From Disciple to Devotee

Maneesha, Dogen is dealing with one of the most important aspects of Zen. His statement is not as exact as it could be, but anyway he comes very approximately near to the truth. He does not mention, and perhaps no Zen master has ever mentioned, that there are three potentialities. When a seeker comes to a master he may be only a student, most of them are. They are in search of more knowledge because knowledge brings power, knowledge brings respectability, knowledge brings honor and dignity. But these are not the true seekers. The second category that comes to the master is the disciple. Zen masters have reached very high as far as human consciousness is concerned. But they have stopped at the second category of seekers, the disciple and the master.

There is another category which Zen is not aware of, because it was not needed. To be a disciple was enough… to meditate, to watch the master, and to create a connection of consciousnesses. It has worked well for Zen but I can see that something is missing, and that is the devotee. The third category of seekers did not happen in Zen. The masters have reached to the highest peak, but the disciple cannot reach to the highest peak unless he becomes a devotee. And the difference is great. The disciple is satisfied if he is connected with the master — watches his movements, listens to his words, listens to his silences. Slowly slowly he starts growing an individuality of his own. He may jump from disciplehood into mastership. Zen knows disciples and masters. But a more ancient tradition in India, which has almost disappeared, makes it clear that unless a disciple first becomes a devotee there is no way of becoming a master.

And what is the difference between the disciple and the devotee? The disciple seeks connection, the devotee seeks dissolvement; the disciple seeks individuality, the devotee seeks the ocean. Personality is borrowed, it has to be dropped; individuality is your own, but if you can manage to drop it also then the whole ocean is yours.

Otherwise, a dewdrop is beautiful in the sunlight or in the moonlight, but the roaring reality of the ocean and the eternity of the ocean are missing. The dewdrop has no song to sing; the ocean has millions of songs to sing and millions remain unsung. Although the dewdrop can reflect the moon as much as the ocean, the depth of the reflection cannot be more than the circular dimension of the dewdrop. In the ocean the same moon penetrates to the very depths, miles deep.

Being a devotee means dropping even individuality, dropping even the feeling that, “I am”… just merging with the universe. It is the ultimate quantum leap. From personality to individuality is a very small jump, available to many, but from individuality to no-individuality is a very rare occurrence. And that’s what makes a disciple a devotee.

Because Zen tradition knows nothing about the devotee, there is something missing in it. It brings the individual to realize the truth, it brings the individual back home; but the separation of the individual from the master and the separation of the individual from existence still remain in a very subtle form. The disciple still is. He has not forgotten himself completely, he has not dropped even his being.

A devotee is a miracle. He simply disappears into the whole, leaving behind not even a trace.

Gautam Buddha is reported to have said that the authentic seeker is just like a bird flying in the sky, leaving no footmarks behind. When the bird becomes one with the sky… not only in tune, because in tune you still remain separate. The disciple is in tune with the master but they are two different instruments, meeting deeply with each other, but the separation line is still there. The devotee simply disappears, only the master remains. The master himself becomes just a window for him to jump into the beyond. Because the devotee is not at all a part of the Zen tradition… and there are reasons why the word has not appeared. The reasons are that devotees — the very word `devotee’ has become contaminated with the idea of God, with worship. To devote yourself, to dedicate yourself, to surrender yourself… but all these words are not the essence of the word `devotee’. Because of these misconceptions about the devotee, Zen has not used the word at all — because there is no God to be devoted to and there is no worship to be done; you have to be just yourself.

My own experience is that just to be yourself is great, but not great enough. There is one step more — not to be. Let the pine trees stand in their beauty under the full moon, let the birds sing, let the sun rise and set, but you will not be found anywhere. You are no more, existence is. This ultimate step makes the disciple a devotee… no worship, no question of any God. And according to me, unless one is a devotee, not in tune with the universe but one with the universe, he cannot be a master. Hence the master is one of the most miraculous phenomena. He is and he is not. He is to you, from the outside; he is not at all from the inside. Inside is pure space.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series:

The Miracle

Chapter #2
Chapter title: Dissolved, just like ice
3 August 1988 pm in Gautam the Buddha Auditorium


Osho has spoken on ‘devotee, disciple, master’ in many of His discourses. More on the subject can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 5, 8
  2. The Miracle
  3. The Osho Upanishad
  4. The Razor’s Edge
  5. Satyam Shivam Sundram
  6. Sermons in Stones
  7. Vedanta: Seven Steps to Samadhi
  8. A Bird on the Wing
  9. The Secret
  10. Tao: The Pathless Path, Vol 1
  11. Come Follow To You, Vol 4
  12. Beyond Enlightenment
  13. The Grass Grows By Itself
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