An Arranged Marriage
In response to questions put to him, we often hear Baba Ji say that every day is not a sunny day. Just as weather is variable, it is natural to encounter various phases during our spiritual journey. There are periods during which complying with the Master’s instructions seems fairly straightforward but, at other times, our struggle intensifies. We may, for instance, feel devoid of love for the Master, or become so preoccupied by our flaws that we find ourselves unworthy of following the Sant Mat path. As we work through these stormy periods, it’s not uncommon for us to succumb to what is commonly known as the ‘imposter syndrome’.
Described first by American clinical psychologists in the late 1970s, the imposter syndrome refers to high-achieving individuals attributing their success not to hard work but to luck, timing, the support of a mentor, or some other situational factor. Typically, such individuals view themselves as undeserving of the professional accolades bestowed upon them. Applied to spirituality, we may – when suffering from the impostor syndrome – feel like frauds who will be found out any moment. We feel that everyone else in the sangat belongs but we are impostors, and our supposed spiritual failings make us despondent. This is quite wrong. We may be different from others but that is exactly what the Lord likes. We can clearly see one characteristic of the Lord by studying his creation: the endless variety of creatures in the oceans, in the insect world, and among birds and beasts – the Lord loves variety! Therefore, we should just be ourselves. There is no correct formula for a disciple.
The imposter syndrome is a problem because it fails to recognize that our quest to attain eternal liberation is not the result of our volition but is, instead, attributable to the grace of the Lord. As the Jesuit mystic Anthony de Mello wrote: “It is not that God is a big dancer and you are a little dancer. You are not a dancer at all. You are being danced.” Maharaj Charan Singh elaborates on this idea in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, by emphasizing that, when it comes to initiation, “Neither the disciple has any choice, nor the Master has any choice.” Under instruction from the Lord, the Master does not have the right to refuse initiation to any soul allotted to him but, equally, neither is his flock able to resist his call. Or, as Maharaj Charan Singh puts it, those souls assigned to a Master have no option but to go to him whenever he beckons.
The Master is therefore stuck with us. He did not pick his sangat, nor can he exchange it for a more pleasing group. Our agency is even more circumscribed. Before being born, our life had already been arranged in such a way to automatically draw us to the Master. The master-disciple relationship is therefore a match made in heaven and implemented on earth and, like the individuals in an arranged marriage, both must learn to love one another.
You can check out, but you can never leave
Once the Lord has marked us for initiation, our destiny is comparable to a line from the song “Hotel California,” by the American rock band The Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. We may decide to exercise our very limited choice by ‘checking out’ and ignore our meditation. However, there is no escaping divine law. Destined to become one with the divine, not only is it impossible for us to resign from Sant Mat but, eventually, our spiritual work will need to be completed – by us. Try as we might, this is not something we can off-load to the Master.
Unlike us, the Master epitomizes the perfect sevadar. Fulfilling his duty to the Lord, somehow or other he ensures that we reach Sach Khand, even if there are periods during which we stray from Sant Mat altogether. Maharaj Charan Singh elaborates on this by citing the analogy from the Gospel of Saint John about the about the shepherd and his flock of sheep. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
The shepherd has been entrusted with a hundred sheep. One sheep goes astray out of the fold. The shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep and runs after that one particular sheep and even physically lifts that sheep on his shoulder to bring it back to the fold because he’s responsible for all hundred sheep….
The success of the shepherd’s mission is not dependent on his flock, irrespective of how hard they thwart his efforts. Even if only one or two go astray, the shepherd does not return to the farmer until every single one of his flock is safely enclosed within its pen.
There is no time to indulge in the imposter syndrome in spirituality. We have embarked on a spiritual adventure because the Lord has chosen us to return home. By expressing an earnest desire to be with him over the course of many lifetimes, we have finally earned our place in his flock. If we did not belong in his sangat, no power would enable us to force our way in. So instead of focusing on our unworthiness, it behooves us to focus on fulfilling our spiritual commitment.
Renewing our spiritual vows
Nowadays, it has become popular for old married couples to renew their marriage vows. Since many of us have been initiated for a long time, perhaps the initial excitement has worn off. If this is the case, why not renew our vows to the Master as follows?
“Do you take the Master to be your lawful wedded guru, to have and to hold, to honour and obey, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, for better or for worse, from this day forward until death you do join?”
And we say, “I do.”