Athlete of God
Martha Graham, a famous American dancer, said:
We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practising dancing or to learn to live by practising living, the principles are the same.… One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.
As quoted in, This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
An athlete of God! What a wonderful way to express what is required to achieve perfection. We know that a champion in any field – athletics, dance, music, science, to name a few – gets to a level of perfection through concentrated, deliberate practice, regardless of the barriers that crop up or the difficulties that have to be overcome. By doing the activity over and over, adjusting and correcting, improving time after time, the champion seeks to become perfect. On the spiritual path, this is precisely what the Master teaches us to do. He advises us, encourages us, and supports us so that we can keep putting in our effort, and with his grace, we can gain our objective of perfection – which is union with the Lord. An “athlete of God” is indeed a fitting description for the dedicated disciple. Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh, writes in Dawn of Light:
Note that mere theory of a thing does not help, unless it is actually put into practice.… To control the mind is not the work of haste; it requires years of patient perseverance.… Apply your mind with love and keen interest to the spiritual exercises.
All the time we spend in intellectual debates and discussion, or even in being mesmerized by the poetry of Sant Mat and its elegance, will not help us. We have to “walk the talk.” Great Master draws out this contrast between theoretical understanding and real experience through action and practice. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I, he says:
A person may listen to a flute and enjoy its melody, but cannot play it. He can really enjoy it only if he is able to play it. Similarly, the thoughts of saints are reduced to writing in the sacred books, but one cannot realize the Truth by merely reading these books. It is a matter of self-experience through the practice of meditation.
It is only through action that we gain experience. Rather than spending our time asking questions or engaging in futile discussion, we should simply engage in doing our practice. Instead of agreeing in principle with the theory of Sant Mat and paying lip service to the Master’s instructions, we should diligently put his teachings into practice in our daily lives. It is then that we will experience the transformation in ourselves and make spiritual progress, and as Great Master points out, we will “really enjoy the flute.”
To be successful in our practice, we need to focus on what is most vital. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, Great Master says:
It is, therefore, an essential condition of success to keep before you the ideal. Ask of yourself as to what you want to be. What ideal have you set in life?
The constant chasing after the things of this world and the pull of the urgent issue instead of the important one distract us from our true purpose of God-realization. In all this hustle and bustle, occasionally we feel the pull of the Divine – and that is when we may feel dissatisfied even when we appear to have everything. We may try out organized religion, follow rituals and observances, visit places of worship, and make an attempt at prayer, but we fail to find peace and continue to be restless. The problem is that we look for peace in the things of the world and forget that lasting peace is found within, where we will find the Lord. This is what the saints teach us: the treasure of true bliss and peace is within us – yet we expend our time and effort searching everywhere but within.
There is a story that illustrates this point. It is said that in Africa, in the early days of diamond discovery, an excited farmer sold his farm to head out to search for diamonds. He didn’t find any, and his life ended in poverty and heartbreak. It later turned out that the farm that he sold to finance his unsuccessful quest was itself the site of one of the richest diamond mines in the world. He had left the treasure beneath his feet to go hunting for it everywhere else. Just like that farmer searching for diamonds, we appear to be unaware of the riches, the spiritual treasure that is very close to us. Even when the teacher shares his knowledge, we do not learn well enough to act on that information, and keep looking elsewhere. We all have the Lord within – acres of spiritual diamonds – waiting to be found, but we have to realize that truth and act on it. We have to make the effort to mine for him. We have to clearly answer for ourselves Great Master’s question, “What ideal have you set in life?”
What better ideal could we have than the pursuit of true happiness through union with the Lord? It is time to turn away from the pursuit of the world and go within. We have the good fortune to have the association of a living Master. He showers his grace on us by initiating us and constantly reminding us to attend to our practice. Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, how we can make this practice of meditation part of our lives. He says:
There are only two ways of attending to meditation. Either you have intense love and desire for meditation, or you make it a habit in your life. You tell yourself: This particular time has to be given to meditation come what may. Only then does it become a habit. Call it force, call it a habit, call it a matter of duty – ultimately it comes to the same thing. The other way is intense longing, intense desire and devotion, which forces you to attend to meditation. That is always the best, but if you are not fortunate enough to have that approach, then naturally we cannot relax in our meditation.
Many of us are not blessed with the intense longing, love, and devotion that compel us to set our priorities right and sit for our spiritual practice. Therefore, we have no option but to make an effort of conscious will to make the time to sit for meditation. We have to be regular and punctual, “come what may,” so that we make meditation a habit.
Lao-tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We have to take that step. When the mind drifts, when we find we are restless, when our bodies wriggle and squirm, when we are so uncomfortable we think it’s impossible to stay still – we have to give the body and the mind a metaphorical whack and bring them back on track. Through concentration, we have to make the body motionless and bring the mind to a standstill. Restless? Stay still! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay still! What’s for lunch? Stay still! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay still! Everything about this that we perceive as being difficult – our inability to find the time, our lack of concentration, or our mind wandering off – we can choose to overcome, if only we get into the habit of acting instead of thinking about how to act or how well we are doing. Great Master advises us in Spiritual Gems:
It is all a matter of unwavering attention.… But that is not so easy without long practice.… The mind is tricky and will run out if permitted. Conquer it.… The whole thing is attention, and then unbroken attention, at the eye centre, allowing no other thought to intrude itself into the consciousness and lead you away from the centre. This was the method by which I won my way inside, and it is the method by which you must win your way.
Practice is what will make our efforts perfect; even in matters of the world, isn’t that what is required? And what a resounding assurance Great Master gives us – this is how he did it, this is how we must do it! We must, as Martha Graham puts it, perform an act of faith; that is exactly what meditation is all about, faith in the Master’s instructions. We act – meditate – and practise it over and over. And then we too can become athletes of God.