Having Faith, Finding Love
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
This statement is especially true when we embark on a quest of self-realization. The eternal questions – Who am I? What happens after death? What is my source? – cannot be answered from where we are, but that’s where the journey has to start.
Although this journey of self-discovery is an exciting undertaking, it is a big unknown for us. Hence, it is no surprise that there are apprehensions. Mystics advise that we seek the company of a teacher who has already completed the journey and is in a position to help and guide us as well. So, the first step is to have some foundational faith in the idea, and also in the teacher. We practice this in all phases of life. When seeking to study a subject like chemistry or mathematics, we enroll in a class with some faith that the teacher is experienced in the subject. We put complete faith in the pilot when travelling, or in the surgeon when on the operating table. It is in our interest to apply the same principle in matters of spirituality.
Hazrat Sultan Bahu, 17th-century mystic, lays emphasis on the importance of the spiritual way of life if our goal is to merge in our source. He instructs disciples to not only practice the Word but also abstain from anything that might prove to be an impediment on the path of spiritual realization. He starts with the first step:
Build the ship of faith and bravely sail across,
do not mind the pain that results in happiness.
Have faith in the Lord, like the birds, that fly through the air
without carrying their food, they don’t store provisions,
the lord provides food even to the insects that live encased in a rock.1
Mystics frequently liken this creation and the circle of birth and death to an “ocean” of existence. An ocean’s vastness, hidden factors beneath the surface, its changing nature influenced by storms, calmness, choppiness – all make it a good comparison with life. Perhaps the biggest similarity is the near-impossibility of crossing it without help. So, Sultan Bahu first instructs us to build a strong ship of faith. A small dingy or boat is not going to be enough. Half-hearted enquiry or effort, treating spirituality as a secondary insurance – these will prove to be self-delusion. Strong resolve is also essential. This is not an undertaking for the weak.
Bravery and courage are the hallmarks of a true learner. Courage is grace under pressure. So much of our energy is wasted worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. He is trying to get us to take a lesson or two from the birds, who don’t have bank balances or retirement portfolios. There is an intelligence working in this creation which governs everything, and being in harmony with it brings us closer to it. Saints call it Nam, Shabd, Tao, Word and many other names. Or simply, Love. It is this power that governs and supersedes all laws. Saints and mystics point to this power as our true identity, true being. The entire process of the spiritual quest culminates in this realization.
Be Brave and swim across the ocean of love,
plunging straight into its fierce waves, its deadly whirlpools.
And don’t be frightened at the sight of the dense forests
or threatening inner wastelands
on your way to the country of love.
Only when you sacrifice your life in your love for God will you
deserve the name, ‘faqir’, O Bahu.2
He wants us to focus on the positive, with eyes set on the objective. There will be ups and downs. The path of Love is lined with roses and rubies, said no one ever. It calls for unflagging effort and perseverance. The true lover bravely bears the difficulties encountered on the way. Sacrificing life doesn’t mean physical life or leaving the comforts of our home, shunning responsibilities and becoming a recluse. It means dismantling the illusions we have created around us and have now become too comfortable living in. If we don’t take the initiative now, one day it will all be dismantled anyway. It is by renouncing the limitation of the physical that one truly becomes a ‘faqir’.
Running away from the world is neither advised by the saints, nor is it possible. Huzur always emphasized that no matter where we go, our basic needs follow us. By being in the world, we learn to rise above it, like a lotus – rooted in the muddy water, yet above it and aloof from it, in all its purity and beauty.
People howl and cry over the slightest of discomforts, while lovers
gladly embrace a million torments,
who would risk his life boarding a ship if the waves were hitting hard
and the shores collapsing?
Lovers joyously board the ship of God’s love, even though their souls
are pitched against the vortices of life.
Unsurpassed is the joy of love in the court of the Lord, where love
is weighed in the smallest measure, O Bahu.3
This world of expectations, rewards, and outcomes has conditioned our mind to such an extent that we don’t want to do anything without first calculating what we are going to get out of it. On a practical level, each action is the result of a desire. So our desire for self-realization is natural. However, one quality of love is sacrifice. Just as a mother is happily willing to go through numerous discomforts for the sake of her child, a lover “gladly embraces” difficulties to have a glimpse of his beloved. Love doesn’t lead to any reward. It is its own reward.
Openly do I say and happy am I to say so;
slave am I of love, and free am I of both the worlds4
When asked about love, Huzur used to say that love is losing your own identity and becoming another being. You don’t exist anymore, only the beloved exists. The seed must annihilate its own existence if it is to be transformed into the tree. A drop must be willing to shed its identity to unite with the ocean. This is the ultimate surrender.
Naturally, the question arises: How to reach this sublime stage? Saints give us a very practical solution. This human body is the laboratory where this surrender experiment begins. They explain to us the nature of the mind, the qualities of the soul and the relationship between the two. They show us the technique whereby the mind and soul currents are withdrawn from the entire body and focused inwards at a point called the third eye or tisra til. This is the doorway to liberation. Saints call this meditative process “dying while living.” Sultan Bahu says: “If you wish to learn the art of dying while living, go and sit in the company of mystics.”5
The mind’s tendency is outward and downward; once it reaches the third eye, it finds a better pleasure in the form of the divine melody and the celestial light, and only then it is willing to turn away from the fleeting pleasures of the body. Guru Amar Das Ji says:
Within thy body is the true Amritsar
and through love and devotion
doth the mind drink of it.6
Until the mind reaches this stage, Sultan Bahu urges the practitioner to keep the mind in check and remain alert lest it falls into the grooves of its old habits and tendencies.
Some people are awake, some don’t know how to wake up
and some are awake only in their dreams.
A few get robbed in their seeming wakefulness and while others
merge in God as they sleep to the world,
just as owls hoot at night using the in-breath, so do some people
repeat God’s name without concentration,
but they are blind to reality just as owls are to daylight.
I make myself a sacrifice to anyone, O Bahu, who toils hard at
realizing God’s love.7
We take this transient world, its objects and faces to be the only reality, and remain awake to them, while remaining unaware of the actual reality that saints point towards. In the process, we are robbed of our most valuable commodities of time and attention. Sultan Bahu encourages us to remain vigilant so that these precious resources are put to the best use by attending to devotion to the Lord and not allowing worldly attachments to devour them day-in and day-out. Blessed and fortunate are those, Bahu says, who have understood the purpose of human life and work towards waking up to the inner reality.
In spirituality, it is practice, not theory, that is of the essence. The true significance of Sant Mat teachings lies in its practice. Our task does not finish by merely reading and deliberating over what saints have written or said. In fact, it only begins there. Thinking or deliberation by itself is just an intellectual luxury. From principle to practice is a vital step, and one which a serious student of spirituality must take. Once we have learned from an adept the technique of how to withdraw and focus attention at the eye center, the onus is upon us to take the time, with full faith and devotion, to engage ourselves wholeheartedly. It is our effort that invokes the Lord’s grace. Huzur provides encouragement:
You have to help yourself. You have to make your own willpower strong to go through all your fate karma. Master also helps you to some extent, but you have to mainly help yourself by meditation. Sometimes when one is feeble, one can lean against somebody, but ultimately, he has to walk on his own legs. He can’t walk on another person’s legs, in another person’s shoes – he has to walk in his own shoes. Meditation helps us to clear all those karmas, gives us strength and willpower to go through our present karma, fate karma, and not to be tempted to sow new seeds. So meditation helps in every way. We have to do our duty. That is the main thing.8
On this spiritual quest, the grace and mercy of God are considered the basis of all spiritual attainment. It is doubtless essential for a practitioner to be unceasing in his efforts, but at the same time he must have full faith in God’s grace. It is natural for us to demand a just reward for our efforts, but a devotee seeks from God not justice but mercy. The path of devotion is a path of love. A lover only acts for the sake of love and not to demand any reward; it is not in the nature of love to bargain. He doesn’t even ask to go to the highest spiritual heights. His practice of the Word is only a means to unite him with the beloved. This is why he leaves the reward of his love to the grace of the Lord; Bahu only entreats the Lord for his grace and mercy. In his eyes, to ask for anything else is to ask for the world: “Discard love for everything else from your heart, and pray only for his grace to call you back, O Bahu.”9
Likewise, other saints have considered God’s grace and mercy as their anchor:
The ocean of his mercy is boundless.
The tongue cannot be grateful enough,
and the heart is confounded.
Although my sins are grave, his mercy is greater.
In fact, we are swimming in the ocean of sins.10
You are not aware of God’s mercy.
At every moment he is looking at you like a lover11
Although we started with mention of the journey to self-discovery, Sultan Bahu now reveals a magnificent secret: There is no journey, because there is no destination. There is not even separation. Only realization.
When the Lord revealed himself to me, I lost myself in him.
Now there is neither nearness nor union.
There is no longer a journey to undertake,
no longer a destination to reach.
Love, attachment, my body and soul
and even the very limits of time and space
have all dropped from my consciousness.
My separate self has merged in the Whole:
in that, O Bahu, lies the secret of the unity that is God!12
- Sultan Bahu, pp. 256 and 290
- Ibid, p. 318
- Ibid, p. 366
- Hafiz as quoted in Mysticism, the Spiritual Path, p. 523
- Sultan Bahu, p. 272
- Guru Amar Das as quoted in Mysticism, the Spiritual Path, p. 214
- Sultan Bahu, p. 362
- Spiritual Perspectives Vol. II, p. 339
- Sultan Bahu, p. 209
- Sarmad as quoted in Sultan Bahu, p. 210
- Bu Ali Shah Qalandar as quoted in Sultan Bahu, p. 210
- Ibid, p. 228