Don’t Worship the Physical
What is the purpose of a master? Why do we need a physical master – one who is living now, in the flesh? Why can’t we just read a book, like the Bible – or any Sant Mat book for that matter – follow its instructions and merge with God? A beautiful exchange recorded between a disciple and Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh, in December 1988, delves into the role of the Master in God-realization.The disciple asked:
How can a living master establish a connection with the disciple who has never seen him and is not advanced enough to see anything inside? How does the relationship with the master benefit the disciple when the master is so far away that it is very difficult to visit or communicate with him?
Hazur: Sister, when we are expecting our past masters to help us, about whom we have only heard – they don’t even exist in the flesh – what is the problem with anybody living in the flesh in this world to help us?1
It’s difficult for many people to accept that a living incarnation of God can exist in the world. For whatever reason, many find it easier to believe that spiritual teachers existed only in the past. Here Hazur questions that assumption: If such beings existed in the past, why couldn’t they exist now, and be able to help us? The questioner persists:
But if we can’t meet that person, and we ourselves are confined to the physical, then how can he contact us any better than one who isn’t in the body, since we can’t talk to either one of them?
Hazur: I know. Master is Shabd, not the body. He projects himself from the Shabd, since he is in the flesh. So he can be anywhere through Shabd. Once he leaves the body, then he cannot help us. He only helps those disciples whom he has put on the Path – that also through Shabd – not others. As long as he is in the flesh, he can be anywhere. The real master is Shabd. 2
This is the most important aspect of Sant Mat, of God-realization: “Master is Shabd, not the body.” The Father, or the Lord, is unknowable by the human mind. God is merely a concept to us. The mind is so limited that it cannot possibly comprehend the Creator. The mind can only understand its own world, the physical. So the Lord sends an ambassador to the physical world – the Son in the Christian trinity of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” – to give our mind a representation of God that it can comprehend. Yet still Hazur tells us, “Master is Shabd, not the body.” The real master is not the physical master but the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God within all beings, all things. That physical master projects himself from the Shabd, so therefore “he can be anywhere through Shabd.”
In other words, even though we may never have met the physical master, or perhaps have only seen him from afar and never talked to him, if we have been initiated by him the master is closer to us than our own breath, because he and Shabd are one. And the Shabd is our very essence – it infuses every atom of our being.
Hazur explains in this passage that once a spiritual master leaves the physical body he cannot help a seeker. “He only helps those disciples whom he has put on the Path – that also through Shabd – not others.” Past masters are gone. They have merged back into the ocean of God and are no longer projected from the Shabd. Past masters can help only those whom they initiated, no one else. Masters who are alive now, however, can help any seeker anywhere because the master is projected from the Shabd, which is everywhere.
But why can’t one just read about the Shabd from a book and merge into it without the help of a living master? If the Shabd is in everyone, why can’t everyone simply go within and merge with the Shabd on their own, without a middleman, so to speak?
In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur wrote:
Even other persons sometimes hear the sound within, but they don’t know what it is. Many people who have come on the path say that they had been hearing the sound and seeing the light for a long time, perhaps fifteen or twenty years before they were initiated, but did not realize its value. Sometimes they were even frightened and consulted doctors. They would not like to sit in the darkness or close their eyes out of fear of that light. ...
So it is not that other people who are not initiated will not hear that sound, but the sound they hear will not be able to pull them up to that level, as they have not been put in touch with it by a living master in this lifetime. Anybody who attends satsang and hears about the sound and light can try to hear the sound, but it will not pull that soul to the level of consciousness where we ultimately have to go.3
So, although the real master is Shabd, it is only through a physical, living master that one can be put in touch with that Shabd and be pulled to the highest level of consciousness within. Baba Gurinder Singh emphasizes this point repeatedly. Devotion for the physical master alone without effort to merge with the Shabd within will not bring one closer to the goal of God-realization.
The physical master is easy for the mind to comprehend. He looks like us, walks like us, talks like us. But devotion for the physical master alone ultimately is just another attachment to the world. Like any other worldly attachment, it is temporary. Physical masters come into the world, they lead souls marked by the Father to go back to God via the Shabd within, and they leave the world. So attachment to the physical master alone without attachment to the Shabd is fruitless, because like everything else in the physical world, the physical master will die.
We do, obviously, become attached to the physical master. That attraction is a manifestation of being marked by the Lord. But that attraction must lead us to seek the real master within – the Shabd. Love and devotion for the physical master is no substitute for love and devotion for the Shabd. Our devotion for the physical master, like any worldly attraction of the mind, is variable and temporary. But attachment to the Shabd or the Holy Ghost of the Christian trinity ultimately lives beyond mind, beyond this world. It’s real and permanent and is the only way to worship and merge with the Lord. Therefore, it is for us to make devotion to the Shabd our top priority. The physical master has brought us to the Shabd, and for this we are grateful. But ultimately the master is only a means to an end – a means to the Father via the Shabd.
That is why lapses in devotion to the physical master are ultimately inconsequential. But our devotion to the Shabd – our meditation – must be steadfast because it is only through attending to the Shabd that we can realize God. In the Bible Christ said:
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.4
He [Christ] says, even if you turn against the Master, you can be forgiven because you are in the flesh and I am also in the flesh like you, in this world. So if you have no faith in me, if you do not realize or even think that I have come from the Father, then your sin against the Master can be pardoned, provided you are giving your time to the light and sound to which your Master has attached you, you are attending to your meditation [emphasis added]. Because then you will yourself realize who I am.5
So he [Christ] says, do not turn your back on the Holy Ghost, even if you have no faith in me or are sometimes doubtful about me. Do not bother about it, because when you attach yourself to the Holy Ghost within, that Holy Ghost will itself fill you with faith in me. At another place he says that since I am at your level, all sorts of doubts come to you, but when you “have lifted up the Son of man” (John 8:28) – when you have lifted up your consciousness to the level of the son of man – then you will have no doubts about me. Then you will know that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11), and that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
True masters are humble servants of the Father. They are not interested in being deified and adulated. Their only focus is bringing their marked souls back to the Father. Hazur wrote that even if you turn against the master, you can be forgiven because you and the master are “in the flesh ... in this world.” Being in the physical world, he is imperfect. He makes mistakes. He is playing the role of a normal human being. The purpose of the physical master is not to be a revered God-man, but rather to attach his marked souls to the real master, the Shabd.
Once initiated the disciple must attend to the Shabd, must do his or her simran and bhajan, despite the mind’s unsteady faith in the physical master. Once we are drawn inward and upward by the sound and light of Shabd, beyond mind, only then will we understand who the physical master is. But until then our dharma, our duty, is to attend to the Shabd regardless of our fluctuating faith.
Hazur has said:
You don’t have the pull always the same. The pull [is] sometimes less, sometimes more. But we have to train our mind that we have to sit in meditation every day, irrespective of the pull or not. Sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly. We have to sit in meditation. Soldier everyday has to go out for parade in the morning – sometimes very happy to do the parade, sometimes he doesn’t want to do the parade, but he has to do the parade. That’s part of the discipline he has to go through. So everything we don’t have to do happily. Sometimes we are trained to do it by forcing – to force our mind that it has to sit in meditation. We have to fight with our mind. 6
Soldiers are trained to have discipline – they must do their duty. It may be a beautiful, sunny day – perfect for marching. It may be cold and rainy – miserable for marching. It doesn’t matter; the soldier must march. Hazur tells us we must have the discipline to force our mind to attend to the Shabd every day, regardless of how much faith we feel on any particular day. And that is exactly what Christ is telling us when he says that sinning against the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven: we must attend to the Holy Ghost, the Shabd, every day. Chasing after the physical master will get us nowhere.
In fact, deifying the master, focusing on him as the end rather than the means to God-realization, can impede our spiritual progress. If we are attached only to the physical master, to the point where we are not driven to seek the real master, the Shabd within, we will not progress spiritually. So physical masters will sometimes even ‘force’ their disciples to seek that real master within. Christ said:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.7
Hazur explains, paraphrasing Christ:
When I leave you, it will be in your interest. Hearing this the disciple is surprised. How can it be in the interest of a disciple that the Master leave him physically? Christ explains: Day and night you are running after me now. You are mad in your love, and you are not trying to devote your time to the Spirit inside. But without attaching yourself to the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, you can never go back to the Father. So when I leave you physically, you will not find me anywhere outside and will have no option but to seek me within. Then you will be in touch with the Comforter, who will pull you up to my level, the level of the Father.8
The masters take on the responsibility of ensuring that their disciples return to the Father. They do not come to make our lives in this physical world a paradise. They don’t want to attach us even more to the physical plane. They take whatever steps necessary to drive their marked souls within to merge with the Shabd, even sometimes by distancing themselves or physically leaving their disciples altogether, in order to force them to seek “comfort” in the Shabd within. The Comforter is such a beautiful name for the Shabd.
Hazur has told us that the definition of grace is anything that brings us closer to God. Worldly misfortunes such as the loss of one’s business, public humiliation, sickness, death in the family, and even the death of the master, can cause such distress that we are forced to seek comfort within, in the Shabd.
But how can we reach the Comforter? Baba Ji repeatedly emphasizes that we must take responsibility for our spiritual growth, for seeking the Comforter within. We have to do our part. We can’t rely on the physical master to do it for us.
During his recent visit to Haynes Park in England, Baba Ji focused on this theme of over-reliance on the physical master. He used the terms ‘over-dependence’ and ‘co-dependence’, terms often used to describe the relationship between addicts and their enablers. Addicts of alcohol and opioids, for example, become helpless slaves to their addictions. Addicts desperately seek comfort in their drugs. And when they indulge in those drugs, they do, in fact, experience transient comfort. But because the drugs’ effects are temporary, like everything else in the world, they leave the addict even more distressed when they wear off.
Baba Ji seemed to imply that we are seeking comfort in the wrong place – in our addiction to the physical form of the master, rather than the master who has transcended form, the the Shabd within.
And then Baba Ji said something stunning, something like: Your dependence on the physical master will drive him to leave the world. This sounds just like Christ saying, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.”
Is Baba Ji warning us that he will leave the world soon? Who knows? But the context of his statement is almost exactly the same as Christ’s – that our mad love for the physical master instead of the Spirit within is misguided. Both Christ and Baba Ji seem to imply that we need an extreme intervention to break our attachment to the physical master, to force us to attach ourselves to the true master within.
In this same vein, at Haynes Park, Baba Ji said something like this: At some point you will have to kill the master. Whoa! This sounds a lot like the Zen saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Again, the point is not to worship the physical, not to attach ourselves to the outer form of the master, or our concepts of the master, but to find the true master, who is formless, within.
As satsangis, we are seeking God-realization, not physical-master-realization. At some point we must shift our focus from the physical to the spiritual. Now, ‘kill’ is a strong word. Baba Ji is trying to slap us awake. This is a wake-up call, an intervention. We have become co-dependent, enmeshed in an unhealthy addiction that we must break. The master will do whatever it takes to bring us back to the true Divinity within, but we have to do our part.
He just wants us to do our meditation every day. Whether our attention is focused at the eye center or not, whether we are filled with love and devotion or not – that is not our business.
Hazur has told us that sinning against the Holy Ghost means not to attend to meditation at all. We have only a short time in the human form to repent, to wash away our karmic debt by attending to the Shabd. We must take advantage of this incredible gift of the human form and initiation by the master. Hazur explains:
You see, not attending to meditation is also sinning against our own self. Opportunity we get to get out of this creation – and we are wasting our time. Christ said sin against the Holy Ghost can never be forgiven. We are sinning against ourself – an opportunity we are trying to lose. And we should try to make the best use of this opportunity. Because if we commit other type of sins, that can be forgiven by meditation. If we don’t attend to meditation at all then how can we be forgiven for any karma, for any sin at all?9
- Radha Soami Satsang Beas Audio CD, December 3, 1988, track 4
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #262
- Bible (King James Version), Matthew 12:32
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Saint Matthew, 5th ed. (revised), p. 154
- RSSB Audio CD, #15, track 23
- Bible, John 16:7
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Saint John, 7th ed., p. 205
- RSSB Audio CD, November 29, 1987, track 27