TEACHER AND DISCIPLE
Knowledge of spiritual and religious truth is often best imparted
by a teacher. The personal relationship between a worthy teacher and his
disciple allows a level of guidance and intimate communication of truth
beyond what may be attained by the private study of scripture or through
personal prayer and meditation. The teacher should have a mature faith,
rich experience, and accomplishment by which he can set an example for his
students and convey to them the insights born of his experience and
mastery. The students, for their part, should be obedient to the teacher
and willing to receive discipline.
In some Eastern religions, where the teacher is the embodiment of
truth through his own self-realization, he is regarded as the ultimate
authority. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, on the other hand, the
teacher is not to be trusted by virtue of his own personal spiritual or
intellectual prowess. He is but a servant of God, and he must be true to
the traditions and doctrinal foundations established by the founder,
passed on by the elders, and laid down in scripture.
Discipleship in many religions can also refer to following
directly the example of the founder, who is the supreme teacher. The
disciple not only heeds the words of the founder, who is the Revealer of
Truth, pp. 628-35; he also follows in the founder's footsteps by imitating
his example, life-style, and attitude of heart. Furthermore, in many
religions the succession of disciples extending from the living teacher
back to the founder establishes the Apostolic Succession, the proper chain
of authority for teaching and administration.
Finally, discipleship is a call to help and support the founder in
his mission. The disciples of Jesus and the Companions of Muhammad were
willing to die for their lord in service of the cause of God. The
disciple proclaims the founder's message to the world; he shares in his
persecution and sufferings; for "a servant is not above his master." This
discipleship has its cost, but it also brings with it the honor of being a
co-worker with God.
One not knowing a land asks of one who knows it,
he goes forward instructed by the knowing one.
Such, indeed, is the blessing of instruction,
one finds a path that leads him straight onward.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 10.32.7
Let thy house be a place of meeting for the wise, and dust thyself with
the dust of their feet, and drink their words with thirst.
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 1.4
Just as cold disappears by sitting near the fire,
So are sins destroyed in the congregation of saints.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Ramkali Ashtpadi, M.5, p. 914
One fakih (scholar in religion) is more annoying to Satan than a thousand
of the faithful who perform only their ceremonial duties.
Islam. Hadith of Tirmidhi
Approach someone who has realized the purpose of life and question him
with reverence and devotion; he will instruct you in this wisdom. Once
you attain it, you will never be deluded. You will see all creatures in
the Self, and all in Me.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 4.34-35
Should one see a wise man, who, like a revealer of treasure, points out
faults and reproves; let one associate with such a wise person; it will be
better, not worse, for him who associates with such a one.
Let him advise, instruct, and dissuade one from evil; truly pleasing is he
to the good, displeasing is he to the bad.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 76-77
Rig Veda 10.32.7: Cf. Katha Upanishad 1.3.14, p. 672. In Jainism, respect
for teachers who have attained liberation is expressed in the Namokar
Mantra, pp. 54-55.
Stand in the assembly of the elders.
Who is wise? Cleave to him.
Be ready to listen to every narrative,
do not let wise proverbs escape you.
If you see an intelligent man, visit him early;
let your foot wear out his doorstep.
Christianity. Sirach 6.34-36
He who sees through the eye tells proverbs.
African Traditional Religions. Igala Proverb (Nigeria)
To many it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of
it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent
is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is
able to understand it.
The truth of the Self cannot be fully understood when taught by an
ignorant man, for opinions regarding it, not founded in knowledge, vary
one from another. Subtler than the subtlest is this Self, and beyond all
logic. Taught by a teacher who knows the Self and Brahman as one, a man
leaves vain theory behind and attains to truth.
The awakening which you have known does not come through the intellect,
but rather, in fullest measure, from the lips of the wise....
Words cannot reveal him. Mind cannot reach him. Eyes do not see him.
How then can he be comprehended, save when taught by those seers who
indeed have known him?
Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 1.2.7-9; 2.6.12
Whoever does not have a guide, Satan is his guide.
Igala Proverb: Only one with much life experience, who sees with the eye
of wisdom, is qualified to instruct others. Hadith: This tradition is
from Sufi circles. The role of the teacher is particularly important in
the Sufi orders, for it is the teacher who preserves and conveys the
esoteric wisdom essential to spiritual advancement on the Path.
It is very important for a person who wishes to "lament" to receive aid
and advice from a wichasha wakan (holy man), so that everything is done
correctly, for if things are not done in the right way, something very bad
can happen, and even a serpent could come and wrap itself around the
Native American Religions. Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
The teacher, brethren, should regard the pupil as his son. The pupil
should regard the teacher as his father. Thus these two, by mutual
reverence and deference joined, dwelling in community of life, will win
increase, growth, progress in this Norm-discipline.
Buddhism. Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga 3.1
As in the sky flies the white-clothed crane,
Keeping its mind behind,
In its heart continually remembering its young ones;
So the true Guru keeps the disciple absorbed in the love of God,
And also keeps him in his heart.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri, M.4
Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in
purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to
preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given
you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands
upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may
see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to
that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Christianity. 1 Timothy 4.12-16
The sage always excels in saving people, and so abandons no one;
Always excels in saving things, and so abandons nothing.
This is called following one's discernment.
Hence the good man is the teacher the bad learns from;
And the bad man is the material the good works on.
Not to value the teacher
Nor to love the material
Though it seems clever, betrays great bewilderment.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 27
Black Elk: To 'lament' means to enter a place of total isolation and cry
for a vision; see Sioux Vision Quest, pp. 847ff. 1 Timothy 4.12-16: The
teaching positions in the church: bishop, priest, and deacon, are endowed
in a ceremony of the laying of hands. Thus the gift of apostolic
authority, first given to Peter (see Matthew 16.15-19, p. 286), is passed
on. Tao Te Ching 27: Cf. Chuang Tzu 14, p. 718.
Much Torah have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but
from my students most of all.
Judaism. Talmud, Taanit 7a
The Master said, "Even when walking in a party of no more than three I can
always be certain of learning from those I am with. There will be good
qualities that I can select for imitation and bad ones that will teach me
what requires correction in myself."
Confucianism. Analects 7.28
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you
believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but
God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is
anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who
waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master
builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let
each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any
one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 3.5-11
The guru, it is declared, is the very Lord himself. To approach
the guru, to worship the guru, is to approach the Lord, worship the Lord.
Why should the Lord choose to manifest through the guru, why should he not
Shiva is really all-pervading, above the mind, without features,
imperishable... infinite; how can such a one be worshipped? That is why,
out of compassion for his creatures, He takes the form of the guru and,
when so worshipped in devotion, grants liberation and fulfillment. Shiva
has no binding form, Shiva is not perceivable by the human eye; therefore
He protects the disciple conforming to Dharma in the form of the guru. The
guru is none other than the supreme Shiva enclosed in human skin; he walks
the earth, concealed, for bestowing grace on the good disciples.... To
him who is loaded with sinful karma, the guru appears to be human; but to
him whose karma is auspicious, meritful, the guru appears as Shiva.
Hinduism. Kularnava Tantra 13
1 Corinthians 3.5-11: Paul is writing to a community in which disputes
have arisen over the doctrines of different teachers. Paul reminds them
that a teacher is no more than a servant of God and Christ, and that all
true teaching is built on Christ's foundation, not the constructions of
human reason. Kularnava Tantra 13: On the teacher as avatar or infused by
God, see Bhagavad Gita 4.7-8, p. 1106n; Rig Veda 4.26.1, p. 652; Asa
Chhant, M.4, p. 651; Swaiyya Guru, Kala, p. 663. Only the student with a
sincere mind sees God in his teacher; cf. Bhagavad Gita 11.41-42, p. 653;
Garland Sutra 10, p. 725. This Tantra also addresses the problem of
hypocritical teachers; see p. 493.
The disciple that takes abode in the Master's home to receive guidance
Should with his heart the Master's guidance accept. He should nowise show
off his ego; He should ever in his heart meditate on the Name Divine. The
disciple that has abandoned himself to the Master-- All his objectives
shall be fulfilled. One that serves and seeks no recompense, Finds union
with the Lord.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Sukhmani 18, M.5, p. 285
After having taught the Veda, a teacher instructs the pupil, "Say what is
true! Do thy your! Do not neglect the study of the Veda! After having
brought to your teacher his proper reward, do not cut off the line of
children! Do not swerve from the truth! Do not swerve from duty! Do not
neglect what is useful! Do not neglect greatness! Do not neglect the
learning and teaching of the Veda!
"Do not neglect the [sacrificial] works due to the gods and the
fathers! Let your mother be to you like unto a god! Let your father be to
you like unto a god! Let your teacher be to you like unto a god! Let
your guest be to you like unto a god! Whatever good works have been
performed by us, those should be observed by you."
Hinduism. Taittiriyaka Upanishad 1.11.1-2
During many kalpas I was long a king and vowed to seek the Supreme Wisdom,
my mind never relenting.... For the sake of the Law, I gave up the throne
of my domain, deputed my government to the prince-royal, and with beating
drum and open proclamation, sought everywhere for the truth, promising,
"Whoever is able to tell me of a Great Vehicle, him I will all my life
provide for, and be his footman." At that time a certain hermit came to
me, the king, and said, "I have a Great Vehicle, named Wonderful
Law-flower Sutra. If you will not disobey me, I will explain it to you."
I, the king, hearing what the hermit said, became ecstatic with joy and
instantly followed, providing for his needs, gathering fruit, drawing
water, collecting fuel, laying his food, even of my body making his seat
and bed, yet never feeling fatigue of body or mind. While I thus served,
a millennium passed, and for the sake of the Law, I zealously waited on
him that he should lack nothing.
Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 12
Verily in the Messenger of God you have a good example for him who looks
unto God and the Last Day, and remembers God much.
Islam. Qur'an 33.21
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were digged.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for when he was but one I called him,
and I blessed him and made him many.
Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah 55.1-2
Taittiriyaka Upanishad 1.11.1-2: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 13.7, p. 911; Qur'an
31.17, p. 245; Oracle of Temmangu, p. 246. Lotus Sutra 12: The Buddha
recounts a story of one of his previous lives, where as a bodhisattva in
training he served his teacher to obtain the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
This episode inspired Gyoki (668-749
I will follow the examples of the Buddhas from thought to thought. Even
though the void of space has end, and the worlds of beings, the karmas of
beings, the sorrows of beings all have end, yet my practice and following
the examples of the Buddhas will not be ended. Thought succeeds thought
without interruption, and in deeds of body, speech, and mind, without
Buddhism. Gandavyuha Sutra, Vows of Samantabhadra
Yen Hui said with a deep sigh, "The more I strain my gaze up towards it,
the higher it soars. The deeper I bore down into it, the harder it
becomes. I see it in front; but suddenly it is behind. Step by step the
Master skillfully lures one on. He has broadened me with culture,
restrained me with ritual. Even if I wanted to stop, I could not. Just
when I feel that I have exhausted every resource, something seems to rise
up, standing out sharp and clear. Yet though I long to pursue it, I can
find no way of getting to it at all."
Confucianism. Analects 9.10
When [Jesus] had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed
his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You
call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your
Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one
another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do
as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not
greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent
him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."
Christianity. John 13.12-17
When Shakyamuni Buddha was at Mount Grdhrakuta, he held out a flower to
his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Kashyapa the Great broke into a
broad smile. The Buddha said, "I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous
Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma
Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have
entrusted to Kashyapa the Great."
Buddhism. Mumonkan 6
Analects 9.10: Yen Hui was Confucius' favorite disciple, and he excelled
all the others. Yet he, above all, was aware of how far away he was from
the standard of his master. Other passages on Hui are Analects 6.9, p.
938, and Shih Chi 47, pp. 607f. John 13.12-17: The essence of
discipleship to Jesus is to love and serve others, and to witness for the
Gospel; see Matthew 28.18-20, p. 1027. Mumonkan 6: Successful
discipleship in Zen requires the wordless communication of enlightenment;
cf. Lankavatara Sutra 61, pp. 634f; Diamond Sutra 21, p. 800. The lineage
of Zen masters runs from Shakyamuni Buddha to his disciple Kashyapa, then
through Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Chinese Buddhism, and Hui Neng
(Jap. En-o), the Sixth Patriarch. Thence the teaching proliferated into
many schools of Zen in Japan and China.
Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua
to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered
it to the men of the Great Synagogue. These said three things: Be
deliberate in judging, and raise up many disciples, and make a hedge for
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 1.1
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works
that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the
Christianity. John 14.12
A Zen proverb says, "When your view is the same as your teacher's, you
destroy half your teacher's merit; when your view surpasses your
teacher's, you are worthy to succeed him."
Buddhism. Mumonkan 17
And with how many a prophet have there been a number of devoted men who
fought [beside him]. They quailed not for whatever befell them in the way
of God, nor did they weaken, nor were they brought low. God loves the
Their cry was only, "Our Lord! Forgive us for our sins and wasted
efforts, make our foothold sure, and give us victory over the disbelieving
Islam. Qur'an 3.145-147
Then the Exalted One said to the brethren, "I am released,
brethren, from all bonds, those that are divine and those that are human.
You also, brethren, are released from all bonds, those that are divine and
those that are human. Go you forth, brethren, on your journey, for the
profit of the many, for the bliss of the many, out of compassion for the
world, for the welfare, the profit, the bliss of devas and mankind!
Go not any two together. Proclaim, brethren, the Norm, goodly in
its beginning, goodly in its middle, goodly in its ending. Both in the
spirit and in the letter make known the all-perfected, utterly pure
righteous life. There are beings with but little dust of passion on their
eyes. They are perishing through not hearing the Norm. There will be
some who will understand.
Buddhism. Vinaya i.21
Abot 1.1: The essence of discipleship to Moses is to study Torah,
according to Sifre Deuteronomy, p. 632. Rabbinic Judaism, which
emphasizes the study of Torah above all else, began with Great Synagogue,
a council of elders which existed from the time of Ezra (c. 428
And [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them
authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every
disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these:
first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son
of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholemew; Thomas and
Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon
the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, "Go nowhere among the
Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom
of Heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,
cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Take no
gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor
two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food.
Whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay
with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the
house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let
your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen
to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house
or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of
judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be
wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will
deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will
be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony
before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious
how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will
be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit
of yur father speaking through you....
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his
master; it is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and the
servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house
Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."
Christianity. Matthew 10.1-25
Matthew 10.1-25: Cf. Matthew 16.24-25, p. 875; 28.18-20, p. 1027; Mark
6.7-9, p. 938; Romans 8.35-39, p. 880; 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.13, p. 1028.