In the east, a guru is often referred to as "the master." Ancient sages are known as "the masters." A master is considered one who is enlightened, a perfect teacher, a manifestation of the divine, and, sometimes, but not always, has a following to which he or she passes on sacred teachings. A master is also expected to "walk his talk" and manifest in his own life what he is preaching to others. This part does not always happen. This can be an indicator of a false teacher. Unfortunately, sometimes the teachings themselves then become suspect.
The followers of a "master" can constitute a large sangha, such as those who adored Sai Baba, Rajneesh, Maharishi Yogi, Poonjaji, and Mother Meera, or they can be a small group, such as those who originally surrounded the Buddha and the Christ. A good master teaches by example, and that is why we also have the opportunity to be a master, not of a huge following but, simply, in our own individual sphere, the world right around us. We can follow the collective example and wisdom of the masters and apply it to this world. Fame and a great following have nothing to do with the path. And, as Rumi said, "There is more to want here than money, or being famous or bites of roasted meat." There have been a multitude of unsung and unknown saints. You could say that it is their love that has held the world together. Because of them we have not descended into complete chaos and negativity. They are always among us, but more important, we can be one of them.
The known and revered saints, and the unknown saints, have one thing in common: they influence everyone and everything around them, in their direct presence or sphere. We also do this, but, because we are still self absorbed, we forget that we are always at cause in the world, that we are not the only one experiencing ourselves and our actions. Often, we fail to manifest kindness, love and compassion. That is the principal difference between us and the saints. We are both human, but while we both inhabit and influence the same world, our focus is very different. Our ego keeps us focused on ourselves, and our relationship to the world, while the lover, the saint, or a great teacher is focused on doing whatever it takes to bring kindness and love into the world.
When we hear about someone like Mother Teresa and her work with lepers and the poor, we think, "how can she do that; it must be very difficult?" This of course is a reflection of our own difficulty with compassionate action, as well as an excuse for inaction. What we do not realize is that, working with the ill, the elderly, the dying, and the destitute, brings a certain ecstasy with it. The saints are hanging out in the energy of love all day. They invite it and they give it. They are in the flow. That energy guides and sustains them. There is nothing else. There is nothing to fear. We can only know this by jumping in.
This is a picture of a Kangyur Rinpoche, who was a great Tibetan teacher and scholar during the first half of his life (he died in 1975). He was the real thing; a true lover. Wherever he went you can be sure kindness, love and compassion were present. If you don't believe this, please take a moment to look into his eyes and observe his smile.
We learn of Kangyur that his disregard for status of any sort led him to abandon his position in the monastery and take up the life of a wandering hermit. He visited many different places in Eastern Tibet to receive teachings from various teachers. Although he never ceased to study and practice, this second period of his life was characterized by his extraordinary humanity and his work in helping others, in particular the four activities he cherished most: caring for the chronically sick (he was a skilled doctor), looking after the aged, caring for orphans, and preserving and spreading the teachings.
We have this same opportunity. We are all masters of our individual sphere. Every person we meet; every interaction we have is an opportunity to open the heart. We know what this means without any special training. We need no degree, or religion or special education. Kirpal Singh once said, "How can we tell if we are developing spiritually? We can tell by how well we tolerate others."
When we are able to love and create emotional and psychological safety for others through the opened heart, we have gone beyond tolerance and we become masters of love and kindness in our individual sphere. There is nothing more important or greater that we can do in the world than this one thing.