These days we feel that the world around us is breaking into pieces, that our lives are shattered and completely falling apart. Major change creates new realities and we need to adjust to them. It is a familiar human story. A debilitating sickness, loss of financial stability, loss of social standing: all of these changes create an impression that everything is shattered because we feel shattered, shaken, traumatized. Suffering has always accompanied human beings, and human beings have always been in search of cures and wellness. After healing a person from a debilitating illness, Jesus told him: “Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you.”1
There is a deep message in this simple statement. Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh explained to us that becoming whole entails piecing our scattered attention together and focusing it one-pointedly inside. We fall apart in every sense of the word when we lose our focus, our concentration. Wholeness describes the most desirable state of our attention: focused and oriented inward. When it is scattered outward, we are broken, shattered. Hazur explained:
Now you are in the process of becoming whole, provided you “sin no more.” You must not compromise with the four principles of Sant Mat. You must build your treasure in heaven on these principles.2
The principles, the vows we take at initiation, are about restoring our wholeness – that is, keeping our focus whole, or one-pointed, rather than scattered. Vegetarian food has a calming effect on the mind and makes it less reactive. That supports our goal of becoming whole again. Abstinence from mind-altering substances helps us to stay focused. Leading a pure moral life likewise keeps us from scattering our energies and from reaping the binding consequences that anti-social and unkind acts bring. And certainly meditation, built upon these three pillars, aims at steadying our focus in a way that shields us from the countless negative tendencies that bombard us inside and outside.
Our lack of concentration makes us easy prey for the senses. The senses prompt us to act against our best interests, and we remain imprisoned within the four walls of our own misguided will and desires. A slave, a prisoner, is in a constant state of lockdown and cannot leave at will: “Then the sins become our master and we become the slave… a victim of birth and death, which is a ‘worse thing.’”3
The true meaning of the words Jesus said to the man whom he had healed is not about the temporary relief from a physical ailment. As Hazur explained:
If Jesus and other Masters cured only physical ills, they would be no more than great physicians, because the physical body is perishable.… The physical body was never meant to endure forever. But the soul is immortal and can never be happy until it returns to its source, the Father in heaven. This is what Masters do for us, and therein lies their greatness.4
Jesus encouraged the healed person to pursue true wholeness that cannot be disrupted again. It is easy to feel whole and well when everything in our lives runs smoothly, when our discomforts or suffering are magically removed. But again, change happens. An unforeseen, shocking change such as a pandemic occurs, and our little world falls to pieces again. We feel we can never piece it back together.
Perhaps we can’t because we were not the ones who pieced together the so-called “normal life” that we now wish to return to. We did not piece together the circumstances that brought us into this physical body among the particular people and events that we were destined to interact with. We participated very little or not at all in our making, and we certainly will not be consulted in the process of our breaking. Why does the ego take credit for the good things and blame God, chance, or fortune for what it does not like?
It is because favorable circumstances build ego, while unfavorable circumstances tear it down. This body-building, ego-building gym – our physical world – has functioned like this forever. Making and breaking bodies, egos, buildings, cities, empires, etc., has been happening forever. We look at ancient ruins with curiosity, but do we feel the agony of the shattered lives that those now-fragmented buildings once housed?
Spiritual masters come to take us out of this infinite cycle of making and breaking. They do not come to put us physically back together again. They are interested in permanent, not temporary, fixes – cures and wholeness.
When they promise to make us whole again, to make us well again, they do not mean the kind of wholeness or wellness that will set us up for breaking and falling apart all over again. The true meaning of wholeness cannot be explained but must be experienced. Hazur explains that the soul is covered with negative emotions, thoughts, and impressions, called “mind,” which cause the soul’s lack of wholeness and wellness. He then explains:
To “become whole” is the same as “know thyself,” because the real self is the soul. So long as the mind dominates the soul, we do not know our “self.” To become perfect, pure, whole – all mean the same thing.5
He also explains that becoming whole means to separate the soul from the mind, to untie the knot that currently binds them together. We keep confusing our mind-body with our soul, taking them to be one inseparable whole. But the body, mind, and soul that look like a unified whole on the outside are a house divided against itself on the inside. They rarely coexist harmoniously. They pull in different directions. Knowing ourselves means untying the knot that binds them, which allows us to realize that the soul in us has a separate life and destiny.
“Know thyself” is a phrase made famous by the 5th-century BCE Athenian philosopher Socrates. He used a sweet and vivid expression for the process of withdrawing the soul from the mind-body. He spoke of a state when the soul stays “itself by itself” – completely separated from the urges, needs, thoughts, desires, and obsessions of the body to which the reactive mind is a slave. True purity for Socrates was to become conscious of the soul as a separate entity from those forces that distract and enslave it. He called this process “the practice of dying”:
For the crowd is not aware how the true philosophers practice dying. … For death is nothing other than separation of the soul from the body, and this indeed is to die, namely, for the body, separated from the soul, to become itself by itself, and for the soul, separated from the body, to become itself by itself.6
Dominated by negativity, the mind is ignorant of our soul’s destiny to be free, to go beyond the mind and the illusory weblike prison it constantly weaves around itself. Masters of all times speak with urgency about the forgetfulness that plagues us and keeps us entangled in matters of secondary importance.
In Socrates’ time, shortly before the downfall of Athens, its citizens considered themselves the greatest and best of all humankind. Socrates urged them to reorient their priorities from temporary greatness to true, everlasting greatness:
You are a citizen of the greatest state, the most famous for wisdom and power, but yet, you are not ashamed to care exclusively for chasing wealth, reputation and honour while neither caring for nor valuing mindfulness, Truth and the attainment of the best possible state for your souls.7
A homeless, uneducated peasant in mid-19th century Russia sounds very much like Socrates and Hazur when he says:
The fact is that we are alienated from ourselves and have little desire really to know ourselves; we run in order to avoid meeting ourselves and we exchange truth for trinkets while we say, “I would like to have time for prayer and the spiritual life but the cares and difficulties of this life demand all my time and energies.” And what is more important and necessary, the eternal life of the soul or the temporary life of the body about which man worries so much? It is this choice which man makes that either leads him to wisdom or keeps him in ignorance.8
This simple peasant who told of his inspiring experiences with “ceaseless prayer” (a form of simran) wanted to remain anonymous. Wisely so, because the wisdom that he attained has no name and no time frame. It is part of a tradition that has existed since humanity has existed. This tradition keeps raising the basic question that every human being in search of the true meaning of human life has to confront: Do we value more highly the temporary well-being of the body or the eternal well-being and freedom of our vital energy, the soul? Every spiritual master comes to urge us to put eternal well-being first. Socrates said:
If the soul is immortal, it requires diligent care not just during this span of time which we call life, but for all time to come. And it appears that the risk even at present would be tremendous if we neglect to care for our soul.9
How to cure the darkness?
The darkness of ignorance that forces us to focus primarily on physical survival and on the concerns of the body is a timeless theme in the message of mystics. Soami Ji speaks of the soul’s plight – plunged in darkness, unaware of what is going on – and how skewed its priorities are:
Heavy, intense darkness prevails in the world
and the body is a storehouse of shadows.
Whether they are awake or asleep,
I see people helplessly caught in the maze
of the creation.
Through ignorance of its own real home,
the soul is living here like a homeless wanderer,
stumbling through different life forms,
tossed about in the cycle of birth and death.10
How to cure the darkness of one’s ignorance? That is what all spiritual teachers explain across time and space. We don’t even know what we are ignorant of – this is what Socrates called the soul’s greatest plight and affliction. But there is a way out of our darkness. When the 19th-century Russian peasant, whose wisdom was recounted in the book The Way of the Pilgrim, was asked how he arrived at profound insights and unending inner joy, he responded: “For the most part my ignorance has been enlightened by interior prayer, which is the result of God’s grace and the teachings of my late elder.”11
Ceaseless prayer, ceaseless attention directed to the Divine under the guidance of a spiritual master, is the secret to breaking the long-standing spell that has frozen our spiritual evolution and bound us to matter that can never fulfill the soul’s craving for freedom and intense, divine love. Ceaseless simran and meditation under the guidance of a master is the time-tested formula that has worked for countless lovers of the light in their struggle against their own interior darkness. The prayer of the heart is a result of continuous practice and divine grace.
That interior prayer of the heart has been practiced at all times by individuals across continents and lands. The 17th-century Sufi mystic Sultan Bahu sings the praises of this prayer of the heart:
Everyone recites the Kalma with his lips;
rare is the person who recites it from the heart.
When the Kalma comes from the heart,
the spoken word has no value.
Only mystics know this Kalma of the heart.12
Kalma of the heart is also known as the melody that resounds within every human being without pause. This ceaseless melody can make broken and distraught human beings whole and well again. It alone can dispel our inner darkness. In Sant Mat, it is called the Shabd.
Hazur used the verse from Matthew – “but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come”13 – to emphasize that “to sin against the Holy Ghost can never be forgiven.”14 That means that we can’t bypass meditation, the Sant Mat way of ceaseless prayer. We may do other types of seva, but in the end we must do our meditation practice.
Meditation is the vessel in which the soul becomes conscious of its natural attunement to the Shabd. This spiritual awakening cures our ignorance and forgetfulness. It is the only way to mend what has been broken for ages and to restore the soul’s memory of its true reality. Hazur has said:
If you turn your back to meditation, you can never be forgiven – forgiven for what stands between you and the Father…. Unless we are forgiven for those karmas which we have done in past lives, the soul can never go back to the Father.… If you have medicine but don’t use it, how can your illness go? Friendship with the doctor won’t eliminate your illness; you have to use the medicine, howsoever bitter it is.15
To become whole, then, is first to realize fully one’s broken state and then to repent through meditation for the darkness that lies between us and the light.
This repentance is different from self-analysis and guilt. It is the act of surrendering our brokenness and darkness to the light – exposing them to the light – so that the light can pierce our darkness and heal the deep traumas of countless births. This act of surrendering our weakness, our helplessness, our illness takes determination, because it forces us to enter the space of vulnerability and uncertainty, to lay ourselves completely bare before the Infinite, which already knows all our secrets anyway. It means giving up the sense of control that is the backbone of the ego. When we read the songs of mystics and saints, we see how completely aware they are of their own helplessness, setting an example for us to follow. They courageously expose the weakness and darkness for all to see:
My evil mind doesn’t feel the separation –
please grant it the gift of love.
It puts no faith in what is true and permanent,
but hankers after ephemeral pleasures.
It craves indulgence in carnal passion
and has no taste for the nectar of Surat Shabd.16
The mystics consciously and lovingly confront their faults and weaknesses without dissecting them or falling into guilt and regrets. Instead, they reorient their repentance toward love for the One, who never judges or finds fault. Their helplessness is not passive, but receptive. It is informed by the knowledge of where to seek help and from where help will come. The mystics know that the most reliable help comes from within. Therefore, they move forward with spiritual maturity – seeking the light while staring bravely without fear or judgment into their own darkness and the darkness that surrounds them. Saints and mystics do not reject the darkness; they move through it. We all have to move through it. Love for the light sustains us as we stumble and fall while groping through the darkness.
Mystics also avoid the trap of what some psychologists call “spiritual bypassing”: covering up unresolved psychological issues (for example, insecurity and immaturity) with false piousness, arrogance, and judgment of others. Saints and enlightened teachers seem down-to-earth and ordinary, but they are extraordinary in that they are not afraid of their own darkness or the darkness they see in others. They even hide the weaknesses of others sometimes by claiming them as their own. They can do that because they have confidence in the power that will dispel that darkness. They have no ego that wants to hide its darkness behind a bright façade.
Mystics know the helplessness of the soul; they know how difficult it is and how long it takes to remove the darkness, so they are patient and non-judgmental. They know that everything happens according to the will of the One who has unrolled the movie of the creation and keeps it unfolding. That is what allows those human beings who are now whole to fully lean upon the only real pillar of strength, the Shabd, the source of freedom, wholeness, and divine love:
If you go on attending to the meditation, if you don’t sin against the Holy Ghost, then love and devotion will develop, and will be strengthened.17 … The purpose of meditation is to be with the Master always.18
The more focused we are, the more our awareness expands, the more we realize that even a pandemic of global magnitude is a blip on the screen of endless time. We realize the soul’s need to stay as much as possible “itself by itself,” absorbed in the radiance and purity of its true self, the Shabd.
The pandemic, or any crisis for that matter, can intensify our efforts to stay focused on what truly matters, both in life and in death. Through spiritual focus, we will be able to make better decisions as new challenges present themselves. We will act with the big picture in mind rather than react to the random chaotic provocations that scatter and unsettle us. We will be able to remain whole while everything around us appears to be falling apart.
That wholeness, that wellness, will come from concentration, the kind that we practice in meditation. All is well, we are whole – this feeling comes only with regular and punctual effort at meditation, which connects us to the source of wellness, the Spirit within. This alone can carry us through chaos and the anxiety-provoking, distracting events in our fleeting lives.
- Bible (King James Version), John 5:14
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Saint John, 1994, p. 66
- Ibid., pp. 65-66
- Ibid., p. 68
- Ibid., p. 66
- Iamblichus, Protr., Chapter 13, p. 90, ed. Edouard des Places, 1989; cf. Plato, Phaedo 64
- Plato, Apology 29E
- The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, Doubleday: 1992, p. 74
- Iamblichus, Protr. 99; Plato, Phaedo 107C
- Soami Ji, Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 125
- The Way of the Pilgrim, p. 74
- J.R. Puri & K.S Khak, Sultan Bahu, 1997; Bait 101, p. 300
- Bible (King James Version) Matthew 12:32
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Die To Live, 1999, p. 46
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Die To Live, 1999, p. 46
- Soami Ji, Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 333
- Die To Live, 1999, p. 49
- Ibid., p. 52