Once Nigamananda went to visit the Kumbhamela, India’s most famous fair, which literally countless people attend. He was delighted to see his Guru, Swami Satchidananda, there. A different spiritual Master presides over each fair, and this time the great Master Shankaracharya, Satchidananda’s Guru, was presiding over the fair. Everybody was full of adoration for Shankaracharya, who was sitting near Satchidananda.
When Nigamananda arrived, he bowed to his Master first and then bowed to Shankaracharya. Everybody was shocked. How was it possible for him to bow to Satchidananda first when Shankaracharya was sitting right beside him? Some people said to Nigamananda, “You are such a fool! Don’t you know how to discriminate?”
Nigamananda replied, “I do know how to discriminate. I tell you, nobody can be superior to one’s own Guru. My Guru is and will always remain highest to me. Therefore, I did the right thing by bowing to him first.”
On hearing this Shankaracharya gave Nigamananda a broad smile and said to him, “You are right, my son, you are right.” Then he asked Nigamananda a few spiritual questions which Nigamananda answered perfectly. Then Shankaracharya said to Satchidananda, “What are you doing? Why are you not asking this disciple of yours to have his own disciples and to help illumine mankind? I clearly see that he is ready for that.” Then, in front of Shankaracharya and all the seekers who were nearby, Satchidananda declared, “My spiritual son Nigamananda has realised God. From now on he will accept disciples and illumine their minds and fulfil their hearts.”
At the journey’s start the Master is the boatman, the boat and the river. At the journey’s end, the Master becomes the Goal itself. A beginner-seeker sees the Master as the boat. When he crosses beyond the barrier of the mind, he sees the Master as the boatman. When he establishes his constant oneness with the Master, he sees the Master as the river. And when he becomes the most perfect instrument of the Master, he sees the Master as his Goal itself. When the hour strikes for the disciple, the disciple also has to play the role of a Master, for progress must continue in the world of self-giving and God-becoming.