Freedom from Misconceptions
Sant Mat is a path of universal spirituality and a path of unity. It emphasizes the common thread, the common spiritual legacy of all humanity. This common legacy is the creative power within, called Shabd, to which every human being can awaken when he or she rises above the slumbering body and the dormant mind-bound consciousness. Five centuries before Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said:
For those who are awake, there is one unified common cosmos, while each one of those who is asleep is turned towards his own private world.’1
What is it that keeps us bound to our own limited private world? Soami Ji, the first of the Radha Soami Masters, said that he tried all possible methods, pilgrimages, study of scriptures, book learning and still could not awaken his mind. He finally found a Master who showed him the way. He describes it in Sar Bachan Poetry:
Without Shabd this mind can never awaken, whatever we may do.2
The oldest mystical tradition in the West, that of the Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus, spoke about the “music of the spheres,” and about “voices from on high.” These Greek philosophers did not want to be credited with some special wisdom. They said they had learned everything from the much-more ancient civilization of the Egyptians. They also believed that there is an innate, inborn knowledge residing within each human being, waiting to be awakened, that is shared by all nations. They did not consider themselves unique thinkers, but as one Platonist of the second century said:
All Masters are representatives, mouthpieces of an ancient wisdom and unity of truth that lay at the core of all traditions.3
He cited Indian Brahmins, Jews, the Babylonian Magi and the Egyptians, because in the second century Christianity was not yet a mainstream religion and Islam was still 500 years in the future.
Baba Ji also wants us to acquire this perspective of universal spirituality, otherwise why would the Dera publish books about so many spiritual traditions or build a library collecting them all, including seva to read and review books to place in the library? It’s all to show us that there is a common thread running through every human being’s search for happiness and spirituality. He wants to open us to the “unified common cosmos” of which Heraclitus spoke, the microcosm within us, which we can access when we leave our limited private world behind. Soami Ji says in the same poem:
Slowly, gradually, the mind is now awakening
and the world is beginning to appear false.
The soul gets help from the mind
and each reaches its destination.4
The sign that the mind is awakening is that the world begins to appear false. The soul cannot get released from its connection to the mind until the mind awakens and rids itself of misconceptions that confuse it about what is true and what is false. Once truth dwells in us, misconceptions vanish. Our mind can help us. The upward and inward turning mind can be our best friend.
Maharaj Jagat Singh Ji said that “clear thinking is ninety percent meditation.”5 When the mind is controlled by the body and its passions, forgetful of its Lord and oriented towards his gifts alone, it is our worst enemy. But when the Intellect is turned inward and upward, it liberates our soul which is nothing but love, and is ready to merge into its source. A soul’s wisdom and love are the highest form of intelligence. We can’t call divine love and devotion irrational, can we?
The process of awakening is the process of getting rid of irrational misconceptions. The soul gets help from the mind by transcending the mind. In another poem, Soami Ji begins by asking a question that bothers all those who are trying to awaken from their irrational dream-like state:
How can I rid myself of the misconceptions that keep haunting me?6
This question, and the entire poem, could have been written by Socrates or Plato, who spent their lives helping people get rid of their false opinions and misconceptions which lead to bad choices and cloud the power of discernment. Baba Ji has said that intellect is given to us for the sole purpose of discerning right from wrong and to understand the purpose of everything. Our choice is not between good and bad because nothing is really good or bad. Our choice is between the “real good” and that which only appears as “good” to our senses for a short moment but isn’t so. People have always struggled to distinguish between what only seems good and what really is good. Misconceptions, mental impressions and fantasies haunt us and prevent us from awakening to our divine essence, to our divine inner light and divine life within.
When Divinity loves us, it grants us true understanding of what truly matters, the highest principles governing all.7
And the reverse is true: misconceptions and wrong opinions are a divine punishment in themselves because those confused thoughts keep us wandering around through various life-forms, aimlessly and helplessly. In the next verse of Soami Ji’s poem, he describes the state of the confused mind:
The mind never accepts the Master’s advice,
instead, it harbours doubts and misgivings.
Masters do not want us to accept their word blindly; they do not issue orders but give friendly advice. We take such advice casually because we are educated and think, “Who can tell me what to do?” We end up with doubts or we even attack the Master, blaming our failures on him. We try to measure him according to our own limited yardstick, distorted by the fog of our obsessions and negativity, of which we may not even be aware. We end up with misgivings, mistrust, worry, anxiety, doubt, questions, uncertainties and suspicion. Soami Ji continues:
With an intellect moulded by lust and anger
it [the mind] tries to appraise the wisdom of the
Baba Ji frequently gives the example of how absurd it is to pour clean water into a dirty vessel, meaning that the spirit will not enter a mind that isn’t clean. Similarly, 2500 years ago the Pythagoreans also thought that they should not
…pour teachings and divine insights into individuals confused about ethical standards and troubled by obsessions. This would be the same as if someone pours pure and clean water into a deep well full of mud. Such a person both stirs up the mud, gets splashed by it, and spoils the clean water.”8
The members of the Platonic tradition felt that their teachings could be correctly understood only by a purified mind. Soami Ji is voicing a universal truth when he says that no matter how intelligent, clever, successful and skilful we are, if our mind is under the influence of obsessions and negativity, we cannot judge or appraise the wisdom of the Master. Also, no matter how wise the Master is, and how wise his advice, it still can provoke doubts and misgivings from an intellect that has not been purified or is not in the process of gaining its purity.
Therefore, when initiating disciples, Radha Soami Masters do not just convey teachings or information but lay out an entire program and discipline for the purification of every level of our being. They give us the dietary vows; they provide their physical presence and seva for our purification on the material level; they prescribe continuous Simran with love and devotion for our mental purification; and they connect us to the Shabd for our lasting spiritual purity and liberation, which is the true purification from misconceptions and confused thinking.
Soami Ji further describes the condition of the impure mind:
Instead of serving the Master and having faith in him,
it expects flattery and recognition from him.
It doesn’t understand the severity of its own situation –
how will it ever reach its destination?
We are in a desperate situation. We are bleeding to death, from a spiritual point of view. Our energies, our will, and our love are drained by materialistic obsessions. We are plagued by what Socrates called double ignorance, which is the belief that we know when we do not know. He explains wisdom as the humility to realize our own ignorance:
For you will have the wisdom not to think you know that which you do not know.9
This is the condition to which Soami Ji also refers. We are ignorant of the severity of the situation, and in addition we are unaware of our ignorance. We don’t even know that we don’t know. We use clear, logical thought when orienting ourselves in the outside world. However, when it comes to making choices that matter most for our inner happiness and ultimate well-being, we allow ourselves to be swayed by irrational forces inside or outside of us. As Baba Ji said has often said, we get scared, we compromise under the pressure of circumstances, and then we have to pay for the rest of our life.
Masters offer us their physical presence and the priceless opportunity to selflessly serve them, and they teach by example the ideal of selfless love. In these verses, Soami Ji says that serving the Master and having faith in him without the expectation of flattery and recognition is a step in the direction of liberating ourselves from our misconceptions. We set aside our own views, the misconception that we are the “doer,” because from that comes the sense of personal achievement and the egoic fantasy that we are important. Soami Ji identifies the clinging to our own opinions as our greatest obstacle.
Similarly, Socrates had identified opinions as the greatest enemy of divine knowledge because opinions are based upon an illusory reality that is in constant flux. For Socrates, human wisdom is nothing compared to divine wisdom10, or to the wisdom of contacting the Shabd, as Soami Ji would describe it.
The storms of greed and worldly love run dry,
yet people chase the mirage night and day.
How can they comprehend the path of the Masters
when they are always preoccupied
with asserting their own opinions?
Here Soami Ji describes the most powerful force that keeps us locked into our own private world: the desire to assert our opinions. Even when greed and worldly love run dry, even when the spiritual seeker has had some success in eradicating negativity, the desire to assert our own opinion is still there.
Freeing seekers from their entrenched opinions has been a major focus for every spiritual Master throughout time. Socrates invented the method of dialogue and dialectic to demonstrate that even the most logical course of reasoning undertaken to defend one’s opinion has its limitation and leads to contradiction and impasse. The original purpose of logic and dialectic, of reason and critical thought, was to protect us from dogmatic close-mindedness, from the arrogant belief that only our opinion is right and that everyone else is wrong or inferior. Religion arises when we become closed or rigid in our beliefs and start thinking that we are the exclusive and privileged possessors of truth. Every true spiritual Master takes all possible steps to prevent us from remaining in our narrow cocoon and does everything possible to universalize us, because the core of their teachings, the Light and Sound within, is universal to all humans.
Platonism never became a religion, because it rejected blind faith and used reason and logic as a handle to open a window into the realm beyond words where universal truth resides. Outward-oriented reason leads to a dead-end. Inward-oriented intelligence, coupled with divine love, leads to union. Ancient mystics like Plotinus spoke of a loving “intellect” (nous) as the highest form of intelligence, the organ of mystical union11. However, the meanings of words and language keep changing and can be confusing. To Plotinus, intellect (nous) meant “the purified soul.”12 Today we use intellect to describe mental tendencies that can oppose the soul’s ascent and merging in the Divine. But that which is beyond words cannot be described. Some scholars describe it as “supra-rationality,” a realm more intelligent than the linear limitations of outward- oriented reason and logic. Where rationality ends, supra-rationality begins.13
There is nothing more humiliating to the ego than admitting ‘I do not know.’ This is the point to which Masters throughout the centuries tried to bring their disciples. Zen Buddhist teachers used “koans,” or phrases that were impossible for the mind to analyze. Socrates employed a teaching method of questioning and confusion. Even Baba Ji has his way of confusing our intellectual mind and drawing us out of our limited comfort zone into the zone of learning and openness to the universal truths that take us beyond our individual tiny shell. We may need a shell to protect us and allow us to grow until we attain spiritual maturity, but eventually, we have to crack the shell and come out into the unbound ocean of first-hand experience which is always universal.
Saints do not assert their opinions. They know that we cannot turn around in a short span of time, that our transformation and change of mind and heart happens gradually. They put us on a path where we can acquire our own experience of the sweetness within. Until and unless we acquire our own experience, we each remain in the darkness of our own private shell and are subject to misconceptions.
Enlightened saints see all the contortions in our thinking, but they also do not want to impose upon us blind faith or insights for which we are not ready, which we cannot value or digest with our polluted mind. Later in the same poem, Soami Ji says that we only harm ourselves when we try to assert our opinions, and instead of moulding our lives around the path, we try to bend the teachings to our own liking.
Such people harm only themselves, for
Saints simply withdraw from them and stay quiet.
They are all victims of their twisted thinking –
how many of their contortions shall I describe?
So many misconceptions posture and present themselves under the guise of religion and spirituality. Due to the lack of critical and logical thinking, people can be deceived and lured into inhumane treatment, even violence against others, in the name of religion or for the sake of asserting their own opinions and perspectives upon others.
This is because the ego seeks ways to “blow itself up.” The English idiom “blow up” means to enlarge, but it also means to blast or explode. The internet and social media are an ideal tool for the ego to blow up its image and importance. In the process of trying to appear bigger and better, the ego is even willing to blow itself up, to destroy itself. It is terrified of being ordinary and obscure; it is terrified by the calm simplicity of the divine.
The divine is the most humble, invisible and obscure giver. It has hidden itself so well that people can deny its existence and spend their lives in that condition. Saints do not seek prominence or fame or glamour. True spirituality, as Baba Ji says, is the experience of the divine in the midst of our everyday ordinary lives. There is nothing glamorous about spirituality. Masters themselves come amongst us as ordinary human beings and resist being placed on a pedestal or stage. Their teachings have a simple beauty that does not excite the mind, but calms and elevates it through the all-encompassing love which is the source of their teachings. Everything they do flows from the pure fountain of love; they are not here to prove anything to anyone. They are not here to impress us, to teach any external knowledge, but to inspire us and give us hope. They do not care if they are abused or mistreated; they do not depend upon anyone; they come to serve with love not only their allotted souls, but all who come in contact with them. That is why they are a safe haven for those who have spent lifetimes in misconceptions and aimless confused wandering. Soami Ji continues:
With the Lord’s grace they seek refuge in the Master
and are able to recognize him within.
When the Lord’s grace allows us, we see fully the severity of our condition and situation, and we become refugees at his feet. We are all refugees, seeking stable ground at the feet of the Master, seeking protection from our own twisted thinking that leads us into the same predicament again and again. Elsewhere, Soami Ji called us homeless wanderers because the impurity of the mind makes us forget our real home:
Through ignorance of its own real home
the soul is living here like a homeless wanderer,
stumbling through different life forms
tossed about in the cycle of birth and death.14
“We recognize the Master within,” Soami Ji said above. We recognize someone we’ve known before. The Master and the knowledge he imparts are not something we learn, as we learn unfamiliar new things. We recognize the Master because we have always known him. True knowledge, knowledge of essence and reality, is remembrance. The question of how we recognize reality does not arise because it is not external to us. It is an act of merging: the knower and the known become one. There is no difference between knower and lover when it comes to merging.
We immediately recognize reality because it is innate to us, it is part of us, it is our very essence. Soami Ji continues describing those who seek refuge in the Master by saying:
They abandon their cleverness and so-called wisdom
and realize how ignorant they are.
Only then is the Master pleased
and he directs them to their destination.
Soami Ji talks here about two types of wisdom – the so-called fake wisdom and the real wisdom or recognizing one’s ignorance, the limitations of one’s human knowledge. The third-century Platonic Master Iamblichus also said that there are two types of knowledge: the inferior, external knowledge and superior innate knowledge of every soul. That innate knowledge is more powerful than every judgment and deliberation. It existed before all reasoning and proof. It is higher, prior to our reasoning mind. It is a state of consciousness from which our reasoning and logical mind itself draws its energy and power. That is our essence which is above and beyond the realm of reasoning:
“…where we are enveloped by the divine presence, and
we are filled with it.”15
Platonic Masters did not think that they were imparting information, but rather that they were helping souls to regain their innate knowledge, which is much higher and much deeper than the superficial knowledge and wisdom of linear reasoning and analysis of facts. Soami Ji also advocates that we abandon the external kind of wisdom. He finally explains how we can rid ourselves of our misconceptions for good:
He [the Master] rids his disciples of their
misconceptions and puts their souls to
contemplation on the Shabd.
Every Saint has affirmed the fact
that without Shabd there is no salvation.
We can keep talking and reading books endlessly. Words generate more words. We will not get rid of our misconceptions in this way. These misconceptions are fed by impressions from countless lives. Our mind is like a storehouse of impressions and projections, fantasies and false opinions; and it is due to them that we remain in the wheel of births and deaths.
Masters bestow upon us a new set of associations and impressions; they give us the ability to contemplate their spiritual form. They give us Simran, so that we can start remembering our real home and create a relationship with the inner power of the Shabd which alone can lift us out of the mud of misconceptions. From a different poem also quoted above, Soami Ji says:
People waste their lives;
they never reach their destination.
Without a Master they wander aimlessly,
for without a Master no one can recognize Shabd.16
The best use of external words is simply to encourage us to persevere in attaining the innate self-knowledge that makes it possible to recognize the Shabd. The persuasion of the external discourse of words (“logos” in Greek) is not lasting and it does not save us from wandering aimlessly, wasting our lives and never reaching our destination. Only the inner “Discourse,” the true “Logos” or Name of God (the Shabd) can help us get rid of all our misconceptions.
This eternal discourse of the soul, the music of the spheres of the Pythagoreans, called Shabd by Soami Ji, transports us to our essence. It is here where we get to know ourselves, to know the knower and to blend into the all-embracing love of the Shabd, which is the ultimate knower, lover and our saviour from misconceptions and transitory falsehood. Only the intelligence of the soul, which has remembered its royal status and has regained its purity, can grasp the truth of the Shabd. It is Shabd alone that can help us emerge from our private world of misconceptions and confusions and to blend into the universal power that unities all humanity.
- Heraclitus fr. B 89 in Die Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker. Edited by Hermann Dielsmann and Walther Kranz. 6th ed. Reprint (orig. 1903). Dublin & Zurich: Weidmann, 1966. (Greek/German).
- Shiv Dayal Singh (Soami Ji), Sar Bachan Poetry, RSSB, 2002, p. 167.
- Origen, Contra Celsum, translated with introduction and notes Chadwick, H. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1953 (1980) p. 17.
- Sar Bachan Poetry, RSSB, 2002, p. 167.
- Maharaj Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul, RSSB, ed. 1982, p. 202.
- Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 165.
- Plato, Timaeus, 53D.
- Tr. Dillon, J. and Hershbell, J., Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press 1991). [Greek and English] ch. 77, p. 101 [tr. from Greek by the author]
- Plato, Meno 84A; Theaetetus 210C; Plato in Twelve Volumes (Loeb Classical Library), tr. H.N. Fowler. (Meno in vol. II, Theaetetus in vol. VII.)
- Socrates, Apology, 23A.
- Armstrong, tr. Enneads, VI.7.35.
- Ibid, VI.7.15.27.
- Addey, Crystal (2014) Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods. Ashgate. P. 273-275.
- Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 125.
- Iamblichus and Clarke – Dillon – Hershbell (2003) Iamblichus On the Mysteries. Society for Biblical Literature, Atlanta GA. [Greek and English], paraphrase by the author of ch. 3 on pp. 12-13.
- Sar Bachan Poetry, p. 167