Everyone is searching for something better. Mostly this search expresses itself as a search for happiness. But is it really happiness we seek, or is it something deeper, and more meaningful? Time eventually teaches us that what we’re seeking is the home where we originally came from, and a blissful reunion with God himself.
For some the search is long and painful, and they explore and then discard many different paths. Others seem to stumble upon answers very soon after they start their search. This affirms an old Indian saying: “When the chela (disciple) is ready, the guru appears”.
The teachers of this and other similar paths have said that in this age of constant flux and uncertainty, when life is short and our perceptions limited, the path of the sound current or Shabd is the quickest way for the soul to progress on its spiritual journey towards God-realization. But it is a difficult journey with many pitfalls, and therefore it should be undertaken only with the help of an experienced guide or teacher.
It is clear that we need a teacher for everything we want to learn. We have parents, school teachers, music teachers, sport coaches – the list goes on – so if you have chosen to follow a path of reuniting the soul with its source, with the ultimate reality, how could you imagine that you would not need a Master?
True living Masters, throughout the ages have come to tell us that we are so much more than just a body and a mind. In The Dawn of Light Maharaj Sawan Singh explains that our search should lead us to the realization of our divine origin:
For ages the mystics and great sages of India and Persia have been practising and teaching the method of the inner Sound Current, which leads to the union of the soul with the Lord. These Saints comprise a spiritual tradition, which continues even today in the form of perfect living Masters.
Sant Mat is a spiritual discipline designed to enable the soul to consciously transcend the physical body and to experience directly the truth and the reality of the Supreme Being – and not only experience it, but become it. Maharaj Sawan Singh, the Great Master, further says that it is a scientific method by which seekers may achieve genuine self-realization and God-realization.
The Masters give the seeker the method by which to meditate. They also describe the type of experiences that will be encountered along the way. At a certain point, they say, you will meet the Radiant Form of the teacher who initiated you – and from there on the Master will accompany you for the rest of your journey.
But how does one find such a teacher? He might just appear in our lives, or we might have to really search far and wide. We do not even know our own true essence, so how can we recognize a true Master? Soami Ji says: “There are many gurus in the world, but a true and perfect Guru is rare!” This is even truer today when we have access to so much more information and disinformation. It is easy for pretenders to pass themselves off as gurus.
True Masters do not stand out. They look like ordinary human beings just like us. With our limited vision and intellect we can only see very superficially – mostly we just look at outward signs. We may meet the Friend (as Rumi calls him) and not even recognize him. Baba Gurinder Singh, the current Beas Master, challenges us when he says: “How do you know I am who you say I am?” He himself makes no claims to being any different from the rest of humanity.
Maharaj Sawan Singh wrote:
To know a Master or to understand his real significance or reality is, in fact, very difficult. To do this, discerning eyes like his own are necessary. Only a God-man can know a God-man. How can a person who is confined in the case of a body realize the Lord’s glory? Unless we are as great as he is, we cannot understand Him.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V
There is no clear answer to the question of how to recognize a true Master. (One criterion, however, is that they do not accept money from their disciples for initiation.) You have to use great discernment and take your time to search and research.
The relationship between Master and disciple is very personal and starts even before the disciple receives initiation. The Sant Mat Masters say that it is necessary for both the teacher and the student to be alive at the same time. This sounds self-evident, but if one thinks about it, in many traditions followers accept long-dead teachers as their Master.
So great stress is placed on the necessity of a living Master. This relationship will continue even after the death of the Master, for it is only the physical body that has perished. The Master in Shabd form continues to guide the disciples he has initiated.
This is why we need a Master. They are not only self-realized but also God-realized human beings – in other words, they have united with the source of life and love that we call God. We can relate to the Master on a physical level. We can ask him questions and get answers. But the relationship is much more than that.
In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
The inner secrets cannot be expressed in words, either spoken or written. They can be explained only by the perfect Master of the time. He accompanies a disciple on his spiritual ascent and takes him across all the difficult stages of the journey.
The secrets of spirituality, or of the practical means by which the soul can become united with the Lord, are given out by a living Master only.
Once a follower is initiated, the bond between disciple and Master becomes a life-long journey of love, friendship and guidance. He has compassion for all our suffering in this world, yet the Master is not there to improve our physical conditions. From a spiritual point of view, whether you are wealthy or poor, happy or unhappy, healthy or unhealthy, is of no consequence. The Master’s primary duty is to assist the soul in its journey through the inner regions.
Maharaj Sawan Singh in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol.V, poses this question:
When we have not seen the Lord or enjoyed his company, how can we love? Without love and devotion, we cannot reach the True Region.
However, the initiate also has certain obligations. Firstly, we have to follow a lacto-vegetarian diet. This diet minimizes harm to other creatures. Secondly, we have to abstain from alcohol and recreational drugs, because they dull the senses and prevent concentration. Thirdly, we are required to live a moral and ethical life. We should at all times examine our behaviour to determine whether we are living up to the highest possible standards.
The first three requirements are necessary to set the stage for the fourth requirement, namely meditation. By diligently applying these standards and making them part of our lives, they become so ingrained in us that we comply with them automatically. That then leaves us free to concentrate on the meditation, which is our real job in this life. Our meditation is knocking at the inner door that will lead to the road that we will follow home. The Masters say that they are anxiously waiting for us on the other side of that door.
The real journey starts when we have torn away the veil of illusion and see the creation and ourselves as we really are. Then we will see that we are not just this pot of clay, as Kabir puts it, i.e. made of dust that will eventually return to earth, but beings of pure light and sound.
So how do we know that all of this is true? We don’t. The only way to find out is to follow the path to the end; to conduct the experiment exactly as prescribed by our teacher.
The Master’s relationship with us is like that of a friend or a brother, a father, or mother, and so forth. But it is very important that we understand that although his body is exactly the same as ours, subject to all the human afflictions, his real form is Shabd. And that is what we too will one day experience – a state beyond both body and mind.
It is impossible to really describe a Master and what his role in our life is. We can only see a fraction of a fraction of a fraction. One can keep on quoting from various sources about the Master – but these are just words and actually mean nothing without inner knowledge to back them up. And that is what each of us must find for ourselves.