A Laundry Tale
‘Twas on a Monday morning that I beheld my darling,
She looked so sweet and charming in every high degree.
She looked so neat and nimble-o, a-washing of the linen-o,
Dashing away with the smoothing iron she stole my heart away.
This English folk song gives each day of the week a verse all of its own and allocates a different task to each day. I won’t take up these pages by setting it all down!
There’s something enormously comforting about domestic routine. I know we groan about the household chores we rush through to get to something else, but at heart we love a well-run home.
In a previous age, household skills were considered desirable in any woman wanting a husband. That’s why the song quoted above celebrates these routines, taking us from washing to bleaching to hanging the washing out, to folding it, ironing, airing and finally wearing it.
On the spiritual path we also understand the reassurance that a steady routine brings, and there’s a similar hope, underlying our activity, that we’ll be pleasing our ‘suitor’ (our Master).
A-washing of the linen-o
In Sar Bachan, Soami Ji often used the metaphor of washing clothes to show us we must cleanse the mind and so bring about spiritual purification. He says:
The colours of this world are soiled,
take my advice – have them washed clean.
He also says:
Go to the Guru’s ghaat, O mind
and have the garment of the soul washed clean.
The Guru’s ghaat, or laundry, is satsang. It’s here that the garment of the soul, which is mind, can come into contact with the cleansing power of the teachings of the saints. We may not like to be considered dirty, but our mind, like clothes which have been worn too long, has been around in this creation a long time. The mind is ingrained with ego and encrusted with its often arrogant assumptions. Understanding the teachings helps us to lose this resistant crust. We’re then ready to immerse ourselves in the practice that will get to the deep-down dirt.
In the shabd quoted above, Soami Ji also says:
Using the soap of seva, wash it (the mind) with darshan then immerse it in the water of love.
On the second day of the week, the folk song has its heroine bleach the clothes. Whether bleaching or soaping, the point is clear – cleaning is hard work and drastic remedies are needed.
The seva which is offered at many satsang centres gives us the opportunity to work alongside others, occupying our spare time usefully whilst having the benefit of being in an environment that is conducive to our spiritual development. Why does Soami Ji call seva soap? Soap, bleach and strong cleaning agents are tough on stains so Soami Ji is hinting that we can expect seva to be tough on the mind. This we can only find out through experience. In one way or another, the experience of seva often forces us towards self-discipline as we find we have to curb the ego, listen to others, abandon some dearly held views and let ourselves become a tiny part of the whole.
How is it possible to persuade the proud mind to voluntarily accept this?
Through darshan and the water of love says Soami Ji. We may sometimes suffer a little in seva before we find out that the final question to which every problem can be referred is: “Who am I doing this for?” And the answer which settles everything: “For the Master”.
However much the mind is exposed to satsang and seva, it also hangs out in the world a good deal. An intelligent person, when hanging the washing on a clothes line, uses a clothes prop to haul the line with its heavy load upwards and so keep the clothes away from the risk of dragging on the ground and being muddied again. This metaphorical hauling ourselves upwards is often recommended by Maharaj Charan Singh in his letters of advice to satsangis. His advice was frequently about focus and attitude. If we’re trying to lead a life which includes regular time for meditation, it’s quite important to avoid getting pulled into the distractions of the world even – or perhaps especially – on the mental level. In a letter in Light on Sant Mat he describes the philosophy of Sant Mat as being: “… to be in the world but not of it, and to go on working and rising above the world while living in it.”
In another letter he advises:
The world exists for us and influences us only when we play through the nine doors, but when we make for the tenth door we rise above the world.
Both letters infer that the choice is ours – to let our attention slip downwards, reacting to each event of life as it comes along, or to make the effort to keep our attention upwards and get to that level where we can show appropriate involvement yet still stay clear of the dirt.
Putting ourselves away
On Thursday our folk heroine gets round to folding up the clean washing: She looked so neat and nimble-o, a-folding of the linen-o. Perhaps, at this stage, we should recognize that the parallel with the spiritual life is becoming over-stretched!
And yet … Don’t we ‘fold’ ourselves away when we get down to the serious business of meditation? Just as the song celebrates a valued domestic routine, the disciples of a true Master are also privileged to enjoy a special and transforming routine. The only difference is that the spiritual routine will eventually be imbued for us with a far deeper and dearer meaning than any domestic exercise can be. The spiritual routine has a basis in the physical – we physically sit down in meditation each day, whether it’s on a particular chair or mat, whether it’s early in the morning or late in the evening, in our bedroom or spare room or corner of the living room. We may have a cup of tea first, look out at the night sky, read something, wrap ourselves in a shawl or blanket. But after a while, that physical routine is exchanged for the repetition of the five names, a routine that leads us from the physical point of focus between the two eyes and into the level of the spiritual. We have folded away the parts of ourselves that were exposed to the outer world and now we are looking inwards. There is no need to respond to anything outside, and we can be at complete rest.
The smoothing iron
Or we would be at rest, were it not for the ripples created by the mind. Ripples or wrinkles, for this we need to ‘dash away’ with the smoothing iron of simran, because it is this assiduous devotion to task that will eventually win the Master’s heart.
Time and time again, the mind’s attention will slip away from the names and, time and time again, we will have to bring it back again. It is not our ‘success’ in doing this which counts but sticking with the attempt. The Master expects from us this daily practice session because it is only in this way that we can eventually succeed in gaining control over the mind. This is essential so that with a quiet mind we can begin to hear the Shabd which resounds inside us and which is the ultimate purifying power. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
There should be no strain at the time of simran. Just keep your attention in darkness in your forehead … and try to prevent the attention from sliding down or going out. If it does, bring it back. When you find yourself calm, one-pointed and introspective, utilize the time for listening to the Sound.
Sound or Shabd is the Power that will in due course pull you up, but the ground must be prepared by simran.
Light on Sant Mat
Come Saturday, the laundry has been washed, dried and ironed and is being put out to air. Aha! So that’s what makes this song so energetic and joyful – each task was leading up to this point, that someone would put on these beautiful clean clothes and go out in them on Sunday. Soami Ji says:
When the garment of the soul is washed clean and pure, the mind is immensely delighted to wear it.
In the same way, all that preparation of the spiritual ground, all that attention to simran and bhajan reaches its fulfilment when the Master is pleased and his love blossoms in our heart. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
The Master is never happier than when he sees the disciple working honestly and faithfully, trying to reach his goal. And of course, his blessings always go out to such a disciple.
Light on Sant Mat
Of course, it was the Master really, all along, – the master washerman – who arranged for these clothes to get clean, who came and cast his loving eye over the whole procedure, and who then comes forward, smilingly, to meet the soul in its clean attire. Soami Ji says:
There is no beloved like the Master,
only he can wash clean the soiled mind.
If a man is unclean within,
By bathing at pilgrim places
He will not become pure and reach heaven.
Nothing will be gained by impressing people,
For the Lord is not ignorant or naïve.
Adore the Lord, the only God,
And know: Service to the Master
Is the true holy bath.
Kabir, The Weaver of God’s Name
Satsang is so unique that even God is enamoured of it, and it is incumbent on one therefore to try to find a Saint, and either attend his Satsang or keep His company. For this alone can be the means of his salvation. If one obtains the company of a Saint and develops faith in Him, the fulfilment of his life’s mission is ensured.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters Vol 1