This story has been told in many forms over the years. Whether or not it ever actually took place, its message is compelling…
A spiritual Master lived in an ashram with his disciples. One disciple, who had been with the Guru for several years, was quite convinced that he was doing very well in his meditation, spiritual discipline and service to the community. He did everything he was supposed to do, when it was supposed to be done. He never missed his meditation, and never put a foot wrong.
Yet despite his exemplary conduct, it bothered him that he still had not attained enlightenment. So when he had the opportunity, he brought his concerns to the Master directly: “I have been doing everything required of me and serving your mission most faithfully. Surely it is high time for you to grant me enlightenment. I am more than ready!” The Master remained silent, and simply smiled.
Weeks passed, with no response from the Master. The disciple was becoming more and more frustrated.
One day the Master and disciples were bathing in the river. Without warning, the Master grasped this disciple, thrust his head under water and held it there. After a while, the disciple started to panic and flounder: he was convinced he would drown then and there.
Eventually the Master released his grip and the disciple came up spluttering and gasping desperately for air. He felt helpless, embarrassed, confounded and furious all at the same time, and had to be helped to the shore. The Master calmly continued bathing.
Later that evening, the Master turned to this disciple and spoke: “Only when your inner cry becomes as intense and all-consuming as your cry for air today – then you will know you are ready and ripe for enlightenment.”