Soami Ji Maharaj advises, “Take refuge in the Master, O yearning soul!”1 At first glance, we might think this advice is for someone starting out on the spiritual path, but with closer scrutiny, we realize the need to heed it every day and in every moment of our lives.
When we are drawn into the orbit of a true spiritual teacher, we are given a most precious gift, the key to a permanent place of refuge. Sant Namdev says, “I have been granted the shelter of everlasting mercy.”2 When we, as disciples, enter the path of Sant Mat, we automatically come under the protection of our Master. He takes responsibility for our spiritual welfare and promises to put an end to our coming and going in this world. He promises to take us back to God. The Master becomes our friend now and forever. Christ said to his disciples,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls.3
Christ tells his disciples to come to him and find rest. This does not mean that we can sit back and let it all happen. We play the dynamic role of taking refuge in the Master – it is an active process. We learn to actively sit still in meditation and actively let go of our attachment to the material world. This is a process that is constantly evolving as we walk on the path.
What is a refuge? It is a place where one retreats in order to escape danger, violence, unpleasantness, and the vagaries of the weather – it is a place of safety. It is a place that offers protection and a feeling of peace. For spiritual seekers, protection is not needed as much from the storms and violence of the outside world as from drowning waters of negativity, the raging fire of desire, the crippling weight of karma, and the darkness of ignorance.
In the beginning, taking refuge in the Master is more of an outer process. We are taking refuge in his teachings, in his commandments. Before initiation, we become vegetarians, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and lead a moral life. These principles are part of the process of seeking shelter in a compassionate and honest way of life. We also find shelter by attending satsang and participating in physical seva. Christ said,
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.4
By following the teachings and bringing honesty, sincerity, kindness and compassion into our relationships with our fellow beings on the planet, we dwell in the Master’s love as he dwells in God’s love.
However, the real shelter is within. The process of finding it begins by focusing our attention at the eye centre, the doorway to the higher realms of consciousness. Maharaj Charan Singh writes,
Look upon the eye centre as your place of refuge and fortress, and always take refuge in it for safety, as a pigeon pursued by a hawk immediately seeks shelter.5
All mystics have expressed the same message – that God is to be found in the depths of our being. This is beautifully expressed in a story about the 16th century Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross. A humble lay sister asked why the garden frogs jumped in the water whenever she went near. He replied that it was in the depths of the water that they felt safe, secure and protected, and then added, “that is what you must do, flee from creatures and hide yourself in God.”6
This is what we are trying to do when we sit in meditation and focus our attention at the eye centre while doing simran. The eye centre is where we find real comfort in our Master’s presence within. Our real bond with the Master is our spiritual practice, our simran and bhajan. This is the only way to get close to him and remain close. It is a beautiful place of refuge that gets more peaceful and more blissful as time goes on. It is a secret garden that we access by repeating the names the Master has given us. Every time we invoke the name of God through simran, we express our desire to go back to the divine source, the source of the meaning which is in every one of us. This is a place of refuge where he pours his cooling and healing balm on our wounds. It is a place of refuge where he envelops us in the warmth and gentleness of his love, and where we can let ourselves go like an infant in the lap of its mother.
In the Indian language, the word for shelter or refuge is sharan, which has many layers of meaning, including that of surrender. Hazur says,
By surrendering we mean that we should do our duty and make efforts according to the best of our ability and in consonance with the principles of Sant Mat. Then leave the result to the Master or Shabd, without worrying how it turns out. Surrender implies surrender to Shabd, which is the real Master or Guru, and not to any physical form. We should by constant practice not only contact the Sound but merge ourselves into it so that it will take care of us entirely, in every situation and in every respect.7
Ultimately, taking refuge in the Master is a high stage of consciousness. It involves losing our identity, rising above the sphere of the mind, and allowing the spirit to merge back into this real refuge – the Shabd, the Word of God. This is the shelter of everlasting mercy.
- Sar Bachan Poetry, Bachan 19, Shabd 8
- Sant Namdev, p. 93
- Bible, King James Version, Matthew 11:28-29
- Ibid, John 15:10
- Divine Light (1991), Letter 283
- The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross (1991), p. 25
- Light on Sant Mat (1985), Letter 349