Happy New Year
At the start of every year we have the opportunity to reflect on what we have done in the previous year, and to consider how we might improve in the year to come. A summary of what might be the first week of introspection comes from the English poet, W. H. Auden, who writes,
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes – …
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.…
So far, the poet describes the familiar experience of holidays, high expectations accompanied by the mixed reality of both good and bad. But the poem then goes deeper:
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
These words might haunt an initiate: “We have seen the actual Vision.” Translate this to mean that we have seen the Master. We have accepted the teachings and we have received his invitation for God-realization. But have we dedicated our heart, mind, and soul to that vision on a daily basis? Or do we merely entertain the goal of merging with the Shabd, the Word, as an “agreeable possibility,” somewhere in the far distant future? Do we send the Master away? Do we make lots of resolutions to make our simran and our meditation practice our first priority, only to continue on as before, remaining “His disobedient servant”? Are we the child who makes lots of promises but who does not follow through with simran and meditation (“keep His word”)?
Long ago, Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh wrote a New Year’s message to the sangat that is just as timely today, and can help us reinvigorate our commitment to the path as we face the challenges and opportunities of a new year:
Let the dying year with all its memories and regrets, pleasant and unpleasant, bring home to us the impermanence, and unreality of what we behold, and strengthen our resolve to rise above the phenomenal existence and reach the glories of the word, the Nam that was, is, and will be.
The soul is the same essence as Nam, and will enjoy real bliss only when it reaches the region of Nam and becomes one with Nam. You have been initiated into this mystery. It behooves you, therefore, to travel the path, as far as possible, for this is the only thing that really matters. But we are not to neglect our worldly duties. With a heart full of love and faith, devote yourself to the task. Also discharge your worldly obligations. With this motto as your guiding principle, may the New Year bring you success and happiness.
Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul
The Masters encourage us to step out of the constraints and delusions of this phenomenal existence. How do we do this? Of course, by meditation. This is the great work of our lives: to meditate, two and one-half hours every day – last year, in the upcoming year, and as long as we are here. This is the vow we take, the promise we give when we receive initiation. The task often seems impossible, as we navigate each new year, with all of its joy and grief, tribulation and satisfaction, hope and disappointment. But we have the Master by our side. Rumi says it beautifully: “In this sea, all is gift and reward. You [the Master] give only favour and support.”
Hafez, too, gives us advice on how to face our destiny and our often rocky journey home: “The wilderness of love is full of mountains to climb, valleys to cross. O where is the lion-heart that does not shrink from these? Pray for long life, and resilience.… Hafez, lay down your head on the sill of submission.”
What does that “sill of submission” look like? In a beautiful video on seva, on the RSSB website, a powerful shabd by the Indian saint Tukaram is sung while sevadars are having darshan: “Whether you ferry me across or drown me, I shall always remain in your will.… Please, O Lord, grant me the boon, that I should not ask for anything from you.”
Complete trust. Complete faith. Surely, that is what laying our head down on the sill of submission means. Believing, even knowing, that whatever he gives us is to our spiritual benefit. In whatever circumstances he places us, we have a companion and the favour and support of the Master. Each of us has a certain destiny to face in the coming years. Hafez advises us to develop a lion-heart, and to nurture the kind of resilience that will allow us to persevere. And more than that, to develop the ability to keep our focus on the path of the Masters.
Hafez reminds us that even in the best of circumstances, there will be challenges, but we can prevail, because we have the support of a companion, our Master:
The garden sees many roses come into bloom, but no one has ever picked one without suffering the pain of the thorn. Hafez, expect no happiness from this turning sphere, for it has a thousand faults and does us no favours.…
Look at the profit and loss of the world’s bazaar and all life’s tribulations. If that does not convince you, for us it is quite enough. A companion beside me. What more could I want?… For in all the world, the end of your street is enough.
Maybe the end of his street is enough for us as well. We have been taken into the Master’s neighborhood. We know where he lives – at the eye centre. Eventually, all of us will meet him there. It is our great task to do that one part he has given us – our meditation. He will do the rest. It is our privilege to lay our heads down on the sill of his doorway, the sill of submission. Hafez expresses our circumstances beautifully when he says, “My eyes are filled with tears of longing for the dust at that door.”
We want to be where the Master is. Lucky for us, the Master accepts all kinds of initiates: lazy and hardworking, obedient and disobedient, those of us who remember to do our simran and remember God no matter what we are doing, and those of us who are so forgetful that it is staggering. Nevertheless, our course is set. As Hafez confesses, “Though Hafez is steeped in sin, surely he is on his way to heaven.” This is the grace the Master promises every disciple. There will be a reunion. There will be God-realization. Our destiny is Sach Khand and unimaginable joy.
In December of 1987, Maharaj Charan Singh wrote his initiates a beautiful New Year’s message, in which he explains what the Master will do for us in the time ahead and the love we can count on, now and forever:
The Master, who initiates us, assumes a very heavy responsibility. He will not relax his hold until he has escorted us back to Sach Khand – the eternal home of peace and bliss. He … accompanies us right up to the end of the journey. All of our friends and relatives leave us, but this true friend remains always with us in this world, as well as in the next. He stands by us.… He takes our burden on his own shoulders and pays the ransom needed to free us of our sins, and to see us safely through this realm of the prince of darkness. Even if we give him up, he will never desert us, for he knows his responsibility, and is true to his vows.
RS Greetings Magazine, Winter, 1987
May our meditation practice be the one New Year’s resolution we keep: to make meditation our first priority and never sacrifice it to anything in this world. In this coming year, let us stay true to our vows and forget the dying year of memories and regrets and discover the mystery that awaits us.