Water Seeks Its Own Level
Maharaj Charan Singh visited the United States in 1970 and did not return for the remaining twenty years of his tenure. So, before Baba Ji graced us with his first visit, disciples had to function without the physical companionship and shelter of the Master. The books were there; our fellow travelers gave talks at meetings; but meditation was the only substantive way to truly understand his message.
Our true nature and the equilibrium of our spiritual practice emerged during this long absence. There were times when we felt pulled apart, times we were high or low, and times we arrived at equilibrium. At every level and in every way, through our trajectory of work and contemplation, we remained true to our nature, and the Lord, too, remained true to his own nature. After time, only One purified whole remains. Over many years and in every state of being, the promise of unity that is conveyed in the teachings of the saints proved essential to maintain spiritual discipline when devotees felt abandoned to their own devices.
Often it is remarked that "water seeks its own level" when someone desires to express the inevitable consequence of natural character in human affairs. Despite every obstacle, whether from mountain, rock, or plains, water finds its way to the lowest available point and there establishes a perfectly level equilibrium.
Hermeticism refers to a Hellenic mystical philosophy attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, who was most likely a composite of several historical figures who wrote anonymously to express the simple but controversial truth that nothing is excluded from divine law:
What is below is like that which is above; and what is above is like that which is below: to accomplish the miracle of one thing.1
These writings of Hermes state, as has also been said by other mystic adepts, that “the world is one, the soul is one, God is One."2 Years must be spent in contemplation to understand the notion that if a teaching or ideology is based on dualism and contains any absolute differentiation, it cannot be true. One is the only absolute. What remains to be resolved in nature and human life is whether people’s equilibrium rests in their identity with God or somewhere isolated and separated into the surround of contending elements. We can find hope in these ancient teachings because they understood that the elements operate in equilibrium by divine law. They also assumed what modern philosophy has forgotten, that human equilibrium also depends on conformity with divine law.
…the Lord has built this body as a temple for his residence.3
Maharaj Charan Singh
Inside the human body is where we find the Lord. In this journey over the long run of a human life, every choice and action, whether positive or negative and for or against the common good, has a consequence. The shape of a person's character does clarify with time. Social misperceptions drop away and truth is revealed. Objective analysis suggests that regardless of every obstacle, water will arrive at its destination. Whether obstacles arise from class, culture, knowledge, poverty or wealth, and despite applause or rejection from the world, character will be known, and with good character equilibrium will be achieved. A spiritual identity, then, can be achieved and appreciated by any human being. The verdicts of pop culture, gossip, trend, fashion, glamour, orthodoxy, political parties, and authority are false, but our destiny is certain and firmly based on our own actions and their consequences.
At every moment in time, a person's true nature shows in a smile or a frown, in laughter or fear, in kindness or cruelty, or in selfless service or self-assertion. All potential good and evil compresses into each individual human form. The macrocosm is in the microcosm. Nothing is left out or left to chance. How our virtues play out in time is just a question of character, choices, actions, and the resulting equilibrium or disintegration. Human life is a learning experience.
The fundamental questions, then, are resolved by what we do. But why do we ask questions when all the answers are obvious and well established by custom: Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I believe? What should I do? Simply stated, these questions arise because they are the only ones that give private leverage on the otherwise overwhelming tide of conditioning and circumstance. The individual is swimming in an ocean filled with unforeseeable rip tides and storms. These are the only questions that allow people to widen their private perspective in order to intuit where they and the swirling currents are headed. But to see the big picture accurately requires a suspension both of programmed conformity and emotional reactions to circumstances. Reflexive analysis, patience, and a pause before acting are the first steps towards spiritual maturity and equilibrium. If people do what they do because their character requires it or because they are tending to the yearning of the soul, that signals the end of doubt, compulsion, and addiction.
The pandemic has forced these basic questions out into the open from behind the screen of social appearances. Nevertheless, a private truth can only be realized through contemplation. But who has the time in a culture of nanoseconds and fragments to ask fundamental questions? Contemplation is a lost art in the digital world that now can barely be recovered. Who is willing to risk disconnect and social rejection by the whole world on Facebook or Snapchat, or martyrdom, by setting aside time from thousands of obligations for private contemplation and introspection? Who is willing to risk an encounter with silence, with emptiness, nothingness, and a private, desperate yearning? And who willingly stares down an overwhelming terror of inner darkness, ultimately foreshadowing death, sourced by this pandemic somewhere in the unknowable tidal forces that govern the body in its world?
Contemplation teaches that only by applying a trained, concentrated, inward gaze can people suspend their cultural history, religion, schooling, parents, business and military decorum, geographical and agricultural assumptions. Contemplation with focus leads to awareness of our unique equilibrium, just as with water. Yet, to face our questions is to courageously face our lack of answers, our uncertainty and emptiness. Something then shifts. Serious questions help a seeker to move around the outer edifice of schooled knowledge to find the secret gate where the waters of life and wisdom flow.
A contemplative and wide view of humanity has been forced upon us by the pandemic, and first and foremost it presents itself as an overwhelming tide of human suffering. From this vantage a person can no longer avoid the facts of genocide, mass warfare, chemical poisons, racial injustice, human exploitation, and most fundamentally the abyss of human ignorance and irrationality. Surely, we can do better. Were these conditions truthfully acknowledged as though residing within oneself, the wider question must follow: What is the purpose of all this depressing struggle, chaos, and madness in human life? Such a fundamental question drives the contemplative mind back to the study of first principles and essentials and the study of the origins of life itself. Is life a good thing or a bad thing? What is my fundamental connection to life? What is the nature of life? Again, what is my essential nature, good or evil or beyond? If wisdom can arise from contemplation, then clearly, the answer will not arrive in a nanosecond to a distracted and irresolute mind. This is why character and determination are needed in order to achieve an ongoing equilibrium between the opposing traits that define who we are.
On the path of contemplation, many counterintuitive paradoxes confront the contemplative mind. All thinkers have to explain to themselves certain incongruities such as: good actions can have bad outcomes; painful experiences can produce wisdom; all life ends in death; unbelievers can be wiser and kinder than believers; innocent believers and children can at times be more in touch with truth than adult scientists; poor people are more likely to share than rich people; people celebrate the unalloyed misery of war more than they celebrate peace; "progress" destroys nature; life lives on life; immoral people rise to prominence and yet can be redeemed while the good languish; and a nonconformist may be better equipped to save a society in crisis.
Another such paradox is that the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic, by forcing sequestration and exposing everyone to themselves, has widened a feeling of shared human purpose. The epidemic has obligated everyone to exercise some degree of contemplation. Many people have rediscovered the importance of family. Many have realized how precious and precarious human life is. The crisis showed exactly who was an essential worker. Mutual interdependence and necessity shredded the myth of individual freedom and the notion that only the wealthy should be given first consideration under policy and law. Many people have stepped up and discovered the joy of service and giving, which has connected them to these re-emerging warm feelings for shared humanity. Those who stepped forward to support life had no time to waste tearing down other people with different and more-limited perspectives. They glimpsed the abyss into which water will flow when cultures spin out of equilibrium.
The worldwide pandemic also has challenged spiritual seekers to become a little bit more honest with themselves. Everyone is vulnerable, nobody is special. Like everyone else they have been asked to be more disciplined, to wear masks, to keep social distancing, and to be aware of the needs of their neighbors. Have these simple changes in behavior been easy to do? Many have been forced into greater social isolation. Has that been a welcome change or a source of discouragement? They have had extra time on their hands. How have they used the time? Did they discover a treasure trove of creative thinking or spiritual wealth, or feel restless and bored? How random or organized was their day without the usual professional constraints? Some have been thrust into poverty or displaced from their homes. Did they respond with courage or fear, faith or doubt? Some have been forced to work in dangerous environments for the good of others. How encumbered was their selflessness? The answers to these questions have been instructive, but the pandemic also has opened the door to an even more fundamental wisdom.
The spiritual teachings and methods of contemplation offered by the Radha Soami path have an esoteric side manifested by the economic, social, and political crisis of 2020. What a person says matters and what a person does matters more. For many years the seekers of truth have been blessed with support from gatherings and lectures by like-minded practitioners. Those who stayed within the orbit of those meetings, like other good Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs around them, became habituated to acting in certain ways. They greeted each other with certain greetings. They behaved with a certain decorum. They positioned themselves socially within the group in certain ways. They established an equilibrium that prioritized meetings and community service over other appealing preoccupations.
These activities did support good character and in some cases meditation and an inward focus. But then the pandemic removed most of those outer supports and everyone was able to observe water seeking its own level. The seekers were able to observe how their equilibrium arrived at its natural level or not. Did their attention shift into local politics, economic worries, family conflicts and pleasures, general panic – discouragement from dashed hopes—or did it shift towards inward longing and well-being? How did the seekers manage spiritually without the external supports? How did they remedy the deficit? What steps did the seekers take to better understand themselves? Did their perspective shift to a better understanding of life on earth with all its risks?
A fundamental reason for outer satsang and spiritual instruction offered by an adept like Baba Ji is as stated by all esoteric teachings:
Through the power of association he [Man] has the potential to become whatever he associates with: any entity from God to matter.4
Seldom is "association" considered a power because as amazing as is this truth, the alchemy is so ordinary and imperceptible as to seem normal. Yet, this association is a doorway to infinity, though disguised as the doorway to Maharaj Ji's palace. Where is the doorway and in what palace will this association take place? At times it appears as a long hallway filled with doors, only one of which leads to truth. It means that humans can covet, desire, and identify with any entity from God to inanimate objects.
Every day we note the attentive worship by human beings of anything and everything from deities to devils, judges to criminals, politicians, to sports heroes, animals down to dogs, cats, and deep ocean dwellers, plankton, plants, nay even inanimate diamonds and stones. A person becomes similar to those with whom he lives and identifies. The heart opens and closes, is inclusive or exclusive accordingly. Mystics explain the reason for such multifarious identification has to do with the fundamental kinship of all things in the great order of creation:
Divine consciousness reaches down to human beings and is accessible to them through the power of attention.5
Human character, therefore, is reflective of the fact that the Lord extended himself throughout the hierarchical order and made all that was made according to divine and physical laws. This is the greatest secret or the most obvious truth, according to our perspective. On this metaphysical basis, the reason for the creation and the rare emergence of this noble human form has to do with a divine mandate that the human being recognize his divine origins and begin associating with the everlasting One. Initiates have been privileged to associate with an enlightened being, but do they share inwardly the virtues of the master? What aspect of the master do they see? Did they realize their eternal kinship or was it just a bit of human chemistry?
Now that the pandemic has limited that outer association with the Master, with satsang meetings and their protective atmosphere and social constraints, seekers may find themselves alone, if they choose to be, with only their memories, choices, and past experiences to guide them. Water seeks its own level. What is the content and form of this tidal experience? What am I made of, really? Where is the seat of my strength and conviction? What is the source of my faith? How bound am I to my cultural heritage or my patriotism? My faith? What has my character and virtue amounted to? What aspect of myself do I associate with? Am I still blaming others for my own ignorance? Do I feel guilty or anxious? Why? How is salvation to be achieved?
Questions follow any separation. But what if initiates choose the principle of unity instead of separation? What if they never allow a moment’s separation from omnipresent truth? Esoteric teachings give people a choice. Seekers can choose to find answers or an end to all questions by remembering the One, the emissaries from the One, and the teachings of the One—and we have so many means to do so. In this practice of “I am nothing,” the Lord is everything. This realization prompts recognition that only the Lord has identity, life and existence. An individual's separate existence in an interdependent world seems more and more just a fiction. Yet, for the disciple, what becomes just as inevitable as the tendency of water to seek its own level is that focused attention on the One brings union and the result is equilibrium.
- The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, translated by Dr. Everard, London: George Redway, 1650, p. ix
- Asclepius: The Perfect Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus, edited and translated by Clement Salaman, London: Duckworth, 2007, pp. 12-13
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Saint Matthew, Beas: RSSB, 2003, p. 143
- Asclepius, p. 15