It is not essential to find a teacher in the flesh - he may be in print. A book may become a quite effective teacher and guide.
In the absence of a sage's personal society, one may have recourse to the best substitute - a sage's printed writings.
Inspired texts, portions of scriptures, great men's writings and sayings offer guidance on the course of action to be followed, the ethical considerations to be heeded, the decisions to be made under certain pressures, crises, or confrontations - decisions whose consequences are often quite grave. Who can price the value of such readings at such times?
Books are most useful to those who, whether by necessity through lack of sincere competent instruction or by choice, to avoid narrow sectarianism, seek the goal by themselves.
Most students seeking inspiration have no other choice than recourse to the printed words.
The personal contact with a master does not necessarily require a face-to-face meeting. It can also be effected through a letter written by him - nay, to some degree, even through a book written by him. For his mind incarnates itself in these productions. Thus, those who are prevented by circumstances from meeting him physically, may meet him mentally and gain the same results.
The perspicacious student will cling steadfastly throughout his life to the writings of illumined masters, returning to them again and again.Their works are the truest of all, pure gold and not alloys.
There are men whose thought went deeper and understood more clearly than that of their fellows. Their record exists, their sayings and writings also. Their study is worthwhile, their precepts can be put to the test in practical everyday living.
In these books the voice of men who were spiritually illuminated long ago speaks to him. They are the only way in which it can speak to him today. Therefore he should respect and cherish them.
Those who have towered above all other men as Masters, who have left records of their path and of its attainment, can be good guides.
Why not make these great men your teachers through their preserved teachings? Why not be the disciple of Socrates, Buddha, Saint Paul, and dozens of others?
However distant a teacher may be, whether in country or century, by means of this written record he is able to help whoever is willing to lend his time and eyes.
If a book gives correct teaching about the quest and necessary warning about its pitfalls, it should be studied with proper care and respect.
A man can take from the printed word what he is unable to hear from the spoken word.
The truth-seeker will be wise to make use of such outward helps as appeal to him. They may be the written word, the printed book, the molded statuette, the pictorial representation, or the human photograph - always provided they are referable to a genuinely inspired source. He should study the words and works, the lives and examples of practising mystics, and follow in their footsteps.
Good books are not to be disdained, despite contemptuous references by fanatical mystics or ill-balanced ascetics. Negatively, they will warn him against misleading elements likely to cause a deviation from his correct course. Positively, they will guide him where no personal guide is available.
But he must beware of imagining that the pleasure he derives from spiritual reading is any sign that he is making progress in spiritual living. It is easier to read lofty thoughts than to think them out for oneself, and to live them is the most difficult of all.
Books, too, serve as guides if they are properly used, that is, if their limitations are recognized and if their authors' limitations are acknowledged. In the first case it is the intellect's own inability to transcend thought that stops it from realizing truth. In the second case it is the evolutionary status of the man's ego, and the accuracy of his attitudes - themselves victims or controllers of his emotions, passions - which matter. For if his mind cannot register the impact of truth, because of the blockage set up partially or even all around him, the author's work will reflect his ignorance. He cannot teach what he does not know; his own mental obscurity can lead only to the reader's obscurity. Yet such is the deceptiveness of thought, that a wrong or false idea may be received and held in the mind under the belief that it is a right or true one.
The writings of these Masters help both the moral nature and the intellectual mind of the responsive and sensitive, who are excited to the same endeavour, exhilarated to the same level, and urged to realize the same ideas. These stand out from all other writings because they contain vivid inspiration and true thought.
The very fine writings of philosophers and mystics of all times may bring into one's life some emotional inspirational and intellectual guidance, even, possibly, stimulating his power of will. Through the long, unavoidable years of struggle on the Quest, they can, to that extent, act the part of a teacher or guide. However, it must be remembered that some are infinitely more worthwhile than others, and it is essential for one to be able to discriminate between what is true and helpful and what is false and worthless.
These subjects are becoming more widely known and more studied than they were a half-century ago. There has been quite a flow of literature, original works, commentaries, and translations in our time making both mystical and philosophic ideas more available.
With the universal spread of elementary education, and the issue of cheaper paper-covered texts and translations, it is now possible for most earnest seekers living in the free countries to come into possession of the teaching.
If he cannot understand the more intellectual portions of these books he should not worry because they are written for different classes and those portions which he cannot follow are particularly addressed to highbrows and have to be expressed in a more complicated and scientific style.
If the literature on these subjects is so much larger today, the problem of choosing correctly what is most reliable is so much more difficult.
Book teaching is too general. It makes no allowance for individual differences, for the wide variation from one person to another. It is always necessary for the readers to adapt the teaching to their own sex, age, character, strength, and circumstances.
From these great writings, he will receive impulses of spiritual renewal. From these strong paragraphs and lovely words he will receive incitement to make himself better than he is. Their every page will carry a message to him; indeed, they will seem to be written for him.
Every book which stimulates aspiration and widens reflection does spiritual service and acts as a guru.
With such books he will feel for a while better than he is, wiser than he is.
One of the helps to kindle this spark into a flame is the reading of inspired literature, whether scripture or not - the mental association through books with men who have themselves been wholly possessed by this love.
A chance phrase in such an inspired writing may give a man the guidance for which he has long been waiting.
The words of inspired men are like a lighthouse to those seekers who are still groping in the dark.
Perhaps one prime value of a book is its power to remind students of fundamental principles and its ability to recall them to the leading points of this teaching, for these are easily lost or overlooked amid the press of daily business.
He will draw from such reading the incentive to keep on with his quest and the courage to set higher goals.
It may not be in the power of any piece of writing to guide a man all the way along this quest but it certainly is in its power to give him general direction and specific warning.
Let him study the literature of mystical and philosophic culture to become better informed about the Quest, about its nature and goal, and about himself.
By comparing what is described in the books with what he has so far experienced for himself, an aspirant may check and correct his course.
Those who were awakened by this reading could then look elsewhere for the personal guidance they seek.
Through a book help is given without involving the helper in the personal lives of the readers, but through a letter or a meeting involvement begins.