What Is Essential
In a poem, translated from the Hindi text Sant Kabir, Kabir talks about what the Guru does for us, the transformation that he brings in our lives and what our obligation is to such a benefactor. He says:
My Satguru took hold of me, otherwise I would have been swept away.
Here Kabir is praising his Guru by saying that without his Satguru, he is nothing; without him, what would he be? He could not even bear to think about it.
Picture the situation. There is a fast-tumbling, roaring river in which souls are helplessly being carried away. Each moment, a soul tries to come up for air, the next second the currents pull it down. The soul comes up for air, a new birth begins, the soul drowns again, and a life ends. This cycle goes on relentlessly. Along the way there are huge boulders, rapids, whirlpools and waterfalls, all kinds of dangers that have befallen souls in every life. Some souls come together for a brief moment, and the next moment they are thrown apart.
This is our state, pitiable and helpless until the Satguru comes in a boat, and offers us his hand. Some souls question him and ask how they can know that the boat is safe. But some fortunate souls cling to him without question and come and sit in the boat.
The truth is we do not have the ability to find the Guru in these raging waters by ourselves. Even if we see him, we have no strength to move in his direction. We are helpless until he comes to us, right next to us, and gives us the strength to hang on to him.
The Satguru tells the souls that they are now safe in the boat and all they have to do is sit. All we have to do is sit! But some insist on rowing the boat backwards, while others see an attractive object in the water and jump back in. But he again pulls them back out of the water by the scruff of their necks. Then the Satguru tells the souls there is no going back, that they are going to their destination and will reach there safely. He asks them to just help him in that task.
Kabir says, of such a Guru, no words of gratitude are enough. Then he says:
He took all of my karmas and burned them.
We have been in this world for ages and ages. We have indulged in each life, adding to our karmic burden. In just this life alone, we have committed all types of unkind acts, lied to get ahead, hatched schemes and indulged in petty behaviour; not to mention those millions of lives before this one. Do we have any idea what we have done? Through newspapers and TV we are shocked to see what atrocities are committed every day in the world – rape, murder, genocide. Man’s inhumanity to man is visible every day. And we too have perhaps done all these acts in previous lives.
This is the burden we carry upon ourselves. Is it possible for us to burn this vast heap of karmas that we have on our shoulders? The Satguru says: My child, take Nam, sit in meditation, listen to the Sound and slowly your karmas will be wiped out. Is that possible? Maharaj Charan Singh used to say: What will our poor meditation do? For the two and a half hours we sit in meditation, how much time is actually spent in repeating the names? Maybe ten to twenty percent? Even if we spent the entire meditation time in full concentration all of our life, could we really eliminate the burden of our karmic debt?
The truth is that the Satguru burns our karmas, he forgives them. All he wants from us is our effort. Meditation is the channel for his grace to flow. There is a way to ask and a way to receive anything in this world. Meditation is the way for us to receive his grace. Kabir continues:
He helped me escape from the clutches of greed, attachment, all those illusions. Oh, how merciful is my Satguru.
We constantly fall, make mistakes, give in to our five passions. And, as disciples trying to follow this path, we can get frustrated and depressed. So long as we are in this world, until we reach Trikuti, we are in the realm of mind and maya. And as Maharaj Charan Singh says: If you fall, rise again, and if you must fall again, fall forward. We must accept our weaknesses and try to overcome them, and also put our best effort into our meditation – because this is what will purify us, and wean us away from the sense pleasures. But we should always remember he is doing it, he is the one slowly weaning us away from our passions. Let us lean on him.
The Satguru knows us, knows our weaknesses, yet never humiliates us. When anyone asks a question, does he ever judge that person, does he ever say, “Hey, what kind of a question about meditation are you asking – you are asleep half the time?” No, he never humiliates us. Why?
As Baba Ji once said, the Satguru is shackled by the disciples’ love. Shackled by our love? Our love that is here one moment and evapo-rates the next? Our love that hardly has any depth? Our love that we give more freely to everybody else other than to our Master? All he is looking for is an excuse to give and give. The excuse he needs is our genuine effort. Kabir continues:
A crow became a swan. I lost all illusions of caste, family and lineage.
We are so full of attachment, lust and pride, how on earth can we ever be fit to be present to the Lord? But that is his miracle. Kabir explains what a washer man does: He takes the clothes to the river, to the stone where he washes the clothes, using soap as he beats the clothes against the rock and cleans them. Similarly, we disciples are cleansed by our Satguru every day, every moment at our eye centre; using the soap of Shabd, he cleans us.
Slowly but surely, he makes us lose all our illusions. The pride of caste, family, wealth, education – all of these – is slowly obliterated. As Baba Ji once said, the saints come not to fulfil our desires, but to shatter our illusions.
Slowly he starts making our ego visible to us. Can we hurt someone’s feelings and then be able to enjoy blissful meditation? Can we spend the evening at a party gossiping and criticizing, and then the next morning be able to get concentration in our meditation?
The Guru has promised to transform us either by his love, or knocks, or trials and tribulations. This is why everything we face is his gift. As Lord Krishna said to his disciple Udho: I give my dearest disciples three wonderful gifts – poverty, illness and slander! Gifts! How we detest these gifts! But each has its place in our transformation. Anything we encounter on this journey is part of his individual divine plan to transform us.
Part of this plan, part of the transformation, is failure. J. K. Rowling, one of the most successful authors of our time, once spoke about her failures – she had failed in her marriage, she was jobless, she was a single parent and poor. She said:
I was the biggest failure I knew.… Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.
Commencement Address at Harvard University, June 5, 2008
So failure in this world can be a true blessing because it moves us more towards our real work.
What is the only work that matters to us? What is the one arena in which we truly belong? Kabir continues:
One merciful glance from him, and he washed away my sins. But, despite knowing all of this, I was wandering in this world, ignorant, and full of pride.
What then is the remedy for this ignorance? Kabir continues:
The Satguru made me hear the Shabd, and my ears got a taste of the sweet melody.
Yes, we can improve ourselves to some extent; yes, we can avoid cir-cumstances that feed the five passions; yes, we can exercise some self control, but ultimately, the path of Shabd is the only way. Baba Jaimal Singh says in Spiritual Letters:
The blessing in this age of Kaliyug is that with a longing born of unshakeable trust in the Satguru as the Anami Lord, if the mind attaches the inner hearing and seeing faculties to the Shabd-dhun for an hour, a half-hour, a quarter-hour, or for ten, five, or even one minute, even then you will reach Sach Khand. So do your bhajan and simran every day – they are not to be omitted….To return to our home, my son, there is no means other than listening to the Sound.
Finally, Kabir talks about this transformation again:
Illusion, attachment, all of this I have lost. The temptations cannot now harm me. Says Kabir, listen O lovers of the Lord, I escaped from the limits of this world and went into the limitless.
How can we too escape into the limitless? We have to strip away the inessential and focus on the essential, the essence. The beauty of this path is that by focusing on the essence, the Shabd, the inessential is automatically stripped away.