The Man in the Iron Mask [1998 version], is a movie I saw again on TV recently. It is a movie I love much for many things, including the invaluable lessons it gives in leadership, a subject I have been teaching for the last few years at XLRI School of Business, Jamshedpur. These lessons the movie gives us are both in the best kind of leadership, which I have been teaching as Daivi Leadership, and the worst kind, which I have been taching as Asuri Leadership. The two models of leadership are based on the Daivi Sampad and the Asuri Sampad that the Bhagavad Gita speaks about.
In the movie young prince Philip is the man in the iron mask, having forced to live with an iron mask on his face practically all his life, locked up in a dungeon in the notorious Bastille. However, towards the end of the movie, Phillip tells a dying D’Artagnan, “It is you who have been living under a mask.” Phillip is right; D’Artagnan has lived all his life wearing a mask on his life, in fact more than one mask.
But in wearing a mask, D’Artagnan was just being like any one of us. Most of us live all our lives wearing masks. That is, most of us ordinary mortals.
But it is not unusual for a great enlightened spiritual master to hide himself behind a mask either.
One such awakened master from the fictional world is Donald Shimoda in Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. “He learned of this world in the public schools of Indiana,” says Illusions. “But the Master had learnings from other lands and other schools, from other lives that he had lived.”
The master believed that every man was a son of God and had the power to help others. Other people see his power and come to him to be healed of their troubles and diseases. However, soon his fame spreads and large crowds always throng in front of the shops and garages where works as a mechanic – crowds of people who seek his learning and his touch, and long that his shadow might fall upon them and change their lives.
When the crowds become too big, he goes to the countryside where too people come to him. They start calling him a Messiah and worker of miracles. He teaches them that “within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and to sickness, to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery. It is we who control these, and not another,” but people tell him he is different and they cannot become what he is, cannot do what he can.
He tells them a story. “Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.
Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.
But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”
The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom.”
But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!”
And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
But they cried the more, “Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.”
What the Messiah tells the crowds is the same truth that enlightened masters from across the world have been saying throughout history. We have all the power we can imagine and much more. We are the source of all the power in the universe. The truth is, in the words of the Maitreyi Upanishad, “I am me; and I am the supreme. I am Brahman, and I am the origin of all. I am the guru of the whole world and I am all over the universe. Such am I.”
“ahamasmi paraschasmi brahmasmi prabhavo’smyaham; sarvalokaguruschasmi sarvaloke’smi so’smyaham.”
When the master realizes that the crowd is not interested in waking up and in realizing the truth of what they are, but only in clinging to their ignorance and ignorance-born ways, that they want him to heal them and solve their problems for them forever, he decides to leave. “I quit,” he announces once day. He then goes through the crowds and leaves them, returning to the everyday world of men and machines. He has now put on the mask of ordinariness, and as far as the outside world is considered, he is one of them.
Says Osho, speaking about masters who wear masks to hide themselves from people: “Sufis do that; they have a very strange method of becoming invisible. They remain visible – they remain in the world, they don’t escape from it – but deliberately they create a certain milieu around them, so that people stop coming to them. Crowds, curious people, stupid people, simply stop coming to them; the Sufis don’t exist for them, they forget all about them. This has been an ancient method of the Sufis so that they can work with their disciples.”
In the following postings of on this topic, we shall explore some real-world awakened masters from across different cultures. We shall begin with Lai-Khur, a little known Sufi Saint who was one of the greatest ever.
Continued on Masters Who Wear Masks 2