One afternoon a spiritual Master asked one of his new disciples to hang a picture in the front hall of his centre. The Master pointed to a spot on the wall and told the disciple, "Please drive a nail here." Naturally the new disciple was very happy that the Master had asked him to do this. He eagerly picked up the hammer and began to hit the nail. The disciple was performing the task soulfully and devotedly, without showing off, although the Master had asked him in particular and there were many disciples nearby to observe him.
Now it happened that one individual whom the Master considered a bad disciple was talking to a few of his friends at the other end of the hall. When he saw what had happened, this bad disciple immediately felt jealous. He said to himself, "Oh, Master cares more for him than for me; that is why Master has asked him to drive the nail."
A few minutes later the Master politely asked the new disciple to sweep the kitchen floor. This time the other disciple was again dying of jealousy because the Master had asked the new disciple and not him. "Oh, Master asked him to do it," said this unfortunate disciple. "It is only kitchen work, but I am inwardly dying because I have not got this kind of opportunity,"
One of the Master's best disciples, who was really devoted and dedicated to the Master, was sitting in the meditation room nearby. He said to himself, "I am so grateful to the Master that he has asked that particular disciple, rather than me, to drive the nail and sweep the floor. He has now given me the opportunity to meditate. I can continue my meditation. I truly feel that the Master is doing this for my good."
Another good disciple of the Master had also observed the scene. He was not in a meditative mood and he actually felt very depressed. This disciple said to himself, "Oh, I am so glad to see this. I know that Master is doing everything for my good. Today I am not in a good mood and if Master had asked me to drive a nail or sweep the floor, then I would only have shown off. I would have displayed my pride and vanity and all my other undivine qualities. I am so grateful to Master because he has forgiven me: he has not brought me forward and exposed my ignorance. He has not given me the opportunity today to expose myself."
Occultly the Master had read the mind of each of these three disciples. He was very proud of his two good disciples and very displeased with the bad disciple's reaction. The Master decided to speak to all the disciples present about the correct inner attitude towards selfless service. He called them into the meditation hall and said, "So-called selfless service is creating a problem in my ashram. I shall not use the word 'ego', but 'importance'; it is our self-importance which is creating such problems.
"A good disciple will always find something good in the Master's dispensation. He will think that it is for his own good that the Master is asking somebody else to do something. If he is in a bad mood, even then he is grateful that the Master has not exposed his ignorance. And if he is in a good mood, then he feels that his Master has given him the opportunity to meditate and go deep within and do something in the inner world. A good disciple will always know and feel, 'Whatever is good for me, Master is giving me; whatever is good for others, Master is giving them; and this is bound to be the best for me also.' But a bad disciple will never think in such a divine way. He will always feel that the Master cares for others much, much more than for him. If you constantly have the same divine attitude as the good disciple, then you will always be able to save yourself from the attack of jealousy, which is nothing but ignorance."
This particular bad disciple inwardly felt that the Master had read his thoughts. But outwardly he said, "Master, please explain to us what you mean."
The Master looked at the disciple for a few moments and then said, "When I ask someone else to do something, if you are a bad disciple you will immediately say, 'Oh, Master has asked him; that means he cares only for him.' At that time your whole world is lost because I have asked somebody else and not you. But if you are a good disciple, then immediately you will say, 'I am so grateful to Master because he has allowed me to meditate and go deep within, to enjoy infinite Peace, Light and Bliss.' This is absolutely the correct view, the divine view. Now see how you can change your attitude and save yourself."
The bad disciple felt ashamed that the Master had openly exposed his wrong attitude. The Master continued, "Again, you have to go one step farther and say, 'If the Master asks me immediately to drive a nail or to sweep the kitchen, then with equal joy I will perform the task because, for me, to meditate and to sweep the floor are of the same importance. But just now for one thing I have been asked and for another thing I have not been asked. I am happy that I am able to do something for the Master. If I remain in ignorance and let jealousy attack me, then I shall never be allowed to sweep the floor or to drive the nail. I won't be able to meditate well either.' Good disciples will always ascribe a good motive to everything that they are asked to do and bad disciples will always find a bad motive behind the Master's request. If you play the role of a good disciple, then not only your problem but also God's problem, the problem of age-old human ignorance, will immediately be solved."
The Master paused. "One more point I shall tell you and then I shall end my sermon. When a newcomer enters into a family, when a child is born, if the elder brothers or sisters are not good, then they become extremely jealous of him. They feel that previously the parents gave much attention to them, but that now the little one will get all the importance and they will get none. If they are really good and divine, then they become so happy that they have a new child in the family, a little brother. They feel, 'Now we have one more in our family. If we have any disputes or calamities with a neighbouring family, our little brother will be able to fight for us when he is grown up. He will make us stronger than we are now.' This is the attitude they take."
"Master," said the bad disciple most sincerely, "please tell us how to apply this philosophy in our spiritual lives."
The Master said, "Here the family living adjacent to us is ignorance. You see that in our spiritual family the membership is increasing. If you take the attitude that each newcomer is a real member of your family, instead of a threat, then our family will be strengthened. And you yourself will be able to fight more powerfully against the enemy that is just beside you: ignorance. Always try to feel that in accepting newcomers you are increasing the number of your own soldiers to fight against ignorance. If you have sympathy and love for a new person, then that person becomes yours and in the tug-of-war the strength of your side is increasing, always increasing. The other side, ignorance, will naturally have to surrender to you. So be grateful to the newcomer for joining your side in the tug-of-war. Now you are getting more strength, more opportunity to conquer ignorance."
"Master," said the disciple, "your Illumination-Light has made everything very clear to us. From now on, no self-importance, no jealousy; only inner sympathy and love for our fellow disciples. We shall try; and with your Light, we shall definitely succeed."