A Path for the Brave
Written by Patanjali in the second-century BCE, the Yoga Sutras is a classical text from the yogic school of Indian philosophy. It contains many timeless aphorisms, one of which is, “From contentment comes the attainment of the highest happiness.” But who among us is content? We can spend our lives chasing those things that we think will bring contentment such as physical comfort, relationships, or fashionable adornment. Why then do we read in newspapers and magazines that so many wealthy people are turning to yoga or meditation to help cope with stress? And what of the poor, desperately struggling to find food and shelter, and even safety in war-torn circumstances? Surely no contentment there. Could it be that what the world has to offer does not actually lead to contentment?
The illusionary world
Ever since the beginning of time, mystics have been teaching us that the physical world is an illusion. In fact, we are surrounded by clues indicating that what we see is not real. Clouds, for example, make magnificent shapes and look solid enough to touch, but flying through them, we realize that they are just vapour. Similarly, water looks buoyant, but jump in from fifty feet and it’s as hard as concrete. So if our very senses are constantly being fooled by the physical, how can we ever hope to recognize or understand that which we can’t see, the subtle, imperceptible workings of the universe? This is why we need the mystics to encourage us to be brave enough to see through the illusions upon which we build our lives. They make clear that we will never find happiness in the material world because our mind prevents us from being content. Never satiated, it constantly projects new desires that need fulfilment. The mystics also dispel any notion that we live only once, or that there are no consequences to our actions. Informing us about the karmic law of ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’, they describe the world as a spider’s web in which we are intricately bound to one another in a complex network of relationships. Soami Ji explains this clearly in Sar Bachan:
You have come into the world and entangled yourself in an
intricate web of attachments.
Your first bond is confinement to your body,
the second, attachment to your spouse.
Attachment to your children is the third bond,
and the fourth is to your grandchildren,
Who only lead you into a further network
of their own relationships.
Where is the end to this chain of involvements,
let alone your other attachments to wealth and property?
The chain of attachments from which we seek happiness is an illusion because each link exists so long as there is a karmic debit or credit and, once that is done, the closest of relationships comes to an end. As the saints remind us, if our own body does not stay with us, how can we possibly rely on other people for comfort, or find happiness in the material possessions that the mind first craves and then rejects?
The precious gift of human life
After dispelling our long-held illusions, the mystics then tell us where to search for permanent happiness, and how to liberate ourselves from our endless karmic dues. Such an opportunity is only available to human beings, which is why all masters emphasize how precious human birth is. As human beings, we have been given the gift of discrimination – the capacity to reflect on our circumstances and make choices. Moreover, it is only as human beings that we are imbued with that sense of longing, which Maharaj Charan Singh described in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, as “the yearning of the soul to become one with the Father”. Fundamentally, however, the greatest sign of our good fortune in being born as a human being is coming into contact with a perfect living Master. It is the Master who helps us understand the true nature of our condition and gives us the technique through which we fulfil our soul’s longing to reunite with our Father. Maharaj Sawan Singh was advised by his Master, Baba Jaimal Singh, “Nam alone is true. Hold fast to it.”
This Shabd, this Nam is the sound of the Lord reverberating within every one of us. It is the power that will draw us back into the Lord, whereupon we will lose our worry-laden identities and never again have to return to this vale of tears. The Shabd is not something new, it has been calling every one of us ever since we entered the creation. It has never stopped calling us, but, in our state of delusion, we have remained ignorant of its presence. No wonder we have never been truly contented, – how could we be, with this great inner symphony going on, yet encased in ego as we are, cut off from it?
Now, however, having been found and initiated by a perfect Master we have the opportunity to listen to the voice that calls us. To do so, we need to lose the biggest attachment of all, that relating to the body. As long as our attention is confined to the body, both in terms of satisfying sensual desires and in believing only what our mind and senses can perceive, we cannot contact the Shabd. A massive impetus is needed to kickstart our desire to stop the attention from running out through the sensory gates and raise it to the eye centre. That impetus will come from faith, love and devotion for our Master, virtues which slowly, but surely develop within us when we please him. And what pleases the Master the most is fulfilling the vows taken at initiation, including practising two and a half hours of meditation each day and repeating simran whenever our minds are free.
The way we approach meditation is significant. Baba Ji advises us that each time we sit for meditation, we should remind ourselves why we are doing so – what is our objective? In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II, Maharaj Sawan Singh commented:
If one is arrogant or greedy in devotion, that devotion is the lowest or tamasik form of bhakti. If the idea of self-praise or fame enters one’s mind, the devotion is known as rajasik bhakti. But if all our desires are eliminated and we offer our devotion as part of our natural and innate duty, it is called satvik bhakti.
“Our natural and innate duty” – what a beautiful phrase this is; it draws attention to the fact that, as spiritual beings undergoing a human experience, meditation is an instinctive practice. However, with so many attachments and passions wrapped around our soul, we have to work hard to reach the stage at which meditation is indeed instinctive and devotional. This is why all Masters have emphasized that we must be courageous to follow the path of the saints. We have to be prepared to offer up body, mind and ego in order to turn the wayward and errant attention inwards and upwards to the eye centre and beyond in our spiritual practice. This is difficult because our attention is scattered and the mind does not want to concentrate upon repeating the five holy names. And rather than practising dhyan – visualizing the form of the Master – it conjures up images of new desires and how to satisfy them. Unlike the soldier who stands to attention on a single command, the mind must be ordered time and time again to remain focused at the eye centre. Every time we do this, we are expressing a preference, making a choice to follow the Master rather than the dictates of the mind. When the mind eventually becomes still, it enjoys its own peace and becomes contented, freeing the soul to unite with Shabd. As we read in Philosophy of the Masters, “All desires vanish on getting the wealth of contentment. When one is desireless, worry disappears and mind becomes restful. Those who desire nothing are real kings.”
I am He Whom I love, and He Whom I love is I.
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
If you see me, you see Him;
And if you see Him, you see us both.
I saw my Lord with the Eye of my heart,
And I said: Truly there is no doubt that it is You.
It is You that I see in everything;
And I do not see You through anything but You.
I wonder at You and me.
You annihilated me out of myself into You.
You made me near to Yourself,
So that I thought I was You,
And You were me.
Mansur Al-Hallaj, in The Little Book of Eastern Wisdom