Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
WHEN the question of learning or of understanding a mystical or occult subject arises, the first thought that comes to the mind of a person in the East is that of discipleship. In the language of the Vedanta there is the Guru and the Chela; in Sufi terms we speak of Murshid and Mureed.
Just as in every civilization we meet with what the Sufis call Muruwwat – the regard that people have for their relations, the regard between father and son, mother and daughter, friend and friend, lover and beloved, husband and wife, master and pupil – so in the East there exists the special regard between the spiritual teacher and his disciple.
It is said that to have learned even one letter of one word from someone demands respect and consideration for him. So a person who walks on the spiritual path recognizes the goal towards which he is traveling, and realizes that the wealth he will obtain is great indeed; he is well aware of the fact that there is no return he can make which is in proportion to what he has received from the teacher. Therefore the chela or mureed on the occult and mystical path is more grateful to his master than a person in any other walk of life can be to any other.
Why is this? It is because he recognizes that there is nothing more precious and worthwhile in life than spiritual wealth and the light of wisdom. Whoever it was that helped him to receive the light and wisdom is surely the archway to heaven, the final goal into which he desires to enter. It is to this archway that he makes his first bow. One finds this expression in Hafiz and Sadi and in many other Sufi poets of Persia, who call their teacher Mihrab, the arch, the arch of that gate which leads to the shrine of God. People sometimes say that the eastern temperament makes their language, actions, and words so exaggerated, and indeed it is their nature to exaggerate, and they have a tendency to over-state things. But there are reasons for this attitude. First there is the respect in which the teacher of spiritual attainment is held, and then there is the fact that the way to attain high spiritual attainment is by crushing the ego. It crushes the ego to bow one's head before anyone out of respect. The ego wants to say, ' Here am I; you may think you are something, but I am something too!' But there is no room for wisdom as long as the ego is there, for the ego closes the door saying, 'Yes, you have your thoughts and I have mine!' So whenever a chela has this attitude towards the teacher he can not learn anything. It is not until the ego is crushed that the simple faith and perfect humility and innocence come which you see in the face of your Master, your Savior. It is not only his teaching which attracts us to Jesus Christ, it is his face of innocence. Any artist who tries to paint a picture of him by intuition will portray that simple innocence in the face of the Lord. Not fatherhood but sonship has won the heart of the world, and this is the first thing for a disciple to acquire. And he does this by crushing his ego.
Now there are different ways by which the ego can be crushed. Among the yogis, even today, there is a custom that when the chela comes to the guru his first lesson is to take the beggars bowl and go from house to house, bringing that which he gathers to the other chelas sitting there. The youngest chela brings the food that he has begged to the others, and he does not even beg for himself. In his heart he is already a monk who has taken up the bowl for others, for those who are meditating and learning the truth. Although the beggar's bowl is in his hand he may perhaps be greater than a king, for he is with out greed; he is crushing his ego; he is not thinking about what people will say when they see that he has taken up the beggar's bowl.
One of the kings of Baluchistan went to a Murshid with the desire to learn from him. He said, ' Will you accept me as one of your pupils?' I would so much like to be counted among your humble servants instead of remaining any longer on my throne.' The Murshid agreed to take him on probation, saying. ' Yes, and your first task will be to take the garbage of the house and throw it in a certain place outside the town.'
Now every one of the disciples knew that he was a king who had willingly resigned his throne; he was not exiled, and he did not have to run away from his kingdom; he had left it voluntarily. They felt sympathy for him, seeing him tried in this way, and they said to the Murshid in the course of time, 'Pray do not expect this task of him any more; he has been doing it for such a long time!' But always the Murshid's answer was, ' He is not yet ready for initiation,' To one pupil who argued the matter he said, 'Well, you may test him in any way you think good.'
So one day, as he was carrying his basket, one of the young men came up beside him and by pushing him upset the contents of the basket on the ground. So the King looked at him and said, ' Had I still been king as I was I would have done to you as a king would, but now, of course, I am not that any more, so I must not show my temper.' With that he gathered all the refuse together, put it back in the basket and carried it all away.
This was reported to the Murshid, but he said, ' Did I not tell you he is not yet ready?' However, after some time one of the pupils went to the teacher again and asked him to be kind to the former king and give him another task. But he answered, ' Try him again.' So he had to go through the same experience. This time the king did not say a word; he only looked at the offender for a moment and again gathered the refuse together, put it back in the basket, and went on his way. However, when this report too was brought to the Murshid he again said,' Not ready, not ready!'
Then the same thing was done a third time. This time the king was not only silent but he gathered up the garbage without even looking at the person who had upset it. And now, when the Murshid heard about this, he answered,' Now he is ready. Now the time has come for his initiation.'
Sometimes the method for crushing the ego seems crude to us, and yet this has been the essence of religion all through the ages. Jesus Christ said,' Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are the meek.... Blessed are the merciful.' What I have just told you shows what is meant by being poor in spirit. A person rich in spirit, high-spirited, would say to anyone who even stared at him when not invited, ' How dare you look at me in this way? You are not even allowed to look thus in my presence; how dare you do this to me?' Such a one is rich in spirit; the others are poor in spirit.
Thus different teachers have adopted different ways of crushing the ego. But it was never for their own gratification that teachers made their disciples show humility, to make up as it were for the fact that they themselves had to undergo the same process before they became teachers. No, such actions would not add to their own honor or greatness; the giving of such orders is nothing to them. If they are great they are great without such training being demanded of their pupils, without the deference implied. Whether a thousand people honor them or not, it does not signify. It gives them no satisfaction to have people to bow before them, prostrate themselves before the teacher. Why then do they expect it from their pupils? It is for the pupil's sake; it is to blunt the sharpness of that piercing and stinging ego which disturbs every individual, so that it shall not hurt anyone any more. This becomes a great achievement.
In our everyday life we can see that it is this sharpness of the ego, of 'I' of 'me', that hurts all the time, whether it be in someone closely related or not; whether it be son or daughter, father, mother, brother, sister, or just a friend. If anything about them hurts us it is just the ego. If one person hurts another it is only because of that person's ego. If we ever experience suffering in this world it is through this ego; sometimes it is the ego of another person, but sometimes it is our own ego too. One may compare it with a thorn, which is always pricking: it hurts whoever touches it. The more the egoistic a person is the more it hurts. So the teachers of mysticism know they must humiliate this ego, and the various methods they use are to do just this.
There was once a young man who was the son of a famous teacher. This teacher had a number of pupils from all over India. Not only was he a great teacher himself, but he had trained many other teachers; in fact in nearly every village and town there was by now a teacher who had been one of his disciples. Of course this son of his had received all kinds of attentions.
Now the son when still a boy one day had a dream and in this dream he saw himself visiting all the saints. He dreamed that there was a great gathering of saints and spiritual teachers and masters. He was accompanying his father, but whereas his father was admitted to the gathering he himself was not allowed in.
He felt this a severe humiliation, so when he woke up next morning he went to his father and said, 'I have had a very unhappy vision, for although I went with you to this gathering you were allowed in and I was not!' His father replied, ' This is a true message for you. To enter the spiritual path it is not enough for you to be my son; it is necessary for you to become someone's disciple. You have to learn what discipleship means.'
But the son kept thinking to himself, 'I am the son of a great teacher; from childhood I have learned so many things. I have inherited my father's knowledge. However great any teacher was, yet when he met my father he paid him such respect, such great respect. There cannot be anything better in these teachers than there is in me.' So he thought he should stay with his father and said,' Can there be anyone better than you, father, that I should become someone else's disciple?' But his father answered, ' No I am no use for that. You must have some other person who is suitable for this purpose.',' Who?' asked the young man. The teacher replied, ' that pupil of mine who was a peasant and who is teaching among the peasants. Go to him and be initiated by him.'
The son was very surprised, for he knew that this teacher was not well educated, He was illiterate; he was not of high birth; he had no special reputation; he was not famous in anyway. He was just living in a village in humble guise. For all that, his father sent him there.
So he traveled on foot, not very willingly, till he came to the village where this peasant lived. It so happened that this man was on his way on horseback from his own farm to another, and he saw the young man coming towards him. When the young man came near and bowed before him the teacher looked down on him and said,' Not enough.'
Thereupon the young man bowed to his knees. The peasant teacher again said, 'Not enough.' Then he bowed down to his feet, and still the teacher said, 'Not enough.' So he bowed down to the horse's knees, but again the teacher said, ' Not enough.' So the young man bowed once more, this time to the horses feet, touching the horses hoof, whereupon the peasant teacher said to him, ' you can go back now; you have had your training.' That was all! No exercises, no sacred word to learn, nothing to study, no training course. He had learned the lesson he had to learn; it was for this his father had sent him. It was for this lesson that he had come; it was a lesson, which his father could not give him. So now he was admitted to the circle of the mystics.