These days it is common and even necessary to measure progress over a period of time. Small businesses and large corporations measure success in terms of profits earned during the year. Students assess their achievements based on the grades they get in their examinations. Because we have been so accustomed to measuring progress in everything we do, we try to do the same as spiritual aspirants. Whether we have been initiated for several years or a couple of decades, we want to know if our effort is yielding any results.
The mistake here is equating success in meditation with inner experiences. We conclude that if we have no inner experiences then we are not making progress.
Saints and mystics say that we do not meditate only to experience the inner light and sound. Meditation is much more than closing our eyes and repeating a few words. It is a way of life that includes the development of spiritual understanding, as well as learning how to conduct ourselves with kindness, compassion and love. Everything that goes into the making of a human being is to be rediscovered through meditation. This is explained beautifully in Living Meditation:
The reality of spiritual progress is first measured not by inner experiences, but by increasing levels of serenity and contentment, by acceptance of one’s karmas or destiny, and by how we behave when in contact with our fellow human beings. Are we now kinder, more helpful, more tolerant than before we were initiated? Are we only interested in inner experiences or do we have a growing sense of the extraordinary experience to be had simply in the effort of being truly compassionate to others, in the work of becoming true human beings?
The desire to be compassionate towards others comes with the deepening of our spiritual practice. The more we meditate, the stronger is our wish to be helpful to others. We feel compassion in response to others’ suffering and predicaments. It motivates the desire in us to help. It can be expressed through different acts of kindness. We may show compassion through the body, by physically helping those in need; through the mind by motivating, encouraging and comforting those in distress; through money by donating items or buying meals for the homeless. Whether we give our time and attention or share our wealth, saints advise us to go on giving selflessly. They remind us that it is only when we are alive in this human body that we can do good to others.
The advantage of coming into this body is that you can give.
Go on giving as long as you have the body.
When the body is reduced to dust,
No one will ask you to give.
O Kabir, give as long as you have this body,
Do good to others, this is the fruit of this life.
Kabir as quoted in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III
Great importance is given by the Masters to seva. They always have their disciples’ best interests at heart, and thereby create opportunities for seva. We have seen how Maharaj Charan Singh set up the annual Dera Eye Camp and the Beas Hospital for the rural community. Those who participated in these seva projects can never forget the Master’s overwhelming love and concern for everyone. It is this compassion of the Masters that inspires the sevadars to serve with loving kindness.
We can also participate in various seva opportunities that are offered in our satsang centres. Seva gives us the opportunity to work alongside people from different walks of life. It provides great learning experiences as we are reminded of the importance of curbing our ego. It instils in us a desire to place other people’s needs ahead of ours; to always please the other person. It helps us become more humble and receptive to others. We learn not to cling to our opinions but to listen to and work harmoniously with others. There will be instances when we may sometimes feel overwhelmed or find it difficult. It is during times like these that we need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing this for?” And the answer that makes everything fall into place is: “To please the Master.”
It is our meditation practice that will gradually help us look upon everything we do as the Master’s work. Meditation is nothing but an attempt to eliminate the ego, our sense of self. Saints tell us that in whatever we do as long as we do not bring our ego into it, and we do everything as a duty towards the Lord and the Master, then that is considered seva. So, whether performing worldly or spiritual duties, everything is seva as long as we have the right attitude. In the book In the Footsteps of the Master, a close associate describes how Maharaj Jagat Singh exemplifies what it is to be a perfect disciple:
Everything he did, all his duties, whether spiritual or temporal, were all done in the Master’s name. When we were young, he repeatedly advised us after initiation that whatever we did – whether it was our simran and bhajan, or whether we were studying for an examination or doing any kind of official work – we should do it in the name of the Master or for the Master. It must be regarded as the Master’s work and not our own. If we regarded any duty as the Master’s work, we could not but do it with the fullest love and devotion, and therefore, to the very best of our ability. And this was the way he did it.
Seva is an act of love, an expression of devotion towards the Master. The opportunity to perform service for the Master is one of the greatest gifts a disciple can receive. When Maharaj Charan Singh was asked if there was any gift we could give him, he answered: “The best gift you can give your Master is meditation. Nothing else matters.” Meditation is the highest form of seva and that is what pleases the Master most. No outer seva can ever replace meditation.
The next time we are tempted to measure our progress on the path, we can instead reflect on our attitude towards other human beings. Are we kind? Are we compassionate to others’ needs? Do we have the desire to serve? This inclination to serve is a reflection of the example set by the Masters themselves. We can see how the present Master travels all around the world for satsang tours and surprise visits. He tirelessly oversees various seva projects at the Dera and around the world. He even answers the same questions that are asked over and over again with the same kindness and composure. His whole life revolves around us and our salvation. Through our seva and meditation, we try to express our deepest gratitude to the Master. However, it is he who demonstrates his bountiful love and affection for his disciples through his ceaseless seva.
In the spirit of his boundless love
We try to thank him and to render him service.
But in truth it is he who serves us.
In the Footsteps of the Master