Discipleship is your freedom. It cannot be anyone’s charity. Discipleship is your privilege, your dignity. There is no need for any certificates to prove it.
This is why Eklavya, in the Mahabharata, could sit alone in the forest without worrying about the master Dronacharya’s refusing him. The master simply refused, but the disciple was ready, insisting on becoming a disciple. So what could the master do? One day the master discovered that the disciple had defeated him. Eklavya had made a clay image of the master and was practicing archery in its presence. He was obeying it and touching its feet.
When Dronacharya heard that Eklavya had become very adept at archery, he went to see. He was surprised…not just surprised, he became frightened. He was upset because Eklavya had become so well-practiced that Arjuna paled in comparison.
Dronacharya may not have been much of a master, but Eklavya was a very great disciple. Dronacharya must have been an ordinary master – most common, not worthy of being called a master. He must have been skilled, well-versed, but he had nothing at all of the quality of a master. First he had refused because Eklavya was a sudra, an untouchable.
Is this something a master would do? Does a master still see any distinction between a brahmin and a sudra? No, he must have been a businessman, with his mind on the market. How can a master of kshatriya warriors accept a sudra? He must have been very afraid of society. He must have been a pillar of this society and lived therefore within its restraints. He must have been narrow-minded. The day that Dronacharya refused Eklavya, saying he was a sudra, was the day Dronacharya himself became a sudra! Such foolishness!
But Eklavya was wonderful. He didn’t bother that the master had refused. In his heart he had accepted him as his master – it was finished. Even the refusal of the master did not destroy his respect for him. He must have been a rare disciple!
And then the ultimate dishonesty: when Eklavya’s skill was known he became famous. Dronacharya was shaken because he wanted his disciple Arjuna to be known to the world. Eklavya was also his own disciple, but without his assent. The master felt at a loss. The one he had taught with heart and soul, had put all his efforts into, had become just pale before this man – who had only made a crude clay statue of Dronacharya with his own hands and had attained great skill practicing in front of it. As it was a customary practice for the disciple to offer a gift to the master, Dronacharya said that he wanted Eklavya to cut off his thumb and present it to him.