Closing the Gap
In his book God Is Closer than You Think, John Ortberg describes the mural painted by Michelangelo that is installed in the Sistine Chapel. He writes:
The figure of God is extended toward the man with great vigour... His head is turned toward the man, and his gaze is fixed on him. God’s arm is stretched out, his index finger extended straight forward; every muscle is taut… It is as if even in the midst of all creation God’s entire being is wrapped up in his impatient desire to close the gap between himself and this man. He can’t wait. His hand comes within a hairbreadth of the man’s hand… But having come that close, he allows just a little space, so that Adam can choose. He waits for Adam to make his move…
Adam is more difficult to interpret in the painting. His arm is partially extended toward God but his body reclines in a lazy pose, leaning backwards as if he has no interest at all in making a connection. Maybe he assumes that God, having come this far, will close the gap. Maybe he is indifferent to the possibility of touching his creator. Maybe he lacks the strength. All he would have to do is lift a finger.1
Through the Master, God is trying to reach out to us as well, and what separates us is also a very small gap. We have been wandering in this creation from one form to another for lifetimes – but now we have a human form, we have come in touch with a true Master, and we have been initiated – we are as close as we ever have been to our destination; we are almost there. If we want to, we can definitely reach Him.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to quite make that effort to grasp him. Why? Like Adam, do we have no interest in making that connection? Do we feel that we lack the strength? Do we feel that our Master, having come this far, will also bridge the rest of the gap? Or is it that we feel that our meditation is not really getting us anywhere?
Are we interested in making that connection?
What would we tell a child who constantly repeats the same mistakes after saying he is sorry? What would we tell a devoted spouse who claims that he or she loves us dearly but doesn’t seem to be able to make any time for us? What would we say of disciples who declare they want God-realization but cannot get themselves to make a little sacrifice to get to know Him?
If we care about someone or something enough, we will always be moved to show it through our actions, no matter how difficult the task at hand may be. So if we slack in our meditation, is it that we don’t care to make that connection with God?
When we take stock of our actions, we realize that this is not necessarily the case. For if it were, why would we have asked for initiation? Why do we still try to get up every morning to sit and put in an effort at meditation, no matter how weak this effort may be? Why do we constantly seek inspiration through satsangs and Sant Mat literature if we really didn’t care?
So it seems we do want to make a connection with God; otherwise we wouldn’t be putting in any effort at all. But there is a problem, however – the problem is we don’t want to make that connection right now – we feel we still have enough time, and we are also counting on the fact that we will have enough strength in the time to come to get our job done.
We don’t realize that with every day that passes our habits are becoming more rigid and we are less flexible in our outlook, less resilient to change; and our bodies are not any more cooperative with us either. How then do we expect to do better meditation later on in our lives if we can’t do it today?
Whatever situation we are in today is the best situation to get the work done.
The truth is that we can’t afford to be wasting time. We need the support of the Shabd within. We are too weak to live in this world without a strong support system. We are too needy to be lazing around, and the difficulties in this world are very great and fearsome.
So, if we do want to make that connection but we are not doing our best because we still feel that we have time, and that we can afford to dilly-dally, then it is time for a reality check. We cannot count on that. Whatever has to be done has to be done now!
Do we feel like we lack the strength at this point?
Our master does not ask us for more than what we are capable of giving. We do not require superhuman strength to tread this path. Meditation is a very simple process that can be carried out by anyone – the process may be lengthy but that doesn’t mean it is difficult.
We constantly engage in meditation – as we are forever engaged in inner chatter about the world, and we also constantly visualize its forms and faces. We are already good at this practice – all we have to do is change the direction of our attention. If our constant simran and contemplation of worldly objects and activities can bring us into the world, then the same method can take us back to where we were before we began to scatter our attention.
When our Master initiated us, he saw our potential to achieve the goal in this very lifetime. If our Master thinks we have the capacity, then why do we doubt ourselves? Do we feel we know ourselves better than he does?
Will Master do our meditation for us?
We all like to think of the story of the shepherd who has 100 sheep and one of them goes astray. The shepherd goes out to rescue that one sheep, despite having 100 more. What happens with us is that we are all relying on being rescued like that “lost sheep”. We have to remember that sometimes the shepherd sends his sheepdog behind the lost sheep too!
On a more serious note though, do we really think that Master can still do more for us than what he is already doing? Do we feel that when he is asking us to do 2½ hours of meditation every day, he is asking for a lot?
We have to realize that when he asks us to do our meditation, it is the least that we can do, and we also have to remember that we are doing it for ourselves. He has no self-interest in asking us to do our meditation – what has he to gain from it? Hazur used to say that meditation is the one thing that benefits us and yet pleases the Master.
We do our meditation or do seva and we generally say we are doing it for our Master, when the truth is that we are doing it for ourselves. We put in a little effort and we think that we come quite close, or that we are doing as much as what he is doing for us.
And if this were not the case, then why is it that we constantly feel the need to ask him for more grace, more help? Doesn’t that imply that we think we are doing our best but he is not rewarding us enough?
Saint Teresa of Avila says: “And what are we asking for, if the more we serve Him the deeper we are in His debt? If we pay a farthing for it, He gives us a thousand pounds in return.”2
This little bit of meditation that we do, the little seva that we do – every time we put in one step, he takes a thousand steps towards us. This means that every time we do a little for him, he does a whole lot for us, so we only grow more and more indebted to him.
No matter how much we do, we will always fall miserably short in comparison to what he does for us. In the first place, he brought us into his fold; he granted us the precious gift of initiation, even though we never did anything to earn it, and perhaps were not deserving of it either.
At initiation, our Master vowed to always be by our side in his radiant form. From that moment on, we are never alone. Our Master not only guides us through the spiritual journey but also holds our hand at every step in our worldly life.
Our Master gives us our simran (the five Names) which carry their own power. And through these names, we are empowered to face all difficulties, to face death, and to make our way back to our true home.
At initiation our Master takes on our responsibility. The files of our karmas are handed over to him. We are no longer answerable to anyone but our Master. He administers our karmas as he deems fit. And he himself stands as the guarantor before the “lord of justice,” fighting our petition for freedom.
The Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin explains that the disciple of a spiritual Master will be judged, not by the unrelenting judge, but by the merciful hand of one’s own Master. He writes:
It means that whoever is attached to a spiritual master knows that on Judgment Day his deeds will be placed in the scales of his master.3
We can’t even begin to understand or even imagine what our Master does for us. Hazur Maharaj Ji said:
There are so many relationships of love, but no relationship is stronger, no bond is stronger than that of the disciple and the master. No love is stronger than that of the disciple and the master.4
Sometimes we may be mentally separated from the beloved and sometimes physically, but we will always continue to have his love. Our master has loved us for longer than eternity, and has given us all of himself from the moment we became his.
In reality he has already done everything for us, we just have to go through the motions. We just have to honor our commitment to put an honest effort in meditation. If we are relying on him to do it all for us, then it is neither fair nor possible.
Do we feel like our meditation is not getting us anywhere?
As we keep working on our meditation, we become more and more aware of the little things that our Master does for us in our day-to-day life; we feel our Master’s hand during difficult times, we feel his guidance when it comes to certain decisions we have to make, and we feel him stopping us from doing something wrong.
We tend to forget these little experiences, but if we sit down to remember all these moments, we will know for a fact that our meditation is definitely giving us results. We may not see it, but every bit of meditation is definitely making a mark on our mind.
When it comes to meditation, we need to be as determined as if we are boring through a tunnel in utter darkness, not knowing when we will break through into the light. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, or it could be some years away. Two things are certain: first, we will not reach the light unless we keep drilling, and second, once we break through into the light there will be no return to darkness.
Master has given us initiation; he has given us his guidance; he has taken on our responsibility; and most of all, he has given us his unconditional love. We must have faith that if he has brought us this far, with a little cooperation on our part, he will see us through all the way.
It is up to us to respond now; it is up to us to try and grab his hand and close the gap that exists between us.
If we know we want to make that inner connection with him, if we know that we have the power and the capacity to achieve our goal, if we appreciate all that he has already done for us, and if we know that meditation is definitely getting us somewhere, then what are we waiting for?
It’s time to put all this to good use, and the time is now…
Hafez says: “You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy – Mix them, mix them!”5
- John Ortberg, God Is Closer than You Think, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005; pp. 11, 12, Copyright 2005.
- The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, Penguin Classics, 1957, p. 301.
- Quoted in The Spiritual Guide, Vol. 2, p. 205
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol.3, Q#38.
- Quoted by Spring Washam, in A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage, and Wisdom in Any Moment, Hay House, 2017 (E-book).