It’s the Effort that Makes the Difference
“Does the Master meet us at death if we’ve seen no light in our meditation or heard no sound?”
The present Master answered this question somewhat in the following manner: Sound and light are not linked to progress; one can be an elevated soul without seeing or hearing anything. Sound and light are just signboards to give us confidence that our meditation is on track. But, he added, sometimes, to keep the balance, it may not be in our interest to have sound and light within. He went on to explain that the teacher knows at what stage his students are. Some need a pat on the back, while some need a pull on the ear. To be given sound and light might make us overconfident. What is important, he said, is just to keep on doing our meditation – and attach ourselves to the effort rather than the results. For us it’s the effort that makes the difference.
We have often heard meditation described as the most difficult thing in the world, that to live the Sant Mat teachings means a constant struggle with the mind. And though the results are not in our hands, effort most certainly is.
In Living Meditation, a poem attributed to the great Sufi mystic Rumi focuses on the need for effort in meditation. It begins:
Go on scratching, scraping and cutting
The stone wall that bars your way.…
Rest not for a second, till your very last breath arrives.
No wonder that Master puts so much emphasis on effort! He told us that just to be initiated, just to have a Master is not enough. The Master is there to guide and support us, but he is not going to do our work for us. He will put us in touch with the Shabd or Word, but we will get results only when we start practising, when we take action. He made it clear, in that very straightforward way of his, that if we want God-realization, our actions must reflect that desire. Empty thought will not take us to our goal. If our desire is not reflected in our lives, he said, either we are confused or we do not want God-realization. Our desire has to find expression in the way we live, in the way we speak, and even in the way we think – in our strict obedience to the principles of the path. Most of all, it has to find expression in real effort in our meditation, a life-long effort until, as Rumi puts it, “your very last breath arrives.”
We are told in fact that the Lord’s grace comes even before we make any effort, that effort is possible only as a result of his grace, and that our effort then brings more grace, so that we can make still more effort. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
The more effort we make, the more grace he extends to us to be able to make more effort until we have reached our goal. So with love and faith, continue the practise and he will take care of the results. No amount of effort is wasted. He is ever loving and merciful.
Light on Sant Mat
Grace and effort equally are what sustain us on the path. The image of a bird flying with both wings working together is a fitting analogy. Both wings are equally necessary for flight: Without one wing the bird cannot even lift off the ground, just as both the attributes of grace and effort are equally necessary for us to walk this path. If we truly want to go upwards, we have to develop the effort wing and make it as strong as the grace wing or we will not be going anywhere. This is the crux of our dilemma. There is no limit to his grace, but we stall in our attempts at effort. And that stalling keeps us from going aloft.
It is said that the breeze of God’s grace is blowing constantly, but we have to adjust our wings to catch that breeze. Paradoxically, the only way we can try to catch his breeze is through our efforts at meditation.
In time one comes to realize a funny thing about following this path: It can be relatively simple or it can be difficult, depending on our attitude. It’s simple if we adapt the rest of our activities to it, if we make it our life. Then there are no difficult choices to make, no great sacrifices. But if we try to somehow squeeze Sant Mat into a lifestyle that is not really compatible with it, then we run into trouble. And then comes the frustration and the discouragement because it just doesn’t seem to work.
In Die to Live, Maharaj Charan Singh Ji gives this advice:
If love is there, it is there.… But by meditation everybody can grow that love.… Everybody can grow that feeling, that love, that intensity, by meditation.
It doesn’t matter in the least that our daily meditation seems ineffectual, because it’s the effort that’s important, not the results. It’s the effort that brings the grace, and the grace is going to ensure that, once our karmas are over, we will find our Master inside and be taken back to our real home.
As Rumi says in his poem:
Even a worthless effort is better than sleeping,
For the Lord loves our effort, anxiety and struggle.
There are times, in spite of our best intentions and years of effort, that our meditation seems to achieve so little. But if we just think about it, don’t we suffer all that heartache and agony because of our attitude, because we’re looking for results instead of getting satisfaction out of the effort itself? This is precisely why we don’t value our meditation. But to the Masters, every bit of meditation, whether it produces results or not, is valuable.
Maharaj Charan Singh tells us in Die to Live that every meditation is good. No meditation is bad. Every minute spent in meditation is to our credit because it’s adding something to our treasure in heaven. But we judge our meditation as a failure because we don’t see proof that it’s producing something. Again this preoccupation with quick results. We forget that when it comes to spirituality, most of us are just babies. We really do need to learn to crawl and walk before we can run.
In his poem Rumi describes what we might see as years as just “a few days”.
O wise man! Labour as hard as you can,
As all the prophets and God-men have done.
Work for a few days, then laugh for the rest of your life.
Working just a few days makes it sound quite easy. But of course we don’t find it so easy. We certainly find the struggle long. That’s understandable, because what we are trying to do is bring the mind in check and concentrate the attention in the eye centre. And that’s the labour of a lifetime. We don’t doubt that in the end it will all be worth it. But we do tend to get impatient. We want things to happen quickly and, when they don’t, we get discouraged. We lose the sharp edge of our enthusiasm. Perhaps we even start looking for excuses not to keep trying so hard.
The Master can see right through our excuses, even if we manage to fool ourselves. What we are trying to do, of course, is to excuse what we see as our failure. It’s distressing for us to admit to failure because that hits us right where we hurt: our ego. One of the most illuminating passages in any of our books is an extract from Maharaj Jagat Singh’s satsangs, included in The Science of the Soul:
When a man presumes that he can subdue the mind by his own labour and powers, the Lord makes all his efforts fruitless in order to kill his ego. When he falls into despair and realizes his utter weakness, then the Lord’s grace and gifts are beheld by him.
Sometimes we confuse longing with frustration, because we really do want to find him inside. But if there is longing, then there’s no question of not meditating just because we don’t see results, whereas frustration could drive us to just give it up. In the end, it’s a matter of just doing the meditation as an act of obedience, as a duty, and then trusting him to play his part. As Rumi advises in his poem:
First put in full effort, then accept what he sends.
Have faith in him and trust his will.
We are told by the mystics that those of us who hunger for God-realization are strangers here, strangers in a foreign land. For us this is a hostile environment where even our own mind and our own senses conspire against us. At any moment we can fall victim to such passions as pride, anger, greed, attachment or lust – the devices of the mind – which will lead us into creating more and more karma to delay our return home. Not only do we have to be on guard against them, but we also have to arm ourselves against them: with our meditation. This is not the time to make excuses, to claim that we’re too helpless to meditate.
In Rumi’s poem we have this warning:
Not putting in effort is like sleeping among robbers.
A bird found napping is sure to be killed.
Giving up is like sleeping, sleep not on your way.
March on until you reach his gate.
“Giving up” in this case means just giving up, just believing that we can’t meditate. We can’t afford to do that, not if we want to reach his gate. Remember what Master said: If we want God-realization our actions must reflect that desire. We’re not going to get it just by asking for it. We have to work for it.
He also told us we can fool our neighbours, we can fool ourselves, but we can’t fool the Lord. And what he wants from us is our effort. He has set a wonderful goal. He has told us how we can reach it. Now it’s up to us to work towards it. As Rumi says in his poem:
When the Master has put a sword in your hands,
He has clearly expressed his wish.
This simply means keeping that goal in mind in everything that we do and living this path twenty-four hours of the day. In Die to Live Maharaj Charan Singh tells us:
Meditation is a way of life. You do not merely close yourself in a room for a few hours, and then forget about meditation for the rest of the day.… Everything that you do must consciously prepare you for the next meditation. So meditation becomes a way of life, as we live in the atmosphere we build with meditation.
If we make meditation a way of life in the way that Hazur has explained, there’s no reason why we can’t make the necessary effort. If we attach ourselves to the effort and not to the results, there’s no reason to become discouraged. There’s no need for excuses.
Our lack of effort amounts to ingratitude. Our Master has singled us out from the millions and millions of souls in the creation to bring us back to him. If we don’t do that little bit that he asks of us, that’s ingratitude.
Gratitude is something that makes us want to please him. We are not concerned with what we can get in return. All we want to do is please him, give him a little something in return for everything that he has given us. And all we have to give him is our effort. There’s nothing else he needs from us.
But if we don’t feel that gratitude, what does it mean? That we don’t realize what he has given us, and therefore we don’t appreciate it. Then this could be a very long path indeed.
Of course, there are no promises that a burst of effort on our part will suddenly make the path shorter or easier. But that’s not the point. Someone who sets out to climb Mount Everest knows that he won’t get to the top in a day. But he also knows that he won’t get there at all unless he starts climbing. In our case, not only do we have a guide, we have someone who gives us the help and the strength we need for every step of the way.
One of the most beautiful passages in our literature is a letter written by the Great Master to someone who obviously needed a bit of encouragement to keep up his effort:
I am well aware that you have struggles. You have some things within yourself to overcome and some things outside of yourself which must be surmounted. But you can do it. If you have full confidence in the inner Master, he will always help you. And often when you find the difficulties greatest and the hour darkest, the light will appear and you will see that you are free. Let nothing discourage you. This is no light proposition, but your getting Nam means more than if you had inherited a million dollars, or many millions. You are one of the lucky sons of Sat Purush, and he has chosen you to get Nam and go with the Master to Sach Khand. You must reach there. Nothing can prevent you. But you can hasten the progress or retard it, as you like.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems
Let him accomplish things in his own way rather than in the way that you desire. Try to adjust yourself to all that he does and you will never be unhappy.
Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul