Here's something about gurus and disciples that I find intriguing. I guess you could call it a koan of sorts, because whatever conclusion you come to about it won't make sense rationally.
Which could well be the correct conclusion: that the whole guru bhakti system is so full of contradictions, it deserves jettisoning.
But this is just a possibility, one of many. I'm asking questions, not supplying answers.
I'll describe this koan using specifics from the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) branch of Sant Mat. However, the basic questions are applicable to just about every guru-based faith, especially those that emphasize devotion to a spiritual teacher.
Who often is believed to be a God-realized being. This is the case with RSSB. The guru is viewed as God in human form, an incarnation of the highest divinity similar to how Jesus is considered in Christianity.
The guru who initiated me in 1971 was Charan Singh. He died in 1990. Before his death Charan Singh appointed a successor, Gurinder Singh, who similarly had been initiated by him.
Charan Singh would give talks (or satsangs) to thousands of people. He'd sit on a high podium. Devotees would gaze spellbound at him, hoping to catch a glance (darshan).
The devotional attitude of Sant Mat initiates essentially is, "The guru is everything; I am nothing." We can imagine Gurinder Singh sitting in the audience while Charan Singh was alive thinking just that. He is everything; I am nothing.
Yet there came a day when Gurinder Singh found himself on the same podium, having been elevated to the status of guru. So now all the initiates are looking at him, thinking "The guru is everything; I am nothing."
But wait! How did Gurinder Singh go from being nothing to everything? At what point did this happen? Was it sudden or gradual? Did this transformation depend on the formal conferring of guru status, or did it occur in some other fashion?
And a more basic question: Did the change from nothing to everything even happen?
Do you see what I'm getting at? These are intriguing questions that I never gave much thought to back when I was one of those true believing initiates trying to be as nothing-ish as possible while I was in the presence of the guru.
I didn't spend much time musing on the fact that the guru once was a disciple, just like me. In the Sant Mat tradition a disciple is the humble servant of the guru. Yet what changes when a disciple becomes the guru?
Overnight, the servant becomes a master (in fact, this is what the RSSB gurus are called in English, Master). Even stranger, gurus often say that they are still nothing compared to their own guru, who is everything to them.
Yet that guru (Sawan Singh, for Charan Singh) generally has his own guru. And so it goes. So somehow all the gurus are both nothing and everything.
However, the disciples are just nothing. Unless they become a guru, then they're everything.
It's pretty confusing. Well, that's to be expected when you mix hierarchy (guru on top, disciple below) with mysticism (all are One).
The supposed nothing to everything transformations strike me now as a bit of organizational sleight of hand, a way of inculcating obedient submission among the millions of RSSB initiates. Without it, you're left with something much more akin to Buddhism than Sant Mat.
A spiritual teacher who isn't higher or lower than his students.
Now, I'm not saying this is the answer to my koan. Like I said, I don't know what the answer is, or even if there is one. I just find it intriguing to ask:
When someone is nothing, how does he become everything while remaining nothing?