The Mystery of Effort
Great Master and Hazur Maharaj Ji spoke endlessly about the need for us to do our meditation regularly. Hazur used to say that he had only one answer to all of our questions, and that was – meditation.
Baba Ji, of course, has the same message. There’s no question that our meditation is the cornerstone of our efforts on the path, that it is the essential practice for anyone trying to follow the path within.
However, the masters also say that our meditation by itself accomplishes nothing. As Hazur Maharaj Ji said:
If we think that with our effort we’ll be able to achieve anything, it is impossible. …Just by meditation, by effort, I don’t think anybody can ever reach back to him.1
And elsewhere he said:
If anybody says, ‘I can reach back to the Father by my effort, by my meditation,’ he’s wrong.2
On yet another occasion, Hazur was asked:
Isn’t it true that we can do nothing on our own, that we are entirely dependent on grace?
And Hazur answered:
That is true.3
The masters all ask us: What will your puny meditation accomplish?
From Sheikh Abol-Hassan of Kharaqan: “Abu-Yazid was asked if the individual’s struggle means anything on this path. He said, ‘No, but neither can it be without.’” Meaning, our efforts on the path, including meditation, presumably don’t accomplish anything, but are absolutely essential.4
Doesn’t this seem strange? What is this mystery of effort? Why are we asked to work so hard at such a difficult task, when our efforts accomplish nothing?
The contemporary philosopher Jacob Needleman quotes St. Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits): “…it is not within our power to acquire and attain great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation;… all this is the gift and grace of God our Lord.”5
Needleman then lays out the problem very clearly: Speaking about a person on a spiritual path, he writes, “Obviously, … there is something the individual has to do….”6 [Why does he say “obviously? Because in every spiritual tradition the disciple is required to do some kind of practice.]
He continues: “We can’t be totally passive in the dream that grace will just come down upon us.”7 So, we can’t say, “I’ve been initiated; now the master will do everything. I don’t need to do anything.” [We must do our spiritual practice, in this life or in another. We have to do it.]
So Needleman says that we can’t just sit and wait for grace to do everything, but then he says, “Nor can we be active in the way we are accustomed to be.”8 What he means, I think, is that in our worldly life we work all day and complete a project for our company. Or we drive six hours and arrive in another city. Our actions lead directly and immediately to visible results. He’s saying that spirituality is not like that. Nothing happens without the Lord’s grace, and it only happens when he wills. So, we can’t just sit down and advance spiritually at our will.
Needleman continues, “It is the same question that arises out of Saint Paul [in the Bible]: we are helpless and weak; there is nothing we can do. Yet there is something we must do. Just what, exactly, is within our power?”9
The author answers with the word “disposition,” meaning “conscious inclination,” indicating that we can at least become “disposed” or “consciously inclined” toward the teachings we are trying to follow. Hazur Maharaj Ji used to use the word “alignment,” saying that we have to align ourselves with the teachings. That may be all we can really do. But the masters ask us to do more than pretend we’re aligned; they ask us to demonstrate it by action, by effort.
Hazur told us – and Baba Ji also tells us, in so many ways – “Just try.” The masters don’t hold us responsible for the results. They tell us to ignore those. But they say we have to try.
Yes, but since our efforts accomplish nothing, why are they needed?
Because they are an expression of surrender and selfless love.
Worthless as they seem to us, the master still values them. One evening at the Dera guest house, a young man got up at the microphone and explained in great detail how bad, how absolutely worthless and without merit, his meditation was. Baba Ji replied with something like, “I’ll take it.”
Baba Ji often tells us that we do our meditation not in order to achieve spiritual experiences, but because He asks us to and as an expression of love. Annie Besant, an English author and theosophist who wrote on spiritual matters, said that if he gives us spiritual experiences in return for our meditation, our meditation becomes “a commercial transaction – so much worship for so much joy.” And then she said, very powerfully, “Where there is no free giving there is no place for God.”10
Our meditation, then, is our gift to our master of our time and our attention (two key components of love), given freely, with no strings attached, just because he asks us to do it.
Perhaps that’s why Baba Ji tells us to sit down, start our simran, and let go. Let go of what? Let go of expectations, desires, hopes to be successful at simran. Let go of everything except the five names directed at the master. Our gift to him, given freely.
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Question 466
- Die to Live, Question 366
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Question 477
- Vraje Abramian, The Soul and a Loaf of Bread, p. 65
- Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity, p. 147
- Annie Besant, The Three Paths and Dharma, p. 67