Grace is such a lovely word. It signifies elegance, refinement, beauty and blessing. However, when we enter a relationship with a guru — one who is qualified as a true “dispeller of darkness” — things don’t always start out gracefully.

The word, guru, comes from the Sanskrit, gu, meaning "darkness," and ru, meaning "that which dispels." And you can imagine that when light starts shining into the shadows of our spiritual ignorance (avidya), we may not always like what we see. Personally, if I am going to invite someone into my dark and small places, I want to know that he will hold me in unconditional love and acceptance until I find my way out the other side. A true guru does this, but in a world of some teachers with motives of fame, adoration and financial profit positioning themselves as enlightened masters, we need some healthy skepticism in order to stay safe.

(To help, read also The Guru Guide: What to Watch Out for When Seeking Your Spiritual Master.)

When I began learning about gurus, I drove my teacher crazy with questions in an effort to sort out the true from the false. And I am glad I did, because it is essential to know what makes a true guru before we can understand what it means to receive the guru’s grace. Assuming you have a handle on the former, this article will help you understand what grace is, how it comes through a relationship with a guru, and all the benefits that come with this.

The Guru-Disciple Relationship

The bottom line is, only one who has attained the state of complete liberation from the egoistic self can be a clear channel of truth. Only one who has attained complete God Consciousness can offer someone else directions on the path of Self-realization. It is not enough for a teacher to be inspirational or encouraging, or show phenomenal experiences to their followers: Many brilliant teachers and therapists can educate us and illuminate our shadow sides, but these are not the same as "dispelling" them entirely and freeing us from the bonds of ego identification.

(Here's How to See the Ego for What it Is.)

A true guru wants nothing from the devotee for himself. He has zero personal agenda or desire, and only serves the student’s highest evolution. He offers unconditional love and is a transparent window through which the devotee may perceive his true nature. If a teacher wants something from the student, anything at all beyond the student’s spiritual liberation, he is not a master or true guru. And he cannot confer grace.

In a safe relationship, with a guru who has the above qualities and the sole desire for our highest well-being, we can trustingly dedicate ourselves to his sadhana, or spiritual practice, through which he may begin the transmission of grace by shaping us spiritually. Practices such as meditation, mantra repetition, seva, study of sacred texts and introspection, require self-discipline. We must be willing to accept all the tests and trials that the guru will impose to train and expand our consciousness, assured that his intention is to help us burn away any obstacles that obscure our soul awareness.

(More on the meaning of sadhana in Savor Your Sadhana: A Guide to Creating Your Daily Spiritual Practice.)

As we open our lives, withholding nothing, immersed in love, devotion and attunement to the guru’s omniscient wisdom, he helps us progress spiritually and eventually to transcend our karma. In this state of complete openness, we are held in unconditional love.

When Effort Is Complete, the Final Grace Happens

By igniting the spark of divine love in our hearts and feeding that fire through daily service, meditation and communion with Spirit, we invite grace. These are essential because without consistent sadhana, there can be no darshan (blessing) or grace. Grace unfolds silently with each dedicated effort we make. It is inherent within the sadhana itself.

As a devotee, we are expected to make all possible sincere efforts. When we have purified ourselves through spiritual practice, selflessness and surrender, and cleared our minds and outer lives of negative tendencies, then the full power of grace can be delivered through the guru, or God channel. God/guru’s grace is the final emancipating key liberating us from our own ignorance. We cannot cross the final barrier to Self-realization alone. It is only when all personal efforts have been exhausted, yet we remain devoted in love and pure surrender to the guru, that the final grace can happen.

Our receptivity to his divine guidance enables the guru to take the final aspects of our karma, offering us ultimate forgiveness and freedom. For most, this is experienced gradually, but it can also come through a spontaneous and direct transmission of energy from the guru called shaktipat, a Sanskrit word for grace. This can be conferred with a sacred word, eye contact, thought, or touch, often to the ajna (third eye) chakra of the devotee and would occur if the guru perceives the devotee’s karmic readiness.

Godsent Guru

Not everyone is ready for a guru. I wasn’t for most of my life. The guru is sent by God to free us when He is convinced that we are sincere. In the meantime, the guru waits, just behind our heart, mind, soul and breath; the nearest of the near, the dearest of the dear, always loving, always forgiving, always trying to pull us toward God.

“Through his grace, by going to his feet, by giving him that faith in which you have the courage and the determination to take up the sadhana that he gave without doubt, without hesitation; but with full resolve, determination, and divine love—you will see that through that blessing he has given, through that channel which he is, that you are looking, and you are flowing, right through him to God,” writes Sri Mrinalini Mata, a devotee of the great guru, Paramahansa Yoganada.

My daily practice leads me one step at a time in this direction, and I feel the blessings of the sadhana as ever-increasing levels of peace, intuition and love. I trust that when my efforts have been sufficient, the shaktipat of my guru’s grace will be bestowed and take me all the way home.

(Read on in Seeking Your Guru: A History of Gurus in the West + 6 Bits of Advice for the Seeker.)