Rare is the true Teacher and rarer still is the true pupil18 min read

Dr. Shastri’s free translation of the 16th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita says :

“OM. Those who disregard the spiritual experience of the Sages of the past and act according to their own impulses, thinking they can follow Yoga and meditation independently, fail to obtain happiness, perfection or the supreme goal. Personal guidance is essential to perfection in Yoga. One must always ponder on the experience of the sages, as recorded in the Scriptures, and follow the rules of ethics laid down by them, and the discipline they prescribe. It is foolish for a man to say: ‘I follow my own path’, misinterpreting his emotions for intuitions.”

There is a saying to this effect: “Rare is the true Teacher and rarer still is the true pupil, but where this rare partnership is present, anything may be achieved.”

In these verses from the Gita, the dependence of the pupil on his Teacher is implied and advocated. This dependence has nothing to do with servitude or servility. It is a voluntary state that will ultimately be transcended, just as every other phase of the inner training, and in fact every other phase of life too, will have to be transcended, if the goal is to be reached. Even Yoga itself, if it is considered as an end and not as a means to an end, will prove static and unproductive.

Yoga is not a way of life, it is a preparation for the true and free life, and only that. When its object has been gained, it can be laid aside, for the illumined Yogi does not need to practise it any more; he lives it, and henceforth he will make no mistakes and will harm none.

The West does not take very kindly to the idea of dependence, it regards it as a sign of weakness or superficial acceptance, and in the beginning, many of us thought the same. We felt that our prejudices were not really prejudices at all, but reasoned convictions, and that the conventionality which was strong in some of us, was in fact integrity. It was only after much water had passed under our bridges that the idea began to dawn on some of us that we were not being offered a new science or a system of thought, in other words, we were not being offered an intellectual adventure, but a spiritual opportunity in the form of a particular and tested way of unveiling Truth.

Truth is revealed in its entirety to illumined men alone, but a faint surmise of its existence lies hidden in every heart, and it lures men on to many adventures. The method by which it is disclosed can only be imparted by those who have already been successful in the search, for it is highly specialised and calls for the dedication of the heart and mind rather than a re-arrangement of the worldly circumstances.

Dr. Shastri once said that all knowledge has one object and it is the bringing into view, the pursuit, and finally the capture of its quarry—Truth, and also that knowledge is at root one— the knowledge by which a human being is known being basically the same as that by which God is known. The sphere of its operation is different but the consciousness which plays on it is the same.

Perhaps the chief work of Dr. Shastri’s literary life was the translation of the Ramayana of Valmiki. This is a stupendous epic of thousands of shlokas, and in it there is a story of a magic deer, which lures Prince Rama away from his hermitage into the forest. Changing its shape and colour at will, it entices him further and further into the trees. Truth is like that deer, in so far as every desire which attracts man is Truth under some disguise. Its pursuit is the motive of life here on earth, and anyone who says that it is only exercise that the sportsman is after has never felt the magic of the chase. Yoga, like all other enterprises, is intended to reach an objective, and when that has been gained you can dismount from your horse and sit in the shade.

At this point a questioner may say, “I have no use for similes, what I want to know is how a man is to decide what he will pursue and study and what will really suit him. Surely he must use the knowledge he already has of himself to guide him. What is the use of placing trust on someone who has probably only just come into his life and who cannot know his psychological difficulties and so on?”

The answer to this query or objection is, that the last thing a man will come to know is himself. At the start he is too deeply implicated in trying to interpret his various reactions, and with his sense of inferiority or superiority, to be able to form any true estimate of himself; all he can usually produce at this stage is a despairing sigh—not a verdict. Due to this almost inevitable preoccupation with himself, his assessment of the world of ideas and things round him is faulty and coloured by ego sense, but those who have stepped outside themselves—I mean the illumined Teachers—see differently, for they have brought those great powers which, in an ordinary man, lie unsuspected behind his active mind, into the foreground and into focus.

To the Teachers, every man is a spiritual embryo and not an already completed being, and so sure are they of the glories which await him that, through the hidden transference of their concentrated creative vision of his destiny, inner changes are set up in him, which, at long last, will bring him the freedom they already enjoy. This freedom, this state of independence—is the goal of all endeavour and the unacknowledged desire of all men, but it is only achieved and earned by passing through a preliminary stage of pupilhood, which is synonymous with extreme dependence and a willingness to sacrifice the child of our own creation, our egoistic minds.

The Teachers of old used to be called ‘Tirtha Karas’ or ‘ford finders’, that is—those who knew the safe place to cross a river, and who could therefore lead their followers through the dangerous currents of life. These ‘ford finders’ expected implicit obedience from the pilgrims in their band, if they were to bring them safely across the currents to the other shore, and they had strong ideas how a pupil should conduct himself while they were instructing him.

They expected him to keep himself free from worldly influences, and in the Maitri Upanishad it describes some of the impediments to the acquirement of knowledge which are the result of indiscriminate associationship with the worldly. “O King,” it says,

“now follows an account of the impediments in the way of knowledge. This indeed is the source of the net of delusion—associationship by one who is worthy of heaven with those who are not worthy of heaven— this is it! Now there are some who are always hilarious, always abroad, always begging. Though they may be told there is a grove beside them they cling to a small shrub. And there are others who are beggars in towns, who perform sacrifices for the unworthy, who are wicked, who wear their hair in a twisted knot, who are dancers, mercenaries, travelling mendicants, actors and those who have been degraded in the King’s service. And others there are who for money profess that they can allay the evil influences of Yakshas, Rakshasas, ghosts, goblins, serpents, imps and the like. And others there are who love to distract the believers in the Vedas by the jugglery of false arguments and comparisons—with them one should not associate. These creatures are evidently thieves and unworthy of heaven. For thus it has been said: ‘The world, bewildered by the doctrines which deny the Self by false comparisons and proofs, does not discern the difference between wisdom and knowledge.’ Well, this makes our times seem quite dull and almost safe, but one still recognises some of the types! When you read such a category of what was apparently considered attractive and tempting, one thinks of the writer who said: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

These injunctions apply of course only to the accepted disciple, and then only when he is being trained. Later on he will be able to consort with whoever he pleases, for by that time he will be insulated—so to say. But there will always be those whose purpose sways about like a rocking cradle, who, as the Maitri says,

“Though told that there is a grove beside them, still cling to a small shrub.”

These men must go their ways, but where the desire to know is coupled with a willingness to make sacrifices in order to know and a determination to fulfil the requirements of the one who does know—then progress is assured.

Dr. Shastri used to say that power comes from obedience, where obedience is consciously and willingly practised, and that the pupil needed three things if he was to draw from the Teacher, as a calf draws from the cow—a strong will, a strong faith and a programme. He once went so far as to say that you must be strong before you can be spiritual. The pupil will need a strong will to carry out the orders given by his Teacher, intelligently, a strong faith in the Truth and the ability of the Teacher to impart it, which, you may be sure will be called into operation when the purposes of the Teacher are shrouded in mystery, and a constructive plan by which the way of his Teacher and himself can be made easier.

He must think this plan out for himself, for even while he is dependent on the Teacher, he must do certain things for himself, and he will have to destroy his own pain by his own efforts, which means to say, that he will have consciously to put the Teachings he is given into practice and not wait supine for everything to be done for him. There is one other thing that he can do for himself. It is an imaginative exercise, which will make his path much smoother.

He can visualise, what is a fact, that he lives in the body and mind and not as the body and mind—that he lives in the body as a guest or a lodger. No one feels humiliated if his car is taken to pieces in the public highway, to detect a fault, and no one should be personally abased when imperfections in the personality are pointed out by the Teacher and he is told to remedy them. The mind is a man’s vehicle and not himself. In all progress there is a time when, although growth is going on, it is hidden—it has gone underground, so to say.

The winter fields look dead at a certain time of the year, and so does the pupil, at certain stages in his training, and so does he feel. When this winter descends on him, he will need all his faith and courage to believe that this is pre-eminently a period when secret growth is going on, and that time, and the warmth and rain of the Teacher’s compassion, will surely produce buds and shoots in his mind in due course.

Now that the word ‘time’ has been mentioned, it must be considered. Our questioner is, we feel sure, used to the synthetic living of today, where to want is to have, or apparently to have, and then to cease to have, as quickly; where concordances take the place of laborious but rewarding research, and wireless and television administer pills of culture indiscriminately to all and sundry—and he will no doubt say: “Surely, this process of learning need not take so long as all that! It obviously could be speeded up with advantage, and will have to be, if it is to be of any use in this life.”

Unfortunately it is not so simple as all that—it is not speedy to make lasting changes within and without, and the Eastern teaching has always been, that you do not get wisdom by improving your mental faculties, but by purifying them. If you accept this, then you are in for a long and arduous business, for Dr. Shastri used to say, that a cat has nine lives, but the mind has 900 and more! The fact that the Truth, which has been imparted by the Teacher, has been grasped by the mind, is no evidence that it has been absorbed into the inner being. That will only be known by results.

To the Gurus of old and the true Teachers of today also, time, from one point of view, is of little account, but from another it is looked on as the maturing factor. Wine can be drunk the year it is bottled, and to those who do not know what wine can be, it may be a treat, but to the connoisseur it is a tragedy.

Mellowness does not fall like dew from heaven, it rises from the root and spreads through the whole organism, and the Yogic instructors knew that need, long felt, fosters imagination and intensity, and ripens the personality, and it was part of their technique to place obstacles in the path of the j disciple in order to increase this need and test his determination to hold on.

The Upanishads are full of tales of Teachers who kept their disciples apparently idle for years, watching the desired instruction being given to others. We can imagine those whose purpose was weak, soon passed from the scene with imprecations, but that when the moment for direct instruction of the true pupil arrived, he would learn in a flash, for the ground of his mind had been purified and matured during that long period of waiting, obedience and service.

The importance of the time factor in training and the impossibility of hurry, is a point which is stressed in many of the classics. “No one whose senses are not under control, whose mind is not at rest and collected, can acquire this Truth”, says one Sage, and the great Dattatreya says in the Avadhut Gita: This Self of which the high Yogis speak, most subtle, beyond perception, without attributes, must be realized step by step, and not by sudden violence.” In the Maitri Upanishad there is a beautiful description of the disciple at the moment when he passes from dependence to independence. It is so long I will only quote a few passages from some of the verses: it says:

“Having left behind (that is—forgotten or transcended) the elements, the objects of the senses and the organs of sense, and having seized the bow whose stick is fortitude, and whose string is asceticism, and having struck down the first guardian at the door of Brahma, with the arrow which is fashioned of egoism, he crosses, by means of the boat OM, to the other side of the space within the heart and slowly enters into the Hall of Brahma, as a miner seeking minerals enters into a mine. After that, let him, by means of the doctrine of his Teacher, break through the shrine of Brahma and reach the last shrine, that of blessedness and identity with Brahman. Now he has gained his independence. Henceforward, pure, tranquil, imperishable, firm and independent, he abides in his own greatness, and looks on the wheel of the world, as one who has alighted from a chariot, looks on its revolving wheels.”

When this stage is reached, there is no dependence on control of the mind, or indeed on control of any kind. The peak of being is independence of all external and internal things, which is, in a sense, Self-dependence, but the Self is then the Self of all.

By now, our questioner, who is, we know, given to interruption, has been shifting in his seat for some time, and he breaks in with a contribution: “Very, very beautiful indeed”, he says, “but what about the position where there is no Teacher available to instruct and to be served, and to be depended on? Surely the whole thing doesn’t make sense without one?”

Well, this is his trump card, so let him play it! The poor man is evidently very modem and a worshipper of time and speed— push and go—as it is called, and we have already proved that we are building for eternity, and not erecting a dwelling like a modern house which will be swept away before we are.

The masters of any art are not easy of access, and very often they require the potential pupil to pass through other hands, before they consent to teach him themselves. The pupil is not born on the day he is accepted by the Teacher, he is bom on the day on which he starts preparing for a Teacher. When I was young I studied the piano in Germany, and I was accepted, by an error, as a matter of fact, by a very great teacher indeed. But what a lot of unnecessary work he had to do, because through this mistake, I had come to him direct, too soon, and not properly prepared.

“You should have done all this before you came to me”, he used to grumble, and I suffered proportionately. The consciously held principle is everything, from first to last. Once you work with a clearly defined object in view, and are willing to wait and to sacrifice in order to achieve your purpose, events will fall into place and you will get your Teacher in his own good time. And during the period of so- called waiting, which is really a period of inner preparation, there is a lot that can be done.

The inner qualities such as patience, continuity of purpose, have to be awakened and fostered. I remember Dr. Shastri once telling a potential pupil whom he had not yet finally accepted, that he should meditate every day on some virtue such as forgiveness, angerlessness, fortitude and so forth and that when he had come to the end of the list he should go over it again! Without a bowing acquaintance with these virtues, there can be no control of the mind or the emotions, and without control there will be no entry into the realm of meditation.

Dr. Shastri also advised aspirants to read about the Saints of God of all lands, promising them that holiness would pass into them as they read. This must be so, for the great Ones keep nothing for themselves, and even with his pupils, Dr. Shastri’s test of whether you had absorbed some teaching into your system, was whether you practised it and manifested it in such a way that others fell in love with it and adopted it, without knowing why.

Surely our questioner will now agree that there is plenty to do before the actual training by a recognised Teacher begins ? In the great classics such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Crest Jewel of Wisdom and also in the works of Swami Rama Tirtha and our Teacher, a great many valuable hints are given which will help the aspirant at this stage, and he must foster his spirit of enquiry by study, association with those who know, and constructive questioning.

Truth can come from many unexpected sources. It can come from the North, South, East and West and the one who imparts it need not necessarily be a human being. The important point for the would-be learner is to keep alert and alive and above all unprejudiced so that he may recognize instruction when it appears.

In the Srimad Bhagawatam, the great Sage Dattatreya testifies that he has learnt from many Teachers, not only one. He says that he has been instructed amongst others, by the sun, the child, the python, the bee.

He says: “Water is sweet and pure. From it I learnt the good taste of tastelessness. I have therefore taken water as one of my Gurus. Patience, forgiveness, supporting others without expectation of gratitude, this I have learnt from my Guru, the earth. The wind blows everywhere, over the flower-beds, desert marshes, palaces and prisons, without being attached to any of them, without preference or dislike. So I go everywhere, scattering my blessings of peace, without being attached to anyone. My Guru the wind has taught me this lesson”.

“Though thousands of rivers empty themselves into the sea, and yet it remains within its limits, so remains undisturbed the mind of a knower of God, though objects of all kinds pour themselves into it. Thus is the sea, my Guru. From the arrow- maker I have learnt the value of concentration. In a certain town there lived an arrow-maker, who devoted his full attention to his trade. Once while he was beating the point of an arrow, the King and his procession went by in the street. He was so attentive to his work that he knew nothing of the King’s passing, and when they asked him how he liked the music of the procession, he asked: ‘What procession? When did it pass?’ ”

So ought we to concentrate on the Truth, so that no external object or event can disturb us.

This extract is translated by Dr. Shastri, and he also translated the Avadhut Gita, which is the song of this great Sage.

Surely it shows that there are many sources of instruction and inspiration to be tapped before we need despair of attracting the attention of a holy Teacher.