Spiritual Schools

” Whoever always meditates on Him, whether from desire, anger, fear, affection, friendship, or reverence, surely becomes one with Him.”-Shrimad Bhagavat.

” He worships Me with his whole being.”-Gita.

The tradition in all great mystical schools is that to have Enlightenment it is necessary to study under a teacher. The teacher is one who knows the Scriptures, who has woken up from the illusion of the passing world, and who has realized in his own experience the identity of the individual soul with the all-pervading Spirit. The teacher does not speak as an individual ; his voice is the voice of Reality, though heard from the mouth of a man. To grasp this point, take the case of a dream.  It is a fact, established by Freud among others, that a dream tries to protect its existence against the incursions of reality.

If a bell rings in the sleeper’s room, the dream at once incorporates this incompatible element into itself, and builds with lightning rapidity a scene into which the sound ofa bell fits naturally.

Similarly, if someone says : ” Wake up ! You are dreaming ! ” the words are transferred to one of the characters of the dream. In these ways the dream tries to keep going its dramatic presentations and cover up the reality of the situation, which is that the dream-play, beautiful or terrible, is an illusion. The world-illusion called empirical life also protects itself against Reality, and the voice of Reality is first heard through the mouth of one of the characters in the world-illusion itself, namely the teacher.

Now in many cases, though the dream does manage to protect itself to some extent, such words as ” Wake up ! You are dreaming ! ” especially if repeated, set up by their very incongruity a sort of doubt or disbelief in the dream reality (the dream cannot change the words themselves; though it can hide the fact that they come from a realm outside the time and space of the dream). If maintained, this doubt rouses the slumbering memory of waking reality. The sleeper awakes to the realization that nothing has really been happening. The scenes he had been experiencing were all illusions. He finds himself in bed, and knows that in fact he had been at rest the whole time.  Just so the statements of the teacher, pondered upon and accepted, set up a current in the pupil’s mind.

Supported by the pupil’s own reason, strengthened in his meditations and mystic practices, this current becomes strong enough to continue throughout the pupil’s daily life. It ends in an awakening, the realization that he is, and always was, the all-pervading Spirit.

In the meantime the mind, which is the foundation of the world-illusion, seeks to protect itself by smothering the truth in irrelevancy, in laziness, in doubt, in a feeling that the whole question must be proved theoretically before any attempt at practice is made. It is almost impossible for a man to awaken himself from the world-illusion, because the instrument he would use, the mind, is itself the mainspring of that illusion.

A traditional teacher does not simply enunciate certain propositions to his pupils and leave them to make what they can of them. The water drunk by the cow produces milk, and the same water drunk by the snake becomes poison. An untrained heart will make nothing of the spiritual truths, and it is the business of the teacher to transform completely the nature of the pupil.

The change is effected partly by the pupil’s own efforts under the teacher’s instructions, and partly by direct action of the teacher himself. Every aspect of the psyche has to be directed towards Reality, and only the teacher can focus certain elements in the pupil which by their nature are in opposition.

The technique is known in secular schools in the East. The Chinese boy who enrols under a teacher to learn painting is shown how to hold the brush firmly. He does so for perhaps an hour, and then forgets. He is told a few more times, but as he loses himself in what he is painting, he forgets again.

One day the teacher steals up behind him and snatches the brush, pulling the hairs through the boy’s hand and besmearing it with ink. It is an irritating experience, but when the pupil has washed his hands and settled down again, he is gripping the brush with instinctiveness firmness. Now the teacher waits a teacher.   When Confucius asked his pupils to state their dearest wishes, their answers were apparently in conformity with his teachings-virtue, service of the state and humanity, and so on.

But Yen-hui, best of disciples, sat idly fingering a lute, and said : ” I fear my wish would sound insignificant after these.”

The Master said :” Well, it was agreed each should speak openly.”

Hui told his wish, which was an out-of-doors poetry party in the summer. The Master nodded and said : ” Make me of your company also.”

Bodhidharma asked his pupils for their view of what he had taught. Three disciples spoke on the traditional Buddhist lines, but the master, though praising them, was not satisfied. The last came forward, bowed to the master, and resumed his place without a word.

Inwardly he was in the meditation which transcends words and thoughts, yet outwardly he conformed to the holy tradition by bowing in gratitude to the teacher. This was the teaching of Bodhidharma’s school, thus demonstrated spontaneously, and the master made him his successor.

As in a secular school, the spiritual students learn from each other’s achievements, though they are told not to criticise another’s mistakes, since these are often unconscious. The famous Persian poet Sadi, when a boy, was taken to the midnight vigil in the mosque, and he pointed out an old man asleep.

” Better that,” was his father’s reply, ” than engaged in criticising a fellow worshipper.” The old man had fallen asleep unconsciously ; young Sadi had equally unconsciously fallen into the sin of criticism. Jullabi relates how one disciple of a famous teacher was given the discipline of arduous journeys and dire poverty, and how he met a fellow disciple, a householder, sitting at ease in a clean dress with calm demeanour.

” Can this man call himself a disciple of the same teacher as myself ? ” he asked himself. The other divined the thought, and said : ” You are in the stage of purgation ; I in the stage of contemplation.

But we are both trying to pass away from all stages and reach God, who is beyond them.

We are no true disciples if we attach any absolute value to these stages.”

The first disciple understood and his bitterness vanished.

The pupils are all different. Some are elated by a little progress, and if the teacher did not catch them and bring them back to earth, like a bouncing ball, they would bound away and be lost among the nettles. Others work slowly and industriously, like a growing tree, and them he protects from any too great shock which would break them, as the tree is protected by a fence.

The ordinary wind and rain of life are enough to strengthen them.

The pupil cannot go wrong if he makes sincere and persistent efforts under the teacher.

The Chandogya Upanishad relates how Indra and Vairochana approached a teacher to learn Reality. After they had concentrated their mind and will by long service, he gave them an answer which though not untrue was not the whole truth. Vairochana went away satisfied, but Indra pondered, the answer, twisting it this way and that, and saw the difficulty. He returned, received a more complete answer, pondered that and saw yet another difficulty. After yet another period of training, the teacher gave a final answer. Indra was now completely concentrated, his whole being focussed on the problem, and he was able to understand the answer and realize the truth. Indra returned, says the Upanishad, and became king of the Gods.

The Upanishads give several cases where enlightenment, comes to a fully concentrated pupil in the teacher’s temporary absence. The wild animals give him the secret, the household fires of his teacher’s hearth speak to him, the whole world becomes his teacher. Sincerity and the determination to know get the student over all difficulties, both in training under a teacher if he has been fortunate enough to find one, and in finding the teacher if he has none.

Satyakama Jabala did not know what had been the caste of his father, and at that time in India many teachers would not teach the Vedas to one who was not of the Brahmin caste. With determination to know, he sought for a teacher, and when asked what was his caste, said openly that he did not know, though realizing this might be fatal.

The teacher said : ” None but a Brahmin would speak out the truth thus openly.

Go, my son, and prepare for initiation.”

Many mystic schools compare the teacher to a surgeon extracting grit from the eye of a patient. The doctor knows that the man may flinch, but the less he does, the easier will be the operation. The doctor has the skill, however, to perform the operation even with a very nervous patient ; all that is necessary is that the patient comes forward and does his best to keep still. The spiritual doctor too knows that his disciples are bound to flinch, bound to make some mistakes. What he requires of them is that they continue with him and do their best not to draw back. Then, in the beautiful words of the Masnavi, the teacher says

” Do you not be anxious, I will be anxious for you. I will be kinder to you than a hundred fathers.” There is no cause for lamentation over the death of a body composed of material elements.

Death is a return of elements to their simplicity.

© Trevor Leggett

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