Tattva means essence or element. Guru Tattva, then, means Guru essence or element.
In the most complete sense, Guru Tattva is the natural, inexorable mechanism or process by which manifest life moves from a relative state of ignorance of Self to Self-realization.
The life process of manifest beings is, in general, a movement toward discovering how things really are.
The lila, or play of manifest life is a game of forgetting and remembering. We forget our real nature, and we slowly remember. If we dedicate ourselves to sadhana, we remember a little faster.
Reality, or Shiva Nature, has the capacity to produce experiences we call “duality” or diversity. This capacity to elaborate a world (Maya) is the nature of Shiva consciousness. The creation is not a decision that happened one day. Creation is ongoing in every moment. The creation arises from, within, and of the primordial intelligence and its creative energy.
The usual story of creation from a Judeo-Christian perspective is a linear story. First this happened, then that happened. From a Tantrik perspective, the world is comprised of expressive layers and zones, not of lines and ladders. The layers express movements from subtle to gross manifestations of Reality. A whisper is more subtle than a shout, and a subtle channel, a nadī, is more subtle than an artery. All of the creation moves from subtle to gross and back to subtle again, coming and going. The zones, or anda, are overlapping, fuzzy domains of related and porous creative expressions. For instance, you are not an individual with definite boundaries. You are an open zone of creative expression that has the potential to appear as an object.
Ignorance means we are only aware of gross manifestations, or modes of appearing. Self-realization means we can experience much more of the wisdom and subtlety of the creation and can participate with greater awareness.
How do we become more aware and learn to participate? Whether we are engaged in sadhana or not, the answer is the the Guru Tattva.
Everything that happens here in duality has the capacity to reveal wisdom. The world is embodied wisdom, but most of us don’t experience that with much awareness. “Guru” means “dispeller of ignorance.” The mechanism by which ordinary life becomes our teacher of Self-realization is Guru Tattva.
This mechanism is present everywhere in every moment, but until we are more open and relaxed, it takes a special circumstance to get us to participate. That special circumstance is the Guru. Each Guru is an embodied instance of Guru Tattva. So, flesh and blood Gurus are part of the mechanism of Guru Tattva.
Most of us need a live person as Guru because that is the only level of Reality in which we are participating with more or less awareness. Guru is Guru Tattva made just for us.
Without this function of Guru Tattva, we would have no mechanism for relaxing our state of ignorance. If you have a can of food, and the potential of eating the food, but no can opener, you will starve. Guru is the can opener.
Once we become more relaxed, once the can is open a little, we can receive more wisdom. At first we are totally focused on the Guru as our one teacher. Soon, we begin to recognize more of the Guru’s wisdom in our everyday life situations. The world seems to be conspiring to teach us to Self-realize. Well, it always has been conspiring, but we just didn’t notice it before!
Later on, more and more of life seems to be saturated with Guru. It can even happen that, at some stage, a sadhika (practitioner) feels a little hemmed in by all of the instructions that seem to be coming from everywhere, or a little overwhelmed by the wisdom that is pouring out of every nook and cranny of the world.
At another point, there is no distinction whatsoever between Self and Guru. Interestingly, this is the point at which the original Guru-disciple relationship began: with a transmission of the equality of the essence nature of Guru and disciple. After years of sadhana, we have finally come to embody that. Now we are capable of continuing the process of Self-realization without the technology of an external Guru. External and internal have revealed themselves to be one and the same.
The very fact that Guru Tattva exists and appears to us in the form of our Guru can engender tremendous wonder and gratitude. Guru is the ultimate manifestation of compassion, and no matter what our circumstance, we can remember this and begin to relax.