Being a Disciple of the Art

I have heard disciple defined as ‘a student; one who endeavors to learn what another has to teach’. The meaning goes deeper than that. A pupil, learns the information and practices; they come to their class and are content. What they are doing is a hobby, a pastime. A disciple, strives to make what they are doing a critical part of their everyday life. To me, the difference put simply is that a disciple has a Master!

Your master is one for whom you have total and unwavering loyalty. The bonds between a true disciple and their master can be as strong as that of blood…or stronger. A disciple will obey their master without question, or even understanding, because a truly great master always has what is best in mind and sees the larger picture.

This is a concept I feel that we have lost in our modern, fast paced Western society. Everything is about efficiency and ease, with the commitment that it takes to become really good and form real relationships with out teachers; much less a true Master / Disciple relationship.

The responsibilities of the disciple do not only lay with the master. The students of the Shaolin Temple were sworn to above all, “uphold the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha”. The Buddha was the true nature of goodness and compassion within all of us. The Dharma refers to the Truth and Teaching one endeavors to study (spiritual, martial, or otherwise). Finally, the Sangha was the community of monks; their brother disciples, the ones who they studied and lived with continuously. A disciple would not sell out his brother / sister for any reason. While there are always fights and disagreements with those who you are close, they were always resolved with utmost care. A true disciple shows his fellow disciples the same love and loyalty they show the master. To not do so is a blatant disrespect to the master! You and your brothers are all travelers on the same path…help each other out; the journey will be more fulfilling that way.

When I think of a disciple, the story of Hui-k’o comes to mind. Hui-k’o was one of only two personal students taken by the First Patriarch of Ch’an, Pu-t’i-Da-Mo (Bodhidharma).

When the Great Master Da Mo arrived at the Shaolin temple, the shape of Buddhism that he found there disgusted him. In protest he vowed to sit in meditation, without teaching, until they understood the true meaning of Buddhism. There he remained for nine years.

Throughout this period many would-be disciples came to Da Mo, but he turned them all away. Then one day the young monk Hui-k’o came to the meditating master. With a saber in his right hand the monk severed his left arm, bowed and presented it to the Master. “Finally,” Da Mo said to him, “one of them is beginning to understand.” Hui-k’o knew that it was not the external, but the internal that mattered.

True, that the above story is extreme. You do not need to cut off an arm to prove something to a teacher, and I doubt that there are many masters who would want a limb. But it does illustrate the dedication a disciple must have very well.

Too often we all look ahead to when we have this or when we achieve that. Many times this happens to the sacrifice of now. Sadly to achieve our goals we “take no prisoners” and step on those around us. Let us try to remember that “it is the path that is the goal,” and the master helps us along the path…they have traveled it themselves.


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