On the nature of the master-disciple structure

N. Lygeros

Translated from French by Patrice Deloche and Nicolas Thouvignon

In antiquity we not only have many accounts of teachings based on the master-disciple structure but also on its way of functioning. The fundamental examples come to us from Egypt, China and Greece. As for India it gives us an actual classification of men in four categories through Buddha's work: there are those who don't know they don't know: we must leave them alone; there are those who know they don't know: we must teach them; there are those who don't know they know: we must enlighten them; there are those who know they know: we must follow them: they are the masters. One of the main characteristics of this teaching is freedom. For the disciple, following the teaching of a master represents a choice of life. For the master, the choice of his disciples is a necessity of his work. One wants to think his life, the other wants to make his thought live. Both are free. Their contact is not the result of external constraints, which act on them despite their will. This freedom is essential in their choice because the latter is irreversible. It constitutes a break between past and future. For both of them it cannot be considered a mere evolution but instead a real mental revolution. Because the combination of the chameleon and pygmalion effects transforms the master-disciple structure. One would be nothing without the other, while the other wouldn't even exist without that one. The master-disciple structure has a very ancient rooting in the history of humanity because we have traces of it within mythology, that intelligence of history, with the example of Telemachus and Mentor. Indeed that character of the Odyssey was popularized in France by Fénelon's Télémaque and has taken in literature the meaning of the guide, of the wise and experienced adviser. Through his knowledge he helps not his disciple but the human being that has addressed him. For the mentor, altruism is a natural tendency. And if he has promethean characteristics it is a necessity. We notice then that the disciple's quest joins the master's enlightenment. For what is more natural than the search of a light to see and understand? What is more natural that the sharing of a knowledge? What would be the status of a thinker in nothingness? The master acts on his disciple like a strange attractor in the cognitive field. He is not merely a model whom the disciple wants to look like. He is the work that creates being. He is not the keeper of supreme truth but he is the only one able to tell it. And it is in this sense that we look at Socrates' essential contribution to that complex structure. This naturally leads us to the consequences of this contribution within society. Because a master does not teach in the sense that we can give to this word in a mass society. The master remains singular by the fact that he is a “maître-à-penser”, a master of thought. His only teaching is the understanding of the world; this world that is mysteriously understandable. He is an energy in the midst of the mass. Nevertheless the inexorable process of the massification of society with all its associated constraints can only despise the master-disciple structure by preferring the teacher-pupils one. Although that last association, via constraint, output and social adequation, can only be a degenerated case. The teacher is nothing else but an agent of a mechanism or cog of the system. Lacking content, he tries to keep his composure through the setting up of academic markers which delimit his territory. Lost in the crowd, he only has an identity within his specialty. But thought knows no boundaries and its quest is an unceasing gnoseological transgression. It doesn't care about lords of territories with artificial boundaries. It lives only in doubt and questioning. Such are the lives of the masters and the works of the disciples.

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