I would like to cite a fine example of faith. During Lord Buddha’s time (Birth: c. 563 BCE or c. 480 BCE, Mahasamadhi: c. 483 BCE or c. 400 BCE) there was a vicious cruel bandit by the name of Angulimal. He was thus called because he used to wear on his neck a garland (Maala) of cut fingers (Anguli) of his murdered victims. Once he came across Lord Buddha who was alone on his way through a forest. The moment he saw Lord Buddha, Angulimal felt such a mystic reverence towards him that he then and there gave up his life of violence and accepted the life of a Buddhist monk in saffron clothes (and a begging bowl). He experienced such a transformation within himself that in due course, people started calling him the ‘non-violent monk’. People say that Lord Buddha transformed Angulimal and thus performed a miracle. But, in my opinion, the miracle was wrought entirely by the faith and devotion within Angulimal. Nobody can change or transform a person if the person himself is unwilling to change. Only one’s own faith and devotion can transform that person. It was the reverence that Angulimal felt for Lord Buddha that transformed him, a ruthless bandit, into a ‘non-violent monk’. In short Lord Buddha did not bring about this change, rather, Angulimal transformed himself because of his devout reverence towards Lord Buddha. If Angulimal had been of a partial faith, he would have merely gone around praising Lord Buddha. Then, if he had ever encountered Lord Buddha again, he might have praised Him but would have continued with his own violent ways. But, he was not a partial devotee but indeed a total one. Only total devotion can bring about miracles…
A human being bows down not so readily to a truly venerable person. Rather he bows down when he feels the LACK (or inadequacy or deficiency) of something within him. This feeling of deficiency in him becomes intense when he sees abundance of that quality in another person. On such an occasion, his head will bow down willingly in front of a person who abundantly possesses the thing he lacks and covets. For example, a poor person may readily bow down before a rich one, a weak person bows down before the stronger one and an illiterate person, before a learned one. This reverence or respect due to LACK OF SOMETHING is not an ideal reverence and such humility is not the ideal humility.
The meaning of reverence or faith is that, when a person realizes what he lacks, he immediately begins to put in efforts to overcome this deficiency. For instance, when a person of deficient character observes a righteous person and starts relevant exertions to become righteous, it is called (the ideal) ‘reverence’. But generally, it is observed that a person of deficient character will respect the righteous person, on occasions praise him, but, will hardly ever exert himself to correct his own character. In fact, it is commonly observed that such weak characters are found in a fair number among the followers of every faith. Alas, their devotion and reverence are too weak to be effective.
Truly, a Master on his own cannot do anything effective; it is Reverence and Faith in the heart of the seeker that work out everything. With such devotion a seeker’s progress is assured. Otherwise, a seeker may stay with the Master all the time but will largely fail to progress on the spiritual path. That is how we find that there are many to flock around a Master but relatively few rise to higher spiritual levels.
A person, who has faith but has not met any Master, will also evolve because his faith reveals to him that the entire Universe (Existence) has become his Master. His faith opens the doors of his consciousness. Then wisdom is gradually secured from everywhere. On the other hand if the doors of consciousness are closed, a seeker of weak faith will not evolve even in the abundance of knowledge and wisdom.
Question: If a seeker by chance meets an inappropriate Master, what will be his spiritual future?
Answer: A person can err in his choice of the Master but he should not pollute his own faith. If there is faith, its benefit will certainly be there. In such a case, a Master will be only a (non-essential) starter of spirituality. History has known examples of such devotees who by their sheer faith uplifted inappropriate Masters to Divine Realization.