to that Sage of the Orient at whose behest these pages were
written: to one incredibly wise and ceaselessly beneficent. And,
further, I have wrapped this book in the bright orange-chrome
coloured cloth even as you have wrapped your body in cloth of
the same colour - the Sannyasi's colour - the mark of one
who has renounced the world as you have. And if the dealings
of the cards of destiny bid me wear cloth of another hue, command
me to mix and mingle with the world and help carry on
its work, be assured that somewhere in the deep places of my
heart, I have gathered all my desired into a little heap and offered
them all unto the Nameless Higher Power.
The way to use a philosophic book is not to expect to understand
all of it at the first trial, and consequently not to get disheartened
when failure to understand is frequent. Using this cautionary
approach, he should carefully note each phrase or paragraph that
brings an intuitive response in his heart's deep feeling (not to be
confused with an intellectul acquiescence in the head's logical working).
As soon as, and every time, this happens, he should stop his
reading, put the book momentarily aside, and surrender himself, to
the activating words alone. Let them work upon him in their own
way. He is merely to be quiet and be receptive. For it is out of such a
response that he may eventually find that a door opens to his inner
being and a light shines where there was none before. When he
passes through that doorway and steps into that light, the rest of the
book will be easy to understand.
If you feel that the principles touched on in these pages are
true, then remember that the greatest homage you can pay to Truth
is to use it. Spiritual peace is given as a prize to those who wisely
aspire, and who will work untiringly for the realization of their
The Quest of the Overself is none other than the final stage of mankind's long pursuit of happiness.
When a man feels imperatively the need of respecting himself, he has heard a faint whisper from his Overself. Henceforth he begins to seek out ways and means for earning that respect. This begins his Quest.
The central point of this quest is the inner opening of the ego's heart to the Overself.
It is not for those who feel the want of a social meeting every Sunday morning, where they can display their good clothes and listen to good words. It is for those who feel the want of something great in life to which they can give themselves, who cannot rest satisfied with the business of earning their bread and butter alone or spending their time in pleasures. What cause, what mission can be greater than fulfilling the higher purpose of life on earth?
We are here on earth in pursuit of a sacred mission. We have to find what theologians call the soul, what philosophers call the Overself. It is something which is at one and the same time both near at hand and yet far off. For it is the secret source of our life-current, our selfhood, and our consciousness. But because our life-energy is continuously streaming outwards through the senses, because our selfhood is continuously identified with the body, and because our consciousness never contemplates itself, the Overself necessarily eludes us utterly.
There are four goals which philosophy sets before the mind of man: (1) to know itself; (2) to know its Overself; (3) to know the Universe; (4) to know its relation to the universe. The search for these goals constitutes the quest.
It is this Ideal that gives a secret importance to every phase of our life-experience. It is this goal that invests unknown and unnoticed men and women with Olympic grandeur. It is this Thought that redeems, exalts, and glorifies human existence.
A humble life dedicated to a great purpose, becomes great.
This is not merely a matter for a small elite interested in spiritual self-help. It is a serious truth important to every man everywhere.
There is a great tendency on the part of students of mysticism, practitioners of Yoga, and seekers after spiritual truth to regard their Quest as something quite apart from life itself, just as the stamp collector and the amateur gardener regard their special hobby as something which can be added to their routine of living. This is a fundamental error. The Quest is neither a serious hobby nor a pleasant diversion from the dullness of prosaic everyday living. It is actually living itself. Those who do not understand this fall as a result into eccentricities, self centerednesses, superiority complexes, sectarianism, futile proselytizing of the unready or antagonistic, and attempting to impose upon others what is not suited to them.
Those who separate the Quest from their day-to-day existence shut out the most important field of their further growth. They tend to become dreamers and lose their grip on practicalities. Yet, when any of these faults is mentioned to a seeker, he rarely realizes that it applies to him personally but usually believes that it applies only to other seekers. This is because he regards himself as being more advanced than he really is.
The work starts with you--with some impulse arising in you, or with some feeling, thought, idea, or some object seen, or with a person, teacher, or with a book or with a lecture or with Nature or with an artistic creation. But whether it be outside or inside you it has to be accepted by you. But if you ask why it happens just then, the answer can only be the Source of all things willed it.
The intuition which brought you to the gates of this quest is, like all authentic intuitions, a spark which you may contract by doubt, hesitation, and accepting negative suggestion from outside sources or which you may expand by faith, obedience, and accepting positive suggestion from those who have already followed and finished this quest.
His journey starts from the place in consciousness where he finds himself. He may repeat the history of some other travellers who seek here and there in this cult and that one for the food that will allay their inner hunger. Years may be spent in such search but whether it ends inside one of these cults or outside all of them, one day something happens to him. His mind is suddenly lit up with understanding and his heart filled with peace. The experience soon passes but the memory of it lasts long. It made him so happy that he yearns to repeat it. But alas! This is one thing that he seems unable to do at will. If it happens again, he will take up the Quest where it really belongs--inside himself. He will cease looking here and there and set to work in real earnestness on himself. He will have to purify his character, practise meditation regularly, and study inspired works.
When this vague yearning for something that worldly life cannot satisfy becomes unendurable, it may be a sign that they are ready for this Quest.
We may first take to this quest to find a way of escape from our sufferings, whether mental or physical; but gradually we become aware that this negative attitude is not enough, that we must also realize positively the mysterious purpose of human existence.
He may arrive at a true appraisal of life after he has experienced all that is worth experiencing. This is the longest and most painful way. Or he may arrive at it by listening to, and believing in, the teachings of spiritual seers. This is the shortest and easiest way. The attraction of the first way is so great, however, that it is generally the only way followed by humanity. Even when individuals take to the second way, they have mostly tried the other one in former births and have left it only because the pain proved too much for them.(1-2.213)
Man's main business is to become aware of his true purpose in life; all other business is secondary to this primary concern.
After the work done to gain livelihood or fulfil ambition, there is usually a surplus of time and strength, a part of which could and should be devoted to satisfying higher needs. There is hardly a man whose life is so intense that it does not leave him a little time for spiritual recall from this worldly existence. Yet the common attitude everywhere is to look no farther than, and be content with, work and pleasure, family, friends, and possessions. It feels no urge to seek the spiritual and, as it erroneously thinks, the intangible side of life. It makes no effort to organize its day so as to find the time and energy for serious thought, study, prayer, and meditation. It feels no need of searching for truth or getting an instructor.(1-2.365)
Is the inner life irreconcilable with the world's life? Religio-mystical disciplines and practices are usually based on such a fundamental irreconcilability. Traditional teaching usually asserts it too. Yet if that be true, "Then," as Ramana Maharshi once sceptically said to me, "there is no hope for humanity."(1.1-63)
Anyone who is willing to make an earnest endeavour may arrive by his own intelligence, helped if he wishes by the writings of those who have more leisure and more capacity for it, at a worthwhile understanding of these abstract subjects. The intermittent study of these writings, the regular reading of these books will help him to keep his thinking close to true principles. He will get inspiration from their pages, comfort from their phrases, and peace from their ideas. These statements spark the kinetic mental energy of a responsive few and inspire them to make something worthwhile of their lives. What it writes in their minds is eventually written into their activities.
The highly strung nervous, mental, and artistic temperaments that largely throng these spiritual paths are of all others predisposed to go astray. They become fascinated by the wondrous worlds of study and experiment which open out for them. They are apt to ignore the vital potency of living out these teachings, as opposed to talking about them. For the opposition of having to work in heavy matter brings out the real power of the soul. Its resistance makes accomplishment more difficult but more enduring.
Procrastination may be perilous. Later may be too late. Beware of being drawn into that vast cemetery wherein men bury their half-born aspirations and paralysed hopes.
The quest is not an enterprise of fits and starts, not something to be started today and left off tomorrow, but is the most durable undertaking in a man's life. This is to be his most sacred life-purpose, the most honoured ground of his very existence, and everything else is to be made to subserve it.
We do not approach God through our knees, or through the whole body prostrate on the ground, but deep in our hearts. We do not feel God with our emotions any more than we know him with our thoughts. No! --we feel the divine presence in that profound unearthly stillness where neither the sounds of emotional clamour nor those of intellectual grinding can enter.(1-2.46)
In that sacred silence he will dedicate his life to the Quest. And although no one except himself will hear or know that dedication, it will be as binding and obligatory as any solemn pledge made in full assembled lodge.
Its chief enemy is indecision. The world is packed with people who suffer from this fault. So our greatest dramatist took this as his theme for his wonderful play, Hamlet. A little more decision on the part of the Prince of Denmark, and the series of tragedies which close the play would have been averted. But in that case the play would not have carried the lesson Shakespeare wanted it to give--how Hamlet was tortured by his own indecisiveness. Wise Faith wins. The fool of today is the wise man of tomorrow--if he lets his mistakes teach him. Not what he can do, but what he does do, matters. The bird of victory finally perches on the shoulders of the man who dares.
No one who feels that his inner weakness or outer circumstances prevent him from applying this teaching should therefore refrain from studying it. That would not only be a mistake but also a loss on his part. For as the Bhagavad Gita truly says, "A little of this knowledge saves from much danger." Even a few years study of philosophy will bring definite benefit into the life of a student. It will help him in all sorts of ways, unconsciously, here on earth and it will help him very definitely after death during his life in the next world of being.
Those who decline to search for ultimate truth because they believe it to be unattainable, because they despair of ever finding it, betray it.
The higher truth can properly be given only to those who are eligible for it, whose minds are ripe enough to receive it without bewilderment, and whose judgement is developed enough to see its worth.
There must be a certain ethical maturity before a man will even be willing to listen to such a teaching, and there must be a certain intellectual maturity before he will be able to learn it. There must be the will to analyse, the capacity to take an impartial attitude, the strength to renounce the vulgar view of things, and the desire to travel the road of truth inexorably to its last and logical conclusion. The fount of seeking must not be consciously or unconsciously muddied by selfish motive. It is not suggested that these preliminary qualifications must be present in their perfection and fullness--such will be the final result and not the first attempts on the quest--but that they should be present to a sufficient degree to make a marked disciplinary contribution to one's inner life.
It is not only a path to be followed but one to be followed with good humour and graciousness.
Those whose emotions are strongly held by personal psychological problems would be better prepared for the quest if they first got their lives straightened out or first underwent personal re-adjustment. Where their attitudes are neurotic, hysteric, or psychopathic, it is rash impertinence to dare to consider themselves as candidates for probing the divine mysteries.
The sacrifice demanded of the aspirant is nothing less than his very self. If he would reach the higher grades of the path, he must give up the ego's thinking and desiring, must overcome its emotional reactions to events and persons and things. Every time he stills the restless thoughts in silent meditation he is giving up the ego; every time he puts the desires aside in a crucial decision he is giving up the ego; every time he disciplines the body, the passions, the activities, he is giving up the ego. It demands the utmost from him before it will give the utmost to him; it forces him to begin by self-humbling and, what is worse, to end by self-crucifixion. Every aspirant has to pass through these ordeals--there is no escape from them. They are what Light on the Path refers to as "the feet being bathed in the blood of the heart." Thus, the Quest is not for weaklings.
There is only one Duty for men: it is to realize the divinity within. Slavish adherence to any personal, social, or racial duties, set us from outside, must bend and go whenever it comes into conflict with this higher Duty. At the call of this compelling inner voice, the Prince Gautama Buddha trampled down the gilded "duties" of his royal position and walked out into the wilderness a homeless wanderer.
Entering upon this Quest is neither a pleasant nor an easy affair. The aspirant has to begin with the belief that he is a very imperfect person, that before he can penetrate into the spiritual realms he must first prepare himself for such an entrance by working hard to separate himself from these imperfections. Before he entered on the Quest, he liked himself most--now he discovers that he hates himself most. Before he entered on the Quest, he had different enemies here and there--now he has only one enemy, and that is himself. Hitherto he supported the ego by identifying himself with it--henceforth he must deny the ego, and try to affirm the higher self.
He will not be the first aspirant, nor the last, who continues to worship the ego under the delusion that he has begun to worship the Overself.
This wrong self-identification is not only a metaphysical error but also a mental habit. We may correct the error intellectually but we shall still have to deal with the habit. So deeply ingrained is it that only a total effort can successfully alter it. That effort is called the Quest.
When a man becomes tired of hearing someone else tell him that he has a soul, and sets out to gain firsthand experience of it for himself, he becomes a mystic. But, unfortunately, few men ever come to this point.(1-2.187)
You may be familiar with the contents of a hundred books on mysticism and yet not be familiar with mysticism itself. For it concerns the intuition, not the intellect.
My Webster defines a mystic as "one who relies chiefly upon meditation in acquiring truth." This is a good dictionary definition, but it is not good enough because it does not go far enough. For every true mystic relies also on prayer, on purificatory self-denial, and on a master. (18-1.16)
That the soul exists, that it is something other than his ordinary self, and that it abides within himself, are affirmations which remain basic and common to authentic mystical experience of every school and religion.
It must be clearly understood that it is only the philosophical quest, the path of the Bodhisattva, which we advocate here, which is threefold. The mystical quest is not. It is simpler. It requires only a single qualification--meditation practice. But it gives only a single fruit--inner peace--whereas the threefold quest yields a threefold fruit: (1) peace, (2) the intellectual ability to instruct others, (3) service. If therefore philosophy calls for a greater effort than mysticism, it compensates by its greater result. And whereas the mystical result is primarily an individual benefit, the philosophical result is both an individual and social one.
If this benevolent ideal has been set up from the start, then he will not swerve from it at the end. He will draw back from the very verge of the eternal Silence and resume his human garb, that he may compassionately guide those who still seek, grope, blunder, and fall.
Some have the illusion that the Path is heavily trodden. It is not. "Many are called but few are chosen." The traveller must learn to walk resignedly in partial loneliness. The struggle for certain truth and the quest of the divine soul are carried on by every man and must be carried on in an austere isolation when he reaches the philosophic level. No crowd progress and no mass salvation are possible here.
There is and could be no such thing as a sect in philosophy. Each of its disciples has to learn that there is only one unique path for him, dependent on his past history and present characteristics which constitute his own individuality. To attempt to forego that unique individuality, to impose the spiritual duty of other persons upon himself is, as the Gita points out, a dangerous error. Philosophy tries to bring a man to realize his own divinity for himself. Hence it tries to bring him to independent thinking, personal effort, and intuitive development. This is not the popular way nor the easy one; it offers no gregarious comfort or herd support. But it is the only way for the seeker after absolute truth. Though the solitary student may suffer from certain disadvantages, he also enjoys certain definite advantages.
In any case, man never really escapes from his essential loneliness. He may push his social efforts at avoidance to extremes and indulge his personal ones to the point of creating illusions, but life comes down on him in some way or other and one day forces him back on himself. Even where he fancies himself to have achieved happiness with or through others, even in the regions of love and friendship, some physical disharmony, some mental change, some emotional vacillation may eventually arise and break the spell, driving him back into isolation once more.
Does this mean that the aspirant should seek no guide, should take no friendly hand in his own at all? No! It simply means that if he realizes that his choice of a teacher might well change his whole life for better or for worse, and if he seeks well-qualified guidance, he must be discriminating, which means that he must not rush into acceptance of the first guide he meets. He should take his time over the matter and give it the fullest thought. It is quite proper and sound practice for him to be prudent before signing away his life to a teacher or his mind to a creed. It is not the first teacher he meets or the first doctrine he hears that he should accept. Rather should he follow Confucius' practical advice to shoppers: "Before you buy, try three places." Nay, he might have to try thirty places before he finds a really competent teacher or a completely true doctrine. Such a search calls for patience and self-restraint, but the longer it continues the likelier will its goal be reached.
It is true that the higher self can guide and even teach the aspirant from within and that in the end it is the only real guide and teacher. But it is also true that a premature assumption of self-sufficiency may lead him dangerously astray. Indeed, the higher self will direct him to some other human agent for help when he is sufficiently ready. Self-reliance and independence are valuable qualities but they may be pushed too far and thus turned into failings. The student who remains self-guided and self-inspired without making missteps or wasting years, is fortunate.
There is no contradiction between advising aspirants at one time to seek a master and follow the path of discipleship, and advising them to seek within and follow the path of self-reliance at another time. The two counsels can be easily reconciled. For if the aspirant accepts the first one, the master will gradually lead him to become increasingly self-reliant. If he accepts the second one, his higher self will lead him to a master.
That there are perils on this path of self-guidance, is obvious. It is easy to fall into conceit, to breed arrogance, even to imagine an inner voice. Here the saving virtue of balance must be ardently sought, and the protective quality of humbleness must be gently fostered.
The truth is that nearly all aspirants need the help of expert human guides and printed books when they are actively seeking the Spirit, and of printed books at least when they are merely beginning to seek.
Is it really necessary to travel to some holy land, some sacred place, some distant guru? The true answer is that none of these things is necessary. What you seek is precisely where you now are. Holiness and teaching can meet you there. Is it too hard for you to believe this?
But one can only have the right to exercise such self-reliance if one pays for it in the coin of self-discipline.
No seeker should be so foolish as to reject the proffered hand of a worthy master. Indeed, such is his weakness and ignorance that he needs all the help he can get from all the strong and wise men of his own times and, through their writings, of past times. But the basis of his relation to such a master should not therefore be one of complete servitude and intellectual paralysis, nor one of totalitarian prohibition from studying with other masters or in other schools. He should keep his freedom to grow and his independence to choose if he is to keep his self-respect.
This injunction to be oneself is to be followed discriminatingly, not blindly. Why should I not follow the procession of another man's thoughts if they be good and true and beautiful?
A small group of sincere students meeting together may be of great help to each participant provided there is a basic spiritual affinity among them. If this is lacking even in one of the group, such a meeting may well lead to more confusion than enlightenment or may cause some or all to forget that on the quest each walks alone.
A school should exist not only to teach but also to investigate, not to formulate prematurely a finalized system but to remain creative, to go on testing theories by applying them and validating ideas by experience.
True spirituality means applying the knowledge got from learning and heeding the laws of the inner life in the differing degree that each individually can do so. It does not mean joining a group or a society and chattering fruitlessly about it or gossiping inquisitively about spiritual leaders.
The moral re-education required by philosophy is not a mere Sunday-school pious hope. It is a practical necessity because of the psychological changes and nervous sensitivity developed by the meditation practices. Without it these exercises may prove dangerous to mind, character, and health. The virtues especially required are: harmlessness in feeling and deed, truthfulness in thought and word, honesty with oneself and with others, sexual restraint, humility.
No amount of travel will arrive at truth, or bring one into contact with an Adept, if the other conditions are lacking.
It is a grave misconception to regard the mystical progress as passing mostly through ecstasies and raptures. On the contrary, it passes just as much through broken hearts and bruised emotions, through painful sacrifices and melancholy renunciations.
That same light which reveals his spiritual importance reveals also his personal insignificance.
When the sublime light of the Ideal shines down upon him and he has the courage to look at his own image by it, he will doubtless make some humiliating discoveries about himself. He will find that he is worse than he believed and not so wise as he thought himself to be. But such discoveries are all to the good. For only then can he know what he is called upon to do and set to work following their pointers in self-improvement.
You will not be able to understand the world better than you understand yourself. The lamp which can illumine the world for you must be lighted within yourself.
He begins by an unthinking and immature religious attitude, proceeds to the meditational experiments and personal experience of mysticism or the rational abstractions of metaphysics, and ends in the integral all-embracing all-transcending life of philosophy.
The practice of yoga as a psychological discipline and the study of philosophy as a mental re-education are two essentials in the equipment of the man who would explore the highest. None may be left out without leaving the seeker like a one-legged man trying to ascend a difficult mountain. The ultimate goal cannot be found by the yogi because he is concerned only with himself and not the entire universe. It cannot be found by the philosopher because he is concerned only with the theoretical knowledge of its meaning of all existence. It can be found by him alone who has mastered both yoga and philosophy, and who is then willing to take the next step and sacrifice his ego on the altar of ultimate attainment. For the final stage of this climb demands that the insight gained by philosophic knowledge into the ego's true nature be applied to the entire life of thought, feeling, and conduct--not by some sudden dramatic gesture but by working incessantly during every moment of every day. Such a perpetual vigil is really a form of continuous concentration, that is, of yoga, and it is impossible for those who have not successfully trained their minds in the yogic discipline. These are the reasons why we must view yoga and philosophy as the two legs needed to support a man who would then enter into the ever-renewed practice to attain realization. This is the final climb to the summit.
He must purify his heart of egoism, his bodily instincts of animalism, and then a favourable atmosphere will be available for the truth to make itself known to him. This statement presupposes that it is already present and only waiting to reveal itself. Such is philosophy's contention, and such is the philosopher's own experience. It first comes to him as "The Interior Word," the Logos within, and later as "the second birth."
There are two paths laid out for the attainment, according to the teaching of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The first path is union with the Higher Self--not, as some believe, with the Logos. But because the Higher Self is a ray from the Logos, it is as near as a human being can get to it anyway. The second path has its ultimate goal in the Absolute, or as I have named it in my last book, the Great Void. But neither path contradicts the other, for the way to the second path lies through the first one. Therefore, there is no cleavage in the practices. Both goals are equally desirable because both bring man into touch with Reality. It would be quite proper for anyone to stop with the first one if he wishes; but for those who appreciate the philosophic point of view, the second goal, because it includes the first, is more desirable.
The stages of the quest are fairly well defined. First, the aspiration toward spiritual growth manifests itself in a man's heart. Second, the feeling of repentance for past error and sin saddens it. Third, the submission to an ascetic or self-denying discipline follows as a reaction. Fourth, the practice of regular exercises in meditation is carried on.
He will know what both the fullness and the fulfilment of life mean only when the consciousness that the Spirit is his own very self comes to life within him.
The path requires an all-round effort. It calls for the discipline of emotions as well as the purification of character from egoism, the practice of the art of meditation as well as religious devotion and prayer, constant reflection about the experiences of life to learn the lessons behind them, and constant discrimination between the values of earthly and spiritual things. This self-development crowned by altruistic activity will in time call forth the grace of the Overself and will bring blissful glimpses occasionally to encourage his endeavours. As pointed out in my Wisdom of the Overself, not only one but all the functions of one's being must unite in the effort to reach the spiritual goal.
If the quest is to be an integral one, as it must be to be a true one, it should continue through all four spheres of a man's being: the emotional, the intellectual, the volitional, and the intuitional. Such a fourfold character makes it a more complicated affair than many mystics believe it to be.
Anyone who can find a direct teacher in the Overself needs no other. But because the ego easily inserts itself even into his spiritual explorations and its influence into his spiritual revelations, he may still need an outer teacher to warn him against these pitfalls in his way.
The need of a spiritual guide is nearly as great as ever today and remains but little changed, but the character of the relation between the disciple and the guide has to change. The old following in blind faith must give place to a new following in intelligent faith.
It is not the human thoughts which the teacher sends out, so much as the spiritual power within the disciple which is aroused by those thoughts, that matters. (25-5.241)
Do not pretend to be other than you are. If you are one of the multitude, do not put upon yourself the proud robes of the Teacher and pretend to be able to imitate him; unless you stick to the Truth, you can never find it. To put yourself upon the pedestal of spiritual prestige before the Master or God has first put you there, is to make the first move towards a humiliating and painful fall. (25-5.33)
Few aspirants are sufficiently developed to justify receiving the personal attention and tuition of a master. All aspirants may, however, seek for his blessing. He will not withhold it. But such is its potency that it may at times work out in a way contrary to their desire. It may bring the ego suffering in the removal of inner weakness as a prelude to bringing it inner light. They should therefore pause and consider before they ask for his blessing. Only a deep earnestness about the quest should motivate such an approach.
It is next to impossible to ascertain the Truth without the guidance of a Teacher. This is the ancient tradition of the East and it will have to become the modern tradition of the West. There is no escape. The explanation of this statement lies in the subtle nature of the Truth. Thus, in the West, men of such acute intelligence and such high character as Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and Thoreau came close to the verge of Truth. They could not fully enter because they lacked a Guide. Even in India, the greatest mind that land of Thinkers ever produced, the illustrious Shankara, publicly acknowledged the debt he owed to his own Teacher, Govindapada.
If an opportunity seems to occur to become the disciple of a master, be sure first to test whether he is fit to hold such a position. Do not test his supposed possession of occult powers or healing gifts; check rather whether he is master over himself before he plays the role over the lives of others. Is he free from the lust of sex, the greed of money, the itch for fame, the passion of wrath, and the desire for power? If not, he may be remarkable, unusual, clever, fluent, psychic, friendly, or anything else, but be sure that he is not competent to guide disciples to the kingdom of heaven.
Six are the duties of such a teacher: (1) to instruct the student in new knowledge, (2) to correct the errors of his existing knowledge, (3) to develop his mentality in a balanced way, (4) to restrain him from committing evil, (5) to encourage him compassionately, and (6) to open the mystical path to him by active help in meditation.
Three qualifications at least are required in a spiritual teacher: thorough competence, moral purity, and compassionate altruism. Only he who has triumphed over the evil in himself can help others do the same for themselves. Only he who has discovered the divine spirit in himself can guide others to make their own discovery of it. Teaching that does not stem forth from personal experience can never have the effectiveness of teaching that does.
It is essential that a spiritual preceptor live up to the lofty precepts he hands out; if he is unable to do this, he ought to come down from his high seat and take his place among the pupils--preferably in the back row. The Western student of divine mysteries is very eager and very apt to rush out and attempt to teach his fellows before he has completed his course of studies, and before he has quite realized their truth by experience. The obvious reasons are many: a love of the limelight and a sense of superiority are but two of them. How different, this, from that lowly humility of Lao Tzu, whose followers increased from a single person in his lifetime to many millions after his death. "The Sage wears a coarse garment, but carries a jewel in his bosom" is his beautiful announcement. "To know, but to be as though not knowing, is the height of wisdom" is another of his spirit-realized utterances.
Truth cannot be got without a master. That the Buddha did get it without such help does not disprove the truth of this principle. For the arisal of a Buddha is a rare phenomenon on this earth. Mortals who are struggling in mental darkness compose the mass of mankind, not Buddhas sent to enlighten them and therefore destined to be self-enlightened.
That man is most likely to become and is best fitted to become your teacher to whom you are drawn not so much by his experience and wisdom, his goodness and power, as by some intuitional attraction. For this is a sign of an earlier relationship in other lives on earth. The personal trust and intellectual dependence which it generates are themselves signs that you have been teacher and disciple in former reincarnations. It is best to accept the leading of this attraction, for the man under whom you have continuously worked before is the man whom destiny will allot you to pick up the same work again. You may postpone the opening up of such a relationship again but in the end you cannot avoid it. Destiny will have the last word in such a matter.
Either at acceptance or later, the disciple experiences an ecstatic reverie of communion with the teacher's soul. There is a sensation of space filled with light, of self liberated from bondage, of peace being the law of life. The disciple will understand that this is the real initiation from the hands of the teacher rather than the formal one. The disciple will probably be so carried away by the experience as to wish it to happen every day. But this cannot be. It can happen only at long intervals. It is rather to be taken as a sign of the wonderful relation which has sprung up between them and as a token of eventual attainment. (25-5.213)
When a man has at last found himself, when he has no longer any need of an outside human Symbol but passes directly to his own inner reality, he may stand shoulder to shoulder with the teacher in the oldest, the longest, and the greatest of struggles. (25-5.241)