They Also Serve
Back in the seventeenth century, the English poet John Milton went blind when he was still relatively young. A deeply religious man, he wrote a sonnet – almost a prayer – regretting that his blindness had left him unable to serve his Maker through his poetry, as he would have wanted to. But the message came back to him that God did not need his words or his literary gift. A humbler kind of service was just as acceptable.
As Milton put it in his sonnet:
But Patience, to prevent that murmur, soon replies,
“God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts:
who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.
His state is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed
and post o’er land and ocean without rest;
they also serve who only stand and wait.”
And for us too, this is an important message. We don’t have to be talented or successful to serve our Maker. We can serve him best by accepting whatever circumstances he has given us and trying to serve him anyway, and then by learning the lessons that come from that acceptance and that service.
There are lots of lessons for us to learn on this path. Among the hardest is the fact that we’ve got no say at all over how we’re going to travel this path. It is all happening under the absolute control of our Master.
Baba Jaimal Singh wrote in one of his letters to Babu Sawan Singh, the disciple who would one day succeed him:
So you should think that you are nothing. Only the Master is. And you should resign everything to the will of the Master.… He will take you to Sach Khand after removing all sins and cancelling all karmas.… He will take you there when all your work is finished. Such is His will.
Acceptance, graceful acceptance of his will: That’s one of our big lessons. All we have to do is keep working according to his instructions, keep trying to please him – even though the struggle is long and our efforts seem to be ineffectual.
Struggle seems to be built into the way our Master wants us to practise this path – especially the struggle to bring the mind under control. And it does seem that there’s a purpose to this – that the struggle is good for us!
What did Great Master say about the up-and-down battle to subdue the mind?
The rise and the fall are natural, and so is the struggle. For that which is achieved after struggle gives strength, self-reliance and incentive to go ahead.
Achievement thus obtained is lasting and can be reproduced at will.
In another of his letters in Spiritual Gems the Great Master wrote:
Mind is not a thing that can be switched on and off at will. It cannot be taken away from its routine course in spite of one’s best efforts in a day, a month or a year. It is a life-long struggle.
Maybe we underestimate the magnitude of this task that we’re trying to accomplish. If we think about it clearly, of course it’s going to take a long time. Look at what we are. And look at what we want to become – insignificant little flawed creatures aspiring to become God-realized saints!
All told, it could take a long time for the results of our shaky meditation to become apparent to us. During our long stay in the creation we have become spiritually dense, unreceptive to any kind of finer spirituality, what to say of the Shabd itself. Through our practice we have to be changed into something finer that can resonate with the Shabd.
Our minds and even our bodies have to be prepared for it – slowly and steadily – as we keep up our efforts to meditate. Because the Shabd is powerful. This is something we most certainly tend to overlook when we keep begging our Master to give us light or sound before we’re ready for it.
In Light on Sant Mat Maharaj Charan Singh gives this warning:
In the beginning it is not always easy to stand the force of the Shabd or Sound, which is not always gentle or soothing, but may also be terrific in its strength. It is then that the difficulty comes.
The physical frame is attuned only by and by to enable it to stand the divine energy. In the course of time the Sound or Shabd brings about a quiet but useful change in the physical body and makes it more fit and adaptable to receive the divine message.
And we imagine that we’re ready for this? Is this what our ego believes? Humility is probably the main lesson we need to learn before we can become fit to merge into the Shabd.
Humility is almost certainly the scariest of all the lessons we have to learn – because of all that we might have to go through for this ego to be crushed. And we may need to be cut down to size, perhaps every single morning of our lives, till eventually the camel can pass through the eye of the needle.
In a poem by Paltu, entitled ‘The Path of Love’, we read:
This is the abode of love, not the home of thy aunt.
Only a severed head can gain admittance to it.
Meaning of course that we have to be prepared to make the greatest sacrifice: not of our life as such, but of our ego, our will, our very identity.
This is something huge that’s expected of us: this crushing of the ego. But it is inescapable. In Thus Saith the Master Maharaj Charan Singh left no doubt about this:
It is the ego which is separating the soul from the Father.
Eliminate that ego and the soul is ready to merge into the Father.
Every single thing that contributes to the ego, to building this image of ourselves as someone separate from our Beloved, will eventually have to be smashed. It may happen through difficult karmas, through poverty or sickness or dishonour. Or it may happen simply through old age, becoming helpless and dependent, stripped of all confidence and dignity. The process may well be uncomfortable, painful and relentless. It may involve a great deal of suffering.
In The Book of Mirdad we read about the pilgrim climbing the flint slope – a steep slope of broken flint, on which he is cut to ribbons as he climbs to reach his goal. He struggles on, though, because he knows there’s something worthwhile at the top of the mountain.
Our souls hunger for something sublime. But there’s a price to pay for it. And our Master may well sit back and calmly watch it happening – everything according to his own sweet will.
There’s an exquisitely beautiful little verse by Rumi:
My heart is like a lute
each chord crying with longing and pain.
My Beloved is watching me
wrapped in silence.
Rumi, Hidden Music – Translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin
And in the meantime, what is happening? Our apparently useless efforts are stoking the fires of longing inside us. Any psychologist will tell you that it’s a fact of human nature that the things we want most are the things that we can’t easily get. It sets up a kind of an obsession in us. And from time immemorial the Masters have used this very human characteristic to goad their disciples to greater effort – by creating a yearning in the unsatisfied soul.
In Philosophy of the Masters, Volume II, the Great Master tells us that longing is created in the disciple when he is unable to get what he yearns for. When the mind finds little apparent progress despite its labour, he says, it grows restless and begins to feel a sense of separation from the Master.
And it’s this longing that burns up worldly attachments and desires and eventually makes us fit to travel inwards to where the soul wants to go.
Let’s remember the familiar words of Baba Ji Maharaj about the longing that arises in the heart of the disciple when he is unable to reach his Beloved:
If there is true love for the Master and intense longing for darshan, it is more purifying than a hundred years of meditation.
Still, we do get distressed by what we see as our failure. But surely the Master is not upset by it. He knows how much, or how little, we can do. He knows our limitations better than we know them ourselves, and he doesn’t need our success. He asks only that we make the effort. All we need do is try to please him, and then he, by his grace, will take us inside. Everything depends on his grace.
With whose grace do we gain admission to the court of the Lord? Surely not by our own efforts. Alone we can do nothing. We can never, by ourselves, traverse the uncharted terrain of the inner path. We owe everything to the immeasurable grace of the Master. He showers his blessings on us by joining us with the Shabd and Nam, removing our doubts, and pulling us out of this quagmire of illusion. It is our Master who puts us on the right path and awakens in our mind abiding love and devotion for the Lord. Blessed with his infinite grace, through meditation, we seek, we find and we knock.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live