Letting Go of Self
The main obstacle on the path of self-realization and God-realization is our self or ego. It stands in the way of a deeper understanding of reality, obscuring a broader vision of what life really is. It loses sight of the bigger picture, by limiting itself to the physical world – for the physical world is just a passing stage on the spiritual journey we’re embarked upon. It is only when spirituality becomes our primary concern that the self will slowly slacken its hold on us.
Walking the spiritual path requires a growing commitment to a way of life, which is totally opposite to what we’ve been brought up to believe in from the early stages of childhood. Instead of building up the self with its sense of me and mine, spirituality sets us on a course of life during which the self is gradually being broken down. It is a huge transformation, which has its roots in our past actions and our yearning for the Divine. This is beautifully explained by Maharaj Sawan Singh, the Great Master, in Basic Principles of Sant Mat, Vol. I, when he writes (referring to the Adi Granth):
Nobody can attain union with the Lord unless it is written in their divine destiny.
Great Master continues by citing a passage by Guru Arjun Dev:
When the seeds of past actions sprouted,
I met the Lord; he is both the enjoyer and the renunciate.
My darkness was dispelled when I met the Lord.
O Nanak, after being asleep for countless incarnations,
I have awakened.1
Meeting our spiritual guide and master heralded the beginning of our spiritual awakening. By putting the spiritual teachings into practice after being given the method of meditation at initiation, the gateway is opened to a completely new way of life. Our focus shifts to the spiritual dimension within, while our attention is gradually being weaned away from clinging to deeply ingrained habits. From a self-oriented life we are being guided to a life oriented on the Divine, a life in which meditation is the spiritual fuel burning away not only past impressions but also budding negative thoughts. An increasing awareness of the Divine automatically rises up, once the realization of the urgency of our real work dawns on us.
The teachings of a spiritual master emphasize the maxim that actions speak louder than words. Transforming our life won’t happen by reading or discussing spiritual literature. More than anything else it is the spiritual work that will make the difference. The regular, daily practice of meditation leaves a deep groove on the practitioner’s mind. It really works wonders! In the long run, persistent effort in meditation will have its effects. What was difficult in the beginning becomes easy once the habit of sitting for meditation has become the most natural thing in the world, just like eating and sleeping. So much for the power of habits!
Letting go of self is experienced to some extent when deeply concentrated simran takes over our thinking process. There is sweetness and joy to this kind of simran which is engendered by the practitioner’s feeling of the inner master’s power behind the words. At that moment we are really enjoying our meditation. We’re being absorbed in what Baba Ji often calls the de-programming and de-cluttering of our minds. In this state of mind there is no hankering after worldly objects. Instead, a sense of yearning for the Divine takes over.
In A Treasury of Mystic Terms there is an inspiring entry about abandonment of self. Talking about the essence of spirituality, Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675–1751), the author quoted in this entry, gets to the heart of what it means to abandon the self. Again, we’re being reminded of what the present Beas master, Baba Ji, refers to in his Question and Answer sessions, when he says that we should give up all desires, even the desire to achieve God-realization. In the same vein he often discusses how much more relaxed our life would be if only we would live according to the Biblical precept of “Thy will be done.”2
The essence of spirituality is contained in this phrase: “complete and utter abandonment to the will of God.” By that I mean we should never think of ourselves, but be continually occupied with loving and obeying Him. We must put aside all those fears, those uneasy broodings, those qualms of conscience, and those anxieties which can arise from the concern we have for achieving holiness and our salvation. As God wants to look after all our affairs, let us leave them all to Him, so that we can concentrate our whole attention on Him.3
Concentrating “our whole attention on Him” – therein lies our effort, always deepening our concentration. There is seemingly little we can do, but the effect of our humble, small acts of devotion is intensely rewarding. Nothing is more beautiful than doing master’s work. It is pleasing to the master and fulfills the purpose for which we have been given this human birth.
By abandoning the self, by becoming closer to our true Self, the most ordinary, common things reveal their meaning to us. There comes a freshness to our perception, and we’re beginning to see things in a different light. Although the cleansing process is never finished, we find that letting go of our self leads to a deeper peace of mind and contentment. Life is becoming so much more richer. As the author quoted above writes:
It is of the essence of the state of self-abandonment that, although the soul thus abandoned always leads a secret life, it yet receives from God most extraordinary gifts by means of the most ordinary things, and by events which seem quite natural and mere casual happenings, through occurrences which appear to be a normal part of human life. For instance, the simplest sermons, the most ordinary conversations and the most trivial books can become, through God’s will, sources of knowledge and wisdom.4
In the end, meditation is nothing but expressing our gratitude to the Divine. Fulfilling this holy duty brings with it a peaceful and contented mind. We’re given back our spiritual birthright, which we won’t give up for anything in the world.
- Basic Principles of Sant Mat, Vol. I (2021), p. 60
- Bible, Matthew 6:10
- A Treasury of Mystic Terms, Part III, Vol. 11, p. 5
- A Treasury of Mystic Terms, Part III, Vol. 11, p. 5