Human beings are infatuated with progress. In every field of action, people calculate. They evaluate and analyze their growth and development to see where they stand; to decide whether their effort towards a particular endeavour is paying off. It is a method people use to determine success or failure. If a person is making progress, he is labelled a success; if he is not, he is deemed a failure. It is a typical approach associated with worldly matters.
The problem arises when this mindset is applied to the spiritual life. When a disciple’s motivation on the spiritual path is to make progress, he starts off on the wrong foot and carries with him the burden of expectation. He expects progress to come in the form of inner experiences and if, after a while, nothing happens then the disciple feels disheartened. He concludes that he is a failure and assumes that the meditation is not working.
But the Sant Mat Masters lovingly explain that first and foremost there is more to spiritual progress than experiencing the Light and Sound. On the spiritual path, progress comes in the form of a deep and profound process called ‘realization’. And it is called a process because it represents a series of subtle yet definite changes that the disciple undergoes throughout the spiritual journey.
It begins with all the little realizations that a disciple experiences: like when one learns that getting angry does more damage to himself than to anybody else, one therefore makes a genuine effort to control his anger; or when one understands that honesty is not just about telling the truth, but also about being true to oneself; or when one realizes that words have an immense power to hurt people and consequently has learned not to react when situations arise.
All these valuable lessons are a result of an increased awareness that is a very real part of one’s spiritual progress. And as this awareness grows, the disciple starts to feel, appreciate and respect the presence of the Divine in everything he does. He becomes a better person and a more humane being until, eventually, he reaches the pinnacle of all realizations: when the soul, having shed all its covers, realizes its true spiritual nature and joyfully exclaims, “That am I”. And it finally sees that the soul and the Lord are of the same essence; that one is the drop and the other is the ocean, and that both were in each other all along.
Advancing on the spiritual path is not the same as making progress in the material world. In Sant Mat, there are no calculations. There is no judgment and there are no such things as success and failure. The mystics remind us that in the court of the Lord, there is only one unit of measure and it is called ‘love’.
At satsang one day, the Great Master made the statement that going inside and advancing to higher regions depended more on love than upon anything else. A satsangi asked, “Can that love be developed in every disciple?” The Master’s reply was very significant and should be remembered. He said, “No, that love is a gift of the Master.” Then the satsangi asked, “Will the disciple always get it?” The Master said, “Why not, if he works for it? Everyone else pays wages earned, and so if anyone works for the Master, he must draw the wages due him.”
With the Great Master in India
Every disciple on the spiritual path is 100 percent dependent on the benevolence of the omnipotent Lord. Only His compassion and mercy can liberate the soul from the huge debt of karma that keeps it imprisoned in this creation. So, in matters of the spirit, it is not about making progress, it is about invoking His grace. It is about sitting in His presence every single day during meditation and begging for forgiveness. It is about obedience, submission and the helpless desire to please the Beloved for the sake of love and love alone.
And if the disciple does nothing else during his entire life but take this one small, faithful step, then he never ever has to worry. Because for such a devotee, the Supreme Father will take a hundred thousand steps and will Himself descend from the highest region of universal spirit and carry His precious child back home.
Go on in all simplicity;
do not be anxious to win a quiet mind,
and it will be all the quieter.
Do not examine so closely into the progress of your soul.
Do not crave so much to be perfect,
but let your spiritual life be formed by your duties,
and by the actions which are called forth by circumstances.
Do not take overmuch thought for tomorrow.
God, who has led you safely on so far,
will lead you on to the end.
Saint Francis de Sales, A Selection from the Spiritual Letters of Saint Francis de Sales