Acts of Grace and Mercy
In Sant Mat literature, we read about God’s grace and mercy and his manifestation in human form, the living Master. Grace means unmerited favour, free or undeserved kindness shown by him, regardless of what we have or have not done. Mercy means forgiveness or compassion given to us by him for something we have done. We need grace because we cannot achieve anything worldly or spiritually on our own due to our human limitations. We also need mercy because we frequently indulge in wrong actions because of our vices, desires and ego. Grace and mercy are so intertwined that in Punjabi one word is used for both of them combined: dayaa-mehar. It is within the will or discretion of the Lord if he gives this to us or not.
We often pray for grace and mercy for both worldly and spiritual gains. There is nothing unusual about this; praying is our privilege. However, our experience shows that our prayers are not always answered in a way that we expect, and consequently, at times our faith can be shaken. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
God’s grace is always there, but brother, we have to become receptive to his grace.… There is no limit to his grace, which is everywhere, but we have to be receptive.
We can be receptive to grace and mercy only if we learn to recognize them, and this can happen when the signs of grace and mercy are comprehensible to the human intellect. Maharaj Sawan Singh, in Spiritual Gems, has simplified this issue and enumerated four signs to guide us:
The number one sign of his being merciful to anyone is that he creates in him dissatisfaction with the worldly routine and a longing to seek the truth. The second sign is that he brings him in touch with a Master. The third sign is that the Master imparts to him the secret of the sound current. The fourth sign is that the initiate works diligently and faithfully on the sound current and starts his spiritual journey. In the presence of these signs, where is the room for feeling self-disgusted?
In these signs of grace and mercy, there is no mention of direct worldly gains. So we shall have to work diligently and faithfully on the sound current and start our spiritual journey.
These four signs describe four stages of our spiritual development. In the first stage, Master starts detaching us from this world by making us realize its true nature. He applies different methods for each of us. We cannot know when this process starts, but it definitely starts much earlier than we are aware. Maharaj Charan Singh in Quest for Light clarifies:
Those who are destined to come to the path are guided by the Master from the very beginning. Slowly and slowly they are drawn towards the teachings without their being aware of it. All the time the strings are in the hands of the Master who is bringing them nearer and nearer to their initiation.
To those destined to come to the path of Sant Mat, dissatisfaction with their worldly routine along with a longing for the truth is created within. This period of dissatisfaction is bestowed on us as an act of grace and mercy. We realize that our previous knowledge about spirituality was superficial, based merely on reading, rituals, ceremonies and formalities – at times even on hypocrisy, sectarianism and animosity.
The second stage that the Great Master outlines for us is coming into the presence of a living Master. But this does not happen automatically to all people longing for truth. It is again an act of grace and mercy to be brought into the company of a living Master.
While we learn about the principles of Sant Mat through reading books, attending satsang and having our questions answered, the main emphasis is on action and practice of meditation. Our intellect is fully satisfied if the teachings stand up to the scrutiny of reason, common sense and sound judgment. We learn about the truth that forms the basis or essence of all religions. We learn about the will of the Lord and the acts of grace or mercy that he bestows upon us. We learn about the law of karma and how that law governs the lives of all creatures on earth. We learn that the principles of Sant Mat pertain both to our spiritual as well as to our worldly life; they teach us to live peacefully, gracefully, boldly and with dignity. We learn that Sant Mat has no dress code, sacred book, sacred days, sacred buildings or paid clergy.
In the third stage, the Master initiates the seeker and tells him the correct method of meditation and requires that he abstain completely from taking meat, fish or eggs of any kind; give up the use of alcohol and mind-altering drugs; develop a sound moral personality; and give full-time daily to meditation.
The Master, however, doesn’t make the elimination of our vices-namely, lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego – preconditions for initiation. He adopts a practical approach, knowing that we cannot suddenly do this on our own. He has confidence in us that we will give all these up in due course while doing our meditation. Adopting us as his disciples, as we are, is another act of grace and mercy.
The importance of initiation is discussed in Treasure Beyond Measure:
It is the most significant event in the history of a soul since it left the Lord at the time of creation. The moment of initiation is destined, and the Masters know exactly when that moment will come.
It is only at this final stage, that of initiation, that the Master instructs the disciple to make an effort by attending to meditation daily and faithfully, while he himself showers his grace and mercy upon us for that effort. To start with, he does not bind us rigorously with the discipline of meditation. He asks us to select a time of sitting that is suitable to us and to remain punctual about this time.
Again the Master’s grace and mercy are manifest when he tells the disciple that he should not worry about the mind even if it does not sit still. He sees our efforts. He is untiring in reminding us that the Master is standing by our side, that he has taken upon himself the responsibility of ensuring that we reach our goal, that there are no failures on the path of the Masters, and that every minute of meditation counts.
In our over-obsession with the higher objectives of spirituality, we don’t recognize, and hence tend to undervalue, the grace and mercy being bestowed upon us always, everywhere and without limit. Having recognized the constant presence of his grace, our duty is to become receptive. How? Maharaj Charan Singh in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, tells us:
We have to be receptive to that grace, and by receptive I mean that we have to withdraw our consciousness to that point where his grace is coming day and night.