Meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch!
Meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!
—Rinzai Master Lin Chi
Adi Da Samraj
Lin Chi proposed this paradoxical axiom as a koan
— a statement uttered suddenly by a Ch'an (Zen)
master to confound and frustrate the most serious
students, shaking them loose of their attachments
to conventional knowledge and experience. This koan
warns spiritual aspirants against dependency on any
support, including a teacher, that does not promote
true insight, psychological depth, and self-responsibility.
Its intended result was satori — enlightenment.
In the West, however, Lin Chi's famous koan is often
invoked to justify independence from the teacher,
as if the teacher, not the student, were the obstruction
to enlightenment. We so prize our egalitarian spirit
and independence, it is not surprising that the ancient
wisdom-traditions of the East would be interpreted
to accommodate them, even when it comes to religions
and spiritual practice.
But there is another ancient adage: He who has
himself for a master has a fool for a disciple.
Like it or not, real practice demands conscious, deliberate
submission to the teacher, and to all the offenses
to the ego that are inherent in the teacher-disciple
relationship. To the dismay of many Western aspirants,
such a relationship is patently not a democratic
institution. And though it may be a hard pill to swallow,
it is the master, not the aspirant, who provides effective
spiritual guidance. Always choose a master wisely,
but by all means, be wise and choose a master!
As my own spiritual master Avatar Adi Da Samraj expresses
When I first came to Avatar Adi Da Samraj some three
decades ago, I was a brash adolescent who had wandered
too long in my own illusions about higher "spiritual"
things. I certainly did come to Avatar Adi Da for
enlightenment, and for his acknowledgement of my worthy
preparedness. But I was soon to learn that, contrary
to my own naiveté and presumptuousness at the time,
true spiritual practice is a profoundly serious matter
and a lifelong endeavor.
Perhaps the primary lesson I learned in the earliest
years of my involvement with Avatar Adi Da is that
an authentic master cannot be approached with anything
like the mindset of a Western consumer. True humility
and surrender are required from the outset, and remain
absolutely essential throughout the spiritual course.
Let me give a telling example from my own experience.
It occurred at a small gathering of students late
one night in 1995. At one point Avatar Adi Da turned
to me and asked about my practice of celibacy, which
I had recently disavowed in favor of an intimate relationship
with a beautiful young woman. He wanted me to consider
how I could so casually abandon a discipline of this
kind without first considering its full implications
for my spiritual practice. Wasn't it true that I was
being driven only by my emotional/sexual impulses?
Had I given any consideration to whether such a choice
was compatible with my more fundamental impulse to
spiritual maturity and divine self-realization?
Being confronted so directly left me befuddled and
defensive. I managed to mumble a half-hearted justification,
but in mid-sentence, he sat bolt upright and glared
at me with fire in his eyes. He extended an arm full-length,
pointed a finger at me, and roared, "COSTABILE, YOU
ARE A LIAR!"
Everyone in the room was stunned at the enormity
of his shout. A devotee sitting next to me, a former
Israeli soldier, likened the impact to getting hit
in the chest with a Howitzer.
I bowed my head in respectful humility, but I was
shaking from the force of it all, and hastily left
the gathering, fearing I would vomit. I returned an
hour later, still reeling and confused by the entire
exchange, and took a seat—this time against a supporting
wall. (Others later reported that I literally looked
green.) Avatar Adi Da acknowledged my return with
an approving nod and smile, "So you've decided to
rejoin us, have you, Costabile?"
As the days passed, I could feel myself withdrawing
from him in indignation and self-defense. I indulged
feelings of resentment and a host of other bitter
emotions. But eventually it became clear that he had
given me the opportunity to understand and transcend
a deep and uninspected emotional pattern. I saw how
conveniently I would hide or bend the truth, or even
lie outright, rather than lose face. Difficult as
this realization was to accept, to become responsible
for this pattern was absolutely essential for my own
integrity as a man. Using the skillful means of a
true master, Avatar Adi Da was helping me overcome
a limitation in myself, thereby enabling me to move
on in the spiritual course with greater clarity and
integrity. This understanding restored my devotion
and faith in him.
Several nights later, I approached him at his chair
and offered a poem I had written in praise of him.
He smiled at me, and as I knelt before him he slowly
read every word. When he finished he reached out his
immense arms to me. I embraced him with all my heart
and strength, exclaiming my love for him and receiving
his in return. I really don't think he gave a damn
about the poem. It was my understanding of the lesson
and my willingness to express our mutual love and
understanding that he was responding to. We were bonded
together at a feeling depth more profound than ordinary
human love could ever touch.
After that I fully accepted the conditions of our
relationship, including Avatar Adi Da's explicit right
to be my master. I was grateful that he presumed
the right to deal with me as he saw fit. I comprehended
a passage from his teaching as never before:
"The compassionate Master does not do for others
everything He can do within the bounds of propriety.
The compassionate Master will do everything,
whether in the realm of propriety or not, for the
sake of Awakening others."
The issue of spiritual authority, especially as it
is vested in gurus and masters by their disciples,
is a complicated one in our time. Much has been made
of the pitfalls and abuses of this relationship, and
clearly there have been faults on both sides. Nevertheless,
the cornerstone of spiritual wisdom is the humble
acknowledgement that an adept master is indispensable
to our awakening to divine truth.
May all earnest seekers be graced to find a master
who embodies such reckless compassion and regard for
© 2006 Michael Costabile