“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
The ego is the first thing to be attracted to the spiritual path, because it thinks that it can usurp for itself the importance it sees there.
The guru, through the eyes of the ego, is an ideal human personality. He or she is brimming with self-confidence, commanding the respect of everyone who comes into his presence. It is natural for the ego to be drawn to this kind of spiritual power, because it immediately identifies with it. The prospective disciple looks at the teacher and says, “That could be ME!” Consequently, the disciple expects to be ushered to the head of the line. He tends to view the other students as inferior to himself, both in knowledge and in merit.
Rather than shoot down this fantasy right away, the guru sets about redirecting its energy. He looks through the mask of the ego and, like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, celebrates the return of another child of God to the house of Truth. The ego, of course, thinks that the celebration is about itself. It almost makes one think that the “fatted calf” that the father orders to be slain is a veiled reference to the bloated ego itself!
Although the Prodigal Son has demonstrated the proper humility by asking to be readmitted to his father’s house as a servant, the father, or in this case the guru, knows how quickly penitence can turn into pride. Humility is a great source of power, and if the ego has not been sufficiently purified, it will use it for its own aggrandizement. The “faithful son,” the one who never left home in the first place, represents the Prodigal Son’s ego waiting in the wings, ready to reassert itself once it has gotten its foot in the door. The guru knows that old habits die hard, and that the disciple will once again try to sieze his “inheritance,” only this time taking it in the currency of authority instead of cash.
Every real teacher recognizes this subtle power play lying just beneath the surface of a new disciple’s sincerity. Jesus knows this, because he saw it in himself when he was tempted to turn his mission into one of world rulership, when Satan offered him “all the kingdoms of the world,” if he would but worship him. Satan represents the false self, the ego, whose orientation is toward the domination of others for the promotion of its own selfish agenda.
When Jesus says, “blessed are the merciful,” he is saying, “If you have come here to straighten everyone else out, you are mistaken. You are not to judge your brother. The only appropriate attitude for you to have toward him is one of compassion, because you are not superior to him in any way. Show me that you can do this, and I’ll be compassionate toward you – I will let you stay.”
The first thing to be attracted to the spiritual path is the ego; and it is the last thing to let go. The ego looks at a spiritually advanced person and says to itself, “This is for me!” Without hitting the ego too directly on its superiority issue, Jesus deftly turns it into something more productive – compassion. The ego can still claim it as its own, but will do less damage with it. Besides, every good teacher knows that the ego’s head of steam can help the student stick out the early phase of his training. If the ego can be led to believe that it is surrendering and not being conquered, the transition to selflessness will be a lot smoother. Let sleeping dogs lie.