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As Innocent as a Child

The popular 19th-century English poet William Wordsworth was inspired by his great love of the natural world and felt “a sense sublime” that “rolls through all things.”1 In the poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” 2 Wordsworth reflected deeply on his experience of the waning of “celestial light” in the passage of time from youth to old age:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream. ...

But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there has passed away a glory from the earth. ...
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

The poet wonders what has become of the “celestial light” that he saw everywhere as a young child, when everything appeared fresh and bright to a young soul, newly born with a clean slate.

The poet reflects:

But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

In childhood we have no responsibilities and nothing to worry about. All our needs are taken care of. There is nothing for the young soul to do but gaze in wonder at this bright, new, colourful world, full of curious and enchanting sensations. If only we could sustain that pure, innocent gaze and turn it inwards. But gradually, day by day, life begins to impose demands, and little by little the material world starts to lose its lustre and can no longer satisfy our inner hunger:

Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy, ...
At length the Man perceives it [the celestial light] die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

It can’t be helped; we are hardly aware of it happening. This process has been going on for lifetime after lifetime. We are caught up in an unreliable world which holds out so much promise and delivers so little.

Soami Ji asks us:

Why don’t you listen, dear soul,
  to the melody of the Name?
You’ve let yourself become trapped
  in the labyrinth of creation.
Is this the happiness you were after

We can no longer see that “celestial light” that we could still see in our pure infancy. We’re too caught up in what Wordsworth calls our “noisy years,” but what will those look like when we look back in old age? Our outer lives won’t amount to much. How many older people have we heard say that it all went by so quickly? As Wordsworth says, those years “seem moments in the being/Of the eternal Silence.”

We’re left only with a sense of longing and nostalgia. The Masters tell us that this longing is a sign of the Lord’s grace and that it will turn us towards the Lord. What have we lost? Where has that “celestial light” gone? How can we find it again? Where should we look for it? The soul is crying out.

There was a radio interview with a celebrated personality who had once served as a merchant seaman. The discussion touched on his spiritual beliefs and he said, “I can assure you that on board ship in a raging typhoon in the South China Sea there is no such thing as an atheist!” We are always crying out from the depths of our soul, and Maharaj Charan Singh once told us that when we cry out earnestly to the Lord he can’t help but respond.

The mystics tell us that the Light has not gone anywhere. It is still within us, where it always has been. What we need to do is to become receptive to it. Hazur used to say that everything we need is within us.

According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the disciples asked Jesus,“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus replied by asking a small child to come and sit with them and said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.4

In Light on St. Matthew Hazur commented on this passage:

Except you be converted means that our whole outlook on life should be changed. Now the tendency of our mind is outward but we have to withdraw our mind inward to the eye centre and turn it upward: that is conversion. We change from one way of living to another. And conversion comes by initiation and meditation.5

Just as an infant sees everything upside down and gradually learns how to focus its eyes to see properly, we must learn how to focus our inner eye. This inner eye unfortunately has not yet been opened, and we are unaware of its existence. Meanwhile our outer, physical eyes are focused on the material world and draw our attention away from that inner vision.

Hazur continues:

Unless you are converted – initiated and do your meditation and become as little children – you will not be able to eliminate ego from yourself and become as innocent as a child – and, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.6

This conversion involves receptivity, acceptance, giving up ego, becoming humble. The Great Master compared the disciple’s situation with that of a student learning a musical instrument. Reading a book about it will not be of much help. What the student needs are an instrument and a teacher – and then lots of practice. This will lead to becoming an expert – the more ardent the practice, the greater the development of understanding.

There is a saying among golfers that the more you practise the luckier you get.

It’s the same with spiritual practice. We have the perfect instrument to practice with. The human form is at the top of creation, the highest form it is possible to reach in all of nature. And we have a maestro teacher. How lucky can we get? Now the student is free to practise, attend satsang and absorb the teachings. Tulsi Sahib said, “Cleanse the sanctuary of your heart to welcome the Beloved.”7

It is not going to be a quick fix. Habits have become second nature. We need patience, determination and a positive attitude to overcome them. The Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, notoriously bleak but humorous in his outlook, wrote, “Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.”8

Educational theorists say that FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning – a way of recognizing that we don’t always succeed at the first attempt but we need to persevere and that will lead to eventual success. So we need to follow what street posters used to say during the Second World War, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

What choice do we have? We are enjoying the best of possible circumstances—the human form and the association of a Master. Hazur once replied to a question concerning the succession of the golden, silver, copper and iron ages by asking, “Isn’t this a Golden Age?” 9 We have everything we need.

The trouble is that handing over to the Master does not come easily to our mind, the seat of the ego. We think we want to be in control. Like a wayward child the mind gets frustrated and angry when it doesn’t get its own way. It is lured by temptations and is then dissatisfied with the results. On the one hand it clings to old familiar habits while at the same time seeking novelty and new excitements.

Submission is the opposite of ego. Questions don’t arise. The mind fills with devotion and we submit to the Master’s guidance. According to the Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava, “Complete devotion brings complete blessing; absence of doubts brings complete success.”10

The mystics encourage us to use our intellect and discrimination in order to understand spiritual matters and the teachings of a Master, but after one has taken shelter with a Master one should surrender to him unconditionally.

Taking shelter means having full confidence in the Master and to be guided by him – not in the sense of worshipping him physically but of following his instructions and acting upon them. When the disciple surrenders to the Master for good, the Master looks after him in every way. Just as a mother brings up her child, so the Master looks after his disciple.

Soami Ji wrote:

“The mind dissolved when Radha Soami glanced at me
Now I’m like a child looked after in the lap of the Master.”

When we reach that stage we will become like a small child and once again enjoy that “celestial light” and hear that ringing radiance.

  1. William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798, Stanza 5.
  2. William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”.
  3. Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Poetry, Bachan 14, Shabd 5, p. 199.
  4. Bible, Matthew 18:3–4.
  5. Light on Saint Matthew, p. 211.
  6. Light on Saint Matthew, p. 212.
  7. Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras, p. 230.
  8. Samuel Becket, Worstword Ho!
  9. Die to Live, p. 280.
  10. Padmasambhava, quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
  11. Sar Bachan Poetry (Hindi), Bachan 6, Shabd 5.