The Appointment of a Master
The path of Sant Mat is entirely dependent on a living Master, without whom the path would cease to exist. Not only that, but a prerequisite for a living Master is his appointment by his predecessor. This is crucial to the spiritual path. There are some paths that may have a living Master, while others are based on the teachings of past Masters. But it is extremely rare to find a Master who has been appointed by his predecessor.
The reason it is necessary to have the predecessor appoint a successor is simple. A true Master is one who himself has attained the highest spiritual realms, therefore he will be aware of his disciples’ spiritual worthiness. If a Master is chosen by any other method, such as self-appointment, through lineage or parentage, a committee, elders or peers, a process of voting or any other means, then the worthiness of such an appointment should be questioned as it is based purely on external attributes. No cognizance is taken of the spiritual attainment of the appointee because no mere mortal can assess this.
In any discipline it is the qualified and experienced person who is able to recognize when a trainee is ready – only a qualified doctor can know whether a medical student is ready to advance to admission into practice. Similarly, even perfect Masters themselves have had a living Master to guide them through their spiritual practice. Fortunately for us, the line of Masters in Radha Soami Satsang Beas is unbroken and its authenticity can be verified to satisfy anyone’s curiosity.
Centuries ago, the appointment of the successor was made personally, in the presence of other devotees, with specific instructions from the Master to his disciples. Such appointments were not recorded in any testamentary document as it wasn’t necessary then. In more recent times the predecessors use a testamentary will to ensure a legally binding appointment of the successor, so any doubt is removed.
The appointment of the Master is important as we entrust our spiritual salvation and a lifetime of effort, love and devotion to him. He must be someone who can take us to our eternal home with the Lord. Just as we want guarantees for everything in life, we also want a guarantee that the Master who initiates us can and will grant us eternal salvation and that he isn’t a hoax.
Finding a perfect living Master is absolutely crucial for any seeker of spirituality. But with our limited spiritual insight it is impossible for us to gauge the spiritual attainment of a Master. This is similar to a kindergarten child trying to assess the competence of a university professor. We do not have this capacity, but we can compare the attributes of a living Master with those of past perfect Masters. Through this and our study and research we gain the intellectual conviction that this path is the right one for us – then we can dedicate our life to following it. However, we are still reliant on the proper appointment of a Master by his predecessor, who knows his spiritual attainment – and whether he would have the spiritual insight to recognize those seekers who have been marked for him.
There is an Indian expression: “When the disciple is ready, the Guru appears.” This means that once a disciple becomes receptive to spirituality and is ready for discipleship, the Guru or Master will find the disciple. We may think that we seek and choose a Master, but in reality it is the Master who finds us. It is only through the Lord’s grace and blessings that we come into contact with a Master.
In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Only those sheep will come to him who have been marked for him. No other sheep will come to him at all. … So the Master does recognize his own sheep.
This is why there is no need to proselytize to others, to try to convince anyone of the merits of this path: it is not meant for everyone. The Masters tell us that it is meant only for the marked souls.
Not of This World
In the world yet free of the world,
the Masters do their work.
Worship them and serve at their feet –
they alone will lead you to freedom.
Butter never returns to milk –
even when they seemed to be one
their natures were different.
A lotus leaf never sinks into water,
though water was the source of its life.
It’s like that, says Bahina – a mystic is born
in the world but it doesn’t touch him.
Bahinabai, in Many Voices, One Song