Cleaning the Vessel
Shams of Tabriz, the 13th-century Sufi mystic said:
(If) you have an eye, look with your own eye:
do not look through the eye of an ignorant fool.
(If) you have an ear, hearken with your own ear:
why be dependent on the ears of blockheads?
Make a practice of seeing (for yourself)
without blindly following any authority:
think in accordance with the view of your own reason.
Rumi, The Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi
In our hearts we also want this and that is why we follow the path of the Saints – to find God. Often however, we may find that instead of feeling longing for the Lord we are engrossed in our day-to-day issues and problems. Yet we continue struggling on the path, despite our weaknesses and doubts.
When we applied for initiation, most of us thought it’d take a few months, perhaps a few years, before we would be travelling through the inner regions, enjoying the blissful melodies of the Shabd as if the greatest power in the universe could be so easily attained!
Perhaps in our naiveté we had somewhat romantic ideas about the path, believing that our salvation was guaranteed and that initiation was enough. Perhaps we imagined that no serious changes would be necessary, other than accepting the four principles of Sant Mat.
Maharaj Charan Singh said:
If not for his grace, nobody would even think about the Father. We are so mixed up with this mesh of maya, so involved in worldly and sensual pleasures, that we would never even think about the Father but for the pull which he creates within every one of us. First we start with his grace that he starts pulling us, then he makes us worthy of his pull, he makes us receptive to his pull, and then we attend to that pull – we try to achieve our destination.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
As Maharaj Ji said, we tend to be so mixed up in the web of maya and so involved in the world, that without grace we would never recognise his pull. However, having been given this grace we need to attend to our spiritual practice. We can’t achieve our goal if we are half-hearted about the path, distracted by the world and filled with doubt and desires. Walking this path is about exercising courage and faith, growing in understanding, and developing wisdom.
There can be no doubt that we all want the sweetness of mystic transport and personal experience of the divine. But many of us may feel spiritually impoverished, having very little courage and faith. However, the fact that we’re still struggling, is an indication that his pull is still there.
So what stands in the way of our spiritual progress?
Ego, our sense of self, is the primary obstacle in our way. Progress though, is not actually in our hands. How many times has Baba Ji said that if we just take care of our meditation, he will take care of everything else? Yet we still worry and stress about our lack of spiritual progress. We need to have faith and trust in the divine and we need to commit wholeheartedly to our practice.
Mystics teach that the human body is the temple of the Lord, that the soul and God are both to be found in the human body. They are separated from each other by a veil, a curtain of ego, and this is why the soul cannot see the Lord.
Our difficulty is that not only is the soul separated from the Lord but our soul itself is a mystery to us. This is because we are aware only of the physical body and the mind, through which we function, deluded by our senses and desires.
We are so absorbed in the things of this world that we become attached to them, seeing only the creation and forgetting the Creator. We cannot see the essence and life energy that pervades all the forms of creation. It is too subtle for our perception.
In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV we read:
The Lord is extremely subtle. Unless we become as subtle as He is, we do not get connected with the Lord…. this subtlety can only be gained by inner exercises or by what is described as ‘going within’.
Great Master goes on to speak of the form of the Lord. He says all the universe is his form, yet he is to be found within the human body. Through the practice of meditation we gradually learn how to become subtle, and perceive the subtle.
From meditation we also gain the strength to live in the will of the Lord. Our current circumstances are the consequences of our past actions. Our karmas and desires keep us embedded in the world of phenomena. Through meditation we learn to maintain our balance in the face of our karmic storms. We learn not to forget the Lord when we are rewarded with pleasures and success and not to get swamped with self-pity and worry when times are hard.
One of the fantasies with which we delude ourselves is that the Master will do everything for us. No doubt, at a certain elevated level of consciousness we see that in truth we can do nothing. All is accomplished through his grace, and once we learn total surrender, then he does all that is necessary. However, none of this excuses us from the necessity to make effort. This work is ours to do and we have to do it.
The purpose of our meditation is to chip away at this hard shell of ego and to become subtle enough to perceive the divine presence inside this human temple.
A teacher or guide is always necessary. Through our relationship with him we learn love. With time, through our efforts and his grace, our receptivity, faith and love grow. The Master is our bridge to the divine and serving him is how we cross that bridge. The more we focus our attention on him and on the Lord, the more the veils that cloud our inner vision begin to diminish, and the curtain of ego, which separates the soul from the Lord, becomes increasingly transparent. At first we don’t realize that everything we know and experience is nothing but illusion, but slowly and slowly as we persevere with our practice, our minds and hearts become receptive to his influence and we are transformed.
Baba Ji has repeatedly said that all we have to do is clean the vessel. This is what our meditation is for. Simran is how we scour and polish the mind. Bhajan, or listening to the sound, will fill the vessel and transform us.
One of the great gifts that helps us in this regard is the opportunity to do seva, or selfless service. Great Master writes:
A disciple should serve his Master without arrogance and without any idea of reward, and always with the aim of pleasing the Master. By this method his mind will always be contemplating the Master. And if you contemplate on a person intensely, you will one day imbibe the qualities of that person.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I
Our purpose in doing seva is to please our Master and to diminish the power and influence of our ego. It is to develop humility in us and to generate love and harmony in our environment. In seva we are given the opportunity to put aside our personal opinions, judgments, criticisms, fears and doubts and simply do what is required of us, to the best of our ability, with love and devotion.
However, the most important seva is meditation. Maharaj Ji said:
Real seva is meditation – withdrawing your consciousness back to the eye centre and attaching it to the divine light or melody within, attaching it to the sound within. Other sevas are a means to that end.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Attaching our consciousness to Shabd, listening to the audible life stream is service of the soul.
Seva should help us to meditate. Seva is to clean the vessel so that it can be filled with that nectar within. Seva helps us, cleans us, and then makes the utensil ready to be filled. We have to do the meditation to fill it. Seva cannot take the place of meditation.
Legacy of Love
We can all strive to uphold the principles of this path, remembering our Master, turning our face towards the Lord, remembering that he is drawing us homeward. We don’t belong here. Nothing is ours. We are his and we owe everything to him.
We can all do the most important seva of cleansing the vessel by doing our daily meditation. Eventually, through this seva the inner door will be opened. Then we’ll see the Beloved within and we’ll find our hearts cleansed of all stains and freed from duality. Through the gift of seva we learn to abide in his will, however he chooses to keep us, until through his grace we are able to see the Lord with our inner eyes and hear his voice with our inner ears.