Advice for All Times
There is a well-known group of simple sayings in the “Ethics of the Fathers” – a section of the Jewish Talmud that relates to how we conduct ourselves in all situations and what our priorities in life should be. The sayings are attributed to various rabbis who were active in the early years of the first millennium. For example, Rabbi Hillel, who lived at roughly the same time as Jesus Christ (100 BCE – 10 CE), taught:
If I am not for me, who will be for me?
If I only care for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?1
So, what does this mean and what can we take from it to protect and enhance our spiritual life?
If I am not for me, who will be for me?
If I am not concerned about my spiritual well-being, then who will be concerned on my behalf? The Master has given me the guidelines and initiation. He’s provided the road map, the goal, and a loving “push.” Now I have to prioritize my meditation and my seva and live a life in accord with the Master’s teachings. No one else will do this for me.
We have to be vigilant all our lives – both in adhering to our meditation as well as with our lifestyle. We have to overcome the tendency to become overly self-absorbed and focus on all our priorities – meditation, family responsibilities, work, seva, and living a positive life. Sometimes satsangis worry they are becoming too selfish. Hazur Maharaj Ji had this to say:
Nobody can live in this world without being selfish. Everybody is selfish. So we should also be selfish to find our goal in life. Why are we not selfish in that regard? ... When this human birth is given to us to go back to the Father, and it is a rare opportunity which we don’t get so easily, we should also have that selfish instinct to realize that goal during this span of life.2
On another occasion, Hazur explained:
I feel that the more time we give to meditation, the nearer we are to the Lord and the closer we are to our destination … We are expanding ourselves; from a part, we are becoming the whole. When we merge into the Lord, we become the Lord. And when we become the Lord, we become everybody. I would say that now, as long as we are slaves of the senses, we are self-centred. And we are self-centred as long as we try to fulfil our desires for anything except to merge back into the Lord.
As we go nearer to him, our vision becomes broader and broader, and we belong to more and more people. We come to love more of humanity as we go nearer to the Lord. When we love him, we automatically love his creation, and then we belong to everybody. When we belong to him who belongs to everybody, we then also belong to everybody.
It is a very wrong conception to think that our meditation will lead us to selfishness. What is selfishness? To think about yourself? Everybody thinks about himself or herself…. But when we start our devotion to the Lord, when we are going nearer to our home, we are rather getting out of this selfishness. We are then coming into the whole; our vision becomes much broader and we know that we belong to everybody. We then realize that we were attaching ourselves unnecessarily to a few, and that when we belong to the Lord, who belongs to everybody, we also belong to everybody. I think we are getting rid of selfishness by our devotion to the Lord.3
If I only care for myself, what am I?
We need to be balanced. If I am only concerned about myself, as Rabbi Hillel taught, then I am not even a human being. The Masters have always emphasized that we need to be compassionate and loving towards everyone. If someone is in need of help, we should extend ourselves as much as we can. This principle was demonstrated recently by the stupendous efforts of sevadars at Dera and all around India, who fed and sheltered thousands of migrant workers in India who were stranded during the lockdowns. They also rendered medical help and isolation shelters as necessary. This effort is an extension of the medical relief efforts of Radha Soami Satsang in normal times throughout India.
Caring for others as one cares for oneself is a reflection of becoming one with the Lord, and thereby with his creation, with all living beings. Great Master wrote about the importance of compassion for all and quoted Guru Nanak:
He only can understand this compassion who considers all living beings as his own self. One can reach this stage only by dying while living. Guru Nanak Sahib says such a man receives honours at the door of the Lord. This stage is easily reached by one who dies while alive.4
O Nanak! All glory to him.
He recognizes himself in all beings.5
In a question-and-answer session, Hazur Maharaj Ji expanded on what it means to feel connected with all living beings, not only human beings.
You have to be a good citizen, good friend, good brother, good father, good husband – kind, loving to everybody, helpful to society. That doesn’t mean you are attached to them. To have a sympathetic heart is very different from attachment. If you are driving and see a dog that has been hit by a car, you just stop the car. You take so much pity on the dog that you even shed tears, seeing him in such a pitiable condition. That doesn’t mean you are attached to the dog. You don’t know the dog at all. It is only having a loving heart, a compassionate heart, which is bleeding for the dog…. It’s a question of attitude. You must have a kind and loving heart, a sympathetic and helpful heart.6
If not now, when?
Of course, this is what the Master always tells us – not to procrastinate. There is no tomorrow. If we need to make changes in our behavior, in our values, in our attitude, the time to do it is now. That is how we can live in the present, in the Master’s presence. People often asked Hazur if they could be assured of going back to the Lord in four lives. He would say:
Why limit ourselves? Why think about four lives? Why not try to do it in one life? We should do our best to achieve our destination in one lifetime. If we do not succeed in this life, the Lord will give us another life, and two or three more if necessary, but the assurance is there that when we are trying sincerely to meet him, we will definitely meet him, and every life will be better and more conducive to our spiritual progress than the previous one.7
We should only think that this is our last life and we must go back to the Father. We should never console ourselves that we have sufficient opportunity in the future. That is the wrong concept. This is the time when we have to become one with him.8
Hazur chided the questioner:
Why think of coming back at all? Make best use of this life. Whatever you want to achieve next time, try to achieve now! You are taking a chance in assuming you’ll be a human next time, but now you are sure you are human, so make use of your human birth now.9
The Master’s message is always consistent. Let us now look at what Great Master wrote to a western disciple.
The first essential thing, therefore, is to enter this laboratory within ourselves, by bringing our scattered attention inside of the eye focus. This is a slow process. But we are not justified in saying that we cannot do it, or that it is impossible, or that it is useless. Here is a worthy pursuit for the application of our critical and other faculties. If we cannot control and subdue our thoughts, arising within us, who else will? It is our job and we must do it; and we must do it now, in this very lifetime … 10
So, the answer is clear – there is only now!
- Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Babylonian Talmud, 1:14
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, # 590
- Ibid, # 589
- Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 3, p. 235
- Guru Nanak, Adi Granth (M 1, Sidh Gosht, 940–17); in Ibid, p. 235
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, # 366
- Ibid, # 599
- Ibid, # 600
- Ibid, # 602
- Spiritual Gems, #157