In 1870 when Baba Jaimal Singh first visited the piece of land that became the Dera, it was completely uninhabited. The terrain was deeply rutted with ravines and the banks of the river Beas rose up quite close to where the International Guest House (Hostel 6) now stands. The area was a lonely, deserted, barren and forbidding waste-land, covered in thorny acacias, spiny shrubs and a few tall trees. It was inhabited by snakes, scorpions, jackals and vultures. There were crocodiles in the Beas River, and the entire area was rumoured to be haunted by ghosts and evil spirits and therefore deemed unsafe to travel through.
Yet it was there, according to Daryai Lal Kapur in Heaven on Earth, that Baba Jaimal Singh chose to build his meditation retreat. Today, 140 years later, the landscape has undergone an incredible transformation. What was once an uninhabited land is now a busy and productive colony.
The transformation that occurred in Beas has everything to do with the Masters, the successive teachers who have resided there. The promise to each initiate is to change them from a wilderness into a rose garden; to take their hearts and minds and souls from this barren and inhospitable place to Sach Khand, a realm of abundance, safety and healing. In other words, the physical Dera itself is an intriguing metaphor for what happens to us within as individuals on the path.
Some part of us probably finds both this world and our own particular personalities an inhospitable realm: lonely, dangerous, unstable. No matter who we are, what wealth, or talent or worldly power we have been given, the soil under everyone’s feet is always shifting. At any given moment, the ground we are walking on can collapse: either we or our loved ones can be swept away by a raging river – literally or emotionally – in any number of unexpected losses. Death, disease, poverty and the changing fortunes of the world are legendary. There is no lasting or safe shelter in this world. The river keeps changing its course and dangers are everywhere. Even in the bright sunlight of the day we can feel uncertain, unsafe and vulnerable.
Then into our threatening and uncertain lives comes a spiritual Master. It is here, in the midst of the wilderness of our hearts and minds, that he takes up residence and promises us that in this unlikely setting, at the eye centre of a typically confused human being, he will show us that there is beauty, joy and a lasting peace and contentment. Here, in this very life, he assures us, we can realize our full potential as spiritual beings. We have a Master now, and our soul will find its true and eternal and joy-filled home.
How does this transformation take place? The Master tells us that it has to do with grace, Shabd and meditation. There are some hints we can find in the transformation at the Dera. The massive ravines that once cut through the land were filled slowly with great human effort. When mitti (dirt carrying) seva was done in past years, everyone would be given a reed basket and a cloth doughnut, to help balance the load on their heads. A shovelful or two of dirt would be deposited in the basket, and people would then carry that load across a broad field, and deposit that small amount of dirt in a deep ravine, over and over and over again. How many millions of baskets did it take to fill one ravine, let alone all of the ravines?
Could it be that every round of simran is a little like one of those baskets full of dirt? It doesn’t seem to accomplish much, and at times, even carrying that one basket is an effort. We trudge back and forth in the same way with every repetition of the five holy names. Looking out over our own lives and its acres of deep ravines and karmas, one can understand why we don’t quite grasp how this effort will ever result in even one hole being filled, let alone how this broken earth will ever become a shady, tree-filled garden. But we do the simran and meditation and seva and the heavy lifting of our lives because the Master asks us to. And when we can remember to look up, we can see him watching our efforts, blessing our efforts, encouraging us in this work he has given us to do.
When we were told at initiation that the path of Sant Mat is the work of a lifetime, some of us didn’t quite understand that this meant that this is not a transformation that will occur overnight. But the promise that eventually our spiritual lives will be fruitful and abundant is a promise that the saints make and keep.
When we feel separate from God, it is tempting to think that this path is about some future transformation, some delayed fulfilment: a conceptual and postponed reward. But slowly, constantly, just as it happens at the physical Dera, old walls are being taken down, new habitations are going up, new seeds are being planted. For us, old habits are dying, new and more spacious ways of being are developed. Even when we don’t understand, even when we resist, this miraculous transformation is going on. The Master keeps us in the fold, and keeps watch over us, patiently explaining that we will do our meditation, that we will go through our karmas, and that someday we will be with him forever.
That is the transformation of Sant Mat. Our own inner, barren, lonely and inhospitable wilderness will eventually change into a way of holiness. Slowly, we realize that everything that happens to us is meant to move us closer to what is ultimately true. Eventually we put our trust in our teacher’s vision of what our own personal wilderness is capable of becoming. He says that someday we will be a rose garden – even though it might look and feel to us that we are still a piece of broken ground. He says that someday the separation we feel between ourselves and God will be healed. Someday we will know with every ounce of our being another reality, other than the wilderness of this world.
In his presence we can sometimes catch a glimpse of the joy and peace, right here, right now. Sometimes we can sense the power of his promise. This work of changing distracted initiates into focused disciples is ongoing, in every part of the world. The transformation of the physical outer Dera is astonishing, but apparently not nearly as wonderful as the inner transformation of the Masters’ initiates. The centre of our spiritual activity knows no boundaries, no limitations of time or space. If we are initiates, our rough places are going to be made smooth, no matter where we live. We can never distance ourselves from his love, his protection and his determination to take us home. We may not be able to imagine how we might ever become worthy of the presence and the company of a saint. But it is in just such a territory that the Master has taken up residence. And if he is optimistic about our eventual rehabilitation and our transformation into loving disciples, who are we to question his methods?
Rumi describes what happens in this garden. Today. Now.
What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.
What was told to the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was whispered to the jasmine
so it is what it is, whatever made sugarcane
sweet; whatever was said to the inhabitants …
that is being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence
in language, that’s happening here. The great
warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude.
Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing, translated by Coleman Barks
But what if we are still impatient, discouraged or frustrated? Still skeptical that we can ever throw in enough simran to fill in the deep ravines in our being? There is a simple answer.
The Masters tell us to let go. Let the Master gardener do his work. Welcome his presence. The Master is saying to the soul:
Have patience, keep the company of the Saints
and I shall purify you through my grace.
I shall not rest, till I show you that form
– why are you in such a hurry?
I carry your burdens in my own heart
so that you may be free of worries
and nurture your love in my heart.
Give up your misgivings, be steadfast in your love
– a love tempered with faith.
I shall myself help you put in the effort,
I shall myself take you to your ultimate home.
Listen to what Radha Soami has to say:
all will be worked out
as and when the supreme will ordains it.
Sar Bachan Poetry,Bachan 33