acknowledged, honored, and released, as the seeker sinks deeper and deeper into the guru, into the Self, as the space between them decreases. It is like two intimate friends sitting together on the bank of the Ganges, and after a while there is only the river.
Finally comes the mystic union of seeker and God, lover and Beloved. The grace of the guru is the catalyst for that merging. After fulfilling the function of midwife or arranger of the marriage, the guru disappears as a separate entity, and the journey is complete.