Of Masters, Disciples and ‘Apostles’

Of Masters, Disciples and ‘Apostles’


Partha Desikan


If at all you are involved with this business of learning, study, enquiry, or more generally with acquisition of knowledge of any kind, you are bound to encounter three kinds of people. I am referring respectfully and respectively to Masters (necessarily with the capital em), disciples and ‘apostles’ (with the inverted commas).


You and I can agree that Masters are people who have acquired a certain high level of proficiency in their chosen discipline or field of enquiry/study and have used their own skills, other personal traits and study opportunities that came their way to great advantage. They have thus acquired authoritative ability to inspire and train other people anxious to learn, who approach them as disciples. Their own learning process does not come to a stop. As their learning skills would have improved exponentially towards the end of their formal learning stint, they are able to improve the store of their knowledge by leaps and bounds, whenever they find time for further enquiries/studies. Such additional bits of learning may very occasionally contradict what they had learnt earlier and even taught others, but they keep their minds open to change. Their loyalty is to truth as it occurs to their mental faculties, at any given period, without any reservation whatsoever. In general, however, it is not often that a true Master will be obliged to change his views on aspects of his study. This is because his study has partly been inward directed. Intuitive faculties and openness to revelations from his entire environment would have punctuated his formal study duration.


A disciple is easy to define. Any person who is keen to become proficient in a field of his choice and who approaches a Master to be trained and inspired, is a disciple throughout the duration of his enquiry and study with the Master. Every now and then a disciple may study long enough, well enough and effectively enough to become a Master himself. Some disciples need inspiration and training from more than one Master, before it strikes them that they are ready to mould others. Some other disciples who acquire the expected proficiency prefer not to teach others, but continue their enquiries and stay as scholars of eminence in the field, whose words are listened to with respect, and who get consulted sporadically without getting long term disciples. This gives them a certain level of freedom and has the benefit of not tying them to a location.


There is a third kind of individual, who starts his acquaintance with the field of enquiry as a disciple by approaching a Master. Apart from pursuing his studies, this kind of disciple is also able to develop a certain personal rapport with his Master. Towards the end of his formal course of study, such a disciple loses the ability to think independently of his Master. When he leaves studies, he loses interest also in furthering his knowledge from any other source. As a very dynamic candle lit by his Master, he is keen to light as many other candles as possible. His Master’s knowledge has to be spread far and wide. He sets up school or makes himself into a voluntary consultant in his field, with or without compensation, with or without recognition. This disciple, who has turned into a kind of ‘apostle’ for his Master, can be very intelligent or have just passable abilities, but nothing deters him from his chosen mission. At every debate or meeting in the chosen field of his enquiry, he makes sure that his Master’s views are heard, if necessary again and again, through his auspices. Such an ‘apostle’, if not intelligent, might even turn violently against his own Master, if the latter is obliged to change his considered views on a subject in his field when studying developments occurring after this disciple leaves him.

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