The root of the word Master comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Maha’, which means a person who has put in effort and time to master the mind.
However, to master something does not mean to control something as it might be generally understood. It specifically means winning over oneself.
Hence hermits, sages and gurus in India are known as Maharaja – a kind who has won over himself.
I would like to illustrate this by a story of an encounter between Alexander the Great and an Indian hermit, when Alexander came to India.
One day he chanced upon a hermit sitting by the river bank of the Indus sitting deep in meditation. He was on his way to a meeting with his army generals to discuss war strategies with them. The meeting point was a few miles from where he came across the meditating hermit. After the meeting which was over in a couple of hours on his way back Alexander saw the hermit was still sitting there silently in meditation.
Seeing this Alexander was not only curious but also very vexed. He was curious to know what this man was doing. And he was vexed because he thought how any man can waste his time like this doing nothing.
Unable to overcome his curiosity Alexander approached the hermit and sort of woke him up by force. The hermit opened his eyes and smiled at Alexander.
Alexander asked him, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you have anything better to do rather than sit idle for so long and waste time?’
‘What might have been a better task than what I am doing?’ the hermit politely replied to the great emperor.
Alexander laughed and mockingly retorted, ‘You could do something like I am doing.’
‘What are you doing Sir’, the hermit asked.
‘Well I am conquering lands and increasing my empire and building wealth for my state and my people. After I conquer your country I would be the unchallenged master of the world. What might be better than that?’ replied the great emperor.
On hearing this, the hermit smiled and said, ‘In that case, Sir, I am doing something way better than that. I am trying to master myself by winning over my mind, which I would do soon. That I believe is much more difficult and important than winning the world with all its riches.’
1. This story contains the cultural seed that made Indians what they are – a tolerant people who value inner wisdom over outer achievement. That is the reason the great Indian epic Mahabharata (where Bharata denotes the original name of India) represents the tale of greatness of India and not the great epic of India.
2. Personal Mastery would mean exactly the same. It starts with gaining wisdom from whatever field of work one might be engaged in. Wisdom and Action are related. One can’t gain wisdom from thin air. It can only come from the numerous experiences one encounters in life and from his/her own realization of the inherent truth in every experience.
3. Without Personal Mastery no leader is worth his or her name. One who can’t win over himself or herself can’t hope to win over others and expect people to follow them as examples rather than getting something from them in return for their followership.