The Red Carpet
On the evening news, we sometimes see kings and queens or prime ministers and presidents arrive in a country, step off a plane, and find a red carpet unfolding in front of them – a sign of respect, achievement and special consideration.
What about our own red carpet unfolding in front of us every minute? We stepped out of our room one day, and there in front of us, immaculate, lay our own red carpet, the beginning of a radically new life and the discovery of our true inner self. Through initiation, we too became dignitaries – dignitaries of Sant Mat.
Initiation is the greatest gift that can be given to mankind; it comes from the divine, the highest power, and is given to us each, individually. Why? We can’t possibly deserve it. We have been criminals, we have cheated, we have lied, we have killed, we have raped, we have been cruel; but we have also been angels, we have been philanthropists, we have been kind, we have cared, we have stood for justice and what is right. In other words, we have been everything we see around us. We are everybody we see or we encounter. For we are humanity. God resides in all of us.
So why me? Why am I being given the opportunity to walk the red carpet now? We do not know. When asked, Masters usually reply that everything comes in its proper time. “Everybody,” said Hazur, “has a time when he is to worship the father in spirit.”1 Elsewhere he elaborated: “It is said to be taking a new birth because you start a new life completely – you become entitled to go back to your father from the day of your initiation.”2
We often ask the Master for grace and we expect it to be given upon the asking. Yet his grace and his love were given to each of us in the form of initiation. But we don’t recognize it as such because it does not come in the colour and form that we expected. Some of us who have received his gift of initiation don’t take the time to unwrap the gift to see what is inside; we don’t read, carefully, the card of instructions that comes along with the gift. And yet, year after year we sit in front of him, begging for his grace. Baba Ji has said that we have already received all the grace we need at initiation. It is there for the taking, provided that we do the necessary work – follow the instructions and practise.
Sant Mat is not an insurance policy that guarantees us salvation simply because we have received initiation. Although initiation marks the culmination of a journey of thousands of lifetimes, it is not the end of the journey. Baba Ji tells us that the event of our initiation is to be taken as the projection of our desire to grow spiritually. Unless we take action, we will not become true spiritual followers. The red carpet has been laid out in front of us, but we have to walk forward on it and keep the goal in front of us at all times: to contact Nam.
In the words of Guru Ravidas:
Nam is the root of knowledge,
Nam is the door to salvation.
The one whose heart is occupied by the Lord
Falls not into the entanglements of the world.3
Right in front of us is the red carpet, waiting for us to walk on it. Are we intimidated? Take the first step, says the Master. And he continues: I am not asking you to renounce the world or to renounce your loved ones. I am just asking you to take the first step. Come with me and walk along this red carpet which extends to infinity. It will bring you to realms you have never imagined, to discoveries beyond your present level of consciousness. Heed my advice: Do not worry – detachment will come slowly, by steps, incrementally. Nothing is forced.
We may have come to the path through negative experiences. Suffering, death of loved ones, failures, horrors of wars, famine and poverty might have led us to search for something more. But once on the path, something gradually changes in our perception of the world. God is in this creation! Love surrounds it, love controls it, and God is love. Love is in this madness.
So we just have to start, to make an effort. Anything one desires in life comes at a cost and with some effort. Long years of study are needed to acquire an education; hard work is required to succeed in business. No athlete receives medals and recognition without having first put in strenuous daily training. And so it is with us. Hard work is required to succeed in the science of spirituality.
We have a choice, even after becoming a satsangi. We can continue to dabble in the world, to be attracted to it at the expense of our meditation, or we can immerse ourselves – dive into – the opportunity given to us by our Master. We have this choice at every moment.
So let us think: Do we really want to continue giving more than is necessary to this worldly illusion? In the words of Matthew Arnold, an English poet:
What is the course of the life
Of mortal men on the earth?
Most men eddy about
Here and there, eat and drink,
Chatter and love and hate,
Gather and squander, are raised
Aloft, and hurled in the dust,
Striving blindly, achieving nothing,
And then they die.4
And then they die! Is this the fate we want?
Masters come for us, in their infinite mercy, full of love and compassion; they roll out the red carpet in front of us, and beg us: Heed my advice! Meditate! They use gentle persuasion, never force, pleading with us to save ourselves. What are we waiting for? We have a program to follow, as outlined in Sar Bachan Poetry:
Without the Master
no one will ever cross the ocean,
without his Nam no one will ever find salvation.
Without attending satsang
no one will ever learn the essence,
without love no one will ever meet the friend.
Without the proper technique
no one can penetrate the inner sky,
without grace the mighty gates will not open.
Without surat no one can ever catch the Shabd,
without nirat the soul cannot sustain itself
at the level of the Shabd.
First and foremost, develop love for the Master,
then conquer the mind
and drink the nectar of Nam.5
We are seekers after truth, isn’t that so? So let us ask ourselves this key question: What is it that we truly desire? What would our reply be if we were to ask ourselves, If I were to die within the next week, what would my regrets be, what would I have done differently? And if I were given one year, what would I try to change immediately? Do we want to be coming close to death and regret not having meditated, or not having meditated enough?
The compassionate one has rolled the carpet out in front of us and he has promised that he is waiting for us. We should have no fear, and just move forward on the red carpet buoyed by faith, like the little dog in the following story:
A sick man turns to his doctor at the end of a visit and says to him, “Doctor, I am afraid of death. Do you know anything about what lies on the other side?” Quietly the doctor responds, “I don’t really know.” The patient challenges him: “You don’t know, you a man of science and a seeker of God?”
On the other side of the door there is scratching and whining. The doctor opens the door and a cute dog jumps in all excited at seeing the doctor. “You see,” said the doctor, turning to his patient, “this dog did not know the room; he only knew that his master was in there. When the door opened he rushed in, without hesitation, without fear and jumped in his master’s lap.”
He continued: “I don’t know what is on the other side of death but I know one thing: My master is on the other side and that is enough. And when the door opens, I shall pass through with no fear, but with gladness.”
The Master is unrolling the red carpet day after day, asking us to walk the path. He provides direction, he provides protection, he provides a watchful eye, he provides faith, and he provides love.
One little thing he asks of us: meditation. We may feel that our meditation is poor, even horrible. But our Master looks at our potential. That is what he is focusing on and that is what he is working with. He sees light in us and tells us that we are already connected to the sound and to the light. He asks that we do not miss the opportunity of realizing this reality in this very lifetime.
Slowly we unroll our red carpet, and as we do that, the carpet behind us rolls back up. It’s done. Looking back does not help. There is nothing we have done that can be changed. With dignity and humility we can learn from the past and move forward. To a disciple suffering from depression, Hazur asked:
Why curse the darkness? Why not light the candle? We are worrying about our past, what we have done. … if we have done anything bad, we should try to improve ourselves for the future. That is the main thing … One must look ahead and make best use of the present so that we don’t repeat such mistakes again.6
“One must look ahead.” So, chin up!
One of our goals is to be prepared for death. When death comes knocking and says, “Here I am,” we can only hope that our attachment will be to the Master, and that we will have done enough meditation so that, in the words of Rumi, we “fall forward”.7
We are imperfect, and we remain under the terrible sway of the mind to a great extent; but we should not worry about this because we chose to make the effort – and this effort is all he asks. And our effort is vital if we are to be brought to him at the end of that red carpet. We need to play our part in unrolling the carpet.
There are distractions on the left and on the right side of the carpet as it unrolls. People want to shake our hands, others want to give us something, others ask for favors, and others distract us enough that we willingly step off our red carpet. There are temptations, there is forgetfulness, there is procrastination, and there is negative attitude. The mind will use every kind of trick to distract us from the straight and narrow.
Yet our guide is there. He may allow us to wander off, but sooner or later he will bring us back. As we continue walking on our carpet, it helps to keep in view the One who is waiting for us at the end of it, ready to shake our hand. That distance between where we currently stand on our carpet and where he stands waiting for us in his Shabd form – we are to travel that distance within with patience and determination and faith.
An invisible hand is guiding us on that straight and narrow red carpet. Master says, Hook on to it and hold on to it! The simran is his helping hand. If we can latch on to simran and keep remembering those words, the distractions along the way become less strong and less attractive. In the words of Guru Ravidas, “The one whose heart is occupied by the Lord falls not into the entanglements of the world.” This remembrance we practise in a focused way during meditation, but if simran can be practised during the day, as often as we can do it, it becomes a laser beam illuminating our lives and pointing at all times towards the Master. Brother Lawrence wrote beautifully:
I worshipped him as often as I could, keeping my mind in his holy presence. … I made this my business as much all the day long as I did when I came to my appointed times of prayer. For at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.8
There was once a peasant girl who walked through a field where a group of monks were offering their prayers. The law in those days was that no one was allowed to cross the area where prayers were being offered. After a little while, the young lady returned, crossing the field the same way. One of the monks called out to her, “Young lady, you have committed a grave sin by walking this route. We were praying and thinking of God.”
The young girl apologized profusely and turned to leave. But she thought about it, then suddenly turned around to the monk and exclaimed, “Sir, I was going to meet my young man, and I was thinking of him so I didn’t see you! I was just lost in my thoughts. If you were thinking of God, how did you see me?”
We have to immerse ourselves in his remembrance. Anything short of that pulls us out into the world. The life span we have is relatively short. We can’t waste too much time, as the saints remind us.
In Spiritual Letters Baba Jaimal Singh wrote:
Do not waste time uselessly. Be concerned about time spent in vain, and regret why so many breaths were wasted, since they were utilized neither in worldly affairs nor in spiritual pursuit.9
Master Jagat Singh used to say: “Think more and talk less.”10
The Master helps the disciples throughout their life and destiny. They are given the opportunity, the facility and atmosphere in which they can clear their karmic accounts, and at the same time go beyond the realm of mind and maya. Life, our destiny – every piece of it – is a miracle to be accepted full-heartedly, with the understanding that everything that happens is for our own good. In the words of Rumi:
Be grateful for your life, every detail of it, and your face will come to shine like a sun, and everyone who sees it will be made glad and peaceful. Persist in gratitude, and you will slowly become one with the Sun of Love, and Love will shine through you its all-healing joy.11
Our lives reflect our priorities. Our actions speak louder than our words, for everything we do is done in accordance with our priorities. The time we get up, what we eat, what we think, what we do and what we abstain from doing – all stem from our priorities. We determine our top priority, and this becomes the most important thing in life. We might imagine ourselves inverting the present direction of our mind. We need to keep reminding our mind of the need to turn in the opposite direction, convincing it that it has to invert its natural downward tendencies – that it has to look upwards and act on what our Master says. If we choose to allow a pleasure-seeking society to brainwash us, our lives can easily become superficial and artificial. Becoming real, identifying not with the illusion surrounding us, but with the inner reality of who we are, becomes the goal as we travel on our red carpet.
It has often been said that Sant Mat is a path for the brave. Staying on the red carpet without stumbling off requires faith and courage, and along the way there are doubts. Writer and researcher Stephen Batchelor elaborates on this:
The Zen tradition speaks of three factors that need to be cultivated along the path: great doubt, great faith, and great courage. Thus, faith and doubt are brought together. …
Clearly doubt in this context does not refer to the kind of wavering indecision in which we get stuck, preventing any positive movement. It means to keep alive the perplexity at the heart of our life, to acknowledge that fundamentally we do not know what is going on …
Faith is the condition of ultimate confidence that we have the capacity to follow the path of doubt to its end.
And courage: courage is the strength needed to be true to ourselves under all conditions, to cast aside the obstacles that are constantly thrown in our way.12
We are seekers, and the compassionate one has rolled out the red carpet for each one of us. We are on the great way of discovering our true self. It is for us to keep on keeping on, not fully knowing, yet practising trust and letting go.
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #34
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #33
- Guru Ravidas, Guru Ravidas – Life and Teachings, 2nd ed., p.135
- Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach and Other Poems, p.89
- Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Poetry (Selections), p.195
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #579
- Rumi, as cited in Maharaj Sawan Singh, The Dawn of Light, p.189
- Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, ed. Harold J. Chadwick, p.110
- Baba Jaimal Singh, Spiritual Letters, #111
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, Spiritual Bouquet, #30, p.194
- Andrew Harvey, Light Upon Light: Inspirations from Rumi, p.149
- Stephen Batchelor, The Faith to Doubt: Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty, p.15