Living the Vertical Life
We all remember the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” The somewhat humorous answer is “to get to the other side.”
There is a cartoon labeled “Chicken Poetry Reading” which gives us a different slant on this question. In the cartoon, a wise chicken is reading the following poem:
The Crossing is within.
There is no other side.
In this simple poem the chicken has described some of the fundamental teachings of the saints.
The saints tell us that everything we seek in order to attain lasting happiness, everything we seek to obtain true knowledge, everything we seek to obtain peace and bliss, and everything we seek to obtain God-realization lies within us.
Yet we seek these things on the other side of the road. We spend our whole lives thinking that what we need is on the other side of the road. The grass is always greener. This new job, this new car, this new house, this new person, this new treatment, this new investment will make us happy. Yet cars break down, work makes us tense, houses fall into disrepair, investments go up and down. We spend our lives crossing roads in search of fulfillment and happiness only to find disappointment. Yet all along, true happiness is waiting within.
Look at the example of our isolation during Covid. We missed our friends, we missed our co-workers, we could not go to the movies, we felt isolated. Over time, we realized how peaceful it was to remain at home. We were able to spend more time in meditation, we had Question-and-Answer sessions, we avoided the traffic and fuss of the daily grind. So when things opened up, we were suddenly miserable that we had to commute in traffic. We were back to all the distractions and conflicts. We missed going out and then we missed being able to stay at home.
This is like everything in life. We want it, we get it, we don’t want it.
We spend our time living a horizontal life, crossing roads instead of travelling on the road that will lead us to happiness. Our chicken poet tells us that the only crossing that is worthwhile is within and that is the crossing from the world of illusion to the world of reality.
The saints teach us to live a vertical life. The horizontal life is chasing after the illusions of this world. The vertical life is the inner road. The horizontal life is paved with illusion. The vertical life is paved with truth. The horizontal life takes us away from the Lord. The vertical life takes us toward the Lord. The inner road protects us, while the outer roads subject us to all kinds of travails.
The quarantine during Covid provides us with another interesting analogy. In March of 2020 Baba Ji sent us all a message:
We need to stand with all our brothers and sisters at this crucial time and show our support and sensitivity by fulfilling our social responsibilities. Therefore all are requested to comply and follow the directions to stay where they reside. Please exercise extreme caution where your health is concerned and refrain from any travel that is not absolutely necessary.
Let us take the liberty to analyze these instructions. The Master tells us the human birth is a “crucial time” in which we can fulfill our “spiritual responsibilities.” He tells us to follow his directions and stay inside the walls of his teachings. He always tells us to exercise extreme caution with regard to our spiritual health. Don’t venture out into the trappings of the mind, the trappings of the world. Just do what is absolutely necessary. Live simply and stay within.
The pity is that what we see, we are not supposed to love and what we don’t see, we are supposed to love. What we see does not exist, what we don’t see really exists and that is the whole tragedy of our love. So we have to love Him who we don’t see at all and who is everywhere. All that we see will perish; nothing is real.1
Truth and inner peace will never be found on the horizon because one can never get there. So instead, climb the ladder that is within us to reach that place which never moves further away.
The saints teach us that the inner road is paved with Shabd. Shabd is energy that sustains the creation and, more importantly, it is the manifestation of God within.
Yet, we are running in circles, trapped by the gravitational pull of the mind. In addition, we are burdened by our past karma and, through improper actions, we perpetually add to this karmic load. If we do not account for these karmas, we are subject to reincarnation.
But not to worry. When one meets a saint, a living Master, a God-realized being, he boots us out of the orbit of our mind, gives us the tools to overcome the laws of karma and reincarnation, and provides the fuel that propels us higher. When we practice the path of Surat Shabd Yoga, we cease to be travelling horizontally through life and instead travel within.
The saints teach us to stop doing the things that bind us to the world and start doing the things that free us. This is simply put in the four vows we take at the time we are initiated by a saint. We agree to become vegetarian, to abstain from alcohol and drugs, and to live a moral and ethical life. With the fourth vow, we agree to meditate for 2 ½ hours each day. Eliminate the horizontal and do the vertical. Abstain from bad actions and embrace the good action: meditation.
In this practice of meditation we travel on the inner road step by step with each repetition of the five holy names and with each minute that we spend listening for and eventually to the Shabd – also known as the audible life stream, Word or Logos.
As mentioned, the saints give us the tools to overcome our karmic load. As we listen to the videos of Baba Ji’s questions and answers we again and again hear the plea to get release from lifetimes of past karmas. The answer always seems to be that this is only done through our simran and bhajan, which requires us to put in our promised time each day. As Hazur said:
Since all types of karmas have to be cleared before you can escape from this realm of Kal, and destiny you can not change, the saints advise that if you meditate and live according to the principles of the spiritual path your willpower becomes very strong and you are not affected by those fate karmas.2
It sounds so easy – quit running around chasing after the mirage of happiness across the road and instead sit in meditation, ascend the inner road, and reach unconditional happiness.
Do we put in our full time? Do we focus on the simran or do we chase one thought after another? Have we given our priority to so many things that we do not have time for meditation? Are we still falling victim to the five plagues – lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride?
Sultan Bahu said:
Only the mind that works in harmony with my spirit
can be my friend.
Only the person who has so tamed his mind
can realize the Name of God.
This same mind forces the abstinent and the devout
to grovel before greed and temptation.
Tough is the path to God, O Bahu –
it is not a cup of your mother’s pudding.3
Beset by the maladies of the mind, we tell ourselves, “First I have to overcome my bad thoughts, control my desires, then I can meditate.” Indeed one of the biggest mistakes we make is thinking that we can overcome our bad actions and desires with our will power and, once done, we can meditate. No, no, no. It is meditation that releases us from bad actions. It is only meditation that can tame the mind. Not the other way around. The more we meditate, the more our worldly desires dissipate.
Hazur responded to a question:
Instead of worrying about or eliminating that thought, attach yourself to the sound within and you will automatically rise above the thought. It’s very difficult to eliminate thoughts one by one. It’s impossible. But when we attach ourselves to the Shabd and Nam within, all these thoughts are automatically eliminated. Instead of cursing the darkness, we should light a candle.4
So, little chickens, quit crossing the road; there is no other side. Practice your meditation. The road is within.
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, Q # 509
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Q # 65
- Sultan Bahu, p. 230
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Q# 402