Why had the teacher hesitated for so long?

In the first part of the 20th century, when the living Vedanta of the Gita was brought across to the West by Dr. Shastri, few of the great Sanskrit classics had been adequately translated into English.

Among his early disciples was a middle-aged Scottish lady, who gave much of her time to looking after the needs of the little Sangha (spiritual group). One day he told her that he had received a spiritual impulse to translate, into English, one of these great classics, but he added that he felt quite incompetent for the task. She said: ‘But you are a famous Sanskrit scholar’, and he answered: ‘My knowledge is, in fact, very limited compared to the learning of that masterpiece. How can a firefly presume to emulate the sun?’

In the subsequent days and weeks, he kept returning to the subject, saying that the impulse was there, and he must obey it, but he felt so unable to do it. In fact he was dithering, and most unlike his usual quiet decisiveness. After some weeks of this, she suddenly turned to him and said: ‘Do it. Do it now. Let’s begin now. You dictate to me the translation of the first page.’ He instantly agreed, and after that they did a page a day until the work was finished, in about a year.

The disciple told one or two others about the incident, and one, at least, found a deep meaning in it. Why had the teacher hesitated for so long? Why had he not simply obeyed the impulse with his usual, immediate response? After pondering for some time, this pupil realized that it had been to give the helper a part to play in the production of the classic. He was not hesitating, but waiting for her to play her part in the final decision. And, in fact, when the book came out, he dedicated it to her.

She had been waiting for him to act, but he was waiting for her.


© 1999 Trevor Leggett

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