The word teacher in old typefaceAs I look back on my life I find I have never been without teachers. The teachers were not always people and I did not always enjoy or understand the lessons but I really get now that I could not go on to the next lesson until the one I was experiencing was complete.

This process is delightfully illustrated by the following story.

Swami Muktananda tells a story about a seeker who went to a guru and asked him for instruction in the Truth. The guru was a very simple, straightforward person, and when the seeker told him what he had come for, the guru said, “Everything is Consciousness, and thou art That. That is the Truth.”

“Is that all?” the seeker asked. “Can’t you say anything more?”

“That is all I have to teach,” the guru said. “If you want something else, you’ll have to go to another guru.”

The seeker left and eventually found his way to another guru, who had a large ashram and many disciples. The seeker came to him and said, “I want to know the Truth. Please instruct me.”

With a glance, the guru understood what kind of seeker he was. “Have you been to see anyone else?” he asked.

The seeker named the other guru.

“All right,” the guru said,” I will give you instruction. But first you will have to serve me for twelve years.” The guru called his manager and asked him, “Have we any work for this seeker?” The manager replied, “Every job in the ashram is filled except for one. We need someone to pick up cow dung in the cowshed.”

“Will you do that job?” the guru asked. The seeker agreed to do it, and so for the next twelve years he lived in the guru’s ashram, picking up cow dung in the cowshed.

At the end of twelve years, he went to the guru and said, “Twelve years are over. Please instruct me.”

“Very good,” said the guru. “Here is my teaching: Everything is Consciousness, and thou art That.”

Immediately the seeker fell into a deep Samadhi. When he returned to his normal state, he said wonderingly, “But that was exactly what the other guru told me twelve years ago!”

“Of course,” said the guru. “The Truth hasn’t changed in twelve years.”

“But why did I have to spend twelve years picking up cow dung?”

“Because your mind was too dense to understand it,” said the guru.

The great English poet William Blake explained the process more succinctly in this way: “The fool who persists in his folly will [eventually] become wise.”

Years ago when I first read this quote I was filled with resentment, because what Blake is pointing out is that we learn just as much and as often, if not more so, from our so-called failures as we do from our so-called successes. My thought was that life should not be like that.

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear” is a familiar adage that almost everyone has heard. I decided to take a look at what it really means for me.

How does this process work in my life? Well, for instance, as I look back on my life I find that I had many teachers, people who taught me lessons that were very hard for me to understand at the time, but once I had gotten the lesson a new teacher appeared, and I moved on. I stayed in many jobs and relationships that I thought were serving me, only to find that they were just teaching me what I needed to know so I could move on. Often these situations only taught me to recognize what was difficult for me or made me uncomfortable.

I see now that new lessons and new teachers came along all the time that I didn’t yet recognize as I had not completed the lesson I was experiencing. Even when I asked for something new or “better” I did not recognize it when it came because, in order to recognize what was next for me, I needed to complete my prerequisite current lesson.

When I look at my life in this way, it no longer occurs as a series of unfulfilled expectations, or a frustrating struggle. Looking back at my life, I see that I was never a victim of my circumstances, I just had lessons to learn. Looking at my life as a series of lessons I can let go of any regrets that I have had. From this point of view my life was meant to be just the way it was and the way it was not. I can be grateful for the life I had and all the opportunities to learn. But best of all I can be grateful for the teachers.

I have often wondered why people seek out gurus or Zen masters who purposely make learning frustrating and difficult. I think I have finally found the answer. Some seek gurus, and some of us choose to learn directly from life. There’s always something to be learned even if it is just to be at peace and accept this process. Ultimately the lesson is, and has always been, that we always make the perfect choice regardless of whom or what we have chosen to be our teachers.

Read more on this topic in THE GURU SEARCH: Do we really need a spiritual teacher?>>

by Michael Jenkins

image: The word TEACHER via Shutterstock

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