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Who’s the Master?

November 16, 2009

The Endless Knot

The Endless Knot, from Wikipedia

I’m an old man now, a man who simply travels and teaches. Many call me a master, and if they are happy with that title I will not upset them by claiming otherwise. Pride and false humility no longer have me in their grip.

Over the years, I have been asked how I became a so-called master. I resisted responding in any way to this question for a long time…well, until now. Close to the end of my life, it seems fitting now to tell the real story. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. You’ll be able to return quickly to whatever it is that really interests you.

One day, many, many years ago, I was sitting quietly by the roadside trying to figure out what to do with my life. I had just lost my job, my wife, and my home, and everything was in question, including the meaning of my life. I think I had been sitting pondering for several hours when a man happened along and squatted quietly on the opposite side of the road facing me. Though he said nothing, he stared at me intensely without moving a muscle. There was something about the way the man looked at me, the great concern that emanated from him, that made me think he was someone very special, perhaps even a great master.

Believing that I might learn something from this man, and with nothing better to do, I simply sat there observing, only taking breaks to care of the natural functions when the man sitting opposite me did so. Of course, sitting in that way created much tension in my body, so I began to stretch and move in all sorts of ways to relieve the tension. The man also stretched and moved but in ways that looked more interesting than mine. He seemed to know what he was doing. Some of the postures and movements even looked like yoga and qigong, which I had dabbled with. So I simply imitated him, but added from memory some of the postures and movements that I had previously learned. Soon we were spontaneously doing all kind of exercises together, even chanting and singing. I was seeing many new things about myself and really felt as though new meanings were opening up for me.

After several days, and finally coming to the realization that perhaps this man could help me answer the question that was burning inside, I asked with great intensity, “Please tell me Master, what should I do with my life?”

Startled, the man looked back at me and said in sincere confusion: “But I thought you were the master.”

The instant these words were spoken an all-embracing light turned on inside of me, a light that had never revealed itself before, and I suddenly realized who and what I was.

In response to the question, cynical or otherwise, that may have arisen in you, I will ask you one in return: aren’t we all here to help and care for one another? Aren’t we all, consciously or unconsciously, simultaneously students, teachers and even masters in relation to one another and at whatever level is possible for us? Aren’t we all part of “the endless knot” of relationship?

In any case, and for what it’s worth, that’s the story of how I first happened to be called a master. But you may call me whatever you like, as you are no doubt already doing.

Copyright 2009 by Dennis Lewis. This story was inspired by an insight I had while reading a short parable recounted by Idries Shah in his book The Commanding Self.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2009 10:56 am

    Good morning,

    through a winding path, or maybe a very straight path, by way of a Sounds True podcast interview with Dr. Judith Orloff, her comment about Taoism being her spiritual path, my online search for Taoism teachings in San Francisco, I ended up here. Why I don’t know, since it appears you are in Arizona. But here I am.

    When I get home this evening I will thoroughly explore your blog and learn more about your book, both of which look pretty fascinating, but in the meantime, since I have a slow connection here at work, I would like to ask if the Esalen retreat in July 2010 will be led by you.

    Thank you and blessings,
    Anna Maria

    • November 18, 2009 2:43 pm

      Anna Maria,

      Good to hear from you! I hope you enjoy San Francisco. It’s an amazing city.

      Yes, I will be leading the Esalen retreat. It would be great to see you there.

      with best wishes,


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