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Rules for Disciples

Section 1 of the Light on the Path for AwakeningClimbing the Mountain Path

I. These rules are written for all disciples: Attend you to them.

Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears. Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness. Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound. Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart.

These rules are written for all disciples.

What is a disciple? The Greek word mathetes which is translated “disciple” in English means “one who is learning.” Many study and many experience, but few learn. A disciple is one who does. A disciple is also one who is undergoing discipline–that is, he is not living by his whim, but according to the guidelines set forth by the wise of all ages. They are rules–a word base on the Latin regula, from which we get the word “regulate” which means to control, to rule something–in this case our own lower nature, mind, and intellect. So the path of the disciple is the path of discipline. It is also the path of obedience in the sense of free acquiescence to the counsels of the wise, but it is not the fearful slavishness usually demanded by the forces of the world–religious, economic, political, or otherwise.

The path of spiritual discipleship is rigorous and requires an equally rigorous preparation. Let us begin a prudent accounting of all the “costs” of discipleship.

Discipline. We do not much like that. Everyone talks about wanting to learn from Masters, but the only people that are allowed within the orbit of the Masters are disciples. And they are disciples on the Masters’ terms, not their own. Disciples are those who actively follow a regimen of self-purification to clarify their minds and thus make themselves capable of receiving higher knowledge. They must prepare themselves so that when they are given wisdom they will both recognize it and be able to apply it.

Disciples are not spiritual weekenders–or as one friend of mine called them: “Sunday evening metaphysicians.” Nor are the rules we are about to consider written for them, but for true disciples–those who intend to devote their life to the search for higher consciousness.

Saying that “these rules are written for all disciples” means that there are absolutely no exceptions to them. We are always looking for shortcuts or the easy way, but such things do not exist in this realm of highest truth. Secular education abounds with those who want to be squeaked by somehow, to be passed though they do not deserve it. These are the kind that in high school and college always asked the teacher first thing: “Do you grade on the curve?” Remember them? But that cannot be in the school of divine discipleship. What is “written” is written for all.

Attend you to them. The will is the most important factor in the makeup of any evolving entity. It is the supreme power wielded by the evolving individual.

Free will

“Free will” is freely spoken of, but a truly free will is rare indeed, and not to be had for the mere wishing or talking. The basic requisite of the disciple is the freeing and empowering of his will. This is done through discipline and obedience that are not imposed upon the disciple but freely and willingly taken up, that are acts of will rather than surrendering of will. To be truly freeing, discipline and obedience can spring solely from one motivation: the attainment of divine consciousness. Therefore they cannot be engaged in from either fear of pain and punishment or hope of reward. Nor should they be taken up because of having become intellectually convinced or emotionally cajoled by any external force–­including ego, emotions, intellects, or desires. The disciple must come to know and understand the rules. From that moment on the following of those rules must be a spontaneous response arising from his own Self­–from nowhere else, and from nothing else whatsoever.

The real spiritual Masters leave their pupils free to follow wisdom or not. Neither with words nor with silence do they seek to influence them. For true freedom–the freedom of the spirit–this is a requisite. That is why in the closing section of the Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna: “Now I have taught you that wisdom which is the secret of secrets. Ponder it carefully. Then act as you think best” (Bhagavad Gita 18:63).

Inner peace and control

Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears. Tears are expressions of intense and uncontrolled emotional reaction to something. They occur when people are happy, sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed by some experience. They can result from experiencing great beauty or great repulsion. So what is really being talked about here is being overcome by egoic reactions, which are symbolized by tears. The Master is not ordering us to become emotionless, but to always be masters of our emotions, to never let ourselves be carried away by them. Otherwise our minds will be confused and our intelligence clouded. As Krishna warns in the Gita: “Confuse your mind, you forget the lesson of experience; forget experience, you lose discrimination; lose discrimination, and you miss life’s only purpose” (Bhagavad Gita 2:63).

We are not to become emotionless zombies. There are those who read about how the world is “unreal” and we must be “detached.” Trying to realize this ideal they become emotionally unresponsive and dead. I have known people who would not show affection to their own spouses or children because they feared “negative attachment.” This rule is not advocating that unnatural fanaticism. It is not advocating the eradication of love, compassion, mercy, generosity, and such like, but the eradication of selfishness and its emotional tempests–either from pleasure or displeasure. We cannot possibly maintain the life of the disciple until we have become actually incapable of this egoic type of response. Now that is a very high ideal–a rather bitter ideal, actually, since most of us like to indulge our egoic emotions, considering that to do so gives us “character.” Therefore we are in the grip of this egoic response.

There is also a higher meaning to being “incapable of tears.” We must become incapable of being hurt or grieved by anything upon this earth–of reacting to external objects (which include a lot that we consider internal) with sorrow, disappointment, disgust, frustration, or grief. In other words, the negativity of this world must not move us to respond in kind. Especially we must never feel helpless and frustrated by the nightmares shown us in the dream-theater we mistakenly call “the real world.” In other words, we must become unmoved by the false appearances of material existence–not from emotional deadness but from knowledge of their fundamental unreality.

We must become incapable of being swept away by seemingly positive reactions to earthly phenomena, as well, for human beings often shed “tears of joy” as well as sorrow. In short, we must become unmoved by the ever-shifting scenes of this earthly dream-existence, and become anchored in the peace and joy of the Spirit.

There is another aspect to this. Tears distort the vision and blind the eyes. Tears come between the eye, the organ of perception, and whatever should be perceived. So we are being warned that unless we have entered this “tearless” state there is a chance that as we pursue the divine vision our inner eye may have its vision blotted out or distorted by the intervention of these “tears” between us and that which is true.

There is an ancient story of a prince who upon becoming king was visited by a sage who gave him a ring upon which were engraved the words: “Even This Must Pass Away.” Throughout his life, when he would be about to be overcome by elation, desire, anger, or sadness, and thus “lose himself,” his eyes would light upon those words and he would immediately regain the right perspective and remain calm. Then, at the moment of his death he was fearless as he gazed upon the assurance that: “Even This Must Pass Away.”

Right awareness

Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness. We are not to become deaf–our inner ear must be able to hear, but it should hear only one thing: the voice of the spirit. But to become sensitive to the voice of higher consciousness we must become insensitive to extraneous things, to stop being responsive to material life and the resultant material consciousness. That is, we must perfectly–that is, intelligently–disregard it.

This is especially true in the matter of social consciousness or “peer pressure.” There are people who would go to lingering death rather than transgress social rules or be thought ill of by those around them. People are far more afraid of looking bad than they are of actually being bad. Especially in modern times other people’s eyes are the mirrors that determine how we come to see ourselves. For this reason Sri Ramakrishna often told His disciples that those who were subject to fear and shame could never know God.

Those who are “in step with the times” are naturally out of step with eternity. Those who are influenced by every worldly wind and tide are beyond the sphere of divine communication. Those who are always fully “up” on all the latest fashion, verbal jargon, events, fads, trends, and interests are the high priests and priestesses of world-worship.

Contemporary religion is poisoned with this sensitivity and reflexive responsiveness to any earthly absurdity. Some years back we used to get a monthly newsletter from a spiritual group in Texas. One day a tiny item appeared in our local newspaper about women in the East deciding that they wanted to be called “Ms.” Within the week the newsletter came filled with Ms. here and Ms. there. It was obvious they had completely retyped the copy to accommodate such nonsense without even waiting to see if it would catch on. The secular masters (mistresses in this case, I suppose) had whistled, and like well-trained dogs they had come to heel. Being aliens to the world of spirit, this material earth is the only world such persons know or care about, so they bend into conformity at every wind that blows over it. The Beloved Disciple had it right when he wrote: “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them” (I John 4:5).

Our ears must be attuned only to the voice of wisdom. Only then are we really free. We can have no standards other than those of spiritual life if we would succeed in the life of the spirit. This includes being unresponsive to our own lower nature and responsive only to our higher, divine Self. It also includes our refusal to be controlled by supposed duties or obligations originating in the world and the ego and instead looking upon the things of the spirit alone as mandatory.


Many people use their supposed obligations and worldly responsibilities to neglect or altogether abandon spiritual life. Yet in an instant they throw over those earthly ties to fulfill personal and material desires or ambitions. This is especially true in family life. These individuals pretend to be morally enslaved to children, spouse, or parents–especially if those relatives do not like their spiritual activities. They make quite a production of how they cannot be so heartless as to upset them or spoil their relationship by doing something objectionable, or how afraid they are of their displeasure and censure. But if you can spend some time with them you will find them snapping orders at these very people, and constantly hurting them with complete callousness. Still, when spiritual life comes up they begin to figuratively limp around and whine as though they were under the total domination of those they use as an excuse. And woe to those who indicate that such “obligations” are not legitimate reasons to slack off, for they will be denounced as heartless monsters who want them to hurt their loved ones or break up their familial harmony. It is also true that there are those who refuse to fulfill their legitimate obligations under the cloak of “spirituality.” This is perhaps even more despicable.

There are also those that play a double game of deception and irresponsibility. They neglect their duties to their families and livelihood under the pretense that they are devoting their time to spiritual life. Then they neglect their spiritual duties under the pretense that they are having to fulfill their obligations to their families–a neat trick that often succeeds in bamboozling both sides, each thinking that the other is the cause of their neglect, while both are being shirked.

The disciple must avoid all these excuses and pitfalls.

The requisites

Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound. The voice–which is much more than just words, being also thought and will–must lose the power to injure either ourselves or others through misapplication, falsehood, evil-speaking, slander, insult, cruelty, or harshness, or the desire to injure verbally. It also includes trying to manipulate other people. The very capacity for negative speaking must be eliminated.

Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart. “Stand” means to be established in a definite position, to be bold and firm. Therefore the blood of the heart has to be shed. The heart must be opened and its blood poured out just as Saint Mary Magdalene poured the sweet perfume on the head of Jesus (Matthew 26:6, 7).

You can bleed from other places and survive, but if you pierce open the heart and it bleeds, you are on the way to death. So we are being exhorted to purify ourselves through the martyrdom of the ego. Just as the Mayans cut out the heart of victims and offered them in sacrifice, so we must cut out the ego to right away strike at the very thing that has been keeping us running away from God throughout so many lives. We must cut out our own heart, so to speak. We must shed our own blood. But when we do so we shall not die but live, for we shall discover that the ego is not our “heart” after all, but that our true heart is our immortal spirit. We will find our life is not in the “blood” of egotism, but in God. So our seeming suicide will really be our resurrection.

False identity has so gripped us that only by such drastic means will we be freed. “When the ‘I’ shall die, then shall I know who am I.” Sad to say, many people start out in spiritual life and then quit when it becomes a little bit inconvenient, troublesome, embarrassing, uncomfortable, or difficult. But disciples must be otherwise.

To this end we must give our heart’s blood, to unreservedly pour out the very essence of our life which, as already said, will then be seen to not have been our life at all, for we shall then come to know God as our life. What a joyous prospect!

1. Kill out ambition.

It is ego-based ambition that is being spoken of here. We must not merely suppress such ambition, we must annihilate it. Obviously the worthy disciple has worthy goals which he attempts to realize. What is prohibited is ambition in the sense of wanting to gain some position or object which will please the short-sighted ego. To believe that any gain or position in the external material world is of lasting value is in itself a terrible delusion and is sure to produce conflict in spiritual life, for the attitudes requisite for (egoic) success in the material and in the spiritual planes are opposite in character.

One side of this proscription is actually practical, even in an earthly sense, for it also means that a person should not overreach himself but “live within his means” materially, intellectually, and spiritually. According to this view bigger is not better, and continual unrestrained growth is not progress. This is the terrible tiger we are riding today. There is a constant clamoring for increase of “the gross national product,” etc. Although the Law of Diminishing Returns is well known as a theory, no one is applying it on a large scale to economic and social growth. Therefore our economy is like the bullfrog that kept puffing itself up more and more until it exploded. This constant pressure for “advancement,” for “bigger and better,” is a terrible roller coaster that is sure to dump us eventually, and in between we suffer terrible anxieties.

Ambition as the desire for adulation from others is also delusive. Ambition for material gain stems from the delusion that the more we have the more we are–it is a matter of false self-identity. Ambition for notoriety springs from the mistaken idea that we are what other people think of us. In other words, anything that gives an egoic adulation, or an egoic satisfaction, produces a false identity. The one identity we should have is that we are a disciple, one who is treading the path toward the Real.

Ambition is an indication that the individual does not know his real nature, but is struggling to establish a false self-concept. The effect of this is that he works to become something imaginary in his own eyes, rather than to manifest the reality of his divine nature. He wants to “become” something in the world, to have a flattering label applied to him. Such persons have very little interior personal development but are a shallow bundle of “interpersonal skills.” These people become the leaders of even shallower people.


In the university I did a study on personality aspects and was given access to the records of psychological tests given to the students. This included the records of the class officers and various “big” men and women on campus. The tests showed consistently that the leaders and the “socially skilled” were far less developed interiorly (self-image, emotional stability, etc.) than was normal. On the other hand, those whose scores indicated very high self-development consistently scored below normal in socially-oriented areas. It was most revealing. The leaders and “great guys” all had extremely low self-esteem, therefore they needed others to tell them something about themselves that they did not even believe. Those who were emotionally stable simply did not need to manipulate others into assuring them of what they already knew about themselves–ergo, they were “socially unskilled.” From this it became evident that “social skills” meant methods of manipulation, not genuine friendliness or the ability to really care about others. In contrast, the “dreamboats” on campus used others as mere echo chambers, mirrors in which they admired their own (self-disliked) faces. “How skilled human beings are in their ignorance,” Yogananda often marveled.

My study also revealed that the “leaders” were really followers–that is, they were simply jackanapes, monkeys on a string that gained popularity by merely feeding to their admirers what they wanted to see and hear. At the other end of the spectrum were those who needed no such “other direction,” but like the wise of all ages could in truth “Know, Will, Dare, and Be Silent.” Being highly developed inwardly, they scored low on the social side because they were not into running other people. They were not crude in their behavior or without friends, but they were centered in living their own life, and being alive inside.

All this relates to the subject of ambition, because ambition includes being involved in building up an outer shell to identify with, as do all the “other directed” type of people. And this type of involvement actually draws on our inward being, draining it, causing it to become minimal if not outright nonexistent. Those who pursue this mode of life are left empty by busily creating an external image of themselves which is no more than a hollow idol in the creation of which they have lost their souls.

Spiritual ambition

Now, not only is earthly ambition to be eliminated, so also must spiritual ambition. This is for more than one reason, but the most obvious is simply because in religion earthly and personal ambition always masquerade as spiritual. We especially see this in the Western monastic foundations where the members are supposedly vowed to poverty. They frequently amass fantastic wealth (one order owns much of the coast of California) under the excuse that none of it is “personal.” Nevertheless the members are seen to live in incredible luxury. I personally know of one order of “strict poverty” in which six members had ten cars between them–all Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs. Moreover, it was an “enclosed” order, which meant that they were never to leave the property. Their lawn (not the total property, only the lawn) was one hundred and forty-five acres in size, and required hired men to maintain it. And this was one of the smallest of the orders in this country. In the mid-sixties another very small order was found to be worth over eight million dollars, held mostly by dummy corporations so no one would know it. Around the same time a small order of nuns–also vowed to strict poverty–was so wealthy that the head of the order loaned one of her cousins over four million dollars without it even being detected in their finances. It was literally part of “petty cash”! When the order’s accounts were going to be audited, she demanded the money back, as it had been loaned without anyone knowing of it. The cousin could not pay it back. The auditors discovered the affair, but the order did not sue since they did not want the public to learn the extent of the assets held by such orders who capitalized on their supposed poverty to get big donations. But there was a leak, and it was written up in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

I know of two monasteries that are worth over a million dollars each in assets. The monks do live a plain, even ascetic life, but there is no excuse for such aggrandizement of worldly goods. Yet they and the others I have mentioned would all argue that it is for the glory of God and His “work”–of which they obviously have a very materialistic concept.


On a more metaphysical level, spiritual ambition is often an indication of pride. Once a doctor from France told me that as a young man he had read Vivekananda’s book Raja Yoga. Instructions are given there for a regimen of intensive spiritual discipline with the statement that those who engage in such a routine for six months will attain a definite degree of spiritual development. When my friend read that he said to himself: “Ho! if it takes an Indian six months, I can do it in six weeks!” He had no idea of how egotistical such an idea was. But in later years when he was a real disciple he looked back on that incident with amusement at such blind arrogance.

Often when people read books on spiritual life, especially lives of great saints and masters, they are attracted to the glamorous phenomena and imagine themselves being so powerful or so admired. It is not real spiritual life that is attracting them at all. As a result, they may try a little spiritual practice, but they give it up early on when it does not produce the thrills, chills, and overnight glory they expected.

During my first trip to India I met a great Master, Sitaramdas Omkarnath. Just to be in his presence was so purifying and blessed that I knew he was great. A man who was with me formed the same opinion, but on a much different basis–he rhapsodized over how many rich and important people had been there showing respect to the saint! “Just think,” he kept saying to me, “a Brigadier General in the Indian Army showed him such respect. He must be really great!”

When we read of the Great Ones our egos tend to blind us to the great sacrifices and discipline required of them to reach their high level, and we only think of the miracle-working or the notoriety gained. Forgetting the “price,” we aspire to be saints as well. But the truth is, we are not interested in being saints, we are only interested in having their notoriety and glory. Saint Seraphim of Sarov is very popular because he shone with light, floated in the air, and cured sickness. But very few want to undergo the tremendous struggles and hardships that were the refining fires in which his spiritual gold was made pure. They forget his persecutions by fellow monks, his physical illnesses, and the occasions when he nearly died from injuries, both natural and from evil men. Also they forget his decades of strict solitude, never leaving his room or speaking to others. Yet those things are the realities of his sanctity, for they reveal his desire and love for God. Spiritual ambition, being based on egotism, breeds impatience in spiritual practice, whereas Christ Jesus told us: “In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19). Yogananda often said: “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”

2. Kill out desire of life.

It is hard to speak more plainly or more drastically than this. First, this means to kill out all desire for our mistaken ideas of what constitutes life. How often we hear people speak about “really living,” when they are actually only diverting themselves from life through frenetic activities.

Whatever our erroneous definitions of life may be, they have one thing in common, from the coarsest to the most sophisticated, subtle, and even philosophical: they consist of becoming absorbed in objective consciousness. And that absorption constitutes death in the form of the loss of subjective consciousness–real Self­-consciousness.

Life being spiritual in essence, it must be a state of full and unimpaired internal awareness. This does not mean that being alive means to be in some kind of perpetual trance, unaware of the external world. Rather, it means to move and function easily and competently amidst all outer conditions and objects while at the same time maintaining perfect interior awareness. The truly alive person is unshakably centered in the center of his being, his pure consciousness or spirit, while at the same time working out his evolution through interaction with the environment produced by his individual karmas. It is the difference between swimming in the ocean and drowning in it.

So to kill out the desire of life means to free ourselves from all illusions regarding its constitution. It is not an exhortation to become a zombie or automaton–just the opposite. By freeing ourselves from mistaken definitions of life we can then begin to discover the truth of its nature. We are not told kill out desire for life, but desire of life–the many delusive desires that our misperceptions of life produce in us. For what is “life” as we presently experience it? It is this moving picture of ever-changing conditions that surrounds us. Although it is meant to be an instrument of teaching, a kind of grand-scale “training film,” it still is basically an illusion. To reach out into the illusion in the vain hope of taking something to ourselves that will either satisfy or really change us is just that: a vain hope.

When I was a little child I had a really silly delusion. I believed that if I saw something in a dream that I wanted (and I always knew when I was dreaming), I need only hold on to it tightly as I sensed myself awakening and I could bring it out of the dream and into my waking like. To a child of the ’forties, Woolworth’s Dime Store was a paradise. Often I would dream I was in Woolworth’s and able to take anything I wanted. I would wander around, picking out various items, carrying them with me. Then as I felt myself awakening, I would hold on to them, pressing them tightly to my chest. When awake, I would look to see if I had succeeded, but would always be disappointed. “You can’t take it with you” is true in all dreams. And since to be “in the spirit” is to be awake, it therefore follows that we cannot bring anything of the earthly dream-world into it.

The big snare

The various external objects we encounter in life are like bait, and the desire for them is the hook that catches us, the unwary fish that try to “swallow” them and somehow assimilate them into our lives. We are pulled out of ourselves and suffocated like the hapless fish. The truth about earthly life is that it steals us­–we do not steal it. It possesses us rather than our possessing it. Those who believe they have gained so much in life have actually become enslaved, for they are owned by those things.

This world is like the tar baby of Uncle Remus. When we grab for it, we stick to it. Then it seizes us and whirls us around to wherever it wants us to go. But we can be so deluded that we think we are doing it all ourselves. The world seizes us, shapes us into its own image and pushes us around just like puppets, and all the while we brag about our free will.

Will Cuppy, the humorist and historian, said that in ancient Athens the people thought they were living in a democracy because Pericles said so. “He only told them what to do,” comments Cuppy. The world becomes our Pericles, assuring and flattering us that we are free. As the Goblin King says in Labyrinth: “Surrender to me and I will be your slave.” But being in this state, constantly stimulated and motivated by external forces, is truly being without a soul.

Once Sri Ramakrishna saw a cow tied by a rope to a stake in the ground. He remarked to those with Him that the cow was just like most human beings. It could move in the limited circle and chew on the grass so it thought it was free, although all the time it was tied. As human beings we do not realize that we are limited by being tied to material existence. Only by removing the rope can we be truly free.

A great delusion

Perhaps the most important aspect of the directive to kill out desire of life is the cutting off of the delusion that external objects can change our nature, making us something other than what we are in our essential and eternal nature. Although we can make objects come into our temporary life sphere, since all relative existence in based on duality the very coming implies an eventual going. Whatever is gained must eventually be lost–getting implies losing. Therefore nothing can ever become “ours” in any real sense at all. This is not only true of the physical, but of the subtle worlds and levels of our being as well, The “desires of life” proceed from a false identity and a false self-concept. To realize who and what we really are we must clear aside the veils of these desire-illusions.

Finally, we need to notice that the rule implies that we have the ability to kill out desire of life–that it is not something beyond our strength or capacity. Also, the command is not to deny, turn from, or reject desire of life, but to destroy it. That is because if we do not destroy it, it will arise to hinder us in the future.

Since both desire and ambition usually manifest through action, let us consider action itself. The basic problem with action is our inability to act without the idea: “I am doing this.” As a consequence there is no action, however small, that cannot become an egoic trap for us. Thus, every moment of our life we run the risk of egoic illusion, of taking any action, however insignificant, and making it seem significant, using it as an avenue for egotism. Moreover, other people are usually involved in all our actions, even if only in the capacity of observers who are going to pass judgement on the action. And this automatically calls forth egoic reactions on our part.

We are especially sensitive to the opinions of others regarding our deeds. Whether it is criticism or praise from others, the ego becomes hooked by it and begins to react. So then, how do we act in discharging our duties, etc.? Actually, the solution is quite simple: it is a matter of placement of consciousness. If we are centered in our (lower) selves or in the action we shall surely fall into the delusions of egotism. But if our consciousness is centered in God, the Sole Doer, then we shall be safe. What is more, we will do our work much better than otherwise! This has been observed through the ages. Those who keep their minds on God as they go about their daily routine are seen to do everything much better than those who get lost in self-involvement or “work consciousness.”

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