Only Do Good Things
The mystics tell us that spirituality is very simple to understand and extremely difficult to practise. As Hazur Maharaj Ji said many times, “Sant Mat is very easy to explain, but very hard to follow.” The following Buddhist story illustrates this point:
Long ago in China there was a monk they called ‘Birdsnest’ who lived and meditated in a tree. He stayed there for many, many years – meditating daily. Eventually he became a wise man, a Buddhist master. Local people came to him from far and wide for advice. They liked him and spread the word about him and he became famous for his kindness and thoughtful wisdom.
One day even the eighty-year-old governor of the province travelled a great distance to seek his advice. When he arrived, he asked two simple but profound questions: “What is it that all the wise ones have taught?” and “What was the most important thing that Buddha ever said?”
There was silence and then the monk replied; "Don't do bad things. Always do good things. That's what all the Buddhas have taught."
The governor heard this and became annoyed. He mockingly repeated the advice the monk had given him – “Don't do bad things. Always do good things.” Then the governor said, “I knew that when I was three years old.”Looking down at the governor with kindness the monk replied, “Yes – the three-year-old knows it, but the eighty-year-old still finds it very difficult to do.”
For many of us on the path of Sant Mat this story speaks to an experiential truth. The Master explains very clearly what the “good things” are, but we often struggle with doing them. The Shabd Masters are living examples of what it means to live a good, honest, moral life – a life in which they always do the good things. If we follow their advice completely and wholeheartedly, we will never do bad things. Moment by moment, throughout our lives, if we are doing a good thing, then we will not be doing a bad thing.
The truly good things we should do in our life are covered in the four simple and straightforward vows that seekers take at the time of initiation.
The first “good thing” we vow to do is to live solely on a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is the humane thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, the least harmful thing to do. We must deliberately stop killing the higher forms of life, either for sport, profit, or food. The renowned philosopher and physician Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
We must try not to harm animals – that's a “good thing” – simply to try to do the most good and the least harm to all of God's creatures, that is the right and kind thing to do.
The second good thing that the Master asks us to do when we come to this path is to abstain from mind-altering substances like alcohol, tobacco, and all forms of recreational drugs, including marijuana. We need to stop damaging this gift from God, this human body; rather, we need to respect it, keep it clean, and stop the “out of control” activities of the mind. Hazur Maharaj Ji used to say that alcohol and drugs “bind the mind and blind the soul.” Giving up our indulgence in these damaging substances will eventually help us to slow and still the mind. Our mind must become like the still water of a lake on a windless day for us to make progress on our spiritual journey. Abstaining from alcohol, recreational drugs, and tobacco helps us toward achieving that stillness, so this is a very good thing to do.
The third good thing we must do is to live an honest, ethical, courageous, and truly moral life – one in which kindness and compassion for everyone becomes our nature, our character, the way we live. Of the first three vows, living a truly moral life is perhaps the most difficult for us to follow, because it involves a deliberate and conscious determination to give up our old, deeply ingrained ways of saying and doing wrong or hurtful things. This applies to our actions, our words, and even our thoughts. It involves changing the acquired habits of this and countless previous lives, so that we give up doing bad or hurtful deeds and always do good, ethical, kind, and compassionate deeds.
Hazur Maharaj Ji said in a meeting with Western disciples:
If we have a kind heart, a loving heart, we are kind to everybody, we are loving to everybody, we are helpful to everybody. When we are kind and helpful and loving to everybody, we're not attached to any particular person – this has become our nature. We have to develop that. It happens automatically if we are filled with love and devotion for the Father. Then all such qualities come like cream on milk. We don't have to strive for them; they become part and parcel of us, because then we see the Lord in everyone. We are humble before everyone, loving to everyone, because then what we see is the Lord – not a particular person – but the Lord who is residing in everyone.1
To make these changes by ourselves is virtually impossible, for we have neither the means nor the capacity to do it alone, to “single-handedly and unaided” become truly good human beings. Fortunately, however, the Master has given us the example, the means, the knowledge, and the moment-by-moment support that will permit us to make this extraordinary change possible.
The Master starts off by telling us that when we are seeking truth, if we can live for one year within the three vows, if we can practise those first three “good things,” avoiding the bad things, then we may apply for initiation to this path of the Masters; and if we are given initiation, then we need to live this way for the rest of our life. We need to do these three good things as a spiritual foundation, in order to be able to start doing the very “best thing of all” – the fourth “good thing” – our meditation practice under the guidance of our living Master.
To do our meditation practice – simran, dhyan, and bhajan – every day in accordance with the instructions that we are given at the time of initiation is the fourth vow. As we engage with our meditation, our spiritual practice, we will begin to turn toward the Creator and away from the world. We will become thankful for all that we are given as we come to understand that each breath, each moment of our lives, is a gift and an opportunity to take a step toward the Master, toward the Lord. The Master has asked us to do it. He has said that “our meditation should be our main concern” – and that is the very best thing that we can do.
These four major “good things” are the cornerstones upon which a spiritual life is based, so when we start to follow the path seriously and do our regular meditation practice, we will truly begin to follow the advice of that old Buddhist monk: “Don't do bad things. Always do good things.”
In the book Legacy of Love, there is a beautiful picture of Maharaj Ji smiling, and in the caption beneath the picture he gives us the secret for living our life as best we can, as he says, “I keep fit because I don't do what I shouldn't do.”2
The Shabd Masters make us all “fit” to go home by teaching us to not do what we shouldn’t do and to always try to do what we should do. We know that doing a good thing is a positive action, and doing a bad thing is a negative action. In the book Quest for Light, Maharaj Ji explains:
It is your effort that will change your mind from the negative to the positive. With effort and determination, we can achieve many things in life. Our meditation is nothing but an attempt to acquire the positive gifts and to get rid of the negative evils. Meditation gives mental strength and spiritual bliss, and enables us to face life with great hope and courage. We then know that we have a goal before us which we have to achieve, and which will give us that bliss which nothing in this world will give us.3
The Master is giving us, very beautifully, the same message as the wise old Buddhist monk taught. He teaches us to live in a way that will ensure that we don’t do bad things and only do good things.
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #500
- Legacy of Love, p. 310
- Quest for Light, #396