Opening the Heart
In the nineteenth century, the great saint Tulsi Sahib counselled his disciples:
Cleanse the chamber of your heart so your Beloved can enter.
These lines are probably familiar to most of us – the Master often bases his satsang on this ghazal (poem), in which Tulsi Sahib urges us to empty our hearts of desires and attachments. This includes our bad habits, everything we are carrying from the past, our expectations and worries for the future. We have hung a “No Vacancy” sign on our hearts, but we need to empty ourselves in order to welcome the presence of the Lord, our Master. We need to create that “vacancy.”
And just as we truly want to welcome the Lord into our hearts, he longs to be seated there even more. The Master is just waiting for us to knock, to turn our mind towards him.
Hazur Maharaj Ji once commented that the Lord is the one who pulls us to love him. Someone asked Hazur:
Maharaj Ji, it seems clear that the lover needs the Beloved. But does the Beloved have any need of the lover?
And Hazur answered:
Yes, but who gives that love to the lover? It is the Beloved who gives love to the lover. The lover thinks that he loves the Beloved. But the pull in the lover’s heart comes from the Beloved, always. It gives the feeling to the lover that he is in love with the Beloved. Actually, it is the Beloved who has put that pull in the lover’s heart. The Beloved must be needing that love.1
So he needs our love as much as we need his love. It is a circle of love and we are within it. He is waiting for us, patiently, to welcome him into our hearts. He needs to love us as much as we long for his love, so let us prepare ourselves to receive him.
How can we do this?
We have to follow his teachings – we have to live the Sant Mat way of life and control our minds through meditation. In this way we will rid our hearts of anything that drags us down, that pollutes or corrupts us.That is how we will make room for him to be seated there.
If we are so full of ourselves, where is there room for him? We know that if our home is dirty and full of junk – with old newspapers piled high and dirty dishes in the sink – we would be embarrassed to have our friends or family visit us until we clean up. Wouldn’t we want to prepare our hearts and minds at least that much, so our Beloved, the Lord himself, would be comfortable there?
Hazur Maharaj Ji spoke about how we can live in the divine presence all the time – by training our minds to obey the Master, living the Sant Mat way of life, attending satsang, and doing seva. He always emphasized that service with body and mind are the best way to channel the mind towards the ultimate service – meditation. Selfless service will allow us to live with an awareness of the One whom we wish to emulate, and it will keep our minds focused on him and not scattered in the world. Hazur once said:
Of course, the best service is bhajan – meditation – but there are other services also, which are strong means leading to bhajan. To train the mind to live in the will of the Father is also a service.
We have to face situations at every step in this life, and at every step in this life we have to explain to our mind to accept whatever comes in our fate smilingly, cheerfully – why grumble?
It’s a constant training of the mind. This is also doing service, because that will help us in meditation. If we always feel perturbed with every little thing, then how can we concentrate, how can we meditate? If we make every little thing an issue the size of the Himalayas, how can we concentrate? We have to forget; we have to forgive; we have to train our mind to take things easily, lightly, to laugh them away, to ignore them. This is all training the mind.2
So Hazur is telling us that by living in a balanced way, taking things lightly and going through life happily, accepting what comes to us as our destiny – the result of karmas we have created in the past – this in itself is training our minds – and this training of our mind is the first step in controlling our mind.
Very often the master gives us practical advice, hints on how to overcome our weaknesses and live in accord with his teachings. He tells us not to focus on the negative, but simply to dilute it with the positive – it is like diluting red dye in a glass of water. The more water we add, the more the dye will be diluted, until eventually the water becomes pure and transparent. So we need to dwell on what positive actions we can take, not mull over our failings – and not ruminate over everything that happens to us. We need to dilute the negative with the positive.
We have to take positive steps towards the Master at every moment. Maharaj Ji often reassured us that anything we do to achieve our goal is not a waste – it’s a step forward. He said:
When a child is born, ultimately he starts walking and running. Every step he takes right from birth is a step forward. He learns to sit; he learns to stand; he learns to lean. Ultimately he carries his own weight on his legs; then he starts walking; and then he falls so many times.
Even a fall is a step forward for him, and then ultimately he achieves his goal of running. So the whole process is to his credit. Similarly, when we are trying to go back to the Father, all that we do to achieve that end is to our credit. That’s not a waste. Every step we take is a step forward.3
Every step we take is a step forward. We just need to take those steps. We have nothing to worry about, as he is there to help us and catch us if we fall. He says that we just need to have a positive attitude. Attend to our meditation and live the Sant Mat way of life. Take a positive step. Hazur says: “Why not prepare yourself to face the present and face the future – by meditation.”4
Our meditation will protect us. It will create a protective barrier against the distractions of the world. It will cleanse our heart of all the negativity that collects there. Hazur spoke about why regularity in meditation is so important. He said:
If you are tied to a strong chain, you can move only within a limited area. So if we are tied to our meditation every day, no matter how much we’re involved in other things, we will always remain within the circle. If the chain is broken, then of course you are absolutely gone – you’re involved. So the chain of meditation should not be broken. Meditation must be attended to every day – and then, no matter how much you involve yourself in other activities, you’ll never be allowed to go astray at all. You’ll never be allowed to get so involved that you forget your real path, because your chain is very strong.5
Our life is like a fast-flowing river, and we are trying to swim against the current towards the opposite shore. If we don’t put in the effort to control the mind and swim upstream, we will be dragged downstream, away from our destination – perhaps over violent waterfalls to the rocks below and certain death. It is a matter of life and death for us to control our minds. We don’t know what awaits us in life; we don’t know what our destiny holds. So we have to be prepared for any and all eventualities by having our minds focused on the master and the Lord. Here is a true story from a Jewish Hasidic master that illustrates this:
A man was travelling in a horse-drawn carriage with his master. The road led down a steep hill, and the horses became frightened. They ran for all they were worth and could not be reined in. The disciple looked out of the carriage and shuddered, but when he glanced at his master, much to his surprise, he saw that his master’s face remained calm and composed. “How is it that you are not afraid of the danger we are in?” he asked.
“Whoever is aware of the real danger at every instant,” the master replied, “is not terrified by any danger of the moment.”6
The main message of this story is that we are always facing danger. We don’t know when death will come, so we need to remember God at all times. But on a deeper level of meaning, the story uses the metaphor of horses running out of control for our mind, which is always running frightened and wild. There is “danger at every moment” – at all moments, when our mind is uncontrolled. Indeed, even in the worldly disciplines, an uncontrolled mind means the dissipation of energy and an indulgence in destructive behavior. That kind of mind never helps us.
A story from Rabbi Dov Ber, another Hasidic master, presents a radical way of looking at the problem of controlling our mind:
Once a disciple complained to his Master: “Master, I can understand why I am responsible for my actions, even for my words. That is within my power. But my thoughts? How can I be punished for my thoughts when they enter my mind of their own accord? Can a person control his mind?”
His master listened quietly and responded: “Just go visit Rav Zev, my devoted disciple who lives in a remote village in the mountains. Only he can answer your question.”
So the disciple made the trip in the dead of winter. After travelling for two weeks along the snowbound roads, he finally reached Zev’s village late at night. He could see a light shining in the window of Zev’s study; Zev himself was studying his holy books.
The traveller knocked, and continued knocking, but there was no response. He was completely ignored. He pounded on the door, but Zev, just a few steps away, continued his studies, oblivious to his cries. And the traveller was very cold.
It was almost morning when Zev rose from his seat, opened the door, and warmly greeted his visitor. He sat him by the fire, prepared a hot glass of tea, and asked after the health of their master. He then led his guest – still speechless with cold and disbelief – to the best room in the house to rest his exhausted body. For several days, Zev attended to all his needs, and the visitor was a model guest, never mentioning his terrible experience on the night of his arrival.
But after about a week, the traveller felt it was time to go home, and just before leaving, he posed his burning question. “Why,” he asked, “should I be responsible for my thoughts, when I have no control over my mind?”
The rabbi replied simply: "Tell me, my friend, is a man any less a master of his own self than he is of his home? You see, I gave you my answer on the very night you arrived.”
“In my home, I am the boss. Whomever I wish to admit – I allow in, when I’m ready. Whomever I do not wish to admit, I do not permit to enter.”7
So we need to ask ourselves: Are we the boss of our mind? Or do we just let any thought or desire enter freely, at any time? Don’t we take steps to protect our homes from robbers and thieves? We don’t give entry to just anyone. So why aren’t we as firm and strong with our mind? When we sit in meditation, how hard do we really try to control our thoughts and keep our attention in simran, directing our mind towards our Master? The master says we should be like soldier-saints. But do we just lay down our arms and surrender to whatever thoughts come knocking on our door? This story illustrates that we can indeed be the boss of our minds – if we choose to. We need to be proactive. We cannot blame outside conditions for our lack of mental discipline. It’s a struggle, but we can’t give up.
Hazur once used the same metaphor, saying that we need to assert ourselves as master of our house and bind the strongman – the mind – which is preventing us from accessing the treasure of Nam that lies within us. He said:
Christ has referred to the mind as a strongman, meaning something within us which is very powerful. And he also has told us how to bind the strongman. Then you are the master of that house. That house is the body, and that strongman, the mind, is within this body. So if we want to get the treasure of Nam, the treasure of the Lord, from the body, we have to bind the strongman – the mind. And you can bind the strongman only by meditation. Unless the mind is bound, we cannot get the treasure that the Lord has kept within this body.8
Hazur’s main point here is that at the time of meditation, we have to be strong. We should not allow anything to interfere. When the mind drifts away, we should keep bringing it back to simran. And never give up. That is a positive step. As Maharaj Ji often said: Instead of cursing the darkness, we should light a candle.
And it’s not as if we’re alone on this journey. The Master has made it very clear that if we take one step towards him, he will take one hundred steps towards us. True, we need to take that one step, but he’s ready to help us! Hazur emphasizes that when we take that step, his grace will take us the rest of the way. He said:
You must take that one step. We are more anxiously waiting for his hundred steps rather than our one step.
We are so tied down with the attachments of this creation that it becomes difficult for us to take even one step. We are so engrossed in this creation, so attached to this creation. Our roots have gone so deep into this creation that it is not so easy to uproot them. So even our one step is a great step. Without his grace, we can never get out of this creation. Our one step is sufficient for him to pull us.9
The Master gives us so much motivation and encouragement! He’s doing everything he can to help us along the way. That is his grace. Hazur said:
When we try to follow the path, he gives us strength to follow the path. He strengthens our faith; he strengthens our love with the help of meditation and by our following that path. He is the one who’s pulling us from within. We sometimes think that we worship him or that we are in love with him. Actually, he is in love with us. But for that, we would never be in love with him at all.10
One could say that building our faith in the Master and the path is a process: At first, we may have immediate faith in the Master – that the path he is showing us is true – so we respond to the pull he has placed within us. But we still have to satisfy our intellect, so that we can follow the path consistently without getting waylaid by doubts and over-analysis. It is natural to have doubts, but if we persist with our meditation we will get the faith and confidence to continue on the path. Meditation will give us the love that we yearn to be filled with. Hazur said:
You see, faith actually is built by meditation, faith comes by meditation, faith comes by experience. Otherwise the mind always remains shaky. Meditation will be able to create that faith. It generates faith, it strengthens faith. Faith grows by meditation.11
So meditation will strengthen our love. It will give us the personal experience that can never be shaken. And if we continue with our meditation, Hazur said, then it becomes a permanent intoxication. “Personal experience creates depth in our faith, and that we can get only with meditation.”12
Of course, it is because we have faith in the physical Master that we come on the path in the first place and make the effort to obey him. It is faith in the Master that will encourage and inspire us to do our meditation and eventually raise our consciousness to the level where we can see him in his true form as Shabd. We can look forward to the time when we will find the Lord, and only the Lord, seated in our hearts. We will become him.
Someone once asked Hazur Maharaj Ji what Christ meant when he said that if we had faith we could move mountains. Hazur answered:
Well, brother, with your faith you can move the Creator of the mountains, what to say of mountains. Who created the universe? Who created the mountains? The Lord. By your faith in him, you can move him. You can become him. If you become him, you can move anything.13
Here Hazur is telling us that we should set no limits on ourselves, on what we can achieve with his grace. We only need to nurture our faith in him.
On a practical everyday level, we have to live our lives with maturity – spiritual maturity, as Baba Ji has called it. Maturity means that despite all obstacles and challenges, we will sustain our beliefs and continue with our meditation. We will adhere to our values and focused lifestyle. Our faith will allow us to accept the events of our life. At each stage, there are different hurdles to overcome – career, marriage, parenting children, then dealing with illness, old age – eventually facing death. We can meet this challenge through the faith that comes from continuing on the path and attending to meditation.
All the saints have told us the same thing. In one of his shabds, Soami Ji advised us to patiently continue with our meditation, and eventually our mind will be controlled. Simran will bring us in contact with the Shabd, and the Shabd – the creative power of God in dynamic action – will purify and control our mind. Soami Ji said:
If you do this punctually every day,
the evil tendencies of your mind will be quelled.
If you control the monster of the mind
using the proper technique,
You will get attuned to the melody of Shabd.14
We need to be disciplined, Soami Ji continues:
Carry on this practice daily, without a break;
Attend the Master’s satsang and keep his company.
Your attachment to the world will disappear,
and you will begin to enjoy inner communion.
Every moment you will enjoy the nectar of Shabd
and live forever in the Lord’s palace.
So Soami Ji is saying that the process will become automatic if we attend satsang and do our meditation regularly. And ultimately, Soami Ji advises us to strengthen our faith in the Lord’s will:
Put your faith in the Lord’s will –
not in your labor, not in your effort.
Submit yourself to Radha Soami now –
One day he will fulfill your heart’s desire.15
Here Soami Ji is reminding us very clearly about something that every Master has emphasized – that ultimately it is not how much we meditate that will clear our karmas, that will cleanse our hearts. No, this power lies in the Lord’s grace.
It’s perhaps a subtle relationship between grace and effort: We can invoke his grace through our efforts, and we can make ourselves receptive to the grace through our efforts. But ultimately it is not our labor, our efforts, which will see us home. It is his grace.
If we think that we are doing everything, then we are building up our ego.
We live in the illusion that we have control over our lives, even over our meditation. We need to give up that illusion. We need to submit to the Beloved, our Master, and humbly do what he instructs, and then the Lord will fulfill our heart’s desire. He will enter the chamber of our heart. The Lord will manifest within us, if he is truly our heart’s desire!
The Master has given us so much encouragement, so many props to help us in this drama of life. Think of what is going on now all over the world! Although in-person satsangs have been suspended in most countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he has given us so many other means of support. The Master may not be physically available to most of us at this time, but he reaches out with the videos of Hazur Maharaj Ji giving satsang, as well as the online video satsangs and the written satsangs and essays by our brothers and sisters, which have been made available during this period of social isolation. The question-answer sessions with Baba Ji, which are being translated into more than a dozen languages, are an unforeseen boon, as are the shabads being beautifully sung by fellow satsangis. Of course, there is the ever-increasing treasury of the audio recordings of the question-answer sessions that were held with Hazur Maharaj Ji during the 1980s. And we have the Sant Mat books to help train our minds and feed them with positive thoughts – some books are old favorites, and there are even some new ones.
The Master brings us to his feet in so many ways, appropriate to the difficult times we live in. All these means bring us to an understanding of the importance of maintaining the atmosphere of meditation all twenty-four hours – of finding inner and outer harmony anywhere we might be. By following his instructions and adhering to our meditation and way of life, we will continue to draw inspiration to continue on the path throughout our life.
One of the Master’s greatest gifts is seva. Perhaps during this period there is not much opportunity for institutional seva, or seva at satsang centres, but we can certainly reach out to help one another – family, friends, and strangers – whomever we might encounter. Acting with kindness and compassion sustains our quality of life and will help us to absorb the quality of humility that the Master embodies. We begin to serve others rather than ourselves, and thus we bend our will to his will. When seva is done with love, it will lead to meditation.
The Master always emphasizes that everything we are to get, we will get through meditation. Meditation will give us purity of mind. By listening to the Shabd, our mind becomes pure and we can develop a positive attitude. And he advises us to continue with our simran all twenty-four hours of the day when we are not otherwise occupied. In that way, our minds will be channeled toward him and we will not pick up the negative noise of the world with which we normally fill our heart. In fact, the Master always advises us that our whole day should be a preparation for our next meditation session. Everything we do or think should lead us in that direction, not away from it. That is our act of love. Hazur once said, so succinctly:
For the lover, love is a twenty-four hour sickness. He doesn’t have a specific time to love, or to think about the Beloved. He is in love twenty-four hours, no matter what he’s doing, wherever he is.16
So if we feel lacking in love, we just need to take the first step to access his love. We need to persevere in our efforts, have faith, be positive, be steadfast on the path, and “keep the company of the saints.” This doesn’t only mean the physical company; rather, it means that we need to keep him in our mind at all times. We have to live in His presence.
So let us not forget that the Lord has marked us – that the Master has come for us and won’t let us go astray. As Hazur Maharaj Ji often said, the Lord worships himself through us. This means that he is pulling us to him. He has planted the seed of love in us that makes us want to love him. In fact, we can’t help loving him, as it is his love that is within us, that seeks to merge back into him. All we can feel is gratitude. Hazur once said:
To love is nothing but giving thanks. It is all his grace that he gives us his love, he gives us his devotion, and our words are too inadequate to express that feeling, that depth, that gratefulness to the Father.17
So let us respond to his pull and cleanse our hearts. Let us make the effort to still our minds, so our Beloved can manifest within. And let us maintain our faith in him, in his great generosity, and live a happy life – a life of gratitude and love.
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #520
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #265
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #476
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #481
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #218
- Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, vols 1&2 in one vol., p. 304
- Based on Yanki Tauber, Once Upon A Chassid, www.chabad.org
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #397
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #580
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #499
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #173
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #182
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #176
- Bachan 33, Shabd 5, in Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 313
- Ibid, p. 315
- Spiritual Perspectives, II, #513
- Spiritual Perspectives, III, #535