Masters Die Many Times
I forget the context now, but, at Sawan Ashram in 1973 (as recounted in “Kirpal Singh - Beloved Master” on this website) I remember saying something to my friend Judith to the effect that I now saw the Master as more than a mystic; that He was truly a sacrificial being, that He, in fact, had already died, and she said, "Yes, He has died many times." That penetrated my being in a new way, in that I felt it meant more than just that he had died daily in meditation, painlessly, as was often repeated on the path; I recalled Kirpal himself saying to us one time, "What more do you want, I have given you my life's breath." The phrase from Light on the Path
comes to mind about the feet being bathed "in the blood of the heart," and also quotes of Paul Brunton such as a similar one in which he says that for the sage, spirituality is literally in his blood, and another, paraphrasing Huang Yang-Ming, that “on the way to becoming a sage one will die a hundred deaths and suffer a thousand sufferings.” Pere La Combe, spiritual director of Madame Guyon, wrote: “The soul that is destined to have no other support but God himself, must pass through the strangest trials. How much agony and how many deaths must it suffer before losing the life of self.”
I thought again of seeing Kirpal groaning in pain on his bed, then becoming radiant and glowing only a moment later. The image of Him as a rag doll in the hands of God, squeezed dry as if from taking on the pain and suffering of the world, only to burn it up within and then turn gracefully to emanate light and love. He often had said, "I know my own worth. I am a mere pipe. If my Master doesn't send His grace, I am nothing...You people think I am lying. I tell you what I see. God is doing everything. I do nothing. It is all God's grace and compassion.
True saints and sages suffer so much unknown to to their followers. I was reminded that Sant Darshan Singh suffered nightly such whole bodily pain in his fifties and sixties that people had to hold his body. This was likely due to his absorbing karmas of his disciples.
Bhai Sahib (1895 -1967), Irena Tweedie’s Sufi Guru, confirmed this truth:
“Unbelievable suffering of the mind and body are necessary in order to become a Wali
[Saint]. Absolute Truth is difficult to attain…One should not compare Great People, for they have died before the physical death. Such people are made to die, not once, but many times. That’s why they are beyond comparison…They go on dying…Dying all the time…The Master is the keeper of the Grace of God on earth. Only he can give it. There are exceptions. But they are very rare. Only very, very few can reach The Reality without the Master.”
(Daughter of Fire
, p. 671, 539)
In the past few years of his life, Sant Kirpal Singh had much suffering, but one of his doctors confessed, “Sir, one minute you are at death’s door, and the next completely normal. I can therefore no longer treat you!”
(paraphrased). Once a devotee asked him a question, "Master, is it true that Jesus died for the sins of the world?"
, to which Kirpal replied, "all Masters have died for the sake of the world."
The implication is that to be an active agent of grace necessitates a depth of trial more severe than that required of more ordinary souls. Another disciple, seeing the Master in severe pain, asked if He would please let him share it by taking some of it on himself. Kirpal, whose body in that moment was said to be burning-hot to the touch, said, "Look here, I appreciate your sentiments, but if you have a child would you give him poison?"
One gets an appreciation for the sublime sacrifice involved.
The following beautiful account of the death of the Gyalwang Karmapa also illustrates the phenomenon of the vicarious suffering of a sage or Master-soul:
"By the time that I saw him, His Holiness had already had many operations, some parts of his body removed, things put inside him, his blood transfused, and so on. Every day the doctors discovered the symptoms of some new disease, only to find them gone the next day and replaced by another illness, as if all the diseases in the world were finding room in his flesh. For two months he had taken no solid food, and finally his doctors thought the life-supporting systems should be disconnected. But the Karmapa said, "No, I'm going to live. Leave them in place." And he did live, astonishing the doctors, and remaining seemingly at ease in his situation - humorous, playful, smiling, as if he were rejoicing at everything his body suffered. Then I thought, with the clearest possible conviction, that the Karmapa had submitted himself to the cutting, to the manifestation of all those diseases in his body, to the lack of food, in a quite intentional and voluntary way: He was deliberately suffering all of these diseases to help minimize the coming pains of war, disease, and famine, and in this way he was deliberately working to avert the terrible suffering of this dark age."
(Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
(New York, N.Y>: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), p. 224-225
The peerless sacrifice of the sage or "completed one" is dramatically depicted in a story called "In Praise of the Blessings of the Monk," from the Buddhist text Sutra of the Wise and Foolish
, or The Ocean of Narratives
, a series of Jatakas or rebirth stories. A householder called Majestic Being who was one hundred years old desired to become a monk, but was turned down by Sariputra, the wisest and most senior monk of the Sangha, as well as by Mahakasyapa and others, who believed he was too old to study, meditate and engage in discipline. The man wept and cried out in despair, asking what sins did he commit that he be denied becoming a monk, whereupon the Enlightened One appeared to him in all radiance and asked the reason for his sorrow. Upon hearing Majestic Being's story He spoke thus:
"Do not let your mind be troubled, householder. I myself shall ordain you. Sariputra has not, during countless aeons, exerted himself in the austerities. Nor has he, for hundreds of aeons, brought forth virtues. Sariputra has not, in previous births, allowed his head, eyes, bones, marrow, flesh, blood, skin, feet, hands, ears, and nose to be cut away and offered them freely. Sariputra has never given his body to a tiger, has not been burnt in a pit of fire, has not had his holy body pierced by a thousand iron pins, has not had his body burnt by a thousand torches. Sariputra has not given away his lands, his cities, his wives, sons, men and women slaves, elephants, chariots, or his seven precious jewels.
Sariputra has not, during the first countless kalpas, honored a hundred-thousand kotis of Buddhas. Nor did he, during the intermediary countless kalpas, honor ninety-nine thousand Buddhas. Nor, during the final countless kalpas, has he honored a hundred-thousand Buddhas
[these guys sure like big numbers!], become a monk in their presence and become perfect in the Precepts and the Paramitas. Sariputra is not one who zealously teaches the Dharma. How can he say that this one may become a monk and that one may not? I alone have authority to endow one with the Dharma and to extol the Six Perfections. I alone have put on the armor of patience. I alone sit on the Vajrasana at the tree of Enlightenment. I alone have overcome the hosts of Mara and attained the bliss of a perfect Buddha. There is no one like me. Therefore, follow me and I shall ordain you."
- (Sutra of the Wise and Foolish or Ocean of Narratives
, trans. Stanley Frye, Library of Tibetan Archives, 1981, p. 73).
One may well wonder, might these great men have exaggerated at times?! But still, again we read:
“People in ancient times gave up their whole bodies for the sake of this matter. They stood out in the snow, worked as rice pounders, sold off their hearts and livers, burned their arms, threw themselves into roaring fires, got dismembered and cut to pieces, fed themselves to tigers and birds of prey, gave away their heads and eyes, endured a thousand kinds of pain and suffering. In sum, if you do not suffer hardship, you will not arrive at deep realization. Those with the will for the Path must certainly consider the ancients as their comrades and aspire to equal their standard.”
- Yuanwu, 1063-1134 (Zen Letters: The Teachings of Yuanwu
. trans. by J.C. and Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1994, p. 55)
How profound the words, then, "the Master has died many times," seem to become. The sage has been said to be the summit, the crown of human evolution, the agent of the Lord in this world. For despite the simplicity suggested by some teachers of non-duality, the Idea of Man - the Perfect Man - calls for its fulfillment. The peerless Al Ghazali wrote:
"Know, 0 beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end."
Wherefore, as Brunton wrote:
“Ask for your share of the divine nectar and it shall not be withheld from you. Indeed, those who have turned from the peaceful hearth that is their due, to move through the gloomy houses of men to dispense it, have done so because of the dark flood of secret tears that break daily through the banks of human life.”
"Life is an arduous struggle for most people, but much more so for such a one who is always the hated target for the unseen powers of darkness. Do not hesitate to send him your silent humble blessing, therefore, and remember that Nature will not waste it. The enemies you are now struggling against within yourself he has already conquered, but the enemies he is now struggling against are beyond your present experience. He has won the right to sit by a hearth of peace. If he has made the greatest renunciation and does not do so it is for your sake and for the sake of others like you."
“The escape into Nirvana for him is only the escape into the inner realization of the truth whilst alive: it is not to escape from the external cycle of rebirths and deaths. It is a change of attitude. But that bait had to be held out to him at an earlier stage until his will and nerve were strong enough to endure this relevation. There is no escape except inwards. For the sage is too compassionate to withdraw into proud indifferentism and too understanding to rest completely satisfied with his own wonderful attainment. The sounds of sufferings of men, the ignorance that is the root of these sufferings, beat ceaselessly on the tympana of his ears. What can he do but answer, and answer with his very life, which he gives in perpetual reincarnation upon the cross of flesh, as a vicarious sacrifice for others. It is thus alone that he achieves immortality, not by fleeing forever--as he could if he willed--into the Great Unconsciousness, but by suffering forever the pains and pangs of perpetual rebirth that he may help or guide his own.''
(The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, Vol. 12, 5.42; Vol. 16, Part 1, 3.552, 4.17)
Indeed, the Gospel tells us:
“They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I shall be baptized with?”
This is why the true Master is respected and revered in all traditions.
“The follower does not dream what the Master is doing for him, but the Master does not show anything...He fills his followers with His own thought, with His own Life. So when the child remembers Him, well, it is the Master who first loves us, remembers us. When we remember Him, He remembers us, with all His heart and soul. He is always looking after the good of His followers. He is not the body. He is the Word personified, the Word made flesh...He will never leave you, mind that! Christ said, “I shall never leave there nor forsake thee till the end of the world. The Master never leaves the disciple. He is the God in him, how can He?”
- Sant Kirpal Singh (Morning Talks, p. 23-24, 215)
“A disciple need never bother himself about what the Guru is doing for him. A disciple can never conceive or understand it, in its real significance. You need only know that the Guru takes you from the phenomenal to the Absolute.”
"If one feels that he is not able to love his master as he desires, it really means that he still loves his master deeply, but that he is not yet satisfied with the love he gives him. That is all. This dissatisfaction with the depth of one's love for his master is the nature of true love; and it will never disappear."
“Every sage leaves a rich legacy behind, to help us reach the Truth. It is as a result of that legacy that we have been able to meet here today. We are ungrateful wretches if we do not recognize it.”
- Shri Atmananda Krishnamenon (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #251, #1194, # )