God-Realization and the Mechanical Duck
In the early part of the eighteenth century, a French engineer and inventor named Jacques de Vaucanson achieved great fame and fortune. We have forgotten him now. But in the late 1730s de Vaucanson was the talk of Europe. And what was his great accom-plishment? He built a mechanical duck. The duck did not survive the centuries, but we have written descriptions that indicate it was quite remarkable. The duck was driven by a series of weights and had more than a thousand moving parts. It could eat fish, digest this food in an artificial stomach, and even excrete the waste in a natural way. Why was Europe agog at the mechanical duck? Automatons were the rage and the mechanical duck was among the most spectacular.
The duck was purchased by a German collector and since has disappeared. One last report on de Vaucanson’s creation was made by the poet Goethe, who saw it and reported in a diary entry from 1805 that the duck was in deplorable condition.
Of course the inventor de Vaucanson is no longer with us. He died in 1782 after living what any honest observer would describe as a successful life.
His could be the short biography for many people. “He was born. He built a mechanical duck. He died.” We are all in the same boat with de Vaucanson. We are intensely involved in building ducks. In many cases, as certainly must have been the case with de Vaucanson, the constructed duck is a thing of wonder, worthy of acclaim by society. In other cases, one might make a very ordinary duck. In still others, the duck might not be much to talk about. But if it’s our duck and we built it, we think it is most important.
The mechanical duck can be a metaphor for our activity on this planet. Most everything we do in this life can be put into the category of de Vaucanson’s duck. It may be fantastic, it may dazzle, may gain us fame or fortune. It may seem important at the time. But as a wise man once said, “If it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
One can argue that if building mechanical ducks was the purpose of human life, one or all of the Masters would have told us so. But that isn’t what they tell us at all. They do not say, “The main purpose of human life is to build ducks.” In fact, what they actually say is, “God-realization is the main purpose of human life.”
Hazur Maharaj Ji wrote the above in a letter to a disciple. The full quote, from Divine Light, is: “God-realization is the main purpose of human life and we should take full advantage of it.” He doesn’t say that God-realization is our only purpose. He knows that we do, in fact, have ducks to build. But he says clearly that God-realization is our main purpose. What this means to us as satsangis, as seekers, is that we have to shift our goals and objectives from what we were taught by our parents, teachers and society. To belabour the metaphor, we were taught to get out there and build ducks, to build great ducks. We were taught to build the best ducks that we could build. We had to do this because ducks are important, critical to our success, significant for our country and the future of our children. We probably still believe that our ducks are very important.
But if the Master tells us that we should use this human life for the purpose of God-realization, what do we do? How do we shift from duck builder to God-realizer? Most of us know it is not so easy. Well, it does seem easier for some than others, and Hazur explains this as well in the same letter. He says in Divine Light:
There are some persons who, having been on the path in their previous birth, get very good results quickly. They start from the point which they reached in their previous life. They reach their previously earned stage with very little effort at all. There are others who, with a great deal of effort on their part, seem to move up very slowly.
Many of us must be beginners. We have to work harder, put in more effort. Hazur echoes the folk wisdom that “effort is its own reward.” In the same letter in Divine Light he writes, “No effort on our part goes unrewarded.”
When the Master tells us our primary purpose in life is different from the one we have been pursuing, what should we do? How do we change direction? All of our lives we have been heading one way. We meet a Master and he tells us that our priorities are wrong. He tells us our focus is incorrect. He teaches us that we are concentrat-ing on the wrong things. He tells us that building mechanical ducks is not our real work and that there is something more important than our family, friends, relationships, wealth, and possessions.Hazur says again in Divine Light:
When we are born as human beings, we completely forget the purpose of life. We get so absorbed in enjoying the pleasures of the senses, in devotion to our caste, creed and country, that we have no time to think of anything else.
We have no time to think of anything else. Or, we are thinking about the wrong things. This sounds like a management problem. As individuals we manage our lives haphazardly. Perhaps we should take a lesson from businesses, which very typically, run their corporate lives using a program of “Management by Objectives”. One of the first steps an organization takes in creating objectives is to decide on a mission statement. The Master has, in fact, already given us a mission statement. But we have to attach ourselves to our Sant Mat mission and truly make it the guiding force in our lives. We have to decide what principles we wish to adopt to anchor our lives. Once we adopt a mission, every decision we make, every action we take, should be related to that mission.
It’s pretty simple really. If our mission is to build the infamous mechanical duck, then our daily activity will emphasize all that duck-building entails. However, if we decide to adopt the mission of God-realization, recognizing this as our main purpose in life, we will give it the highest priority possible.
We can laugh at Jacques de Vaucanson and his silly duck. But if we laugh at him it’s only fair that we laugh at ourselves as well. Our priorities are misplaced. We are operating from the wrong mission statement. Building ducks will not get us where we want to go.
When the mind is consumed with
Remembrance of Him
Something divine happens to the
Heart … Love.
Hafiz, The Gift, tr. Daniel Ladinsky