In the Court of the Lord
Many of the shabds or hymns in the Indian Sant tradition were written along with their melodies by the saints themselves. They are, therefore, legacies of God-realized beings and have a unique freshness and impact. The truths the saints have realized are set down in a very pure and concentrated fashion so that each word springs from active realization. Unlike text which can be re-written or re-interpreted by priestly agendas, the shabds have remained unchanged for hundreds of years because each word as it was set down is part of the melody – words and music are inextricably linked. Just as with the inner Shabd, light and sound are one.
The well-known shabd discussed in this satsang is from the teachings of Paltu Sahib. Paltu was a shopkeeper saint in the highly orthodox religious town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh during the 18th century. Maharaj Charan Singh Ji in his discourses about Paltu described him as “fearless” because he did not spare the priests and religious leaders when he explained the path of the saints. Consequently, Paltu, at age 70, was burned alive for what were perceived as his heresies.
And what is it that the worldly and the ways of the world can’t stand? The truth. The saints’ teachings are very simple. This is not our true home – our true home is the abode of the Lord, Sach Khand. That is where our innermost being is based. Sach Khand is a state of consciousness. And a state of consciousness can be achieved anywhere; we do not have to go to a strange land to find it nor do we have to pay money, wear special garbs, or go through an official priesthood.
We are not just creatures of mind and matter. If we were, we’d be robots. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is mind and matter – recognizably non-human. Proof of the existence of surat or soul is that we are not like AI, not like robots. We have an extra dimension. We are surat, soul-being, loving consciousness captured in physical form which is yearning to return to its true home. As human beings, we all have this “chronic nostalgia” in one form or another, a longing to return to a former time or state, a belief that things are not as good as they were in the “old days,” a feeling we can’t put into words. The root meaning of ‘nostalgia’ is from the Greek, meaning ‘pain from an old wound’. The Welsh language has a word ‘hiraeth’– meaning a longing for somewhere we can’t return to because it doesn’t exist anymore or never was. This chronic nostalgia affects our behaviour and leads us to look for distractions and solace or to seek happiness in the physical world – when, in fact, we are connected to this world only through our previous actions, their reactions and desires.
The Lord is inside every one of us in the form of light and sound – the Shabd. Our journey is to make conscious contact with the sound and light within and gradually realize through spiritual practice that firstly, we are soul beings, and secondly, soul and Lord are one. The saint or true living Master is the key to our return home. He is a wave of the ocean of the Lord in a human birth.
The Master initiates us by establishing a conscious link with Him inside, with His shabd form. He teaches us how to meditate and what to meditate on. He requires a necessary foundation for this path through four vows: strict vegetarianism – no meat, fish, or eggs. We are to live a moral life and not dissipate our discrimination with alcohol or mind-affecting drugs. These three “lifestyle” vows are prerequisites for the fourth vow, the commitment to meditate two and a half hours every day – a tenth of each 24 hours. In four simple vows, we get the whole package – a lifestyle that addresses every aspect of our being, physically, mentally, and spiritually without the complications of rites and ritual. The saint assists us both inside and out like a mother watching and training a child. Through his grace and our effort, he promises we will ultimately achieve liberation from mind and its delusions and from matter and finally return home. There is a lovely quote from Hazur Maharaj Ji in Light on Sant Mat:
First comes the grace of God, then the company of Saints, and then the acquisition of the secret of Nam. Then, by constant application and unceasing devotion, comes the actual realization of Nam.1
Maharaj Ji used to say that sincerity and honesty in our effort again provoke his grace to make more effort – however hopeless we may feel we are, or actually are, in our efforts to concentrate. There is a magic about sincerity.
To keep us straight and God-focused in our daily lives, we repeat the five holy names given us at the time of initiation. The Masters say repeatedly, “simran is the key.” Again, in Light on Sant Mat, Maharaj Ji writes:
Regarding the repetition of the five holy Names, it is not just repetition for the sake of breaking the habit of the mind and inculcating obedience. These names, if properly repeated with devotion, stir up spiritual vibrations and bring you in contact with those inner regions through which the soul has to pass on its way up to Sat Lok.2
Eventually, the Masters say, simran will permeate our subconscious and emerge consciously and automatically when we are not concentrating on something else. It will pop up. Thoughts, too, are external although they are going on in our head – their subject matter is external. Do we want to spend our meditation time dwelling on externals and strengthening them? This is why Baba Ji has said if we dwell on things in our meditation, instead of eliminating them or deleting them from the computer of our mind, we are essentially re-programming them back into our minds, strengthening them. We need to keep bringing the attention back to simran.
And, to reinforce our commitment to meditation and enhance our spiritual awareness, we attend satsang. Maharaj Ji gives us the reasons for that too:
The object of satsang is twofold: To non-satsangis it provides an opportunity of seeking the truth, removing their doubts, and arriving at a correct understanding, thus realizing the importance and significance of Sant Mat principles. For satsangis it creates or strengthens the yearning for going in and helps to concentrate the mind. The real satsang is the hearing of the Shabd within.3
Yet, nevertheless, in order for this world to continue, the saint’s teachings end up becoming bent and externalized into ritual, dogma, and practices. The saints themselves often get persecuted. However, no power can stop a saint from collecting his flock, his marked souls for that life. Fortunately, there are always Masters or saints in this world because there are always souls earnestly seeking the Lord and due, in a particular human birth, to return to Him. The saints’ presence cools this hot, heaving world. Paltu’s shabd cuts through the worldly tangles of status, dogma, ritual, and mental analysis. His tone is gentle.
In the court of the Lord, O Paltu,
nothing counts except love and devotion.
Love and devotion alone count,
for they please him most.
He prefers a poor devotee’s insipid food
to a kingly feast.
With all their penances and austerities,
the rishis and munis,
sure of their own piety and holiness,
were put to shame
when Shivri’s loving offering
of berries was accepted.
Yudhishtra arranged a sacrificial feast
to which all holy men were invited.
Pride that day died for all –
without Supach the bell would not ring.
Forbear, therefore, says Paltu,
from feeling proud of your high caste.
In the court of the Lord, nothing counts
except love and devotion.4
Paltu uses the metaphor of a monarch’s court to describe Sach Khand. Even in this world, courtiers imitate their king or queen. Paltu is describing how man and God are one, but the veil of ego separates us from him. Love alone can remove the veil. Our problem is that we identify with the veil or our ego-structure – that entire sense of ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness’ which has dragged us through so many incarnations – and not simply that ‘me’ or ‘I’ that is attached to so many things in this world, but also the lunatic ramblings of our mind.
Someone once asked Maharaj Ji if Kal, the negative power, has incarnated on this earth. Hazur responded:
Well, Kal can do anything. You see, Kal can work through any human form. He's working through us. Mind is the agent of Kal and of any mind under the control of Kal – you can say he is working in the human form. I mean, after all, it is the mind which is the agent of Kal, and wherever mind dominates, Kal is dominating; he is working. And being human, we are all working under the domain of Kal, as dictated by him.5
Hazur also said:
We're all slaves. We are dancing to his tunes. Our strings are at the back, in his hand. And he pulls from the back, and we're dancing according to his pull. And those strings are our karmas. And Kal is sitting at the back. Through our karmas, he makes us dance. So when you go beyond the realm of mind and maya, Trikuti, then you are free. Then you are beyond his reach, beyond his realm. Then he cannot force you to dance at all. Then you live in the will of the free, the Lord.6
The mind bombards us with desires, shame, guilt, the sense of being affronted, unhappy comparisons with others, the pain of attachment, loss, and low self-esteem. So we try to bury our self-awareness in distractions – television, being workaholics, alcoholism, drugs, or other vices. Then, of course, the mind being ultimately a machine, a creature of habit; it becomes addicted to these things.
This is the process of the mind being led by the senses through the nine lower gates of the body and beyond. Mind, the Masters say, is bottomless in its desires. Time is change, and both mind and maya (illusion) are subject to it. Therefore the notion of permanent happiness or being satisfied when particular desires are fulfilled is illusory. Permanent happiness is not part of the law of nature here. The Great Master describes this process:
The world is a thick forest, thickly populated, where all have lost their way and are ceaselessly and aimlessly running about, life after life, harassed by the great dacoits: lust, greed, anger, attachment, and pride. The remarkable thing about these dacoits is that people associate with them joyfully and, (despite) knowing that the result of their association is suffering, have not the courage to dissociate themselves from them. They eat the poison, cry, and eat the poison again.7
It is ego which brings the other perversions of the mind in train – lust, anger, attachment, and pride. If we didn’t have such a strong sense of ‘I-ness’, of being the centre of our own universe, who would there be to feel the lust, anger, etc? The core of this sense of identity is the feeling that actually we are the most important person in the world – to ourselves. The saints teach that even our worldly love is based on selfishness and a desire to survive.
We must be cautious and vigilant in this deceitful world. Our friends and relatives are all about ‘give and take’. They are described by Soami Ji as the ‘outer swindlers’; the ‘inner’ swindlers are the five passions. Both steal the wealth of our attention. Paltu, however, speaks of love and devotion. Devotion is the path to love. The root meaning of devotion is from Latin vovere – to vow. The four vows taken at the time of initiation could be described as the four devotions – devotion is the four vows in action, because the essence of following the four vows means putting another interest before that of the ego. Devotion is a gift of God’s grace – it tips the balance of our awful karmas in the right direction by setting our inclination towards the Lord.
And we must not forget the grace of the Father. It is a nudge to enable us to make an effort. If we are devoted to following the four vows, we will change, because we become how we think and behave. If the motivation of our actions, whether in the world or in our meditation, is putting others first, then we will have begun the process of loving, of losing our identity and beginning to merge with another being.
The Great Master wrote: “The highest action and the highest quality in human life is devotion. If one does not practice it, his life is wasted.8
We respect devotion as a quality on this plane whether it is in our marriage, in our family, or in our working life – the doctor devoted to his patients or a mother devoted to her children. We instinctively recognize and do not respect devotion to (lower) self. We realize that devotion to self causes great harm in this world – the dictators we meet in every sphere of life, the tyrants who will have their own way. Devotion to the Lord is a great gift. The Masters say even the angels are yearning for devotion to Him but such devotion cannot be obtained without a living true Master.
The first step of our devotion is to the physical form of our Master. When we meet him, we trust him because something in us recognizes something in Him. In other words, our soul leaps up in recognition of a fully realized soul-being. It is deep calling to deep. We fall in love with him and we want to serve him. But if we are just attached to his physical form and do not do the spiritual practice, then our service becomes externalized and even dramatic, because it is still on the emotional plane. Emotions change and shift, causing dramatic situations. Emotion is of the mind.
It is the quiet practice of Surat Shabd Yoga which generates the transforming power of love. Love works on any creature, even plants, trees, and insects. Receiving spiritual love from the Master enables us to love in a spiritual way and that spills over into loving the creation.
By devotion to the Sound Current, the effects of both good and bad deeds, and the sense of identity which drives them, are burnt away. When we start our meditation and try to concentrate at the eye centre, we have been given holy Names and a form we are attracted to for contemplation. The simran and the Master’s form are not associated with our sense of identity, so the mind, with no familiar hooks to hang onto, quiets down and becomes calm and smooth. Through simran we reach that state of tranquillity where we are not disturbed by good or bad things happening, regarding all as the Lord’s will. This is a state of consciousness, not an intellectual decision. The Master so organizes our life as to enable us to reach a state of one-pointedness, an inner focus on the Master.
The Master knows that as human beings we all have the capacity for devotion but it’s spread out willy-nilly. One-pointed devotion, like the sun shining through a magnifying glass, can destroy a mountain of karma. One-pointed devotion becomes bireh, longing for the Lord. When the distractions of the mind calm down, the soul’s yearning is at last truly felt. The soul has always been in a state of yearning and longing to re-unite with the Lord, but those keen pangs have been muffled by the blanket effect of the mind and senses. Bireh is described as a painful and sweet state of consciousness – we are all experiencing bireh, but we don’t realize it until the mind becomes still.
Only spiritual practice can uncover this longing and set in motion the return home. The beauty of this is that any time is good for meditation, any time is good for simran, any place is good for simran. We are not confined by buildings and rules.
The Masters love our effort in meditation. Great inner experiences without love or devotion for the Master will lead us nowhere except straight back into this world with an expanded ego. Sant Paltu in his shabd describes how the great rishis and seers attempted to attract the Lord Ram’s attention by outward ceremonies and dramatic displays of apparent self-denial. But Ram chose to share the berries of a poor woman, Shabri, berries which Shabri had already tasted to test for sweetness. Ram chose to spend his time with a humble devotee and ignored all notions of caste behaviour and ‘un-cleanliness’ (ritual pollution) by eating her half-eaten food. Ram saw the motives behind everyone’s behaviour. Self-awareness drove the wise men but love was the motive for Shabri’s apparently unhygienic actions. The Masters teach that motive is binding and they can see our motives and true intentions like pickles in a jar.
Paltu also refers to the Mahabharata in which, after the great war is over, the Pandava brothers decide to hold a feast and invite many ascetics and holy men. Krishna tells them that their ceremony will not be complete until a bell rings in the heavens. The bell does not ring even when Krishna as the Lord himself goes to the feast. Krishna tells the brothers of a poor saint, Supach, that until the saint attends the feast, the ceremony is not complete and the bell won’t ring. The Pandavas assume cynically that the poor man would be attracted by the free food, but he is not. They issue a personal invitation, but he says that until he is given the benefit of one hundred ceremonies, he will not come to the feast. The brothers realize that they haven’t completed even one ceremony, never mind a hundred. Queen Draupadi then cooks some food and goes by herself, barefooted, to the saint’s door begging humbly for his attendance. Supach, seeing the purity of her heart and intention, does not pause even for a second but accompanies her to the feast and the bell in heaven rings.
The Lord, like Krishna at the feast, is omnipresent but the Shabd, the bell that rings in heaven, can only be heard through the intervention of a living saint. We can only benefit from his company if we are humble and loving. Otherwise, we will assume that he shares our way of thinking. The brothers thought that a poor man would be attracted by food and their interesting company. They were confusing love with worldly knowledge. We take one step towards the Master and he takes one hundred steps towards us, and those steps are not influenced by our caste, colour, creed, status, lineage, or nationality. ”Pride that day died for all,” says Paltu. The attendees at the feast realized the hollowness of worldly institutions and the lack of value of their own investment in those things.
As a satsangi once wrote in Spiritual Link:
We have to tune ourselves to a different chord, and to accomplish that task he gives us the tuning fork of simran and bhajan. We demonstrate our real love by faithfully using the tools he’s given us.9
We have taken up a way of life which is a gradual refocussing of our attention so that the Master may slowly become larger and larger on our mental horizon, until the day when he becomes the whole view. Sardur Bahadur Jagat Singh Ji said in a discourse:
Practice maketh a man perfect. Even though he starts with misgivings, in due course, perseverance and sincere effort enable him to develop a strong fervour and piety. Mere show can lead him nowhere. An antidote for lack of devotion is more and more steadfast devotion. With unwavering faith in the Master, devotion unfailingly leads to realization of ‘Nam’– the elixir against all suffering in the world. Soami Ji lays stress on bhakti. There is no other way to realize Him and free the soul forever.10
- Light on Sant Mat, p. 60
- Light on Sant Mat, ltr. 169
- Light on Sant Mat, ltr. 142
- Paltu Sahib ki Bani, Part 1, Kundli 218, in Isaac Ezekiel, Sant Paltu: His Life and Teachings (4th ed. 2009), p. 17
- Q&A with Hazur Maharaj Ji, March 16, 1981
- Q&A with Hazur Maharaj Ji, December 1979
- Spiritual Gems, ltr. 28, p. 55
- Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 2, p. 57
- Spiritual Link magazine, No. 41, Autumn 1989
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, Science of the Soul (2014 ed.), “Excerpts,” #12, p. 97