A School for Wandering Beggars
Hafiz, if you want the water of eternal life, its source is the dust at the doorway….
To kiss that threshold, you must be ready to scatter your life like coins….
Wind, tell a secret of my love, to that king of beauties …
and if he says, “I do not want a poor lover like Hafiz,” tell him that true kings sit with wandering beggars.
Elizabeth Gray, The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz
Our entire existence on earth could be understood as being in a school for wandering spiritual beggars. In order to become acutely aware of one’s spiritual poverty, one need only meditate. In meditation as spiritual beggars, we discover that we are not in control of our minds. We discover that despite our best efforts and in the face of our feeble attempts, we cannot offer the devotion, faith and focused attention that is required. Spiritual beggars are increasingly aware of their shortcomings, defects and deficiencies.
This mind holds us prisoner in a realm of delusion, selfishness and separation. This mind, time after time, convinces us that we can find some sort of lasting happiness in the material world and that we are the ones who are in control. This stubborn and egotistical mind is in love with the fiction that it can give us what we seek.
But the saints come and tell us that there is something much more real than the mind. They tell us to turn inward, to go behind the appearances of personality and circumstances, and the stories that we tell about ourselves and the world we live in. The saints promise us that inside every human being dwells the living God: the truth, the joy and the eternal reality that we have been looking for so desperately. As we seek what is true, we are not to stop at the superficial, the transitory, or the illusionary. We are urged to go beyond, within, and to experience for ourselves what is the foundation of all things: divine love.
Our spiritual teachers are the ones who give us instruction on how we can find union with God. They lead us, guide us and encourage us on every stage of the journey. What is the debt we owe our teacher? What is the debt we owe our Master, our Guide?
Simone Weil, a 20th-century French philosopher, who found her spiritual truth and inner experience in the Christian tradition, writes eloquently on this subject of how wandering beggars become embraced by divine love. She describes her gratitude to her own spiritual teacher, Father Perrin, when she wrote to him:
Even if we only consider the plane of purely human relations, the gratitude I owe you is infinite…. My situation with regard to you is like that of a beggar, reduced by extreme poverty to a state of constant hunger, who for the space of a year had been going at intervals to a prosperous house where he was given bread, and who, for the first time in his life, had not suffered humiliation. Such a beggar, if he had a whole life to give in exchange for each morsel of bread, and if he gave them all, would think that his debt was in no way diminished.
Waiting For God
The wandering beggar actively seeks the companionship of his or her teacher. Wandering beggars become focused on the One who possesses spiritual wealth. Wandering beggars actively seek the company of the saints.
Consider that all that we value in ourselves (our health, intelligence, family relations, beauty, resources) are on loan – given to us for our use, but ultimately a reflection of the generosity of the One who has given them to us.
But what about when we see things in ourselves that we don’t value? Sometimes we see our own arrogance, or pettiness, or harsh judgments, or stubbornness (to name just a few of our human failings). Weil has a comforting view of those moments as well. She calls them a “blessing”.
I should look upon every sin I have committed as a favor of God…. I wish and implore that my imperfection may be wholly revealed to me…. Not in order that it may be cured, but, even if it should not be cured, in order that I may know the truth.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
Simone Weil sees God as all-important in everything we do. The Master is the giver in all situations. If we are fortunate, he asks us to do seva. But seva is the work that he wants to get accomplished, in the way he wants it done. We are merely the instrument he uses.
May we be the slave whom his master sends to bear help to someone in misfortune. The help comes from the master, but it is intended for the sufferer … we should be impelled toward our neighbor by God, as the arrow is driven toward its target by the archer.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
That image is a good one for our spiritual life. Every initiate is an arrow in the hands of a master archer; he has promised us that he will get us to the target, to the spiritual bull’s-eye – to the Shabd. He has promised to deliver us into the arms of divine love. Humble disciples are confident and happy, knowing that with initiation, they are placed in the Master’s quiver. They are reassured to know that they are on their way to Sach Khand, and that he will, at the right moment, send them to their true home, with his strength and power. But unlike in the image of the archer and an arrow, our perfect Master, not only sends his disciples to God, he walks with us on every step of the journey.
In all of our activities, we are to heed what the saints tell us is our top priority: meditation. Simone Weil has a very simple, but effective formula to determine what we should be doing, how to decide whether an activity is right or wrong. She says:
Uninterrupted interior prayer is the only perfect criterion of good and evil. Everything which does not interrupt it is permitted, everything which interrupts it is forbidden.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
As wandering beggars, we know we must obey. Obedience is a high calling that challenges us on a daily basis. Our first and primary act of obedience is to work hard at our meditation practice, regardless of the outcome. The saints assure us that they will take care of us: they will show up. We are destined for a very joyous reunion. Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II:
That Lord who takes care of the life in each leaf, who satisfies even their need for food – is he likely to give us birth and then forget about us, when we are at the top of creation? He has had our destiny written from the start.
This spiritual wealth is worth waiting for, worth living for. We are to wait for our Beloved, with confidence, trust and perseverance. Remembering our Beloved, remembering our meditation, knowing that he waits for us within; that is enough for us wandering spiritual beggars.
Through contemplation on Nam
one finds the door to liberation
and brings salvation to his kith and kin.
Having himself sailed across through dedication to Nam,
the Guru helps his disciples
cross the ocean of existence.
One who is absorbed in Nam, O Nanak,
no longer wanders around begging.
Such is the pure Nam – untainted by maya.
One who meditates on it realizes it within.
Gurbani Selections, Vol. I