What Is a Spiritual Life?
Who am I, why am I here, what is the meaning of life? What is a spiritual life? Many people have given up asking such questions, as if perhaps there is no answer; or, if there is an answer, it’s not necessary to know it. And how absurd is that? How can we have clear life goals if we do not know what we are here for – and where we might be going when the time comes to leave?
Of course, it can seem easier not to know what it means to live a spiritual life, because not knowing means we do not have to change anything in our lives. Some of us are subconsciously afraid that knowing the answer might mean a change to our present lifestyle. Even though many of us are not happy with our present state, we fear a change might be for the worse.
Yet we all know what it is to say, “I know this is right and it doesn’t matter what anyone says; this is what I’ve got to do.” Even when such a conviction seems to defy logic, we know when it is true for us. Wisdom requires only clarity of thought, not intellectual prowess. While knowledge is constructed by the mind, wisdom comes from deeper within and is a revelation of our real self. For this reason, wisdom is always very simple.
Knowledge can be complex but wisdom is always simple
Many wise people have very little intellectual knowledge. It has often been said that the greatest truths are the simplest and so are the greatest men and women. Yet we tend to assume that the most important of all questions must have the most complex answers – and probably ones we don’t understand. Meanwhile, we are continually missing the simple truths that the mystics keep repeating.
Imagine for a moment that you were the Creator. Would you have made it so difficult to find the meaning of a spiritual life that someone would have to renounce all attachments and travel on a sacred pilgrimage for many years until, finally arriving in cold mountains, a holy teacher in a dark cave would unveil life’s meaning? Or would you make it so simple that the answer would be sitting right in front of them, waiting for the child in them to see it?
The saints tell us that the Creator gave us this human life for only one purpose, and that it is to bring to an end our repeated rebirths into this world. Can it be any simpler than that? We have not come to this present birth to face the challenge of improving our personalities, building our stamina, or increasing our knowledge and experience, but rather simply to say goodbye once and for all.
It’s all about saying goodbye
This is the simple truth: the spiritual life is all about saying goodbye. But, after being in this creation for eons, how do we go about that? Well, first of all, let us look to the Master. He provides a living example of how to lead a spiritual life, saying goodbye to everyone and everything here. He does many of the same things that we do: he eats, sleeps, works, spends time with his family and attends to his responsibilities. But he does one more thing all twenty-four hours of the day: he remains aware of the divine spirit within – even when tying a shoelace. That connection with the Shabd within can be ours too, if we follow the Master’s guidance (and his example) on how to reach it.
Mystics down the ages have been telling us one very simple fact: they advise us to be rather than to try to become. Within these two words, being and becoming, our whole life is contained. Being is the nature of the soul, which is enlightenment; becoming is the nature of the mind, which is confusion and ignorance.
Our destiny is to be one with the Lord. In fact, we already are, but we cannot yet see it. The Master, through our meditation, is removing the coverings of the soul and prying us free, so that after many ages we can finally realize our true identity. It is only by diligent daily meditation practice that we will slowly come to realize who we really are.
To this end, the Master asks that we give at least one tenth of our day to meditation. In the furious rush of this world, we’re asked simply to sit still and stop thinking. This little request from the Master goes against everything this world stands for, but that is because it is the way out of the world, out of all its pain and suffering.
Meditation comes first
Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart writes that we have been in motion throughout time. We are tired and want to stop; we want to go home, to rest. The end of all motion is rest; the only rest is that which has no beginning, no end, no motion -and that is the Divine Light. Master is offering us that final rest. Once he takes us into the orbit of his divine embrace, we begin to understand that we have no choice but to come to him.
To live the spiritual life, we must organize our days around our meditation. Our decisions on how to balance work, sleep, and leisure will be based upon the commitment we need to bring to spirituality. If we are not fully committed to our meditation practice, then the mind has trapped us, tricking us into a meaningless ritual.
But it’s not an easy journey, because it’s not a road we are familiar with. If we are disappointed that we haven’t attained what we had hoped for, or that meditation feels a hundred times more difficult than we expected, we need to remind the mind that we are travelling not on a path of this world but on a path that takes us out of this world. Maharaj Charan Singh has said we should never feel we are back where we were a dozen or so years ago: there is no going back. Meditation, once done, can never be undone, whatever its quality or quantity.
The Master is taking us towards our long-forgotten home. So it behoves us to carry on taking small steps forward, to convince the mind of the importance of the spiritual life, and to keep faith with our Master. When difficult things happen in our lives, we must trust in the Master and accept that he will never allow anything to come our way that will not benefit us spiritually in the long run.
Just trust in the Master
When the Master initiated us, he took charge of our spiritual life and told us that if we attend to our meditation, as best as we can, he will take care of everything. When we put into practice his instructions, then our limited faith begins to grow firmer. Whatever our Master asks us to do always leads to the shortest path to salvation. He does not want us to be here one second longer than necessary. In fact, his own seva is not complete until all his disciples reach Sach Khand.
When we live like this – putting our full trust in him – we begin to see how great has been our ignorance of Master’s love for us. In the end, it is only his love, not our meditation, which is going to relieve us from this physical life of suffering. But the Master has asked us to work in partnership with him, and this means that we must exert ourselves to escape our habit of compulsive thinking. Any thought about the future is imagination. Any thought about the past is memory, probably faulty at that. There is no reality to thoughts, at the spiritual level.
What helps is simran, the divine names given us by the Master which carry the power to stop thought and bring the mind to the here and now of the eye focus. Turning towards him through simran allows us to give up worrying about what is happening in our lives. Simran enables us to forget ourselves completely and remember the Master, because simran leads us to the Master, to Shabd, to limitless love. It is a gift from the Master to enable us to be with him at the spiritual level, at any time. Simran has even been called the soul’s life support system.
The objective of the spiritual life is to go beyond the limited to the unlimited, beyond the ego to the realization of the true self. How can the limited mind understand the unlimited soul? Someone once asked Mrs Albert Einstein if she understood her husband’s famously complicated theory of relativity. She replied that no, she didn’t, but he was her husband so she trusted him in his work. In spirituality our intellect fails miserably – so how are we to comprehend all of this? Well, with the mind, we certainly cannot. But when we learn to trust the Master and realize the mind’s ignorance, we will find ourselves engulfed in divine reality.
Most of the time, we try to cure our pain from the outside; but when we are aware of the truth and living a spiritual life, we fight instead to go within. And when we go within, life can be magnificent. Inside, the spiritual light is shining. Any day, any time, we can tune in and experience it. It just seems so silly not to try.
It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss