The Path to Spiritual Unfoldment
Perfect mystics have always said that it is possible for us to live successfully in this world and, at the same time, follow a course of spiritual unfoldment. They say that we are capable of living and working on two levels: on the physical, material level around us and on a spiritual level.
It is through the activity of mind and ego that we are held in this creation, but just as air surrounds and fills everything on the surface of this planet, or as water fills everything in the sea, in the same way mind and matter are permeated by spirit. To learn to control the mind and to become fully conscious of spirit is to achieve what religions have called ‘eternal life’, ‘enlightenment’, ‘salvation’ or ‘dying while living’. Whilst carrying on our trade or profession, mixing with family and friends, in good times and in bad, we can come to know spirit – our true selves – and to know God.
Three short quotes from mystics follow. The first is by the fifteenth-century Indian saint, Kabir Sahib, from the book Kabir, the Weaver of God’s Name:
Kabir, simran is the essence
Of all paths,
All else is nothing
But a fruitless task;
I have scanned
The origin and the end
Of all practices,
And found them all
Within the bounds of Kal.
The second is from a Christian mystic, Walter Hilton, writing in The Scale of Perfection a hundred years earlier:
There is one activity which is of great value and, as I think, a highway to contemplation.… It is for a man to enter into himself and come to the knowledge of his own soul.
The third is from a discourse given by Maharaj Charan Singh in the twentieth century. Hazur asks:
What work will enable us to become one with the Lord? Love and devotion for him. Everything else is cause and effect, giving and taking, love with a motive.… As long as the Lord grants us the opportunity of being in a human body, we must maintain our quest for that home which is real.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II
Despite the differences of time and place – contemporary and past, east and west – there are strong connections. First, all three mystics are talking about somewhere we want to reach. Kabir Sahib talks about paths, Walter Hilton about a highway. You have paths and highways only so that you can arrive somewhere. And Hazur talks about “our quest for that home which is real”.
Second, they all mention an activity, something which is essential to the project. Kabir Sahib says, “Simran is the essence of all paths.” Walter Hilton says, “It is for a man to enter into himself.” And Hazur asks: “What work will enable us to become one with the Lord? Love and devotion.”
They are each naming a different aspect of the journey – but it is the same journey. They all point out that although many tasks and activities are open to us, there is one thing which is of major importance and that it is a matter of urgency that we carry it out.
Maharaj Charan Singh tells us: “As long as the Lord grants us the opportunity … we must maintain our quest.”
Seen in this context, the advice that simran is the essence of all paths, may seem surprising. Simran is, in fact, just a part of the course of study. It is not the whole of the path, not our final destination. The essence of the teachings of true mystics is that the divine spirit which supports the creation can be contacted as sound and light within the human body. It is this sound – the word or Shabd – which has the power to take us to higher levels of consciousness.
So let’s go back to Walter Hilton, who recommends that we “enter” ourselves. Entering into ourselves is made possible when we successfully carry out the practice of mental repetition or simran given to us by a perfect mystic. This focused repetition leads us to the Shabd, and Shabd is the catalyst that reveals the natural love and devotion of the soul for God. This is why Kabir Sahib says, “Simran is the essence.” Simran is the tool which will enable us to take the very first step from the world outside to the world within. Simran takes us from the very beginning to the point where Shabd, the sound current, takes over.
Maharaj Charan Singh used to say that the practice of simran is so easy that it can be undertaken by both a child of five and a very old person. Simran is extremely simple. It is an inspired practice because anyone sincerely carrying this out will find that they cannot both think of the world and practise simran at the same time. They can work and play and live in the world, but they cannot think of the world and do simran.
We should understand why, in order to gain mystic experience, we need to suspend our usual activity of thinking. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
Whenever we wish to withdraw our consciousness inwards, the thoughts of the world invade us. These are the impressions that have continually entered through the sense organs. Thus, the affairs of household, office, shops and other places, also the forms of relatives, friends and foes that we have been seeing, project themselves on the mind’s screen and obstruct concentration. The first step for spiritual uplift, therefore, is to eliminate them.
Another Christian mystic, in The Cloud of Unknowing, says basically the same things. He writes:
I will leave on one side everything I can think, and choose for my love that thing which I cannot think! Why? Because he may well be loved but not thought. By love he can be caught and held but by thinking, never.
The way to eliminate the distracting flow of impressions, to control the mind and awaken our spiritual power – at present dissipated – is through replacing the worldly thinking or repetition with the spiritual repetition. Kabir Sahib is quoted in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol.I:
One should remember one’s simran in the same way as a passionate lover remembers his love at all times of the day and night.… One should attend to one’s simran in the same way as a water carrier girl keeps her attention in the pitcher on her head while she walks on rough, uneven ground conversing with her friends.
He is referring to the practice of simran carried on throughout the day, as an extension of the regular meditation period. We can’t afford to be without this practice!
What happens in the morning when a disciple awakes, thinking of the meditation that he has promised to do each day? If he just thinks about it, he is likely to fail to even get out of bed. The mind is so strong that despite its higher intentions, it is likely to find excuses. By thinking, we can never succeed on this path. This is the difficult lesson we have to learn.
For everything else in life, we rely on reason, mental development, thought. But when we talk about training the mind on the spiritual path, we mean training it to rest completely quietly, leaving thought temporarily behind. When we can focus on the names given to us by our Master to such an extent that they are automatically there as we wake to start the new day, then on that flow of positive energy, we will automatically arise to carry out our meditation.
Kabir Sahib says that other practices are fruitless because they are not stronger than the mind (referred to by Kabir Sahib as Kal).This is why we come back to simran: because, by calming the incessant thoughts of the mind, it collects the mind at the eye centre and brings it to Shabd. Once absorbed in Shabd, we are on that royal route leading far beyond the territory of Kal.
Simran also brings us to the point at which, in our meditation, we see the inner form of our Master. The relationship which was begun in the physical world now develops in the world of spirit, and the love and devotion which were once a struggle to find are now ours in increasing depth and richness. So through simran we do indeed come to true love and devotion, knowledge of our own soul and, finally, to union with God.