The role of the Masters:
The work which the Masters of esoteric knowledge do has been described variously, but it comes down to this: to show those human beings who want it their own real nature and position in the universe. A famous story from the Indian tradition is told by Kirpal Singh:
An ancient Indian parable vividly brings out this aspect of the Master-disciple relationship. It relates that once a shepherd trapped a lion's cub and reared him with the rest of his flock. The cub, judging himself by those he saw around him, lived and moved like the sheep and lambs, content with the grass they nibbled and with the weak bleats they emitted. And so time sped on until one day, another lion saw the growing cub grazing with the rest of the flock. He guessed what had happened and pitying the cub's plight, he went up to him, drew him to the side of a quiet stream, made him behold his reflection and the lion's own and, turning back, let forth a mighty roar. The cub, now understanding his true nature, did likewise and his erstwhile com- panions fled before him. He was at last free to enjoy his rightful place and thenceforward roamed about as a king of the forest.
The Master is indeed such a lion. He comes to stir up the soul from its slumber and, presenting it with a mirror, makes it behold its own innate glory of which, without his touch, it would continue unaware. However, were it not itself of the essence of life, nothing could raise it to spiritual consciousness. The Guru is but a lighted candle that lights the unlit ones. The fuel is there, the wick is there, he only gives the gift of flame without any loss to himself. Like touches like, the spark passes between and that which lay dark is illumined and that which was dead springs into life. As with the lighted candle, whose privilege lies not in its being an individual candle but in its being the seat of the unindividual flame that is neither of this candle nor of that, but of the very essence of all fire, so too with the true Master. He is a Master not by virtue of his being an individual master like anyone else, but he is a Master carrying in him the Universal Light of God. Again, just as only a candle that is still burning can light other candles-not one that is already burnt out-so only a living Master can give the quickening touch that is needed, not one who has already departed from this world. Those that are gone were great indeed and worthy of all respect, but they were preeminently for their own time, and the task they accomplished for those around them must, for us, be performed by one who lives and moves in our midsL Their memory is a sacred treasure, a perennial source of inspiration, but the one thing their remembrance teaches is to seek for ourselves in the world of the living that which they themselves were. Only the kiss of a living Prince (Master) could bring the slumbering Princess (soul) back to life and only the touch of a breathing Beauty could restore the Beast to his native pristine glory. (The Crown of Life, pp.174-176)
A story from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav also explains, in a somewhat different way, why the Master (called tzaddik in the esoteric Jewish tradition) and the disciple have to be on the same plane at the same time, and how the Master works:
A prince becomes mentally ill and feels that he has become a rooster. He insists on sitting "naked beneath the table to eat pieces of bread and bone."
The king and his physicians despair of curing him, but a wise man comes along and offers to heal him. The latter takes off his own clothes and sits under the table with the prince. When the prince asks him what he is doing, the wise man says that he too is a rooster. "And they both sat together until they became used to each other." Finally the wise man asks for a shirt, telling the prince, "You think that a rooster cannot wear a shirt? Even though he is a rooster, he can wear a shirt." And both of them put on shirts. After a while he asks for pants and soon both of them are wearing pants. The same process is used to get the prince to eat regular food and, finally, to sit at the table. Nachman concludes his story by saying that every man who wishes to come closer to the worship of God is a "rooster, that is enveloped in grossness." By the above technique, however, the tzaddik can gradually lift up the man, and bring him to the right way of serving God. (Herbert Weiner, 9 1/2 Mystics: The Kabbala Today, p.219)
But what does all this have to do with Jesus? It is the thesis of this book that Jesus historically did precisely this work and that everything he said fits into this context; and this is the way he is understood by the esoteric tradition; including its heirs in his own religion, the Jewish Kabbalah:
It is important to remember that Jesus never wrote anything in terms of a text; his teachings were all oral. As is true for Judaism, there was undoubtedly an oral part to his teachings meant for all and a more secret part-a kind of Christian Kabbalah-which was reserved for a select few. Was Jesus a Kabbalist? His teachings suggest that~he was a Kabbalistic adept and that much of his message was rooted in the Kabballah. (David Sheinkin, M.D., Path of the Kabbalah, p.15)
But does this way of looking at Jesus not detract from his glory? What about his uniqueness, as expressed, for example, in John 14:6 and Philippians 2:6-11? Is this not the essence of Christianity?
The simple answer to that is: No, it is not. "Christianity," per se, like any other religion, has meaning only on the exoteric level, and the theological dogma of the uniqueness of Christ - not, it is important to note, the glory or cosmic stature of Christ - exists only on that level. On the esoteric level, the concern is not with religions, but with Masters and disciples, and with what passes from one to the other. If we understand Jesus and his work in this way, then John 14:6 and Philippians 2:6-11 become, in context, expressions of the fact that any genuine Master is the only way for the disciples he or she has taken responsibility for, and the corellary fact that the disciple when he or she has progressed within far enough, does indeed see his or her Master as God. 3
Classical arguments for the uniqueness of Jesus are astonishingly chauvinistic; consider the following from C. S. Lewis:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, pp.55-56)
This is a powerful and compelling statement, and I agree with every word of it. But the astonishing thing from the esoteric point of view is not what is said, but what isn't said. Even as wise and spiritually aware a person as C. S. Lewis somehow does not know that in every religion and spiritual tradition there are other people about whom the exact same point could be made. What about them? Some of these people might even be alive in the world of today; some of us might even have sat at their feet, and had experiences comparable to those of the disciples in the Gospels. Is there any room in exoteric Christianity for this? Must the other great spiritual Masters of the world be categorized as madmen or devils in order to preserve the uniqueness of one of them? Or is it not time for exoteric Christians to recognize a larger universe and a more gracious God - one Who loves all of His children, even those who are not responsive to the Biblical message as it has been presented to them - than they have hitherto had room for?
This is not to deny that there are false teachers and prophets in the world, that some of them might be madmen and some possibly devils; Jesus certainly warns against them, and so do all Masters. But to assume that the reasoning that C. S. Lewis applies to Jesus should not be applied to others who make the same claims is to substitute theological dogma for human reality. It is not worthy of us as children of God to reject out of hand those messengers whom our Father sends us to show us something of Himself; or to assume that those messengers have stopped coming because one or another religion has been founded.
( Continued... ) The role of the disciples: