The Long and Winding Path
Have you ever watched a dog out on an adventure? They never go in a straight line. They always take a long and winding path as they follow their noses and the smells that attract them. Their noses buried deep in leaves and dirt, they give one hundred percent concentration and attention to what entices them – and they are oblivious to their master’s call.
When we are initiated we think we will follow a direct route home. Little do we realize what a long and winding path it can turn out to be. Like a dog out on an adventure we are jostled this way and that way, back-tracking here and stumbling forward there – following the dictates of our destiny. We seem to have no control over either the direction or the situation.
But does it have to be a long and winding path or can we follow a more direct route? First we need to realize there are two paths: Firstly, the merciless outer path – dictated by our karma – with all its stumbling blocks, twists, turns and challenges that sap our energy and destroy our peace of mind. And secondly, there’s the inner path, which begins from the toes of the feet and ends at the crown of the head.
This has two stages: the first is from the soles of the feet to the eye centre and is completed with simran. Simran is so powerful that it has the ability to withdraw the soul currents that are spread throughout the body and concentrate them at the eye centre – the point that leads to the second part of the journey, which is from the eye centre to the top of the head – the fifth spiritual region named Satlok. This part of the journey is undertaken with the help of the Shabd that resounds throughout the vast inner regions. This second part of the spiritual journey leads us directly home.
The eye centre is the key to both stages of the journey. It marks the end of stage one and the beginning of stage two – the real spiritual journey. This centre is the point – not physical – from which consciousness spreads throughout our body. It is our mental or thinking centre.
In Kabir: The Weaver of Gods Name, the author tells us that the eye centre is not a symbolic or poetic expression coined by the Saints, nor is it an imaginary point. It is, in fact, the point of focus to which we withdraw our attention from the senses – to concentrate inward. Reaching and opening the eye centre is a very real experience, as the inner worlds are as palpable to the soul as the outer one is to the senses.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says:
Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.
The wide gate and the broad way are the path to illusion – that is, our attachments to the material world. When our attention is trapped in the material world we become obsessed with illusion – in fact, with anything other than God – so that our attention moves farther away from God.
Many people are not interested in God and spirituality; they are only interested in worldly pleasures and living a hedonistic life, while blindly toiling to accumulate possessions, wealth and status. Their lives focus predominantly on ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’.
The destruction that Christ speaks of is the yoke of our constant accumulation of karma that keeps us tied to the world, like a poor bullock tied to an oil press. The bullock is portrayed as having to suffer ceaselessly at the hands of its owner – just as we suffer at the hands of our unrelenting karma. We are not even aware of the heavy load we take on ourselves as we circle the wheel of birth and rebirth to repay our debt. Under the yoke of karma we may be forced to go through immense suffering in this world.
Those who enter into the broad way of materialism are blind to the treasure within themselves. The more they gain, the heavier the burden. They are oblivious to their yoke and its crushing weight on them. The Great Master discusses this phenomenon in Discourses on Sant Mat, Vol I:
Actually, no words can describe the agony experienced by the unliberated souls as they travel, life after life, through the round of eighty-four. Thousands of them in animal bodies are butchered every day. They keep crying out in anguish, but who pays any heed to their shrieks? What court is there to grant them justice? Millions of goats and sheep are sent bleating with fear to slaughter houses and have their throats cut mercilessly. The necks of hens are wrung while they struggle in intense pain. Time was when they too were human beings, and quite possibly of a higher status than you or I. They may well have been aristocrats, millionaires, kings or emperors. But today they are hens or goats. And who will listen to their agonized pleading?
None, of course.
The long and winding path we negotiate is not only related to this life and this day – it is also the cycle of our birth, rebirth and transmigration. Without devotion for the Lord and without a Master, how does anyone ever get the chance to end the cycle? As in quicksand, the more one tries to free oneself, the deeper one sinks. It is simply not possible to end the cycle without the help of a spiritual guide.
Following on from his previous words Christ indicates a way out of this hell, but he warns us it is not easy. He says:
Enter ye in at the strait gate … because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
This refers to the inner path. Once our consciousness has accumulated at the eye centre we continue on to the second stage from the eye centre inward – this is the path that leads to eternity. This is what the Master’s teachings are all about: how to travel the direct and narrow way home.
It’s a constant source of amazement to us that we – out of the billions of people on earth – have been pulled into the Master’s orbit and brought into his fold because ‘few there be that find it’. Now, finally, we have been given the opportunity to end this cycle.
To open the inner eye is the major milestone in our journey towards God. It is only reached by living according to the Master’s instructions – one of which is to live a moral life. This principle is broad in scope but, importantly, it includes the awareness of right and wrong in our thoughts and conduct.
We get up in the early morning to sit in meditation. We travel to India to sit in front of the Master, professing intense love for him and his spiritual path – yet frequently our thoughts and actions are in direct contradiction to the principles of the path and what the Master asks of us. We say one thing but we do another. We seem unable to control our anger, our lust for the world and the physical desires that pull us away from spirituality.
Part of us longs for the inner peace and bliss promised by adherence to the Sant Mat way of life. But the mind and the senses seem only too willing to yield to whatever overwhelming desire comes our way – forgetting that there is a Sant Mat perspective to every situation. Time and again we give in to the mind and then we try to justify our actions in terms of karma.
Like the dog out on his adventure, his nose buried in the dirt and unmindful of his owner’s voice – so too, our mind runs rampant as it happily explores the long and winding path, oblivious to the spiritual consequences and the Master’s call. How do we think we will ever get out of this world if we don’t put on the brakes and stop our obsession with the physical? We need to regularly assess our attitude towards our spiritual endeavours.
The problem is that when the illusion is offering us such interesting and exciting options, who is interested in self-discipline and self-control? Only the really devoted disciples turn their backs on the illusion. Are our actions and our thinking keeping us spiritually poor?
The Master alerts us to the wealth within us, and he gives us practical guidance on how to follow the path to get that wealth. It is not enough to simply listen to the Master’s advice – we have to act on it. So when the Master tells us to live our lives according to the four principles, that is exactly what he means. And when he says meditate for two and a half hours, that is what he wants us to do.
Our meditation is the best gift we can give both to ourselves and to our Master. It is the Master who inspires and moulds every detail of our lives. Surely we can put in the effort to turn our attention away from the long and winding path and focus on the direct inner path and meet him within.
He who does not undertake
The barter of love,
Who does not tread
The lane of Nam,
Is a bullock
That strolls about
Wearing the hide of a man.
Kabir: The Weaver of God’s Name