Striking the Set
Asking for initiation indicates that we have reached a stage of disillusionment with life; that we needed and have found the answers to questions such as: Who am I, why am I here, and why do I have a human body instead of being an animal, a tree or an insect? Blessed with reason, we are aware that we suffer through dishonour, poverty and illness, and because of ignorance, we may have felt it to be unfair. After all, why should there be such turmoil and pain?
It is said that when the soul is ready, the Guru will appear. Every one of us needs rescuing. To find salvation, we need the proverbial knight on a white horse to come to the rescue. The path of Sant Mat brings us to the perfect living Master − friend, mentor, a God-realized being − who has the answers to all our questions. Once the intellect is satisfied, we surrender to the Master and ask for initiation. This is the connection of the soul to the Shabd, which allows us to start the slow, arduous, homeward journey. It means this life could be our last. This is the beginning of the end of our final performance.
The Master’s official tours provide us with the opportunity for huge amounts of seva. After the last satsang on one such visit, a sevadar asked the lady in charge of the event: “What happens now? What are you doing?”
“I am striking the set”, was her matter of fact and practical answer. This lady had worked in theatre all her life, designing sets and costumes for musicals, films and plays. She also managed whole productions. So when Baba Ji came to visit, organizing and managing the venue, the set and production was given into her capable hands. What a wonderful show she pulled off!
When a production finishes, everything has to be dismantled and cleared away. In theatrical terms, this is called ‘striking the set’ – cleaning up, removing, bringing to a close.
This is what happens when the Master calls a disciple to Sant Mat -the path of liberation. The road show, an evolutionary production, whereby the individual soul goes through 8,400,000 species of life, finally comes to an end. The soul has reached the top of creation, the human body. The Master comes to the rescue with infinite grace and compassion, for he knows that the disciple has had enough of the show of evolution, reincarnation, transmigration, birth, death and rebirth. The Master comes to close the play − to strike the set!
By the time the perfect living Master appears, the disciple is sick and tired of the show. He has been backstage long enough to have learnt that the glamour is mere window dressing − it is all fake, and the show has lost its glow. All that is left is to take off the costume, remove the make-up, close the stage doors and finally head for home.
Leaving the show has its own dynamics. We can drag our feet, looking back over our shoulders, or we can channelize our energy and effort into the homeward journey, to ensure that we do not delay that special homecoming. This process is what we refer to as detachment − where the joy of the journey slowly replaces the pleasures of this world.
The Masters compare our attachments in the show of life to a precious garment which has become entangled on a thorny bush. It cannot be pulled off with force, for that would ruin it. It has to be carefully and patiently disentangled from every thorn. It is a slow and painful process, as the prickly thorns are apt to draw blood or rip the cloth.
Attachments come in various shapes and forms, ingeniously created, installed and meticulously maintained by the mind, with the help of the five senses. These habits, endless desires and dreams, are a self-fulfilling and automatic process. Our progress on the path may be slow, but the result of our spiritual practice is that detachment will follow. As we lose interest in the world, our relationships and perspectives change. We are less inclined to read newspapers, go to the cinema or concerts, shun restaurants and all the jolly things we used to find interesting. This is the start of dismantling the show of life − the prelude to the striking of the set.
The building and breaking of the set of life is our karma: the sowing and reaping. When the soul was sent into this creation, the evolutionary process of action and reaction started. A child playing in dirt will inevitably get soiled. Similarly, the soul sent down into the creation, will become soiled by the creation. But the parent − the Master − will not be perturbed by the dirt, because it can be removed. The soul beneath is pristine, with a timeless need to merge back into the source – the Shabd, the Creator. Although it may be separated from the source, the soul will, like a drop of water, immediately disappear into the sea when the river or wave, the living Master, takes it back to the source.
Karma is like a gigantic seed pod. It is filled with all the sowing ever done since the soul was sent into this creation. All these seeds must eventually sprout and grow, their roots a spreading entanglement beneath the surface, while above they grow and bear flowers and fruit. Their captivating beauty and delicious flavours entice more and more subtle connections, resulting in ever stronger bonds.
The image of tangled roots amongst the plants in a garden, is a metaphor for the incredible attachments a soul has to contend with. The Masters say that some of these attachments can lead to rebirth as a human being. They are very deep underground roots that we are unaware of. However, most of our attachments can be cleared through our daily meditation.
All these attachments keep the soul captive in this creation − like an old tree in a rather overgrown garden. Like the tree, our soul is also tired of the endless seasons it has had to endure, tired of the constant struggle to fight the undergrowth for existence. But an expert gardener can prune back the entanglement, cut out the menacing undergrowth, remove the alien species and free the old tree from the binding, suffocating mess. The perfect living Master is the gardener. He comes to the rescue of the soul, and teaches us how to prune and cut back the binding attachments of the creation.
Pére Lachaise is a famous cemetery in Paris, where some of the world’s greatest artists, composers, writers, singers and actors are buried. Some of these graves are rather splendid monuments, although in various stages of neglect and decay. However, they all have one thing in common − their occupants are all very dead. In the end, all the glamour, fame and riches accumulated while they were alive, now amount to nothing. It all ended in dust or smoke. Once the fate of a specific life has played out, the set is struck. As the Shabd leaves the body, it also takes leave of the stage of life. There are no curtain calls, and both body and life are soon forgotten.
In our ignorance and fear of death, we turn to books, books and more books, in an effort to find the truth which we so desperately need and constantly seek. But words are mere containers which each individual fills, according to his limited understanding and background. Discussions and reading remain window dressing. Ultimately, we have to become practical and do the practice – practise what we constantly preach!
Kabir, like all Masters, placed the emphasis firmly on spiritual practice, on silent inner meditation. He says in one of his poems:
As long as I talked unceasingly about the Lord,
The Lord stayed away, kept at a distance.
But when I silenced my mouth, sat very still
And fixed my mind at the doorway of the Lord,
I soon was linked to the music of the Word,
And all my talking came to an end.
Kabir, the Great Mystic
Generally, when initiation is granted, there is little left to tie us to the world. This last incarnation is given to us to grow spiritually, to finish the small amount of ‘giving and receiving’ which remains − and this can be cleared through meditation. It is our duty to do this meditation, so that when the final curtain falls on the show of life, the Master can quickly and easily carry us away in his limousine of Shabd. We now begin the greatest show of all − our spiritual performance. Now the Master ‘strikes the set’ of the final worldly show.
Love flourishes in that heart
in which glows the Name of God.
The love of God is like the fragrance of musk –
even a thousand wrappings cannot hold it in;
or like the sun, which cannot be hid behind one’s fingers,
or like a river that cannot be stopped in its course.
My Friend is in me, in my Friend am I;
there is no distance left between us.