How long should I worry about my dark record
and ponder my actions in sadness?
I will rest in his grace and mercy
and be released from past, present and future.
Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine
Many of us feel that we cannot make progress because we have not yet reached a sufficient degree of perfection – whether in our meditation, in the moral standard adhered to in our daily life, or in our actions and thoughts. Actually, the word ‘perfection’, or even ‘imperfection’, does not capture our real feeling; ‘failure’, ‘moral disaster’ or ‘making a mess out of my life’ come much closer. But the saints’ teachings about this feeling of ours are extraordinary and, taken seriously, give us great encouragement to continue our struggle.
The mystics offer us advice regarding this problem from many, many different points of view. First, we find that the saints, speaking of themselves, often express a feeling similar to ours in their poems and writings. For example, Sarmad says in Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine:
O Lord, innumerable sins have I committed –
What am I to do?
Pray save the worn out boat of my heart from this whirlpool,
I am drowning in a sea of shame and remorse.
Only thy mercy can bring me to shore.
Saints are letting us know that even great disciples will feel this way on their path within. Probably this is because as dedicated disciples they reach a station where they perceive that all that exists reflects the Lord and is perfect, while their own ego is the only source of evil and imperfection. Kabir is quoted in The Path:
I went out in search of an evil man,
But could not find one;
When I searched within my own self,
I found I was the worst of all.
I am, O Kabir, the worst of all;
Except for me, all are good.
He who understands this is indeed my friend.
We may respond that, no, our distress arises not from this sublime realization but from the simple fact that we are really bad, repeatedly committing unforgivable sins. Well, at least we know that the saints, for whatever reason, felt the same way and yet attained success, and that we too will one day correctly realize that within us, in our minds and egos, is the source of negativity.
A second point of view on this problem takes us into the very heart of Sant Mat teachings. All saints point out that this world is not the place for perfection, and all who dwell here are imperfect. If we were perfect we would not be here. Yet human perfection is possible – at higher planes of consciousness. How do we gain this perfection? It is not, the saints emphasize, by trying to improve ourselves and our life here until we reach perfection. This is impossible because it means seeking perfection according to the dictates of our own mind, which is itself the source of imperfection.
Saints offer another avenue altogether to achieve perfection. First, astonishingly, they tell us that our true self, our soul, is now and always has been perfect. Second, they tell us that we will realize this perfection. Sant Mat gives tidings of an astounding miracle: that even on this plane it is possible for the imperfect to meet the perfect, the sinful and false to contemplate the pure and the true, and the mortal and transitory to begin to dissolve into the eternal and unchanging. The secret, the link, the bridge, is the living perfect Master. How do we meet him?
We have the opportunity to meet him through the grace of initiation as he connects us to his inner form – the Nam or Shabd.
Now, if these are the teachings of Sant Mat, we can easily realize how dwelling on our own imperfections is beside the point. What we are to dwell on is not our false selves at all – imperfect by definition – but rather on perfection, the perfection of the living Master. Through persistent contact with perfection, as continuous and concentrated as we can muster in our meditation, we gradually awaken to our own perfection, the soul within, and increasingly realize our identity with the divine.
A third point concerning imperfection is that, however sinful we are and have been, our sins are as nothing when compared to the Lord’s mercy. Our karmas, our sins, have no significance before his grace. But we have to do our duty – then leave everything to him. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
When a person is under the sway of lust, anger and attachment, when he is assailed by miserliness and avarice, when he is in the grip of the four vices, namely stealing, drinking, adultery and the persecution of saintly people, when demon-like desires to annihilate others have taken hold of him, when he will not listen to the recitation of the scriptures, even then, if he thinks of the Lord, he shall gain freedom in the twinkling of an eye.
Such is the grace of the Lord.
As a fourth and final point, saints simply point out that by harping on our imperfections, and considering them a bar to progress, we indulge in a defeatist attitude, which is never good. In other words, it is not really our imperfections but our attitude about them that stands in the way of our progress. Defeatist and negative thoughts are only a trick of the mind. Saints say it is not so important whether or not we fall, provided we always get up again and start walking. We must simply persevere in doing our duty and not consider whether we succeed, putting our trust in the Master and the Lord. Maharaj Charan Singh often addressed this point, as can be seen in the following two letters to disciples in Quest for Light:
Please do not feel so depressed and dejected. It is good to know one’s faults and weaknesses, but then instead of lamenting about them it is better to find a remedy and get rid of them. If you have not done your duty towards the Lord so far, honestly, then start doing it now. After all, what we are required to do, we have to do. Nothing can be gained without effort. A price has to be paid for everything. Be brave and courageous. Do not shirk the responsibility that the Lord wants you to shoulder. Do your duty towards him with your best efforts and then leave the rest to him.
Please remember that all are struggling souls on the path. We all have to strive and do our best and then leave the rest to him. There is no need to feel so disheartened. This is a path of hope and courage. Live within the will of the Lord, do your duty every day and leave the rest to him. He is always with you.