An internal dialogue that resolves a seeker’s questions about the place of the master in the spiritual life
How should a disciple be, and how should he behave in the master’s presence?
Basically, he shouldn’t ‘be’ at all. In the presence of the master, the disciple should be absent, as if he is not there at all. Only then will true communion happen. Before that, there is only communication, but not communion.
The master can only share himself with you when you are no longer in the way. So just get out of the way. One gets in the way when one has strong preferences, expectations, opinions, judgements, and so on.
The day the disciple is completely absent, the master and the disciple become one. It can happen in a moment, it can take a thousand lifetimes. It all depends on how long you take to get out of the way. You are the only barrier.
Can you talk about judgements, preferences and expectations, and how they get in the way of the master-disciple relationship?
When we think of crucifixion, we mostly think of Jesus Christ. But the truth is, every master is crucified on a regular basis by his disciples. When the seeker meets his guru for the first time, he is full of awe and wonder. He immediately senses the divinity, the silence, the wisdom that radiates from the guru’s being. He wants to get closer to the guru.
The guru, seeing the disciple’s passion for truth, allows him to come closer, and that is when the dangerous territory starts. Because as he comes closer, his attention starts to focus on the guru’s mechanism, the guru’s ‘personality’. Invariably, the disciple will find things that don’t agree with his concepts of what an ‘evolved’ human being should be like. So he will judge, condemn and crucify his master internally, in his own mind. And in doing so, he will become a barrier for his own evolution. He will get in the way.
In actuality, the ego uses judgements as a defence mechanism to prevent true love, true surrender from happening. Without judgements, the ego cannot survive—it will drown into the ocean that the master is.
Doesn’t this crucifixion affect the master?
It definitely does. Most disciples have a tendency to seesaw between the polarities of extreme love and intense hatred for the master. And when the disciple is in a state of ‘focused hate’, the master is bound to become energetically affected.
Some masters, who are energetically sensitive, can tell straightaway when some student is generating anger towards them. But many others may simply suffer unknowingly. That is why there are many teachers who choose to keep a distance from their students. They want to protect their own safety and sanity.
There are also others who open their arms wide, welcoming all who are drawn towards them, knowing fully well that each new student brings with him a new set of problems, a new set of complications, and the potential of energetic aggression at every step. Even the most evolved masters are sometimes tested by the stupidity and unconsciousness of disciples. It is only their extraordinary compassion that prevents them from leaving this entire mess behind and vanishing into some jungle.
Being a master means being compassion itself, being patience itself.
How can a disciple avoid crucifying the master?
It is quite hard, almost impossible, especially if you are in close contact with your master. If he is dealing with you in a friendly, human way, your focus is bound to fall on his ‘human’ side.
Some people see the Awakened One as being divine, as being God, as being Consciousness itself. While this definition is accurate, it is still incomplete. The Awakened One is a being in whom the human and the divine co-exist in beautiful synchronicity and harmony. The ‘human side’, though minimised and often highly cleaned up, still exists.
It is this human side of the master which the disciple’s ego will seek to attack. It could be anything, like a master who loves to read spy novels or likes to watch television or dresses carelessly at times or argues with the milkman about the monthly bill! Just about any excuse will do, and the disciple’s mind will start its job—judging, condemning, crucifying.
It is a continuous challenge. It takes an extraordinary amount of intelligence and love to see the human side of the master and not pull him down to your level. But the ego has to pull the master down. That is the only way it can prevent further growth, and prevent its own inevitable dissolution.
The other issue involved here, probably more important than the first, is that the process of awakening in itself is a painful process. Osho said: “It is like peeling your skin off.” Kabir said that the guru is like a potter—he supports the pot from the inside with one hand and beats and moulds from the outside with the other hand. The disciple is like a lump of clay in the hands of the master—the beating and moulding are inescapable. These are the moments when the ego really resists, really trembles, because the ‘hit’ of the master is no ordinary hit. It invariably strikes bull’s eye, hitting you exactly where it hurts. If the disciple manages to walk through the fire, he will reach a new level and his heart will sing with gratitude. If not, he will simply escape.
The master’s job is not easy. He has to tear down the very disciples he loves. The master also has to bear the ‘pain’ of being misunderstood on a regular basis. Though he is motiveless, disciples will project their motives on to him. Though he is selfless, disciples will project their selfishness on to him. Our vision of the master is based solely on the level of our own spiritual evolution.
One can only understand the guru when one is totally absent. Until then, errors in perception are bound to happen, which will be followed by doubt, argument, resistance and the desire to prove the master wrong. Though this cannot be completely prevented, an intelligent and sensitive student will realise his error and try to come out of it. Some others may stay in this space longer, even for years. The ego can sustain this process indefinitely through the use and misuse of logic and justification. In doing so, it succeeds in its primary task of preventing its own dissolution.
How important is it to have a living master?
In my perception, it is very, very important. The greatest danger on the spiritual path is self-deception. The student can deceive or hypnotise himself into believing anything. I have heard people talking about ‘the oneness of all things’ after reading just one book. They start to believe that they know! It is so hard to tell them that spirituality starts where words end. Spirituality is not about intellectual but energetic transformation.
A lot of patience, persistence and grace are required. Even ‘senior’ meditators can fall into this trap of false knowing. They are so eager to finish their journey quickly and become gurus that they fool themselves. That is why a guide or a guru is so important. Only a being who is more evolved can see where the lesser evolved being is stuck. You need the presence of a person who can see more than you, further than you, more clearly than you.
Unfortunately, even though the master sees and shares, it is not certain that his message will be received. The master’s work is subtle and complex. But what makes his impossible work possible is that he is not doing anything! He is no longer the ‘doer’. He is simply a ‘catalytic agent’ in whose presence miraculous and mysterious events just happen.
The guru alone cannot do anything. It is the disciple’s thirst, his passion for truth, his dogged determination, and above all his trust in his master that makes the magic happen. All said and done, if you are lucky enough to find a living master, stick with him!
Bulleshah, one of India’s great mystic-poets, compares himself to a dog. He says that no matter how many times the master kicks the dog, and shouts at him to go away, the faithful dog will simply walk around the block and return to the master’s doorstep.
It seems it is far better if the disciple maintains some distance between himself and the master.
That definitely has its advantages. When you see the master from a distance, divinely dressed, sitting on a podium and giving a talk, the relationship between a master and disciple remains clear.
The disciple finds it easier to retain his sense of love and respect. The other way is far more dangerous, almost like walking on a tightrope at all times. The journey gets far more intense, but probably faster as well.
When the master offers his physical proximity to you, at some level he has seen you worthy of the challenge. Spending so much time in the presence of the master is a huge blessing. It is like ‘spiritual sunbathing’—it is an invisible and mysterious process of energy transmission that has the capacity to transform your life. This is because his presence is a powerful healing force, a continuous wake-up call.
Here again, the disciple has to be careful. It is quite easy to fall ‘asleep’, and start taking things for granted. The disciple, instead of feeling grateful, starts feeling special and superior, and his ego becomes bigger than Mt Everest!
At that time, you can be sure that an existential ‘kick’ is on its way. It is nature’s way of bringing you back to reality, showing you your true place.
So in case you get a chance to be physically close to a master, be thankful. Make sure you thank God and the guru for giving you the chance. And pray for the wisdom and the humility to remain worthy of this divine relationship. For at the end of your life, this is probably the one relationship that will have made all the difference.
A former Bombay advertising copywriter, Gyandev (Saahil Surti) is a spiritual guide and professional Flower Essences practitioner and therapist. He lives near his guru, Swami Chaitanya Bharti, in Pune.
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