From Ignorance to Experience
There is a story in the book A Wake Up Call about a wise man who was invited to speak to a group of students. He arrived and asked the assembled students whether they knew what he was going to talk about. They all said, “Yes.” And the wise man said, “Well, if you already know what I’m going to talk about, then there’s no point in my saying it.” And he left.
The students again invited him to speak. Before starting his talk he he asked, “Do you know what I’m going to talk about?” They all said, “No.” And he responded, “If you don’t know what I’m going to talk about, then why am I here?” And he left.
The students invited him to speak yet again. This time when he asked whether they knew what he was going to talk about, they were prepared. Half of them said, “Yes” and half of them said, “No.” The wise man said, “ Then those who know can explain it to those who don’t know, and there’s no point in my staying here.” And he left.
Once more the students invited the wise man to speak to them. This time when he asked whether they knew what he was going to talk about they were all silent. This was the moment he had been waiting for, and he began to share his teachings with them.
This story illustrates that it’s only when we drop our preconceptions, our assumptions, our opinions, our expectations, our fantasies about the path – our ideas about what we think we know – that we become receptive to what the Masters are trying to teach us. When we realize our ignorance, we become open to learning what the saints want to impart to us. We also become open to their love for us. When we accept our ignorance, we can begin to follow this path in all sincerity and humility.
When we first come to the path, many of us read the Sant Mat literature religiously. We want to understand everything we possibly can about this mystic path. This is good because we’re told to satisfy our intellect before asking for initiation by reading the books and attending satsang.
So we do. And we may get a solid intellectual understanding of the path. But a funny thing happens: the longer we are on the path, the more we begin to realize – if we’re honest with ourselves – that we don’t really understand any of it.
Our real-life experience starts bumping up against what we’ve read in the books. We begin to see what look to us like paradoxes and contradictions, and they often confuse us. At times, we might even question our faith. The best-case scenario is that slowly and slowly, if we’re doing our part – living the Sant Mat way of life and doing our meditation – we begin to realize that the path is ultimately a mystery, and that we don’t have a clue about anything. For many of us, this is a shock, a rude awakening.
The Masters do all they can to disabuse us of our cherished concepts about spirituality. They help puncture our false beliefs about what we think we know and what we think meditation should be like. They turn us to the experience of truth that we can only discover through our meditation.
When someone asked Maharaj Charan Singh about the saying attributed to Socrates that the wise man is one who knows that he knows nothing, Hazur said (as quoted in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I):
I think the wisest person is he who realizes that he knows nothing. Christ himself said: O Father, you have hid these things from the prudent and from the wise, and you have revealed them to the babes. You see, this ego, this intellect, makes us think we know everything. When we eliminate that ego, we realize we know nothing.
Hazur went on to say that the Lord has given us intellect so that we can find him and realize him. But he said if we don’t use it in the right way, then it’s useless.
It is absolutely useless to have all the knowledge of the world if we do not know the Creator, who is within every part of his creation. When we know the Creator, then we realize that we know absolutely nothing. It is the Creator who knows everything.
Understanding the truth is not about being smart or reading scriptures or analyzing. It’s been said that the true devotees are not those who know the most but those who love the most. Hazur said:
If a simple man can understand the straight teachings of a mystic, he doesn’t need to refer to any book at all. He doesn’t have to look at any other mystic at all. All books and literature are just to satisfy our intellect. All meetings [satsangs] are just to satisfy our intellect, convince us and then to create an atmosphere for meditation, that’s all. Ultimately they will lead you to meditation. These are all the means, but if we don’t attend to the end, the means are useless to us.
The Masters tell us that we can’t satisfy our hunger by watching someone else eat. Master’s spiritual understanding and spiritual experience will not satisfy our spiritual hunger. He became a mystic through the will and direction of his own Master and his own spiritual practice, his own obedience and love for his Master, his dedication to his own meditation, which was taught to him by his Master. Similarly, we will gain our own spiritual understanding only through our own experience, which will come from our own spiritual practice and our own meditation, guided by our own Master.
The mystics come to guide us spiritually. They show us how to release our soul from its enslavement to the mind and senses so that it can merge back into its source, the Shabd – that divine power of love that sustains every living thing, which people also call God.
Someone once asked Hazur to define God, and asked if God could be seen inside. The Master says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol I:
You have to experience him. He is a being. When you cannot see yourself, how can you see the Creator? Seeing is what you see with these outside eyes. Hearing is what you can hear with your outside ears….That is why Christ said, having eyes you see not, having ears you hear not. And yet we are supposed to see him; we are supposed to hear him. There is another faculty which sees him, which hears him. We can’t call it even a faculty. But these things have to be described, have to be explained. When we cannot explain the faculties of the soul, how can we explain the faculties of the Lord, the Creator?
And then Hazur said that our relationship with the Lord is that of love, and that some people call the Lord love. But, he then said that even love can’t be described with words. It has to be experienced. The Masters constantly emphasize the limits of intellectual knowledge and the benefits of actual experience.
The application of knowledge is practice. Meditation. The Masters tell us that everything we are to receive on this path will be through our meditation. So, in fact, being aware of our own ignorance is a tremendous blessing; it’s vital if we are to continue searching for the truth. As soon as we think we know what this path is all about, we settle into a comfortable religious mindset, feeling both saved and safe. This will get us nowhere.
On the other hand, if we are conscious of our own ignorance, we will strive to achieve experience and not settle for mere knowledge. We have the experience of vegetarianism, not just knowledge about it; we should desire the same actual experience of Shabd instead of mere knowledge.
God, love, the Shabd – these things can’t be understood with the mind, can’t be described with words. We have to go within and experience them for ourselves, and this is the purpose of a Master: he gives us the tools that will help us turn away from the world of the senses; the world of material wealth, status, possessions, and relationships, and go within ourselves to find God, through a specific method of meditation. That is the only way we can experience God, or love, or truth and end our ceaseless wandering in the world of phenomena.