The yogi and mystic Shankaracharya was a very important figure in the evolution of spirituality in India, as we can see from this tale told by Hazrat Inayat Khan. It refers to an event which would have occurred some thirteen centuries earlier, but it seems fresh in the mind of Hazrat Inayat, and we are left with the impression that it was a recent occurrence. The Inner Call has posted several pieces of Shankaracharya’s writing; for more about him, please consult this post.
There was once a conference of religions in Calcutta, and representatives of all mystical schools were invited to this congress. Shankaracharya was the leading representative of Brahmanism present. After a most impressive lecture Shankaracharya wished to sit in silence, but there was a desire on the part of the audience that some of their questions might be answered. Shankaracharya looked here and there among his disciples, and asked one of them to answer the questions.
Which disciple was this? It was someone who was not even known to Shankaracharya’s pupils, for he was mostly occupied in looking after the sage’s dinner or dusting his room and keeping it in order. So the people who were known to be something were not asked. This man was asked. They did not even know that he existed.
He had never done a thing like that in his whole life; it was only because he was asked that he stood up without thinking whether he would be able to give the answer or not. But the answer that he gave to every question was as if it was given by Shankaracharya himself. The pupils of Shankaracharya were filled with admiration and bewilderment at the same time, not having seen this man among them.
It is this which is recognised by Sufis as tawajeh*, reflection. It was not that pupil, it was the teacher himself who was speaking there.
*Tawajeh, also tawajoh, means attention, or concentration, and in Sufi teaching, refers to the reflection of the teacher’s mind in the mind of the student.