Some of us may know the fairy tale of Snow White. In this story Snow White’s stepmother, the wicked queen, was jealous of her beauty and had a magic mirror into which she would look, asking, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” She expected the mirror to reply, “You are the fairest of them all.”
Outside the world of fairy tales, we also use mirrors to check our reflection – we do it every day. Similarly, just as we look at our physical reflection, we use a certain amount of mental self-scrutiny – just like a mirror – to tell us how we are doing in life generally. The queen’s use of the mirror was vain; she measured herself only on a scale of physical beauty. How about us? Do we see our internal or our external appearance? Do we see our strengths or our weaknesses? Are we kind or cruel to ourselves?
When treading the spiritual path, a little introspection of the right kind can be quite effective. Introspection can help identify mistaken attitudes and discern what is preventing us from reaching our destination. After all, we have been coming into this world of birth and death for countless lifetimes. How lucky we now are to have this human form and to possess the power of discrimination. Exercising our discrimination will strengthen that light which will eliminate the darkness of our weaknesses. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh has given a wonderful example:
If this room is filled with darkness, you do not know how much that darkness covers up; but if a little ray of light comes in, you know instantly that this whole room is filled with small particles. Similarly, when we do not know about or are not on the path, we are not aware of our bad points. Rather, we take pride in our habits. But when we are on the path, that ray of light comes within us. Then we analyze ourselves and find that we have many bad habits. In fact bad habits were there before but we are now in a position to analyze them, to realize them.
The light that Hazur refers to is the understanding we gain through satsang and the experience of meditation. He points out that it is not that when we get initiated we suddenly develop negative tendencies -rather, initiation makes us aware of our existing weaknesses. This realization is the key to transformation. Hazur continues:
The very realization that we are committing a sin and are the victim of this weakness, that very realization is a great step toward getting rid of that weakness. If we don’t realize that we are committing sins, we will never be able to get rid of those sins at all. But when you know you’re committing a sin and try to help yourself, the Lord’s grace will also be there to help you.
This process of introspection, then, is an important element on the path towards self-realization and God-realization. When we decide to follow the path of the saints we are actually expressing the desire to merge into the Master. We certainly need to reflect a little so that we can realize what it is in our lives that we need to change. Most of us have fallen into bad habits, underlying all of which is a scattering of attention. This can make life painfully unsatisfactory. For instance, as the present Master sometimes points out, we are thinking of the world when we are sitting for our meditation and we are regretting our lost meditation when we are dealing with the world!
We go to the Master with the expectation that, like a therapist, he will use a healing technique to bring about our perfect balance and happiness. However, the purpose of the Master is to help us realize the truth for ourselves. We have to learn to be strict and self-regulating. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh explained this to someone who asked if there was a danger of being too severe:
There is no danger of being hard on ourselves at all. We have been too soft with ourselves all through – that is why we are part of the creation. If we had been a little hard or strong with ourselves we would not be here today. We have been too soft. We always try to justify our weaknesses and then we become a slave of them. And then we find we are part of this creation. So we should try to be hard with ourselves.
When our attention is scattered, if we start by simply concentrating on one task at a time we will be on the way to success. The ethos of multitasking is not conducive to the spiritual path. Focusing on the present, with proper time set aside for work, rest and meditation will give us the ideal environment to help us concentrate. It is this that will eventually conquer our weaknesses. In Spiritual Gems, Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us that it can’t be done in a hurry:
This detaching the attention from external connections is a slow affair. Habits become second nature. It takes time to form new habits. But slow and steady wins the race and practice makes perfect. Follow your mind for a minute and see what keeps it away from its headquarters. Avoid whatever interferes and accept what helps in reaching your objective.
The Master is pointing out that one of the most essential virtues is patience – together with faith in the Master. The habits of our mind are ingrained and to reverse this will take time. If we have been following the path for a few years and have not seen any change in our behaviour we should not be disheartened. We should rather keep on trying and leave the results in his hands, as Maharaj Jagat Singh advises in Science of the Soul:
If a human being takes his attention inward, probes inside and takes possession of the wealth which the almighty Lord has put there, then the five foes can be conquered. The sound current or audible life stream is inside and can be heard by anyone who turns his attention inward. If man inverts his hearing faculties, he can hear it.
So far we have been thinking about how a bit of introspection helps to get us started on the spiritual path. But there comes a time when we have to abandon self-scrutiny. We have to forget ourselves entirely. In the passage just quoted, Maharaj Jagat Singh tells us that the Shabd is inside us “and can be heard by anyone who turns his attention inward.” So why do we not automatically and easily realize the Shabd inside us? It is due to the fact that we have limited our understanding and willingly accept this limitation. We are slow to realize our divine heritage. We believe that we are human rather than spiritual beings. This is exactly what we have to forget. The story of the thirsty dog may help to throw some light on our situation:
A thirsty dog was overjoyed when it came to a river. At last it could quench its thirst. But each time the dog approached, it saw its own image reflected and went no further, thinking another dog was there in the water. Deceived and scared by its own image, the dog ran away and was left thirsty. This happened again and again. Only when it was in utter desperation, left with no other choice, did it go ahead in spite of itself and at last drink its fill.
Our situation is just the same as the dog’s. We live within the sphere of duality, our view of reality blocked by the self-image created by ego. The whole purpose of introspection, followed by self-forgetfulness, is to purify us and make us receptive to our Master’s love. We have to go beyond our ego, gradually allowing the image of the Master to grow within ourselves, replacing self. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh explains how we can do this:
Simran builds the image of the Master…. Simran doesn’t let you waver from dhyan, from that particular spot, because simran helps you to concentrate there, where you want to be with your Master.
When we sit for meditation, that place behind the eyes is exactly where we should be. Then, through spiritual practice, we will come to see glimpses of the Radiant Form of the Master, manifesting from the Shabd within us. Our mistaken concept of duality – separation between us and Shabd – starts fading away.
When this happens, it’s as if we are looking into the mirror of ourselves and seeing sparks of the divine power rather than the old illusions. It is this divinity that is within every one of us. We realize that we are nothing but Shabd.
Returning to the fairy tale, we might ask “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is within us all?”
And the answer will come, “Shabd is within us all.”