Rebuilding Our Platforms
There’s a story in Tales of the Mystic East about Guru Amardas, the third Sikh Guru, who was preparing to appoint his successor.1 As there were several disciples who were hoping to be appointed, the Guru decided to test them. He requested that each one go out and collect some earth and build a small mud platform for him.
Each one did the task, but the Guru rejected every single one as not good enough. So he asked them to tear them down and build them again. When they had done it, he told them it was not quite the right place – could they build them on another piece of land? Again, the Guru was not satisfied and they had to build the platforms in another place.
This went on for some time, with the Guru always rejecting the disciples’ platforms for some reason or another. Before long, several disciples began to think that the Guru, who was already in his later years when he had been appointed successor to Guru Angad Dev, maybe was becoming senile and not in full possession of his faculties. So, many of them quit the work. For the few who remained, it continued to be the same story: no matter how or where the platforms were built, none met the Guru’s satisfaction. Finally, there was only one disciple left – Ramdas. He continued to build and tear down those mud platforms, even as his fellow disciples ridiculed him. He said to them, “Brothers, the whole world is blind. But if there is one man who can see, it is the Satguru. Then too, the whole world is mad. It is only the Satguru who is sane.”
Then they told him that both he and the Satguru must be out of their minds. Ramdas answered them saying, “Brothers, you may say whatever you like about this worthless servant of the Lord, but do not, I beg of you, utter a single disrespectful word about my Satguru. Even if I should have to make platforms for the rest of my life in obedience to the Satguru’s wishes, by his grace I would continue to do so.” And he continued patiently and cheerfully making and remaking his platform seventy times. Then Guru Amardas told him to stop building and said: “I am very pleased with you. For you alone have given me implicit obedience and complete surrender to my will and wishes.” None of the other disciples were able to give the Satguru their full love and devotion, to have utter faith in him, and obey his wishes with a grateful heart. Only Ramdas. And then Guru Amardas named Ramdas as his successor, saying, “It is a rare disciple who completely surrenders himself to the Satguru.”
Some of us may feel relieved that Baba Ji doesn’t put us to that kind of a test! Yet there is much we can apply to our own lives from this example. The platforms our Master asks us to build may not be made of mud – they might be our meditation or our seva or the way we live our lives. We might ask ourselves how well those platforms we build would meet his standard.Daily life
Let’s first look at how we live our daily lives. At some point, before the path, most of us were probably looking for an alternative to the pain, uncertainty, and confusion of life in this material world. And when the Master accepted us, we could hardly believe our good fortune. At initiation, we promised him that we would live a way of life that would help clear our karmic debt, tame our wild and wandering mind, and allow our soul to become free and pure, unfettered by mind and senses. And we promised to devote a tenth of our day to our meditation practice every day, so that the soul could return to its source by means of the sound current, the Shabd.
Every day, we make a determined and sincere effort to maintain this way of life, and we probably succeed most of the time. But we are still dealing with the mind and the passions – anger, greed, lust, attachment, and pride or ego. Also, the karmic interplay between us and others may occasionally disrupt our good intentions. We fall, we fail, we mess up, we hurt someone – we do something we regret. Since we are constantly going against the current of this world, which glorifies and encourages so many behaviors and attitudes we avoid, it’s understandable that once in a while we may trip or be tripped up; we may hurt someone without even realizing it; we may make a bad choice, despite our best resolve. The platform we build at those times is not one we would want to present to the Master! So what do we do? We just have to build it again – and again and again.
This metaphor of rebuilding our platform simply means doing something again when we know we fall short, and never giving up. It means doing it for our beloved Master, because it pleases him.
The Master accepts our messes, our missteps; he doesn’t reject us. He does expect that we will recognize and clean up the mess, apologize if we have hurt someone, ask for forgiveness, learn from our mistakes, and forgive ourselves. Maharaj Charan Singh tells us:
In order to forgive ourselves, we must cease repeating that mistake. When we really repent and do not repeat that mistake again, then we can say that we have forgiven ourselves.2
So the Master forgives us, and he also wants us to forgive ourselves. Also, if someone needs our forgiveness, we must not hesitate to give it, or else, Hazur says, we are punishing ourselves.3 And he tells us that we get more happiness by forgiving than by seeking forgiveness.4 We must never seek revenge, but forgive from the heart, just as the Master does for us. And we always want to clear up misunderstandings, not decide who is at fault, not blame the other person. After all, we can never have the full perspective on what’s happening with the other person, what’s informing the other person. If they sow a bad seed, they will have the bad crop to harvest. But if we retaliate, then we become like that other person – we create our own bad seeds.5
Our master wants us to be forgiving. We should never be vengeful, but remember the basic teaching to love one another. If we have a spirit of revenge, then our heart cannot be pure. Unless our heart is pure, we will not be receptive to the Lord’s grace.6 So, in our daily conduct, we want o build our platform by giving Master our implicit obedience and obeying his wishes with a cheerful heart.Seva
Seva is another area where we are constantly building and rebuilding the platforms we create out of our actions and our attitude. Great Master tells us that service is rendered in four different ways: with the body, with wealth, with mind, and with soul (surat).
Hazur tells us that the seva we do with our soul – listening to the Shabd within – is the real seva that will take us back to the Father and enable us to merge with that divine melody within. All the other sevas are a means to that end.
Regarding our approach to seva he says:
Seva comes from the heart. It is not a compulsion for anybody – it’s not that you have to do it, but you want to do it. It must come from within, and there must be love in doing seva. There should be no feeling of obligation that we have to do it.7
So, for example, no matter what physical seva we may be doing to serve the master or the sangat, we should do it with faith, love and devotion for him, and a cheerful heart. If we do seva out of a sense of obligation rather than love, if serving others doesn’t make them happy, or make us happy; if our ego is inflated by what we do as seva, then we probably need to rebuild our platform.
And what about mental seva? Do we make our meditation the priority in our life? Do we remember simran during the day when our mind is free? Are we able to sit still when we meditate? Keep our mind focused at the eye center? Put in our full time at one sitting? Our Master has given us this very important seva to do, but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our efforts just don’t make the grade. Our platforms need to be rebuilt every day!Meditation
If our attitude is like that of Ramdas, then we have a grateful heart when we sit for meditation, even if we see no lights and hear no sounds. It’s not like we need a discotheque in our mind. We are doing what Hazur told us is the one thing that we should never sacrifice to anything of this world. It doesn’t matter that our body doesn’t remain as still as Baba Ji’s when he’s sitting in satsang, we just keep making the effort. It doesn’t matter that our mind runs out when we try to concentrate – we just have to bring it back. Every day we get to build another platform with our meditation. We get to make another effort for him.
It is a long slow process to be transformed into pure and unsullied beings ready to return to the Creator. So we get up day after day and rebuild that platform, we do our seva of simran and bhajan without expectation. Hazur tells us:
We should attend to meditation with an absolutely relaxed mind and just do our duty. When it comes, it just comes. Our excitement or our anxiety does not bring anything. It is the concentration that brings it; concentration with love and longing and his grace bring it. So, when it has to come, it comes automatically.8
And despite what we may we read in the books about the inner splendors, sights and sounds, these are not the goal of our meditation. Hazur says:
You see, sometimes it is not in our interest to have those results, but progress is always there. Every time we attend to meditation, progress is there. ... He knows best when to give and how to give and how much to give. We have only to knock.9
We have only to knock on his door, and he will answer when the time is right. Whether or not any progress is visible to us, he is transforming us through our meditation, removing our karmic dirt so that we can end the long succession of lives we’ve had in this creation. Until then, we just have to go through our destiny, riding the roller coaster of our fate, taking the good along with the bad. Master will give us what we need to get through whatever comes our way, and our meditation acts as a buffer against the effects of our karma. Great Master tells us in Spiritual Gems:
The fate karma is undoubtedly strong. It has to be borne and there is no escape from it. But, through meditation, the will power becomes so strong that a person does not feel or mind either its favourable or adverse effects. ... Meditation is the antidote to karma.10
We can now face whatever our future might bring with the confidence that no matter what happens, he will get us through it without us losing our balance – provided we are keeping our promise to do our meditation. Although he won’t change our destiny, he will give us what we need to adjust to it.
If we are able to keep our perspective when storms of karma are raging around us, isn’t that a sign of progress? Even though we struggle to focus our mind and keep our body still when we sit for meditation, the Master knows the effort we are making. He is always with us and knows what we are going through every day. Meditation can give us peace within, no matter what is going on around us – when we do our practice. Hazur puts it this way:
Love and devotion
You feel the effect of meditation before you actually see any progress within. ... And there is some sort of contentment. Your attitude towards the events of the world is also changing. You are developing a detached outlook on everything by meditation, though you may not have experienced any progress within at all.11
Another effect that comes with meditation is that our love for the Master grows. At its core, Sant Mat is a path of bhakti, or devotion. The path of devotion begins with the Master, a true mystic teacher who finds seekers, leads them away from the attractions of the world and connects them to that Shabd within, the life force that created and sustains the entire universe. If not for the Master’s intervention, we could never know God within us.
The Master has been described as a “splendid synthesis of the human and the divine qualities.”12 He possesses a human body, like we do – he experiences hunger, thirst, fatigue and other human characteristics – yet he also has all the essential attributes of God. He is above all the negative passions, he has unselfish love for all beings, he is patient, humble, and always attuned to God. The living Master is our accessible link to the imperishable Nam. While he will eventually leave his human body, just as we will, the Nam, the Shabd he connects us to is eternal.
The Master teaches us the repetition of names that are imbued with the power and energy of God, the Father, the Supreme Creator. Their loving repetition generates remembrance of and love for God. This practice of simran or repetition “culminates in absolute absorption in the transcendent Name, the power that is God.”13
And this “absolute absorption in the transcendent name” is the real seva of the soul. This is what happens when we have finally built the “platform” that pleases our beloved Master. This is the culmination of our practice, when we reach the eye center through repetition of those Names that we are given at initiation, and our attention is concentrated and held there. For then we reach the Radiant Shabd Master who will pull our consciousness upward and inward on the journey back to the imperishable One.
We began with the story of disciples building mud platforms at the direction of their master Guru Amardas – many tried but gave up when they thought they couldn’t please their master with their efforts. But one disciple, Ramdas, was determined to do his duty cheerfully, building platform after platform in love, obedience and surrender to his Satguru, without question. If we, like Ramdas, give our Master our “full love and devotion, have utter faith in him, and obey his wishes with a cheerful heart,”14 why would he not give us the spiritual treasure that we long for? Ramdas rebuilt platforms for his master seventy times. Even if we have to rebuild them seventy times seventy times seventy times and more in our daily life, our seva and our meditation, our Master too will ultimately accept the “platforms” that we have built and rebuilt for him with our love and devotion. The time will come when we will be completely absorbed in him, in his Shabd form. Our love of the form will culminate in love of the formless, and that love is union, that love is eternal, that love is One.
- “Guru Ramdas and the Mud Platforms,” in Tales of the Mystic East (2006), pp. 104-105.
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #342
- Ibid., #337
- Ibid, #337
- Ibid., #335
- Ibid., #190
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #357
- Ibid., #359
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, #28
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #161
- Many Voices, One Song, p.90
- Ibid., p.95
- “Guru Ramdas and the Mud Platforms,” in Tales of the Mystic East (1977), p. 129; reprinted in Swami Paramatmananda Puri, On the Road to Freedom, Vol. 2; Amritapuri, Kerala, 2000, p. 83.