Doubt: A Crisis of Faith
The core of any spiritual path is based on faith in three assumptions:
- God exists
- Our teacher is a true God-realized soul
- The teachings we follow are correct.
It is almost inevitable that at some point or other we may come to question our beliefs, since they are based neither on empirical evidence, demonstrable facts, nor personal experience. When this happens we find ourselves plunged into what can only be called a spiritual crisis.
We may find that the whole basis on which we’ve been living our life has become questionable and uncertain. We find ourselves lacking in both purpose and direction, and we start to wonder if we’ve been wasting our life in the pursuit of this ephemeral dream of spiritual liberation.
When we find ourselves plunged into this maelstrom of doubt and confusion, what can we do? We go back to basics and closely examine these three elements of faith on which our path depends.
Whether or not one believes in God is the most fundamental question, because without such a belief no religion or spiritual path can exist, since all of them are based on the existence of a higher power. So this must be our starting point: Do we believe in God? If we are undergoing a crisis of faith, this is the question that we need to address first. To find ourselves doubtful or unsure is not entirely unreasonable, since belief of any kind is not based on hard evidence; rather it is based on what appeals to our reason and is in line with our intuitive perception of what is real.
When we look at the world through the eyes of an atheist, then all the wonderful manifestations of life in the universe would seem to be merely happy accidents of nature. To an atheist, the universe exists in chaos, and anything that happens in this disorganized environment is just an accident, a random coming together of all the ingredients for this situation to occur. But is this what we observe?
If we look closely at a simple thing like a flower, we can see that it is neither random nor chaotic – it follows a rule. Its petals and leaves are arranged in precise geometrical patterns. Looking further afield into the winds and the oceans, to tides and weather – these days these things can be predicted with an extremely high degree of confidence and accuracy, because they also comply with certain rules or laws.
If we look down through a powerful microscope and then look up through a powerful telescope, we see both very small and very large objects conforming to very similar rules. In fact some rules seem to apply to virtually every situation, and we call them universal laws. Where does all this come from? Is it possible for the astounding geometrical intricacy of a flower or a snowflake to be an accidental arrangement arrived at by random and chaotic processes?
Great Master said:
But one thing should be easily comprehensible even to the dullest of brains. That is that all this magnificent creation, the sun, moon, billions of stars, lands, mountains, oceans, and all this universe has not come into existence by itself. In this world of cause and effect, there is no effect without a cause. There is a doer for every act done.
Call of the Great Master
So even though we cannot prove God’s existence, there is sufficient evidence to encourage us to adopt a belief in him as a working hypothesis.
We may have an issue with the concept of a true living Master. After all, consider what we mean when we refer to someone as being a Master. We are saying that here is a man who appears to be an ordinary man on the outside, but who has realized God on the inside. It really is a lot to digest. Who could be blamed for finding this a bit hard to accept?
Baba Ji has asked on several occasions: ‘How do you know that I am not a complete fraud?’ We are unable to assess the spiritual merits of our best friends, what to say of someone who people say is a spiritual Master. How can the primary school student assess the qualifications and capabilities of a professor of quantum physics? The fact of the matter is that we are not able to assess the merits of a Master at all until we ourselves have made considerable spiritual progress. Again, this is a matter of faith and belief.
So in the face of our inability to assess if a Master is genuine, what can we do if we are in the throes of a spiritual crisis? We can look at the example presented by past Masters in order to learn what kind of characteristics are typically manifest in a true Master and what is the essence of their teachings.
Julian Johnson says in With a Great Master in India that the Great Master would work on average 20 hours a day and would only sleep about three hours. What ordinary man could do this, and what ordinary man would want to?
One essential characteristic of a true Master is that he teaches the path of the five shabds, the path of the divine Sound Current. This has been a defining feature of the teachings of all the great mystics of the path to God-realization.
If we feel sufficiently encouraged, we may accept the Master’s authenticity as another working hypothesis, so that we may progress to the next and most important stage of practising the path.
In Call of the Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
The Guru never says that he is the Guru. He says, ‘You may look upon me as a brother, friend, tutor, son or servant, but please do what I say and go in.’ When you succeed in this, you will see for yourself the position and power that the Guru holds.
Assuming that we have accepted the existence of a divine power and a true living Master as working hypotheses, how do the mystics propose that we prove these hypotheses to be true?
First we need to get our life in order: we need to adopt a lifestyle that is conducive to our intended spiritual practice, as opposed to the traditional lifestyle of our culture, which might only undermine it and lead to frustration and defeat.
We need to become vegetarians in order to avoid the heavy karmas involved with killing higher-order creatures for our food. Instead we make the conscious choice to live on a diet that avoids meat, fish, fowl and eggs and anything containing these. We also need to avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, because these things cause the mind to scatter, and often lead us into bad situations which could retard our spiritual progress indefinitely. Then we need to adopt a moral, upright life. Morality is a tricky subject, and we often hear many and varied, sometimes conflicting, viewpoints as to what constitutes morality. The key element to understanding morality may be simply expressed as those actions consistent with love.
These comprise the lifestyle that any would-be spiritual practitioners need to adopt in order to support their spiritual endeavours. The really important element of spirituality, however, is the spiritual practice itself. It is meditation that gets us out of the rut of mindlessly pursuing sensual pleasures and further entangling ourselves in the world.
The process of meditation involves the conscious redirecting of our attention away from the senses and the objects of sense inward to the eye centre. This repeated activity will lead us to a point where our addiction to the sense pleasures and our attachments to the people and things of this world will begin to fade out, allowing our consciousness to become anchored within.
There is a point in this process where one passes beyond the eye centre and comes at last into the presence of the Master’s Radiant Form. It is at this point where our faith in the Master is fully rewarded, the hypothesis we adopted about him is proved, and faith gives way to certain knowledge.
At this stage the inner Master puts us in contact with the Shabd within and merges our consciousness with it. It is by our immersion in the Shabd that we travel on the true path, which is entirely internal and which takes us through many regions, culminating in our arrival at the feet of the Lord himself. It is here that our second hypothesis is proven and instead of mere belief we become possessed of absolute certainty and divine knowledge.