Turn Around - Listen
Turn around and listen
to the great resonance of Shabd.
These opening lines of a poem by Soami Ji sum up the entire philosophy of Sant Mat, the teaching of the saints. What the poem, Shabd 12 from Bachan 20, tells us is that we must turn our attention around. Our hearing is normally focused on external sounds, but we need instead to listen to what is within us.
Moreover, we must not just hear but actually listen; it is a matter of attention. When we don’t notice the birds singing, it’s not that we can’t hear them but that we aren’t listening. We are not giving them our attention. The saints repeatedly tell us that the Shabd is there, but we are not; we can hear it but we’re not listening. Our attention is elsewhere, drawn by external sounds.
The mystics tell us that God cannot be found outside, in the realm of the senses. It is not just that we interpret the world through our five senses; what we perceive through them is what we take to be real. Most of us regard ourselves as practical people, who won’t believe something unless we’ve seen it with our own eyes. Yet we know from science that human eyes see only a tiny fraction of what is there; with X-ray eyes, we’d see a different world. Far from seeing reality, we see only what’s on the surface.
Psychologists explain that when we see another person for the first time, we form a judgment about them within seconds, mapping what we see onto our prejudices. When we get to know that person better, we always discover that he or she is different from our initial perception. Seeing may be believing, but it isn’t knowledge. It’s the same with all our physical senses.
But the saints tell us that we do have reliable faculties for accessing reality, namely the inner spiritual faculties. Referring to Sant Mat as ‘the science of the soul’ is a way of explaining this idea. No one expects to see a ‘soul’ in the outside world, so the word ‘soul’ stands for whatever lies within. The science of the soul is the experiment of going within to find reality.
Soami Ji continues his poem:
O surat, beloved of your Master!
Why carry heavy burdens on your head
when your stay on earth is so short-lived?
The Master pleads with you again and again
to develop love for the melody of Shabd.
Surat is the inner hearing faculty. By “heavy burdens”, Soami Ji does not mean the events of life. These are the results of karma; sometimes immensely enjoyable, sometimes horribly painful, mostly somewhere in between. He means rather the burdens of mental attachment - to beings, objects and events in this world.
We believe that what goes on in our world matters profoundly, because this is the only ‘reality’ we know. Yet as spiritual human beings we are constantly seeking happiness, fulfilment and liberation. Here is the paradox. We want happiness and we see the outside world as real; but if we seek happiness through the senses, we won’t find it.
There are two major reasons why we won’t find happiness ‘out here’. Firstly, everything here changes. If our happiness depends on other people, we cannot guarantee they’ll remain happy, healthy or here at all. And sooner or later we realize that our own time is limited too. Our human life is measured in breaths; at any second we may use up our allowance and leave. Knowing this, how can we expect to find any lasting happiness here?
Secondly, our desires will never be fulfilled. The more we gain, the more we want. Maharaj Charan Singh described indulging our senses as putting fuel on the fire. We came into this world empty-handed and we will leave empty-handed. What lasting happiness can be obtained by trying to have more and more? In the Bible Jesus Christ asks: “For what does it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Soami Ji does not recommend that we cut all our ties to the world, however. It is wrong for us to abandon our responsibilities and live off others. He advises us instead to loosen our mental attachments while living a normal life:
When all worldly attachments are shaken loose,
the soul has taken the first step on its way to Agam Desh.
When we want to transplant a shrub we have to remove it with its roots intact or it will die. A plant with deep roots will resist being dug out, but once it starts to loosen we can shake it so that the roots are freed intact and it can be successfully transplanted. The saints tell us that mental attachments similarly can be loosened, by stilling and focusing the mind, so that we may transplant our attention to the Shabd within.
By practising meditation regularly and punctually each day, regardless of our changing circumstances, we learn to meditate in a natural, relaxed way. Like learning to speak a foreign language or play a musical instrument, we have to work through a period during which the process may feel artificial and unnatural, in order for it to eventually become natural and automatic. Habit becomes nature.
Meditation is naturally a struggle. Our effort is the Master’s grace. Most of the time we can offer the Master only our ‘failure’ in meditation, but we can fail only if we try. We may experience setbacks, but a setback can happen only to someone trying to go forward.
Soami Ji goes on:
This is no task for the worldly minded;
only a gurmukh can understand and accomplish it.
Manmukhs have entirely lost the game of life.
But if they attend satsang,
even they can overcome their evil tendencies.
A gurmukh is one devoted to the Shabd form of the Satguru within. A manmukh is under the sway of the mind, the senses and the passions. When Soami Ji refers to manmukhs as ‘they’ he is being rather kind; he means us. We can all talk about the Master, the Shabd, love and devotion, but without meditation this is all just words.
Soami Ji goes on to say:
Nam alone is pure, all else is bitterness, poison;
make Nam the sustenance of your life.
The present Master has described meditation as our life-support system. We think we are sustained by food, water, warmth, and so on. However, these things sustain the body, not the soul. If we focus on sustenance for the body, to the exclusion of food for the soul, we will remain fully attached to the world.
Soami Ji advises:
Listen to me, stop being apathetic -
wake up, pay attention.
Uproot and destroy lust and other passions,
then wash yourself clean
in the refreshing stream of Shabd.
If we commit ourselves to daily meditation, if we wake up and pay attention, we will uproot and destroy lust, anger and the other passions. The saints explain that we will be truly detached from the world only when we are immersed in the “refreshing stream” of Shabd; what Maharaj Charan Singh often called “that better pleasure” within.
Soami Ji continues:
When you conquer your mind and maya,
both Kal and karma will also be ousted.
Then the soul will be in command -
free to ride to the palace of the perfect Master.
Once connected with the Shabd within, the soul is no longer under the sway of the mind and the mind is no longer the slave of the senses. Soami Ji concludes his poem with an affectionate address to the soul who has followed the advice of the Master. For this one, he says, there is only enduring bliss and real happiness:
Dear soul, you are the consort of Agam Purush,
you have now become the beloved of all.
Strengthen your love for the perfect Master
so you can see the splendour of Shabd within.