The boat is there, but the boatman is missing.
How will the traveller go across?
Sant Paltu, His Life and Teachings
The mission of the saints is spiritual in nature. Their words, their poetry, their songs and their discourses are intended to awaken souls; to pull apart the thick curtain of the mind; to draw our thoughts to truth, light and reality; to help us realize and fulfil our true purpose on this earth. Sant Paltu’s poem does all of the above. He has compared us to a traveller sitting in a boat without a boatman and poses the question: How will the traveller go across? With powerful words revealing a disturbing truth, Sant Paltu then forces us to imagine the inconceivable situation in which the beloved Satguru is missing from our lives – where he is absent from our thoughts and our actions – and we are the reason he is missing.
Could we even fathom what that would be like – a life without the Master, without his grace and love? How did we allow this to happen? The poem continues:
How will the traveller go across,
when faith in the boatman is lacking?
How will he reach the Beloved across the ocean
when he is reluctant to renounce worldly pleasures?
Neither is he pure of mind nor does he live a virtuous life.
He does not listen to the Master’s wise words,
And without love in the heart,
his speech and actions are at odds.
Could these be our mistakes? Do we lack faith? Are we indulging in worldly pleasures so intensely that we prefer this world to our Satguru? Have we strayed from the honest, moral life required to travel on this spiritual journey? Are we disobedient to the Master’s teachings? Is our love for him inadequate?
According to the Great Master, pride and lack of faith are two of the greatest obstacles in achieving spiritual progress and attaining true enlightenment. To a person who is a seeker, faith is the first and foremost crucial step to freedom of the soul.
Dr Julian Johnson illustrates the correct attitude of a seeker using an example of a man who is on a journey to a foreign country. That man will consider the different means available to reach his destination – be it air, land or sea – and then after careful deliberation, he will select the perfect option to get him there. However, once he starts his journey on that plane, train or ship, his period of judgment or discrimination is past. The moment he boards the vessel, he surrenders himself to the skill and trustworthiness of the pilot, driver or captain to take him safely to his destination. At this time, there is no question of our own ability or capacity because we know we are not capable of steering the boat ourselves. This is the faith we show in the boatman, our Master.
Pride and lack of faith would cause even a spiritually inclined person not to recognize a true Master. When we allow our ego to guide and direct our thoughts and actions, we leave no room for the Master in our heart and soul. Ego is the ‘I-ness’, the feeling of being superior, of having a separate identity, of individuality.
Maharaj Charan Singh explains that this individuality keeps us away from the Father. It seeks its own pleasure, and then, following its desire for worldly sights, sounds, smells and feelings, chases the attractions in the creation.
Ultimately, ego starts the negative chain reaction which Sant Paltu describes in his poem – we are reluctant to renounce the worldly pleasures which tempt us at every moment; we do not adopt the virtuous way, and instead succumb to the five passions. And where the attraction and love for the world is greater, our love and attention towards the Master and God is less. On top of all this, we lack even an ounce of knowledge or power to pull ourselves out of this chain reaction.
The result is that our meditation practice suffers. We are unable to concentrate in simran. Frustration turns into disinterest, and then we do not put any sincere effort into our meditation. The result is this:
The traveller’s boat does not cease wobbling,
for he heeds not the boatman’s words.
The fool, bereft of all wisdom,
brings in his own cleverness.
He attends not, O Paltu,
to the Master’s path of the Melody within.
So, the boat is ready, but the boatman is missing,
How will the traveller ever get across?
The life we lead right now, the decisions we make, our routines, the activities we set for ourselves take priority in our lives. If we take stock of the times we are awake, these activities dominate all of our time and attention. Our thoughts, desires and interests pull our attention out into the world so strongly and easily that we are unable to focus and withdraw our consciousness for a significant and consecutive length of time.
The Satguru gives us his all and promises never to leave us. He is saddened when we do not do our meditation. Because without our consistent effort, without our repetition of the five holy Names, there is no hope of our crossing the ocean of this human life.
Thus, the best answer to Sant Paltu’s question is: Meditate to invite the Boatman into the boat, and meditate more, so that his grace and love will lift and carry us across the ocean.
We can take inspiration from the profound words of Great Master’s personal attendant, Bhai Shadi:
If you have true love for the Master, you shut your eyes and in two minutes you are in Sach Khand.
As quoted in In Search of the Way
Our Master’s will is for us to do our meditation with faith, sincerity and concentration. When we follow our Master’s instructions, we are enabling him to be at the helm of our boat and take us to our destination.