Question: Is it right for spiritual Masters to take on the suffering of their disciples? If the disciples do something bad and do not suffer the consequences, how will they learn the lesson?

Sri Chinmoy: It is often true that if one does not have the firsthand experience, then one will not understand or learn properly. One will not understand the seriousness of his actions if he does not suffer the consequences. If I see that somebody has put his finger in fire and burned himself, I know that that person is feeling pain but I will not suffer to the same extent that he does. But if God has given me a heart, I will feel the suffering that he is going through. It is not that these people are making mistakes for the first time, and it is not that they have never seen others make these mistakes. They have seen others make these mistakes, and they have seen how much suffering the others have gone through. But out of temptation, or because they have allowed some undivine forces to enter into them, they make the same mistakes and earn the punishment.

But the spiritual Master has the heart of a real mother. If the mother knows that her child has done something wrong and will be punished, the mother says, "O God, let me suffer on my child's behalf. Let him be protected." This is a mother's heart. And if the child is divine, if he is loving, if he is sincere, when he sees his mother suffering he says, "I deserved this suffering, but my mother is suffering on my behalf. She has all love for me. Let me not cause her more suffering. Let me not do this again." When the son sees and feels that the mother is suffering for his misdeeds, if he has real love for his mother, he does not want to repeat them. His mother has shown her real love by accepting his suffering as her own. And the son also can show his real love by doing the right thing from then on. In the case of the spiritual children and the Master, the same truth is applied. The spiritual children do not want their spiritual Master to suffer again and again on their behalf.

You may say that if one does not suffer himself he will not learn. That is true in most cases. But if a person is sincere, if he is aspiring, if he has love for his Guru, he will feel a kind of inner obligation not to do the same thing again. And what is more important, if he truly loves his Guru, he will suffer badly when his sincerity makes him feel that it is because of him that his Guru is suffering. The Guru takes on the physical suffering of his dear disciples, and when he does so it is much milder and briefer than it would have been in the disciples themselves, because the Guru has the capacity to throw this suffering into the Universal Consciousness. But when the disciple sees the suffering of his beloved Master, his divine heart of oneness simply breaks. In this way he does suffer and he does learn his lesson, although the direct karmic results of his actions go to the Master and not to him.

There are two ways to make progress. One way is to reap the results of what you sow. The other way is to be swept along by the Guru's grace. The Master sees that some of his disciples have a good heart, that they have sincerely accepted the spiritual life and are determined to reach the Goal. He sees that they are not ordinary people. They are praying and meditating, but while following the spiritual life sometimes they enter into the world of temptation and are captured by it. Then naturally they will suffer. But at the same time the compassion of the Master says, "Since you are serving God, or you are trying to please God in various ways through your daily prayer and meditation, let me help you so that you do not have to suffer." This is sheer divine compassion. The Master hopes that when they see his suffering, eventually they will realise that it was they who were going to suffer.

But before he takes anyone's bad karma or before he cures a person, a real spiritual Master will always ask God if it is His Will. I have to ask God if I should help someone even to cure a headache. You can tell the person to take an aspirin and his headache will go away, but I have to speak to God about it. Now God can say yes or no. If He says yes, that means He wants to allow a sense of gratitude to grow inside that particular disciple. He wants that disciple to feel that there is somebody who loves him and has taken his suffering upon himself. If God says no, it means that He wants that person to go through the normal process of suffering and learn the lesson by himself.

God has two ways of operating, either through Compassion or through Justice. This moment He can show all His Compassion and the next moment He can show all His Justice. If He wants to show His Compassion, which He quite often does, then He will tell the Master, who is His instrument, to take all the suffering of the disciple. If He wants to show His Justice, then He will tell the Master to allow that person to meet with the consequences of his wrong deed.