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The Purpose of Quarantine

We have all become familiar lately with the word quarantine. The word originated in Venice, Italy, in the 14th and 15th centuries, from a word meaning “forty,” signifying 40 days. It was the designated period that ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could disembark, to prevent the spread of the plague. The “black death” had wiped out 30 percent of Europe’s population and much of Asia’s as well. So the 40-day quarantine was part of a strategy to prevent the spread of disease – a way of isolating people from exposure to dangerous infections.

The number 40 also has a spiritual significance. In the Hebrew Bible, we are told that the prophet Moses led the Israelites on a wandering journey in the desert for 40 years after liberating them from slavery in Egypt. In the Bible, the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial, or probation. It also signifies change and transformation; we read that Moses fasted for 40 days and nights to prepare himself to receive the Torah (Bible). Manna (spiritual nourishment) rained down on the Israelites for 40 years during their wanderings. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights to prepare for his public ministry. And there are many more such examples in the Bible.

Why is it significant that the Israelites wandered in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years? The journey could have been much shorter, as the distance was not so great. Some Torah commentaries state that the 40 years in the desert were a period of spiritual growth and development necessary to prepare the Israelites for entrance into the Holy Land. The enumeration of their journey is an account of their spiritual progress. The same people who were lacking faith in God – manifested by their creating a golden calf to worship, with some even wanting to return to Egypt – needed to develop spiritually under the guidance of Moses. Since results are not always apparent in the short term, they needed to have patience so that the will of God could reveal itself.

So perhaps this period of isolation, quarantine, and lockdown is an opportunity being given to us to look inside ourselves and draw on our innate spiritual core, to refocus our spiritual efforts and let go of any negativity we may have absorbed during our many lifetimes. We need to change our mindset. Perhaps our faith has weakened, or we have become lazy and complacent, which is why we don’t make as much effort in meditation as we used to, or try as hard to live the Sant Mat way of life. Now we need to ask ourselves: Are we looking to the Master to guide us? Are we faithful to our vows?

Hazur Maharaj Ji spoke to our inconsistency in devotion and effort and our dependence on seeing results in the short term:

You see, when you learn to walk, learn to run, you fall many times, but you get up again, and again you start running. It doesn’t mean that if you have fallen once, you will not get up and try again. Slips are there. And the mind is very powerful. It sways us off our feet to the right and left. But if we continue in meditation, we become firm again on the path. … We have so many pitfalls in life which we have to face, very unpleasant things. But if we keep our destination before us, the path before us, and the determination to follow it and reach the destination, then you are able to do it.

In the following answer, Maharaj Ji was even more encouraging. There are no failures on the path:

Brother, we are all struggling souls in this world. When we have our destination in view, we know the path leading to the destination and we travel on that. There are falls – we fall, we get up, and again we run. There are no failures on the path. …. Pitfalls here and there do pull us back, but as long as we try to overcome those weaknesses, we again get up and again go ahead. We have to do our best under the circumstances.

When we are sincere, the Lord comes to our aid and nature also helps us in our environment, in our atmosphere, in our circumstances. The Lord’s guiding hand is always there whether we are conscious of it or not. We should never lose heart when we have pitfalls or when we have fallen or think that we are being driven from the path. He never leaves us. Momentarily, we may feel that we have left the path, and at another time we may feel that we are again on the path. We explain to ourselves that we have left it. Actually, we do not leave it; we cannot leave it. We are so strongly bound, so strongly got hold of, that we cannot leave it; we cannot go astray.

But naturally it takes time to learn to walk and then to run. So we should try not to analyze too much. We should do our duties while living in this world, try to give our time to meditation, try to live to the best of our ability, and then slowly but surely, with the Lord’s grace, we will become successful in our endeavour….

The master’s guiding hand is always there to steer us through all those pitfalls, to steer us through all those weaknesses. We pierce through and we do come to the light.1

  1. Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Q# 577 & 578