Spiritual Realization Requires a Spiritual Master

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Grace as the Spiritual Transmission of the Spiritual Master

In studying these Eastern traditions, one senses that the traditional Western religious view may be hampered by its lack of a living Spiritual Master who can provide a present-time demonstration of Spiritual Transmission. The Spiritual Master with whom the West is most familiar ceased to be available "in the flesh" two thousand years ago. Furthermore, the religion founded in the name of that Spiritual Master also made the decision (to quash the competing Arian view about Jesus) to make a fundamental tenet of its creed be the declaration that that Spiritual Master was the one and only Spiritual Master or "Son of God" in all of human history; no other could be his spiritual equal or better. In sharp contrast, the Indian tradition holds that India has never experienced a time without either a living Spiritual Master or a saint capable of serving as a Spiritual Transmitter to those devotees who were ready to receive his or her Transmission. The Indian culture has always been one in which the view of the Spiritual Master as the source of Grace is common knowledge, grounded in somewhat less common experience. Those "in the know" are able to point newcomers to the Spiritual Transmitters alive in their time.

The Calling of the Disciples
detail from "The Calling of the Disciples"
Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1480)
What does that less common experience look like? It certainly has the characteristic, necessary for transformation, of being an overwhelming "outside force". When Jesus of Nazareth approached Peter and Andrew and said simply, "Come, follow Me", they dropped everything work, family, possessions to do just that. Granted, the story may have been recast in a simplified, mythic form, and its real, historical details may have included painful goodbyes, financial re-arrangements, and what not. But the essence of the response to Jesus' Spiritual Transmission is captured well by: "they straightaway left their nets and followed Him." They were overwhelmed by His Transmission. Everything their lives had been about before seemed profoundly superficial in this Revelation of a Greater Reality, communicated by the Grace of the Spiritual Master.

Krishna and the Gopis
detail from "Krishna Flutes Under a Tree"
Rajasthan, Kishangarh, opaque watercolor and gold on paper (c. 1690)
Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990:747

The Hindu tradition communicates a similar message through the story of Krishna and the gopi cowherd women. Upon hearing Krishna's flute, the gopis simply left their cattle to follow Him. Like the disciples of Jesus, they dropped everything to follow their Spiritual Master because of something transmitted by His presence which completely overwhelmed them, and changed their sense of reality. Krishna's Spiritual Transmission (symbolized by His flute-playing) made these women ecstatic.

St. Teresa of Avila
detail of sculpture,
"The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila"
Giovanni Bernini (1652)

While ecstasy per se is less emphasized in the stories of Jesus, the Christian mystical tradition in toto is filled with it. Bernini's statue of St. Teresa of Avila in Divine Communion is a beautiful rendering of her experience of ecstasy. Ecstasy as a result of Grace likewise is a common theme in the reports from the Sufi and Hassidic traditions.

Gautama Buddha
Gautama Buddha

Spiritual Transmission appears in the stories surrounding Gautama the Buddha. On one occasion, the Buddha said no word, but simply held up a flower. Most of His disciples were puzzled by this gesture. But one of them, Kasyapa, smiled in response, "enlightened" on the spot; the Buddha acknowledged that Kasyapa had indeed received his Transmission. The point of the story is not the visible flower, but rather, the invisible Transmission passing from Gautama to Kasyapa, translating him (in that moment, or perhaps henceforth) into the "enlightened state". That Transmission is said to have initiated the Zen Buddhist tradition. The Zen teaching has been passed on from Master to disciple by direct Transmission ever since. The overt acts by which the Zen Master interacts with the disciple even unconventional ones such as hitting the disciple over the head with a stick, throwing a rock at the disciple, and the like can be more deeply understood in the manner of Gautama's flower. They are simply pointers or aids to the Spiritual Transmission that is occurring.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
Avatar Adi Da Samraj

Jesus, Krishna, and Gautama are no longer present "in the flesh". Nonetheless, tangible Spiritual Transmission continues as a living reality. When I found my Spiritual Master, Adi Da Samraj, I was a university professor, living one of the conventional lives of my time, even as Peter and Andrew or the gopi women cowherds had been doing in their time. But when I sat before my Master for the first time, His Transmission literally opened up my heart waves of love for Him and for all beings came pouring from me spontaneously, in response to the enormous love I tangibly felt flowing from Him to me.

By taking up a way of life devoted to "tuning in" on that Transmission, my entire sense of reality gradually has been transformed. On such a Grace-full basis (rather than on the basis of self-conscious effort with my old sense of "material-only" reality still intact), over time, the force of all the varieties of machine-like patterning (emotional, mental, physical, psychic) that have placed limits on my happiness has gradually diminished not by actively opposing them, but through their non-use.



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