A devotee wrote: “When I first became aware that people were attracted to me and sought my advice I was greatly alarmed. I am terrified of being called a teacher.”
What other people call you is of secondary importance. The really important thing is what you call yourself.
Please just consider what it really means to teach. To most people, teaching means telling others who don’t know, things they ought to know. It implies a sense of obligation for the right conduct of other people’s affairs. It implies also a sense of superiority to anyone that one teaches.
Now, when a carpenter makes a table on commission he may do so in the spirit of, “High time Mrs. Brown had something decent in her house for a change. All that junk she keeps! No taste, that’s her problem.” But if he works in this spirit there will be no joy in his work, no joy in doing something beautiful for Mrs. Brown, no real sense of service—no joy even in making a good table, since it is a person with no taste who has shown a preference for his work! How obviously better it would be for him to make the table as a humble offering of such talents as he possesses, for the enjoyment of Mrs. Brown if she chooses to keep it. And how foolish of him to think that her life must be commandeered by a mere piece of carpentry!
That is what teaching should mean—not telling people what they should do or know, but offering the fruits of one’s own living in the humble hope that what one says will in some way prove useful, and that it will find a place somewhere in their lives. People don’t owe it to a teacher to take his advice. Rather, they do him a favor if they find his advice acceptable, for in so doing they give greater meaning also to his life.
In India, when people touch my feet (a traditional gesture of respect for a teacher), and sometimes in this country when people follow the Indian custom, I feel they are blessing me, not I them.
In this way teaching others becomes a joyous sharing with them, a reciprocal act in which one receives at least as much as one gives, and feels privileged for the chance to be of useful service to others, rather than somehow demeaned by the necessity of talking to fools.
A wise carpenter doesn’t consider carpentry more important than masonry or plumbing. A wise teacher, similarly, doesn’t consider teaching more important than any of those three. He is only grateful that he has something useful to offer his fellow man—in return for the privilege of belonging to this elite group of animals, the human race.
See God, not yourself, as the Doer. Then concentrate on the needs of those who ask your advice, not on your own need to give it! Don’t seek people to advise, but if they come to you of their own accord, don’t send them away. This world is so full of blindness and suffering. Though you may not yet have found wisdom yourself, the very fact that you have found some answers makes it worthwhile to share your discoveries, if only because your friends will otherwise feel that you have betrayed their trusting expectations.
If a starving person comes to your door, will you send him away hungry and empty-handed?
In divine friendship