The Goal Ever Recedes
In one of the videos of Questions and Answers recently released, the Master was asked how anyone can be truly objective if they are not the Master himself. And Baba Ji reminded us that we are all prospective Masters. We are all working towards that level of consciousness. The questioner responded: “Yes, but we’re all a million miles away from it.”
The questioner’s response mirrored what most of us feel regarding our struggle in meditation. Therefore, what Baba Ji then said to her is very relevant to all of us. He used the analogy of a mountain climber – if the climber focuses his or her attention on the peak, yes, the goal seems very far away. But if we focus instead on the mountain guide and the immediate task that he has assigned to us, then it looks entirely doable. And because the guide has traversed the path before and already knows the way, just focusing on the immediate task will take us to our goal. As we don’t know the way to the peak, it is pointless on our part to keep looking at it and wondering when and how we will cover the million miles separating us from it. That only demoralizes us.
It is the nature of our goal that is the cause of our frustration. Each one of us refers to it in different ways. For some, the immediate goal is seeing the light within, for others hearing the sound. For some, it is vacating the body, for some others it is reaching the eye center. For some it is seeing the radiant form, for some others it is measured in terms of the “stages” that have been explained at the time of initiation. Then, of course, there are those who think of the ultimate goal like Sach Khand, which only makes us feel that we are billions, not just millions of miles away.
What Baba Ji is telling us is: Don’t even look at the peak (i.e., don’t think of these goals) while you are climbing (i.e., doing your meditation). Our real goal has nothing to do with what are called “peak experiences.”
To understand this better, let us delve a little deeper into the nature of the goals enumerated above. None of these are in our physical domain. They belong to the nonphysical spiritual planes called gagan (heaven) and akash (ether). Both can be translated as ‘sky’. What characterizes the sky is that we can never reach it – the more we move towards it, the more it moves away. It is a fundamental characteristic of anything and everything that falls in the category of the infinite – it can never be reached. If it can be reached, it is not infinite – by definition.
All spiritual goals have therefore to be viewed through a prism unhindered by the limitations of the physical world that we are used to. Mahatma Gandhi put it very beautifully:
The goal ever recedes from us. The greater the progress, the greater the recognition of our unworthiness. Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory. 1
In a materialistic endeavor, the goal is always finite in nature, however large or ambitious the project – a billion dollars, a vast empire, an excellent starting salary, a quick double promotion, having a baby, buying the most recent gadget, and the like. It can be reached, and reaching it results in satisfaction – and a sense of accomplishment, which often inflames our ego. But in a spiritual endeavor, the goal is to eliminate rather than inflame the ego. Therefore, as Gandhi says, progress has to be accompanied by a progressively increasing “recognition of our unworthiness.” Not only that, there is no point that the goal can be “reached,” for it “ever recedes from us.” Imagine running a race where, every time we are nearly at the goalpost, it gets shifted further and further away! What frustration would result!
And yet, Gandhi says, true spiritual endeavour results in satisfaction rather than frustration, because it is linked not to the attainment but to the effort. “Full effort is full victory.” That is why Baba Ji often asks us not to think of whether we have succeeded or failed in our mediation, but to focus on the question: Have we been sincere enough to put in the best effort possible?
This process slowly results in our recognizing that the process itself is our goal. We don’t have to look at the peak at all as our goal, for then we will inevitably start feeling we are a million miles away, as the questioner had put it. We just have to do what the one who is guiding us to the peak has asked us to do, in whatever part of the mountain we are placed at right now. Therefore, Gandhi’s maxim was: “One step at a time is enough for me.”2 Looking for “peak experiences” – light, sound, whatever – is the wrong way of defining a truly spiritual goal. The “next one step” has to be our goal, nothing else.
For us, the next step has been very clearly defined by our mountain guide, the one who has already reached the peak: take out two hours of your time every day to make the effort at simran, then another half hour at trying to listen to the sound, and the rest of the day at trying to be a good human being. That is the process as well as the goal. Full effort is the equivalent of full victory – cause for a daily grand celebration.
And the guide acts as a living example of what we need to do and be. He never feels “I have reached the goal.” He always looks at himself as a struggling soul, like the rest of us. To him, his guide has ascended the peak, and he is still a “work in progress.” What better proof that on our path, the process itself is the goal?
- “M.K.Gandhi in Young India,” 9-3-22, 141, cited in http://www.mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org/sfgandhi/two.htm
- M.K.Gandhi, My Non-Violence, Chapter 2.