The Illusion of Time
Some sixty or seventy years ago a poet wrote:
Where is the hand and the harp string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing
They have passed, like rain on the mountain,
like a wind in the meadow;
the days have gone down in the West,
behind the hills into shadow.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
And a contemporary poet writes:
Like a half-remembered vision of unreality they seem,
the friends of my youth, my young lovers;
lost in time that has silently crept past.
The games of childhood, the teen-years, a vanished dream;
my life, like a story hidden between covers,
no more than a memory … nothing will last.
Let us cast our minds back over a period of time – say ten years. Not even a drop in the ocean in the context of eternal time, but a reasonable slice of our current lives. Where were we and what were we doing ten years ago? Now we have to try hard to remember. It is over, it has passed, like rain on the mountain, as the poet says, like a wind in the meadow.
Some dates stick and are remembered: one’s wedding day, the birth of a child, the death of a dear one. A hundred years from now not one of these dates will be remembered by anybody or be of any importance whatsoever.
My mother-in-law gave me a little round doily, a crocheted milk cover, which had been made by her mother. I recently gave it to my daughter-in-law who loves old things. She wanted to have it framed, so she asked the name and dates of birth and death of the woman who had made it.
This lady, Martha Maria Grobbelaar, had lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s. My mother-in-law had told me that she could remember as a very young child riding with her mother and younger brother on an ox-wagon, piled with some of their belongings, fleeing from approaching English soldiers during the South African War.
All this set me thinking about this brave woman whose little piece of handicraft now hangs on a wall in a frame with her name and the dates of her life on it. Who was she, where did she live and die, whom did she love? Was she a happy person? She certainly seems to have had courage.
But it is all over, nobody remembers her any more. It is all part of maya – the illusion that seems so real and tangible. It is difficult to understand and accept, unless we look at something like the forgotten life of Martha Grobbelaar, and it brings home to us with sharp impact how time passes and everything glides into history.
And let’s look at history! We learn about the Incas of South America; the Pharaohs, mighty rulers of the ancient civilization of Egypt; the Romans, trying to conquer the world. But what is left except their history?
Like a story hidden between covers, the modern poet says, no more than a memory. And even that will fade.
In With the Three Masters, Volume II, Rai Sahib Munshi Ram writes:
Huzur has been in bed for the last six months. Pakistan has been created. People have started looking for their lost boys and girls and other relatives in all possible ways. They advertise in papers, beg and knock at the doors of officers and, knowing full well that life is not safe in Pakistan, some have gone there to try to find or meet their relatives. But all these relations are temporary, and ultimately have to be left behind in this world.
Either we ourselves will go away and leave them behind, or they will leave us and go away. Despite all this, how active and busy the people are in searching for these temporary relatives.
But how many are there who search with all their heart and soul for God, who is the Father of all and with whom our relation is everlasting? If we were to search for God with the same longing and agony with which people are now looking for their lost relatives, then God who is omnipotent and is watching everything, would definitely come before us.
This entry is dated 31 March 1948. It was only a few days before the Great Master’s soul left his body to go home, on 2 April.
On the 6th Munshi Ram wrote:
Alas! In the twinkling of an eye the company of my Beloved has come to an end. I had not yet seen the face of the flower (my Beloved) to my heart’s content, and the spring is over.
Many of us have experienced that feeling of loss and desolation and unreality on receiving similar news.
But even the Masters have a specific time-span that they spend here. And this brings us back to the temporary nature of this existence. We try to remember where we were ten years ago. Let us rather consider how quickly those years have flown by – and that the only thing of permanence in our life is our Master and the fact that he accepted us for initiation. The Master is the only constant we can cling to.
Do we really want to suffer the illusion of another lifetime? How many thousands, perhaps millions of lives, have we had? We have lived through 8,400,000 species, at least once. In one lifetime after another, we have suffered agony, sorrow, pain and loss, experienced joy, happiness and sweetness, but all of these have been short-lived.
At last it is drawing to a close. Why prolong it by half-hearted attempts to reach our real goal? We should work with total dedication at becoming true disciples, with no other desire than to obey our Master’s instructions and live in his will.
We can do it. But if we do not make the effort, if we do not desire this with every breath, there is no guarantee that we will not have to come back.
Is the illusion so powerful that the Master and the path we follow become only secondary? We’re here now; we have to live through this lifetime, perform our worldly duties, even enjoy worldly pleasures. But let us look at our priorities.
We have two types of activities that we must perform. We have to do what is required of us to complete this lifetime – and we have to do what is required to stay focused on the real thing, the path on to which we have been initiated.
In Divine Light Maharaj Charan Singh tells us:
Who or what is in love with and attached to the objects of the world? It is our mind. Therefore, if there is any obstacle between the soul and the Lord, it is truly our mind.
A little further on he continues:
What do we mean by the term: controlling the mind? Just as the soul is of the essence of the Lord, so is the mind no mean power. It is of the essence of Brahm, and its origin is in Trikuti (the second spiritual region). But alas! Caught in the network of illusion, it has forgotten its place of origin. The soul has become its hand-maid, and both are tied together, as it were, in a knot. So long as the soul does not give up the company of the mind, it can never know itself.
How can we know ourselves? At this stage, we intellectually accept what the Masters tell us, that we are part of God, that we are a drop of the ocean of divinity. They tell us we have the potential to be God, we can merge back into Him and become one with Him.
In truth we have no concept of what this means, because at this stage we cannot imagine God’s greatness. So until we reach that stage, we do not know the greatness that is hidden within ourselves, we do not understand our potential. We accept what our Master tells us, but we do not know. That will only happen when we give up the company of the mind. And that can be achieved only through meditation.
So, that is the main object to aim for. We must fight the mind, we must get it under control. Soami Ji says in Sar Bachan Poetry that no one can describe the glory of the moment when the mind is still and the soul is in a state of complete absorption.
If we spend our lifetime trying to achieve this, with all our heart and soul, even if we don’t succeed, it will be a lifetime well spent – because we will have moved that much closer to freedom from this illusion, forever!