Many of us may be familiar with the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible – about a man who had two sons: one of them responsible and the other a reckless spendthrift. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So the father divided his property between the two sons. Then the younger son set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living.
After he had spent everything, there was a famine in that country, and he began to be in need. So he hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to look after his pigs. There he laboured and he began to suffer hunger. When he came to his senses, he said: “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving! I will go back to my father and admit my faults.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him, ran to him and kissed him. The son said to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The story of the prodigal son is not a story about sins or about being bad. It is a story about being lost. Similarly, at times in our spiritual journey we may feel lost, perhaps because we feel distant from our Father. We could be lost because we feel nothing on the path – no love, no longing, no pangs of separation, no fear, not even a feeling of discouragement – just indifference. We could be lost because we don’t meditate as much as we used to. Or perhaps we have stopped meditating altogether. We could be lost because we have gone totally off the path.
In order to understand our plight, it might help to examine the reasons that led us to a point where we went astray. The first is unfulfilled expectations. This is often the cause of our frustration, disappointment and discouragement. As satsangis we probably have expectations with regard to our meditation. As soon as we are initiated, we want to hear the sound and see the light and have the inner experiences that the books talk about. Some of us meditate for years and never see any results. We start off full of enthusiasm, but slowly that enthusiasm dwindles down to almost nothing. We get disheartened, lose confidence in ourselves, and perhaps even in the Master and his teachings.
The second reason is lack of instant gratification. We are accustomed to seeing the results of whatever we do in the world. So we approach meditation thinking that the more effort we put in, the more results we should see. We not only expect results, but we want those results instantly. Initiation today, enlightenment tomorrow! On this lifelong path, where efforts are seemingly disconnected from any visible results, this attitude is sure to bring us crushing disappointment.
The third reason is our lackadaisical attitude and reluctance to take responsibility for our actions. In time we may start fulfilling our spiritual duties as a matter of habit. Our spiritual life loses its depth and, without being aware of it, we get lost in our day-today duties, creating a state of indifference that is lethal to true spirituality – so many moments wasted when we should have been turning our hearts to God.
Such habits can become an insurmountable hindrance on the spiritual path. Perhaps our day-to-day duties absorb all our time and energy. We meditate mechanically so that we lose our longing for spiritual union. The divine horizon in our life begins to fade and we start feeling forsaken by the Master. We see ourselves facing the ruins of our spiritual life as we realize that we have neglected him too much.
At the point where we become aware that something is not right, there is a strong tendency to do the octopus dance. Arms shoot out in every direction looking for people and circumstances to blame. We might think: It’s my parents’ fault. It’s the fault of the economy. It’s my genes’ fault. Or: we are not making progress on the path because Master does not love us, or because he decided to put us at the end of the queue when he was dishing out grace. But the fact is that as long as we are looking to put the blame elsewhere, we aren’t taking responsibility for our own actions.
As strange as it may sound, another reason for us feeling lost could be the will of the Lord himself. What does that mean? Shams-e-Tabrizi 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 aloneness 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 him.
What the prodigal son couldn’t learn in his father’s house, he learnt in the pig pen. He recognized the incredible bounty and generosity of his father that he had so foolishly traded for the fleeting pleasures of the world. Now he needed to cultivate humility and acknowledge his neediness.
In a similar way, we need to realize that only God has what our soul needs, what our heart longs for. So God permits us to wander away for a season in order to pull us back to him through realization of our need.
Our Master is playing us like a skilful angler with a very special catch at the end of his line. He will wait for us to tire ourselves out with fighting him, and then, when we are exhausted, he’ll quietly reel us in. How grateful we’ll be to land at his feet.
We may think that turning to God depends mainly on our own determination and initiative. We forget that everything is his grace. He does not forsake us – he sees our hopelessness and despair. Although we may stray from him, he is always as close to us as ever. But sometimes we have to go to the brink of the abyss to realize our utter inability to come to God by our own strength.
In Sant Mat we are dealing with an individual relationship between ourselves and our Creator. He has made us as we are. He has set this whole production up to benefit our growth while he nudges us forward. We are here in his perfect timing and we will progress by his grace. There are really just two things that we are responsible for – our effort and our attitude. The rest is all his work. He is pulling us in because he loves us. In the book Legacy of Love we read:
You don’t fall in love with the Master; Master has fallen in love with us. And then, we become restless – we feel we have fallen in love with him. The pull is from within.