The Ocean of Nectar
The ocean of nectar is full,
but merely looking at it will not quench your thirst.
A mere glance at the wish-granting tree
will not appease your hunger.
Understanding the philosophy of Sant Mat is not the same as practising it. Going to satsang and reading the literature has made us aware of the spiritual treasure that can be found within ourselves. Nonetheless, as we busy ourselves by keeping a watchful eye over our ‘assets’ – money, property, relationships, skills, health, and appearance - we may find ourselves overlooking our true inheritance.
In this context, Saint Paltu’s exhortation in the verse above is particularly apt. He beseeches the disciples of a true Master – those who come within sight of “ the ocean of nectar” – not to stop at the edge but to plunge in; not simply to look at “the wish-granting tree” but to taste its fruit in order to satisfy their spiritual hunger and nourish the soul. In another verse, Paltu Sahib refers to the human head as an “inverted well”. Typically, a well is sunk into the ground to access water. Our head is likened to the well because it can access spiritual water (nectar) but only if we turn our attention inwards and upwards, as the source of the spiritual water is found beyond the eye centre. Paltu Sahib is using vivid metaphors to explain that the spiritual wealth within us – the connection to our Creator – will bring us everlasting satisfaction.
In making clear that merely seeing the ocean of nectar will not quench one’s thirst, Saint Paltu goes on to explain that following the Master’s orders is the means through which we may drink our fill from the ocean. This refers to obedience, living in God’s will, living in the Master’s will, or surrender. They are very nearly the same but not entirely. Obedience comes first, in the early stages of discipleship and is a precondition for surrender to occur at later stages. Obedience simply means that we should do what the Master would like us to do rather than following the dictates of our mind. In The Master Answers, Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
Obedience is another word for submission. And submission is another word for driving out the ego. When we are proud or full of ego, we do not like to submit to anybody, we do not like to be obedient to anybody…. When we go to school, we must be obedient to our teacher. We must submit our will to our teacher’s will. And we have to practise the same thing when we come on the path, which is obedience to the Master.
The ease with which we may transfer the point of control of our actions from the mind to the Master is illustrated by the story of how Sain Bulleh Shah met his Master, Inayat Shah.
One day, Inayat Shah was in the fields transplanting onion seedlings when Bulleh Shah approached him and asked how God-realization was to be achieved. Inayat Shah answered, “It’s very simple. You uproot your attention from here and plant it there – just like the onion seedlings.”
A fine anecdote, but what exactly does the transplantation of attention entail in practice? Our first action should be to understand the path of Sant Mat before deciding whether to make a commitment to following it. When we do this, we are taking a first step in following the advice of the Masters. Maharaj Charan Singh, for example, never ceased to emphasize the importance of thoroughly investigating Sant Mat teachings before initiation in order to answer all our intellectual questions. If and when the intellect is satisfied, the next step is to adopt the Sant Mat way of life. Living in accordance with Sant Mat principles entails abstaining from drugs, alcohol and tobacco, adopting a lacto-vegetarian diet, living an ethical life and, eventually, applying for initiation.
Upon initiation, the time for intellectual activity recedes and we begin obeying the fourth vow – practising meditation daily. Maharaj Charan Singh was fond of quoting the proverb “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” This maxim reminds us that we have been given an opportunity to start gathering a wealth of meditation experience. This is not the same as ‘spiritual experience’ per se, but suggests the experience of meditation – sitting, trying to concentrate, failing, trying again. This in itself is valuable because we learn so much about ourselves and about the mind.
By quoting the proverb above, Maharaj Charan Singh meant that once we start to follow Sant Mat, we should stick to it in order to experience its benefits. If we receive initiation, experiment with meditation and then move on and try another path, we will never deepen our association with Sant Mat. Whilst it is the nature of the mind to crave novelty, it is also natural for all novelties to wear off. Essentially, familiarity breeds monotony. Thus, in order to sustain ourselves on the path, the present Master encourages us to make our meditation practice exciting. He does not mean the excitement of the sort associated with change and novelty, but rather the ability to find the sense of satisfaction that comes from effort, persistence and loyalty.
The advice of the mystics is based on their knowledge of the workings of the world and human nature. Our spiritual goals will be realized by sustained practice rather than intense effort, which is often short-lived precisely because it is difficult to maintain such intensity.
Saint Simeon, an early Christian quoted in The Philokalia, wrote, “With respect to your spiritual father [the Master] do everything he tells you to do, neither more nor less.” Taking meditation as an example, we are not usually encouraged to practise more than the recommended time because this runs the risk of taking meditation to an extreme, of it becoming an obsession and thereby resulting in a negative outcome. The term ‘burn out’ refers to a psychological condition characterized by utter exhaustion and lack of motivation following a bout of excessive work. This is why the mystics emphasize a balanced approach to meditation in which regularity is key. It is loving, methodical practice on a daily basis that will, as Saint Paltu says, quench our thirst.
So, if we have made a firm decision not to be satisfied with “a mere gaze”, it is time to fulfil our potential by living the Sant Mat life fully, seeking our Master’s Radiant Form inside and travelling the spiritual path in his company.
While in meditation, do not think about worldly problems. Then the mind will become still. Argue with the mind thus: When you are asleep, you forget all activities of the world. What do you lose at that time? If it does not affect you adversely then, why do you indulge in worldly thoughts now? If you do not recall affairs of the world during meditation, will anything go amiss? Be firm and bring the mind around with determination.