Here’s Looking at You
The first step towards God-realization is self-realization. If we really want to know God, we must first know ourselves. The truth is, we are afraid to know ourselves – we’re afraid to even look! The acute awareness of our shortcomings that the Master’s presence often brings can make us very uncomfortable. The brighter the light, the more we see the dirt. And that is why the bright light can be painful – it makes us truly see ourselves, and we can feel so ashamed. When people are ashamed, they want to look away. But the saints tell us that becoming aware of our shortcomings is where the transformation begins.
Maulana Rum says:
An empty mirror and your worst destructive habits,
When they are held up to each other,
That’s when the real making begins.
That’s what art and craft are.…
There is nothing worse than thinking you are well enough.
More than anything, self-complacency blocks the workmanship.
Put your vileness up to a mirror and weep.
Get that self-satisfaction flowing out of you!
Coleman Barks, Delicious Laughter
We must learn to be extremely honest with ourselves. As Maharaj Sawan Singh says in Spiritual Gems:
Character is the foundation upon which rises the spiritual edifice. As long as one is a slave of the senses, talk of spirituality is a mockery. A magnet would attract shining iron, but not rust. Similarly, the Sound will attract a pure mind, which is free from passion’s dross. But when the mind is steeped in the mud of passion and desire, it is like iron that is covered with rust and mud. The first essential step to a spiritual life is character. One may deceive one’s friends, relatives and even oneself, but the power within is not deceived. It is the duty of a devotee to keep constant watch over his mind and never let it loose. As a mother looks after her child, so does a true devotee watch his mind.
In order to keep watch over our mind, we have to look at it. Fortunately, we are given ample opportunity to know the state of our character throughout our life. Each situation can be looked at like a little test. How can we know that we are impatient if we don’t find ourselves in an irritating situation? How can we know that we are lustful if we don’t ever mix with people, some of whom might be very attractive or appealing? How can we know the extent of our ego and pride unless we are challenged by praise or disapproval?
When we find ourselves in positions of authority but remain humble; when we meet a beautiful woman or man but remain chaste in thought and deed; when we are confronted with luxury and extravagance but remain content with our own lot; when somebody insults us or challenges our views but we remain calm and loving – then we know we are learning to gain mastery over ourselves, that our character is being strengthened and we are being cleansed.
However, we should try not to put ourselves in situations that will influence us negatively. The Masters don’t recommend that we live in caves as recluses, but they do suggest that we try to live a wholesome life, because we absorb the atmosphere created by the company we keep. If we attend to our meditation regularly and diligently, if we live according to the principles of spirituality, we will have the strength to go through our allotment of karmic experiences with a sense of balance.
When we look at a seed it is only the outside shell that we see, but with understanding and experience we can envisage the life that lies latent in the seed. So too, when we start to look at ourselves we see the outer covering, for better and for worse. Through meditation and the grace of the Master, we become conscious of our inner potential. And all our failures, both small and great, will serve to help keep us humble. Each day is an opportunity, and he will never give us more than we can take.
Like the seed, we have to break open to release the spirit within. In order for the sculpture to emerge, the stone must be chiselled. Without the sculptor’s work it would remain a block of stone. It took the power of Michelangelo’s arm, and his vision, to create the statue of David. If the stone could have begged “Do not break me”, where would the art be? Look at God’s miraculous creation – are we not part of his artistry?
Look for where the light catches
To see the imperfections of the wood when we are trying to sand it smooth, we tilt our head to see where the light catches, and then we know where to sand. When we paint, we have to look at the wall from a different angle, to see where we have missed any spots. Each situation allows us to find the imperfections in ourselves. Each person in our life is a grinding stone for us; each situation a blank wall to cover with our love, the Master’s love that is developing within us. We just need to change our perspective ever so slightly, to see where we have missed a spot, to see where the surface needs sanding.
We cannot change our perspective without meditation, without attempting to do our meditation. We may be flawed by imperfections, past transgressions, weaknesses and sin. But we don’t need to try to hide these from ourselves, or from the Lord. He is everywhere. He is in us. He is us. We should bravely face our weaknesses through meditation and place our trust in the Lord’s power, mercy and grace.
Despite our imperfections and failings we are drawn to the Lord. As we look at him, as his love enables us to forget our sins and failings, we forget ourselves. The moth sees only the light; it does not think about itself or the other moths at all. It does not consider its unworthiness. It cannot do other than simply fly. As we get purer, as we put in the effort, as we fall and get up again, we cannot do other than simply run towards the Lord.
His love overrides all our imperfections and failings. At the end of the day, we are his! Our sins are many, but his mercy and grace are greater. Some disciples have even affectionately expressed the sentiment that the Lord would not be able to show his greatness if we were not in such a poor state. Tukaram says:
Had I not been a sinner in this world, my Lord,
How couldst Thou be known as the Redeemer?
Hence, my name as ‘the sinner’ comes first.
Then comes Thine, O Fountain of Mercy.
The Philosopher’s Stone owes its glory to iron,
Else a common stone only it would be.
It’s the beggar’s appeal, O Tuka,
That lends prestige to the wish-granting tree.
Tukaram, Saint of Maharashtra
The love of the Lord is ultimately what will rescue us from our sorry state. However, just as parents must show their children not only affection but also discipline if they are to help them learn to find a positive way forward in the world, so too we sometimes feel the Lord’s loving and sometimes his discipline. Just as our children have to learn self-discipline to stand on their own two feet in the world, going through so many experiences, learning which behaviours bring positive or negative results, so too we need to develop self-discipline as we grow towards spiritual maturity.
Although the Master tells us we should not indulge in excessive analysis, a little introspection now and then will enable us to improve. When we learn to play a piece of music, we have to practise the difficult bits. If we only play the easy parts of a piece, we will never be able to play the whole piece. The key is first to identify what the hard parts are. Which note is difficult to play? Which transition? Once we are aware of what causes the problem, we can practise overcoming that difficulty over and over, until our muscles remember exactly how the hand needs to move. If we just gave up at that difficulty, how would we ever discover the beauty of the music? Let’s practise the difficult bits!