Keep Your Gaze Fixed on the Master
Tulsi Sahib was a mystic with a Hindu background who lived in Hathras in eighteenth-century India. He wrote many poems about the inner spiritual path that leads to God-realization. Among them are a few ghazals, or lyric devotional poems, that he addressed to Sheikh Taqi, a Muslim fakir or saint. Sheikh Taqi was on his pilgrimage to Mecca and happened to pitch his tent in the neighborhood of Tulsi Sahib´s residence. In this poem Tulsi Sahib is explaining to Sheikh Taqi what it means to follow a spiritual master and what a disciple needs to do.
O Taqi, fix your gaze on the Master
who has offered you his hand.
Do not be neglectful or give up if you wish to behold
the splendour of your Beloved.1
Mystics and saints urge us to keep the purpose of human life in mind and to focus on that goal every day for our entire life. What is this purpose of life? Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh Ji explains:
The main purpose of life is to realize God. This privilege the Lord has bestowed only on human beings. …Everything else we have been getting every time we have come into this world, in any form, in any species.
But the privilege of going back to the Father can be achieved only in the human life. So we should always be mindful of our destination and try to follow the spiritual path which leads us back to him. While working out our destiny, our karmic accounts or adjustments – our other duties, responsibilities – we should not forget the end and purpose for which we have come into this world.2
Here Hazur is reminding us that whatever life brings us is a result of our karma, of actions that we have performed during previous lives. The situations we find ourselves in, the people we meet, the responsibilities we get, the assets we acquire – all are a result of that. We cannot change this karma, this destiny. It is the path of life that we have to follow, with all its associated ups and downs. Mystics and saints, however, emphasize that there is more to life as a human being than just the working out of karma. This life gives us also the opportunity to realize the Supreme, the Divine, to meet the Beloved of our soul and thus transcend this world and its cycle of birth and death. For that purpose, this life form has been given to us. “Saints say: Face that destiny; and then also try to find your way out of this world.”3
How can we find our way? By unceasingly focusing our attention on the messenger of God, the master, who offers us his guidance and help to find our way back to the Most High. For the way to God is unfathomable. It is a path that we do not know, that we ourselves cannot find and, above all, that we cannot oversee, because it is different from what we think or envision. Hence, Tulsi Sahib says, if you want to see the purpose of life fulfilled and realize the Divine:
O Taqi, fix your gaze on the Master
who has offered you his hand.
Do not be neglectful or give up if you wish to behold
the splendour of your Beloved.
He lovingly advises us to do our utmost to involve the master with every step we take on this path of life – to keep him in mind in everything we do. We need to do this so that we won't get lost in what's going on around us and won´t be deceived by our own thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions – or be upset by what happens to us. The master knows the way, knows the ups and downs we have to go through, and he is only too happy to guide us through them. Hence, he reaches out his hand to us. It’s up to us to let ourselves be taken by the hand, to put our hand in his, and to surrender to his guidance. It’s up to us to do our very best to hold his hand once he has initiated us by following his instructions and focusing our attention on the true form of the master, the Shabd, at the eye center through the daily practice of meditation. During all those moments in the day when we do not need to involve our mind in the work we do, we repeat in our mind the sacred names he has given at the time of initiation. Hazur Maharaj Ji elaborates on this when he says:
Whatever you may do in this world to keep your master within you or keep yourself with the master is meditation, is a part of meditation. Whether you are properly sitting or sitting just quietly, full of love and devotion for the master, or hearing the sound, seeing the light – whatever you are doing, even worldly work – if your master is with you in your mind, in your heart, if all your dealings conform to the teachings, to the commands of the master, then you are with the master. That is why we say that Sant Mat is not only meditation; it is a way of life. We have to mould ourselves to that way of life so that we are always with our master, in all the activities of our life, so that we don´t forget him anytime, anywhere.4
Don´t be negligent in this, writes Tulsi Sahib. Don´t let yourself be distracted by all the issues that pass during the day. For only when our attention is one-pointedly focused on the master, on the Shabd, and there is nothing in our hearts but a deep desire to meet the Beloved of our soul, will he reveal himself to us – inside at the eye center – in all his greatness.
It sounds so easy – not to get distracted from the purpose for which we´ve been born, and to keep our attention focused inwards on the Shabd instead of outward on the world. But it is the most difficult assignment or task that can be given to us. This is because our mind is so accustomed to orienting itself outward. It is so easily seduced by worldly things and not easily withdrawn from them. Great Master says:
Mind is not a thing that can be switched off and on at will.
It cannot be taken away from its routine course in spite of one´s best effort in a day, a month, or a year. It is a lifelong struggle. Those who have undergone this struggle, or who are engaged in it, understand what it is to conquer the mind. …It is attached to the outside world with ropes, double ropes, triple ropes, and manifold ropes and has been held by these chains so long that it does not feel the irksomeness of its bonds. It likes them instead.
…If it were an easy affair, Guru Nanak would not have sat on pebbles for twelve years. Christ would not have spent nineteen years in the Tibetan hills and Soami Ji himself would not have contemplated in a solitary, dark, back room for seventeen years.5
There is a story in Tales of the Mystic East that gives us an even stronger impression of how difficult it is to control the mind:
Guru Vashist once said to his disciple Ramchandra, ¨If I was told that someone had lifted the Himalayas, I may, for a moment, assume that there is such a person in the world. If someone were to say he has swallowed the sea, incredible though it may seem, I may, for an instant, believe him too. If someone were to assert that he has tamed the winds of the world, he is not to be taken seriously but, for a split second, I may agree with him. However, if someone were to boast that he has controlled his mind, I would never believe him.¨ The mighty force of the mind is not easily controlled.6
So it is not an easy task, and it seems to be an impossible one. Nevertheless mystics and saints like Tulsi Sahib impress upon us to do our utmost to keep our gaze, our attention, focused on the Shabd at the eye center and to hold the hand of the master in every action we perform, not leaving it through negligence. Every effort we make gives the master the opportunity to guide us and shower his grace upon us, and it is this grace that will lead us to our Beloved. Hazur says:
His grace is never lacking if our effort is sincere and honest. …We wouldn´t be given this human life, we wouldn´t be on the path at all, we wouldn´t meet a mystic at all, but for his grace. So when he has marked us to be part of a certain fold, of a certain master, he doesn´t withhold his grace after that. He’s more anxious than we are! So his grace is always there, but we have to do our duty. We just can´t look to the grace without even doing our duty. We should do our best; then his grace is always there.7
As Maharaj Jagat Singh says:
We must strive hard to subdue the mind and put in every effort to drive away the evil qualities that overpower us. But, if after struggling very hard we still find that we have not advanced a single foot on this long journey, we should not get disheartened. Master knows well that with our feeble hands and feet, we shall not be able to accomplish this journey even if we were to go on traveling for a hundred thousand years. He wants to impress upon us that unless the Lord’s grace intervenes, no one can walk on this path of immortality. When we collapse and fall, and have no strength left to struggle further, then Master’s loving kindness and grace will carry us forward as a tottering child is carried in the arms by its mother.8
That´s what the master does. He will carry us towards our Beloved after we have put in the part that is within our capacity – that seemingly insignificant part that is so essential. That´s why the master emphasizes so strongly that we need to make every effort wholeheartedly. By doing this we will come to gradual submission. A writer on Buddhism discusses the importance of devotion in this process of surrender:
The bhaktic trend eliminates, in faith, all reliance on self-power, all reliance on one’s own ability to plan and control one’s own life and salvation. ...
Surrender in faith involves a high degree of extinction of separate selfhood, partly because one does not rely on oneself, or one’s own power, and partly because one sees the futility of all conscious and personal efforts and allows oneself to be “carried” to salvation.... Elementary modesty lets us perceive that any merit we may claim compares as nothing with that of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and with the power of their help.... All pride in our intellect, all pride in the purity of our heart, sets up a self against others. If the intellect is seen as futile, the heart as corrupt, that self is deflated. The grace of the Absolute alone can carry us across, and our own personal schemes and endeavours are quite trivial.9
Tulsi Sahib continues his poem to Sheikh Taqi by saying:
His mercy will protect you till you arrive at his court;
there is no need for worry or fear.
Go straight and reach there,
for this is the Master’s decree.
Mansur, Sarmad, Bu-Ali,
Shams and Maulana – they all followed
this same path with firm resolve in their hearts
and reached their destination.
Tulsi Sahib mentions certain saints well-known among Muslims, including Mansur, Sarmad, Shams-i-Tabriz, and Maulana Rum (Rumi) all attained God-realization by walking this path. So “take your chance” is the message. The master has taught you the method of meditation. Don't delay; go straight to your destination. Be determined in that. Be determined in gazing at him again and again, following him and his instructions, even if you don't understand the course of the way. Trust him completely, and his grace will lead you to the Beloved of your soul without fear or danger on the road – the master, the Shabd, the Nam, guides and protects you, as expressed by Guru Arjun Dev:
On that path of endless miles,
God´s Nam provides you with sustenance.
On that path of intense, blinding darkness,
God´s Nam is your guiding light.
On that path where no one recognizes you,
God´s Nam stands by you as your identity.
Where the sun is ablaze with scorching heat,
God´s Nam is the cooling shade over you.
Says Nanak: O my mind,
When you are tormented by thirst,
God´s Nam will shower its nectar on you.10
Tulsi Sahib continues:
Love is the destination of this path,
and reaching there is not difficult,
for the one who removes all difficulty
stands before you and has given you his hand.
Guru Arjun Dev Ji and Tulsi Sahib both acknowledge that the path to union with the Beloved is not an easy one. Traveling the spiritual path takes a lot of effort. We will have to work hard to reach the destination of love. At the same time, there is the comfort and confirmation that reaching that destination, that love, is not difficult, because the one who resolves difficulties is with us and has offered us his hand. Al-fattah is one of the ninety-nine names or qualities of God, as reported in Muslim tradition. It refers to the attribute of God that opens our heart.
He is the opener and the solver, the easer of all that is locked, tied and hardened…. There are states and problems that are tied in a knot. There are hardened things that one cannot see through and pass through…. There are also hearts tied in a knot with sadness, minds tied up in doubts or questions they are unable to answer. Allah al-Fattah opens them all. …He opens all gates…
He has the key to the treasure of sacred secrets that is the heart of man, God´s very own house. Stand at the gate of God´s mercy and knock on the door of the One who resolves all difficulties. He certainly will come and open it sooner or later. Pray … unceasingly, always. You are poor; he is rich. You are in need; he is the satisfier of need. You are in the dark, he is light.11
Tulsi Sahib ends his poem by pointing out to Sheikh Taqi that the way to God is an inner way. It is the way of the Shabd, the true Name, the secret hidden in the heart of every human being. It is the Name that can only be experienced, not pronounced; the Name that leads to the Most High, to God, the Beloved of our soul. Tulsi’s advice is to cherish it within when you experience it. Don't talk about it. It’s the treasure of treasures, the most precious experience that can be given to you. It’s the secret way to union with the Beloved of your soul. By following it, the purpose of your life will be fulfilled and your journey through creation will come to an end.
Tulsi says: Listen, O Taqi, the inner secret is beyond
all you can imagine.
Keep it safe – it points to the Most High.
- J.R. Puri, V.K. Sethi, & T.R. Shangari, Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras, Beas: RSSB, 1995, 2017 (rev. ed.), p. 231
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol I, Beas: RSSB, 2010, Q. 251
- Ibid, Q. 118
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol III, Q. 125
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, Beas: RSSB, 2004, p. 206
- Tales of the Mystic East, Beas: RSSB, 2006, p. 109
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol II, Q. 474
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, Science of the Soul, Beas: RSSB, 1994, p. 203
- Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, p. 159, quoted in K.N. Upadhyaya, Buddhism: Path to Nirvana, Beas: RSSB, 2010, p. 207
- Guru Arjun Dev, Gurbani Selections 2, Beas: RSSB, 2011, p. 87; quoting “Sukhmani,” A.G. 264
- Excerpted from Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, The Most Beautiful Names (Threshold Books, 1983); https://sufism.org/sufism/writings-on-sufism/excerpt-from-the-most-beautiful-names