Being Good Human Beings
The Masters implore us to be good human beings. Surprisingly, we do not hear many questions about what constitutes the qualities of a good human being. Maybe we already think we know. If we are attempting to follow the vows we took at initiation, we probably think of ourselves as good human beings. But is just following the vows enough to automatically qualify us for that distinction?
We are vegetarians, which is good for our karmic account because we are not involved in the cruelty of taking life to satisfy our taste buds, but that alone does not make us good human beings. Since using drugs or dulling the mind with alcohol sabotages all attempts to raise our consciousness and concentration, it is essential to abstain from both. But again, that is not an automatic badge of goodness, any more than claiming that anyone using either is a bad human being.
Perhaps we can convince ourselves that by practicing the third vow we have arrived at some degree of goodness. After all, it deals specifically with morality, honesty, celibacy outside of marriage, and being law-abiding citizens. We would be wrong to assume that these are all we need to become good human beings.
Maybe we believe that meditation alone makes us good human beings. If anything, the practice of meditation is like putting a gigantic magnifying glass over ourselves that allows us to clearly see all our flaws.
Living the life of an initiate does not immediately transform us into good human beings, yet that is what the Master suggests that we strive to become. At the very least we can take a personal inventory and identify characteristics of a good human that we might want to develop.
What are the characteristics of a good human being, at least by worldly standards? Genuinely good people are good role models. They strive to do the right thing because that is the core of who they are. At the same time, they can recognize room for growth and take responsibility for their mistakes and make amends where necessary. They draw others in by radiating authenticity.
Having a living Master helps us by providing us with a role model, a living example of a balanced, good human being. Watching him, listening to him, and observing how he conducts himself, how he answers our endless questions, reveals to us the real nature of his kindness and compassion. The letters and discourses of all the Masters are filled with practical advice and examples of good behaviour befitting a seeker of truth. In fact, simple advice on what it means to be human appears throughout the literature of Sant Mat. We are all familiar with these precepts. Perhaps the Masters repeatedly bring them to our attention to encourage us to move beyond familiarity and lip-service and actually practice them. Conscious behavior is what helps distinguish us from the lower species.
If one had to sum up all the positive human qualities in one word, that word might be character. Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh writes in Spiritual Gems:
Character is the foundation upon which rises the spiritual edifice. As long as one is a slave to the senses, talk of spirituality is a mockery…. The first essential step to a spiritual life is character.
Note how he contrasts character and living a spiritual life with enslavement to the senses. One truly becomes a satsangi when one has risen above the senses. Think about what that means. How might it feel to rise above our passions and the stimulations of the senses? Imagine being unaffected by emotions, unconcerned with cravings, uninfluenced by other’s opinions. Would it feel calm, peaceful, steady, and serene? That’s what we can look forward to when we truly begin living as spiritual beings.
Maharaj Jagat Singh says in The Science of the Soul:
One does not become a satsangi simply by being initiated….
A satsangi’s daily conduct must bear the hallmark of excellence.
Philosophers and saints agree that the human experience is distinguished by the ability to discriminate: between what is good and what is better, between the true and the false, between the useful and the useless. We need to use that ability to choose what is in the best interest of our soul and our spiritual life.
Sometimes in our society a high moral character is seen as the end rather than the means to an end. Often when this happens people are inclined to “act” to put on a show of character. After all it’s relatively easy to act virtuous: volunteer for a good cause, contribute to charities, perform good deeds, or say the right thing. It is also relatively easy to act like a satsangi: attend satsang, give satsang, do seva, talk about the Master, take trips to the Dera. It’s another thing entirely to be of high moral character and be a satsangi. As Maharaj Sawan Singh observes:
One may deceive one’s friends, relatives and even oneself, but the Power within is never deceived.
This path is rather humbling. The Masters suggest there is really nothing for us to be proud of. We sometimes dislike ourselves for what we call our human nature, but then we turn around and justify our weaknesses as human nature. If we lose our temper or fly off the handle, we are only human. If we are inconsiderate or self-obsessed, it is only human nature. We blame all our faults on human nature. Instead, the Master says, we must strive to become better human beings and build those positive characteristics that will keep us in balance. It is not through our negative qualities that we are distinguished from the lower forms of life; it is because we have the potential to develop positive qualities. We were given this human form for God-realization, and it is through development of our character that our humanness can be measured.
It’s rather amazing how the meaning of the vows becomes deeper as we journey along this path. At first we tend to think of them as a few specific things: a special diet, clean living, being honest, celibate if not married, and meditation. But as the years go by, we see how each vow affects every area of our lives. And that’s how it should be.
To live these teachings means becoming a human being of good character. While living according to the vows we take at initiation is necessary, it is not sufficient. We must go one step further and internalize these vows and do our meditation. To become a good human being we must take continual inventory of ourselves, make the necessary adjustments and rise courageously to the challenge of being a human being of character. This will also support our efforts in meditation.