Preparing for the Final
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have gone to school and faced final examinations. These exams test us on everything the teacher has covered during the year and determine whether we pass the course or repeat it. Similarly, mystics tell us that every human being faces a sort of “final exam” at the end of life, in the sense that we are called to account for the sum total of our actions during that life. How we have lived our life, how we have prepared for the “final” determines the outcome: either rebirth in a potentially endless chain of reincarnations in human, animal, bird, and plant species, or escape from the cycle of births and deaths and advancement toward our ultimate goal of union with God. Our preparation for the final can result in different degrees of success depending on the methods we adopt. Let’s compare some of the approaches taken in school and in spirituality to prepare for a final exam.
In a school or university, some students take a “wishful thinking” approach to preparing for their final exam. These students enroll in the class but do almost no work and show up for the final without having prepared for it at all. They hope to bluff their way through and pass just by showing up. In a course of spirituality, this approach takes the form of hoping for salvation after death. Maharaj Jagat Singh says in The Science of the Soul:
Reliance on salvation after death is the finest form of self-deception man practises on himself. If there is no salvation while a man is alive, it will not come after death. He who is illiterate when alive cannot be a scholar after death…. So try to get salvation now.
Another approach involves trying to pass an exam while putting in minimal effort. This type of student buys the textbook but only reads the table of contents and chapter headings. In the university of the spirit, this approach is similar to focusing on the surface aspects of religion. This means looking only to rituals and ceremonies and the social aspects of a religion or philosophy and ignoring the underlying spiritual teachings. Hazur tells us in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I and II:
The saints never bind us to any ritual and ceremony. They are concerned only with the real teachings of spirituality.
You have to be one-pointed towards meditation and towards this path, towards the sound or melody within. No ritual is required; no ceremony is required.
Still another approach is exemplified by the student who does all the reading, but never goes to class. This student has the benefit of the textbook but misses the teacher’s influence. In spirituality, this type of person looks only to books and scriptures for the answers to salvation and does not seek the help of a spiritual teacher. Hazur tells us in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I:
You see, we start by reading the books. We try to do it. But there’s nobody to guide us when some complication arises, and the book doesn’t say anything about that…. For whatever we learn in this world we always need some teacher, someone who has the knowledge of that subject…. And spirituality is the most difficult subject. For this we need a Master, a teacher in spirituality.
Next there is the “teacher’s pet.” This person bets everything on the teacher’s good graces. This kind of student is always in class but never does any work, yet hopes for the teacher’s favour. In the university of the spirit, some disciples may similarly hope that just being in the Master’s presence will save them, without their having first done the work that he asks of all students on the path. We take this approach when we feel that we don’t need to seriously attend to meditation because our Master is so kind and his grace will save us. But as Maharaj Sawan Singh points out in Spiritual Gems, this is not the reality.
The Master teaches and the disciple learns. The progress of the disciple depends upon how fast he learns the lessons. The efforts of the disciple and the grace of the Master go hand in hand. Effort is rewarded with grace, and grace brings more effort.
Finally, we have the procrastinator. This student has good intentions, thinks often about the impending examination, but never gets around to doing the reading or studying, believing that “cramming” as much of the material as possible the night before will be enough to pass the exam. Similarly, in the university of the spirit, there are those who never seem to find time for their spiritual obligations. They aim to focus on their spiritual duties in the future. However, they find that one thing or another always claims their time and attention – duties at home, raising children, job responsibilities, health problems, and social activities. Hazur reminds us in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
We have certain responsibilities and duties which we must do in this world. At the same time, we should not get so involved … in the means that we forget the end. The end should always be kept in view, and we should try to achieve that end.
Perhaps one or more of these approaches may have worked for us at some point. We may even have actually passed an exam despite these flawed techniques. But the same approach cannot work for spiritual realization. In spirituality, we need a different method. Great Master writes in Spiritual Gems:
You are going to study the self and its relation to the grand truth. You are to isolate the self from the mind and matter, and then trace it to the source of all. It is comparatively a difficult subject. Implicit faith in the guide or teacher, and longing, as of a lover when he is out to meet his Beloved, are prerequisites on this path.
The prerequisites for success in this course of spirituality depend on the student’s love for the Master, his longing to meet him, and therefore his motivation to obey the Master and follow his directions. If we sincerely follow the program designed for us by our Master, we can cross the gates of death while still alive and know what lies beyond. Then we will be fully prepared for what will be our last “final.” As Great Master writes encouragingly to a disciple in Spiritual Gems:
Now it is due you to reach the highest degree in the university of the spirit. Your face is toward the light. Let nothing hinder or discourage you. You shall drink of the living waters and be thirsty no more.
Let’s look at how the saints would advise us to prepare for the final day of our course in spirituality.
Just as a university student accepts certain rules set by his teacher, the spiritual seeker who requests initiation – or enrollment in the university of the spirit – knows that it requires effort and commitment, and determines to devote at least ten percent of each day to meditation practice as taught by his or her living Master. This meditation is the core of the disciple’s work at this spiritual university, for it develops that all-important love for the Master. Hazur says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II: “The purpose of meditation is to create that love and devotion for the Father within, because the relationship of the soul and the Father is that of love.”
Once a disciple is enrolled (initiated) in this university of the spirit, the true Master is always available to help the student. There is an unending and unbreakable bond between the spiritual teacher and the disciple. This is one of the great secrets of the path. Hazur says in Light on Sant Mat:
The Master is always within and ready to help; in fact, he waits every moment for his disciples to turn to him. The more you develop this attitude and at the same time do your worldly duties to the best of your ability, the more will the help be forthcoming.
The Master provides the disciple with clear instructions on what to focus on and how to prepare for the final exam, the time of death. On the spiritual path, preparation for the final takes a different form from that of a university student. This is a path not of external information, but of inner transformation. The disciple doesn’t focus on books and written material but goes to the laboratory of his own body to search for and connect with truth under the guidance of his living teacher. And in this way, through personal experience, true faith develops, which motivates the disciple to keep going.
The next step of a good student is to take practice tests. This is very important in preparing for a final exam, especially for a difficult course. For a disciple on this path, daily meditation is our practice for the final at the time of our death. Hazur tells us in Die to Live:
Meditation is nothing but a preparation to leave the body. That is the real purpose of meditation. Before you play your part on a stage, you rehearse the part so many times, just to be perfect. Similarly, this meditation is a daily rehearsal to die so that we become perfect at how to die and when to die.
Daily meditation is a preparation for the moment of death. If the student develops the ability to “die” every day during meditation, then his or her attention at the time of death will certainly be pointed inside towards that divine spirit.
If we sincerely follow this program, designed for us by our true living Master, we can cross the gates of death while we are still alive and know what lies beyond. Then we will be fully prepared for what will be our last final.
Great Master writes to a disciple in Spiritual Gems:
No matter what may be your difficulties and deficiencies, they shall all be overcome, and the divine Shabd whose music never ceases within you shall sooner or later bear you upon its loving waves back to your original home.