The phoenix is a unique mythical bird. Legend has it that it can carry very heavy weights and its tears have the power to heal.
When it reaches the end of its life, tattered and weary, it bursts into flame and is reborn out of its own ashes with renewed youth and vitality; glorious and magnificent, ready to start the whole process all over again.
A little bit like our glorious and immortal soul.
The Shabd Masters explain to us that at this level of creation there are 8,400,000 different species into which the soul can be reborn. We are told that at the end of each life the soul is judged and sent into a new body according to its karmas from past lives. The Masters tell us that there is no escaping this endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
There is nothing glorious, though, about the condition of the soul trapped within the web of mind and illusion. The last thing we want is to be reborn, like the phoenix, life after life after life. The idea is horrifying because most of us have become world-weary. The glitz and the glamour have faded. The fairground has lost its allure.
Now we find ourselves poised at the ending of one year, with a new year about to rise out of its ashes, and we have a golden opportunity to review the past year and think about the coming year. What kind of bird would we like to see emerge from the ashes of 2010 – a crow or a swan? What sort of egg did we lay in 2010?
As initiates of a perfect living Master, the scenario that faces our souls is happily different from that of the mythical bird. The phoenix might be called the top of the bird kingdom because of its magical powers and potential. The Masters explain that the same magical power and potential resides within the human form.
The human form alone, out of all the 8,400,000 species – including gods, angels and phoenixes – has the potential to leave the wheel of eighty-four forever. The way off the wheel is to be found only within the human body, through the gift of initiation by a perfect Master.
So it is no small thing to be born into a human body – it is not to be taken lightly. Maharaj Charan Singh tells us:
It is only in human life that liberation is possible, because in any other form we are not endowed with discrimination. It is only as a human being that we can follow a Teacher, understand the doctrine and practise it, and thus secure our liberation.
This is an opportunity, a privilege that is granted to us, but the privilege also carries a responsibility. To what extent have we taken advantage of this great privilege offered to us?
Light on Sant Mat
Privilege, responsibility, purpose – these are words frequently used by the Masters when talking about human life. A life spent in anything other than pursuing the goal of reuniting with God is wasted. We must make the most of the privilege, accept the responsibility it carries and work to show our gratitude.
The Masters tell us that there is one place only where we will find God, and that is within our own body. They also tell us that this voyage of discovery cannot be accomplished alone.
The soul needs a guide, a teacher – someone who has already successfully completed the journey and reunited his soul with God. Such a teacher is the perfect living Master. Without his gift of initiation the journey cannot be made.
There it is. We are human beings, we have been initiated, we have been given the gift of returning home. What are we doing with it all? What did we do with this gift during 2010? And what do we intend doing with it in 2011?
We have that faculty of discrimination that separates us from all other species. So let’s use that faculty to assess where we stand on the threshold of another year.
If, at the end of the year, we can look back on 2010 and find it blemish-free, morally, emotionally and spiritually – congratulations! (But maybe just do a quick check on the ego if that’s your assessment!) However, there may be room for improvement. If so, where?
Start with the four vows we take at initiation – after all, for most of us they are what Sant Mat is all about. How meticulously and scrupulously are we trying to follow them?
Think about vegetarianism – more difficult now than it used to be, but it’s still necessary to be constantly vigilant. One must never become complacent with this vow – ingredients must be checked constantly and then rechecked.
Avoiding alcohol and habit-forming drugs is for many of us the easiest of the vows, but even here we must be vigilant. Never assume that restaurant food is alcohol-free – chefs just love to slip wine into sauces.
Vow number three – to lead a pure, moral life and earn our own honest living – probably gives most of us plenty of room to clean up our act. There is a lot involved in this third vow. For instance, all living creatures contain a spark of divinity – every spark comes from the same primal light. If we are all from the same source, then we must approach all life with tact, tolerance, patience, kindness, honesty and compassion.
It’s easy to say, we must live this pure moral life – but why? Why must we practice tolerance and kindness constantly? Why must we learn to think of the Master always before we speak and act?
The reason is because only in the human form can we discriminate. It is by exercising this uniquely human faculty, simultaneously with our search for God-realization, that we will become truly human and begin to know our true self, our soul-self.
Thinking back on 2010, how hard did we try at this “being human” business – really try? Are we going to drag the same tired old emotional and physical reactions with us into 2011 or could we do a phoenix-act here and aim to use 2010 as our self-improvement year – the year of discrimination? Every new day offers a chance to strive harder; to be a better creature than we were the day, the month and the year before.
Which brings us to the fourth vow, meditation. Of course, we know that ultimately everything on the path of Sant Mat revolves around meditation. It’s a package deal. Meditation helps us exercise discrimination, making us pleasanter, finer human beings. And becoming even a little bit more human makes us want to meditate and draw closer to the Master and God-realization.
But it is easier said than done, isn’t it? Still, on the threshold of a new year would we not like to rise out of 2010 with the glorious aim of devotion to our Master? If we want to make 2011 the “year of devotion to Master” – the “year of discrimination” – then we may need to take a very close look at ourselves and see where there is room for improvement.
Let’s consider the simran aspect for a moment. Simran is not only the first step in meditation, it is also our minute-by-minute connection to the Master.
When we choose to think of our five words before any other thought, word or deed, we are exercising our faculty of discrimination. Simran, throughout the day, is not only our route to the Master, but our route to becoming human and reaching an important goal on our journey home – self-realization. So, how diligently do we use this tool?
It’s not an onerous task. It’s simple, requires no physical effort, no physical sacrifice. It just requires a constant and determined awareness, a choosing. And it can accomplish so much. As we aim for our spiritual objectives – the third eye, the Master’s Radiant Form, God-realization – we will find real change happening within ourselves. A phoenix whose characteristics are contentment, joy, peace, compassion and tolerance is waiting to be born, every day, when we choose our simran.
Then, what about attending satsang and reading Sant Mat literature? These are aids our Master gives us to help us keep our faces turned towards God, fences around the crop of our meditation. Perhaps there is room for improvement here: trying harder to get to satsang; making a deliberate choice to read from a Sant Mat book every day?
If we want this to be the year of devotion, then we must put Master first – in thought, word and deed. There is no better way than through meditation.
Every morning the Master’s love is the magic that allows us a chance at a new birth – a new start, a new effort at our meditation. This business of getting up at three or four in the morning is something of a miracle. Every morning he gives us this golden opportunity to take a step, no matter how small and faltering it may be, in his direction. To step in the Master’s direction is as glorious and miraculous as the phoenix rising from the ashes.
True, one may not feel at all glorious at the end of the meditation. One may feel dejected, frustrated, sad and lonely. That is the mind and the ego trying to make a worldly judgment on a spiritual activity and lead us astray. That must not influence us.
Every attempt at meditation is a miracle, an effort to move away from the world towards the Lord. It is not for us to judge our efforts. We should try to appreciate the gift that each session represents in the history of our soul.
Our soul longs to return home. Our Master gives us a new chance every day to take a step in that direction, towards home, towards becoming a human being, towards fulfilling the purpose of the human form.
So here we are, not knowing when we will be taking the last of our numbered breaths. Maybe we should ask ourselves: What did we do with the precious gift of yesterday, and what will we do with this day?
Think often of how swiftly all things pass away and are no more: the works of Nature and the works of man. The substance of the Universe, matter, is like unto a river that flows on forever. All things are not only in a constant state of change, but they are the cause of constant and infinite change in other things. Upon a narrow ledge thou standest! Behind thee, the bottomless abyss of the Past! In front of thee, the Future that will swallow up all things that are Now! Over what things, then, in this present life wilt thou, O foolish man, be disquieted or exalted making thyself wretched; seeing that they can vex thee only for a time, a brief, brief time!
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations