The Importance of the Master
We all struggle to understand who and what we are, saying to ourselves, “Why am I me and not somebody else?” When things apparently go wrong, we look up and ask the sky, “Why me?” The origin of our life is lost in our past lives, and as human beings we live at the sharp end of our accumulated karmas. The reason for our birth in this life is a mystery – we don’t know why we have been born in a particular town or country, speak the language we do or have our skin colour. We don’t know why we are intelligent, sick, tall, or carrying inherited illnesses.
If it is ordained by the Lord that we meet a true or spiritually evolved Master, then a mystery begins to unfold, and all that we thought we were becomes less and less important. In a very real sense we were lost, and then we were found by the Master. We have no idea why we are in the Lord’s play or, indeed, what parts we are due to play and why that is so. A myriad of associations occur in our lives, and the reasons for them appear to be beyond explanation – other than that it is all due to our karma!
The book Ramcharitmanas, Love and Devotion explores texts written by Goswami Tulsidas which, in turn, discuss the epic Ramayana written by Maharishi Valmiki. The Ramayana describes how the Lord took birth in human form as Ram and grew up to be a prince who married Sita. In one sense, Ram can be thought of as the quintessential Master – a template for all Masters. For our purpose, we’re assuming that what is written about Ram is appropriate to all true Masters and reflects their oneness with the divine.
In the story, after the wedding of Ram and Sita, King Janak (Sita’s father) addresses Ram:
You, O Ram, are the all-pervading Absolute,
the imperceptible and imperishable.
You are the embodiment of consciousness and bliss,
endowed with and yet devoid of all attributes.1
You are the One
who cannot be grasped by the mind or speech.
No one can know you by reasoning –
they all merely try to guess.
The Vedas sing your glory by saying
‘not this, not this,’
while you remain ever the same
in all three phases of time
(past, present and future).2
Having praised Ram, King Janak then goes on to make a personal plea:
Knowing that you are pleased by the slightest devotion,
I boldly ask you again and again,
with folded hands,
that never for a moment may my mind
delude me into deserting your feet.
Thus the mystery of the Master was described many years ago, and the cry of a disciple to be with him was recorded. The greatness of the Master is beyond the purview of our minds, beyond calculation and beyond reasoning. Devotion, devotion, and more devotion is what the Master cherishes.
It is our privilege to have the opportunity to become a devotee of a Master, to grow in humility, to let go of illusions we hold about ourselves, and to aspire to keep our minds always at the feet of the Master. From a spiritual perspective we have been asleep, and the Master is now waking us up. But because our sleep is so deep, we know nothing and we are ignorant of our spiritual needs. His tools for awakening us are a sublime mystery, and we have to take it on trust that Baba Ji is doing only what is best for us. We don’t know how ignorant we are of what is on offer.
The Persian Sufi poet Hakim Sana’i wrote:
The road your self must journey on
lies in polishing the mirror of your heart.3
We are on a journey from delusion to reality. This is a journey to discover our real self, so that we may become one with the Lord through the agency of a physical Master. The soul has the opportunity to merge with the Lord and to have no separate identity. To do that, we have to work hard to clean our heart of all concepts and illusions, so it may be free of what we thought we were. We have to stop thinking. We have to untie the knot that joins our soul (our spiritual heart) to our mind.
The Anatolian Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre said:
I was a dead tree fallen onto the path,
when a master threw me a glance
and brought me to life.4
The true spiritual Master brings us into his presence in ways that we cannot comprehend. Words can only be pointers to the truth. At the beginning of our journey we were spiritually inactive, dead to what is beyond maya (illusion), and unaware of our true reality. We only knew maya and were deluded into believing that illusion to be reality, when in fact it is only a dream.
It is not as if we chose to be on a spiritual path with a particular Master, for we were all like dead trees before we fell onto this path. The Master doesn’t need words or even actions to give us spiritual life; he just needs to ignite a spark within us. Others may not feel that pull, even if they are in his physical presence. After all, when an arrow is fired it hits only one target, and all others around are unaffected by it.
The Taoist master Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) explains:
The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve got the fish, you can forget the trap. …Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?5
We need words to understand the path of Sant Mat, but once the vows have been explained to us, we no longer need words. Sant Mat is a path of action; we have to act in order to be in the company of our Master within. The vows are easy to remember and to put into action. We can have a continuing dialogue with our Master on the inside, where no words are necessary.
Sheikh Farid said:
Why wander through the woods, O Farid,
crushing the thorns under your feet?
The Lord abides within you;
why search for Him in the woods?6
This advice can be translated to: Why wander through the world trying to wake the mind up, to find what is beyond it? The Lord abides within you.
The Lord is not to be found in family, friends, work, property, and so on. All of them will only bring us impermanence, and ups and downs. Farid is telling us to “look within,” to conduct our search where reality is to be found.
The Taoist text Huahujing (Hua Hu Ching) says:
The Masters transmit their spiritual and mental energy directly and nonverbally to their students, and in this way awaken their internal subtle energy. If a student develops his intuition well, he is able to absorb the master’s energy and will reach enlightenment through his master.7
The Master provides the antidote to our tendency to imitate so many people we have encountered in our lives, in order for us to become who we truly are. Ever since we were born, we have been filling in the gaps in our personal identity picture in order to become more real. Doing the simran that the Master provides us with conquers the repetition of the world which is so deeply embedded in us.
Many years ago at Dera, when the evening meeting for westerners was held in a tent, so many little birds would gather on the spars of the structure, and they squawked and jostled each other for a space, for a perch to sit upon. They were very disruptive to one another and to the sangat; the noise of their chatter was very distracting. But by the end of the session, they were all lined up on a single spar nestling against one another, not making any noise at all. From day to day, the transition of these birds from living in disharmony to living in harmony became more apparent. Many of us will identify with that type of transition in our personal lives – in seva, at work, and in the family. Changes are thrust upon us sometimes, and gradually we are forced to grope our way towards stillness, towards acceptance. Baba Ji told us that he “accepts,” and that if he can do it, so can we.
When we are initiated into Sant Mat, we are instructed to:
- Be lacto-vegetarian; eat no meat, fish or eggs, or any derivatives of them.
- Avoid, at all costs, alcohol, tobacco, and mind-altering drugs including marijuana and related cannabinoid products like CBD (cannabidiol).
- Live a moral life, restricting ourselves to our partner in legal marriage.
This way of life is a precursor to being able to carry out our meditation, the ultimate seva, which should be for at least two and one-half hours per day. This includes doing simran (repetition of the five holy names), whenever our minds are still. We can hunt for the opportunity to do simran in our daily lives. After all, most of what we think about all day long only exists in our mind, because we have nothing better to think about. So, if we can decide, on an ongoing basis, to make simran our only priority, then we should be able to do this 90 percent of our time.
If we can get the practice right, then we have everything. We are with the Master when we are doing meditation or are physically in his presence. As Jesus said:
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.8
The Master has the antidote to our habit of doing repetition of the attributes of the world. What he is transmitting to us is happening automatically, but we have to let go and be receptive to his presence. We cannot avoid our karma, but surely if we do our utmost to serve the Master by placing ourselves in his hands, then our transition from spiritual darkness to the light can be completed.
This practice is totally mobile and free of charge. No devices, subscriptions, or wires are needed. We just have to log-on to our practice. Make it our only priority. We can take our presence to our Master everywhere we go, and nobody else needs to know that we are connected.
In the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan Dev is quoted:
As cold is dispelled by fire,
sins are driven out in the society
of the saints (satsang).9
The Masters apply loving pressure to our understanding of our self and our viewpoint of the world until our egotistical sense of “me and mine” evaporates. Then the “spiritual caterpillar” in our cocoon emerges transformed into a beautiful butterfly.
Rumi speaks of the hidden workings of the master by saying:
O Image who passes through the heart,
you are neither image, nor jinn (genie), nor man.
I seek your footprints, but you tread neither
upon the earth nor the heavens.10
Gradually we are transformed by our association with our Master. The way the Master does this to us is a secret that cannot be fathomed. Poetry is the closest metaphor for describing the process. He moves into us, into our heart, into our being, and awakens the love that is dormant within us all.
Rumi completes his poem above by expressing the secret touch of the Master:
I have never seen anything like your Image;
it kisses, but it has no mouth!
What the Master does to us is done with the utmost secrecy. He is both absent and omnipresent. He moves without revealing himself to us. His true form is Shabd, and so he kisses our soul and we know nothing of his ways. He is waking up the dormant love that is in us.
The Sufi poet and storyteller, Sheikh Sa’di, explains:
Lo, I am standing here engaged in your service:
what does it matter to me whether or not
it is acceptable?11
Everything is the Master and we cannot consider ourselves to be worthy of his grace. However, worthy or not, if the Master accepts us, then our worthiness does not matter. But even though he does everything, we still have to do our work. We cannot take time off from our devotion to Him or take his grace for granted. Only the Master can decide what is acceptable; it need not be our concern. Sheikh Sa’di continues by hoping that the generosity of the murshid (master) will overcome the quality of his service:
We have rendered no service, but still we cherish the hope
that by reason of your noble disposition and character,
you will exercise magnanimity towards us.
Disciples cannot claim to have achieved or to be worth anything. We can only rely upon the grace of the Master for any spiritual progress. He is doing everything. Eknath Easwaran, a modern Indian spiritual teacher, author, and interpreter of spiritual texts, explains in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita about maya and how to weaken it:
Mind can operate only in a world of differences. It has to have separate people and different things to like and dislike; otherwise, there isn’t any mind. Where there is no anger, no fear, no greed, no separateness, the mind just goes to sleep; it cannot operate at all. There is nothing to get excited about, nothing to take notice of; there is only pure joy, which is something the mind simply cannot experience. The more you can still the mind, which is the whole purpose of meditation, the more you will be able to see beneath the surface level of life and remember its unity. Everything that quiets the mind helps to weaken the spell of maya, just as everything that agitates the mind works to strengthen the spell of maya.12
So, let us stop thinking! By putting our consciousness in the hands of our beloved, we can go home.
- Note that Ram is both human and divine at the same time.
- AVM (Rtd) V.P. Misra and Vibha Lavania, Ramcharitmanas, Love & Devotion, RSSB: Beas, 2019, p. 83
- Beverly Chapman (ed.), The Spiritual Guide, Perspectives and Traditions, Vol. 2, Beas: RSSB, 2017, p. 209
- Ibid, p. 230
- Ibid, Vol. 1, p. 159
- Dr. T.R. Shangari, Sheikh Farid: The Great Sufi Mystic, Beas: RSSB, 2015, p. 181
- The Spiritual Guide, Vol. 1, p. 160
- Holy Bible, KJV, Matthew 18:20
- The Spiritual Guide, Vol. 2, p. 312 (quoting AG 914: 17-18)
- Ibid, p. 249
- Ibid, p. 221
- Ramcharitmanas, Love & Devotion, p. 214