You know, I have been told that I am a pupil of a certain Master,’ he began. ‘Do you think I am? I really want to know what you think of this. I belong to a society of which you know, and the outer heads who represent the inner leaders or Masters have told me that because of my work for the society, I have been made a pupil. I have been told that I have an opportunity to become a first-degree initiate in this life.’ He took all this very seriously, and we talked at some length.
Reward in any form is extremely gratifying, especially a so-called spiritual reward when one is somewhat indifferent to the honours of the world. Or when one is not very successful in this world, it is very gratifying to belong to a group especially chosen by someone who is supposed to be a highly advanced spiritual being, for then one is part of a team working for a great idea, and naturally one must be rewarded for one’s obedience and for the sacrifices one has made for the cause. If it is not a reward in that sense, it is a recognition of one’s spiritual advancement; or, as in a well-run organisation, one’s efficiency is acknowledged in order to stimulate one to do better.
In a world where success is worshipped, this kind of self-advancement is understood and encouraged. But to be told by another that you are a pupil of a Master, or to think that you are, obviously leads to many ugly forms of exploitation. Unfortunately, both the exploiter and the exploited feel elated in their mutual relationship.
This expanding self-gratification is considered spiritual advancement, and it becomes especially ugly and brutal when you have intermediaries between the pupil and the Master, when the Master is in a different country or is otherwise inaccessible and you are not in direct physical contact with him. This inaccessibility and the lack of direct contact opens the door to self-deception and to grand but childish illusions; and these illusions are exploited by the cunning, by those who are after glory and power.
Reward and punishment exist only when there is no humility. Humility is not an end result of spiritual practices and denials. Humility is not an achievement, it is not a virtue to be cultivated. A virtue that is cultivated ceases to be a virtue, for then it is merely another form of achievement, a record to be made. A cultivated virtue is not the abnegation of the self, but a negative assertion of the self.
Humility is unaware of the division of the superior and the inferior, of the Master and the pupil. As long as there is a division between the Master and the pupil, between reality and yourself, understanding is not possible. In the understanding of truth, there is no Master or pupil, neither the advanced nor the lowly. Truth is the understanding of ‘what is’ from moment to moment without the burden or the residue of the past moment.
Reward and punishment only strengthen the self, which denies humility. Humility is in the present, not in the future. You cannot become humble. The very becoming is the continuation of self-importance, which conceals itself in the practice of a virtue. How strong is our will to succeed, to become! How can success and humility go together? Yet that is what the ‘spiritual’ exploiter and exploited pursue, and therein lie conflict and misery.
‘Do you mean to say that the Master does not exist, and that my being a pupil is an illusion, a make-believe?’ he asked.
Whether the Master exists or not is so trivial. It is important to the exploiter, to the secret schools and societies; but to the man who is seeking truth, which brings supreme happiness, surely this question is utterly irrelevant. Whether the Masters exist or do not exist, whether there are the distinctions of Initiates, pupils and so on, is not important, but what is important is to understand yourself.
Without self-knowledge, your thought, that which you reason out, has no basis. Without first knowing yourself, how can you know what is true? Illusion is inevitable without self-knowledge. It is childish to be told and to accept that you are this or that. Beware of the man who offers you a reward in this world or in the next.
Excerpt from Commentaries on Living I