By Dr. Sarkar Haider, New Age Islam
5 September 2009
Tribute to the great teachers of humanity on this Teachers' Day: 5 Sep 2009
"The best teacher is the one who suggests rather than dogmatizes, and inspires his listener with the wish to teach himself."
Sant Kabir Das, the famous Indian mystic poet has written that even if all the oceans are turned into writing ink and Kabir used them to write paeans in praise of his teacher, still he won't be able to justify the favours his teacher bestowed upon him. Mind you, this was said about a teacher whom history has recorded as a very very fleeting character in the life of Kabir. If that much ink is insufficient to adequately praise the favours bestowed by Kabir's Teacher on him (very little indeed from all accounts), then it remains worth musing how many universes would be required to adequately praise the favours bestowed upon humanity by great teachers like Socrates, Confucius, Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, Prophet Mohammad, Mahatma Buddha, Guru Nanak, Swami Vivekananda, Krishnamurthy, or Osho?
I cannot possibly do justice to the vast topic but will still try to briefly examine the role of various teachers across many ages: their general characteristics, their mode of teaching, their impact on humanity. Finally I will try to seek the way forward as in our time the humanity seems to be at crossroads. Self-styled followers of one great teacher are poised against those of some other. The scenario is not only confusing but is also suffocating to any person who believes in fairness of creation. The destiny of the planet earth seems to be compromised with the numerous issues gone out of hand and some quickly slipping away. Global warming, depleting ozone layer, receding glaciers, drying rivers, dwindling forests and its wild life plus proactive man-made disasters like sectarian hatred, devastation caused by political hegemony, nuclear race, terrorism, injustice -- all seem to engulf humanity. Organized religious syndicates have created havoc in the name of purification of faith. Religiousness has almost replaced spirituality and empathy for the fellow humans and other fauna and flora of the earth seems to have taken leave.
According to the Gita such are the times when great Teachers are usually born. Let us examine ourselves and find out if we are ready? But before we ask that let us first go into a little detail of the journey humanity has taken in the last five thousand years or so and how various noteworthy teachers have influenced the outcome? We shall examine the traditional claim that humans are responsible for their destiny and it requires evolved humans to prevent the cosmos from collapsing and thus the human being is not just a part of Divine Design like any other species but is actually responsible for sustaining the cosmic order.
The earliest teacher of humanity seems to be coming from India. Apart from various lesser known teachers, the most authentic account remains that of Lord Krishna, His class room was the Battlefield of Krukshetra , His student was a keen archer, the prince Arjun and the moment of this historical teaching was when the enemy army of Kaurava was closing in on the warring Prince Arjun and his charioteer the Krishna himself. At that precise moment Arjun is gripped by doubts and confusion. He sees all his relatives, near and dear ones in the ranks of the enemy and wonders If war is really worth spilling the blood of those important and loved people I LOVE? Krishna like a keen teacher senses his student's dilemma and chooses to intervene first by showing Arjun his Viraat swaroop where a mesmerized Arjun has a momentary glimpse of the entire universe and possibly the centre operating the whole complex matrix. Arjun was transformed then and there itself. He was born again with a new perception about self where he could identify himself beyond the temporal ego. He possibly felt as if shedding off the old skin of false self in the ephemeral world he could see himself in his true form , the immortal self. The absolute, indestructible soul form, which has no fears, no doubt, no lust, no confusion. For the soul ( Atman) emanates from the original , inexhaustible source we call God. In simple terms what Arjuna experienced through the medium of Krishna was probably a lesser form of MERAJ in Islamic terminology.
(Later Prophet Mohammad will be invited by almighty God to visit cosmos and meet various previous teachers and the prophets during his legendry flight of cosmos traditionally called MERAJ. He was shown the secret garden of God in all its grandiosity and splendour. )
Gita as transmitted by Sant Vyas through the epic of Mahabharata has eighteen chapters and seven hundred verses. The style is superhuman, divine. A sect of Hindu scholars treat Gita as REVEALED SCRIPTURE which stresses that the knowledge of living the right kind of life is the first knowledge given to the earliest humans. This was in the form of Yogic methodology that Lord Krishna explains to Arjun in detail in Krukshetra .
The Gita is a remarkable piece of a practical workbook which can be used by any human; the text is lucid, full of divine authority and exhorts the listener for action. It is through the right kind of action that the cosmos can remain functional; otherwise negative forces would destroy the scheme if they are left unchecked. Scholar Steven Rosen summarizes the Gita in FOUR basic, concise verses:
"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me. The Wise who fully realize this engage in my devotional service and worship me with all their hearts." (10.8)
"My pure devotees are absorbed in thoughts of me, and they experience fulfilment and bliss by enlightening one another and conversing about me." (10.9)
"To those who are continually devoted and worship me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to me." (10.10)
"Out of compassion for them, I, residing in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance." (10.11)
Such was Krishna and his teaching, He is revered and loved all around the world and has traditionally served as Insignia of anything Indian. Ahmadia sect and Bahai sect officially consider him as a divinely appointed Prophet of great stature who was sent onto the Indians with a work plan whom many consider a scripture. Here also we see Gita a result of work of Veda Vyas. Krishna or Arjun the two parties involved in the act of revelation are not on record of leaving anything written. Krishna died in the night between 17th & 18th February 3102 B.C and this precise moment marks the end of Dwaper yug and start of Kalyug (i.e. - The middle age era and Modern machine era) not before informing that the great teacher will keep coming whenever earth will be filled with evil and injustice.
It will be worthwhile to briefly mention another contemporary great Disciple; his name was EKLAVYA, the Tribal prince who was very fond of Archery and had tried hard to get himself enrolled under the tutelage of great Archery teacher Dronacharya who was the official coach of Royals including Arjun the great. Dronacharya refused to accept Eklavya as his disciple on account of his poor credentials of pedigree. The poor chap was so determined to learn that he made a statue of Dronacharya in the dense forest and thus appointed him an official guru albeit a virtual one. Over the next few years Eklavya's self-training, seemingly inspired by his focus on his self-appointed teacher, would take him to a stage where he would even surpass the skills of Dronacharya's best disciple Arjun. But then in order to eliminate any competition to Arjun, the selfish part of the Guru asks him as gurudakshina (offerings traditionally made to Gurus) his right thumb. The dutiful Eklavya does not hesitate for a moment before he cuts away his thumb and offers this in gratitude at the feet of his Guru. There is nothing religious and not even moral about this incidence but the incident is narrated here to underline the significance of a great teacher and his importance in maturation of a disciple.
Then from India itself we have yet another Great teacher born as Siddhartha Gautam who later became Buddha. We hear about his enlightenment under the Bodh tree- It was an individual effort on the part of a seeking Buddha which won him enlightenment but once enlightened he did not succumb to the temptation of selfishly basking under the glory of the newfound bliss; rather he thought of distributing this Tabarruk/ prasad among the fellow humans who mostly continued to live on a much inferior psycho -spiritual plane. Thus the essence of Buddhism is that although the self realization or Nirvana is an individualistic effort, once attained the Buddha is supposed to disseminate this to the masses and for this he should ideally come back to the chaotic world he once had denounced when he began his journey. Thus a guru-disciple relationship is more a necessity than a choice.
Then Human history records yet another great teacher, this time from Greece -The Socrates. The legendry teacher of almost a prophetic order born to a stone cutter father and a midwife mother who used his students for debating obvious things which most of us take for granted. His methodology was technically called DIALECTICS. One example is when a famous General of Greek Army visited Socrates and general was very particular about Valour being the essential trait for a man. Socrates started his dialectic process and hours passed by. In the meantime two more army officials joined the debate which lasted for three days. At the end of the third day none of the courageous army men seemed to suspect they knew anything about valour but at the same time they left much wiser than before.
Socrates often used to say the job of a good teacher is to bring about birth of a new and original idea in his audience. Thus a great teacher is basically a highly skilled midwife. May be this was his way of giving tribute to his mother whom he loved a lot. Socrates seems to be using the process of reverse ascent in which the involuntarily formed notions about events, facts and individuals which any person accumulates as the part of growing up and are essentially the dead calcified nuclei serve as pegs on which the aura of our false personalities is usually hung. This false identity is the greatest obstruction in the way of the natural flow of the river of vitality and purpose called life.
Socratic teachings are a magnificent example of Dynamism but the interesting thing is that Socrates hardly ever recorded anything. He consciously did this so that his teachings do not become in future calcified pegs on which future generations keep hanging themselves and thus the teaching becomes a liability for future seekers. Whatever little humanity knows today about this phenomenal teacher is through the writings of his favourite disciple Plato with whom he shared a special bond .Plato appears to have expounded the Socratic philosophy in his landmark works known to mankind.
Then in China there appeared an unusual fellow born out of a doubtful marriage .He has influenced Chinese thought in a way that remains unparalleled in the history of China. He was Confucius – The great Master. He emphasized greatly a detailed study of things and phenomena covering day to day human life. His texts open with a Chinese symbol denoting Learning, something akin to Bismillah in Muslim scriptures.
Out of many Teachings the best known is The GOLDEN RULE – Never do unto others what you won't like to be done to yourself. He believed that the ruling class should lead the nation by the example of unstinted character and morality and the throne should belong to the deserving irrespective of his pedigree. He strived to transform China through the Mandate of Heaven, so that China serves as the Capital of world humanity. He too did not leave any written documents. all his famous works like FIVE CLASSICS, Book of Odes – a collection of his poetry, and similar things are a compilation of his teachings done by his disciples following his death well after a century or so. In ANALECTS he presents himself as the mere transmitter of the knowledge who invented nothing! At least one sect of Muslims –The Ahmadia - believes that Confucius was a divine prophet sent to China.
Similarly again in India we have Kabir- The famous Sufi poet who though illiterate and of ambiguous pedigree somehow received his enlightenment. The story unfolds at the Ganges river bank when a learned scholar who time and again had refused to accept Kabir as his disciple because of the latter's lowly origin accidentally stumbled upon Kabir lying on Ganga ghat stairs determined to extract a word or two from this scholar. In a startled reaction the later shouted RAAM ! RAAM !! and Kabir stood up with folded hands thanking him for teaching him the mantra. Thus Kabir seems to be obsessed with the idea of need for a formal guru to initiate him for his journey, although the only teaching he ever received from his teacher was two words of RAAM RAAM. He would emphasize the need and importance of Guru in his famous couplet
GURU GOBIND DOU KHAADE KAAKE LAAGOON PAAYEN
BALIHARI JAAOON GURU KE JO GOBIND DIYO DIKHAYE.
(God and Teacher both are standing together: who should I greet first?
I will choose the Teacher who introduced me to God)
Kabir continues to remain an all time great Sufi poet and can be given credit for supplying his Sufism-tinted mystical poetic edifice on which at least one recognized modern religion, i.e. the Khalsa panth or Sikhism is based by its founder Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak's personal religion continues to remain debatable; some scholars find enough evidence for his Islamic leaning. This includes a little known chadar Nanak used to wrap around himself in his last days which has Arabic verses written on this. He was a great seeker and traveller. According to Wikipedia, "although the exact account of his itinerary is disputed, he is widely acknowledged to have made four major journeys, spanning thousands of kilometres, the first tour being east towards Bengal and Assam, the second south towards Tamil Nadu, the third north towards Kashmir, Ladakh, and Tibet, and the final tour west towards Baghdad, Mecca and Medina on the Arabian Peninsula."
One incident is particularly revealing of his stature: At Mecca, as described in Wikipedia, "Guru Nanak was found sleeping with his feet towards the Kaaba. Kazi Rukan-ud-din, who observed this, angrily objected. Nanak replied with a request to turn his feet in a direction in which God or the House of God is not. The Qadi took hold of the Guru's feet. Then he lifted his eyes seeing the Kaaba standing in the direction of the Guru's feet, wherever he turned them. The Qadi was struck with wonder. He then recognised the glory of Guru Nanak."
A couple of poems by this great master would reveal him to us more tellingly and in his own words, though, of course, translated:
God is the One mystic Sound,
His name is Truth,
He is the Creator,
Unborn and Self-existent,
Known by the Guru's Grace.
He was the Truth in the beginning,
Truth when time began,
even now He is the Truth and will always be the Truth.
Wonder inspiring are the books of revelation!
Wonder inspiring the forms!
Wonder inspiring the colours!
Wonder inspiring, the air!
Wonder inspiring, the water!
Wonder inspiring the play of fire!
I have been struck with wonder
to see the wondrous play;
Nanak only the blessed ones understand.
Guru Nanak (1544-1603), Rajasthan
Sufism in particular seems to consider the vital nuclear importance of a well defined Guru who will serve as a conduit for an individual's journey into the unknown. Naturally we have famous pairs in history like Jalaluddin Rumi & Shams Tabrezi, Raabia Basri & Hasan al Basri, Nizamuddin Auliyah and Ameer Khusro. Their bond appears so holistic that most have been accused of carnal love.
Now that brings us to the concept of love and fana which is broad enough to require a separate session. Here it will be enough to simply note that Love is one emotion which has traditionally served as the most reliable key for the travellers undertaking inwards journey. Somehow this always seems to work. In the words of Louis Berman "A good teacher is a master of simplification and an enemy of simplism "
We have yet another gem from India's south - J. Krishnamurty. He acquired his transformation in Swiss mountains of Ojai and within a short span of three days he was a changed man! The transformation always seems to change a person completely and irreversibly like a one way chemical reaction. There is no coming back; ascent remains the only choice, a new peak every now and then depending on an individual's psychic bursts, something akin to solar flares of excessive bursts of energy.
India again is blessed to have given birth to another great teacher of distinction who was tutored by yet another great teacher. This is the story of Ramakrishna Paramhansa spotting the unusually bright aura in a teenage boy whom the world would later know by the name of Swami Vivekanand. It took Paramhans to physically put his foot on Vivekanand's body and the later was transformed irreversibly. Here this is noteworthy that physical touch seems to be a proven way of inducing transformation. The rejuvenation of Vedantic philosophy and its expansion in the West is the main contribution of Swami Vivekananda.
The Indian contribution shall always remain incomplete if we miss to count one of the greatest Indian Teachers, Acharya Rajneesh, now popularly called Osho. It was through Vivekanand, Osho and J. Krishnamurty that the West was introduced to the lofty spiritual concepts whose birthplace is India. Osho is the most modern of the teachers; therefore his material is most accessible in the form of lecture tapes, audio-videos and books. In the words of an American scholar and former Osho disciple "IF EVER A LENS WAS POSSIBLE TO CREATE WHICH COULD FOCUS THE COSMIC ENERGY, THEN UNDOUBTEDLY OSHO WAS THE MOST POWERFUL LENS EVER CREATED IN MY KNOWLEDGE." This statement tells all about Osho's extraordinary abilities as a divinely gifted teacher. His philosophy is very lucid, simple to understand and practice. He is one teacher who tried his level best to take away the burden of guilt psychology from his audience. Guilt generated as a result of pseudo-religious rituals of age old traditions. Of false identities.
J.Krishnamurty & Osho strongly maintained that No guru can win you salvation, each one of us has to undergo our individual evolution to attain the state…. & WHAT IS THAT STATE???......Does that turn out to be just a conquered peak while many taller ones still invite the climber?...and till what level?.
Osho was an ardent lover of Mullah Nasruddin who like all great teachers emphasized one exercise that we in Greek technically call Kenosis, the art of emptying self. The greatest obstacle to living life and experiencing transcendence is the cluttered interior of the seeker. There is a famous story about Mullah in which the king of Persia asked him to visit him and impart him some wisdom. The Mullah visited the King on the appointed time and when the tea was brought in traditional Finjaan as per the Persian tradition where normally host serves the tea, the King filled both the cups with optimum volume. At that point Mullah took over the tea kettle. He started with the King's cup and went on filling this till the tea started to overflow and smear the table top or dastarkhwan. The king impatiently asked: Are you mad mullah? What you are up to? The mullah quietly said: Sir! Unless your cup is empty how Mullah can serve his tea of wisdom to you?..Before the king could understand anything Mullah was gone.
Now in last let us examine the
Teacher- Student relationship in Middle Eastern religions.
We start with prophet Abraham and we have two dedicated followers in the capacity of the dedicated students who happened to be his two most beloved sons. They don't question their father's wisdom when Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son (In Judeo-Christian thought this son was Isaac but in Muslim thought this was Ishmael). Then we have Moses and his disciple and deputy in the form of Aaron or Haroon. Then Quran tells us the story of even a prophet of the stature of Moses requiring some lessons at the hands of Khizr. The latter is even tired of his impatient student.
This was precisely the time when Divine Agency seems to be dispatching countless prophets and teachers towards the nation of Moses. Out of hundreds of lesser importance among them, one was ISRAEL- the name given to Prophet Jacob. the term is interestingly derived from the fact that one night while Jacob was camping in a previously undefined land he received a visitor in the form of a man who was found to be the Almighty God himself. Perceiving this Jacob insisted on being realized. On this God is reported to have prepared for his flight and that was the moment Jacob caught hold of his visitor and they kept wrestling all night long till finally the visitor gave him something to satisfy his curiosity. Israel is a term used to denote someone who wrestles with God and from now on Jacob would be called Israel and his progeny as Bani Israel. It is reported that to mark the sacred place where Jacob received his actualization through wrestling with God he placed some landmark rocks. The place continued to remain sacred till sometime when puritanical Jews like the present day Muslim Salafis came to power and then this house of God was demolished forever.
When we further travel down we meet Jesus Christ (Hazrat Isa) who had a well formed club of his disciples or Hawaris, the most famous of them being St. Paul. It is through Paul that Christianity assumed the shape of a distinct religion separate from Judaism. Not many have been as lucky as was Paul -the true founder of Christianity. He vividly saw a key in his dream and the magnificent building on whose walls there were scribed the eternal questions the mankind always wrestles with and their clear, lucid answers - all clearly written just like the Tablets of Moses. He was even shown various animals which were halal for Christians and strangely this also had swine. That is how Christians in spite of being a legitimate breakaway faction from Judaism continue to have pork dishes on their dining table.
And thus in the end we come to the last Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). And we find his cousin Ali bin Abi Talib following his teacher and mentor like a suckling camel following his mother (The way prophet describes Ali in Bukhari).
When Moses had gone to Mount Sinai it was Aaron who waited at the foothill as former's confidante and partner. When Mohammadd went on Meraj then it was Ali who slept under his rug as prophet's confidante and, may I say, as a partner. (Thus the famous Hadith in which the Prophet says " Ali is like Aaron to me , except that there won't be a prophet after me". This is a clear indication of Ali's stature in the divine plan. And thus Islam had the most magical union of the two souls who had a teacher-student relationship, at the same time each was a terrific teacher in his own capacity.
From the above description the reader can clearly see a few things. First, a recurring pattern of humanity has been arrival of prophets or great teachers. Second, most of the teachers have performed in duets along with their favourite students-cum-partners in the journey of self actualization or Nirvana. Apart from being a mere student, the partner seems to act as some kind of catalyst. Thus the realization appears to be a common product of such an experiment. Be it Buddha and his disciple, be it Krishna and Arjun, be it Socrates and Plato, be it Guru Nanak and Mardana, be it Rabia Basri and Hasan Basri, be it Shams Tabrezi and Jalaluddin Rumi, be it Nizamuddin Auliyah and Ameer Khusro, the list remains endless.
Touching the student by feet and thus inducing transformation seems a tested methodology. It was practiced by Socrates, by Krishna, By Prophet Mohammad. When he visits the house of Ali and Fatima and enters under the same rug in which both Ali and Fatima were lying. Bukhari mentions that Prophet so much advanced till his cold feet were touching our chest walls and that was the moment of transformation. Muslims would get their customary Tasbeeh of reciting Allahu Akbar 34 times, Alhamdo lillah, and SubhanAllah both 33 times thus making a total of hundred. We know this by the name of TASBEEH AL FATIMA and most Muslims regularly perform this after each prayer. But the pity is few know how it originated.
Apart from this historical evidence there is yet another incidence recorded by history, particularly by the Shia sect. this is when Prophet Mohammad enters inside the rug of Fatima saying: "I feel weak this evening". Then he is joined by both the sons of Fatima, Hasan and Husain. After sometime Ali also enters the cloak and later Fatima also joins the group thus making the number of FIVE occupants of the cloak. What transpires inside the cloak is not recorded but what is duly recorded is that at that precise moment angel Gabriel (jibreel) brings down the legendry verse 33:33 Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O People of the House (Ahlul'bayt)! and to purify you via a thorough purification." (33:33)
This purification may have a thousand theological explanations but what a lay observer can clearly see is that this probably means the return of infancy when no impurities have yet corrupted the system and such a state is technically called a BORN AGAIN state in Christianity and actualized state or nirvana in eastern philosophy. Thus each one of these five people were the product of an alchemy which happened at that precise moment, and thus were probably capable of teaching humanity well. This probably explains the famous title of Ali bin Abi Talib where prophet called him BAB UL ILM (The gateway of Knowledge) and the Hasan and Husain as the prince of paradise and Fatima the chief of the ladies of Paradise. Because they all were not only the conduits for ordinary mortals but after transformation now had become part of the Divine Plan itself. As we have already noted Transformations are IRREVERSIBLE reactions. Therefore after divinity planned their cleansing there is no going back to ordinary status.
Thus what the Prophet did that evening was pure alchemy of transforming ordinary metals into pure Gold. As we have already seen such incidences have recurred time and again in the lives of travellers of the path which takes some of them towards absolute knowledge and salvation.
In modern age Ramakrishna Paramhans attempted this TOUCH induction in Vivekanand which transformed the latter into a realised being. Even Osho is on record of putting his right foot on the chest of some selected visitors.
To conclude, a teacher is required from time to time who not only educates the masses but in fact, in the words of Krishna, sustains and prevents the cosmos from collapsing.
History tells us that such teachers have come in close succession. At times, there have been multiple teachers for the given set of people. The point to be noted is that all noteworthy teachers come once every 500 to 800 years. Their intermediate period is taken care of by teachers of lesser eminence.
Common sense would dictate that if at all there exists a cosmic order and a kingdom of God then at any given time there should always be a teacher; otherwise the subjects cannot be judged for their faults.
We have also noticed that most teachers do not believe in leaving a clergy- like-gang behind which could exploit the future generations. But in spite of the common precaution, each teacher was somehow type-casted by the latter priests and followers who were about to control humanity in the teacher's name. In fact many of them took care of not leaving any record so that the relevance of their teaching is not outlived by the coming generations of humanity with altogether new issues and increasingly complex physical environment.
There is one more noteworthy point. A teacher's purpose is not to create students in his own image. But to develop students who can create their own image!! Thus imitation is not encouraged. Each Teacher seems to employ a novel method, something akin to the modern concept of TERMINATOR CROP in which after purchasing the seed a farmer can expect only one bumper crop. Out of this crop there won't be a seed capable of replicating any further and thus the farmer has to keep going to the counter to purchase new seeds for each crop. Similarly all great teachers seem to have taken one or more preferential students without leaving the paraphernalia of their religion as such. This is usually through these preferential channels that the knowledge is passed. What the future generations get are legends.
Technically a teacher is the right conduit, the right kind of the gate between mundane and Transcendent. He is the key maker who supplies the seeker with the correct combination of the digits so that the mysterious lock can be opened and divinity experienced. The experience and common sense would dictate that such a gifted teacher has to be divinely blessed and ARIF (the realised one) in the true sense. And if the university is run by God as the sole proprietor then Ordinary mortals should ideally be not entrusted with the complexities of teaching. In words of Peter Drucker:
"Teaching is the only major occupation of man for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the "naturals," the ones who somehow know how to teach. "The job of humanity is to look for naturals and the officially designated job of the teachers demand that he reaches out to his students."
Without extra favour of the Divine Agency one is unlikely to design that elusive key which takes a person to the vast and omnipresent yet secret Garden of Eden because as someone said:
""Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more."
Therefore humanity has duty to guard itself as much as it can against teaching by bad teachers who definitely do not come from divine setting. But has to remain vigilant for a (lesser) teacher who may be entrusted with the job of visiting us to fill in the gaps till the ultimate comes.
Dr. Sarkar Haider is a well-known cardiologist based in Bareilly, UP, India. He occasionally contributes columns and comments to New Age Islam. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org