Faith and Loneliness
Faith and loneliness – at first glance, these would seem to be mutually exclusive. If we have faith, how can we be lonely?
But at the human level our faith is at best shaky and vulnerable to doubt. We proclaim love for the Master, and our undying faith in him, yet our actions may tell a different story. We are torn between our love for the material world and our soul’s natural longing to merge with its Creator. Every single day we stand at a crossroad – one road takes us towards him, and the other, further away from him. We want to love the Master, we want to trust him implicitly, but our frail human condition prevents us from doing so.
In Quest for Light Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Faith is the foundation on which the whole superstructure of religion and spiritual progress stands. It is the root of the tree of godliness. Without faith there can be no achievement in any worldly art or spiritual matter. Faith is the most precious of gifts that the Lord can confer on a devotee.
So, how do we acquire true and unshakeable faith? This mansion of faith is built upon several pillars. The first, strangely enough, is loneliness itself. Loneliness might well be the most painful of human conditions – a constant sense that we are not quite whole. We sense that there is something missing, which creates in us a desperate need to find what we are lacking.
Shams-e-Tabrizi speaks frequently of this need, which implies a deep desire for the inner Beloved and for God, as well as a sufficient degree of self-awareness to understand one’s own inadequacy and helplessness in the quest. It is also about yearning and restlessness – that sense of not belonging that distinguishes those who seek God from those who are content with the world. Then too, need speaks of deeply felt humility and prayerfulness – asking God for help and guidance.
Shams says he looks for need from the needy, but only real need, not just its appearance. And, he says, “When you come with an attitude of need, then that, in essence, is asking me the way to God.” He tells us of the benefit of absolute heartfelt need. When there is real neediness, he says, “Something beyond this creation will reach you – and that is love. The snare of love comes and wraps around you.”
All the self-help relationship books of this world tell us to steer away from neediness, to be whole, not to seek from another in order to complete ourselves. Yet Shams says we cannot even take a step on the path of spirituality without being needy, without acknowledging that we are incomplete – and that we need God to make us whole. The same feeling of loneliness and need that isolates us and makes us feel insignificant can also powerfully motivate us to seek the Lord and bring us to a point of dependence on the Lord.
Once we have acknowledged this heartfelt need, the second pillar then is to follow the instructions and teachings of our Master. The method of the true Masters includes four fundamental principles: following a vegetarian diet, not taking alcohol or mind-altering substances, living a moral and honest life, and giving at least a tenth of one’s time daily to the practice of meditation. The first three principles support the fourth, which is the key to self-transformation. It is an interdependent and interlinking system: all four principles have to be put into practice rigorously, otherwise the overall system cannot work.
Through these four principles, the Masters set clear guidelines for a way of life that supports our spiritual goal. The guidelines serve as painted lines on a road. The moment we cross a line, we know we have deviated from our course and are in danger. The Masters, however, impress upon us the importance of using our personal sense of discrimination. It is up to each one of us to find out which actions or thoughts will strengthen or weaken our spiritual life; which actions and thoughts will take us towards our destination and which will take us further away.
How can we follow the instructions of someone diligently if we do not trust that person? The third pillar therefore is to fully and unconditionally trust the Master, in much the same way as a passenger who buys an airline ticket trusts that the pilot of the aircraft will take him to his destination. Alternatively, imagine being lost in a dense forest without the slightest idea of the way out. Along comes someone who knows the woods and offers to show us the way. In fact, seeing how weak and helpless we are, he even volunteers to carry us to freedom. In such a case, would we worry about surrendering our will to his? Wouldn’t we just grab on to our rescuer and never let him out of our sight?
The mystics explain that this is an exact parallel of the plight of the soul, which is lost in the maze of mind and matter and does not know how to make its way to spiritual freedom. Then along comes a compassionate Master who not only knows how to escape, but also offers to help the soul realize its freedom. Considering the helplessness of our situation, why wouldn’t we gratefully accept his guidance?
No true Master ever enforces his will upon any disciple. He wants his disciples to walk the path based on a conviction derived from their own understanding and experience. But in order to reach that level of experience, what is needed first and foremost is trust. We need to trust him because we acknowledge that when it comes to the liberation of our soul, he is the expert and he knows best how to get us home.
But how do we build this attitude of trust? Trust is built on the fourth pillar, which is love. We need to develop love for the Master. Not human love that is based only on emotion, but the kind of love that the soul feels for its Creator, which grows out of love for the physical form of the Master.
On this dense plane of material existence where the Shabd form is not easily accessible to us, it is the physical Master who teaches us how to go within and get in touch with the inner Master. He is the one who guides us with infinite love, patience and understanding, and it is he who helps us develop our love, trust and faith. In fact, it is only because of our love for and trust in the physical Master that we are able to move forward and progress on the spiritual path.
This is not a love based on simple emotion. The mind might want us to believe that the path of devotion is one of romance and emotion, but the lovers of the Lord go onto the battlefield with their heads on the palms of their hands, and this is how they find the Beloved. No one has found the Shabd through emotional excitement. The battle is inside, and it is inside that it has to be fought. This fight is the real purpose of our life.
In practical terms, it means to keep our attention as much as we can in simran at the eye centre. This is the way of the spiritual warrior, the way to empower the soul. True devotion is to keep our attention at the eye centre. It is the concentration of our attention, of all our longing and consciousness at the eye centre, that alone will enable us to break through the barrier of the material. This alone will give us the inner experience that will enable us to sustain true longing and devotion. Sant Mat, the path and practice of the saints, is not a matter of lip service or emotional excitement. It is a profound way of life to be lived, within ourselves, at every moment and at every level.
True devotion is trying to please the Master by bringing our attention up to the eye centre. To help him in his work to liberate our soul is the greatest demonstration of love we can give him. The task of the physical form is to initiate us and to introduce us to the inner Master. The Master has told us where his real form is. Now it is up to us to pursue it. The physical is a means, not an end. Our aim has to be to direct our love for the outer Master into effort in meditation so that we reach beyond the physical to the spiritual.
All Masters proclaim the same truth. The true Master is Shabd. True darshan is inner darshan. The Truth is within. The journey of Sant Mat can take the disciple to the innermost level of Truth, but the disciple has to travel there. The Master can point us to the Truth, but he cannot experience the Truth for us. The task of the living Master is to show us how to make contact with the Radiant Form so that we can gradually distinguish true from false and travel the path with firmer and stronger steps.
The real Master is the Shabd that projects itself into a human form and descends to the physical level, to introduce us to that Master within. A mature level of devotion is one where the disciple realizes that the true Master is the Master that never dies. Meditation is the means by which the love and natural emotions generated by contact with one who lives by the Truth, are directed inwards and upwards to bring us to that state where we become intimate with the real Master.