To Answer this question, we need to define the meaning of ‘genuine’ first. If ‘genuine’ means ‘awakened‘ or ‘enlightened’, there’s no way you could tell if the teacher is genuine or not without being awakened or enlightened yourself. You could only guess whether the teacher might be awakened based on your own knowledge from spiritual information you’ve collected from the outside, with which you probably developed certain concepts on what awakening or enlightenment might be, and what an awakened teacher should be or might be.
Even if you found a truly awakened teacher, whether the teacher could be helpful for your path for awakening is another thing. Rather than try to find a genuine teacher, it would be more sensible to try to find a good or right teacher for you at your stage right now. Maybe the teacher will be able to guide you till your awakening, but maybe the teacher will be only helpful till you go through certain stages on your path. That’s still good and helpful. You can use the teacher as a steppingstone to go to next stage on your path.
To answer for this question from another angle, I will talk more about what to me is a more appropriate approach to finding a right teacher. I’d like to start with a story of UG Krishnamurti with Ramana Maharshi because I think it’s a classic story about a good spiritual teacher and a seeker. Please don’t quote me on the exact wording for this because it’s just from my memory of reading it a long time ago. When UG Krishnamurti met Ramana Maharshi, UG asked Ramana, “Can you give it to me what you have”. Ramana’s answer was, “I can give it to you, but can you take it”. When UG met Ramana, UG had searched for a right teacher for a long time already. But UG gave up finding a right teacher by then. However, his friend convinced him to meet Ramana to take a last chance to find a right teacher. Ramana’s answer apparently made UG upset because UG never thought that he might be the one who’s not qualified to awaken or be enlightened.
Spiritual seekers, especially people whose goal is to awaken or be enlightened, usually look for an awakened or enlightened teacher who can take their students to the right way to awaken. Which is quite normal and a sensible action when you have that goal. I did it myself too.
One thing we’ve got to remember here is that the consequences of our actions are always derived from our desires. We take actions based on our deeply rooted desires. We might see our desire as being for awakening, but the true desire might be something else, such as healing an old wound. When our true desire is for a peaceful mind, we will naturally get drawn to teachers who talk a lot about peaceful mind or world peace, and who teach techniques focused on that. They might be the right teachers for peaceful mind, but not necessarily for awakening.
More importantly, we often think that a good teacher can show us how to get to awakening, like a good school teacher who can explain the textbook in an easier way for students’ learning. However, how about yourself? You need to examine yourself before judging which teacher can make you awakened. Think about yourself. Are you truly ready to get what the teacher can offer to you? Can you even understand what the teacher is talking about? Is it really because of a teacher, or is it because of you when you cannot awaken? You might think having an awakened or enlightened teacher is very important, but can you truly recognise which teachers are awakened or enlightened? Have you ever thought that you might have come across an awakened teacher, but you ignored the teacher because the teacher wasn’t saying what you wanted to hear?
I’ve noticed that many seekers tend to overestimate their own ability to get to awakening. I’ve also noticed that seekers have a tendency to look for a teacher who knows, or has developed, certain generic techniques for awakening that all the students can follow. But as I already mentioned in another talk, every individual seems to respond differently to different practices. As a result, we all need to go through trial and error to find a right teaching or a practice for us, which in itself almost feels like a part of the process of the spiritual path.
I don’t think that a teacher necessarily has to be awakened, especially for those who are beginners on the path. However, I do think that the minimum requirement as a good teacher for a student is having a shaper mind and eyes than the student at that moment, in order to be able to give tailored guidance to the student.
If you truly want awakening or enlightenment and are still looking for a right teacher, please know that there’s no teacher who could make a primary school student jump up to a university level. Teachers are not a magician, but more like a guide on your path. If the teacher is awakened, that is definitely a massive advantage especially for advanced seekers. But I don’t think it’s necessary for all the seekers. Teachers who could give you accurate tailored guidance by observing your path, will be very helpful, rather than teaching general techniques or practices for everyone identically. Every seeker is different, therefore every guidance or teaching should be different to match each individual.
Teachers who have the guts to tell students the truth about what they see without fear of upsetting the student, like Ramana did to UG, might give good honest guidance to the student. To me, those kinds of teachers are genuine and good teachers who will be very helpful for seeker’s path eventually. Teachers who say bitter things about you now might become the one most helpful teacher on your path in the end, if you listen and try to see what the teacher tries to point out. You might be able to finally see the Moon, if you carefully pay attention to where the teacher’s finger is pointing to for you.