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What Sort of Man is the Master?

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 21st May 1976


In the sphere of religious teaching throughout the ages, certain qualities are expected of both the teacher and disciple. We had always the relationship of complete confidence and obedience for the teacher, and the teacher had to be one who fulfilled certain standards. Let me just quote what the Buddha said on this matter: “A Brahman whose nature is unsinful, not harsh, unstained, self-restrained, who has mastered knowledge and fully traversed the Brahma path, he rightly, a true Brahman, ought to announce the Brahma word.” He who has no self-obtrusiveness in the world, he is fit to be the Teacher, the Master. (There are tremendous implications in all this). Mastered knowledge, he says, and mastering knowledge in this case does not mean acquired information or knowledge or any particular know-how as such. That of course is taken for granted. But the one who had mastered knowledge in this context was one who had realized complete purification within himself and fulfilled the holy life in its supreme aspect of communion, total communion, with the Totality. He who had realized the Unconditioned, that was the Master. That is how the Buddha puts it.

Then there is an explication of the relationship between the guru, the teacher, and the disciple. In The Heart of Religion I have taken quotations from three of the great lawgivers, Āpastamba, Gautama and Manu. You have all heard of Manu, but Āpastamba and Gautama are not such well known names. Āpastamba and Gautama lay down that the teacher is enjoined to reprove an errant pupil. It is also laid down that the guru, the teacher, is to the disciple as a father to his son, and it is his duty to instruct him lovingly. “Loving him like his own son, and full of attention, he shall teach him the sacred science, without hiding anything in the whole law. And he shall not use him for his own purposes to the detriment of his studies, except in times of distress.” (Explanations are often given in the commentaries, for example sending him on errands or getting him to do things which do not definitely belong to his course of study as such). “A teacher who neglects the instruction of his pupil no longer remains a teacher.”

Then in the Institutes of Manu it is stated:

Of him who gives natural birth and him who gives the knowledge of the sacred science, the Veda, the giver of the Veda is the more venerable father; for the birth for the sake of the Veda bears eternal good both here and hereafter. Let a man consider that he receives only bodily existence when his parents begat him through mutual affection and when he was born from the womb of his mother.

But that birth which a teacher acquainted with the whole Veda, in accordance with the law, procures for him is real, exempt from age and death.

These are very weighty statements regarding the teacher-pupil relationship.

Then again Manu goes on to say:

Created beings must be instructed in what concerns their spiritual welfare without giving them pain, and sweet and gentle speech must be used by a teacher who desires to abide by the sacred law. He, forsooth whose speech and thoughts are pure and ever perfectly guarded, gains the whole benefit which is conferred by the Vedānta. Let him not, even though in pain, speak words cutting, hurtful to others; let him not utter speeches which make others afraid of him, since that will prevent him from gaining heaven.

It is very interesting to note their outlook three thousand years ago.

It is also stated in the Institutes of Manu that five or six pupils are sufficient. It must be remembered that the chelas lived in the little household of the teacher, and the household was in some woodland outside the bounds of the village, by a stream, and as far as possible surrounded by the beauty of nature. So you can imagine something of the real nature of this relationship between teacher and pupil, as a father to his own son, always treating him with love, with understanding and with infinite patience, and being in himself the living embodiment of the truths which he imparts to the pupil. This of course is exceptional, it has never been worldwide. But this was the ideal of master and disciple, guru and chela. It is rather interesting that the word guru literally means something which is heavy, which is difficult, which is restrictive, which brings about control. It is rather strange that the word guru means that originally, its first meaning.

In the Yoga Upaniṣads the guru of course is always the Yogi. It is taken for granted that any guru is himself a true Yogi. In the Nāradaparivrājaka Upaniṣad, Nārada is pointing out what are some of the qualifications of the teacher. (Nārada was the name of one of the great teachers, and parivrājaka means he who wanders and goes about teaching, living the holy life in the woodlands).

He in whom are existent control of all the senses, control of mind, purity of mind and body, truth, contentment, straightforwardness, poverty and non-ostentatiousness, these should be in the order of life for him. When he does not, through actions, mind or speech, commit any sinful action to any being, then he becomes fit for eating alms food.

The Yogis always had their begging bowl, not for expenses but for their food. Whatsoever was given was thankfully accepted and the Yogi blessed the giver. If anyone did not give, he still blessed the person who did not give.

Having become quiescent through the control of the mind, having practised all the different dharmas, having according to the rules studied Vedanta, one should take up Samnyāsa.

Samnyāsa means the retirement from the worldly life. This of course applied in the old days. Today things are different.

Courage, fortitude, the control of the body, honesty, purity of mind and body, conscience, knowledge, truth, and absence of anger, these are the characteristics of the Yogi.

He goes on in that manner, and he comes to this point:

Having given up passion, anger, pride, desire, and delusion, the Yogi should become one that owns nothing. He is a muni.

A muni is the silent one, one who is silent not only with his tongue, but with all the chatter that goes on in the brain, the unspoken chatter. His mind is silent, and the silence of the mind does not mean the repressing or suppressing of the flow of thought impressions as such, but it means freedom from the reaction of that mind to all the impressions that come to it. That is the silence of the mind that they talk of. He is not shut out of the world, he is in full relationship to it, but it is a relationship of complete harmlessness, a relationship of understanding. And so, that is the silent mind, that is the muni.

He is a muni who is devoid of hate, (of aversion and attachment really the translation should be), who regards equally a clod of earth, stone or gold, who does no injury to any living creature and is free. That Brahman, who is always afraid of respect being shown him as poison, and always longs after disrespect as nectar, sleeps soundly and rises happily, even though he is treated with disrespect. He moves about happily in the world. All cruel words should be endured by the Yogi, none should be treated by him with disrespect. On account of bodily relationship, none should be made inimical. No anger should be directed in turn towards one who is angry. Soft words only should be spoken, even when violently treated physically by another. No untrue words should be uttered, even should afflictions arise. One desirous of bliss should dwell in this universe through the aid of Ātma alone, intent upon Ātma, free from desires and without the desire to bless others.

There is the implication that there is the expectation of receiving gifts for which the Yogi blesses the other person.

I think that that is sufficient to tell us quite a great deal about what the life of the Yogi means, what he has to be within himself and with respect to his behaviour, behaviour not only outwardly as so much formal behaviour, but inwardly. He must in his mind and his heart, in his feelings, his thoughts, his speech, livingly represent all that a Yogi stands for. If one comes across a man who sets himself up as a teacher and is harsh, demanding, if he dominates you, lays down the law for you, then one begins to question, is he a true teacher? A true teacher is a true doctor ( doceo, docere, the Latin “I teach”). What does a doctor do? He makes whole, complete, beautiful what is not altogether complete or beautiful or whole. He restores one to health, not simply health of body but to health of mind, which means maturity of mind. Is it possible for anyone to help another to move towards maturity of mind if one is impatient with him, or gets annoyed or angry with him, criticizes him in the wrong way? It is laid down in the old teachings that of course any faults must be pointed out, but there is a great art in pointing out faults. If faults are pointed out in a manner which produces an antagonistic reaction in the pupil, then they have been pointed out in the wrong way, the harmful way. How shall a true teacher point out faults? If he points them out just openly, forthrightly as they say, with the belief that “I am not a person who minces my words” and all that sort of stuff, if he does it that way, then he is not helping the other person to see the faults for himself. He is presenting certain mental constructs in his own mind, he is throwing them at the pupil, and the pupil just reacts back antagonistically, or he is hurt, sometimes he is even physically hurt. That is no way to heal the pupil.

Unlike the work of a doctor who deals with the body by giving physical medicine, the healing of the mind takes place, and can only take place, from within oneself. But that healing power within oneself where the mind is concerned has to be evoked from that person. What is it that will evoke healing out of the other person? If I am in the position of a teacher, I myself have to understand the pupil’s difficulty, his immaturity or his illness so clearly and deal with him with such compassion that the right words, the right action, at the right time, can be performed by me as a teacher. The right suggestion acts upon the pupil’s mind in the perfect way. His own inner natural healing power is released, and it is that which heals, makes whole. This is something which is tremendously difficult. But you will appreciate why in the old days the Brahman was held in such veneration. He was supposed to have, and many of them did have, this ability to teach in that way, to heal the person. Therefore quite rightly they were held in veneration. What is the fundamental source of the Brahman’s gifts and abilities and his development, and the fundamental source of that which acts as this healing power from within the one who is in difficulty or is ill or is immature? Surely it is Transcendence itself, because this thing which heals is something unknown. You may call it God, you may call it essence of mind, if you want to, use the Hebrew word Neshamah, the spark of the Divine which is embodied in each and every one of us. Use what word you like, but it is one and the same Reality. This which is the Unconditioned, the Perfect, the Absolute, the Unknown, the Mysterious, the Infinite, it is this within each and every thing which is the healing power, the whole-making power. Everything which is manifested is this Transcendence itself which manifests in limitation through self-constriction. It limits itself, if I may so express it, it hurts itself, in order that the manifestation may be there. Each manifestation has the potentiality locked up within it for obtaining release of that Transcendence in perfection, according to the particular form which it possesses. What is the perfection of a tree, of a tiger, of a bee, of a stone, of the Earth, of you, of me, of the thunder and the rain? Each thing has its own specific perfection, its marvel and its beauty, and in its limited existence it has to manifest that.

So now, the teacher and the pupil. We understand teacher and pupil only in terms of two human beings. But throughout the animal world, maybe throughout the plant world, there is a teacher-pupil relationship. Doesn’t every mother animal and father animal teach its young that which belongs to its own inner nature and to express it in the right way, characteristic of that inner nature? (Blake’s “Tyger, tyger, burning bright.”) The nature of the tiger is to behave and act as the tiger behaves and acts. The father tiger and the mother tiger teach the little new-born tiger to become the perfect tiger and they are, if they succeed in their work, true teachers. In our own kingdom, the human kingdom, there are certain characteristics which are quite extraordinary. The spiritual teacher, by virtue of the power within him of Transcendent values, loves his pupil not as the imperfect human being loves his son or daughter, but as the Perfected One does, which means that in that love there is no ambivalence of a love-hate relationship. This is something which is extremely important. If the parents of the world could realize this, how to love the young without being tied up in this ambivalent state of the love-hate relationship, then what would those young grow up to be?

So you see that one of the implications is that, to be a Yogi, to practise Yoga, to be a religieux, to be concerned with living the religious life, is not something which is just another thing, like dancing is one thing, making motorcars is another thing, and so on. It is something which permeates our entire life and our entire being through and through. Everything else, as far as I know anyway, on this planet, is held within the sphere of duality. It is caught within those bounds. Where we humans are concerned, our personal existence as psycho-physical organisms will of necessity be held within the bounds of duality or of multiplicity. Because the organism is born, proceeds, it dies, it lives as a limited, finite, particular organism. Therefore it is bound to be held within that prison house, psychically and physically. But where the mind is concerned, where the growth of consciousness and awareness is concerned, there are no limits. In mind and consciousness one does not burst through or break through the bounds, but so completely understands the bounds and is free from attachment and aversion, the true pratyāhāra, to each of the duals manifest within that sphere of ambivalence, that one releases Transcendence embodied within into full manifestation, and the light shines through and through without destroying the organism, the finite, the particular being. Note very carefully that anything in our lives which is conducive towards this, any way of life, shall we say, any method (a word which many people like so much!), which leads to this, stimulates that power of Transcendence from within. But if that power of Transcendence begins to work and to function without the other aspect of preparation, our own pupillage to the truth, which spells our purification, the freedom from desires and conflicts and all self-orientedness, then the power of Transcendence, if it begins to be activated, can harm the person. Transcendence never says yes, it never says no, it is our personal responsibility. If we learn chemistry at school because we are so anxious to manufacture bombs, you know the results. In the old days it was just a pleasant joke, but you see today what has happened with the knowledge of how to handle a power. With the living of the religious life in any shape or form, in any of the great religious disciplines like Yoga which are the way of power, very definitely the handling and the utilization of power, there is the necessity for this preparation within, the mind and the heart, not to be thought of as an acquisition or development of virtues as against vices, but as a complete understanding, a complete accepting of the whole of that duality and transcending it. Then things are all right, but otherwise sooner or later there come difficulties and one does not understand why. There are the accounts of the lives of ordinary people, the lives of saints and so forth, the terrible agony they go through. “I have given myself unto the Supreme, and why has this stricken me?”. It is very difficult to understand and see that.

But try and understand, let the mind and the heart be still, free from grasping, free from personal ambition and desire to achieve and so forth, always watchful and let Transcendence work on its own. Then there is fruition, the fruition of the religious life in perfection. You see the old symbol that they used, the lotus, the flower that blooms, the source of power.


There is so much wisdom contained in this talk — it seems so obvious to those who have read The Heart of Religion as I have. If I had to ever have only one book it would be the one.

David Mc Dowell, 12th January 2007

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