World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


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.

Islam. Hadith

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 lamenter."

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 act directly?

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 <a.d.) who was famed for his devotion to social welfare work. Qur'an 33.21: Cf. Sun Myung Moon, 9-11-77, p. 570. Isaiah 55.1-2: The patriarchs Abraham and Sarah are models of faith and obedience, who established a tradition for later generations of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Cf. Galatians 3.1-7, p. 756; Qur'an 2.130-36, p. 757; 1 Peter 3.1-6, p. 261; Hebrews 11.8-13, pp. 754f.

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 weariness.

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

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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.

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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 the Torah.

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 Father.

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 steadfast.

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 folk."

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 <b.c.). The three maxims set down by these early rabbis were meant for the guidance of teachers, and they are the basis of the casuistry of the Talmud and the method of rabbinic instruction. To be deliberate in judging means to look at a question from every angle and take account of every possible contingency. To make disciples has always been an aim of rabbinic Judaism: Until the age of Constantine, Jews actively evangelized among Gentile peoples, and after repression by the Christian state the rabbis renounced evangelism but continued to make disciples of Jewish youth. But students did not disciple so much to a particular teacher as to the accumulated wisdom of the tradition. Making a hedge around the Torah means to take every precaution to keep the revelation from the harmful encroachments of the world; see Abot 3.17, p. 920. Mumonkan 17: The place of the teacher is very important in Zen Buddhism, but straight imitation is not!

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 your 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.


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