Faith is essential for a life devoted to walking the spiritual path. We start our journey on the basis of a belief and over time it is faith that makes it possible for us to keep going.
To understand how faith arises, how this process works, you could compare it to the time you followed the advice of your friend as to how best to boil potatoes. Based on her own experience, she advises you to use a pressure cooker since it is much more efficient than a regular pan. As she has no reason to mislead you, and is an experienced cook, you trust her advice; you believe her. It is not that you have faith in using the pressure cooker – not yet. You just believe and trust her. Besides, your friend explains how to use the pressure cooker with such simple, easy to follow instructions that you have confidence that you’ll be able to learn how to do so.
So you buy a pressure cooker and take it home. You follow the instructions by filling it with water, salt and the potatoes, and closing the lid. During the cooking process, you do not look inside the pressure cooker. You hope all will be fine. Seven minutes later, you open the lid and, as predicted, the potatoes are perfectly cooked. At this moment, your belief in using the pressure cooker to boil potatoes quickly, has become firm through direct experience. The next time you use the pressure cooker, you will have faith in its cooking capability and your own ability for following the instructions accurately. Why? Because, as the Masters explain, faith develops and is strengthened once your initial belief and trust have been reinforced through experience.
Desire and expectation
Here on the physical plane we function through desire and expectation. We expect to fulfil our goals and are disappointed when we are unable to do so. For instance, when we are thirsty, we try to find a glass of water to drink because we expect that this will quench our thirst. So we fill a tall glass with water, drink it and, as expected, our thirst is quenched. If a desired outcome does not occur, we may question whether the action was the right one in the first place. If we conclude that it isn’t, we may alter our actions in order to enhance the possibility of achieving our goal.
But whilst this process of desire, expectation and assessment of outcome is useful in everyday life, it can create obstacles if applied to the spiritual path. In My Submission, Maharaj Sawan Singh highlights the risk associated with seeking results from meditation and being disappointed when they do not materialize: “When a person realizes that despite his best efforts all his plans and endeavours have failed, he gets disheartened and gives up trying.”
Before we asked for initiation, we believed in the Master and had a certain level of trust in the teachings. This was the basis of our journey – of approaching the path, approaching the Master and asking for initiation. After initiation we started to meditate. We started to apply the method, using ourselves as the tool. And what happened to most of us? Nothing! Or not much anyway. Because our expectations of meditation have not been met, some of us will be disappointed, at risk of starting to believe that the act of meditation makes no sense. In a vulnerable position, our mind provides a sneaky solution: meditate less – or why not even stop altogether? In adopting this course of action (or rather inaction), we no longer have any high expectations regarding the effects of meditation and, consequently, no longer feel frustrated by the absence of results. Many of us have used this ‘solution’ to deal with the dashed expectations of what meditation will bring, at least at certain points in our lives.
But there is a term for dealing with expectations in this way: giving up! And giving up is fine. There is nothing wrong with giving up if you are willing to forsake the precious gift that you have been granted, abandoning your trust in the teacher, his teachings, and yourself in the process. None of us really wants this. But there is an alternative: We can remould our expectations of meditation instead of practising less. How do we do this?
We have to appreciate that although the teachings are simple, its workings are profound and hidden from view. Within an external framework of simplicity, our Master provides us with great comfort and protection whilst working his subtle changes. We could compare our spiritual journey to travelling on a night train from Delhi to Beas. The train moves fast and smoothly. Before sunrise, it is dark and, on peeking out of the window, we don’t see much of the landscape passing by. Likewise, on our inward journey, we have to pass through many ‘stations’ and, because of the darkness, we may not even be aware that we have done so. Maybe we don’t need this level of awareness; it could distract us from our final destination.
Think about the pressure cooker again. When we use it, we do not stir the food whilst cooking. We put the potatoes in and close the lid. Likewise, our lid will only be opened when the Master considers it time to do so. In Spiritual Gems, the Great Master informs a disciple, “The soul of every true follower is progressing internally even when he is not aware of the progress … the soul can enter Brahmand when he is unconscious of it.”
Despite such reassurances, many of us feel a need to reinforce our beliefs, especially since our expectations are raised after reading Sant Mat books and attending satsangs. However, we should keep in mind that one of the goals of satsang and the literature is to inspire us, both to seek the company of the Master, and to meditate. They are not the reality itself.
A famous story about the Buddha and his personal attendant Ananda illustrates the risks involved in using our limited faculties to understand the Truth. Whilst Ananda was very close to the Buddha, he still had doubts about attainting self-realization. So, one day, he said to the Buddha:
“Will you be compassionate enough to enlighten me so as to remove my remaining doubts so I can return to the Supreme Truth?”
Buddha said to him: “You listen to the dharma (the teachings) with the conditioned mind, and so the dharma becomes conditioned as well, and you do not obtain the Supreme Truth. It is like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guided by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon, but the finger also. Why? Because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon.”
Surangama Sutra as translated by Charles Luk
If we stop meditating or make less effort because our expectations have not been met, then, as the Buddha explains, we are missing the reality and the true nature of the way to that reality.
Our problem is that we use the teachings to create expectations based on what we can understand, even though Sant Mat is beyond what can be understood by the mind at the level of the physical. Our mind, however, dislikes being in a state of uncertainty. Nonetheless, this is what we have to endure in order to not “lose both the moon and the finger”. In fact, the eighth-century Zen Master Yongjia claimed, “Great Enlightenment comes from great doubt”, prompting the sixteenth-century Korean Master Xishan to proclaim that great faith and great will are also essential. In fact, if any one of these three elements is missing – doubt, faith or will – Xishan argues that spiritual practice becomes useless.
This implies that we should have great faith in the method, the Master, and in ourselves. We have no reason not to. The only thing we have to learn is to give up clinging to our conventional understanding, to learn to expect nothing, and to live with the great doubt that Master Xishan refers to. We are like a bird that has arrived at the high cliff. To travel further, we have to jump off the cliff into the unknown, spreading our wings through meditation. The Master will carry us and take us back to our true home. Until that time, the only thing we have to do is wait and practise flying. That is our path.