Why do you worship lifeless stones,
what can they give you, poor soul?
How have you been so misled, fool?
You don’t consider the origin of every place of pilgrimage –
it is the One within.
The One who is worshipped at hundreds of places of pilgrimage –
That Lord lives in your heart.
Your own body is his temple, but you wander everywhere else,
Completely lost, says Dnyaneshwar.1
Wherever we look, in all human cultures across the world and throughout recorded history, we can glean information; we see people performing worship of one sort or another. It seems to be an innate quality of the human species – that we feel a drive to honour the divine to improve ourselves. Often this is tied into the structure of society, and people are expected to take part, even if they are none too sure.
The modern, western world seems to be the exception to this overall trend – most people never even consider taking time out to perform acts of devotion, but just carry on doing what they feel important for their own lives. And then feel empty. Those who do engage in worship, though, are at least sincere in their efforts, which is good.
The forms that worship takes are many and various, often elaborate and sometimes out and out bizarre, so often one of the first things we learn about an unknown culture is their prevalent form of worship. Usually, people go to a special place associated with devotion – and in the case of pilgrimages that can involve a lot of effort, time, expense, and air miles. Once at that place of devotion, there are rules of behaviour (such as removing shoes, wearing or removing hats, speaking in hushed tones, etc.) and usually some ceremonial actions, like ringing a bell, dipping fingers into holy water or bowing down, and most often, an offering or sacrifice.
The details of costume, actions, expectations, and set-up of the devotional space may make those participating feel at home and help them focus their devotional feelings, and may well be entertaining to outsiders, but are they important? Great Master wrote in Philosophy of the Masters:
The [Sanskrit] word puja [worship]… means to serve or praise some higher and sublimer being than one’s self in order to gain spiritual benefit. Nowadays wherever one looks one finds only outer worship prevalent. [All] religions are engaged in outer worship. Churches, gurdwaras, mosques and mandirs are all religious places. In the same way, all religious books deserve to be venerated. But people regard bowing their heads and offering flowers before them as worship.2
Performing ceremonies, or watching a priest or other advocate perform them, and bringing an offering are easy ways to show our devotion, but it is all too easy to get caught up in the outer form and forget the main reason for going to all this trouble. Great Master tells us that the whole point is to gain spiritual benefit – to develop ourselves spiritually, to improve our relationship with the Divine. I think we all start out with that intention, but then all too often find ourselves getting distracted by the tendency of the mind to pull us to the external expression of that devotion, because that is what we are used to.
Even in the satsang hall, we find ourselves pulled to rites and rituals – like the habit of folding hands to the stage when we arrive, of removing shoes, and so on. Each of these start out as a form of showing respect, or helping us to focus the mind, but too often they become empty rituals, devoid of meaning. Obviously, we should be respectful and aim to foster a devotional attitude, but we must be very careful that the mind does not lead us gently into the distraction of thinking our little rituals are important in their own right.
All too often we find that feeling of respect and devotion morphing into piety, which can (ironically) make us feel proud of our levels of devotion and even start to look down on those who do not keep to our “high standards.” Before we know it, we are boasting about how humble we are! It happens automatically if we are not very vigilant, watching out for the subtle tricks of the mind.
Hazur Maharaj Ji reminds us:
All of us try to worship God in the way that we think to be best, for the inclination of the soul is always towards its source. No doubt we do search for God, but when we search, we follow the dictates of our mind. Such worship can never free us from the cycle of births and deaths and can never take us to our true home. Our true home is Sach Khand, the fifth spiritual region, while the domain of the mind extends only up to the second spiritual region. It is only through devotion to the “music of the spheres,” the Word or the Name, that our mind can become pure and reach its own source, thus making it possible for the soul to return to the Lord. Not every form of worship leads to God-realization. 3
As Soami Ji Maharaj writes:
Now that you have been blessed with a human form,
devote yourself to bhakti and burn away your karmas …
Give up apathy, detach yourself from the world,
then prepare and drink the ambrosia of the Name.
Be on your guard against the mind and serve your Master.
Radha Soami has revealed to you the sublime mystery.4
The mind originates from the second spiritual region, but there are many more stages yet, before we reach our final destination, so how can following the urges of the mind ever lead us to the pure spiritual regions? In our day-to-day functioning, we rely on the mind to help us negotiate all our activities, so we imagine that even when it comes to the spiritual the mind will be able to guide us, but it is simply the wrong tool for the job.
Fortunately for us, we have someone with the clarity of vision to help guide us when we do get caught up in these distractions. Our Master spends a lot of his time unpicking the little knots of ceremony we have accidentally tied, which have become a hindrance on our spiritual path. Why did he have to stop us from having bhandaras and tea after satsang? Because they were becoming a distraction from what was important – the actual discourse playing second fiddle to the buffet.
It is a general trend with everybody who wishes to express devotion and find a form of worship, that we start getting led down the garden path by the mind, with its love of variety and entertainment and secret mission to keep us far away from contact with the soul. Where there is no enlightened spiritual master, where we are left to our own devices, we can get very lost indeed – even going to worship of objects with devotional connections only, believing that external ceremonies alone are enough to improve ourselves and gain unity with the Divine, offering sacrifices of material objects – or even, in extreme cases, of other living creatures, in the belief that this will please God.
This is where Dnyaneshwar picks up the theme in his poem. It is quite common for people to make statues to worship, or even special stones believed to have some spiritual power or influence. He says:
Why do you worship lifeless stones?
What can they give you, poor soul?
How have you been so misled, fool?
No matter how pretty the painting of the stone or statue, or how well we decorate it, or how nice the niche or plinth we place it in or on, it remains a stone. It can’t even breathe or move, so why are we, humans – the top of creation – giving it our time and attention? The most we can hope to gain is a focal point for our devotion, but quite often people believe their wishes can be fulfilled and problems solved by the stone. We really are kidding ourselves.
You don’t consider the origin of every place of pilgrimage –
it is the One within.
The One who is worshipped at hundreds of places of pilgrimage –
That Lord lives in your heart.
When we visit religious sites, be they churches, temples, or even holy glades or rivers, they are only made special by our sense of devotion, by the fact that the Lord is within us and we have brought Him with us, as it were. Without the presence of devotees, that place is no more holy than the car park at the supermarket. By letting ourselves get caught up in the external form – the nice site, the history, the resident holy men or ladies – we are moving away from the place we can really find God – within our own hearts.
There is a nice little point here that Dnyaneshwar slips in – that all different sites of pilgrimage, whatever the religious background – are all dedicated to the same one Lord. When it comes to devotion, there are no distinctions between race, culture, caste or religion, because all souls are equal, all perfect tiny replicas of that same Lord. Our mind creates that sense of distinction, of difference, because it loves to divide and categorize to understand things, and maybe, also to make us feel superior, which is clearly not in the best interests of the soul. The poem continues:
Your own body is his temple,
but you wander everywhere else,
completely lost, says Dnyaneshwar.
And he is not on his own when he describes the body as the Lord’s true temple. In the Bible we read:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple
and that God’s spirit dwells in you?...
for God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.5
In the same vein, Sant Tulsi Sahib wrote:
Cleanse the sanctuary of your heart to welcome the Beloved.
Remove your attention from all else to make room for him
to be seated within.
Look with your mind’s eye at all the drama
that takes place around you –
so many captivating scenes to torment your heart!
One heart, with countless desires,
yet it continues to lust after even more.
Where then is there room to seat the Beloved?
What a great pity!
He who dwells in the natural mosque of the body
visits artificial temples and mosques, only to suffer in misery.
Within the arch of the natural Ka’bah, listen with rapt attention:
a voice resounds from your original abode,
calling you back home.
Why do you stumble and wander about in search of the Friend?6
Hazur Maharaj Ji commented on this poem saying:
Where do we try to seek God, the fountainhead of the soul and source of all energy? We seek him in the stone mosques and earthen temples which we build with our own hands. How absurd it is that instead of searching for God in the temple that He himself made for His residence in this world, we try to find Him in the houses which we build with bricks and stones.
The human body is the temple of God, and He dwells within it. Christ, Guru Nanak, Mohammed, and the founders of all religions agree on this point. But, ignoring their clear dictum – “The kingdom of God is within you” – we try to find it in churches, mosques and temples.7
So in this hymn, Tulsi Sahib is saying to Taqi, concerning his visit to Mecca, that the real Ka’aba is within us and this forehead of ours is its arch. Concentrate your thoughts between your eyebrows and listen intently in the centre of this arch. You will hear a sweet melody, which flows from the highest heaven. This celestial music is resounding within the body of every human being, no matter which race, religion or country he may belong to. This voice of God constantly calls us towards itself.
As the Maharashtrian mystic Tukaram wrote:
The Lord has built a house, a house as small as a sesame seed,
and He dwells within.
This house is as small as an atom, but it is filled with light.
That focus as small as a sesame seed contains the three worlds.
The form of the Lord comes and goes in that focus.
This focus, says Tuka, is filled with three worlds.8
Here Tukaram is referring to the eye centre, here in the forehead, which is the tiny point of focus that we try to settle on when meditating. It is described as being as small as a sesame seed or an atom, to emphasize how one-pointed our concentration needs to be to gain access, and yet it is filled with light and contains the three worlds.
How? Because this is the spiritual departure lounge. It is from here that our soul and mind gather together and take off out of the physical plane to access the astral and higher. The rules of physics, that we have learnt in order to stay safe in the world of time and space, no longer apply. We have left the physical and are in a whole other kind of environment, where we have access to universes beyond our imagination and, even better, we can meet the Lord in His own home or temple.
When we talk of worship in the normal sense, there always seems to me to be a feeling of duty and sacrifice. As if it is something we have to do, even if we don’t particularly want to. We have to give something up, go along with whatever is required of us, for some far-off gain, or even just to try to ward off some sort of harm. Most uninspiring!
What if there was a form of worship that demands minimal sacrifice and is joyful and fulfilling?
This is exactly the sort of worship that Tukaram is describing. We enter the Lord’s temple by concentrating within ourselves, where we gain access to the light, music, love and supreme contentment that comes from contact with the Shabd, or Word of God within. In reality it is all around us, all the time – the universe is made of it and derives energy from it, but we are pulled outwards by the mind’s obsession with what the senses have to show us and cannot see, hear or feel it.
When we meditate, we start to gather back all the dissipated strands of attention, so that we can sit, poised and still at the eye centre. Then we refocus away from the world and begin to perceive and understand the power behind it, that creative force we call Shabd, Nam, Word, or Spirit of God. And that is real worship.
It is a joyful process, immediately rewarding, purifying and fulfilling. We learn that we are beloved children, that the Lord was always waiting and longing for us to return here, where we belong. Why would we choose to be anywhere else? Why would we choose to do the humdrum mind-led external worship that is nowhere near as enjoyable? As Great Master wrote:
The Lord is the basic substance or essence of all forms and of the formless. How can we worship Him? The Lord as the Shabd or Name pervades the whole of the universe. Name and Shabd are the Lord, and worship of them is worship of Him. The Saints teach that real worship consists of remembrance and repetition of the Name of the Lord.9
Our true worship is simply remembrance, and the repetition given by the Master at the time of initiation, that teaches us how to refocus and hence to encounter the Shabd within. The Shabd is the Lord’s dynamic creative form within the universe and so provides us an interface, which we can learn to love and worship.
Such worship does demand sacrifice – mainly of our time, the 2½ hours we promise to dedicate daily to the meditation practice. We also have a sacrifice of devotion – we learn to turn away from the old obsessions and attachments. We have to mould ourselves into disciples, learn to live in devotion, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Part of this devotion is to follow those three other vows we commit to when we receive initiation – firstly, to eat only lacto-vegetarian food, avoiding anything to do with meat, fish or eggs. Secondly, to avoid substances that agitate and confuse the mind – alcohol and mind-altering drugs and those that create addiction, such as tobacco, because we are meant to be free as a bird, to come and go in the spiritual realms. Thirdly, we try to live a life of high moral standards, making ourselves fit to be the Lord’s own disciple. If we remember Tulsi Sahib – “Cleanse the sanctuary of your heart to welcome the Beloved” – well, this is how we do that.
Live clean, learn to behave with purity of thought, word and deed, and keep the damage we do to innocent creatures around us to an absolute minimum. Then we are on our way to becoming a true disciple.
However, there is more still that we need. Many a devoted soul seeking God has taken on vegetarianism, kept away from mind-altering substances, and lived the most exemplary lives. They have dedicated themselves to worship, devotion and meditation, sometimes giving up all contact with family and friends, living in monasteries or distant forests, but have failed to find liberation of the soul. There is one vital ingredient missing from the recipe – the living spiritual master.
Without him we are trying to make bread without adding yeast – that living ingredient without which the dough will not rise – will just be a lump of wet flour. Shabd is our interface in the universe with the Lord, but it, of itself, is hidden to us and totally unknown to most people, even to those who have studied their holy books. The keeper of the secret, and our first encounter with Shabd, is the Master – it is he who sets us straight, cutting through the nonsense generated by the mind, who gives us clear and simple instructions on how to approach life for the maximum spiritual benefit.
And, most vitally, it is he who takes on responsibility for the soul, uprooting it from its toe-hold on the cliff of the world and planting it in his own luxurious nursery, where it can thrive and grow properly, tended and nurtured by him. He teaches us the proper method of meditation, and then gives us the pass key that will unlock the doors to the spiritual realms beyond.
He is our focus for dedication and devotion, one who is fully aware of his inner reality as soul, as part of the Lord, reunited and complete. He lives here on earth with us so we can see how he lives, ask him our questions, resolve our doubts and thoroughly fall in love. It is vital that we nurture our relationship with the master, because we need that anchor for our souls in this stormy world.
God is love, so our main job as disciples is to develop love, to live it in our lives, diving deep into the ocean of love, and that starts with love for the master. We change our lifestyle because he asked us to, we meditate to please him, we look for him when we try to focus. Eventually, our dedication to the physical form matures into love for the Shabd form of our master, but the relationship with the physical is absolutely essential.
Only through the form of worship that the Lord recommends do we develop that relationship – meditation. Master asks us to put in the time – love and devotion will make that time more powerful, but even if we don’t feel that love, we still need to give the time. Like any skill, it will take time and practice for our meditation to mature, but only by putting in the time will we be rewarded with love, which improves the meditation, which brings us more love – and so on.
Step by tiny step, one atom at a time, we learn to discipline the mind, to teach it to settle and focus within at the time of meditation, so we can clear the muddy waters of the mind and finally see clearly. We are spring-cleaning our hearts, our inner selves; the accumulated filth of millennia of wasted lives is in there, so we cannot expect it to be a quick and easy job. There is no value in putting off this most vital work, even if it is difficult initially.
If we have been accepted by the master and given the pass key to the Divine, we have a golden opportunity and we need to roll up our sleeves, put on our overalls and get down to working on cleaning and sorting out the mind. Every second we dedicate to this work will be generously rewarded by our master, well out of proportion to the effort we have made. We stand to gain access to the hidden heart of the universe and the expressway back to the Lord – the Shabd. This is our worship, within the temple of the human body, as recommended by the Lord himself.
Niloba, a Maharastrian saint, described what we see when we finally manage to settle out the detritus of the mind:
Astounding, this light, so different –
even with eyes closed you see it.
It was never lit, nor does it ever go out –
the luminous soul makes it shine eternally.
No colour, yet all colours, this light is illumined by life itself.
Nila says, Today God, in his grace, used my offering
of the lamp of devotion
simply as an excuse to let me experience this light.10
We are so blessed to be who we are – life may be tough, may not be going the way we hoped, but actually, the most important things are exactly where we need them to be. We inhabit the human form, we have the opportunity to consider the Lord, and we have been accepted into the VIP lounge of contact with a true spiritual master. Now we need to make the most of every moment of our charmed lives to worship the Lord, to sort out the mind, and to spend as much time in the presence of the Shabd as we can, through our meditation.
Then we leave the rest to Him.
Prepare to be astonished by grace!
- Many Voices, One Song, p. 243.
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 3, p. 31.
- Maharaj Charan Singh, The Path, p.113.
- Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Poetry (Bachan 15, Shabd 10), p. 145.
- Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:16–17.
- Tulsi Sahib, Sant Bani, 44–45 in Tulsi Sahib: Saint of Hathras, p. 230.
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Sant Mat, p. 51.
- Many Voices, One Song, p. 67.
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 3, p. 35.
- Many Voices, One Song, p. 240.