The Reason for Living
Shakespeare wrote many romantic sonnets, poems, dramatic plays, and tragedies. In one of those tragedies, King Lear, the King says to his right-hand man, the Earl of Gloucester, “When we are born we cry, that we come (again) to this stage of fools.”1
A different perspective on birth, perhaps – a little cynical but true! Because we are indeed fools, in that most of us do not use this life for the purpose it was given; we don’t realize that all these joys, attachments, and experiences – this pain and its resulting influence on our varied lives – is not the main purpose of living. The saints have always told us that the main reason for life is to return to our original home – to return to God – that God resides within this body, and the way to Him is also within this body. The fact that He cannot be seen, felt, or tasted, or that the correct technique to be aware of His existence is unknown to us, does not mean He is not there.
Guru Amar Das says:
The Lord himself dwells within the body;
He is invisible and cannot be seen.
The foolish, self-willed one does not understand;
he goes out to search for Him.
AG, Rag Suhi, M3, p. 7542
Saints have continually explained to us that He is to be found within the body. Scientists often claim that He does not exist at all, that God is just a figment of our imagination, that he is just a crutch to support a weak and inept character. But the scientists cannot explain about the life force; they cannot tell us what “goes” when a body dies.
The mystics tell us that God is that life force in everyone, that He is manifest as light and sound, and all we have to do to contact God is, first of all, to be conscious of His existence, then to control our mind and change the focus of our attention to be aware of His company. They remind us that we all have that potential and we are here solely to fulfill that destiny.
But how many of us do that? Most of us are too engrossed in the physical aspects of life: we try to enjoy life to the maximum – we play too long, work too hard, spend too much, indulge too often. We waste our time, ignore the warning signs, and die too young and quickly. This use of life, destiny, and an observation on the way we waste this precious opportunity is exquisitely put in a poem by James Rhoades (1841–1923), quoted in the book Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine:
That which thou art thou dreamest not; so vast
that lo! time present, time to be, time past
are but the sepals (petals) of thy opening soul,
whose flower shall fill the universe at last.
Thou ponderest on the moon, the stars, the sky,
why the winds gather, how the waters run,
but all too lightly deemest of thy Self
who art a thousand miracles in one.3
Who are we? Who art Thou?
We don’t even dream of what we are, what we are capable of, that we are“so vast, that our potential is unlimited. “Time present, time to be, time past” – this is a growing time of understanding, a time of learning who we really are, beautifully explained as “the sepals (petals) of thy opening soul, whose flower shall fill the universe at last.” Just think: Who are we? – Who is the real me? The mystics have repeatedly told us that we are not just this body, which we call I or Me – that we are much more than that. We are soul, an entity that does not die, does not age, that has existed in different forms and bodies since this creation came into being. Soami Ji tells us, “After drifting through millions of births you have obtained this precious human form.”4
We spend this life taking great pride in our ability to increase our achievements, wealth and possessions, improve our body, care for our family, develop our position, yet still we always want more, and it is these unfulfilled desires that keep us here, returning life after life into this physical creation. Yet what is there to be proud of? Our youth and beauty, our strength and intellect, our wealth and health, our authority or status in life – if so, we have to ask ourselves why? Will we keep all these things? All these attributes are with us for just a few years, and then they vanish into old age, into emptiness, into history. They become just personal memories, of no meaning for anyone else, like photographs in an album, and yet we are so proud of them for the short time that they exist.
That which thou art– thou dreamest not; so vast …
And still the mystics remind us constantly that we deserve and should expect more than these physical attributes and achievements. In all ages, countries, and languages, the saints have told us through their writings that this human form is the “top of creation,” that we are made in “God’s image,” that time – past, present and future – is just a passing dream, an illusion. But for the real us, our soul, time is nothing – we are the whole universe, so vast – yet we run around and worry about all the petty things, like the stars, the sky, and physical phenomena. (Will the sun rise tomorrow? Will the crops fail? Will there be war? Will my children be happy? Will the stock market crash? Will we become ill with Covid? These are things we can do little or nothing about.) But still we never think about our self, the real us who is a thousand miracles in one. We have everything available to us; the passing time is for learning and growing, and we don’t even consider using it correctly. As Guru Amar Das reminded us about the futility of searching for the Lord outside:
The Lord himself dwells within the body;
He is invisible and cannot be seen.
Every thought and action, every experience through which the soul passes in endless ages, is recorded in this body; all knowledge, wealth, wisdom, happiness and peace are stored within it, and we still go outside in search of these things: Why? Unfortunately our mind comes into play, gets involved in all the attractive experiences the world has to offer, so we go looking there for happiness and fulfillment. But unless we have the great good fortune to meet someone who can guide us to the internal path where life’s true miracle can take place, where we can find true peace and happiness, we have no idea of the possibilities. In the words of Guru Amar Das:
In this body are myriads of things,
but one sees only if one realizes the Truth
through the Guru –
And closing one's nine doors,
one enters into the tenth door (of the Self).
He is thus emancipated
and hears the unstruck music of the Word.5
And Hazur Maharaj Ji similarly commented:
This body of ours is not merely a five- or six-foot structure containing blood, flesh and bones; the Lord has kept countless treasures hidden within it. Even the Lord himself lives within it, but so long as we do not meet a perfect Master, we are not in a position either to carry out research in the body or to meet the Lord.6
One tragedy is that we rarely take enough notice to appreciate how short our life is and to realize its true purpose. We need to appreciate what we can achieve – if only we would investigate our unlimited potential – before we find how quickly our time here will disappear. As Maharaj Sawan Singh told us in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II:
But the best feature of the body is that it is the temple of the soul, and any respect or honour that is due to it is deserved only so long as the soul resides in the body. We should, therefore, spend some time for the development of our soul, when we waste so much time on nurturing the body day and night.7
Often, even when a person is equipped with perfect health and wealth, intelligence, faithful friends and relations, and the modern paraphernalia of happiness, he or she still feels dissatisfied, especially when sitting quietly alone, trying to understand the why and wherefore of it all.
Within the period of living memory there can be few people in the world whose lives have not been fragmented and affected by wars, revolutions, economic upheaval, and epidemics that appear to be chaotic and leading nowhere at all. A quote from an unidentified author says: “Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, with most of its pieces missing.”
It is difficult while going through this life not to regard our passing years as haphazard incidents interspersed with good and bad luck! It’s like the jigsaw – unfortunately most people think that they have designed it, made the pieces, and then put it together all by themselves. Not knowing the whole picture, what life has in store for us, is it any wonder that some of us think that half the pieces are missing? How can we think that we are in control of our lives when we cannot successfully plan and execute events for one day? How can we think that we will not get disappointed today? Observe the perfect integration of all life around us! How can we then deny that all is happening according to a master plan; how could we think that everything we see around us is an accident, a series of events occurring by haphazard random selection?
The Master tells us that all events in life happen according to a predestined plan, that nothing in our life is irrelevant, nothing is too small an event – we see time and time again that two pieces of this jigsaw, if only viewed from a physical or intellectual perspective, do not fit together. But we have to keep an open mind, use a bit of lateral thinking, and move to a different concept – the spiritual – which gives much more sense to the meaning of life and its unfolding purpose.
This then leads us to the most serious and profound question that people can ask themselves – what and why is the real meaning of life? And when we start to pursue our investigation with an open mind, we will require courage and faith. Immediately we question the normally accepted values and answers. We are told that one of the most urgent things in this world is “self-discovery.”
That Lo! time present, time to be, time past,
Are but the petals (sepals) of thy opening soul,
Whose flower shall fill the universe at last,…
Time – Use It Wisely
We are advised of the importance of spending our time wisely in The Cloud of Unknowing, written by a 14th century English monk:
So be very careful how you spend your time. There is nothing more precious. In the twinkling of an eye, heaven may be won or lost. God shows that time is precious, for He never gives two moments of time side by side, but always in succession….. Time is made for man, not man for time…. Man will have no excuse before God at the Day of Judgement, when he gives account of how he spent his time.8
Time and change are explained in The Book of Mirdad. Mirdad uses the metaphor of time as a wheel, and illustrates that change is illusion.
You sense the bewildering change of seasons and you believe, therefore, that all is in the clutches of change. But you allow withal that the power which folds and unfolds the seasons is everlastingly one and the same…
How credulous you are! How gullible of every trick your senses play on you. Where is your imagination? For with it only can you see that all the changes which bewilder you are but the sleight of hand.9
He continues by telling us that it is all smoke and mirrors, a conjuror’s trick:
One is the road of life and death, O monks, upon the rim of the wheel of time, for motion in the world is a motion in a circle. Shall man, then, never free himself of the vicious circle of time? Man shall, because man is heir to God's freedom.
The wheel of time rotates, but its axis is ever at rest. God is the axis of the wheel of time. Though all things rotate about Him in time and space, yet is He always timeless and spaceless and still. Though all things proceed from His Word, yet is His Word as timeless and spaceless as He.
In the axis all is peace. On the rim all is commotion. Where would you rather be?10
Imagine the bicycle wheel: if we watch the rim of the wheel as the bike travels along, it bounces along the road, hitting all the bumps and stones. But the hub, the centre of the wheel, just flows along smoothly, doesn’t even appear to be turning. So Mirdad asks – “where would you rather be?” On the rim, getting hurt, bouncing along, catching all the holes and lumps, or at the hub (the axis), at peace, having a smooth ride?
I say to you, slip from the rim of time into the axis and spare yourselves the nausea of motion. Let time revolve about you: But you revolve not with time.11
And to locate the axis, all we have to do is “slip” our attention from this physical world (the rim) to the spiritual (the axis), as instructed by the Master, by meditation at the eye centre. And through our meditation – simran, dhyan, and bhajan – to contact that light and sound within, to find that bliss.
In Light on Sant Mat, Hazur Maharaj Ji wrote about the most effective use of the time we have been given:
Even if one has to spend his whole life on research alone, it is not time lost but time gained, because the stronger the foundation, the surer it will bring a sound structure. It is therefore essential that before accepting Sant Mat principles the inquiry and investigation should be complete and thorough.
After you have made up your mind, the inquiry should be abandoned and the knowledge applied to practical experiences. This human body is a rare privilege and opportunity because the main object of life, which is self-realization, can be attained in this human body. We have to carry out the duties of the worldly life and live as normal human beings, but the goal and destination must not be overlooked.12
This goal, this destination, is to open the flower of our soul. Travel the path of self-realization, the main object of life, to know our true self. Our spiritual journey starts from the soles of our feet and goes to the top of our head. In this body the spiritual journey has two stages. The first is up to the eye centre, the second from the eye centre to the top of the head.
In our body, the soul and the mind are tied together at the eye centre, in the wakeful state. From here our consciousness is spread into the whole world. Even when we close our eyes, we are not here (at the eye centre). We (our minds) are never still; rather, we find ourselves on the rim of that wheel – thinking about worldly ambitions, mundane daily affairs, our relations, family, and work. Our daily activities take up all our thoughts. All we think about takes our attention; we picture these things in our mind’s eye and we become attached to them. They take up all our time, we dream about them, and this is how our mind and attention have spread out into this creation, into this world of illusion. Saints remind us that all we have to do in order to slip into the axis is to reverse this trend, bring our attention back – to its central point of concentration at the eye centre, the home of the soul and mind in the human body. Guru Ram Das describes our present state:
Each and every moment, my mind roams
and rambles and runs everywhere.
It does not stay in its own home,
not even for an instant.13
Unless we withdraw our attention to the eye centre, we cannot concentrate within. We cannot even take the first step on our spiritual journey home, for our soul “to fill the universe at last.”
Hazur Maharaj Ji says:
Even the power of becoming divine is given to man. This limited individual soul has unlimited capacities and does not rise to higher regions simply because it does not make use of those capacities. Naturally, if one does not make proper use of his potentialities to rise to higher regions, but becomes attached to the sensual pleasures of this world, he is sure to be sent down to some lower species where he can enjoy those pleasures to his heart’s content.14
Only one who has already taken this journey within can guide us to those higher regions. But because our mind is embedded in this world of phenomena, we have no concept of those spiritual regions or of our capacity to become divine. Then Hazur continues in the same letter:
Few men know what a great mine of happiness and bliss is to be found within themselves. Man, in his ignorance, tries to find it in worldly wealth, sexual indulgence, and wine. But true bliss is not to be found in this world of senses. For that peace and bliss, one has to turn Godward.
Life does not begin with birth and end with death. We are an expression of infinite life, which had no beginning and shall never come to an end.
And that knowledge of “infinite life” is, in a nutshell, why we need a true Master to show us the way to turn Godward. Then what is required is action – to get ourselves out of this predicament that we find ourselves in. He stresses the importance of doing this now.
How to Travel
We must live a lifestyle which is conducive to our spiritual goals. To do this,
- we must live a high moral life, one of truth, honesty, and compassion, living in harmony with our neighbours and the environment,
- we must be vegetarian – no killing – living a compassionate life,
- we must control our mind as much as possible by abstinence from alcohol and mind-affecting drugs, including marijuana and hemp products, as well as tobacco products.
These three vows are fundamental to the philosophy and there are no arguments, no exclusions, no possible exceptions, and absolutely no compromises. All that He gives is completely free, with absolutely no charge in money terms, only in our commitment – which allows us to give our tithe – one tenth of our time – 2 ½ hours every day in meditation as instructed at the time of initiation.
The Master wants nothing from us except our effort. It is no good finding a cure to an ailment and then not taking the cure. We cannot leave our first steps on the spiritual path until we are old, when our worldly responsibilities are complete, when our children are grown up, when we have enough money and have purchased all the things in life we think necessary –because if we do that, the day when we start will never come.
We will never have enough time and our mind will never be satisfied sufficiently that we will think it is enough. If we don’t know our potential, what can we hope to gain? How can a child in kindergarten understand a university degree and its benefits, the broad spectrum of understanding and fulfillment that can be obtained from higher education? It’s the teacher’s function to guide the student to reach that higher level of education, slowly, slowly, over many years. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The Master first shows us the goal; then He teaches us how we can attain that objective, and He provides continuous encouragement and guidance. In fact, He promises that once we start on this path, he will make us reach our goal.
But what a waste of life if we don’t make the most of that one moment in which heaven may be won or lost – if we don’t derive the benefit for which we were put here in this material world! The only way we can know what that true meaning is, and the only way in which we can learn the way to make that meaning come true, is to find a perfect Master. It is from him that we can be shown the method of Love which allows us to rise above this existence.
Thou ponderest on the moon, the stars, the sky,
why the winds gather, how the waters run.
But all too lightly deemest of thy Self,
who art a thousand miracles in one.
We look to the big picture and get overwhelmed. If we could concern ourselves only with what we can do, we would be much better off – just to take care of what we can do, however small, however personal. There is a story of the small boy on the beach. The waves were washing up small starfish. The boy was throwing them back one at a time. A bystander watched this for a while and asked the boy what he thought he was doing. Saving these starfish, the boy said. The bystander smiled and told the boy he was wasting his time, that he would never save all the starfish, so why bother, that it didn’t matter all that much. Well, said the boy, picking up another starfish and throwing it back into the waves, it matters to that one.
Mother Teresa, when given her Nobel Prize she was asked by journalists, “What can we do to promote world peace?” Such a far-reaching, high level and noble ideal, one that governments, prime ministers, senior statesmen can’t contemplate because they think in terms of budgets and money – but she broke this into a manageable unit for anyone and everyone to act upon. She replied, “There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice, are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do,” she said.
If we can be effective with the things we can do, then what else do we have to concern ourselves with? The trouble is that our mind always wants to take the easy way out, makes excuses for not doing what is right and sometimes difficult. Whenever we have to make a decision, we look to the senses for the answers, because in this physical world we perceive everything through the senses; we only know what we can touch, hear, feel, taste and see, and so we automatically go to those faculties for the answers. But we have to just go about our real work, our spiritual work, in a controlled and dedicated manner. It will not be quick, it will not be easy, but the Master assures us that it will be effective.
Maharaj Sawan Singh wrote to a disciple in The Dawn of Light:
One word about general behaviour: Most of our time is devoted towards worldly ends, so by sitting in contemplation for only a few hours, our soul cannot properly enjoy the holy Sound. Again and again the mind goes out and remains thinking of worldly matters. So keep a sharp eye over its working during the whole of the day and take care that it may not carry you away. Try to resist its mean cravings and check their outward manifestation through the senses….
Our Father is love and we are small drops from that ocean of love. This huge machinery of the universe is worked on that eternal principle of love. So try to bring yourself in harmony with this principle of love. The deeper the love of the Master takes root in you, the fainter will be the worldly love in you. His love will displace the love of earthly things. Then the mind and spirit will transcend the flesh and the curtains will rise before you one by one. The dark mysteries of the universe will become revealed to you, and you will find yourself in the loving lap of the Holy Father; in fact you will be one with Him….
Then he stresses how lucky we are to be in this enviable position of knowing what we can do and having the opportunity to do it. He continues:
He, out of his mercy, has bestowed upon you such a noble gift that all the treasures of the world stand in no comparison with it. But it will not improve your condition if you will not use it. A hungry person is never satisfied simply by counting the names of the various dishes that are before him. Though the teachings you have received are invaluable, yet they cannot be of any use unless you utilize them and daily engage in the spiritual exercises for as long a time as you can spare from your worldly engagements.15
As the English 19th century writer Samuel Johnson advised:
Reflect that life, like any other blessing,
derives its value from its use alone:
Not for itself – but for a nobler end
the Eternal gave it, and that end is virtue.16
Herein lies the key; every day, for as long a time as we can spare, engage in the holy exercises, our meditation – simran, dhyan, and bhajan – to bring ourselves in harmony with that eternal principle of Love. “Slip into the axis” to appreciate that we are all “a thousand miracles in one.”
- William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, scene 6
- AG, Rag Suhi, M3, p. 754
- I. A. Ezekiel, Sarmad, Martyr to Love Divine, pp. 151–152
- Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan 14:12:7 (Hindi)
- AG, M3, p. 110
- Divine Light, p. 64
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II (6th ed.,1996); “My Submission”, p. 12
- Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing, Part IV
- Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad (London, UK: Watkins Publishing, 2002), p. 91
- Ibid, p. 93
- Ibid, p. 93
- Light on Sant Mat, letter 217
- AG, Rag Basant, M4, p. 1179
- Quest for Light, letter 71
- Dawn of Light, letter 4
- The Beauties of Samuel Johnson (1828), p. 161