Unwrapping the Self
The Masters describe initiation into Surat Shabd Yoga as a gift. They say we receive Nam daan, which means ‘the gift of Nam’ – the gift of contact with the Shabd, the divine inner sound which is resounding in all living things.
Shabd is the sound which our soul has been yearning to find since it came into the creation. It is our true self, and our purpose in life is to realize it. As a matter of fact, we have all heard the spiritual sound and had intimate connection with Shabd before. It was when we descended to this physical plane and became engrossed in mind and matter that we stopped being absorbed in it and seemingly lost ourselves – and we have been running around trying to find ourselves ever since.
The saints go further and describe initiation as ‘the gift of life’. In Philosophy of the Masters (abridged), Maharaj Sawan Singh quotes from the Adi Granth:
He gives the gift of life
He teaches devotion to the Lord
He unites his disciples with the Lord
The Great Master goes on to explain:
At the time of initiation the Master gives the ray of life and connects him/her with the melody of the Shabd. He then establishes a subtle link with the disciple, guides him and takes him to the original home.
The Masters guide us towards becoming re-acquainted with real love, with what our soul really is: a drop of love from the ocean of the Lord. Initiation enables us to take the first step towards this, which is regaining control over our mind so that it is no longer dominated by the senses. The fully concentrated mind can attain stillness and peace once more and merge into the universal mind. This frees the soul to attain God-realization, sometimes described as truth, consciousness and bliss (sat, chit and anand). It is a state of truth because the Lord is unchanging and eternal. It is pure consciousness, because the soul is fully aware, accepting, loving and joyful (unlike the mind which operates under the binary distinctions of opposites, or duality). And it is bliss because the soul knows that it is one with all that exists and is in love with the Lord.
Making use of his gift
The Masters often say that no one is permanently happy in this world; it is the domain of both pleasure and pain. The mind is not satisfied here – whatever it gets, it wants something more, hence its restless wanderings over many lives. But Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us in Philosophy of the Masters that when we receive initiation:
The Master injects, as it were, his consciousness and light into the soul of the disciple. This injection … permeates the disciple like leaven and produces a new spiritual consciousness and light.
The Master does not make us saints overnight. When he initiates us, he is not altering our mind. It remains exactly as it was. But he is giving a turbo-charged boost to our soul along with the means of learning to control that renegade mind.
From the time of initiation, we are trying to elevate our attention. We have been given the leaven of our Master’s power and love. What we do with this gift is up to us. Have we left it unwrapped, saving it for later? Have we opened it and then, like a small child, lost interest in it? Have we become fascinated with the wrappings and crystallised the spiritual path into rituals?
A long and painful process
The prerequisites for initiation are very small in comparison to what we receive, and make perfect sense for a practice which aims to develop our consciousness. We are asked to follow a lacto–vegetarian diet. We have been given an enhancement of life so why take life by eating flesh and bringing burdens on ourselves and pain to other beings? We give up mind-affecting drugs and alcohol. These substances impede the proper functioning of the frontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for discrimination, awareness of consequences and rational thought. We live a clean moral life which is the nearest we can get to truth before rejoining the Lord – so no cheating, lying or deception; if we try to be truthful, our ego will have no ‘wriggle room’. The ego is always trying to present things as it wants them to be rather than as they really are, and the Masters say that it is the ego which separates us from the Lord. Anything that helps defeat the ego is good. This is why physical and mental seva is so important as a way of reforming our behaviour.
As we develop, we may find that it’s a long and painful process. Not just external events – mishaps, accidents or soured relationships – but also an internal understanding that comes from the clear thinking brought about by meditation reveal our own flawed psychology. We may feel we are much worse people than we were when we were initiated.
Maharaj Charan Singh used to use the example of a ray of sunshine coming into a dark room and revealing previously invisible dust motes floating around. They’ve always been there – our negativities, faults and prejudices – but we didn’t recognize them. Now that we’re becoming painfully aware of them, what can we do? Under any kind of stress we tend to revert to habitual behaviour; we can make an intellectual decision to change but that won’t work for long. The Masters advise us not to dwell on or analyze ourselves too much. We can’t analyze a negativity into extinction. All we can do is something positive, which is our meditation, and meditation will build the crucial relationship with our Master.
Come in, your time is up
The Master, who has already achieved union with the Lord, has a spiritual light which the soul recognizes, feeling the Shabd’s pull if it is the time for the soul to go home. It’s rather like the numbered boats for hire on some lakes, in which you can go out for a row. At some point the boatman will call: “Come in Number Seven, your time is up”. The Master is our boatman, each saint coming at a particular place and time for his group of disciples.
Our initiation is the beginning of a process that proceeds under his watchful eye and is destined to conclude in a positive way. Maharaj Sawan Singh advises:
After a disciple is connected with the Name by the Master, he begins to progress on the spiritual path and to get control over his weaknesses. When the seeker progresses on the spiritual path by following the directions of the Master, he does not remain subservient to the body. On the other hand, his soul tends to soar to the spiritual regions, to break off all ties with the earth and to dwell more and more in the higher regions within.
These inspiring words literally tell us to ‘rise above’ worldly problems – to leave the body, to die while living in order to realize the self. This can only happen by faithfully following the vow of doing two and a half hours of daily meditation and aiming in everyday life for constant simran. We are aiming to perfect our simran so that it goes on automatically – even when we have to attend to worldly work, it pauses only to surface again when our attention is free. That is loving remembrance, sustained by the deepening attachment to the Master.
Breaking through the barrier
The Masters say that if we persevere with our meditation we may not have any tangible dramatic results, but we will feel the presence of the Master around us and his elevating influence. We are working to withdraw our attention from our physical bodies in this very lifetime – to die daily, rather than wait for the one big death at the end of life. The Great Master said that once we have withdrawn our attention right up to the third eye (developing the faculty of seeing within), the most difficult part of the meditation journey has been completed, because from that time onwards we have the awareness of the Master’s Radiant Form within.
Our ultimate aim is God-realization, but, before that, we will reach self-realization, the knowledge of who we really are. When we realize the self, we see that we are ultimately soul beings, not mental beings. We reach a state of consciousness at the threshold of eternity where our soul cries out, ‘I am That’. In Sar Bachan Poetry, we read:
The Soul has opened the window of Bhanwar Gupha
through which it hears the voice of Sat Purush.
The hansas (souls) from Alakh
come to welcome and usher in the new arrival.
In this poem the soul has broken through the barrier of the mind. One day, with the Master’s grace, that window will be opened for us. Bayazid Bastami, a Persian mystic, said:
For thirty years, God was my mirror, but now I am my own mirror. That which used to be I, I am no more.… I have vanished. I glided out of Bayazid-hood as a snake glides from a cast-off skin. And then I looked and saw that lover and Beloved and love are One.
We will happily and willingly discard that ego – ending the separation which has been a millstone around the neck of the soul for so long – paving the way to union with God.
In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
Unless the mind gets some better pleasure than the worldly pleasures, it refuses to leave the worldly pleasures. So we withdraw our consciousness to the eye centre and get in touch with the Shabd within. When we taste that nectar within with the help of that Shabd and Nam, we come back to Trikuti, the second stage. When the mind comes to its own source, the soul automatically gets release from the clutches of the mind. And the soul and mind are separated. That is self-realization. That is knowing ourselves.