Self Mastery


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Story: A Buddhist monk was under the tutelage of his Master for 20 years. After 20 years, thinking he had attained Self-Mastery the monk left the monastery. He went to many places far and wide and won many duels and fights and was praised and acclaimed by many.

Happily he went back to meet his master to show him his achievements. He bounded on the steps exclaiming “Master! Master! Look at what all I have achieved”. Before he could speak further the Master said, “that is very good my dear student, but can you tell me how many steps did you climb up to come here?” That single question humbled the student that he again joined the monastery under the same Master and practiced for 20 more years until he attained true Self-mastery and became a Master himself.


This was a story that I had read long ago. For quite a long while, this kept me thinking. How does counting the steps have anything to do with self-mastery? Are we supposed to keep a count of anything and everything we do/see in our life? Wouldn't our life be wasted in just counting then??

And then I found my answer. Our senses and emotions rule us. If we notice ourselves carefully, in one single day we go through a complete range of emotions -- from anger to sorrow -- based on our interactions with our surroundings. True self mastery occurs when we are detached from our emotions and we are even minded. When I say "detached from the emotions", it does not mean we become a dead log! Instead, we watch those emotions just as we would watch a movie, with the awareness that we are NOT a character in the movie.


Picture Credit: Piotr Wojtkowski

For this to happen, our mind needs to be calm - like a lake. The beauty of a calm lake is that it shows no outer indication of the depth nor the turbulence within. So also a person should be, calm like the lake, showing no outer indications of the strength of his inner character and steely will.

Another reason why I compared the mind to a lake is that we can see not only our reflection, but also the reflection of the surroundings in a still lake. Similarly, a calm mind will also have a heightened sense of awareness of the self/surroundings.

Coming back to the story, the calmness of the mind and the heightened sense of Self-awareness was what the Master was subtly referring to (the question regarding the stairs was to test the student’s awareness) as he found it missing in the student.



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