We've spent some time exploring two initial themes: the nature of the sacred, and our approach to sacred texts. Now we'll take a look at a theme that winds its way through every major world tradition, and reveals itself in humanity's many sacred texts: the relationship between master and disciple, teacher and student.

Some questions to begin our discussion:

Why is this theme so common? And what makes it significant?

What is the role of the Master/Teacher/Guru/Guide?

What is the role of the Student/Disciple/Seeker?

In previous discussion, we've all benefited greatly from personal insights drawn from our varied experiences. Please feel free to share any thoughts, questions or comments as we continue to pursue our shared study :)

Also, be sure to check out our growing PDF Library on our sister-site, Universal Theosophy:http://www.universaltheosophy.com/pdf-library/

Here you'll find several of the world's most respected sacred texts in a clean, readable format.

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I think one of the most important aspects to consider in regard to the question, "What is the role of the Master/Teacher/Guru/Guide?", is who or what is the "Master/Teacher/Guru/Guide"? I believe that our teachers come in many forms and learning how to recognize and discern these various forms is a big part of understanding spiritual guidance. 


who or what is the "Master/Teacher/Guru/Guide"?

That is definitely an important question! :)

Can you give us an example of what you mean by the various forms you mention?


Once, at a Buddhist class during Q&A, someone said they knew their teacher the moment they met and the monk who was leading the class was really very reticent to agree that it was common or desirable. He said it could take many years.


There is the famous example, of course, of Paramahansa Yogananda and his story of finding/recognizing his Guru. HPB speaks of recognizing hers, it would seem, rather instantaneously (referring to her meeting M. in London).

My question with this is: are there dangers in looking for a teacher in the world? And how can we be sure we've found a true teacher when/if our path takes us in that direction?


The Voice of the Silence warns:

"seek not for thy Guru in those Mayavic regions."

i.e. in it's 'first or second Halls'. But instead:

"Seek for him who is to give thee birth, in the Hall of Wisdom, the Hall which lies beyond"

And yet that one who "is to give thee birth" is said to be "The Initiate who leads the disciple through the Knowledge given to him to his spiritual, or second, birth is called the Father guru or Master."

With reference to Jimmy's posts below, what may be the distinctions to be made between this "Father guru", the Higher Self and "a Sacred Text as teacher" (i.e. a text in the role of a teacher)?

I view the Teacher-Disciple relationship symbolically as a relationship between the higher self and the lower self. The dialog between Krishna and Arjuna is an example of this. And then there are some advanced souls who incarnate among us occasionally, the "illumined" who have merged with the Higher Self. In such cases these are able to stand in as proxy for higher consciousness to teach spiritual truth to those who wish to learn. Even though these great souls may not be physically present for us, their wisdom is available in the sacred scriptures of the world. Ultimately, I believe, it is the task of the disciple to contact the Teacher within.

Thanks Jimmy. This is excellent.

Ultimately, I believe, it is the task of the disciple to contact the Teacher within.

Are there any distinctions to be made between this Teacher and our Higher Self, or are they one and the same?

As far as I know, they are one and the same.

Thanks. You know, I was thinking, in light of the idea of the Teacher being symbolically the Higher Self and the Student being symbolically the Lower Self, how might we then approach the questions:

What is the role of the Master/Teacher/Guru/Guide (Higher Self)?

What is the role of the Student/Disciple/Seeker (Lower Self)?

In terms of the relationship established or the connection made, what is the role of each?

I picture the Higher Self as a Sun that never sets. It's a permanent presence in the heaven of mind, and when it's rays manage to pierce the material coverings, the disciple recognizes that light from "this side" of the veil as Guidance. It's the innermost self, our true identity, and the only thing about us that is real. So I don't know if the Higher Self can be said to have a role other than to be what it is already, and shine it's light as the blazing sun of consciousness that it is.

The disciple on the other hand has much work to do. "When the student is ready, the Teacher will come." It's the role of the disciple to prepare himself for the reception of light.

Thanks Jimmy. The 'sun that never sets' creates a wonderful visual.


Agreeing with the view of higher/lower manas or Self/self posed here (and said very nicely), I’d also like to offer a perspective on the relationship of higher/lower taken from some sacred texts, which I have found meaningful over the years.  I’ve gathered some quotes from the Gita and found corresponding passages via the Quaker tradition.  This started with my fascination for the Gita’s multiple use of “you are dear to me” and what that could mean. And then I stumbled upon the Quaker approach of the Friend, and seeing the divine in everyone as well as waiting for the Spirit within to show itself.  The first quotes just acknowledge the relationship that is suggested:

On relationship of divine heart as Friend (which makes it intimately accessible):

  • Gita 4.3: because you are my friend  (paraphrased)
  • Gita 9.18: I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge, and the most dear friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of everything, the resting place and the eternal seed.
  • John 15.14-15: But I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  
  • And just as an aside, On Friendship, By Kahlil Gibran: Your friend is your needs answered. / …And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

In struggling for that connection, I am encouraged by the passage regarding the “inner ear” or Silent Speaker, that inner dialog, from Voice of the Silence(particularly the final sentence, but I add what precedes it as context):

“When he has ceased to hear the many, he may discern the ONE -- the inner sound which kills the outer. Then only, not till then, shall he forsake the region of Asat, the false, to come unto the realm of Sat, the true.

“Before the soul can see, the Harmony within must be attained, and fleshly eyes be rendered blind to all illusion. Before the Soul can hear, the image (man) has to become as deaf to roarings as to whispers, to cries of bellowing elephants as to the silvery buzzing of the golden fire-fly. Before the soul can comprehend and may remember, she must unto the Silent Speaker be united just as the form to which the clay is modelled, is first united with the potter's mind.

“For then the soul will hear, and will remember. And then to the inner ear will speak -- THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE”

This inner access (Buddhi Manas?) starts to fit within the traditional texts in their expression of the divine within. Thinking of this inner dialog and its alignment, the inner voice is said to “show you your condition” in your “heart” …something you already have within that needs to be brought forward:

  • Gita 13.18: He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. He is knowledge, He is the object of knowledge, and He is the goal of knowledge. He is situated in everyone's heart.
  • John 12:36: The light, which light is the life in Christ, will also show you your condition, what is in your heart; loving it, the light will change you and purify you, …."

In terms of being open or searching, that is, “listening” for the internal dialog—the connection at its barest offers help for the least studied in its wisdom:

  • Rom 8.26-27: …We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes ...   
  • This reminds me of Rumi’s Love Dogs, ending with “Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. / That whining is the connection. / There are love dogs / no one knows the names of. / Give your life / to be one of them.”

A broader comparative study would most likely show more of this relationship and inner access. (I'm not a scholar and I'm selective to meet my own understanding.) My experience with sacred texts or poetry is that they bring it to a level that gets lost when it becomes too concrete or constricted, literal, when its intention is to leave a trail.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 4, 2012 at 5:49pm

Thanks for this Di. Your approach to the meaning of 'friends' isn't something that I had considered before, but I like where you've gone with it. :)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 7, 2012 at 12:12pm

A little reference I came across today in my work. This is from Sufi teachings (found in The Path, Volume 1, Number 3, June 1886):

The widow Rabia (1) is reported having said "an interior wound consumes my heart; it can only be cured by communion with a friend.(2)

1. Second century.
2. The Deity.

It is clear from this that the equation of "friend" with "deity" is to be found among Sufi teachings as well.

Permalink Reply by Di Kaylor on December 7, 2012 at 1:44pm

So interesting!  Thank you!

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 4, 2012 at 5:59pm

So how do we put ourselves in the position of the student/disciple when studying a sacred text? Do we imagine ourselves as the student portrayed in it (as in the case of Arjuna)? Do we conjur up an image of the Teacher and make him our own?

In essence, in light of the teacher/student relationship, what becomes our relationship with the text, or the characters in the text?

Permalink Reply by Di Kaylor on December 6, 2012 at 4:03pm

I'm not sure I know what you're asking.  Everyone studies/learns differently.  Sometimes discussions can expand our ways of studying, and we may want to remind ourself that something is symbolic or internal, etc., as we contemplate its possible meaning.  Perhaps it is not helpful to imagine an teacher who is external to you when you are trying to understand it all comes from within. Setting expectations can limit your understanding, I would think. 

If all you expect from a text is to feel comfort, it may suffice to "feel" it's effect. Other times we may have to look at a text intellectually first and then move into it.  Sometimes we're not really that into it and we can just file it away to let it work on us later.  This is why repetition and discussion is good, so that you can see the text freshly from a different perspective, and thus keep learning.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 6, 2012 at 9:48pm

I'm not sure I know what you're asking.

Perhaps one way of phrasing this general question in a more specific light would be this: as Arjuna (using the Gita as an example) stands for the pilgrim/student, and we are that student, then we are not merely reading about Arjuna, we're reading about ourselves; thus, how does this change our experience with the text?

Or, as Krishna represents the the Guru/Teacher, and as we recognize this to be our inner Self, do we identify Krishna's words as the words of our higher Self? And if we thus identify, then what becomes our relationship with Krishna?

Is there a distinction between the inner voice of our Self and the recorded voice of that Self in the form of a sacred text?

Gandhi, for instance, looked at Krishna and the Gita itself as his guru and his relationship with the book became, it seems, nearly inseparable from his relationship with his Higher Self, like a way that Self could speak to him, advise him, console him, etc.. So might we look at the text as an intermediary between ourselves and our Self, a means of hearing the voice of that Self while still struggling in a state where we cannot truly or easily hear it within?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on December 6, 2012 at 10:14pm
"Is there a distinction between the inner voice of our Self and the recorded voice of that Self in the form of a sacred text?"

I say there is NO distinction. There can't be. Not if we hold to the doctrine that there is only one Self. However I don't view sacred text itself as the Teacher. But I do recognize the voice of the Teacher when I read certain texts. It's as if the words pry open an inner door, and then the "voice" is heard from within.
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 7, 2012 at 10:01am

It's as if the words pry open an inner door, and then the "voice" is heard from within.

That's a wonderful way of putting it. :)

Permalink Reply by Di Kaylor on December 7, 2012 at 10:23am

No intermediary is needed, and I wouldn't say Gandhi needed one either.  To respect and cherish a text that "pries open the inner door," as was said so nicely, does not make it an intermediary. Over time, we synthesize the teachings into an internal reality, a coherent whole, as best we can, and we keep exposing ourselves to that which draws out the memories of who we really are. I think the term guru or Teacher can mislabel what is going on in the process, though an individual may have one or more that they follow devotedly. The text merely symbolizes the teachings and calls forth memories when allowed.  But what if you follow several sacred texts devotedly, plus others?  Theosophy, to me, allows a person to learn from and be part of all and yet stand apart.  That universal arcane nature of the wisdom traditions encourages that.     

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on December 8, 2012 at 10:17pm

Hi Di,

I think this is well put,

Perhaps it is not helpful to imagine an teacher who is external to you when you are trying to understand it all comes from within. Setting expectations can limit your understanding, I would think.

As I am still trying to trust/learn little by little that teacher within as well. And reading this really stood out to me. Thank you! :)

Permalink Reply by Kathleen Hall on December 7, 2012 at 11:21pm

 In P.G.Bowen's, "Occult Way", he discusses invocation and evocation as "Fields of Experience" for spiritual practice. Through these practices when reading scripture or other literature we are able to "be" the voice that speaks and invoke spiritual power. It is a practice that requires one to go beyond intellectual speculation. We can "be" the student and also "be" the teacher.