Who would have imagined, on New Year’s Day of 2019, that we would close most of our Satsang centres not for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but for over two years? It is a sacrifice that we have made in order to protect one another – especially the most vulnerable – and particularly the elderly and those with certain illnesses.
During this time, so many people have made sacrifices for the well-being of others. We feel gratitude for the first responders, the doctors, nurses, and paramedics, who have given so much – going beyond their normal duties to care for the sick; and for the scientists who worked tirelessly day and night to develop vaccines and treatments. And then there are the other essential workers who ensure that we have access to food and medicines and the other necessities of life.
During this time, most of us have gone without attending large special events like weddings and other celebrations, and not even memorials for the loved ones we have lost. We have avoided close contact with others – even our dear friends. We have not traveled and have especially missed our visits to the Dera.
So, what do we understand about the word “sacrifice” – what does it mean?
As a verb, it means "the act of giving up a desirable thing for a higher purpose,” and as a noun it means "something given up for the sake of another." The word sacrifice comes from the idea of doing something sacred, something holy.
Let us discuss this idea of “sacrifice” in the context of Sant Mat, the teachings of the saints. In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh is asked: In order to reach the Radiant Form, what kind of sacrifice is necessary in this worldly life? And Hazur Maharaj Ji responds:
Well, sister, the question is withdrawing your consciousness to the eye centre and attaching yourself to the Shabd within. That is the only sacrifice we have to make…The main thing is that we should attend to our meditation and not compromise the principles of Sant Mat. As Christ said, if you build on sand, when a rainstorm comes, the house will fall. If you build on rock, a rainstorm won’t move it. So the foundation has to be strong. In order to hold up this ceiling and roof, you can imagine how strong the foundation is. If the foundation were weak, you and I couldn’t sit under this roof at all. So similarly, we have to build a strong foundation for building our treasure in heaven.1
So he is telling us that we have to attach ourselves to the Shabd – the sound current – which is the active presence of the Creator in the Creation. Through the Shabd we will return to our true home – Sach Khand, the highest spiritual region. Maharaj Ji is also telling us that staying true to the principles of Sant Mat is essential. As he says, living in accordance with the principles of Sant Mat – that is the foundation for our spiritual life. And for some of us, at least at the beginning of our journey on this path of Sant Mat, there are some sacrifices that we must make in order to follow this way of life.
The saints and mystics teach us not to kill animals for food. They teach that every single living being is ‘part and parcel’ of the Creator. They also explain that a heavy karmic debt is incurred when we eat non-vegetarian food. Hazur Maharaj Ji used to give the following example: If we pluck a flower from a neighbour’s garden we might be scolded; but if we injure or kill an animal that belongs to that neighbour, the punishment will be much worse. Hazur Maharaj Ji would sometimes explain the line from the Bible – “Love your neighbour as yourself.” He used to say that everyone, every living creature, is our neighbour. If we have been in the habit – some of us from childhood – of eating animals – meat, fish, eggs – and if there are some of those foods that we have enjoyed, then we may at first think it is a ‘sacrifice’ to become vegetarian. But what often happens is that after a while, it’s as if our hearts have grown two sizes larger, because we begin to feel more and more connected to all living creatures. When we see the geese in the park, or a seal in the ocean, or a calf or lamb in the field, we feel a relationship with them, we recognize them as living souls, we have a kinship with them. We discover that adhering to a vegetarian diet becomes a real joy – a way of life that we cannot imagine giving up. Adopting a way of eating that we thought at first would be so difficult, what we thought would be a big sacrifice, turns out to be a precious gift from the Master.
True masters, genuine spiritual teachers, also tell us that we must abstain from alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and drugs taken for enjoyment or to induce so-called spiritual experiences. And again, at the beginning of our spiritual journey, we may feel that giving these up is another ‘sacrifice’ that we must make. However, as we follow the teachings and live in accordance with the principles of Sant Mat, we often discover that we aren’t abstaining from ‘fun.’ We aren’t actually missing out at all. We discover that just going for a walk in the forest or on the seashore gives us a joyful, natural experience – which no drink or drug can approximate. Then, of course, there is the special kind of joy that comes when we have the opportunity to be in the presence of the Master. No drug or drink can begin to compare.
Scientists have also discovered that simple physical exercise often works better for depression than any of the medications. Then of course there are the health benefits. Doctors have told us for decades about the damage caused by smoking, and a recent study found that drinking alcohol causes shrinkage of the brain – in other words, aging of the brain. So once again, what may have seemed like a sacrifice – giving up something we thought was enjoyable – turns out to be another gift from the Master.
On this path, the third vow or promise that we make is to live an honest, ethical, moral life. As Baba Ji frequently reminds us, we need to do our best to become “good human beings.”
This may sound simple – but it is huge – it encompasses every part of our lives. If we research how to be a “good human being,” we will find that it includes being honest in all one’s dealings – with individuals, with society, with the government. A good person is kind, reliable, compassionate, generous, humble, courteous, unselfish, tolerant, forgiving, not given to anger or hatred, not someone who gossips and speaks ill of others – and the list goes on. It is truly the work of a lifetime, and we will let ourselves down from time to time. But what a wonderful project it is – to aspire to goodness and consciously and regularly work on improving ourselves. Once again, what are we actually giving up, what are we sacrificing, when we commit to this work? Whenever we ‘do the right thing’ rather than the wrong thing – doesn’t it feel great?
Now, the final vow or promise that we make is to do our meditation practice every day for two and one-half hours. We do have to give up some other activities in order to make time for our daily spiritual practice. Mostly, if we are honest with ourselves, we need to give up some of our leisure activities, even our time-wasting activities – watching television or YouTube, looking at Facebook, playing video games, or reading tweets. The Masters tell us that there is plenty of time in the day – enough for a good night’s sleep, our meals, our work, our family commitments, and ample time for our meditation. We simply need to make time to sit. Hazur Maharaj Ji said:
Well, sister, the time we give to meditation is a sacrifice. And we have to abstain from society so that we can give our time, adjust our time for meditation. We shun certain company which we don’t relish anymore, which distracts us from the Father, which pulls us, which is slippery. This is the type of sacrifice we have to make.2
He is telling us here that we need to make the time – and give up some things to make the time. He also explains that we need to be more aware of the influence that some people may have on us – those who encourage us to have “just one bite” of a food that we have made a promise not to eat, or a little sip of an alcoholic drink, or a smoke – “it’s so good”– after all, they may say, or “one won’t hurt.” Some people might tell us “you’re no fun anymore” – “you bring the party down,” and the like. Maharaj Ji explains that we come to understand that we just don’t enjoy spending time in situations and with people that, whether intentionally or not, are trying to pull us away from our new way of life. And once again, as we establish our new habits and step away from the old ones, the result, so often, is that we feel lighter, more joyful, more at peace, more balanced. It turns out that we are actually happier than we were “in the old days” – before we came to this path.
If we want to meditate in the morning, we have to get a good night’s sleep, which means we need to go to bed earlier, which means turning off the TV or the gaming system, or not staying out as late with friends or family. The Masters tell us that we aren’t meant to sacrifice sleep – we need sleep, and if we don’t get it, our attention is likely to drop down into sleep during our meditation time. But we do need to cut back on other activities – those that actually aren’t important. Once again, this can seem like a sacrifice. And just sitting quietly, trying to do our meditation – that may feel so hard. The Masters tell us to make our daily meditation a habit – something we do every single day. Eventually, once we develop that habit of regular meditation, we will begin to realize that even though it may seem that we are making no progress – even though the mind jumps from thought to thought like a little monkey and we have to keep trying to bring it back to the eye centre with our simran, our repetition – still we wouldn’t give it up for anything. It will become a part of our lives, fundamental to who we are, and we will no longer feel that we are making a sacrifice – meditation will become a cornerstone of each day.
Through these teachings, we learn about who we are and where we are, and where we truly belong – in the home of the soul – Sach Khand, the highest spiritual region. The saints and mystics teach us that within every living being is a soul, and that soul is ‘part and parcel’ of the Creator. The soul has become a prisoner of the mind and the body – the senses. We ourselves, by our own actions, have forged the chains that bind us here in this creation – it is the law of karma – as we sow, so shall we reap.
There is a consequence to everything we do – and good actions will result in good results – our circumstances of life will improve. On the other hand, negative actions will inevitably cause us future misery. But neither good nor bad actions will free the soul. This creation is essentially a vast prison into which we are born again and again, in different bodies, even in different species, in accordance with our actions over many, many – incalculable –previous lives. Our soul longs to return to our true home in the highest spiritual region and merge back into our Creator. But we cannot free ourselves. These teachings tell us that true saints, true mystics, are sent from the Creator, and their only objective, their sole purpose, is to free the soul so that it can return to its true home and become one with its Creator.
The Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji, was a storyteller. In one of his stories, he tells about a generous man – a philanthropist – who visits a jail and sees the terrible conditions. He takes pity on the prisoners and sends them sugar and ice to make cold sweetened water. The prisoners feel better off and become a bit happier – but they are still in prison.
Another donor, another kind-hearted person, sees the meagre food that they are given – so he arranges for much better food. The prisoners enjoy the food and they feel still better – but again, they are still in prison.
Then a third philanthropist visits the prison. He has the keys and unlocks the prison cell doors and the prisoners are freed at last. The third philanthropist is the ultimate giver, because he has given the prisoners not better conditions in the jail, but their freedom.
But does the story end there?
Let’s consider what the prisoners do.
It seems that some of the prisoners don’t want to leave the prison – some of their cells are large and very comfortable – so comfortable that they can’t even see the walls of their cells. They don’t realize that they are going to move from cell to cell (as we move from species to species, body to body – during many lifetimes of birth, death and rebirth). Their families are in the prison with them and they are very comfortable – some even live in luxury – their lives seem wonderful.
So the true philanthropist – the Master – makes an enormous sacrifice for the prisoners’ sake. He leaves his natural state of bliss, light, and love. He enters the prison and lives here, with us – the prisoners. He can see our prison for what it is, as a dark place where there is so much poverty, disease, hunger, misery, and war, so many different kinds of suffering – but despite that, he stays right here in this prison and works tirelessly to free us, dragging us out, if necessary. In order to fulfill his mission, he has to live in this jail and try, and keep on trying, to persuade us that true freedom and true happiness will be ours, if only we would follow him and his teachings. As the Great Master reminds us:
When we are away from the Master and the satsang, the world imperceptibly impresses itself on us so much that, in spite of our regularly giving time to simran and Nam, we often begin to feel discouraged, dry, and desolate.3
We have been away from satsang and away from the Master (for many of us, at least away from being able to see him in person) for over two years, and we well know the feelings of desolation and discouragement that can come over us.
However, the Great Master continues in the same letter with a firm message of encouragement:
In such a state, faith and love are our support, and if faith is firm, the Master responds. He is always with us – within us – watches as a mother watches her child. So long as we are on this side of the focus, we do not see him working. But he is doing his duty.
Many of us have been away from the physical presence of the Master and from our satsang centres, but the Master has responded. The Master made it clear when he first took on this seva that he did not want to use the internet or social media for satsang, or even have photos taken of himself, but during the pandemic he made an exception, and gave so much of himself. He made that sacrifice so that his sangat around the world would have something to look forward to – films about seva, the inspirational thoughts, the video clips from the lives of the Masters, the frequent question-and-answer sessions that bring us such comfort and encouragement.
As Hazur Maharaj Ji has reminded us:
Our main object is to go back and merge into the Father. The relationship of the soul with the Father is that of love and devotion…Soul is a drop of that ocean. Only on the strength of our love and devotion can we go back to the Father; but we can only love whom we have seen, whom we have met, with whom we have mixed. How can we love the Father, whom we have never seen, about whom we have only heard?4
Hazur is telling us that our soul is a drop and longs to merge back into the Creator – that ocean of love. He also tells us that our love for the Creator is the only love that will last, that will never die, that is imperishable – but he explains that because we haven’t seen the Creator, we cannot experience that love. But then Maharaj Ji continues:
So we try to seek the company of mystics or saints, who fill us with love and devotion for the Father, who lead us back to the Father, who give us strength and support and drag us towards the Father. …That is why we seek the company of those mystics, because we have seen them, we know them, and their love is transformed into the love of the Father.
The saints make the great sacrifice of coming to the world – let’s do our part by walking out of the open prison door.
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II., Q. 535
- Ibid, Q. 547
- Spiritual Gems, Letter 117
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Q. 498