The Master and the Mother Superior1One day a spiritual Master was enjoying the company of some of his dear disciples. One of the disciples asked him the difference between a convent and an ashram. Everybody laughed, but the disciple said, "How can I know? I know about an ashram but I've never been in a convent. That's why I was asking about the life in the convent."
The Master replied, "In most convents, everything is mechanical. It is not an illumined life; it is a suppressed life, which is not good. In a convent, austerity, penance and forced discipline are frequently demanded for their own sake. But in an ashram, a real ashram, austerity is not demanded, but simplicity is expected; penance is not demanded, but right action is expected; forced discipline is never demanded, but spontaneous inner discipline is expected.
"In a convent, many persons look upon the ordinary life as an object of contempt. But in a real ashram, a seeker stays not because he feels the life of desire is filthy and impure, but because it is something no longer necessary for him.
"In a convent the Mother Superior need not be a God-realised soul. Far from it. But in an ashram, whoever is the head is supposed to be a God-realised soul.
"In a convent, the Mother Superior will often condemn all other spiritual Masters, religions and spiritual paths. But in a real Indian ashram, the Master tells the disciples that other ashrams, other paths, other Masters are good in their own way. However, he will not encourage his disciples to mix with others because he feels it only creates confusion when people following different paths exchange their views.
"Since you have asked me the difference between ashram life and convent life I wish to tell you a juicy story about another spiritual Master, who happens to be a very good friend of mine.
"This Master had about two thousand disciples in America. One day, a very close disciple of his took him to a convent to see her son, who was convalescing in a nursing home there. The disciple's son did not care at all for the Master, for he had no faith in this Master. But still the Master said a few comforting words to the son.
"Later on, as the Master and disciple were leaving the nursing home, the disciple asked the Master if he would like to visit the chapel of the convent. The Master said, 'Why not ?' Fortunately or unfortunately, the disciple stayed outside talking to some people, and the Master went into the chapel alone, wearing his Indian clothes. He started looking at the portraits of the Christ and Mother Mary, and was deeply absorbed in meditation on them when suddenly three nuns rushed out of the chapel shouting and screaming undivine words.
"A few minutes later the Mother Superior was brought in. As soon as the Mother Superior came in, the situation became worse. She was beside herself with anger, and was about to throw the spiritual man out, when suddenly something changed inside her, and instead she said, I am sure Christ will forgive him, even though he is a Hindu. His eyes are full of sincerity and devotion from looking at the portrait of Christ.' Then she added, 'But don't you dare come to this place anymore. This chapel is extremely sacred. It is only meant for Christians. You are not a Christian, and you should not have come in. I can clearly see that you have a good heart; therefore Christ will not be offended. But please don't come again!'
"The Master gave the Mother Superior a thankful smile outwardly as he left the chapel, and inwardly he gave himself a sigh of relief.
"Alas, a few days later the disciple's son died. Now this particular young man was anything but spiritual, and therefore, after his death, he was having tremendous problems in the vital plane. But he could see that there were many people in the vital plane who were really enduring much less suffering. So, he made enquiries as to why these people were rather enjoying themselves while he was condemned to suffer.
"A guardian of the vital world said, 'All these people lived a spiritual life on earth and had spiritual Masters. Therefore, they are happy. In your case, you didn't follow the spiritual life, and perhaps you do not even know a spiritual Master.'
"The young man replied, 'I do know of someone, but I have no idea whether he is a real Master or a fake. But this much I can say — my mother was full of love and admiration for him, so I assume that he was my mother's boyfriend.'
"The guardian asked him the name of his mother's boyfriend, but he did not know it. All the guardians were compassionate, so they concentrated on his mother's soul and immediately they came to know the Master's name. Utterly disgusted, they insulted the young man mercilessly.
"How dare you speak this way about such a high Master?' they cried. 'You fool! Only to know of a spiritual Master of that calibre, only for someone in your family to be his disciple, is the greatest blessing and fortune. Although you do not deserve anything yourself, because of your mother's virtue and the Master's infinite Compassion, this great Master will take you to a much higher vital plane where you will have no suffering, but only boundless joy.'"
WM 9. 31 January 1974↩