Newsletter - No. 43, February 1985
No Anger or Love between Master and Disciple
(Lecture delivered by Master Sheng-yen
on Sunday, November 4, 1984)
A practitioner should not feel proud if a master thinks highly of him, wishes to accept him, and shows affection for him. If he is driven away by the master, the disciple should feel no hatred. Similarly, the master himself should not feel proud, even if he is surrounded by many disciples. Nor should he feel unhappy if all his disciples leave; they run away simply because they are not worthy.
Maintaining this attitude of equanimity is not easy. An ordinary person will find it difficult to be impartial when he considers his own merits; he will be reluctant to see his faults for what they are, or he may be apt to run down his genuine good points. Although they may seem different, self-deprecation and pride are really the same thing.
Self-deprecation usually stems from a feeling of insecurity or worthlessness. This insecurity can have a negative effect if it leads you to conclude: "What can a person like me accomplish? I can't do anything." But insecurity can also be positive. It may help you to strive towards your goals, attain riches and fame, and gain self-respect. Then you may feel, "What I have done is not easy to do. Other people are not as good as I am because they cannot equal my achievement."
This is a feeling of pride. Here is an example: The boss of a company lectured his employees. He said to them, "You want a raise? Consider this: you wouldn't be working if it wasn't for me. You depend on my intelligence and my effort. When you reach my level, then you can come and bargain with me." This boss is very proud.
Spiritual masters can also be proud. A master might say, "I have practiced for many, many years, and have followed and visited many spiritual masters in my time. Now I have reached my ultimate attainment. But you, my disciples, have not reached that state. You are far from my level of attainment. You must still go a long way before you achieve what I have." This master's attitude shows pride, does it not?
A Ch'an master can act like a dictator. But the attitude alone is not sufficient proof that the master is proud. The Question is whether the master feels pride within himself. Once I was riding with two of my disciples, a man and his wife. The husband was in the driver's seat, his wife was sitting next to him. They asked me, "Have you had any problems recently?" I responded, "As far as I am concerned, there are no problems." The husband did not answer, but the wife said, "Shih-fu, as soon as I saw you, I knew that you were proud. There are always problems. As the saying goes, 'Unless you've been through it, you can't understand what the problem is.' So how can you always avoid problems?" In other words, my disciples saw pride in we.
Now I shall explain my attitude. If I set about to do something, the obstacles I encounter when I perform the task don't appear as problems to me. If something can't be accomplished, I don't waste my time trying to do it. Thus nothing poses a problem to me. Can my attitude be considered pride? If a thing car be accomplished, there is no difficulty in doing it, no matter what obstacles it may present. But if something is impossible, giving birth to a child, for instance, then I would be incapable of accomplishing it, and I would have no problem with it. Thus to truly see pride and insecurity in someone, you must look closely at the individual's motivation rather than his action.
Suppose that many people came to the Ch'an Center, as many as those who go to Hare Krishna and TM Centers. I might say, "Before, I couldn't compete with these groups, but now I am catching up with them." This is pride, because I am competing with others and comparing myself to them.
We really should not compare ourselves to others, it is simply not necessary. If you compare yourself with another, you'll usually find that he's either shorter or taller than you are. Even if you happen to be the sane height, you might still look to see if he is skinnier or fatter than you!
Once I saw a girl walking down a street. As she walked, she watched another girl on the other side of the street. She looked at the other girl's beautiful clothes, then she looked at her own dress. She noticed how the girl walked, and then she watched herself walk. She was impressed by the other girl, so she compared the other's beautiful clothes and elegant gait to her own clothes and way of walking. If you compare, you will either feel insecure or proud. In this case the girl felt insecure, but had her clothes and her walk been superior to the other girl's, she would have felt pride instead.
In Chinese history, during the Spring and Autumn period, in a country called Yueh, a search was made for the most beautiful girl in all the land. This girl was Hsi Ssu, whose renown is equal to that of Helen of Troy in the West. Hsi Ssu underwent long training in the arts of walking, applying make-up, singing, playing musical instruments and speaking. Another beauty also lived in Yueh at the time, Tung Ssu, but she was not as beautiful as Hsi Ssu. She was extremely jealous: She imitated Hsi Ssu's walk, her make-up and the way that she spoke. But her imitation never produced the results she sought: the more she copied Hsi Ssu and the more she applied make-up, the uglier Tung Ssu became.
Learn, therefore, not to compare yourself to other people. Almost everyone at one time or another will say, "I am really no good." But when you say this you really wish that people would praise you. In the same insecure mood you might feel that those around you are unfriendly and you deserve their unfriendliness. But suppose someone came up to you and said, "In many ways you're really a good person!" How would you feel? You might change your tune: "After all, I do have some good qualities." There is no ordinary person who does not enjoy praise, who does not seek the approval of others; even animals act this way. Say you have a dog. It will be happy if you praise it: "You're a good boy!" But if you give it a scolding: "You lazy, greedy, dirty dog!" you might spoil his whole day.
In ordinary people pride and insecurity are to be expected. It is the extremes which are dangerous. If you feel totally useless, like a piece of garbage, then your insecurity is a very bad problem. And if you are bloated with pride to the point where you feel omniscient and omnipotent, then you may become another Hitler, Stalin or Mao
A Ch'an master, on the other hand, is more likely to show pride than insecurity, because no one would become a master if he were insecure. Someone who felt inferior would say, "I'm not good enough to be your master. How can I be a master and teach others?" Such a person has no confidence in himself.
Self-respect, however, is a normal feeling to develop in the course of practice. Indeed, you should experience it. Self- respect is a sign that your faith is growing stronger. As a result of practice, you gradually come to see things that others may miss, and from this recognition springs compassion for others. A practitioner feels that all people are pitiable, and as a result of his compassion he wishes to save them all.
It is the duty of the master to teach his followers to practice so that they may leave their state of ignorance. But the more that people come to him, the heavier he feels the weight of his responsibility, and the greater his mission.
Let me ask a question. Suppose a disciple says the following: "I have followed many masters and studied with them, so it is just like having studied with no master. It is impossible for these masters to teach me anything because I have learned everything I know by myself. In fact, they owe gratitude to me -- because I was their disciple I enabled them to become masters. Thus it is they who ought to thank me." Is this a proper attitude?
Or a disciple might say, "I am the water in the ocean. I am content as I am. You, the master, do all the work carrying me from one shore to the other. It has nothing to do with me. Why should I thank you?" As before, is this the right attitude?
No, as I have said before, the disciple should be reverent to his master, dedicating himself unconditionally. Thus the attitude of a disciple should he nothing like that in the two examples above. The attitude which is proper for the student is not the attitude appropriate to a master.
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