The Power of the Practice
There is a well-known Irish story that goes: A traveler is lost some distance away from Dublin and meets an old man on a deserted road where he has ended up. He asks the old man the way to Dublin, and the man looks at him with pity, and says: “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here!”
Many of us may wonder, “How will I ever get from here, from where I’m at now, to even a semblance of the perfection that is my goal?” Perhaps we feel this way because we don’t yet trust the power of the practice that our Master has given us. While we have read so much about the power of simran and the power of bhajan, do we really believe it? If we did, then perhaps we would dedicate ourselves more fiercely to our meditation practice. Maharaj Charan Singh wrote in a letter to a disciple that “withdrawing of the energy currents does not result in dizziness or faintness but it does bring about many changes in the brain cells and nerves.” It changes us on the deepest level. We just have to trust in it and be faithful to it.
Perhaps we have thought that our simran would have the power to wipe out our thoughts and are dismayed with our apparent lack of success. But simran has a special kind of strength – it doesn’t extinguish thoughts with its weight, but with its lightness.
Simran is buoyant. It is lighter than air. It doesn’t engage with our desires, it just flies beyond them. Our attention is like a balloon held by the strings of our attachments. We can’t push it up, but with the practice of simran, all the strings that are holding this balloon down will automatically dissolve, and this balloon will float up to the inner sky. So we are not so much fighting with the mind as rising above it.
The Masters often tell us to just let go. Now it seems almost impossible to consciously let go of the worries and problems we face. But if we can just let the simran go, we can let go in a positive sense. We can put our complete faith and trust in the simran; we can cling to the repetition of it and let it go, let it rise along with our attention, so we can float up with it to where our Master is waiting for us.
The other power in our practice is the Sound (listening to the Shabd). Too often we may view the Sound as the goal of the practice – we practise simran to concentrate, and then the concentration will automatically lead to hearing the Sound. But the practice of the Sound is much more than that – this listening that we do is unbelievably powerful as a practice on its own, no matter how unconcentrated this listening is. Listening is what is important, not hearing.
The Masters speak to the power of even worldly music and suggest that if we could only experience the inner music, how we would dance!
Rumi has dedicated a section of his Mathnawi to this subject.
The disciple pays attention, even to the call of the guitar,
Out of longing for the true Voice of God.
We know what it really is,
This piping of reed or boom of drum:
It is the trumpet of resurrection.
Rumi is saying that we must pay attention to whatever we hear, and we do this “out of longing for the true Voice of God.” The literal Persian language says: “out of the intention to long for the true Voice of God.” We don’t even need to feel that intense love, to feel true longing, we only need to intend to feel love or longing. It’s interesting that attend and intend have the same root. They both come from ‘tendre’, to stretch toward. And that is all we need to do, which means to stretch toward devotion, to stretch toward the Sound.
Rumi explains our problem:
Encased in these bodies of water and clay
We hardly recognize the truth.
The sacred music, fouled by earth’s sorrow,
Sounds shrill or gross to our ears
And can’t bring true joy.
We are not yet able to experience the bliss of the Sound, weighed down by the sufferings of this world as we are, so it is hard to believe in it. But blissful it is. Saints emphasize the beauty and joy of this Sound again and again. Kabir, in Songs of Kabir says:
The flute of the Infinite is played without ceasing, and its sound is love: When love renounces all limits, it reaches truth. How widely the fragrance spreads! It has no end, nothing stands in its way. The form of this melody is bright like a million suns: incomparably sounds the vina, the vina of the notes of truth.
And so, inspired by descriptions like this, we listen in bhajan. But for many of us, what a disappointment! Disappointment, because we have expectations, and if our expectations aren’t met, we naturally feel disappointed.
Many satsangis struggle to do bhajan. Our modern age is a time of impatience, of instant gratification. We want results and we want them now. For us to sit, not just day after day or month after month but year after year, with only barely discernible results, could seem like a waste of time. We often tell ourselves that it’s better to spend the time in simran because that will bring results. We tell ourselves that it’s worthless to spend the time failing to hear the Sound, or concentrating on the weak sound we hear, because we think nothing is happening.
We often tell ourselves this because we are still living by the rules of the mind, not the rules of spirituality. In the mind’s world of cause and effect, we think we can control our progress: so much simran will lead to so much concentration, which will lead to better quality of bhajan. To a certain extent this is true: purer bhajan comes from more focused concentration. But we have to remember that the Masters work by different rules, by the rules of mercy, not cause and effect. No matter how much simran and bhajan we do, we can’t begin to account for the karmas that are weighing us down and keeping us from hearing the pure Sound. So our simran and bhajan are merely an excuse for Master to bestow his mercy on us. Maharaj Sawan Singh says in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V:
The realization of the divine Sound is the holy gift of the perfect Guru. The realization is not the result of one’s own effort. How can hearing of the Shabd, which is limitless, be the result of one’s own limited efforts? It is beyond such limits. When the unsophisticated, simple child begins to creep towards its mother, the mother lifts the child up.
The period of bhajan is a time of doing absolutely nothing. It is a time to be in the silence or in whatever we hear. One reason it is so difficult is that our mind finds true rest and relaxation almost unbearable, a kind of death. With simran, though, it too is an arduous task, at least the mind has something to hold on to. When we practise bhajan on the other hand, we are practising total receptivity. Our mind is doing nothing. And this is the paradox. We are not really learning anything in our meditation, we are merely unlearning the habits of the eons we have spent in this world of illusion. Great Master says in the same book:
The soul is entangled in the inertness of maya or illusion. In order to free it, it is necessary to breathe the Shabd into it, so that what is hidden may manifest itself.
So when we practise, Shabd is being breathed into our soul.
Still, we wonder if the Sound we experience has anything to do with the bliss or power we have heard is its essence, and we sometimes despair. But we can believe our Master; we can trust in him and in the Sound because as Rumi says:
Still … some memory stays.
We have heard this Sound before,
In paradise, so we know what it is.
And we know that water when mixed with urine and filth
Gets bitter and smelly.
But even filthy water can put out a fire!
We know that water mixed with filth gets bitter and foul, but dirty water can still extinguish a fire! We might feel that our practice really stinks, as the saying goes, but if we keep in mind that even dirty water can put out a fire, then we have nothing to worry about. It is only when we think that it is the purity of our practice that will bring spiritual development that we run into trouble.
There is always some pull. We hear or read something that reminds us of what we are missing, and we persist, however fitfully, with however little joy we find in it. And why? Because, as Rumi says: “Still, some memory stays. We have heard this Sound before, in paradise, so we know what it is.”
We have come from the land of Shabd, and we truly are Shabd. The “we” of our present state of consciousness has forgotten all this and sometimes we can barely stand to listen for five or ten minutes, but some part of us remembers, some part of us knows what it is. Our soul has been in paradise; in fact our soul is a stream of that music, that sound current. And “we” are really the soul, not the mind.
Rumi explains why this practice of listening is so powerful.
The mystical concert is food for God’s lovers.
It gathers the mind and concentrates love.
And the image of the Beloved appears.
The water of life, though polluted in us,
Extinguishes our pain.
Like Rumi, the Masters have also spoken of bhajan as food. They suggest that doing simran is like preparing a meal, and doing bhajan is eating the meal. When we don’t do bhajan, it’s like preparing a meal and not eating it because it’s not perfect. But our minds still rebel. For some of us, the breakfast that we prepare each morning in our meditation is not just imperfect, it’s barely edible. We have burnt the toast, the porridge is lumpy, the coffee bitter. How can we eat such a meal? But what choice do we have? We can eat the unpalatable meal we’ve prepared, or we can go hungry. Sometimes we do get frustrated and we go to the diner of the world’s pleasures and taste the fare there for a while. But we return to our burnt toast and bitter coffee because we find that the food at the world’s diner, however savoury it seems at first, does not satisfy our spiritual hunger. Bhajan, however, Rumi says, “gathers the mind and concentrates love. Ecstasy sharpens and the image of the Beloved appears.”
In one of the “Thanksgiving Hymns” of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is said: “For into an ear of dust, [Thou hast put a new Word] and hast engraved on a heart of [stone] things everlasting.” Our bodies are water and clay, our ears are dust, and our hearts are of stone. There is no need to despair, though, for this Word will engrave things lovely and everlasting in our consciousness, and then our consciousness will automatically fly on wings of Shabd to our Beloved.
Bhajan and simran are the only ways to improve ourselves and achieve our goal. This meditation will curb the negative desires and bring in the positive virtues. With the Lord on your side, nothing now can keep you away from your eternal home, which you will certainly attain one day. But you must do your duty honestly and conscientiously. Bhajan and simran must be attended to every day, regularly, with love and devotion.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Quest for Light