Forget Your Perfect Offering
Don't we sometimes feel that it's all gone a bit quiet on this path? Hasn't it become a bit banal, a bit ordinary, a bit over-familiar? A bit like a long marriage where everything's a bit routine? If that's the case, we need to take steps to restore the thrill and rediscover the excitement of our relationship with the Master. Not by means of verbal outpourings but by positive, sincere actions that will bring back that loving feeling. We should never forget, even for a minute, that this is the most wondrous, mysterious and, as yet, incomprehensible journey we will ever undertake.
We must keep asking ourselves why we came to this path and equally we must keep reminding ourselves of the answer. Otherwise it may become stale like a marriage from which the love has drained away, becoming a relationship of platitudes, where ‘Radha Soami’ just means ‘hello’, ‘Sant Mat’ is reduced to a password and ‘satsangi’ is nothing more than an internet identity.
Are we just saying the right things, the words we are expected to say to sound pious? If our relationship with the path has degenerated to this extent we need to take drastic action. We need to press the button to restore the factory settings, to remove all the clutter and debris which has built up and is obscuring our goal and sapping our intensity and zeal on the path.
Remember those early days when nothing mattered except Master and meditation? When the main focus of our attention was on them? When we didn't care what was going on in the worlds of politics and business and entertainment, etc., etc. When the distractions of the world – however subtle – showed their true colours and were seen as distractions, not attractions. When we could say in all honesty, “Master, all I want is you!” Even if we still say those words are they not belied by our actions?
Are we not like some of Christ's disciples, about whom he said: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”1 In other words, “You keep calling me God but you clearly don’t mean it as you don’t follow my advice. This is the very definition of paying lip service.
Christ goes on in Luke 6:47–48:
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them … is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
So Christ says that by following the spiritual teachings of our Master we are building firm foundations which will not collapse when we come under pressure. He continues in the next verse:
But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
In other words, we must practise what he preaches if we are to have a solid foundation on the path of spirituality.
Are we in fact disobedient, indifferent to the urgings of the Master to do at least two and a half hours of concentrated meditation every single day? We really need to ‘get back to the garden’ of freshness and innocence, and to blossom in his love. But fine words alone will not help: we need effort, determination and a genuine desire to re-order, re-prioritize our lives before it is dark or, as Christ said, “while it is still day.” Before we are too frail or incapacitated to fight the good fight with the mind. If we deny him – by not following his teachings to the letter – then how can we expect him to take care of us? Yes, the Lord is all-merciful but he does love our efforts, as Masters regularly tell us. Just as the mother's milk flows when her baby cries – the milk that was always there but which needed the stimulus of crying in order to flow – the mercy and grace of the Lord, which are always there, are felt to flow when we cry out in our utter helplessness and our awareness that by ourselves we can do nothing. It is all his grace.
With regard to Masters saying that the Lord loves our efforts – and our own readiness to repeat this statement – sceptics might say, “How do you know this?” Well, we have heard it from souls of such beauty and radiance, such experts in the field of spirituality, that we are inclined to believe them. Many things they have told us about meditation, about sound and light, have turned out to be true, so it is natural to believe other statements, the truth of which we may not yet have experienced. If we think about it, this is what everyone does in any scientific field of endeavour. We listen to what the experts have to say and naturally give more credence to their utterances than to those of some internet blogger who thinks his opinions are as valid as those of Albert Einstein. Who would you believe?
So we start with belief, put the theory to the test, and if our experience confirms it then we have reached the stage of knowledge. We put beliefs into practice by means of meditation; this is our laboratory in which theories are tested. If we refuse to enter the lab how will we ever attain knowledge? This is what is known as the Science of the Soul. This lab requires dedicated scientists who persevere against all odds. Time and time again people would complain to Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh that they were unable to meditate, to which he invariably replied, “Don't worry. Just do your meditation.” It may sound contradictory but what were we expecting him to say? “Don't worry. Don't bother to meditate until you feel the urge again.” I don't think so!
Would a top-class athlete say to his coach, “I want to be the champion of the world but I don't feel like training right now so can I have a few weeks off?” Through this comparison we can clearly see the absurdity of our implied request for some time off. We also want to conquer the world, but in the sense of rising above it and not being unduly affected by it. It is a long process and requires dedication and effort and love for the Lord.
This is a path for lovers not – changing just one letter – losers. It is a path for warriors not – changing just two letters – worriers. Worrying only shows our lack of faith. Everything will happen exactly as it’s meant to happen so worrying is in fact pointless. A waste of energy. If we can't meditate with love in our hearts and if we can't sit with a focused mind, then at the very least we should sit physically still. We should show up and leave the rest to Him. At those times when meditation was smooth did we actually think we were doing it? The Lord does the meditation through us.
Rather than becoming despondent if nothing seems to be happening, let's remember that the quality of meditation is not in our hands. Masters often say, “Bring me your failures.” We should not expect to submit the ‘perfect’ meditation. Sant Mat is the practice which makes perfect. Perfection is the culmination of a lifetime of effort and devotion, not the starting point. As Leonard Cohen puts it very beautifully in the song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Let us at the very least make the effort to spend the recommended time of two and a half hours every day sitting in meditation. If we don't show up how can we expect the Lord to shower us with his gifts? As the National Lottery advertisement tells us, “You gotta be in it to win it!” Or as Baba Gurinder Singh said recently, “You need to buy a ticket.” The Lord requires us to be there – or rather here – in order for him to make contact with us. And yet even this is not always one hundred percent true, for “God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.”2 We can sit in silence for hours and hear nothing, and then in the most unlikely situations during the day the Shabd can suddenly manifest loud and clear.
In The Hunger of the Soul, Nancy Pope Mayorga writes in a similar vein:
Then this strange phenomenon: sometimes you get up from the most frustrating session of silence to find joy welling up in you as soon as you start some activity. You sit down for meditation – nothing. You get up to work and there it is again, like someone playing a joke on you.3
Her book is truly inspiring. It consists of diary entries between 1948 and 1980 and it captures the thrill of following a spiritual path. Listen to this, written in December 1953:
An inner life at this stage, after six years of intense and honest struggle, is something like this – there will be three or four days, or a week, when God and rapture are immediately available. All you have to do is hold thought steady for an instant and relax any physical or mental tensions that might serve as obstructions, and the current of bliss surges through you and spreads out like a delicious fire to the very smallest capillary. Your mind, your spirit, stands spellbound with awe and gratitude.4
You are probably wondering about: “after only six years” or that's “all you have to do,” but as Hazur Maharaj Ji often pointed out, there is no seniority on the spiritual path. Quoting Christ, he would say that the last may be first and the first may be last as nobody knows where each of us is starting from. Some of us may have made great spiritual progress in previous lives, while others may have come to the path for the first time in the present life. This accounts for the fact that while some of us plod on for decades, others appear to be progressing rapidly and enjoying very vivid inner experiences.
It is, of course, irrelevant what others are experiencing, as the Master administers the karmas of each individual so that they become liberated at precisely the moment appointed by destiny, not a second sooner and not a second later. So that takes care of the ‘when’ it will happen, and the ‘whether’ it will happen has been dealt with by the oft-repeated reassurance of the Masters that they only accept their marked sheep for initiation and that, once accepted, the disciple is certain to succeed. The bottom line is that it is as inevitable as day following night that one day each of us will go inside and meet the radiant form of the Master and embark on the spiritual journey described by Soami Ji Maharaj in Sar Bachan Poetry, to which I will return later.
Meanwhile, we left Nancy a while ago standing spellbound with awe and gratitude! She continues:
And these moments are not always calculated. They sometimes sweep upon you unexpectedly in the midst of some activity, in the oddest places, between the aisles at the market, setting the table for dinner, even at the wheel of the car.5
It does feel like the Lord is playing a little Zen trick on us by making us question the link between cause and effect. The Word or Logos or Shabd calls to us whenever it pleases; it does not necessarily come running when we call it. We should not ignore it when it does call us; rather we should acknowledge it just as Samuel did in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 3:4–10). Before the temple lamp went out the child Samuel lay down to sleep. Then “the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, ‘Here am I.’” The chapter continues:
And [Samuel] ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.
And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the Lord came … and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
Sometimes when we visit a church or monastery where for centuries worshippers have turned their attention towards God we may feel– or rather hear – the sanctity of the place. The Sound manifests loud and clear and we can just sit down and enjoy being enveloped in it. We can mentally say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” The reason these moments are few and far between is that even during meditation, let alone during the rest of the day, the mind, which abhors silence, chatters away randomly and incessantly. We all know people like that; they do not know how to savour the silence. Well, our mind is one of those people! So we have to consciously still the mind by means of very focused, very conscious simran, repetition of the holy names given to us at the time of initiation. They are holy – and wholly remarkable – because they open up our inner vision and make the seemingly impossible possible.
I said I would return to Soami Ji's description of the inner journey, so let's see how he describes it in Sar Bachan Poetry. As I said earlier, the path – as we are following it – can become a little bit of a routine and we can forget what lies ahead. We get up and go through the motions of meditation, we attend satsang and listen to a competent talk, and we undertake seva, thinking we are doing ‘our’ seva when the only real seva is his. If we find ourselves in any of these ruts we can turn to Sar Bachan Poetry and read Soami Ji's enthusiastic description of the inner path. Here is a short description from Bachan 20, Shabd 28:
Hold the Master's key in your hand –
turn the rosary of your mind with simran.
Tune in to the unstruck music of Shabd
and pierce through the cloud in the sky of
Shoot your arrows of yearning,
listen to the thundering resonance
and go on to Lake Mansarovar.
Establish yourself at the peak of Sunn,
then listen to the melody of Shabd
and reach Sach Khand.
Swim through Alakh and Agam
to the eternal home of Radha Soami.
Go on singing the song of praise every day –
the Master's grace will be with you!
In Spiritual Gems Maharaj Sawan Singh writes simply:
Your wildest dreams or imaginings cannot picture the grandeur of what lies within. But the treasure is yours and is there for you. You can have it whenever you go there. Take it from me, and once and for all, that everything, including the Creator, is within you, and whosoever has attained it, has attained it by going inside the eye focus.6
Could it be any clearer than that?
In The Way of a Pilgrim, a Russian pilgrim describes the treasure obtained from constant repetition:
When about three weeks had passed I felt a pain in my heart and then a most delightful warmth, as well as consolation and peace. This … spurred me on more and more to give great care to the saying of the prayer so that all my thoughts were taken up with it and I felt a very great joy. … Sometimes my heart would feel as though it were bubbling with joy, such lightness, freedom and consolation were in it. Sometimes my eyes brimmed over with tears of thankfulness to God … Sometimes that sense of a warm gladness in my heart spread throughout my whole being and I was deeply moved as the fact of the presence of God everywhere was brought home to me. Sometimes … I was overwhelmed with bliss and now I knew the meaning of the words “The kingdom of God is within you.”7
Someone asked Hazur: “Maharaj Ji, can the Master sometimes grant the disciple a 'going within' … for a moment of encouragement, before the disciple has reached the stage of seeing him inside?” He replied:
Yes, sister, it happens. We have some visions just to give us faith, or to keep us straight on the path. And even sometimes after initiation, before we have reached the stage of going in at will, we have visions, we have glimpses here and there, just to keep us on the path. But through spiritual practice we have to work our way up and then realize all those things.8
Perhaps we wonder why, if we are genuine about our stated desire to merge back with the Lord, we are not already there with him. Hazur Maharaj Ji says:
We have to do both things. We have to live in the world but we have to meditate also. We have to keep the balance because a certain load of karma can be cleared only by facing life, not just by attending to meditation. When we become too absorbed in meditation, sometimes the Master withdraws the grace so that we work in the world also. You are not to leave your worldly work. Rather you may even be pushed to the world, to face the world.9
This answer really does explain a lot. I'd like to amplify this idea in a homely way with reference to a song, namely, “How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, now that they've seen Paris?” The song was penned after the First World War, amid doubts whether the American farm boys would ever be able to return to their rural way of life after experiencing the dazzling City of Light, as Paris was known a century ago. After all those thrills how would they ever be able to settle back down to a mundane existence in the American countryside? How could they live their lives doing the same old routine things as if nothing had happened, as if their eyes had not been opened to another, more alluring world?
Perhaps this is an appropriate analogy to explain why the Master withholds inner experience, for once we have gone inside to the glittering worlds of light and bliss, how could we possibly return to our old way of life as if nothing had happened to us in the City of Light? How could we continue to engage with the world and, most importantly, how could we complete our pralabdh karmas (the fate or destiny of our present life) – possibly the only thing standing between us and liberation, the liberation of our soul? As Hazur said, “a certain load of karma can be cleared only by facing life.” We are not to become recluses but to remain householders, in the world but not of it.
Do we want to keep on fooling around in this world with its crippling limitations or do we want to dwell in the light of the Shabd? Do we really want to be one with the Lord or do we just want the comfort of reading about oneness? Do we want to practise Sant Mat or do we want it to be our ‘insurance policy,’ to be used in case of some future emergency? It's make-up-our-mind time because time is short and nothing lasts forever. Don't let today be another day when we betray our principles.
That's it really! But let's finish with two quotations from Maharaj Ji to encourage us to keep hanging in there when we are struggling with the mind. The first is: “And all the time you spend struggling with the mind during the course of your meditation is itself a meditation.”10
Finally, in Quest for Light he writes: “No doubt in the beginning great and constant effort is needed, but it is nothing compared with the toil and trouble we go through to gain worldly trash. Sit most regularly in meditation as your paramount duty to the Lord, not caring whether your mind cooperates or not, but keep on trying.11
- King James Bible, Luke 6:46
- William Cowper, nineteenth-century Christian hymn
- Nancy Pope Mayorga, The Hunger of the Soul, p.26
- The Hunger of the Soul, p.25
- The Hunger of the Soul, p.25
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, letter 147
- Anonymous, The Way of a Pilgrim; And, The Pilgrim Continues His Way, ed. Reginald Michael French, Faith Annette Sand, pp.38–9
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #298
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #212
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #164
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Quest for Light, letter 173