The Spiritual Journey: Balance, Discipline and Responsibility
This life is a journey – a journey not from place to place, but from one level of consciousness to another. We are travelling from the finite to the infinite.
And, as with any other journey, we will pass through different stages as we move towards our destination. Take the metaphor of an automobile journey, for example. We may encounter heavy rain in one place, so we’ll have to pull over till it stops. We may have a flat tire, so we have to stop and change it. Or we may have really clear weather, and even find someone to help us drive – that phase of the journey will get easier. The point is that on the spiritual journey, like any other journey, we will encounter obstacles and maybe even detours. But the main thing is that we shouldn’t give up.
We need to keep moving towards our destination. As Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh once said: “We have only one future: to return to the Father.”1 So let us not miss this opportunity. We may not get the human form so easily again.
Hazur often said that every step we take towards the Lord is a positive step. If we take just one step towards him, he will take one hundred steps towards us. And we need to make a commitment, a mental resolve, to do whatever is necessary to reach our destination. We have to understand what will take us in the direction we wish to go, and we have to set priorities for the way we live. We have to use our sense of discrimination with every action.
Our first step is to find someone to guide us – a teacher, a spiritual Master. Someone we can trust, whom we can respect and emulate, who has our best interest at heart. Someone who teaches a practical method that starts from our human level and takes us to the experience of the divine. And that person is the Master, who guides us and accompanies us on this ultimate life journey. He takes our hand when we lose confidence, and reassures us that we are on the right track. In that sense he is our best friend.
All mystics have emphasized the need for a Master. Some have called him a jewel, a priceless treasure. The seventeenth-century woman saint, Bahinabai, wrote:
Being with a master leads
the mind to detachment
and the heart to tranquillity.
A master is the noblest jewel of all.
The company of your master
will imprint in your being
both worldly and divine knowledge,
and bliss will be yours right here.
Those who know the value
of being with the mystics, says Bahina,
are the true lovers.2
So the true mystic wants to raise his disciples to his level. He doesn’t want them to worship him; rather he teaches them to explore their own spiritual potential, how to enrich their lives and live as true human beings. He teaches the true method of worshipping the Lord, which will transform us spiritually.
Christ said: “Ye are gods.”3 This means that the Master is not the only one who can experience God within himself – we can all rise to that level of holiness. We just need to raise our level of consciousness. The Master often says that he is no different from any of us; it’s only the level of realization that differs.
The mystics say that within us, there is a divine power that is the essence of all life. In the Bible this power is called the creative Word of God; Indian mystics call it the Shabd, meaning the Word or unspoken Sound – it is the flow of the divine will, the power of love. This eternal divine reality manifests within us as spiritual sound and light. Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh guru, said:
Pure is the Word, pure is the holy Sound,
and pure is the Light that permeates all hearts.4
In the Gospel of John it says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”5 This entire creation was projected by God through this divine power. This power gives life to everything. It pre-existed the creation and will continue to exist eternally, even if the creation should end. It is the life in the smallest molecule of a one-celled bacteria. and it is the power that holds the vast cosmos together. It is the power of love, the primal expression of God.
So the spiritual Master teaches us a method of meditation that will allow us to control our minds. Once the mind is brought under control through our repetition practice, we can catch hold of the divine reality of Shabd, the Word of God. Our level of consciousness rises and we become aware of the divine reality within.
We might ask why we don’t feel God’s presence all the time. Why don’t we see the inner light and hear the beautiful spiritual melody, if they are so intrinsic to our nature? The reason is that we are focused on ourselves, and not on God. We ruminate over our jobs, our families, our problems, desires, and so forth. We feel separate from God because we are wrapped up in everything else. We are out of touch with our true spiritual nature. And everything we do or think during the day that immerses us in the world around us reinforces that sense of separation, although in reality we are not separate. It is our ego, our mind, that creates this illusion of separateness, and we are under its spell.
And that is why we need to find the spiritual Master – to learn the method of meditation and the disciplined way of living that will liberate us from this illusion of separation and that will create the foundation for our spiritual journey. This way of life is embodied in four vows which we commit ourselves to following:
First is the vegetarian diet – we agree not to kill animals or have them killed for us. We don’t eat meat, fish or eggs or anything containing them. We want to cultivate a compassionate nature and minimize the great debt that accrues from killing animals.
The second vow is to avoid alcoholic drinks and recreational drugs. We know the effect of indulgence in these substances. The goal of our life is spiritual realization, for which we need clarity of mind. These substances scatter our mind and retard our spiritual progress. They warp our sense of values, to the point where we can’t discriminate between right and wrong. They hinder our ability to focus our minds in meditation.
The third vow is all-encompassing – it is to live an ethical and moral life. We must be objective. We have to weigh our actions to see if they will lead us in the direction we want to go. We have to be honest and straightforward in every respect; earn our own living and not be a burden on others. We need to be kind, loving, and forgiving. And we need to be chaste in both mind and body – keeping our actions and thoughts pure and uplifting. In short, we have to reflect the values that a spiritual way of life embodies.
A philosopher once said that self-respect comes from the ability to say no to ourselves – in other words, to maintain a discipline and strengthen our inner core. And that is what these vows do for us. They are actually a gift, not a burden – they are the doorway to eternal freedom.
The fourth vow is that we will meditate for two and a half hours a day. We need to cleanse our mind of all negativity and put it on a positive track. Our meditation will do this. It will give us strength to change our approach to life.
Tulsi Sahib, an Indian saint of the nineteenth century, advises us:
Cleanse the chamber of your heart
for the coming of your Beloved.6
Cleansing the sanctuary of our heart means attending to our meditation – our simran, the inner repetition practice taught at initiation, and bhajan, listening to the inner spiritual Sound that is always reverberating within us. In this way we will cleanse ourselves of our negative tendencies, of our ego, and our impure thoughts. We will make our heart and mind a suitable residence for the holy spirit, the Lord, who is our Beloved.
Our task is to plunge into our meditation with a clear sense of purpose – with total commitment and dedication. We know that if we want to succeed in anything, we have to give it our wholehearted attention. We have to make an honest effort. As with anything else, practice makes perfect – we have to continue to make effort – and then make more effort. The Master says we shouldn’t be concerned with results, we should just keep focusing on our efforts.
Concentration is the key to our practice. In order to concentrate on our repetition practice during our meditation, we need to keep a spiritual perspective while living in the world. We can’t expect to let ourselves get over-involved in every activity, and then be able to bring our attention within, in the morning, when we sit for meditation. We need to protect our energy and nurture the still place within us. So although we have duties to attend to during our daily lives, we need to keep focused on our spiritual priority all the while. ‘Hand in task, mind in God,’ is the old saying. We have to maintain our focus and balance during the day. A Chinese mystic once wrote:
Outwardly go with the flow, while inwardly keeping your true nature. Then your eyes and ears will not be dazzled, and your thoughts will not be confused, while the spirit within you will expand greatly to roam in the realms of absolute purity.7
We should live in the world like a duck in water – it sits on top of the water, but never gets wet. We need to sit on the edge of life and not fall in, to go through life and not become immersed. Eknath, a Maharashtrian mystic of the sixteenth century, sang:
Whether the body be
motionless in meditation
or moving in the thick of life,
let the mind stay in the middle,
forever still, pure and free 8
Here is an interesting story that illustrates this point:
There once was a king who was very devoted to God. A spiritual seeker was advised to get enlightenment from him. But when the man saw the luxurious palace where the king lived, he lost faith. He thought: How can someone surrounded by all this luxury and enjoying so much status be spiritually advanced? How can he give me enlightenment? So the king, reading the man’s thoughts, gave him a task. He told his courtiers to take the man on a walk through town, where a big festival was going on. But there was one condition. The man had to keep a pitcher of milk on his head. If just one drop would spill, the attendants were instructed to cut off his head.
Needless to say, when the man walked through town, his mind was always on the pitcher of milk sitting on his head, and he saw nothing of the celebrations or the festival. When he returned to the palace, the king asked him how he had enjoyed himself. The man said, I was so frightened of spilling a drop of milk that I saw nothing around me. I now understand how it’s possible for you to be surrounded by wealth and status, yet keep yourself humble before God – how it’s possible to have all these people bowing before you, yet still remain unaffected.
So, whether we are undergoing suffering and hardship, or living a life of luxury and ease, we have to keep our minds on God and detached from our outer circumstances. Our regular meditation itself will keep us from getting too involved and dragged down by the world. While keeping our minds positive during the day, and doing our simran whenever possible, we need to attend to our meditation regularly in order to create the structure and envrionment for our daily life. Hazur Maharaj Ji once said:
If you are tied to a strong chain, you can move only within a limited area. So if we are tied to our meditation every day, no matter how much we’re involved in other things, we will always remain within the circle. … If the chain is broken, then of course you are absolutely gone, you’re involved. So the chain of meditation should not be broken. Meditation must be attended to every day, and then no matter how much you try to involve yourself in other activities, you’ll never be allowed to go astray at all. You’ll never be allowed to get involved so much that you forget your real path, because your chain is very strong.9
It is true that sometimes we get lulled into a kind of complacency. We’ve been on the path for a while – we used to make effort – but now we’re coasting along. Maybe we’ve stopped reading the Sant Mat books at home, maybe we don’t go to satsang that often. We get up later and later in the morning. We lose the sense of urgency, the awareness that this life will end one day – we don’t know when – it could be in ten years or ten minutes. We don’t really believe the end could be near.
The Master often tells us we need to develop spiritual maturity. What does this mean? Spiritual maturity means that we are realistic, that we begin our journey from where we are and don’t get stuck in fantasies or illusions. That we understand our weaknesses and strengths, and take steps to overcome our weaknesses and build on our strengths. That we understand our priorities and take practical steps to live accordingly.
Inevitably we will face numerous obstacles – outright rebelliousness, laziness, discouragement, or simply bad habits. We can’t blame any outside power – not Kal, not the negative power, not the devil. Sometimes we say the mind made me do that, as if the mind were an independent entity that had this power over us. But the mind is us! We are doing it; we have the bad habits; we are lazy. It’s high time we recognized this.
Flip Wilson was a famous American comedian. He created a character named Geraldine. Geraldine would always blame the devil for her weaknesses. “I didn’t want to buy that dress – I have so many dresses in my closet. I didn’t want that red dress, but the devil made me buy it.” ‘The devil made me do it’ has become a familiar refrain. As someone once remarked: I don’t need the devil to make me sin; I do a good enough job myself! Wilson really captured our tendency to avoid responsibility for our actions and thoughts. So we need not blame Kal for our missteps and misfortunes. We have to take responsibility ourselves.
Our duty to do our meditation is something we have to take seriously. We have to do it whether we feel inspired and motivated, or not; whether we are sick or healthy. As we get older we have to expect aches and pains, even serious illnesses, and possibly lessening mental concentration. This goes with the territory, so to speak, the territory of being in a human body. So we should expect to go through various moods and levels of enthusiasm. The point is not to get discouraged, but to keep on keeping on. We should keep our goal foremost in mind and continue moving forward.
And let us not indulge in self-pity. Everyone has weaknesses – that is why we’re here in this world – but the Master sees our potential. He always says that we should try to strengthen our positive qualities rather than dwell on our weaknesses. He often uses the image of diluting red dye in water. You can’t take the dye out of the water, but by adding more and more water, the colour of the water gets lighter and lighter, until it gets absolutely clear. This example shows that the best way to get rid of the negative is to dilute it with the good, with the positive.
And we shouldn’t get discouraged even if we go astray. We can always return to the Master’s teachings. The Lord is all forgiveness. The Shabd is love. We just need to take one positive step and the Master will take those one hundred steps towards us. Hazur Maharaj Ji used to emphasize that if we stick with, or return to, our meditation, we will get the strength to overcome our weaknesses.
And it doesn’t matter if our mind behaves in meditation. We just need to keep doing it. “All the time you spend struggling with the mind during the course of your meditation is itself a meditation,”10 said Hazur Maharaj Ji.
This path is about developing our full potential as human beings. Right now we’re probably only using five or ten per cent of our potential. But by following these few simple vows and practicing our meditation, we can make ourselves receptive to the grace that is flowing all the time. Discipline and a sense of purpose have to form the basis of our daily life.
Let us end with some advice from Hazur Maharaj Ji:
Whatever you do, keep your destination and purpose in view. Keep your home in view and try to achieve it. Do not forget your destination. Do not forget the purpose of human birth. We should always keep that in view. Work in this world, live in this world and enjoy yourself in this world, but never forget that destination nor leave the path we have to tread in order to get there.
Where we want to go – that goal should always be there in front of us. Keeping that goal in view, going towards that goal, do not become a slave of worldly achievements and forget your real home. That is the only thing I can say.11
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, p.200
- Bahinabai in Many Voices, One Song, p.85
- King James Bible, Psalms 82:6
- Guru Amardas quoted in Jap Ji, A Perspective, p.197
- King James Bible, John 1:1
- Tulsi Sahib, Santon ki Bani, Gazal, p. 275, in Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II, p.140
- Huainanzu, tr. Thomas Cleary, in Taoism Reader, p. 29
- Eknath in Many Voices, One Song, p.9
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, p.165
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, p.112
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, p.441