Sri Ramakrishna would often talk about the place of the Guru or teacher in spiritual life and that only those who set high standards by their own personal life can become true preceptors. He used to narrate a story to illustrate this idea.

A physician once prescribed a medicine to a patient and told him to come the next day to receive instructions regarding the diet. There were several jars of molasses in his room on that day. The patient lived quite far away and with great difficulty visited the physician again. The latter advised him to be careful about food and avoid molasses in particular. After the patient left, a person who was present that day told the physician that he could have given him the instruction on the previous occasion itself instead of making the patient come all the way the second time. The physician replied that there was a purpose. He said that there were several jars of molasses in his room that day. If he had asked the patient then to give up molasses, the latter would not have had any faith in his words. He said that he had hidden the jars of molasses so that the patient might have faith in his words.

Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that a preceptor should live by example and that renunciation of the world is absolutely essential for those who try to teach others. One who is a Guru or Acharya should give up lust and lucre as otherwise people will not take his advice seriously. Further, it is not enough to renounce things mentally or inwardly.

He should also practice renunciation physically or outwardly. Only then will his words have a stamp of authority. Otherwise, people will think that though the teacher advises us about renunciation, he himself is immersed in worldliness. Thus one can lead others only by the example of one’s own life.

by Swami Shantatmananda

Published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 6th Apr 2013

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