No Free Jacket
It happened a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday evening, and I returned home exhausted from a long day out with my family. It was an enjoyable day which involved shopping at a new mall downtown. Before going to bed, I happened to review the shopping receipt from one of the stores we visited and noticed that the clerk had made a mistake during check-out.
She had not charged me for the new winter jacket that I had bought. It was quite expensive too. At some level, I was happy to save some money, but, on the other hand, my conscience was nagging me to do the right thing. The excuses that my mind came up with were endless. “It’s out of my way.” “I don’t have time.” “Considering the money and effort I have to spend driving back and forth, it really doesn’t make sense. Besides, why should I have to pay for someone else’s mistake?” But my conscience persisted: As a disciple on the spiritual path, what should I do?
At the time of initiation, every disciple on the path of Sant Mat makes a promise to fulfil four vows. These vows are a prerequisite for the Master to be able to help the initiate mould his life and achieve his primary goal – to be released from the endless cycle of birth and death and attain liberation. The vows are straightforward and precise. And when we are uncertain about anything, our moral compass never fails to point us in the right direction.
So, if a cookie contains traces of egg, it is clear to us that we should not eat it. If a beverage or dessert has alcohol in it, then we know that we should not have it. If we have unintentionally taken something that does not belong to us, then we recognize the need to make it right. And, if we have not attended to meditation for two and a half hours during the day, our conscience urges us to make up for it.
And yet, despite knowing the right thing to do, we frequently have a mental debate with ourselves every time we come across a seemingly grey area. Why does the mind always look for excuses to justify actions that go against our primary objective? We know that we might be able to get away with it now, but we are also aware that at the end of the day we will be accountable; that at some point, we will have to pay for it. The mystics have emphasized time and again that the karmic law is so precise, so inexorable, that even if the wind blew a grain of wheat from your neighbour’s land onto yours, you would be held liable for that. So why then do we deceive ourselves? Hazur Maharaj Ji explains:
Being controlled by the senses, the mind does so many karmas – good and bad actions…. The mind is a very obedient servant of its master. In its present state it is such a slave of the senses that it does not want us to go back, merge back into the Lord. Sometimes, as a friend, it tries to deceive us…. The purpose of the mind is to keep us astray, not to let us go back to our original home.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
Sant Mat teaches us that we are in this creation because of the karmas and choices that we made in our previous lives. This karmic burden upon our soul is what is preventing us from going back to our true source. So, if our objective is to clear those karmas, it is not logical, on one side, to work hard towards eliminating them and on the other side, accumulate more.
It is for this reason that the mystics encourage us to be sincere about fulfilling our vows and not allow the mind to rationalize what we know is wrong. The vows we have taken are guiding principles that are meant to help us achieve our spiritual goal. They are logical, practical and synchronize harmoniously with the supreme law of spirituality – the law of love.
One cannot aspire to become one with the greatest power in the universe and yet cruelly torture animals for the sake of one’s palate. One cannot sit focused in meditation when one is under the influence of alcohol. And one cannot dive into the profound depths of true devotion in the still of the night and then cheat people in the light of day. What would be the point of being on a spiritual path?
In the end, all it took was one phone call. The clerk at the register was frantic when she realized her mistake and was extremely grateful that I called. It turns out, the cost of the jacket would have been deducted from her paycheck had I not phoned and authorized payment on my credit card. The sheer relief and gratitude in her voice made me sleep soundly that night. My conscience was clear. After all, I reminded myself, I did not want a free jacket, I wanted to go back to God.
As long as the mind is a slave of the senses, we are away from the destination. Our destination is upward. The trend of the senses is downward. Anything which keeps us away from the Lord, naturally, is misguiding us. A lover never appreciates anything that keeps the Beloved away. We make karmas under the sway of the mind and senses, and our karmas keep us away from our Lord, the Beloved.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1