Smoke and Mirrors
“That which I should have done, I did not do.” This is the intriguing title of a sculpture produced by the American artist Cy Twombly who died in 2011. The title conjures an image of time, energy and focus being diverted from the pursuit of some other more precious activity. As seekers embarking on a spiritual journey, this raises an important question: Are we practising meditation consistently or do we let other demands take priority? Two recent RSSB publications, Concepts and Illusions and A Wake-up Call, point out that we are fairly adept at what organization theorists term ‘decoupling’ – creating the illusion of adopting approved habits and practices whilst privately following a different course. In terms of Sant Mat this relates to following the outward life of a spiritual seeker whilst actually prioritizing worldly interests. So, judging our behaviour purely on our actions, perhaps the more accurate question is: are we living Sant Mat or faking it?
From maya to self-deception
Reflecting on the extent to which the path of the Masters has become a way of life, many of us would tell ourselves that, whilst there is room for improvement, overall we are living Sant Mat and living for Sant Mat. We would contend that the philosophy of the mystics not only provides the framework by which we make sense of the world, but is the driving force underpinning our motives, attitudes, behaviour, routines and, ultimately, our sense of self. In fact, we would say that, since Sant Mat now pervades our entire being, it is impossible for us to live a ‘non-Sant Mat’ way of life even were we tempted to do so. We would point out that by being vegetarian, attending satsang, performing seva, and, above all, devoting time to meditation, we are seeking to fulfil our most important duty as disciples.
Yet, to what extent is our meditation genuine? Why are we doing it? Are we motivated by a deep desire to reconnect with the Shabd and, thus, purposefully direct our daily activities to fit around this? Or, has meditation become a ritual, a ‘tick-box’ exercise in which we conform superficially to the expectations of what it is to be a disciple whilst being preoccupied with the desires, demands and expectations of life on the material plane?
Organizations engage in decoupling practices to create the impression of compliance with external stakeholders’ expectations (e.g. incorporating green business practices) without actually changing their operations because this would detract from what they view to be their primary purpose (making a profit). Here, the target of decoupling is external i.e. consumers, pressure groups, regulators and media. As spiritual seekers, the target of decoupling is primarily our own self.
Cleaning up our act
We spent aeons deluded by maya until the mystics showed us the truth. However, our new found enlightenment does not preclude self-deception. In Sar Bachan Poetry, Soami Ji Maharaj concludes that the “one thing” he has learnt about us is that, “you are remarkably dishonest with yourself.” The gap between our stated desire for spirituality and our practice is reiterated by Maharaj Jagat Singh in The Science of the Soul when he states that, with our mind “still steeped in cravings for the world and its objects”, our desire for Nam is a sham.
Not practising meditation is problematic, but practising meditation in any of the ways described below is also problematic because we risk deluding ourselves that we are making best use of the invaluable opportunity of human life and that, with the Master’s grace, we will be returning home. In various places in The Dawn of Light, Maharaj Sawan Singh makes clear that until we are completely cleansed, the inner Master will not make himself known, and without this guidance we cannot reach Sach Khand. The present Master has reminded us that many of us have yet to begin the cleansing process in meditation. This suggests many of us are still in the nursery, learning the ABC of meditation with the inner journey yet to begin. Thus, being honest with ourselves as to whether Sant Mat has become a way of life is a matter of urgency.
How sincere are we?
Practising meditation regularly and punctually is the foundation step in disciplining the mind and building a relationship with the Lord. Yes, some of us have heavy family and work responsibilities and it does happen that meditation becomes sporadic. Again, shift work patterns can make it necessary to swap the time of our sitting so that punctuality as such is difficult. As Maharaj Charan Singh used to remind us, loving attention to simran in the day is a way of remaining true to the way of life. But, that said, if we don’t keep watch on ourselves and do our best to take every opportunity to establish a conscientious routine of meditation, it calls into question our level of sincerity. In contemporary society, it is impossible to get through life without keeping appointments. Why then do we not extend the same courtesy to the Master, especially since we are asked to do so? If we were to get anxious about keeping the Master waiting, as we do when late for an exam, a business meeting, or picking up children from day-care, this would indicate that meditation is becoming of paramount importance to us.
How much time we devote to meditation is a further indicator of our commitment. If we consistently devote less time than the minimum required, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that our desire to reconnect with the Shabd is superficial. Each time we sacrifice a minute of meditation, we are signalling that the outward world takes precedence over cultivating our relationship with the Lord.
Falling asleep during meditation because we are tired is a further barometer signalling that we may be giving so much of ourselves to the fulfilment of personal desires and obligations that there is hardly anything left for meditation. Yet, if we believed wholeheartedly that this was the most important activity of the day, we would reserve our greatest energy and the very best of ourselves. We would approach each session much like, for example, a student undertaking an exam: rested, prepared, alert, and completely focused.
Our main focus
How we feel about meditation is yet another indicator as to whether Sant Mat has become a way of life. In The Dawn of Light, Maharaj Sawan Singh states that right up to the last breath, “determination and faith should be so strong that even if nothing comes out of it … there is no wavering.” Given how often we tell the present Master that meditation is difficult or beyond our capabilities, our defeatist attitude signals that liberating our soul has yet to become our primary purpose in life. By far the most common attribute of individuals who reach the very pinnacle of their profession – be this in sport, science, medicine, art, music – is resolute determination; a single-minded persistence to reach their goal despite experiencing failure and adversity along the way. The dedication and tenacity with which they approach their objective is inspiring and instructive.
Unless we can honestly say that we are putting in our best effort to practise meditation consistently, we should be careful of falling into the trap of self-deception – thinking that we are living Sant Mat and living for Sant Mat when actually we are living for something else. There is a tendency for us to practise meditation just enough to hope that, with the Master’s grace, this will be sufficient to reconnect with the Shabd. But the inner Master is not as easily duped by our motivations and desires as we are. Despite our heartfelt desire not to return to the material plane, this is precisely the future that awaits us unless we make Sant Mat the central focus of our life.
Anything that helps us in our concentration and inward progress is worth doing; all else is off the mark. The world may be deceived, self may be deceived, but he that sits within cannot be deceived. He will open the door only when he has tested our fitness and found us worthy.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, The Dawn of Light
There is no doubt that our own endeavours do play a part in what we receive, but without the Lord’s merciful grace, even our best efforts cannot result in success.
We see our own effort, but we do not see the Lord’s grace. We have created neither earth, nor fire, nor have we had any hand in the creation of water, sky or sun. We mine iron, coal and gold from the earth, but we do not create them ourselves. We excavate diamonds from the mine but we do not make them. We extract oil and gas from under the ground, but we do not put it there. Everything is dependent on the gifts created by the Lord. Without his love and benevolence, we would have nothing.
Jap Ji: A Perspective