“When the student is ready the teacher will appear”

when the student is ready

I was surprised when someone wrote and asked about this one, saying that he doubted it was a genuine quote from the Buddha. It had never occurred to me that anyone would think this was a Buddhist quote and I’d never heard this described as Buddhist. And yet, seek, and ye shall find (also not one of the Buddha’s). It turns out that it’s all over the internet, including on at least one quotes site, although as a “Buddhist proverb” rather than directly attributed to the Buddha. But the quote is also ascribed to the Buddha, not just on websites, but in several books.

When I first began investigating this quote it quickly became clear that it likely had a Theosophical origin. If you’re not familiar with Theosophy (which was still popular in certain circles into the mid-20th century, and is still around), Wikipedia tell us,

In 1875 Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge co-founded The Theosophical Society. Blavatsky combined Eastern religious traditions with Western esoteric teachings to create a synthesis she called the Perennial Religion. She developed this in Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), her major works and exposition of her Theosophy.

For example in a 1914 periodical, The Herald of the Star (a publication of a Theosophical organization, “The Order of the Star in the East”), we’re told that “in the various occult Orders which seem always to have existed throughout the world, it has been expressed in the words, ‘When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.’”

And in Theosophy magazine of 1918, we have “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

In a Masonic publication from 1922, The New Age magazine, we also read “It is said, in what is called Occultism, that when the pupil is ready the Master will appear.” “Occultism” here is another term for Theosophy.

And in a 1927 publication, Steps to Self-Mastery, S. R. Parchment says:

“When the pupil is ready, the Master appears” is an old Theosophical statement, and I have been able on several occasions to prove its truthfulness.

Other forms are “When the Seeker is ready, the Master will appear.” “the Master will appear when the disciple is ready” “When the student is ready, the master will appear.”

“An old Theosophical statement” is as close as I got until the magnificent Barry Popik came to the rescue, with his awe-inspiring research skills. Mr. Popik, according to his website,

is a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Yale Book of Quotations and Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Since 1990 he has also been a regular contributor to Gerald Cohen’s Comments on Etymology. He is recognized as an expert on the origins of the terms Big Apple, Windy City, hot dog, and many other food terms, and he is an editor of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.

I bow deeply!

From page 48 of Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins.

From page 48 of Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins.

Mr. Popik traced the quote further back, to Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins. The third edition, which is on Google Books, is dated 1886, although presumably the first edition was published at least a year earlier.

Light on the Path is an odd work, describing itself as “A treatise written for the personal use of those who are ignorant of the Eastern wisdom, and who desire to enter within its influence.” The title page of the book is inscribed “Written down by M.C., Fellow of the Theosophical Society.” Why “written down by” rather than “written by”? The Theosophists claimed to be in contact with “Masters” or “mahatmas” in the East who dictated works to them. Therefore, M. C (Mabel Collins) presents herself not as an author, but as the Stenographer to the Awakened.

And on page 48 we find, “For when the disciple is ready the Master is ready also.”

Incidentally, the Enlightened Masters with whom the Theosophists were in mystical communion (some of the contact appears to have been telepathic) seem to have been influenced by the King James version of the Bible, for Light on the Path is full of passages like this:

If thou look not for him, if thou pass him by, then there is no safeguard for thee. Thy brain will reel, thy heart grow uncertain, and in the dust of the battle-field thy sight and senses will fail, and thou wilt not know thy friends from thy enemies. (p. 16)

Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society, was widely accused of faking teachings, and of plagiarism. A New York Times review of K. Paul Johnson’s The Masters Revealed, a book exposing Blavatsky says:

In 1884, Richard Hodgson of the British Society for Psychical Research went to India to investigate Blavatsky and called her “one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting impostors in history.”

William Emmette Coleman, in The Sources of Madame Blavatsky’s Writings, points out that in one Blavatsy’s Isis Unveiled there were “2000 passages copied from other books without proper credit” and that one work she claimed was a translation of a Tibetan teaching, was in fact “a compilation of ideas and terminology from various nineteenth-century books.”

Faking an entire Sutra takes Fake Buddha Quotes to a whole new level! Madame Blavatksy, Fake Buddha Quoter Extraordinaire, I salute you!

Mabel Collins later regretted having claimed that the book was dictated to her by the Mahatmas. In a letter of April 18, 1889, she wrote:

So far as I can remember I wrote you that I had received “Light on the Path” from one of the Masters who guide Madame Blavatsky. I wish to ease my conscience now by saying that I wrote this from no knowledge of my own, and merely to please her [Blavatsky]; and that I now see I was very wrong in doing so.

Blavatsky herself maintained her cover story to the bitter end.

41 thoughts on ““When the student is ready the teacher will appear”

  1. I always have quoted the saying as true buddhist proverb! as I have quoted this one:`those who speak,do not know; those who know do not speak` Is this one a fake attribution to the Buddha?

  2. Dear Fake Exposer,

    I had a faint idea, without thinking about it, that the expression might have come from Swami Vivekananda. But my internet search didn’t come up with anything conclusive. In any case you find it in some later Vedanta writings. I saw that one book of quotes has it as “a Zen saying.” I really doubt if Confucius would have said it. I think the Buddha Himself would have more likely told us to be our own masters. I suppose if we were *really* ready the master would have already appeared. Perhaps the Thesophists were talking about ascended masters who would have materialized in front of our eyes if we were *really* ready, or at least dropped a materialized message inside a nearby closet?

    Greetings from the Himalayas!

    A sudden cloudburst
    just broke out
    over my cabin.

    D

    • “I think the Buddha Himself would have more likely told us to be our own masters.”
      Unless I’m mistaken the Buddhist saying “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” is exactly along that line of thinking.

      • No, the article, albeit well-written and well-researched, stops short of answering the above question. First you say it was Mabel Collins, but then you say she admitted to getting her ideas from other sources, including but not limited to the King James Bible. So from which source did she lift this particular quote/idea?

        • No, I didn’t say that Mabel Collins had lifted this quotation from anywhere, nor that she taken her ideas from the Bible.

          • I’m just going to credit it to Mabel Collins and use this website as a source. No one ever checks these things. Thanks!

          • There are a lot of people who don’t fact check, and some who don’t care even if the truth is pointed out to them, but about 30,000 people visit this site every month, so there are some people who are interested in verifying quotes, which is encouraging!

      • Let me reiterate the question, and try being as direct and non-secretive as you can: Who do you credit the quote to? I read your article and I could not find a plausible answer. So, illuminate us, once and forever.

        • Mabel Collins was the author. I thought that Mabel’s being the author would be fairly clear from the article, but perhaps I need to do a bit of editing.

  3. There are many ancient Chinese idioms and sayings that had been around for centuries even dating back to the days before Confucius which could not be appropriately attributed to any one person. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” is one such quote I recall my father (born in China, 1910, never educated) as well as several Chinese language teachers quoted from ancient Chinese sayings. Many of these idioms and sayings were often inappropriately attributed to famous people such as Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha and the likes. Western philosophers and poets have often used them in their original forms or adapted them, and my personal opinion is that the work of Mabel Collins is probably no different from this practice with regards to this particular quote.

    • I believe it does indeed come from the King James version of the Bible as I think it is the sentence “He, Himself will see to it, when the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.” but this I have to investigate and find my source. I am taking this on as a Christmas challenge… I will cite my Source when and if I find it. Then I will explain What I Believe it means, like you Care, right? lol Merry Christmas!

      • The KJV is available in its entirety online, so you could easily have checked before posting. Your version seems to be taken from an Orthodox website, where it says,

        God promises that those who seek instruction will never be left without it. He Himself will see to it, as the saying goes, that “when the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

        All this is doing is quoting the saying, not attributing it to the Bible.

  4. Thanks for your research on this – very enlightening!

    The Communist party of Peru, which has also been involved in terrorist activities over the years, is called, “Sendero Luminoso”, or ‘The Shining Path’. I don’t think it’s a stretch to interpret it also as “Light on the Path”. As Father Guido Sarducci might say, “Coincidenza?”
    The Theosophical Society is believed by some to have been involved in intelligence-gathering capabilities for the British Empire, and also promoted antisemitism.

    Just sayin’….

  5. Pingback: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear | Ross-Says.com

  6. Hmmm……..this is so …well it leads to a million questions…by this way…everything we ever know could be merely gossip that was recorded and propogated….and no one can ever tell anything for sure….even what is printed and goes unchallenged for decades could have been a complete lie that someone just got away with…and with weight of history added to it..it just got to acquire merit by association. No wonder Propoganda works.

    I wondered if Buddha ever said it..but I thought so many people are writing books and quoting it..they must have verified something…and look!! Gospel seems nothing but Gossip spelled out ……it’s not really funny though..Forget finding a teacher…finding facts seems impossible! Now I want to know…if Buddha never said it…who was the person who started this fake rumor!

  7. With all do respect, nothing in your blog is proof this is not a Buddha saying. If you would study the history of religion, you would find out that both Judaism and later Christianity would shamelessly “borrow” from Buddhist literature and make it their own. So, the fact that you find Buddhist quotes in the Bible is a result of the fact that, A. As the records show, Buddhism was taught in the Middle East as early as the 3rd century BCE and most likely even earlier than that; B. One of the main objective of the new religions was to distort and denigrate the teachings of Buddhism because they exposed the act of deception behind their dogma. Which takes us to the issue of Helena Blavatsky. She was most revered among the open-mined and the enlightened of her days, and totally despised by the Catholic Church and religious institution in general. Why? Precisely because she exposed their acts of deception, the true origin of their religion and their true malefic purpose. As a matter of fact, her writings have caused a serious split in the Catholic Church, the one known as Liberal Catholicism. This was only one of the reasons why the Catholic Church has attacked her reputation repeatedly in the past, and it still doing that today. Otherwise, Albert Einstein kept a copy of her Secret Doctrine on his night stand, and the book was there when he died, with numerous side notes on it. There is clear evidence that his theory of relativity has roots in information provided by Blavatsky in her writings, information she extracted from ancient Tibetan records.

    There are no reasons not attribute this to Buddha: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Its exact meaning is, when we reach a stage of cognitive development that allows us to ascent into a higher level of enlightenment, the light of a superior knowledge/teacher will become accessible to us. In his “Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism,”Keith Dowman compiles a number of traditional teachings by a renown non-sectarian Tibet teacher who attributes this quote to Buddha. Again, unless you can provide substantial evidence this is not a Buddha quote, not assumptions, not just proclamations, I will have to go with the Tibetan teacher on this one, and with everything else I know.

    • “There are no reasons not attribute this to Buddha.” Actually, the burden of proof is the other way around. If you believe this quote comes from the Buddha’s teachings, then please show us the source. Which scripture do you believe this quote to be from? I’ll save you some time: you won’t find it in any of the Buddhist scriptures. Therefore there are very good reasons not to attribute this to the Buddha.

      On page 3 of Flight of the Garuda, Downman writes:

      In the search for a master, the truth of the adage, “When the disciple is ready the master will appear” seems fundamental and incontrovertible.

      If he mentions a “a renown (sic) non-sectarian Tibet teacher who attributes this quote to Buddha” then I’m afraid I missed that. Perhaps you can tell me where he made that claim? But even assuming that you’re correct and a Tibetan teacher does think this quote was said by the Buddha, what does that prove? Are you assuming that if a Tibetan teacher says something then it must be true?

  8. Yes, you are correct. As a student of ULT- it is important to remember that HPB was among the first group of westeners to translate eastern and other doctrines into western language and while the exact translation may not be a verbatim Buddhist translation, it surely is of Vedic or Buddhist origin in sentiment. luv you S

  9. “One never knows be it days, weeks, or years, when the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” This is how I learned this quote. Unfortunately, I did not record where I came across this version. Any ideas?

  10. Awesome research and information, thank you. I wrote an article based on this quote and linked back the credit source to you. Much appreciated. <3

  11. Perhaps if one views the quote as a play on words, it can be quite Buddhist in nature. As it would not be an actual (other) teacher that appears. Rather the student now perceives the one within.
    Just a thought.
    Though if Buddha had said it, it would have been found to be so by now.
    Good blog Bodhipaksa, thanks for posting it.

  12. Interesting, how we pass time/energy verifying quotes, is it not? If we continue to focus on insubstantial things, as they want, one day, the time will not be available for us to have such a luxury as this.

  13. I was about to quote this in a book I’m writing. Thank you, and I mean it. I may never even use this quote in casual conversation, since I now feel it’s just more verbal/mental junk. I’m making myself come up with the same idea in a less hackneyed stream of words.
    Diana

    • Hi, Diana.

      Well, in this case I think there’s often something to this saying. It’s not always true of course, and it would be all too easy to blame the student when she can’t find a teacher, but there are cases when people will notice opportunities that have perhaps been present but overlooked, simply because those opportunities represent something they need, spiritually, at that moment.

      But it is such a commonplace quotation that I think you’re wise to look for something less hackneyed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>