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Life’s Contradictions

Our birth launches a life full of tensions and contradictions – within us and around us! The contradictions are within us because man is a blend of spirit, mind and matter, each of a very different nature and origin. The contradictions are around us, because of that fundamental opposition between spirit and matter underlying our worldly existence. On the one hand, there is the opposition between soul, which is Shabd, and our body and mind on the other. This is an opposition between our inner and outer world, between heaven and earth, between the One and the many. We live with this permanent tension between day and night, light and shadow, good and evil, pain and pleasure, love and hatred, and also between male and female. This basic polarity marks our worldly experience as spiritual beings from birth until death.

Baba Ji has recently pointed out that we start on the spiritual path with a fundamental contradiction. Our education from our parents, teachers, and professors is all about building up a strong, unique individuality. But when we come to the spiritual path, we have to unlearn what we thought to be important in life. On the spiritual path we have to realize that there is only One and that we are nothing. However as we begin, we believe that we are a separate ray from the sun, and not the sun. We don’t even know that there is a sun. As incarnated human beings, we are clouded by mind and illusion (maya), and subject to the universal laws of polarity and duality, as is the whole universe.

What does it mean that we are spiritual beings living in a human body? It means that we are constantly being pulled back and forth between these poles and opposites. On a deeper level, we feel torn and alienated, restless and homeless. Our physical body belongs to this world. The origin of the mind lies in a subtler world, and the home of the soul – our true being – is in a purely spiritual realm. That’s why here on earth we are somehow always out of balance. Driven by one extreme or the other, we are inconsistent, illogical, contradictory beings full of conflicts and can never experience true everlasting harmony and wholeness.

About 200 years ago the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his famous tragedy of Faust highlighted the human dilemma of being trapped between light and dark powers. At the peak of his agony Faust confesses:

Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.
Unto the world in grossly loving zest,
With clinging tendrils, one adheres;
The other rises forcibly in quest
Of rarefied ancestral spheres.1

The “two souls” which stand in deep conflict with each other are the mind or psyche, on the one hand, and the soul – the true, unchanging, eternal soul – on the other hand. Who among us doesn’t know this kind of conflict in life? At times we feel a strong inner urge and would like to meditate for hours and hours. At other times we feel completely blank and have a hard time sitting in meditation at all. Sometimes we feel like isolating ourselves from society and want to dedicate our life completely to the spiritual path; sometimes we are overcome by the desire for closeness and communication and become victims of socializing and social media.

To paraphrase Baba Ji, he once said that one of our biggest contradictions is that we want to be alone and at the same time we want to live in society. He then also said that we always tend to go to extremes from worldly to spiritual, but that both extremes are wrong.

It is our great fortune that unlike Faust, who in his despair makes the wrong choice by seeking refuge in magic, we have a Master who keeps us on the spiritual path, and safe from the worst extremes – if only we would cooperate with him and play our part.

In a dialogue with a young, restless disciple, Hazur Maharaj Ji gets to the heart of the dilemma of our schizophrenic situation here on earth and how we can best cope with it:

Q: Why do I feel like a helpless Ping-Pong ball between God and the worldly pleasures? I feel like God pulls me and so do these worldly pleasures, or you would call them illusions, pull me in the other direction. Why do I feel like that? They tear me apart!

A: Well brother, it’s very simple. There is a combination of the soul and the mind… Tendency of the soul is upward, inward. Tendency of the mind is downward, outward. So the mind is trying to pull us downward and and soul is trying to push us upward. And that conflict is always going on within us.2

Hazur is telling us that this conflict is always going on within us! We have to live with this conflict. We have to cope with it and accept it as our lifelong task and battle – a battle between outer diversion and indulgence, and inner focus and fulfillment. Even if we have grown tired of this battle, even if we want to lay down our arms on the battlefield like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we need this conflict. We need this resistance. For Baba Ji has said that it is in adversity that we meet success, not in haramony and well-being. That is why it is here on this inhospitable earth, in adverse circumstances, in the Kali Yuga – the worst of ages – that we best make progress.

Nevertheless the disciple asks Hazur in return: “How can I stop it [this conflict]? And what is Hazur’s answer? We already know it, don’t we? We could just skip over it and go on to the next topic. But no, we love his answer – as we love all answers of our Masters – although at times it may taste bitter like medicine. We love his answer because he has engaged us in a love affair which we can not resist, a love affair of which this answer and its fulfillment are the very heart.

“By meditation,” replies Hazur! Meditation is the only commandment. It is the only solution, the only true and everlasting cure for our dilemma here on earth, to win that battle, to set our mind at rest and free our soul. Meditation is the purest and best of all actions as we hear from Baba Ji during his satsangs. Meditation is the only true peacemaking strategy. As long as we have not solved our innermost conflict between soul and mind, as long as we haven’t silenced and actually disarmed our mind by meditation, there will also never be any peace in the outside world.

Rabindranath Tagore spoke of a mind out of control, when he said:

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.3

How do we disarm the mind? Hazur continues from the quote above: “Meditation draws the attention of the mind from outside to inside.” It sounds simple and convincing. We just have to reverse the process. If we want to win this battle and get cured of our inner conflict, in order to regain true balance and lasting harmony, then we have to take his medicine by all means. Yet his medicine is not an ordinary medicine we pay for in cash – if we take it with love and devotion it turns sweeter than honey and transforms our whole being.

Hazur continues his answer by saying:

So the mind can also enjoy something better than the wordly pleasures. Then the mind becomes a great help to the soul.

Our mind itself is also not happy as a slave of the senses. More often than not, our mind doesn’t know who and where it is and what it really wants. Seduced and driven by the senses and feelings in all directions, our mind itself is full of contradictions. We all know how quickly we can change our mind, if it only suits a momentary whim, desire or instant gratification. What was valid yesterday isn’t valid today, or even the very next moment! Our mind can throw overboard its best resolutions in a second. Baba Ji has asked us whether or not it isn’t a contradiction that when we want to overcome and get rid of our mind, at the same time we listen to it?

As we do with naughty children, we have to put clear limits on the unending desires of our mind. We have to fix the rules – the do’s and the don’t’s – and stick to them. As elsewhere in life, we have to learn to say “No” to our mind. Let’s start with small steps, with little “No’s” and we will see how each “No,” however little it may be, will work wonders and strengthen our willpower. For instance, we can say “Yes” to set the alarm clock for the end of the meditation session, but “No” to our mind when it wants to look at the clock during meditation.

Continuing the dialogue, the restless disciple replies to Hazur persistently:

I can understand it intellectually but these pleasures play tricks on me all the time!

Don’t we all know it? Yet in Sant Mat there is never any ground for being disheartened. The Masters always have a positive, encouraging answer to everything in life, and also to our existential dilemma. Hazur confirms emphatically:

Yes, because for ages we have been enjoying them [the pleasures]. But if you constantly go on rubbing on the sandstone it does have an effect.

After driving for such a long time in the wrong direction, we can not expect to reach our actual destination overnight. It is a long, slow and tedious process of turning around. We have to change our way of life, but not all of a sudden – not a U-turn – no, that would be completely impossible and even dangerous. The change of direction has to be gradual, slow and mindful, following Baba Ji’s advice to avoid all extremes. When a young man once told Baba Ji recently that he wanted to think only of him at every moment and every second, the Master told him that no, we have to keep a balance. After meditation, we also have to think of our health, our family and our job.

Man is the only living being who by his upright carriage is able to look at the horizon, keeping both heaven and earth in perspective. So this is our task: to keep both our worldly duties and our spiritual tasks in view, without going too far and too long in one direction or the other, and without neglecting either one. An ideal image for keeping balance in life could be that of our grandmother’s old pendulum clock that always moves back and forth at the same pace and rhythm.

However, keeping the right balance and rhythm of life depends on individual circumstances and may also vary in the different phases of life. Yet the keys for success on our way back home remain the same: patience and persistence. Baba Ji, who is our living example, always tells us that we can do it. He even has said that he was very average, but the only quality he had was perserverance.

  1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part One. Verse 1112-1117.
  2. Q&A recording of Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh, March 14, 1988; record # 17721
  3. Rabindranath Tagore, Collected Poems and Plays, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1958. CXCII, p. 249.