The Treasure Behind the Stove
Bulleh Shah warns us that there is a heavy price to be paid for loving God, as He has hidden himself:
O, Bullah, none can behold the Beloved,
And whoever sees Him is not to be counted.
He has no shape, no form, no colour;
He has hidden himself like a thief.
God – the force that created and sustains the universe – has a wonderful secret: Although he is omnipresent, he can only be realized and revealed once a soul has reached the top of the evolutionary cycle and been given the rare and privileged form of a human body.
It is only in the human form that the soul is given reason to probe the purpose of existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I so desperately unhappy? Why do I feel so hopelessly helpless?
No matter how fortunate we may be – enjoying a good life with good health, wealth and all the so-called blessings that life can bring -some souls will suddenly be overcome with a strange longing for something more, for something different. This is when God’s grace has kicked in. The term ‘kicking in’ is probably very applicable to many of us, as this awakening can be an overwhelming experience.
Grace is generally associated with that which is pleasant, but the saints say that grace can be quite the opposite. They say that grace will lead a seeker to search for the meaning hidden behind life itself. It brings the realization that nothing lasts, that this creation is not perfect and enduring, that today’s joys and fortunes can disappear in an instant, and that all the misfortunes we endure are out of our control. This triggers the search to find a solution. But where does the seeker start? One finds that it is a lonely battle, an intense personal quest, and frequently nobody else is interested or of any help.
This awakening comes in the form of a deep longing – Mirdad calls it “the great nostalgia.” Saints and mystics have all described their own longing in their poetry: their bireh, the unbearable pain of longing that becomes the fate of those chosen to return to their spiritual home.
When the great nostalgia grabs you it is like an incurable disease, an irritating unwelcome guest who squats in your house. Nothing will remove it. It is like an uncomfortable itch for which there seems to be no permanent cure. But then, when all seems lost, something wonderful happens – our homing device is activated.
When the Creator started his play of hide-and-seek, he fitted each soul with a homing device. This is the great nostalgia – the longing for ultimate truth burning within. Once bireh is activated it is unrelenting. It enters our consciousness and never leaves us, becoming our most precious possession. It is the Creator’s Universal Positioning System that guides us on the homeward journey. It also announces that the predestined moment for the return journey of a specific soul has arrived.
Having been exiled from its home at the beginning of time, the soul was sent down into the lower regions, not as punishment but to undergo a process of evolution according to the plan of the Creator. The awakening is the wake-up call to return home. Like an alarm clock, it is set for a specific moment in time. However, this clock cannot be turned off so that we can continue sleeping; once activated it rings incessantly within.
But the return journey will not be a leisurely, easy stroll. The soul has been enslaved by the mind, which in turn has been hijacked by the five senses. Like intruder plants in a garden, the five senses invaded and trapped the mind, creating a cosmic net of karmic attachments over eons. The intellect cannot grasp the enormity of the evolution that this implies, let alone the time span.
It is impossible for the individual soul to secure its own release from the accumulated karmic dross acquired through reincarnation and transmigration. Therefore, the Creator sends one of his sons, a perfect living Master – a shepherd – to bring his sheep back to him. They might still want to run off into the world, but eventually they are firmly caught – even carried on the shepherd’s shoulders – to rejoin the fold.
Maharaj Charan Singh tells us that only grace can ultimately detach the soul from the illusion of this creation. In Die to Live he says:
With whose grace do we gain admission to the court of the Lord? Surely not by our own efforts. Alone, we can do nothing. We can never, by ourselves, traverse the uncharted terrain of the inner path. We owe everything to the immeasurable grace of the Master. He showers his blessings on us … pulling us out of this quagmire of illusion.
Many metaphors are used to explain the slow process of detachment required to traverse the inner path. One of the images given is that of a precious silk cloth thrown over a thorny bush. It cannot be pulled off in an instant, as it would be ripped to shreds. It will take time and patience to detach it from every thorn. Maharaj Charan Singh so often told us that we have no idea of how long we have been away from home in this creation, and that we can only slowly and slowly, stage by stage, journey homeward – removing the precious cloth from thorn after thorn with the utmost care.
It seems to us that our search for the Lord within gets more difficult the longer we are on the path and the more we try to find him. Maharaj Charan Singh explains that this perceived difficulty that some people feel is because of their longing. He says in Die to Live:
They think their meditation is becoming difficult. Actually, it is becoming easier and easier. The very fact that they feel it is becoming difficult is because of the longing, the desire in their heart and their mind to go back to the Lord. And that is His love. More longing and love is coming in them, and they’re becoming more anxious and more desperate to go back to Him. They’re achieving the result of meditation without their even realizing it.
This inner search is described in a charming fable in Vedanta for Modern Man. It tells of a rabbi who dreamed a number of times that he must leave his own small house in the ghetto of Cracow and travel to Prague, for there on the bridge leading to the castle, he would find a treasure. Finally the rabbi decided to obey his dream.
Arriving at Prague and going to the bridge he found it guarded. So he waited for a long while. At last the captain of the bridge, noticing the old man hanging about, spoke to him kindly, asking what he was waiting for. The rabbi, being cooperative, told him. The captain however remained as friendly, indeed breaking into laughter and becoming confidential.
“Why,” he told the poor old pilgrim, “I myself had a dream of just the same nonsensical sort, but, as you might say, it was even more upside down! My dream told me to go to the house of an old rabbi in Cracow in the ghetto there … and behind his stove I would find a treasure! You see what nonsense dreams are! There’s no treasure on the bridge, I can assure you. And you and I know that the last place in the world to find a treasure – this bridge would be better – would be in the dwelling of a starving rabbi in the Cracow ghetto.”
The rabbi – who had forgotten to tell his friend where he had come from – bowed and said nothing more. He returned straightaway to his home, dug behind the stove and found a buried bag of gold coins.
The Masters are like the captain on the bridge. They direct us to the treasure within, telling us that the treasure of Shabd is not outside but is to be found inside the house – the body – where the Creator has buried it. The stove is synonymous with the mind, behind which the treasure is buried. Our meditation is the digging. The treasure of Shabd is the only thing that will satisfy our burning longing within, and to find it we must dig behind the mind.
Our meeting with the Master is God’s ultimate gift of grace because it is the answer to our incessant longing. After initiation our Master will accompany us all the way back to Sach Khand, our ancestral home. And reaching there, our longing will end.
In our ignorance we simply do not appreciate the grace we have received in coming to the path. There are no words to thank our beloved Master for the gift of initiation. When Maharaj Charan Singh was asked if there was anything one could give him in return, he replied that the best gift you can give your Master is the gift of meditation. Nothing else matters.
It is by his grace that our mind turns towards him and it is he who creates the thirst and longing, which in turn takes us back to him.
Quest for Light