Sri Ramakrishna would often warn his disciples about the dangers of imitating the actions of an enlightened person. To illustrate the idea he used to narrate a story concerning the great Sankaracharya.

A foolish disciple of the great Sankaracharya used to imitate his master in all matters. The Sankaracharya, who had realised the highest knowledge of the absolute, in other words the knowledge of Advaita, would always repeat “Shivoham” “Shivoham”, meaning that he was the Supreme Self. The foolish disciple, who was just a beginner in spiritual life, would also repeat “Shivoham”, although he had no realisation to back his words. Sri Sankaracharya was watching his disciple’s behaviour and wanted to correct him. One day he was passing by a workshop where several metals were being melted for various purposes. Sri Sankaracharya entered the workshop and all of a sudden took a potful of molten lead and swallowed it. He then asked the disciple to do likewise. Seeing his master’s action the disciple was terrified and trembling with fear he begged his master to excuse him. He could not think of swallowing even a small quantity of molten lead, let alone a potful. From then on he gave up the habit of repeating “Shivoham”. In other words, he stopped imitating his master.

Published in the Sunday Guardian, 12 Feb 2012

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