The Light of Understanding
In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, in the Bible, it is written: “Blessed are those servants whom the Master finds awake when he comes.” Similarly, a story in the Gospel of Saint Matthew tells of ten maidens, of whom five looked after their lamps, trimmed their wicks and kept them filled with oil, and five did not. When their Master came to take them with him to the sacred wedding - the union with the Lord - those who had prepared their lamps lighted them and went with him through the door. Those who had not were caught short and could not go with their Master but were left behind lamenting.
This story emphasizes the importance of being awake enough, aware enough, to attend to our spiritual tasks routinely and regularly. It also shows how easily we forget, or do not understand, how vital it is to trim the wick and top up the oil in the lamp of meditation every day. If we do not grasp the importance of our task, we do not put in the effort to do it; instead we postpone it, forget it, and rationalize why we have not done it. Somehow we lose sight of the fact that when the critical time comes and we need the lamp to light our way, it will not be ready.
This story works on many levels and applies to many things in life. It points out how easily we slip away from doing what is necessary. If we don’t stick to our routine of getting up to sit in meditation because we do not appreciate its importance, we will not be conscious enough at the time of our death to see the Master or to go with him. Instead we shall be left behind to reincarnate in this cycle of transmigration.
In mystical texts from the ancient Hermetic tradition of Egypt, dating from the first three centuries C.E, Sophia - who symbolizes Shabd, wisdom and both the creator and creation - speaks about how essential it is that we understand why we should be awake to the Lord, to meditation and to life itself:
Hear me, you that hear
and listen to my words, you who know me.
I am the hearing that is attainable to everything,
and I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name….
For what is inside of you is what is outside of you,
and the one who fashioned you on the outside
is the one who shaped the inside of you.
And what you see outside of you, you see inside of you;
it is visible and it is your garment …
On the day when I am close to you,
you are far away
from me, and on the day when I
am far away from you,
I am close to you.
Thunder: Perfect Mind, in Nag Hammadi Library
The ‘I’ in this poem is Sophia. In Gnostic texts she is the feminine God-principle, who filled all matter with scintilla - sparks of light and consciousness - to ensure that every aspect of the material universe would one day be able to return to the divine regions that are its source.
Mystics tell us such stories to open our minds to an understanding of spiritual realities. They explain to us that it is only through regular spiritual practice - trimming the wick, filling the lamp with oil, in other words, daily meditation - that we get near to understanding the Masters’ true nature. They tell us that if we truly understood what they are, we would never skip our meditation or fail to give it our full attention.
To understand something as truth, we need to wake up to the experience we have of it, both inside and outside. Meaning is pertinent to oneself, not to anyone else. Baba Ji advises us to think for ourselves about why we want to be initiated, why we should meditate. He tells us to prioritise what is important to us personally and then to act accordingly. We must each ask ourselves: “What does meditation mean to me?”
Once we experience the results of doing something, then we begin to understand more truly why we are doing it, and so our motivation grows. When we really understand what our actions mean for us, we will never slacken in our meditation, as we will understand that if we do, we are giving up a true and intimate relationship with our Master.
To understand is to be conscious. In a certain African language, the word for the sharp thorn of the mimosa tree (mva) is the same as the word for consciousness - the sharp sting of the thorn symbolizes the sting of being conscious. In Western traditions, light is often a metaphor for spiritual understanding. Hildegard of Bingen writes:
The Word is light that has never been concealed by shadow, never given a time to serve or to rule, to wax or to wane. It is, rather, the principle of all order and the Light of all lights, which contains in itself light.
What is being said here is that light symbolizes God, and being eternally awake - in other words, a spiritual consciousness.
If we have this consciousness, like the maidens with the well-tended oil lamps, we see things just as they are - with clarity, achieved through understanding and love. In this sense, understanding is an act of love enabling us to see and bear the truth of reality. When we understand this, we take on board the reality we experience in meditation, and we begin to understand our essential relationship with God, the Master and Shabd.
Here is an extract from the book Mister God, This is Anna, about a little girl who is talking to her friend Fynn about her relationship with God:
“Mister God made everything, didn’t he?”
There was no point in saying that I didn’t really know. I said “Yes.”
“Even the dirt and the stars and the animals and the people and the trees and everything, and the pollywogs?” The pollywogs were those little creatures we had seen under the microscope.
I said, “Yes, he made everything.”
She nodded her agreement. “Does Mister God love us truly?”
“Sure thing,” I said. “Mister God loves everything.”
The narrator, Fynn, then explains to Anna that there are “a great many things about Mister God that we don’t know about”, and she responds with another question:
“Well then,” she continued, “if we don’t know many things about Mister God, how do we know he loves us?”
“Them pollywogs, I could love them till I bust, but they wouldn’t know, would they? I’m million times bigger than they are and Mister God is million times bigger than me, so how do I know what Mister God does?”
She was silent for a little while … Then she went on:
“Fynn, Mister God doesn’t love us.” She hesitated. “He doesn’t really, you know, only people can love. I love Bossy (the cat), but Bossy don’t love me. I love the pollywogs, but they don’t love me. I love you, Fynn, and you love me, don’t you? …”
“No,”she went on, “no, he don’t love me, not like you do, it’s different, it’s millions of times bigger.”
“Mister God is different. You see, Fynn, people can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can love you right inside, so it’s different. Mister God ain’t like us; we are a little bit like Mister God, but not much yet.”
“You see, Fynn, Mister God is different from us because he can finish things and we can’t. I can’t finish loving you because I shall be dead millions of years before I can finish, but Mister God can finish loving you, and so it’s not the same kind of love, is it? …”
“Fynn, what is the word for when you see it in a different way?”
The narrator explains that the precise phrase she wants is ‘point of view’.
“Fynn, that’s the difference. You see, everybody has got a point of view, but Mister God hasn’t. Mister God has only points to view.”
It seemed to me that she had taken the whole idea of God outside the limitation of time and placed him firmly in the realm of eternity. ‘Points to view’ was a clumsy term. She meant ‘viewing points’.
Mister God had an infinite number of viewing points … Humanity has an infinite number of points of view. God has an infinite number of viewing points. That means that - God is everywhere. I jumped….
“There’s another way that Mister God is different.” We obviously hadn’t finished yet. “Mister God can know things and people from the inside too. We only know them from the outside, don’t we? So you see, Fynn, people can’t talk about Mister God from the outside; you can only talk about Mister God from the inside of him.”
From a practical point of view, if we applied this to meditation we would quickly find that meditation is learning to love and talk to God from the inside. We would understand that the inner form of the Master, the Shabd (which has ‘an infinite number of viewing points’) loves us right inside, and this is different from any external experience of love that we have ever had. We would see that the Shabd Master is everywhere and infinite; he is there when he is not there; we would begin to understand something about the reality of the Master’s actual existence within us, a reality we touch daily through meditation.
Perhaps we would reconsider our actions if we truly believed that the inner Master was viewing all our actions ‘from an infinite number of viewing points’!
Our task, like that of the maidens, is to put in the effort of putting oil in our lamps and trimming the wicks, so that we can wake up to understanding the actuality of the light of God in our lives. The mystics tell us that spiritual understanding is the highest form of consciousness; it goes beyond intellectual knowledge and the constraints of the mind. They explain that knowledge put into daily life and turned into practical experience becomes understanding, and meditation is the tool to achieve this.
The mystics say that doing this is not simply an intellectual exercise. When, like Anna, we begin to grasp the living reality and presence of God, we start to feel a pull and we reach out to the Lord, moved as we are by this yearning.
Baba Ji tells us that the human body is simply a platform from which we reach to the spiritual. Understanding this brings infinite viewing points, which enable us to see beyond our intellect, through the doorway of the third eye to the actuality of the soul, and our reluctance gives way to a sense of our undying relationship to the Shabd Master within.