Each day as we stumble through this world, the Master blesses us. His daily blessings take many forms and some are so disguised that we fail to recognize them for the generous gifts they are. However, all of the Guru’s gifts are taking us closer to his ultimate gift – our liberation from this world. With each day, the Master is tenderly unwrapping us from the illusions of the material creation that have ensnared and paralyzed us like a spider’s victim in the strong gossamer threads of desire and attachment.
The story of our spiritual journey and the journey’s interrelationship with the Lord’s grace is an epic tale that has its beginning in our inception as a human embryo. After thousands of lives, in and out of the bodies of thousands of species up and down the evolutionary scale, we are blessed with this human life. Our human birth is our first great gift. It is in the human form that God has constructed the only route of escape from the physical world.
Because we have been blessed with a human birth, we are also blessed with a unique opportunity for liberation. According to the saints, human beings are the top of the creation; we are the only species with the faculty of discrimination. We are the one species with a natural disquietude. We are never quite satisfied. We run after one desire and then another, but nothing quite fills us or keeps us filled.There is always a gnawing hunger. We may continue for years in our confused searching for gratification until the moment comes when we realize there is something essential within us that is greater than the sum of our chaotic desires and their elusive fulfillment.
The Austrian mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem The Panther is an analogy of that moment of awareness in our life.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a centre
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly … An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Each of us is like Rilke’s panther. We have grown so weary of the limitations of our existence that it seems to us we are caged behind a thousand bars and beyond these bars there is nothing. Our prison, this material world, has become for us the whole of the creation. We have forgotten who we are and where we came from. All of our many lives have been like the cramped pacing of the caged panther. We have gone through the same behaviours over and over again until our habits have become a ritual dance in the centre of which our soul, the mighty essence of God, stands paralyzed. We go on this way, like the panther, pacing in circles in our cage until one day the curtain over our eyes lifts and a realization enters in.
For the panther, the fleeting image is of his freedom. And for us, it is the recognition that our origin is far more glorious than the dung heap of this world.
We are here in this world, but we are not of here. We don’t belong here. The saints tell us that we belong to a country of unclouded skies. And now, as humans, we have the significant potential for returning to that land. God has blessed us: he has given us a body with a doorway to freedom and then brought us to the realization that we are not free and must be liberated.
To assist us in getting free, the Lord’s next gift is to send us a Satguru who, wrapped in flesh and blood, descends into this world to redeem us. Although dressed like us in a physical body, our saviour is not imprisoned like us and so he is our one true friend and helper in this lifetime.
It is through the Lord’s grace that saints are sent to us, and it is also grace that draws us into their presence. We know that we can never find our way home on our own. We need a friend, we need someone who will help trim away our ego, someone to hold our hand and keep us from losing our balance. With our initiation commences the Master’s gracious and painstaking peeling away of our layers of ego, our desires and attachments that we have accumulated lifetime after lifetime.
To begin our cleansing process, the Guru’s grace first flows to us in the form of the vows we take. Initially we don’t have a complete appreciation for the value of the three vows that require us to limit what we ingest, to not imbibe in intoxicants and drugs, and to lead a moral life. But through the years, we realize that the Master refines our practise of these vows, so that we can begin to receive the subtle benefits of these remarkable gifts and meditate unimpeded.
Often, the events in our life that bring us happiness or wealth we call grace from a loving Master. The events that leave us shocked, impoverished, diseased – these events we call bad karma. We differentiate between these extremes and label them accordingly because we can’t understand that there is a Master who loves us, yet would allow us to be brought to despair. However, as we are often reminded, in reality we know neither what a true Master is, nor what his love is – these are just concepts, ungrounded in direct experience.
The Persian poet-saint Maulana Rum has suggested that we should honour the gifts of adversity that come to us as these will help us return to the Lord.
Health and sickness, riches and poverty, success and failure are all the saint’s blessings. We don’t know what is best for us. We don’t know the extent of our karmic debts. We don’t know who the Master is – what he does for us and how he loves us. We don’t know who we are. But we can, through the direct perception of our liberated soul. To unravel the mystery of the Master and his love and our own identity, we must go within ourselves. All true knowledge is there. We must go through the inner door. And we can.
Our persistent efforts in meditation mixed with the Master’s love have a synergistic effect that purifies us, pulls us home. Any progress we make on the spiritual journey is a gracious gift of the Guru, but we must keep our promise to tithe our time. We must let go of our expectations and relax into the dark solitude of the eye centre, through the deep comfort of simran. And we will. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:
If you egotistically say, “I will not fight this battle,” your resolve
will be useless; your own nature will drive you into it.
If you will not fight the battle of life,
Your own karma will drive you into it.
This is what it is to be human – to rise valiantly and consistently to the mystical challenge of going within to find the Lord’s doorway to liberation that can be found only in the human form.
All the circumstances and opportunities given to us, however we perceive them – as bitter tanning acid or showers of blessings – are the Master’s infinitely mystifying grace: A grace that first draws us into his physical presence and ultimately makes us strong and pure enough to pass through the inner door and into his Shabd presence. This true form of the Master, the Shabd, is the ringing and radiant creative power of the Lord, which began all things, will dissolve all things, and holds everything within its memory.
Each of the gifts that the Lord sends us over our lifetime is designed to bring us closer to him and our own true essence.
It is then that the purpose of our humanity is fulfilled – we break loose from the world’s cage. We rise up out of our obsessive desires; and guided still by our one faithful friend, our soul opens its wings and we fly unbound toward home. This then is the Satguru’s most precious gift – our unwrapped soul shining in its true nature and finally free.
The journey begins within us at the eye centre. The Master guides us there and takes us home. He has called us to himself in this lifetime because in his flawless wisdom he knows when we are ready to accept him, his gifts and his grace. He knows we are ready to rise courageously to the challenge of being human.
And we are.