Living the Spiritual Life
What is the secret to successfully living a spiritual life? When we examine ourselves, we usually do not measure up to our concept of a spiritual person. From our perceived shortcomings, we may fashion a litany of beliefs about spirituality that may actually impede the success of our spiritual practice.
One belief that we may hold is that to live a spiritual life we need more knowledge and experience. Books from both the Eastern and Western mystical traditions are rich with accounts of heaven and hell, reward and punishment, the nature of man’s relationship to God, and the purpose of worldly suffering. Through our reading, we may learn to debate and ask appropriate questions about what we read, but we remain lost. Our frustration with attaining knowledge through reading books may lead us to turn toward our friends, religious scholars, teachers of philosophy, and perhaps even those who claim to have psychic abilities in order to seek more information and knowledge.
While we may find agreement among the written and oral accounts of man’s relationship to God and what awaits us after death, we still long for more than intellectual satisfaction - we want the certainty of our own experience. Where is such guidance to be found, if neither in books nor in the words of those trusted friends?
Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh writes in Spiritual Gems:
You need not accept anything that does not appeal to you in books or even in my letters. You may leave aside for the time being, the ultimate object of life and its how and why. You may start your enquiry from this end, and then take as your objective the attack upon the eye focus.
So here the Master is saying that whatever we think we need to know may not entirely serve us in our efforts to live a spiritual life. Scripture may not enlighten us; we will never truly understand with our intellect the how and why of this life. Even the Master’s words may leave us confused. We are advised instead to begin our enquiry where we are. And where are we? Currently, we may be very much in this creation - leaking divine energy. In our mundane lives, we are making a living, doing our best to provide for ourselves and our families. In our intellectual lives, we are tricked into believing that the truth can be found in the realm of debate and that God can be understood through reading books and pilgrimages to holy places.
So the Master provides us with a living example of how to be in this world. He does many of the same things that we do: he eats, sleeps, works, and has a family. But he does one more thing all twenty-four hours of the day: he remains aware of the Shabd, whether he is tying his shoes or giving a discourse on the teachings.
So do we need more knowledge and experience of the world to traverse this path? The Master’s words and, more importantly, his example suggest not.
Perhaps we think that to live the spiritual life we need more self-improvement to become better people. We certainly live in times in which we worship at the altar of self-improvement. We might think, if I could just become a better person, if I were more truthful, more caring, more directed, then I would be successful at the spiritual life. But as we travel through life, our roles continually change, we remain trapped in the same illusions. How many times have we attempted to conquer one vice only to find it replaced by another? We rise above anger, only to find ourselves consumed by greed. Is this why we practice meditation - to trade up on our vices? Great Master says simply in Spiritual Gems, “This life is for the purpose of ending our coming back into this world”. These words are not a challenge to improve our personalities or to build our stamina, but rather a reminder that we have come here to say good-bye once and for all.
If self-improvement alone is not our mission, what about a loftier goal like purity of mind? Maharaj Charan Singh once suggested that it is “by meditation … that we make our body pure, we make our mind pure and we make our soul pure” (Spiritual Perspectives, Vol.I). And that takes discipline. Discipline is more about staying on track, being focused, keeping our priorities in view; it is not only about being good or pure. In our spiritual work, being disciplined means that we organize our life, and each day, around our meditation practice. We make decisions about how much time we will spend in work, sleep, and play based upon the time and energy we need to bring to meditation.
The saints suggest that one of the first steps along the spiritual path is to see ourselves for who we are. Daily life provides us with many opportunities to see our limited self. But the goal is to go beyond the limited, worldly self to the realization of our true self. It is only when the soul gets released from the clutches of the mind that true self-realization occurs.
Maybe we believe that to live a spiritual life we need more time. How often we hear ourselves saying, “If only I had the time.” How much time do we need, and when will there ever be enough? Both the laws of physics and our own experience teach us that time is relative. When we’re in shock or unhappy, time stands still; whereas in joy and happiness, time flies by in an instant. So the mental state in which we approach our actions throughout the day can enhance or diminish our perception of the time available to us.
In Spiritual Letters, Baba Jaimal Singh says, “This bhajan is meant for those who are busy and not for the idle. It is not for those who just sit and do nothing.” While our ultimate fantasy might be to sit and do nothing, it is ironic that when it comes to meditation time, we are unable to just sit and do nothing. We commit two and one half hours daily to a practice of meditation, which takes us beyond the boundaries of time. And if we can recall our simran periodically throughout the day, we will have brief respites from the trap of time. It is the tricky mind that leaves us trapped in the belief that there is truly not enough time. Properly integrated, daily living and our meditation reinforce one another, with meditation sustaining our spiritual needs, and proper rest and concentration supporting our worldly work.
If we don’t need more time in the day, do we perhaps simply need more years on the path? In Light on St. Matthew, Maharaj Charan Singh explains Christ’s words “the last shall be first and the first last”:
Some people come early and work the whole of their life for spiritual progress. Some people come quite late in their life, and they also work the remainder of their life for spiritual progress, but equal wages are paid to everybody, whoever is initiated.
So he suggests that the mercy of the Lord, not merely the time spent daily or throughout our lifetime, determines our success at concentration. How much longing for that mercy do we bring to our practice?How much desire? How much commitment?
This brings us to the notion that we need more love and faith to live a spiritual life. It’s understandable, we might reason, that our actions in this world might be fraught with difficulty, but why would faith in the practice and the love of the Master, with whom we long to be, require struggle? We might sometimes conclude that we simply do not have sufficient love and faith. But our feelings of inadequacy are unwarranted. In Quest for Light, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Do not for a moment feel that you are once again back to where you were fifteen or twenty years ago. Meditation once done can never be lost even though for some reason or other further progress is temporarily obstructed.
Hazur Maharaj Ji reminds us here that we cannot judge our success in living the spiritual life from where we sit. The shortcomings that define our humanness may travel with us throughout our life in spite of our best efforts to overcome them. Yet it is our litany of beliefs about spirituality that may be a greater barrier to our practice than our human flaws. We may not need more love and faith, more knowledge, more experience, or more time, and we may not need to be better people before we can lead a spiritual life. While each of these beliefs may help us live better lives, by themselves, they are not sufficient. What then do we need? The Masters tell us that the only thing we need more of is meditation, more practice, nothing else. Everything will come from this.
It’s as if Love’s radiant oil
never stops searching for a lamp in which to burn.
The Rumi Daybook, translated by K.& C.Helminski