To Sir, With Love
… My best friend,
A friend who has taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong … that’s a lot to learn.
What can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon, I would try to make a start,
but I would rather you let me give my heart,
To Sir, With Love.
Lyrics from the song, “To Sir, With Love”
The relationship between a Master and his disciple is one filled with evolving stages of emotions until the disciple matures enough to understand who the Master really is. Who is the Master? He is the Shabd in human form – however, it often takes a lifetime before a disciple can truly realize this. Before then, the Master takes on a series of metaphorical roles in the disciple’s life, often starting with that of a nurturing parent. He then becomes the disciple’s dearest friend and trusted confidant, and finally, his Guru or ultimate “Sir”.
Starting as a skilled parent, the Master understands each one of his disciples and the nurturing process required to take us from spiritual infancy through our rebellious teenage years into adulthood, until we can finally see eye to eye. We all mostly start at the same place, as helpless little infants clumsily trotting down this path in desperate need of his constant love and care. As babies, he knows that we require this special attention, and he tenderly swaddles us with it. However, the main task of any parent is to make their children independent.
As disciples on this path, independence means being able to soothe our own turbulent minds by sitting quietly in meditation and learning to turn within. Nonetheless, as tiny toddlers, we start to holler when we can no longer feel the warmth of his physical presence. But like any good parent who knows what to do, although he hears us, he patiently endures our cries so that we learn to seek him inside. And just as a child learns to calm himself, we start to meditate, and without even realizing it, we have taken one of our first major steps towards spiritual maturity.
As teenagers on this path, we rebel, become arrogant and often feel a strong disconnect from our special parent. Some of us become overly sensitive and feel misunderstood or even abandoned. But skilled as he is, he knows how to mould each one of us. For those of us who tend to be overconfident, he repeatedly sends struggles our way to teach us humility. Others lack confidence, so he constantly raises them up. Although at this stage of our journey, we may feel misunderstood, the truth is that he actually understands us better than we can ever understand ourselves, and works tirelessly to instil proper values in us, such as humility, sensitivity, understanding, loyalty, honesty, sincerity in thought and action. Basically he wants to mould us into good human beings. And with each of our personalities being as varied as they are, what a task it is!
With continued efforts in our meditation, we finally overcome this difficult stage and begin to trust the Master as we would a friend. Looking back, we understand that everything he did for us was out of his selfless love. It is not that he did not hear our cries as infants – but he did not always carry us so that we could learn to walk. It is not that he did not understand us as teenagers – but he responded by giving us what we needed, not what we wanted. When we strayed from him, he never once abandoned us. The German nun, Shraddha Liertz in her memoir, Adventures of Faith, explains how, when she looks back on her life, she now understands this:
But I was not forsaken; the Lord saw my hopelessness and despair. Although I had strayed away from him, he was as close to me as ever.
A time comes when our hearts swell with gratitude towards our special friend, our Guru and ultimate Sir for having taught us “right from wrong, and weak from strong.” How could we ever repay him – “What can I give you in return?” If he asked us for the moon, like the author of the song writes, we would probably “try to make a start”! But the truth is, he would prefer our undivided hearts.
The legacy of any Master is his sangat. The best gift that we can offer our special Sir is to become living examples of the values he labours so hard to instil in us: to love one another, and to love him through our meditation practice. We can say, “It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.…” He knows how difficult this is, so he only asks that we put in our most sincere efforts and surrender the rest – “To Sir, With Love.”
O Lord, You opened to me
the doors of generosity and clemency,
and my heart blossomed like a flower
of a hundred colours – the envy of the garden!
I could never describe
even one of your thousand attributes,
even if my whole being becomes a tongue
to express my gratitude.
Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine