Be Doers of the Word
Absorbed in the game of duality, we view ourselves as winners or losers, successes or failures. We are caught in a whirlwind of tension and power struggles. We inhabit various levels of unconsciousness. In the animal world some eat, some are eaten. In the human world, so-called winners degrade and ‘consume’ the losers. And the so-called ‘losers’ fight back, sometimes with violent means, empowered by long-suppressed hatred or fear, or both. This dark game is not new; it is a very old game, and it keeps renewing itself. And with the help of modern media, it intrudes into our attention with uglier and uglier twists and turns.
The saints tell us that there is a path out of this excruciating and exhausting game, and that true power and success is attained through a completely different game, in which there are no winners and no losers. It is called the game of love – bhakti – love for the divine. It is a game in which the winner gets the Lord and the loser becomes the Lord.
We are constantly active, constantly “doing” in the game of life, but to participate in the game of love, we must become a different kind of doer – a doer of the Word. Actually, we are naturally gifted to play the game of love, to be doers of the Word. We have just forgotten how to play.
We have been doers of so many things other than the Word. Some call these doings karmas, because in the Indian languages karm means doing. Doing the divine Word undoes all our previous human doings – our karmas. But how do we become doers of the Word? And why should we become doers of the Word? It boils down to a choice between truth and deception. Do we want truth, or we are happy to be deceived?
In the New Testament Bible, in a section considered to be the oldest part of that scripture, there is a letter by Christ’s brother James. In that letter, James says, “But be [you] doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”1
This verse says that if we do not practise the Word, we practise self-deception. Self-deception is when we are ignorant and confused, but not aware of our ignorance and confusion. We think that we know and understand. Yet we are deceiving ourselves. If we are tired of falsehood, of fake appearances and delusions, we will want to become doers of the Word rather than doers of all those other things with which we deceive ourselves. Earlier in the letter of James it says:
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.2
This verse explains clearly what kind of word we ought to become doers of, and also how to become doers of that Word.
First, the only way to know this Word is to “receive [it] with meekness.” The key to unlocking knowledge of this Word is meekness and humility. We leave behind our achievement-oriented and competitive mentality – our desire to keep proving that “I’m better than you.” This special kind of Word cannot be achieved – it can only be received, in stillness and humility. So receptivity and stillness are essential to one who wants to be a doer of the Word. We become doers and receivers of the Word by losing ourselves.
James describes the Word in a peculiar way. He calls it “engrafted Word,” an English translation for the Greek phrase emphytos Logos. When one tree is grafted onto another, there is one tree made from two – the two become one. But the original Greek in this Biblical passage does not really talk about grafting at all. Emphytos Logos really means: native, natural, inborn Word, constituting our inner nature. This Word was not grafted upon us; rather we were born with it. It is a Word we have known since we took our first breath. It is our inner nature that we were familiar with even before we took our first breath in this physical body.
This innate Word is part of our essence and nature (phy means nature), but as we became rooted in materiality, we lost awareness of the Word. It is vital that we regain this lost awareness because, as James says, this Word that sustains the entire universe, including our own body, from the second it is conceived to be born in the flesh, is the only thing that can save our souls. James is not saying anything new with this. Many saints from various traditions have said that the Lord’s Word is all that can save us from deception, confusion and the meaningless suffering born out of this confusion. Guru Nanak said:
He alone is learned and wise
Who practises the Lord’s Name.3
Socrates had a similar insight. An oracle, a divinely inspired person, declared that there was no human being wiser than the Athenian philosopher Socrates, who lived 2,400 years ago.4 In all humility, Socrates thought that this pronouncement made no sense if it were taken literally. But to show his respect for it, Socrates spent his entire life trying to discover its true meaning. He mixed with intellectuals, professionals and experts in various branches of knowledge at that time, thinking that surely the wisest human being had to be among them.5 However, his tireless questioning, described in Plato’s dialogues, revealed that the knowledge these experts possessed was narrowly specialized. Outside of their own specialty, their ‘wisdom’ seemed to consist only of opinions and concepts. In addition, these experts kept contradicting themselves, saying contradictory and illogical things – all the while considering themselves wise, skilled and learned. Socrates finally concluded that when the oracle had called him the wisest human being, he had meant that Socrates was the only human who was willing to admit his ignorance and not deceive himself that he knew when he did not know.6
Socrates was the only person willing to openly declare that he was confused. He used to say that he knew nothing and never taught anything.7 He only asked questions8 because true knowledge resides at a different level – beyond the opinionated mind, at a level where the soul can recollect, recall and remember its original inborn knowledge. The insight that all concepts and opinions lead to confusion was to him the height of human intelligence, for “Human wisdom is of little or no value.” 9
The realization that all human knowledge is actually confusion was spiritually the most fruitful state for him. Therefore he did everything in his power to bring his disciples into a realization of how confused they were, so that they could stop relying on their arrogant belief that they were experts, and instead begin to shed their opinions and seek the true knowledge that cannot be communicated – that can only be experienced.
Likewise, Maharaj Sawan Singh, the Great Master, says in Spiritual Gems:
You want knowledge. Knowledge lies within you. Sound Current is knowledge. The more you study it, the higher you rise and the wiser you become. And this knowledge is complete in Sach Khand [the True Realm].10
The knowledge is within you and it is from within yourself that you are to find it. Books give the description and induce you to go within, but do not give the experience and knowledge.11
Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century French lay brother, arrived at this same insight that James, Socrates, Guru Nanak and Great Master expressed. Although he spent his life in a monastery kitchen, for him every action, however small or insignificant, was an act of love for the Lord. He lived in the presence of his Beloved even among the din of pots and pans. He wrote:
If you would go forward in the spiritual life, you must avoid relying on the subtle conclusions and fine reasonings of the unaided intellect. Unhappy they who seek to satisfy their desire in that! The Creator is the great teacher of Truth. We can reason laboriously for many years, but fuller far and deeper is the knowledge of the hidden things of Faith and of Himself, which He flashes as light into the heart of the humble.12
We cannot be doers of the Word by reading books, by thinking about the Word or talking about it. Only a living Master can show us the meaning of the books and help us understand how to be doers of the Word. Samarth Ramdas says:
I will explain by master’s grace:
the deepest of the deep is known
only through the words of a master.
This gives perfect satisfaction.
My own experience has shown that
all knowledge, spiritual and worldly,
is carried in the words of the master.
The words of the master guided me
to all that is most profound –
in this I found the greatest fulfilment.13
When we go to a Master, his words always direct us to the inner Word, which does not perish and does not change and therefore can save us from the perishable material plane. But merely coming to see the Master is not sufficient for becoming doers of the Word:
All the world can see the Master,
But this does not lead to salvation
Unless one practises the Shabd.14
We need the Master to teach us how to climb gradually from our limited physical form to the formless creative power of the Shabd. We start with love for the physical Master, then gradually we fall in love with his teachings, and then we fall in love with the practice that he prescribes. And that practice leads us to the reality and Truth that this verse refers to as Shabd.
This gradual ascent from the physical to the spiritual is also what Socrates taught when he spoke about the ladder of love in Plato’s dialogue called the Dinner Party15. A group of distinguished intellectuals, a doctor, a successful playwright, etc., gathered for a dinner party, and Socrates was invited. They decided that everyone would give a discourse about love. All gave very sophisticated and learned speeches, but all these refined speeches presented love as a calculated transaction. Socrates spoke about the ladder of love – how it starts with attraction to physical beauty and ends with love for eternal unperishable Beauty, the Divine itself. At the end of the evening a young drunken disciple crashed the party and gave an impassioned speech about how Socrates made him feel like a teenager in love:
When I hear him…I find that my heart leaps and the tears stream down my face at his words. And I see him having the same effect upon many others. I have listened to…other skilled speakers, but…never experienced anything like this. They haven’t disturbed my whole being and made me dissatisfied with the slave-like state of my life.
Besides infusing this young man’s entire being with intense love similar to the ecstatic state of dancers celebrating a mystery cult, Socrates also provoked in him a state of intense intellectual confusion:
What is most amazing about him is that he is like no other human being whether past or present.… He is so odd (atopos), and so odd are his words that however hard you look you will never find anyone who comes even close to him. If you open up his words, you will find that they are the most divine and full of ideas of goodness. They range over all the subjects that you must examine if you are going to become a truly good person.16
The disciple who delivered this love speech did not know how to make sense of Socrates. He had only experienced love as sexual attraction – he had barely put his foot on the first rung of the ladder of love. With Socrates he had experienced spiritual love for the first time and did not know what was happening to him. And so he gave the strongest speech on love of the entire evening. While the others were weaving together intellectually clever thoughts, he spoke from experience. He confessed that he had even tried to seduce Socrates multiple times, but failed – he, the irresistible young and attractive aristocrat had no charms with which he could entice Socrates.
Through the unhinged speech of this rascal, who broke all social rules and intruded upon the civilized party, we now have an inkling of the intensity of love that Socrates inspired. Plato called his master the “embodiment of Love,” similar to Eros, the great mediator between the human and divine realm.17 Socrates spent his life helping his friends channel their love from the physical toward the Divine itself. He served for many years as a teacher of spirituality in Athens, five centuries before the birth of Christ.
Why did Plato include the raw, ungroomed confession of a young disciple, with all its embarrassing sexual overtones, in this refined dialogue full of learned speeches about love? This disciple, whose name was Alcibiades, was also an opportunistic politician who brought his city to the brink of catastrophe. Plato included his words because he wanted to show the power of the master over anyone and everyone, regardless of their social position or level of maturity.
But he also included it because he wanted to present in a dramatic way the three powerful tools of Socrates’ guidance. The first was intellectual confusion, the second was intense love, and the third was ethics. However drunk – both with wine and the intoxication of physical attraction to the elderly and homely Socrates – the disciple summarized the master’s teachings well: he said that Socrates was perplexing and confusing, but also that his ideas were full of goodness and that he taught everything one needed to become a truly good human being.
Today Socrates is considered the originator of the study of ethics, which explores the ins and outs of how to become a good human being, with the aim of climbing the ladder of love and rising to the level of divine immortal Beauty. He insisted upon ethics and purification as the foundation for spiritual ascent. Love without ethics can be destructive. Spirituality and religion without ethics become extremism or narcissism. All three – intellectual humility, intense love and ethics – are necessary if one is to become a doer of the Word, receptive to the divine gift of the Word and a humble follower of divine Love.
Masters throughout the ages have taught various methods for purifying the mind and elevating people’s ethics. They often prescribed a repetition, chant or incantation to occupy the constantly buzzing mind and allow the soul-energies to gain momentum. For satsangis, our Master provides simran, which is sweet to the lover due to its association with the Master who gave it. Every form of purification initially involves effort and pain, which only a genuine lover can endure. Kanra Ram Das encouragingly says,
Blessed is the Guru’s Word,
For with it one attains the Lord’s Nectar….
The words of the Master are sweet;
One gets nectar through them.18
Why do we not taste that sweetness? Some of us are like sick bees that have forgotten how to enjoy the flowers’ nectar. Like us, sick bees confuse nectar with poison. The Name has always sustained us, but we have been unaware of it, poisoned as we have been with the disease of ego. Now, however, the Lord’s nectar, the Name, can reside consciously in our spiritual heart:
The Master whispered the Lord’s Name in my ear;
It dwells inside my heart.19
We receive the Name through our physical ears, but the inner practice of simran starts opening our spiritual ears as well, and it transforms our consciousness. Like is attracted to like. The Name is inside, and so is our ability to enjoy its sweetness. As Samarth Ramdas says:
Listen to the signs of knowledge:
true knowledge is knowledge of the soul,
it is seeing our true Self –
the name for this is knowledge.20
We know the soul only when we experience the Shabd because only the Shabd is like the soul; in fact, the soul is of the same essence as the Shabd. Both are eternal and imperishable:
What’s important is to know the Lord,
to recognize that true form.
Distinguish imperishable from perishable –
the name for this is knowledge.
Listen to the signs of pure knowledge:
that pure form is what we are.21
Yes, the Word is what we are – but this Word will attract the soul consciousness only when it is purified of poison. Just like Socrates, who cared so much for ethics, the Great Master wrote:
The first essential step to a spiritual life is character.… It is the duty of a devotee to keep constant watch over his mind and never let it loose. As a mother looks after her child, so does a true devotee watch his mind. 22
He also wrote, “The Sound will attract a pure mind, which is free from passion’s dross [poison].”23 He and all the Sant Mat Masters have always emphasized the importance of ethics, of being a good human being.
The Sant Mat vows are all about ethics and regaining the soul’s purity: living a pure ethical life in relation to other humans by treating them with respect, compassion and understanding; ethical treatment of animals by not killing them for food; and also an ethical relationship to ourselves by not drugging ourselves with substances that degrade our capacity to reason and to exercise the most essential feature of our humanity – discrimination. The fourth vow, to meditate daily for at least two and a half hours, ensures our ethical relationship with the Lord – not sinning against the Holy Ghost, the Word, which gave us our breath and which is our very essence.
As Baba Ji said recently, Sach Khand is a concept to us. The only reality for us now is the Master. The Master alone can lead us to the imperishable Word, the eternal Shabd that will truly liberate us from the bitter roller coaster of shifting Fortune, in which we are winner today, loser tomorrow.
With the Master’s nectar we are freed from the endless ups and downs that have kept us sick, confused, and ignorant of Truth and reality for so long. We become receptive to his grace, the only thing capable of moving us beyond the field of winning and losing, opinions and interpretations. He does whatever it takes to make us open and receptive to that inner reality that is already ours. We just have to realize it.
Through confusion, intense love and strict ethical guidelines, which are all gifts of his grace, we can come again into the fresh awareness of our true nature, which is all about enjoying the nectar of Nam, the Word that gave birth to us and which is our only hope for sweetness in this bitter, poisoned world.Author’s Note: For the quotes from Plato I used the Loeb Classical Library volumes Apology, Vol. 1; Meno, Vol. 2; and Symposium, Vol. 3. I consulted the Greek for this article, first using my own translation in The Spiritual Guide, then modifying it further here.
- Bible (King James Version), James 1:22
- Ibid., 1:21
- Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p.1288, quoted in Sultan Bahu, p.111
- Plato, Apology 21A
- Apology 22D
- Apology 21D, 23B
- Apology 33B
- Plato, Meno 82A
- Apology 23A
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, Letter 175
- Ibid., Letter 66
- Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 1999 (Bridge-Logos), p.17
- Samarth Ramdas in Many Voices, One Song, pp.134–35
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V, 6th ed., p.347
- Plato, Symposium 211C
- Ibid., 215 D-E, cf. The Spiritual Guide, Vol. 1, p.313
- Ibid., 202 E-203A
- Guru Ram Das, in Philosphy of the Masters, Vol. V, 6th ed., p.344
- Ibid., p.130
- Samarth Ramdas in Many Voices, One Song, p.134
- Spiritual Gems, Letter 177