Praise the Lord
The Book of Psalms in the Bible is a collection of poems which express the devotional sentiments of the Jewish people. They are full of wonder and appreciation for the Lord. For instance we read in Psalm 113:
Praise the Lord! Praise, O servant of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun, to its going down
The Lord’s Name is to be praised.
Throughout history, saints have come among us on earth to teach us the way back to the Lord – the path which they themselves have taken. Although their languages may be different, their message is always the same. And in all cultures and languages, people have used words to express their awe for the great power of life, and to praise the divine Creator. Maharaj Charan Singh says in The Path:
If we study the teachings of any saint, we will find that each one praises Nam or the Name of God. We have many religions and each has its own rites and rituals, ceremonies and formalities; but the reality, the essence of the truth and spirituality at the base of each one of them is the same.
We praise because we are inspired and because we sense the presence of something so much greater than ourselves. We praise but we do not necessarily understand. A child may praise his teacher because he is kind and can answer all his questions – but he does not understand the depths of his teacher’s knowledge. We may praise a musical performance or the musician – but we do not necessarily understand the complexities or the skill involved in making that music. We praise because we are moved, because we find something or someone beautiful. We praise what touches us, regardless of our understanding.
So too, we praise the Creator and the skill that has wrought the creation, because it fills us with awe. We perceive its grandeur even if we do not understand its source.
Sant Charan Das, in singing the praises of the Lord, loses himself in awe:
No one can create colours like him; no one can create designs like him – there is no craftsman like him in this world. Many astonishing marvels has he created – unparalleled, grand and infinite. In the water, earth, air and sky, behold them and enjoy their beauty.
We are not our name
Mystics tell us that the name of the Lord does not belong to any one language. There are so many languages, which language would it be?
What we call a thing is not the same as the thing itself. The names of the Lord, however full of meaning they are to us, are not the Lord. To reach the Lord, we need a different kind of Name. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV, Maharaj Sawan Singh writes:
Holy men have mentioned two kinds of names. One is the external name which can be spoken or written.… The second Name is the unfathomable, imperceptible and secret Name, which emanates from the Lord himself.
This is similar to the point made by Maharaj Charan Singh in the quotation given earlier – that the real Name praised by saints is “the essence of truth and spirituality”. Just as the outer name is simply a shell, so too the teachings of the saints, given to us in spoken and written words, are not an end in themselves but a beginning. The teachings are given to inspire us to please the Lord and truly offer our praise to him.
It is like when we ask our friend to play a game. We can talk about that game – but talking about it is not the same as playing the game. Words just point to that game, that enjoyment of being with our friend. In the same way, we only start doing the real thing when we attend to the practice taught to us by the mystics. All the books, all the thoughts in all of our devotional literature, are just pointing towards playing that game of love with the Lord.
If we don’t move on to the practice itself, it is like someone pointing at a beautiful sunset – and instead of looking at the sky we keep looking at their finger. They point, they say, “No, there – look, see the beautiful sky,” but we keep looking at their finger!
Prelude to loving
Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us that:
The Lord’s true name is not mere words, but is something else which dwells in the inner recesses of our being. There are sweet and enrapturing melodies in it which can be heard. There is light in it which can be seen.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV
This Name, Word or Shabd, relates to that unspoken, divine utterance that brought the creation into existence and sustains it even now. It is this audible life stream or sound current, ever resounding within us, that the mystics praise, and urge us to contact and experience through meditation. They come to teach us the technique that will enable us to offer true praise and devotion to the Lord and obtain supreme bliss.
To make this possible, they teach the course of simran. Simran is not just a repetition of words with our mind. Simran is the first step in reaching out to the Lord. First we attend to our simran, then to listening to the sound. First the glass is cleaned, then it is filled – then we can drink.
Or we might think of it in terms of a relationship in the physical world: words, whether written, spoken or sung – our love poetry and love songs – are only a prelude to loving. Two people get to know each other, tell each other about themselves, try to understand each other. They profess their affection, their devotion, their commitment, their desire to make a life together. But all these words are only a prelude to the long-term experience of loving.
Our meditation is the true dialogue
The outer words of simran are given to help achieve concentration, and through this concentration we contact the pull of the sound current which will carry us back to the Lord.
Meditation allows for the true conversation between the Lord and the devotee. Eventually we rise above the words through love. It is through love, and not the words, that we attain complete union with the divine.
The RSSB publication, Jap Ji A Perspective, tells us:
True praise of the Lord is to meditate on Nam, the Name or the Word, the dynamic power of the Lord. Meditating on the Name is truly reflecting on God’s greatness. Meditation on the Name is true meditation, and it is true knowledge and wisdom.
The passage goes on to explain that: “We must not get stuck in outward praise. If you want to sing the true praise of the Lord, then concentrate your attention on Nam within.” This is because ultimately it is not possible to praise the Lord with words – his love is something that cannot be expressed or comprehended by speech. It has to be experienced within.
Ignorant persons think that God lives beyond the skies or beneath the depth of the oceans. Great souls realize him in their hearts, and perfect saints see him everywhere, both within and without. Saints and holy men say that he pervades the entire universe and that the universe is in him.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV