The Foundations of a Spiritual Life
How we live our lives as we follow our spiritual path is very important. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, someone asks Maharaj Charan Singh to talk about how we can build that atmosphere of the Dera when we are away from him. He responds by clearly explaining that the importance of Dera is not the buildings; it is the spiritual atmosphere that we find there and carry with us to support us in our spiritual life. He says:
Brother, Baba Ji Maharaj [Baba Jaimal Singh] and Hazur Maharaj Ji [Maharaj Sawan Singh] have laid the foundation of the Dera on love, humility, seva and meditation. That is the foundation of this Dera. Everybody’s equal here, irrespective of country, caste, creed or colour. And if we feel we have not been able to come to that level yet, we try to improve ourselves. That is the atmosphere of the Dera and that is the atmosphere which we take with ourselves wherever we may go. The Dera is not built of mortar and bricks. It is built on seva and love and devotion and humility and meditation. And we have to build our whole life on these principles. Only this foundation will take us back to the Father.
Hazur is urging us to “build our whole life on these principles.” So, it’s worth examining each of the elements that form the foundations of this life we are to lead as we pursue our spiritual goals – seva, humility, love and devotion, and meditation.
The pictorial book Equilibrium of Love highlights the value and importance of seva, by beginning with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi who says: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Seva may be defined as a way of expressing our devotion, done in a spirit of gratefulness and humility, with total disregard for gain or recognition.
Seva creates humility by giving us the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with others for a common purpose. Seva is not a transaction. We don’t serve to get something in return. Seva is done in a spirit of sharing.
We can’t judge seva by the standards used in the world where we measure everything and assign rewards and punishments based on performance. Seva is not so much what we do – the quantity or speed. It’s in the love, devotion, and humility with which we do seva. In Labour of Love, there is a story which emphasizes the high value that Masters place on seva. When Maharaj Sawan Singh announced plans to build the satsang ghar, a wealthy contractor wanted to erect the whole building himself. Great Master refused the offer with these words:
I want every satsangi (disciple), even the poorest of the poor, to be given the opportunity to offer something in seva, even if it is only half a rupee. I would also like all satsangis, rich and poor, young and old, to participate in the construction, even if they carry only a handful of sand or a few bricks. Their smallest efforts are precious to me. Every drop of perspiration shed by them is valuable for me. This is seva of love and devotion.
Seva is a gift, a unique opportunity given to us by the Master to become part of something bigger than our limited selves. Seva is not just about getting certain work completed – otherwise Great Master would have accepted the offer of the wealthy contractor. Seva is a powerful means of developing humility and helping us gain awareness of who we really are.
C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity sheds light on this by discussing pride – the opposite of humility – by saying that “pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Why is pride “the complete anti-God state of mind”? Because pride makes us feel that we are separate from the Father and also separate from and better than others. This feeling of separation is an illusion. Pride blinds us to the truth that we are all one. Humility gained through working shoulder to shoulder with others helps us gain awareness of this truth.
Every religious tradition places a high value on humility. In Christianity where prayer is usually done while kneeling, there is a saying that the door to the kingdom of God is exactly as high as you are when you walk on your knees.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, says, “The way to God is firstly humility, secondly humility and thirdly humility.”
Pride is based on a wrong understanding of who we really are. The irony is that we often identify with that which is finite, those things associated with the body – my house, my job, my sons, my wife, my wealth, my family. All of these are temporary; our true self is the eternal soul.
Samarth Ramdas says in Many Voices, One Song that “we do not achieve spirituality until we stop thinking of ourselves as just body.” Similarly, Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
This body is not yours. When you think it is yours, you want people to praise you, to give you glory. So ego comes into it. Think humbly: This body doesn’t belong to me – even this belongs to the Father, even this belongs to the Master. Do not use your body as your own. Use it as if it belongs to your Master.
Humility is possible only when the ego is eliminated. Only through love and merging with the inner Shabd is this possible. Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
When our whole body is filled with love, the ego is gone and only humility and meekness remain. When that love and devotion is not in us, the whole body is full of ego. We have to detach ourselves from the world and attach ourselves to him. Only by the spiritual practice, only by that meditation, can we kill the ego.
Sant Mat is a path of love. Love is the basis of our relationship with the Master. It’s love that transforms us. Love is the beginning and end of this path. The saints tell us that love is God and God is love.
Maharaj Sawan Singh says in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II:
Love is the richest of all treasures. Without it there is nothing and with it there is everything. He who does not have love in his heart is not entitled to call himself a human being.
Mystics tell us that love is within every one of us. It’s the essence of who we are. Sometimes our attitude and approach to life can block our receptivity. Wayne Dyer, author of Staying on the Path says: “Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”
Love is a gift of the Lord who is himself all love. We can’t earn it or deserve it. But we can try to make ourselves receptive to it. One way of being more receptive is by practicing gratitude. Meister Eckhart is quoted by the author of Practicing the Presence of the Living God: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” As satsangis, the way we say the “thank you prayer” is by attending to our meditation.
Meditation is both an expression of our gratitude and our core practice. If we just stopped with external seva or attendance at satsang, we’d be missing the main point.
Our main link to Master is through our meditation. Meditation is how we hold the hand of the Father as we go through life because the real Master is not the physical body. It’s our own limitation when we see him as only the physical body. We identify with our bodies and minds – both of which are limited. But Masters are not limited to the body and neither is our soul.
The Masters emphasize that meditation is essential for us to have our own direct experience of the Lord within. Spirituality is not about knowledge. Knowledge – gained by reading books or memorizing scriptures – will never be sufficient to transform us. Everything comes through meditation. Maharaj Jagat Singh says in Discourses on Sant Mat, Vol. II: “Out of the practice will come love. Out of love will come Shabd.” Our efforts in meditation will not be perfect, but Masters accept our imperfect efforts. They just ask that we be sincere.
The foundations of the spiritual path – seva, humility, love and devotion, and meditation – are essential principles that we have to build our whole life on. As Maharaj Charan Singh says, “Only this foundation will take us back to the Father.”