Sun at Midnight
In Tales of the Mystic East we find the following story:
Once, in the thick of night, Guru Nanak Sahib said to his sons, “Look, how magnificently the sun is shining.” His sons were incredulous.
When he made the same comment to Guru Angad Dev, he replied, “Yes, how magnificent it is.”
Guru Nanak then said to him, “Go and wash these clothes, dry them, and bring them back to me.”
There in the darkness of the night, Guru Angad did as he was told. The clothes were washed and dried as in the bright hot light of day.
The words of saints are impregnated with meaning and it is unwise to doubt them.
In this surprising little story we get a view, amongst other things, of how hard it is to follow a saint. Only Guru Angad Dev (another saint) was able to do so - Guru Nanak’s sons were left “incredulous”. Saints do not come to corroborate our worldview and make us complacent, but to turn it upside down so that they can root us in a better reality.
As disciples, we may intellectually believe that we have complete faith in our Master. We may feel that we would carry out whatever he advises, even if we do not understand it, that we would accept as right whatever he arranges. But the fact is that when these situations arise, for instance in our seva, in connection with satsang arrangements or simply in the circumstances of our personal lives, we forget entirely about our theoretical belief and let our mind surge forth with its array of judgments.
What would we have said if we had been one of that little group on that dark night with Guru Nanak? Would we have been keen to proffer our worldly knowledge?
“Oh Sir, the meteorological office this evening said that sunrise will be at 6.05 a.m. Should we perhaps wait?”
“Hazur, we would like to do this, but unfortunately, health and safety legislation won’t allow us to wash clothes in the dark.”
Or simply, “Sir, it just isn’t going to work …”
Would we have done everything we could to avoid the foolishness we feared feeling as we hung washing out to dry in the middle of the night? Because, of course, our mind would have been telling us how crazy it was.
The limits of logic
We’re not in an easy position, because we have been brought up to be logical human beings. We must be sensible human beings! Not only our schools and colleges but also our modern-day Master encourages us to use the common sense that most of us have been given. In satsang, for instance, we are advised to employ the power of logical thought to identify our objectives in life, and then to apply that same power in reviewing whether we are doing what it takes to realize these objectives. Logical thought, here, is an adjunct to leading a spiritual life. Maharaj Jagat Singh, writing in A Spiritual Bouquet, advised satsangis to use their heads rather than their emotions when facing life’s ups and downs: “Satsangis should form the habit of ‘thinking’ - clear thinking”, he said. So our mind can clearly be useful in guiding us towards right action.
The mind is an excellent tool, and when we use it well we find it guides us through many situations. As small children in nursery school, some of the first exercises we carried out involved the task of sorting one category of object from another. The items we were given could have been abstract shapes or colours, or models of various types of bird, animal or other object - the point was to give practise in identifying difference and making small, fundamental assessments such as: “This thing has legs and also wings, so it is a bird; this other thing has four legs but no wings, so it is an animal,” and so on. Before long, we had become adept at putting things into categories and, with every apparently successful judgment that we made, our sense of what the world is and how we could understand, control and survive in it grew stronger.
Coping with contradiction
But having grown strong in worldly experience, what are we to do if someone in whom we have placed great trust, our Satguru, decides to contradict our world picture? How do we feel if he tells us that the sun is shining when we firmly believe that it is not? Is he teasing us? And, if so, why does he tease? Actually, of course, there should be no need to provide ourselves with any answer to this. The Guru is the Guru is the Guru, and we should carry out whatever he advises without intellectualizing and without a moment’s hesitation. But because we are also what we are, and because he has told us to use our heads, then let’s do just that in thinking about this particular story.
It will help if we return to the understanding that the mind is a tool. Let’s be clear that that is all it is, and that, like all tools, it belongs in certain situations and not in others. In dealing with the world, it is appropriate to use it; on first contact with the spiritual path, it is sensible to subject that path to careful scrutiny and to satisfy ourselves completely that this is the way, and that this is the Master for us. For instance, in Spiritual Perspectives, Volume I , Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Even if we spend our whole life in trying to understand what we have to follow, I say the time is not lost, it is gained…. We must satisfy our intellect to the best of our ability.
But when we really engage with the nature of discipleship, we come to realize that the mind is a servant, not a god. If it has come to believe that it is more than a servant, then it must be put in its place. Because the Masters are denizens of regions beyond the mind, it follows that the laws of mind and matter hold no sway over them. We hear at the end of the story that the clothes were dried as in the bright hot light of day. Of course they were. That was the power of the saint. More importantly, if we are to rise above mind and matter, then we have to learn to put absolute faith in our Master over the workings of mind.
We are rather like people who have fallen into deep water (the world) and are now surviving by treading water. A lifeguard (the Master) dives in to rescue us. Treading water was useful before he arrived, but now that his arms are around us we must just trust in him and let ourselves be carried to the shore.
We will go on using our worldly intelligence to the best of our ability, but the moment we sense that that intelligence is a hindrance, rather than a help, we must leave it behind and keep faith in the Master. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
We must make full use of our intellect, but once we are convinced that this is the right path for us, this is the right guide for us, then we are not to worry with our intellect but should set it aside. What we need then is practice, faith and devotion.
Spiritual Perspectives, Volume I