While earlier posts in the series on Initiation described various aspects of the preparation and attitude of the seeker, this instalment gives precious insight into the work of the teacher. The previous post in the series may be found here.
The teacher does not always teach in plain words. The spiritual teacher has a thousand ways. It may be that by his prayers he can guide his disciple; it may be by his thought, his feeling, or his sympathy, so that even at a distance he may guide him. And therefore, when a disciple thinks that he can be taught only by words or teachings, by practices or exercises, it is a great mistake.
In order to get the right disciples and the right people to come to him, a Sufi who lived in Hyderabad made a wonderful arrangement. He got a grumpy woman to sit just near his house; and to anyone who came to see the great teacher, she would say all kinds of things against the teacher: how unkind he was, how cruel, how neglectful, how lazy; there was nothing she would leave unsaid. And, as a result, out of a hundred, ninety-five would turn back; they would not dare to come near him. Perhaps only five would come, wanting to form their own opinion about him. And the teacher was very pleased that the ninety-five went away, for what they had come to find was not there; it was somewhere else.
There is another side to this question. The first thing the teacher does, is to find out what is the pressing need of his disciple. Certainly, the disciple has come to seek after truth, and to be guided to the path of God, but at the same time, it is the psychological task of the teacher to give his thought first to the pressing need of his disciple, whether the disciple speaks of it or not. And the teacher’s effort is directed towards removing that first difficulty, because he knows it to be an obstacle in the disciple’s way. It is easy for a soul to tread the spiritual path, because it is the spiritual path that the soul is looking for. God is the seeking of every soul, and every soul will make its way naturally, providing there is nothing to obstruct it, and so the most pressing need is the removal of any obstruction. Thus, a desire can be fulfilled, it can be conquered, or it can be removed. If it is fulfilled, so much the better. If it is not right to fulfil it, then it should be conquered or removed, in order to clear the way. The teacher never thinks that he is concerned with his disciple only in his spiritual progress, in his attainment of God, for if there is something blocking the way of the disciple, it will not be easy for the teacher to help him.
There are three faculties which the teacher considers essential to develop in the disciple: deepening the sympathy, showing the way to harmony, and awakening the spirit of beauty. One often sees that, without being taught any particular formula, or receiving any particular lesson on these three subjects, the soul of a sincere disciple will grow under the guidance of the right teacher, like a plant which is carefully reared and watered every day and every month and every year. And without knowing it himself, he will begin to show these three qualities, the ever-growing sympathy, the harmonizing quality increasing every day more and more, and the expression and understanding and appreciation of beauty in all its forms.
One may ask, is there no going backward? Well, sometimes there is a sensation of going backward; just as when one is at sea, the ship may move in such a way that one sometimes has the feeling that one is going backward, although one is really going forward; one can have the same sensation when riding on an elephant or a camel. When, in the lives of some disciples, this sensation is felt, it is nothing but a proof of life. Nevertheless, a disciple will often feel that since he became a disciple, he finds many more faults in himself than he had ever seen before. This may be so, but it does not mean that his faults have increased; it only means that now his eyes have become wider open, so that every day he sees many more faults than before.
There is always a great danger on the spiritual path that the disciple has to overcome: he may develop a feeling of being exalted, of knowing more than other people, of being better than other people. As soon as a person thinks, ‘I am more’, the doors of knowledge are closed. He will no more be able to widen his knowledge, because, automatically, the doors of his heart are closed the moment he says, ‘I know’. Spiritual knowledge, the knowledge of life, is so intoxicating, so exalting, it gives such a great joy, that one begins to pour out one’s knowledge before anyone who comes along, as soon as this knowledge springs up.
But if, at that time, the disciple could realize that he should conserve that kindling of the light, reserve it, keep it within himself, and let it deepen, then his words would not be necessary; his presence would enlighten people. But as soon as the spring rises, and he pours forth what comes out of that spring in words, although on the one side his vanity will be satisfied, yet on the other his energy will be exhausted. The little spring that had risen he has poured out before others, and he remains without power. This is why reserve is taught to the true disciple, the conserving of inspiration and power. The one who speaks is not always wise; it is the one who listens who is wise.
To be continued…