Progress and Persistence
When spiritual progress seems from our limited perspective to be slow or even imperceptible, it is easy to become discouraged. As we experience the challenges of life, sometimes we cannot help but feel that our karmic burden is weighing down upon us like a ton of rubble. Not fully realizing the power of simran to blast through this rubble, we wonder just how much longer it is going to take before we break free. Yet, provided we continue to keep the promises we made at the time of initiation, including practising meditation daily, the Master’s assurance that he will free us from the cycle of birth and death should give us hope and confidence. Instead of thinking how slow our progress is, we should marvel at our good fortune in having such a friend at our side. Of course, we must try our hardest to free ourselves, but it is the Master who will actually rescue us. We should thus set to work with renewed determination, never forgetting that even the ability to try is a gift from the Lord.
Recognizing the challenges we often experience in following the spiritual path, the Masters imbue their message with encouragement and inspiration, and this article brings together just a few of these motivating spiritual insights. We begin with a few lines from Sar Bachan by Soami Ji Maharaj:
The Lord is within you like the fragrance in flowers. The flower is visible but not the fragrance; yet it may be detected by the sense of smell. Likewise, he who possesses the real knowledge which the Guru imparts is able to realize God within himself.
Using the flower and its fragrance as a metaphor, Soami Ji Maharaj evokes a beautiful, memorable image to encapsulate the essence of spirituality. He reassures us that the Lord is not residing separately in some distant land, but exists within us, and we are capable of realizing him through the “real knowledge” imparted by a Satguru. The real knowledge Soami Ji refers to is not that which has been discovered by historians or scientists of the past. Such knowledge is limited both because it is confined to the physical realm and because the mind itself is limited in imagination and capability. Real knowledge surpasses the material world; it is spiritual in nature and relates to the absolute, eternal, and immutable truth.
Real knowledge is based on experience and therefore can only be imparted by a perfect Master, described by Soami Ji as a Guru. Such a being is the personification of truth; “the Word made flesh” as explained in the gospel of Saint John in the Bible. The Guru dispels our ignorance and darkness by teaching us the science of mysticism. Upon initiation, he gives us the research methods through which we can search for the Lord within us, enabling us to access a source of understanding that transcends the intellect. We are eventually able to become one with the truth. This union and the mystic knowledge gained as a result is referred to extensively in mystic literature. Take, for example, the experience recounted by a seventeenth-century Christian mystic, Marina de Escobar:
When in deep ecstasy, God unites the soul suddenly to His essence, and when he instills her with his light, he shows her in a moment of time the sublimest mysteries. And the soul sees a certain immensity and an infinite majesty…. The soul is then plunged, as it were, into a vast ocean which is God and again God. It can neither find a foothold nor touch the bottom. The divine attributes appear as summed up in one whole, so that no one of them can be distinguished separately.
Quoted in The Gospel of Jesus
Since mystic understanding and union with God is associated with great joy and inward bliss, what greater incentive is there to practise our simran and bhajan?
The gift of initiation
Informed of the treasure that lives within us, clearly we do not lack an incentive to practise meditation. Yet, try as we might, we are unable to comprehend completely that the Master is truth incarnate, nor are we able to appreciate fully the value of initiation. If we had even an inkling of the glory of either of these truths, we would not still be unwrapping the gift of Nam half-heartedly but would, instead, rearrange our lives to prioritize meditation above all else. As Maharaj Sawan Singh states in Spiritual Gems:
Even to be initiated is a great privilege, and perhaps you will realize it by and by. It is no small thing to be set on the right road and have an unerring guide who stands by you in all circumstances.
Each time we attempt our meditation, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of these words. Thanks to the grace of the Master, we have reached a turning point in the endless cycle of birth-death-rebirth and now stand upon the very threshold of eternal freedom. Nonetheless, as we struggle with our daily practice, encountering all types of challenges – lack of concentration, sleep, fidgeting – eternal freedom seems to be far-off. Indeed, in The Dawn of Light, Maharaj Sawan Singh acknowledges the difficulty of the task before us:
There is no task in the world so difficult as spiritual practice is in its beginning, but its end is the most joyful. Hence it is that most practitioners become despondent in the beginning.… Many a soul has complained of the difficulties of the spiritual journey, but finding little joy from the perishable joys of this world, it has again taken up this difficult task because it can find nothing higher … a practitioner should have firm belief that he will surely succeed on this path, and he should go on struggling with faith until his last breath, for no path seems to be better than this. It is better to die in sincere effort than to attain all the worldly success.
Perhaps the most striking part of this extract is the observation that, despite becoming dejected at the lack of ‘progress’, most disciples are unable to give up their spiritual practice. This resonates with us most acutely because having encountered the Master, few of us could countenance leaving the path. Our love for him – imperfect as it is – enables us to keep persevering with our journey. Moreover, we have reached a stage in the cycle of transmigration that allows us to be receptive to the Master’s message. Although we have yet to experience union with the Lord, perhaps at no other time have we been so willing to take a leap of faith, ready to place our trust in the veracity of key spiritual truths. At last we are able to face up to the law of karma and recognize that happiness cannot be found on the material plane. The yearning we experience is a call of the soul to return home, and at last we can acknowledge that only meditation will fulfil this longing and provide an escape from the cycle of birth and death.
In Spiritual Gems Maharaj Sawan Singh writes:
Your getting Nam means more than if you had inherited a million dollars, or many millions. You are one of the lucky sons of Sat Purush, and he has chosen you to get Nam and go with the Master to Sach Khand. You must reach there. Nothing can prevent you. But you can hasten the progress or retard it, as you like.
These beautiful and inspiring words further reiterate that spiritual practice should be our first priority. Currently, many of us are at an ‘in-between’ stage. Neither do we wish to leave the spiritual path but nor do we commit to it fully in the sense of making it our first priority. Our meditation practice is sometimes perfunctory and there are times when we become so involved in worldly duties that we undertake these at the expense of spiritual work. However, as the Great Master reminds us, our progress will hasten if we reverse our priorities and make meditation the most important activity each day. The greater the effort, the more the Master rewards us by strengthening and deepening our love for him, enabling us to make even greater effort. This positive cycle eventually culminates in the spiritual liberation promised by the Masters.
Together with our love for the Master, such reassurances play a critical role in keeping us on the path. Without them, we may well give up at the first hurdle since, to reach the heights of spiritual liberation, we must – in the words of an English proverb – try, try and try again.