There’s a story about an Air Force pilot who flew missions in a horrible war. He was being driven slowly insane – by thoughts of the death and destruction he was inflicting, but also by the constant fear of his own death. The Air Force rules say that a pilot suffering from insanity can be discharged and go back to his normal life. But there’s a catch. The catch is that any pilot who claims that the war is driving him mad and making him want to leave is being incredibly sensible. Any sane person would want to leave the war. That means he can’t be insane. So he can’t be discharged.
This catch is known as Catch-22, and the story comes from a novel with the same name. And the spiritual path, too, is filled with Catch-22 situations and paradoxes. Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh said that being in this world is like having fallen into a deep, dark well. We humans are the lucky ones. We have a mind which can reason, and we have the willpower to make helpful choices. Animals don’t have the same ability – they just run around as slaves to their instincts – eating, sleeping, and reproducing. We are the only beings here who can use our minds to figure out a solution to our predicament. However, there’s a Catch-22. We need this human mind to conceive of getting out of the well, back to the light that we glimpse. But our mind has a tendency to strengthen our attachments to the world around us. Our mind, which we need to help us get out of the deep well, can also form attachments that can keep us here. Thus the Catch-22. Our mind, if we are able to keep it focused on our goal, will help us escape from the deep, dark well. If we cannot keep it focused, then our mind will only create reasons why it’s good to stay in the well.
What do we do in the face of a paradox like this? Do we just give up? What is the right attitude to take? When people confront Baba Ji with these sorts of confusions, he often says that we have to take a practical approach. When people say that it’s all hopeless, he asks: Is that the attitude you take when faced with worldly challenges? Perhaps if we would investigate the way we deal with worldly paradoxes, we might get clues about how to deal with the spiritual paradoxes. Thankfully there are examples of people who successfully navigate Catch-22 situations.
One common example, at least pre-Covid, is trying to obtain an apartment in a new country where you’ve just arrived. Often, in order to sign the lease for an apartment you need a local bank account from which payments will be deducted. The catch is – you need a permanent address to be able to qualify for a bank account. No apartment without a bank account – but no bank account without an apartment. Hence, Catch-22.
There is a tried-and-true workaround or “hack” to this paradox. You find a friend who has an established home in your new city, and ask if you can sleep on the couch (or in the guest room) for a month or two. You provide your friend’s address to the bank and open an account. You then use this bank account to arrange your own apartment and change the address on the bank account to your new apartment’s address. It’s all perfectly legal.
And it’s the same with us, stuck at the bottom of the dark well, stuck in this world which isn’t the real home of our souls. Like a New Zealander or Australian in London, however, we also have a friend who comes from the other side, where we want to go. We have the Master. He gives us a hack or workaround, the singular way of using our minds that can loosen these cords. He gives us the five names we use in meditation.
So those of us in this well who have been initiated by the Master, the Friend, have been given the royal words that will get us out. But do we use them?
Often we get caught up in all kinds of other things. We ask the Friend how we got into the well in the first place. We look up at that glint of light far above, the light of our attention, and we say: “How do I know that’s really an exit and not just a light inside the well? What’s the proof? How do I know there’s even such a thing as ‘outside the well’? What’s it like out there?”
The thing is, having lived our whole lives in a dark well, we have no concepts or experiences or words that can capture what life is like outside the well. How could the Friend explain the light of sunset on the ocean to those who have only seen that one tiny spark of light above their heads in the darkness? It’s the same with spirituality. We really have no idea of what it’s like in our true home. We come to satsang, read books and so on, and think we know something. But we really don’t. For example, we read that the soul will be released from the mind and exist in a realm of beautiful music beyond time. But since all of our experiences are through the mind, what would awareness without the mind be like? And if there’s no time, how could there be music? There would be no melody of any sort that we know. It means we actually have no concept at all.
We say that the Master is the Shabd made flesh. But the Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji, says that everything is Shabd. Rocks, plants, lights, smells, tastes: they’re all Shabd1 – everything comes from that Word, that Logos. So the Master might be Shabd, but so is your glass of water. We can tell that there is something different about saints, but actually we have no accurate concept of what saints really are, what makes these men and women so special. The problem is that concepts are tools of the mind, and we are talking about a reality beyond the mind. The sooner we move beyond concepts and into action and experience, the better. To paraphrase Baba Ji, the more we realize that we know nothing, the more we will be open to real learning. The more we realize that we have nothing, the more we will open our hands to receive.
So the Friend can’t fully satisfy our questions about why we fell into the well, or what it’s like outside. All he can do is give us the technique to climb out and see for ourselves. It’s almost all he asks of us. And if we repeat those words – for him – if we simply repeat those words, the bonds start to loosen. We don’t have to do anything else. We don’t push. We don’t try to find any place. We can look at whatever is there, but we don’t strain, we don’t try to imagine, because imagination doesn’t grasp the reality. The soul wants to go up. If we loosen the bonds with our simran, the soul automatically finds its way.
As Hazur Maharaj Ji says, you don’t need to find the eye centre:
Don’t try to find any particular point in that darkness such as two or three inches up or down. Then you are lost in that…and you don’t concentrate.2
You don’t have to invert the eyes physically in order to find any particular object within, because these physical eyes have nothing to do with what you are going to see inside.3
You are automatically there. When you close your eyes, you are nowhere else but there behind the eyes in that darkness. Just close your eyes and forget where you’re concentrating. You don’t have to find that spot at all…You close your eyes, and you see the darkness, and being there in the darkness, do the simran. That is the point being referred to [as the third eye]. You’re automatically there... You also feel that your Master is there and that you are there in the darkness and you are doing simran in the presence of the Master.4
He says that if no form comes of its own accord, and if it is not easy to visualize the Master, just feel that the Master is there with you, and that is enough dhyan for now. He says:
Just be there and also feel your Master is there, and that will hold your attention there in the darkness.5
As long as your attention is there in the darkness, you are there, but when you start thinking about all the problems of the world, your attention is not there, whether you see the darkness or something else. When your attention is there, you are there.6
And that is all we have to do – make the effort to keep the attention on the Master and his words. If, when you do that, you find that
something’s pulling you upward…Then give yourself to it. Just submit yourself to it.7
With the help of simran and concentration, other sounds will fade out, and the real Sound will become distinct and clear, and will start pulling you.8
He keeps it so simple. Just use the trick our Friend on the other side gives to get us out of the well, the practice that beats the Catch-22 trap of this existence.
It’s a question of commitment.
Look at athletes who commit fully to their quest for gold. At the Olympic Games, it isn’t uncommon to see the winner of a race collapse – and quite frequently the runner coming in second doesn’t. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the winners wanted it more – it meant more to them. Rugby coaches call it ‘turning up.’ If we want to win our spiritual race, we also have to turn up. What can mean more to us than pleasing the Master? It’s a simple question of priorities.
Maharaj Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh Ji writes:
Complaints often reach me from satsangis that the mind does not allow them to sit in meditation. They are too prone to yield to its suggestions. If the spirit is unwilling and the flesh is weak, wherein lies the remedy?
At the slightest discomfort caused by the maintenance of the posture and withdrawal of the soul current, the mind urges the practitioner to give up meditation. Let us remember the unfailing verdict: ‘No pain, no gain’.
Only the most valiant of fighters, who are prepared to embrace death (that is, closing the nine doors of this body to worldly satisfactions), and storm the dark fortress of the negative power, can achieve their purpose.
Listen to what lovers say: ‘O Farid! In my efforts to reach the Lord’s palace my body is afire like an oven and my bones are burning like fuel. Shall I delay? No. When my legs are withered and move no more, I shall walk on my head if I could have only a glimpse of Him.’9
Mira Bai, a sixteenth-century mystic poet, adapts a Rajasthani folk tune to express the longing of a true disciple.
Without seeing my Beloved,
how will I live?
Only the healing herb of his darshan
can cure my suffering.
Long have I stood at the palace gate;
with my eyes glued to the path,
I wait for him.
Mira has sold her very self to the Lord.10
The main thing is that we make a start. We can’t say that longing like Mira’s is a gift from the Lord and that until we feel that depth of longing we’ll just carry on as before we were initiated. We can’t stay stuck in the prison of a Catch-22 like this one, as articulated to Hazur by a disciple:
Maharaj Ji, it says often in the writings that the Shabd will eliminate the negative tendencies, but my understanding is that you have to eliminate the negative tendencies before you can hear the Shabd.11
Both are right. To some extent you have to abstain from these negative things in order to withdraw to the eye centre, but you can escape from them permanently only when your mind is attached to the Shabd and Nam within and the Shabd pulls you upwards. But you have to fight before that, to some extent, in order to withdraw your consciousness to the eye centre – with the help of simran and dhyan, and by abstaining from these negative tendencies. But that is not a permanent cure. Again your mind will come back to the senses. When the mind is attached to a better pleasure than the sensual pleasures, only then is it permanently detached from the senses.12
Baba Ji has been emphasizing over and over recently that we always need to do our bhajan, not just simran, and here Hazur explains why. He says:
Let me give you an example: If you put a dam across a flowing river, you will be able to hold the water for some time, but not permanently. When the water rises too high in the catchment area, it will break the dam and overflow the banks. But if you make another channel for the river to flow – in a different direction – the dam will stay there permanently, and the river will also start flowing in a different direction. Without the second channel the dam could hold the water for some time, but not forever.
Similarly, simran and dhyan is holding your attention at the eye centre, which is suppressing your outward instincts, and that even makes you wild sometimes. But if you are able to attach your attention to the Shabd, the whole direction of our attention is changed, and the dam is permanent.13
So we may have to fight to make ourselves sit, and fight with negative tendencies of the mind, but there is no fighting to go ‘up’. We simply need to make ourselves receptive to the melody that will resolve the paradox of our existence.
Become receptive to that sound. Relax in it. Bathe in it. Enjoy the peace you find there. You don’t have to do anything; only be receptive. Master will do the rest. The consciousness will rise on its own. Relish the peace you find in being in this “place” of sound with no thoughts, focused on the Shabd.14
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol 4, p. 120
- Die to Live, Q101
- Die to Live, Q99
- Die to Live, Q92
- Die to Live, Q95
- Die to Live, Q136
- Die to Live, Q224
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul, p. 194 (“Spiritual Bouquet,” #31)
- Mira Brihatpadavali, p. 127.
- Die to Live, Q310
- Die to Live, pp. 301-302
- Hector Esponda, From self to Shabd, p. 64