Through the Eyes of Animals
We so-called humans are a species of animal distinguished by – and burdened with – self-awareness. But we are animals nonetheless. However much we regard ourselves as rational beings, we are driven as slaves by our instincts, habits and passions.
Unlike a lion, say, we humans have a mind and ego – the source of abstraction, thought, talk, worry, lust, greed and anger – everything that has led us uniquely as a species to nearly destroy our own habitat. But we are distinguished and blessed by self-awareness when it leads to our spirituality.
With no self-awareness, a lion is king of the jungle – he is no more and no less than a lion. You and I are at present both less than human and potentially more than animal.
In his 1928 poem Sailing to Byzantium, the Irish poet W. B. Yeats explained how we are immortal souls tied to the bodies of dying animals:
… sick with desire,
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is …
From an animal point of view, we are in dire straits every day, at constant risk of death. Rumi wrote:
Your fear of death is really fear of yourself: see what it is from which you are fleeing!
R. A. Nicholson, Selected Poems of Rumi
And Maharaj Charan Singh said in Die to Live:
It is very strange. Every day we sit in meditation and prepare ourselves for death, but when that particular time comes, those who have not died while living start crying and protesting and weeping, and say they don’t want to die. The purpose of meditating every day is to prepare for that time, to meet that eventuality, to go back Home. It is all a preparation, nothing else. When the Lord gives the opportunity now to leave the body and to materialize the effect of meditation, then we should make use of it.
In trying to clarify what is a human being, seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes expressed the bleakness of the rational view of our humanity when he deduced cogito ergo sum – or I think, therefore I am. He was saying that we are no more than thinking machines; that the language of our thinking defines who and what we seem to be.
Our heads are filled with constant chatter about family, ideas, work, country, ambitions, money, love, friends, poems, frustrations, breakfast … the stuff and the froth of life. We are at sea in the ship of our own imagination, defined by the language of our worldly simran. We are becoming, always becoming; never arriving; always retelling the stories that make up these selves of ours.
These stories describe the self as it strives to be a hero, to invent the impossible myth of our success. We want to be noble, to know exactly what is going on, to rise above our petty human struggles. But meanwhile we go on living our animal life.
The fact is I am my attention, I am nothing else. I am not my history, nor my possessions, nor my family, nor my job, nor my qualities or defects. I am just this attention that flits about like a demented butterfly. It flits so furiously that it cannot know itself, cannot stop to see itself, dare not be calm enough to understand its nature.
We sit here, looking through the eyes of animals, but the “we” that looks is a constant murmur trying to make sense of itself.
What to do? In order to make sense of the murmur, we must first let go of the froth. And to do that we need a guide: someone who can teach us how to be still and silent, and how to speak the language of love, since that is our essence. Right here and now, in the middle of the drama of our own personal soap operas, we can reach reality not by pretending spirituality but by letting love unlock the cages of our mind.
Maharaj Sawan Singh wrote in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol II:
Love is an innate quality of the heart. It is only through love that the sublimity of the Truth is known, because without it man would be in anguish.
He also wrote, in the same book:
Every person cannot be called a human being in the strict sense of the term. Only those persons are human beings who have the spark of love developed in them.
In Light on Saint John, Maharaj Charan Singh wrote:
The relationship of the soul and the Father is that of love … that is why Christ refers to this relationship of the soul with the Lord as that of father and son, also as that of bride and bridegroom, because in both relationships it is the love that binds them. It is purely a bond of love. And if we love the Father, we go back to the level of the Father after death. The Father has so ordained that we can love Him only through his beloved Son who is living in this world when we are here.
The present Master has said that we keep a “House Full” sign over our hearts. We’re too busy trying to be rational human beings. Meditation is the only answer; meditation is where we bathe on the beach of his ocean of love. To let go of the self we must, ironically, exercise self-discipline through the purposeful utterance of the language of our spirituality: simran. One word after another, building that association, brick by verbal brick.
Rather than saying “I think therefore I am,” like Descartes, the mystics would say: “I repeat the five names therefore I am.” The language of simran enables us to be what we really are: Shabd. It is the language of love.
Simran is nothing but the practice of the art of dying. Nothing else exists but the words being repeated at that moment. Literally nothing. This is death. When nothing else exists but the name of the Lord being repeated in that moment, then the self does not exist.
The something of our animal nature can become, in our human nature, the nothing of the lover, which merges with the beloved to become everything. The Beloved – our Master – gives us the longing, the hunger, the desperation to lift us from our animal unconsciousness to the realization of our true God nature.
Baba Jaimal Singh Ji wrote:
Always look upon this world as if it is a dream, and believe it firmly. Our relatives also are part of the dream world and are therefore unreal. Take the ego out of yourself and remember only the Satguru and the words of the Satguru. When everything – body, mind, wealth – everything belongs to Satguru, then all the worldly goods as well as relations also belong to Satguru. I am nothing. Always remember these words.
One of the qualities of love is the delicious way it dissolves the self. Love merges the murmur with the subject of the murmuring, the beloved. There are no limits to the soul in love – it is the ocean.
As Fakhruddin Iraqi, the thirteenth century Persian mystic, put it:
You are nothing when you wed the One; but you are everything when you become nothing.
Animals learning to live
When you are dreaming a dream, however surreal it may later look in hindsight, at the time that you are in the dream it feels as real as does the apparent reality of our waking hours. Dreams within dreams within dreams.
The paradox is that our mystical apprenticeship can be undertaken only while we live in the world of time and space – while we work, dream, breathe, worry, fail, fail again and fail better, bearing the grief, frustration, stress and disappointment that goes with our worldly animal selves.
The Great Master wrote in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol V:
This universe is an ocean. The Master is a ship and He Himself is its captain. No one can cross over without the Master. It is only through His grace that we can meet the Lord.
The Master will keep us safe from sharks and drowning, so that we can journey across the ocean of karma to the end of the story, to that moment when he sweeps us up in his arms.
How do we learn to live in the world as real human beings? The Great Master gave us a hint about how to do this when he said:
Love is another name for attaching the heart to the Beloved. It is not a child’s play. Only those of sterling worth, who are free from the ties of the world, and who are fearless, can become lovers. It is the work of one who is free from all worldly desires, and who is able to keep his mind clear of the dirt of duality. When the leaven of love begins to act, then a lover cannot turn his attention towards any object except the Beloved.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol II
As you live out your desolation, you can be either happy or unhappy.
Having that choice is what comprises your freedom.
But day by day, while yet I draw my breath,
And day by day, unto my last of years,
I shall be one that has a perfect friend.
Her heart shall taste my laughter and my tears,
And her kind eyes shall lead me to the end.
Robert Louis Stevenson