From the time of initiation it can be an enormous shift for our minds to change from a worldly perspective to a spiritual one. It reminds me of how supertankers, due to the huge amount of momentum they build up as they sail, take a long time to stop or turn. A modern oil tanker can be a massive four hundred metres long and will carry many thousand tonnes of crude oil. Just imagine the power needed to alter course.
Ultimately it is grace and mercy – the mystery of love, the Shabd – that brings a person to the path of spirituality and makes it possible to tread that path. However, it is our responsibility to contribute whatever we can to make the path easier for ourselves. Our contribution to this great journey, however small, is highly significant, for it is our effort to move towards the Lord that brings his grace. To make any progress, the structure of our daily life must be sound. In shipping terms, this is not like the annual polishing of a boat’s hull or the spring cleaning of the cabins. This is the rebuilding of an entire engine room. This is making our mental attitude seaworthy, fit for the journey to the higher regions and beyond.
As with a supertanker, the forward momentum of our mind is enormous, and changing its direction from the downward earthly pull takes a long time. Our mind has accumulated a heavy load of karma over the eons of time that it has spent drifting through the creation. Any changes will not be instantaneous. But just as the well-directed supertanker makes its turn eventually, the Masters advise that all who take initiation and embark on this course will make it home.
Before coming to the path, we have, both as animals and humans, built a life on other living creatures’ suffering and indulged our sensual appetites. That is the course that has bound us to a return to this illusion again and again. We have killed for pleasure, to eat, to protect, to dominate. Drunk or sober, we have not realized the consequences of actions taken. Continuing on such a course can never be a source of long-term happiness. Just as a life built on a lie cannot lead to the truth, the suffering of others cannot lead to permanent happiness. The promises we make at the time of initiation help us to re-orient ourselves towards a spiritual life.
To ensure that we change our course, we must focus on programming the controls for positive action. This must be done even though most of the world may be drifting in the opposite direction, pulled by the currents and tides of physical existence. We must consciously direct our actions, knowing where we are going and keeping our destination in view.
The Masters say the mind should be turned always towards the positive, towards the highest good, the highest goal, and in this our own Master plays a vital part as he is our mentor and inspiration. So important is our orientation in life that in the Sikh spiritual tradition, the word often used for the spiritual adept is Gurumukh, meaning simply, ‘One whose face is turned to the Guru’. Most valuable in our thinking and effort is bireh, or intense longing to be with the Master.
To experience the Word or Shabd so that our faith may become unshakable, we have to make time for spiritual work. We have to turn within ourselves to the quiet and sometimes lonely solitude of the inner world. We have to work in, and on, ourselves. The most important tool in changing our mental attitude is meditation.
True detachment from the world can only arise from attraction and attachment to something higher. Once we contact the Word within and experience its sweetness we will automatically become detached. Then our mind will reflect the tranquil and positive qualities of the soul rather than the fickle and negative nature of the senses. As we build the atmosphere around us that we need to support our meditation, we will find that the ups and downs of fortune will not affect us greatly. It’s as if the sound of the ship’s engine fills us with contentment, and we are carried effortlessly in the direction we want to go.