Humanity’s great spiritual teachers– Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi, and others– are models, shining personal examples. They make their powerful impact not merely through the propositions and principles they enunciate but also through their own vivid presence. We encounter them, not just their doctrines, and we want to be more like them, to the small extent we can. They seem more real than we, and their vivid reality inspires us. To be more like them is for us to be more real too. The presence and lives of these teachers incarnate their doctrines. We learn what they are saying, we learn what their words mean, by seeing their lives. Their lives—sometimes, their deaths,— are their teaching in action; they make their abstractions concrete.
They tell us their stories, they relate parables, they give us whatever evocative nodes we can relate to. Not only do they tell stories, nowadays we encounter them in stories: in Plato’s early dialogues, in the Pali canon, in the Gospels, in the tales of the Baal Shem Tov. From these tales, we form images of them, of how they act, of what they are. Their lives play a crucial role in convincing us of what they say. It is not that we derive their doctrine, or their being right, from some other body of preformulated statements. If we accept their views upon their authority, still that authority is derived only from what they are and show in their lives, as presented in the stories about them. We do not start out holding principles which assume that what their lives show is the right way. Instead, we look at their lives and find ourselves awed and moved. They teach us by shining example.–
via The Examined Life, by Robert Nozick (1990)