The True Alchemy of Life
Alchemy has always been perceived as a rather archaic science whose practitioners were in search of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. Alchemists believed that the stone could convert base metal into gold and thereby bestow on them the elixir of immortality. Many who sought riches and fame delved into this so-called science, only to be defeated by the writings of ancient alchemists, probably because they did not understand that true alchemy had little to do with either base metals or gold.
These pseudo-scientists laboured in dingy laboratories, mixing arcane substances in a mimicry of modern chemistry, sometimes with unexpected results as they inadvertently created combustible products which promptly exploded. Supposed ancient texts were traded at a great price, claiming to contain the secrets of famous alchemists of bygone years, who allegedly succeeded in producing gold in vast quantities and lived for much longer than the normally allotted span of life.
However, there are no known, validated cases where anyone was able to demonstrate the ability to change lead into gold or live beyond the normal span of years. So one has to ask: was there ever any truth in these stories of the Philosopher’s Stone? Was all of this intended to be understood literally? Or was it really an ancient code, by means of which the true alchemists communicated a much higher and more sublime method of achieving riches and immortality of a completely different kind?
Belief in alchemy possibly arose out of a misunderstanding of spiritual instructions meant to guide practitioners on the path to spiritual realization. It might have been necessary to couch these instructions in arcane language because religious authorities of the time disapproved of deviations from orthodox beliefs and persecuted those who engaged in ‘heretical’ practices.
So the transmutation of base metal into gold is a symbolic expression. Metaphorically speaking then, the condition of the soul has become degraded into the base metal of worldliness. It has debased itself by association with the mind and senses and has completely lost itself in sensual indulgence.
Alchemy in its true form describes the process by which the true essence is sublimated from the gross, and then transmuted into the finest gold. So what is the gold in this case? It refers to the condition and status of the liberated soul. Soami Ji says:
Satsang is like the Philosopher’s Stone. Just as iron is changed into gold by mere contact with it, those who sincerely follow satsang are turned into the gold of immortal life.
Sar Bachan Prose
Here Soami Ji explains that being in the presence of the living Master is the catalyst that initiates change in us, but it is by following his teachings that the inner transformation, or alchemy, takes place. As Baba Ji has said, the true Master has to be contacted within. The body Master, as Baba Ji puts it, is there to convey the teachings. When we scrupulously follow those teachings, we rise up to meet the Shabd Master, who is our true Master and guide.
But by what method do we achieve the profound spiritual changes that we so desire? We need to understand that the problem initially arose from the investment of our entire attention into the phenomena of the material world and our obsession with enjoying the pleasures of the senses. This in turn led to us getting so attached to the faces, places and things of the world that we refused to be parted from them.
This, in addition to the inevitable karmas that we accumulated in the pursuit of these pleasures, resulted in binding us just as much as if we had been thrown into prison, because it is simply not possible to escape the consequences of our past actions, no matter how hard we may try.
The mystics have all said that our karmas tie us down more effectively than prison cells or chains, and until every last one of them has been accounted for, we can make little progress.
For this reason our Master advises us to live in such a way that we will incur no further karmic debt, because it would be extremely foolish to attempt to diminish our karmic account while continuing to incur new debts. The essence of the method for deleting our karmas is to raise our attention to the eye centre and contact the Shabd resounding there. By living according to the Master’s instructions, his grace, and meditation on the Shabd, our outstanding karmic debts are eliminated, thus clearing the way for the soul’s progress.
When one makes a little progress on the path, the innate qualities of the soul start to rise to the surface. We begin to experience the stirrings of the soul and the qualities of compassion, devotion and love start to develop in us. Subtly at first, but over time, and with continued practice these sublime qualities develop more and more, to the point where, instead of being obsessed and entangled with the world as we were before, we now become obsessed with our Master, and he alone becomes the focus of our attention and the centre of our life.
We should appreciate the enormity of the great blessings that the Lord has showered on us. Were it not for his grace we would be no different from the billions of humans who do not realize what a wonderful gift this human form represents, and who squander this opportunity in the pursuit of sensual pleasures, wealth and possessions. Instead of striving for eternal bliss they opt for the short-lived pleasures of the world, which all come with a secret price tag that will eventually have to be paid in the form of additional karmas added to the massive amount already standing against their account.
If we consider our situation and we look at how much we have been given, we have much to be grateful for. Before we came to our Master, we could say that we fell into the category of base metal, because our attention, our values and our ambitions all centred on worldly things. We believed that this world was all there was and therefore there was no point in looking elsewhere.
However, since being initiated by our Master, we have found ourselves in possession of a method that is probably what the alchemists of old were talking about. It is the process of contemplating on the divine power within that invokes the catalyst referred to as the Stone of Knowledge or the Philosopher’s Stone. It is this method and process that can transmute the base metal of our previously worldly self into the golden reality of a spiritually realized being. This takes place when we finally clear our karmic debts, free ourselves from all attachments and move beyond mind and Maya.
This process culminates finally and gloriously when the soul enters the realm of Sach Khand, there to merge permanently and blissfully into the Lord himself.
So we have no need to research ancient alchemical works, nor attempt to follow any arcane formulas to produce the Philosopher’s Stone. We have no need for worldly gold. Our need, indeed our calling, is far higher. When the Lord himself has called us to return to his golden domain, what power can stay our progress homeward? When the Master has bestowed on us the great gift of Nam, what need have we for worldly formulas for acquiring material wealth?
We walk alongside one who has himself completed this journey, and who is far beyond all worldly kings or emperors. All that remains for us is to keep walking, conscious at every moment that we are in the presence of the Divine, and that the Lord himself is waiting for us at the end of this path, arms outstretched in joyous anticipation of our final reunion.
In conclusion, Soami Ji has this to say:
I am just a lump of iron
and you, Radha Soami, are the Philosopher’s Stone;
purified by your touch I have reached my true home.
Sar Bachan Poetry